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PostContinental Drift, Wimbledon, Tour de France (David Duggan, USA, 07/10/17 10:27 am)
It is a gloomy day in Chicago, and my mood matches the weather. Not simply because I fear further continental drift leading to more earthquakes (the largest earthquake on this continent occurred 300 miles southwest of here in 1811 on the New Madrid, Missouri fault line--in the bootheel region of that territory--7.9 on the Richter scale, sorry San Francisco, you get only 7.8--church bells inexplicably were ringing in Boston), nor because of corruption in Ukraine (Chicago boasts one of the more vibrant Ukrainian communities about 3 miles southwest of where I live, sporting cathedrals from both the Ukrainian Orthodox and the Ukrainian Catholic traditions). But because the World Champion Chicago Cubs are floundering two games below .500 in an inept division which they should be dominating. As they approach the All-Star break, the Cubs have exactly one token player, last year's National League MVP Kris Bryant, hitting an anemic .269 this year with 18 home runs. This is the first time since the All-Star game was inaugurated in 1933--where else but in Chicago--that the defending world champions have been relegated to the token player allowed each team. Yesterday, Bryant booted a 1st inning ground ball with runners on 1st and 2d, leading to a grand slam off World Series hero Jon Lester and a 10-run 1st inning, the worst in Lester's career and he didn't even finish the inning. Last year Bryant hit .292 with 39 taters, so maybe there's hope. The White Sox meanwhile, in perpetual re-building mode since their 2005 World Series victory, were no-hit until the 9th inning yesterday and are contemplating a move to Oak Lawn after the All-Star break, lest their mediocrity further besmirch Chicago's tops-in-the-country murder totals.
Normally, I'd be excited at this time of year as we approach what I consider the most exciting week in the annual sports calendar: the 2d week of both Wimbledon and the Tour de France. But Wimbledon has been notably quiet this year, with Serena awaiting the birth of her 1st child, and the 37-year old Venus moving through the bracket into the 4th round; if she wins she'll face French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the quarters. Venus started her pro career before Ostapenko was born in 1997. Two-time champion Petra Kvitova, the victim of a stabbing incident 7 months ago in her Czech home, was ousted early, by unseeded American Madison Brengle no less. Now only Venus and Coco Vandeweghe hold up the American hopes, matching the number from that great bastion of tennis lore, Croatia. Since 2003, no American not surnamed Williams has reached the finals of a Grand Slam tournament. Canada, meanwhile has had two.
On the men's side, few upsets and less drama. Defending champion Andy Murray is cruising, while ageless wonder and # 3 seed Roger Federer hasn't dropped a set. He meets his Bulgarian doppelganger Grigor Dmitrov in the 4th round today. Federer's Swiss countryman and French Open finalist Stan Wawrinka was bounced in the first round, no surprise as he refuses to shorten the wind-up on his ground strokes to accommodate the faster pace on the lawn. The buzz, however, has been about 3-time champion Boris Becker's bankruptcy (caused in no small measure by an improvident restaurant broom-closet tryst with a Russian model who garnered his seed from the used condom and impregnated herself--some say this was payback from the Russian mob into whom Boris was indebted for gambling excesses: the ensuing divorce from former German-American fashion model Barbara Feltus cost 15 million euros) and the practice of some early round retirements by players in no shape to withstand a best-of-five sets match on tennis' most hallowed grounds (channeling my inner Bud Collins).
But the Tour de France has been the most disappointing for this cycling aficionado. In the 4th stage last week challenger Peter Sagan elbowed sprinter Mark Cavendish into the side concrete guard barrier in the final chase for the stage win. Cavendish was out after a devastating crash; Sagan docked 30 seconds (he should have been disqualified). Then yesterday, during a treacherous final descent in the Alps stage from Nantua to Chambery with 3 "hors de categories" climbs, top challenger for Team BMC Richie Porte lost control of the rear wheel of his bike at 40+mph, went off the wet pavement, launched himself into Daniel Martin, and wound up being taken by ambulance in a back brace. Bike frames and components were flying all over the place. Martin was able to get a new bike and finished the stage; defending champion Chris Froome is still in the lead, and is expected to win his 4th Tour, exceeding Greg Lemond's 3, but behind the 5 won by Miguel Indurain, Bernard Hinault, Eddie Merckx, and Jacques Anquetil. Indurain was likely juicing toward the end of his career and we all know about Lance Armstrong's 7 TdF victories being stripped from him. Crashes, they say, are part of the sport, but when you lose top racers you have to think whether it's a sport or a spectacle (like NASCAR). Earlier this year, 2011 Giro d'Italia winner Michele Scarponi was killed in a training accident before the Giro.
It's still gloomy, but perhaps this is because yesterday I violated my self-imposed injunction against going to Chicago's odious street fairs. Nearby Roscoe Village was hosting its annual burger fest, and I didn't feel like cooking so I plunked down $12 for a cheeseburger and fries, refusing to pay $6 for a plastic cup of former locally craft-brewed Lagunitas suds (it's been bought out by Heineken), and skipping the requested $10 "contribution" to an organization which has refused to join my Lake View Citizens' Council (I'm a board member). The angst is killing me, and today is a rest day on the Tour de France and I don't have cable to watch Wimbledon.
JE comments: Cheer up, David. Your excellent sports writing always puts your fellow WAISers in a better mood! We have rain and gloom predicted all week in Michigan, too. But the weekend is only five days away...
A phonetics phun phact: New Madrid is stressed on the "Mad." Ditto with New Berlin in neighboring Illinois, stressed on the Ber.