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The year the Big Four stood down – The Globe and Mail



Vasek Pospisil, right, and Félix Auger-Aliassime of Canada look on during their first round doubles match against Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin of France at the Rogers Cup tennis tournament in Montreal, Aug. 5, 2019.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

After finally putting an end to the whole idea of the Big Four in men’s tennis, Félix Auger-Aliassime was still showing a respect that is no longer due.

“In the back of your mind, you know you’re facing Andy Murray,” the 20-year-old Montrealer said after winning his second-round match at the U.S. Open on Thursday night. “You never know what tricks he has in the back of his pocket.”

No tricks, as it turns out. I’m not sure the man has pockets any more.

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A large part of Murray’s reputation was based on his ability to return serve. He’s one of the greats in that regard. Against Auger-Aliassime, Murray had no break points and no break opportunities. He went down 2-6, 3-6, 4-6.

That isn’t losing. That’s being wiped out.

Murray is in the midst of a comeback no one really wanted. He’s tottering around out there on a metal hip, trying to reassert himself in a game that has passed him by.

A generation ago, the Scot would have had the sense to quit. He’s 33 years old and already half-bionic.

Thirty-three used to be ancient in men’s tennis terms. Pete Sampras quit at 31. Boris Becker was the same age when he called it a day, and he hadn’t mattered much in years.

Maybe recency bias is to blame here. The Roger Federers, Serena Williamses and Tom Bradys of the world have convinced Murray that it is quite reasonable for humans to operate at their physical peak until 40.

As anyone who has ever been 40 will tell you, that is a dirty lie.

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At this U.S. Open, we are finally beginning to see the reality of time reassert itself.

By Friday, the oldest remaining player in the men’s singles draw was reigning champion Novak Djokovic. He’s 33 and a half. But I understand he can turn bilge water into vitamins using only the power of his brain, so he has an advantage.

Federer is MIA because of knee surgery. Rafael Nadal is taking a pass because of COVID-19.

This was the year the old guard stood down. We are left wondering what they’ll look like whenever they decide to stand back up.

Men’s tennis has spent years waiting for the situation at the top to change. It finally is, if incrementally. Murray’s done. Federer is on his way out. Nadal has to be close behind. It just stands to reason. (And, yes, that one has been written before. Many times.)

On a nice, local note, Canada is a major storyline in whatever change is occurring. Three Canadian men (Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil) made it through to the U.S. Open’s third round this week. That had never happened before.

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It might’ve been four had Pospisil not advanced via some Canadian-on-Canadian crime, making Milos Raonic look old and creaky.

Raonic’s only finish line now is a major title. The only one left to play is the French. Which means Raonic’s season is effectively over.

He’ll be 30 when they start up again. Just last year, you’d have said, “Thirty? Is that all?” But 30 is starting to feel like the other side of the mountain again. Especially when you are a spindly 6-foot-5 and playing a sport that puts more G-forces on your joints than a rocket launch.

Raonic is no longer mid-career. He is well into the second half of his tennis journey. His time no longer seems like ‘right now’. It feels as though it was the Wimbledon final in 2016, the one in which he ended up being overcome by the moment against Murray.

Imagine where Canadian tennis would be now if that match had gone the other way?

Instead, the breakthrough was left to Bianca Andreescu, who won the women’s title at the U.S. Open last year. We are about to see if tennis majors are like four-minute miles – you have to see that it can be done in order to be able to do it yourself.

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Regardless, Auger-Aliassime is now always going to be the most obvious threat. He was shaky in his opener, then dominant against Murray. Within a few days, if it gets that far, he’ll likely have to get past Dominic Thiem.

Thiem has been tennis’s No. 1 contender for what seems like a hundred years now. The Austrian is 27 and hasn’t won anything that matters. By that age, Bjorn Borg had already been retired for a year.

Like so many of his cohort – Raonic being one of them – Thiem seems scarred by his unlucky place in the tennis timeline. He is consistently brilliant right up until he convinces a few people that he’s finally figured it out. Then he plays as though the point is to put the ball through the net, rather than just over it.

Someone on Auger-Aliassime’s side of the bracket is going to get their chance against Djokovic. You’d like to make that last sentence conditional, but you know in your bones it isn’t. Djokovic may be a bit of a wing-nut, but he is also as guaranteed as government bonds.

It’s got to the point where you don’t admire the Serb’s consistency so much as you are confused by his ability to keep himself interested. Surely, even he must get bored by how good he is.

That’s all you’re hoping for now – some change, something a little different. This U.S. Open is an advance look at what men’s tennis will look like in its next iteration. And so far, that’s not very compelling. It’s a bit of a battle royale out there – a whole bunch of guys swinging chairs at each other.

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We still need to figure out the rivalries, the must-see encounters, the running feuds. The women’s side has Serena Williams and her march to 24 Grand Slam titles. What does men’s tennis have? Djokovic plowing over the field like this is a monster truck rally.

It’d be a nice change if someone found a new script, never mind flipping this one. And it would be something special in an otherwise desultory sports year if that someone wore the Maple Leaf.

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Lightning rule out Stamkos for rest of Stanley Cup final –



Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos will not play again during the Stanley Cup final, head coach Jon Cooper said on Sunday, adding the next time the team’s top star might be seen on the ice is during the trophy presentation.

The Lightning, who lead the best-of-seven final 3-2, will have a chance on Monday to clinch the franchise’s second Stanley Cup when they face off against the Dallas Stars in Game 6 in Edmonton, one of two COVID-19 bubbles used by the National Hockey League for the post-season.

Dallas staved off elimination with a 3-2 win in double overtime on Saturday night.

Recovering from March surgery to repair a core muscle injury, Stamkos has been limited to five shifts and just under three minutes of ice time during the playoffs. But he made them count, scoring a key goal in the Lightning’s Game 3 win that allowed them to take a 2-1 series lead.

WATCH | Stamkos scores in his brief return:

Playing in his first game since February 25th, Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos found the back of the net on just his second shift to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead over the Stars. 1:10

“Stammer is done for the series,” said Cooper, adding he discussed the situation with Stamkos earlier on Sunday. “Hopefully the next time you see him on the ice, it will be for the trophy presentation.”

As team captain, Stamkos would accept the Stanley Cup if the Lightning win the championship.

“He did everything he could to get back and he did get back. Unfortunately, he couldn’t go any further,” Cooper said.

“He’s for sure missed on the ice but the rest of the series is done for him.”

With the series tied 1-1, Stamkos, twice a winner of the Maurice Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal scorer, provided a huge emotional lift, scoring seven minutes into the opening period of Game 3 to put Tampa ahead 2-0.

Stamkos did not play during the final six minutes of the first period and never took another shift the rest of the game.

WATCH | Stamkos’ return stuff of Stanley Cup lore:

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

“To be honest, I didn’t think he was going to play at all in these playoffs,” said Cooper. “I don’t think any of us did, so he gave us 2:47 of brilliant hockey that is a phenomenal story, scored a huge goal for us in a win and hopefully we can keep that momentum moving forward.”

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Lightning’s Steven Stamkos ruled out for remainder of Stanley Cup Final –



EDMONTON — The only way we’ll see Steven Stamkos return to the Stanley Cup Final is if the Tampa Bay Lightning are able to finish the job without him.

The hard-luck captain was officially ruled out of the series by the Lightning on Sunday morning, but could still be called on to accept the Stanley Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

“Hopefully the next time we see him on the ice is during a trophy presentation,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper.

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No team has won the Stanley Cup without its captain in the lineup since the 1936-37 Detroit Red Wings, who were without Doug Young. The Boston Bruins did not have a designated captain in 1970 and 1972, but Johnny Bucyk accepted the trophy both years and played in the clinching game.

Stamkos has been battling an undisclosed injury throughout these playoffs. He made an emotional return for Game 3 of the Cup Final against the Dallas Stars and scored a beautiful goal, but was unable to play after the first period that night.

The 30-year-old saw a total of five shifts while spending nine weeks inside the NHL bubble rehabbing.

“He gamed it out,” said Cooper. “To be honest I didn’t think he was playing at all in these playoffs. I don’t think any of us did. So he gave us 2:47 of brilliant hockey, that’s a phenomenal story.

“He scored a huge goal for us in a win.”

The Lightning hold a 3-2 series lead over Dallas entering Game 6 on Monday.

Stamkos is the longest-tenured member of the organization and has endured a difficult run of injuries throughout his career. A broken leg saw him miss the chance to play for Team Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and blood clots forced him out of all but one game of Tampa’s 2016 run to the Eastern Conference Final.

He had a 15-game points streak going when he got injured on Feb. 25 this season. That was followed by core muscle surgery on March 2. Stamkos appeared to be on the mend while participating in training camp following the COVID-19 pause, but he suffered some kind of setback that kept him out until the brief, memorable appearance in this Stanley Cup Final.

“He did everything he could to get back, and he did get back, and unfortunately he couldn’t go any further,” said Cooper.

From the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to the Stanley Cup Final, livestream every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, blackout-free, on Sportsnet NOW.

It’s been a difficult journey.

Stamkos was clearly moved after being called out to join Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Alex Killorn in accepting the Prince of Wales Trophy last round and sounded emotional after scoring against Dallas in the Game 3 win.

He remained on the bench throughout that game, and tested his skating stride during a couple television timeouts, but didn’t play for the final 46 minutes. He gave everything he could.

“I’ve watched these guys be so committed to what our end goal is, and to be part of it tonight, it was a dream come true and I’m so proud of these guys,” Stamkos said that night. “And to be able to share that moment with them and just even be on the bench and watch how well we played tonight, I have told these guys before: It’s inspiring.

“It was great to be part of.”

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Dana White reveals who’s next for Israel Adesanya and Jan Blachowicz – MMA Fighting



Israel Adesanya was dazzling in his title defense and Jan Blachowicz cemented himself as the new light heavyweight champion as the UFC 253 main and co-main events both ended in dramatic fashion.

While Adesanya and Blachowicz will undoubtedly enjoy their victories with a well-deserved post-fight celebration, it didn’t take long for the subject of their next fight to be raised on Saturday night.

In fact, it was Adesanya himself who made the call about the top contender in the middleweight division. He immediately turned his attention to Jared Cannonier, who’s been on his radar for the past year.

Cannonier is currently preparing for a showdown with former champion Robert Whittaker at UFC 254 in October. If he’s victorious, Cannonier should expect his next fight to come against Adesanya with the middleweight title up for grabs.

“That’s the fight if Cannonier wins,” UFC president Dana White confirmed at the UFC 253 post fight press conference. “And I love that about Israel. He’s ready for who’s next, who else thinks they can beat me. The kid is an absolute stud.”

Adesanya will undoubtedly be keeping a close eye on Cannonier’s fight in just a few weeks to see if his next opponent is secured or not.

Things aren’t quite as clear cut at light heavyweight, but there are only a few options that make sense for Blachowicz after he dispatched Dominick Reyes in impressive fashion to claim the vacant title.

The Polish veteran made it clear just after the belt was wrapped around his waist that he would like to cement his championship status by facing Jon Jones, who vacated the belt just recently with the intention of moving up to the heavyweight division.

Jones even went as far as hinting on Twitter that perhaps he could return to 205 pounds now that a challenger like Blachowicz exists for him but obviously nothing is set in stone at this point.

The other fight that could determine the next contender for the light heavyweight title will take place on Nov. 7 when Thiago Santos goes to battle with Glover Teixeira.

White confirmed the winner of that fight would earn the next crack at the new 205-pound champion unless Jones really did decide he wanted to return to his old stomping grounds.

“Those are the guys that are fighting for the next shot,” White said about Santos vs. Teixeira. “But obviously if Jon Jones wanted that fight, we wouldn’t deny Jon Jones the opportunity.”

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