World Cup, Wimbledon: These are a few of my favorite things
As summer begins, a few things I look forward to caring about . . .
Let’s start with the easy one: The rest of this amazing World Cup.
These American women sure know how to do drama, don’t they? With a 2-1 win over the host team France, the US moved into a semifinal meeting with England, but that they did it on the strength of the two players under the most scrutiny heading in made it quite compelling.
Forward Megan Rapinoe, already under fire for the absurd too-much-celebrating criticism after the team’s opening win over Thailand, added fuel to her own fire by challenging President Trump. While I don’t appreciate Rapinoe’s use of profanity in a preemptive declination to attend the White House in the event of a World Cup win (for which she later apologized using), I can appreciate how she is able to push all distractions away and continue to be the best all-around player in the tournament. Two more goals Friday, the first on a perfect direct kick through traffic just five minutes in that took the home crowd right out of the game, and the second on a well-timed finish off feeds from Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath that built a 2-0 lead, gave Rapinoe five goals in four matches.
That’s a way to keep critics silent.
The other stalwart Friday? Keeper Alyssa Naeher, who has been alternately shaky or completely untested in previous games. She was ready for France, never more so than on a shaky US second-half substitution when her teammates were slow to react on a French throw-in. Naeher’s leaping save was one of the best of the game.
■ As usual, I can’t wait for Wimbledon, but I was somewhat surprised by John McEnroe’s admission in a recent conference call that he wouldn’t mind a changing of the guard atop the men’s game. McEnroe, who will be in London calling the tournament, acknowledged he wouldn’t mind if one of the game’s rising young stars breaks the stranglehold of the four players who have won the last 16 Wimbledon titles.
“You say Golden State was in the [NBA] Finals [five] straight times and a part of you would say, wow, it’s just awesome to see a dynasty, and then there’s another part that says, hey, let’s get some other people in the mix here,” McEnroe said. “I have a lot of respect for those [four] guys, obviously. I know to some degree what it takes to do what they’re doing, and it’s been absolutely amazing. But I am definitely one of those guys that’s like, ‘OK, it’s time to see these next generation of people.’ ”
It won’t be easy. The winner across these past 16 years has been Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray. Murray is the least likely to make a run this year after dealing with chronic injuries (though a recent comeback and a doubles title give the home crowd a glimmer of hope), but I’d put my money on one of the other three winning again.
■ Also can’t help but wonder what Serena Williams will have in the tank for the famous English grass courts, traditionally her most dominant surface and the one that turns her already dangerous serve its most lethal. Even if Williams is not the same force she once was, she is still reaching Grand Slam finals, such an inspiration since returning from the birth of her daughter, Olympia. I, for one, think it would be amazing to see her win another Slam. Like watching Tiger Woods take that elusive major back at Augusta in April, Williams is the game’s biggest draw and brightest light.
Fellow commentator and Grand Slam champ Chris Evert could see it, if Serena pulls it all together.
“The one difference that I see in Serena is since she’s come back, she’s been one or two steps slower than normal,” Evert said. “I think that’s a little bit of fitness. I think it’s a little bit of match play. I think it’s a little bit of confidence. But on the grass, we also can’t forget that’s her best surface. That’s a surface that her game, with the power, with the free points on the serves, she’s the most effective on the grass. I have a feeling she’s been practicing hard, and I never think you can count her out.”
■ Most intriguing first-round match is undoubtedly 15-year-old American Cori “Coco” Gauff taking on Venus Williams. Gauff, the youngest player in the Open era to make it through qualifying to the main draw, is a tennis prodigy often described as the next Serena Williams. She grew up admiring the Williams sisters, who were well into their historic careers when she was born in 2004. Gauff won the 2018 French Open junior title and was runner-up at the 2017 US Open junior final.
■ Welcome back UConn; Big East basketball just got even better. The return of the Huskies will be good for the university in every sport (except perhaps football), but nowhere better than in hoops. The men return to the conference that sent them to three of their four national championships and the women return to a conference that might actually give them some competition, thus better preparing them for the rigors of the NCAA Tournament, which they have won a record 11 times.
■ While the Yankees and Red Sox wrap up their mini-series in London, here’s hoping the Sox get their act together in time to make the season’s remaining three series with the Yankees meaningful. Four games at Fenway in late July, three in the Bronx in early August, and four more in Boston Sept. 6-8 promise great fun if they matter in the AL East race and in the playoff picture.
■ Is it just me or is anyone else bothered by how much the NBA offseason overshadows its postseason? Every headline about Kawhi Leonard’s historic title run with Toronto was matched with one about his inevitable free agency and potential departure. Even the Celtics’ aborted two-round run was underscored by constant speculation about Kyrie Irving’s future. Roster games shouldn’t be as riveting as the ones on the court, but that’s where the NBA is at the moment. That said, NBA free agency will definitely be worth watching.
■ Not sure if Tom Brady got wise to the bad look of trying to trademark the nickname “Tom Terrific,” but whatever his motivation, he made the right call. The real Tom Terrific, Tom Seaver, is being honored this coming week in New York, with a statue outside the Mets’ Citi Field, a move long overdue and sadly too late for the man himself to fully appreciate as he is battling dementia. But members of his family were there for the announcement, which also renamed the street outside the ballpark in his honor, making the field’s official address 41 Seaver Way. That’s terrific.
■ Forgive one look backward and offer a hearty hat tip to journalist Bob Ley, who announced his retirement from ESPN this past week. The conscience of the network, Ley was deservedly one of the most respected and admired reporters in our business. Amid all the noise at a network often preoccupied with bells and whistles, Ley stood apart from the cult of personality, digging into the toughest issues in our games in an even-handed, balanced way. He will be missed.