July 03, 2014
By HOWARD FENDRICH
It was clear something was wrong with Serena Williams from the moment she began trying to warm up for her Wimbledon doubles match Tuesday July 1.
She weakly pushed volleys into the net from a couple of feet away. She whiffed on practice strokes. She even had trouble with the simple task of collecting tennis balls from the ball kids.
After Williams was examined for about 10 minutes on the sideline by medical staff, including a check of her blood pressure, the match began. After three games, though, an out-of-sorts Williams and her partner, older sister Venus, stopped. The tournament referee’s office and WTA later said Serena, who lost in singles Saturday, had a viral illness.
“I am heartbroken I’m not able to continue in the tournament,” Serena said in a statement. “I thought I could rally this morning because I really wanted to compete, but this bug just got the best of me.”
About 1 1/2 hours after leaving the court, Serena walked out of the All England Club, still wearing her white match outfit, and with a tournament towel draped around her waist. She got into a car and was driven away.
“Unfortunately, Serena has been feeling unwell for the past few days and she just couldn’t play to her potential today,” Venus said. “I’m really proud of her for trying because we just love playing doubles together.”
They have won 13 Grand Slam doubles titles as a pair, including five at Wimbledon. In singles, the 32-year-old Serena is ranked No. 1 and owns 17 major championships, the most among active women; five came at the All England Club.
“We were all looking forward to a great match. From the bottom of my heart, I thank all of the fans for their cheers and understanding,” said Serena, who was beaten in three sets by 25th-seeded Alize Cornet in the third round of singles. “I look forward to returning to Wimbledon next year.”
While being looked at by a doctor before the start of the second-round doubles match against Kristina Barrois and Stefanie Voegele, Serena hunched over and covered her face with her hands.
During the delay, one of the Williams’ other sisters, along with Serena’s agent and her hitting partner, left their seats in the stands.
Eventually, play began. With Serena serving in the third game, she was broken at love with four double-faults. One of the best servers in the women’s game, she hit balls that bounced before reaching the net.
At love-40 in that game, chair umpire Kader Nouni took the unusual step of climbing down from his perch and walking over to speak to Serena. She then served another double-fault to fall behind 3-0.
Serena and Venus walked to the sideline holding hands, and Nouni announced to the crowd at No. 1 Court: “Ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately, Miss Williams has to retire.”
Serena wiped away tears as she walked toward the court’s exit.
Her career has been marked by health problems.
She missed eight months after having surgery on her left knee in 2003, the year she had completed a self-styled “Serena Slam” by winning four consecutive major titles. Days after winning Wimbledon in 2010, Williams cut both feet on broken glass while leaving a restaurant, leading to two operations on her right foot. Then she got clots in her lungs and needed to inject herself with a blood thinner. Those shots led to a pool of blood gathering under her stomach’s skin, requiring another hospital procedure. In all, she was off the tour for about 10 months, returning in 2011.
June 26, 2014
By Michael Rubinkam
The NFL agreed this week to remove a $675 million cap on damages from thousands of concussion-related claims after a federal judge questioned whether there would be enough money to cover as many as 20,000 retired players.
A revised settlement agreement filed in federal court in Philadelphia also eliminated a provision that barred anyone who gets concussion damages from the NFL from suing the NCAA or other amateur football leagues.
In January, U.S. District Judge Anita Brody had denied preliminary approval of the deal because she worried the money could run out sooner than expected. The settlement is designed to last at least 65 years and cover retired players who develop Lou Gehrig’s disease, dementia or other neurological problems believed to be caused by concussions suffered during their pro careers.
“Some of the players were concerned and asking questions about whether they could be in a deal if they weren’t sure there’d be money there for them 40 years from now if they get sick, God forbid. ... That’s what drove these changes,” said plaintiffs’ lawyers Christopher Seeger.
More than 4,500 former players have filed suit, some accusing the league of fraud for its handling of concussions. They include former Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett and Super Bowl-winning Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, who suffers from dementia.
The original settlement included $675 million for compensatory claims for players with neurological symptoms, $75 million for baseline testing and $10 million for medical research and education. The NFL would also pay an additional $112 million to the players’ lawyers, for a total payout of more than $870 million.
The revised settlement eliminates the cap on overall damage claims but retains a payout formula for individual retirees that considers their age and illness. A young retiree with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, would receive $5 million, a 50-year-old with Alzheimer’s disease would get $1.6 million, and an 80-year-old with early dementia would get $25,000.
Even with the cap removed, both sides said they believe the NFL will spend no more than about $675 million on damage claims by ex-players.
Brody will decide later whether to accept the new settlement terms. She still has to rule on a petition by a group of seven players who say the settlement pays them nothing for symptoms ranging from headaches to personality changes.
Critics of the deal have also said the league, with annual revenues approaching $10 billion, was getting off lightly. Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the settlement avoids the risk of a protracted legal battle.
Seeger said any ex-player who opts out of the settlement and pursues litigation on his own would have to overcome a stiff NFL defense. The NFL has a range of legal arguments at its disposal, and a player would have to prove that his illness was caused by a concussion suffered during his pro career, he said.
“Continuing to litigate against the NFL is a long and uncertain road that can take them many years and ultimately leave retired players with nothing at all,” he said. “No one should take lightly any decision to abandon the benefits provided by this agreement.”
The proposal does not cover current NFL players, nor does it include an admission from the league that it hid information from players about head injuries.
“Today’s agreement reaffirms the NFL’s commitment to provide help to those retired players and their families who are in need, and to do so without the delay, expense and emotional cost associated with protracted litigation,” NFL Senior Vice President Anastasia Danias said in a statement.
One of the plaintiffs is Kevin Turner, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots and is now battling ALS.
“The compensation provided in this settlement will lift a heavy burden off of the men who are suffering,” he said in a statement. “I am also personally comforted by the knowledge that this settlement is guaranteed to be there for any retired player who needs it.”
It’s not clear when the judge might rule, but Seeger said he is hopeful that preliminary approval will come in the next few weeks.
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner contributed to this report.
June 19, 2014
By TIM REYNOLDS
LeBron James is leaving.
For a family vacation, that is.
The Miami Heat star said that’s his first order of business, and during the time away from basketball he’ll start the process of moving past this season and looking toward the future.
“I just want to win. That’s all that matters to me,” James said June 17 after emerging from the final team meeting, one where coach Erik Spoelstra urged his team take plenty of pride from the season, even though the end result was an NBA Finals loss to San Antonio. "I haven’t even begun to even think about what my future holds or what I have in store. I will sit down with my team at some point, my family as well. Today definitely wasn't the day.
“If my family is happy, then I’m happy and able to perform at a high level.”
If so, then they’ve been happy during his first four years in Miami: James has been to the NBA Finals all four seasons in which he’s played for the Heat, capturing two championships, and no one in the league over that span has logged more minutes, made more field goals or won more games than the four-time MVP.
James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can all become free agents, though none have made decisions on whether they’ll opt out. They came together amid much fanfare in 2010, and this summer might be similar in many ways for that trio, the Heat and the NBA as a whole — with all eyes on what they’ll do.
“I feel more at ease this time,” James said, adding that “2010, it was out of control. It was the craziest summer I’ve ever been a part of. ... I’m definitely in a better place right now even though in 2010 I got put out in the postseason earlier than I expected or didn’t accomplish what I wanted to, and I have kind of the same feeling now.”
James said that at some point, he, Wade and Bosh will gather to talk about their plans. They have until June 29 to inform the Heat whether they will exercise their rights to become free agents — moves that in all three cases would not prohibit them from returning to Miami. Bosh revealed Tuesday that the group will meet with Heat president Pat Riley as well, to get the team’s vision for what next season's roster would look like.
“I’m sure Riley has a finite plan moving forward,” Bosh said. “I guess it kinds of really starts with him, just listening to him, kind of get his feel for the situation. He’ll plug ’em wherever something is needed.”
The basketball court was still in place inside Miami’s arena on Tuesday, but there will be no game there until next season. Game 6 of the NBA Finals would have been Tuesday night and for the first time since 2011, the Heat were saying goodbyes to one another without the backdrop of a championship parade.
“There’s not a whole lot you can say that's going to alleviate some of the pain and frustration that we’re all feeling right now,” Spoelstra said. “We understand why our team was built. There’s high expectations. And with that when you don’t get to where you want to go, there’s sometimes that pain that’s deep.”
Spoelstra said he’s concentrating more on the draft right now than mourning the end of the season, or getting ready for free agency.
“We have a couple weeks to figure it out,” Spoelstra said. “We have a great track record. And we have a championship, first-class organization. That is our best selling pitch.”
James said he didn’t need to hear what Miami has to offer. He already knows.
“I understand what this team and this franchise brings to the table,” James said.
In the coming weeks, he’ll have a better sense on whether if he’ll need to go grab a seat somewhere else to win more championships.
“That’s what Riles is so great at and obviously Spo’s going to get into it and see guys who can help us get better,” James said. “Every team in the NBA continues to get better every year and we need to get better as well. We have some holes that need to be filled.”
June 26, 2014
By Howard Fendrich
AP Tennis Writer
LONDON (AP) — Let others wonder when or whether Venus Williams might move on from tennis. She’s not ready to contemplate going anywhere just yet.
Even as her early losses accumulated, even as Williams got older and was forced to deal with health issues, she never entertained the idea of quitting.
Here she is, at age 34, once again a factor at Wimbledon, site of five of her seven major titles. And there’s a matchup against another former champion looming.
Williams overcame a slow start Wednesday for a 7-6 (4), 6-1 victory over 41st-ranked Kurumi Nara of Japan to reach the third round at a Grand Slam tournament for only the second time in her past 10 appearances.
“I don’t like watching it on TV. I want to be out there. I’m not about the easy thing. Life is a challenge. For me, when I leave tennis, I want it to be on my own terms. I want to know that I rose to every challenge. I want to look back with no regrets,” Williams said. “Everyone messes up. Everyone chokes. Everyone gets tight. Everyone loses matches they should have won. But as long as you walked out there and you gave it your all, you can look back with no regrets.”
Williams, a former No. 1 who is seeded 30th, revealed three years ago she was diagnosed with an energy-sapping autoimmune disease.
A year ago, she skipped Wimbledon because of a back injury. She hasn’t been to the fourth round at a major since 2011 at the All England Club. But the American will return to that stage if she beats that year’s titlist, Petra Kvitova.
“She likes to play on the grass,” Kvitova said, “and I’m totally the same.”
Williams fell behind 3-0 against Nara, then started finding the mark. In the tiebreaker, Williams again began poorly and trailed 4-1 before grabbing six points in a row for the set.
Nara, 22, spoke about this being a “very special” occasion for her, because she watched Williams on television “when I was a child.”
A reporter asked Williams about being the oldest woman left in the tournament, and she jokingly pumped her fists.
“Wisdom has served me well,” said Williams, who later returned to Court 3 to win a first-round doubles match with her sister Serena. “I’ve worn my sunscreen, so I haven’t aged terribly. My knees are very tight, not saggy. And the crow’s feet have been kept at bay. So I’ll give myself an A-plus.”
The sixth-seeded Kvitova played with her right leg heavily taped because of a recent injury but had zero trouble in a 6-2, 6-0 victory over 59th-ranked Mona Barthel. The biggest names sent home were No. 8 Victoria Azarenka, the two-time Australian Open champion beaten by Bojana Jovanovski 6-3, 3-6, 7-5; and No. 7 David Ferrer, who lost 6-7 (5), 6-0, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 against qualifier Andrey Kuznetsov.
Azarenka missed most of this season with an injured left foot and is still working her way back into top form. A telling stat: She converted only 3 of 16 break points, which she called “just ridiculous.”
Sam Querrey, an American ranked 67th, was at 9-all in the fifth set against 2008 Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga when play was halted because of fading light.
In all, the results were nothing like those “Can you believe that?” outcomes of the first Wednesday in 2013, when Roger Federer was among seven players who have been ranked No. 1 to exit the field in less than 10 hours.
The man who defeated Federer that day, Sergiy Stakhovsky, lost his next four Grand Slam matches. But Stakhovsky pulled off another surprise Wednesday, eliminating French Open semifinalist Ernests Gulbis.
Defending champion Andy Murray and last year’s runner-up, 2011 titlist Novak Djokovic, both won. Murray’s 6-1, 6-1, 6-0 victory over Blaz Rola, who won the 2013 NCAA singles championship for Ohio State, was devoid of drama. That wasn’t the case with Djokovic’s 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5) victory over 35-year-old Radek Stepanek, a serve-and-volleyer who tumbled to the grass repeatedly.
On the final point, Djokovic hit a forehand that landed near a line and was called out. Djokovic challenged the ruling, and Stepanek held his hands in a prayer pose, then knelt on the grass, hoping for help. The call went Djokovic’s way, though, and the men hugged.
“Around 3 1/2 hours, Centre Court, crowd involved, great points, a lot of entertainment,” the top-seeded Djokovic said. “Definitely, I’ll remember this match.”
June 12, 2014
By TIM DAHLBERG
The battle to give top football and basketball players a cut of the billions of dollars flowing into college athletics began in earnest with former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon taking the stand in federal court to describe how he spent long hours working on his game and as few as possible on his grades.
The lead plaintiff in a landmark antitrust suit against the NCAA said his goal at UCLA wasn’t to get a degree, but to get two years of college experience before being drafted into the NBA.
“I was an athlete masquerading as a student,” O’Bannon said Monday June 9. “I was there strictly to play basketball. I did basically the minimum to make sure I kept my eligibility academically so I could continue to play.”
O'Bannon portrayed himself as a dedicated athlete who would stay after games to work on his shot if he played poorly, but an indifferent student at best. His job at UCLA, he said, was to play basketball and took up so much time that just making it to class a few hours a day was difficult.
O’Bannon, who led UCLA to a national championship in 1995, said he spent 40 to 45 hours a week either preparing for games or playing them, and only about 12 hours a week on his studies. He changed his major from communications to U.S. history after an academic adviser suggested it would be the easiest fit for his basketball schedule.
“There were classes I took that were not easy classes but they fit my basketball schedule so I could make it to basketball practice,” O’Bannon said.
The testimony came as a trial that could upend the way college sports are regulated opened, five years after the suit was filed. O’Bannon and 19 other plaintiffs are asking U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken for an injunction that would allow athletes to sell the rights to their own images in television broadcasts and rebroadcasts.
If successful, the plaintiffs in the class-action case — who are not asking for individual damages — could pave the way for a system that uses some of the huge money flowing into television contracts to pay athletes for their play once they are done with their college careers.
Also on the stand Monday June 9, was a Stanford economics and antitrust expert, who testified the NCAA acts as a cartel by fixing the price of scholarships for athletes and not allowing them to make any more money by prohibiting them from selling their names, images or likenesses (NILs) either as individuals or groups. Roger Noll said every expert opinion he’s seen over the last 30 years agrees the NCAA violates antitrust laws by paying nothing for the rights and imposing rules that would punish athletes for trying to profit from their NILs.
“Every single one of them reaches the same conclusion,” Noll said. “The source of its market power is rules and restrictions regarding benefits that can be provided to student-athletes combined with rewards and punishments it can offer for being able to participate in NCAA sports. It’s called a cartel.”
Noll also said that football and basketball athletes in the class-action suit were harmed by not being able to sell their NILs and that the harm was equal to the amount the NCAA received for them in videogames and television broadcasts and what they actually received — which was nothing.
Even as the trial began, the NCAA announced it had reached a $20 million settlement in a related case involving videogames that used the likeness and images of players without getting their permission. NCAA attorney Donald Remy acknowledged that the settlement in a suit brought by former Arizona State and Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller will result in some current players getting money but doesn’t change the NCAA’s strong belief that the collegiate athletic model is lawful.
“Consistent with the terms of a court-approved settlement, the NCAA will allow a blanket eligibility waiver for any currently enrolled student-athletes who receive funds connected with the settlement,” Remy said. “In no event do we consider this settlement pay for athletics performance.”
O’Bannon, who joined the lawsuit that carries his name after seeing his image used in a NCAA-branded videogame, said he signed a letter of intent that he never read as a 17-year-old eager to display his skills at UCLA. He ended up spending five years at the school, but was seven courses short of graduating when he was drafted into the NBA.
He spent two years in the NBA and another seven playing professionally in Europe. He now lives in a Las Vegas suburb, where he makes his living selling cars.
O’Bannon acknowledged getting benefits from his time at UCLA, including a free education and room and board. He ended up staying five years instead of two, met his wife at school, and enjoyed his relationship with coach Jim Harrick.
He’s proud that his No. 31 was retired and is hanging in the rafters at Pauley Pavilion and of being the MVP in the national title game in 1995. He also cherished his time around the late John Wooden, the legendary longtime UCLA coach.
“Everyone who came in contact with (Wooden) loved him,” O'Bannon said. “I was envious personally that I was born a little bit too late. I wished I could have played for him, he’s that kind of man.”
But under cross examination, O'Bannon said he believed athletes should share in some of the money that schools are making off their efforts on the court and field.
“If they are generating revenue for their school, I believe they should be compensated at some point,” said O’Bannon, who also agreed with the suggestion that Little Leaguers should be paid because their games are sold on national television and they’re generating revenue.