Friday, December 9, 2022

Serena Williams continues creating magic at US Open, plus our 2022 Preseason All-NFL Team

Happy Thursday everyone, and welcome to September! It might be the best sports month on the calendar in my humble opinion, and I can’t wait for it to really get going.

Let’s get right to it.

Good morning to everyone but especially to…

SERENA WILLIAMS

If Serena Williams‘ first-round win on Monday was supposed to be nothing more than a nice memento before retirement, she didn’t get the message. She’s here to win. The tennis legend, playing in likely her final tournament, beat No. 2 seed Anett Kontaviet 7-6 (7-4), 2-6, 6-2 for her most impressive win in recent memory and is now moving onto the third round, where she’ll face Ajla Tomljanovic.

  • Williams was on her game from the start, going back and forth in a thoroughly entertaining first set. Williams even got to serve for the set up 6-5 but dropped the game, setting up a tiebreak she won 7-4.
  • Kontaviet showed why she’s been a major riser in the ranks in the second set, breaking Williams three times to force a third set.
  • In the third set, Williams answered any potential questions about her conditioning or court coverage emphatically: She can absolutely do it, even against the world’s best. Williams hit 13 winners compared to Kontaviet’s three. Williams also won all four of her net points; she had won just three in the first two sets combined.

Serena showed the ability to dig deep and find her best stuff time and time again. Playing just her sixth match of the calendar year, she was absolutely unrelenting in the third set. Even at 40 — and facing the pressure that every match could be her last — Williams showed her championship mentality and ability is as strong as ever. “This is what I do best,” she said post-match. “I love a challenge. I love rising to a challenge.”

Our Nick Parco (who is the editor of this newsletter) was on hand for the match, and he says when watching Williams, it’s hard to not think of a memorable US Open run by a past aging star.

  • Parco: “This is all becoming reminiscent of what a fellow American tennis star, Jimmy Connors, did in 1991 in the twilight of his career. He was 39 and made the semis at the US Open, taking down seeds before fizzling out vs. No. 4 Jim Courier. … Of course, Williams wants to replicate that run Connors had, but go the extra mile and win it all in the place where she’s already done that six times. She’s already given the fans at Arthur Ashe so much to root for, dating all the way back to 1999 when she first won.”

Bettors are feeling the magic, too. Williams entered the tournament with 50-1 odds to win. She’s now 14-1.

Honorable mentions

Not so honorable mentions

Sky, Aces knot up respective series with impressive efforts 🏀

Connecticut Sun v Chicago Sky - Game Two

Getty Images

The WNBA semifinals are seriously awesome. I don’t know how else to say it. The Sky and the Aces knotted up their series 1-1 against the Sun and the Storm, respectively, with strong bounce-back performances.

Let’s start in Chicago, where the Sky improved to 11-1 following a loss this season thanks to an 85-77 Game 2 win. Candace Parker led the way with 22 points, four rebounds and four assists, and all five Chicago starters scored in double figures. That kind of performance is what we’ve come to expect from Parker, writes WNBA reporter Jack Maloney.

  • Maloney: “Her numbers weren’t historic like they were in Game 1, but that was because she only needed to play 25 minutes in the blowout. And even if the box score won’t tell it, her performance in Game 2 was nearly as impressive, and perhaps more important given the circumstances.”

Out in Las Vegas, the highly anticipated battle between A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart lived up to expectations… and then some. Wilson scored 33 points and had 13 rebounds, just enough to lead the Aces to a 78-73 win. Stewart finished with 32 points and seven boards.

Through two games, the combined score of Storm-Aces is 151-149, Aces. The combined score of Sun-Sky is 148-145, Sky. These games have been incredibly close and incredibly well-played — and they certainly look like potential all-time classics when all is said and done.

White Sox manager Tony La Russa out indefinitely with health issue ⚾

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Getty Images

Tony La Russa, the Hall-of-Fame manager of the Chicago White Sox, is out indefinitely due to an unspecified health issue as his team hopes to make a late rally for a playoff berth. Bench coach Miguel Cairo is taking over in his stead.

  • La Russa, 77, missed Tuesday’s loss to the Royals, and the White Sox then announced his indefinite absence ahead of Wednesday’s win over Kansas City. He is undergoing a series of tests in the coming days.
  • The White Sox are currently five games behind the Guardians for the AL Central lead and 6.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. They have lost 10 of their last 13.

It’s been a difficult year on the South Side for team and manager alike. The White Sox made the playoffs each of the past two seasons and were expected to do the same this year with a talented core of players, but injuries and underperformance both at the plate and on the mound have cost them significantly.

La Russa has drawn near-constant criticism and made several odd choices — including calling for intentional walks in 1-2 counts first in June and again just last month — in his second year of his second stint with the team.

Preseason All-NFL Team: A surprise at QB leads the way 🏈

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USATSI

Everyone loves a good preseason list. College football does a great job with it: award watch lists, All-America teams, All-Conference teams, the Coaches Poll, the AP Poll… you name it, there’s a list ready to go before the season begins.

Officially, the NFL has no such things, so we took matters into our own hands: Eight of our NFL experts voted on the 2022 CBS Preseason All-NFL Team. We’ll start things off at quarterback, where three young stars got the most votes, notes NFL expert Cody Benjamin.

  • Benjamin: Justin Herbert (7 votes), Patrick Mahomes (6), Josh Allen (5) — All hail the AFC. Everyone’s buying into Herbert’s laser-armed pocket passing for the Chargers, especially now that he’s got a loaded supporting cast on both sides of the ball. Mahomes and Allen, meanwhile, are the league’s big-play mavens, and everyone figures their Chiefs and Bills will meet again.”

I love Herbert receiving the most votes of any quarterback. His 69 career touchdown passes are most ever through a player’s first two seasons, and he’s just a joy to watch. As Cody wrote, I could see a big, big third season in the cards after the Chargers added guard Zion Johnson in the first round of the NFL Draft and tight end Gerald Everett in free agency. And with the acquisitions of cornerback J.C. Jackson and edge rusher Khalil Mack, the Chargers project to be really, really good, which can only help Herbert’s case.

To see all of the selections for the 53-man roster — as well as for head coach — click here.

What we’re watching Thursday 📺

Serie A, 2:30 p.m. on Paramount+

🏈 West Virginia at No. 17 Pitt, 7 p.m. on ESPN

🏈 Central Michigan at No. 12 Oklahoma State, 7 p.m. on FS1

🏈 Penn State at Purdue, 8 p.m. on FOX

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