All Ball Sports: Father Time calls Federer, PD calls Trevor, UCLA calls Hurd    

Mira Costa’s Thather Hurd’s transition this year from catcher to pitcher led to a scholarship from UCLA. Photo by Ray Vidal

by Paul Teetor

The shocking news spread among Beach City tennis fans like a Malibu brush fire: Roger got bageled.

There was no need for a last name. Among tennis fans, there’s only one Roger: Roger Federer.

A bagel is the worst meal a tennis player can have. It’s tennis slang for when one player beats another 6-0 in a set. You don’t say you beat your opponent. You say you bageled him or her.

The details were even more shocking: Roger got bageled at Wimbledon by some anonymous player who had never won a major tournament – much less won Wimbledon.

When members of the Beach City tennis community gather next week at Live Oak Park to play in the Manhattan Beach Open, the hot topic is sure to be the burning question in the larger tennis world: is it finally time for the greatest of all time to retire while he still has a legitimate claim to the title of G.O.A.T.?

After all, Novak Djokovic won Wimbledon Sunday morning to give him 20 Grand Slam titles, the same number as Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Up until now, Federer has been hailed as the greatest of all time by most tennis pundits, in part because his game is so classically beautiful – laser-guided serve, flowing one-handed backhand, exquisite volleys, balletic movement – and because he is far and away the most universally popular player in tennis history.

But the odds are that the Joker will soon surpass him in Grand Slam titles, perhaps as soon as the U.S. Open, which starts in late August. He won the first three Slams this year – The Australian Open in January, the French Open in May and Wimbledon in July. Now he is on track to accomplish a feat that no male player has done in 52 years – winning all four Slams in the same calendar year  – since the great Rod Laver did it in 1969. On the female side, the great Steffi Graf accomplished it in 1988.            

Federer was beaten in the Wimbledon quarter finals this week. For anyone not named Nadal or Djokovic, reaching the quarterfinals – which makes you one of the final eight players out of a starting field of 132 – is a respectable finish in the world’s most prestigious tournament.

But For Federer, who will turn 40 on August 8, it’s yet another radio-clear signal that his time at the top of the tennis heap is coming to its inevitable end.

Yes, sadly, Roger is human. Just like Michael Jordan was human and Lebron James is slowly proving to be human. Their talent level, their bodies and levels of fitness are extraordinary and their skills mind-boggling. But they are not immortal, and they are not invincible, and they are not unbeatable.

Only Father Time is undefeated, and Roger needs to remember that terrible truth so he doesn’t tarnish his legacy chasing another last taste of the glory that defined his career from 2002-2017.

There is nothing more dispiriting to sports fans than seeing an all-time great lingering past his sell-by date, lowering his level of play to that of the journeyman players he used to routinely defeat, and embarrassing himself in the process. Think of Jordan with the Washington Wizards when he came out of retirement for the second time or Joe Namath with the LA Rams or Willie Mays with the Mets or the Lakers’ own Shaquille O’Neal with, of all teams, the hated Boston Celtics. All of them stayed at the party too long, were cast aside by the teams their identities were intertwined with and became like the great Babe Ruth when he was with the Boston Braves at the very end of his career: a novelty, a freak show, a way to help a struggling team sell tickets rather than help a struggling team win games.

But it’s especially ugly for tennis players, because there are no teammates out there with them to hide the truth: they don’t have the goods anymore.                       

It wasn’t so much that Roger lost in the Wimbledon quarters. It’s who he lost to – someone named Hubert Hurkacz  – and how he lost. The 24-year-old Hurkacz destroyed Roger 6-3, 7-6, 6-0.

It’s that last set score that has set off the raging debate about Roger’s future: should he stay or should he go?

Making the debate even more intense: A day later the guy that bageled Roger got bageled himself by Matteo Berrettini in their semifinal match. And then Berritini was swept aside by Djokovic in the Final.

In other words, based on the Wimbledon results it is pretty clear Roger will never win another Grand Slam. The competition is just too tough when you consider that out of the 132 players that start the tournament, only one can emerge as the winner.

Federer did get a standing ovation when he came out to serve trailing 0-5 near the end of the match, but it felt more like a “Thanks for the Memories” kind of ovation, or a “Please win one game and avoid the bagel” kind of ovation than a “Let’s go Roger, you can beat this guy” kind of ovation.

Afterwards Federer, always classy and candid with the press, seemed to acknowledge the implications of the loss and its significance in his career.

Asked if this might have been his last Wimbledon appearance, he answered: “I don’t know…I really don’t know. I’ve got to regroup.”

Left unsaid was that he had in fact just regrouped. He missed most of the pandemic year to get two knee surgeries that were supposed to revitalize his body and his game. It seemed to be working at the French Open, where he won his first three matches. Then he abruptly announced he was withdrawing from that event so he could prepare for Wimbledon, where the grass courts are considered his best surface, the one his game is best suited for. Second best are the hard courts at the U.S. Open, where his great serve and his ability to float around the court like a monarch butterfly and hit volleys like a knife going through butter all combine to give him an edge over most other players not named Nadal or Djokovic.

So the growing feeling in the tennis world is that Roger will play the U. S. Open next month, see how far he can go one last time, and then announce his retirement to spend more time with his wife Mirka and their four kids – one set of twin girls and one set of twin boys. Like everything else he does, Roger is a champ in the reproduction department too.

But he certainly wasn’t ready to announce anything like a retirement after his ugly bagel loss.

Asked if retirement is an immediate possibility, he replied: “No, I hope not…The goal is to play, of course.”

But those who are hoping for a late-career resurgence need to face the facts: Roger has already had his late-career resurgence. After he went four years with only a single Grand Slam win from 2013-2017, a consensus grew that his time of greatness was over. Rafa, the Joker and Andy Murray had all surpassed him. He was fourth or at best third on the totem pole.

Then in 2017 he shocked everyone by winning the Australian Open and his eighth Wimbledon, thereby regaining the top ranking in the world.

Can he do it yet again at the advanced tennis age of 40?

For the sake of Roger, his legacy, his place in tennis history, and his fans, All Ball hopes he doesn’t try. 

It’s always best to leave them marveling at your all-time greatness than shaking their heads at your stubbornness. Roger’s stubbornness has always been one of his great competitive strengths.

Now it could prove to be his greatest weakness.

 

Bye bye Trevor

Last week was a bad week for Dodgers’ high-priced pitcher Trevor Bauer. For the down-and-dirty details of just how bad it was, check out last week’s All Ball column titled Dodger Dog.

This week it got worse.

This week the accused domestic sex assaulter got his bobblehead night canceled by the Dodgers. That was a blow to his pride. Even worse, they stopped selling his merchandise. That was a blow to his wallet.

Oh, and the players union agreed to allow Major League Baseball to extend his one-week suspension – with pay – for another week to give the Dodgers, MLB and the Pasadena Police Department more time to complete their investigations into the sexual assault allegations leveled by a still un-named San Diego woman in her petition for a restraining order, which has since been granted.

The loss of his bobblehead night was bad enough. But a review of the way Major League Baseball handled similar cases of domestic assault in the past revealed a little known, inconvenient fact: there does not have to be criminal charges filed against a player before he can be suspended for a year or more. If Commissioner Rob Manfred determines that a player like Bauer has violated MLB’s protocols against domestic violence, he can discipline the player on his own authority following an internal investigation. 

Bye-bye Trevor.

 

Good news for USC fans, better news for UCLA fans

The UCLA boys basketball team was the feel-good story of the college winter and spring seasons. After being forced to beat Michigan State in a play-in game just to gain entry in the 64-team NCAA Tournament, they made it all the way to the semi-finals and were poised to beat top-seeded Gonzaga when a half-court miracle shot prevented the Bruins from going to the Finals.

That out-of-nowhere charge to the Final Four was led by sophomore shooting guard Johnny Juzang, sophomore small forward Jaime Jaquez and junior power forward Cody Riley. When their miracle season finally ended one game short of the championship game, Jaquez quickly announced he was coming back for the 2021-22 season. But Juzang announced he was going to test the waters for the NBA draft while retaining the right to withdraw his name by the deadline this week.  Riley quickly announced he would do the same.

Juzang attended all the workouts and camps that top prospects use to display their talents and their readiness to turn pro for NBA scouts and coaches. And his name quickly started showing up in the mock drafts that reflect how prospects rank in terms of their draftability. With 30 teams in the NBA and the draft limited to two rounds, any underclassman who doesn’t appear in any mock drafts is wise to withdraw, return to school, and continue to develop their skills, their game and their bodies to do battle in the dog-eat-dog world of pro hoops.

For Riley, an undersized post player at 6-foot-7 without the reliable jump shot needed to make him a legit prospect for the modern NBA game, it was an easy decision to come back to school after he didn get listed on a single mock draft.

For Juzang it was a lot harder decision. Some mock drafts had him listed as high as number 45 out of 60 players. But of course there is a crucial difference between those drafted in the first round and those drafted in the second round: guaranteed money.

First round draftees get a guaranteed multiple year contract with a set amount of money that has been negotiated by the players union for that spot, with the highest amount going to the first player drafted overall and the least going to the 30th player drafted.

But for second round draftees there is no guaranteed money. All you’re guaranteed is an invitation to the team’s training camp. After that, it’s a make-good deal. Stats show that less than half of second-round draftees make an NBA team on their first try. The rest are cut and forced to play in Europe or the G-League to try and claw their way back to the NBA.

UCLA pitches MCHS’s Hurd

There was other good news this week for Beach City Bruins fans and alumni. The Mira Costa to UCLA pipeline is up and running again. The Mustangs star pitcher Thatcher Hurd announced this week that he has accepted a scholarship to UCLA. The 6-foot-4, 210 pound hard-throwing right-hander is a phenomenal story: before this year, he was primarily a catcher. But his arm was so impressive that he decided to give pitching a chance for his senior season, and he was so good that the Bruins offered him a scholarship. 

At UCLA he will join former Mustang stars Kyle and Jared Karros, both sons of former Dodgers great Eric Karros.

There was good news for USC fans and alumni as well. Just not as much.

Their star basketball player, freshman center Evan Mobley, made it clear from the start of the year he was a one-and-done player. And he backed it up by sweeping the PAC 12 postseason awards: player of the year, freshman of the year and defensive player of the year,

Most mock drafts concur with his self-assessment, and he is listed anywhere from the top pick overall to the third pick, in the mix with Cade Cunningham of Oklahoma State and UCLA heart-breaker Jalen Suggs of Gonzaga, the guy who hit that 40-foot winning shot in the NCAA semifinals.

But Mobley’s big brother, sophomore power forward Isaiah Mobley, announced this week he is coming back for next season. While he was just another guy in his first two years playing at the Galen Center, he broke out during the Trojans’ NCAA tournament run to the final eight this spring. Indeed, he was so good as a rebounder and three-point shooter that it wasn’t shocking when he announced that he was going to enter his name in the draft pool with the option to withdraw by this week’s deadline.

Like Riley, he too was not listed on any mock drafts and thus made a wise decision to come back and hone his game. As of right now, he projects as the Trojans’ best player next season – just like his little brother was last season.

Contact: teetor.paul@gmail.com. Follow: @paulteetor. ER                

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Written by: Paul Teetor

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