Monthly Archives: June 2012

A major changing of the guard

Photo courtesy of zimbio.com. Serena Williams (pictured above) was pushed to the brink of elimination by Jie Zheng earlier today.

By Josh Kramer

First there was Venus in Round 1.  Then Rafa in Round 2.  Nearly Federer in Round 3.  And then Serena was pushed to the brink of elimination in Round 3 as well.  What is going to happen in Round 4?  These four players are all former number ones that have a combined 47 Grand Slam titles (including 17 singles championships at Wimbledon) between them and unparalleled popularity.  In a span of a mere 24 hours during Week 1, three of them almost bit the dust, while one (Venus) had already crumbled a few days earlier.

At a time not so long ago, guys like Sampras and Agassi dominated Men’s tennis, while Graf and Seles were doing similar things in Women’s tennis.  Then following short-lived reigns of a few others in between, Federer took over Men’s tennis, while the Williams sisters took over Women’s tennis.  Since, Nadal and Djokovic have had their turns on Federer’s throne, while the injury-prone Williams’ sisters have shared the wealth in recent memory as well.  Now these four superstars and former number ones are a mean age of 29.5 (30 is considered dinosaur age in tennis).

Despite the ripe age, I never thought I would see the day where all four superstars were nearly eliminated during Week 1 of a major.  Luckily, Federer once again demonstrated that he may be old, but he isn’t dead yet, in coming back from two sets down against Benneteau.  He still has the heart of a champion.  Serena also demonstrated outstanding mental fortitude in serving her way past Zheng.

So two of this fantastic four are still left standing as we head towards the Round of 16.  But how much longer are they really going to last (both here and in general)?  Venus has not won a major in over four years since handling business at the All England Club in 2008.  Serena has gone winless in the major tourneys since nabbing the title at Wimbledon in 2010.  Plus, Serena exited in the first-round of a Grand Slam for the first time in her illustrious career at Roland Garros a few weeks ago.  After winning at least one Grand Slam for eight consecutive years, Federer went Slam-less in 2011 and has not come out victorious at a major since the 2010 Australian Open.  Lastly, Nadal had participated in the finals of five consecutive Grand Slams before having his dreams of a third Wimbledon Championship dashed by little-known Lukas Rosol.

Though none of these four superstars have hinted much at retirement yet (especially not Nadal), times are changing.  Outside of Rafa at Roland Garros, none of these players are a sure bet to take home any of the major championships these days.  We have been blind to it, but this week has highlighted for us all that there is a major changing of the guard occurring right before our eyes in the tennis world.

Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.

Euro 2012 Final Showdown: Spain and Italy

Photo courtesy of zimbio.com. Mario Balotelli (pictured above) stole the show in the semifinals. Will he put on another big time performance against Spain?

By Nick Craddock

Spain or Italy has won each of the last three major tournaments (2006 World Cup, 2008 European Championship, 2010 World Cup) and either Spain or Italy will have its named etched onto the European Championship trophy after today’s title game.

Coincidentally, fate seems to have brought both teams to the cusp of a championship yet again.

Much like the 2006 World Cup, the Italian national team entered this tournament amidst a gambling probe into the top flight of Italian soccer, where all but three players on the national team play their trade during the course of the season.

Rather than succumbing to the pressure of the media scrutiny and the off-field distractions, the Italians, much like the 2006 Italian squad, have come together to play a solid team game and to manage a surprise or two (Remember, it was host Germany which the Italians defeated in the World Cup semifinals in 2006 and a heavily-favored German team which the Italians beat to advance to this final).

This Italian team’s version of Mario and Luigi is not exactly identical to the mustached, overall-wearing Italian brothers who morph by eating mushrooms with faces, but, weird mushroom diet aside, striker Mario Balotelli and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon are responsible for forming what has been a prolific one-two punch.

Just ask the Germans. Continue reading

Blinded by the Blue: NBA Draft Recap

Photo courtesy of zimbio.com. John Calipari (pictured above) once again stole the show at the NBA Draft last evening.

By Josh Kramer

Is anybody else seeing blue?  Eight first round picks came from Kentucky and North Carolina.  Plus, six players out of Lexington were selected on the night (a record). That is a whole lot of blue.  For the first time in NBA Draft history, the top two picks happened to come from the same University.   In addition, the top three picks were not only all freshman, but they were all players out of the SEC East. Go figure.  I thought the SEC was a football conference?  These days, John Calipari is becoming more of a mainstay at the NBA Draft than David Stern.  The following are ten observations from the night in no particular order. Continue reading

A step in the right direction

Photo courtesy of smokingsection.uproxx.com. College football fans across the country have begged for a playoff system since before I can remember. The wish has been granted.

By Josh Kramer

Since 1998, the BCS has placed handcuffs over the world of college football.  Death to the BCS has been a common outcry (and a top-selling book).  Well the handcuffs have finally be loosened.  Tuesday was truly a milestone day for collegiate football.  College football will finally join the rest of the sporting world.  A champion will be determined via a playoff.  What a happy day.  Or is it? Continue reading

Euro 2012 Semifinal Previews: Spain, Portugal, Germany and Italy, oh my!

Photo courtesy of zimbio.com. Will Fernando Torres (pictured above) lead Spain to huge victory over a Portugal team led by the great Cristiano Ronaldo?

By Nick Craddock

Andrea Pirlo and company ripped the collective heart out of the English people on Sunday in the most dramatic of the quarterfinal wins, advancing via penalty kicks. As such, the Euro 2012 semifinals, slated for today and tomorrow, are now set and continental Europe’s collective fervor and excitement will surely drown the sound of the few remaining whimpers from English fans.

The semifinalists are four nations with strong football pedigrees, which should not only result in more evenly contested matchups, but also a higher quality of play thought to be absent at times in this tournament from teams more than capable of performing at higher levels. (*cough* England *cough* France *cough* Netherlands *cough*).

Here is what you should look for going ahead:

Spain v. Portugal

The first semifinal is the battle of the Iberian Peninsula and these two teams showcase a bevy of highly technical and gifted players.

Cristiano Ronaldo, usually a player who has drifted in and out of form for the national side has been dynamite for Portugal at this tournament, particularly in the last two games, where he alone outshot the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals, netting himself the winning goal in the process, after bagging a brace against the Dutch in the final group game prior to that. In contrast, Spain has relied on offense by committee at this tournament with five different players hitting the back of the net. More impressive is that Spain’s offense didn’t slow down after opting for the atypical 4-6-0 formation in its 2-0 quarterfinal win over France.

Whether Spain will again field a starting XI without a listed striker will likely not be revealed until game time, but Spain’s most gifted natural scorer, Fernando Torres, is one of the few players on the planet, if playing at the level he was accustomed to during his prime (which was not so long ago), capable of matching, or at a minimum, challenging the brilliance Ronaldo could provide for his team.

That being said, Ronaldo might be the best individual talent on the field, but Spain has proven time and time again over the last four years that it is the most talented team.

Players to Watch: As noted above, Ronaldo controls the fate of Portugal more than any other player on his team. As he goes, so do the Portuguese. Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech was able to weather the flurry of Ronaldo’s attacks for a little more than an hour to keep the Czech Republic alive against Portugal in the quarterfinals, so it will be incumbent upon Iker Casillas, the Spanish captain and goalkeeper, to prove his worth when actually facing more than two shots, like in Spain’s last game, and to allow his team to work its magic in front of him.

Prediction: Spain wins 2-1 (ET). Expect the team to trump the individual yet again, as Spain should move on for a chance at an unprecedented third consecutive major championship. Continue reading

Food for Thought 6-26-2012

Photo courtesy of zimbio.com. Kevin Youkilis (pictured above) received a nice curtain call from Red Sox Nation on Sunday. Now he will take the field for baseball’s other Sox (Chicago).

By Josh Kramer

From one Sox to another Sox.  Kevin Youkilis is now a member of the Chicago White Sox.  This is a great transaction for both Sox involved.  Boston rids themselves of a potential ongoing locker room problem (Youkilis/Valentine feud), and gives rising star Will Middlebrooks a chance to spread his wings.  Chicago on the other hand gets a proven All-Star who can provide the team with a 3rd baseman who can indeed bat above the Mendoza line ( Orlando Hudson batting .194 and Brent Morel batting .177).   Youkilis could even potentially bat over .300 (he has done this three times).

After a very successful 8.5 year stint in Boston, where Youkilis helped end the curse and bring Beantown two World Series, it was time to move on.  The great thing  is Boston has a solution in young stud Will Middlebrooks, while Chicago gets a guy who is only 33-years-old.  The White Sox are looking to make a deep playoff run in the present.  As much as Boston would like to be a playoff contender, they currently find themselves near the cellar of the AL East.  It is hard to believe, but with the departure of Youkilis, Big Papi is the only member of the 2004 championship team still left in Beantown.

Chicago’s hitting has been good this year, but not great.  Youkilis has the ability to provide the production out of the 3rd base position needed to help this team reach the next level.  It is no secret that the AL Central is perhaps baseball’s weakest division.  The White Sox have a golden opportunity to make postseason baseball this year.  As we all know, anything can happen in October.  Just ask Youkilis. Continue reading

Weekly Nickel 6-25-2012

Photo courtesy of zimbio.com. It is safe to say that pitching has dominated the first half of the 2012 season. Ironically, two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum (pictured above) has struggled. Will he regain his old form Wednesday afternoon against the first place Dodgers?

By Josh Kramer

What a week it was in sports. The King finally won his ring.  England’s hearts were ripped out once again in the form of penalty kicks.  Plus, the combination of the CWS and Interleague Play gave us all the privilege of watching some outstanding baseball.  Last week was great, but this week will be fun it its own right.  Here are the events to keep an eye on.

5.  See you later Sonoma.  Now it is time to visit the Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky.  This event could not even dream of being more poorly planned than it was last year.  I guess that isn’t saying much after the debacle that occurred last July.  Tune in to TNT at 7:30PM on Saturday or make your way on down to the track.

4.  The All-Star Game is just 15 days away.  Is it me, or has this season been moving at warp speed?  It feels like just yesterday that the season got underway with the ridiculous opening two game in Japan between the Mariners and Athletics.  We are already near the halfway point of 2012.  It is safe to say that pitchers have dominated.  19.6% of plate appearances have resulted in strikeouts this season, which is a record pace.  Plus, there has been an average of 14.9 strikeouts per game.  And we are all already aware of the two perfect games.  Pitching is the name of the game.  Just ask teams like Philadelphia and Boston that were supposed to be prime contenders.  My matchup of the week occurs on the west coast.

Los Angeles Dodgers at San Francisco Giants:  It is no secret who the top two teams in the NL West are these days.  They also happen to possess two of the elite pitching staffs in the National League.  Coincidence?  I think not.  The Dodgers got off to a red-hot start and have never really slowed up despite many doubters.  After a slow start, the Giants really got it going towards the end of May and are now right in the thick of things.

The key to this series is where it is being played.  Both of these teams have been two of the best in baseball at protecting their home turf.  AT&T Park will surely be rocking as the Giants look to gain a little ground on the team that they are chasing.  Also, do not be surprised to see Tim Lincecum put together a big time performance in the series finale, as the Giants take two of three and gain a game on the Dodgers. Continue reading