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PostThis Week in Sports... (David Duggan, USA, 06/12/19 1:49 pm)
To my loyal WAIS readers waiting for some commentary on the sporting events of the last week, I apologize for the delay. I was waiting for the outcome of the [Inter]National Basketball Ass'n and [Inter]National Hockey League finals to offer a variation on the "five championships in three days" post I authored a year ago. But on this 200th anniversary of the birth of the Rev. Charles Kingsley, an Anglican priest who spawned the "muscular Christianity" approach to the faith at the dawn of the industrial age when bourgeois leisure threatened the physical conditioning of those who had once earned their bread by the sweat of their brows, I'll offer the following.
First up, the Belmont Stakes. After Maximum Security's disqualification in the Kentucky Derby, pretty much nobody cared about the latter legs of racing's Triple Crown, and I doubt that without reference anybody reading could remember who had won the Preakness. (It was War of Will, found to have been hindered in the Derby, though it was nowhere near the finish line when declared winner Country House crossed it.) In some measure of poetic justice, War of Will finished not quite last in the 10-horse Belmont, 10 lengths behind the winner, Sir Winston. While speed may kill, it takes stamina to win the Belmont, at 1-1/2 miles the longest stakes race in the United States. With two Triple Crown winners in the last five seasons (American Pharoah 2015; Justify 2018), this year's three races reverted to having different winners. Only one horse, Tacitus, was "in the money" in more than one race, third in the Derby and second in the Belmont.
Second, the French Open. After Americans Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens, and Madison Keys, and might-as-well-be American Naomi Osaka were eliminated I lost interest in the women's bracket but tuned in Saturday morning to see two players whom I had never heard of. Ashleigh Barty, an Aussie, took on Marketa Vondrousova, a Czech. The match was nothing to write home about, as the teenage Vondrousova battled nerves and wind to lose in straight sets. Women's tennis may be seeing a resurgence of the teenage phenom à la Jennifer Capriati and Martina Hingis, as two of the four semi-finalists weren't old enough to buy a beer in the United States (the other one was Amanda Anisimova, a Russian-born American). Thirty-seven year old Serena will have to wait ‘til Wimbledon to try to equal Margaret Smith Court's record of 24 grand-slam titles. Mrs. Court, perhaps known more for her public anti-LGBT stance than her tennis exploits, was the last Aussie to win the French (1973). One other feature of this final was the return of the sliced backhand, played with only one-hand on the racquet. Commonly a defensive shot hit when you can't step into the ball, Barty was using it as a cross-court weapon to lefty Vondrousova's forehand, which she had a tendency to spray. But Barty also used it down-the-line when Vondrousova was far on the "ad" side of the court, forcing a weak response from the young Czech as she had to run coast to coast to hit her two-hander. By the way, Martina Navratilova, the greatest left-handed woman player of all time, was the last Czech to win the French (1984).
On the men's side, Rafa Nadal won his 12th Sunday, by far the most grand-slam tournament wins in the open era (post-1968). The final was a repeat of last year's, against Austrian Dominic Thiem; the only difference is that Thiem took the second set from Rafa en route to defeat, dropping the third and fourth 6-1. As with the Belmont, the men's French Open takes stamina, and Thiem, who had finished a five-setter against Novak Djokovic the day before while Nadal had cruised to a straight-set victory over Roger Federer, was likely gassed after two hours. Nadal now has 18 grand slam victories (3 US, 2 Wimbledon, and 1 Aussie to go with his dozen French) against Roger's 20, the closest they've been since more than 14 years ago when Rafa won his 1st French (2005) and Roger had four under his belt. Novak was deprived of his "Serena slam," holding all four championships at once (he'd won 2018 Wimbledon and the US, and the 2019 Aussie). American men were nowhere to be seen after the second round, a sad comment on the state of American men's tennis.
We'll have to wait to find out who wins the NBA and NHL championships, as neither the Toronto Raptors nor the St. Louis Blues could clinch on their home ice or court. What does it say that Canada has a team in the NBA finals, while the last time the country to our north had a team in the NHL finals was in 2011 (Vancouver), and the last time a Canadian team hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup was in Bill Clinton's first year in office (Montreal 1993)? Meanwhile, the American women's soccer team clobbered Thailand in the opening match of the 2019 Women's World Cup. Can it really be 20 years since Brandi Chastain ripped off her jersey after firing the decisive penalty shot kick against the Chinese in the women's first World Cup, displaying her ribbed-abs and toned-arms? The Rev. Charles Kingsley would have been proud.
JE comments: Only David Duggan could work 19th-century theology into his sports commentary! Brilliantly done as always, David.