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Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:
Bianca Andreescu is for real
The backstory: The 18-year-old Canadian tennis player has been on a roll since the calendar flipped to 2019, rising from No. 152 in the world rankings to 60 — and climbing. You probably first became aware of her when she upset big names (and former world No. 1s) Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams in New Zealand en route to reaching the final of a WTA Tour event for the first time in her career. Right after that, she picked up her first Grand Slam win (at the Australian Open) after dominating her qualifying draw. Then she won her first WTA tournament title, in Newport Beach, Calif. This all happened in the month of January.
The latest: That was all pretty impressive, but what Andreescu is doing right now might be even better. The Mississauga, Ont., native has made it to the semifinals of the highly regarded Indian Wells tournament in the California desert. The woman she knocked off in the quarters, Garbine Muguruza, is a two-time Grand Slam champion who’s ranked 20th in the world. And Andreescu didn’t just beat her — she nearly double-bageled her, winning 6-0, 6-1.
Why this matters: If you were an Andreescu skeptic, you could explain away the New Zealand run and the Newport title. Those came in third- and fourth-tier events, respectively — tournaments with limited prize money and relatively weak competition. They were also sandwiched around the Australian Open, so the good players could have been in warmup mode, playing in another tuneup event or sitting out altogether. You can’t say that about Indian Wells. It’s what the women’s tennis tour classifies as a “Premier Mandatory” tournament. That’s just a cut below the Grand Slams, the only full-fledged events that offer more money and attract better fields. Each of the top 10 players in the world were in the draw.
What’s next: Tomorrow, Andreescu will face sixth-ranked Elina Svitolina. The 24-year-old Ukrainian has won 13 WTA singles titles, including the prestigious Tour Finals back in the fall. The other semifinal matchup has yet to be determined, but the highest-ranked player left on that side of the draw is No. 5 Karolina Pliskova. She’s facing No. 23 Belinda Bencic, who just upset world No. 1 Naomi Osaka. No matter what happens, Andreescu will be ranked no worse than 38th when the new world rankings come out.
Baseball is taking some half measures to fix baseball
The backstory: Major League Baseball is fighting a battle on two fronts — against angry players who think team owners are being too stingy with their record-setting revenues, and against apathetic casual fans who find the modern game too slow and the players themselves too dull. Business is still very good right now (mostly because of inflated TV contracts) but people are worried about how long it’ll last.
The latest: MLB and the players’ union took some (albeit small) steps toward fixing their problems with a package of moves they announced today. On the labour front, they agreed to discuss renegotiating their collective agreement even though it still has three years left on it. On the diamond, some rule changes will take effect in either 2019 or ’20. The biggest ones for this year are: only one trade deadline (July 31), an “election day” for fans to vote on all-star starters, a $1 million prize for the Home Run Derby winner, and only five non-pitching-change mound visits per game per team instead of six (thanks, guys). The big one comes next year: pitchers will have to either face at least three batters or get to the end of the half inning.
Why this matters: The three-batter minimum should help cut back on those soul-crushing mid-inning pitching changes, which have increased in recent years as pitchers throw harder and tire more quickly. MLB also wants a pitch clock, but it agreed to drop that demand until at least the 2022 season. Trying to cut back on all the downtime is a good idea, but baseball still has bigger fish to fry. It needs to figure a way to get the ball in play more — too often these days, it’s in the catcher’s mitt after a strikeout because everyone is swinging for the fences on every pitch.
There’s never a dull moment with the Leafs. A couple of nights after a disheartening loss to Tampa Bay (which included false allegations that a homophobic slur was uttered by defenceman Morgan Rielly), Toronto fell behind 5-0 to Chicago and got booed by its home fans. But the Leafs rallied to make it 5-4 before ultimately losing. Their Stanley Cup chances may have taken a hit — the pre-season betting favourites will probably have to beat powerhouses Boston and Tampa just to make it to the conference finals — but it’s still hard to take your eyes off them.
Zion is back. College basketball’s best/most exciting/most interesting player is ready to return to Duke’s lineup for the first time since his shoe explosion/knee injury during a game three weeks ago. Zion will play in Thursday’s night Atlantic Coast Conference tournament game against Syracuse, which upset Duke earlier this season. The ACC tournament is the Blue Devils’ final action before the NCAA “March Madness” tournament starts next week. Duke is angling for one of the top seeds. If you want to see what makes Zion so special, ESPN.com did a cool thing celebrating/analyzing his best dunks.
Mikaela Shiffrin won again. They’re starting to blur together, but this one is special. The American alpine skiing star won the super-G season title today by finishing fourth at the World Cup finals in Andorra. It’s her first time winning it. Shiffrin has already clinched her sixth slalom title in seven years and her third consecutive overall title. There’s a good chance she adds the giant slalom crown on Sunday. Shiffrin is the greatest ski racer in the world right now, and she’s only 24.
Hockey Night in Cree? They’re not calling it that, but the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network will broadcast what’s believed to be the first NHL game called in the Plains Cree language on March 24. The Montreal-Carolina game is part of Sportsnet’s Hometown Hockey show from the Enoch Cree Nation near Edmonton, and APTN will air Cree commentary and analysis overtop the game feed.
The Raptors named their practice gym in honour of Drake. The Toronto-born rapper has been the team’s “global ambassador” for six years and often sits courtside for games. The facility is now called the OVO Athletic Centre. OVO is the name of Drake’s record label and clothing line. It stands for “October’s Very Own” — which I just found out this minute because I am not cool.
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