For the first time in the Open era, all four women’s singles semifinalists have reached this stage for the first time at a Grand Slam tournament.
PARIS — It was the first Grand Slam singles quarterfinal match for both Coco Gauff and Barbora Krejcikova and, frankly, you could tell.
There were tight groundstrokes into the net, errant service tosses and double faults, openings that remained closed and rapid reversals of fortune.
To summarize, there was tension in the sunlight as fans — remember those? — shouted “Allez Coco!” in the Philippe Chatrier Court from the top tier, finally open to spectators at this year’s French Open.
Gauff, the American 17-year-old, received the majority of the support, but she could not quite manage to give the Roland Garros crowd what it desired. After failing to convert five set points in the opening set, the 24th-seeded Gauff went on to lose to the unseeded Krejcikova, 7-6 (6), 6-3.
“I’m obviously disappointed that I wasn’t able to close out the first set,” Gauff said afterward, struggling to stay composed at a post-match news conference. “To be honest, it’s in the past. It already happened. After the match, Enzo, my hitting partner, told me this match will probably make me a champion in the future. I really do believe that.”
Enzo Wallart, a Frenchman, may turn out to be correct, but what is clear is that there will be a new French Open women’s singles champion this year. This has been perhaps the most surprising edition of the women’s tournament at Roland Garros, and the trend deepened as Maria Sakkari upset Iga Swiatek, the No. 8 seed and the defending champion, 6-4, 6-4 in Wednesday’s second quarterfinal.
Sakkari, a muscular 25-year-old Greek who is the highest seed remaining at No. 17, was already a threat to the best. She has beaten Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka on hardcourts in the last year. But Sakkari, who has won just one tour singles title, is making her first run past the round of 16 at a Grand Slam tournament and she did it by defeating both of last year’s French Open finalists, including the American Sofia Kenin in the fourth round.
“I have people around me telling me it was going to come,” she said. “I was impatient, telling them, ‘When?’ and ‘When?’ and ‘When?’”
Greece, no traditional tennis superpower, looks as solid as the Acropolis, as Sakkari’s friend and compatriot Stefanos Tsitsipas will play in the men’s semifinals. Sakkari joined him with a powerful performance against Swiatek, the 20-year-old from Poland who had not dropped a set at Roland Garros in singles since 2019.
Swiatek’s topsin-heavy forehand, the linchpin to her success on clay, was misfiring on Wednesday, but that was also because Sakkari was so quick to counter it.
“It surprised me that she played so much to my forehand, but I did some mistakes at the beginning,” Swiatek said. “And she just took the lesson from that.”
For the first time in the Open era, the final four women’s singles players at the French Open are all first-time Grand Slam semifinalists. It also happened at the 1978 Australian Open, which had a weak field and was won by Australian Chris O’Neil, ranked just 111.
On Thursday, Sakkari will face Krejcikova and the No. 31 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will play Tamara Zidansek, a 23-year-old ranked 85th on the tour.
Gauff, who was the last American left in singles, finished with 25 winners, 41 unforced errors and one mangled racket after destroying it in anger with three swift blows to the red clay after double-faulting to fall behind by 4-0 in the final set.
It was a confounding day for Gauff, who was brilliant at times, hitting backhand winners and turning defense into offense, but off target at others. After Krejcikova saved five set points, the last three with groundstroke winners, Gauff’s all-court game unraveled.
At one stage in the second set, she lost 15 straight points. Krejcikova, a French Open doubles champion in 2018, has begun to come into her own as a singles player and has a wide array of shots as well as baseline power when she summons it.
But Krejcikova, too, struggled with her nerves and her serve on Wednesday. She has been open this week about her efforts to manage the mental strain of going deep at a major tournament.
She said the pandemic had helped her put tennis in perspective in general: “I go and I play tennis and I lose, but there are actually people that are losing their lives.” But before her fourth-round match with Sloane Stephens, she said she locked herself in a room at Roland Garros, crying and afraid she would embarrass herself with a lopsided loss.
She said she and her psychologist had a long discussion. “She told me, ‘If you can overcome this, what you feel right now, it’s going to be a huge win, and it doesn’t matter if you’re going to win on the court or lose on the court, because it’s going to be a personal win.’”
It turned out to be a win-win as she played a brilliant match, expertly mixing her spins and tactics to defeat Stephens, just as Gauff played her best match of the tournament when she defeated the 25th-seeded Ons Jabeur in the fourth round without a double fault.
But Gauff double-faulted on the opening point of the match on Wednesday and finished with seven, often catching her service tosses. Despite falling behind 5-0 in the second set, she did not go through the motions. She kept fighting, holding serve and with the crowd behind her, saving three match points to break Krejcikova’s serve in the next game and then saving two more match points as she held serve to close to 5-3.
Krejcikova held firm in the next game and when Gauff missed her final forehand, she became the second unseeded player to reach this year’s French Open semifinals after Zidansek.
“This one will be on my mind for a couple days, for sure,” Gauff said. “I think just reflecting on it, you know, it’s over, so I’m not going to say, ‘Oh, if I did this, if I did that.’ I think in the moment I did what I thought was the best decision and I have to stick on that.”
Gauff will start preparing for Wimbledon, which begins on June 28. It is where she burst to prominence in 2019 at age 15 by defeating Venus Williams in her first Grand Slam singles match.
Her progress since then has been steady rather than meteoric. There will be more to learn from Wednesday’s setback. But this was a positive clay-court season and tournament for the engaging teenager. She reached the semifinals of the Italian Open in Rome and won the singles and doubles titles in Parma. She was seeded at a major tournament for the first time being and won four matches in Paris without dropping a set.
“Her time will come,” said Krejcikova, who, at 25, knows a thing or two about patience.
Mets Try to Improve Workplace Culture With New Guidelines
In a letter announcing the completion of an investigation and the departure of two longtime employees, Steven Cohen set goals for the team’s community and culture.
The Mets, who were rocked by a series of sexual harassment charges that resulted in the firings of two staff members this year, informed employees in a letter this week that the team would adopt new guidelines to address a workplace culture that some said fostered sexist and bullying behavior.
In the companywide letter, which was distributed to the news media, Steven Cohen, who purchased the team in the last off-season, outlined “changes we are going to make to ensure that our community and culture will always be safe, respectful and inclusive.”
Cohen also announced that David Cohen, a longtime legal counsel to Mets ownership who is not related to the owner, and Holly Lindvall, the team’s head of human resources — both of whom were hired by the previous ownership group — were on their way out. They will be replaced by Steven Cohen’s own legal and human resources executives, the owner said. He added that the two would remain in place during a transition period while he searched for their replacements.
In the letter to employees, Cohen said the legal firm WilmerHale had completed an investigation into the Mets’ culture. He said the firm spoke to 82 current and former employees, including 25 percent of the current full-time work force. He did not disclose any of the firm’s findings.
But the owner vowed to strengthen and streamline the process for employees to report violations and for those violations to be investigated and resolved in a timely fashion without retaliation against anyone making a complaint.
Cohen, who took control of the Mets last year after buying the team from Fred Wilpon, Saul Katz and Jeff Wilpon, hired the firm after three people connected to the club were accused of inappropriate behavior, including the former general manager Jared Porter, who was fired in January, only a month after being hired, for sending inappropriate photos to a female reporter.
Ryan Ellis, an organizational hitting coordinator, was fired in January, three years after he made what the team said were explicit and threatening overtures to three female employees. The Mets said that his actions were reported to their human resources department at the time and that Ellis was put on probation and assigned for counseling. The Mets fired him, they said, when new information about his actions came to light after the revelations surrounding Porter. The firing was not made public until February.
Mickey Callaway, the field manager who was fired in 2019 for being ineffective, was also said to have made several inappropriate advances toward women during his time with the Mets and two other clubs. An investigation into accusations against Callaway led to his firing by the Los Angeles Angels and his placement on baseball’s ineligible list.
Cohen vowed to expand the scope of the team’s antidiscrimination policy “to emphasize the overarching value of a safe and respectful workplace.” He said that under the new policy the club would “not tolerate conduct, like bullying, that is damaging to our workplace culture — even if that conduct falls short of violating the law.”
Cohen had previously been accused of bullying behavior in his role as the founder of Point72 Asset Management.
He said the team would also expand its policy regarding nonfraternization, dating and romantic relationships to clarify what is prohibited. That not only includes relationships or overtures within the club, but also with employees in baseball at large and with media members.
Sandy Alderson, the president of the Mets, acknowledged in January that he had not consulted with any women when he was in the process of vetting Porter. Cohen said he intended to promote “diversity, equity and inclusion” in leadership.
“Sandy and I are committed to implementing and building upon the recommendations shared by WilmerHale,” Cohen wrote.
Telfar Clemens Is Getting Into the Leggings Game
Thanks to a gig designing the uniforms for the Liberian Olympic team, he’s starting a full collection of athletic wear.
The road to the July Olympics has been fraught, to say the least. Citizens of the host country, Japan, don’t want the event to take place. The stadium seats will be largely empty — at least of visiting fans. And people are still confused by the date (2020, instead of 2021). For one team, nevertheless, the Olympics are turning into something of a fairy tale.
For the first time in more than two decades a fairy godfather (OK, sponsor) has appeared to wave his wand over the Liberian Olympic delegation — all five track and field competitors, including Joseph Fahnbulleh, the N.C.A.A. champion in the 200-meter dash, and Emmanuel Matadi, currently ranked 23rd in the world in the 200 and 25th in the 100, plus officials and support staff. And it is not the usual Nike or Adidas or other sportswear machine.
It’s Telfar Clemens.
The Liberian-American designer and disrupter of the fashion system, whose so-called Bushwick Birkin and direct-to-consumer business model made him a pandemic success story, will be bringing his signature genetically spliced unisex designs — the one-shouldered tank, the track pants/shorts — not just to the opening and closing ceremonies, but also to the Olympic Village, the competition — and merch.
“It’s all things you can’t find,” Mr. Clemens said. “They said, ‘Go crazy.’ So I did.”
The result may be the most out-of-the-box Olympic outfitting since Issey Miyake dressed Team Lithuania in 1992. And Mr. Clemens has a plan to take the whole Olympics moment to a different, broadly consumer, level.
Mr. Matadi said he had had the idea to enlist Mr. Clemens to make the Liberia uniforms after listening to his girlfriend, who followed the Telfar Instagram account, talk about the bags.
“I didn’t even know if he made clothes,” said Mr. Matadi, who has been running for Liberia since 2016. He did know, however, that Mr. Clemens was Liberian. (His immediate family emigrated to the United States in 1990 during the civil war, when he was 5.)
Mr. Matadi mentioned the idea to Kouty Mawenh, Liberia’s Olympic attaché and a former Olympic competitor, who saw the relationship as an opportunity to merge Liberian talent to the advantage of both.
“He’s an elite athlete in his space, just like we are,” Mr. Mawenh said of Mr. Clemens, who has won the National Design Award from the Cooper Hewitt and the Accessories Designer of the Year Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Mr. Clemens said he was on board almost immediately, even though the sponsorship (which includes travel and food) is the biggest outside investment his company has made. Though he had never designed performance gear, he and Babak Radboy, his artistic director and business partner, had been contemplating a line of athletic clothing for a while, and the Olympic project was the perfect opportunity to start.
They made about 70 pieces in about four months, from leggings and unitards to sweats, duffel bags and even racing spikes. Think compression tops patterned à la one-shouldered tanks and sweatpants chopped up and wrapped into lappa-like long shorts. And the star of the Liberian flag strategically placed throughout, though slightly atilt, as though being blown sideways in a sprinter’s wake. The athletes are testing the gear now, and it is being tweaked to performance specifications.
“They might have been surprised by some of it,” Mr. Clemens said. “But I haven’t heard a no. Just excitement.”
As far as Mr. Clemens is concerned, he is treating the Olympics as his first live runway show since the Pitti Uomo men’s wear trade show in January 2020. But unlike regular fashion shows, the Olympics are “a show everyone gets to see,” he said. Someone at home in Liberia could still get a front row.
The full collection will make its debut during the Games, and a limited collection of athletic pieces inspired by the Olympics will be available on Mr. Clemens’s platforms (dropped, like the bags, via Instagram), while a larger line encompassing workout wear and sports-inspired gear will be shown in September and will become part of the Telfar core offering.
“It will be an evergreen collection,” Mr. Clemens said. “These are clothes we want to sell for the rest of our lives.”
In Tokyo those clothes will be marching next to the Ralph Lauren all-white-with-preppy-detailing uniforms for Team U.S.A., the Ben Sherman 1960s collegians for Britain and the Hudson’s Bay street wear looks for Team Canada, which include a fairly typical warm-up set as well as the “Canadian tux” (a denim jacket with faux spray-paint graffiti patches on the back and Sharpie scribbles up the arm). Not to mention the Giorgio Armani black tracksuits with the red, green and white of the Italian flag encased in the outline of a rising sun for Italy.
Yet the Liberian athletes are not concerned about getting lost in the throng. Their looks “are going to be talked about, I’m sure,” Mr. Matadi said, trying on his outfits and doing a little dance. He was getting ready to go to the ball.
Kyle Schwarber’s Huge Day Pushes Nationals Past Mets
Nationals 5, Mets 2
Washington’s slugger homered three times, bringing his two-day total to five. “To be honest with you, I don’t know what’s going on,” Schwarber said.
WASHINGTON — Kyle Schwarber homered three times and tied a major league record with five in a two-game span, leading the Washington Nationals over the Mets, 5-2, Sunday to take three of four in the series.
Schwarber set a Nationals/Expos franchise record by homering nine times in a 10-game span, increasing his total to 18 this season with his first career three homer-game. Moved in the leadoff spot on June 12, Schwarber had four R.B.I. for the second straight game.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know what’s going on,” Schwarber said.
He hit a 2-0 fastball from Taijuan Walker (6-3) for his fourth leadoff home run this season, capped an eight-pitch at-bat starting the fifth by homering on a sinker for a 3-1 lead.
“I think he’s just locked in right now,” Walker said. “He was just hitting every fastball we threw at him.”
Schwarber then hit an 0-1 slider from Jeurys Familia for a two-run homer into the Mets’ bullpen in left field in the seventh.
“That’s as hot as you can get,” Mets Manager Luis Rojas said.
Schwarber had the sixth three-homer game since the franchise moved to Washington for the 2005 season, the first since Anthony Rendon’s 10-R.B.I. game against the Mets on April 30, 2017.
“I’m a big believer that hitting is a feeling. Don’t get me wrong, there’s mechanical, there’s approach, things like that,” Schwarber said. “But when you step in the box and everything feels right, you already have a big advantage.”
Schwarber’s third homer followed a pinch-hit double by Gerardo Parra, a 34-year-old fan favorite who returned to the Nationals on Sunday when his contract was selected from Class AAA Rochester. Parra’s walk-up music of the children’s song “Baby Shark” became a theme of the Nationals’ run to the 2019 World Series title, and it sounded before his at-bat to the crowd’s delight.
Parra spent last season with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan, then signed a minor league contract with the Nationals last winter.
“Almost cried,” Parra said of the crowd reaction.
Patrick Corbin (5-5) allowed two runs and four hits in six innings with seven strikeouts and a walk. He retired 15 of 16 batters on 76 pitches through six innings.
Pete Alonso homered leading off the seventh. ending a 38 at-bat homerless stretch with his 11th this season. Alonso reached 80 home runs in 274 games, third-fewest behind Ryan Howard (245) and Aaron Judge (264).
A shifted third baseman Starlin Castro snagged pinch-hitter Dominic Smith’s smash up the middle off Kyle Finnegan for a double play in the seventh.
The Mets scored just nine runs in the four-game series. Despite going 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position, Washington closed within five games of the Mets.
“It’s really clicking,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said. “Every guy is doing their part.”
Walker, who had allowed just two prior homers this season, dropped to 2-3 on the road to go along with a 4-0 home mark. He allowed four runs and a season-high 10 hits in six and a third innings.
Kevin Pillar’s sixth homer tied the score in the second, and Josh Bell hit a go-ahead single in the third.
At the U.S. Open, a Three-Way Tie for the Lead Sets Up a Wild Finish
Mackenzie Hughes, Louis Oosthuizen and Russell Henley are knotted at five under par, but Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm enter Sunday’s final round as threats.
SAN DIEGO — There were plenty of intriguing story lines, but little sizzle, in the opening half of the 2021 United States Open. Richard Bland of England, who qualified for the championship by winning his first European Tour event after 477 failed attempts, was tied for the lead with Russell Henley, a PGA Tour veteran whose last tournament victory was four years ago.
The spotlight of America’s national golf championship was desperately looking for a familiar face.
In the third round on Saturday at Torrey Pines Golf Course, the sport’s headliners finally stepped to the edge of the stage, an experienced, decorated crew that may forecast a star-powered and suspenseful finish to Sunday’s final round.
Henley finished the round at five under par overall and remained atop the leaderboard and was tied by another lesser-known player, Mackenzie Hughes of Canada. But with a thrilling 52-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole, Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion from South Africa, also vaulted into a tie for first. Moreover, Rory McIlroy, the four-time major champion, and Bryson DeChambeau, the defending U.S. Open champion, mustered charges that left them two strokes off the lead at three under.
Jon Rahm, a prominent pretournament favorite because of his stellar play in the last month, was at two under, as was the resurgent Matthew Wolff, last year’s runner-up in the event, and Scottie Scheffler, another promising young player with several recent top finishes. Not to be overlooked at just four strokes off the lead were last year’s Masters champion Dustin Johnson, who shot a 68 on Saturday, and Collin Morikawa, the winner of the 2020 P.G.A. Championship.
“Yeah, it was moving day, I guess,” McIlroy said afterward. “A lot of guys are playing well and getting in the fight. That’s what you have to do in the third round of a major.”
McIlroy started slowly on Saturday but had four birdies and a bogey on his final nine to finish with a 67, which was six strokes better than his second-round performance. His late run started when he chipped in from 33 yards at the 12th hole, and it concluded with a nervy downhill two-putt from 62 feet at the par-5 18th hole.
Although McIlroy said the biggest shot of his back nine had been a 4-foot bogey putt at the 15th hole.
“This is the only tournament in the world where you fist-pump a bogey,” he said. “That putt was huge for momentum — to not give away two strokes.”
The superstitious McIlroy also said he was going to eat the same chicken sandwich he had had for the previous five dinners this week at Torrey Pines.
“It’s really good, and it’s really working for me,” McIlroy said.
DeChambeau had the most error-free day among the leaders, shooting a 68 without making a bogey. DeChambeau’s round could have been better, as he pounded many drives roughly 340 yards. But his approach shots did not consistently find the greens. Still, DeChambeau overpowered the lengthy first and sixth holes to make birdies on each and took advantage of the par-5 13th hole for a third birdie.
Most encouraging for DeChambeau was his sharp short game, something he relied on during his victory at last year’s U.S. Open. As much as DeChambeau is known for how far he hits the golf ball, efficient play near the greens, and accurate putting, has usually been the best predictor of his success.
As has been the case for the past few weeks, DeChambeau on Saturday was also taunted by fans who shouted “Let’s go, Brooks-y” after many of his swings — a nod to the running feud with his colleague Brooks Koepka.
DeChambeau said afterward that he had learned to treat the shouts “as a compliment.”
“I’m embracing it — I smile,” he said.
Koepka, who like DeChambeau began the day at even par, did not improve his position with three birdies and three bogeys for a 71.
Wolff had an erratic day and shot 73 with four bogeys, but after not playing competitively for the last two months, he was satisfied that he remained in the hunt for the championship.
“I was a hair off out there at times,” Wolff, 22, said. “But I felt like I grinded pretty good and kept the scores as low as possible to give myself a good chance going into tomorrow.”
Henley was one under par on his opening nine holes and held a two-shot lead on the field, an edge he kept when he lofted a shot from a right greenside bunker on the 11th hole and watched his ball bounce once and then disappear in the hole for a birdie.
But it was Henley’s last birdie in an even-par round of 71.
Hughes caught Henley with a blistering back nine, shooting a four-under 32. He will play in the final group on Sunday, paired with Oosthuizen.
“You get goose bumps thinking about it,” Hughes said Saturday evening of the matchup. “I know I’m going to be nervous tomorrow. But yeah, I’m going to try and enjoy it lots. You know, it’s where you want to be.”
Bland, after his stunning surge in Friday’s second round, seemed calm throughout his opening nine holes on Saturday with an uncomplicated swing that consistently set up par and birdie putts. But some of the magic of his putting stroke was missing. Bland had converted 31 of 31 putts inside 10 feet in the first two rounds. That streak ended on the fifth hole, when he missed an 8-foot par putt and made bogey.
Things got worse, with consecutive bogeys on the 11th and 12th holes. Bland then left a 7-foot par putt short on the 16th hole, and his 20-foot par putt on the 17th green slid past the right side of the hole. The par-5 18th hole brought a most ignominious ending when Bland’s third shot plunked into the pond fronting the green. That led to a third successive bogey as he finished with a 77 and was one over for the tournament.
“That’s the U.S. Open — some days it’s just going to beat you up all day,” Bland said shortly after his round. “And today was my day.”
Allyson Felix qualifies for her fifth Olympic Games.
Allyson Felix has qualified for her fifth Olympic Games, where she will take aim at becoming the most decorated track and field athlete in Olympic history.
Felix qualified for next month’s Olympics in Tokyo by finishing second in the 400-meter finals at the Olympic trials, with a time of 50.02 seconds. Felix, who started on the outside in lane eight, was in fourth place rounding the curve into the final homestretch, but caught two competitors to book her plane ticket to Tokyo. The crowd at Hayward Field gave her a standing ovation.
WHAT A RACE!
📺 NBC pic.twitter.com/V1fSKxmS2x
In Tokyo she will race the 400 meters and could be on both relay teams for the women’s 4×400 and the mixed gender 4×400, a new event. She is also scheduled to run in the 200 meters at the trials, which begin qualifying on Thursday.
An improbable four medals in Tokyo would give her 13 career Olympic medals, the most ever for a track and field athlete, surpassing the 12 held by Paavo Nurmi, the “Flying Finn” who won numerous distance medals in the 1920s. If she wins two or more, she will surpass Carl Lewis as the most decorated American track and field athlete ever.
Joining Felix in the 400 meters in Tokyo will be Quanera Hayes and Wadeline Jonathas. Hayes has run the sixth-fastest time outdoors this season, while Jonathas has the eighth-fastest time, and took fourth place at the 2019 world championships.
Felix, 35, first attended the Olympics as an 18-year-old in 2004 in Athens, where she won a silver medal in the 200, the event she specialized in throughout her career. But she took silver in the 400 five years ago in Rio, and has been on three consecutive gold medal-winning 4×400 meter relay teams.
The last few years have brought a number of challenges off the track for Felix. Her daughter, Camryn, who has made a number of appearances at the trials, was born via an emergency C-section at 32 weeks in 2018. Camryn, or Cammy as Felix calls her, was quick to join Felix on the track after she qualified for Tokyo.
Felix later detailed how her sponsor, Nike, did not support her during this period and would not guarantee in future contracts that she “wouldn’t be punished if I didn’t perform at my best in the months surrounding childbirth,” as she wrote in The New York Times. Felix is now sponsored by Athleta.
At Euro 2020, a Reminder That Good Can Be Great
Rory Smith On Soccer
Holding national teams to club standards spoils the fun of international tournaments like the Euros and Copa América.
Let’s start with a little intellectual exercise. A purely hypothetical, entirely subjective, ultimately inconclusive one, admittedly, but still: Now that each of the presumed contenders to win the European Championship has shown at least some of its hand, how competitive would any of them be if they were to be parachuted, as they are, into the Champions League?
Instinctively, it feels as if France, at least, would do pretty well. A front line of Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappé bears comparison to any attacking trident in the club game.
Paul Pogba and Adrien Rabiot contribute elegance, drive and imagination to the midfield. N’Golo Kanté, at this point in history, appears to be the key ingredient to any world-beating team. The defense is not quite so stellar, but Didier Deschamps has fashioned a miserly, obdurate back line around Raphaël Varane and Presnel Kimpembe, both proven performers among soccer’s elite. And besides, if either was found wanting, Deschamps has a wealth of replacements at his disposal.
On paper, then, France could be considered a contender, the sort of team that — with a fair wind — might be able to best Manchester City and Bayern Munich and Chelsea.
The only quibble is with style: For all its excess of talent, Deschamps’s France is an inherently reactive proposition, an approach that, by and large, has been rejected by the game’s leading clubs. (It is why José Mourinho, its high priest, is now at Roma, very much marooned in the second rank.)
France would, though, go much further than most of its rivals. Portugal (outplayed by Bayern Munich in the theoretical quarterfinals of this exercise) has the compact defense and the devastating attack, but its midfield is limited. Germany’s semi-coherent pressing style would be either overpowered by a smoother, slicker machine, or picked apart by a counterpuncher (knocked out by Liverpool in the last 16).
England (unfortunate early knockout defeat to Real Madrid) gives up too many chances, Belgium (dizzied by Manchester City) is too old, and a little too slow. Italy (stifled by Chelsea) has too little experience, the Netherlands (third in the group stage, behind RB Leipzig) too little class. Spain (dismantled by Borussia Dortmund) has Álvaro Morata up front.
There are, of course, valid reasons for these weaknesses, these comparative flaws. National teams cannot solve shortages in one specific position, or even a broad area of the field, by going out and buying someone to plug the gap. Their tactical systems are, necessarily, less sophisticated than those of the game’s best club sides because their coaches have so little time with their players.
And, of course, none of it actually matters. France will never have to play Manchester City. Real Madrid will never have the chance to record an undeserved win against England. When, in three weeks, one of these teams is proclaimed the winner of Euro 2020 at Wembley, it will not diminish its achievement that it is not better than Bayern Munich.
Indeed, to some extent it is the flaws that mark all international teams that lend tournaments their magic. France, on first glimpse, is superior to all of its rivals, but it is not perfect, impervious. It has weaknesses, ones more likely to be exposed and exploited in a single game, one-and-done knockout than over the course of a league season, or even in the home-and-away format of the latter stages of the Champions League.
At least in a tournament summer, it is a strength, not a weakness, of international soccer that it is not subject to the same schisms as the club game, where a smattering of teams have hoarded so many players and so much talent that they are, in effect, untouchable by all but a handful of rivals. The gap between great international sides and merely good ones is much smaller than that between the very best clubs and, well, everyone else.
The comparison is still worth making, though, and the hypothetical worth indulging, because the difference between club and international soccer affects the way we judge teams when a tournament rolls around.
Our barometer of what is good — of what it takes to win a competition, of what makes a team a serious contender, of what excellence looks like — is set during the long stretch of the club season, from August until May.
We watch Manchester City, Liverpool, Bayern and the rest and understand that they represent the bar: To be good enough to win the Premier League or the Champions League, a team must be able to reach that specific level of organization and sophistication and potency. They are all of such a high standard that almost any flaw qualifies as fatal.
The same does not hold in an international tournament. None of the teams in Euro 2020 — and the same is true of the Copa América — have yet surpassed that bar. Belgium looked good, but against a weak Russian team. Italy has won twice but only against a disappointing Turkey and Switzerland. England was wasteful against Croatia. The Dutch let Ukraine back into the game. Portugal required 84 minutes to score against Hungary. Spain had Álvaro Morata up front.
We look at these teams and we see shortcomings and then use them as evidence that they cannot be considered serious contenders to win the tournament.
That, though, is the club game talking. It is what we have learned to be true in the Champions League being applied to a tournament where the same logic does not hold, like watching a school track-and-field day and expecting to see times fitting for an Olympic final. (“That 8-year-old hasn’t even gone under 10 seconds, they don’t stand a chance.”)
With a couple of exceptions — most notably the Spain team that won three consecutive tournaments between 2008 and 2012 — most teams that succeed on the international stage are flawed. Most of them would, at best, be considered broadly passable if they came up against the very best clubs. Only a few would make it to the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
That is not something to be bemoaned. If anything, it is to be encouraged. But it means, as we settle into a tournament like the Euros or the Copa América, we need to remember that you do not need to be great to win it; that the expectations we develop over the course of a club season are not especially relevant; that, at the international level, a team cannot be written off because it does not look great, because sometimes, every couple of years, being merely good is enough.
Denmark’s players had barely stopped running. For 10 minutes, they had hunted down Belgium’s glittering lineup remorselessly, ruthlessly, racing around the field at the Parken Stadium with a fierce, frenzied energy. And then, as soon as the clock struck 10, they stopped, they stood and they applauded. And the fans applauded with them.
It is not quite true to say that the fate of Denmark’s campaign in Euro 2020 does not matter, that what happened to Christian Eriksen last Saturday has rendered it all irrelevant. It is of secondary importance, of course, compared with Eriksen’s health, but it does not render those fans in the stadium in Copenhagen on Thursday inhuman for wanting their team to win. It does not make the players monsters for being disappointed that, despite a spirited first half, they eventually lost to Belgium.
Soccer is at its best in its darkest moments. The outpouring of concern and affection after Eriksen’s gut-wrenching, terrifying collapse was — despite the intense darkness of the circumstance — cheering. Players and officials and fans set aside tribal and national allegiances to extend their support. Perhaps that is just the decent thing to do, but still: Those clubs offering their thoughts and prayers did not have to say anything, so even a small kindness should be worthy of praise.
But soccer also has a tendency, at those times, to downplay its significance, to insist on its own irrelevance, as if in the most extreme circumstances it allows us all to glimpse the great secret that lies behind the fourth wall: that this is all just a game, that we are all party to some great mutual, self-sustaining delusion, that none of it really matters.
That is and is not true. It is possible to care far more about Eriksen’s health than whether Denmark qualifies, but the two do not need to be mutually exclusive. Part of the reason that Eriksen means so much to so many people is because soccer does matter; because he has brought them pleasure in, and excelled at, something that matters not only to them, but to him, too.
Even before he got to the part where he explained what had happened, it was abundantly clear that, deep down, Sergio Ramos did not want to be standing at a microphone, explaining that he was leaving Real Madrid. His voice was cracking by the end of the first sentence. He was holding back tears midway through the second.
This was not a player who had decided it was time for a fresh start, or a broader horizon, or a final payday. He was not making a reluctant, but necessary, change. Instead, he had been left with little to no choice. He had been haggling with the club for months over the length of a new contract. He wanted two more seasons; Real Madrid felt that, at his age, one was more appropriate.
In Ramos’s telling, at least, as he was mulling it over, it turned out that he had run out of time. Quite how a club can forget to tell its iconic captain that a deadline to agree a contract is approaching — let alone that it has passed — is hard to fathom, but credit to Real Madrid for managing it.
In a strictly sporting sense, Real Madrid should not bat an eyelash at his departure. His replacement was secured weeks ago: the Austrian captain David Alaba, signed on a free transfer from Bayern Munich, may not be a specialist central defender, but he is sufficiently versatile that he is probably in the top 10 in the world at that position anyway.
But in almost every other way, Real Madrid will be impoverished by Ramos’s absence. No player better summed up the club: his fierce will to win, his irrevocable competitive streak, the faint sense that it was hard to work out quite how he was as good as he was. Real is losing far more than a central defender; it is losing its heart and soul, the player who had come to embody the club. That it is losing all of that so carelessly is, perhaps, the most damning indictment imaginable.
No doubt about the question on everyone’s mind this week, given voice by Shawn Donnelly: “Who would win in a game between Georgia, the state, and Georgia, the country?”
After a little cursory research, Shawn, this one is quite easy: the country, every single time. Georgia the state can call on Kyle Martino, Clint Mathis, Ricardo Clark and — at best — two other people I have heard of. Georgia the country gets to name Kakha Kaladze, Temuri Ketsbaia, Georgi Kinkladze, Levan Kobiashvili and not one but two Arveladzes. It’s a walkover.
James Armstrong nominates Ferenc Puskas as the player he would most like to time-travel to watch — which seems, if I am honest, a bit of a waste of that particular superpower — though I wonder if there is another player from that famous Hungarian squad of the 1950s who might be an even smarter suggestion: Nandor Hidegkuti, the man who made the team tick.
And an extremely apposite question from Brandon Conner, to round things off. “As the Women’s Super League has risen lately, and with the increased importance the richer clubs have placed on their women’s teams, I wonder how this will affect the international landscape. The U.S.W.N.T. has been the lone bright spot in America’s soccer hopes, but could the rise of European teams investing in women’s soccer eventually bring an end to the U.S. women’s dominance?”
My short answer would be yes: That will, I would guess, be the story of women’s soccer over the next decade or so. Not because Europeans are naturally superior at soccer to Americans and not even, really, because of the investment, but because all of those clubs bristling up against one another turns Europe into a cradle of ideas. It creates what is described in “Soccernomics” as a best-practice network, in which proximity to the network is what determines success and failure.
In Sprint to Reopening, Sports Hits Pandemic Obstacles
There is perhaps no greater hurdle to a return to normalcy in sports than the hesitancy among some elite athletes to be vaccinated.
Fans are returning in droves to stadiums. Games and tournaments are proceeding with regularity. Sports officials are projecting confidence that the pandemic is in the rearview mirror.
Yet no playing field, court, ring or fairway is safe from the disruptions of the coronavirus, a contrast to the spirit of reopening that has taken hold in many quarters.
The latest reminder came Wednesday when the Phoenix Suns basketball team announced that Chris Paul, their transcendent point guard, could be sidelined from the Western Conference finals because of the N.B.A.’s coronavirus protocols.
The circumstances of Paul’s situation were not immediately clear — he could have tested positive or merely been in close quarters with someone who had. It was also not clear whether Paul had been vaccinated. What was immediately obvious, however, was this: If he cannot play in his team’s next games, it will imperil the Suns’ chances of returning to their first N.B.A. finals since 1993.
In many ways, the latest pandemic challenges for sports reflect the broader challenges and questions of ensuring widespread vaccination. As of Wednesday, about 146.5 million people in the United States had been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 175.1 million people had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, about 65 percent of adults.
Perhaps no issue has more immediacy for sports to overcome than the hesitancy among some elite athletes to accept the vaccine.
“That’s a personal question,” Zach Wilson, the rookie quarterback for the Jets, told reporters on Wednesday when asked if he had been vaccinated. LeBron James has declined to say whether he has been vaccinated, calling it a “family decision.” Few athletes have said outright that they will not get vaccinated, or explained why they won’t, though the Washington Football Team defensive end Montez Sweat gave voice to the skeptics last week even after the team had an immunologist speak to players.
“I’m not a fan of it,” Sweat said. “I probably won’t get vaccinated until I get more facts and that stuff. I’m not a fan of it at all. I haven’t caught Covid yet so I don’t see me treating Covid until I actually get Covid.”
N.F.L. players who aren’t vaccinated will face severe restrictions next football season. The league has made vaccinations mandatory for coaches and other essential team personnel, but cannot do so for players. Still, teams can make the trade-off quite clear.
“If you get vaccinated, you can go back to 2019 rules,” Brian McCarthy, an N.F.L. spokesman, said. “If you don’t, you’ll have to follow 2020 protocols,” a strict regimen of testing, masking and social distancing guidance.
In individual sports, whether to be vaccinated has been left almost entirely up to each athlete.
Teófimo López, a lightweight boxing champion, was supposed to defend his titles against George Kambosos Jr. in Miami this weekend in a highly anticipated pay-per-view matchup. But the fight was postponed until August after López tested positive for the coronavirus this week. According to his promoter, Bob Arum, López was not vaccinated — even though the fighter said last year that he believed he was at risk of severe illness if he caught the virus because he has asthma.
“There was no reason why before he went into training that he didn’t get vaccinated,” Arum told Boxing Scene. “No reason. And if he had gotten vaccinated, he wouldn’t have lost his payday. So, I feel sorry for him, but the fight will happen.”
Sometimes, the virus causes havoc leading up to big events. Other times, it alters sporting outcomes live, in front of hundreds of thousands of fans watching on television.
On June 5, the golfer Jon Rahm was coasting into the final round of the Memorial Tournament with a six-stroke lead in Dublin, Ohio, when officials notified him that he had tested positive, requiring him to withdraw.
He forfeited not only the opportunity to bring home the $1.7 million first-place check, but also the valuable practice time while in quarantine before the U.S. Open, which started Thursday.
Rahm, 26, said he had been vaccinated, but only recently, before testing positive. He had a message for his colleagues who were slow to get vaccinated. “We live in a free country, so do as you please,” Rahm said. “I can tell you from experience that if something happens, you’re going to have to live with the consequences golf-wise.”
Rahm’s withdrawal prompted uproar among bettors, and Paul’s uncertainty made for wild swings in the N.B.A. betting markets on Wednesday. “It’s been a very difficult year with cancellations, people wondering who’s in and who’s out,” said Nick Bogdanovich, the director of trading for the sports book William Hill in the United States. “It’s definitely killed action.”
Among team sports, leagues based in the United States have largely concluded that they cannot mandate that their athletes be vaccinated.
Instead, leagues have tried to entice players to take the vaccine by dangling the carrot of loosened restrictions — like not having to wear masks in team facilities or being allowed to visit with friends and family on the road — if teams reach certain thresholds of vaccinated players and staff.
Despite initial resistance from many players, the share of players and staff members who have been vaccinated has slowly risen in Major League Baseball. As of last Friday, 22 of its 30 clubs reached the threshold of 85 percent of certain categories of players and staff being vaccinated for some restrictions to be loosened. Eight teams remain, and it is clear that many players remain skeptical.
While vaccines may offer sports their best chance at minimizing disruptions, they will not prevent all of them because of the presence of virus variants and breakthrough infections.
The Yankees were one of the first baseball teams to cross the vaccine threshold, but still had to deal with an outbreak last month. Nine people involved with the Yankees, including a player, shortstop Gleyber Torres, tested positive despite being fully vaccinated, according to the team.
In countries where vaccines are still not widely available, there are concerns about prioritizing athletes over other people and about whether sporting events should continue at full steam amid outbreaks.
As the pandemic worsened in Argentina in May, the Copa America men’s soccer championship for South American countries was moved to Brazil less than two weeks before the first game. At least eight players and four members of the Venezuelan team’s delegation tested positive for the coronavirus before the tournament began.
Euro 2020, being competed in venues across Europe, has fared better, but has not gone unscathed. Scheduled matches were moved from sites in Spain, Russia and Ireland either because of virus concerns or because local authorities would not allow fans into stadiums.
As more people become vaccinated, especially in places that have struggled to obtain enough vaccines, some of these threats to the natural functioning of sports will diminish. But experts caution that we will most likely be living with this virus and its effects for a long time.
“It is a combination of things, but hopefully we can address these things,” said Dana Hawkinson, the medical director of infection prevention at the University of Kansas Health System. “We know that these viruses in general find a way to persist in the community, whatever community it might be.”
Which means the sports world, like the wider world, will have to learn how to live with them.
In a conference call with reporters last week, DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the N.F.L. players’ union, said the union could only inform its members of the benefits of getting vaccinated, not obligate them to do so.
“We’re a microcosm of our country,” Smith said, by way of explaining why football players were not getting vaccinated. “There’s wide disparities in our country, where some people are getting vaccinated and some people aren’t. The only thing we could do is speak to our players.”
Ken Belson, Joe Drape and James Wagner contributed reporting.
Hopes Fade for Imminent Federal Deal on College Athletes, Pressuring N.C.A.A.
New state laws are scheduled to take effect on July 1, but there are vanishingly low expectations for a deal in Washington in the coming days.
WASHINGTON — Congress is not expected to move this month to override a crush of state laws that, as soon as July 1, will challenge the N.C.A.A. rules that have kept college athletes from making money off their fame.
The absence of an accord, or even a clear timeline for one, by the start of July would be a blow to the N.C.A.A. and its most influential and wealthy conferences, which have spent many months and millions of dollars seeking intervention from Washington. Although an agreement could still emerge this year, the prospects for a federal measure to advance before the state laws have gone from a long shot toward essentially nonexistent.
“I know that that date is imminent, so I think it’s probably safe to say something is not going to make it through the halls of Congress by that date,” Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington and the chair of the Senate committee that has been examining college sports issues, said after a hearing on Thursday. “But I do think that the deadline is continuing to put pressure on us to produce what that agreement could look like, and so I’m still hopeful that before we adjourn for the July Fourth recess, we’ll be able to say what the shape of that looks like.”
Any coast-to-coast baseline standard that might be in effect early next month, though, will almost certainly have to come from the N.C.A.A. itself. With more state laws scheduled to come into force in the months ahead, public officials and college sports executives alike believe that changes or waivers to N.C.A.A. rules would amount to a stopgap.
On Capitol Hill on Thursday, when the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation met for the second time in eight days to hear testimony about college sports, the divide between congressional negotiators was clear with a glance at the dais: Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the panel’s ranking Republican, was absent. On Wednesday, Wicker, who has particular influence because of the Senate’s 50-50 split, announced a survey of college athletes “to solicit their views on what they would like to see” in a federal measure. Responses are due on June 25, around the time senators are expected to leave Washington for a recess that is tentatively scheduled to last until July 12.
Asked in an interview outside the Senate chamber on Thursday afternoon whether he saw a path to a deal by the end of this month, Wicker replied, “It would be a surprise to me at this point.”
Even before word of Wicker’s survey this week, hopes for rapid legislation were dim because senators have been divided on the breadth of any bill. Democrats have been urging far-reaching legislation that would include, for example, greater health care guarantees for athletes. Some pressed for schools to share revenues with players. Republicans have balked at some of the ideas, and they have also sought legal protections for the college sports industry.
“What we need to do is pass a targeted bill that deals with the issue at hand and leave the more complex issues of benefits and health care, extended scholarships for later,” said Wicker, who added, “Once we agree on the scope, we can pretty much get it done.”
But it has been clear for months that lawmakers, including some of Washington’s fiercest skeptics of the N.C.A.A., were in nowhere near as much a rush for action as college sports officials.
Those athletics executives have operated for years with a bedrock principle — that athletes should play in exchange for no more than the cost of attendance — under mounting siege. In 2019, a law to let college athletes hire agents, cut endorsement deals and monetize their social media platforms cleared the California Legislature and the governor’s desk with ease.
That measure is not currently scheduled to take effect until 2023. California’s move, though, sparked a stampede in other statehouses to similarly subvert N.C.A.A. rules. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas have laws that are scheduled to take effect on July 1. Illinois could very well join them then, and still more states have measures set to come online in the coming years. None of the proposals that have become law call for schools to pay athletes directly.
Squeezed in state legislatures, college sports officials looked to Washington for relief and argued that a national standard was vital. Despite sustained lobbying, no legislation has moved beyond a committee.
Without the federal law it has craved, the N.C.A.A. will have just a handful of options, none of them particularly appealing to many executives. One possibility would be to approve a set of new rules, or perhaps a waiver of existing policies, as soon as next week to let athletes have more financial opportunities as the state laws begin to take effect. That approach, though, could prove a fleeting salve: Some state laws that are expected to go into effect later are designed to give players more rights to benefit from the use of their names, images and likenesses than the N.C.A.A. has signaled it might grant on its own.
Another strategy would be litigation. Although the college sports industry prevailed in a case in the early 1990s after Nevada threatened N.C.A.A. procedures, experts have warned that a legal fight this time could involve multiple fronts with, in turn, scattered results. Even if the N.C.A.A. or its allies could win, many executives fear that courtroom battles over the precise nature and scope of expanded rights for players would harden public opinion against a juggernaut that has spent most of its recent history embattled for one reason or another.
One approach, of course, would be to do nothing at all. But that would expose the N.C.A.A. to the very danger it has long warned about: different rules for different states and schools, imperiling fair play and recruiting and assuredly provoking an uproar on campuses that might be left behind. Commissioners have predicted a recruiting arms race of sorts, with states trying to one-up each other with laws and benefits that could prove more enticing to prospective college athletes.
The N.C.A.A. did not immediately comment on Thursday.
In written and oral testimony on Thursday, senators heard arguments in support of broad changes around the rules that keep athletes from earning money off their renown.
“By freeing student-athletes from their fears and concerns about extra benefits and rules like that, N.I.L. legislation also has the opportunity to help student-athletes become entrepreneurs and create their own opportunities in an arena they already know well: their sports,” said Kaira Brown, a sprinter at Vanderbilt. Each of the four witnesses, the ranks of which included three current or former college athletes, expressed support for federal legislation.
“What we want to avoid is such heavy restrictions that athletes cannot actually monetize their N.I.L. as they would like to,” said Sari Cureton, who played basketball at Georgetown and noted, “It’s our bodies that have built this industry.”
But now the college sports industry is bracing for an era they expect will be marked by chaos and uncertainty. Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, was skeptical. He was also unsympathetic to the executives who could be scrambling in the weeks ahead.
“Their hopes are dashed, but their hopes were always futile with the mind-set that they had,” he said in his office. “They have failed to see the broader interests of the athletes. They’ve approached it from a very narrow standpoint of what works for them and not for the athletes.”
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