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'Little bit sad': U.S. Open show set to go on despite pandemic – CTV News

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NEW YORK —
Back in April, an on-schedule U.S. Open simply did not seem possible.

The coronavirus was at its peak in New York; a building on the tournament grounds housing indoor tennis courts was converted to a field hospital.

The pandemic was locking down much of society, including sports. Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time in 75 years, the French Open was postponed, and the U.S. Tennis Association said it was considering “the possibility” of changing its dates, too.

On Monday, the last day of August, the 2020 U.S. Open will, indeed, begin — as scheduled, albeit without any spectators, and with one player dropped from the field because he tested positive for COVID-19.

Benoit Paire, a Frenchman who was seeded 17th, was replaced in the draw Sunday, a striking reminder of the circumstances surrounding this attempt to ensure that the Grand Slam show goes on.

There are many other reminders, such as the plastic signs propped up around the quieter-than-usual grounds, making a mix of requests and commands.

“Keep us all safe. Please wear a mask & keep your distance.”

“Unless you are eating, please wear your mask in the dining area.”

“We’re Back! But hugging isn’t. Some ways to say hello: virtual hugs; quick elbow taps. Please avoid: hugs; fist bumps.”

“Help us keep the bubble safe. Let us know if you witness unhealthy behaviour,” with a phone number to call.

Merchandise shops are filled with empty shelves and undressed mannequins. Instead of a main plaza filled with fans eating and drinking and comparing purchases and talking about tennis, there is a space for players to hang out, with a putting green, basketball hoop, and giant chess board among the outdoor diversions offered.

“When you’re walking to and from practice — you have to get somewhere for a certain time — it’s nice. You know that there’s no one around, that you’re not going to get stopped,” said Andy Murray, who won the first of his three Grand Slam titles at Flushing Meadows in 2012. “Yeah, it’s very quiet and very relaxed.”

Then Murray described his thoughts during his trek to the locker room after a practice session last week.

“I was like, ‘Wow, this is pretty sad, because usually this place is just filled with energy and atmosphere, like before the tournament starts,” he said. “Now it’s tennis players and their teams walking around with masks on. It’s just all very different and a little bit sad.”

When play begins Monday morning in Arthur Ashe Stadium — where many seats are covered by pieces of cloth with messages like “New York Tough” and “Black Lives Matter” — 2016 runner-up Karolina Pliskova, the top-seeded woman, will play Anhelina Kalinina in the opening match.

That distinction was not earned by virtue of being ranked No. 1, but because the women who hold the first two WTA spots, Ash Barty and Simona Halep, chose not to participate because of the pandemic.

In all, six of the top eight women are missing, including 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu.

If the women’s event seems unpredictable as can be — even with Serena Williams and her 23 Grand Slam singles trophies in the bracket — and it is hard to know just how well anyone will deal with lack of competition this year, the overwhelming favourite for the men’s championship is Novak Djokovic.

He is scheduled to begin Monday’s night session in Ashe against Damir Dzumhur, followed by two-time major champion Naomi Osaka — who pulled out of the Western & Southern Open final with an injured left hamstring — against Misaki Doi.

“I always love playing in New York. I think I’m not the only one who shares the opinion that this is probably the most exciting, energetic, dynamic, explosive tennis court that we have in the sport,” Djokovic said. “It is strange to see empty stands.”

Rafael Nadal, last year’s champion, didn’t want to travel, while Roger Federer ended his 2020 season after two knee operations.

Djokovic is ranked and seeded No. 1, is 23-0 in 2020 and is coming off a title at the Western & Southern Open on Saturday.

He has won five of the past seven Grand Slam trophies to raise his total to 17, three shy of Federer’s record for men, two behind Nadal.

“You can sense that around the site there is a certain tension … because everyone is obviously being careful,” Djokovic said, “but at the same time, everyone needs to pay attention and follow the protocols and restrictions that are in place.”

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Steven Stamkos ruled out for Game 4 of Stanley Cup final – CBC.ca

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Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos will not play in Friday’s Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Dallas Stars, head coach Jon Cooper announced.

In making the announcement, Cooper did not rule out his star for the remainder of the series. That would include Game 5, which is Saturday — the only back-to-back games in these finals.

“He’s not going to play, but we haven’t ruled him out for the series,” Cooper said. “But he’s not going to play tonight.”

Stamkos, 30, played for the first time since Feb. 25 when he suited up for Game 3 on Wednesday. Stamkos underwent surgery in March to repair a core muscle injury. He had an initial recovery timeline of six to eight weeks, but it’s believed he aggravated the injury and experienced at least one setback since then while trying to join the team.

WATCH | Stamkos scores in 1st period back from injury:

In his daily recap, Rob Pizzo compares Steven Stamkos comeback in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals to the Karate Kid. 2:55

He scored in the first period of the Lightning’s 5-2 win in Game 3 — giving Tampa Bay a 2-1 series lead — but then did not return to the bench after the first intermission. He logged 2 minutes, 47 seconds of ice time.

“Obviously, there is an issue that I’ve been working through. We’ll see what happens from here, but I was just extremely happy to be out there with these guys and have a chance to just be on the bench and contribute to a win,” Stamkos said after the game.

Despite his limited ice time, Stamkos made a big impact on his team by simply being on the ice — with the goal an added bonus.

“He only had five shifts, but probably as efficient a five shifts as you’re ever going to see in a National Hockey League playoff game,” Cooper said. “Here we are watching a player come back, and then do what he did on the biggest stage at the biggest time of year … you have to marvel at it, and it was pretty damn cool.”

“‘Stammer’s obviously he’s our leader, he’s our captain,” Tampa Bay forward Anthony Cirelli said. “To have him with us there, you give Stammer one opportunity he’s going to make it count. Just having him there with us, the emotion was high, he got that goal there for us which was a huge, huge goal and … we fed off that.”

Stamkos finished second on the team in scoring in the regular season with 66 points in 57 games. His 29 goals were also second on the team.

Taken first overall in 2008, Stamkos has 832 points (422 goals, 410 assists) in 803 regular-season games in his 12-year career, all with the Lightning. He also has 54 points (24 goals, 30 assists) in 71 career playoff games.

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Manfred wants expanded playoffs format to continue, but with adjustments – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – Rob Manfred wants expanded playoffs to continue beyond this year with fewer than 16 teams and better rewards for division winners, a shift from the format the Toronto Blue Jays capitalized on to return to the post-season.

The current system was agreed to by Major League Baseball and the players association hours before opening day on July 23 and applies to the 2020 season only. In an interview with sportsnet.ca on Friday, the commissioner said he’s in favour of proceeding with more than the 10 teams that have reached the post-season since 2012, but with a tougher barrier-to-entry.

“I think the 16-team format was a good format for the 60-game unique season we’ve been playing in 2020. The principle reason for that is in a shortened season, it seemed like giving more teams access to the post-season was the right thing to do, the fair thing to do, No. 1,” he said. “No. 2, I do think the way things played out this year, the 16-team format has created a lot of excitement right up through the last weekend. Our biggest problem right now is that we don’t know where the heck people are going and can’t plan as far in advance as people might like. I do think it’s been really exciting for the fans.

“The third thing I would say,” Manfred added, “over the long haul, if we continue with the expanded playoffs, I think it would be fewer teams — not 16 — and I think there could be structures that are built in that preserve the incentive, for example, to win the division, preserve the incentive to play hard all the way through the 162-game season, so that the additional teams in the playoffs do not detract from the regular season. The regular season is a really important product for us and believe me, believe me, whatever we do more permanently, we will protect the value of that regular-season product.”

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Alterations to the playoff format in 2021, the final year of the current collective bargaining agreement, would require union approval.

The only advantage for division winners this year under the 16-team format is that they, along with the top second-place finisher, host all the games in the best-of-three wild-card round. Advancing clubs will then gather in bubbles in California and Texas for the division, league championship and World Series.

The Blue Jays, who clinched a post-season berth Thursday, are likely to enter the playoffs as the eighth seed — although they can still surpass the New York Yankees as the second-place finisher in the American League East.

Manfred said he’s “thrilled at the rebuild Toronto has gone through and the success they enjoyed this year,” coming after the club was denied permission to host its regular-season home games by the Canadian government, and had subsequent plans to tenant in Pittsburgh and Baltimore shot down by state governments.

That led the Blue Jays to settle on Buffalo’s Sahlen Field, a plan that initially worried Manfred but ultimately exceeded his expectations.

“My concern when the decision was finally made about Buffalo was, No. 1, timing. It wasn’t just where they were going, they didn’t have a heck of a lot of time to get organized. No. 2, look, no rap on minor-league facilities in general or Buffalo in particular, our major-league facilities are really, really nice and players are used to a certain level of facility to go to work in.

“I was really concerned about our ability to deliver that,” said Manfred. “On both of those topics, the Toronto Blue Jays management team, Mark (Shapiro), Marnie Starkman, what they accomplished – and I did go to Buffalo, I saw it myself – is unbelievable, literally unbelievable.

“Not only was it playable, and serviceable, but the work they did actually created that feeling of this is the Blue Jays’ home, which I think is really important to the psyche of the team and the ability of the team to perform, and an unbelievable accomplishment given the tight timeframe.”

Livestream Toronto Blue Jays games all season with Sportsnet NOW. Plus, watch marquee MLB matchups, the post-season and World Series.

Whether the Blue Jays will be allowed to return home next season is far from certain and Manfred doesn’t know whether baseball’s rebound from early-season outbreaks among the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals is enough to change the Canadian government’s outlook.

“The one thing I can say is that we will do everything humanly possible to convince the government that the Blue Jays should play in Toronto next year,” added Manfred, who also answered questions about how adapted protocols helped save the season, considerations for next year, the future of expanded rosters and whether the pandemic has impacted the Tampa Bay Rays’ dual city plan with Montreal.

Sportsnet: After the outbreaks on the Marlins and Cardinals, which of the mid-stream changes you implemented do you feel helped turned the tide and allowed you to reach this point?

Rob Manfred: I would point to two things. First, after the, and as a result of, particularly the Cardinals situation, we realized that the key consideration was not when could you play again, but instead, what do we have to do to make sure the virus doesn’t spread among the team. You saw a change in approach after the Cardinals where immediately when we found a positive, we shut everybody down and just waited it out until we were sure we didn’t have spread. That was really important.

The second thing is kind of nature. Throughout the year we asked a lot of the players, we asked them to change the way they play the game on the field, we asked them to change the way they lived their private lives, to tell you the truth. The two early incidents just drove home to everybody involved, us, our managers/coaches, front office personnel and the players, that attention to detail, the masks, the distancing is just absolutely crucial.

SN: Hopefully the world is a safer place next year as it relates to COVID-19, but if things level off where we’re at right now, could the protocols currently in place be employed over a 162-game season?

Manfred: That’s too much of a crystal ball for me. Obviously the longer you go, the tougher it is to maintain the (current) model, the more likely it is you’re going to have lapses. All I can say to you about that is what happens next year is going to be dictated by the course of the virus.

SN: The Blue Jays, among others, really leveraged expanded rosters this year. Given all the injuries experienced this year, the shortened body of work for pitchers, and interrupted player-development supply, can a season be safely conducted with only 26 on the roster next year?

Manfred: I think it’s realistic that at some point next year, we could get back to 26. What I would say to you is I suspect, depending on the course of the virus, that there would be a number of operational issues that we’ll have to work through with the MLBPA.

Even if we have a vaccine and everything is good on the health front, there are going to be some results from 2020 that are going to require us to have those kinds of conversations and to continue to show some type of creativity and flexibility to put a quality product out there.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

SN: What’s your sense at this point of what the minor-leagues are going to look like in 2021 between the expected cutting of teams and the need to restart some wider scale player development?

Manfred: Too early to tell on that one. The only thing I can say on that is we recognize that player development is the long-term lifeblood of the industry and whatever form it takes, there probably will be more activity next year than there was this.

SN: For baseball fans in Montreal, how has the pandemic impacted the Rays’ dual-city plan and MLB’s outlook for potential expansion?

Manfred: The Rays process, probably not significantly affected given the timing of that process. With respect to expansion, it’s hard not to admit that, to the extent that there was a certain timeline where expansion was going to be considered, I would say that the pandemic has probably pushed that timeline back.

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Lakers' Davis questionable for Game 5 – TSN

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Los Angeles Lakers superstar centre Anthony Davis is questionable for Saturday’s Game 5 against the Denver Nuggets after suffering a sprained left ankle late in LA’s Game 4 win Thursday night.

Backup shooting guard Dion Waiters is also questionable with a sore left groin while Alex Caruso (sore right wrist), Danny Green (Volar plate injury, left ring finger) and LeBron James (sore right groin) are probable.

The 27-year-old Davis has been one of the Lakers best performers in the postseason bubble, averaging 28.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists over 14 games, including hitting a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

The Lakers can advance to the NBA Finals with a win on Saturday.

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