Our correspondent in the past couple Summer Games has correctly predicted the special person who lights the Olympic caldron. This year the honor goes to …
TOKYO — Lighting the Olympic caldron, even at a Games somewhat deflated by the coronavirus pandemic, is one of the highest honors in sport.
Names as big as Wayne Gretzky and Muhammad Ali have done it, but so have an obscure archer and a 12-year-old schoolgirl.
So predicting who will do it at this year’s opening ceremony on Friday must be a near impossible task, right? Well consider that The New York Times correctly predicted in 2016 that Vanderlei de Lima, a marathon bronze medalist, would get the honor. In 2012, a group of unknown teenagers were chosen to light the caldron, but our pick of the rower Steven Redgrave was the last prominent athlete to hold the torch, so we are taking partial credit.
Can we make it three for three? Here are the leading candidates — all of them Japanese, naturally — to take the most prominent role in Friday’s opening ceremony.
He is the most revered athlete in Japan, holder of the world record for home runs at 868. His arrival would electrify fans and perhaps transcend the somber feeling of an empty stadium because of pandemic restrictions. But he never participated in an Olympics, and that would seem to be disqualifying.
This year’s Masters winner is actually doing some low-key campaigning for the job. “What an honor that would be,” he said. An active athlete is not normally chosen, but Cathy Freeman of Australia did light the caldron in Sydney in 2000, then went on to win the 400 meters a week later
Takahashi and Noguchi won Japan’s first women’s marathon golds back to back in 2000 and 2004, memorable feats in a country where long-distance running is very popular. One, or in what would be a nice touch, both, could light the caldron.
One of the biggest names in Japanese sports right now, Osaka plans to participate in the tennis competition and would add star power to the opening ceremony. Once again, though, as an active athlete she has tradition against her.
This squad shocked the favored United States in the last Olympic softball tournament until this year. There is precedence for an entire team to light the caldron: The 1980 U.S. hockey team did so in Salt Lake City in 2002. If you want to pick just one player from that team, the blazing fast pitcher Yukiko Ueno, who is still pitching at age 39, would be a likely candidate.
Judo has earned Japan 39 gold medals, the most of any sport. But only one judoka from anywhere in the world has won three gold medals: Nomura, who won extra lightweight gold in 1996, 2000, and 2004.
Kitajima is often called the best breaststroker of all time, the winner of both breaststroke events in 2004 and 2008, a double-double that is unmatched by a man or woman.
Japan has won 31 golds in gymnastics, all by men. Any one of Sawao Kato (eight golds), Akinori Nakayama (six), Mitsuo Tsukahara (five), Takashi Ono (five), or all of them, could win the honor, depending on their health (all are in their 70s or 80s).
Fujimoto won just one gymnastics gold medal, but he did so in legendary fashion. He had injured his knee in the floor exercise, but despite great pain, he continued to compete to help his team win the gold medal. His often replayed painful dismount from the rings aggravated the injury even further, but he nonetheless stuck the landing.
Only five athletes have ever won the same event four times in any Olympic sport. Icho is the only woman to do so. She was unbeatable in wrestling from 2004 to 2016, and added 10 world championships as well. For her achievements, she has received numerous honors in her native country. The biggest of them all could be coming Friday night.
‘Muhammad Ali’ Docuseries From Ken Burns Is a Sweeping Portrait
A new four-part documentary series by Ken Burns paints a sweeping portrait of a man whose life intersected with many of modern America’s most profound changes.
One day in the mid-1990s, Ken Burns had a cold while he was in Los Angeles to raise money for his next documentary. He ducked into a coffee shop for some hot tea, and after paying, one of the 20th century’s most ardent historians turned from the counter and locked eyes with perhaps its most towering icon. Muhammad Ali was sitting in a booth nearby. The two men stared at each other silently for longer than most strangers would — celebrities or not.
“There’s was almost no movement on both of us except that kind of opening, that love that happens when you just feel unashamed and unembarrassed by the persistent gaze,” Burns said recently. “This wordless conversation; I have the script in my head, I heard his voice in my mind. But it was just without going over and shaking hands, of course, not asking for an autograph or anything like that.”
By that point, Ali was in the clutches of Parkinson’s disease — hence the silence from a man who for many decades couldn’t stop talking: about his own beauty and skill, about how ugly and untalented his opponents were, about the injustice Black people across America had faced for hundreds of years.
Nearly three decades later, Burns; his oldest daughter, Sarah; and her husband, David McMahon, have stitched together a sweeping portrait of Ali’s impact from more than 40 years of footage and photographs. “Muhammad Ali,” a four-part documentary series that premieres Sept. 19 on PBS, follows the arc of a man whose life intersected with many of modern America’s most profound changes — and who was also not as widely revered in his prime as he is now.
David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker and author of “King of the World,” a 1998 biography of Ali, said “it was very clear that a lot of America found him dangerous, threatening to the way people were ‘supposed’ to behave — much less Black people.”
“He won people over because he was right about the war,” Remnick continued. “He won people over because as an athlete, he proved himself over and over again to be not only beautiful to watch, but unbelievably courageous. So his athleticism and his superiority as an athlete just couldn’t be denied, even when he lost.”
There has been no shortage of documentaries or biographies about Ali in the last few decades. For the filmmakers, the idea took root in 2014, when their friend Jonathan Eig was working on a book about Ali. (“Ali: A Life,” published in 2017.) Eig’s research led him to believe that a comprehensive film representation of Ali’s life had not been done before, and that the Burnses were the perfect team to do it.
McMahon said it took only a few archival clips to convince them of the potential power of a wide-ranging Ali documentary. “There were so many possibilities to tie together all these threads that were kind of out there,” he said. “You’d see documentaries that had been about a single chapter in his life or a single fight, or books covering only a portion of his life.”
The more the filmmakers dug into Ali’s life, Sarah Burns said, the more they realized “just how much there was to this story.”
“Not just the boxing, obviously,” she said, “but his relationships with Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, his family life, his marriages, his draft resistance and his courage and being willing to go to jail for his convictions, and also his battle with Parkinson’s — you know, his later life, his post-boxing life.” That “really hadn’t,” she added, “been explored in as much detail.”
The new series traces a path from the young Cassius Clay in Jim Crow-era Louisville to the complicated, at times self-contradictory adult who won the heavyweight title three times and faced down the U.S. government over his refusal to fight in Vietnam. The filmmakers show him as not only a dominant heavyweight during his peak fighting years but also a figure of no small impact on society. Here is “The Greatest” clowning with the Beatles; standing at a podium with Malcolm X; embracing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; calling another Black fighter an “Uncle Tom” for refusing to acknowledge his name change, as a leering Howard Cosell tells the cameras to “keep shooting” the ensuing scuffle; and finally declaring publicly — at risk to his career and endorsements — that he was a Muslim.
Ali’s rise to stardom coincided with a period of intense cultural change in the United States, and his connection to the Civil Rights and antiwar movements is critical in distinguishing Ali the man from Ali the boxer, McMahon said — and in recognizing his impact on American audiences.
“You can’t understand his refusal to be inducted into the U.S. Army without understanding his faith, without understanding the meaning of Elijah Muhammad in his life,” he said, referring to the mercurial and sometimes caustic leader of the Nation of Islam, with whom Ali had a close relationship. “We hadn’t really seen that explained. There were also perspectives that hadn’t been heard; we thought, ‘Who out there could tell us more about his faith?’”
Eig, the biographer, shared a huge trove of contacts with the filmmakers, and they started their initial interviews in 2016, a week after Ali died. Dozens of writers, friends and boxing ambassadors participated: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Holmes, Jesse Jackson, the novelist Walter Mosley, the ESPN writer Howard Bryant, the boxing promoter Don King. Over the next several years, the filmmakers unearthed more than 15,000 photographs and dug up footage that had not been seen publicly. A production company that had shot the “Thrilla in Manila,” Ali’s third and final bout with Joe Frazier, in the Philippines, had folded before the film could be used. Their footage was buried in a Pennsylvania archive.
“This woman pulled these boxes out and said, ‘They say “Ali” on them — I don’t know what they are,’” McMahon said. “This is Technicolor, it’s 16-millimeter, shot from the apron [of the ring] — it just pops. And you see the fight in ways that had never been seen before.”
Ali’s relationship with Frazier, who as a young fighter had been one of Ali’s fans, is one of the thornier aspects of the documentary. Ali’s treatment of him before their fights was quite cruel, employing some of the language of “racist white people,” as one commentator in the series says, to denigrate Frazier (who never forgave him). It’s part of the complex picture of Ali that the series provides: a people’s champion who could be petty; a devout Muslim who was a serial philanderer; an idealist who made a lot of people angry with his refusal to conform to public expectations.
Bryant, the ESPN writer, said he didn’t think “people understand why this story is so heroic and so important and so unique.”
“We just seem to think that every person out there, if they protest something, if they say something, if they face some sort of sanction, we put them in the same category as Muhammad Ali or Jackie Robinson,” he continued. “And it’s just such nonsense.”
“Name me another athlete where the full weight of the United States government came down on one person. I’m not talking about the N.F.L. saying you can’t play when you’re already a millionaire. Colin Kaepernick obviously sacrificed and lost some things. It’s not the same thing. It’s not even close.”
For two of Ali’s daughters, Rasheda Ali (from his second marriage, to Khalilah Ali, born Belinda Boyd) and Hana Ali (from his third, to Veronica Porche), the new documentary is an honest look at the father they knew mainly while he was under the weight of Parkinson’s. The film opens with a shot of him sitting with his oldest child, Maryum, encouraging her to look out the window so he can steal a bite of her food. The footage brought Rasheda to tears.
“I’ve never seen the family footage — and even the photos!” Rasheda said. “I was like, ‘Wow, where did you get that?’”
“He was always making jokes and he was fun,” she added. “That’s the Muhammad Ali people don’t really see regularly.”
Hana, who said that anyone other than the Burns would have been making “just another documentary about my father,” also noted that the more intimate footage helped fill in some of the nuances about him.
“It’s so hard when you live a life like my father’s, where you’re so accessible, and so photographed, and his story’s been told so many times,” Hana said. “Honestly, I’ve seen so many documentaries about our father, and even just watching the beginning of this one, already, it was just different — it felt more personable.”
The series comes to a close as Ali has become, as Ken Burns described it, “the most beloved person on the planet.” The footage of his trembling surprise appearance at the 1996 Olympics, in Atlanta, is a crucial piece of Ali’s lasting image and mythology. But as Burns put it, “mythology is a mask.”
Bryant, who argued that Ali changed the relationship between athletes and fans, was more direct about the boxer’s evolving public image in those later years.
“People hated his guts, and white people didn’t love him until he couldn’t talk,” Bryant said. “There were people — Black and white — who still called him Cassius Clay; there were people who still did not want to give him his due. And there were people who still held a lot against him.”
“Then he couldn’t talk, and suddenly he belonged to everybody,” he said.
Ken Burns suggested that this public redemption was akin to “a funeral where people are talking really nicely about other people.”
“And you go, ‘Why can’t we do this in the rest of our lives?’” he said. “The funeral isn’t for the person who’s dead — the funeral is for the people who are left behind, and we’re always modeling the best, most human behavior. And yet, we don’t seem to be able to bring it to our own lives.”
He quoted one of the journalists in the documentary, Dave Kindred, who said that in death, Ali “can’t hurt us anymore; he can’t make us mad anymore.”
“He could no longer anger us, he could no longer make it difficult for us, to force us back on our own feelings, our own beliefs, our own prejudices,” Burns said. “Then there’s this room to forgive and perhaps exalt.”
“It’s a long process with him,” he added. “And it’s so interesting that a great deal of that positive progress is from defeat.”
Padraig Harrington Faces Hard Choices
He is captain of the Ryder Cup’s European team, and he has to pick the last three players for his team.
Padraig Harrington of Ireland is back in the spotlight — not as a player, but as the captain of Team Europe in this month’s Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
Harrington, 50, a three-time major champion, will be competing in the BMW PGA Championship, which begins on Thursday at the Wentworth Club in England. There, he will be monitoring how potential members of his team perform.
After the tournament, he will pick three players to round out the 12-man squad that will face the Americans. The other nine will have qualified on points.
The following conversation, which took place in late August, has been edited and condensed.
Can you talk about the BMW, the tournament and the course?
Wentworth is the traditional home of the European Tour. It is really a great tournament venue. You can score well on it, but when the pressure comes on Sunday, those tree-lined holes and out-of-bounds get a little tight.
How are you going to be able to focus on your own game this week?
Hopefully, I won’t be able to focus on my play. Maybe being on the course will be a slight respite.
How do you think the event will play out because of Covid-19?
I’m interested in that, actually. Will the fans be more excited because they waited so long and there’s a certain level of, “Gee, we’re happy to be here?” I suspect, because of Covid, it might be more of a celebration of golf and the Ryder Cup than anything else.
I won’t ask you for your three picks, but do you have certain people in mind?
There are three weeks to go, and I’m very aware that things can change, especially with the BMW being such a big event. It would be pretty straightforward right now, but three weeks is a long time in golf.
And you’re happy with having three picks?
I chose three. They were offering me eight picks when it was at the height of the pandemic. The reason I wanted three is anybody who gets picked is under more pressure and stress because the media and public second-guess whether somebody else should be picked.
Your thoughts on Whistling Straits, and how it fits your team?
It’s very difficult for the Europeans to beat a U.S. team on a stereotypical U.S. golf course. Whistling Straits is a links-style course. They’ve opened it up as much as possible — I’m sure there will be plenty of birdies — but the elements [wind] will come into play.
You sound like you’re saying the Americans are the favorites?
To beat them in the States, it’s going to require a momentous effort on our behalf, and we are definitely going to have to figure out how to make the collective more confident than the individual. They look like they’re the strongest they’ve ever been.
Are you satisfied with your career or do you feel you didn’t achieve as much as you thought you should?
I achieved far more than I could have ever possibly dreamed in this game. I studied accountancy. My goal in life when I took that school was to become an accountant and manage a golf course.
I was a good player, but I didn’t think I was good enough to be a professional. And even when I turned pro, my goal would have been to survive on tour half a dozen years and retire and get a good country club job.
How much more golf will you play?
I will try and play where I’m competitive.
If I don’t feel like I’m competitive on the regular tour, I’m very happy to try to compete on the Champions Tour [a circuit for golfers 50 and older]. I will continue to play and do whatever I can around golf for years to come.
NFL Week 1 Picks Against the Spread
Dak Prescott vs. the Bucs’ pass rush, dueling Alabama quarterbacks and a rematch of January’s Browns-Chiefs playoff game make for a compelling start to the regular season.
The N.F.L. regular season is upon us, with an additional, 17th game for every team, with some hard-earned certitudes. From now until February, the league will try its darnedest to again complete its schedule without interruption — from Covid-19, hurricanes, whatever — until Super Bowl LVI can be played at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.
What happens between now and then, though, is up to variables on and off the field. It’s fair to assume that only a handful of contenders have a shot at a championship, but what about as a week-to-week chaos agent? Well, that role could be filled by nearly any team. This week’s matchups include playoff rematches, the debuts of rookie quarterbacks and the returns of star players from injuries.
Here’s a look at Week 1, with all picks made against the spread by a new columnist who takes over the duty for the 2021 season.
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 8:20 p.m., NBC
Line: Buccaneers -8| Total: 52
Dak Prescott’s welcome back assignment from an ankle injury that ended his 2020 season will be to outperform Tom Brady while evading the pass rush of the Buccaneers, the defending Super Bowl champions. The Bucs retained all 22 starters from last season, including the defense that sacked Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes twice and hit him nine times in last season’s title game.
Protecting Prescott will be trickier without right guard Zack Martin, who tested positive for the coronavirus on Saturday and is unlikely to play. Dallas’s defense, which ranked 28th last season in points allowed, has a new coordinator in Dan Quinn and added linebacker Micah Parsons via the draft. But will that be enough to consistently stop Brady? Pfft. Pick: Buccaneers -8
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Chiefs -6 | Total: 53
A rematch of last season’s A.F.C. divisional playoff gives new players on Cleveland and Kansas City the opportunity to show their value. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who is playing for his fourth team in four years, will attempt to pressure Patrick Mahomes. Kansas City’s upgraded offensive line — it has got five new projected starters, including tackle Orlando Brown and guard Joe Thuney — looks to prevent jarring hits like the one in last season’s playoff game that sent Mahomes into the concussion protocol.
Odell Beckham Jr.’s return from a knee injury will give Kansas City’s defense another threat to account for. But if Mahomes is well protected, it will be risky to bet against him. Pick: Kansas City -6
Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints (kinda), 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Packers -4 | Total: 50
Hurricane Ida’s devastation in New Orleans caused this game to be relocated to Jacksonville, Fla., adding another disruption to teams whose off-seasons were full of them. The Packers and a disgruntled Aaron Rodgers finally settled their differences for perhaps one final try at a Super Bowl. The Saints, who have operated in Texas since late August, begin the post-Drew Brees era with Jameis Winston at quarterback. His test will be finding targets to carry the load of Michael Thomas, the team’s top receiver who is out for six weeks after having foot surgery in the off-season.
The Packers have had roster continuity and have not dealt with similar logistical hurdles. Pick: Packers -4
Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Bills -6.5 | Total: 49
The Steelers deteriorated toward the end of last season while the Bills improved. Pittsburgh drafted Najee Harris in the first round to boost an abysmal rushing attack that netted only 3.6 yards per attempt, ranking last in the league. But quarterback Josh Allen’s ascent into one of the league’s best players should continue with Buffalo’s addition of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to complement Stefon Diggs, who led the N.F.L. in receiving yards and catches last season. Bills fans should get their tables ready. Pick: Bills -6.5
Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Titans -2.5 | Total: 52
Julio Jones. Derrick Henry. A.J. Brown. The Cardinals’ defense will be the first unit to try to contain Tennessee’s new-look offense. Will it focus on stopping Henry and creep defenders close to the line of scrimmage? Will it double-team Jones and leave Brown in man coverage? Vice versa? Regardless of the strategy, Arizona will do so with a young linebacker corps and questions at cornerback after Patrick Peterson departed in free agency and his replacement, Malcolm Butler, retired during training camp. Even with J.J. Watt now on the edge, countering the Titans’ attack will be more than the Cardinals can handle so early in the season. Pick: Titans -2.5
Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams, 8:20 p.m., NBC
Line: Rams -7.5 | Total: 45.5
The Rams and the Bears added veteran quarterbacks in the off-season and received different receptions from their fans. Los Angeles fans embraced Matthew Stafford as their hope to reach the Super Bowl, while the Bears faithful called unsuccessfully for Andy Dalton to be benched for the rookie Justin Fields. Perhaps Coach Matt Nagy is showing Fields mercy as he starts Dalton against a Rams defense anchored by Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. That unit led the N.F.L. in nearly every statistical category last season and, despite losing some free agents, there is enough talent to frustrate Dalton in prime time. Pick: Rams -7.5
Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Seahawks -2.5| Total: 49.5
The Colts hoped new scenery would resurrect the 2017 version of Carson Wentz, who helped lead the Eagles in the regular season on a run to a title, but a foot injury and a stint on the Covid list robbed him of valuable training camp reps with his new teammates. He’ll face a Seahawks defense that surrendered the second-most passing yards in the league to opposing teams last season but that hopes linebacker Bobby Wagner and safety Jamal Adams can turn the unit into a more consistent threat. (Adams’s 9.5 sacks last season were the most ever by a defensive back.)
Seattle will lure opponents into trying to keep up with the scoring pace of Russell Wilson, D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, as it did last year. Wentz will be the first to find out how much tougher that has become. Pick: Seahawks -2.5
Los Angeles Chargers at Washington Footballers, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Chargers -1| Total: 44.5
Oddsmakers predict this will be a tossup because the Chargers enter this season as an unknown under their new coach, Brandon Staley. On paper, the team should improve with quarterback Justin Herbert, the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Award winner; a remodeled offensive line; and the return of safety Derwin James. But it may take time for the team to fully grasp Staley’s system and for the offensive line to jell. Blocking Washington’s pass rush, led by Chase Young, last season’s Defensive Rookie of the Year Award winner, is a tough first task. Pick: Washington +1
Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Falcons -3.5 | Total: 48
The Eagles placed their faith in Jalen Hurts when they traded Carson Wentz to the Colts, and selected his former Alabama teammate DeVonta Smith in the first round of the draft to boost a receiving corps often criticized for its lack of production. They’ll relish going up against a Falcons defense that allowed the most passing yards in the league last season.
Atlanta focused on improving its offense in the draft, selecting tight end Kyle Pitts with the No. 4 overall pick, and it’s possible that could carry the Falcons in this game. But it is also possible that Philadelphia can upset a team that is somewhere between rebuilding and contending. Pick: Eagles +3.5
Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Vikings -3 | Total: 48
The Bengals elected to reunite quarterback Joe Burrow with his Louisiana State teammate receiver Ja’Marr Chase in the draft rather than pick up an offensive lineman to protect their second-year quarterback as he returns from major knee surgery. Chase caught only one of five targets in the preseason; the rookie attributed the drops to a lack of concentration. That excuse makes sense with Chase adjusting to playing again after opting out of the 2020 college football season. But his acclimation to the N.F.L. intensifies against a secondary which now includes cornerback Patrick Peterson, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection. Pick: Vikings -3
San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: 49ers -7 | Total: 45
It’s full rebuilding mode in Detroit, where the team’s new coach, Dan Campbell, helms a defense that ranked last in yards allowed last season and will try to restore the confidence of Jared Goff, 26, a franchise quarterback the Rams sent packing in the off-season.
That fledgling experiment will be fodder for the 49ers’ elite motion-based rush and a San Francisco defense sharpening its teeth after being wiped out by injuries last season. Coach Kyle Shanahan has elected to start Jimmy Garoppolo over the rookie Trey Lance, but either quarterback could win this one. Pick: 49ers -7
Jets at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Panthers -5.5 | Total: 45
Sam Darnold gets an early opportunity to show his former team what he could have been with quality coaching and a consistent receiver. Rusher Christian McCaffrey is back after missing much of the 2020 season with various injuries, and Darnold has one of the league’s most underrated receiving duos in D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, who both posted 1,000 yards last season.
Zach Wilson, whom the Jets drafted with the No. 2 overall pick to replace Darnold, has his work cut out for him. Pick: Panthers -5.5
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Patriots -3 | Total: 43.5
The Dolphins added receiving threats in Will Fuller V and Jaylen Waddle to help the second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s development as a downfield passer. But that may not be evident in his first game this season against the Patriots, as Coach Bill Belichick will surely employ a plan to confuse the young passer.
Tagovailoa faces his successor at Alabama, Mac Jones, who so impressed the New England coaching staff with his ability to process information before and after the snap that they released Cam Newton at the end of camp. Jones will need to draw on that savvy against Miami’s aggressive defense. Pick: Patriots -3
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: -2.5 Jaguars | Total: 44.5
The Texans officially named the veteran journeyman Tyrod Taylor as their starting quarterback, relegating Deshaun Watson to the bench. Their cloudy quarterback situation directly contrasts with Jacksonville’s. The Jaguars’ optimism over Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, is high. The buzz surrounding him and the first-year N.F.L. coach Urban Meyer should pick up even more after they face a Houston defense that ranked 30th in yards allowed last season and got worse after releasing J.J. Watt. Pick: Jaguars -2.5
Denver Broncos at Giants, 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Broncos -3 | Total: 42
The Giants’ assessment of Daniel Jones as the franchise’s future gets real insight as he faces a Broncos defense rife with talent. Linebacker Von Miller returns from an ankle injury that sidelined him last season, and his presence could disrupt Jones from finding new teammates like receiver Kenny Golladay and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Those additions, along with the Pro Bowl running back Saquon Barkley’s returning to the lineup, should help the third-year starting quarterback as the season progresses. But against the Broncos’ defense, which should be on the field less because of the risk-averse play of Teddy Bridgewater, it may not be enough. Pick: Broncos -3
Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders, 8:15 p.m., ESPN & ABC
Line: -4.5 | Total: 51
The Ravens lost depth at running back when the starter J.K. Dobbins and the reserve Justice Hill both sustained season-ending injuries in training camp. But quarterback Lamar Jackson still commands respect as a runner and passer, and Monday provides him and the team an opportunity to showcase the evolution of their scheme with the addition of the veteran receiver Sammy Watkins. Las Vegas gave up 389 yards per game last season, ranking 30th in the league. The unit hopes to have improved under the new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and defensive lineman Yannick Ngakoue, but the Ravens’ experience should give them an edge. Pick: Ravens -4.5
A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Baltimore -4.5, for example, means that Baltimore must beat Las Vegas by at least 5 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.
What to Watch at the U.S. Open
Novak Djokovic looks to fend off the surging Jenson Brooksby as a slew of crowd favorites clash in the round of 16.
How to watch: From 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN2; and streaming on the ESPN app. In Canada on TSN from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and streaming on TSN.ca and the TSN app.
Because of the number of matches cycling through courts, the times for individual matchups are estimates and may fluctuate based on when earlier play is completed. All times are Eastern Standard.
Louis Armstrong STADIUM | 11 a.m.
Belinda Bencic, who won gold in women’s singles at the Tokyo Olympics, reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 2019 and is two wins away from returning this year. Bencic, a hardcourt specialist seeded 11th, has lost only 18 games across three rounds of play as her flat baseline shots have caused difficulties for her opponents.
Iga Swiatek, the seventh seed, is the only woman to reach the second week of each Grand Slam event in 2021, but she did not make it past the quarterfinals at any of the first three. Against Bencic, Swiatek will have to use crafty shots to try to unsettle Bencic’s rhythm on longer rallies.
Arthur Ashe Stadium | 10 p.m.
Bianca Andreescu won the 2019 U.S. Open but sustained a knee injury at the end of that year, stymying her development as she took 15 months off, returning at the 2021 Australian Open. After losing in the first round on both the French Open’s clay and Wimbledon’s grass, Andreescu, the sixth seed, has looked more at home on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows.
Maria Sakkari, the 17th seed, reached her first major semifinal at this year’s French Open and has moved into the round of 16 at the U.S. Open without dropping a set. After this run, she will move into the top 15 in the world rankings for the first time and with a few more wins, she could even reach the top 10, a first for a Greek woman.
Arthur Ashe Stadium | 7 p.m.
Novak Djokovic, the first seed, has not looked as indefatigable as usual during the U.S. Open. Although he has won each of his three matches in four sets, there have been moments of lethargy that point to some issues with Djokovic’s form as he chases a calendar Grand Slam.
Jenson Brooksby, a 20-year-old American who entered the main draw through a wild card, upset the 21st-seeded Aslan Karatsev in five sets on Saturday. Brooksby has a strangely stylized game, with a shortened service motion and a massive backswing on the forehand that beguiles opponents. He’ll test that style against the best returner in modern tennis.
Louis Armstrong STADIUM | 4 p.m.
Oscar Otte, a qualifier, had never moved past the second round of a major tournament until this week, starting his run in the main draw by upsetting the 20th-seeded Lorenzo Sonego in the first round. He will come up against a much stronger opponent, the sixth-seeded Matteo Berrettini of Italy. Berrettini’s breakout performance came at the U.S. Open in 2019, and he seems most at home among the raucous crowds of New York City. His strong serve and brutalist style of play is well suited to faster surfaces, and Otte will be pushed to play more defensively.
Arthur Ashe Stadium | 3 p.m.
Shelby Rogers had lost to Ashleigh Barty, the world No. 1, all four times they’d played in 2021. On Saturday night, she fought from two breaks down in the third set to win in the tiebreaker, motivated by a crowd that swelled in anticipation after any mistake that Barty made. She will face Emma Raducanu, an 18-year-old Briton, in an attempt to reach her second consecutive U.S. Open quarterfinal. Raducanu blitzed past Sara Sorribes Tormo in the third round, losing only one game in 70 minutes. Raducanu’s second appearance in a major tournament has resulted in yet another visit to the round of 16, and she is in good form to attempt to make a deeper push.
Mardy Fish Can Relate to What Naomi Osaka Is Going Through
Anxiety forced Fish to withdraw from the 2012 U.S. Open. Now he is open about his mental health and works with the U.S.T.A. to provide more resources for players.
The fourth-round singles matches at the U.S. Open were underway on Sunday, and Mardy Fish, the Davis Cup captain and former tennis star, was remembering the moment nine years ago in New York when he sat in the car sobbing with his wife, Stacey, and decided, with her help, that he could not play in the fourth round against Roger Federer.
“It was just crazy anxiety, crazy, crazy, just how am I going to walk out on this court?” he said by telephone from his home in Los Angeles. “But it never, never would have crossed my mind, if my wife wasn’t there with me, that I wouldn’t play. We’re so trained to never show weakness, never show fear, to the other side of the court. But my wife saying, ‘Well, you don’t have to play’ — that part right there was like, right away, just instantly, I felt better, like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.”
Fish is now 39, a parent with Stacey of two young children. He works in finance and is still involved in professional tennis as the U.S. Davis Cup captain. But he is also a mentor, sharing his experience as a prominent athlete who had to deal with mental health problems when the subject was close to taboo in professional sports.
“The reason why I’m so vocal or open about it now is that I didn’t have that success story to lean on when I was going through it,” he said.
He is friendly with Naomi Osaka and her agent Stuart Duguid, and empathized when Osaka announced tearfully on Friday after her third-round defeat at the U.S. Open that she planned to take an indefinite break from the game that no longer brings her joy, even when she wins.
“I would tell her, do whatever makes you happy,” Fish said. “She doesn’t have to hit another tennis ball the rest of her life, and if that makes her happy, that’s what she should do. I think she would regret that, but it’s whatever makes her want to get up in the morning and be happy. And whatever she’s been doing for the last couple months, or however long it’s been, is not doing that for her right now. So hopefully she finds peace and comfort.”
Fish spent months housebound with repeated anxiety attacks after his withdrawal in New York. He received therapy and medication.
After playing intermittently on tour, he returned to the U.S. Open in 2015 and won a round. It was the upbeat closure that he desired and is part of the journey he shares in a documentary that will be released on Tuesday as part of the Netflix “Untold” series.
“To educate is really the most important thing,” Fish said. “To try to reach people that have never understood mental health or had issues with it or people around them who have had issues with it. To just educate them and just understand that Naomi Osaka is not going to pull out of the French Open just because she doesn’t want to talk to the press. And Simone Biles is not going to compete in the Olympics just because she doesn’t want to lose. The people that think that, and there are lots of them, it’s just unfortunate.”
For Fish, one of the keys is to stop regarding mental health as separate from physical health.
“It’s just health,” Fish said. “They call it mental health, but your brain is part of your body. It’s an injury. You just can’t see it.”
Long considered one of the most talented players of his era, Fish improved his fitness and broke through in 2011 to reach the top 10 and qualify for the eight-man tour championships. But he said his rise also created new expectations and stresses.
“My life changed, for the better initially, and then just my body and brain, the way I’m put together, couldn’t handle it,” he said.
In 2012, he began experiencing a racing heartbeat that would wake him in the middle of the night and was diagnosed as a form of arrhythmia. Though he was treated for the condition, the underlying issue was an anxiety disorder, and while playing tennis was a refuge, he also began experiencing panic during his third-round win over Gilles Simon at the 2012 U.S. Open.
“It was like my only comfort was taken away from me that night and it put me into basically rock bottom, zero serotonin left in my brain,” he said.
“It’s not about being tough. I practice kickboxing and muay Thai right now, like, come on, I’ll take anyone on in the ring. You can punch me in the face all you want, and I’ll hit you back. I train that stuff. It’s not about being weak. I was strong mentally. I was a bulldog. To win, I would have sacrificed anything. I’ll put my competitiveness up against anyone’s. It’s not about that. It’s actually the opposite. Showing weakness and that vulnerability is actually showing strength, in my opinion.”
Fish is working as a mentor during the U.S. Open as part of a new initiative from the United States Tennis Association to provide more mental health resources for players, including on-call psychologists. Claudia Reardon, the U.S.T.A.’s new mental health consultant, is overseeing the program.
“Athletes who talk about their own use of mental health resources or their own struggles with mental health symptoms or disorders really do a wonderful service to sport in general in terms of demystifying and normalizing that experience,” Reardon said in an interview. “To have mental health symptoms is not incompatible with high-level sports, and it’s actually a sign of strength to reach out for help.”
Fish said no player had yet contacted him during the tournament, but he said “tons of people” had contacted him since he began speaking openly about his condition.
“People you’ve heard of; people you’ve never heard of,” he said. “Coaches, players, from tennis and other sports. It’s been really nice to be helpful in that way. I’ve made some great relationships because of it, so it’s been comforting in that way, to know I wasn’t alone and that other people wanted to be vulnerable as well, just not to the world.”
Osaka, like Fish, has taken a more open approach, revealing this year that she struggled with anxiety and depression since winning her first Grand Slam singles title at the 2018 U.S. Open. In a round-table discussion before this year’s Open, she, Fish, Nick Kyrgios and Billie Jean King talked about multiple topics, including mental health and media relations.
Though Osaka spoke before and during the Open about her desire to focus on the positives of being a world-class player, she struggled with her emotions in her loss on Friday to the Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez. She tossed her racket and knocked a ball into the stands in frustration and then teared up at a news conference. She said she did not know when she would play her next tennis match.
“Recently, when I win, I don’t feel happy,” she said. “I feel more like relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad, and I don’t think that’s normal.”
Fish was watching and listening.
“That last press conference was her being really open,” he said. “I think it’s really important to put yourself first and what you feel is important to you and what makes you happy, and hopefully tennis is in there for her. I think it is. I know she understands her place in history. But the stuff outside the court has now gotten to her more than just wins and losses, and it’s unfortunate, but it’s important for her to make sure she feels comfortable again and happy again.”
Leylah Fernandez and Canadian Tennis Players Excel at the U.S. Open
Canada’s high-performance tennis program is achieving its goal of producing elite players, several of whom have advanced at the U.S. Open.
The Canadian flag is everywhere at the U.S. Open, where Canadian players are winning on courts across the grounds and beyond.
On Saturday, Bianca Andreescu won in Louis Armstrong Stadium while Denis Shapovalov waited to play there in the night session. On Friday, Felix Auger-Aliassime beat Roberto Bautista Agut in Armstrong, Vasek Pospisil won at doubles on Court 10, and three Canadian girls won junior qualifying matches at the Cary Leeds Center in the Bronx.
The biggest win took place in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday, when Leylah Fernandez, a French Open junior champion two years ago, beat No. 3 seed Naomi Osaka to muscle her way toward the front of Canada’s booming tennis program, an assembly line of players that includes four men in the top 60 and six girls in the top 100 of the junior rankings.
Not bad for a country with about a tenth of the population of the United States. But Canadian players are pouring over the border and making New York their temporary home.
“I’m just glad that there’s so many Canadians going deep in this tournament,” Fernandez said shortly after she had showed the steely nerve it took to oust the defending champion in the world’s biggest tennis stadium. Fernandez, who turns 19 on Monday, is the latest young Canadian to captivate the tennis world, following in the path of Andreescu, who won the 2019 U.S. Open; Auger-Aliassime; Shapovalov; and, before them, Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard.
A country of about 37 million, Canada has made a concerted effort over the past several years to develop elite players, and it is working. Most of them pass through Tennis Canada’s high-performance development program, and many were either immigrants themselves or the Canadian-born children of immigrants.
Fernandez belongs to that list, too, although her route is unique. Her father and coach, Jorge Fernandez, was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and moved to Montreal with his family when he was a small boy. Fernandez’s mother, Irene Exevea, is of Filipino descent from Toronto.
Jorge Fernandez describes himself as a former journeyman professional soccer player in the lower levels of the game, mostly in Latin America. He never knew anything about tennis until his daughter showed interest as a schoolgirl.
“She played some soccer in Montreal,” the elder Fernandez said in a telephone interview Saturday, “but I didn’t want her to just follow me. I wanted her to find her own passion.”
That turned out to be tennis, but Leylah struggled to gain the favor of the local tennis associations. She was part of a Quebec-based development program for a while, but it dropped her, Jorge said, in part because she was tiny. She still wanted to play.
“I told her, ‘It’s OK, we’ll do it ourselves,’” her father said.
They plunged ahead on their own, and soon enough, Leylah Fernandez was tearing through the ranks of her age group and several years above it, winning so many tournaments that Tennis Canada officials finally invited her to train with them.
But as often happens when parents hand their children over to tennis federations, there were differences of opinion, especially over how much Leylah should play. Ultimately, Jorge Fernandez took his daughter out of the program, although amicably, he says.
“I told them we would meet up again,” he explained, “and look, we have.”
He continued: “It’s OK to have disagreements. We all wanted the same thing, which is for Leylah to be successful. We just had a different idea of how to do it, for a while. But they have been doing great work. I tip my hat to them with all the success they have had with so many Canadians going through the program.”
Leylah’s mother thought their daughter would be one of those successes, too. According to Jorge Fernandez, Exevea thought he was crazy to remove his daughter from a program that provided free coaching and more. But he was committed to doing it himself, so he and Leylah and her younger sister, Bianca Jolie, who is 17, continued to train on their own in Montreal. (The oldest, Jodeci, is a dentist in Ohio and did not play tennis competitively).
That left the chief bread-winning duties to Exevea, who, unlike Jorge Fernandez, has a university degree. She moved to California so she could earn U.S. dollars and stayed there for three years while Jorge tapped into his knowledge as a former professional athlete to coach his daughters.
“Those were difficult years, because they only saw their mother maybe two times a year,” Jorge said. “We finally decided to move to Florida. It’s the Mecca of tennis, and we could have the whole family together again.”
To learn the art of tennis and coaching it, Jorge Fernandez immersed himself in the sport, reading texts and watching videos on the internet. His goal was to cultivate a balance between work and fun to ensure that Leylah never got burned out. He taught his daughter, who is 5 feet 6 inches, to study Justine Henin, who is listed at 5-6¾, because it seemed like an appropriate blueprint for success.
Despite her size, Leylah Fernandez is a potent ball striker. Her father claims that, pound for pound, Leylah is “the best power hitter on the tour,” and she derives confidence from her strength. Even before she took the court against Osaka, she said she knew she could beat the four-time major champion.
“From a very young age, I knew I was able to beat anyone,” she said Friday night, before noting that it was past her bedtime.
When she won the French Open junior title in 2019, Leylah Fernandez asked her father if they could celebrate at McDonald’s. Always diligent about nutrition, and in a city known for its culinary expertise, Fernandez chose the fast food restaurant as a way to splurge. Her father agreed.
“It was just the two of us,” Jorge said. “It was sweet, but at the same time, the whole family should have been there. It’s one of the difficult things of the tennis life, all the travel.”
Jorge Fernandez could not attend his daughter’s victory over Osaka. He was in Florida attending to business. But before she took the court, Leylah called him for the strategic game plan, and he was true to his ethos.
“He told me to go on the court, have fun,” she said, and she followed the advice perfectly, flashing a brilliant smile during a relaxed but exuberant speech after the match.
For a time, her family had debated moving to Ecuador so that the girls could play for that country. Instead, they retained their loyalty to Canada, and Leylah Fernandez plays on the Canadian team for the Billie Jean King Cup. On Sunday, she will play No. 16 seed Angelique Kerber, a three-time Grand Slam tournament champion, for a spot in the quarterfinals.
Already, she and her compatriots have helped raise the profile of Canadian tennis a notch higher.
“Our goal here is just to have fun on court,” she said, “to do our best. Hopefully we can inspire kids in Canada to keep going.”
What to Watch on Sunday at the U.S. Open
Barbora Krejcikova and Garbiñe Muguruza meet in a battle of players ranked in the top 10 in the world. Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime plays Frances Tiafoe.
How to watch: From noon to 6 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN, 7 to 11 p.m. on ESPN2, and streaming on the ESPN app. In Canada, on TSN from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and streaming on TSN.ca and the TSN app.
Because of the number of matches cycling through courts, the times for individual matchups are estimates and may fluctuate based on when earlier play is completed. All times are Eastern.
ARTHUR ASHE STADIUM | Noon
Elina Svitolina, the fifth seed, has never been past the semifinals of a Grand Slam event, while Simona Halep, the 12th seed, has won two major titles on the “natural surfaces,” grass and red clay. The two stars have met nine times on tour, and Svitolina holds a slight edge, with five victories. Although both missed out on the U.S. Open last year, they have had plenty of experience in Arthur Ashe Stadium and will be sure to provide a wonderful match to start the day.
ARTHUR ASHE STADIUM | 7 p.m.
On Friday night, both Felix Auger-Aliassime and Frances Tiafoe battled opponents for five sets under the lights of the two main stadiums at Flushing Meadows. Tiafoe upset the fifth seed, Andrey Rublev, in a tight match; Tiafoe won 150 points, while Rublev won 148, and every other stat line provided similar margins. Auger-Aliassime pushed past Roberto Bautista Agut, the 18th seed, riding behind a dominant service performance that included 27 aces. As the two heavy hitters face off, viewers can expect an explosive match under the lights.
ARTHUR ASHE STADIUM | 8 p.m.
The WTA tour has been defined by a lack of predictability. New stars appear, and consistent champions struggle through major events. In contrast, this year’s U.S. Open has been a much more favorite-friendly venue. Today’s match between Barbora Krejcikova and Garbiñe Muguruza will be the first since the 2020 Australian Open played between top 10 players at a major. Krejcikova won the French Open this year, and Muguruza has won two Grand Slam events, making this a particularly well-matched pair; neither will be hindered by the nerves that can accompany a deep run at a major tournament.
Louis Armstrong STADIUM | 1 p.m.
Leylah Fernandez knocked out Naomi Osaka in a three-set battle on Friday night, outlasting the defending champion. Fernandez won her first WTA title on hard courts at the Monterrey Open in March and has backed up her breakthrough year with fearless ball striking.
Angelique Kerber, a three-time major champion, reached the semifinals at Wimbledon, her first time past the fourth round of a major since her victory at Wimbledon in 2018. Kerber has faced tough opposition through the first three rounds but has looked thoroughly in control, using her counterpunching style of play to push around more aggressive opponents.
Grandstand | 5 p.m.
Peter Gojowczyk, ranked No. 141, upset Ugo Humbert, the 23rd seed, in the first round after a grueling set of qualifying matches to get into the main draw. Having never been past the second round of a Grand Slam event, even with 17 main draw appearances, Gojowczyk is flying in rarefied air.
Carlos Alcaraz Garfia broke into the public consciousness on Friday after a career-defining upset over the third seed, Stefanos Tsitsipas. The 18-year-old Alcaraz played a near-perfect match to reach the fourth round of a major event for the first time, using his flat baseline shots to power past Tsitsipas, a former ATP Tour Finals champion.
As this is the only main draw singles match out on the grounds today, expect New York fans to pull for either the veteran underdog or the young star based on whichever will help elongate the match.
At Least 10 of Deshaun Watson's Accusers Have Filed Police Reports
The women said Deshaun Watson, the Houston Texans quarterback, sexually assaulted them or touched them inappropriately.
The Houston Police Department has spoken to at least 10 women who have accused Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson of crimes from unwanted touching to sexual assault, according to records obtained by The New York Times.
The records are heavily redacted, and do not reveal the names of the complainant or the suspect, but they were released in response to a request for all records related to Watson or his home address in Houston.
A brief summary of each complaint is one of the few lines left unredacted in the documents. “Complainant stated that the suspect touched her inappropriately and exposed himself,” read one. Another said: “Complainant was sexually assaulted by the suspect. One suspect. No arrest. Complainant willing to prosecute.”
Houston police spoke to the women between April 2 and May 20 of this year, and dates of when they say the offenses occurred ranged from September 2019 to December 2020. Watson has not been charged with any crimes.
On March 16 of this year, the attorney Tony Buzbee announced that he was filing a lawsuit against Watson, accusing him of misconduct against an unnamed woman. Buzbee now represents 22 women who have sued Watson.
In addition to the 10 women who have spoken to Houston police, the F.B.I. is investigating the case, according to Buzbee and Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin. Watson has spoken to the F.B.I., and Hardin has said agents are investigating one of Buzbee’s clients for extortion, while Buzbee has said they are investigating Watson’s conduct.
The status of the criminal investigations into Watson’s conduct is unclear. Spokespeople for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and the F.B.I. did not respond to requests for comment, while a Houston police spokesman referred to the department’s statement from April 2 which reads, in part, “As with any allegation, the Houston Police Department is now conducting an investigation and will not comment further during the investigative process.”
Last month, a Houston television station reported that a grand jury had been convened in the case. Under Texas law, every potential felony charge goes before a grand jury.
Watson has not talked with police investigators, nor has he spoken with N.F.L. investigators about the accusations, Hardin said in an interview Friday. “The police have made no attempt to reach out to Deshaun, and we don’t expect law enforcement to do so until they complete an investigation,” Hardin said, adding that he would be surprised if the police investigation concluded before October.
“The prosecutor has told us from the beginning that ultimately when the investigation is over, their findings will be presented to a grand jury,” Hardin said at a news conference last month. “We will be given the opportunity to tell our side, and we will get an evenhanded hearing.”
In an interview earlier this week, Hardin said, “Every single week we are finding out more that makes us increasingly more comfortable that none of these cases will lead to valid criminal charges.”
Hardin said he will begin questioning the accusers in the civil cases at depositions that will start this month. Watson’s deposition should happen by February, he said.
The Times requested the records from the Houston police in April, but they were not provided until Friday.
The police department asked the office of the Texas attorney general to rule on whether the records sought were exempt from disclosure. An assistant attorney general wrote in June that information that consists of the “detection, investigation or prosecution of crime” was exempt, but that basic information about an arrested person, an arrest or a crime is not. That basic information was what was released.
One party that has not yet spoken to Watson: The N.F.L. has spoken to a number of the women who have sued Watson, according to Buzbee, but Hardin has said league investigators have not yet spoken to Watson. In cases involving criminal investigations, the N.F.L. typically waits until those investigations are completed before interviewing the player.
The Texans open their season against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 12, and it is unclear whether Watson will start at quarterback, or whether he will still be on the team. Watson participated in some of Houston’s training camp, though he did not play in any of the team’s three preseason games. According to numerous reports he has asked to be traded, a request that has been difficult to fulfill given legal and criminal investigations.
Juliet Macur contributed reporting.
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