ROME – It was just the type of scrambling, wear-down-the-opponent mentality and shot-making that took Novak Djokovic to within one match of a calendar-year Grand Slam in 2021.
A spectacle that was missing for so much of this year when Djokovic didn’t play because he wasn’t vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The top-ranked Djokovic brought the Foro Italico crowd to its feet with several memorable points in a 7-5, 7-6 (1) win over Felix Auger-Aliassime to reach the Italian Open semifinals on Friday.
To conclude a long rally, Djokovic produced a delicate backhand topspin lob winner over the leaping Auger-Aliassime to break serve and lead 4-2 in the second set.
Djokovic celebrated the lob winner by raising both of his arms above his head then urged the packed crowd on Campo Centrale to cheer louder by gesturing with his hands.
“It was high-level tennis,” Djokovic said. “He did ask me to raise the level and I had to play consistently well.”
While he is still seeking his first title of the year, Djokovic was ensured by the victory of holding on to the No. 1 ranking for another week and have the top seed at the French Open.
Second-ranked Daniil Medvedev can no longer pass Djokovic when the rankings are updated on Monday.
Roland Garros starts in nine days and Djokovic is gearing up for his first Grand Slam tournament of the year after he was deported from Australia before the Australian Open.
Playing the ninth-ranked Auger-Aliassime for the first time, Djokovic took some time before he started reading the Canadian’s big serve. Then he stepped up his game and hit an off-balance cross-court forehand winner to break and take the first set.
Auger-Aliassime showed some touch early on when he pulled off a backhand half-volley winner to conclude a long rally in the second game.
In the end, though, it was Djokovic – playing his 16th consecutive quarterfinal at the clay-court tournament – who won all the big points. Like when he ran down two smashes and responded with two defensive lobs before stepping in to whip a cross-court backhand winner during the tiebreaker.
Djokovic’s semifinal opponent will be Casper Ruud, who beat Denis Shapovalov 7-6 (7), 7-5.
Shapovalov eliminated 10-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal – who was dealing with a chronically injured left foot – on Thursday.
Also, fifth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas served 10 aces to defeat Jannik Sinner 7-6 (5), 6-2 to reach his third consecutive Masters semifinal on clay.
Tsitsipas will face Alexander Zverev in their third semifinal over the last month after the 2017 champion beat Cristian Garin 7-5, 6-2.
In the women’s tournament, Iga Swiatek extended her winning streak to 26 matches by beating former U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu 7-6 (2), 6-0.
Swiatek struggled to handle being a top-five player last year. Now she’s learned how to use her recent success to intimidate.
“I needed time to learn how to do that properly, how to use the streak or ranking to put pressure on my opponents,” Swiatek said. “Last year when I had (a) better ranking (than opponents), it felt like it’s something that’s pressuring me down. This time it’s totally different.”
In all, Swiatek produced 27 winners to Andreescu’s 12 and converted all six of her break points.
“I feel like every match I’m playing better and better,” Swiatek said. “Even though the first set was pretty tight, I had some ups and downs, I feel like I could play well in important moments and break back anytime.
“I’m pretty happy that also the second set was more solid because it shows that I’m learning my lessons throughout the whole match.”
Swiatek is attempting to win her fifth straight tournament and defend her title in Rome.
The last player to win more consecutive matches was Serena Williams in 2014-15, when she had a streak of 27.
Swiatek’s semifinal opponent will be third-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, who rallied past Amanda Anisimova 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 for her first victory over the American in five tries.
Also advancing was recent Madrid Open champion Ons Jabeur, who rallied past Maria Sakkari, 1-6, 7-5, 6-1 for her 10th straight win. Jabeur will face Daria Kasatkina, who advanced when Jil Teichmann retired due to a left thigh injury with Kasatkina ahead 6-4, 3-2.
Tsitsipas kept his cool while nearly the entire crowd of 10,500 fans supported Sinner, the Italian who is ranked 13th and considered a future Grand Slam contender.
But the 20-year-old Sinner dropped to 0-12 in his career against opponents ranked in the top five.
Sinner was treated by a physical trainer after twisting his left hip during the final point of the first set.
His body is still developing physically.
“That’s where the gap is,” Sinner said. “In terms of tennis, I’m there. Physically, I need to improve.”
Djokovic shows what’s been missing in Italian Open win originally appeared on NBCSports.com
Four-star DL/TE Jaxon Howard names Miami football finalist with June 24 visit
Four-star 2023 defensive lineman and tight end Jaxon Howard has named the Miami football program as one of four finalists with LSU, Michigan and Minnesota. The Minneapolis Robbinsdale Cooper prospect tweeted his finalists on Monday afternoon with his visits that will include Coral Gables from June 24 through 26.
Minnesota is the favorite to sign Howard with a 21.6 percent chance to 18.6 for Miami according to On3 Sports. LSU is at seven percent with Michigan less than a one percent chance. Wisconsin which is not a finalist is listed ahead of LSU. Notre Dame and Oklahoma who are also not finalists are tied with the Tigers.
Howard previously took an unofficial visit to Miami in January. Miami also hosted Howard during their spring game in April. Howard reportedly additionally attended LSU and Minnesota’s spring games last month and is expected to commit in July. Howard is the son of former Stanford star Willie Howard.
As expected, defensive line coach Joe Salave’a and tight ends coach Stephen Field are leading the recruitment for Howard. Howard seems more likely to play DL in college than TE. At 6’4, 245 pounds, Allen Trieu of 247 Sports said of Howard “more of a rarer specimen on defense…he can be a combo inside-outside player on the defensive line.”
The past 3 years I have been blessed to be offered by over 60 amazing colleges. I built genuine relationships with so many coaches & value all the time they have spent with me. After 41 Unofficial Visits & much Prayer I have Narrowed my Top 4 and will take my Officials pic.twitter.com/3QXdA9Fbx1
— Jaxon Howard (@11JaxonHoward) May 16, 2022
The Miami football program has five commits for 2023 with only three-star linebacker Bobby Washington on defense. Mario Cristobal has made the DL a priority in just over five months since being hired. Miami has added eight DL in the Class of 2022 and through the transfer portal since Cristobal was hired in December.
The addition of Howard to 2022 signees Nyjalik Kelly and Cyrus Moss would provide Miami with a bright future at edge rusher. Cristobal and Salave’a coached Kayvon Thibodeau at Oregon who was the fifth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. Howard is the 87th ranked player in the Class of 2023.
Is Elieser Hernandez not good enough for the Miami Marlins rotation?
Elieser Hernandez seems to be an unpopular member of the Miami marlins rotation, with many calling for his replacement. We even suggested it ourselves. Should Elieser really be pushed out of the rotation though? Is there potential? Let’s find out…
Elieser Hernandez is somehow still in the Miami Marlins rotation.
Elieser Hernandez has so far started 7 games and pitched 33.2 innings. He has a 6.15 ERA/6.52 FIP. He has 8.02 K/9 and 3.21 BB/9. Yeah this isn’t good to say the least. The bright sides are his 4.46 xERA and 4.96 xFIP. Well bright as in better than his ERA and FIP.
He doesn’t have a track record of better results either. Elieser’s best ERA has been 3.16 in 2020 and his best ever FIP has been his 3.89 that same season. Unfortunately both came in a very short sample of 25.2 innings. These are promising results, but the short sample size is a major red flag.
Is there promise when looking at his Minor League statistics? Let’s take a look… he did well in AAA in in 2018, starting 9 games and delivering 48 innings of 1.12 ERA ball. He also had 12.9 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9. Those are impressive numbers, but so far they haven’t translated to the Majors.
What about Elieser Hernandez’s fastball velocity? He sits at 91.3 MPH. That’s not very promising either. Unfortunately the more I look at his stats, the more I feel that he just needs to be replaced at this point. I just don’t see a reason for giving him more starts.
Max Meyer? Edward Cabrera? Why not just give one of them a chance already? Find out what we really have with them? I think that at this point Elieser Hernandez is best as a swingman type, filling in when there’s an injury. I just don’t see much point in continuing to give him starts and there’s just no obvious upside to keep hoping for.
Miami Marlins career retrospective: A.J. Burnett
Do you remember A.J. Burnett? I recently wrote a career retrospective on his more famous Miami Marlins (then Florida Marlins teammate). Burnett was once a highly touted prospect who was supposed to be an ace of the future. He was officially a part of the 2002 World Series winning team, though he didn’t actually pitch during the playoffs. Let’s take a look at his Miami Marlins career.
A.J. Burnett was drafted in the eighth round of the 1995 draft by the New York Mets. On February 6, 1998 he was traded to the Miami Marlins in the Al Leiter trade along with Minor League OF Rob Stratton and Minor League LHP Jesus Sanchez (yes he has the same name as our current CF). The Fish traded Leiter and Minor League 2B Ralph Milliard in the trade. If you’re interested to know who won that trade using Wins Above Replacement, the Miami Marlins ended up with 12.5 WAR and the New York Mets with 28.1 WAR, so the New York Mets won by 15.6 WAR.
A.J. Burnett rose up the prospect rankings and finally got the call in 1999. He started 7 games and pitched for 41.1 innings, delivering a 3.48 ERA/4.30 FIP. The following season he received 13 starts and delivered 82.2 innings of 4.79 ERA/4.68 FIP ball. In 2001 he started 27 games and delivered 173.1 innings of 4.05 ERA/4.63 FIP. At this point he appeared as perhaps best a mid-rotation arm , however he was going to improve.
In 2002, A.J. Burnett broke out with a 3.30 ERA/3.19 FIP in 31 games (29 starts) and 204.1 innings pitched. Unfortunately the newly crowned ace then got injured and only started in 4 games in 2003, with a 4.70 ERA/4.94 FIP. Coming off a World Championship the previous season, the Miami Marlins welcomed Burnett back in 2004 for 20 games (19 starts) and 120 innings of 3.68 ERA/3.19 FIP ball. Burnett was back as an ace, but needed to work his way back to a full workload.
2005 turned out to be the final season for A.J. Burnett in a Miami Marlins uniform, as he left after the season as a free agent. In that season, Burnett capped off his tenure with The Fish with a 3.44 ERA/3.11 FIP in 32 games and 209 innings pitched. It was a great platform season and led to him leaving for Toronto. A.J. Burnett had a couple very good seasons for The Fish, but he was never an integral part of a pennant or a World Series winning team and didn’t provide longevity, thus not having a memorable career in the end unfortunately.
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