The River City Renegade


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About the Secretariat of clay court tennis…a delight named Jelena…time for Chevy to get to work…and angry, old Grandpa Simmons is shaking his fist at clouds again

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Let’s make something perfectly clear: Stan Wawrinka is very, very good and what he does.

Unless your name is Roger Federer, Stan the Man is the best tennis talent ever produced in Switzerland. He is just one successful Wimbledon fortnight short of a career Grand Slam, having already claimed the singles titles at the Australian, French and U.S. Opens. He is ranked No. 3 among all racqueteers on the third rock from the sun.

Yet Rafael Nadal made No. 3 look like No. 303 in the men’s final at the French Open on Sunday in Paris.

It was like watching Secretariat win the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. Seriously, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1? In the championship match of a Grand Slam tournament? We haven’t seen a rout like that since Custer threw down on Crazy Horse at the Little Bighorn. Or at least since Rafa paddywhacked Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 in the 2008 championship match at Roland Garros.

But that’s what Rafa Nadal does. Put him on a tennis court made of clay and you have Secretariat.

Rafa Nadal

The wedgie Rafa delivered to Wawrinka on Sunday reminded me of something Yogi Berra mused about Sandy Koufax, scant seconds after the legendary Los Angeles Dodgers lefthander had whiffed 15 New York Yankees in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series:

I can see how he won 25 games,” said Yogi, the Yankees catcher. “What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”

It’s the same with Rafa Nadal. He’s won the title at Roland Garros 10 times, collecting 79 victories against two losses. How in the name of Philippe Chatrier did he lose twice?

Robin Soderling (2009) and Novak Djokovic (2015) are the only foes to vanquish Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros, and I have to assume French Open officials demanded that both men pee in a bottle immediately after their matches. I mean, you don’t beat Nadal in Paris unless there’s something funny in your drinking water.

Most people go to Paris for the food, the wine, the art, the culture and the romance. Nadal goes to search and destroy. He’s relentless, ruthless and has the steely-eyed focus of an assassin.

Wawrinka mentioned something about playing Rafa on a clay court being the stiffest challenge in tennis, and evidence supports that notion. Nadal has lost only twice at Roland Garros. In 13 years. He’s 102-2 in best-of-five matches on clay.

But Wawrinka is also selling the Spaniard short. It isn’t just tennis. Playing Rafael Nadal on clay is the greatest challenge in the entirety of sports.

Jelena Ostapenko

There’s hope for the future of women’s tennis, and her name is Jelena Ostapenko, the Latvian lass whose dashing and daring ruled the day at Roland Garros. The winners and unforced errors come in equal number from Ostapenko, but once she brings her service game up to the level of her groundstrokes (she hits her forehead harder than world No. 1 Andy Murray) the 20-year-old will become the face of the ladies’ game the moment Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova take their permanent leave. It isn’t just her substantial game, though. It’s her winning personality. On court, Ostapenko bares her emotions, off court she is the very picture of wide-eyed innocence, often giggling like a schoolgirl and forever smiling. She’s an absolute delight.

While watching the French Open this past fortnight, I found myself wondering this: How did Steffi Graf, Chrissie Evert, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and other legendary ladies’ champions win all those Grand Slam titles without the orgasmic shrieking and grunting that we hear today?

I heard a rumor that the National Hockey League season is over. If that’s true, someone give Kevin Cheveldayoff a nudge and tell the Winnipeg Jets general manager to “wakey, wakey.” It’s time for him to go to work.

I note that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press has been tabbed for induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Roll of Honour in October. Good choice. Wiecek is the best sports columnist the Drab Slab has featured since Hal Sigurdson signed off in 1996, even when he’s writing about rock climbing.

Steve Simmons has become the Jose Bautista of sports writing: Tedious, tiresome and time to move on. I mean, it’s one thing for a columnist to be opinionated and rub the rabble the wrong way. That’s a large part of the gig. And Simmons surely has mastered the art of getting up noses with his alphabet farts that appear on sports pages of Postmedia sheets from one flank of the True North to the other. But…the Toronto Sun scribe has grown increasingly nasty and mean-spirited, if not cruel, in his commentary. He is Grandpa Simmons, shaking his fists at clouds and screaming at kids to get the hell off his lawn. A case in point is Simmons’ take on mixed doubles competition in Grand Slam tennis. When our girl Gabriela Dabrowski advanced to the mixed doubles final of the French Open last week, Mark Masters of TSN delivered this tweet: “No Canadian woman has won a mixed doubles grand slam title. Ottawa’s @GabyDabrowski has a chance to change that on Thursday.” To which Simmons responded: “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” I’m not sure if that was supposed to be funny, witty or clever, but it was none of the above. It was classless, tacky and totally unnecessary, as were a series of insensitive follow-up tweets belittling Dabrowski’s and partner Rohan Bopanna’s achievement.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Simmons is pooh-poohing yet another event in sports. It’s become his shtick. Last year he was “bothered” by the selection of Rosie MacLennan as Canada’s flag-bearer for the Olympic Games in Rio, because trampoline is “a marginal pursuit” that “seems more backyard and gimmicky that it does Olympian.” He’s also advocated the elimination of women’s hockey at the Olympics, writing: “Women’s hockey is the least competitive, least interesting, least Olympic of all sports in the Winter Games. There should be a cry to end this Olympic charade of imbalance.” And he once told the Ryerson Review of Journalism that “I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports.” I’ll remind you that he writes for a newspaper that’s best known for the tits and ass it displays on Page 3 and, to this day, continues to objectify women with its Sunshine Girl.

Thanks to a study by neuroscientist Tara Swart, we now know what we’ve suspected all along: Journalists’ brains function at a sub-par level. For evidence, see: Simmons, Steve. (See, I can stoop to gratuitous, mean-spirited and nasty comments, too. You know, just like a real sports columnist at a real big-city newspaper.)

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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About bad behaviour in sports…straight guys talking about gay things…sports scribes eating their own…the unlovable Blue Jays…clay-court tennis…and cole slaw on a hamburger?

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

It’s been an interesting and odd past couple of weeks in the sandbox. Let’s recap:

  • Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays was shut down for two Major League Baseball games and instructed to do some serious soul searching after directing a homophobic nasty toward Atlanta Braves pitcher Jason Motte.
  • The National Hockey League lightened Ryan Getzlaf’s pay envelope to the tune of $10,000 after the Anaheim Ducks captain went all potty-mouth and homophobic in a playoff match.
  • Four heterosexual men who, to the best of my knowledge, have not spent a single day of their lives as gay men, gathered around a table in a TSN studio and discussed gay issues as if they harbored special insight into what words do and don’t offend gay people.
  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods, much like his golf game, was discovered asleep at the wheel and hauled off to a Florida hoosegow on a DUI charge. Tiger’s mug shot was rather ghastly but, hey, who looks good in the small hours of the morning when they’re hopped up on every pill known to man?

  • Terry Frei, award-winning sports columnist with the Denver Post, was told to leave the building and not return after a tweet in which he expressed his discomfort with a Japanese man, Takuma Sato, winning the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day in the United States. Frei later said we’re free to call him an idiot for his idiotic and racist remark, but he asks that we don’t call him a racist for his idiotic and racist remark.
  • Tennis legend Margaret Court has gone completely off her nut. She described the women’s tour as a lesbian-infested enterprise in which senior players groom vulnerable youngsters to adopt a lesbian lifestyle; she bemoaned the birth of Casey Dellacqua’s second child because she’ll be raised by two mamas and no papas; she insisted that transgender kids are the work of the devil; she compared a phantom LGBT lobby to Adolph Hitler and communism; she accused that same phantom gay lobby as the force behind a move to have her name scrubbed from one of the venues used for the Australian Open. (What is it with old tennis farts? It wasn’t so long ago when Romanian pig Ilie Nastase went off his nut with racist remarks about Serena Williams’ unborn baby—“Let’s see what color it has. Chocolate with milk?” and he made sexist comments about Britain’s top female player Johanna Konta, calling her a “bitch” and asking for her hotel room number.)
  • French tennis player Maxime Hamou, perhaps in an attempt to disprove Court’s theory that everyone in tennis is gay, was kicked out of Roland Garros for forcibly and repeatedly kissing Eurosport reporter Maly Thomas during a live TV interview.

I think that pretty much sums up the seedy side of sports in recent days, and I think we can agree that there’s been a whole lot of ugly going on.

The worst optic for me was the TSN panel on The Reporters with Dave Hodge. I mean, when I think of poor casting, Johnny Depp as Tonto comes to mind. Kevin Costner as Robin Hood. John Wayne as Genghis Khan. Ashton Kutcher as anybody. All bad, bad, bad, bad. But four heterosexual sports guys talking about gay things? The worst.

Heterosexual male sports scribes should be discussing gay issues only if they are gay, if they have spent considerable time in the LGBT community, if they offer a named gay source as a point of reference, if they have felt the sting of a homophobic barb, or if they have had to fight society for the right to marry the partner of their choice.

I doubt Hodge, Michael Farber, Steve Simmons or Dave Feschuk qualify on any count.

Farber suggested the way the Blue Jays and MLB handled the Pillar situation was “admirable.” Well, I’m sure it was to him. But he isn’t gay. Perhaps a gay sports writer might think the punishment for calling an opponent a “faggot” was too namby-pamby.

Trouble is, there are no gay sports scribes in Canada. At least not in the mainstream. If you’re talking about a jock journo at big city daily rags in the True North, there’s a 99.9 per cent probability that he’s a he, he’s white and he’s a confirmed heterosexual. The other 0.1 per cent is female. And probably straight.

Mark Spector

Mark Spector of Sportsnet represents the 99.9 per cent, and he recently wondered why the NHL cannot hear a homophobic slur “the way a gay man would hear the word.” Well duh. It’s because the people who occupy the ivory tower in the NHL are not gay.

Spector’s piece is thoughtful (he actually solicited gay insight from Brock McGillis, a former Ontario Hockey League goaltender who came out post-career) and he asks this question: “Why have the other sports experienced players come out, but not the National Hockey League? Or Canadian Major Junior Hockey?” Spector might pose the same query about his own business. I started in the rag trade in 1969. I worked with gay entertainment writers, gays on news side, gay librarians, gay department heads, but never once a gay male jock journo. You’d think that in the ensuing 48 years there’d have been at least one gay guy scribbling about sports at one of the big-city, mainstream dailies. But no. There have been more sightings of Sasquatch. Why no openly gay sports scribes? Probably the same reason there are no openly gay hockey players—they fear ridicule and don’t want to be thought of as a weaker-than or a lesser-than.

Hey, look who’s back! It’s the two Grumpets, Steve Lyons and Paul Wiecek. They’ve reappeared on the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages, and they did the unthinkable with their return volley: They ate their own. Actually, it was Wiecek who called out Cathal Kelly in a discussion about Tiger Woods’ arrest on a DUI charge. “The normally staid Globe and Mail had a hyperventilating column by Cathal Kelly up on their site already by Monday afternoon, which made the paper and Kelly—who is usually excellent—looking very stupid.” Yowzers. I can’t recall the last time I read one sports scribe dissing one of the brethren like that, but I think JFK was still alive.

Got a kick out of good guy Doug Smith’s blog in the Toronto Star. “How can you not hope for the best for a team that’s lost so many vital components already and still manages to soldier on?” Smith asks of the beleaguered Blue Jays. Well, Doug, I’ll give you two names to explain why I cannot root, root, root for the Tranna Nine: Jose and Bautista. He is the most tedious, tiresome man in professional sports.

While watching a McDonald’s commercial during the terrific five-setter between our top tennis guy Milos Raonic and Pablo Carreno Busta at Roland Garros on Sunday morning, I couldn’t help but wonder: Who thought it would be a good idea to put coleslaw on a hamburger? I’m not lovin’ it.

I do love clay-court tennis and its long rallies, though, which might explain why the French Open is my preferred Grand Slam event and my two main men of all time are Bjorn Borg and Rafa Nadal. The Raonic-Carreno Busta match was terrific theatre, with the Spaniard enduring 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 8-6.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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About Kevin Cheveldayoff’s playoff guarantee for the Winnipeg Jets…Festus Haggen running the Vancouver Canucks…Genie Bouchard’s hissy fit…the heavyweight boxing alphabet…and those darned kids are playing on Steve Simmons’ lawn again

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Interesting exchange between John Shannon of Sportsnet and Kevin Cheveldayoff before the ping pong balls went bouncy-bouncy at the National Hockey League draft lottery on Saturday in the Republic of Tranna.

Shannon: “I mean this sincerely, I don’t wanna see you (here) next year.”

Chevy: “I’m not coming back.”

I suppose we can read that light-hearted bit of good, ol’ boys banter one of two ways:

1) Chevy, after half a dozen years of generally (mis)managing the Winnipeg Jets, is telling the faithful that there shall be meaningful games played at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie next spring. That’s right, playoffs. You have his guarantee. No ifs, buts or maybes. It’s iron-clad.

Or…

2) Should the Jets fail to qualify for the 2018 Stanley Cup tournament, Chevy is telling Jets Nation that he no longer will be generally (mis)managing the Jets. They’ll kick him to the curb.

Which of the two is it? Well, I don’t think Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman is inclined to kick Chevy anywhere, although a good, swift boot to the seat of his britches might serve a useful purpose. So, he’s guaranteeing us that the Jets will not be a lottery team next year.

Trouble is, nobody will hold him to it.

Yo! Kevin Cheveldayoff! This is your weekly reminder about how to build a playoff team. If you’ve been paying attention to the Edmonton McDavids’ postseason run, you’ll know they’ve gotten game-winning goals from Zack Kassian (two), David Desharnais, Adam Larsson, Patrick Maroon and Anton Slepyshev. All but Slepyshev were acquired in trades, Chevy. Oh, and that goalie who stole Game 2 for the McDavids in their skirmish with the Disney Ducks? That’s right. Cam Talbot was acquired in a trade, as well. But, hey, you just keep drafting and doing nothing else, Chevy.

Why do I keep reading and hearing that it will be an upset if the McDavids knock off the Ducks? Edmonton was a mere two points in arrears of Anaheim at the close of regular-season business, they racked up the same number of Ws (regulation/overtime), and their goal differential was 12 better. So how would that qualify as an upset?

Festus Haggen and Trevor Linden: Separated at birth?

That hot mess that is the Vancouver Canucks doesn’t look any prettier after they dropped three spots, to No. 5, in the draft lottery, but it won’t prevent Trevor Linden from peddling his flock a snootful of hooey. “We could get a better player at five than the top two, and that’s what we’re focused on,” the Canucks chief cook and bottle washer said. “We’re thinking about the entire draft. We’ll have six picks in the top 120 and we’re going to add to our group of prospects. That’s the message to our fans.” Which is like trying to sell mosquitoes to Winnipeg.

Yo! Trevor Linden! It’s one thing to look like you’re in the fourth month of a hunger strike, but what’s with those scruffy chin whiskers? If someone were to stick a tattered, old cowboy hat on you, we’d be looking at Festus Haggen from Gunsmoke.

Would I be out of line if I suggest someone other than Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player in the world? I mean, I don’t see anyone better than Erik Karlsson these days, and the Ottawa Senators captain is playing on a foot with two hairline fractures.

I see our girl Genie Bouchard had herself quite the hissy fit when the Sharapova Shriek returned to the Women’s Tennis Association tour this week after 15 months of shriek freedom. Maria Sharapova, of course, had been in exile for using the banned substance meldonium, and the return of Her Royal Blondness as a wild-card entry in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix at Stuttgart, Germany, inspired Genie to label the former world No. 1 a “cheater and…I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again.” Geez, who knew Genie Bouchard was still on the circuit?

Maria Sharapova

Yo! Genie and all you other ladies (hello, Caroline Wozniacki) who would have Sharapova grovel! Listen up. Serena Williams is away having babies. The Sharapova Shriek had been silenced. You have no star power without them. Zero. Zilch. Nada. So give your heads a shake. Of course event organizers want the tall Russkie in the main draw. That’s why she was offered wild-card entries at Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome. She sells. It’s a no-brainer. Will she receive a free pass into the French Open at Roland Garros? We’ll know mid-May. In the meantime, the WTA needs her as much as she needs it.

Once upon a time, a heavyweight title bout was the biggest sports story of the day. Heavyweight champion of the world was the most exalted position in all of jockdom. Today? Dispatches on the title tiff between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko on Saturday night at Wembley Stadium in London didn’t even make it on the front page of the Sportsnet website (I guess they couldn’t work a Toronto Maple Leafs angle into the story) and it made the bottom of the page on TSN’s site. For the record, Joshua (19-0, 19 knockouts) stopped Klitschko in the 11th round and he now owns two of prize fighting’s alphabet belts—the IBF and WBA. Deontay Wilder is the WBC champeen and Joseph Parker holds the WBO title. No word on the three champions going dukes up to sort out boxing’s alphabet, but if they do fight I’m sure Sportsnet won’t care.

Grandpa Steve Simmons is in the Bow Wow Bungalow again.

Oh, dear me, those pesky kids are playing in Grandpa Steve Simmons’ front yard again. The Postmedia columnist tweets: “Shouldn’t playoffs be enough to get people excited? Why this need for blaring noise and screaming half hour before Raptors game?” Shhhhhh. You kids keep it down out there! Grandpa Stevie has to get in his nap before tipoff.

Just wondering: Is there a Canadian Football League rule that Chris Jones hasn’t broken since taking over Gang Green. The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Mr. Everything has been levied fines totaling $116,500, which could buy him a backup quarterback, a rookie O-lineman and a fine to be levied later.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.