Federer Indian Wells

Federer Poised for Dominant 2017

Roger Federer cruised to his second title of the year in Indian Wells last weekend without dropping a set. The Swiss legend will turn 36 in August. Thus, it would be startling to see him dominate 2017 the way he did the mid-2000s, but that scenario is becoming increasingly likely. Here is why.

He is healthy, his Main Competition is not

Most folks were writing off an aging and injured Federer a year ago at this time as Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray ran rough shot over the rest of the tour. Things have really changed in a year. Federer has notched his 18th grand slam singles title after six months of intense knee rehab while Djokovic and Murray are in disarray.

Both the Serb and the Brit pulled out of the Miami Open this week citing elbow injuries. They also both have flopped out early in the two biggest events of the young season. In the case of Djokovic, his slump dates back to right after winning the French Open in June.

Novak Djokovic

Photo: eurosport.fr

He has won just two events since then and failed to reach the second week in two of three Grand Slams played. No one knows exactly what is going on. The elbow injury is a new wrinkle to the public. Reports of marital problems have been running rampant since August. No matter how you slice it, all is not well with Djokovic at the moment.

Murray is in a momentary dip. The Australian Open and Indian Wells did not go well for Murray. However, he played five consecutive events at the backend of 2016, a year that had already seen him raise his second Wimbledon trophy. There is virtually no offseason in tennis so a hangover from that is perfectly reasonable. Murray saw a chance to take the top ranking from Djokovic late last year and took it.

Andy Murray

Photo: si.com

The injury is the cause for concern in the Murray camp. He reported no issues in Indian Wells. The clay court season looms following Miami.

Clay is extremely grueling on the body. It tends to make any injury worse, not better. Murray has a good chunk of time to get healthy before the first big event on clay. The fact that he is not healthy ahead of the most physically demanding part of the year is not a good sign.

No athlete ever wants to see a fellow competitor injured. However, all this bodes really well for Federer. Even when he has played poorly in recent years, it has still been pretty rare to see him drop matches to guys not named Djokovic, Murray or Nadal. Moreover, poorly is the last word anyone would use to describe Federer’s play right now. Speaking of Nadal…

Federer is Playing Nadal as Well as he Ever Has

Nadal leads his all-time series with Federer 23-13, but dig deeper. Federer has won three consecutive meetings with the Spanish lefty for the first time in his career. His one-handed backhand has always been a liability against the incredible topspin and high bounces of Nadal. Federer has been much more aggressive with that shot recently.

Federer always tinkered with his game and coaching team, even when he was at his best. The 2017 version of each is really paying off for Federer, particularly in terms of Nadal.

Federer Nadal

Photo: ibtimes.au

Nadal has won nine titles in 12 attempts on the clay courts of Roland Garros over the years, mostly at Federer’s expense. Federer has only one French Open title to his name. However, if the two were to play anywhere other than there tomorrow, it would be hard not to view Federer as the favorite.

Things can change quickly in any sport, and tennis is no exception. After the first week of the 2017 season, I wrote an article about how Djokovic and Murray would be head and shoulders above the competition again this season. About eight weeks later, that looks like one of the most ridiculous things ever written.

Maybe Djokovic and Murray find their health and good form as quickly as they lost it. Maybe Nadal reasserts his mastery of Federer. Maybe one of the young guns steps up.

It is Federer’s world for now and we are all just living in it. There is no reason to think that will change this week in Miami. Furthermore, with one already down, there is a real chance Federer wins three of the four Grand Slams in 2017.

 

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Roger Federer

Indian Wells Finals Preview

The long and winding road to the finals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California has reached its end. Both finals will feature battles between compatriots. Here is a look at each with ladies first.

(8) Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. (14) Elena Vesnina (Head-to-Head tied 1-1)

Two veteran Russians are the last women standing in a draw chocked-full of unpredictability and upsets. Both ladies are enjoying a late career resurgence. Vesnina was seen as mostly a doubles specialist at this point in her career prior to last year. Something clicked though, and she improved her year-end ranking by 95 spots from 2015.

That form is carried over into this year. She has made her way through this draw without much drama or fanfare. Her biggest win in this event was knocking off soon to be world No. 1 Angelique Kerber in the round of 16. She followed that up by grinding out a tough three set win over Venus Williams.

Elena Vesnina

Photo: vavel.com

Vesnina has always had the serve and groundstrokes to play with anybody, but a tendency to tighten up in the big moments has held her back on the singles court. Now at age 30, Vesnina finds herself in the biggest singles final of her career.

Svetlana Kuznetsova has had a career of extreme ups and downs. The ups have seen her win two Grand Slam singles titles. The downs have seen her fall outside the top 70 in singles as recently as late 2012. However, staying healthy throughout 2016 helped Kuznetsova have one of her most consistent years on tour and finish inside the top 10 for the first time since 2009.

Like her countrywoman, Kuznetsova has navigated the draw pretty easily. She has only had one three setter. She has won many big titles in her career, but never this one. The 31-year-old will relish the chance to add Indian Wells to her already stellar résumé.

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Photo: bnpparibasopen.com

Prediction:

Both of these players have been around for over a decade. Thus, I am stunned this will be only their third meeting on the singles court. Vesnina has had only one match anywhere close to this one in terms of importance in her singles career. She won just two games from Serena Williams in the Wimbledon semifinals last year. Conversely, Kuznetsova has had dozens of matches like this in her career.

The experience edge is key. Kuznetsova also hits a very heavy ball with spin rarely seen on the women’s tour. It can be a nightmare for players who have not seen it often. This is enough for me to peg Kuznetsova to take this title fairly routinely. The pick: Kuznetsova in two sets.

 

Now let’s look at the men’s matchup.

(3) Stan Wawrinka vs. (9) Roger Federer (Head-to-Head: Federer leads 19-3)

This final has much more star power than the ladies match, but there is much less that can be said about it. Roger Federer may be having the best tournament of his career as ludicrous as it sounds. That is a massive statement for the greatest player that ever lived. He has not dropped a set and was at the peak of his powers in a 58 minute destruction of frequent rival/conqueror Rafael Nadal in the round of 16.

His serve and forehand have always been fantastic throughout his legendary career. However, his one-handed backhand has also been a weapon this week. Federer is nearly unbeatable when this is the case.

Prediction:

Federer Wawrinka

Photo: tennistonic.com

I have immense respect for Stan Wawrinka’s game and ability to play his best at big events. He has come from seemingly nowhere to win a Grand Slam each of the last three years. This gives him a punchers chance tomorrow. Also, his effort to reach this final has been very gutsy, pulling out two final set tiebreakers.

Federer is just playing too well at the moment to pick against. His ranking will continue to rise no matter what happens here. Each time these friends, countrymen and occasional doubles partners face off, there is an element of the big brother that does everything just a tick better than his younger brother. The pick: Federer in two sets.

 

The finals will air live back to back at 2 ET Sunday on ESPN.

 

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Andy Murray

The Story So Far in Indian Wells

As the east coast of the United States continues to bear the brunt of a mid-March blizzard, the stars of pro tennis are battling 90 degree temperatures in the California desert. The field at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells is starting to dwindle. Here is a look at all the latest happenings from the event.

Serena Withdraws, Kerber handed top ranking- World No. 1 Serena Williams needed to reach the semis at Indian Wells to keep that distinction.  Williams withdrew citing knee issues on the eve of the event. Serena will also miss next week’s event in Miami.

Come Monday, Angelique Kerber will retake the top spot that she lost following the Australian Open. The rankings system is what it is. However, the German is barely a .500 player in 2017 and has struggled with the newfound expectations that came with last year’s success. Kerber fell in the round of 16 to Elena Vesnina this week.

Angelique Kerber

Photo: uk.lalalay.com

Even with the lengthy absences of Serena and Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Victoria Azarenka in recent years, no one has been able to emerge and stay at the top. At the moment, I shudder to think what the WTA Tour will look like when these four megastars hang up their racquets for good.

Murray Stumbles- The men’s game has not been immune to the upset bug this week either. Andy Murray was beaten in his opening match by Canadian qualifier Vasek Pospisil. The top-seeded Brit snagged a title in Dubai just before coming to California. Thus, there is not much reason to sound the alarm in regards to the three-time grand slam champion.

Almost every player has an event that they just do not fare well at for whatever reason. Indian Wells is becoming that event for Murray. Having played there every year since 2006, Murray has only reached one final and has never taken home the big trophy. This is a disastrous record for any event by Murray’s lofty standards. A bounce back week should be fully expected in Miami, one of Murray’s training bases.

Strange Rankings Create Ridiculously Good Early Matchups- Unlike the Grand Slams, there is not typically a day off for players between rounds of the tournament in Indian Wells. Matches are often made and played in well under 24 hours. This makes it very difficult for media outlets to do match previews in the early rounds of the tournament. For this particular event, a day off would have been nice for the sport to catch its collective breath. Allow me to explain.

With so many talented players on comebacks from injury layoffs on both tours, the best players are not necessarily ranked the highest right now. By the time this gets published, the following matches will be scheduled or have already taken place. Novak Djokovic vs Juan Martin Del Potro, Djokovic vs Nick Kyrgios, Madison Keys vs Caroline Wozniacki, and Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal.

Every single one of those matches is realistic for the final weekend of a major, we have not even reached the semis of this event yet. Federer vs Nadal has decided 11 Grand Slam Finals, including the most recent one. For this tournament, it will only decide a quarter-finalist. That is simply mind boggling.

Federer Nadal

Photo: english.sina.com

 Looking Ahead- Even with Djokovic and Kyrgios lerking ahead of their showdown, the winner of Federer vs. Nadal is the favorite to win the title. Both legends have had immense success at this tournament and both are playing at a very high level. Nadal was my pre-event pick and the slower hardcourts in Indian Wells suit his game better than Federer’s. Look for Nadal to prevail in two tight sets.

Of the players left, no ladies champion would truly surprise me. Experience on a big stage is always a good thing. An edge goes to veterans like Caroline Wozniacki, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Venus Williams. The ESPN family of networks begin their coverage of the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday and will split it with Tennis Channel until finals day. ESPN will both singles finals live back to back on Sunday at 2 ET.

Caroline Wozniacki

Photo: wtatennis.com

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NFL Free Agency

Early NFL Free Agency: Sneaky Good Moves

The game of quarterback musical chairs is snagging the headlines early in NFL free agency like every year. If you do not have a quarterback who is at least competent, you have no chance in this league. However, every position matters. Here is a look at some sneaky good moves in the beginnings of the free agent frenzy.

Phil Dawson: Arizona Cardinals

Phil Dawson

Photo: sportsoutwest.com

Yes folks, a kicker. Arizona lost five games by one possession and tied another during last year’s seven-win campaign. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed 11 combined field goals and extra points. These things are not entirely unrelated.

Meanwhile, 42-year-old Phil Dawson missed just four total kicks for the 49ers. As crazy as it sounds, this may be a pivotal move in Arizona’s quest to return to the postseason in 2017.

 

 

 

Ronald Leary: Denver Broncos

Ronald Leary

Photo: hngn.com

Whoever winds up taking snaps for the Broncos next year will have much more protection. This is a heck of a start. Leary did not allow a sack while starting 13 games in Dallas last year. He has been a stalwart on the best offensive line in football since 2014.

Denver’s ability to sack the opposing quarterback in recent years is well documented. In 2016, the Broncos had just two more total sacks than their opponents. That is crazy considering the Broncos have both Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.

Poor offensive line play is also one of the reasons Denver struggled to break 50 rushing yards in a game for parts of 2016. Do not be surprised if center Matt Paradis is the only starting offensive lineman that returns in 2017. Last year’s free agent offensive line signings of Donald Stephenson and Russell Okung proved to be disastrous for Denver.

To become legitimate Super Bowl contenders again, the Leary signing needs to be the first step in another massive offensive line overhaul in Denver. The Broncos have also added former Raiders offensive tackle Menelik Watson to the fold.

A.J. Klein: New Orleans Saints

A.J .Klein

Photo: zambio.com

As long as Drew Brees is in town, the Saints will always be able to score. However, they have finished outside the top 25 in total defense for three straight years. While a single player will not change that, Klein is a step in the right direction.

Playing behind Luke Kuechly limited Klein’s snaps in Carolina. When he did see the field, he was reasonably productive. Klein took part in 137 tackles in Carolina despite starting just 23 games in four seasons. Additionally, three years and $15 million is a fairly cheap price to pay a 25-year-old contributor from a division rival.

           

 

Kevin Zietler: Cleveland Browns

Kevin Zeitler

Photo: stripehype.com

It is no secret that the Browns need work everywhere, and the offensive line is no exception. Zietler was one of three early moves the Browns made up front. The former Bengal is now the highest-paid guard in NFL history.

While the contract numbers are eye-popping and the Browns have an alarming tendency to screw things up, signing a guard from a division rival who has given up just 11 total sacks in five seasons is never a bad move.

March is all about basketball. However, the NFL’s version of March Madness is certainly worth continuing to keep an eye on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

BNP Paribas Open

What to Watch for in Indian Wells

College basketball is not the only sport in America that features “March Madness.” The best tennis players in the world spend the month playing back-to-back tournaments on the hard courts in Indian Wells and Miami. After the four majors, these two events are widely considered the most prestigious in the sport.

The BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, kicks off Monday. All 32 seeded players in both singles draws receive first-round byes. We will not see them until the middle of next week. Here are a few storylines to watch for in the California desert.

Can Djokovic Get Right?

Novak Djokovic Nick Kyrgios

Photo: bbc.co.uk

As hard as it is to believe, Novak Djokovic has been flat out ordinary for the last six months. His struggles continued with a quarterfinal loss to inspired Aussie Nick Kyrgios after taking a late entry into Acapulco this week.

 

The world number two has won a combined 11 titles in Indian Wells and Miami. His recent struggles are becoming harder to explain and ignore. He has become increasingly testy with the media.

Even with all the questions surrounding him, it is not time for the Serbian to truly panic, unless he fails to win at least one of these next two events.

 

Del Potro Still Dangerous

The good news for the other top players is that former U.S. Open champ Juan Martin Del Potro is seeded at this event. He will not play another seed until round three. The bad news is he is seeded 32nd. That means he will likely play someone seeded in the top eight in the third round. Given the way the Argentine has played recently in limited action, none of the big guns want to see him that early in this event.

The favorites in Indian Wells are Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in that order. Del Potro is just half a notch below this fearsome foursome of all-timers when it comes to winning this tournament.

Ladies Top Ranking Up For Grabs

Serena Williams Kerber

Photo: edition.cnn.com

Angelique Kerber started 2017 as world No. 1, but has only reached one semifinal in five events.

As poorly as she has played, the WTA’s complicated rankings system allows her a chance to regain the top spot from Serena Williams in Indian Wells. Rather than bore you all with numbers, the simplest thing that can be said is that Serena must reach at least the semis to keep the top ranking.

Given her tendency to sleepwalk at the non-majors, the semis are not a lock for Williams. Tuesday’s singles main draw and the matchups will be key.

Keys Returns

New mom Victoria Azarenka will not be back to defend her Indian Wells and Miami titles as she continues to get into post-pregnancy shape. However, talented young American Madison Keys is back in the fold after missing four months with a wrist injury.

Madison Keys

Photo: tennisworldusa.org

Seeded ninth, rust is a concern for the 22-year-old. However, anyone who serves as hard as Serena Williams and has an average groundstroke speed that tops most of the men is worth keeping an eye on.

Television coverage of the BNP Paribas Open starts Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. ET on Tennis Channel. Both men’s and women’s matches will be featured along with some doubles. Several online platforms are also available. The ESPN family of networks will become more prominent as the event progresses.

 

 

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Joe Montana

The Montana Three: Three QBs Drafted Before Joe Montana

Once next month’s NFL Draft is firmly in the rear view mirror, there will be plenty of sobering reminders of just how inexact a science NFL player evaluation really is. Thanks to a fantastic ESPN documentary, we all have become familiar with the underwhelming group of six quarterbacks taken before Tom Brady in the 2000 draft.

Despite being drafted three rounds higher, Brady’s stiffest competition for the title of greatest quarterback ever was also passed over numerous times in the 1979 NFL draft. Joe Montana was drafted by the 49ers with the last pick of the third round. We have met “The Brady Six”. Now, let’s meet “The Montana Three.”

Jack Thompson- “The Throwin’ Samoan” was widely viewed as the prize of the 1979 quarterback class. He ended his college career at Washington State as the NCAA’s all-time leader in passing yards. He also set conference records for completions and touchdown passes in what was then the Pac-10.

Joe Montana Draft

Photo: cincyjungle.com

The Bengals drafted Thompson with the third overall pick as the heir apparent to veteran signal caller Ken Anderson. However, Anderson played too well to be replaced by the youngster. Thompson started just five games in his Bengals career. He watched from the bench as Anderson led Cincinnati to the Super Bowl following the 1981 regular season.

Ironically, that Super Bowl marked the first of two occasions where Cincinnati would come up just short against their former assistant coach Bill Walsh and his quarterback Joe Montana.

Thompson was traded to the Buccaneers in 1983. He started 16 games over two seasons. Tampa Bay tallied a team record of just 3-13 in those games. Thompson retired after the 1984 season with 33 touchdowns, 45 interceptions, and just four wins as a starting quarterback. He now works as a mortgage broker and occasional high school and college quarterback coach.

Steve Fuller- Fuller was an All-American at Clemson. The Chiefs used their first round pick on him in hopes of ending the quarterback carousel the franchise had been on ever since the retirement of Super Bowl IV winner Len Dawson.

Joe Montana Draft

Photo: chiefs.com

Fuller ended up being just another guy on that carousel. Due to injuries and poor performance, Fuller never finished a complete 16-game season for the Chiefs. Fuller completed under 60% of his passes in Kansas City, threw ten more interceptions than touchdowns and went just 13-18 as a starter.

Fuller closed out his career as the backup in Chicago earning a Super Bowl ring with the 1985 Bears and retiring a year later. Eventually, the Chiefs did snag Joe Montana by acquiring him in a trade in 1993. “Joe Cool” spearheaded Kansas City to back-to-back playoff appearances before calling it a career.

Phil Simms- Here is where this short list gets saved from its own documentary. Phil Simms was no Joe Montana, but he was pretty darn good. The Giants raised more than a few eyebrows by taking the largely unknown Morehead State product in the top 10. A 14-year career, two Super Bowls and a league MVP later, no one remembers that.

Joe Montana Draft

Photo: sbnation.com

While people in the Chiefs and Bengals organizations still lose sleep over passing on Montana, the Giants came out just fine. Like many things in life, hindsight is 20/20 when it comes to the NFL draft. Both Montana and Brady were not full time starters in college.

Even so, it is hard to imagine what scouts were looking at when they came across two of the all-time greats.

Stories like that of Montana and Brady are shining examples of the fact that some guys cannot be defined by just a sheet of paper with a bunch of numbers on it.

 

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Arizona Cardinals

Despite New Hall of Fame Status, Warner Still Criminally Underrated

When people debate the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history the same names always come up. Brady, Montana, Elway and Peyton Manning. The next series of names is usually led by Favre and Marino. Aaron Rodgers is starting to get thrown in there as well.

There is one name that does not come up nearly as much as it should, newly minted Hall of Famer Kurt Warner.

The mere fact that Hall of Famer now precedes his name means there are plenty of folks out there who think Warner was great. Even so, few people realize how great he was.

Context:

            The beginnings of Warner’s journey are well documented. Undrafted out of Northern Iowa, he went from grocery store stock boy to NFL and Super Bowl MVP in 1999 following a preseason injury to starter Trent Green.

Warner spearheaded a then St. Louis Rams offense that scored 30 points on a dozen separate occasions in 1999. The nickname “Greatest Show on Turf” was shockingly accurate. It is almost impossible to put in to words how good Warner and that offense as a whole were that year. Warner, Marshall Faulk and the rest of the offense took their rightful place as one of the best in NFL history by notching the narrowest of victories in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Kurt Warner

Photo: kurtwarner.org

After a close playoff loss to the Saints in 2000, Warner and the Rams returned to top form in 2001. Warner bagged another league MVP and the Rams returned to the Super Bowl. However, they fell victim to Tom Brady, Adam Vinatieri and the rest of the Cinderella Patriots as time expired.

From 1999-2001, Warner threw for over 11,000 yards, 98 touchdowns and 53 interceptions while reaching two Super Bowls. Despite missing five games in 2000 due to injury, Warner tallied a regular season win loss record of 35-8 as a starter over this three year span. That is as good a three year stretch as any quarterback has ever had.

Injuries caused Warner’s career to bottom out from 2002-2004. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns, won just five games as a starter and only appeared in 19. Following a 2004 campaign that saw the Giants bench him for Eli Manning, Warner’s career looked to be done.

The Cardinals took a flyer on Warner signing him to a one year deal in 2005. Warner always seemed to be in competition for the starting job in the land of the sun, but the Cardinals kept bringing him back. By 2008, Warner was healthy and firmly entrenched as the starter.

That season, Warner guided Arizona to a 9-7 record and a playoff spot. To say Warner and the Cards got hot would be a gross understatement. Behind Warner’s 112 passer rating, the Cardinals franchise won its first playoff game since 1947. In Super Bowl XLIII, Arizona lost by the length of Santonio Holmes’ toenail.

Santonio Holmes

Photo: ftiznews.com

Playoff Success and Place Among All Time Greats:

            Warner led two different franchises to the Super Bowl. He is one of just three quarterbacks to do that. Moreover, unless you count the Rams Los Angeles glory days, both franchises have struggled to spell Super Bowl before and after Warner, much less get there.

Warner ranks second all-time in postseason passer rating. At one point, Warner owned the top three performances in Super Bowl history in terms of passing yards.

Warner retired after leading the Cardinals back to the playoffs in 2009. It is reasonable to speculate that being a part of two narrow Super Bowl defeats keeps him from being mentioned with the usual suspects of all-time great quarterbacks. His mid-career nosedive does not help matters either.

Even with those two negatives on his résumé, Warner has far more postseason success than guys like Favre amd Marino. When one considers the franchises he led to the promised land, his career becomes all the more impressive. For all these reasons, Warner belongs in the single digits when it comes to the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

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Delray Beach Open

Late February Tennis Tidbits

In pro tennis, February is mostly about breaking down January’s Australian Open and gearing up for two big American hardcourt events in Indian Wells and Miami. Even so, there are a few stories out there. Here is a brief spin around the tennis world.

Federer Keeps Defying Father Time:

Australian Open champion Roger Federer returns to the tour next week in Dubai. Not only did he win his 18th Grand Slam immediately after a five month layoff, but the 35 year old announced that he has signed a deal play his hometown event in Basel, Switzerland through October 2019.

Roger Federer

Photo: bbc.co.uk

Even though the game has slanted towards older players in recent years, winning a Grand Slam at 35 is still quite remarkable. One of few things that tops it is Federer making his intentions known to play at least two more full years. He had been very coy about retirement until now.

Playing until you are staring down your 40th birthday is virtually unheard of. Despite that, Federer is competitive and healthy. As long as that remains the case, he will honor his commitment to do just that. The longer players like Federer stick around, the better off the sport is.

Kerber is Searching for Answers:

2016 was a banner year for Angelique Kerber. She finished the year with the number one ranking, won two Grand Slams and grabbed an Olympic silver medal. Given that she started 2016 barely ranked inside the top ten, her rise is one of the most surprising in recent memory.

However, it is not 2016 anymore. Kerber failed to reach the quarterfinals in her Australian Open title defense and has lost the top ranking to Serena Williams.

Angelique Kerber

Photo beinsports.com

Her general lack of power and service variety have always made her vulnerable to big hitters that are on their game. In 2017, Kerber’s insane defensive skills have not been enough for her to get by on.

She has posted a record of just 6-4 this year, but has reached the quarterfinals this week in Dubai and is still alive there after avenging her Olympic loss to gold medalist Monica Puig. She must build on this event and do well in Indian Wells and Miami. Given her struggles on the clay courts that dominate the circuit from April-early June, if she cannot right the ship while still on the hardcourts, her time at the top may be over as quick as it started.

Del Potro is Back… Again:

 For the second straight year, 2009 U.S. Open winner Juan Martin Del Potro is making a return from a long injury layoff at the Delray Beach Open in Florida. Ever since 2010, the big hitting Argentine has been plagued by injuries to both wrists, resulting in three surgeries.

Since his first full time comeback last year, Del Potro has been forced to hit most of his backhands with slice. Fortunately for him, his serve and forehand are plenty good enough to make up for it. His wrist issues also do not allow him to train as hard or play as often as other players.

Juan Martin Del Potro

Photo: si.com

Del Potro returned to prominence last summer. He defeated Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in route to an Olympic silver medal. He also led the Argentinean national team to a Davis Cup title. After this glorious flurry to close out the year, he was quick to announce he would not start 2017 on time due to general fitness concerns.

Known as “Delpo” to fans everywhere, his return got off to a solid start with a win over South Africa’s Kevin Anderson. He is still alive in his comeback event.

Even after all these years, there are a precious few guys who scare Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray. With 17 career wins over the “Big 4”, Del Potro is certainly one of those precious few. Thus, having someone like him still committed to the sport and capable of playing ata high level when managed properly is fantastic for the game.

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Tony Romo

For Some Teams, Not Signing Romo is a Bigger Risk Than Doing So

Despite Cowboys owner Jerry Jones not sounding fully ready to move on, reports emerged earlier this week that quarterback Tony Romo will be released. Assuming these reports are true, the market for the often injured 36-year-old quarterback is not being viewed correctly. For three teams in particular, he would not be a risk, but rather a lifeline.

Before we get there, let’s trim the field a little bit. By his own admission, Romo only has two or three years left. Thus, being part of a total rebuild in Cleveland or San Francisco is out of the question. Carson Palmer is coming back in 2017 for another season with the Cardinals. The Broncos continue to articulate their commitment to Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch.

The Jets and Bills are hoarding young quarterbacks in the hopes that one might stick. Adding a veteran like Romo just does not seem to be on their radar, but perhaps it should be.

All these teams seem poised to either stand pat, add a quarterback through the draft, or look for a longer-term solution in free agency. If he is released and not traded, the teams that should be beating down Romo’s door are as follows.

Bears: Chicago is not as far away as last year’s 3-13 record suggests. They lost six games by one possession. Despite not being highly thought of by fans, John Fox is actually a heck of a coach. He got to a Super Bowl with Jake Delhomme and won a division title with Tim Tebow.

Jay Cutler John Fox

Photo: twitimes.com

The organization seems poised to move on from the temperamental enigma that is Jay Cutler. Romo is the kind of upgrade Fox needs to improve upon his 9-23 mark with the Bears and keep his job beyond this year.

 

Pair Romo with emerging running back Jordan Howard and an improving defense that ranked seventh against the pass last year, and the playoffs are not a stretch. Romo has roots in Illinois. The same can be said of Jimmy Garoppolo, who could be a fallback option for the Bears. Regardless, Chicago will likely add a quarterback at some point in the draft as well.

Texans: These next two teams would be tricky from a financial perspective, but I am not an accountant. It took winning a playoff game with Brock Osweiler for Texans head coach Bill O’Brien to receive confirmation from ownership that he would return in 2017.

O’Brien is a fine coach who had nothing to do with the ridiculous $72 million contract Osweiler was given. Rest assured though, O’Brien will take the fall if quarterback play continues to hold the rest of this championship caliber roster back. A completion percentage under 60 and more interceptions than touchdowns should be enough to give up on Osweiler after one year, despite his contract.

Romo would bring quarterback stability to Houston, something the franchise has never had. If he gets hurt, the Texans would be right back where they are now. However, at least he would offer a potential off-ramp from the path to nowhere they are on with their current quarterback options.

Vikings: I am on an island here, but Minnesota is loaded. With guys like Anthony Barr, Everson Griffen and Xavier Rhodes on defense, the Vikings are a notch below the 2015 Broncos. The defense cannot win a title by itself, but a slightly more balanced Vikings team would be lethal.

After his devastating training camp injury last year, questions continue to linger about Teddy Bridgewater’s future. Mike Zimmer seems strangely stubborn about sticking with Sam Bradford. Granted, the Vikings did give up a lot to bring him in. As good as his record completion percentage and four to one touchdown to interception ratio made him look last year, there is one very important thing Bradford has never done all that well: win games.

sam bradford

Photo: foxnews.com

In 78 career starts for three different franchises, Bradford has posted a winning percentage of 41 percent and has never lead a team to the playoffs. In the words of a very wise Canadian songstress, “that don’t impress me much.” Yes, football is the ultimate team sport. However, the blame has to start going on the quarterback and not the supporting cast.

After fading down the stretch behind Bradford last year and putting up only nine points in a home playoff loss with Bidgewater the year before, Zimmer needs to start winning big quick or whispers will start about his job security. With the talent on this roster, a healthy Romo makes the Vikings instant Super Bowl contenders. Sticking with Bradford makes Zimmer being unemployed within two years a virtual certainty.

Understandably, there is real skepticism about Romo’s ability to stay healthy for an entire season. He has not done so since 2014. Even so, for these three coaching staffs under varying degrees of pressure to win now, his career winning percentage (61 percent) makes him a chance worth taking. In fact, recycling average veteran or unseasoned young quarterbacks that will get them nowhere is a much bigger risk.

 

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John Lynch

Lynch Trying not to Join Infamous List of NFL Head Scratchers

The San Francisco 49ers raised more than a few eyebrows at the end of last month when they hired John Lynch as their new general manager. Despite a borderline Hall of Fame playing career, Lynch has no relevant front office experience to speak of. In fact, he is coming straight out of the television broadcast booth.

While it is much too early to pass judgment on Lynch’s hiring, there have been a few other peculiar NFL coaching and front office hires in recent years. For the most part, they have not worked out.

Art Shell: Raiders head coach (2006)

Art Shell

Photo courtesy of USA today

Raiders fans will not enjoy the first part of this article. Up until very recently, Oakland spent almost a decade as the NFL’s top dumpster fire. For some reason, late owner Al Davis thought it would be a good idea to bring Art Shell back as head coach after a 13-year hiatus.

The game changes in 13 years and it left Shell behind. Shell was a Hall of Fame offensive lineman for the Raiders, but his second tenure as head coach is best left forgotten.

His first big hire to his staff was offensive coordinator Tom Walsh. Walsh had been out of football for six years and was running a bed and breakfast.

Walsh is also infamous for saying that the skills of wide receiver Randy Moss were “diminishing.” After being traded to the Patriots, Moss had a record-breaking season in 2007.

Unsurprisingly, Shell’s Raiders stumbled to a 2-14 finish and he was let go after a single season. Somehow, Oakland’s next head coaching hire was even worse.

Lane Kiffin: Raiders head coach (2007-2008)

Lane Kiffin

Photo courtesy of sfgate.com

Lane Kiffin is well known to football fans now. When Davis first hired him to resurrect the Raiders in 2007, Kiffin was a 31-year-old who had never been a head coach at any level of football.

The friction between Davis and Kiffin was almost immediate. The Raiders still had virtually no talent on the roster. To make matters worse, they drafted quarterback JaMarcus Russell who went down as one of the most spectacular draft flops in NFL history.

Davis fired Kiffin during the 2008 season in an epic press conference that resulted in Kiffin taking legal action against the Raiders. He posted a record of just 5-15 and has since bounced around the college ranks.

Matt Millen: Lions President and General Manager (2001-2008)

Matt Millen

Photo Courtesy of Seattle Times

This is the story that makes 49er fans most nervous. Much like Lynch, Millen was hired straight from broadcasting after a really good playing career in 2001. The result was disastrous. Under Millen’s direction, the Lions best single season record was 6-10.

While no one in the NFL fails all on their own, Millen’s biggest gaffe was using a first-round pick on a wide receiver three straight years. Moreover, the Lions passed on guys like DeMarcus Ware to draft Roy Williams, Mike Williams, and Charles Rogers.

After years of losing and fan protests, Millen was put out of his misery in September 2008. The Lions had just begun what would become the only 0-16 season in NFL history. Millen has since returned to broadcasting.

Paul DePodesta: Browns Chief Strategy Officer (2016-present)

Admittedly, the jury is still out on this one. However, that does not make hiring a former MLB analytics guru for a major executive role in the NFL any less odd. The Browns have been a laughing stock since returning to the league in 1999. Maybe they know something the rest of the world does not, but I doubt it.

A 1-15 debut was not encouraging for DePodesta and the rest of the Browns revamped front office, but next year will tell the tale. The Browns have five of the first 65 picks in the 2017 NFL draft and are among the league leaders in salary cap space. That should mean a significant improvement. If not, it may well be back to the drawing board yet again in Cleveland.

What you do not see in this article is as important as what you do see. Generally, the teams who make these type of moves are bad for a decade or longer. Teams like the Patriots, Packers, Steelers, Seahawks and Broncos do not go outside the box very often. Those are the teams in contention year in and year out.

Given the current state of the 49ers, Lynch will be fighting the odds not to join the likes of Millen, DePodesta, Kiffin and Shell.

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