Speed Read: Another Ivanovic Bust At U.S. Open

Back in January 2008, the Australian Open finals featured Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova in one of the most eagerly-anticipated women’s tennis matches ever. Sharapova won the match, but it seemed like the sport was set for one of the hottest - in every sense of the world - rivalries in recent memories.

Ana Ivanovic

Now flash forward to last night. While a Bedazzled Sharapova (more on that in a minute) started her comeback from shoulder surgery with an easy straight set win over Tsvetana Pironkova, Ivanovic continued her freefall into oblivion by getting bounced by unheralded Kateryna Bondarenko. That makes a tidy zero titles for Ivanovic this year and no appearances past the fourth round in any major - and another early round exit from the U.S. Open after last year’s shocking loss to Julie Coin in the second round.

Ana Ivanovic Topless Photo

(Ana Ivanovic in happier times…for everyone)

It’s not just that Ivanovic lost - at times, she looked absolutely lost, seemingly unable to do something as simple as throw the ball into the air correctly during her serves. Call it the tennis equivalent of Rick Ankiel’s pitching yips, although more attractive to watch if just as awkward. Ivanovic took to burying her head in a towel during changeovers, which is probably what a lot of fans wanted to do after watching her stumble to defeat.

Maria Sharapova

Meanwhile, Sharapova was confident and poised in her easy victory. Her tennis game looked great, while her outfit … let’s just say it looked like something you might have seen in a teen dance competition in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1987. And not to go Mr. Blackwell on your here, but honey, Cher called from 1975 and she wants her beaded headband back. Unless you are planning on belting out a rousing version of “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” after winning your next match - in that case, it’s all yours.

Sharapova said that her outfit was “inspired by the architecture of New York.” Which is a perfect transition to talk about one of the other great metropolises of the Americans: Saskatoon. Because FACEOFF.COM says that one of the bidders for the Phoenix Coyotes has already booked five dates at the Credit Union Centre (the Madison Square Garden of Saskatchewan) to hold games there if they get the team next season.

Downtown Saskatoon

(There really is nothing quite like Saskatoon in December…)

Which leads to the question: what other events would possibly be happening in Saskatoon so you would need to save the date? A quick look at the Credit Union Centre event schedule shows a lot of minor league hockey…and not much else. Somehow I think that the arena would be willing to postpone the Saskatoon Blades vs. Moose Jaw Warriors showdown for an NHL game.

A partner for Ice Edge Holdings said that the team would be playing most of its games in Phoenix and not moving to Saskatoon permanently, which is too bad: it would be great to see NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman get an involuntary eye twitch every time he tries to explain how having a team in Saskatoon is good for the league.

Finally, Adrian Beltre returned to the Seattle Mariners last night after learning a valuable lesson about wearing a cup while playing third base on August 14 - as in “for the love of all things good and holy, wear one!” You might remember that Beltre thought his testicle had “exploded” after taking a scorching drive to the crotch.

Adrian Beltre nutcracker

After sitting out a few weeks (and probably getting some counseling for his lingering trauma issues), Beltre was back, and the Mariners decided to have a little fun at his expense. Ken Griffey Jr. had said he had the “perfect” music for Beltre’s first at-bat, and the person in charge of the songs being played over the PA delivered. Our own Scott Sepich was at the game, so I’ll pass along what he relayed to me:

“I was at the Mariners-Angels game tonight, and in Adrian Beltre’s first at-bat since coming off the DL, the music they played for him when he came to the plate was the “Nutcracker Suite.” A few of us in the press box caught on, but I’m not sure that the crowd got it. I thought it was pretty brilliant.”

Brilliant, indeed. In case you need further proof, the SEATTLE TIMES game blog not only mentions the musical cue but has audio of it as well. While I find it ironic that Ken Griffey Jr. - a man who once suffered a season-ending groin injury while fielding a fly ball - thinks that Beltre’s situation is hilarious. But it was a good choice of music, certainly more subtle than what I would have selected.

  • SPORTS HERNIA seems to think that David Wright’s new mega-helmet makes him look like Dark Helmet or The Great Gazoo. Personally, I think that he should be paying royalty money to Mark Kelso for infringing on his “dorky guy in a giant helmet” trademark.
  • David Wright

  • If there was one team in the NFL that had to be screwing the fans over by selling tickets directly to scalpers, it had to be the Washington Redskins, right? Too bad they can’t do the same thing with Six Flags tickets to prop up sales numbers.
  • Your nightly NFLPA train wreck update: the Department of Justice is confirming that they are investigating collusion claims by the union’s former HR director. She says that former player representative Troy Vincent had illegal meetings with Roger Goodell and Texas owner Robert McNair where he divulged classified information. Troy Vincent had a trouble keeping information private? That sounds strangely familiar.
  • Ladies, Rafael Nadal is playing at the U.S. Open in see-through shorts. Why can’t we get this technology in the women’s side of things (except for Serena Williams)?
  • Sometimes being a”football hero” takes on a different connotation: Kaleb Eulls, a star player at Yazoo High in Mississippi who has committed to Mississippi State, is being praised after disarming a 14-year-old girl who pulled out a loaded semi-automatic weapon on a full school bus.
  • Former Kentucky basketball star Edward Davender has been arrested as part of a ticket scalping scam involving Wildcats basketball tickets. If convicted, he could be sentenced to work for the Washington Redskins.
  • Adam “Pac-Man” Jones and Charles Rogers on the same CFL football team? Can someone please tell me how I can get Winnipeg Blue Bombers games on TV here in the lower 48?
  • Andy Roddick is less than thrilled with the U.S. Open trying to clamp down on players Twittering because they are concerned about players giving up “inside information.” Roddick’s retort (via Twitter): “you would seriously have to be a moron to send ‘inside info’ through a tweet.”
  • Anheuser-Busch plans to switch sports advertising tactics, targeting specific beer brands with demographics based on major sports. Bud Light to be linked to the NFL, while Budweiser will feature heavily in MLB advertising. No word on if Natural Ice will now be the Official Beer of Competitive Binge Drinking.
  • If they are going to start sending people to jail for 30 days for socking an opposing coach at a baseball game for 8-year-olds and then swinging a bat at people trying to break it up, then I just don’t know what baseball is anymore.

Best song for a player returning from a “bruised testicle”:

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Beltre At First Thought His Testicle Had ‘Exploded’

One of my odder Little League experiences was the cup check, in which all-star game officials checked to see if players were wearing their mandatory athletic cups by lining everyone up, and lightly tapping their areas with a baseball bat. Uncomfortably Freudian? Sure. But no one ended up like Adrian Beltre.

As we mentioned in Speed Read, Beltre took one for the team in an unfortunate place on Aug. 14 against the White Sox, deftly fielding a ground ball with his crotch, which was not adorned with a cup. The result was a severely contused testicle, or a torn testicle, depending on which report one reads. And it may have been even worse than it sounds, because when asked on Monday how it felt when it happend, Beltre said this:

“I thought, ‘it exploded,’” Read more…

Speed Read: Eagles Take Gamble On Michael Vick

In a lot of ways, the Michael Vick saga is coming to an end today. In a couple of hours, the Eagles will announce that they have signed Vick to a contract, and the dogfighting thing will be behind us, and he’ll just be another NFL player again.

Michael Vick drinking wine

Sure, there will be Rachel Nichols following his every move at practice for a while, then everyone will get all excited when he breaks off a 14-yard run from the Wildcat formation in a preseason game. But then he’ll fade away for a while as he serves his suspension, and by the time he is eligible to play in week six or so, he’s just going to a backup who comes on for a gimmick play every once in a while.

Philly was one of a long list of teams that reportedly had no interest in Vick as he was seeking a new job. In fact, many theorized that he’d have to resort to signing with the new UFL to have a chance to play. After all, what NFL team was going to be willing to absorb the PR hit, be willing to wait out his suspension, and be able to actually use him? The Eagles seemed unlikely on all fronts. They’ve already got two decent backup quarterbacks in Kevin Kolb and A.J. Feeley.

UFL logo

(You know things don’t look good for this league when they’re disappointed that they didn’t get the dog killer.)

So why add Vick to a team that doesn’t really need him? Andy Reid talks about wanting to give the guy a second chance, and even mentions the plight of his own children as a factor in the decision. The Eagles did use DeSean Jackson in the Wildcat on occasion last year, so maybe they want to expand that facet of their offense. Maybe they’ll try to turn him into a receiver, kick returner, or both. But can he learn to do those things at an NFL level in a matter of weeks?

None of that seems important right now, as most of the attention will be focused on the moral implications of signing a guy who just got out of prison two weeks ago for killing dogs. The PHILLY INQUIRER’s John Gonzalez sums up the struggle, and gives a very reasonable argument in favor of giving Vick another chance:

If you’ve already dug in and joined the anti-Vick camp, I won’t blame you or try to change your mind. People love dogs. I’m one of them. I’m a sucker for just about any animal, but the ones that roll over and play fetch and slobber all over me - even when I’m not at my best (which is most of the time) - are by far my favorite. What Vick did to those dogs was cruel and terrible and indefensible.

But I’m not going to kill the Eagles for signing him, and I’m not going to attack Vick or ascribe some pejorative label to the guy. I don’t know the man. I don’t know why he got involved with dogfighting. But I do know that he went to prison, and he lost his job, and he’s been beaten up quite a bit over the last two years. He’s been beaten up almost endlessly. And for good reason. Don’t get it twisted, he deserved his punishment - all of it. But after doing his time and losing almost everything he’d worked so hard to achieve, hasn’t he paid the price required of someone looking to purchase a second chance?

Ultimately, I think NFL fans will be OK with Vick. Everything he’s said and done recently indicates that he’s remorseful about what he did and that he’s committed to rebuilding his image. But for now, even the fans in Philly are split on this – a poll on PHILLY.COM shows that they are about 53-47 against signing Vick.

michael vick 60 minutes

As if it wasn’t bad enough that he was pelted with vomit and urine while attempting to take a corner kick at Azteca Stadium on Wednesday, word comes now that U.S. soccer star Landon Donovan played the entire game with the swine flu.

Landon Donovan

Ironically, Landon didn’t pick up the illness in Mexico, where the latest epidemic of the ol’ H1N1 originated. Instead, he got it from two staff members of the L.A. Galaxy, Donovan’s MLS team. The L.A. TIMES reports that the staff members picked it up during the Galaxy’s match with the New England Revolution in Foxboro. That’s right, Pats fans. Swine flu is just stewing in your stadium. Good luck with that, Brady.

Tom Brady, first day of training camp

(”So, if there’s swine flu on Bernard Pollard’s helmet…”)

Donovan admits that he felt crappy during Wednesday’s game, but chalked it up to the elevation and poor air quality in Mexico City. He is unlikely to play in the Galaxy’s home game tomorrow against Seattle, and more unlikely to ever come within 25 feet of David Beckham the rest of this season (which isn’t much of a change — he just has a medical reason now).

I suppose it’s shouldn’t be surprising if we hear of athletes starting to come down with the virus. MLB pitcher Vicente Padilla came down with it a couple of weeks ago, and as many as 1 million people nationwide have probably been infected at some point. While there is little danger of any serious repercussions (Donovan is sick, but nothing beyond your average flu bug), it could be devastating to a team if multiple players were to suffer from the illness at the same time. NFL teams in particular need to be careful, or at least plan on catching it the week they play the Lions.

swine flu

Michael Phelps is going to be just fine after he was involved in a car accident last night. The sack of 10 from White Castle? Sadly, they didn’t make it.

• BC and BU will play hockey at Fenway Park a week after the Winter Classic.

Rick Sutcliffe throws Jose Mesa under the bus for failing to hit somebody with a pitch 20 years ago. Sut just didn’t realize that the opposing batter needs to have “Vizquel” written on his back for Joe Table to plunk him.

Jeff Francoeur thinks the reason he’s going to look “like a clown” next year is these new batting helmets, and not his inevitable .285 on-base percentage.

new batting helmet

• Well, the Wrigley beer-tosser has been apprehended and he apologized publicly to Shane Victorino, the Cubs, and his own family. But not to the guy who took the fall for him and got tossed out. That’s like the main guy who needs an apology!

Adrian Beltre might want to reconsider his decision to not wear a cup, as he’s now on the DL because of the quite horrifying “bleeding testicle.” Yeah, you heard that right. He somehow played five innings after the injury.

• Quentin Richardson has been traded — for the fourth time this offseason. The T-Wolves sent him to Miami yesterday for Mark Blount. That means he has now been swapped for Darko Milicic, Zach Randolph, Sebastian Telfair, Mark Madsen, and now Blount. That’s a lot of headcases and one terrible dancer.

Royals great Willie Wilson has signed a one-day contract to start a game for the Kansas City T-Bones of the Independent League next week. Wilson apparently didn’t want to subject himself to something as embarrassing as appearing at an actual Royals game.

God knows what Bronson Arroyo was hopped up on last night when he threw a two-hit shutout against the Nationals.

•  The DAILY MAIL has a story today about Kirsty Gallacher, girlfriend of rugby player Paul Sampson, daughter of golfer Bernard Gallacher, and former Sky Sports personality. Just wanted to establish a sports-related reason to run this photo:

Kirsty Gallacher

Are you surprised that Michael Vick got an NFL job this year?

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MLBers Playing Very Dangerous Game With Balls

Safety equipment just gets in the way of an athlete’s jet-set lifestyle. Even Larry Bowa, former shortstop and full-time curmudgeon, hates having to wear a helmet as third base coach because he finds wearing a plastic hat “cumbersome“. Having problems getting that last signal off with the helmet in the way, coach? Know what I mean?

Julio Franco takes one in the groin

(Julio Franco takes one in the team)

After Felix Pie’s rather disturbing bout with testicular torsion, though, would it be safe to assume that every player lightly raps on his protective cup after every inning to make sure the family jewels are under full lockdown? Maybe assign a bodyguard to sacrifice his body by throwing himself in front of a ball aimed at the groin? Of course not; many players still don’t even wear a cup.

Read more…