U.S. crashes out of Davis Cup; Spain, Serbia too

The Daily Dan for Monday, February 3, 2014

Men's Tennis Monday:  In some ways the 1st Round of the Davis Cup is most important as the winners not only move to the quarterfinals but secure spots back in the World Group for the following year.  The losers meanwhile, fall into the World Group playoff in September, ties they must win to stay in the top flight.  This year’s most significant droppers were Spain, Serbia, and at least here in the states, the United States.


The U.S. were one of several teams beset by bad injury luck.  John Isner was unable to answer the bell and so Donald Young was thrown into the deep end to make his Davis Cup debut against Andy Murray.  Young was no match for the Wimbledon champion, taking just six games.  The tie turned however, with the second rubber.  Sam Querrey opened things much like Murray did, blasting James Ward around over a 6-1 opening set.  Ward won the 2nd in a tiebreaker but when Querrey won the 3rd 6-3 it looked like the tie would be level heading to doubles.  But Ward was the more aggressive player the rest of the way and won the last two sets 6-4, 6-1.  It was the biggest win of Ward’s career and one of the toughest losses for Querrey.


The Bryan Brothers saved Saturday by winning their doubles match which ensured a live 4th rubber.  Querrey hung with Murray over two sets which they split in tiebreakers but Murray took over with 6-1, 6-3 scorelines over the 3rd and 4th to put Great Britain into the quarterfinals for the first time since 1986.  The United States will learn their World Group playoff opponent in April.


Great Britain will next travel to Italy, 3-1 winners over an Argentina side that was without Juan Martin Del Potro.  Fabio Fognini won all three points for the Italians.


Spain find themselves in the playoffs for the second straight year after once again playing the 1st Round shorthanded.  The quartet of Roberto Bautista Agut, Feliciano Lopez, Fernando Verdasco, and David Marrero fought valiantly but could not earn a live point on the weekend.  After Philipp Kohlschreiber routed Bautista Agut in straights, Lopez rallied from two sets down against Florian Mayer only to fall 6-3 in the 3rd.  The doubles opened with three tense sets, all of which went to tiebreakers.  Germany won the 1st and 3rd and clinched the tie when Kohlschreiber and Tommy Haas won the 4th set 6-3 from Verdasco and Marrero.


Germany will be away to France in the quarterfinals.  The French may have fielded the strongest team on the weekend and won all five matches against a mixed Australian team.  Nick Kyrgios, 18, left the opening rubber against Richard Gasquet with little more than some experience.  Lleyton Hewitt, 32, fared only mildly better in a straight-set loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  Everyone but Kyrgios was back on court for Saturday doubles and Hewitt and Chris Guccione grabbed the opening set before going out in 4.  It was the only set the Australians would win over five matches, the last two reduced to best-of-three.


Serbia was the nation that featured the biggest drop off from what they could have had on the court to what they wound up with.  And when Roger Federer marched into the Swiss team it was always going to be a tough task.  Federer went straight to work and took out Ilija Bozoljac in straight sets and then Stanislas Wawrinka, in his first match as a Grand Slam champion, beat Dusan Lajovic in 4.  Marco Chiudinelli and Michael Lammer were entrusted with the doubles and the gambit paid off when they beat Flilip Krajinovic and Nenad Zimonjic, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2.  Serbia won both of Sunday’s dead runners to save face in the final score.


Switzerland will now host Kazakhstan who were pushed to the limit to knock out Belgium.  Andrey Golubev cruised through the only deciding rubber of the weekend, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 over Ruben Bemelmans.


The other quarterfinal will put holders Czech Republic against Japan.  The Czechs beat Netherlands on Tomas Berdych’s triple after Robin Haase surprised Radek Stepanek to open the tie.  Japan got by without having to face either Milos Raonic or Vasek Pospisil and advanced on the unfortunate retirement of Frank Dancevic after he pulled a stomach muscle early in the 2nd set of the 4th match against Kei Nishikori.  Japan will have choice of ground against Czech Republic.


Battle for No. 1:  There is little movement on a Davis Cup week but Kei Nishikori earned some points to slip by Nicolas Almagro to No. 17.  That was the highest movement of the week.  The biggest was Mikhail Kukushkin’s eight-spot jump to No. 59.  There was no movement in or out of the Top 100.  With only one Top 10 player in action this week, look for status quo to prevail again next week.


WTA Update:  Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Ekaterina Makarova won the titles on Sunday making for a Russian sweep.  Pavlyuchenkova won Paris for her 6th career title and she earned it every step of the way, beating Grand Slam champion Francesca Schiavone in the 1st Round and then the players seeded No. 7, 4, 1, and 3.  The signature win was the semifinal over top-seed Maris Sharapova.  In the final she beat Sara Errani.  A top of the cap goes to Alize Cornet who came through a three-hour quarterfinal Andrea Petkovic and then pushed Errani for over three hours in the semis.


Makarova took Pattaya City for her 2nd career title.  In the final she beat up-and-coming Czech Karolina Pliskova.


This Week:  ATP action resumes this week with hard court events in Zagreb (Croaria) and Montpellier (France) and a clay tournament in Vina del Mar (Chile.)  All are 250 events.


Tommy Haas is top seed in Zagreb and gets a bye with Mikhail Youzhny, Philipp Kohlscreiber, and Ivan Dodig.  Holder Marin Cilic is No. 5 seed and must play a 1st Round match against Croatian wild card Mate Delic.


In Montpellier, Richard Gasquet is the holder and top seed.  The top four seeds have byes.  The others are Gilles Simon, Jerzy Janowicz, and Dmitry Tursonov.  An intriguing 1st Round match pits No. 8 seed Julien Benneteau against Nikolay Davydenko.


Vina del Mar opens the Golden Swing and features Horacio Zeballos as an unseeded defending champion.  His title a year ago was memorable in that he beat Rafael Nadal in the final in what was the comeback tournament for Nadal.  Zeballos’s opening match is against Chilean wild card Gonzalo Lama.  As for the seeds, byes go to Fabio Fognini, Tommy Robredo, Nicolas Almagro, and Marcel Granollers.  Nadal is not on the field this year but is expected to play a week from now in Buenos Aires.


Women’s Week:  Fed Cup play begins with the Round of 8.  The United Staes will host champion Italy in Cleveland.  The other ties are:  Spain vs Czech Republic; Slovakia vs Germany; and Australia vs Russia.

Super Bowl XLVIII review -- Seahawks 43, Broncos 8

It was a long time coming, but no one could quite see it coming.  For the first time in a long time the Super Bowl went to the 4th quarter with every ounce of drama sucked right out of the building.  The Seahawks played an exquisite game.  The Broncos played lousy.  Both sentiments applied to just about every aspect of football.  The result was a lopsided win for the Seahawks during which the last question was answered on the final play of the 3rd quarter when the Broncos scored to avert being shutout.


That’s right.  The Broncos, the ones that scored 76 touchdowns and 606 points, were completely and entirely stymied during Super Bowl XLVIII.  They started digging their own hole when the game’s opening snap took Peyton Manning off guard and went through the end zone for a safety.  After the Seahawks kicked a field goal off the ensuing free kick, the Broncos went 3-and-out, punted, and the Seahawks kicked another field goal.


At that point it was 8-0 and it was reasonable to think the Broncos were more than close enough to bridge the gap once they began to play well.  The problem was they never did.  John Fox had thrown a challenge flag during the drive that made it 8-0 claiming Russell Wilson’s pass to Percy Harvin had been a lateral.  The coach takes most of his challenge cues from assistants perched above, but the red flag smelled of a team already at the point of realizing they were in over their heads.


On the next drive Manning threw what could have been his worst pass of the season and it was intercepted by Kam Chancellor.  A pass interference penalty helped the Seahawks finally crack the end zone to make it 15-0.  The Broncos got it back, but the play that ended the next drive was a microcosm of a game in which one team played about as well as it could have and the other about as poorly.


The Broncos were on the match, having gone 49 yards to the Seattle 35.  It was the first time they had made a 1st down in the game.  A penalty and a negative pass play made it 3rd-and-13 and the Seahawks, like they did all night, got rushers in Manning’s face.  He stepped to throw but his arm was hit by Cliff Avril and the ball waddled into the second level.  As would-be receiver Knowshon Moreno stood and stared, Malcolm Smith ran to the ball, picked it off, and returned it for a touchdown.  22-0.  The Broncos had one last chance to get points on the board but elected to go on 4th-and-2 from the Seattle 19 and Manning did not come close to completing the pass.


Even with all that, the Broncos were not out of it at halftime, at least according to the scoreboard.  A stop and a touchdown and they were right back in it.  But the next microcosm play happened on the opening kickoff.  Mike Prater kicked it short and the Seahawks let it bounce around the 10-yard line.  Harvin ran onto it and went 87-yards through a Broncos coverage team stuck in quicksand.


The snowball was still not fully formed though.  The Broncos drove to the Seahawks’ 39 and elected to punt rather than go on 4th-and-11.  That was at best a questionable call by Fox with the team trailing 29-0 and needing a momentum-changing play.  They managed to get the ball back without further damage and were again making headway when Demaryius Thomas was stripped by Byron Maxwell.  Smith picked up the fumble and the MVP trophy.


The 43-8 final matches the third largest margin of victory in the Super Bowl.  It is easy to look at everything the Broncos did wrong—and there is more not yet mentioned—but the Seahawks flexed their muscle as the best team in the NFL.  They probably always were even as the Broncos continued to put up mind-numbing point totals.  The Seahawks never even got Marshawn Lynch going and still scored five touchdowns and won by 35.


The defense, led by the Legion of Boom secondary, proved it could stand up against the game’s best offense.  It has everything a defense could want.  Their front four can get to the quarterback unaided.  Their linebackers are solid, and their secondary is quick, aggressive, and they cover like blankets.


Looking back though, the most important moment of the season probably took place two off-seasons ago.  The first two years of the Pete Carroll era were, to put it kindly, quarterback challenged.  Carroll inherited the end of Matt Hasselbeck for a season and then Tavaris Jackson.  They signed Matt Flynn ahead of the 2012 season and then drafted Wilson in the 3rd Round.  Conventional wisdom held that Flynn would start with Wilson absorbing from the sideline.  But Carroll saw that Wilson was the better choice and he started immediately while Flynn’s multimillion dollar contract wore the headset.  It was an ordinary start for Wilson—he was a footnote in the Golden Tate Monday Night catch that helped end the officials lockout—but by the end of last season it was clear Wilson was the real deal.  Now two seasons into his career, it should not be said that Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but he is more than good enough and more importantly there is no situation he has not handled with maturity.


It was Super Bowl XXXV after the 2000 season the last time the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl was essentially irrelevant.  That was the product of another great defense, the Ravens who did not allow the Giants a point in the game (the Giants took a kickoff back for a touchdown in a 34-7 loss.)  Two years later the Buccaneers were just about home against the Raiders.  But the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl has become one of the most anticipated hours of the sports year.  Only this time around the Seahawks had it wrapped up already.

Other thoughts, news, happenings, and tid-bits

PGA:  Kevin Stadler won his first PGA tournament when Bubba Watson pushed a putt wide to force a playoff mere seconds after Stadler missed a putt to win the Waste Management Open at TPC Scottsdale.  Stadler has a victory on the European Tour.  The win sends Stadler to The Masters for the first time where he and 1982 champion Craig Stadler will become the first father-son to play in the same Masters.


NBA:  Nate Robinson’s season is over.  The Nuggets guard will undergo surgery for a torn ACL.  The injury occurred last Wednesday against the Bobcats.  The Nuggets back court is already without Ty Lawson (shoulder) and Andre Miller (banished following dispute with coach Brian Shaw.)


NFL:  Never been to a Super Bowl, but have seen the last 33 on television.  I think this one was the loudest.


NFL:  The kickoff temperature of 49 degrees made the game the 46th warmest of 48 Super Bowls.

Stats Corner

NHL:  Phil Kessel’s 5th career hat trick carried him to his 5th career 30-goal season.  The former No. 5 overall pick netted three of the Leafs’ six goals and assisted on another in a 6-3 win over the Senators.  Kessel scored 30 or more goals in four straight seasons before the lockout shortened last season to 48 during which he was on 30-goal pace.  He joins Alex Ovechkin as 30-goal scorers this season.


NBA:  Gregg Popovich passed Red Auerbach on the all-time coaching win list when the Spurs edged the Kings on Saturday night.  Popovich now has 939 wins and has dropped Auerbach out of the Top 10.  But passing Red still holds a bit of panache for NBA coaches.  Auerbach retired as the all-time leader in wins and championships.  The long-time Celtics coach won 9 titles, since passed by Phil Jackson who has 11.


NHL:  Nearly nine years after being drafted, Marc-Andre Cliché has an NHL goal.  A 5th Round pick by the Rangers in 2005, Cliché was an AHL regular from the fall of 2007, and made one NHL appearance on March 2, 2010 for the Kings.  This season he went to Colorado and has been a regular member of the 20-man game roster, but it was not until Saturday, his 48th game of the season, that the 26-year old connected.  It was part of a 7-1 Avalanche rout of the Sabres.


NFL:  Neither will care, but Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas both set Super Bowl records on Sunday.  Manning’s 34 completions and Thomas’s 13 receptions both set new standards.

The Archive
1/27: Wawrinka wins Aussie Open
1/28: Charting older dirt routers
1/29: Media Day overwhelms, underwhelms
1/30: Mickelson will play
1/31: Super Bowl highlights weekend
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