Wimbledon 2011: Djokovic and Nadal in the Ascendancy

Novak Djokovic, after winning Friday to reach his first Wimbledon final and clinch the world #1 ranking.

The focus of the tennis world has been rather scattered and fragmented over the last couple of months. For the vast majority of the season, all eyes were on Serbian #2 Novak Djokovic, who won his second Australian Open in January. After his Melbourne triumph, Djokovic kept on winning…for five more months. In a winning streak that spanned 43 matches in all, Djokovic seized titles at Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, Belgrade, Madrid, and Rome, until he was finally defeated by a vintage Roger Federer performance at last month’s French Open semi-finals. Federer’s victory, and the subsequent renewal of the game’s famed Federer-Rafael Nadal rivalry, came to totally eclipse the tremendous success that Djokovic had been enjoying to that point in the season.

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Sabermetrics and Baseball’s Old Guard (or “Hawk Harrelson is an Idiot”)

(note: I have to give credit to White Sox blogger JJ Stankevitz for providing me with a stimulating conversation that gave some thoughts on this issue. He’s an incredibly talented writer and an astute analyst, and you can regularly read his stuff here)

Soon after today’s second Wimbledon semi-final finished, I flipped to CSN’s broadcast of White Sox-Cubs from Wrigley Field. Due to my rapidly growing disdain for Hawk Harrelson as a broadcaster (which warrants a post of its own at a later date), I gave the idea of watching the Cubs broadcast on WGN more than a little thought. But ultimately, I gave in to my rooting bias and settled on the Sox broadcast. Predictably, I became incredibly irritated in short order.

Due to my perhaps unhealthy habit of browsing Twitter while watching sports on television, I have to confess that I wasn’t paying full attention to the game at the onset of the event in question. My ears perked up upon hearing Harrelson venomously declare that Moneyball (probably both the Michael Lewis book and the approach it’s named for) “is one of the biggest frauds in the history of our game of baseball.” Steve Stone voiced his agreement, but quickly returned to the subject of the game at hand. It’s no stretch to figure that Stone was primarily trying to avoid the  five minute Hawk rant which inevitably would have ensued.

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Film Review: “Midnight in Paris”

Woody Allen’s latest offering, Midnight in Paris, is well on its way to becoming a box office success. Evidently, its Sony Classics release has already eclipsed all of his films since 1984’s Hannah and Her Sisters. It seems that Woody has finally returned to the mainstream, relatively speaking.

It’s not difficult to see why Midnight in Paris has been such a success. In all the best ways possible, it is a throwback to his earlier classics. It opens with an extended montage of Paris throughout the day, which is sure to remind seasoned viewers of Manhattan. It’s a well-balanced blend of comedy and drama, which is written with a freshness which nonetheless evokes the hallmarks of Allen’s most famous work.

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(The Lack of) Loyalty in World Football (or “why, Luka, why!?”)

One of many photos I took of Luka Modric at Spurs' November triumph over Inter at White Hart Lane

Outside the gates of  White Hart Lane last November, I was asked by an interviewer with the company “Winkball” for my thoughts on player loyalty in European football as compared to American sports. Somewhat courageously, I said that while it’s on the decline on both sides of the pond, it seems to be considerably weaker in England. From my perspective, the fact that under football’s transfer system a top player can spend as little as one or two seasons at a club (see Dimitar Berbatov) means that this disparity is inevitable. “But what about LeBron?,” the interviewer asked me. I simply had to laugh and smile along, quite certain that he didn’t quite grasp my point.

Now, 3988 miles away and seven months later, the accuracy of my thoughts has come back to haunt me. The day which I, as a supporter of Tottenham Hotspur football, prayed would never come has seemingly arrived. Luka Modric, Spurs’ dynamic midfielder, is coveted by London rivals Chelsea, and the Croatian wants to join them. After three seasons in North London as Spurs’ playmaking leader, the Luka Modric era at N17 is on the verge of a collapse.

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Posted in English football, Soccer, Sports, Tottenham Hotspur | 2 Comments

Rest in Peace, Clarence Clemons

On one level, it feels stupid to be a 21-year old Midwesterner writing about Clarence Clemons in the wake of his death. I wasn’t a twinkle in my father’s eye “when the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band.” I didn’t buy Born to Run at the local record shop in August of 1975. In fact, I didn’t come to appreciate the splendor of that sax solo in “Jungleland” until the end of 2010. Most importantly, I have never had the privelige of seeing Springsteen in concert, with or without Clarence.

And yet, the news of his stroke last week, followed by word of his passing yesterday evening, has had a large effect on me. While I first came to Springsteen’s music around 2006, it wasn’t until about six months ago that I truly began to dive into it. And in a fashion true to myself, I’ve dove way into it. I’ve forced friends to put up with a whole lot of Bruce. From the time I came back Stateside from England, Born to Run didn’t leave my car CD player for at least a month. A poster of that album’s iconic cover, with Springsteen holding his guitar, elbow resting on Clarence’s shoulder, adorned the wall space just above my desk in my apartment. I started to eat, sleep, and breathe Bruce Springsteen.

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Review: Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” with the New York Philharmonic

For being such an American cultural icon, Stephen Sondheim has never really entered “pop culture”, as it were. While his name is synonymous with brilliant lyrics and musical theatre as a whole, few of his works (with the notable exception of Sweeney Todd) have entered popular consciousness. This may have to do with the fact that his scores are not inherently hummable–they are often layered and complex, and won’t stick in the audience’s head after a first listen, unlike, say, the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber. His shows also tend to be more intimate “chamber” pieces, which were not in vogue in the heyday of Webber and Cameron Mackintosh’s “megamusicals.” Nonetheless, in theatre circles Sondheim’s name continues to be revered.

The new semi-staged concert production of 1970’s Company is an attempt to bring Sondheim to the masses. This staging has assembled an all-star cast of names from television and the theatre, and in addition to concert performances has also taken shape as a filmed version, screened in limited movie theatres across the country.

For my money, Company has always been one of Sondheim’s most accessible works. While its structure is scattered and unconventional, its themes and characters are easily relateable. As Sondheim himself stated, Company is very much a show “about middle-class people with middle-class problems.” Add in the fact that much of the music is pleasant to the ear, and you have a powerful piece.

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Review: HBO’s “McEnroe/Borg: Fire and Ice”

As a newcomer to the world of tennis, I can speak with immediate experience as to the dearth of quality films and documentaries concerning the game. One would assume that a sport so old and rich in history, not to mention having such middle to upper-class appeal, would have plenty of film projects along the lines of, say, Ken Burns’s Baseball. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

I was delighted, then, to learn that HBO had a feature about John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg in the pipeline. And, as the fates aligned to give me a free HBO preview this weekend, I had the fortune to catch its premiere tonight.

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Can the Gold Cup be fixed?

Seen this logo anywhere lately? Me neither.

Over the last two and a half years, I have developed a strong attachment with the US national soccer team team. Starting in January ’09 through this past summer’s World Cup, I hardly missed a US match, whether a friendly, World Cup qualifier, or Confederations Cup match. It was a commitment which instilled me with a strong sense of sports patriotism. I felt pride watching Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley wearing the stars and stripes, acting as America’s ambassadors for the world’s most popular sport. For most of our sports nation, the US’s dramatic World Cup run was an introduction to a set of players and coaches, but for me it was a fulfillment and reward of the long and arduous World Cup cycle. This isn’t to say that I looked down at those who came late to the party, however. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

As I type this, our national soccer team is playing against Panama at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. It’s a group stage match in the three-week competition called the CONCACAF Gold Cup. This tournament decides the soccer king of North and Central America and the Caribbean. It’s kind of a big deal. Or is it?

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Death, Taxes, and Rafa Nadal at Roland Garros: French Open 2011

(allow me to preface this by admitting that I am new to the sport of tennis. While it has truly captured my imagination and I have been following it very closely for the last half-year, doubtless a number of the intricacies of the game are still out of my reach. Bear with me as I learn more about the sport–watching it, playing it, and writing about it)

This year’s French Open was not bereft of drama on the male side. While it didn’t have the same startling number of upsets as the women’s draw, it featured what every fan of the game wants: the world’s greatest players, playing at the highest possible standard. Pretenders, wily middling veterans, and young guns crashed out before too long and the cream of the crop quite literally rose to the top.

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Oh, hello.

I’m sorry; I didn’t see you there. For those of you who know me, I’ve had a complicated and bad relationship with blogs. But I think I’m going to actually try to commit to this one.

While my chosen career path is to be a teacher, I’m becoming increasingly interested in journalism and writing. I think having a place like this to write will be good for me, both personally and professionally.

I’ll be posting my thoughts on a lot of stuff that I’m interested in or have opinions about. This includes sports, music, film, television, theatre, current events, you name it. I’m going to try to stay away from stuff entirely focused on my personal life–that’s what Facebook or Twitter are for. That’s not to say I’ll totally avoid my personal life in these “pages”–if a sort of anecdote or story fits and helps me write, it’ll find its way in there. But more than anything I just want this to be a writing exercise for me. I want to get myself on a regular schedule and try to get myself out there into the great frontier that is the World Wide Web. It’ll be fun.

Hope you’ll come along for the ride.

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