Djokovic, Federer, Ferrer and Wawrinka Make It Through to the Semifinals of the Monte Carlo Masters.

Of course, the biggest news in the quarterfinals was that David Ferrer won over the #1 seed Rafael Nadal in straight sets. It’s been 10 years since Ferrer has been victorious over Nadal. Since Nadal won the Monte Carlo men’s singles event eight years in a row until last year when he was beaten by Djokovic, he will be sorely missed in the semis.

Not that Djokovic was having an easy time of it. Playing the unseeded Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Djokovic found himself one set down, 4-6. Even in the second set, Djokovic saved a break point in the fifth game, and then two more break points in the seventh game. But building on his momentum, Djokovic then broke Garcia-Lopez twice and took the second set. Garcia-Lopez just seemed to lose his game in the third set, and Djokovic won comfortably, 6-1, to win the match.

Speaking afterwards, Djokovic told the press, “I started very poorly. Garcia-Lopez played well and I had to work for this win. I finally started to play as I wanted in the second set.”

Djokovic meets Roger Federer in the semifinal, their 34th tournament match together. So far this season, Federer won against Djokovic in Dubai, but lost in the men’s singles final to Djokovic in Indian Wells.

Federer beat Wilfried Tsonga from France, but he also didn’t find it easy. In fact, after Tsonga took the first set 6-2, he was 6-5 up in the second set, and he was at 0-30 on Federer’s serve. Just two points away from the semifinals. But that’s when Federer forced a tiebreak, and then won the tiebreak to even up the game. Federer won the last set, 6-1, to win his place in the semis.

Speaking after the match, Federer spoke to journalists, “It was just many things went wrong at the wrong time for me – Jo playing well, me playing wrong at certain times, wrong shot selections. I’m happy I found the way to tough it out.”

Stanislas Wawrinka won his semifinal spot beating Milos Raonic in straight sets, 7-6, 6-2. Wawrinka was feeling confident after his win, “I just feel strong from the baseline. I feel good physically. I know that on clay courts, if I play my best tennis, I can beat those guys.”

Sources: Kansas City, Yahoo!, Sky Sports

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Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal All Make It Into the Quarterfinals at the Monte Carlo Masters.

Although seeded #2 in the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, Novac Djokovic is definitely playing some of the best tennis of his career this season, having already won at Indian Wells and Key Biscayne. And in the latter, he not only won the title, but beat the #1 seed Rafael Nadal in straight sets to do so.

However, defending champion Djokovic has yet to be tested in this current tournament, and took only 47 minutes to oust Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta in straight sets, 6-0, 6-1. Busta was obviously overwhelmed by Djokovic but, hand it to the crowd, almost the biggest cheer of the afternoon came when Busta won his one and only game in the second set.

Speaking after the match, Djokovic told the press, “Lost only two games in the first two matches. Can’t be better than this, for sure. I am confident on the court. I’m coming off a great American hard-court season. I’ve had more time comparing to last year to practice on the clay courts and to get my game to the level where I want it to be.”

Djokovic will play Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the quarterfinal.

Nadal also had a fairly easy time of it, beating Andreas Seppi from Italy in two straight sets, 6-1. 6-3. This was Nadal’s 300th win on clay, and you know that he’s in the running for this year’s title – as he won for eight consecutive years before Djokovic bested him last year.

Talking to journalists about his performance as well as his next match against David Ferrer in the quarterfinals, Nadal said, “Today, I played a little better than yesterday. I was playing at a good level. David is a tough, tough player on any surface.  But here on clay, always a big challenge.”

Roger Federer, seeded #4 in this contest, started off slow in the first set, down 1-3 after four games. But Federer powered up his performance in the fifth game and went on to win 6-4, 6-1.

Federer acknowledged his slow start, “It was a bit rocky in the beginning.”

Sources: Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, Tennis Now

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Real Madrid Beat Barcelona, 2-1, to Win the Copa del Ray.

If you didn’t already know, the Copa del Ray is ‘King’s Cup’ translated from the Spanish. The full name of the contest is Campeonato de Espana Copa de Su Majestad el Rey… and that’s why they just call it Copa del Ray! Held since 1903, it’s an annual soccer competition for clubs only in Spain.

And just so you know, Barcelona has won the cup 26 times and finished as runners-up 11 times.

Real Madrid looked the stronger team in the first half, dominating play throughout but, aside from Angel Di Maria scoring in the 11th minute, never seemed able to capitalize on their strong attack strategies. They also seemed slow to react in defense – but that changed in the second half.

However, being one goal up seemed to put the game into stalemate, Real Madrid unable to score again, but putting up such a strong defense so Barcelona could never get through to score.

Everything changed in the 22nd minute of the second half when one of the Barcelona defenders, Marc Barta – who everyone thought would miss the game through injury – headed in a corner kick and the Real Madrid goalkeeper, Iker Casilla, let in his first goal in the entire competition.

The game even, it was like everyone snapped back to attention and the final 20 minutes of the game produced some of the most exciting soccer we’ve seen from these two teams this season.

Cristiano Ronaldo was unable to play on the Real Madrid side due to injury, but in the last few minutes of the game, it was like he was there in spirit. There couldn’t have been a person in the stadium who didn’t remember Ronaldo snatching the title from Barcelona in the last minutes of the final back in 2011. And this time, it was all down to Welshman, Gareth Bale.

With just five minutes left in regulation time, Bale got the ball on the left-hand side of the field just inside the Madrid half. Running down the left wing, he literally outran the defender, took the ball into the penalty area and knocked the ball under the Jose Pinto, the Barca goalkeeper.

The Barcelona manager, Gerardo Martino, had this to say about Bale’s amazing run, “It is difficult to see a player be able to sprint like that at that stage of the game.”

Sources: Sports Illustrated, BBC, NESN

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NASCAR Giant, Gene Haas, Is Accepted by the FIA to Enter Formula 1 Motor Racing.

Applications had to be in by February 10th and decisions should have been made by February 28th – but better late than never the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) – the Formula 1 governing body – has accepted the application made by NASCAR’s Gene Haas to enter his own F1 race team.

The FIA is also considering another application from Colin Kolles – former principal for Jordan, Midland, Spyker, Force India and HRT – for Forza Rossa.

In a statement released by the FIA, it was announced, “In close consultation with the CRH [commercial rights holder], the FIA has accepted the candidature of Haas Formula LLC and are in the process of conducting further investigations for Forza Rossa.”

Speaking to the press about the successful application, Haas said, “Obviously, we’re extremely pleased to have been granted a Formula One license by the FIA. It’s an exciting time for me, Haas Automation and anyone who wanted to see an American team return to Formula One. Now, the really hard work begins. It’s a challenge we embrace as we work to put cars on the grid.”

Founded in 1983, Haas Automation is the one of the biggest machine tool builders in the world and has an amazing track record in NASCAR racing, winning the Sprint Cup Series championship in 2011. Haas teamed up with Tony Stewart in 2002 to form the Stewart-Haas race team sporting drivers that include Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Danica Patrick.

The Haas company also operates the world’s most sophisticated wind tunnel in the world, Windshear, which will be a huge advantage to the new team as they’re building formula 1 cars.

The last time anyone tried to put together an all-American F1 team, the effort failed due to lack of funding. With the Haas organization behind this new application, that shouldn’t be a problem.

In other FIA news, they’re discussing the new V6 turbo hybrid engines that F1 cars are using now. The problem? They’re too quiet. Fans are complaining that the lack of engine noise is spoiling their enjoyment of the live experience of Grand Prix. More to come on that when the FIA next meets in Marrakech, Morocco, to discuss…

Sources: Reuters, Bangkok Post, Sports Illustrated, Independent Tribune

 

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Fernando Verdasco Beats Nicolas Almagro to Win the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship.

Let’s face it, Spain has a lot of great tennis players – there’s Rafael Nadal right on top of the pack, and another seven Spaniards in the top 50. And on Sunday, at River Oaks in Houston, Texas, two of the finest that Spain has to offer were battling it out in the final of the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship.

If anything, Nicolas Almagro was the favorite. He was not only the third seed for this tournament, but he was also the runner-up in last year’s final to John Isner. He’d also had less playing time as he got a walk-over in the semis as Sam Querry was suffering from back injuries.

The number four seed, Fernando Verdasco was all over Almagro in the first set and, although every point was hard-fought, Verdasco won comfortably, 6-3.

The second set was even tougher, with amazing baseline contests between the two players that had the crowd cheering with excitement. Games went to server throughout the set, and the only nail-biter came in the ninth game with Verdasco serving. Alamgro missed five break points to break Verdasco’s serve, and the set ended up in a tiebreaker which Verdasco won to win the title.

Speaking to the press after the game, Verdasco said, “The key was my mentality during the week. I keep going on every point no matter how tired or how good I was feeling. I didn’t finish perfect because we [plus David Marrero] lost the doubles final, and we were very close to winning. But it was great I was able to win today.”

Talking about his performance, Verdasco added, “We both in general played good. I think I took more chances than he did and that’s why I won the first set. But all the time against Nico there are difficult matches. I know I need to be 100 percent on every point. It is a tough situation. We have been playing many times, knowing each other for a long time. At the same time you are feeling so happy you have won you are also feeling bad for him. I know how hard it is to lose a final.”

Sources: Chron, Sky Sports, Washington Times

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Bubba Watson Takes a Three-Stroke Lead to Win his Second Green Masters Jacket.

After three grueling rounds of golf at the Augusta National course in Atlanta, the day started off with the lead shared by Bubba Watson – winner of the Green Jacket in 2012 – and the youngest player ever to share the lead, 20-year old Jordan Spieth.

And it looked as though history was going to be made as Jordan Spieth began his round, and was two strokes up over Watson as he strolled on to the eighth tee. But then the tables were turned, Spieth missed an easy five-foot putt to bogey, while Watson made a birdie.

And again, on the ninth hole, it was deja vu as Spieth missed a five-foot putt for par while Watson hit a tough 12-foot putt through all kinds of curls to make his birdie and go two strokes up.

Speaking after the game, Spieth told the press, “Two two-stroke swings in a row, on this golf course, is very difficult to come back from. Hats off to Bubba.  When he’s playing like that it’s hard to catch him.”

Watson bogeyed the 10th, but then skillfully managed Amen Corner – the famed 11th, 12th and 13th holes at Augusta National that have been the downfall of so many golfers. While Spieth bogeyed the 12th, Watson made careful pars and then birdied the par-three 13th putting him three strokes in front of his rivals.

After the match, Watson told journalists, “I don’t remember the last few holes. I just remember hanging on. I was just thinking, ‘Make pars. Make pars.’”

And that’s exactly what he did, shooting a three-under par 69 to win his second green jacket.

Jubilantly, Watson told the crowd at the 18th hole, “I never loved green so much. After giving away that jacket last year, I wanted it back.”

Watson is the now the 17th multiple winner of the Masters tournament, and this is his sixth major career title.

Sharing second place were Jonas Blixt and Spieth, with Miguel Angel Jimenez coming in fourth.

And just a few words on the fortunes of young Spieth. A year and half ago, he was ranked as #810 in the world, 10 months ago he was #276. After his performance in the Masters, Spieth is now ranked as the ninth best golfer in the world. Watson moves from #12 to #4.

Sources: Business World Online, CBS Sports, Christian Science Monitor

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Bubba Watson Takes Over the Lead After Day Two of the Masters at Augusta National.

It was good to see young Bill Haas leading the way on the first day of the Masters – that’s certainly something to write home about. But the first day is the first day, and Haas had a lot of people on his tail who have now overtaken him on the leaderboard – sadly, Haas does not even appear in the first 15, finishing the day with a two-over-par, 78.

Bubba Watson played an exceptional round on day one, bogey-free, ending up three under par, 69. That put him one stroke behind the leader, and perfectly in place for the second day. And what a day, Watson was on fire from the tee, his fairway shots were superb and, after a few holes, his putting was exactly how he’d want it to be.

Perhaps the finest part of his performance on Friday was in the middle of his round when he birdied five holes in a row, from the 12th through the 16th. Watch the entire tournament and you probably won’t see a finer streak of golfing genius.

Watson’s four under par 68 now places him three shots ahead of his nearest competitor.

Speaking after his round, Watson told the press, “Just got to keep my head down – same thing I’ve been doing the last two days, same thing I did earlier this year. Just keep my head down and not try to focus on the crowds cheering for me and stuff. Trying to stay level; not too energized, not too excited.”

While Watson’s up front, there’s a bunch of guys just waiting for their chance at stealing the limelight. John Senden is just three strokes behind Watson, and one stroke after him, there’s a tie for third place between Thomas Bjorn, Jonas Blixt, Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth.

Somehow, Rory McIlroy – who seemed to be having no end of bad luck on the course – managed to make the cut. But there’s a few who didn’t, including Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell and Trevor Immelman.

Sources: ESPN, SB Nation, UK Independent

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It’s the First Round of the Masters at the Augusta National – And Not Everyone Has Their Best Game on Hand…

Phil Mickelson spoke a confident game in the days leading up to the first round of the Augusta National. As a three-time winner of the Masters, he would love to match the four Masters wins by Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods – and maybe even have a crack at Jack Nicklaus’ record of six wins.

But this might not be the Masters where Mickelson breaks any records. After shooting a four-over-par 76, he’s eight strokes behind the leader, Bill Haas, and there’s a whole lot of golfing talent sitting a lot closer to the lead than he is. Eight strokes down puts him tied for 67th, and he needs to be in the top 50 after Friday’s round if he wants to keep in contention.

Mickelson wasn’t having a terrible round until the seventh hole and then, yes, the ‘terrible’ word could be used. He chipped on to the green, but it was dry and firm, and it rolled off. Chipping back on, Mickelson did well to get to around five  feet of the cup. He did not do so well three-putting from there for a triple-bogey.

There were also some problems on the 15th hole where he found out just how water and golf do not make the best of friends. Mickelson chipped to the green, hit a bank and rolled back into a water hazard. He then missed a fairly easy putt and double-bogeyed.

Speaking after the game, Mickelson said, “I’ve got a lot of work to do just to make the cut. So I’ve got some issues. I actually played well, but I just made a lot of little mistakes around the greens.”

Another player who had a bad day was Craig Stadler, who shot an 82. Ever the diplomat, Stadler said, “I played like a moron. My whole game stinks.”

But at least Stadler can revel in his son’s great round of 70, only two strokes behind the leader. Kevin Stadler spoke to the press after his round, “I’ll take 2-under all day, every day, the rest of my life.”

Craig and Kevin Stadler are the first father and son to play the same Masters tournament.

Sources: SF Gate, Lubbock Avalanche Journal, Washington Post

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Joey Logano Wins at the Texas Motor Speedway, His Fourth Win in 190 Career Starts.

Moving to drive for Roger Penske’s outfit was probably the best move that Joey Logano could have made. Winning on Sunday was his second for the team – Logano won last August in Michigan.

In his last two times racing at the Texas Motor Speedway, Logano came in fifth and third, so he obviously likes the track. And he broke a record, becoming the youngest driver ever to win at the Texas Motor Speedway.

Another record was broken too. Never before in the Sprint Cup Series, have seven different drivers won the first seven races of the season.

After a rain delay, the race got off to a rocky start, with the first 1o laps being run under both green and yellow flags. A few laps after going green, Dale Earnhardt Jr. skidded across the track into the wall, and damaged Jimmie Johnson’s car into the bargain.

Following the restart, Tony Stewart led the race until lap 76 when Brad Keselowski powered through in his Ford to take up the front position. By lap 122, Denny Hamlin took over point and, when he had to head into the pits on lap 142, it was his teammate, Kyle Busch, who took over.

By lap 153, Jeff Gordon passed Busch but then 30 laps after that Keselowski was back out front. Gordon regained the lead after the race was restarted on lap 227 and then, after Kurt Busch blew a tire, everyone headed down pit road.

While Gordon took two tires, the wily Logano took all four and used the extra speed and grip to pass Gordon on the last lap of the race to win. The points puts Logano 24 points behind leader Gordon in the Sprint Cup standings.

Gordon came in a close second, Kyle Busch third, Brian Vickers fourth, and Kyle Larson fifth.

Speaking to the press after the race, 23-year old Logano said, “We’ve been in contention every race this year to win, and I’m proud to be a part of that. I felt very confident about this race. For some reason I told Todd [Todd Gordon, Penske's crew chief], I said, ‘We’re going to win this week’ and I was mad when we didn’t get the pole. But I felt like we had a car that could win today.”

Sources: Fox Sports, Bleacher Report, SB Nation

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Oklahoma City Thunder Wins Over the LA Clippers, 107-101.

The Thunder are, for the first time since around late December, playing with their strongest team. And it showed in their game last night against the Los Angeles Clippers who were hosting at the Staples Center.

Both the Clippers and the Thunder have won their respective divisions, but it’s Oklahoma that’s in contention for the number two spot in the Western Conference. And a win against the Clippers was going to get them close to an assured place in the playoffs.

The first quarter started off with a bang, the Thunder roaring ahead and scoring nine points before the Clippers had a chance to do anything. After a few minutes, and a couple of good runs by the Los Angeles team, the score started to settle down a bit and they started the second quarter with the Thunder ahead, 30-27.

In the second quarter, the Thunder started to pull away again, led by an amazing 17-4 run spearheaded by Caron Butler who attempted four three-pointers… and got them all. By the time the teams trooped off for the break, the Thunder had extended their lead to 61-49.

The third quarter seemed evenly matched, and the Thunder maintained its double-digit lead until about 10 minutes from the end of regulation time, 89-73. The Clippers aggressively started grabbing points wherever they could and, before you knew it, the score was even at 97 points each with a little under three minutes to go.

But that was as tantalizingly close as the Clippers got, Kevin Durant and Darren Collison both got three-pointers, and the Thunder were back in the lead and eventually won 107-101.

The Clippers coach Doc Rivers spoke to the press after the game, “We didn’t play very well. We didn’t have any kind of rhythm. At the end, we had our chances, but we got in the way of ourselves tonight.”

Oklahoma’s Russell Westbrook, who got 30 points in last night’s game, told journalists, “To win big games, you’ve got to do the little things. It’s not always going to be a big shot. It may be a big steal, a big rebound, a big block, a big box out. You never know what it may be. But we did all those things tonight.”

Sources: CBS Sports, News OK, News Observer

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