French Open

Pre French Open Buzz

The French Open begins Sunday. As with any other Grand Slam, the pre-event buzz has been running wild this week. Here is a look at the most noteworthy storylines as the road to Roland Garros winds down.

The Murky Gets Murkier:

As noted in a previous article, the race for this year’s ladies trophy in Paris is wide open. It has become even more so in the last few days. The safest bet to make a deep run and perhaps win it all in the French capital had been Romanian Simona Halep.

However, the Madrid champion injured her ankle in the final of Rome and has revealed she tore ligaments. She now describes her chances of playing as “50/50.” Even so, it is now easier to envision her joining names like Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Victoria Azarenka on the sidelines or an early round exit than it is being in the mix to win the most grueling event in the sport.

Simona Halep

Photo: evz.ro

Unfortunately, Halep is not alone. Defending French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza retired from the Rome semifinals citing a knee injury during warm-ups. Muguruza has battled injuries and poor play all year long. While she has said she fully intends to answer the bell in Paris, any injury concern is a huge deal when getting ready to defend a Grand Slam title.

Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki is nursing a bad back that forced a withdraw from Rome and a retirement at a smaller event this week. The former World No. 1 described the withdrawal is precautionary. For someone who has never gone beyond the quarterfinals in Paris, the signs coming from Wozniacki and her support team simply are not good right now.

While a case could be made for the names mentioned so far as title contenders if everything was clicking, Eugenie Bouchard and Laura Siegemund fell more into the “dangerous floater” category. Siegemund is knocking on the door of the top 25 and has won a clay-court title this year.

She would have been a seed in Paris, but was stretchered off the court on home soil in Germany this week after injuring her knee in a mid-match fall and has withdrawn.

Bouchard appeared to be headed back towards the top of the game after knocking off Sharapova and Angelique Kerber in Madrid, but Bouchard suffered the same injury as Halep in practice. Her status for the year’s second major is in doubt.

This year’s French Open may truly be a case of last woman standing. The one bit of good injury news has come from two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. The massive hitting lefty has not played this year after being injured in a home invasion knife attack.

The Czech is flying to Paris and will announce her decision on playing Friday. While it is tough to imagine Kvitova as a legitimate title contender, the fact that a player of her caliber is going to return at some point in the near future after such a horrific ordeal is fantastic news.

Coach Agassi:

As newsy as the ladies tour has been, the men’s tour has been just as quiet ahead of the French Open. The one massive exception is the news that bad boy turned beloved icon Andre Agassi is the new coach of struggling world No. 2 Novak Djokovic. Their partnership will start on one of the biggest stages in the sport.

Andre Agassi Novak Djokovic

Photo: bbc.co.uk

Djokovic showed signs of his old self reaching the final in Rome without a coach. It was his first significant run at a noteworthy event all year. Agassi’s career had more ups and downs than anyone.

With Andy Murray struggling, Roger Federer absent, and Rafael Nadal showing he is human with a loss in Rome, Agassi could be the perfect guy to get the Serb in the right frame of mind to defend his title. No one knows how this combination will pan out. However, any time two combustible personalities like Agassi and Djokovic are brought together, it certainly creates intrigue.

The French Open starts Sunday at 5 AM ET. I will have previews and predictions for both draws once they are made public.

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Roland Garros

The 2017 French Open is behind the eight ball Before it even starts

The French Open is still more than a week away. However, it has already been a rough week for the second Grand Slam of the year. The absences of Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, who are in different stages of pregnancy, were known a long time ago.

Two other absences were confirmed in the last couple days. One is simply disappointing, and the other is controversial. Here is a look at each.

Roger Federer

Roger Federer

Photo by thesun.co.uk

The beloved 35-year-old Swiss icon has been very choosy in regards to his scheduling in recent years as he tries to extend his career as long as possible.

Given his decision to not play any lead up events on clay, skipping the French Open for a second straight year is not a huge shock. The dominant clay-court form of longtime rival Rafael Nadal does not bode well for anyone’s chances in Paris, Federer included.

Only one of Federer’s record 18 Grand Slam singles titles has come on the clay of Paris. At this point in his career, Federer is well aware that his best chances are on grass and hardcourts. This choice reflects that.

Even so, it is never a good thing to have someone like Federer away from one of the sport’s biggest events.

Maria Sharapova

A key part of the ongoing saga surrounding the Russian ended Tuesday when the French Tennis Federation denied Sharapova a wildcard into both the main draw and qualifying rounds of the French Open.

Maria Sharapova

Photo: edition.cnn.com

While I would have loved to have Sharapova added to the mix purely for the sake of intrigue, the tennis federation’s position of having a “moral obligation” to deny a player coming back from a doping suspension a wildcard is perfectly reasonable, until you dig deeper.

French player Constant Lestienne has been given a wildcard into qualifying at Roland Garros. Lestienne has a suspension on his record for betting on over 200 matches. That requires no further explanation and makes the decision to leave a five-time Grand Slam winner like Sharapova out in the cold hypocritical and ridiculous.

You never know what storylines can unfold over a two-week tennis major. However, the absence of the three biggest stars in the women’s game added to all of Rafael Nadal’s chief rivals either missing or in disarray is not encouraging

The 2017 French Open is left lacking star power and storylines. This is a position that has become all too familiar to big events in recent years.

 

Featured Image by Bucketlistevents.com

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Garbine Muguruza

An Early Look at a Murky French Open Ladies Field

As a Grand Slam in tennis gets closer, a clearer picture of the favorites to lift the big trophy is supposed to emerge. However, the exact opposite is occurring on the women’s tour with the French Open fast approaching.

With Serena Williams out due to pregnancy, there is a case to be made for 15-20 players to capture glory in Paris. It seems like every realistic contender has some sort of major red flag attached to them. Here is a look at four of those contenders.

Maria Sharapova

Why She Has a Shot: Any five-time Grand Slam winner is a threat in any tournament she enters. Her well-documented mental toughness also cannot be overlooked. Grade champions do not forget how to win, and Sharapova has done that twice at Roland Garros.

Maria Sharapova

Photo: cnnedition.com.

Red Flag: This is the most glaring red flag possible. The 30-year-old Russian may not be given the chance to play. After falling victim to the rebirth of Eugenie Bouchard in Madrid earlier this week, Sharapova’s ranking guarantees that she will necessitate a wildcard to play.

Understandably, there is more than a little doubt as to whether a player returning from a doping suspension will/should receive such a luxury. There is also speculation that Sharapova may get a qualifying wildcard. This would bring her total number of matches needed to win the tournament from seven to ten.

Sharapova will learn her fate later this month. If she gets to a point where a return to Grand Slam glory is within touching distance, it would be hard to bet against her.

Even so, getting to such a point is a massive task. The fact that Sharapova has been installed as a the betting favorite despite eligibility concerns and playing just six matches in 15 months tells you all you need to know about how wide open things really are at the moment.

Garbiñe Muguruza

Why She Has a Shot: The defending champion has all the shots and firepower to beat anyone on any given day.

Red Flag: There is nothing about the Spaniard’s current form that would suggest she is ready for a successful title defense. Since her breakthrough in Paris last year, she has failed to even reach a final. For her sake, let’s hope that an opening-round loss after winning just four games on home soil this week was rock bottom.

The pressure of expectations has eaten Muguruza alive for the past year. The only silver lining is that she was in similar form before coming from seemingly nowhere to win the title last year.

Angelique Kerber

 

Angelique Kerber

Photo: hindutimes.com

Why She Has a Shot: Any current World No. 1 and title holder of a Grand Slam has to be included in any conversation when it comes to a big event. Her defensive skills make her a difficult out for any opponent.

 

Red Flag: She is the World No. 1 in name only at the moment. As her 17-10 record suggests, 2017 has been a disappointment for the German. The root of her issues is similar to that of Muguruza. Throw in a dislike for the clay court surface and an injury scare that popped up in Madrid, and Kerber has a tall order ahead.

Simona Halep

Why She Has a Shot: The 2014 Roland Garros runner-up is one of the very few big names playing well right now. After struggling with injuries early in the year, the Romanian reached the semifinals in Stuttgart and is the highest seed remaining in Madrid.

Red Flag: Prior to the last couple weeks, Halep was in total disarray as she piled up bad losses and withdrawals at the start of the year. The sudden uptick in form is not long-lasting enough for me to be a 100-percent believer yet, but in a year where no one is separating themselves, she certainly belongs in the conversation.

Simona Halep

Photo: gsp.ro

With the French Open starting on May 28 and just one more full significant warm-up event remaining in Rome next week, your best bet when it comes to picking a ladies winner may be throwing Scrabble tiles up against the wall.

Right now, I am leaning towards Halep, but of course a lot depends on the draw. Even veterans like Svetlana Kuznetsova and Samantha Stosur are worth keeping tabs on.

It is cliché when it comes to sporting events, but true in regards to this year’s ladies French Open. Anything can happen.

 

 

Featured Image by thestar.com

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Mutua Madrid Open

Early Rumblings From Madrid

The calendar has flipped to May. In the tennis world, that means the French Open is in sight. However, before all eyes shift to Paris at the end of the month, Madrid and Rome will play host to the most prestigious lead up events.

Madrid features an odd weekend start to the event. A handful of matches have already been completed. Here is the latest buzz from the Spanish capital.

Djokovic shakes things up

Apart from the opening week in Doha, 2017 has been a year of struggle on the court for World No. 2 Novak Djokovic. We are used to always seeing the 12-time Grand Slam winner in otherworldly form, but he has been flat out ordinary this year.

Marián Vajda Novak Djokovic

Photo: sportskeeda.com

Upon arrival in Madrid, Djokovic announced that he had split with several long-time members of his support team. The most notable among these names was Marián Vajda, his primary coach of over a decade.

The Serb is clearly desperate to jumpstart a year that has had no tournament victories to this point, but the news still comes as a bit of a shock. All-time great players tend to be fiercely loyal to their coaches.

The good news is that Djokovic appears physically healthy and in the Madrid draw. Even so, it is anyone’s guess as to how he will play this week. He will open against a Spanish wildcard following a first-round bye.

Grudge match?  

If you want proof that the sporting gods occasionally have a warped sense of humor, look no further than the ladies singles draw in Madrid. Slumping Canadian endorsement magnet Eugenie Bouchard and wildcard Maria Sharapova are slotted for a possible second-round meeting.

Bouchard has been the most vocal critic of the Russian’s return following her doping suspension. Among other things, Bouchard called for Sharapova to be banned for life in the interview below with a Turkish news station less than two weeks ago.

Sharapova has not publicly responded to any criticism from her fellow players, but she is no fool and no doubt aware of Bouchard’s remarks. The 23-year-old has never beaten Sharapova in four meetings. Despite that, context will provide a fascinating subplot should they meet this week.

Half of the equation is already complete. Bouchard defeated Alize Cornet in her opener for her first tour level win since January. Sharapova will have to get through a tough opener against Australian Open semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.

Early Results

Men’s main draw play has not started in Madrid. In addition to Bouchard’s win, American Alison Riske and Italian veteran Roberta Vinci also advanced. The first seeds out are big-hitting American Madison Keys and Russian stalwart Elena Vesnina.

The men’s event in Madrid will be covered almost wall to wall by Tennis Channel starting Sunday in America. If you are fortunate enough to have access to beIn Sports network, enjoy the ladies event and invite me over so I can watch too. There are also several YouTube streams available.

 

Video by NateDogg YouTube Channel

Featured Image by womenstennisblog.com

 

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NFL Field

Fun With Projected NFL Win Totals

I am a football nerd and proud of it. With the NFL Draft in the rear view mirror, another favorite offseason event of mine took place earlier this week. Las Vegas released their projected regular season win totals for all 32 NFL teams. Here are my three favorite over/under bets for 2017.

Cowboys (Under 9.5 wins)

Unless you are an all-time great, this league has a way of humbling players whose careers get off to a hot start. Dak Prescott could be the latest example of that.

If he takes just a half step back from his 2016 season that saw him toss 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions, the effect will be dramatic.

In addition to their own division where all three opponents are at least reasonably capable, Dallas squares off with the western divisions in each conference, along with the Falcons and Packers. That is a really tough schedule for any team.

Dallas will still be very competitive, but that defense is not scaring anyone. The addition of Brandon Marshall makes the Giants the most complete team in the NFC East, and they already beat Dallas twice last year.

Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott will have to be superhuman again for this team to be close to where they were last year. That is a tough thing to bank on.

Browns (Over 4 wins)

This one is a bit dicey given the quarterback situation. None of Cleveland’s options are particularly appealing in the short term.

Even so, accumulating talent is the name of the game in the NFL. They’ve added linebacker Jamie Collins and three freakishly talented first-round draft picks that actually made sense. Add that to franchise mainstay Joe Thomas and this roster is already much better than last year’s 1-15 squad.

Cleveland Browns

Photo: dawgpounddaily,com

Several of Cleveland’s losses last year were relatively close. They’ve improved via the draft and free agency. They also have a schedule that includes the likes of Jacksonville, Minnesota, the Jets and division rival Cincinnati twice. Four wins does not seem like much to ask.

Bucs (Over 8 Wins)

In each of the last two seasons, an NFC South team has risen from relative obscurity to reach the Super Bowl. If you are a fan of odd trends, here are a few reasons why Tampa Bay could follow their division rivals.

The thought of Jameis Winston throwing to Mike Evans along with new additions O.J. Howard and DeSean Jackson is enough to make any defender lose sleep. Winston gets better with every snap. The organization surrounding him with this kind of talent will only expedite that process.

Jameis Winston

Photo: cbssports.com

Most of the same faces are on the young defense that is far from perfect. They did have a few shining moments last year, including holding Seattle and the Saints to under 15 points.

The Super Bowl might be a reach in the minds of some, but eight wins feels like stealing.

 

Featured Image by flannerysdublin.com

 

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Maria Sharapova

A Few Thoughts on Sharapova’s First Event Back

German wildcard Laura Siegemund defeated Kristina Mladenovic in a final set tiebreak to win the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany yesterday. While winning a title on home soil is a huge deal for any player, this event will be remembered for the return of another player who received a wildcard: Maria Sharapova.

Her comeback is in its infancy, but here are a few big-picture thoughts from the Russian’s highly anticipated, yet controversial return.

There is Still a Great Player Somewhere in There

Sharapova’s level of play was a total mystery after her 15-month doping suspension. She answered a lot of those questions in a positive way. Her groundstrokes were mostly hard, flat and precise, just like they have been throughout her career.

Sharapova has also made a subtle change to her usually inconsistent serve. Her ball toss was noticeably lower in her first event back. Since 2007, shoulder issues have affected her serve. However, this change is worth keeping an eye on. She was among tournament leaders in all serving statistics and did not have a match with double-digit double faults.

Winning seven consecutive sets to start her comeback had to be a nice confidence booster for the five-time Grand Slam winner, as well as a warning shot to the rest of the tour. Sharapova is still very dangerous.

Sharapova Has a Ways to Go

For a player of Sharapova’s caliber and track record, trophies are the only measure of success. There is still some rust that needs to be knocked off for her to get back to the winner’s circle.

Maria Sharapova

Photo: onenewspage.com

The lack of match play really showed in Sharapova’s three-set semifinal loss to Mladenovic. The Russian converted just three of 16 break points. You can practice all you want, but there is no substitute for playing the big points in matches.

The more matches she plays, the better Sharapova will get. Even she knows she has work to do. She was quoted as saying she was “very satisfied” with her first event back after her loss. While it is easy to see where she is coming from, the Sharapova the world has come to know over the years would never say anything like that unless she is going home with the big trophy.

In Spite of Her Transgression, Sharapova Remains a Consummate Professional

While the results are what matters at the end of the day, how Sharapova handled herself off the court in Stuttgart is what will stick with me.

She screwed up in a big way and was rightly punished for it. However, for the last 15 months, many of her fellow competitors have spoken out against her return while attacking her on a personal and professional level. Some of the jabs were fair, others not so much.

Maria Sharapova Press Conference

Photo: dailymail.co.com

When the press gave her a chance to respond following her matches this week, Sharapova simply said she was “above that” and moved on. When asked about the possibility of not getting a wildcard into the French Open and having to play qualifying matches, she responded with, “I’ll play the juniors if I have to.”

She could have said that her achievements speak for themselves, but she didn’t. The fact that she is willing to pay even more dues to get back to the big stages is quite admirable.

Whatever you think of her, having the Sharapova story injected into a sport that is mostly stale at the moment is a great thing. Her comeback and the rest of both tours head to Madrid next week as preparations for the French Open continue to ramp up.

 

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NFL Draft Quarterback

Contenders Who Should Take a Quarterback Early in the NFL Draft

The NFL Draft is upon us. More so than any other year in recent memory, there is a wide range of opinions on the quarterback class.

Whether it is the small sample size of Mitchell Trubisky, the turnovers of Deshaun Watson, the college system that Patrick Mahomes played in or something else with another prospect, they all seem to have at least one thing that makes them very risky propositions in the NFL.

There isn’t a true first-round prospect at quarterback in this draft. Moreover, there is not a rookie that will be ready to play from day one. However, we all know how important the quarterback position is and how desperate teams like the Jets and Browns are for a good one.

So, these rookies will probably get drafted earlier than their talents merit and inherit bad situations where they are set up to fail.

In a perfect world, the ideal scenario would be for the youngsters to sit and learn behind a veteran quarterback on a contending team for a year or two. However, the NFL landscape has changed so much in recent years when it comes to quarterbacks.

Contending teams do not have high enough draft picks to get their hands on a coveted quarterback. If that is not true, many teams are simply afraid of wasting a draft pick on a signal caller who will not play right away.

With the stage set, here are three teams who should (but probably will not) take quarterback early in the draft.

Alex Smith Andy Reid

Photo: CBS Sports

Kansas City Chiefs

Alex Smith is a fine quarterback. However, last year proved once again that there is a ceiling as to how far Kansas City can go with him taking snaps. With a rock solid defense and the emergence of Tyreek Hill at wide receiver, Kansas City does not have a ton of needs.

Thus, snagging whoever the organization feels is the best available quarterback with pick number 27 would make sense. The Chiefs can remain competitive with Smith while grooming his replacement.

In an astonishing statistic, the last quarterback the Chiefs drafted to start and win a game for the franchise was Todd Blackledge in 1987. It is time to draft and develop a young quarterback.

New York Giants

Despite an uneven career, Eli Manning has given the Giants two Super Bowl titles, but he is 36 now. The organization has spoken openly about the need to find his successor. Free agent signing Geno Smith appears to be getting the latest crack at that gig and the Giants are clearly in win now mode. Even so, finding a way to snag a raw talent like Deshone Kizer wouldn’t hurt.

With the improvement of the defense last year and the addition of Brandon Marshall on offense, the Giants can afford such a move. The ownership of the Mara family always ensures this franchise has its act together. Any young quarterback has every chance to eventually thrive.

Arizona Cardinals

deshone kizer

Photo: Scout.com

Like the other two teams, Arizona has enough talent on the roster to win now. However, at 37 and with two major knee injuries under his belt, Carson Palmer is on his last leg.

Bruce Arians has rightly earned a reputation as one of the best quarterback coaches in the business. Patrick Mahomes would be an interesting project for him to work with.

While rumors of these teams addressing their long term quarterback needs are increasing, they are more likely to address short term needs that will get them from good to great. If I am a quarterback prospect, I would give up my non-throwing arm to go to one of these situations as opposed to one like the Jets, Browns or 49ers.

 

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Serena Williams

Serena’s Shocker, Maria’s Return, and More

It has been quite a newsy week both on and off the court for some of the biggest stars in tennis. Here is a look around the ever-changing landscape of the sport.

Serena Shocks the World

Serena Williams Pregnancy

Photo: Serena Williams Instagram

The real reason for Serena Williams’ lengthy post-Australian Open absence was revealed Wednesday. The 23-time Grand Slam winner took to Snapchat to announce that she and fiance Alexis Ohanian are expecting their first child.

The 35-year-old was eight weeks pregnant when she won the Australian Open to break Steffi Graf’s modern era record for Grand Slam singles titles.

Williams stated her intention to return to the tour in 2018. While it is foolish to put anything past her, it is far from a certainty given her age and apparent happiness in her personal life.

The already wide open ladies tour is now even more so without its unquestioned superior athlete. However, as one megastar steps away, another is back on the scene.

Sharapova is ready to Roll

Maria Sharapova

Photo: twitter.com/mariasharapova

Maria Sharapova has arrived in Germany for her comeback at next week’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. She will play her first match when her doping suspension ends on Wednesday. She will have to practice off tournament grounds until then.

Sharapova’s return remains controversial, but it is happening. There is no reason to look in the rear view mirror. It has been 15 months since Sharapova has played an official match. Until she takes the court for her opener against Roberta Vinci, no one will know if she can get back to the top, not even Sharapova herself.

We do know a few things. Sharapova has dominated everyone not named Serena over the years. Williams is out of the picture for now. Also, we know that the 30-year-old Russian is highly motivated and in great shape. This could make for a lethal cocktail for the competition.

2017 Themes Continue in Monte Carlo

While the ladies tour is being rocked to its core, it has been business as usual for the men at the season’s first big clay court event in Monte Carlo, Monaco.

While it is a step in the right direction just to see them back on the court, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray lost relatively early to lesser players once again. While their opponents played well, Djokovic and Murray continue to search for answers.

Rafa Nadal

Photo: atpworldtour.com

One person who has them, but is not sharing is Rafael Nadal. The “King of Clay” is into the final in search of a mind blowing tenth title in Monte Carlo. There is no reason to think Nadal’s 2017 rebirth will slow down on his favorite surface. The final member of the “Big Four” continues to reiterate his intention to rest until the French Open. Even when he is not around, Roger Federer’s presence looms large.

 

 

 

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2017 Atlanta Falcons NFL Draft Profile

For day 29 of draftmas, the Atlanta Falcons take center stage.

Summary:

Atlanta had a terrific season last year, finishing with a regular season mark of 11-5. Unfortunately, all that will be remembered is the Falcons blowing a 25 point third quarter lead in the Super Bowl.

Matt Ryan (Photo courtesy: twitter.com)

There are not many weaknesses on this football team. The Matt Ryan led offense remains loaded. A lineup that features Julio Jones, Tevin Coleman, Mohamed Sanu and Devonta Freeman makes for an embarrassment of riches. Throw in an offensive line that was galvanized by free agent signing Alex Mack, and this offense went from talented to lethal last year. They were held under 20 points in just a single game

The defense was statistically below average, but the emergence of 2016 sack champion Vic Beasley and rookie safety Keanu Neal provides reason for optimism in 2017.

Pushing the right button on draft day makes a chance a Super Bowl redemption even more realistic than it already is. Here is a look at where the Falcons stand.

Picks and needs:

First round: (1) No. 31

Second round: (1) No. 63

Third round: (1) No. 95

Fourth round: (1) No. 136

Fifth round: (1) No. 174

Sixth round: (0)

Seventh round: (1) No. 249

These needs are in no particular order.

Defensive Needs:

Defensive Line- Vic Beasley needs someone else to get after the quarterback, while they could use some depth on the interior as well.

Linebacker- Deon Jones is great, but they don’t have much outside of him.

Offensive Needs:

Guard- Chris Chester retired and Ben Garland is the projected starter at right guard. They need to get that fixed before the start of the season.

Tight End- Austin Hooper is solid, but they don’t really have a big pass-catching threat at tight end.

 

Possible Targets:

These players could realistically be drafted by the Falcons where they are selecting. There will be no trades.

First Round:

Pick #31: Charles Harris, DE/OLB, Missouri

Charles Harris (Photo courtesy: stltoday.com)

Harris is a good pass rusher, who is also solid against the run. He doesn’t have great length for a edge rusher, but does have good strength. The Falcons had Vic Beasley last season, but need to get more pass rushers around him to have a better defense.

Second Round:

Pick #63: Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

McMillan needs to work on pass coverage, but can help stop the run. He will likely be a two down linebacker in the NFL to start. Atlanta doesn’t have many good linebackers outside of Deon Jones, so they can get another one with good value at this selection.

Third Round: 

Pick #95: Ethan Pocic, OG/C, LSU

Pocic has a lot of experience playing on the interior of the offensive line at LSU. He needs to work on his pass blocking, but is good at run blocking. He can start at guard from day one with a good training camp and preseason showing.

 

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francesca schiavone

Old (Tennis) Things New Part II

After getting feedback from readers on my last article, I realized there are a few additional lesser known older players not named Federer or Venus that are giving Father Time a run for his money. So, here are their stories.

Ivo Karlovic

Ivo Karlovic

Photo 10sballs.com

Despite a losing record on the year, the near seven foot Croatian is still hanging tough. He is ranked No. 21 at age 38. The all-time leader in aces remains an uncomfortable matchup for everyone.

That was not more evident than at this year’s Australian Open. The big man fired a tournament record 75 aces in an epic five set win over Horacio Zeballos.

No one will ever want to play a guy who can drop 150 mph serves like nothing, no matter his age. A player never wants the racquet taken out of their hands. That is exactly what Karlovic does. A winning career mark against Novak Djokovic tells you all you need to know about what a nightmare Karlovic can be.

Tommy Robredo

The 34-year-old Spaniard has been ranked inside the top 50 for most of the last decade. After missing the bulk of 2016 with injuries, he started the year ranked outside the top 600.

Tommy Robredo

Photo: atpworldtourcom

Playing on a protected ranking in Morocco this week, Robredo upset top seed and former Wimbledon semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov, who had been playing the most consistent tennis of his career in recent months.

It remains to be seen just what the long-term potential of Robredo’s injury comeback is. For a veteran who is basically starting from scratch again, a result like that is why you keep playing.

 

Francesca Schiavone

The Italian was already a veteran when she shocked the world by winning the 2010 French Open. She did an okay job of backing up that result for a while. However, the last two full years have really been a struggle for Schiavone. Her year-end singles ranking has dipped outside of the top 90.

Prior to the start of this year, Schiavone announced it would be her last on tour. Playing mostly using wildcards, wins have been tough to come by. This week on the clay courts of Bogotá, Colombia, the 36-year-old turned back the clock, racing to the trophy without dropping a set.

The win is one of the most important in Schiavone’s nearly two-decade career. Her eighth career title also means 600 career match wins and key ranking points ahead of what will be her last French Open.

Passion is the only word that comes to mind when talking about these longtime warriors of the court. These player love what they do, and sometimes that can get the job done even when their physical skills are diminishing.

 

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