Why you should care
Meet the slugger who could stop Serena.
This is the latest edition of OZY’s Huddle newsletter, which brings you a smart, flavorful conversation-starter for your next game watch party. No stale takes allowed. Add The Huddle to your OZY email subscriptions here.
Serena Williams needed just 44 minutes to dispense with No. 18 Wang Qiang in the U.S. Open quarterfinals on Tuesday evening, but anyone who watched the first five knew that Williams was too next level for Qiang to even pose a threat. Fans in the 100-level couldn’t even finish their first Honey Deuce before the score read 6-1, 6-0.
(Those in the cheap seats? Well, they drink faster.)
Williams has won the Open six times and made it to the semis 13 times since her 1998 debut. She’s made the final in the last two tournaments she’s played (Wimbledon and the Rogers Cup). Now the real work begins.
Searching for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, Williams, 37, is not quite the force she once was. She hasn’t won a Grand Slam since January 2017, after which she took time off to give birth to her daughter, Olympia. In the three Grand Slam finals appearances since, Williams has lost to three different opponents. Sustained focus has been a main problem for Williams since her return; she’ll dismantle early round opponents (like Qiang) before slipping up.
In this era of deep talent on the WTA, several players have the combination of quick-twitch athleticism and power to rival Williams on a given night. Many more are hungry for a chance. One such talent is Williams’ semifinal opponent on Thursday, No. 5 Elina Svitolina (pictured). Svitolina, 24, has now made two Grand Slam semifinals in 2019. She’s never won a Grand Slam, but she’s beaten Williams before (in 2016) and is running hot. Plus, she may have a secret weapon. Svitolina trains against her boyfriend, men’s Open quarterfinalist Gaël Monfils who — at the very least — will prep her for Serena’s powerful service.
History tells us that Williams will be waiting.
What to Watch & Pick ’Em
NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears (Thursday at 8:20 pm ET on NBC)
The 100th NFL season kicks off with the league’s oldest rivalry. Chicago has another NFC North title in mind, but Aaron R odgers boasts a 17-5 career record against Da Bears.
Green Bay (+3)
No. 6 LSU at No. 9 Texas (Saturday at 7:30 pm ET on ABC)
One of only two games between ranked teams this weekend, this one has national title implications. Dare we ask, are the Longhorns … back?
Ones to Watch
David Montgomery. A season removed from the surprise playoff run under first-year head coach Matt Nagy, the Bears return most of an offense that matured nicely as the season progressed. Yes, Chicago ditched Cody Parkey — replacing the Double Doink perpetrator with Eddy Pineiro — and added Cordarelle Patterson in the passing game. The most notable new addition is rookie running back Montgomery. A third-round pick out of Iowa State, Montgomery replaces underwhelming (and misused) fourth-year tailback Jordan Howard, who was traded to Philadelphia. Montgomery will be Chicago’s bell-cow back from the opening drive against Green Bay on Thursday night. With an ideal combination of size (5-foot-10, 222 pounds), collegiate production (1,216 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in 2018) and elusiveness (he led college football in broken tackles last season), Montgomery has become a popular preseason pick (10:1 odds) for NFL Rookie of the Year. He’s also risen to an average fantasy draft position of 50th overall, according to ESPN.
Arike Ogunbowale. A WNBA regular season that saw the league enjoy a swell of coverage and popularity comes to an end on Sunday. Unfortunately for the Dallas Wings (10-21), there will be no appearance in the eight-team WNBA postseason, but not all is for naught. With three games remaining against playoff teams, plenty of time remains for Wings point guard Ogunbowale to make a final push for Rookie of the Year. Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier (12.9 points per game, 6.5 rebounds) has been a leading candidate all season, but Ogunbowale has recently burst onto the scene. Put simply: She’s a force. With 18.1 points and 3.0 assists per game, Ogunbowale ranks third in the WNBA in scoring. In August, Ogunbowale — whose brother, Dare, plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — averaged 25 points per game and shot 44 percent from three. She also dropped 30 points three times in the last three weeks. On a winning team, the 2018 NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and national champion at Notre Dame would be a lock for Rookie of the Year. On the Wings? She still might win it.
Men’s tennis intrigue. Sometimes, all it takes are fresh faces. After a fourth-round injury submission from No. 1 Novak Djokovic cracked open a window of opportunity on one side of the U.S. Open men’s bracket, Grigor Dimitrov kicked down a whole damn door on Tuesday night. With his five-set quarterfinals upset of No. 3 Roger Federer, Dimitrov ensured that at least one Open finalist will come from outside tennis’ dominant “Big Three” — Federer, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. On the other side of the bracket, Nadal remains alive, but he was pushed by No. 20 Diego Schwartzman on Wednesday night. For years now, men’s tennis has been criticized for a lack of depth as the Big Three have won 53 of 63 Grand Slams (including the last 11). Meanwhile, the women’s tour is rife with parity and upsets. And yet, the tables have turned at this year’s Open, with Serena Williams returning to form and upheaval on the men’s side. Dimitrov (former world No. 3) has reached multiple Grand Slam semifinals. But the most intriguing threat to the triumvirate is Dimitrov’s next opponent — No. 5 Daniil Medvedev. The 6-foot-6 Russian is a fiery competitor and funky athlete who has already captivated the Open crowd. In a wide-open bracket, he may well thump Nadal in the final.
An uneventful FIBA World Cup. Well, so much for another international cakewalk for Team USA. With only one All-NBA player (Kemba Walker) on the roster this summer, we knew Team USA would face more obstacles than usual on the international circuit. But few would have predicted that America would need a foul with 0.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter and four missed free throws in overtime to get past Turkey in group stage on Tuesday. Despite struggling with the No. 17 team in the world, Team USA’s 93-92 triumph means it has won 44 straight in major competitions. “We’re still learning each other,” Walker told reporters in Shanghai. Walker, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum went just 8-of-32 in regulation, with Tatum spraining his ankle late in the game. Elsewhere in group stage, Brazil overcame a double-digit deficit to beat Greece — led by NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo — in a 79-78 thriller. Brazil’s Anderson Varejao, who last played in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors two years ago, scored 22, while 39-year-old Alex Garcia held the MVP to 13 points.
A Gritty Guard Aims to Put Uruguay on the Basketball Map, by Ray Glier/OZY
Santiago Vescovi understands that, as a virtual unknown in American basketball circles, he’s going to be checked, tested, maybe even ridiculed. But he refuses to be disrespected.
“It’s a cultural thing,” says the 17-year-old Vescovi. “In Latin America, our soccer players in Uruguay have a reputation for toughness in their game. It’s diving on the ground, playing hard.”
Rose Lavelle Is Not From Around Here, by Haley O’Shaughnessy/The Ringer
She is the future of the U.S. women’s national team, she is the pride of Cincinnati, and she has become a minor phenomenon on social media. But Lavelle’s game is anything but local. How did this Midwestern midfielder learn to play like she was from Barcelona?
2019 U.S. Open Villain Daniil Medvedev Just Keeps Winning, by Daniel Rapaport/Sports Illustrated
Tennis fans are a decorous bunch. Etiquette requires clapping for all good shots, no matter who hit them. Cheering for unforced errors is a faux pas … unless the player is Daniil Medvedev and the Grand Slam is the 2019 U.S. Open.
The W.N.B.A. Is Putting on Some of the Best Pro Basketball in America, by Kim Tingley/The New York Times
On opening night in the W.N.B.A., Brennan Galloway, who runs game operations for the Atlanta Dream, was standing in the breezeway beneath the seats of State Farm Arena, a cement colosseum where the Hawks, the city’s N.B.A. team, play from October until at least April. The Dream rents this downtown venue for its regular season, which runs from May into September, but its lease doesn’t give access to all the facility’s perks.
Meet Aaron Barrett, the 31-year-old pitcher who went 6-3 for the Washington Nationals in 2014 before getting Tommy John surgery in 2015. In 2016, he fractured his elbow. Many players would have quit, but Barrett’s been working in the minor leagues ever since. Until now.