Willy Hernangomez Named Tournament MVP as He Helps Lead Spain to EuroBasket Gold

Willy Hernangomez is celebrating a valuable performance…

The 28-year-old Spanish professional basketball player, who plays for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, scored 14 points as Spain topped France 88-76 on Sunday to win the EuroBasket gold medal.

Willy HernangomezFor his performance throughout the week, Willy was named the tournament MVP.

Meanwhile, his brother Juancho Hernangomez scored 27 points in the gold medal game.

It was Spain’s fourth European championship in its past six tries, all those golds coming under coach Sergio Scariolo.

“It’s easy to say that we are extremely happy,” Scariolo said. “We got into this championship in eighth place in the power ranking, and we managed to climb, step by step. … It’s been amazing now to see we are above all those great teams.”

Spain EuroBasket 2022 TeamLorenzo Brown scored 14 points and had 11 assists for Spain, while Jaime Fernandez scored 13.

Evan Fournier led France — which also dropped the gold-medal game at the 2020 Tokyo Games to the U.S. last summer — with 23 points, while Thomas Heurtel scored 16 and Guerschon Yabusele added 13.

“Spain played better from start to finish,” said Fournier, who plays with the New York Knicks. “They had a clear game plan, and we did not execute ours well enough. … We never really had control of the game. They just played better, man, period.”

This was supposed to be a rebuilding summer for Spain. Pau and Marc Gasol, the longtime leaders of the program, retired from international play following a quarterfinal loss to the U.S. at the Tokyo OLympics. Sergio Gonzalez also decided last summer was the right time to walk away, after 16 years with the national team. Sergio Llull and Ricky Rubio, two more of the team’s veterans, couldn’t play because of injuries.

The winning tradition continued anyway. Spain is now the reigning Basketball World Cup (won in China in 2019) and EuroBasket champion. It has also medaled in 10 of its past 11 EuroBasket appearances.

“It’s hard to explain with words how I feel,” said Willy Hernangomez. “I’m feeling extremely proud of my teammates, of my coaching staff, of all the Spanish federation from the top to the bottom. We much deserve this gold medal.”

But this young team also had the exuberance of youth: As Scariolo and Willy Hernangomez were trying to hold a postgame news conference, the rest of Spain’s roster crashed the session, armed with water bottles, and soaked the MVP and their coach.

“That’s the dark side of having a young team,” Scariolo said, as he happily dabbed at his face with a towel. “I don’t see Pau Gasol throwing water around.”

Juancho Hernangomez was 6-for-6 from 3-point range in a six-minute span of the second quarter, helping Spain extend what was a 23-14 lead into a 45-26 edge with just about three minutes left in the half.

It was perhaps a mildly unlikely source for a 3-point barrage. He had made a total of 12 3s in his eight previous games in this year’s EuroBasket tournament, and his high in any NBA game is six.

“We needed him today and he was there for us,” Willy Hernangomez said.

An 11-0 run helped France cut what had been a 21-point deficit to just 47-37 at the half — and the momentum carried into the third quarter.

Yabusele’s jumper with 6:52 left in the third got France within 49-46, and everything seemed to be shifting.

But Spain held on. Juancho Hernangomez’s seventh 3-pointer with 7:29 left made it a 71-61 game, and the outcome wasn’t in doubt again.

“I cannot be happier as a basketball coach,” Scariolo said.

Alejandro Davidovich Fokina Pulls Off Upset Win Against Novak Djokovic at Monte Carlo Masters

Alejandro Davidovich Fokina is celebrating an upset…

The 22-year-old Spanish professional tennis player pulled off a stunning victory against Novak Djokovic at the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday.

Alejandro Davidovich FokinaDavidovich Fokina stunned the top-ranked Serb 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-1 in the second round to hand Djokovic another setback as he tries to move on from the controversy surrounding his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

It makes for rare back-to-back losses for Djokovic, who had not played since being eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Dubai Tennis Championships in February — his only previous tournament this year after he was barred from playing at the Australian Open.

Djokovic struggled from the start as the 46th-ranked Spaniard broke him early to pull ahead 4-1 before another break handed him the first set. Davidovich Fokina kept up the pressure and led 3-0 in the second before Djokovic clawed back. But the Serb continued to struggle on his serve and was broken three times in the decider.

“He was the better player,” Djokovic said. “I was hanging on the ropes the entire match.”

The Serb said he was too exhausted to put up a fight in the third set.

“I collapsed,” Djokovic said. “I just ran out of gas completely … If you can’t stay in the rally, not feeling your legs on the clay, it’s mission impossible.”

Djokovic had beaten Davidovich Fokina in straight sets twice last year, in Rome and at the delayed 2020 Tokyo Games.

Djokovic could not defend his Australian Open title in January after he was deported from the country for not being vaccinated. He had to skip tournaments in Indian Wells, California, and Miami because he couldn’t travel to the United States for the same reason.

The authorities in France and Monaco lifted most COVID-19 restrictions last month, allowing people who aren’t vaccinated into the country and back into restaurants, sports arenas and other venues.

That means Djokovic will be able to play at the French Open, which remains his “big goal of the clay season.”

“I knew that it’s going to take some time for me to really feel my best on the clay,” Djokovic said. “I have to accept defeat and keep working … and hopefully build my form for Roland Garros.”

The French Open starts on May 22 in Paris.

In the meantime, Davidovich Fokina is moving on to the Round of 16 at the Monte Carlo Masters.

Nick Martinez Agrees to Four-Year, $20 Million Deal with San Diego Padres

Nick Martinez is returning to the majors…

The San Diego Padres and the 31-year-old Latino professional baseball pitcher have agreed on a four-year, $20 million contract, according to ESPN.

Nick MartinezMartinez’s deal includes opt-outs after his first and second year.

Martinez spent the past four seasons in Japan and starred for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks this year, posting a 1.62 ERA.

He previously played four seasons in the major leagues, all with the Texas Rangers from 2014-17, and went 17-30 with a 4.77 ERA.

Martinez also won a silver medal while playing for Team USA in the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Pedri Wins Golden Boy Award, the Prize Given to Best Young Player in Europe

Pedri is having a golden moment…

The 18-year-old Spanish soccer player, a Barcelona midfielder, has been named the winner of the 2021 Golden Boy award, seeing off competition from Borussia Dortmund and England‘s Jude Bellingham.

Pedri

 

Pedri becomes the first Barca player since Lionel Messi in 2005 to win the prize given to the best young player in Europe.

He succeeds Erling Haaland, who won it last year, with Joao FelixMatthijs de Ligt and Kylian Mbappe also listed among the recent winners.

Italian newspaper Tuttosport, which hands out the award, revealed that Pedri’s winning margin was the biggest ever.

The Spain international collected 318 points from 40 voting journalists, 199 more than second-placed Bellingham.

“I want to thank Tuttosport for this trophy which makes me so proud,” he told the newspaper. “Thanks also to the members of my team and the fans who have always supported me throughout a 2021 which for me has been simply incredible.

“Of course, I want to thank Barcelona, the national side, my family, my friends and everyone who has been with me day-in-day-out without whose help I would not have been able to win the Golden Boy award.”

Pedri has enjoyed a remarkable year. He joined Barca as a 17-year-old from Las Palmas in the summer of 2020 but quickly established himself as a key fixture in the Catalan club’s midfield.

He made 52 appearances in his first season at Camp Nou, winning the Copa del Rey, and playing a major role in Spain’s run to the semifinals at Euro 2020, where he was named Young Player of the Tournament. He made his international debut in March.

A month after the Euros, he was also part of the Spain under-23 team that reached the final of the 2020 Tokyo Games, losing to Brazil after extra time.

Injuries have delayed his progress this season, though. He has made just four appearances for Barca thanks to a thigh problem and is expected to remain sidelined for the next few weeks.

Richard Torrez Jr. Reportedly Signs Multiyear Promotional Deal with Top Rank

Richard Torrez Jr. is heading to the Top (Rank)…

The 22-year-old Mexican American boxer, who claimed a silver medal at the 2020 Tokyo Games this summer, has reportedly signed a multiyear promotional deal with Top Rank, according to ESPN.

Richard Torrez Jr.

Torrez, from Tulare, California, is set to make his pro debut in early 2022, per sources, and will campaign at heavyweight.

Top Rank’s haul beefs up a prospect stable that includes heavyweight Jared Anderson, Olympic silver medalist Duke Ragan, Troy Isley Jr. and Xander Zayas.

Torrez lost to Bakhodir Jalolov in his attempt to bring gold back to the United States.

Now, he will develop on ESPN platforms as he pursues title shots in the pros.

Rafael Nadal Eyeing Return to Competitive Tennis Play at Next Month’s Mubadala World Tennis Championship

Rafael Nadal is hoping to return to the court next month…

The 35-year-old Spanish professional tennis player is aiming to return from injury at an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi next month before playing another tournament in his buildup to the Australian Open, the world No. 5 said.

Rafael Nadal

Nadal struggled with back issues at the start of this year and pulled out of Wimbledon and the 2020 Tokyo Games.

He last competed in August at the Citi Open in Washington.

He announced ahead of the U.S. Open that the injury to his left foot would rule him out for the rest of the year but said this week that he might return at the December 16-18 Mubadala World Tennis Championship exhibition event.

“My plan is to play Abu Dhabi in December and a tournament before playing the Australian Open. It is my goal and we are working hard to make it that way,” Nadal said at a sponsor event in Paris.

“I don’t know exactly when I’ll be back, but I can say that my goal is to try to come back to Abu Dhabi in December, and then, of course, for the start of the new season in January.

“The injury in my foot still needs to get a little better, but I’m already training almost an hour-and-a-half a day so that’s positive.”

World No. 12 Dominic Thiem, who hasn’t played since suffering a wrist injury at the Mallorca Open in June, will also return to competitive tennis in Abu Dhabi.

 

Nadal will be bidding for a men’s record 21st major title at the Australian Open, which is scheduled to start on January 17.

FIFA Approves Julian Araujo’s Switch From United States to Mexico

Julian Araujo is switching (international) sides…

After playing one game for the United States, the 20-year-old Mexican American defender has been cleared to change his national eligibility to Mexico, according to FIFA.

Julian Araujo

The LA Galaxy defender made his debut for the U.S. last December, starting at right back in a 6-0 win over El Salvador.

Araujo, who is from Lompoc, California, previously represented the U.S. at age-group levels through the Under-23 team.

In March, he played for the U.S. U23 team against Mexico in a 2020 Tokyo Games qualification game.

Mexico won 1-0 and eventually advanced to Tokyo, getting a bronze medal.

As a dual national with Mexican family ties, Araujo was eligible within FIFA’s rules to switch national teams and was yet to play a competitive game for the U.S. senior team.

“My heart is with Mexico,” Araujo said in a statement on Tuesday. “I’m grateful for every opportunity that U.S. Soccer has provided me to help me grow as a soccer player and now I am excited to continue my international career with Mexico.”

Mexico faces the U.S. in their 2022 World Cup quaIification group on November 12 in Cincinnati.

Diana Taurasi Becomes Oldest Player in WNBA History with 30-Point Game

Diana Taurasi is making sports history once again…

The 39-year-old Argentine American professional basketball player, who became the first Latinx basketball player with five Olympic gold medals at the 2020 Tokyo Games, scored a playoff career-high 37 points to lead Phoenix Mercury to a 117-91 victory over the Las Vegas Aces to even their WNBA semifinal series at a game apiece.

Diana Taurasi

At 39, the 17th-year WNBA veteran has become the oldest player to record a 30-point game, regular season or postseason, in league history. And Taurasi accomplished the feat despite an injured left ankle that has limited her mobility and non-game-day availability.

“As you get older, you want to be in practice and you want to be in rhythm, but that’s when you’ve really got to lock in and kind of lean on your experiences that you’ve had in this league for a long time,” said Taurasi, who was 10-of-13 from the field, including 8-of-11 from 3-point range.

“When you have games like this, you just enjoy them and they feel a lot better when you come out with the win.”

It was also her record eighth 30-point playoff game.

“When you get long in the tooth, like I am, you have to take advantage of these situations,” she said. “And I don’t mean go out there and try to get 40 or 35, but be really locked in and be in the moment, and that’s what I’m trying to do every single time we get together right now. Because these moments don’t come very often.”

Taurasi missed the Mercury’s Round 1 playoff win against the New York Liberty with the ankle injury and scored 14 points in Phoenix’s Round 2 overtime win against the Seattle Storm.

She added 20 points in the Mercury’s Game 1 loss to Las Vegas despite being obviously hobbled. But Aces coach Bill Laimbeer insisted after that game that she was not hurt — in a manner of speaking.

“This is the playoffs — nobody’s hurt,” he said at the time. “I’ve been there and done that. All my friends have been there and done that. There’s no sympathy factor in the playoffs.

“And she will not give any quarter, either. Make sure of that one, OK? She will cut your heart out in a second. So, she’s not hurt. We’re going to play her as though she’s full speed and ready to go and everything like that. That’s how we do business. If we think otherwise, we put ourselves at a disadvantage.”

It did not matter in Game 2, not with center Brittney Griner dominating early — 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks in the first quarter — and Taurasi putting on her shooting clinic late.

While Taurasi’s eight 3-pointers were the second-most made in a playoff game in postseason history, she was also 7-of-8 (5-of-6 on 3-pointers) on contested field goal attempts.

Taurasi was 6-for-6 and scored 20 points while guarded by WNBA Sixth Player of the Year Kelsey Plum and 3-of-5 for 10 points while guarded by Chelsea Gray.

Game 3 is Sunday in Arizona.

“She’s not 100 percent, but she hasn’t gotten worse, and that’s the most important thing for us right now,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “Just get her ready for the next game. And what makes Diana special, we know she’s mentally tough, and I don’t think there’s any other player built like her in that department.

“She still has pain. … She just plays. It says a lot about her as a player, doesn’t it? I’ve seen many great games from Diana, but none as big as this one in the situations where she hasn’t been able to train and is not 100%. So, credit to her, and it’s fun to watch.”

Leylah Fernandez Advances to First Grand Slam Semifinal While Continuing Cinderella Run at US Open

It’s a birthday Leylah Fernandez will never forget…

The half-Ecuadorian Canadian tennis player, who just turned 19 on Monday, defeated No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) at the US Open to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal.

Leylah Fernandez

In the process, the unseeded Canadian teenager with an exciting game and enthusiasm to match became the youngest player to get that far in the women’s bracket at Flushing Meadows since Maria Sharapova.

Fernandez had previously recorded wins over past US Open champions Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber.

“I obviously have no idea what I’m feeling right now,” said Fernandez, a left-hander with quick baseline reflexes who is ranked 73rd and participating in only the seventh major tournament of her early career. “I was so nervous. I was trying to do what my coach told me to do.”

That coach is her father, who isn’t in New York; he stayed home and is offering tips in daily phone conversations. That helps, certainly, as does the loud backing she has been receiving from the spectators, who rose and cheered wildly each time Fernandez raised a fist high above her head or wind-milled both arms after winning a key point in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“Thanks to you, I was able to push through today,” she told the crowd after edging Svitolina, the 2020 Tokyo Games bronze medalist whose two Grand Slam semifinal runs include the 2019 US Open.

Not requiring any encouragement to get out of his seat was Fernandez’s fitness coach, who would leap and shout, pointing fingers or waving clenched fists. Svitolina’s husband, two-time major semifinalist Gael Monfils, offered similar support from Ashe’s other guest box.

It was touch-and-go down the stretch — even after Fernandez grabbed the opening set, and even after she led 5-2 in the third. One way in which she held a clear advantage: Of points that lasted more than eight shots, Fernandez won 26, Svitolina 16.

Five times, Fernandez was two points from winning but failed to collect the next point. Finally, at 5-all in the tiebreaker, she moved to match point when she smacked a down-the-line passing shot that got past Svitolina with the help of a bounce off the net tape.

Fernandez put up both palms, as if to say, “Sorry about that bit of luck,” while Svitolina put a hand to her mouth in dismay.

Svitolina’s backhand contributed to her undoing late, and when a return from that side landed long, it was over. Fernandez dropped to her knees at the baseline and covered her face; Svitolina walked around the net to approach Fernandez for a hug.

Next on this magical ride for Fernandez will come yet another test against a player who is ranked higher and has more experience on the sport’s biggest stages: Aryna Sabalenka. Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed, matched her best result in a Grand Slam tournament by reaching the semifinals via a 6-1, 6-4 victory over French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, who was seeded No. 8.

Leylah Fernandez Upsets Defending Champion Naomi Osaka to Reach Fourth Round at US Open

Leylah Fernandez has taken down the defending champion…

The 18-year-old half-Ecuadorian Canadian tennis player, ranked No. 73 in the world, defeated reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka in their third round match on Friday night 5-7, 6-7 (2), 6-4.

Leylah Fernandez

Before this year’s US Open, Fernandez had never been past the second round of a Grand Slam..

“Right before the match, I knew I was able to win,” Fernandez said after her upset win over Osaka.

Osaka had come into Friday with a 16-match winning streak at majors and four career trophies, all on hard courts. But this was Osaka’s first Slam tournament since she pulled out of the French Open before the second round to take a mental health break — she also sat out Wimbledon, before participating in the 2020 Tokyo Games, where she lit the cauldron — and maybe the time off was an issue.

Another possible factor in her failure to close things out while serving for the victory against the left-hander Fernandez at 6-5 in the second set: Osaka hadn’t competed since Monday. That’s because the woman she was supposed to meet in the second round, Olga Danilovic, withdrew due to illness.

Osaka left the court after seven games to change outfits and put on a yellow dress. She was quite good down the stretch in the opening set. She grabbed 12 of the last 13 points, including the last nine, with a break at love to go up 6-5, and a hold at love with the help of a pair of aces at 112 mph and 114 mph to end it.

Osaka seemed on track for a similar conclusion in the second set, leading 6-5 and serving. But when she sailed a forehand wide, Fernandez had her first break of the match to make it 6-all.

“I guess I wanted to stay on court a little bit longer. And I wanted to put on a show for everybody here,” Fernandez said. “One hour was not enough for me to be on court.”

And so began Osaka’s downward spiral. She fell behind 5-0 in the ensuing tiebreaker, missing shots and displaying her frustration, as she occasionally has done in the past, by flinging her racket. Chair umpire Alison Hughes did not sanction Osaka then, although later a warning was issued for hitting a ball into the stands.

“Honestly, I wasn’t focusing on Naomi,” Fernandez said. “I was only focusing on myself and what I needed to do.”

More to the point, Osaka was not at her best. She left the court with a white towel draped over her head after the second set and never really got her game going the rest of the way.

Fernandez certainly had something to do with that, particularly because of her serve. She won 18 of 19 first-serve points — and never faced a break point — in the third set.

Fernandez’s knee-to-the-ground, quick-redirect style at the baseline is reminiscent of another lefty, Angelique Kerber, a three-time Grand Slam champion who won the 2016 US Open. And who just so happens to be the next opponent for Fernandez.

“I’m going to put on a show like I did tonight,” Fernandez said, “and we’re going to see how it goes.”