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 cheering for Matt Nichols…bloggers vs. mainstream media…cops putting the cuffs on Kane…a cheeseless Cheesehead…and other stuff on my mind

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

Matt Nichols

Matt Nichols

I don’t mind admitting that I’m root, root, rooting for Matt Nichols to get the job done this week when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers haul their sorry butts into Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.

Hey, I’m not in mainstream jock journalism anymore, so I’m allowed to wave pom-poms and type at the same time now.

Actually, true confession: I always did cheer for certain athletes. Just like every sports scribe then and now. Oh, they’d have us believe that they’re flatliners when it comes to partisanship, but that’s a load of hooey for two reasons: 1) The beat is more enjoyable to work when writing dispatches about a winning outfit, because the to-and-fro with jocks tends to be less adversarial; 2) writers develop a fondness for some players—especially the “good quotes”—so they wish for them to succeed.

They’re just supposed to keep it on the QT and not allow it to leak into their copy, that’s all.

Here in the blogosphere, on the other hand, we’re not bound by that unwritten code. We can lash them or we can laud them based on our biases.

I’m partial to the Bombers. My personal history with them dates back to the beginning of the glory years in the late 1950s; ergo, my preference is that they once again become something other than the free space on the Canadian Football League bingo card. Is Nichols the quarterback to take them where they haven’t been since 1990? One can hope, so one can cheer for him.

Bobby Hull and former bride Joanne

Bobby Hull and former bride Joanne

Interesting to note the difference between how bloggers and mainstream media tackled the announcement that Bobby Hull would be among the first three inductees to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame. Bloggers Mitch Kasprick at Winnipeg Hockey Talk and Cara at Arctic Ice Hockey addressed the matter of Hull’s history of domestic violence head on, whereas mainstream jock journalists didn’t touch it. Cara’s piece spurred a healthy debate among AIH readers and contributors, which makes me wonder what opinionists at the Winnipeg Sun and Winnipeg Free Press were afraid of.

Also interesting are the literary gymnastics that Paul Wiecek has performed on the sports pages of the Freep during the past few months. I hope he didn’t hurt himself. I mean, in mid-April, he was advocating contract extensions for the losing tandem of Bombers general manager Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea. Earlier this month, he advised us that O’Shea was not to be faulted for the local football heroes stumbling out of the gate. And now? It’s all Mikey’s mess. Apparently CEO Wade Miller has held up his end. Ditto Walters. So Mikey has to wear that 1-4 record. I make no secret that I’m a Wiecek fan, but I’m concerned when he goes all Gary Lawless on us.

So I have just one question after seeing that photo of Buffalo cops slapping the bracelets on old friend Evander Kane and charging him with several counts of wrong-doing that involved the physical mistreatment of women: Has Sabres Tim Murray called his counterpart with the Winnipeg Jets, Kevin Cheveldayoff, and asked, “Any possibility of a do-over on that trade, ol’ pal, ol’ buddy?” I feel bad for Murray. I mean, how’s he going to off-load Kane to another National Hockey League outfit now?

Aaron Rodgers the Cheesehead

Aaron Rodgers the Cheesehead

Can this be true? Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, has cut cheese from his diet? The main Cheeshead going cheese free? In Wisconsin? What’s next? Winnipeggers stop eating Sals nips and shopping wholesale?

Okay, if you hadn’t heard of Rosie MacLennon prior to last week, you’re forgiven. Not forgiven, however, is Steve Simmons of Postmedia for his catty and crass comments of Rosie’s selection to carry the Canadian flag at the opening of next month’s Olympic Games in Rio. In the world according to Little Stevie Blunder, a trampolinist has no business leading our athletes into the five-ring circus. He submits that her sport is “more backyard than Olympian.” If I’m reading him right, he’s telling us that if kids can do it in the backyard, then it doesn’t belong in the Olympics. Good thing Walter Gretzky didn’t know about that when he built that backyard hockey rink for his boy Wayne.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.