A few things I care about …
▪ Breaking news: Sports are hard.
Driving away from the Patriots opener Sunday, after watching rookie quarterback Mac Jones take hit after hit and keep getting up, after seeing the disappointment on the young man’s face after all of his uprisings couldn’t add up to a win against the Dolphins, I couldn’t shake the thought.
Sports are hard, and just because the professional athletes we watch day in and day out can make them look easy, we shouldn’t forget the degree of difficulty they face every day. Remembering doesn’t simply add to the appreciation of what they accomplish but reminds us that sometimes it’s important to celebrate the accomplishment of the effort, and to be mindful of how much effort it all takes, regardless of the final outcome.
Just ask Novak Djokovic. While the Patriots were duking it out with the Dolphins, the best tennis player on the planet was attempting to make history in New York. A win at the US Open would have given Djokovic the calendar Grand Slam, something that hasn’t been done in men’s tennis since 1969, but also a 21st major title, something that hasn’t been done in men’s tennis.
But as easy as Djokovic made it look throughout the year — sweeping across Australia, France, and England to take the first three major titles — he ran out of gas last Sunday. Because, of course, it was never that easy.
Djokovic’s straight-set loss to world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev might mark the end of the era we know as the Big Three, signaling just how difficult it will be for Djokovic or his contemporaries Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to break their three-way major tie at 20. But then again, it might not.
As hard as it is to get to the top, it’s even tougher to stay there. Think of a guy like Juan Martin del Potro, who sat with ESPN commentators to reflect not only on his stunning five-set win over Federer to win the 2009 US Open, but how tough it’s been to have injuries prevent it from ever happening again. It remains his only major title.
On the women’s side, the two teenagers who staged such a thrilling final seem poised to stay at the top of the game, but even 18-year-old champion Emma Raducanu of Great Britain is already teaching lessons about how tough it all is. Not just by becoming the first player on either side to win a major as a qualifier, but by her recent Wimbledon experience, when stress and anxiety contributed to her withdrawal in the midst of a fourth-round match.
“I was playing the best tennis of my life in front of an amazing crowd this week and I think the whole experience caught up with me,” she later wrote on social media. “At the end of the first set, after some super-intense rallies, I started to breathe heavily and felt dizzy.
“The medical team advised me not to continue and, although it felt like the hardest thing in the world not to be able to finish my Wimbledon on the court, I was not well enough to carry on.”
I am reminded again of my affinity for the great sports movie “A League of Their Own,” and how one particular line delivered by Tom Hanks stays with me.
The hard is what makes it great.
Even Djokovic, who has taken plenty of criticism in this space for his on-court tantrums and his off-the-court antics that included hosting a tournament during the early stages of a pandemic, seemed to appreciate that the hard made his US Open great, even if it didn’t finish the way he wanted. In front of a crowd he’d never before been able to win over, his effort this year appeared to finally win them over.
“Tonight, even though I have not won the match, my heart is filled with joy, and I’m the happiest man alive, because you guys made me feel special on the court,” he told the crowd.
▪ Another big-game weekend for the Revolution, who host defending champion Columbus on Saturday night. The hottest team in MLS shows no sign of cooling off, not even when top players Matt Turner, Adam Buksa, and Tajon Buchanan were away with national teams. The return of super passer Carles Gil has been welcome, with his assist helping the Revolution beat nemesis NYC FC, 2-1, last weekend.
At 17-4-4, the Revolution maintain double-digit advantages in both the Supporters’ Shield (10 points) and Eastern Conference (14 points) races, already matching the club record for wins.
They need only 5 points in the remaining nine games to set a club mark, while their 55 points and 2.2 points per game are on pace to set MLS records. They already set an MLS record with their 14th win decided by one goal, and remain the winningest home team in the league at 10-1-1.
Just loved the way Buchanan put winning an MLS title up there as a goal before he leaves after the season for Club Brugge.
▪ While Buchanan has a bright future as a scoring threat for the Canadian national team, it was tough to see the US team struggle to score in its first two World Cup qualifiers, games that left heads being scratched as to what coach Gregg Berhalter was doing.
There were problems — Weston McKennie’s banishment for breaking COVID protocols, various injury absences for Gio Reyna, Christian Pulisic, Zack Steffen, and Sergino Dest — but the team’s lack of connection and form was stunning, especially after a summer that saw it win the Gold Cup and Nations League.
Things got better by the third game, a 4-1 win over Honduras that proved a coming-out party for 18-year-old Ricardo Pepi. One goal and three assists made the youngster a new American hero and, maybe, just the sort of striker the team has been missing. With him and Pulisic, an amazing talent who gutted his way through that Honduras game, maybe this team will avoid a second straight World Cup embarrassment of failing to qualify.
▪ Sign me up for more of the Manning brothers on football, with their Monday night television debut a fun mix of stories, analysis, and guests. Yes, it was a bit frenetic at times, and it was tough for guys to know when to talk and to avoid talking over each other, but overall, it was another interesting option for viewers. I eagerly await my colleague Chad Finn’s take on which former Patriots would do well in a similar spot.