Monday/ go big, or go home ⚽️

U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner catches the ball during a match against England. It was a draw, 1-1. 
[Picture by Odd Andersen /Agence France-Presse/Getty Images]

DOHA, Qatar—Before Matt Turner became a star for the U.S. men’s national team, he was famous for the one and only thing that a goalkeeper never wants to become associated with: an all-time howler. 

The goal Turner gave up in 2013 was so astonishing that a Fairfield University soccer clip went viral. Videos of the play—which began with a shot that ricocheted off the crossbar, popped into the air and then rolled off Turner when he tried to collect it, into his own net—rapidly spread across social media and the nightly news. Turner rode the bench for the rest of the season while seemingly everyone watched his mistake over and over. 

What has unfolded in the years since is somehow even more remarkable. Turner went from fighting for a job at a small Jesuit college, through the hinterlands of low level soccer, all the way to the English Premier League. And now he’s America’s best shot at reaching the knockout stage of the World Cup. 

-Reported by Andrew Beaton in the Wall Street Journal


Brazil, Portugal and France are through to the knockout stage.

It’s go big (win) or go home, for the United States, in their Group B match against Iran tomorrow (Tuesday).
The young and talented US team has the youngest captain in the World Cup: Tyler Adams (23)— and the man nicknamed Captain America, Christian Pulisic (24).

Pulisic was featured in 60 Minutes in 2017, in a segment called ‘Can Christian Pulisic become the first U.S. soccer superstar?’ I believe the answer is ‘Yes’.

Wednesday/ a Wale of a time 🐳

‘With football, I know it’s perhaps bad to say it, but you’ve got to have a drink, and you’ve got to have a good time as well’ said Tyrone Fowler, 28, a food delivery driver from Newport, South Wales, who was headed to Tenerife this week. ‘It’s about building the atmosphere.’
– Jack Williams reporting for the NYT


Wales has only ever qualified for two World Cups: in 1958 and this year, 2022. The trip to Qatar and the related expenses were too just much for many fans, so a large contingent has decamped to sunny Tenerife* at around a quarter of the cost, reports the New York Times.

*Tenerife is the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, off West Africa.

Wales fans in Tenerife, decked out in the country’s red jerseys and bucket hats and draped in dragon-crested flags, all of it underscoring the supporters’ nickname: The Red Wall. The national anthem is ‘Yma o Hyd’, a folk song released by the nationalist singer Dafydd Iwan in the 1980s that translates to ‘Still Here’.
Wales tied 1-1 with the USA on Monday.
[Photograph by Laura León for the NYT]

Sunday/ so here’s the 2022 World Cup ⚽️

Ecuador’s Enner Valencia heads the ball to score his team’s second goal during the World Cup group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador, at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor , Qatar, Nov. 20, 2022.
[Picture by Associated Press]
I don’t have access to the 2022 World Cup coverage (not yet; maybe I will still sign up), so I did not see the opening ceremony. As someone said: you’ve probably seen it all before.

Here’s ex-BBC reporter Matt Slater’s (somewhat irreverant) summary of the opening match. He writes for The Athletic.
Ecuador were all over Qatar, who have spent the past six months in camp together, training like a club side. A League Two club side by the looks of it.
Valencia would get his goal after 16 minutes when he went around Al Sheeb, only to be felled by a textbook tap tackle. There was to be no reVARsal of this decision and the 33-year-old, now with Fenerbahce in Turkey, picked himself up and tucked his penalty away. The watching Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan would have enjoyed that.
Ecuador’s night got better on 31 minutes, when Qatar’s stage-frightened defenders fluffed another clearance — right-back Angelo Preciado put the ball in the mixer and Valencia’s forehead did the rest.
That, in terms of the football, was pretty much that. Ecuador 2, Qatar 0.

My footnotes:
League Two is the third and lowest division of the English Football League (EFL), below League One, which is below Championshop League.
Valencia is Ecuadorian professional footballer Enner Valencia (33).
Al Sheeb is Saad Abdullah al-Sheeb (32), the Qatari goalkeeper.
Tap tackle is to dive at the other player’s feet and, with an outstretched arm, deliver a tap or hook to the player’s foot (or feet) causing the player to stumble.
VAR stands for Video Assistant Referee, a match official who reviews decisions made by the referee on video.
Fenerbache is Fenerbahçe Spor Kulübü, a Turkish professional football club based in Istanbul, Turkey.
Mixer a way of describing the penalty area, the box, especially when it is crowded with players.

Sunday

We are leaving Brisbane at the crack of dawn Monday morning, to fly up to Cairns in tropical Far North Queensland.
I took the No 100 bus to the city one last time, and on the way back I stepped off at Woolloongabba station to look around for a last little bit.

Here’s The Gabba, the cricket grounds and stadium that is officially called The Brisbane Cricket Ground. The 2022 International Cricket Men’s T20 World Cup is underway, and Zimbabwe and Bangladesh squared off right here this afternoon. (Bangladesh won by 3 runs).
The bus from the city has taken me past the old Moreton Rubber Works Building (constructed 1890) by The Gabba several times, and I finally got to take a decent picture of it today.
Finally, a stop at the Coles grocery store. DC Coffee is a Melbourne-based specialty coffee roaster. (I haven’t tried the coffee, but I like the packaging).

Wednesday/ tennis in Astana 🎾

This week’s ATP 500 tennis tournament is hosted by the city called Astana. And where in the world is Astana, would you say? It’s in Kazakhstan 🇰🇿, and called ‘the world’s weirdest capital city’ by CNN in a 2012 story.

Tennis only became a significant sport in Kazakhstan due to the crusade and a labor of love by billionaire Bulat Utemuratov, in a campaign that had started 15 years ago in 2007.

Matthew Futterman writes in the New York Times:
Using almost entirely Utemuratov’s money, the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation went on a building spree, investing roughly $200 million — nearly a tenth of his estimated fortune — to construct 38 tennis centers in all 17 regions of the country. It trained hundreds of coaches and instructors and imported some from Europe. It subsidized lessons for young children and adolescents who can train six days a week for $40-$120 per month. The best juniors receive as much as $50,000 to pay for training and travel.

Inside the Beeline Arena, the home of Kazakhstan National Tennis Center in the heart of the capital Astana. The lime green part of the court is a little unusual —maybe by design? Here is David Goffin (Belgium, 31) serving against the newly minted World No 1, Carlos Alcaraz (Spain, 19) in a first round-match yesterday. Alcaraz lost 3-6, 5-7 — a disappointment for me, and certainly for the tournament organizers. Ticket sales have reportedly been brisk, though.
[Still from Tennis TV streaming service]
A bird’s eye-view of Astana. CNN says ‘little surrounds the city for 1,200 kilometers, save a handful of provincial towns dotted across the world’s largest steppe, a flat, empty expanse of grassland. Shooting up from this void is a mass of strangely futuristic structures’.
[Picture: Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press]
The Presidential Palace in the foreground was designed to resemble the White House in Washington D.C. (I’d say it’s a passing resemblance, at best). The translucent tent-like structure in the distance is the US$ 400 million Norman Foster-designed Khan Shatyra shopping mall, and said to be the world’s largest tent (but it is really a tent?).
[Picture Credit: AFP/ Getty Images]

Friday/ Roger Federer retires

I watched all of the Laver Cup* doubles match today, Roger Federer’s last official match on the ATP tour.
Age catches up with all of us, and Federer turned 41 in August.
He will still be around to play in exhibition matches and to be an ambassador for the sport that he had graced for so long.

*Somewhat similar to golf’s Ryder Cup: Team Europe plays against Team World (which includes the USA). This is the 5th Laver Cup. Team Europe has won all four of the previous ties.

A tearful Federer waves at the crowd inside London’s O2 arena. He and Rafael Nadel had just lost their match against Americans Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock— but in the end that was not what mattered today.
[Photo: James Hill for The New York Times]

Tuesday/ doing ‘social doubles’ duty

I was on duty again tonight as coordinator for the Seattle Tennis Alliance’s Tuesday night social doubles.
I had to put some skilled players with some very green ones on the same court tonight (a combination I try to avoid), but everyone seemed to be fine with it.

The view from my perch on the wooden benches at the Lower Woodland Park tennis courts. It’s approaching 9 pm, and in just a few minutes I am going to take down the Seattle Tennis Alliance banners from the fences, and put my tennis racquet & kit bag in my car, along with the case of Penn tennis balls.

Sunday/ ¡Bravo Carlitos!

Carlos is the winner, and became the youngest No 1 in the 50 years that the ranking system of the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) had been in place.

Yes, he is supremely talented and had worked tirelessly in his young career for this achievement, but as Christopher Clarey explains in the NYT, there was timing and extraordinary circumstances that also came into play:

At 19, Alcaraz is the youngest No. 1 since the ATP rankings were created in 1973. That is quite a feat in a sport that has had plenty of prodigies: from Bjorn Borg to Mats Wilander, Boris Becker to Pete Sampras, to Alcaraz’s Spanish compatriot Rafael Nadal, who also won his first major at age 19 (at the 2005 French Open).

But Alcaraz’s meteoric rise to the top has not been due simply to his genius — though the word, which should be used very sparingly in tennis or anything else, does seem to apply in his acrobatic case.

His coronation is also due to timing:

To Novak Djokovic’s refusal to be vaccinated for Covid-19, which kept him out of this year’s Australian Open and U.S. Open and four Masters 1000 events in North America.

To Nadal’s limited schedule because of a series of injuries.

To the extraordinary situation at Wimbledon, which Djokovic won again in July but which earned him no ranking points; the tournament had been stripped of points by the men’s and women’s tours because of Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players over the war in Ukraine.

Carlos Alcaraz, of Spain, holds up the championship trophy after defeating Casper Ruud, of Norway, in the men’s singles final of the U.S. Open tennis championships, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, in New York. The score was three sets to one: 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-3.
[Photo by Matt Rourke/AP]

Saturday/ the winner takes it all 🥇

Carlos Alcaraz (19, Spain) has played three phenomenal five-set matches this week to reach the US Open Men’s Final.
He beat Marin Čilić (33, Croatia), the 2014 U.S. Open champion, at 2:23 a.m. on Tuesday;
he beat Jannik Sinner (21, Italy) at 2:50 a.m. on Thursday after surviving a matchpoint, and
he beat Frances Tiafoe (23, USA) shortly before midnight on Friday. (There was American royalty in the stands, watching this match: Michele Obama).

(Yes, New York City never sleeps⁠— but what a ridiculous state of affairs, with the evening matches obviously starting wa-a-ay too late).

Alcaraz is playing against Casper Ruud (23, Norway).  For the first time ever since the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) ranking list was established in 1973, will the outcome of a major final will also determine who of the two players will become world No 1.

Reporting from the New York Times. It’s winner takes all: the winner will lift up his maiden Grand Slam trophy and become the new World No. 1 men’s tennis player.

Wednesday/ pickleball before beers 🍻

It was a beautiful and mild blue-sky day (73 °F/ 23 °C) here in the city.
The amigos played a little pickleball before going for a beer and a bite.

The amigos in action at the Mt. Baker Park Pickleball and Tennis Courts today.
The pine needles and grit had been swept or blown from the courts, which was great. We also had standard pickleball nets with sturdy frames provided by the Seattle Metro Pickleball Association.

Friday/ the end of a storied career

Serena Williams (40) bowed out of the US Open tonight, losing in the third round against Ajla Tomljanovic (29) of Australia. She had indicated before the start of the tournament that this would be her last.

It was at the 1999 US Open where Serena won the first of her 23 Grand Slam titles*— at only 17 years old. She defeated in succession Grand Slam champions Kim Clijsters, Conchita Martínez, Monica Seles, and defending champion Lindsay Davenport, to reach the 1999 US Open final. In the final, she then defeated world No. 1, Martina Hingis, to become the second African-American woman, after Althea Gibson in 1958, to win a Grand Slam singles tournament.

*The most by any player in the Open Era, and the second-most of all time (behind Margaret Court’s 24).

Williams was a power player: an aggressive baseliner, whose game was centered around her powerful serve and forceful groundstrokes.

Serena Williams, of the United States, motions a heart to fans after losing to Ajla Tomljanovic, of Austrailia, during the third round of the U.S. Open tennis championships, Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in New York.
[AP Photo/Frank Franklin II]

Tuesday/ four courts of doubles tennis 🥎

I hosted the Seattle Tennis Alliance social doubles tennis at Lower Woodland Park tonight.
The host welcomes everyone at 7 pm, and then dispatch the 16 players to the 4 courts which we had reserved for 2 hours from the City.

To figure out which four groups (of four players each) would work best, I divvied up the 16 players into four imaginary skill levels of four players each.  It’s not an exact science, but I know most of the players and assigned the best four to Level 1, the next four to Level 2, and then to Level 3 and Level 4.

The hard work done, the rest comes easy:
Court 5: L1 player & L2 player vs. L1 player & L2 player
Court 6: L3 & L4 vs. L3 & L4
Court 7: L1 & L2 vs. L1 & L2
Court 8: L3 & L4 vs. L3 & L4

Social tennis players are notoriously intolerant of players far below their own skill level, so it’s best to avoid having say, Level 1 and Level 4 players on the same court. The worst of all is to have three Level 1 players and one Level 4 player on the same court, or the other way around.

Here’s the action on Court 5 at Lower Woodland Park, with Court 6 on the far side. The flood lights are OK, but not the best (they need to sit at a higher elevation). 
We are about to wrap it up— approaching 9.00 pm. The sun had set some 30 minutes ago.

Friday/ let’s play pickleball 🥒

A pickleball court is 20′ by 44′ with a 3′ high net. Serves go cross court as in tennis. One serve attempt only, though, not two as in tennis. Then there is a Two Bounce Rule: the return from the serve must be allowed to bounce before it is hit. The ‘kitchen’ close to the net is a no-volley zone from where no volleys may be hit.

Pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, not far from Seattle. It is played on a hard surface with paddles and a hard plastic ball.
The game has seen a surge in popularity here in the city, with many tennis courts used for pickleball sessions.

It was a beautiful day (75 °F/ 24 °C). The amigos ventured out to play at the Miller Park Tennis and Pickleball Courts on 19th Avenue.
The pickleball court is the faint green line painted onto the tennis court (a brighter line for the back line of the pickleball court, can be seen on the far left). The net of the tennis court serves as a barrier between the two pickleball courts on it.
Somewhat shockingly— given its proximity to where pickleball was invented— Seattle does not have dedicated pickleball courts just yet.

Friday/ the last days of Wimbledon 2022

Wimbledon 2022 is about to wrap up with the Ladies’ Singles Final and the Gentlemen’s Singles Final on Sunday. (That’s right. Ladies and gentlemen only. No hoi polloi, plebeians, women on the loose, or scoundrels are allowed.)

As for the gentlemen— Carlos Alcaraz (19, 🇪🇸 Spain) had lost against Jannik Sinner (20, 🇮🇹 Italy) in the round of 16, then Sinner lost against Djokovic (35, 🇷🇸 Serbia) in the quarterfinal, after being two sets up to none.

At the bottom of the draw, Nadal (36, 🇪🇸 Spain) took out Taylor Fritz (24, 🇺🇸 USA) in five grueling sets, but injured an abdominal muscle in the process.
So Nadal had to forfeit his semi-final match against Nick Kyrgios (27, 🇦🇺 Australia).

So now we have a Djokovic-Kyrgios showdown for Sunday, which will be very interesting. Kyrgios is very talented but very volatile. He has beaten Djokovic both times in their two previous meetings, which should boost his confidence.

English singer Sir Cliff Richard (81) is a regular attendee at Wimbledon. This was his getup today—looking dapper in a tailored Union Jack blazer lined with strings of different buttons, completed with a little buttonhole red rose. The blazer was ostensibly to show support for British No 1 Cameron Norrie, who was taking on Djokovic in the semi-final. Norrie won the first set, but then Djokovic took control of the match and won the next three sets).
[Getty Images]

Monday/ Wimbledon starts ☔

There was rain in London’s SW19 just an hour after Day 1’s tennis had gotten underway at the All England Club.
Centre Court has a retractable roof, though (since 2009), as does Court 1 (since 2019).

Court 1 was where the fierce battle in the Gentlemen’s First Round, between Carlos Alcaraz (19, Spain 🇪🇸) and Jan-Lennard Struff (31, Germany 🇩🇪) was taking place.
Struff’s coach must have instructed him to play gangbusters and go for the margins, hit two first serves every point, just to have a shot at beating Alcaraz. He did just that, with great effect.
Alcaraz had to pull a rabbit out of a hat in the must-have fourth set-tiebreaker, to be at 1-2 and not 0-3.
Struff followed his shot in the forehand corner to the net. Alcaraz got it back, then had to streak crosscourt like a cheetah, to pick up the volley from Struff. He made a scorching one-handed backhand winner out of it. (Under normal conditions the Alcaraz backhand uses two hands).
Final score: Alcaraz 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-4 after 4 hrs 11 mins.

The grass is fresh and still green everywhere (a little slippery, watch out).
The players look resplendent in their gleaming Wimbledon whites. Grass court tennis shoes have pimples on the soles to provide a little more grip.
Fast balls will skid a little and stay lower than on clay, so it’s a slightly different game and one that Alcaraz is still coming to grips with. One needs lightning-fast reflexes and a little luck, to catch a cannonball serve on one’s strings, which is why serve-and-volleyers do so well on grass.
[Photo of Alcaraz in action today, by Getty Images]

Wednesday/ tennis, on the grass 🎾

The short lawn tennis season is in full swing with the ATP tournaments in Eastbourne and Mallorca this week⁠— and then there is Roehampton, the qualifying tournament for Wimbledon (that starts on Monday).

Wimbledon has banned Russian and Belarussian players from the tournament this year. The ATP and WTA (representing the players) have retaliated by announcing that no ranking points will be awarded for those that are allowed to play.

Seven-time Wimbledon champ Serena Williams (40), has been given a wildcard to play. Rafael Nadal (36) has announced he is good to go as well (he has had a lingering foot injury).

An undated picture of the Wimbledon qualifying competition at Roehampton, just 10 miles away from the famed All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club grounds where Wimbledon is played.
It looks lovely, with the sun casting shadows on the grass courts, spectators on the knoll, but it really is a bare-bones venue, loathed by the players. The lawns are uneven, with too few practice and warm-up courts. No water and extra towels on the courts, no technology to help with line calls, no stands for the spectators and no parking anywhere. ‘Take the bus or a taxi from the nearest train station, and bring a lawn chair’, advises the website.
Still: do you want to have a shot at Wimbledon or not? Win three matches and you are in. Even if you lose in the final round at Roehampton, you could still get invited as a ‘lucky loser’ to fill a last-minute opening in Wimbledon’s main draw.

Sunday/ it’s good to be king ♚

Well, I got up at 6 am Pacific Time to watch the Nadal-Ruud French Open Men’s Final, but the match was very one-sided.

Nadal was never in trouble and won easily: 6-3, 6-3, 6-0. A ‘bagel’ for Casper Ruud (Norway, age 23) in that last set, as we say in tennis.

Rafael Nadal ⁠—the King of Clay⁠— turned 36 on Friday.
Will the king reign for one more year? We shall see, of course.

I love this collage on the front page of Monday’s Beeld. 
(Newspaper from South Africa; Beeld translates to ‘Image’).
Each picture was taken moments after Nadal had won the French Open Men’s Final that year. Rafa does a great job demonstrating all the different ways to collapse onto the red clay! 😂
Nadal was emotional today as well (far right), but did not fall down onto the clay.

Friday/ lots of French Open

I basically turned off Twitter and the TV this week, and just watched French Open tennis on the Tennis Channel (it’s a subscription streaming service).

A bird’s eye view of Stade Roland Garros in the 16th arrondissement in ‎Paris. Completed in 1928, it was named after WWI aviator and war hero Roland Garros (he was not a tennis player). The main stadium on the right, Court Philippe Chatrier, can accommodate 15,000 spectators. Chatrier (1928- 2000) was a French tennis player and tennis administrator.
This is an iconic picture of the incomparable French player Suzanne Lenglen, whom the other main tennis court and stadium at Roland Garros is named after.
Her feet rarely seemed to touch the ground when she played. Her tennis career was interrupted by World War I, but it is said that by the end of the 1920’s ‘La Divine’ Lenglen was more famous, and more popular, than any other athlete in Europe— or for that matter any movie star, singer or politician.
The photographer did a remarkable job to capture Lenglen in action. That must be another photographer on the far side, with a contraption of a camera!
[Photo: Getty Images Archive]