Greek star Maria Sakkari rallied from the brink of defeat to shock No.3 seed and two-time Western & Southern Open champion Serena Williams in three sets.
By David Kane
NEW YORK, NY, USA – No.13 seed Maria Sakkari rallied from the brink of defeat to shock two-time Western & Southern Open champion Serena Williams, 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-1 to roar into a second straight Cincy quarterfinal.
“I haven’t realized it yet,” Sakkari said after the match. “It feels pretty good, because she has been a role model for me growing up, and obviously what she has achieved is huge. So it feels very nice.”
Shaking off the halted momentum, Sakkari began the second set with another break, moving ahead 3-1 before Williams regained her bearings, reeling off the next four games to find herself serving for the match.
As in the opening set, Serena responded with a solid service hold to put the pressure back on Sakkari, who forced a tie-break with a hard-fought hold of her own.
The ensuing Sudden Death saw Sakkari reverse a 4-1 deficit as Williams struck some tentative shots from the baseline, and the No.13 seed was first to set point with a big serve. With a deciding set in sight, Sakkari struck a booming forehand to level the match.
She maintained that aggressive form early in the final set, striking another impressive winner to engineer break points in Williams’ first service game. What followed was a topsy-turvy series of seven deuces before Sakkari ultimately converted her eighth opportunity.
“I think the key point was, of course, winning the second set, but then serving the way I did first game of the third set was just like a turning point for me, because it gave me a lot of confidence going into the third set.”
Sakkari took total control from there, surging ahead 5-0 as frustration and physical struggles set in for the former World No.1.
“It was tough,” Serena said after the match. “I literally should have won that match. There was no excuse. It was hard, but I had so many opportunities to win, and I have to figure that one out, like how to start winning those matches again. There is really no excuses, to be honest.
“I started cramping, but I shouldn’t have been in that situation. I don’t think that helps mentally when it’s like, you know the match is over and you have won the match, and now your legs were already tired and now they are even more tired, and now it’s even more tired.
“I literally put myself in this situation. You know, it’s like dating a guy that you know sucks. That’s literally what I keep doing out here. It’s like I have got to get rid of this guy. It just makes no sense. It’s frustrating.”
She nonetheless saved seven match points as she served to stay in the match, battling bravely from the back of the court.
With the match on her racquet, Sakkari struck a searing forehand and at last made it over the line on her eighth match point.
In all, the No.13 seed made two more winners (27 to 25) and 15 fewer errors (43 to 58), converted five of 19 break point opportunities while maintaining a 59% first serve percentage, striking seven aces to Williams’ nine.
Standing between Sakkari and a third Premier 5 semifinal is British No.1 Johanna Konta, who eased past former World No.2 Vera Zvonareva in straight sets earlier in the day.
“I haven’t watched her playing this week, but I assume she’s playing really good from her results,” Sakkari said.
“It’s going to be a tough match. Now I just cannot think of the way she plays. I don’t remember. It’s too early and too soon. I just need a good dinner, good night’s sleep, and then figure out how to play her tomorrow after breakfast!”
There’s no shortage of history that’s been made by Bill Belichick or Pete Carroll in their sterling coaching careers.
When their teams stand on opposing sidelines Sunday night, they’ll make a little history together.
Carroll and Belichick, 69 and 68-years-young, respectively, are the two oldest coaches in the NFL and their combined age of 137 years and 162 days on game day will set a record for the oldest head coaching matchup in the history of the league, per NFL Research.
Like fine wine, Bill and Pete will age past Marv Levy and Don Shula, who were a combined 136 years and 117 days old when they battled one last time back in Week 16 of 1995, according to NFL Research.
In previous head-to-head matchups, Carroll owns a 2-1 advantage.
Between the two, their NFL success is historic, as well, obviously. The two have combined for 455 wins in the regular season and seven Super Bowl trophies — although Belichick clearly has a huge advantage there.
And who knows how long they’ll keep building on to their Hall of Fame resumes.
“I don’t know,” Carroll said when asked who would retire first. “Ask him. I’m feeling great. I’m kind of on a five-year plan. Five years from now I’ll figure it out and reassess. I actually owe that to David Brooks. And he taught me that a while back. Something he wrote, ‘Why are you looking year-to-year? Why don’t you just plan it out over a five-year period?’ So, each year is five more years. So it was five years last and it’s five years this year and we’ll figure it out when the time comes.”
Though their ages are adding up to history, their past and present success offers no reason that their futures will be up anytime soon.
For now, it’s all about this Sunday and another historic marker in two historical coaching careers.
ROME — Less than two weeks after getting defaulted from the U.S. Open, Novak Djokovic lost his cool again midway through a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over German qualifier Dominik Koepfer in the Italian Open quarterfinals Saturday.
When Djokovic was broken at love to even the second set at 3-3, he slammed his racket to the red clay in anger.
With the frame broken and the strings all mangled, Djokovic was forced to get a new racket and received a warning from the chair umpire.
“It’s not the first nor the last racket that I’ll break in my career,” Djokovic said. “I’ve done it before and I’ll probably do it again. I don’t want to do it but when it comes, it happens.
“That’s how, I guess, I release sometimes my anger and it’s definitely not the best message out there, especially for the young tennis players looking at me, and I don’t encourage that — definitely.”
The top-ranked Djokovic was thrown out of the U.S. Open for unintentionally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball in a fit of anger.
At the Foro Italico, Djokovic had already appeared frustrated during the game before he broke his racket, glaring toward the umpire following a couple of overrules and a point that was ordered to be replayed.
“That’s just me,” Djokovic said. “Of course I’m not perfect and I’m doing my best.”
The 97th-ranked Koepfer, who screamed at himself in frustration throughout the match, was also warned for misbehaviour early in the third set.
Aiming for his fifth title in Rome, Djokovic’s semifinal opponent will be Casper Ruud, who eliminated local favourite Matteo Berrettini 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) in a match that lasted 2 hours, 57 minutes.
Nine-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal was playing Diego Schwartzman later in the other half of the draw.
Ruud is the first Norwegian to reach the semifinals of a Masters 1000 tournament. His father, Christian Ruud, got as far as the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters in 1997.
While fans have not been admitted to the tournament yet — Italy’s sports minister said Friday that 1,000 spectators will be allowed in for the semifinals and finals — workers, family members and other onlookers inside the picturesque Pietrangeli stadium provided some support for Berrettini, who is from Rome.
Nicola Pietrangeli, the 1957 and 1961 Rome champion and the man the stadium is named after — was also among those sitting on the white marble stands.
“There would have been a lot more adrenaline with fans,” Berrettini said.
In the women’s tournament, top-seeded Simona Halep reached the last four when Kazakh opponent Yulia Putintseva retired midway through their match due to a lower back injury.
Halep, who lost two straight finals in Rome to Elina Svitolina in 2017 and 2018, will need to beat two-time Grand Slam winner Garbiñe Muguruza to return to the championship match. Muguruza required more than two hours to eliminate U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
“(Muguruza) feels really well on (the) clay court and here,” Halep said. “It’s a big challenge.
“I really want to win this tournament,” added Halep, who will be playing her fifth semifinal in Rome. “I love playing here. … It’s one of the biggest goals now.”
Halep was ahead 6-2, 2-0 when Putintseva decided she was in too much pain to continue — having already taken an off-court medical timeout between sets.
The 30th-ranked Putintseva was coming off two long three-set matches, having upset eighth-seeded Petra Martic and 10th-seeded Elena Rybakina. Entering the match, she had been on court for 7 hours, 22 minutes — far more than Halep, who had a bye in the opening round and won her next two matches in straight sets.
Putintseva also reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals in her previous tournament, while Halep decided to skip the event in New York due to coronavirus travel concerns.
Halep improved to 8-0 since the tennis restart and 12-0 overall stretching back to February.
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The Tampa Bay Lightning‘s success as an offensive juggernaut has had other clubs trying to capture that same kind of success ever since they went all the way to the Cup Final in 2015. You can see that blueprint unfolding across the Eastern Conference.
That flare for goal-scoring only took them so far, however — and we all know how last year turned out. This year’s focus on bringing in steady veterans to complement the exciting core has paid off in the form of a Stanley Cup Final berth.
While former general manager Steve Yzerman’s fingerprints are all over this team, current GM Julien BriseBois didn’t simply inherit this club — as assistant GM throughout Yzerman’s tenure, he had a huge hand in every part of this roster. Now front and centre, we’re about to find out if his adjustments over this past year will result in a Stanley Cup for a club who’s been on the brink ever since that trip to the Final five years ago.
DRAFTED & DEVELOPED
Forwards Mathieu Joseph (2015, fourth round, 120th overall), Mitchell Stephens (2012, second round, 33rd overall), and Alexander Volkov (2017, second round, 48th overall) were brought into the bubble in a depth capacity role, but when you look at the team’s top six (minus the sidelined Stamkos), none are first-rounders and all are a testament to the Lightning’s ability to draft and develop strong talent. Most are products of Yzerman’s draft board, but BriseBois should get plenty of credit here, too — while he inherited this team when Yzerman resigned in September 2018, he was part of Yzerman’s staff as assistant GM and oversaw the recruitment and development of so many of today’s stars who came through the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch.
Anthony Cirelli, Centre Drafted: 2015, third round, 72nd overall Cirelli, a success story for all other late bloomers to learn from, is yet another example of that mid-round draft success of Yzerman and the development chops of BriseBois. The RFA-to-be has got a nose for the net and is as clutch as they come.
Brayden Point, Centre Drafted: 2014, third round, 79th overall Looking at this roster, second- and third-round steals are this team’s bread and butter. Just imagine being a GM today and seeing Point still on the board in Round 3…
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Goalie Drafted: 2012, first round, 19th overall It took him just two seasons after getting drafted to get his first taste of the NHL, and two more after that to take over the starter’s job from former teammate — and now opponent — Ben Bishop.
Victor Hedman on Andrei Vasilevskiy: “He’s the best goalie in the league. No questions asked.” #TBLightning
Cedric Paquette, Centre Drafted: 2012, fourth round, 101st overall The fourth-round fourth-liner has been especially quiet this post-season. Feels like a contender for this year’s unlikely hero, no? It would seem fitting.
Nikita Kucherov, Right wing Drafted: 2011, second round, 58th overall Last year’s Hart Trophy winner is a steal in the second round. That he’s the No. 1 line’s lowest draft pick is a testament to Yzerman’s (and his scouting staff’s) draft-season chops.
#GoBolts Nikita Kucherov is 1 of just 7 players with 20+ assists in a single postseason in the last 25 years, joining Evgeny Kuznetsov (2018), Logan Couture (2016), Anze Kopitar (2014), Jonathan Toews (2010), Evgeni Malkin (2009) & Sidney Crosby (2008).
Ondrej Palat, Left wing Drafted: 2011, seventh round, 208th overall Three picks later, and he would’ve been that year’s Mr. Irrelevant. Put alongside Point and Kucherov on Tampa’s lethal top line, he’s anything but.
(Fun fact: With Steven Stamkos sidelined, there are no first-round picks in the Lightning’s top six.)
Victor Hedman, Defence Drafted: 2009, first round, 2nd overall Brian Lawton’s tenure at the helm of Tampa Bay was short, but fortuitous in that it brought the club its No. 1 rearguard in Hedman.
Here’s a neat storyline for this Cup Final: Before Rick Bowness joined Dallas as an assistant (and then interim head coach), he was part of Jon Cooper’s staff in Tampa Bay. There, Bowness oversaw the club’s defence – which of course included Hedman, who achieved career-high stats across the board in his first season under Bowness, and credits the longtime bench boss with being able to get his game to the next level.
Victor Hedman on his Lightning advancing to the Eastern Conference Final
September 01 2020
Steven Stamkos, Centre Drafted: 2008, first round, first overall The captain is one of just two players on this roster, along with Alex Killorn, drafted by former GM Jay Feaster. Stamkos was Feaster’s parting gift to the franchise, as the longtime executive left his post on July 11, 2008 – just a few weeks after that year’s draft.
Including Hedman, he’s one of just three members of this year’s team not drafted by either Yzeman or BriseBois.
Alex Killorn, Left wing Drafted: 2007, third round, 77th overall He’s the longest-tenured Tampa teammate, as one of three players predating Yzerman and BriseBois’ time. His career is also a true testament to patience – six years passed between the forward getting the draft call and getting the call-up to the NHL, developing in the NCAA with Harvard and in the AHL under BriseBois’ guidance.
Last year’s first-round exit is what hockey nightmares are made of. This year’s trade targets — Coleman and Goodrow — show a focus on bringing in grit and depth. And while they weren’t the flashiest of deals, the Lightning’s place in the Stanley Cup Final shows they’re key parts of the puzzle.
Blake Coleman, Centre/Right wing Acquired: Feb. 2020, from Devils This deal, which saw forward prospect Nolan Foote and a first-round pick in either 2020 or 2021 sent to New Jersey in return, looked good at the deadline as Coleman was a strong candidate to head to a contending club. The deal looks even better now that the Lightning have gotten all the way to the Stanley Cup Final with the help of the gritty, skilled, depth forward who’s got another affordable year on his deal after this year.
Barclay Goodrow, Left wing Acquired: Feb. 2020, from Sharks Was it a bit surprising that Goodrow garnered a first-round pick? Yup. But if the depth forward can keep contributing en route to a Stanley Cup? Totally worth it.
Jan Rutta, Defence Acquired: Jan. 2019, from Chicago A depth piece on this roster, Rutta has appeared in just one game this post-season.
Ryan McDonagh, Defence Acquired: Feb. 2018, from Rangers Tampa Bay’s rental at the 2018 trade deadline gelled so well in his new Florida home, the former Rangers captain signed on long-term a few months later.
Carter Verhaeghe, Centre Acquired: July 2017, from Islanders Being traded from the Islanders to the Lightning in exchange for goalie Kristers Gudlevskis in 2017 was just one step in what has been a long journey to the NHL for the forward — a journey that took him from the ECHL to now the highest level of the NHL.
Mikhail Sergachev, Defence Acquired: June 2017, from Canadiens Trading an unhappy Jonathan Drouin for a recently-drafted defenceman full of potential feels like one of Yzerman’s biggest trade-floor wins from his days as GM.
Erik Cernak, Defence Acquired: Feb. 2017, from Kings The second-pairing rearguard was part of the return from L.A. when goaltender Bishop was rented out to the Kings at the deadline.
Braydon Coburn, Defence Acquired: March 2015, from Philadelphia Yzerman has been known for some strong trade market moves, but this one doesn’t look great in hindsight. Tampa paid a steep price for Coburn back in 2015, sending Radko Gudas and the Lightning’s first- and third-round picks to Philadelphia in exchange for the rearguard.
Picking up undersized, undrafted free agent forwards like Tyler Johnson (2011) and Yanni Gourde (2014) felt like Yzerman’s calling card.
Signing veterans to short-term, risk-free, rebound contracts to complement the club’s strong core might turn out to be that of BriseBois. Just like this year’s trade targets, BriseBois’ savvy, short-term deals to bring in veterans searching for a rebound have yielded strong results.
Zach Bogosian, Defence Signed: Feb. 24, 2020 (one year, $1.3M) A smart veteran signing after having his contract terminated by Buffalo, Bogosian’s strong play with Tampa Bay – his first playoff experience, no less – looks really good right now.
Kevin Shattenkirk, Defence Signed: Aug. 2019 (one year, $1.75M) Three years ago, Shattenkirk landed in New York on a four-year deal worth $6.65 million per season as one of the top UFAs on the market. After being bought out last August, Tampa Bay picked him up on a smart, mutually beneficial pact that has revived his career and paid off for the Lightning, too.
Kevin Shattenkirk played for the Capitals at the end of the 16-17 season. He signed with NYR and WSH goes and wins the Cup. Then last year another of his former teams, the Blues, wins it. His contract gets bought out, signs a 1 year deal with TBL. Now he’s got a shot at the Cup.
Pat Maroon, Left wing Signed: Aug. 2019 (1 year, $900,000) The big power forward and hometown hero with last year’s Blues is proof that every teams needs a little old-school on the roster.
Curtis McElhinney, Goalie Signed: July 1, 2019 (two years, $2.6M) He was one of the best stories out of Carolina’s Cinderella run in last year’s playoffs, and a strong insurance policy with Tampa this time around. Money well spent.
Scott Wedgewood, Goalie Signed: July 1, 2019 (one year, 700,000) The affordable depth option hasn’t played since signing with the club, but as we learn (and re-learn every playoffs), you can never have too much insurance in net.
Luke Schenn, Defence Signed: July 1, 2019 (one year, $700,000) Schenn is another example of players being picked up by Tampa Bay on low-cost, risk-free deals aimed at setting players up for a career revival. One of the first-round picks on this club (taken fifth overall by Toronto in 2008), Schenn is now an affordable depth forward with the Lightning and a complementary piece to this fast group.
Luke Schenn playing in the Cup Final wearing blue and white, just like we all expected.
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