By HOWARD FENDRICH
NEW YORK — Serena Williams’ big lead in the U.S. Open final suddenly was gone.
Her serve was shaky. Her hard-hitting opponent, Victoria Azarenka, was presenting problems, and so was the gusting wind. A couple of foot-fault calls added to the angst.
As a jittery Williams headed to the sideline after dropping a set for the first time in the tournament, she chucked her racket, which ricocheted onto the court.
When play resumed, in the crucible of a third set, Williams put aside everything and did what she does best: She came through in the clutch to win a major match. Facing her only test of the past two weeks, the No. 1-seeded Williams overcame No. 2 Azarenka 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1 on Sunday for her 17th Grand Slam championship.
“When you’re always trying to write history, or join history in my case, maybe you just get a little more nervous than you should. I also think it’s kind of cool, because it means that it means a lot to you. It means a lot to me, this trophy,” Williams said, pointing her right hand at her fifth silver cup from the U.S. Open, “and every single trophy that I have.”
That collection keeps growing.
Williams has won twice in a row at Flushing Meadows – beating Azarenka in three sets each time – and four of the past six major tournaments overall. Her 17 titles are the sixth-most in history for a woman, only one behind Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, and the same total as the men’s record-holder, Roger Federer.
“It feels really good to be in that same league as him,” said Williams, who earned $3.6 million in prize money.
This one did not come easily, even though it appeared to be nearly over when Williams went ahead by two breaks at 4-1 in the second set. She served for the match at 5-4 and 6-5 – only to have the gutsy Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open winner, break each time.
Williams is 67-4 with a career-high nine titles in 2013, but two of those losses came against Azarenka.
A year ago, they played the first three-set women’s final in New York since 1995. This time, they went the distance again, a total of 2 hours, 45 minutes, because Azarenka was superior in the tiebreaker.
“I got a little uptight, which probably wasn’t the best thing at that moment,” Williams said. “I wasn’t playing very smart tennis then, so I just had to relax and not do that again.”
So after the second set, Williams gave herself a pep talk.
She regrouped and regained control.
“In the third set, Serena really found a way to calm down and restart from zero and quickly erase what happened,” said her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.
Azarenka helped a bit, with two of her seven double-faults coming when she got broken to trail 3-1 in the third.
That pretty much sealed it, because Williams was not about to falter again.
“She’s a champion, and she knows how to repeat that. She knows what it takes to get there. I know that feeling, too. And when two people who want that feeling so bad meet, it’s like a clash,” Azarenka said, pounding her fists together.
At the outset, though, the 15 mph wind that swirled in Arthur Ashe Stadium bothered Williams as much as Azarenka did.
“It wasn’t pleasant,” Azarenka said.
Williams caught service tosses. She grabbed at her skirt to keep it from flying up. Most troubling, she was thrown off by balls that danced oddly. Six of the first 16 points ended with unforced errors by Williams, which allowed Azarenka to go ahead 2-1.
Looking hesitant at times, Williams did not show the same dominance she had while dropping only 16 games during six victories through the semifinals.
“The wind was unbelievable today,” Williams said. “It just got worse and worse. It just never let up.”
She needed to adjust, and she did.
Her serve, as usual, made a big difference: Williams hit nine aces, one at 126 mph.
Still, four times, Azarenka was only two points from taking the opening set. At one such moment, with Williams serving at deuce after a double-fault, she was called for a foot fault, erasing what would have been a 121 mph ace. There was another foot-fault call in the second set, too. They brought back memories of the American’s loss to Kim Clijsters in the 2009 semifinals, when Williams was docked a point, and later fined, for a tirade against a line judge over a foot-fault call.
There was no such outburst directed at officials this time, although there was that racket toss. After the call in the match’s 10th game, Williams simply put a hand to her face, composed herself, and won the point with a down-the-line backhand she celebrated with a fist pump, some foot stomping and a yell of “Come on!”
Williams wound up holding there with a 104 mph ace, part of what seemed to be a match-altering stretch. She won five consecutive games and 16 of 18 points to take the first set and go up a break in the second.
“You could see she clicked,” Mouratoglou said. “She realized she was not aggressive enough. She was letting Vika dictate too much, and all of a sudden, things completely changed.”
Well, at least for a while.
Azarenka did manage to make competitive again, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. She was, after all, 31-1 on hard courts entering Sunday, including a victory over Williams last month at Mason, Ohio.
But when it came time to close the deal yet again, Williams shined. She delivered six of the third set’s eight winners and forced Azarenka into 15 miscues. Soon enough, Williams was hopping up and down after finishing with a service winner. She kept pumping her fist afterward, even while sipping from a water bottle.
“She really made it happen,” Azarenka said. “In that particular moment, she was tougher today. She was more consistent, and she deserved to win.”
Williams became the first woman to surpass $9 million in prize money in a single season, while topping $50 million for her career.
She also equaled Steffi Graf with five U.S. Open titles, one behind Evert’s record of six in the Open era, which began in 1968. Williams never had won two consecutive U.S. Opens, but now she has, adding to the trophies she earned in New York in 1999 – at age 17 – then 2002 and 2008.
Those go alongside five from Wimbledon, five from the Australian Open, and two from the French Open, which she won this year.
“Being older, it’s always awesome and such a great honor, because I don’t know if I’ll ever win another Grand Slam. Obviously, I hope so,” said Williams, who turns 32 on Sept. 26. “It’s different now, because when I won earlier, it was just one or two or three or four. Now it’s like 16, 17. It has more meaning (for) history, as opposed to just winning a few.”
President Obama played golf Sunday with Tiger Woods during the president’s long holiday weekend in Florida, amid concerns from the media about a lack of access before, during and after the newsworthy outing.
The foursome at the Floridian National Golf Club, in Palm City, Fla., included U.S. trade representative Ron Kirk and Jim Crane, a Democratic donor who owns the club and the Houston Astros baseball team.
The White House has prohibited media coverage of Obama’s weekend golf outing, prompting Fox News’ Ed Henry, who is the president of the White House Correspondents Association, to issue a statement saying, “a broad cross section of our members from print, radio, online and TV have today expressed extreme frustration to me about having absolutely no access to the President of the United States this entire weekend.”
The White House responded by saying the press access granted Sunday was “entirely consistent with the press access offered for previous presidential golf outings.”
But Henry maintains, “there is a very simple but important principle we will continue to fight for today and in the days ahead: transparency.”
On Saturday, Woods’ former coach, Butch Harmon, rode along with the Obama foursome for a few holes and gave the president some golf tips.
Golf Digest reported that Obama spent eight hours with Harmon, during which he played 27 holes and hit balls in Harmon’s studio, and then managed to coordinate Sunday’s round with Woods. The report said the original plan called for Obama and Woods to play at Woods’ home club — The Medalist Golf Club, a half-hour away in Hobe Sound — but they eventually opted for the Floridian.
Woods departed after the first 18 holes, but Obama stayed on to play another nine, the report said.
“Just to see the interaction between the two on the range was pretty neat,” Harmon told Golf Digest. “The President said to Tiger: `The last tournament you played was fun to watch. It’s good to see you play well again.’ You could tell he meant it. It just wasn’t a throw it out compliment.”
It seems Obama and Woods — the first black men at the top of their respective fields — have spent the past few years inching toward Sunday’s meeting on the fairway.
The two met in January 2009, during Obama’s inauguration in Washington. Four months later, in April, Woods visited the White House and Obama welcomed him into the Oval Office.
Woods’ personal life imploded later in 2009 after revelations that he had engaged in multiple extramarital affairs, leading to divorce. He followed with a public apology and announced he was taking an indefinite break from golf. Shortly after Woods announced he was coming out of seclusion, Obama said in an interview with Fox News Channel that Woods will still be a “terrific” golfer despite his personal issues.
After returning to the sport, Woods went two years without winning, but his game is back on track and he currently is ranked No. 2 in the world. Woods won the last tournament he played, three weeks ago in San Diego.
The president is in Florida while first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha are on an annual skiing vacation out West. He arrived late Friday and was due to return to Washington on Monday night.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Veteran Journalist Keith Clinkscales has launched a new online initiative, TheShadowLeague.com, an independent sports news organization. Clinkscales is the former Senior Vice President of Content Development at ESPN, he is cited for his development of the Body Issue for ESPN The Magazine and as the architect for Vibe Magazine. His work in the field have won him numerous awards, he most recently was named “The Top 50 Minorities in Cable” by Cableworld Magazine.
TheShadowLeague.com is an online editorial platform owned by Shadow League Digital, a multi-platform content creation company. The website will aim to expand beyond delivering your everyday sports news stories and delve into subjects that are often under-represented or hardly every reported in sports. To do so the website has created a team of some of the most well respected sports journalists of today such as Vincent Thomas, James Carr, J.R. Gamble and Glen Minnis.
TheShadowLeague.com and ESPN have teamed together to form a business relationship that will consist of funding and potential content opportunities, but will allow The Shadow League to keep their independent voice and maintain independent control.
The man he said apologized to him for pulling the scam, 22-year-old Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, has not spoken publicly. He and his family have decline the AP’s numerous requests for interviews.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Te’o reached out to his coaches and university officials on Dec. 26, and the school commissioned an investigation that he said confirmed Te’o was not involved in the hoax. The school received the findings of the investigation on Jan. 4, three days before Notre Dame played Alabama in the BCS title game.
A Notre Dame spokesman said some school administrators thought they should release what they knew about what the hoax as soon as they became aware of it, but the university ultimately decided to let Te’o and his family be first to go public with the story.
Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown told the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune in a story published Sunday that university officials decided disclosing the information about the hoax before the BCS championship in Miami would not be in the best interest of the teams or the individuals involved.
The hoax about Te’os dead girlfriend became public Wednesday when it was reported by Deadspin.com. Swarbrick held a news conference later that day to discuss what Notre Dame knew, and gave full support to Te’o. Later, Swarbrick said the family had intended to speak publicly about the hoax Jan. 21.
Brown said the university was “utterly stunned” when Te’o informed them about details of the hoax on Dec. 26 and had a “difficult time getting our arms around it.”
Te’o met with Swarbrick for nearly two hours on Dec. 27 after returning to campus to give a full account of his relationship with the online woman he knew as Lennay Kekua, and then again the next day, Brown said.
How the university should proceed was the topic of discussions between top administrators for a week, Brown said.
The university hired outside investigators on Dec. 29.
“We asked them to focus on any threats to the university or its reputation, by providing more information about the so-called Kekua family that might help us understand motives, or whether they might have had any contact with others at Notre Dame,” said Brown, who declined to name the firm.
The investigators were in touch the next day, telling the university they could find no evidence of a Lennay Kekua or any of the relatives she had told Te’o about in several “sophisticated databases” the firm used. Brown said the investigators concluded “the entire family was fictitious, because of their inability to find them, and that the investigation should turn to trying to identify the woman who had been talking to Manti.”
Investigators determined the address the woman had given Te’o was real, with a house there that belonged to members of a family named Tuiasosopo, including Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.
Brown said the investigators hired by Notre Dame didn’t try to reach Tuiasosopo or his relatives.
The university officials told the newspaper the investigators did not examine cellphone records, emails or other electronic communication to determine the length or extent of Te’o’s communication over the past few years with the person claiming to be Kekua, nor did the university ask Te’o to take a lie detector test.
The school informed Teo’s parents, Brian and Ottilia, about the investigation results on Jan. 5.
Even though the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony (pictured left) and the Celtics’ Kevin Garnett (pictured right) have come to an alleged truce, after their heated post-game beef in New York City on Monday night, the player’s organization still has to make an example of someone: The hatchet came down on Anthony for continuing to stir the pot outside the locker room and on the Celtics’ team bus, so he was handed down a one-day suspension sans pay for not keeping his temper in check, according to the New York Daily News.
The ballers’ teams played against each other at New York’s Madison Square Garden, and all throughout the game, both men reportedly trash talked. During the fourth quarter, it was apparent that Anthony and Garnett had reached a breaking point in their on-court exchange, because they engaged in a very heated war-of-words that almost became physical.
According to Anthony, the 36-year-old, married Garnett crossed the line when he mentioned Anthony’s wife, LaLa Anthony. Garnett reportedly told Anthony, who has allegedly been living apart from his wife for two months, that she tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios.
The insult cut Anthony, 28, so deep that he actually waited for Garnett outside the Celtics locker room immediately after the game to settle the score. Despite his efforts to get at Garnett, Anthony was surrounded by droves of Garden security, New York City police, and the Knicks’ coach Mike Woodson, who was reportedly there to try to defuse the situation. Anthony then tried to confront Garnett as the Celtics were boarding their team bus but again his efforts were thwarted.
While Anthony has refused to confirm what Garnett said to him, he did tell the Daily News that the player had “crossed the line”:
“It’s something you just don’t say to men, another man,” Anthony said following practice at the Knicks’ training facility in Greenburgh. “My mindset and motive of going back there to see him at the locker room and seeing him at the bus, I wanted to have a one-on-one conversation with him and talk about it like two grown men,” Anthony said.
Garnett, who has a rep for riling up opponents, has allegedly discussed the matter with Anthony via phone. As far as Anthony is concerned, he just wants to put the brouhaha behind him and move on. “Whatever happened between me and Kevin, that’s done. That’s settled, it’s done and over with. No disrespect, but I don’t wanna keep talking about the same thing and beating a dead horse,” he told the Daily News.
Unfortunately for Anthony, there is still the matter of suspension, which will cost him a reported $176,171 of his $19.4 million salary. Meanwhile, Garnett comes out of this confrontation unscathed.
Back in 2006, as a Denver Nugget, Anthony was suspended for 15 games when he socked Knicks player Mardy Collins during a melee at the Garden.
Anthony’s current suspension will keep him from playing in the Knicks’ Thursday game against the Indiana Pacers. The league’s second-leading scorer has already missed six games this season due to injuries to his left middle finger, ankle, and knee.
New England Patriots linebacker Junior Seau (55) warms up on the field before an NFL wild-card playoff football game in Foxborough, Mass. Star linebacker Junior Seau had a degenerative brain disease when he committed suicide last May, the National Institutes of Health told The Associated Press on Thursday Jan. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
by Barry Wilner, Associated Press
Junior Seau, one of the NFL’s best and fiercest players for nearly two decades, had a degenerative brain disease when he committed suicide last May, the National Institutes of Health told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Results of an NIH study of Seau’s brain revealed abnormalities consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
“The brain was independently evaluated by multiple experts, in a blind fashion,” said Dr. Russell Lonser, who oversaw the study. “We had the opportunity to get multiple experts involved in a way they wouldn’t be able to directly identify his tissue even if they knew he was one of the individuals studied.”
The NIH, based in Bethesda, Md., conducted a study of three unidentified brains, one of which was Seau’s. It said the findings on Seau were similar to autopsies of people “with exposure to repetitive head injuries.”
Seau’s family requested the analysis of his brain.
Seau was a star linebacker for 20 NFL seasons with San Diego, Miami and New England before retiring in 2009. He died of a self-inflicted shotgun wound.
He joins a list of several dozen football players who had CTE. Boston University’s center for study of the disease reported last month that 34 former pro players and nine who played only college football suffered from CTE.
“I was not surprised after learning a little about CTE that he had it,” Seau’s 23-year-old son Tyler said. “He did play so many years at that level. I was more just kind of angry I didn’t do something more and have the awareness to help him more, and now it is too late.
“I don’t think any of us were aware of the side effects that could be going on with head trauma until he passed away. We didn’t know his behavior was from head trauma.”
That behavior, according to Tyler Seau and Junior’s ex-wife Gina, included wild mood swings, irrationality, forgetfulness, insomnia and depression.
“He emotionally detached himself and would kind of ‘go away’ for a little bit,” Tyler Seau said. “And then the depression and things like that. It started to progressively get worse.”
He hid it well in public, they said. But not when he was with family or close friends.
The NFL faces lawsuits by thousands of former players who say the league withheld information on the harmful effects concussions can have on their health.
“We appreciate the Seau family’s cooperation with the National Institutes of Health,” the league said in an email statement to the AP. “The finding underscores the recognized need for additional research to accelerate a fuller understanding of CTE.
“The NFL, both directly and in partnership with the NIH, Centers for Disease Control and other leading organizations, is committed to supporting a wide range of independent medical and scientific research that will both address CTE and promote the long-term health and safety of athletes at all levels.”
NFL teams have given a $30 million research grant to the NIH.
Seau is not the first former NFL player who killed himself, then was found to have CTE. Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling are others.
Duerson, a former Chicago Bears defensive back, left a note asking for his brain to be studied for signs of trauma before shooting himself. His family filed a wrongful death suit against the NFL, claiming the league didn’t do enough to prevent or treat the concussions that severely damaged his brain.
Easterling played safety for the Falcons in the 1970s. After his career, he suffered from dementia, depression and insomnia, according to his wife, Mary Ann. He committed suicide last April.
Mary Ann Easterling is among the plaintiffs who have sued the NFL.
“It was important to us to get to the bottom of this, the truth,” Gina Seau said, “and now that it has been conclusively determined from every expert that he had obviously had it, CTE, we just hope it is taken more seriously.
“You can’t deny it exists, and it is hard to deny there is a link between head trauma and CTE. There’s such strong evidence correlating head trauma and collisions and CTE.”
Tyler Seau played football through high school and for two years in college. He says he has no symptoms of any brain trauma.
Gina Seau’s son Jake, now a high school junior, played football for two seasons, but has switched to lacrosse and has been recruited to play at Duke.
“Lacrosse is really his sport and what he is passionate about,” she said. “He is a good football player and probably could continue. But especially now watching what his dad went through, he says, ‘Why would I risk lacrosse for football?’
“I didn’t have to have a discussion with him after we saw what Junior went through.”
Her 12-year-old son, Hunter, has shown no interest in playing football.
“That’s fine with me,” she said.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.
Chicago (AP) — Arena Football League player Chandler Williams has died. He was 27.
The AFL said Sunday that Williams died while playing in a local flag football tournament in South Florida. The league did not release a cause of death.
The wide receiver was a seventh-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2007 out of Florida International. He got into NFL preseason games in four seasons but never played in a regular-season game, also spending time with the Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs. Williams also played for the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.
He caught 83 passes for 996 yards and 17 touchdowns while leading the AFL with a 23-yard kickoff return average for the Tampa Bay Storm last season.
Storm President Derrick Brooks says “we are shocked and saddened.”
He is survived by his fiancee, Vanitia Harrigan, and a daughter, Tori Williams.
Harlem Globetrotters’ Scooter Christensen, left, and Handles Franklin help steady a twirling ball on the finger of Emilee Bogda, 10, of Kalamazoo, Mich., on the ice at Millennium Park on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, in Portage, Mich.(Photo: Mark Bugnaski, Associated Press)
by Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz, USA TODAY Sports
It’s not the Toronto Maple Leafs facing the Detroit Red Wings in Michigan Stadium, but it’ll have to do.
The Winter Classic was one of many games lost to the NHL’s lockout. But the Harlem Globetrotters stepped in to make sure fans in Portage, Mich., saw an impressive performance on ice.
Of course, the game was played in a decidedly smaller venue than the Big House. And the only hint of hockey was former Red Wings player Kevin Miller.
But as far as January basketball exhibitions go, it’s hard to beat one on ice.
“We played this game to celebrate all sporting events on ice,” Globetrotters player Handles Franklin said in a news release. “We’re thrilled the NHL is coming back. Unfortunately, they couldn’t return in time to play the Winter Classic – so the Globetrotters helped fill that void today by playing this outdoor game on ice. And we thought it was fitting to play it right here in Michigan in the midst of our North American tour with former Red Wing Kevin Miller.”
Who knows. Maybe this will inspire a “Baseketball” spinoff destined to dominate Comedy Central’s 3 a.m. slot.