In just one week, and with three consecutive losses, Leo Messi and Co. have crashed out of the Champions League, ceded the Copa del Rey to Real Madrid, and dropped three more crucial points in La Liga. In late April, Barcelona find themselves seated third in La Liga, which is all the more woeful considering they kicked off the 2013-2014 campaign just one match short of their best ever start to a season.
With the highly anticipated arrival of Brazilian golden boy, Neymar, and new boss Tata Martino, there were hopes that Barcelona would bring home the treble, and enjoy yet another extremely successful campaign. However, thus far, things have not gone in Barça’s favor. A number of factors including Lionel Messi’s lengthy injury as well as fierce third party competition from Atlético Madrid have left the Catalan side on track to finish this season without having won any major trophies.
It is inevitable that all teams, even the best of best, will suffer through poor runs of form at some point throughout the season, but Barcelona’s current slump is something more. This is a team that has been highly criticized, particularly in recent years, when it comes the handling of the team’s defensive unit. As a team that has come to be known for its tiki-taka passing and athletic artistry, focus has remained on the team’s offensive power and talent. However a sharp decline in the form of captain and defensive leader, Carles Puyol, as well as inconsistency from Gerard Pique, has left much to be desired of Barça’s back line. However in recent weeks, Barcelona’s defensive woes seem to be the least of their problems. Just recently, FIFA slammed the Spanish club with a transfer ban preventing them from signing both youth and senior players for the next 14 months, citing a violation of ‘the international transfer of minors.’ Although the ban on the summer transfer window has been temporarily lifted due to appeals, Barcelona will most likely still be ineligible to engage in the transfer market during this coming winter. Aside from La Masia, the club’s renowned youth system, the transfer window is the only way to restructure and adjust the team’s on-field personnel. In an era where money is as wrapped up in the game as it has ever been, Barcelona risk falling behind its wealthy counterparts in the next two transfer windows. Club officials have said that Barcelona has every intention of appealing these restrictive bans, but it seems unlikely that they will get their wish.
At the end of this season, club president, Jose Maria Bartomeu, and the FC Barcelona Board will most likely see to it that head coach, Tata Martino, is fired. However the difference between Barcelona and other struggling teams is that Barça has nowhere to turn this time. They will be unable to buy their way out of the slump, because this poor run of form is more than temporary.
This year’s Australian Open came with very unlikely victors. Although it might not have been a very exciting major, it left tennis fans everywhere contemplating the future of tennis.
In the men’s draw, No. 6 Roger Federer was reinvigorated and played some of his best tennis in years. It gave hope that the legend may return to his classic, preeminent style of tennis. Under his new coach and serve-and-volley king, Stefan Edberg, Roger has been playing superb tennis. Edberg has been trying to implement a more aggressive style of play in Roger’s game while also introducing a serve-and-volley technique; however, in today’s era of tennis, it is virtually nonexistent. Most players today are either aggressive baseliners or all-around players, but apparently this new formula was fruitful. Roger defeated defending Wimbledon champ, Andy Murray, in the quarterfinals in just four sets: 6-3, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3. Roger led the tiebreaker 5-2, but couldn’t shut the door. Ultimately, he won the match to advance to his 11th straight Australian Open semi-final.
Unfortunately, Roger lost to his all-time rival and tennis legend, Rafael Nadal. He lost in a mere straight set victory for Nadal: 7-6, 6-3, 6-3. Although Federer’s straight set loss could be frustrating and seem discouraging, Federer revealed some potential for future majors in the 2014 year, and seems to have returned to his old self.
Stanislas Wawrinka, known for being a hothead on the court, has shown great prospective the last couple years. This world #8 has tried to penetrate into the top 5, but just couldn’t seem to knock off some of them. He has come close to beating Djokovic before, so this rematch in the quarterfinals was a good comparison for how well he developed his game.
This match was a nail-biter. Lasting just over five hours, the game went into 5 sets. The first four sets were 6-2, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. With Wawrinka cracking one of the fastest serves of the tournament at 219 KPH and serving up 17 aces, he ultimately etched out the victory. The last game was tallied at 9-7. When the score was 8-7, 30-30, Wawrinka hit a low ball that hit off the net and took a high bounce. Djokovic eagerly rushed to the ball with more than enough time to easily put the ball away. Wide-eyed Wawrinka stared at Djokovic and faced the virtually inevitable loss of the point. Whether he was nervous, frustrated, or experiencing a bad case of Murphy’s Law, Djokovic put the ball about a foot to far wide into the ally. Feeling completely agitated and depressed, Djokovic served-and-volleyed the next point. After a good serve, he rushed to the net for the easy putaway; unfortunately, he found the alley again. Wawrinka celebrated.
Wawrinka won his next match against Berdych in a four set victory. 3 out of the 4 sets were tiebreakers.
In the finals, it was a miserable game to watch where Stan squared up against Nadal. “Stanimal” (Stan’s nickname) won the first set 6-3. In the second set, Nadal almost retied from the match with incredible back pain and ailments, but refused to lose. He lost the second set 6-2, but then won the third set 6-3, making the match just a little interesting only to be defeated in the fourth set 6-3. Nadal’s injury surely impacted his play, particularly when he lost the 7 out of 8 points following his medical time-out. To compare some stats, it is easily tangible that Nadal was suffering harrowing pain and was therefore impaired.
Aces: Nadal-1 Wawrinka- 19
Net points won: Nadal- 63% Wawrinka- 92%
Winners: Nadal- 19 Wawrinka- 53
Total Points Won: Nadal- 88 Wawrinka- 116
Nadal also only won 27% of Wawrinka’s first serve points. Wawrinka then humbly celebrated, shook both Nadal’s and the official’s hands, and rose the Australian Open trophy; Wawrinka then moved up to world number 3. The question still remains, which Swiss will be more successful: Roger or Stan?
Unpredictability and bizarre outcomes extended into the women’s part of the draw, also crowning an unlikely victor. Two bizarre upsets took place in the women’s 4th round. World number one and America’s star Serena Williams took a devastating loss to world #14 Ana Ivanovic of Serbia.
After going into the third set, it seemed almost as if Serena had accepted defeat for some reason. I know that she’s always used to crushing her opponent, but some matches can be close. The final score was 4-6, 6-3, 6-3. Serena was outmatched in some categories that she usually dominates in. For example, Ivanovic recorded 33 winners contrasted to Serena’s 22. Also, Ivanovic won 12 more total points, won more net points, and had 14 break point opportunities. Ivanovic advanced to the quarterfinals only to lose to Eugenie Bouchard in three sets.
Maria Sharapova’s loss to Dominika Cibulkova was very surprising too. The score was 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. In almost all the statistics, they were almost exactly equal except for one category: unforced errors. Cibulkova recorded only 25, but Sharapova had 45 unforced errors. This is undoubtedly the reason for this 4th round upset.
The quarterfinals match between Radwanska and Azarenka could be deemed the most eventful and interesting match in the Women’s Australian Open draw. With only one ace recorded in the entire match, these two superstars battled it out against each other for a 3-set match. Again, the match came down to the unforced errors. Radwanska, sometimes deemed a “pusher” hits for high percentage shots, rarely double faults, and has a very low amount of unforced errors and winners. This match was very indicative of that nature. Radwanska only had 15 unforced errors to Azarenka’s 47. It could be said that they are opposites. 6-1, 5-7, 6-0 was the final score; it is clear this match was “all over the place.” She eventually lost to Cibulkova in the semi-finals 6-1, 6-2.
The finals were yet again somewhat uneventful. #4 Li Na battled #20 Dominika Cibulkova. The final score of the match was 7-6 (7-3), 6-0, Li Na winning the Australian Open. She won the first set in a battle, but breezed through the next set in only a mere 27 minutes. Li Na recorded 34 winners and three times the second serve points won than Cibulkova. Li Na finally won after her third appearance in the Australian Open final becoming the first Chinese woman to win the Australian Open. Li Na celebrated humbly and gave an admirable and amusing speech.
This year’s Australian Open proved to be shocking. It leaves us interested to see how the rest of the year plays out and who will win the next three majors.
What a year it’s been for the sports community. 2013 has included a myriad of emotions surrounding various events from terrorist attacks to retirements. Unfortunately, I have compiled solely the top 10 moments of the year, so many deserving moments did not make the cut.
10) Superdome Lighting Failure
Normally this should not be classified under “most memorable”, but the magnitude of the lighting failure is of note. New Orleans spent an estimated $471 million on this year’s Super Bowl. With almost half a billion dollars, you’d expect for at least all the lights to work, something that should have been a top priority for the Superdome maintenance staff. With 13:22 minutes left in the third quarter, half of the stadium plunged into darkness leaving TV viewers, players, and especially the audience confused. The partial blackout remained for a whopping 34 minutes. Apparently, Beyonce’s extravagant halftime show is somewhat responsible for the outage because of the amount of lighting used during her performance, forcing the device that detects electrical load to open a breaker and cut the lights.
9) Dunk City, USA
Florida Gulf Coast University had quite the emergence on the national stage in 2013 by taking down #2 Georgetown in March. And then #7 San Diego St. went down for an encore performance. FGCU became the first #15 seed in NCAA history to reach the Sweet Sixteen. The wins were definitely impressive, but what made it even better was the excitement that the players on that team brought to the court in those two games. Dunk after dunk brought the city of Fort Meyers the fitting name of “Dunk City, USA.” The alley-oops were great, but the Cinderella story was even better. FGCU, a college that was founded in 1991, defeated the mighty Georgetown Hoyas, a team that has been playing for over a century. Plus, the 2012 – 2013 season was their first Division 1 season and first appearance in the NCAA tournament.
8) Mile High Miracle
This AFC divisional – round game between the Ravens and Broncos came down to a final Baltimore drive with under a minute remaining. A true playoff classic was sent into overtime after a 70 yard heave from QB Joe Flacco to WR Jacoby Jones resulted in a touchdown with 31 seconds remaining in the 4th quarter. This TD brought the score to 35-35, a score that remained for the next 15 minutes resulting in a second overtime period. It ended up being the fourth longest game in NFL playoff history. Sadly for Denver fans, the game ended with a Manning interception and a Justin Tucker 47 yard field goal. Final score: 38-35. The Ravens were thankful for a birth in the AFC Championship game en route to a Super Bowl win. And undoubtedly, the 70 yard TD grab was the highlight of an unforgettable season for Baltimore.
7) Louisville’s Inspiration
Essentially every single sports fan in the nation has seen Kevin Ware’s gruesome injury suffered in the win against Duke in the Elite Eight. Everyone on the court was able to see the actual white of Ware’s tibia sticking out of his skin. People who witnessed it agree that it was definitely the most graphic injury they have ever seen and that’s saying something in an internet age where every injury is seen by everybody. More importantly, the words uttered from Kevin Ware’s mouth immediately following his horrific injury stayed with Louisville for the rest of the tourney. “Just win the game. I’m OK. Just win the game.” The boys on that team did every thing they did for Ware. That inspiration and team bond led them to victory over Wichita St. in the Final Four and Michigan in the National Championship game.
6) A British Savior
It appeared that Andy Murray had wasted his best chance of winning Wimbledon when he succumbed to Roger Federer in 2012’s Wimbledon Final. But, the best was yet to come. On July 7, 2013 Murray defeated #1 Novak Djokovic, a former Wimbledon champion, to make Wimbledon history. A player from Great Britain had not won Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936, which was 77 years ago. He was deemed a “choker” on the biggest of stages before his 2012 US Open title, his first Grand Slam. Prior to winning that US Open, he had lost in four Grand Slam finals and six Grand Slam semi-finals. The entire United Kingdom had placed the burden of winning a Grand Slam for years on Andy Murray and he answered the call by capturing Wimbledon this year. This was a truly momentous occasion for a country that dominated the sport decades ago.
5) The First Openly Gay Athlete in North American Professional Sports
In SI’s May 6 issue this year, Jason Collins became the first openly gay athlete in the four major North American Professional sports. The support he received the following days and months was unexpected. The social media circus immediately following the announcement was shocking as he received more complimentary remarks than derogatory. He started, in his words, a “conversation” that will lead to more athletes coming out openly with their sexual preference. The Stanford product has played 12 seasons in the NBA as a center, but is not currently under contract with any team. Despite his announcement, he is still attempting to sign another contract with an NBA franchise. This barrier needed to be broken at some point and it did in 2013.
4) The Greatest Closer Says Goodbye
On September 16, Mariano Rivera pitched his final game in front of the home crowd at Yankee Stadium. After almost two decades, all with the New York Yankees, Rivera tallied 652 saves and 42 postseason saves, both of which are records. Fans and analysts identify Rivera as arguably the greatest closer in baseball history. He is also the last player in MLB history to wear #42, because on the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut, MLB commissioner Bud Selig retired #42 for all teams. However, there were 13 players in the league who already wore the #42 uniform, so Selig allowed them to wear it until they retired. And Rivera was the last of the 13 still playing. He certainly did #42 justice by pitching his best when it mattered most and doing so with grace and dignity. It will be very difficult to find another player who carries himself with such respect for his peers and the game. Sandman will be eternally missed by baseball fans.
3) Auburn’s Magical Iron Bowl
Many consider the ending to the Iron Bowl on November 30 the greatest finish in football history. The ending was not only immensely exciting, but the implications involved made for a moment that will be difficult to ever replicate. The moment Chris Davis ran past the last diving Alabama player at the 45 yard line, every single viewer was in disbelief of what they had just witnessed. Davis returned a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown as time expired, giving Auburn the victory and signaling an end to Alabama’s dream of winning a third consecutive BCS National Championship and a fourth in a five year span. The win gave Auburn the chance to play in the SEC Championship game against Missouri too. The victory against Missouri gives them the #2 ranking and a trip to Pasadena for the BCS Championship game on January 6, 2014. This was quite the turnaround from a season ago when Auburn football went 3-9 and 0-8 against SEC opponents. Currently, the Tigers stand at 12-1 and have had one of the best improvements in terms of record in NCAA football history. Even if Auburn loses to #1 Florida St. in the final BCS National Championship game, their season will still be considered a remarkable one that will not be forgotten for a long time.
2) Ray Allen and Miami’s Miraculous Comeback
The staff at American Airlines Arena was reeling in the Larry O’Brien Trophy with around 20 seconds remaining in regulation. The score was 95-92 and the Heat didn’t have any timeouts left, an inevitable Spurs victory. On the following Heat possession, LeBron James missed a three but Chris Bosh was able to secure the rebound and pass it back to a backpedaling Ray Allen in the corner, yes the corner three, it’s where Allen has made his living for the last 17 seasons. And Allen drills it with 5.2 seconds left in the game. Score: 95-95. Miami then outscored San Antonio in the ensuing overtime period for a final score of 103-100. Allen made some big shots in overtime as well accounting for four of the eight points in an NBA Finals thriller that will remain a classic for decades to come. With this much momentum heading into Game 7, Miami couldn’t lose and they didn’t disappoint. A stellar 37-point performance from LeBron gave the Heat a 95-88 Game 7 victory and a second consecutive Larry O’Brien Trophy. LeBron’s triple-double in Game 6 and aforementioned 37-point outburst in Game 7 of the Finals were certainly great spectacles, but Ray Allen’s shot with 5.2 seconds left in Game 6 is one of the greatest moments in NBA Finals history. Period.
1) Boston Strong
On April 15, Boston witnessed a horrific terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon resulting in 3 deaths and hundreds of injuries. The 117th running of the race was marred by two bombs near the finish line on the famous Boylston St. Five days after the bombings, David Ortiz gave a pre-game speech at Fenway and said that “this is our (expletive) city.” Boston has always been known for its uncompromising dedication to its sports teams, but support was at an all time high throughout 2013 after the bombings. Its teams played with greater determination and will than ever before as a result and it was evident in the successful seasons for the Bruins and Red Sox. The Boston Bruins made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals eventually losing to the Chicago Blackhawks. And four months later, the Red Sox had an opportunity to accomplish something great in the wake of the disaster and they delivered. The Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in six games in the World Series. The unwavering support from Boston fans definitely helped them clinch a third title in nine seasons. Although, the success of the Sox can’t completely eradicate the painful memories of the bombings, the Boston Red Sox certainly lifted the spirits of many who were affected by the tragedy.