Tennis is without question the most “hit or miss” of any of the major sports. For the vast majority of the year, tennis is boring drudgery, with a neverending season that is impossible to follow and bores even the family members of those involved. Even the majors can be difficult to watch if the matches don’t involve top stars, and unfortunately for men’s tennis, those stars are becoming fewer and farther between. But when tennis is really good, it can be the most compelling of all sports, showcasing one on one human drama in ways that team sports simply can’t duplicate. A great tennis match is riveting television, with each point a battle of wills and tension building through three to four hour wars. The best of McEnroe/Borg. Agassi/Sampras or Federer/Nadal is the best of sports, no matter how rarely it takes place.
But men’s tennis especially has seen a decline in star power in recent years, especially from Americans. Since Agassi retired, we have had no one but Andy Roddick and for a variety of reasons, he simply does not count. But those of us that love the sport have long been hoping for the time that we would see the emergence of Donald Young. That time may now have finally arrived.. The 22 year old Atlanta native has already had an adventurous career. He was the #1 ranked Junior player in the world at the age of 15, when everyone assumed he would be the “Tiger Woods of tennis.” But then the early expectations combined with a series of poor decisions by his advisors to create a slow decline in potential and performance. Young lost significantly more than he won, never rose to higher than #85 in the world and became most famous for cursing the USTA on Twitter when he wasn’t given a wildcard to the French Open. But now, he seems to have pushed those problems behind him, has showcased the rare tennis trait of humility and is injecting the US Open with much needed swagger. Playing an exciting style, full of energy with hat askew, Young is now in the Round of 16 for the first time in his career and ready to play for the Quarterfinals on Tuesday night. Then, he will face Andy Murray in a match that has the potential to elevate him to one of the five most famous male tennis players in the world overnight. It will be must-watch television, in part for the potential of great tennis, but also because you may get a chance to experience that rare occurrence; the moment when one witnesses firsthand, a star being born.
With almost nothing in the way of news, let’s get to it with some football notes…
After the performance against Western Kentucky on Thursday, unfortunately many in the fan base are already to give up on the season. I expected negativity, but the way in which a minority of the Big Blue Faithful have already taken to assuming that we are headed for gloom and despair has surprised me. Most negativity has centered around four factors, each of which provide different levels of rational worry:
THE WIDE RECEIVERS
The most rational concern for any Kentucky fan after Thursday night’s game is at the Wide Receiver position. Simply put, the UK wide receivers were awful in Nashville. In the first half, four passes of at least ten yards were put right in the receivers’ hands, only to be dropped with varying degrees of incompetence. LaRod King, the player counted on to be the team leader at the position, let two deep passes go through his fingers, both of which would have changed the early field position dynamic. And Matt Roark allowed two passes directly in his grasp fall to the side, both time on important third down possessions. With the injury to Freshman Darryl Collins and the inability to get the Tight Ends involved in the offense last week, concern about the Wide Receiver position seems perfectly rational. One hopes improvement is coming in the form of greater potential playing time for Gene McCaskill and Bryan Adams, but right now the position is suspect at best.
All summer, the same refrain could be heard throughout the Commonwealth. “Well we may have questions at our skill positions, but our offensive line is the best it has ever been.” I was firmly on board, proclaiming it the “anchor that will take the team to its sixth straight bowl game.” If that is going to be the case, we have to hope Thursday night was an aberration. The offensive line was manhandled in Nashville by a mediocre Sun Belt Team and all too often, looked out of sorts. The inability of the line to create holes for a running game was shocking and seemed to suggest more problems down the line. While worry is understandable then, I as of yet am not ready to proclaim the line a disappointment. Injuries caused many of the starters to get less practice time and at least two players missed time in the game due to in-game bumps. We all assumed worry about the offensive line would be the least of our problems and it certainly seems that calling it the team’s “anchor” was a bit premature. But with two more weeks to heal and gel, I would assume we will see marked improvement in this area.
Some Kentucky fans simply cannot be pleased by whoever is manning the Quarterback position. From Dusty Bonner to Jared Lorenzen to Shane Boyd to Andre Woodson to Mike Hartline, every quarterback at Kentucky not named “Couch” has been heavily criticized over the years. All of the names above had talent and most had VERY successful UK careers. And now Morgan Newton will follow in their footsteps as the QB most likely to be given up on by a minority of fans. At this point, the tremendous improvement from Newton over the summer was not evident in Nashville. We still saw a Quarterback who seemed timid, made a couple of bad decisions and didn’t showcase a complete command over the team. BUT, I don’t put anywhere close to all of that on him. The line was porous, the receivers dropped everything in sight and the play calling was frustrating and inconsistent. Newton threw some VERY nice deep balls (most of which were dropped) and his 56 yard run won the game. So while he could certainly play better, I wouldn’t label the game a disaster and begin wondering about Maxwell Smith’s abilities. We will save that until we see what happens against Central Michigan. My confidence in Newton going into the season was relatively high and as of yet, it has not dropped significantly.
I have a great deal of confidence in Joker. I like the way he recruits, I like the coaches he has brought in and I like the way he has streamlined the program. I don’t think it is anywhere close to time to panic on the Joker Phillips era. Having said that, a fundamental readjustment needs to take place in terms of how he approaches the duties of calling a game. Kentucky needs to play TO WIN…not play not to lose. All to often, we take the safe approach to game management and in so doing, find ourselves at the short end of the stick against teams of equal or better talent. The Cats against Western looked like a team scared to try anything big, for fear of losing the game in the process. The offensive play calling was predicable and vanilla. The inability to try any unique play that was not an end around, caused those of us watching to throw our hands up in disgust. Joker has done a great deal very well during his time at the helm…the recruiting is better than ever and the defense/special teams have made a marked improvement. But the offensive approach lacked creativity and the production was stagnant…changing that quickly is Joker’s most important challenge.
There are those who are ready to give up on the season. The level of doom and gloom in Big Blue Nation on Friday was high and those suggesting drastic measures were more prevalent than I would have thought. But this is certainly no time to panic or abandon ship. Kentucky is 1-0….it was an ugly 1-0, but it is 1-0 nonetheless. My outlook for the team hasn’t changed significantly (6-6) and if the Cats win the next two games (against two teams in Central Michigan and Louisville that also looked pretty bad on Thursday night), then UK will go into the next three games 3-0, against teams that they probably weren’t going to beat in any case. Two weeks off and a Jacksonville State game will then set up the money part of the season, the Miss State, Ole Miss, Georgia, Vandy and Tennessee home stretch. That is where the season will be won or lost. If the Cats lose to Central Michigan or throw up a stinker against Louisville, we will re-evaluate. But for now, stay on board. There are many reasons to have concern, but as of yet, no reason to give up.
Have a big Labor Day, which will include coverage of Joker’s press conference, a diary of Week 1 in the KSR college football gambling world and a repeat of the “Day after UK won and Louisville lost to Morehead” KSR Radio show. More later….