Rain, a Classy Champ Goes Down and NHL Free Agency From Afar
LONDON--Start everything two hours early, then 40 minutes in, more rain. Sigh.
Within a half-hour the games of Wimbledon were on again, albeit with ominous warnings of thunder showers on the way to the British capital. Soon after, defending women's champ Amelie Mauresmo blew three set points and dropped the first set of her fourth round match to 14th seeded Nicole Vaidisova. Then early in the second set, another rain stoppage.
It was a sign of much more of the same to come.
Play resumed again in about 25 minutes, then was stopped soon after by another downpour, the third play suspension in 2 1/2 hours to start the day and the seventh of eight days of the event that have included rain. About 2:20 London time - 9:20 a.m. Toronto time - play resumed again.
It only stayed dry for another 35 minutes before the fourth rain delay of the day, but that was enough for the towering, 18-year-old Vaidisova to finish off Mauresmo with a three-set victory, ending the Frenchwoman's Wimbledon reign after one year with a relentless ground attack and instantly becoming the new darling of Wimbledon as she heads into the quarter-finals.
The stunning Czech, born in Germany and a student at the famed Nick Bollitieri Academy in Bradenton, Fla., arrives on centre stage with the potential to be viewed as the new Maria Sharapova with her combination of shrieking, power and glamour. Mauresmo committed 14 double faults and countless errors, and dropped the final set 6-1. On the final two points, Mauresmo chipped the ball into the net off the service return, seemingly understanding it was time to surrender her crown.
After Mauresmo, the No. 4, went down, France had some pride restored when Marion Bartoli upset the No. 3 seeded Jelena Jankovic of Serbia in three sets. Meanwhile, because of the compressed schedule due to rain, the big women's match of the day between Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova was moved from Centre Court to the much smaller No. 3 court.
On the men's side, the constant rain delays have turned this into the start-and-stop version of Wimbledon and into a personal nightmare for the world's No. 2 player, Rafael Nadal.
Nadal came here looking to seriously challenge Roger Federer for the Wimbledon crown. But while Federer is already sitting pretty in a quarterfinal berth where he'll face Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero, Nadal started a match with Sweden's Robin Soderling on Saturday, missed a match point opportunity on Monday and is still stuck in the fifth set of that match in the late afternoon on Tuesday.
The two men resumed play today at about 4:30 London time (11:30 Toronto) with Nadal ahead 2-0 in the deciding set.
He was immediately broken, but then made an incredible diving volley to hold and move ahead 3-2.
Then, one cracker of a thunder and lightning storm started, pushing Nadal off the court again in the sixth rain delay of the day at about 5:10 London time. The two men reappeared an hour later, played 12 minutes of tennis and then were stopped again by the seventh and final rain delay of the day, with the fifth set tied 4-4.
Incredibly, for Nadal this is still only a third-round match. So just to get where Federer is already, Nadal has to finish off Soderling - sometime! - then face talented Russian Mikhail Youzhny. He'd then have to win two more matches after that just to get to the final, and even a strong, fit youngster like Nadal could find such a schedule nearly impossible.
The little Canadian content there is, doubles specialist Daniel Nestor, is also taking a beating. He and partner Mark Knowles are still trying to finish a match with two Frenchman that started on Saturday. They got on court today between the second and third rain delay, but after winning the first two sets lost the third, and then were stopped again by showers. When play resume, the Nestor-Knowles tandem waltzed to victory and moved on to the next round.
Which, given all the waiting and sitting around, brings us to NHL free agency.
A couple of quick thoughts:
- Having Chris Pronger and Todd Bertuzzi on the Ducks, and probably no Scott Niedermayer, might make Anaheim an even rowdier group to deal with next season. Niedermayer was the cool, calm element that always allowed the Ducks to respond intelligently whenever his teammates started taking stupid penalties or Pronger was suspended, and his departure combined with the addition of Bertuzzi will change the personality of the Stanley Cup champs. The last time Pronger and Bertuzzi combined forces, Canada finished seventh in Torino.
Bertuzzi's signing, meanwhile, could also mean GM Brian Burke is convinced Teemu Selanne will retire. Still, unless Bertuzzi looks an awful lot better than he did, and unless his bad back can handle the heavy travel of the west coast a lot better than logic suggests it might, this $4 million per season deal is a huge overpayment, right there with Paul Kariya at $6 million per.
- Los Angeles is clearly trying to compete with the Ducks, signing free agents Tom Preissing, Ladislav Nagy, Michal Handzus and Kyle Calder. Problem is, none of them may be particularly impactful players, and L.A. still needs a goalie.
--Buffalo may take a hit at the box office for losing both Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, particularly after the revelation that Drury agreed to a four-year, $21.5 million deal last September but then waited in vain for the Sabres to sign it. As we've seen before, the time to sign both players was last summer, the same schedule the Senators would be wise to follow with Dany Heatley this summer.
- There remain some intriguing free agents out there, including Slava Kozlov, Dainius Zubrus, Brad Stuart, Sheldon Souray, Danny Markov, Aaron Miller and Bill Guerin.
Kozlov could help a team in need of second-line offence. Markov could be a good bargain.
-Garth Snow no longer looks like the smartest guy in the room. To be fair, Snow is handicapped by the hopelessly outmoded Nassau County Coliseum, easily the worst rink in the league. Snow is admitting publicly that free agents are citing the dilapidated facility as a key reason Long Island doesn't interest them. Still, at some point, free agents are going to have to look at the Island, and Snow may have as much as $20 million to spend.
- Don't anticipate the demise of the Devils just yet. They've got a coach to sign, have Martin Brodeur in net and Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta up front, along with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. Signing free agent Dainius Zubrus today was a smart, medium-sized move.
More important, as the Ducks proved, having a strong team personality can go an awfully long way, and no team knows who it is more than Jersey.