Friday/ Team USA

Team USA entering the stadium during the opening ceremony. Sue Bird and Eddy Alvares (basketball players) were the flagbearers for Team USA. There were only some 10,000 people in a stadium designed for 68,000.
[Picture by Doug Mills/The New York Times]
And here comes Team USA!
NBC’s coverage of the opening ceremony here in the US, had a heck of a recorded introduction of the team, by actor and tough guy Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. He said that they are truly ‘the best of us‘. Johnson also remarked: ‘Kindness matters. Always.

I love the ‘Earth’ made up of 1,824 drones up in the sky, while John Lennon’s Imagine played below. The drones were programmed by chipmaker Intel, who first brought drones to the Winter Olympics in 2018.
[Picture by Chang W. Lee/ New York Times]

Friday/ Team South Africa

Hey, Team South Africa! I see you.
Love the vellies*.
*Velskoene (“FEL-skoona”) or colloquially vellies (“FELL-ys”), are Southern African walking shoes, made from vegetable-tanned leather or soft rawhide uppers attached to a leather footbed and rubber sole, without tacks or nails (from Wikipedia).

Team South Africa, at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
[Picture from Team South Africa @TeamSA2020 on Twitter]

Sunday/ heartbreak for England

It’s a shame that it had to come down to a penalty shootout.

Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma saving Jadon Sancho’s penalty. He also stopped Bukayo Saka’s attempt to clinch the win. It was 1-1 after extra time, and then Italy won the penalty shootout 3-2. [Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images]

Saturday/ Wimbledon, 40 years ago

The first week of action is over at the world’s oldest, and arguably the most famous, tennis tournament: Wimbledon in London, England.

It’s hard to believe that I had taken this picture 40 years ago, on Thursday, July 2, 1981. Bjorn Borg (25 at the time, Sweden) was playing Jimmy Conners (28, USA) in the semi-final.
Regrettably, we had to leave early. We had dinner reservations, with a business associate of my dad’s. After dinner, we did not want to wait for the newspaper in the morning, and inquired from the hotel’s doorman if he knew who had won the match.  He did.

My 35 mm black & white picture, from where parents and my brother and I were sitting, watching the Borg-Conners semi-final match at Wimbledon 1981. That’s Borg on the far side. They are warming up, and have not started playing (Borg still has his jacket on, and there are loose tennis balls on the court). The scoreboard shows the time as 5.12 pm. The match went on for 3 hrs 18 mins, with Borg the victor. (John McEnroe defeated Borg in the final). Our tickets cost all of £11 each, an amazing bargain. (£11 in 1981 is worth £43 today. At this year’s Wimbledon, a ticket for the men’s semi-final goes for £170). 
Today the court has a high-tech retractable roof cover. There is a crowd, albeit a little thin due to Covid-19 restrictions. Here is Andy Murray (34, Scotland) serving against Denis Shapovalov (22, Canada) in a match played on Friday. Shapavalov won 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.
The tournament was first held in 1877. There was no tournament 1915-18 (during World War I), nor 1940-45 (during World War II), and not in 2020 (during the War against Covid-19). [Picture by AELTC/ Joe Toth]

Friday/ spectacular tennis

There was spectacular French Open men’s tennis on TV today.
The youngsters Stefanos Tsitsipas (Greece, 22 yrs old) and Alexander Zverev (Germany, 24) went first, with Tsitsipas overcoming a mid-match slump to win 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3.

Then the legendary King of Clay, Rafael Nadal (Spain, 35 yrs old, won 13 French Opens* in 16 years) took on the world’s No 1 Novak Djokovic (Serbia, 34). Djokovic won 3-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-2.

Officials decided to suspend the controversial Covid-19 curfew in Paris, that had them empty out the stands at 9 pm on Monday & Tuesday night, and at 11 pm later this week. The Nadal-Djokovic match was still going at 11 pm. There would have been a French Revolution II in the Philippe Chatrier tennis stadium, had anyone attempted to chase the rabid tennis fans out.

*The French Open is a Grand Slam tournament, with 128 players in the main draw. (Regular tournaments have 32). For 4 of the 128 spots in the main draw, there was a qualifying tournament.  To win, you have to win seven matches in a row, all guaranteed to be against a fierce competitor in the game of tennis.

A Nadal fan waving the Spanish flag, as the players came onto the court. [Still from NBC Sports broadcast].
No ball is too wide, or too short, or too high, for Nadal to run down on the slow red clay courts of the French Open. For this one, he was all the way up at the net, and had to run back to retrieve a high overhead shot. He invented a shot on the fly, lobbed the ball back into the corner of Djokovic’s court, and won the point and the opening game. [Still from NBC Sports broadcast].

Thursday/ tennis at Amy Yee

I made my way to Amy Yee tennis center again tonight by bus.
It was 5.10 pm and the No 8 bus is notorious for being late, or ‘full’ (half-full, actually: half the seats are still blocked out, in order to create social distance between the passengers).
Plan B was to call for an UberX (cost: $20, quite a bit more than it used to be) if the bus (fare: $2.75) had not worked out.
The bus showed up in good time, though, and had a few open seats left.

Inside the Amy Yee Tennis Center. That’s Court No 5 in the distance, then there’s 5 more indoors, for a total of 10. Outside there are 6 more courts. The tarp ‘door’ pieces for the courts are still removed— so that people don’t accidentally bump into each other. Now and then the tennis balls escape through the opening, of course. And check out the silly little piece of blue tape on the floor warning of a ‘Bump’ (in the floor). Um. It needs to be a LOT bigger!

Saturday/ allez, légende!

Go, legend!
Tennis legend Roger Federer (39) is into the 4th round of the 2021 French Open, winning a grinding 3 ½-hour match that ended after midnight:
7-65 63-77 77-64 7-5, over German Dominik Koepfer (27).

Federer at full slide, and full stretch, going for a very wide angle drop shot return from Koepfer.
He flicked the ball back over the net and Koepfer was not able to volley the ball back. BY THE WAY: That silly green box with ‘Peugeot’ on it was in the way. With these wide-angled shots, it’s perfectly fine to play the ball back super-low, and into the opposite court, by going AROUND the net post.

Sunday 6/6: Oh no .. bad news, this morning. Federer is pulling out of the tournament. There were hints at Federer’s Saturday night post-match press conference, though.

Friday/ tennis and beer

It’s been a dry and mild weather week here in the city (72° F/ 22 °C today).
Four of us played a little doubles tennis at the Jefferson Park courts south of the city.

One of the guys brought a six-pack of beer —’Porch Glow’ amber ale, brewed in Spokane all the way across Washington State on its border with Idaho. We sat on the tennis court and socialized for a bit afterwards. It felt good. Not long ago we had to play with masks, stay the hell away from each other by 6 feet, and then just scurry off and go home right after the tennis was done.

Monday/ the Bulldogs lost

The Gonzaga Bulldogs lost in their bid to win the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball title, 70-86. Congrats to the Baylor Bears.

I could not watch the end of the game and went for a quick walk. This is 8.00 pm on 15th Ave & Mercer St (sunset is now at 7.45 pm). The Canterbury Ale House sports bar on my right is still closed, which is surprising. (Bars can be open, with restrictions). The Olympia Pizza House with its outside seating (behind me, not shown in the picture), was noisy and had a good attendance.

Saturday/ March madness, in April

UCLA had come too far, defied too many odds in surviving March to reach April, to give in now, no matter the probabilities or the season-long perfection of its nemesis.
– Ben Bolch writing in the Los Angeles Times

Tonight, Gonzaga* played UCLA** in the Final Four of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Men’s Basket Ball tournament (known as ‘March Madness’).
Gonzaga had everything to lose, as it is aiming to become the first undefeated national champion in men’s basketball since Indiana in 1976.

UCLA went toe-to-toe with them, all through the game tonight, and was only a point behind at halftime, 44 to 45.
At the end of regular time, it was 81 to 81.

So now came overtime. As the clock wound down, the plays were down to the wire.
With less than a minute left, Andrew Nembhard scored a 3-pointer, putting Gonzaga up 90-85.
At 48 secs left, Jaime Jaquez Jr. knocked in a 3-pointer from the wing for UCLA. Gonzaga 90-88.
At 3.3 secs left, the Bruins (UCLA) had gotten the ball back, and Johnny Juzang followed his miss with a putback jumper. Tied 90-90.
At 0.8 secs left, Jalen Suggs stopped from 30-some feet away, took aim and shot at the hoop on the far side.
As the buzzer sounded, flashing **0:00**, the ball dropped through the net, for the win.

Gonzaga 93-90. Mayhem.
(Gonzaga to play Baylor for the NCAA title on Monday night).

At the buzzer. The ball hits the target, clears the hoop.

*The Gonzaga Bulldogs are an intercollegiate men’s basketball program representing Gonzaga University (Spokane, WA). The school competes in the West Coast Conference in Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

**The UCLA Bruins men’s basketball program represents the University of California, Los Angeles in the sport of men’s basketball as a member of the Pac-12 Conference. Established in 1919, the program has won a record 11 NCAA titles.

Monday/ Roger is ba-aack

There are three Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tournaments on the calendar this week: in Marseille, France, in Doha, Qatar and in Santiago, Chile.

Roger Federer, he of 20 Grand Slam titles fame, is making his long-awaited comeback in Doha, at the age of 39½. He last played on the tour 14 months ago (in the 2020 Australian Open), and had two knee operations after that. He said today that he is now free of pain and injury — and has no plans to retire (!).

Update Wed 3/11: Federer ousted Dan Evans (30, Great Britain) in his first match, but then stumbled and lost against Nikoloz Basilashvili (29, Georgia) in the quarter-final.

Here’s the scene in Marseille, France. Bouches-du-Rhône (lettering on the hard court’s surface) is a department (region) in Southern France named after the mouth of the river Rhône. Those are cardboard cut-outs as the ‘spectators’ – ugh. In this match, the Italian Jannik Sinner (19) overcame Frenchman Grégoire Barrère (27) by 7-6 (7-3), 6-7 (5-7), 7-5.
Here’s the red clay of the Chile Open in Santiago. Nobody in the stands, just camera crew and coaches. This was another nail-biter. Frances Tiafoe (23, USA) beat Nicolás Jarry (25, Chile) by the narrowest of margins: 7-6 (9-7), 6-7 (7-9), 7-6 (9-7).
Here’s Doha, Qatar. A few spectators here and there. (ExxonMobil is a sponsor – boo! BOO! for denying for DECADES that your oil products are destroying the planet, and for lying about climate change. Hey ATP, please find someone else). That is one of the tallest guys in the tour serving, Reilly Opelka (23, USA). He stands 6’11” in his socks. He lost this match in the end, though, against ‘veteran’ Roberto Bautista Agut (32, Spain) : 6-4, 3-6, 4-6.

Sunday/ another not-so-super Bowl

ok I’ll give, who is Tom Brady
– Igor Bobic @igorbobic on Twitter, politics reporter at HuffPost, pretending not to know.

Gazelle Bundesliga’s husband
– Casey S.@nobody_news on Twitter, mangling her name. It’s supermodel Gisele Bündchen.

It was Super Bowl Sunday.
Congrats to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their veteran, ex-New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (43), with their 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. One does not have to be a football expert to know that this is not the score of an exciting match-up.

The Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes (25), played with an injured toe, and his team just never got their offensive game going.

Thirty year-old Canadian rapper The Weeknd (real name Abel Makkonen Tesfaye; his parents are Ethiopian) performing during the halftime show. ‘Why are the dancers wearing underwear on their heads?’ wondered some Twitter wags. Hey: at least they are wearing masks, more than could be said of Tom Brady (as he arrived at the stadium and walked into the locker room), and of most of the revelers in Tampa Bay’s sports bars & streets on Saturday night. There were 25,000 people in the stands today (some 7,000 were vaccinated healthcare workers), the fewest ever at any Super Bowl.
[Picture from Reuters]

Friday/ more soft-soled shoes

I did not need new tennis shoes right now, but I bought two more pairs from my local tennis store, nonetheless (Avanti Sports on NE 45th St).

I really don’t want them to go bust, because they string my tennis racquets. Besides, these Adidas shoes are shockingly hard to find anywhere online. They are regularly sold out at the Adidas store itself, as well. 

Adidas Sole Court Boost, is the name of these tennis shoes (I paid $129 per pair). I like the herringbone pattern on the sole. The size 9s fit my feet perfectly. There is extra padding in the sole, and a little edge on the outside to provide support for side-to-side movement on the court. World No 3 Dominic Thiem likes to play with the white ones with the pink soles.

Tuesday/ update: tennis in a mask

I’m doing better, playing tennis with my mask on. I bring 4 or 5 masks — they get sweaty— and I have learned not to feel like suffocating if I start to take big breaths.

The four of us try to play three doubles sets, which is a challenge in the limited 75-minute time slot we have indoors. We usually end up playing almost non-stop: no side changes, with only one or two quick breaks to get a sip of water.

If four players play the three possible match-ups of doubles, there are only two general outcomes possible.
One of the 4 players won in all three match-ups.
He/ she has 3 wins, and everyone else only 1. He/ she is the champ.
Or ..
One of the 4 players lost in all three match-ups.
He/ she has 0 wins, and everyone else has 2 wins.
It’s social tennis; it’s just for fun, but even so: no one wants to be the evening’s loser.

The ‘Tennis Center’ opened in Seattle’s Mt Baker neighborhood opened in 1977. It was renamed Amy Yee Tennis Center in 2002. Amy Yee was a Seattle tennis star, a graceful and inspirational teacher who had for 50 years, brought the love of the sport to thousands of young people and adults in schools, parks, and private clubs.

Tuesday/ ‘two masks are the new masks’

Well, I played tennis last night with my mask on, as mandated by the Amy Yee Tennis Center. My mask had three layers of cotton fabric. It got a little ugly at times.

As you huff & puff after a long rally — through the mask — your panicked brain roars ‘MORE OX-Y-GEN ..NOW! MORE OX-Y-GEN ..NOW! .. and it makes you want to yank the suffocating $@#! thing right off your face.

So! I’m definitely going to have to try a few more different masks.

From the New York Times. I suppose this works if you are a body at rest (as they say in Physics), silently observing what’s going on. (One could just stay home, of course, and not attend these public events). Pete Buttigieg is President Biden’s Secretary of Transportation nominee, and did very well at his Jan. 21 nomination hearing. The vote for his confirmation is still pending.

Friday night news dump

  • The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) grants emergency use authorization for the Covid-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech.
  • The pandemic is far from over (more than 3,000 deaths just on Thursday).
  • Texas attorney general’s ‘lawsuit’ (stunt), to try to overturn the certified election results (certifying Trump is a LOSER) in four battleground states, is smacked down 9-0 by the US Supreme Court. The AGs of seventeen red states, and 2/3 of House Republicans had joined the lawsuit. (Hey Republicans, newsflash for you: the United States is still a democracy. Your attempt at a coup is now dead.)
  • The Space Needle is lit up in green, in support of the Seattle Sounders, that will take on Columbus Crew in the 2020 Major League Soccer Cup Final on Saturday.
  • Update Sat 12/13: Sounders lost 0-3 to Columbus. Congrats to Columbus.
The Space Needle, bathed in green, and looking even more alien than usual. The reflection is on the nearby Museum of Pop Culture.

Sunday/ it all worked out, in the end

Here’s how my Sunday afternoon went.
1.30 pm Are you free for tennis? texted Harris. Yes, sure, I said. It was a sunny day (but not warm! 49 °F /9.5 °C), and now we had three; still needed a fourth.
Ardee was at Costco. Jesse was a no, as was Chuck. Jackson might be available .. checking. No, his girlfriend says no, he texted. What?! How dare she? was our reaction :-).
2.00 pm Still no luck finding someone. Alright. Let me go and scout out the courts, I offered. We were not even sure if the courts were, in fact, dry.
2.15 pm I arrive at Amy Yee Tennis Center. (Inside is closed, of course). The six outside courts are dry, kind of (big damp spots) – but already filled with players. We had no reservation. The courts can be reserved the day before with non-refundable deposits, but nobody really does that this time of year. The weather is too unpredictable.
2.30 pm Just come on out to the courts, I texted Harris & Cam: Worst case, the three of us can hit a few balls on a semi-dry court.
3.00 pm I’m still camping out by Court 5 & 6, waiting for one to open up. Alan from my social tennis club happens to play on 5. Maybe he will stay on and play with us, I thought.
3.05 pm Harris & Cam arrives.
3.10 pm Court 5 opens up. Yay! We can go on, and Alan agrees to be our fourth.
3.40 pm The thin sunlight disappears for good, behind swirling low-land fog that’s rolling in. We keep on playing.
4.20 pm Yikes. It’s becoming difficult to see the ball in the twilight and fog! Almost done, though. It’s 6-6 in the second set and we’re into a 7-point tiebreaker. Alan and I lose it 5-7.
No matter, it was just great to be able to play!

Getting into my car to leave the courts at Amy Yee Tennis Center. This is 4.40 pm, with the sun long gone behind the fog, and now below the horizon as well.

Saturday/ ready for the ATP Finals

I lost what little tennis the ESPN channel offered on TV when I cancelled my cable TV subscription. So with the year-end Nitto ATP* Finals looming (it starts in London on Sunday), I had to make a plan.

I subscribed to ATP Tennis TV – very reasonable at $8 a month for streaming of year-round tournaments with no commercials. Looks like it excludes coverage of the four Grand Slam tournaments, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

*Association of Tennis Professionals. (Nitto is the main sponsor, manufacturer of high-quality car & truck tires).

The Nitto ATP Finals is invitation only, for the top 8 singles players, and top 8 doubles teams. The event is again in the O2 Arena in London. There will be no crowds; the players and their teams will live in a closed hotel & tennis court ‘bubble’.
From left to right: Diego Schwartzman (28 yrs old, from Argentina), Andrey Rublev (23, Russia), Rafael “Rafa” Nadal (34, Spain), Alexander “Sascha” Zverev (23, Germany), Stefanos Tsitsipas (22, Greece), Novak Djokovic (33, Serbia), Dominic Thiem (27, Austria), Daniil Medvedev (24, Russia). Sadly, no Roger Federer and no Americans made it to the Finals this year.

Sunday/ Rafa makes it 20

There was French Open tennis very early this morning on TV: the final between Rafael Nadal (Spain, 34) and Novak Djokovic (Serbia, 33).

Nadal played like the champ that he is, against a Djokovic that could not find his footing, and won in straight sets, 6-0 ( a rare bagel for Djokovic), 6-2, 7-5.

Nadal and Roger Federer each holds 20 Gram Slam tennis titles now, the largest number amassed by any player in the history of the game.

Spain’s Rafael Nadal in action during his second round match against Spain’s Pablo Carreno-Busta in the recent Italian Open at Foro Italico, Rome, Italy, Sept. 16, 2020 [Photo by REUTERS/Clive Brunskill]
Nadal serving against Djokovic in the final today. The sparse, socially-distanced crowd got their tickets by lottery. It did make a difference to have onlookers in the stands, cheering the players on. This French Open final was the first to be played under a roof with lights. [Picture Credit: Julian Finney/Getty Images]

Here’s a look at the new retractable roof over Philippe Chatrier stadium.
Earlier this week, the officials let a little too much rain come down before they closed the roof. So in came a few wheelbarrows of clay (wheelbarrow in the distance), that they swept onto the court to clear up muddied patches. Yes, that’s Djokovic himself in the red shorts, pitching in and clearing some clay dust from the baseline!
The top layer of clay is very thin, followed by crushed limestone, clinker, and crushed gravel. That red clay dust gets into EVERYTHING: the tennis balls, the racquet strings, the players’ shoes and socks, and even their clothes (when you fall down because you did not slide properly into a deadly drop shot or wide shot!).

Wednesday/ my TV is now smart

My Samsung TV was 10 years old, and at long last it was time to upgrade to a smart 4K* TV.  I picked a Samsung again, and was planning to replace my 55″ screen with a similar size .. and then at the last minute in the store, opted for one with a 65″ screen.

I paid  $1,899 in 2010 dollars for the old TV (that’s $2,264 in 2020 dollars). The new one was all of $529, practically given away for free. (Alright, so not completely free).

*Smart= the TV can connect to the internet and offer all kinds of online content from providers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and others.
4K= the screen resolution is 3840 x 2160; a fourfold increase over Full HD (1920×1080 pixels).

The 2020 French Open is underway in Paris. The silly American networks are VERY STINGY with their coverage. I should sign up for Tennis Channel’s content (it’s $100 per year).
YouTube posts highlights of the matches every day. My wifi signal is poor in the corner of my living room where the TV is, so what I did here is connect my laptop computer to the TV with an HDMI cable to get the tennis on the big screen. I’m still trying to find out why the laptop can pick up the wifi signal OK but the TV cannot! Anyway, here is the King of Clay (Spaniard Rafael Nadal, 34 yrs, nearside in the turquoise and pink!) in the second round against American Mackenzie McDonald, 25). Nadal won easily, but it was a triumph for McDonald just to be able to play. He tore his hamstring tendon last year in May and could not walk for two months after the operation to mend it.