The Davis Cup is better now and Canada's team might be too
2 big upsets on Day 1 of the revamped finals for the men's tennis event
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1. Canada scored two big upsets in the new-and-improved Davis Cup finals
The international men's team tennis tournament has been around for 119 years, and it's been trying to get people to care for nearly that long. Part of the blame goes to the old format: countries would pair up for three-day-long series of matches played on and off between February and November in different locations around the world until a winner was decided. Only hardcore fans seemed to know who was playing, when and where. Players also started losing interest in recent years. Now that they've discovered the wonders of rest, many prefer recharging for their next individual event to representing their country at the Davis Cup.
In an effort to boost the event's relevance with fans and players, a new format was introduced for the final round of the Davis Cup, which started today. Instead of a bunch of far-flung matches, the top 18 countries are gathered in Madrid for a one-week tournament. The timing is much better too. The ATP Finals just wrapped up yesterday, meaning the regular tennis season is over and there are no more individual tournaments until the new year. There's more money too: a total of almost $20 million US is up for grabs from a new organizing partnership between the International Tennis Federation (the traditional organizer) and an investment company fronted by Spanish soccer player Gerard Piqué, who's married to the singer Shakira.
The competition is also a lot tighter and easier to follow now. Organizers are pitching it as "the World Cup of tennis" and they're borrowing from the soccer tournament's format. The 18 countries are divided into six groups of three for round-robin play. The winner of each group advances, along with the two best second-place teams overall. Then it's single-knockout right through the final on Sunday. Every "tie" (that's what they call each contest between countries) has been shortened to a single day consisting of two singles matches and one doubles. Those matches are all best of three sets (cut from best of five under the old format).
Canada, which has never made it past the semifinals, is in a group with Italy and the United States. It didn't look good earlier today when Felix Auger-Aliassime (ranked 21st in the world) pulled out of his singles match with Italy's Fabio Fognini due to an ankle injury. That forced 150th-ranked sub Vasek Pospisil to take on the world's No. 12 player. But Pospisil pulled off the huge upset. Then Canada's top-ranked player — No. 15 Denis Shapovalov — knocked off Italy's best — No. 8 Matteo Berrettini. Canada will now play the U.S. on Tuesday. Read more about today's action here.
2. A soul-crushing Grey Cup drought is about to end — but which one?
The matchup for the 107th version of Canadian football's championship game is set, and it features the CFL's two most tortured franchises. Hamilton hasn't won the Grey Cup in 20 years, and Winnipeg hasn't won it in 29. Those are the two longest title droughts in the nine-team league. Even expansion Ottawa, which joined in 2014, won the Grey Cup in '16.
The betting line for this year's game still hadn't been released at our publish time (don't they know we have needs?) but Hamilton is the clear favourite. The Ticats topped the CFL with a 15-3 record in the regular season while scoring more points than any other team and giving up fewer than anyone else. They're a juggernaut, and they showed it in yesterday's 36-16 win over Edmonton in the East final. Winnipeg held off Saskatchewan 20-13 in the West final with a last-second stop — and a little help from the crossbar. The Grey Cup game is Sunday at 6 p.m. ET in Calgary, and we'll have more on it this week.
3. The Hockey Hall of Fame inducts its questionable class of 2019 tonight
There's no controversy with the headliner: Hayley Wickenheiser is widely considered the greatest women's player of all time and pretty much everyone agrees she should be a hall of famer. The other players? Not so much. Guy Carbonneau was an excellent defensive forward who won three Stanley Cups, but the selection committee passed on him for a decade and a half before suddenly deciding he's worthy. Vaclav Nedomansky showed tremendous bravery in becoming the first player from behind the Iron Curtain to defect to North America to pursue a pro career, but he wasn't that great of a player. Sergei Zubov is, well, Sergei Zubov. Nothing wrong with that. But a hall of famer? Meanwhile, Daniel Alfredsson, Curtis Joseph and Alexander Mogilny were snubbed.
Back to Wickenheiser: read about how she made it in an era that was even tougher on girls here. On a similar note, read about the uncertain future of women's pro hockey here.
4. Gary Bettman has nothing to say about Don Cherry
Seems like everyone has a take, but the NHL commissioner didn't take the bait when asked for his at a conference in Toronto today. Saying he "didn't want to start another news cycle," all Bettman really offered was that he felt Ron MacLean "spoke from the heart" during his five-minute monologue in the usual Coach's Corner timeslot on Saturday night.
Sportsnet, meanwhile, says it's still trying to figure out what to do with the first intermission. Read more about the latest Cherry fallout here.
5. Canada's women's basketball team cruised into the next round of Olympic qualifying
The setup couldn't have been much easier. The Canadians were by far the highest-ranked team in their pre-qualifying tournament, and they had home-court advantage with Edmonton hosting the games. Sure enough, the world's No. 4 team dominated, routing Cuba and the Dominican Republic by an average of more than 53 points and beating Puerto Rico by four to finish 3-0.
Canada and Puerto Rico, which went 2-1, both advance to the final qualifying round. That consists of four four-team tournaments to be held in February in different locations around the world. At each one, either the top two or top three teams will qualify for the Olympics (it depends on whether the U.S. and Japan, who already have Olympic spots, are in the tournament). The draw for the final qualifiers is next week. Read more about Canada's perfect run in Edmonton here.
Derek Jeter is the biggest name on this year's Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. The former Yankees shortstop will definitely get in. He might even become the second unanimous pick in history — joining his old teammate Mariano Rivera, who did it last year. Other new names on the ballot include Cliff Lee, Josh Beckett, Jason Giambi, Paul Konerko, Rafael Furcal, Bobby Abreu and Alfonso Soriano. Steroid-tainted legends Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are still on there. Same for personality-tainted Curt Schilling. And this is a big year for Canadian Larry Walker. It's his last time on the baseball writers' ballot. Walker got less than 55 per cent of the vote last year, and you need 75 per cent to get in. If he doesn't make it, he'll need the Today's Game Era committee to reconsider him down the road. We'll find out how the writers voted on Jan. 21. Read more about the nominees here.
Two Habs need surgery and are out for a while. Jonathan Drouin's agent says he'll be gone about two months, and Paul Byron is out indefinitely after both players got hurt during Friday's win over Washington. Drouin injured his wrist — though not, the team says, on that big hit he took from Alex Ovechkin — while Byron has a knee injury. Read more details here.
Tua Tagovailoa might be OK. The Alabama quarterback and (former) potential No. 1 NFL draft pick dislocated his hip during a game on Saturday. Some people feared his pro career might be over before it started, but doctors said they expect him to make a full recovery after today's surgery. Tua probably won't get picked first overall anymore, but he seems to be staying upbeat. "Called him after 10 hours of film study on Sunday to cheer him up; he cheered me up," said Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who apparently just had to shoehorn his own work ethic into the conversation.
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