Novak Djokovic ... greatest athlete in the world


Novak Djokovic ... greatest athlete in the world

From Comcast SportsNetPARIS (AP) -- What a horrific dilemma this could be. The men's 100 meter sprint final and men's tennis final fall on the same day, Aug. 5, at the London Olympics. If forced, which of those would you choose to miss: Usain Bolt possibly becoming the first man since Carl Lewis to win the 100 dash at consecutive games or Novak Djokovic perhaps putting a golden sheen on what promises to be another astounding year? Until Sunday, Bolt would have been a comfortable winner. But now? Impossible choice. And what a memorable day it could prove to be for those with time to rush from one event to the other or to tune into both. Like Bolt, Djokovic is becoming one of those special athletes who transcends the confines of their sport, a figure whose achievements on the field of play teach us not only new things about sporting endeavor but also about the bottomless well of human possibility. Bolt's 100, 200 and relay golds at the 2008 Beijing Games made the Jamaican more than just an Olympic champion sprinter but one of the greatest sportsmen of all time because he redefined our understanding of how fast humans can run. Likewise, in outlasting Rafael Nadal for 5 hours and 53 minutes in the longest ever Grand Slam final, Djokovic played far more than a mere tennis match to win the Australian Open. He tested our definition of human endurance. How, just how, did he find those last drops of energy to first reel in and then finish off the Spaniard who, with a 4-2 lead in the fifth set, looked as though he might wriggle free? It was the incredible will Djokovic demonstrated that made this feat immortal. Like Muhammad Ali flooring George Foreman with a left, then a right in the eighth round of the Rumble in the Jungle or Lance Armstrong picking himself up from a crash at the 2003 Tour de France and powering up a climb with cold-eyed fury on his broken bike, this was epic because it was as much about heart as it was about physical ability. "You're going through so much suffering, your toes are bleeding," Djokovic said. "Everything is just outrageous, you know, but you're still enjoying that pain." At the end, he ripped open his shirt with a primal scream. It wouldn't have been that much of a shock if Djokovic had also ripped open his hairy chest to show us just how fiercely his ticker beats. What a terrifying sight for Andy Murray and Roger Federer. Is Djokovic the most impressive athlete in activity? Certainly, he is part of the debate that that question provokes. We would have to forgive Djokovic if he started to wear his underpants outside of his trousers. The hypochondriac Djokovic who in years past looked unlikely to ever match Nadal's physicality, the joker Djokovic who seemed unlikely to equal Federer's cool professionalism, has been body-snatched and replaced by Superman on a gluten-free diet. Murray, the world No. 4, came away from his five-set, 4 hour and 50-minute Australian semifinal loss to Djokovic feeling that he is edging closer to the No. 1. Maybe. But two days later, on Sunday, Djokovic and Nadal then shifted the benchmark yet further forward. The ferocity of their contest made the idea that Murray could beat first one of them and then the other in a Grand Slam semifinal and final look fanciful again. Same goes for Federer, the No. 3. As long as Nadal and Djokovic are fit, it's only going to get ever harder for the 30-year-old Swiss to get his hands on a 17th Grand Slam title by toppling those men five and six years his junior. From Nadal, Sunday's final offered some evidence that the No. 2 no longer looks in trepidation across the net at Djokovic and that the deep hurt done to his confidence by losing six finals to the Serb last year may not be permanent. In becoming the first man to lose three consecutive Grand Slam finals, all to Djokovic, at least Nadal this time pushed his nemesis to five sets. But as positive as Nadal sounded about this defeat -- "I always said is good suffer, enjoy -- enjoy suffering, no?" -- will the scabs on his psyche simply flake right off the next time they meet? One hopes not. Because, like the very best Hollywood blockbusters, this epic cried out for a sequel and left us hungry for more. Some, including 7-time major winner Mats Wilander, are already talking up the possibility of a calendar Grand Slam for Djokovic this year. That is premature, but won't be if Djokovic wins the French Open -- the only major he let slip away in 2011 -- this June. After that, Wimbledon's Center Court will be calling, with the men's final on July 8 and the Olympic final a month later. Just imagine if those produce a Djokovic-Nadal double-bill. If that happens, then the Aug. 5 dilemma won't seem so quite knotty anymore. Anyone want tickets for Bolt?

Very bad 49ers stay tumbling in truly lost 2016 season

Very bad 49ers stay tumbling in truly lost 2016 season

You can almost hear the sound whistling between the 49ers’ teeth at this point, beneath the droned platitudes and vague responses to what is a fully lost season:

“Look, what do you want from us? This is who we are.”

You can almost hear it, that is. They wouldn’t dare express such rampant defeatism – I mean, if they didn’t after Sunday’s 34-17 muzzling at the hands, arms, torsos and feet of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s unlikely you would hear it at any point.

But they must surely know by now that this is a season already in the rear-view mirror. There are no secret plans, or stashed players, or untried ideas left to unearth, sign or try. The coming bye week will not clear their heads and give them new inspiration, save that of having a week off from the steady beatings. They are 1-6 on merit, and proved it again yesterday before another dispirited two-thirds-of-a-sellout crowd which is coming to realize that their hope is a mile wide and an inch deep.

[MAIOCCO: Kelly: No changes to 49ers defensive staff after loss]

Sunday, for example, Colin Kaepernick was their best running back, Shaun Draughn was their best receiver, the downed kickoff was their best special teams play, and their best strategic decision – well, they lost the coin flip so they didn’t even get a chance to defer the opening kickoff.

And their defense? It only allowed whatever Tampa Bay wanted, and only on demand. Jacquizz Rodgers became the sixth running back to gain 100 yards against them (and the first to do it in one half), which is noteworthy only because they allowed five all last year in a bad season, and nine in the four seasons before that, four of those by Marshawn Lynch.

And quarterback Jameis Winston threw the ball to wide-open receivers and into coverage with the same sense of well-placed bravado. Though his numbers didn’t exactly aurora the borealis (21-of-30, 269, 3/1, 117.2), he never emitted a sense that he couldn’t do whatever he wanted – save get the officials to give him a better spot when he snapped and cost his team a potential touchdown with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for headless-chickening.

In other words, this was not materially different than the Buffalo game, or the Seattle game, or the Carolina game. The only game that has been different is the opener against Los Angeles, when everything worked and made sense and life was happy and Jed York hummed “I Am 16 Going On 17” all through the suite all night long.

That game was 50,000 years ago. These are who the 49ers are now, and who they are going to be for awhile to come.

They speak of consistency, and yet they are the very model of it – leading the league in punts, and ranking second in three-and-outs, 27th in first downs and 31st in plays per drive. They don’t stay on the field, in other words, and when on defense, they allow 118 more yards per game than their offense gets them.

And they swear with unanimity that they are together as a team, and work hard each week to achieve the acme of their talents and learning. So this, if that is so, must be at or near the top of their game – which, as head coach for now and the future Chip Kelly (stop thinking this is just a coaching problem, please) put it, “We’re not doing what it takes to be successful right now.”

That was in response to a question about whether the 49ers were going backwards. He ducked the issue by saying, “I don’t think forwards or backwards,” which is probably a lie, but we can help anyway.

They have gone dramatically backwards since Game 1, and essentially stagnated since Game 2. It’s how they have gotten to where they are right now, and how they have become who they are right now.

It may be that stranger things have happened in the NFL than a team starting 1-6 and rallying to win eight, nine or 10 in a row, but on this team, based all the available evidence, this team won’t be that strange. They have revealed themselves for what they actually are, which is not good enough to change what they actually are.

And if that is too tough a sentence for you to swallow, well, go out and write some of your own. You can tell any tale you want, but this is the tale of the 2016 San Francisco 49ers, a team awash in unpleasant self-realization and the knowledge that there is nothing to be done but to go out each week and do it again.

Except next week, of course. Bye may be a favorite, but Bye must be played, just like all the others.

Notes: 'Carr to Crabtree was special' in Raiders win

Notes: 'Carr to Crabtree was special' in Raiders win

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree was a non-factor in last week’s loss to Kansas City, an aberration of the highest order this season.

It proved to be just a one-game lull.

Crabtree was an offensive catalyst yet again Sunday in a 33-16 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He had eight receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown, including a long bomb that changed the game.

Quarterback Derek Carr went big on 3rd-and-5 late in the second quarter, sending a perfectly-arched ball down the right sideline that Crabtree caught over his shoulder at full gallop for a 56-yard gain that set up the Raiders’ second touchdown in five minutes.

Crabtree got it, again on third down, using a quick slant just beyond the goal line.

He refused to speak with the media again, but those around him were again wowed by his impact on the game, especially when Jaguars corner shadowed and largely shut Amari Cooper down.

“Michael Crabtree made some incredible plays today for us,” Del Rio said. “…Throughout the game he came up big for us and I thought he play really, really well for us. Obviously our quarterback is a good player. He did a good job for us hooking up with different receivers, but today Carr to Crabtree was special.”

King shows speed: Raiders punter Marquette King doesn’t have to run much. Players at his position usually don’t, except as a last resort when chasing a return.

King ran forward this time, prompted by a uncharacteristically poor Jon Condo snap. He didn’t have room to punt so he took off running, converting a 4th-and-24 with a 27-yard run down the sideline. It was a move that showed great athleticism, one he

“I just picked the ball up and started running,” King said. “After I passed the orange sticks, I got a little light-headed and realized ‘I’m really running the ball right now.’ It’s been since high school that I ran from the punting formation. I came in as a wide receiver for Fort Valley State and was really good at punting so they stuck with me.”

King ran out without getting hit – a plus in the coaches minds – and extended a drive that ended with a game-icing touchdown from Latavius Murray.

Too many field goals: Sebastian Janikowski had four field goals on Sunday night, which isn’t always a positive sign for the Raiders offense. They let too many touchdown-scoring chances escape, which bothered offensive players despite the fact they scored 33 points.

“When we’re in the red zone, we want points,” Murray said. “That’s most important, but we need touchdowns over field goals. We have a lot of work to do and we’ll keep striving to get seven points over three.”

Winning turnover battle: The Raiders forced three turnovers against Jacksonville and didn’t give up any.

David Amerson had an interception. So did Reggie Nelson. Andre Holmes recovered a punt muffed by Rashad Greene. That’s a recipe for success, something that’s become common for this Raiders team.

They’ve forced three turnovers without coughing it up three times this season. They’ve ended up with a plus turnover ratio six times in seven games.

Notes: Raiders LB Bruce Irvin recorded his fourth forced fumble of the season against Jacksonville, which are the most by a Raiders since Nick Roach equaled that total in 2013. …DE Khalil Mack had his second sack in as many games, and now leads the team with three. … Nelson nabbed his second interception this year and has 32 since 2007, a total that leads all active safeties. …RB Latavius Murray has five touchdowns in seven games, the highest total in that span since 2005. … The Raiders are 4-0 on the road, a mark that hasn’t been matched since 2000.