French Open Flashback: Sharapova’s admirable 2009 run

Well, thanks to the ongoing pandemic, not much has happened in tennis since I wrote about Maria Sharapova’s retirement a few months ago. In a normal world, we would be knee deep in the French Open right now.

Whether you are a Sharapova fan like me or not, when you think about the clay in Paris, it doesn’t take long for her to come to mind. She was champion there in 2012 to complete her career Grand Slam and followed that up with the big trophy again in 2014.

She was also runner up in 2013 and a semifinalist in 2007 and 2011. Roland Garros was very good to the iconic Russian. Maybe I am a little weird, but I don’t think about those runs first when thinking about Sharapova in Paris.

I think about 2009. Sharapova had been out for 10 months after shoulder surgery. Shoulder injuries eventually hastened her retirement. 11 years ago, the year’s second major was just Sharapova’s second singles event back.

She was ranked 102 in the world, her serving shoulder was covered in therapeutic tape, and she hadn’t figured out how to blend her power based game with a surface that usually diffuses power to produce consistent results on clay just yet.

No one, perhaps not even Sharapova herself expected much from her at this event. She was still in the “gotta start somewhere” part of her comeback.

I will let photos and quotes tell most of the next part of the story, but remember, no one ever doubted Sharapova’s desire to win, but you didn’t always see how much it meant to her early in a big event. But…

Here she is locking down a 3-6 6-2 6-1 win over Anastasia Yakimova in the first round

sha yaki

Next, Sharapova upset 12 seed Nadia Petrova 6-2 1-6 8-6. I sneakily watched this one on mute in the back of my high school Spanish class. I was so excited, but had to keep quiet. This shot was captured as Petrova’s ball sailed wide on match point.

sha pet 3

To get to the second week, Sharapova slipped past a future top 25 player in Yaroslava Shvedova 1-6 6-3-6-4. The then three-time Grand Slam winner let out a shrill of delight to her coaching box after match point. TV commentator Chris Fowler remarked “A little rusty? Sure. Not at her best on clay? Definitely. But she can fight.” The fight is the trademark of Sharapova’s career and what she will always be remembered for, even by her many detractors.

The return run had one final happy chapter in it for Sharapova. She squeaked by frequent sparring partner Li Na 6-4 0-6 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals. The Chinese woman hadn’t quite become the player that would win two Grand Slams of her own yet. The picture as Sharapova was walking to the net for a handshake says it all.

sharapova li

The future two-time French Open champion ran out of gas against Dominika Cibulkova in the last 8. Cibulkova was an elite counterpuncher. The worst kind of player to deal with if you are fatigued. Sharapova was understandably exhausted and got handed one of the most lopsided defeats of her career.

Sharapova’s ride back to the top from her first shoulder surgery was tougher than most thought it would be given her ability to post a major quarterfinal result so quickly after returning. It took her two years after this run to get past the quarters of a major again. As we all know, she eventually got there and then some.

Given what Sharapova ended up achieving in Paris just a few years later, 2009 gets lost in the shuffle, It shouldn’t. She got to the quarterfinals of a major on what was then her worst surface. She did it in just her second tournament back after a ten-month injury layoff.

Moreover, she won four matches in a row. All of which went three sets and lasted over two hours. Lastly, she did all this while one arm almost surely was still not 100% healthy, as evidenced by the tape job.

No, she didn’t win it, but the 2009 French Open will always be one of my favorite events of Sharapova’s career. There aren’t many better examples that sum up what defined it. A once ever blend of grit, glamour, grace, and fight. Often, her intense distaste for losing was enough to win.


Why I’ll miss Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova retired from pro tennis at the age of 32 on Wednesday. If you know me at all, you know I am a huge Sharapova fan. However, even though I started watching tennis when Sharapova was a teenager for the same reason every other male did, it goes way deeper than that.

She is perhaps the most unique athlete ever. From the moment she defeated Serena Williams out of nowhere in 2004 to win Wimbledon at age 17, she was a made woman. With her supermodel good looks, the endorsements flooded in. She never had to pick up a racquet again, but she did.

At one point, she was the highest earning female athlete in the world for 11 straight years, but she was always a tennis player first. She added to her trophy case with the U.S. Open in 2006 and Austrailian Open in 2008, along with a slew of other titles.

There was certainly no need for her to come back to the sport after a shoulder injury and surgery kept her out from August 2008-May 2009, but she did. She added two more major titles at the French Open in 2012 and 2014, completing her career Grand Slam. This is something only 18 people in history have. You get the idea. There are many quotes about Sharapova’s commitment and dedication to the sport, but I’ll keep it simple. Sharapova herself once said “I’m an athlete I go out there and fight my heart out.” Even though another long-term shoulder injury added to a forearm complication was too much to overcome, my God did she ever do that.

She was not as naturally athletically gifted as many of her peers. Frankly, at well over six feet tall, she was always an awkward mover around the court, but for most of her career, it hardly mattered. Often, just wanting it more was enough. She won 36 career singles titles, three doubles titles, five majors, spent 21 weeks at world number one, won Olympic silver for Russia, was part of a championship Fed Cup team, and had 98 wins against top ten players.

Sharapova’s legacy is not without complication. She served a 15-month doping ban from early 2016 to the spring of 2017. Haters are always gonna hate, but she was exonerated from intentional wrongdoing. Also, her final career title and five of those 98 top ten wins came after the ban.

Most people are not tennis fans and will remember Sharapova for glam shots like this.

sha glam

I am sure there are a lot more of those coming in retirement. However, I will remember Sharapova for shots like the one below. Shots that show the girl who came to the U.S. from Russia with almost nothing and fought like hell to win tennis matches, even after she had everything.

2014 French Open - Day Ten

As someone who was born with a major physical disability, I often spend my life listening to people tell me what I can’t do, and that’s hard. I have learned a lot from Sharapova in that regard. Just keep fighting, no matter how bad things look, and you will be rewarded.

Sharapova was clearly playing in pain for the last two years. It was time. I am glad she is no longer putting herself through the ringer. But I will miss planning my weeks and sleep schedule around seeing her matches. I will miss her shouting “come on” after ripping a point winning backhand. I don’t rip point winning backhands, but I have adopted the “come on” in my own life. I will miss her playing lefty forehands to stay in points when she was in trouble.

I will miss the three set battles she seemed to always grind through. I will miss her going from competing to the point of almost foaming at the mouth to a million-dollar smile in a nanosecond after winning match point. I will miss her constantly clenched fist on the court. I will miss her post match press conferences where her wicked sense of humor was on public display. Win or lose, she never dodged a question. She often covered everything from tennis, to fashion, to candy.

I will miss hoping scheduling worked out for her to play in my hometown of Cincinnati every year and am thankful it did on a few occasions. I will miss learning about the many coaches and trainers who kept her so engaged for so long. Thank you to Michael Joyce, Thomas Hogstedt, Sven Groeneveld, and many others. Thank you to her agent Max Eisenbud, a true constant of the Sharapova empire.

I will miss going to YouTube before matches to find out all I can about Sharapova opponents with whom I wasn’t overly familiar. Yes, I will even miss the trademark Sharapova shriek.

My passion for tennis isn’t going anywhere. I will still follow the men’s and women’s tours week in and week out. I view the four majors like a lot of the rest of the world views Christmas. However, I will never watch another tennis match and have a hardcore rooting interest.

As much as fans like me will miss Sharapova, the sport will miss her more. The current generation of players like Sloane Stephens and Naomi Osaka is immensely talented, but they all have weeks where they show up at tournaments uninterested. They speak openly about being distracted by the off-court obligations that come with being a top player.

Sharapova was thrown on the world’s stage at 17 and handled everything just fine while still managing to put the sport first… Always.

Whatever life after tennis holds for Sharapova, she will be successful. She knows no other way. I hope she still pops into the tennis world on occasion. However, the preceding two paragraphs and everything else here is why, as hard as the media will try to create one, there will NEVER be another Maria Sharapova.




Tennis Lacking Star Power on Eve of Wimbledon

It has been a very busy month and a half or so for me. I am now writing about the NFL for

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See my work here: Wimbledon starts tomorrow. So, I am back to personal blogging!

Like any other sport, tennis is driven by its stars. In fact, star power is more important in tennis than most other sports simply because it is an individual one. Make no mistake, the names that drive tennis are Serena, Venus, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Azarenka, and Sharapova. On the eve of Wimbledon, the sport’s biggest event, most of these names are in shambles.


A 14 time major champion, Rafael Nadal seemed to be rounding back in to top-notch form at last month’s French Open, an event he has won nine times, but he suffered a wrist injury and was unable to finish the event. The same injury will keep him out of Wimbledon this year and possibly the Olympics later this summer. It is a similar story for former ladies world number one Victoria Azarenka. A two-time major champion, she seemed to be back to her best in March when she won back-to-back titles in Indian Wells and Miami. However, the injury bug bit the Belarusian again, also at the French Open. She retired from her first round match with back and knee issues. She announced last week that she will not be ready for Wimbledon. Two major stars will be watching the sport’s biggest event on TV. That is never a good thing for any sport.

Also not at Wimbledon is five time major champion Maria Sharapova. However, her situation is far more complicated than just a simple injury. Sharapova announced a failed drug test at January’s Australian open in March. She was banned for two years last month even though she had been serving the ban since January. Quite frankly, I could devote an entire blog post to her situation. All I will say here though is that it is not as clear-cut as I just made it sound. Most “experts” feel that two years is a bit excessive. I tend to agree, though the iconic Russian absolutely should be punished. All I know is that no matter what she did or did not do, no one benefits from having Sharapova enrolling in Harvard business school the day before Wimbledon starts. That is not a joke. That is really what she is doing. Sharapova is appealing her suspension. A ruling is expected by mid-July. I feel the best he can hope for is being eligible to play again on January 1, 2017. Again, I will not get into details here. However, that is the punishment most reasonable people, myself included were in favor of to begin with.


So, of the eight names I mentioned above, three will not even set foot on the grounds and Wimbledon this year. Of the five that are here, major question marks surround four of them. Venus Williams has won Wimbledon five times and has a favorable draw to make a run at it yet again. However, the 36-year-old has constantly battled injuries and illness in the twilight of her career. She is capable of beating anyone on the grass courts of Wimbledon, but she is also capable of losing to anyone. That never used to be the case. She has not reached a major semifinal 2010. Her little sister Serena is chasing Steffi Graf’s all-time record of 22 major titles. She is just one back. However, since losing in shocking fashion to Roberta Vinci in the semis of last year’s U.S. Open, she has struggled in big matches. She has come up short in three finals this year, including the first two majors of the year. Look, she is still by far and away the most talented player in the ladies game, but off days are becoming more and more frequent. She is beatable.


That leaves Federer, Murray, and Djokovic in the star department. Federer is arguably the greatest player that ever lived. However, even the 16 time major champion himself will tell you, his best days are behind. He has withdrawn from a handful of tournaments this year, including the French Open which was the first grand slam he missed since 1999. He has dealt with a bad back that has become more of an issue in recent years, a meniscus tear, and the flu. However, he is hoping to make one more run at an eighth Wimbledon title. It is unlikely, but champions never forget how to win. Then, there is local favorite Andy Murray who is fresh off a win at a tune up event last week. He became the first Brit to win Wimbledon in front of the home fans since the 30s just two years ago. He is playing well this year finishing runner-up to Djokovic at both the Australian and French Opens. However, recent coaching changes and the always immense pressure he is under when playing in his home country are X factors that could greatly help or hurt him. Only time will tell.


The one big name that there is absolutely no question about going into Wimbledon is world number one Novak Djokovic. I am not sure if anyone has ever played the game better than the Serb is right now. His career major total is now at 12. He captured the one thing missing from his resume at the French Open. He is the current title holder at all four majors. Anything is possible, so he could be beaten at Wimbledon. However, he has no weakness and plays the best defense I have ever seen. So, I would not bet on it. Most importantly though, Djokovic is carrying the sport right now in terms of star power and intrigue.


The logical question to ask is if the stars of today are struggling, doesn’t that mean new ones are being created? I wish, but that just is not happening. Djokovic is not allowing it on the men’s side. Apart from Serena, the ladies game has been a bit of a joke in 2016. German world number four Angelique Kerber upset Serena to win her first major in Australia, but has struggled since losing five times in her first match of an event. French Open winner Garbine Muguruza also upset Serena to win her first major in Paris, but also has struggled since. She could get hot here, but has a scary first round against big hitting Italian Camila Giorgi. Maybe the biggest indictment about the state of the ladies game right now is the fact that I would place Sharapova as the second favorite behind Serena, if she were eligible to play. I doubt I am alone there. She has not played since January. No matter what is happening, Wimbledon always provides a great two weeks. So, enjoy it on the ESPN family of networks starting tomorrow morning at 8:00.

Sleepers: (24) Alexander Zverev (Men) (27) Coco Vandeweghe (Women), Tsvetana Pironkova (Women)

Predictions: (Men) (Women)











Macho Man and Elizabeth: The Romeo and Juliet of the Ring

Today, I make my return to blogging with a deeply personal, emotional, yet fun topic. It will be my first ever wrestling related blog. On this day 13 years ago, Elizabeth Hulette passed away, you may know her as Miss Elizabeth. She and her ex-husband, the late “Macho Man” Randy Savage (real name Randy Poffo) gained international fame throughout the 80s and 90s. They are without question the most successful wrestler manager combo in wrestling history. I thought it would be great to look back at their careers. They gave so many people so many great memories.

Elizabeth’s life on camera began in 1985. The Macho Man shunned the services of managers like Jimmy Hart and Bobby Heenan and shocked everyone by naming the then unknown Elizabeth his manager. In the pre-Internet era, no one knew that Liz was his actual wife. They married a few months before Randy’s big break.

From there, their careers took off quickly. Savage won the coveted Intercontinental title. He held it for almost a year before losing to Ricky Steamboat in an all-time classic match at WrestleMania 3, which is Liz at ringside for. It was shortly after this loss when their on-screen dynamic began to change. Savage slowly went from being a major heel (wrestling slang for bad guy) that would not allow Elizabeth to speak on camera to a baby face (good guy) that held the ropes open to allow Elizabeth to enter the ring, rather than the other way around.

The crowning moment of the Macho Man’s transformation was Wrestlemania 4 where he won 4 matches in one night to capture the WWE title. Liz also wore 4 different outfits that night. She also played a major role in allowing the couple’s budding alliance with megastar Hulk Hogan to blossom that same night. Hogan helped Savage win his final match. He stepped out of the spotlight for one of the most iconic snapshots in wrestling history (pictured below). The Mega Powers of Savage, Hogan, and Liz were formed.


Elizabeth did a fine job of managing the massive on and off screen egos of Hogan and Savage for a while. She helped them win a tag match against Andre the Giant and Ted DiBiase at Summerslam 88 by ripping off her skirt bottom cause a distraction, very risqué for 1988 (pictured below)

Liz skirt

Unfortunately, Savage eventually went back to his heel ways and became very suspicious of Hogan’s intentions regarding Elizabeth. Depending on who you ask, this is not far off from what happened in the real-life marriage of Randy and Elizabeth. This culminated in a match between the two for the WWE title at Wrestlemania 5, which Hogan won to regain the belt while Elizabeth watched the early part of the match from a neutral corner.

The loss sent Savage off the deep end. He kicked Elizabeth to the curb in favor of her polar opposite, “Sensational” Sherri Martel. Martel played crazy character very well and was tough as nails. The perfect counter to the lady like Elizabeth who embodied grace and poise. Elizabeth stayed on TV for a brief period managing the Hulkster. However, for the latter part of 1989 and all of 1990. Elizabeth only appeared sporadically to foil Savage and Sherri. While Elizabeth cut back her time on the road, Randy continued wrestling almost every night. They were still married off-screen.


Savage and Sherri engaged in a heated rivalry with the Ultimate Warrior in early 1991. The feud reached its apex in a retirement match at Wrestlemania 7. Whoever lost would supposedly hang up their wrestling boots for good. Savage lost to Warrior in one of my all-time favorite matches. Afterword, Sherri literally kicked the “Macho Man” while he was down. Elizabeth was watching the whole ordeal from the crowd and hopped the barricade to toss Sherri from the ring. What followed was arguably the most emotional moment in wrestling history. A reunion of the first couple of wrestling (video below). I watched this moment for the first time in well over a decade after it happened. Yes, I still cried.

Eventually, Savage would work his way around the retirement stipulation and be reinstated. His on-screen reunion with Elizabeth led to the first and to my knowledge only WWE wedding that was uninterrupted at Summerslam 91. Finally, Randy and Elizabeth were married both on and off camera. Unfortunately, while their on-screen relationship was stronger than ever, their real-life marriage was crumbling. Shortly after managing Randy to another WWE title win at Wrestlemania 8, Elizabeth filed for divorce and left the WWF in 1992. Her departure was without fanfare. The only acknowledgment by the company was a hand written letter by Savage in WWF magazine where he thanked both the fans and Elizabeth. Most thought that is where this love story would end… They were wrong.

In 1996, Savage and Hogan brought Elizabeth in to Ted Turner’s WCW. She quietly managed them for about a month. She then shocked the world and turned against Savage to help Ric Flair win the WCW title. The real-life divorce was brought into storyline to an almost uncomfortable level. Liz would go on TV each week asking for more alimony and cuddling with Flair.

The Elizabeth/Flair alliance dissolved after a few months. Through a series of complicated events, Savage and Elizabeth reunited in Hogan’s heel New World Order (NWO) faction. They both did a pretty good job of acting like they were “just friends.” Every now and then though, you could see that the spark was still there. Case in point, the photo below snapped during a commercial break from the night they join forces again in early 1997. Do they look like they are over each other?

screen shot

This was right about the time I got into wrestling. I was five or six. Elizabeth’s on-screen character had changed dramatically from her WWF days. She started getting physically involved matches. She would rake eyes, choke Savage’s opponents with everything from bandannas to extension cords. This time in their careers is not viewed favorably by some fans. Personally, I loved it and they both seemed to enjoy it too. Savage and Liz were a part of 1997’s best feud with Diamond Dallas page and his then real-life wife Kimberly. The feud had 3 fantastic no holds barred matches between Savage and Page. One of which even featured a cat fight between the 2 ladies.

The couple remained united on-screen until the spring of 1998. The match in the video below between Savage and Sting is not the greatest, but it is a special one for many reasons. First, Liz takes a big time splash from Sting like a champ. Second, I have the shirt that Liz is wearing here. Third, the five-year-old me watched this live at my late grandparents’ house and was on top of the world when the Macho Man won the title once again. However there was no way for anyone to know the significance of this night. Savage tore his ACL in this match. He would lose the belt the next night and be off of TV soon after. Sadly, while Savage and Elizabeth would each stay in the business a few more years, they never did anything meaningful on screen together again.


This is where the story gets sad. The divorced couple amicably moved on with their lives. They were both basically out of the spotlight for good by mid-2000. There are all kinds of internet stories about the jealousy that ran rampant throughout the entirety of their relationship. You won’t find those here. Randy and Liz had their issues, but clearly loved each other deeply, even after the divorce. Considering what happened to each of them after they were no longer part of each other’s lives, it is fair to say they were never quite the same without each other.


After a second failed marriage to an attorney, Elizabeth began a relationship with wrestler Lex Luger whom she managed at the tail end of her time in WCW. Little is known about the relationship. However, it proved to be toxic for both parties. Elizabeth passed away on 5/1/03 after an accidental overdose when mixing prescribed pain medication and Vodka. She was just 42. Even at 10 years old, I was used to hearing about the death of my favorite wrestling personalities. However, Liz’s death hit me like a ton of bricks. It just made no sense. I know the Elizabeth I grew up watching with the character on TV, but she was so highly thought of behind the scenes by everyone in the business. No one expected her to find an early grave the way she did. Bret Hart called her “a flower among the weeds” Luger was cleared of any wrongdoing in her death, despite initial suspicion. He has since had a stroke and is now a born-again Christian. He has accepted a certain level of fault in Elizabeth’s death saying he was a bad influence on her at the time.

The story of Savage’s life post Elizabeth is a little better than the one above, but not much. After a few failed wrestling comeback attempts, he launched a rap music career, which also failed. After that, he became a recluse who was rarely seen by anyone outside his family. To my knowledge, he never spoke publicly about his ex-wife’s demise. He did remarry in 2010 and according to his brother, was happy. It did not last, he suffered a heart attack while driving and passed away on 5/20/11. He was just 58. Like many others, my first thought was “Randy and Elizabeth back together again.” Savage was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame last year. Elizabeth still awaits that honor.


For a failed baseball player and a shy college-educated Kentucky gal who knew nothing about wrestling before she got into the business, Randy and Elizabeth sure did leave their mark on the world. Any time these two worked together, the crowds went bat shit crazy. Here is to hoping they are indeed back together again. Thanks for the memories Randy and Liz. You both are missed by fans everywhere.







The Dumbest of the Dumb… My Personal Collection

Like most other folks, my bracket is garbage. I had Michigan State winning it all and Kentucky in the final four. This NCAA tournament has made both fans and analyst look quite foolish. I thought it may be fun to write about some of the other ridiculous sports opinions/predictions I have had over the years. I ended up looking real stupid on all of these. When it comes to sports though, not many people admit they were wrong. So, enjoy this.

  • When they were drafted, I thought Robert Griffin III would have a better career than Andrew Luck. After a promising start, RG3 has just found a new home in Cleveland after riding the bench in DC for most of the last two years. Luck has led the Colts to the playoffs every year that he has been healthy. He has never had a great supporting cast either.
  • I was sure Montee Ball would be the next great NFL running back. The NCAA’s all-time TD leader, Ball was drafted to my Broncos in 2013. With the numbers he put up at Wisconsin, I thought he would be great at next level. I am well aware that numbers do not always translate to the big time. His lack of speed really hurt him in the NFL and he could not stay healthy. He was released less than two years after being drafted and is now out of football. Ball appeared in the Broncos Super Bowl loss to Seattle.
  • I bought in to Josh McDaniels as an NFL head coach. Speaking of the Broncos, When Mike Shanahan was fired after the 2008 season, new coach Josh McDaniels instantly rubbed everyone the wrong way and obliterated the roster of all the decent players. Despite that, he and the Broncos started the ’09 season 6-0. I was all in. I was convinced he was a mad genius. I even bought a hoodie similar to the one McDaniels sported on the sidelines. The Broncos missed the playoffs in ‘09 and would win just 5 more games in the rest of McDaniels tenure. He was fired midway through the 2010 season and has not sniffed a head coaching gig since, and rightly so. Obviously, the Broncos organization has fully recovered from the damage the Belichick understudy did.
  • I thought A.J. Green would fall flat on his face with the Bengals. This was never a question of talent for me. It was question of fit. The Bengals have taken chances on questionable character guys before. Some before Green, some after. We are talking about guys like Adam Jones, Chris Henry, Odell Thurman, Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens and Vontaze Burfict. They have had mixed results. By the time they Green was drafted fourth overall in 2011, this reputation was firmly entrenched. The star wide out had missed time at Georgia for getting improper benefits. This turned out to be insignificant. However, I was nervous about a player with any kind of red flag at all going to the Bengals. Green proved me wrong by becoming an instant impact player and is now one of the best receivers in the league.
  • I mocked the Buck Showalter hiring. I am so happy that this is on the list. As a long suffering Orioles fan, I was less than thrilled when Buck Showalter took over the club as manager during the 2010 season. I just did not see how the 50+ year old who had been out of the game for 4 years would turn around more than a decade of losing. All he has done is post a 458-409 record with a division title and two playoff appearances. He has the O’s on a streak of three straight non losing seasons. When you consider the Orioles posted nothing but losing seasons from 1998-2011, that is a huge deal. He has given me a winner to cheer for in baseball, something I never thought I would have. Again, I am so glad I was wrong. Thank you Buck.
  • I wrote off Serena Williams… Twice. I still wonder why I was so stupid. The first time was at the start of 2007. Serena played just four events in 2006. She showed up to the “07 Aussie Open overweight, unseeded, and ranked 81 in the world. She won the event, demolishing top seed Maria Sharapova in the final. Five years later, Serena had not won a major since Wimbledon 2010 and had just suffered the only major opening round defeat of her career at the 2012 French Open. Pushing 30 and dealing with the many injuries that come with a long career, I did not see another run of dominance for her. She hired a new coach during this time. Since then, she has won 8 of 14 majors played and Olympic gold in singles and doubles. What a fool I was.

Well there you have it folks. The dumbest sports predictions/opinions I have ever had. I was not alone on these, but unlike most, I am willing to eat the crow.

The Maria Sharapova Drug Scandal- The Facts

Drug test bolg pic

Well, this is a post I never wanted to or thought I would write. Maria Sharapova announced Monday that she failed a drug test at the Australian Open in January and that she would be suspended on March 12th with the length to be determined by the International Tennis Federation (ITF). There has been so much info thrown out there on this, not all of it is true. So, I have to chime in. I am not an insider of any kind, but I am taking this story very seriously. I have done my homework, unlike a lot of other folks. As I have discussed before, Sharapova is my favorite player and somewhat of a role model to me. I will do my best not to let that slant this piece in any way.

Here are the things no one disputes. There are not many. Sharapova tested positive for meldonium. The drug helps with chest pain, low magnesium levels, frequent flu symptoms, and diabetes precursors. Those were Sharapova’s reasons for taking it. However, it can also increase stamina and endurance. Thus, it was added to World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned substance list on January 1. Meaning it was legal prior to that. That is key here.

To her credit, Sharapova took full responsibility for the failed test. In that way, she is different from every other athlete ever busted. Her explanation was mystifying yet plausible. She said she had taken the drug since 2006 for the health issues above. A fact confirmed by Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) officials. Sharapova declared that she was taking the drug before each test prior to this year. This is where it gets unbelievable. Sharapova said received an e-mail with the updated banned substance list at the start of the year, but did not bother to read it. That excuse is so pathetic it must be true. Apparently, Sharapova is not the only one who missed the e-mail. Several other eastern European athletes have be nabbed for the same drug in recent days. The drug is not FDA approved and is only made in Russia in Latvia, more info here:

Where Sharapova is concerned though, there is one nagging question for me. How can a woman who, by her own admission, is smart enough to remove labels from products to avoid endorsement conflicts not bother to read an e-mail with something as important as the updated banned substance list? I have no answer there and neither does Sharapova, other than saying she “made a huge mistake.” She sure did. Predictably, some folks have been quick to bury the Russian Ice Queen. The most common argument from her detractors is that the treatment course for the drug is 4-6 weeks, not the 10 years that Sharapova has been taking it. This is factual, but irrelevant. The drug was only banned January 1.

So, what does this all mean going forward? Good hell what a complicated question. First, there is a possible suspension looming. The tennis governing bodies mandate a four year ban for intentionally failed test, a two year ban for an unintentional failure, and lesser penalties for mitigating circumstances. A case can be made for all three of these. Sharapova and her lawyer John Haggerty will obviously push for mitigating circumstances and are negotiating with the ITF. A lengthy ban may be a career ender for the oft injured Russian who turns 29 next month, but there may be no ban at all. Only time will tell. Sharapova will sell her soul to play at the Olympics the summer. They are likely her last chance at the gold medal she does not have yet.

There is also a financial/business piece to this. Sharapova is the highest earning female athlete on the planet. Most of that comes from endorsements. Contrary to what has been reported, no company has dropped Sharapova yet. Nike and Porsche have suspended their relationship with Sharapova to wait and see how this plays out. Tag Heuer simply decided not to renew her contract which expired in January. Samsung and Evian have not made a move yet. All these endorsements could come back. Again, it all comes down to the punishment. Sharapova is of no use to these companies if she is not playing tennis. Interestingly, Sharapova’s racquet company, Head, announced an extension with her today. At the end of the day though, the money is already in the bank. Thus, it is reasonable to speculate the endorsements are somewhere down the list of Sharapova’s concerns. No matter what happens, she is not going broke.

The fascinating part of this though is who we are talking about, what she means to the sport, and what it means to her. We are talking about woman who broke in the gym to work out at 3 a.m. during the 2009 Australian Open. She missed the event with a torn rotator cuff and could not handle watching on television. Given that level of commitment, the fact that she left herself open to this kind of thing really is unbelievable. Also, Sharapova and Serena Williams are the only two players the WTA and ITF can count on to sell tickets everywhere they go. The new generation has not stepped up yet. Should Sharapova be treated differently because of this? No, will she be? I am willing to bet so.

If and when Sharapova returns, she will likely be painted as the villain, a role she will no doubt embrace. She makes no secret about the fact that she is not friendly with the other women on the tour. In her own words, she has never been “part of the rat pack.” All she wants to do is win and hold big trophies. Good or bad, she has never given a damn what the rest of the world thinks. If the Nike sponsorship does not come back, she will play in a potato sack and look stunning doing it. She loves the game that much.

The suspension will be handed down Saturday. Sharapova should absolutely be punished. Based on what I know, a four month ban and hefty fine seems sufficient. Unfortunately, Sharapova is very aware that far worse is a real possibility. I will leave you with this. Sharapova is the fiercest competitor the sport has ever seen. If given the chance, she will come back as strong and driven as ever.




Top 5 Country Ballads: #1 George Jones- “He Stopped Loving Her Today”

It is the last day of my country music ballads countdown, and I truly am saving the best for last. Not only is it my favorite ballad ever, but it is arguably the best and most beautiful country song ever written. However, if you would like to look back at my choices for songs 5-2, you can do so below.

#5- …

#4- …

#3- …

#2- …

Now, my #1 country ballad is the 1980 George Jones classic “He Stopped Loving Her Today” It was written by a pair of Hall of Fame songwriters, Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman. It rejuvenated “The Possum’s” career, becoming his first #1 in 6 years. After Jones passed away in 2013, it reentered the charts for a week at #21, 30 years after its release. This cemented its place as the signature song of Jones’ legendary career.

The song itself is a tragic love story about a man who is unable to get over a past lover in life.   He struggles until his death. His lover comes to see him one more time before his passing, when he “stops loving her.” Jones famously said in interviews that he thought the song was “too damn said” to sell.

Well, thankfully for Jones, and all of us, someone talked him into recording it. The result is below. If this does not hit you right in the feelings, then you are a robot.

The song has been covered by everyone from Tom Jones to Alan Jackson. This broad appeal further drives home its greatness. I could never picture a female voice singing this song. Until… LeAnn Rimes covered it on her 2011 album Lady & Gentlemen. While nothing tops the Grammy nominated original, it is the best cover I have ever heard. I thought it was worth including below. I have enjoyed sharing these great songs with all of you. I will be back to sports blogging soon.

Top 5 Country Ballads: #2 Faith Hill- “When the Lights Go Down”

My country ballads countdown is getting closer to my top pick, but for today we are at my #2 favorite country ballad. The singer is probably my favorite ballad singer ever. The song has some of the most stunning vocals I have ever heard.

“When the Lights Go Down” from Faith Hill’s 2002 album, Cry is a song about being honest with yourself, even when it is tough to do so. A reminder we can all use sometimes. This song and the power and conviction with which it is sung gives me goosebumps to this day. Hill has produced some masterful ballads over the years Songs like “But I Will”, “It Matters to Me”, “I Can’t Do That Anymore”, and “Steeling Kisses” are all worth a listen at any given time. I really could do a countdown of just my favorite Faith Hill ballads. For me though, this song has always been a cut above those others.

The song was penned by a trio of songwriters, Rivers Rutherford, Jeffery Steele, and Craig Wiseman. They have created hits for everyone from Brooks and Dunn to Randy Travis. The one thing this song does not have going for it is that it only peaked at #26 on the charts. I will never understand why it was not a bigger hit. I guess all music is a matter of opinion, and in my opinion, this one of the best I have ever heard. The perfect marriage of singer and song. Whether you like this kind of music or not, the live performance below will leave your jaw on the floor. Hats off to Faith. Be sure to look tomorrow and see what my #1 ballad is. It is a song and singer everyone is familiar with.

Top 5 Country Ballads: #3 Shania Twain- “There Goes the Neighborhood”

My country ballads countdown continues today. My choice for #3 is another song that hits close to home for me. It is a song I am willing to bet none of my readers have ever heard. I hope this post changes that. Shania Twain is my all-time favorite artist. So, the fact that I managed to work her into this countdown should surprise no one. The song I chose is another story.

“There Goes the Neighborhood” was written by Tommy Dodson, Bill C. Graham, and Alan Laney. It was included on Twain’s unsuccessful self-titled debut album in 1993. It was not released as a single to radio. The album itself produced no top 40 hits and was not produced by Twain’s now ex-husband Mutt Lange. The man behind her other three albums that have sold over 70 million copies worldwide. It also did not include any of Twain’s original songs. She only co-wrote one song on the album. She and Lange wrote or co-wrote all of her other material

“There Goes the Neighborhood” is about a series of couples that decides on divorce and all of the terrible things and tough choices that come along with it. I did not even know the song existed until I was prepping to see Shania in concert over the summer. It was also recorded by veteran artist Joe Diffie. As a child of divorce, I instantly fell in love. Twain displays a vocal power I never knew she had. I am very fortunate to say that although they are divorced, I see both of my parents and have decent relationships with both. I know it often does not work that way. However, I also know as well as anyone that sometimes, divorce just sucks. This song is great for the sucky moments. Please give this hidden gem a listen below.

Top 5 Country Ballads: #4 Mindy McCready- “Maybe He’ll Notice Her Now”

My country ballads countdown rolls on. Today, I pay tribute to an all too often forgotten singer and song. When someone talks about the women of 90s country music names like Reba, Shania, and Faith quickly jump to mind. However, for a brief time, a twangy blonde haired powerhouse from Florida was on top. Then, as quickly as she arrived on scene, she was gone. I am talking about Mindy McCrready.

McCready’s 1996 debut album produced 3 top 10 hits. However, the 4th single from that album that only reached a peak of #18 is my #4 ballad. “Maybe He’ll Notice Her Now” penned by well respected Nashville songwriter the late Tim Johnson, is about a woman who writes a note to her husband before leaving him. The husband reads the note and realizes he has taken her for granted. They end up getting back together. The background vocals from Lonestar front man Richie McDonald are haunting. This is another one of those songs I feel like everyone can relate to. Whether it be with a significant other, friend, or someone else, being in a relationship with someone and not feeling valued is not uncommon. Sometimes doing something drastic to get the other person’s attention is necessary. More often than not it works out. This song is also a good reminder to let the people that matter to you know that you feel that way.

The song has a happy ending. Unfortunately, McCready’s life did not. After her debut album, she only hit top 20 on the charts 1 more time. Combine this with failed relationships, depression, addiction, and legal issues, and it all became too much. McCready tragically committed suicide in 2013 at just 37 years of age. Sadly, beautiful songs like this one are all we have left of this once promising talent, but they will live on forever. Please, give this great song a listen.