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If you’re going to poke tennis’s still-reigning bull, prepare for the horns

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Novak Djokovic gets up after slipping and falling while attempting a return to Carlos Alcaraz in men’s singles final at Wimbledon on July 16. Alcaraz beat Djokovic.Alberto Pezzali/The Associated Press

A few minutes before the Wimbledon men’s singles final began on Sunday, a great ripple went through the stand. Someone told someone who told someone else that they’d seen Brad Pitt.

Apparently, he was nearby. Sitting somewhere just ahead of us.

“Sunglasses,” someone said.

“Blue shirt,” said someone else.

On either side of me, two tabloid journalists began taking random photos of the crowd and then expanding them on their phones to furiously examine the backs of heads. Nope. Nope. Not him. Nope.

One of them was texting with her photographer. Her final had already begun.

“Are you on Brad Pitt duty, too?” she said.

No, no, not me. I’m just here waiting on history. For the next five hours, it would slowly, and then suddenly, arrive.

Carlos Alcaraz beat Novak Djokovic 1-6, 7-6 (6), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4. It was Djokovic’s first loss on Centre Court in more than a decade.

It was a match of uncommon attrition. Just one example – the fifth game of the third set took 26 minutes to play. Other, lesser players can finish a set in that much time. You half expected these two men to slowly make their way to the net, drop their tools and begin hitting each other. It never grew heated, but it still managed to seem close to violence.

There are two ways to look at this signpost encounter.

The most obvious is that Novak Djokovic was deposed as tennis’s dominant force.

Would the Djokovic of five years ago have romped in the first set, as he did on Sunday, and then allow Alcaraz to reel him back in? Would that Djokovic have tried to chop down one of the posts holding up the net when things started to go sideways in the fifth? Would that Djokovic be seen bent over, using his racquet as a crutch, after long points late in the match?

Probably not.

The other way of looking at it is that now Djokovic is dangerous again.

He hasn’t had a lot to worry about since his best frenemies drifted out of the game. With Roger Federer gone and Rafael Nadal on hiatus, there wasn’t anyone to put a real fright in him.

The entire world’s bottled-up pandemic hysteria was enough to knock Djokovic sideways for a few months there, but that couldn’t stop him from winning whatever he was allowed to enter.

Lacking enemies of quality, Djokovic devoted himself to winning over the crowds. They’d loved Federer and still loved Nadal, but those two were gone. Now it was his turn.

On Sunday, we saw how poorly that has gone.

The crowd wanted very little to do with Djokovic from the off. By the end of the first set, he’d begun bantering with them. When he felt he wasn’t getting enough credit, he would applaud himself. When he upset them by winning points, he’d blow them kisses.

There was a moment late in the match when Djokovic decided to give himself a little mental-health break by screaming at the chair umpire for a few moments. Over what? Over nothing. This was a rest disguised as a strop.

In the middle of it, the crowd began to jeer him. All the fun had drained from Djokovic now. He stopped what he was saying and stared at them with barely concealed contempt. It was the look that said, ‘After all I’ve given you, this is what I get back?’

In the end, he reminded us of his many great attributes – an unwillingness to submit, tempered with grace.

He has never been charismatic, but it is difficult to think of any great athlete who has ever been as cordial.

If I’d spent a day of my life being booed for supplying one of the great sporting entertainments in recent memory, I might be a little peevish in my remarks immediately following it. But not this guy.

“Good afternoon everyone,” he started. “Not so good for me. But good for Carlos.”

The crowd tittered. They only really like him in London when he’s being sportsmanlike to someone they prefer.

Djokovic played it perfectly. He praised Alcaraz. He promised to be better. He admitted that he’d had his own share of luck.

“Maybe I should have lost a couple of finals that I won,” Djokovic said, specifically referencing his legendary last final on this same court against Federer in 2019. “So maybe this is even-steven.”

Djokovic had the crowd in his hands now. Too late to do him any good, they were falling under his sway. When he began to weep after seeing his children in the stands, they were fully in his thrall.

But history has proved that Djokovic can never maintain these connections. It’s hard to say what it is about him. Maybe it’s the dominance. Nobody roots for a robot.

If so, a little of that came off him on Sunday. For the first time ever, you looked at him and thought, ‘Maybe he’s gotten old.’

He’d said earlier in the tournament that his age, 36, is the new 26. Nice thought. But it isn’t. On the back half of 30, any athlete who runs around for a living is fighting a rearguard action with his own body. How many tennis players have dominated – not just won things, but dominated – at this age? Until Sunday, just one – Djokovic.

But whether he wants to or not, he has entered his lion-in-winter phase.

What took a hit on Sunday wasn’t Djokovic’s reputation or his legacy. Those remain unassailable.

What Djokovic lost was his aura of invincibility. Until the last point, you really didn’t think this guy would allow himself to be beaten. But he did.

Most opponents will still be terrified when he lands in their half of a draw. But there is now at least one who need never fear him. Once one guy has your number, the buzzards are never far behind.

When Federer lost that shine near the end, it became hard to watch him. You found yourself perilously close to pitying him.

Djokovic isn’t anywhere close to that point. Had a couple of small moments gone differently on Sunday – the second-set tiebreak in particular – this match might’ve been a walkover rather than a loss.

What would we be saying then? That he was the greatest of all time. That there was no stopping him.

What should we be saying instead? That tennis acquired a couple of new rules on Sunday.

The first is never sit beside Brad Pitt if there are cameras around (RIP Guy Ritchie).

The second is if you’re going to poke tennis’s still-reigning bull, prepare for the horns.

 

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LeBron Saves Team USA in Thrilling Exhibition Against South Sudan at O2 Arena

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LONDON — In what could have been one of the most monumental upsets in international basketball history, Team USA narrowly escaped with a 101-100 victory over a spirited South Sudan team at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday night. This exhibition match, serving as a tune-up for the 2024 Olympics, showcased the rapid rise of South Sudanese basketball and the indomitable spirit of the American team led by LeBron James.

The atmosphere at the O2 Arena was electric, with fans witnessing a game that turned out to be far more competitive than expected. South Sudan, a team composed largely of refugees and players from the diaspora, pushed the heavily favored Americans to their limits.

First Half Highlights:

  • South Sudan came out firing on all cylinders, building a surprising 16-point lead in the second quarter.
  • Team USA struggled with their three-point shooting, missing 12 of their first 13 attempts from beyond the arc.

Despite the odds, South Sudan’s players, many of whom have overcome significant personal and professional challenges, played with remarkable cohesion and determination. Their performance was a testament to the rapid progress the team has made under the guidance of former NBA star Luol Deng.

With the game hanging in the balance, LeBron James demonstrated why he remains one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Benched at the start of the third quarter, James returned to the floor with a determination that was palpable.

Key Moments:

  • Third Quarter: Anthony Davis’ defensive prowess helped shrink the deficit. LeBron’s return brought stability and focus back to Team USA.
  • Final Minute: With just 20 seconds left, JT Thor of South Sudan scored over LeBron, giving his team a one-point lead.
  • Game-Winning Shot: LeBron drove to the basket, scoring the decisive layup with eight seconds remaining.

South Sudan’s journey to this point has been nothing short of inspirational. The country gained independence from Sudan in 2011, and the basketball program, still in its infancy, has quickly become a source of national pride.

Notable Contributions:

  • Carlik Jones: Delivered a triple-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists.
  • Wenyen Gabriel: LeBron’s former teammate with the Lakers, contributed 11 points.
  • Marial Shayok: Led South Sudan with 24 points.

The team’s formation and rise have been spearheaded by Luol Deng, who played a pivotal role in recruiting and funding the program. His efforts have culminated in South Sudan qualifying for the Olympics, marking a historic achievement for the young nation.

Stephen Curry: “Wild game. They played really intense. It was nice to see how we responded. LeBron with a great finish down the stretch.”

Steve Kerr: “The whole team was embarrassed at halftime. We were challenged today, and it was good for us to feel that now. This was a reminder that we need to bring our best every game.”

Luol Deng: Expressed immense pride in his team’s performance, emphasizing the significance of their journey and the obstacles they have overcome.

This exhibition game was more than just a pre-Olympic warm-up. It highlighted the potential for underdog stories in sports and underscored the global reach and impact of basketball. Team USA, despite the narrow escape, was reminded of the importance of every game and the challenges that lie ahead.

South Sudan, on the other hand, has cemented its place on the international stage, showcasing that with determination and the right support, even the newest teams can compete with the best in the world.

As both teams prepare for the Olympics, this game at the O2 Arena will be remembered not only for its thrilling finish but also for the remarkable stories of resilience and ambition that played out on the court.

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UFC Vegas 94: Amanda Lemos vs. Virna Jandiroba – Main Event Recap

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In a thrilling main event at UFC Vegas 94, strawweights Amanda Lemos and Virna Jandiroba faced off on Saturday night. After an evenly matched first round, Jandiroba secured a dramatic submission victory in the second round, just moments before the bell.

Fight Summary:

  • First Round: The opening round was highly competitive, with both fighters showcasing their skills and maintaining a close contest.
  • Second Round: In the final seconds of the second round, Jandiroba managed to secure a submission, forcing Lemos to tap out. The win marks an impressive fourth consecutive victory for Jandiroba.

Post-Fight Remarks:

  • In her post-fight interview inside the Octagon, Jandiroba confidently called out UFC President Dana White, declaring, “Dana, I’m the next one. Dana, I’m your next champion.”

Future Implications:

  • With this victory, Jandiroba has positioned herself as a strong contender for the strawweight title. Tatiana Suarez, who was the rightful next contender for Weili Zhang, has been sidelined due to an injury. Jandiroba’s current four-fight win streak and her dominant performance at UFC Vegas 94 make a compelling case for her title shot.

Stay tuned for more updates as the UFC strawweight division continues to evolve, and see if Virna Jandiroba will indeed become the next challenger for the championship belt.

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Jake Paul vs. Mike Perry: Fight Night Updates

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Jake Paul is back in the ring, and he’s promising fireworks as he takes on former UFC star Mike Perry at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. The fight will be broadcast live on DAZN. Originally, Paul was set to fight Mike Tyson, but Perry stepped in after Tyson suffered an injury.

Fight Details:

Jake Paul (9-1, 6 KOs)

  • Paul is coming off a first-round TKO of Ryan Bourland in March.
  • He has promised that Perry won’t survive the second round.
  • Paul is more experienced in boxing but still relatively new to the sport.

Mike Perry (0-1)

  • Perry, known as “Platinum,” brings over a decade of fighting experience, mainly in MMA and bare-knuckle fighting.
  • He believes Paul is still green in the fight business and intends to use his experience to pull off an upset.

Main Event:
Jake Paul vs. Mike Perry

Live Updates: Follow DAZN for all the live updates, results, and highlights from the Paul vs. Perry pay-per-view main card.

Main Card Results:

Amanda Serrano def. Stevie Morgan via TKO

  • Round 2, 0:38
    • Watch the finish

Lucas Bahdi def. H20 Sylve via knockout

  • Round 6, 2:27
    • Watch the finish

Corey Marksman def. Tony Aguilar via majority decision

  • Scores: 76-76, 77-75, 78-74

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. def. Uriah Hall via unanimous decision

  • Scores: 59-55, 59-55, 58-56
    • Recap

Stay tuned for the main event updates and see if Jake Paul can deliver on his promise of another highlight reel knockout or if Mike Perry will teach him a lesson and pull off a major upset.

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