Sunday, January 22, 2012

Clijsters pulls out the win in 'wacky' Australian Open match

With the bitter January cold that comes upon us in Minnesota, so too does the heart of the summer heat arrive in Melbourne, Australia for the annual kickoff to the tennis Grand Slam season, the Australian Open.

I'm always jealous watching the tournament coverage, from my couch with snow drifts outside, when I see players sweating out their matches. With the extreme time difference, it can be tough to keep up with the Aussie Open, when live, prime time matches are played in the middle of the night for United States watchers.

With social media and the the cyber world, it's pretty much impossible to not find out what happened before you can watch the tape-delayed match later on in the day. But I do my best to try and watch as much as I can, and the tennis fever officially hit me last night as I became engrossed in the fourth round match between Kim Clijsters and Li Na.

A setback that wasn't for Clijsters
The tennis commentators kept remarking on how "wacky" the head-to-head matches between these two have been. This one was no exception. Before the final ball was struck on their three-setter, the crowd saw an injury, nerves affecting both of the players, momentum swings and one helluva tiebreaker.

I first tuned in to see Clijsters wincing in pain while getting attended to by the trainer. I kept watching to find out she was in the middle of a serving game at 3-3 in the first set, when she rolled her left ankle. Not only that, but when she fell to the court after returning the ball, she got up again to go get the next shot. Talk about being focused on the game.

As she got her ankle taped up, it appeared as though this had the potential to be a short match. How, if at all, would Clijsters be able to respond after getting shaken up by her injured ankle? She moved a little slower, but her game didn't seem to be hindered too much, and if it did she made adjustments.

That first set wound up 6-4 in favor of Li Na, the French Open champion last year. What was odd up until this point though, were all the breaks in serve for both players. Not exactly a commanding performance from either end.

One amazing comeback
Then the second set reached a tiebreak - and all appeared to be over for Clijsters, who was the defending champion of the Aussie Open. Li Na got the mini break right away as Clijsters failed to come up with the first point, and then another and another. All of a sudden, Li Na had racked up six points and had a string of match points coming her way.

And Clijsters saved all four of them. She dug deep and pulled out the second set, continuing her run of never losing a tiebreaker at the Australian Open.

It was a huge momentum shift. Li Na with a mini collapse and Clijsters with a rejuvenated burst of energy. Losing four match points in a row was obviously a big mental setback for Li Na, and it carried over immediately into the third set. Clijsters jumped out to a 3-0 lead, and it looked like she might bagel her opponent to close out the match.

Then the nerves took a jump to the other side of the court and nipped Clijsters. She was up 5-2 and was broken on her serve before she finally was able to close out the match, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4.

Just another reason to enjoy sports
This match reminded me why I enjoy watching sports so much. Four match points in a tiebreaker where nothing was going right for Clijsters. Odds on paper are, Li Na would take the match in straight sets. But just because a player appears to have no fighting chance left, doesn't mean a thing until the game is 100 percent finished.

It may be a cliche, but it's a good one that I love: That's why they play the game.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The best and worst 'Thoughts' of 2011 - Part two

Part one of The Best 'Thoughts' are a lot more fun to look back on, especially when you consider all of the tragedy in sports in 2011. Like the last time though, I was able to compile fewer Worst moments than Best, so there's that.

Here are the not-so-great moments, left in chronological order:

The Worst...

Wild end 2010 on a low note
This was my first entry of the year, and I wasn't all that happy to write about a Wild game that I attended on New Year's Eve which was a 4-1 loss to the Nashville Predators. The Wild dug themselves an early hole they couldn't get out of and did not give their best effort to ring in the new year.

It has to get better, right?
2011 was a year to forget for the Twins, but at the end of April, I assumed the direction for the team could only go up after the first few weeks. From the terrible opening series in Toronto though, the season really didn't turn around much. But for 2012, it has to get better, right?

RIP Boogey
One of the more tragic moments of the year came with the sudden death of former Wild player Derek Boogaard. I first saw the news on Twitter, and it was really a huge shock. He was a fan favorite in Minnesota and was known in the sport as being an enforcer on the ice, but also a very caring individual off the ice.

RIP Dan Wheldon
This was another tragic moment for the year and for the entire IndyCar and racing community. In what was supposed to be an exciting, battle-for-the-championship season finale in Las Vegas, it turned into a tragic day in racing.

Thirty-three-year-old Dan Wheldon, the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, died 12 laps into the race in a terrible multi-car crash. I was glued to my TV and Twitter throughout the afternoon to follow the coverage and await word on Wheldon. He will be greatly missed in the IndyCar series.

The best and worst 'Thoughts' of 2011 - Part one

We're into the new year already, so I thought before it gets too far along in 2012, I'd reflect back on the best and worst sports thoughts I wrote in 2011. It's fun to look back and see what went on during the last calendar year in the world of sports, or at least the ones I write about.

One thing that sticks out for me is the number of blog entries I wrote, which was not on the same pace I had been keeping in the past. I got busy this year with a new full-time job, and my blog ended up getting neglected at times. Among my New Year's resolutions for 2012, one of them is to do a better job of keeping my blog updated.

Just like last year, I left the moments in chronological order. Here you go:

The best

Good news on the Minnesota sports front
The Wild were on a roll last year in January, but that didn't carry through the rest of the season. Brent Burns made the All-Star team, in what turned out to be his last season with the Wild. University of St. Thomas football coach Glenn Caruso was named Coach of the Year for NCAA Division III. Twins pitcher and fan favorite Bert Blyleven finally got his call to the hall.

Shutting out the Canucks
The Wild had an easy time with Vancouver last year, especially for this particular game with a 4-0 home win. Rookie goalie Anton Khudobin was sharp all night long in the net. The game was physical and included some highlight-reel goals.

Plus, whenever the Wild can keep the Sedins from notching any points, you need to count that as a successful night.

It's been awhile, but at least I have a good reason
This was the first blog update after my job started. I had a montage of updates including how I went through high school hockey tournament withdrawal, recounting the Wild's slide in the loss column, my opinion on throwback jerseys, the St. Thomas men's basketball team winning a national championship and the start of both baseball and the IndyCar seasons.

Centennial Indy 500
My family and I attended the 100th running of the greatest spectacle in racing. It was a beautiful day and a great race. The finish was one for the books, with the lead car crashing on the final turn, giving the victory to Dan Wheldon. The win takes on a whole different meaning now, as Wheldon was killed in October in the IndyCar season finale.

Sheppard, Delmon out of Minnesota sports
This was a happy moment for me: Delmon Young and James Sheppard left their Minnesota sports teams. If you're a reader of my blog, it's no secret that I was not thrilled with Young's play in the outfield for the Twins, and Sheppard's performance for the Wild was just terrible. Shep went to the Sharks to showcase his "offensive" skills, and Young went to division-rival Tigers, where he did quite well.

A classic World Series
The 2011 World Series featuring the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers was a great one that went seven games and had a couple of amazing comebacks. Extra innings, home runs and Joe Buck's "We'll see ya, tomorrow night" call are all major components of this series.

Check out The best and worst 'Thoughts' of 2011 - Part two for some of the tough, not to mention sad, sports moments of the past year.