Novak Djokovic loses for the first time in 2012

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Novak Djokovic loses for the first time in 2012

From Comcast SportsNet
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Top-ranked Novak Djokovic lost for the first time this season, beaten by Andy Murray 6-2, 7-5 Friday in the semifinals of the Dubai Championships. Djokovic had been on a 10-match winning streak that included the Australian Open title. In the final, Murray will play Roger Federer, who edged Juan Martin del Potro 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6). Del Potro lost four set points in the second-set tiebreaker at 6-2, with Federer winning the last six points. Federer will be going for his fifth Dubai title, but his first in five years. This was a big boost for Murray, who lost to Djokovic in five sets in the Australian Open semifinals. "Hopefully, that will set me up well for the year," Murray said. "Confidence in tennis and almost any individual sport is so important." Murray had lost seven of the last 11 matches against Djokovic, who was bidding for a fourth straight Dubai title. But the Scotsman made it look easy at the Aviation Club. "I was fighting for it, but, you know, Andy played a great match," Djokovic said. "He was the better player today. He was serving really well." Murray broke to go up 4-2 in the first set and saved two break points to make it 5-2. He used a stellar serve, winning 94 percent of his first service points in the first set and 85 percent overall. "The first set I served very well and was aggressive when I had my chances," Murray said. "In the second set, he started going for more and making mistakes because it's tough to always grind out matches." Murray had a 3-0 advantage in the second set and led 5-3 while serving for the match. But Djokovic broke Murray for the first time and tied it at 5-all. Murray won the final two games, breaking Djokovic to win the match when the Serb sent a forehand long. Murray felt his nearly five-hour loss to Djokovic in Australia paid dividends Friday, especially in the second set. "The thing you learn after a match like that is how much you need to sort of suffer on the court to win matches like that, and also how important it is," he said. Djokovic lauded Murray's aggressive play. "I made a lot of unforced errors when it was important," he said. "But, look, this is sport. It's normal that in some matches you can't pull out your best when you need to." Djokovic denied that his four weeks off since the Australian Open -- when he collected several awards and skied with friends -- influenced the outcome of the match. Still, he appeared rusty early in the tournament, struggling to beat 72nd-ranked Cedrik-Marcel Stebe and 74th-ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky. "I thought I've been doing well since Wimbledon last year," he said. "You know, I've been having a lot off-court activities since I became No. 1, but I have a team of people that controls it well. "Obviously there is a lot of temptations and a lot of things that you can enjoy. But it's normal. You can't on one hand just be 100 percent of your life in the tennis. You are young. You have to enjoy life." Federer, who came into the match with a 9-2 record against del Potro including win in this year's Rotterdam finals, struggled early on. Both players held serve in the first set and the third-ranked Swiss squandered three set points in the tiebreaker before converting the fourth with a forehand down the line. The second set was just as tight, with del Potro winning points off his big serve and Federer dominating at the net. It went to a second tiebreaker, this time with del Potro going up 5-0 and 6-2. But Federer ran off four points to tie it and won when del Potro's backhand went long. "It was a good comeback, especially on a quick court," Federer said. "I didn't believe I was going to come back, but at least sort of make him a bit nervous. Next thing I know, I had a great point at 6-all and I was able to come through. So it was a great match for me." Federer enters the final with a 6-8 record against Murray. He hasn't played him since a victory at the ATP World finals in 2010. "I just think Andy is an amazing player, and so far he's proved that this year. He's in the finals now with a great win against Novak," he said. "I expect a really difficult match in the finals." In the doubles semifinals, Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski of Poland beat Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram of Israel 6-4, 3-6, 1-0. Erlich-Ram were hoping to become the first Israelis to reach a Dubai Championships final.

Patriots first pick understands social-media landminds

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Patriots first pick understands social-media landminds

Watching Robert Kraft refer to Cyrus Jones by Jones’ twitter handle “Clamp Clampington” was the perfect confluence of amusing, surreal and awkward.

Like when my father used to complain about the kids “making donuts” in the intersection outside our house in the middle of the night, or anybody over 30 combining the words “epic” and “legit,” it just hits the ear wrong.

Social media has bridged the communication gap between the generations. Or at least made “old” people privy to conversations that -- throughout the course of recorded history -- kids haven’t wanted them nosing into.

This newfound access doesn’t allow us to merely appropriate and make others cringe. It also allows people -- in the context of professional sports -- to consume, judge, interact and drop consequences on athletes because of their social media persona.

Employers, fans, owners and media members now have unprecedented access to players’ personal lives. And the player who forgets that, or decides he doesn’t care and marches on without asking “How will this reflect on me?” is courting disaster. Or at least a level of irritation.

No player drafted in 2016 will ever forget the impact social media can have on a career. Even though Laremy Tunsil didn’t tweet out a video of himself smoking a bong while wearing a gas mask in front of a Confederate flag (social media hat trick), he paid the price. His draft drop cost him millions because, even though he didn’t actually tweet it, the video called into question Tunsil’s decision-making, off-field habits and the circle of people around him. That’s a lot of judging off of one tweet, but that’s what the deal is.

I asked Mr. Clampington – whose twitter feed shows he’s a Sagittarius who’ll go back at people who offer critiques – what his philosophy will be now that he’s in the NFL.

“Social media is one of those things where you gotta control and discipline yourself to not pay too much attention to it,” said Jones, the Patriots second-round pick on Friday. “As you get older, people tend to stray away from social media and I’m already starting to. At least trying to. And being more aware of what I put out there and knowing that I can’t respond to everything somebody says. That’s definitely something that myself and fellow rookies have to understand . . . We’re not just representing ourselves but our families and this organization. “

Jones -- based on the 10 minutes we spoke to him and the conference call from last Friday -- seems sharp enough to know where he ought not tread. In case he doesn’t, he and the rest of the rookies will get an indoctrination.

Time for a tough transition

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Time for a tough transition

This is the fifth and final installment of a five-part series about the breakdowns that doomed the team this season, and what must change for the Black and Gold to once again get moving in the right direction. 

Casual Bruins fans probably thought they were getting a Shawn Thornton-type player when Boston traded a third-round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for Zac Rinaldo last summer.

Instead it was a deal that was a win in the ledger of Flyers GM Ron Hextall from the very second it was approved by the NHL’s central registry. Hardcore hockey fans knew the Bruins-Rinaldo marriage had little chance of ever working out.

Rinaldo is a physical player who likes to wildly throw the body around. He has above-average skating ability and is fearless, as evidenced by the much bigger, stronger players he tangles with on a regular basis. But there's no comparison between a cheap-shot artist like Rinaldo and a genuine enforcer like Thornton, who struck a tone of intimidation with opponents whenever he was in the Bruins lineup. Thornton gave the B's an air of toughness and courage, and was one of the unquestioned leaders in the dressing room, able to command both respect and accountability.

Thornton's final year in Boston wasn’t without its challenges, given the lengthy suspension he received for knocking out Brooks Orpik at center ice and the needless water-bottle-spraying incident with P.K. Subban in that season's playoffs. But one thing is certain: Thornton would never have watched Adam McQuaid get train-wrecked from behind on a dirty hit by Washington’s Zach Sill, and then simply skate to the bench. That, however, was the reaction of Rinaldo when Sill hit McQuaid this season.

Rinaldo explained his non-actions by saying he was tired at the end of his shift and wary of getting in trouble with the league. He left it to Patrice Bergeron to grab hold of Sill, even though that sort of retaliation is exactly what the Bruins were expecting from Rinaldo when they brought him to Boston in the first place.

It was similar to the hesitation 6-foot-6 Jimmy Hayes showed at times as the opposition pushed around his linemates, or took runs at other Bruins players while he was on the ice. Hopefully Hayes learned that he needs to knock that indecision out of his game if he’s going to be effective here.

But it all speaks to a bigger issue: The change in the makeup of the Bruins, and the need to get back to a tougher, more intimidating style of play.

During their seven-year playoff run, the Bruins earned a reputation as one of the hardest teams to play against in the NHL. Players like Thornton, McQuaid, Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara, Nathan Horton, Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk had size and strength, and were hard-hitting and tough when it was called for.

Very few teams messed with the Bruins. If they did, there was a good chance it would explode into a back-alley brawl . . . like the night when virtually all the Bruins went to war with Sean Avery, Steve Ott and the rest of the Dallas Stars:

It didn’t matter how those teammates felt about each other off the ice. It was no secret that Ference and Mark Recchi had their differences early in their time in Boston, stemming from things that were happening within the NHLPA. But that didn’t stop Ference from jumping to Recchi’s defense when he got smashed in the open ice by David Backes:

That should be the standard for any Bruins team when opponents start to take cheap shots, simply because it makes the B's much more difficult to handle. There were too many nights last season when the Bruins simply didn’t want to battle out on the ice. Not coincidentally, there were also too many nights when they buckled under the bright spotlights of big games.

"We’ve shown some positive stretches and things that we’ve done well . . . " said Chara. "But when times were [there] to fold up or respond, we always kind of find ourselves taking steps backwards. That was one of the things that was disappointing, and frustrating."

Those things might happen a little less if they returned to the previous standard of intensity, engagement and urgency.

That might be easier said than done, but it all starts with the players the Bruins are bringing into the fold.

Matt Beleskey is a prime example of a callback to those previous B’s teams: The kind of hard-hitting, high-energy gamer who would have fit in perfectly with the Stanley Cup-era squads. While the Bruins seemingly missed on Hayes and Rinaldo, they hit -- in the best way -- with the free-agent signing of the hard-nosed, no-nonsense Beleskey. He changed momentum in games with massive hits thrown on the ice, led the club in registered hits last season, and showed up in many of last season’s big-game disappointments when so many others did not.

The Bruins simply need more players like Beleskey, and who preferably can also play the game at a similarly high, or even higher, level. 

Torey Krug is often the smallest guy on the ice, but never stops fighting against XXL-sized opponents while refusing to give in on any level. He even dropped the gloves with the massive Chris Stewart, the very definition of courage (with perhaps a little insanity thrown in for good measure).

Noel Acciari is another young player who energized the fourth line toward the end of the regular season with his fearless style of play. He's unafraid to throw violent but clean hits against even the biggest of opponents while bringing energy and thump to the lineup. He didn’t quite get the hang of the offensive game at the NHL level during his brief audition, but the hope is that will change with a little more experience.

Players like Beleskey and Acciari speak to the Bruins’ acknowledgement that regaining their traditional identity is important, and it’s something they did intermittently last season.

“I still think we have room to improve in that area," said president Cam Neely. "I believe the group [last year] was a closer group; they enjoyed playing for each other and working hard for each other. I thought . . . aside from a couple stretches, we were a team that showed more passion probably than the year prior. But it’s still an area we need to improve upon.”

Most importantly for Neely, general manager Don Sweeney, coach Claude Julien and the Jacobs' ownership group is the need to understand how important their fan base feels about that style of play. The loyal Bruins followes can forgive quite a bit if they feel their team is hustling, working hard and fighting for each other at every turn.

That’s the bare minimum the Bruins should be striving for next season. A lot of good things could start happening if they get back to those basics. 

Cyrus Jones: I was scared of Tom Brady growing up as a Ravens fan

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Cyrus Jones: I was scared of Tom Brady growing up as a Ravens fan

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady has struck fear into the hearts of many a cornerback during his 15 years as a starter. Apparently that includes corners who haven't even entered the league yet. 

Cyrus Jones, a corner out of Alabama and New England's second-round pick in this year's draft, grew up in Baltimore as a staunch Ravens supporter. When his team squared off against the Patriots over the years, he said that Brady never allowed him to feel confident. 

"I grew up a Ravens fan so anytime we played the Patriots, I definitely was scared of Tom Brady," Jones said after being introduced to reporters by Patriots ownership. "But obviously, you know, he's one of the greatest quarterbacks to step foot into this league, and I'm just honored to be a part of his team.

"He's a winner, and everybody likes winning. I consider myself a winner so I'm looking forward to working with him and trying to get to another Super Bowl and winning."

Jones now joins a cornerback group that will compete against Brady regularly in practice that includes Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Justin Coleman, Darryl Roberts and EJ Biggers.