When Novak Djokovic and Diego Schwartzman meet for the fifth time in their ATP Head2Head series (Djokovic leads 4-0) in Monday’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia final, both players will not only be fighting for the Rome trophy, but also a personal milestone.
Following the completion of his second Career Golden Masters at the Western & Southern Open last month, Djokovic is the joint Masters 1000 titles leader alongside fellow 35-time champion Rafael Nadal. The Rome final presents Djokovic with an opportunity to overtake his rival by lifting a 36th trophy at the level.
Most ATP Masters 1000 Titles
On the other side of the net, Schwartzman is one win away from cracking the Top 10 in the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time in his career. The Argentine can achieve the feat by defeating Djokovic for the first time to claim his maiden Masters 1000 trophy.
Djokovic has dropped just one set en route to his 10th final in the Italian capital, improving his match record to 30-1 this year. The 33-year-old has been tested throughout the week in each of his three most recent clashes in Rome.
Djokovic played an 87-minute set against Filip Krajinovic in the third round, survived a three-set quarter-final battle against Dominik Koepfer and saved two set points in the first set of his semi-final clash against Casper Ruud. The Serbian has consistently produced his best level under pressure to close in on a fifth trophy at the Foro Italico.
Djokovic’s victory against Ruud improved his semi-final record in Rome to 10-1, but the Serbian has not fared as well in championship matches at the Masters 1000 event. Djokovic owns a 4-5 record in Rome finals, which includes losses in his past three championship matches (2016-’17, ’19).
An opportunity to overtake Nadal and make further history in Rome are huge motivational factors for the World No. 1. The four-time champion is still as ambitious as he was the first time he arrived at the tournament, where he has enjoyed consistent success since 2007. Djokovic has reached the quarter-finals or better in each of his 14 appearances at the Foro Italico.
“The 1000 Masters events are as important as it gets on the Tour,” said Djokovic. “These are the events where I want to perform my best other than Grand Slams and the [Nitto ATP Finals]… Finals at such big events mean a lot even after 15 years [of] being on the Tour. I still am as motivated to get my hands on the trophy. This is what I work for as much as anybody else, really, on the Tour.”
Standing between Djokovic and the Masters 1000 titles record is a first-time finalist at the level: Diego Schwartzman. Djokovic enters the contest with a 4-0 ATP Head2Head record against the 28-year-old, but will be well aware of the threat the Argentine poses. The pair met in the semi-finals at this event last year, with Djokovic eventually prevailing in three sets after two hours and 31 minutes.
Djokovic will face an opponent with peak confidence levels on Centrale. Schwartzman dropped just one set en route to the quarter-finals, where he earned his first victory in 10 matches against nine-time champion Rafael Nadal. Schwartzman described the straight-sets win as his “best match ever” and his final opponent was equally impressed.
“Diego played the match of his life [against Nadal]… He was so impressive,” said Djokovic. “And that proves that anything is possible, even [against] Nadal who is probably the toughest challenge in our sport, playing Nadal on clay. But he managed to win in straight sets, so that proves his quality.”
The opportunity to enter the Top 10 for the first time and lift the biggest title of his career with a single victory perhaps makes Monday’s final the biggest match of Schwartzman’s career. The World No. 15 is prepared to push himself to the limit to realise two dreams at the Masters 1000 tournament.
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“I have two dreams tomorrow. One is winning a tournament like this and the second one: be Top 10,” said Schwartzman. “Both are there tomorrow on court against Novak. I know it’s very difficult. I almost need to play more than my 100 per cent.
“I don’t want to say impossible, because it’s not impossible. I know can beat him. But it’s going to be very difficult. But the chances are there tomorrow… I’m going to do everything to be more than my 100 per cent tomorrow on court.”
After his victory against Nadal, Schwartzman was able to maintain his level and earn another milestone win just 24 hours later on Centrale. The Argentine trailed by a break on three occasions in the deciding set of his semi-final clash against Denis Shapovalov, but fought back to claim a memorable final-set tie-break win after three hours and 15 minutes.
“At the end, maybe the third set we were playing for many things: for the final, for the Top 10, for the match… The nerves were there. It was difficult,” said Schwartzman.
“But I think I took my chances when he was thinking about [the] win and nothing else, when he was serving for the match and [a] break up in the third.”
Having already ended a winless streak against Nadal, Schwartzman will now attempt to do the same against Djokovic. The rewards for victory in Rome are clear to both men. But who will be able to take their chance on Monday and place their name in the history books?
Arians: Brown 'looks fantastic' in 1st day at Bucs' facility – theScore
“He looks fantastic. I think we had really good conversations today, he and I,” Arians said Wednesday, according to Jenna Laine of ESPN. “He was in the meetings and everything. And he’s working with (Buccaneers conditioning coach) Anthony Piroli and the strength staff. He looks in great shape. Yeah, ready to go next week.”
Brown appeared at the Buccaneers’ facility for the first time Wednesday. He underwent six days of COVID-19 testing this past week after agreeing to a one-year deal with the team Friday.
The 32-year-old won’t be making his debut with Tampa Bay on Monday against the New York Giants, as he’s suspended until the end of Week 8. The Buccaneers host the New Orleans Saints in Week 9.
Arians was also asked if he thinks Brown will follow the NFL’s coronavirus protocols this season.
“He wants to play, and if you want to play, you’ve got to do it,” he said, according to The Athletic’s Greg Auman.
Arians, who indicated during the offseason that Brown wasn’t a fit in his team’s locker room, recently said the wideout has “matured.”
Brown appeared in just one game and was cut twice last season, with the Raiders and New England Patriots jettisoning him due to off-field issues.
The seven-time Pro Bowler has racked up 841 receptions for 11,263 yards while scoring 75 touchdowns over 10 NFL seasons.
Bowness agrees to two-year contract to return as Stars coach – NHL.com
Rick Bowness agreed to a two-year contract to return as coach of the Dallas Stars on Thursday.
“(General manager) Jim [Nill] was very easy to work with. He wanted me back, I wanted to come back,” Bowness said. “It wasn’t that difficult a decision, so the negotiations were very easy. Jim and (Stars owner) Tom [Gaglardi] were great. The term is not a big issue. I still love the game, I still have lots of energy and passion for the game, and that’s going to continue for a while longer. We’re not ready to go yet.
“That time in Edmonton (the Western Conference hub city for the postseason) was unlike any experience I have ever had in hockey, and it brought us together as a staff and as a team. We had a great run to the Stanley Cup Final, but we have some unfinished business left and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to build on what we started.
Bowness was promoted after Jim Montgomery was fired Dec. 10, 2019, for unprofessional conduct. The Stars were 20-13-5 in 38 games under Bowness and advanced to the Cup Final, when they lost the best-of-7 series to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.
“Rick now has his fingerprints on the team, he knows how he wants to play a certain way, he knows the adjustments he can make, and the players understand that now,” Nill said. “I just think, as we move forward here, there’s still going to be a lot of uncertainty. And that’s one thing we talked about in the bubble, that every day there’s going to be stuff thrown at us, we can’t dwell on it, we can’t panic on it, we just roll with the punches.
“We face some uncertainty moving forward here. When do we start? How long’s the season? What’s the format going to be? How many games are you playing in a week? So knowing you have somebody in charge, the players know he’s in charge, they respect him, he respects them, he knows what buttons to push, I think that’s very important.”
Bowness was hired as a Stars assistant June 22, 2018, after five seasons as associate coach of the Lightning. The 65-year-old is 143-302-8 with 48 ties as an NHL coach for the Winnipeg Jets (1988-89), Boston Bruins (1991-92), Ottawa Senators (1992-96), New York Islanders (1996-98), Phoenix Coyotes (2003-04) and Stars.
“Probably around January we started to feel more comfortable and I thought, ‘I want to keep doing this,”’ Bowness said. “But it goes to another level in the playoffs, and once the playoffs started there was no doubt in my mind I wanted to keep doing this. There came a point where I didn’t want someone else to come in here and take this seat over. This is a tough league to win in, as you know. I couldn’t give you an exact date, but sometime around January, I wasn’t going to let this team go. Again, it took another level once we got to the playoffs. I’m just thrilled for the opportunity.”
Bowness, who has been an NHL coach for five decades, played 173 NHL games in six seasons from 1975-81 with the Atlanta Flames, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues and Jets.
“Rick knows how to balance things,” Nill said. “He’s got the passion, he’s willing to call a player out, he’s willing to talk to me about some situation, but they’re healthy discussions and there’s a respect there. Anyone who knows Rick Bowness, they know the respect. It’s communication with respect, and he’s got that through the organization. That goes with experience, that goes with who he is, the person on and off the ice, his family life, those things, they just don’t happen. that’s what’s made him successful.”
NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers contributed to this report
White Sox hire Hall of Famer Tony La Russa as new manager – Sportsnet.ca
CHICAGO _ Tony La Russa, the Hall of Famer who won a World Series with the Oakland Athletics and two more with the St. Louis Cardinals, is returning to manage the Chicago White Sox 34 years after they fired him.
The 76-year-old La Russa rejoins the franchise where his managing career began more than four decades ago. He takes over for Rick Renteria after what the White Sox insisted was a mutual agreement to split.
“We are extremely excited about the future of this team,” general manager Rick Hahn said Thursday. “As we showed in 2020, this is a young, talented club that we expect to only grow better and better in the coming years. Adding in a Hall of Fame manager who is recognized as being one of the best in the history of the game, we are a step closer to our goal of bringing White Sox fans another championship.”
La Russa inherits a team loaded with young stars and productive veterans that made the playoffs for the first time since 2008, only to sputter down the stretch and get knocked out in the wild-card round.
He becomes the oldest manager in the major leagues by five years. Houston’s Dusty Baker is 71.
“While I have had other inquiries about managing since retiring, this opportunity with the White Sox brings together a number of important factors that make this the right time and the right place,” La Russa said. “The on-field talent is amazing, and the front office, led by Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn, has done everything necessary to create an atmosphere of long-term success. All of those factors aligned to make this a tremendous opportunity, and I am excited to get going as soon as possible by building a coaching staff and getting to work.”
La Russa, who started his managing career with the White Sox during the 1979 season, is returning to the dugout for the first time since 2011, when he led St. Louis past Texas in the World Series. He also won championships with Oakland in 1989 and the Cardinals in 2006.
La Russa is 2,728-2,365 with six pennants over 33 seasons with Chicago, Oakland and St. Louis. He was enshrined in Cooperstown in 2014. Only Hall of Famers Connie Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2,763) have more victories.
LaRussa got his first major league managing job at age 34 when the White Sox promoted him from Triple-A to replace the fired Don Kessinger. He took over that August and led them to a 522-510 record over parts of eight seasons.
The 1983 team won 99 games on the way to the AL West championship _ Chicago’s first playoff appearance since the 1959 Go-Go White Sox won the pennant. But he was fired in 1986 by then-general manager Ken Harrelson after the White Sox got off to a 26-38 start.
Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has long regretted allowing that move and remains close with La Russa. Now, they’re reuniting.
“His hiring is not based on friendship or on what happened years ago, but on the fact that we have the opportunity to have one of the greatest managers in the game’s history in our dugout at a time when we believe our team is poised for great accomplishments,” Reinsdorf said.
The move is a surprise considering how long it’s been since La Russa was in the dugout. General manager Rick Hahn said the White Sox were looking for someone who has “experience with a championship organization in recent years.”
Former Houston manager AJ Hinch and ex-Boston skipper Alex Cora fit that description. Both were suspended by Major League Baseball for the 2020 season for their roles in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, and both lost their manager jobs. Their punishments ended this week.
Though he hasn’t been in a dugout in nine years, La Russa has remained a part of the game.
Shortly after retiring, he went to work in the league office for two years assisting former Yankees manager Joe Torre in on-field discipline issues.
In May 2014, he was hired by the Arizona Diamondbacks to oversee their baseball operation. They signed Zack Greinke to a $206.5 million deal following the 2015 season. La Russa got demoted to an advisory role following a 93-loss season in 2016 and joined Boston’s front office as a special assistant to then-president Dave Dombrowski in November 2017.
La Russa was with the Red Sox when they hired Cora and won the World Series in 2018. And he spent last season as a senior advisor for baseball operations with the Los Angeles Angels, assisting in player development. Whether any of manager Joe Maddon’s eccentricities rubbed off on him remains to be seen.
Maddon keeps a loose and fun atmosphere, whether it’s having a magician or zoo animals at the ballpark or showing up for a spring training workout decked out in tie-dye with a 1970s van blasting Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star.” La Russa, of course, was known more for his scowl than his smile. Now, he’s taking on a vibrant and outgoing team, where sky high bat-flips by Tim Anderson seem almost as common as pop flies.
Then again, he’s no stranger to managing outsized personalities. He had Rickey Henderson and Jose Canseco in Oakland, after all.
The White Sox have never made back-to-back playoff appearances. But after ending a string of seven losing seasons, they are in position to change that.
They have a core of young players on team-friendly deals, starting with Anderson. Veteran Jose Abreu put himself in the running for AL MVP by driving in 60 runs. Ace Lucas Giolito pitched his first no-hitter.
Eloy Jimenez hit .296 with 14 homers and 41 RBIs. Luis Robert, who agreed to a $50 million, six-year contract in January, showed star potential in a roller-coaster rookie year. He got off to a great start and hit a massive homer in the playoff series against Oakland, though he also slumped in September.
Now, the White Sox are banking on La Russa to help push them to championships, just as he did with Oakland and St. Louis.
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