Great Britain ends 76 years of tennis pain

878903.jpg

Great Britain ends 76 years of tennis pain

From Comcast SportsNetLONDON (AP) -- After reveling in a rousing Olympic summer of sporting success, Britain awoke Tuesday to another major milestone: Finally, after 76 years of waiting, the country has a male Grand Slam tennis champion.Andy Murray's five-set victory over Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open final Monday provided the perfect bookend to a summer in which a British rider won the Tour de France and British athletes scooped heaps of medals at the hugely successful London Olympics and Paralympics.After losing in four previous Grand Slam finals, Murray outlasted defending champion Djokovic 7-6 (10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 after nearly five hours to become the first British man to win a Slam since Fred Perry captured the Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships in 1936.At last, for Britain, the "Fred Perry curse" has been broken -- although until Murray wins Wimbledon, it won't be fully put to rest."Thank God that's over. Thank God we can let Fred Perry lie easy. Thank God for Andy Murray," wrote the Guardian newspaper website.Fittingly, Murray's breakthrough came in a year when Britain has enjoyed its greatest sports summer of a generation -- coinciding with national celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II's "Diamond Jubilee" of 60 years on the throne.In a message posted on Twitter, Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "delighted Andy Murray is continuing a golden summer of sport by winning the U.S. Open. A truly great victory."The summer began with Bradley Wiggins becoming the first British rider to win the Tour de France. Then came the Olympics, where Britain recorded its best showing in 104 years with 29 gold medals (including Murray winning the men's singles) and 65 medals in all. Britain celebrated the close of the Paralympics on Sunday after winning 120 medals, including 34 gold.More than 1 million people lined the streets of London on Monday to cheer the nation's Olympians and Paralympians in a two-hour parade to mark the end of the 2012 Games.A few hours later, with most of the country asleep, Murray became the first man to win the U.S. Open and Olympic gold in the same year."The forecast of course was made yesterday that the great summer of British sport was over, but he's given us another immense prize to wake up to," said Cameron, speaking outside his Downing Street residence.The victory came on the exact day -- Sept. 10 -- that Perry won the U.S. title in 1936. It also came in Murray's fifth Grand Slam final, following in the footsteps of his coach, Ivan Lendl, who lost his first four Grand Slam finals before winning eight major titles.Nowhere was the impact of Murray's win felt more deeply than in his Scottish hometown of Dunblane, a cathedral town made infamous for a mass shooting in 1996, when a gunman killed 16 children and their teacher in an elementary school.A noisy crowd of about 80 people packed into the bar at the Dunblane Hotel to watch the match that ended shortly after 2 a.m. British time, cheering wildly when Djokovic hit a forehand service return long on the final point.Murray did most of his tennis training as a youth in Barcelona but remains fiercely loyal to his Scottish roots. Two other famous Scots -- actor Sean Connery and Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson -- were among those in the stands cheering him on at Flushing Meadows."Now Olympic and U.S. Open champion, Andy truly is a Scottish sporting legend and I'm certain that more Grand Slam titles will follow," Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said.The end of the match came too late for many British newspapers, but Murray's triumph made some late editions."History Boy!" blared the tabloid Daily Mirror on the front page. On the sports pages, the Mirror launched a campaign for a Murray knighthood: "Arise Sir Andy: Grand Slam Glory at Last. Oh What a Knight."British TV stations camped out early Tuesday at the modest tennis courts where Murray got his start as a young boy, interviewing youngsters who said they were inspired by his triumph.It's been a long time coming.Murray is one of only two men in the Open era, which began in 1968, to have lost his first four Grand Slam finals -- against Djokovic in the 2011 Australian Open, and against Roger Federer at the 2008 U.S. Open, 2010 Australian Open and this year's Wimbledon.It was Murray's decisive, straight-sets victory over Federer in the Olympic final in August on Centre Court at Wimbledon -- less than a month after the Wimbledon defeat -- that lifted his self-belief and provided the platform for his Grand Slam success."Ever since he won the Olympics, he has walked around with a lot more confidence," said Murray's former coach, Leon Smith. "After winning yesterday, it's going to do even more so now. For a great summer of British tennis, this is the icing on the cake."Former British player Greg Rusedski said Murray can only go higher."Having won this, he can go on to win many majors and maybe end the year as ... No. 1," he said.Murray is ranked No. 4 but is close behind No. 3 Rafael Nadal. Djokovic is No. 1 in this week's rankings, with Federer dropping to No. 2.Also crucial to Murray's success has been the influence of Lendl, the no-nonsense Czech-born coach who won two French Opens, two Australian Opens and three U.S. Opens."So much confidence has come from Andy's Olympics win and Lendl has added a great presence," said former British player Roger Taylor, a four-time Grand Slam semifinalist. "There is such a similarity (between the two). It will have given Andy more belief to see Ivan go on to win many Grand Slams and it took him five. He (Lendl) has made a great difference."For years, Murray has been considered just a rung below the "Big Three" of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, who had shared 29 of the previous 30 major titles. Now he's joined the club and Britain is rejoicing."We are all delighted for Andy," Wimbledon chairman Philip Brook said. "Winning your first Grand Slam has to be a very special moment in a player's career and it was a fantastic performance in an epic final to cap a truly memorable summer of tennis for him personally and for British tennis."Even more special would be lifting the Wimbledon trophy. In July, Murray became the first British man to reach the Wimbledon final in 74 years.The pursuit of Fred Perry is not quite over.

Arnold Palmer dies at 87, made golf popular for masses

Arnold Palmer dies at 87, made golf popular for masses

Arnold Palmer brought a country club sport to the masses with a hard-charging style, charisma and a commoner's touch. At ease with both presidents and the golfing public, and on a first-name basis with both, "The King" died Sunday in Pittsburgh. He was 87.

Alastair Johnson, CEO of Arnold Palmer Enterprises, confirmed that Palmer died Sunday afternoon of complications from heart problems. Johnson said Palmer was admitted to the hospital Thursday for some cardiovascular work and weakened over the last few days.

Palmer ranked among the most important figures in golf history, and it went well beyond his seven major championships and 62 PGA Tour wins. His good looks, devilish grin and go-for-broke manner made the elite sport appealing to one and all. And it helped that he arrived about the same time as television moved into most households, a perfect fit that sent golf to unprecedented popularity.

"If it wasn't for Arnold, golf wouldn't be as popular as it is now," Tiger Woods said in 2004 when Palmer played in his last Masters. "He's the one who basically brought it to the forefront on TV. If it wasn't for him and his excitement, his flair, the way he played, golf probably would not have had that type of excitement.

"And that's why he's the king."

Beyond his golf, Palmer was a pioneer in sports marketing, paving the way for scores of other athletes to reap in millions from endorsements. Some four decades after his last PGA Tour win, he ranked among the highest-earners in golf.

"Thanks Arnold for your friendship, counsel and a lot of laughs," Woods tweeted Sunday night. "Your philanthropy and humility are part of your legend. It's hard to imagine golf without you or anyone more important to the game than the King."

On the golf course, Palmer was an icon not for how often he won, but the way he did it.

He would hitch up his pants, drop a cigarette and attack the flags. With powerful hands wrapped around the golf club, Palmer would slash at the ball with all of his might, then twist that muscular neck and squint to see where it went.

"When he hits the ball, the earth shakes," Gene Littler once said.

Palmer rallied from seven shots behind to win a U.S. Open. He blew a seven-shot lead on the back nine to lose a U.S. Open.

He was never dull.

"I'm pleased that I was able to do what I did from a golfing standpoint," Palmer said in 2008, two years after he played in his last official tournament. "I would like to think that I left them more than just that."

He left behind a gallery known as "Arnie's Army," which began at Augusta National with a small group of soldiers from nearby Fort Gordon, and grew to include a legion of fans from every corner of the globe.

Palmer stopped playing the Masters in 2004 and hit the ceremonial tee shot every year until 2016, when age began to take a toll and he struggled with his balance.

It was Palmer who gave golf the modern version of the Grand Slam -- winning all four professional majors in one year. He came up with the idea after winning the Masters and U.S. Open in 1960. Palmer was runner-up at the British Open, later calling it one of the biggest disappointments of his career. But his appearance alone invigorated the British Open, which Americans had been ignoring for years.

Palmer never won the PGA Championship, one major short of capturing a career Grand Slam.

But then, standard he set went beyond trophies. It was the way he treated people, looking everyone in the eye with a smile and a wink. He signed every autograph, making sure it was legible. He made every fan feel like an old friend.

Palmer never like being referred to as "The King," but the name stuck.

"It was back in the early `60s. I was playing pretty good, winning a lot of tournaments, and someone gave a speech and referred to me as `The King,'" Palmer said in a November 2011 interview with The Associated Press.

"I don't bask in it. I don't relish it. I tried for a long time to stop that and," he said, pausing to shrug, "there was no point."

Palmer played at least one PGA Tour event every season for 52 consecutive years, ending with the 2004 Masters. He spearheaded the growth of the 50-and-older Champions Tour, winning 10 times and drawing some of the biggest crowds.

He was equally successful off with golf course design, a wine collection, and apparel that included his famous logo of an umbrella. He bought the Bay Hill Club & Lodge upon making his winter home in Orlando, Florida, and in 2007 the PGA Tour changed the name of the tournament to the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The combination of iced tea and lemonade is known as an "Arnold Palmer." Padraig Harrington recalls eating in an Italian restaurant in Miami when he heard a customer order one.

"Think about it," Harrington said. "You don't go up there and order a `Tiger Woods' at the bar. You can go up there and order an `Arnold Palmer' in this country and the barman -- he was a young man -- knew what the drink was. That's in a league of your own."

Palmer was born Sept. 10, 1929 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, the oldest of four children. His father, Deacon, became the greenskeeper at Latrobe Country Club in 1921 and the club pro in 1933.

He had two loves as a boy -- strapping on his holster with toy guns to play "Cowboys and Indians," and playing golf. It was on the golf course that Palmer grew to become so strong, with barrel arms and hands of iron.

"When I was 6 years old, my father put me on a steel-wheeled tractor," he recalled in a 2011 interview with the AP. "I had to stand up to turn the wheel. That's one thing made me strong. The other thing was I pushed mowers. In those days, there were no motors on anything except the tractor. The mowers to cut greens with, you pushed.

"And it was this," he said, patting his arms, "that made it go."

Palmer joined the PGA Tour in 1955 and won the Canadian Open for the first of his 62 titles. He went on to win four green jackets at Augusta National, along with the British Open in 1961 and 1962 and the U.S. Open in 1960, perhaps the most memorable of his seven majors.

Nothing defined Palmer like that 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. He was seven shots behind going into the final round when he ran into Bob Drum, a Pittsburgh sports writer. Palmer asked if he could still win by shooting 65, which would give him a four-day total of 280. Drum told him that 280 "won't do you a damn bit of good."

Incensed, Palmer headed to the first tee and drove the green on the par-4 opening hole to make birdie. He birdied the next three holes, shot 65 and outlasted Ben Hogan and 20-year-old amateur Jack Nicklaus.

Palmer went head-to-head with Nicklaus two years later in a U.S. Open, the start of one of golf's most famous rivalries. It was one-sided. Nicklaus went on to win 18 majors and was regarded as golf's greatest champion. Palmer won two more majors after that loss, and his last PGA Tour win came in 1973 at the Bob Hope Classic.

Tom Callahan once described the difference between Nicklaus and Palmer this way: It's as though God said to Nicklaus, "You will have skills like no other," then whispered to Palmer, "But they will love you more."

"I think he brought a lot more to the game than his game," Nicklaus said in 2009. "What I mean by that is, there's no question about his record and his ability to play the game. He was very, very good at that. But he obviously brought a lot more. He brought the hitch of his pants, the flair that he brought to the game, the fans that he brought into the game."

Palmer combined power with charm, reckless abandon with graceful elegance. Golf no longer was a country club game for old men who were out of shape. He was a man's man, and he brought that spirit to the sport.

It made him a beloved figure, and brought riches long after he stopped competing.

That started with a handshake agreement with IMG founder Mark McCormack to represent Palmer in contract negotiations. Palmer's image was everywhere, from motor oil to ketchup to financial services companies. Even as late as 2011, nearly 40 years after his last PGA Tour win, Palmer was No. 3 on Golf Digest's list of top earners at $36 million a year. He trailed only Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Palmer's other love was aviation. He piloted his first aircraft in 1956, and 10 years later had a license to fly jets that now are the standard mode of transportation for so many top players, even though the majority of them are merely passengers. Palmer flew planes the way he played golf. He set a record in 1976 when he circumnavigated the globe in 57 hours, 25 minutes and 42 seconds in a Lear 36. He continued flying his Cessna Citation 10 until he failed to renew his license at age 81, just short of 20,000 hours in the cockpit.

Through it all, he touched more people than he could possibly remember, though he sure tried. When asked about the fans he attracted at Augusta National, Palmer once said, "Hell, I know most of them by name."

Only four other players won more PGA Tour events than Palmer -- Sam Snead, Nicklaus and Woods.

Palmer's first wife, Winnie, died in 1999. They had two daughters, and grandson Sam Saunders plays on the PGA Tour. Palmer married Kathleen (Kit) Gawthrop in 2005.

Palmer was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997, which was caught early. He returned to golf a few months later, winking at fans as he waded through the gallery, always a smile and a signature for them.

"I'm not interested in being a hero," Palmer said, implying that too much was made about his return from cancer. "I just want to play some golf."

That, perhaps, is his true epitaph. Palmer lived to play.

Quick Links

In crunch time, Terrell Suggs rolls with Ravens teammates Joe Flacco and Justin Tucker

In crunch time, Terrell Suggs rolls with Ravens teammates Joe Flacco and Justin Tucker

JACKSONVILLE – In Terrell Suggs fashion, the Ravens’ linebacker described what it felt like to have Joe Flacco as a quarterback, and Justin Tucker as a placekicker.

“You want a quarterback with ice in his veins, and you damn sure want a kicker with ice in his veins,” said Suggs, after the Ravens escaped Jacksonville with a 19-17 victory that kept them unbeaten at 3-0.

Tucker delivered again for the Ravens, making four field goals, including the 54-yard game-winner with 67 seconds left to play. Having a kicker as clutch as Tucker, with range well beyond 50 yards, is another reason why opponents dread seeing Tucker trot onto the field. Leave the game up to Tucker, and it’s game over.

“There’s definitely butterflies,” said Tucker, when asked how he feels kicking game-winners. “We get into these situations and we’ve had a good handful of them in my time here. Do they get easier? I’m not really sure. But I can tell you the more opportunities and we have and I successfully convert, the more confidence I have.”

Flacco will never be the smoothest quarterback in the NFL, but he remains one of the most poised. His performance on Sunday (29 of 40, 214 yards, on rushing TD, two interceptions) was all over the map. There was the good Flacco – at one point he set a franchise record by completing 21 straight passes. There was the bad Flacco – two interceptions during the final seven minutes that almost cost the Ravens the game.

But on the Ravens’ final drive, Flacco completed four passes, including a fourth-down pass to Steve Smith Sr. that helped move Tucker into range.

There was a fine line between winning and losing Sunday, and once again the Ravens cut it close. But in that situation, who would you rather have as your quarterback, Flacco or Blake Bortles of the Jaguars (24 of 38, two touchdowns, three interceptions)? Even when Flacco doesn’t play nearly his best, he doesn’t get flustered.

“I would’ve liked to have made it easier for him (Tucker), myself, and all the people back in Baltimore,” Flacco said. “There’s no need to be giving people heart attacks every single week. But if you win you win.”

And once again, having Tucker and Flacco during the final minutes was a winning combination.

MORE RAVENS: Flacco sets new franchise record vs. Jaguars