Sports

Wimbledon, a Longstanding Tradition, Opens with a Flurry of Changes

WIMBLEDON, England — It is about tradition this year at Wimbledon on the 100th anniversary of Centre Court, but as the defending men’s singles champion Novak Djokovic walked back onto the grass on Monday to launch this year’s tournament, it was also about change.

There is plenty of it at the All England Club in 2022: large and small; obvious and subtle.

The big stuff: Russian and Belarusian players (and journalists) have been barred because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The tournament has been expanded from 13 days of play, with no matches scheduled on the first Sunday, to a full 14 days that will leave no respite for the grass and the leafy neighborhood.

The little stuff: The benches and desks in the Centre Court press seats have been replaced with padded chairs. All England Club members with their circular purple badges no longer serve as moderators at news conferences. Now, the stars sit alone at the rostrum, as they do nearly everywhere else in the tennis world.

As if to underscore the theme, Djokovic and his first-round opponent, Kwon Soon-woo, arrived on the most celebrated court in tennis in novel fashion.

Players have long exited the clubhouse and made a hard left, passing behind a screen with a club member leading the way, before taking a hard right and stepping onto the grass.

Beginning this year, they walk straight ahead and unaccompanied out of the clubhouse and onto the court through a new set of green doors that are quickly closed behind them.

It seemed unceremoniously abrupt to those used to the old ways and fond of the murmurs from the crowd that used to build into cheers as the players navigated the passageway before coming fully into public view.

But the pixie dust was still there, as Djokovic confirmed after his 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory, which seemed even closer than the score.

“Childhood dreams were realized here in 2011,” Djokovic said of the first of his six Wimbledon singles titles. “I will never forget that. It will always have a special place in my heart. Of course, every time I step out there on the court, there is this goose bumps type of feeling, butterflies in the stomach.”

It happens the first time, too, as Emma Raducanu later confirmed. All in a rush last year, she became a global star and a superstar in Britain by winning the U.S. Open at age 18, becoming the first player to win a Grand Slam singles title as qualifier. Victories have been much harder to come by since then, but she already had fine memories of Wimbledon after reaching the fourth round in her first appearance in the main draw last year.

Monday, however, was her first match on Centre Court, and though she has barely played on grass this season because of injuries, she managed the moment, and a tricky opponent in Alison Van Uytvanck, to win 6-4, 6-4.

Raducanu may not be ready to take over women’s tennis. No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who just turned 21, has taken up that air and space. But Raducanu clearly knows how to rise to an occasion.

“From the moment I walked out through those gates, I could really just feel the energy and the support and everyone was behind me from the word ‘go,’” she said. “I just really tried to cherish every single point on there, played every point like it could have been one of my last on that court.”

That was imaginative thinking indeed, considering that Raducanu, Britain’s first women’s Grand Slam singles champion since Virginia Wade in the 1970s, is poised to be a Centre Court fixture for a decade or more if she can remain healthy.

Andy Murray knows the drill. He, too, became a Centre Court regular in his teens and eventually lived up to the billing by ending a 77-year drought for British men in singles by winning Wimbledon in 2013 and again in 2016.

Playing with an artificial hip at age 35, Murray has proved his love of his craft beyond a reasonable doubt. Though he will never bridge the achievement gap that separates him from the Big Three of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer — each with 20 or more major singles titles — Murray remains a threat on grass on any given afternoon.

He demonstrated it with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory over James Duckworth that closed play on Centre Court on opening day, almost exactly eight hours after it had begun and almost exactly 100 years after the first opening day on Centre Court.

That was on June 26, 1922, after the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club moved from its cozier, original home on Worple Road after purchasing land on Church Road to accommodate a new, larger stadium. The main court at Worple Road had been called Centre Court because it was actually at the center of the grounds. The club kept the name even though the new primary court was no longer so central.

The new Wimbledon got off to a soggy start with rain and more rain, forcing the 1922 edition to finish on a Wednesday, but it was still a popular success with worthy singles champions: the stylish and long unbeatable Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen and the Australian men’s star Gerald Patterson, a two-time Wimbledon champion nicknamed “The Human Catapult” because of his big serve (he could volley, too).

Both Lenglen and Patterson would have been in for a few surprises if they had been watching on Monday. Centre Court is now rainproof with its retractable, accordion-style roof that was put to good use for Djokovic’s and Kwon’s duel.

The electronic scoreboards and the touch screen operated by the chair umpire would also have caught their eyes, as would the once-unthinkable fact that the chair umpire for Monday’s opening men’s match was a woman: Marija Cicak.

An Israeli Soccer Team’s Success Puts Its Arab Village on the Map

REINEH, Israel — Jamil Bsoul is smiling. The mayor has clearly delivered this line before. But after all that his community’s soccer club has achieved, and in such a short time, that is what makes it fun.

“Before the season started, everyone said we have no chance of staying in the second division,” Bsoul said. “They were right. Because we went up.”

His community’s soccer team, Maccabi Bnei Reineh, did not exist until six years ago. Less than two years ago, in September 2020, it was still a largely unknown club from a small Arab village of 18,000 people near Nazareth, preparing for yet another season in the Israeli fourth division. Now, after three promotions in quick succession, the name Maccabi Bnei Reineh is on everyone’s lips in Israeli soccer.

The team’s success, to the surprise of even the village’s own residents, has put its community firmly on the map.

“This is a tiny place,” said Jamil’s nephew, the team executive Anwar Bsoul. “When people from Reineh went to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, they used to say they were from Nazareth. Otherwise nobody would have understood.

“We had to explain to agents where the club is situated. This has changed now, though, because we became famous. Now people want to talk about Reineh everywhere.”

It is not uncommon to see an Arab team in the Israeli top flight. Bnei Sakhnin has been playing there for the last two decades, winning the State Cup in 2004 and representing the country in the UEFA Cup. Hapoel Tayibe and Maccabi Ahi Nazareth also enjoyed short spells in the first division.

The rise of Maccabi Bnei Reineh has felt even more extraordinary, though, mostly because the club was established in its current form in 2016.

“There was no football in the village for 13 years — in fact, there was no sporting activity at all,” Said Bsoul, a businessman from Reineh who owns a construction company, said. “We wanted to change that, and unite people through football.” He made a small initial investment and became the club’s chairman.

The project started in the fifth division, the lowest in Israel, with a team of local players. Only 10 to 20 fans supported the club back then. When Maccabi Bnei Reineh won promotion after its debut season, it soon found life in the fourth division wasn’t any easier. The club didn’t have a stadium — a problem that needed solving on a weekly basis — and fans usually had to travel to matches with their own generator to have a power supply.

In 2018, Jamil Bsoul, Said’s uncle, was elected mayor of Reineh, and arranged some modest municipal funding to the club. “Football is about togetherness,” Jamil Bsoul said. He encouraged local youths to establish an “ultras” club; it now counts about 350 people as members. “We have the best fans in the country,” Said Bsoul said, claiming that “they are always positive and don’t even curse.”

In the 2019-20 season, Reineh was battling for a second straight promotion when, because of the coronavirus pandemic, Israel’s soccer federation suspended the league season in March, with the team in second place. Only the top club was promoted to the third division, and Reineh’s progress appeared to stall. But when the pandemic’s financial crunch led two third-division clubs to merge, that opened another place in the table. A federation court decided that Reineh should have it.

Initially, playing in the third division seemed like a goal achieved, but Said Bsoul sensed an opportunity. He knew the season would be shorter because of the pandemic, “and thus we could sign better players because there were less months to pay their salaries,” he said.

He suggested that the team approach the condensed season as a chance to dream bigger, to see how high it could climb. Betting on itself paid off: Maccabi Bnei Reineh won promotion, again, to the second division.

“Suddenly we were playing against big, traditional clubs with a huge history,” said Anwar Bsoul, Said’s brother and business partner. “We were a bit frightened that we might have risen too high.”

The team’s budget of 4.5 million shekels (about $1.3 million) was the lowest in the division by some distance. Anwar Bsoul said that meant Reineh could sign only players who had been discarded by other teams. But that had its benefits, too: The recruits, he said, “arrived motivated to prove their worth.”

To prepare for its first season in the second division, Reineh traveled last year to its first training camp outside Israel, in northern Italy. One of its games there was a friendly against Atalanta — a Champions League regular from Italy’s top league, Serie A. When Reineh walked off with a 1-1 tie, Said Bsoul said, “That’s when I understood that we really have a good squad.”

Reineh started the season strong and never relented, eventually securing the latest in its string of promotions. It is the smallest club ever to reach Israel’s top tier.

What awaits will be Reineh’s biggest challenge to date. Its rivals in the 14-team Israeli Premier League not only include the champion Maccabi Haifa, the biggest northern club, which is widely popular in the Arab community, but also major domestic clubs like Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem, whose notoriously racist, Arab-hating ultras once traveled to Reineh — when Maccabi Bnei Reineh was still in the fourth division — to abuse the team and its fans before a cup match.

“They even came to our village and wrote insults on the walls before the game, and then behaved violently during it,” said Basel Tatour, one of the Reineh ultra leaders.

Tatour said his team has become a unifying force in a place where such connections are often fraught. “Thanks to football, everyone in the village got to know each other,” he said of Reineh’s most devoted fans. “We are all friends now. There are 70 percent Muslims and 30 percent Christians, but you won’t know who is who.”

According to the Bsoul family’s vision, this is only the beginning.

A year ago, a soccer academy was established in the village, with 300 children ages 7 to 13 training and playing on a new artificial turf field. Last month, the experienced, Haifa-born coach Yaron Hochenboim was recruited as the team’s sporting director. He will supervise everything on the field, from the grass-roots programs to the senior team.

The next dream is a modern stadium in the village. The team currently plays its home games in a nearby Jewish town, Nof HaGalil, but its ambitions are greater than ever: a 20,000-seat stadium in a village of 18,000 residents, as part of a complex that will also contain facilities for swimming, cycling and track and field.

“I told them how important the club is to our community,” said Jamil Bsoul, the mayor. “It unites everyone, and you can see children, women and elderly coming to watch games and even training sessions. Even my 98-year-old mother became excited and asked to watch the promotion game on TV for the first time in her life.”

Hugh McElhenny, Elusive Hall of Fame Halfback, Is Dead at 93

Hugh McElhenny, a Hall of Fame halfback who was known as the King for his thrilling, high-stepping prowess in the football world of the 1950s, first with the University of Washington and then with the San Francisco 49ers, died on June 17 at his home in Henderson, Nev. He was 93.

His daughter Karen Lynn McElhenny confirmed the death on Thursday but did not specify a cause. The Pro Football Hall of Fame also announced the death on Thursday.

McElhenny was a dazzling figure on the field, twisting and turning as he eluded frustrated defenders on his circuitous romps to the end zone.

“Hugh McElhenny was as good an open-field runner as you’ll ever see,” his teammate Joe Perry, the 49ers’ Hall of Fame fullback, once said.

“I was best running up the middle, and Hugh was a great outside runner who would zig and zig all over the place,” Perry, one of pro football’s first Black stars, was quoted as saying by Andy Piascik in “Gridiron Gauntlet” (2009), an oral history of the game’s racial pioneers. “Sometimes he zigged and zagged so much that the same guy would miss him twice on the same run.”

McElhenny was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981. He was also named to the N.F.L.’s all-decade team for the 1950s.

At 6-foot-1 and about 200 pounds, he set a host of rushing records for the Washington Huskies, of the Pacific Coast Conference. As a junior he ran for 296 yards and scored five touchdowns in a victory over Washington State. As a senior, in 1951, he ran back a punt 100 yards against Southern California. He was an All-American for a team that won only three games that season.

By his telling, he was well paid for his collegiate exploits. In an interview with The Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2004, he said that while playing for Washington he had regularly received cash payments and other improper benefits from alumni and team boosters totaling close to $10,000 a year (about $115,000 in today’s money).

“I know it was illegal for me to receive cash, and every month I received cash,” he said. “I know it was illegal to receive clothing, and I got clothing all the time from stores. I got a check every month, and it was never signed by the same person, so we never really knew who it was coming from. They invested in me every year. I was a movie star up there.”

The 49ers selected McElhenny as a first-round draft pick and signed him to a $7,000 contract, which meant that he was getting a pay cut to play pro football.

McElhenny said he got his nickname, the King, from the 49er quarterback Frankie Albert after running back a punt for a 94-yard touchdown against the Chicago Bears in his fourth pro game.

“Albert gave me the game ball and said, ‘You’re now the King,’” he recalled in Joseph Hession’s book “Forty Niners: Looking Back” (1985). (The College Football Hall of Fame compared him to another celebrity known as the King, saying McElhenny was “to pro football in the 1950s and early 1960s what Elvis Presley was to rock and roll.”)

McElhenny was the N.F.L.’s rookie of the year in 1952, averaging seven yards a carry. Two years later, when he averaged eight yards per run, Albert’s successor at quarterback, Y.A. Tittle, and three others — McElhenny and John Henry Johnson at halfback and Perry at fullback — were collectively nicknamed the Million Dollar Backfield for their offensive power. All four were ultimately elected to the Hall of Fame.

McElhenny played in six Pro Bowls, was twice a first-team All-Pro and amassed 11,375 total yards — running, catching passes and returning punts, kickoffs and fumbles — in his 13 years in the N.F.L.: nine with the 49ers, two with the Minnesota Vikings, the 1963 season with the Giants and a final year with the Detroit Lions.

Hugh Edward McElhenny Jr. was born on July 31, 1928, in Los Angeles to Hugh and Pearl McElhenny. He was a football and hurdling star in high school, then played one season at Compton Junior College in the Los Angeles area.

He became a football celebrity at Washington, though the Huskies never made it to a bowl game in his three years there. The payments he acknowledged receiving were part of a wide scandal that led the Pacific Coast Conference to penalize Washington in 1956, along with the University of Southern California, U.C.L.A. and the University of California, Berkeley, over past illegal payments to athletes by supporters.

Following his time with the 49ers and his stint with the Vikings, McElhenny was reunited with Tittle, who had been traded to the Giants by the 49ers in 1961. Tittle took the Giants to an N.F.L. championship game for the third consecutive time in 1963 — a loss to the Chicago Bears — but McElhenny, coming off knee surgery, gained only 175 yards that year and was then released.

He was later part of an investment group that made an unsuccessful bid to obtain an N.F.L. expansion franchise for Seattle, the team that began play as the Seahawks in 1976.

In addition to his daughter Karen, McElhenny is survived by another daughter, Susan Ann Hemenway; a sister, Beverly Palmer; four grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. His wife, Peggy McElhenny, died in 2019.

In the spring of 1965, Frank Gifford, McElhenny’s collegiate rival when he played for U.S.C. and later his Giants teammate, threw a retirement party for him and narrated film clips of McElhenny’s spectacular jaunts, including perhaps his most famous one: the 100-yard punt return for Washington against U.S.C.

McElhenny had ignored his coach’s pleas that he let the football go into the end zone for a touchback, giving Washington the ball on the 20-yard line.

“Our coach, Howie Odell, was running down the sideline yelling, ‘Let it go, let it go!,’” he told The Seattle Times. “All of a sudden he stopped yelling. It was a stupid play on my part, but it worked out.”

McElhenny once said that his running style was not something he was taught. “It’s just God’s gift,” he said. “I did things by instinct.”

Maia Coleman contributed reporting.

Lightning Push the Avalanche to Game 6 in the Stanley Cup Finals

DENVER — After the Tampa Bay Lightning lost a heartbreaker in overtime on Wednesday to fall behind three games to one in the Stanley Cup Finals, the easy money was on the Colorado Avalanche to close out the series at home on Friday.

And why not? The Avalanche have been dominant in Denver all season and outscored the Lightning 11-3 in the first two games of the series. Colorado’s speed and swarming style of play were a big reason it rolled through the first three rounds of the playoffs, losing only twice.

But the Lightning aren’t the Nashville Predators or the up-and-coming Edmonton Oilers. They’re two-time defending champions who haven’t lost a playoff series in more than three years. They have faced every conceivable scenario during that time, including playing in three elimination games, all of which they won.

That number grew to four on Friday when the Lightning shocked the hometown Avalanche, winning 3-2 on a late goal by Ondrej Palat to send the best-of-seven series back to Tampa for Game 6 on Sunday.

The Avalanche, who shocked the Lightning on Wednesday in Game 4 on a disputed overtime goal, seemed to have all the momentum. Backed by a raucous home crowd eager to see the Avalanche capture their first Stanley Cup in 21 years, the Ball Arena pulsated with anticipation.

But the Avalanche never led in the game. The team was called for several penalties that slowed its momentum and gave the Lightning just enough daylight to hold on for the win.

“When you’ve been down this road,” the Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the game, “the mental fortitude you have to have to not buckle in the environment we just played in, there’s a reason why they have a couple of rings on their fingers.”

Injuries, the salary cap and the stiffer competition all play a part, but so does exhaustion. During the last two seasons, the Lightning played until the end of the hockey calendar while nearly every other team was at home recuperating. The 2020 season was especially stressful because of Covid-related restrictions.

Cooper also acknowledged that his team had lost a stride or two playing in Denver a mile above sea level, particularly in Game 2, which the Avalanche won, 7-0.

But the Lightning were different from the team that lost the first two games of the series. Tampa Bay found its stride during early Colorado penalties and took a 1-0 lead with under five minutes left in the first period, when the defenseman Jan Rutta flew down the right side of the ice untouched and fired a booming slap shot under the glove of Colorado goalie Darcy Kuemper.

After starting the second period flat-footed, the Avalanche evened the score about five minutes into the period. Off a face-off, Colorado’s outstanding defenseman, Cale Makar, ripped a wrist shot from the right circle that Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy had initially stopped in his stomach area, then dropped. That allowed Valeri Nichushkin to sweep the puck into the net for his ninth goal of the playoffs.

After Alex Killorn of the Lightning and J.T. Compher of the Avalanche received offsetting penalties, Makar was called for tripping on what looked like an incidental play, giving the Lightning a four-on-three advantage. After firing shot after shot at Kuemper, Nikita Kucherov of the Lightning scored to put Tampa Bay up, 2-1. The Lightning also thwarted the Avalanche’s speed, which produced several odd-man rushes.

“I don’t even think he was checking that guy,” Jared Bednar, Colorado’s coach, said of the penalty. “They got their only power play goal on that one. So that hurt, stung a little bit but it is what it is. You’ve got to roll with the punches.”

Desperate to hoist the Stanley Cup at home, the Avalanche played aggressively to start the third period. Less than three minutes in, Makar fired a shot from the right circle that Vasilevskiy couldn’t corral. The puck hit off the skate of Tampa Bay’s Erik Cernak and into the net.

With the score even and the season on the line, the teams played at a frenzied pace. But the Lightning, despite the altitude, the fatigue and the tension, jumped back ahead for good when Palat’s shot trickled through Kemper’s legs for his 11th goal of the playoffs.

“It seems like he likes these big-time moments and he plays extremely well under pressure,” Palat’s linemate, Kucherov, said.

The Avalanche mounted a fierce attack to try to tie the game for a third time. But with 2:43 left, Colorado was called for too many men on the ice — the penalty that was not called in Game 4 just before the Avalanche won in overtime. With the Lightning on the power play, the Avalanche were unable to pull Kemper until under a minute was left.

Despite the win, Tampa Bay still faces long odds to repeat as champions. Only five teams have overcome a two-games-to-none deficit in the Cup finals, the last being the Boston Bruins in 2011.

Thirty-one teams have overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series, most recently the Rangers in the opening round of the playoffs this season. But only one team has accomplished the feat in a Stanley Cup Final: The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, who overcame a 3-0 deficit and beat the Detroit Red Wings.

More than 30 teams have battled back from a 3-1 to force a seventh game, only to lose. New York Rangers fans no doubt remember how the Blue Shirts lost Games 5 and 6 in 1994 before finishing off the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7.

“We didn’t have a choice: This was do or die for us,” said Steven Stamkos, the Lightning captain. “Sometimes, you get caught looking ahead a little bit. But this group did a great job on focusing on the present.”

The present is now Game 6 on Sunday in Tampa.

Saudi Arabia, Creator of LIV Golf, Casts Its Eye on Women’s Tennis

With the golf world already divided over Saudi Arabia’s emergence as a powerful force in the game, another major sport is contending with whether to do business with the kingdom.

This time it’s women’s tennis, which pulled out of China last year over concerns for the welfare of a player who accused a Chinese vice premier of sexual assault and later disappeared from sight.

Saudi Arabia has approached the Women’s Tennis Association about hosting an event, possibly the Tour Finals, but the WTA has not entertained the prospect of a tournament there in any formal fashion.

Steve Simon, chief executive of the WTA, declined to be interviewed for this article, but a spokeswoman, Amy Binder, confirmed Saudi Arabia’s interest, saying in a statement, “As a global organization, we are appreciative of inquiries received from anywhere in the world and we look seriously at what each opportunity may bring.”

In recent weeks, professional golf has been upended by the start of the LIV Golf Invitational series, which is bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and is paying $4 million prizes to tournament winners, along with participation fees reportedly as high as $200 million. Players like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson who have left the PGA Tour and joined LIV Golf have been accused by other players of helping the kingdom to “sportswash” its human rights abuses, among them the 2018 government-sponsored killing of the Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia’s interest in tennis was first reported by The Telegraph in Britain.

The kingdom in recent years has invested heavily in sports and cultural events as part of a broader effort to project a new image around the world. The women’s tennis tour would be likely to face questions if it staged events in Saudi Arabia, where women’s rights have been curtailed and women gained the right to drive only in 2018. (Saudi Arabia has staged professional women’s golf events, hosting official Ladies European Tour stops each of the last three years.)

When the veteran Chinese player Peng Shuai disappeared last year, Simon demanded a full investigation of her allegations. Peng eventually reappeared, but when Chinese authorities did not allow Peng to meet independently with Simon and the WTA, Simon suspended all of the tour’s business in China, including its 10-year deal to hold the Tour Finals in Shenzen.

It was a significant financial blow to the WTA. China had paid a record $14 million in prize money in 2019, the first year of the agreement. That was double the amount of prize money from 2018, when the WTA Finals finished its five-year run in Singapore. The WTA relocated the finals last year to Guadalajara, Mexico, which offered only $5 million in prize money and a drastically reduced payment for the right to host the event.

WTA leaders have yet to announce the WTA Finals host city for 2022, and it remains a challenge, with the longer-term Shenzhen deal still in place, to find candidates interested in bidding for the Finals for just one year.

Saudi Arabia, with its appetite for international sport and huge financial resources, fits the profile of a potential bidder.

“They are interested in women’s sports, and they are interested in big events, so for sure,” said the Austrian businessman and tennis tournament promoter Peter-Michael Reichel.

The WTA has held events in Arab countries, including Qatar and Dubai, for years. But Saudi Arabia has yet to secure an official tour event in men’s or women’s tennis despite making increasingly serious offers.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic were set to play an exhibition there in December 2018 but were put under pressure to cancel it after the assassination of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October of that year. The exhibition match was eventually called off with Nadal citing an ankle injury.

A year later, an eight-man tennis exhibition was played in Riyadh in December 2019 ahead of the start of the regular men’s tennis season. The Diriyah Tennis Cup featured the leading ATP players Daniil Medvedev of Russia, Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland and John Isner of the United States and was played in a temporary 15,000-seat stadium. Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi General Sports Authority, called hosting the event “another watershed moment for the kingdom” and hit the ceremonial first serve.

Reichel helped organize the 2019 exhibition through his company RBG. He said the exhibition had to be canceled in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic but that the plan was to revive the event later this year and include a women’s exhibition tournament.

“I’m very optimistic we can develop the tennis business there,” Reichel said in a telephone interview from London on Thursday.

Reichel said he believes it’s appropriate for sports to do business with Saudi Arabia, which he said has advanced as a society since he first went there on business in 1983.

“I was so positively surprised,” he said. “I was there many times. The international image is talking about the murder of Khashoggi and the driving licenses for women. This is what people know, and there is much more to be reported, I think.”

Reichel’s company owns and operates the WTA tournament in Linz, Austria, and the ATP tournament in Hamburg, Germany. He is a member of the WTA board of directors and has been one of those lobbying for Saudi Arabia to have an official tour event. But for now, those efforts have fallen short. The ATP recently rebuffed a proposal that Reichel was involved in to relocate an existing event to Saudi Arabia.

“Hopefully we can achieve it next year,” Reichel said.

One former WTA board member, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the board, said, “I think the WTA are being polite in recognizing the Saudi interest but from there to accept and go that direction, I don’t see it happening for a lot of reasons.”

Reichel acknowledged that some board members are resisting the idea of holding a women’s event in the kingdom because of the political sensitivities.

“They think with not going to China, we cannot go to Saudi,” he said. “I do not want to see this comparison, because China is a very specific thing with sexual assault for one of our players, and Saudi is a market which is opening up for women and trying to support women, which is a good sign. But I’m in the middle of these discussions with our tour, and I’m not sure we can achieve it in ’23, but in ’24 we’ll see.”

Reichel declined to comment when asked if the Saudis were trying to bid for this year’s WTA Tour Finals.

The question is what the Saudis might choose to do in tennis if their efforts to secure an official tour event continue to be rebuffed. Could they consider a LIV Golf equivalent, creating a rival tour by poaching superstar players?

Ari Fleischer, the communications consultant and former spokesman for President George W. Bush, who has worked closely with the Saudis to establish the golf tour, said earlier this week he was unaware of any effort to create a new tennis tour.

Reichel also said he had seen no indication that a new tour is in the works. He said he expected Saudi Arabia to work with the tennis tours to stage events.

“But if the tours are not willing to work together then I don’t know,” he said. Referring to the Saudis, he added, “For sure they have the money to make everything happen.”

Cindy Shmerler contributed reporting.

Recruiting Trail Puts Basketball’s Changes on Display

Oladokun, a 16-year-old from Upland, Calif., was invited to the Pangos All-America Camp in Las Vegas, which included many of the top 100 prospects in the country. The camp was not held during an in-person evaluation period so it drew only N.B.A. evaluators — including the Oklahoma City Thunder’s general manager, Sam Presti, and the Denver Nuggets’ president of basketball operations, Calvin Booth — and recruiting analysts.

At 6-9, 210 pounds, Oladokun plays like an overgrown puppy — more enthusiasm than grace — but he made his mark by relentlessly banging for rebounds with some of the best prospects in the country.

“I was so nervous,” said Oladokun, who has a 4.5 grade point average and has, since the camp, received scholarship offers from the University of California, San Diego, and U.C. Davis, as well as an offer for a roster spot from Yale, which does not award athletic scholarships but can provide other financial aid.

“A huge part of basketball is confidence; it doesn’t matter if you have the skill,” he continued. “The camp helped me display what I could do even though I didn’t play to my ceiling. I realize they’re great players, but they’re just like me in a lot of ways.”

These revelations have been occurring from coast to coast.

In a mostly empty gym last Friday night, Efstathiou found himself matched up against Alassane Amadou, a spindly, athletic 6-9 wing from Quakertown, Pa., who was being watched intently from the baseline by Marquette Coach Shaka Smart and an assistant coach, Cody Hatt. (They took turns applauding when Amadou made a play in front of them.)

Efstathiou’s team, which lost two starters to injury in its opening game, was quickly down by 22 points when Amadou came flying down the lane for a dunk that Efstathiou was helpless to prevent.

Pete Alonso and the Mets Are Breathing Deeply and Winning Games

Last season, the Mets were in first place in their division for four months before collapsing. They finished with a 77-85 record, their 10th losing season in the past 15. One of the biggest culprits: an offense that was one of the worst in Major League Baseball. Only three teams scored fewer runs, and those teams averaged nearly 100 losses.

The Mets look starkly different this year. They have the best record in the National League. They trailed only the Yankees in wins and the Yankees and the Dodgers in runs scored per game through Thursday. Their offense is more disciplined and patient, leading baseball in on-base percentage a season after finishing 17th in that crucial statistic.

The reasons for the turnaround are plenty: new lineup additions who are experienced hitters (Mark Canha, Starling Marte and Eduardo Escobar), returning players with improved performances after down years (Jeff McNeil and Francisco Lindor) and new hitting coaches (Eric Chavez and Jeremy Barnes). Not to be discounted, though, are many deep breaths and a little self talk.

Watch closely as the Mets hit, and you will see four of their best hitters — Brandon Nimmo, Pete Alonso, Canha and McNeil — frequently stepping out of the batter’s box not only to readjust their batting gloves or look for signs from a coach, but also to fill their lungs with air, calm themselves and channel their focus.

It’s not unique to the Mets — Boston’s Rafael Devers, one of the best hitters in baseball, does this — and it sounds simple, but “it makes a big difference,” said Nimmo, 29, an outfielder. “There’s a reason that Pete does it, that Jeff does it, that I do it.”

“For sure, it’s helped,” added Alonso, a first baseman. “If you look at not just us, but other guys, like every athlete, they have like their own way to kind of like harness that.”

Over the course of a marathon 162-game regular season, it can be difficult even for veteran players to control their emotions. A relatively healthy and capable player will amass over 600 plate appearances in a year, and each plate appearance is roughly four pitches. Imagine being at your peak mental focus for at least 2,400 pitches, many of them coming at you at more than 90 miles per hour and darting in every direction and some with the game on the line.

“In any situation — in any big situation — I would be lying if I said my heart wasn’t beating pretty fast,” Nimmo said. “You get this feeling of anxiety that comes over you. And a way to combat that is to try and breathe a little bit, take deep breaths and you can actually slow your heartbeat down.”

But it’s not just nerves that need to be combated, said Canha, an outfielder. From the beginning of spring training to the end of the World Series is nine months of near-daily play. Purposely stopping to inhale while hitting, Canha said, forces him to regroup.

“It’s so easy, in a day-in-and-day-out basis, to just lose focus because it’s so repetitive and so monotonous that you need something to keep you dialed in,” he continued. “Otherwise, there’s times throughout the course of the season where you’re walking mindlessly, and it’s like routine almost, and you’re not really focused on what you’re doing. So it’s kind of a way for me to just stay present and focused.”

Alonso, 27, said that since his high school days, he was always good about breathing in deeply and slowly exhaling while batting. Mental-skills coaches, he said, have helped him refine this approach along the way.

“I think about my plan in the on-deck circle, visualizing where I want to see the baseball,” said Alonso, who had a strong 2021 season but is on pace to top it this year (20 home runs, 66 R.B.I., .913 on-base plus slugging percentage through Thursday). “But when I get up there, it’s basically taking my breaths and turning the mind off. The best is when I feel like numb in the box, and I just trust what I see and go from there.”

Canha, 33, said that although he had read books on breathing techniques (“that stuff is a little hokey”), he had developed his own method throughout his career.

“I make sure that I’m always breathing,” he said. “It’s just important to just inhale and hear the breath come out.”

When Nimmo first reached the major leagues in 2016, he said Will Lenzner, the Mets mental-skills coach at the time, helped him learn more about the mental side of baseball and how it could help him gain an edge at the highest level of the sport.

Nimmo said Lenzner helped him adopt visualization (the act of imagining success) and breathing techniques. During an at-bat, Nimmo steps out of the box, breathes in deeply and then tells himself, “This is what I want to do: I want to hit a line drive up the middle.” He said it allowed him to reset after every pitch, rather than letting his mind race with the moment.

“Slowing your heart rate down allows you to think a little more clearly,” said Nimmo, who has a career .388 on-base percentage, including a .361 mark this season, during which he has battled a few injuries. “When your adrenaline spikes and when you get into an anxious fight-or-flight state, it shuts down the part of your brain that thinks critically.”

After a down 2021 season in which he hit .251 with a .679 O.P.S., McNeil, 30, is enjoying a resurgence. Among Mets with at least 200 plate appearances this season, he leads them with a .327 average through Thursday. His .850 O.P.S. trailed only Alonso’s.

No Mets hitter, though, is better at calmly making an opposing pitcher work harder than Canha. Entering Friday, he was seeing 4.25 pitches per plate appearance, the highest mark on the team and one of the best in baseball. His .286 batting average and .378 on-base percentage trailed only McNeil’s.

Canha leads an offense that was hitting an M.L.B.-best .283 with runners in scoring position, one of the tensest moments at the plate, and that has come from behind in 16 of their 45 wins. When at the plate, Canha doesn’t just breathe; he also talks to himself.

“It’s so that my at-bats have rhythm and so that I don’t forget or lose sight of what my approach is,” he said. “It’s kind of like a mantra. It’s not the same thing every time. It’s just like, ‘This is what you’re trying to do and stick with the plan.’”

If he is looking for a fastball down and away, Canha said he reminded himself out loud of this. Asked if the opposing team could hear him or read his lips, he retorted, “They don’t know where the ball is going anyway.”

Whether it is with the help of some fresh oxygen or self talk, the Mets do know where their offense has been going this season. They hope it will help lead them to their first playoff berth since 2016 and perhaps their first World Series title since 1986. Until then, Mets fans, take a few deep breaths.

Arthur Ashe: US sport’s greatest Black icon?

Story highlights

Arthur Ashe won three grand slam titles

First African American to achieve feat of winning a slam

Died aged 49 in 1993 of AIDS related illness from an infected blood transfusion

Stadium court at Flushing Meadows named in his honor

Editor’s Note: The new CNN Film “Citizen Ashe” explores the enduring legacy of tennis legend and humanitarian Arthur Ashe. It airs Sunday, June 26, at 9 p.m. ET/PT. This article has been updated to mark the debut of the film.



CNN
 — 

Tennis hero, inspiring role model for African Americans, social activist and high-profile campaigner for the HIV and AIDS communities, Arthur Ashe died in 1993, but it is a measure of his influence that, decades later, he shines as brightly as ever.

The main stadium court at Flushing Meadows, where the US Open is staged, is named in his honor, a striking statue of Ashe adorns the grounds, while the Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day is a glittering annual bash that kick starts the fortnight for the final grand slam of the season.

Michelle Obama was the guest of honor in 2013, while Bradley Cooper, Carmelo Anthony, Justin Bieber and Will Ferrell have been included in an eclectic list of celebrities over the years.

Ashe’s widow, Jeanne Moutoussamy Ashe, has made it her life’s work to ensure that her late husband’s memory is preserved for generations and the presidential endorsement is the icing on the cake.

“It makes me very proud that Arthur has his name raised up for kids who didn’t have a clue who he is,” she told CNN’s Open Court program in 2013.

“It was such a great honor. I’m born and raised on the south side of Chicago, as is Mrs. Obama, so to be sitting here next to her with her daughters was just great fun.

“And that she’s so supportive of the Arthur Ashe Learning Center and so supportive of Arthur’s legacy. I don’t think we could have asked for a better situation that day, it was just wonderful.”

Moutoussamy Ashe was sharing her experiences with former American Davis Cup star James Blake, who retired from the ATP Tour in 2013.

Blake told her that Ashe has been his idol and inspiration growing up.

“Being an African American playing tennis, his impact on me was great and I wanted to follow in his footsteps, being someone that went to college and was educated and had such a great influence on the world,” he said.

The impact that Blake talks about went far beyond the narrow confines of professional sport.

Ashe once famously said: “I don’t want to be remembered for my tennis accomplishments” and Moutoussamy Ashe has done her level best to promote his wish.

“The game of tennis really just gave him a platform to speak about the issues that he cared so much about,” she said.

“I think he was a role model for a whole lot of kids which is why his legacy is so important to promote today.

“We don’t want a whole generation of kids today and generations to come to not know that he was more than a tennis player.”

Born in 1943, Ashe was brought up in the segregated South in Richmond, Virginia and first tested his tennis skills on a Blacks-only playground in the city.

He developed his talent in high school and earned a tennis scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1963, that year becoming the first African American to represent the United States in the Davis Cup.

A member of the Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC), Ashe was eventually required to do military service and spent three years in the United States Military Academy at West Point, rising to the rank of second lieutenant.

Ashe was still a serving officer when he won his first grand slam title at the 1968 US Open, the first of the Open Era when professionals were also allowed to compete.

“He wasn’t just the first African American male to win the US Open, but he actually was the first American period to win the US Open because the US Open didn’t begin until 1968,” Moutoussamy Ashe emphasizes.

Ashe was discharged from the Army in 1969 and, after winning his second grand slam crown at the 1970 Australian Open, turned professional.

A prominent supporter of the American civil rights movement, Ashe’s political principles were tested when he was denied a visa by the apartheid government of South Africa to compete in their national open later that year.

Ashe campaigned for South Africa to be excluded from the International Tennis Federation but although his demands were not met, he was eventually allowed a visa to compete in the 1973 South African Open, the first Black male to do so.

Ashe continued to speak out against the apartheid regime and after Nelson Mandela was released having served 27 years in prison, the tennis star returned to South Africa in 1991 as a member of a 31-strong delegation to observe the profound political changes in the country.

He met Mandela several times and modestly observed: “Compared to Mandela’s sacrifice, my own life has been one almost of self-indulgence. When I think of him, my own political efforts seem puny.”

But others would disagree. Andrew Young, the former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, once famously said of Ashe: “He took the burden of race and wore it as a cloak of dignity.”

Young, a pastor turned leading politician, presided over Ashe’s wedding to Jeanne in 1977 after they had met at a charity event just six months previously where Moutoussamy Ashe was attending as a working photographer.

Ashe was by then a three-time grand slam singles champion having shocked top seed Jimmy Connors in an epic 1975 Wimbledon final, but it was to prove his last as injury and eventual illness took their toll.

The world was shocked in 1979 when the super-fit Ashe suffered a heart attack and underwent a bypass operation.

He was set to return to the tennis tour when further complications arose and he was forced to announce his retirement, doing it in typically fastidious fashion.

“He had about 30 letters that he had written individually to people, contracts that he had, promises and commitments he had to people, he just wrote them personally and said: ‘I’m retiring and I want you to be the first to know,’” recalled Moutoussamy Ashe.

In retirement, he took over as captain of the United States Davis Cup team, but in 1983, he had to undergo a second round of heart surgery in New York.

It was during this operation that Ashe is believed to have contracted the HIV virus from infected blood transfusions.

He learned of the diagnosis in 1988 after another health scare, but for the sake of their adopted two-year old daughter Camera, Ashe and his wife kept the illness private.

Only in 1992 was he forced to go public and, true to his ideals, began campaigning to debunk myths about AIDS and the way it is contracted.

He founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of Aids to build on the work of an institute he had set up to promote public health.

Ashe completed his memoir, “Days of Grace,” shortly before his death on February 6, 1993 from AIDS-related pneumonia.

For Blake, the book was an inspiration. “As soon as I read ‘Days of Grace,’ it has always been my answer to what’s your favorite book of all time,” he told Moutoussamy Ashe.

Young officiated at Ashe’s funeral in Richmond, which was attended by thousands of mourners. He was buried alongside his mother, Mattie, who died in 1950 when he was just six years of age.

Later in the year that he died, Ashe was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton.

It was the first of a string of high profile honors in recognition of a truly remarkable man, but for his widow, who has carried his torch now for so many years, it is his impact on communities and the younger generation which is so important.

“I think if Arthur were here today, he would promote tennis on a grass roots level, drawing that metaphor that tennis not just a sport, but more importantly, a profession that might be able to get you a college scholarship to get you through school,” she said.

Others like Blake and Mal Washington followed in Ashe’s footsteps on the male side of the men’s game, but Moutoussamy Ashe is equally delighted by the impact the Williams’ sisters have had on African American sport.

“Venus and Serena, I’m so proud of what they are both doing. Venus has her challenges yet she’s moving her life forward and still stays very involved in the game of tennis whenever she can.

“Serena has been I think on top form, not just in tennis but as a person during this particular US Open,” she added, reflecting on the world No.1’s 17th grand slam singles crown.

Moutoussamy Ashe is hoping the Arthur Ashe Learning Center, which contains a wealth of her own photographs and memorabilia collected over his life, can find a permanent home.

“It’s really important that not just today’s generation but generations to come understand him as more than just an athlete, as more than just a patient, as more than just a student and a coach.

“That they’ll understand the importance of being a well-rounded human being, that you might not be a great champion, but if you’re a well-rounded human being, then you can do just about anything to succeed in life.”

Ashe himself is the perfect example of that, battling his modest background and an undercurrent of prejudice to achieve the highest honor that can be bestowed on an individual in the United States.

“Racism is not an excuse to not do the best you can,” Ashe said and he stands eloquent testimony to the truth of his words.

Matt Fitzpatrick revels in ‘special’ US Open win

The 27-year-old edged past American duo Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris by a single shot to secure victory after a rollercoaster final day.

“It was incredible,” Fitzpatrick told CNN Sport’s Don Riddell after lifting the trophy.

“It’s just like a big release, you finish the tournament and you’ve won and you realize that you’ve achieved one of your lifelong goals.

Fitzpatrick, a seven-time winner on the European Tour, has been made to wait for his first major, but he eventually won it in style.

Despite periods of wind which caused havoc on the challenging par-70 course, Fitzpatrick never scored above par over the four rounds.

His 68, 70, 68 across the first three rounds saw him arrive as co-leader alongside Zalatoris heading into the deciding day, where his third 68 was enough to claim a one-stroke win at six under par.

Like any great sporting achievement, sacrifices have had to be made along the way but Fitzpatrick says all the hard work and dedication has been worth it.

“I just want to win. Whatever it takes, for me, is what I got to do,” he added, laughing at how he recently hosted a bachelor party but didn’t attend as he was preparing for the US Open.

“I feel like what gives me the edge over other people is having that dedication, going out when no one else is and working hard and that’s what’s got me to this level.”

Fitzpatrick celebrates with caddie Billy Foster after winning the US Open.

Jack Nicklaus record

As well as securing a $3.15 million share of the $17.5 million total prize, the largest pot in major championship history, Fitzpatrick has also matched a very special record.

The world No. 18 is only the second player — and the first non-American — to win both the US Amateur and US Open at the same venue, having won at The Country Club in 2013.

Jack Nicklaus is the only other golfer to have achieved the feat following triumphs at Pebble Beach in 1961 and 1972.

“It’s amazing. The best golfer of all time. To share any achievement that he has done is incredible,” Fitzpatrick said, beaming.

“I’m so proud of myself to be able to achieve that and when you’re sharing records with Jack, it’s pretty special.”

Fitzpatrick was born and raised in the English city of Sheffield and credits his upbringing and close circle of family and friends with keeping him level-headed and grounded.

His mental fortitude was on full display at The Country Club last week, as were his familiar quirks.

Fitzpatrick does things differently to many golfers: he leaves the flag in when he putts and makes notes after every shot he makes.

Fitzpatrick watches his sixth tee shot during the final round.

Every shot, that is, apart from his final putt to secure the US Open.

“I didn’t even write down how close it was, but I remember it, so I’ll do that later,” he laughed.

The next major goal for Fitzpatrick is the upcoming Open Championship at St Andrews, Scotland, and the Englishman fancies adding to his collection.

“I’m delighted with one [major] but two would be through the roof,” he said, adding that he’s looking forward to celebrating his victory.

“This is the greatest achievement in my career, ever. I’m going to enjoy spending time with family and friends. Like I say, it’s just a really crazy special moment.”