He is considered the ageless Leaf, at 71 often seen pursuing the outdoor activities of a man more than half his age.
Since she hasn’t done this for a while, Serena Williams was not in top press-conference form this weekend.
At her best, Williams may be the most electric speaker in sport. She bops between playfulness and simmering rage, often in the space of a single question. The way she stares through questioners puts most of them on the stammering defensive before they’ve said anything.
But now back at Wimbledon after what was essentially a sabbatical year, she lacked that mojo. Short answers. Less cheek. Zero flashes of annoyance.
Then a German reporter tossed her a softball: “What would be a good outcome for you?”
Williams is 40. She hasn’t played a meaningful singles match since blowing her hamstring at this tournament last year. She’s only here because Wimbledon gave her a free pass.
“Oh yes,” Williams said, like she’d been waiting for this one. She closed her eyes and lowered her voice to a purr. “You know the answer to that. Come on now.”
Laughter in the room. An amused eyeroll from the star.
Then someone else followed with the same question asked a slightly different way and Williams iced him with the same answer: “You guys know the answer to that.”
The tone made it very clear no one should try for a third.
Other questioners tried to draw her on Roe v. Wade and the Russia ban. Williams passed both times. It was a lesson to her colleagues throughout sport – there’s no law that says you must have a public opinion on everything.
Finally, here was the imperious Williams that we have missed. Now let’s see if that dominance can be transferred a few hundred feet onto the court.
Many sports stars dominate their little patch of the field, but few have controlled their whole environments the way Williams has. In the latter half of her career, it often seemed that she could beat opponents by Vulcan mind-melding them from distance. The match would be going their way. Williams would fix them with her thousand-yard stare. And then – whoop! – it’d be going Williams’s way.
Then the injuries started up. And the disappointments in major tournament finals. And the rock in her shoe that is Margaret Court’s 24 grand slam titles (Williams is stuck on 23).
Williams is the most dominating women’s player ever. You don’t need to understand tennis to understand that. All you need are eyes. But until the numbers fall her way, some dingdong is always going to say, “Yeah, sure, but …”
She has steadily denied it, but that appeared to get in Williams’s head. Her mien was still total control, but opponents no longer feared her. Broadcasters stopped mooning about her the whole way through matches. When they did tell Williams stories, they started having a “back in my day” feel. It must feel bizarre to have your professional obit written in real time while you’re still working. Here, she felt compelled to start off her presser with, “I didn’t retire.”
A year away won’t have helped any of that. Nor will the new job title. Everyone else she plays in her two weeks here – come on now – will be a tennis professional. Grinding it out on the tour 10 months a year, racking up the AmEx points.
Williams had been a tennis part-timer for a while, but now she’s more of an occasional worker. A dabbler, even. Her steady gig is as a venture capitalist.
“I’m currently out of the office for the next few weeks,” Williams said.
Her company raised more than US$100-million in seed money in the spring. It’s a good fit. I mean, are you going to say no to Serena Williams? And if you do, how do you plan on getting out of the room? She is a lot faster than you.
So now Williams is not only fighting younger, presumably fitter players, her age and a lack of practice. She’s taking on the whole idea of doing sports for a living. Though she will make money here, Williams has become an amateur. Because one way of defining that word is “someone who does something for fun.”
Williams is currently ranked 411th in the world. She’s not about to start climbing that ladder again. She’s doing this because she can and why not?
If she makes it through a couple of rounds, nobody’s going to feel weird about that. She’s Serena Williams. She can still win matches with The Look.
But if she puts a real dent in this tournament, the modern game is going to look slightly ridiculous. Everyone in it never shuts up about their up-when-it’s-still-dark workout routine and their strength coach and the sports psychologist who sleeps in a cot beside their bed. If the louche star of yesteryear who practises when he feels like it and enjoys a boozy night out were to time warp into the present day, he’d be shunned.
(Not that such players don’t still exist. Just that they’ve figured out they shouldn’t talk about it.)
So what would it say if Williams – her life full of other responsibilities, coming off a bad injury and only having swung a racket in anger as a doubles player about a week ago – were to excel here? It would put the lie to sport’s productivity cult.
When someone tried to put her on the spot about being spared a first-round match against world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, Williams’s expression flattened: “Every match is hard … and anyone could have been drawn to me.”
There have always been a bunch of reasons to be fascinated by Williams. She divides opinion, but two things cannot be argued – her quality and her charisma. She’s an all-timer in both instances. Her place at the top of the pyramid is already assured.
But floating into London in June on a working holiday, seemingly expecting to win Wimbledon? How great would that be? You guys know the answer to that.
He is considered the ageless Leaf, at 71 often seen pursuing the outdoor activities of a man more than half his age.
“We get together every March or April and it looks like he can still play,” marvelled Darryl Sittler. “You admire his physique, his fitness … and then you get a call like this.”
It was a few weeks ago that Borje Salming shared the stunning news with his very close-knit kin from the 1970s Leafs. Mysterious issues the Hall of Fame defenceman was experiencing throughout his body sent him to a specialist at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm.
“I have received news that has shaken my family and me. The signs that indicated that something was wrong in my body turned out to be the disease ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig´s disease,” Salming stated through the Leafs on Wednesday. “In an instant, everything changed. I do not know how the days ahead will be, but I understand that there will be challenges greater than anything I have ever faced.
“I also recognize that there is no cure, but there are numerous worldwide trials going on and there will be a cure one day. In the meantime, there are treatments available to slow the progression and my family and I will remain positive.”
Salming last played for the Leafs in 1989, but was never separated from his life-long friends in the Maple Leaf Gardens era, led by Sittler, Lanny McDonald and Tiger Williams.
“Borje is a wonderful friend and great teammate,” Sittler said. “I wish I was talking about anything else today. We’ve been in contact; me, Borje, guys such as Lanny and Tiger and we all knew today (breaking the news to the rest of the world) would be the toughest and devastating for him and us.”
“We’ve been talking. If you can imagine it was you or I who was being told this … he was very emotional.”
Yet one Leaf that Salming played ever so briefly with, Mark Kirton, was the first whom Sittler thought of sharing the news, to be a great ally in the coming fight.
Kirton was also diagnosed with ALS, in 2018 after first experiencing symptoms three years earlier. Though now wheelchair bound, the 64-year-old helped Salming absorb the shock with his immediate family and helped guide him to an understanding of the slow-progression drugs available to urgently start administering.
“I told him, ‘King, the name of the game is survival until they find a cure’,” Kirton said. “You have a great support system here and with your family
Kirton, Sittler and the Leafs worked the past few days on crafting Wednesday’s release, simultaneously in Canada and Sweden, in which an upbeat-sounding Salming also asked for privacy.
“Right now, I rest assured that I have my loving family around me and the best possible medical care. Please keep us in your prayers.”
Salming is a grandfather and when others in his circle aren’t posting about how robust he still is, he’s proudly highlighting the athletic tradition carried by a new generation of the clan.
A pioneer of European migration to the NHL along with teammate Inge Hammarstrom in 1973, Salming quickly became a Leafs favourite, one of the few bright spots in years the team rarely made it deep into the playoffs. He gained respect far and wide for withstanding punishment, from shot blocks to foes bent on beating him up as a perceived pacifist in a violent period in the sport.
Yet he played more than 1,000 games in Toronto and kept in such good shape that he was often compared to the 60-year-old Swede in government Participaction ads, in as good or better shape than younger Canadians. Salming survived many injuries, including a gruesome facial cut from a skate blade that required 200-plus stitches and just missed an eye.
Two years ago, he did have a medical episode where he couldn’t breathe and was put in an ambulance, but that was chalked up to COVID-19 and he was released after one night.
Much like Kirton, who suddenly began experiencing twitching in his biceps while on holidays in the Bahamas, it was a rapid turn for the worst.
“The good news from a family perspective is he doesn’t have the genetic (familial ALS) which is 5% of cases,” Kirton said. “The most important thing now is he get all the available drugs as fast as possible at early onset.”
Patients with sporadic ALS, which Kirton and Salming are dealing with, are typically given a life span of two to five years on average, though the disease can affect people differently with longer survival rates. Kirton recalled how devastated he and his wife were to be told of his condition, but he has maintained a vow not to dim his mental positivity.
Kirton meets regularly via Zoom calls with 25 to 30 ALS patients of all ages, as well as personal caregivers, forming ALS Action Canada to give those affected a stronger voice in pushing for approval of new treatments and funding.
In the meantime, Kirton sent his old friend an encouraging tweet Wednesday.
“I’ve reminded Borje he taught me the can opener move one day at practice to take out the centre going into the corner,” laughed Kirton. “He taught me well how to get away with it and now I told hium ‘don’t worry, we’ve got this, too’.”
“I have received news that has shaken my family and me.
“The signs that indicated that something was wrong in my body turned out to be the disease ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. In an instant, everything changed. I do not know how the days ahead will be, but I understand that there will be challenges greater than anything I have ever faced.
“I also recognize that there is no cure but there are numerous worldwide trials going on and there will be a cure one day. In the meantime, there are treatments available to slow the progression and my family and I will remain positive.
“Since I started playing ice hockey as a little kid in Kiruna, and throughout my career, I have given it my all. And I will continue to do so.
“Right now, I rest assured that I have my loving family around me and the best possible medical care.
“I understand that there are many of you that would like to reach out, however I kindly ask you to respect our privacy in these trying times. Please keep us in your prayers. When the time is right and I understand more about my condition and future journey, I will reach out. So, until such a time, we kindly refrain from all contact.
“I hope you understand and respect our decision.”
It’s eerie, despite being a throwback to a different time.
The first thing many will notice walking into Rogers Place in Edmonton for the IIHF world juniors this week is how white the ice looks. That brightness is caused by a rarity in hockey circles: No ads on the sheet. Just lines.
This decided lack of corporate presence — on the boards, there are only ads for Swiss watchmaker Tissot and the IIHF app, with the rest of the space dotted by blue and green stylized maple leaves — is part of the fallout from the cloud hanging over the 2022 tournament, the real-world effects of partners Tim Hortons, Telus, Scotiabank and Canadian Tire pausing sponsorship for Hockey Canada in the wake of sexual assault allegations.
This visual is a stark reminder that we could be experiencing change on a grand scale. This tipping point in the history of Canada’s national game means the tournament could lose money for the first time in the country’s history, which will have a trickledown effect on the grassroots programs supported by Hockey Canada.
Adding to the wakeup call are the very small, and, in some cases, non-existent crowds. A pre-tournament game on Tuesday between Canada and Sweden, for example, was atypically closed to fans, pucks off glass and players calling for a pass in two languages the only sounds.
Game attendance figures from early in the tournament were not readily available, but reports on social media and from those in attendance indicated tiny crowds. For instance, a mere handful of fans had turned up for the 8 p.m. local face-off for Tuesday’s USA-Germany game.
Over the last two decades, average attendance when Canada has hosted the tournament has ranged from 6,600 to more than 14,000 per game. Anything outside North America typically draws between 2,000 and 7,000.
A source familiar with Hockey Canada’s operation told Sportsnet that owing to the tournament being rescheduled from its usual December and January dates to the summer, the organization “never expected big crowds.”
Still, the small turnout will have a significant impact on the revenue the tournament generates, which in turn conceivably could mean less money for the programs Hockey Canada supports, a concern expressed by the women’s national teams earlier this week.
Also looming is the question of potential refunds to sponsors who paid for banners and such for the first 2022 tournament, in December, and were given the option of applying that committed money to the rescheduled tournament in August. With the rescheduled tournament relatively ad-free, that could mean refunds are due to some corporate sponsors, meaning even less revenue from Hockey Canada’s most lucrative event.
“Good question,” the source said. “Answer probably still coming.”
The controversy surrounding Hockey Canada stemming from alleged sexual assaults involving players on two Canadian world junior teams is foremost in the minds of hockey fans these days, and that could be keeping fans away.
In addition, the summertime rescheduling forced by rising COVID-19 infections in December plus a variety of factors could be contributing to the diminished interest: This year’s tournament is missing several big-name players, including Shane Wright, Owen Power, Cole Perfetti, Kaiden Guhle and Juraj Slafkovsky. It is also absent entries from Russia and Belarus, which were banned by the IIHF for their countries’ roles in the attack on Ukraine.
Regardless of the reasons, the effects are real: When hosting the tournament, Hockey Canada relies on the world juniors for a significant portion of its annual revenue. And the majority of that, of course, goes toward funding its annual budget, which is estimated to be worth north of $100 million.
The source estimated the net revenue for Hockey Canada – after paying each participating team about $2 million for expenses and 10-15 per cent to the IIHF – is about $12 million to $15 million, with about one-third of that going to the Canadian Hockey League (ostensibly as compensation for the use of the league’s players) and about 20 to 25 per cent distributed to the 13 regional hockey associations across Canada. The remainder goes to operations for Hockey Canada.
As the source told Sportsnet, this confluence of factors could means this year’s world juniors will be looking at a loss, which would be unprecedented when the tournament is in Canada.
With the withdrawal or freezing of funds by the federal government — which make up roughly six per cent of the organization’s annual funding — and sponsors, Hockey Canada’s remaining major sources of funding come from minor hockey association fees, considered to be relatively insignificant, and TV rights fees.
“We recognize these World Junior Championships are going to look and feel different for fans for a few reasons: first, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed this tournament to August; and second, there is understandable scrutiny from Canadians of Hockey Canada and the culture of hockey,” a Hockey Canada spokesperson said in a statement sent to Sportsnet.
“Our focus is ensuring the players who have trained for the past several months can compete on this important stage – and for the fans to enjoy a positive experience. At the same time, we will continue to work diligently to address toxic behaviours – both on and off the ice – that conflict with what Canadians expect hockey to be through the implementation of our Action Plan.”
The financial picture for Hockey Canada will continue to get more complicated after the tournament, especially as more hearings in Parliament are expected in September. But knowing revenue would take a hit because of the summertime rescheduling, the source said the IIHF previously awarded Hockey Canada the 2023 world juniors to help make amends for expected shortfalls.
The host city for that tournament? Halifax, the site of an alleged sexual assault involving members of the 2003 Canadian world junior team.
–with files from Sportsnet’s Emily Sadler
Bianca Andreescu feels as though she has found her fighting spirit after a tough, but thrilling 2 1/2 hour two-set victory on Tuesday.
The Mississauga, Ont., native defeated world No. 9 Daria Kasatkina 7-6 (5), 6-4 in her opening round match at the National Bank Open.
“A win is a win no matter how you pull it off and today really showed me a lot about myself and how I can push through these things if I really want it,” Andreescu said.
“It just shows that fighting spirit that I still have in me. I want to continue building on that.”
WATCH l Andreescu advances to 2nd round:
The win didn’t come without difficulty though.
On a number of occasions, Andreescu was in discussion with her trainers and seemed to be breathing heavy at different points of the match.
But the 22-year-old insisted she felt much better post-match.
Asked if she thought of retiring from the match, Andreescu was adamant about not wanting to.
“I did not want to at all. There was one moment where I was a bit afraid that I couldn’t [continue] but it’s not like I had that thought in my head where I wanted to quit. I really couldn’t today, something came upon me even though I was feeling like absolute crap,” she said.
“Especially during the tiebreaker, I hit a shot and I was seeing double almost. That was kind of the point where I didn’t feel the best. But the crowd, they really pushed me to continue.”
Andreescu, who won the event in 2019 in Toronto, was sharp and active early, making comebacks within games she later won. She also went 3-for-3 on break points through the first five games.
Up 3-2, she mixed up her shots, using forehands, backhands and drop shots, making Kasatkina work. A Kasatkina error allowed Andreescu to have some breathing room with a 4-2 lead.
“Changing it up with my drop shot — I feel like I brought it out more today than (these) past four months,” Andreescu said. “I’m very happy with that.”
After Kasatkina eventually tied the set at 6-6, Andreescu scored six out the final eight points in the tiebreaker to win the set, punctuated by a powerful forehand. The set took 85 minutes to play.
In the second set, Andreescu jumped out to a strong start, outlasting Kasatkina through multiple lengthy exchanges as the Russian committed multiple errors, sending shots into the net.
Andreescu again began to mix it up between drop shots and forehands that Kasatkina struggled to return with accuracy at times, as the Canadian grabbed a 2-0 lead.
After Kasatkina took the next three sets, Andreescu followed with three straight wins of her own, finishing with a forehand winner that had her opponent visibly upset.
Getting the Canadian crowd fired UP 🇨🇦<a href=”https://twitter.com/Bandreescu_?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Bandreescu_</a> | <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBO22?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#NBO22</a> <a href=”https://t.co/0OhPRbtfP3″>pic.twitter.com/0OhPRbtfP3</a>
With the home crowd behind her, Andreescu went up 40-0 in the clinching game before committing two errors. She then used another drop shot that Kasatkina could not run down to close the match.
She immediately raised her hands as the crowd gave her a standing ovation.
Andreescu will play against Alize Cornet of France in the second round, a player she hasn’t defeated in two career outings.
Eyeing her revenge against Cornet, Andreescu feels more confident in her chances after beating Kasatkina.
“It definitely gives me confidence for the next match. Alize kind of plays like Daria a little bit in a way — more consistent and all that,” she said. “So having this match under my belt and going into tomorrow against Alize definitely gives me confidence.”
In women’s doubles, Canada’s Leylah Fernandez won her opening match alongside younger sister, Bianca Jolie. The duo topped Belgium’s Kirsen Flipkens and Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-4, 6-1.
An opening double-fault. Two wayward backhands. Another mistake on match ball.
Denis Shapovalov’s rain-suspended match was over shortly after it resumed Tuesday afternoon as he dropped a 7-5, 7-6 (4) decision to Australia’s Alex de Minaur at the National Bank Open men’s tournament in Montreal.
The players were in a tight battle a night earlier but rain forced a postponement with the tiebreaker tied at three. Shapovalov was hoping to force a decisive third set but instead was eliminated after just a few minutes on court.
“I haven’t had this exact experience before so it was tricky,” Shapovalov said.
WATCH | Shapovalov labours in straight-sets loss:
The result capped a tough day for the Canadians in the 56-player singles draw. Vasek Pospisil dropped a 6-4, 6-4 decision to American Tommy Paul and 15th-seeded Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov posted a 6-4, 7-5 win over Alexis Galarneau of Laval, Que.
That left sixth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal as the last Canadian remaining in singles play. He had a first-round bye and will likely play his opening match Wednesday.
Groans could be heard at last Friday’s draw ceremony when de Minaur’s name was called out as Shapovalov’s first opponent.
At No. 21, de Minaur is one spot ahead of Shapovalov in the world rankings. The five-time winner on the ATP Tour had also beaten the Canadian in both previous meetings at the pro level.
De Minaur wasn’t fazed by Shapovalov’s power game during the match and was able to handle the left-hander’s wide serves. Tremendous retrieving skills helped blunt the Canadian’s aggressiveness and led to some mistakes.
Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., has recorded just one win since beating Rafael Nadal last May in Rome.
In men’s doubles, Shapovalov and Russian partner Karen Khachanov lost a tough three-match set in 86 minutes to Rohan Bopanna of India and Matwe Middelkoop of the Netherlands 7-6(5), 4-6, 10-6.
Pospisil, meanwhile, had three break points in the final game of the opening set but was unable to convert. Paul went on to complete the victory in one hour 25 minutes.
“[It] just wasn’t one of my best matches for sure,” Pospisil said. “Tommy played his match. He didn’t play anything that was so exceptional that I couldn’t have given myself a better look. But yeah, wasn’t the best of matches. Had good moments, but not consistent.”
WATCH | Pospisil loses in straight sets:
The native of Vernon, B.C., is entered in the doubles draw with Italy’s Jannik Sinner. Calgary native Cleeve Harper and Liam Draxl of Newmarket, Ont., are the other Canadians in the doubles field.
The start of Tuesday’s opening session was delayed about 90 minutes due to wet weather. Another rain delay forced a 20-minute pause in the afternoon.
Marin Cilic, the No. 13 seed, defeated fellow Croatian Borna Coric 6-3, 6-2. Other seeded players to advance were No. 14 Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain and No. 17 Gael Monfils of France.
The lone upset in afternoon play saw Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta surprise 11th-seeded Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 6-2.
British wild-card Andy Murray, who was ranked world No. 1 by the Association of Tennis Professionals for 41 straight weeks in 2016, couldn’t find that old magic against 10th-seeded Taylor Fritz of San Diego in the feature evening match.
Fritz made quick work of the 35-year-old Murray, winning 6-1, 6-3.
The US$6.57-million tournament continues through Sunday.
WATCH | Galarneau loses to Bulgaria’s Dimitrov:
Canada’s Rebecca Marino lost 6-3, 6-7 (5), 4-6 to China’s Zheng Qinwen in her opening-round match on Tuesday.
The Vancouver native entered the tournament coming off a quarterfinal appearance at the Citi Open, where she fell to Daria Saville of Australia.
Marino, who made it into the WTA top 100 rankings for the first time since 2012 and is currently No. 96, got rolling early as she took the first set with relative ease.
WATCH | Marino bounced in 1st round:
Marino overcame a strong start from Zheng in the second set, but had trouble with unforced errors in the tiebreaker.
The Canadian went up 4-3 in the final set before losing the final three games.
Marino fired 12 aces to Zheng’s 10 and was a perfect 2 for 2 on break points in the loss.
The 19-year-old Zheng, ranked 51st, will next play fifth-ranked Ons Jabeur in the second round.
Fellow Canadian Carol Zhao also dropped her first match, 6-1, 6-3 to American Amanda Anisimova.
Naomi Osaka’s recent struggles continued Tuesday with an early exit in Toronto.
The four-time Grand Slam champion retired from her first-round match with a back injury. Osaka was losing 7-6 (4), 3-0 against Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi when she withdrew from the contest.
“I felt my back from the start of the match, and despite trying to push through it, I just wasn’t able to today,” Osaka said in a written statement. “I’d like to pay credit to Kaia for playing well and want to wish her all the best for the rest of the tournament.”
Entering the tournament, Osaka had been eliminated from her last three competitions in the first or second round, including a straight-sets loss to Coco Gauff at last week’s Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic.
That was her first competition since the French Open as she recovered from an Achilles injury.
Prior to that run, she had her best tournament of the year making it to the final of the Miami Open in early April before losing to world No. 1 Iga Swiatek.
The 31st-ranked Kanepi will next play No. 8 Garbine Muguruza of Spain.
Another successful young star had an early exit Tuesday when ninth seed Toronto-born player Emma Raducanu of Great Britain lost 7-6 (0), 6-2 to Italy’s Camila Giorgi.
Other women’s winners Tuesday included Shuai Zhang of China, Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia, Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain and Elise Mertens of Belgium.
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