OMAHA, Neb. — Awkward is the only way to describe Vanderbilt’s appearance in the all-SEC College World Series finals beginning Monday night against Mississippi State.
The Commodores were supposed to play North Carolina State in a winner-take-all bracket final Saturday and found out 12 hours before the the start the Wolfpack had been removed from the tournament because of COVID-19 protocols. The game was declared a no-contest.
“We certainly sympathize with their team, their fan base, too, understanding that we don’t know the level of hurt that they are exposed to right now, but we certainly recognize it,” Vandy coach Tim Corbin said Sunday.
“None of us wish to be in this particular position. We certainly would want to play them on the field or have played them on the field, but we didn’t. So we are in the situation where we move forward.”
Vanderbilt is the reigning national champion, having won the CWS in 2019. There was no tournament last year because of the pandemic.
The No. 4 national seed Commodores (48-16) are at this point after winning two elimination games, most recently 3-1 Friday against an N.C. State team that had only 13 players available.
“We’re here for a reason,” first baseman Dominic Keegan said. “We earned our spot here and we got here because of our abilities and what we can do.”
The No. 7 Bulldogs (48-17) played two bracket finals against Texas, winning 4-3 on Saturday on Tanner Leggett’s walk-off base hit.
“Our guys have fought since the day we got here,” MSU coach Chris Lemonis said. “We haven’t had an easy game yet. It’s been very tight, tough ballgames. But, man, they keep finding a way to persevere. It’s been earned by our guys and I look forward to seeing them play on this stage.”
Vanderbilt won two of the three regular-season meetings with MSU in Nashville in April. Vandy’s Kumar Rocker, a possible top-10 pick in the Major League Baseball draft and the 2019 CWS Most Outstanding Player, pitched a three-hitter in the first game of that series and could be available if the finals go three games.
Lemonis dismissed any suggestion that this year’s championship would be tainted because Vanderbilt made the finals without completing bracket play, albeit through no fault of its own.
“The way that we came through it and the games that we’ve had to play — and now you’re having to play Vanderbilt — there will be no asterisk for us,” Lemonis said. “And I hate it for N.C. State. I have three coaches who worked for Elliot (Avent) on my staff. I have a long relationship with Elliot. My nieces and nephews all went to N.C. State. I have a lot of respect there. ...
“But for our guys, that stuff’s out of our control. All we can do is show up and play, and whoever is in the other dugout we compete against.”
Mississippi State will start Christian McLeod in Game 1. He’s made one appearance in the CWS, lasting just 11/3 innings and giving up four runs in a 6-5 win over Virginia last Tuesday.
Corbin wasn’t ready to announce his Monday starter. National strikeout leader Jack Leiter, a rojected top-five draft pick, would be up next in the rotation.
Leiter, who threw 123 pitches in a win over N.C. State last Monday, took his first loss of the season in the second game against MSU in April.
Mississippi State has begun using a back entrance to enter and leave its hotel as a precaution against COVID-19. Lemonis said the move was made in response to the Wolfpack’s virus issues.
The Bulldogs have brought a large group of fans to Omaha, and players mixed with them until Friday.
“The last couple days, we haven’t signed autographs or shaken hands,” Lemonis said. “We’re trying to be as protective as we can. The first couple nights we came to our lobby, thousands of people, it’s the best part of winning a game out here.”
Corbin said Vanderbilt has not altered its coming-and-going routines at its hotel.
Corbin didn’t answer directly when asked if he could require his players to be vaccinated because Vanderbilt is a private university.
That wouldn’t be the case at public schools such as N.C. State and Mississippi State.
“I’ve spent a lot of time educating the group what this process could look like at the beginning of the year,” Corbin said. “We are certainly comfortable with where we are and what we’ve done.”
WIMBLEDON, England — Wimbledon returned Monday after being called off in 2020 because of the pandemic, and so much felt rather familiar at the All England Club, from the rain that disrupted the schedule to the victory for Novak Djokovic.
Much like the delays to competition around the grounds — it took about 4 1/2 hours to begin play on the outside courts; more than a dozen matches were postponed entirely — Djokovic got off to a slow start in his bid for a record-tying 20th Grand Slam title and sixth at Wimbledon.
The defending champion dropped the opening set against Jack Draper, a 19-year-old wild-card entry from England who is ranked 253rd, before eventually showing his best tennis under the Centre Court roof and winning 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 with the help of 25 aces.
Djokovic is halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam, after trophies at the Australian Open in February and the French Open two weeks ago. The man he came back to defeat in the final at Roland Garros after dropping the first two sets, No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, quickly was bounced out of the All England Club, losing to 57th-ranked Frances Tiafoe of the United States 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 in just over two hours at No. 1 Court.
Tiafoe had been 0-11 against opponents ranked in the Top 5.
“That guy is special. He’s going to do a lot of great things. Win a ton of Grand Slams,” Tiafoe said about Tsitsipas, then broke into a wide smile and added: “But not today.”
Tiafoe is one of 34 Americans in the singles brackets (21 women, 13 men), the most at Wimbledon since there were 35 in 1998. Another U.S. player picked up a big victory when Sloane Stephens eliminated two-time champion and 10th-seeded Petra Kvitova 6-3, 6-4.
Other winners included 2017 champion Garbiñe Muguruza, Aryna Sabalenka — who is seeded No. 2 after defending champion Simona Halep and four-time major champ Naomi Osaka pulled out — No. 23 Madison Keys and No. 32 Ekaterina Alexandrova.
The tournament referee began announcing postponements at about 3 p.m., including matches involving five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams and French Open semifinalist Maria Sakkari.
Still, at least there was tennis being played at the venue that hosts the oldest Grand Slam tournament.
“It feels great seeing everyone and being back at probably the most special, most sacred, tennis court in the world,” the top-seeded Djokovic said.
“Alongside many other players, I was very sad last year that Wimbledon was canceled,” he said, referring to the first time it wasn’t contested since World War II. “They were very difficult times for everyone, but I’m really glad that the sport is back. Hopefully you guys have enjoyed it and you will enjoy it in the next couple weeks.”
The coronavirus still looms over the event.
Capacity around the grounds is restricted to 50% now; that will rise to 100% for the singles finals on the fortnight’s closing weekend. Fans must wear masks around the grounds (although not while watching a match) and show proof that they either are fully vaccinated or had COVID-19 in the past six months.
All players and their entourages must stay at a designated London hotel, where they take regular tests and are subject to contact tracing.
Britain’s only seeded woman in singles, No. 27 Johanna Konta, had to withdraw on Sunday night because she was told to self-isolate for 10 days after one of her team members tested positive for COVID-19.
Before Djokovic and Draper opened the proceedings in the main stadium — an honor reserved for the previous year’s men’s champion — there were announcements over the loudspeakers welcoming “special guests in the Royal Box,” including someone involved in vaccine development and frontline medical workers.
That was met with a standing ovation, just the first of the day.
Another arrived when Draper grabbed the first set, surely to the surprise of his country, to Djokovic and the kid himself.
It would have been so easy — so understandable, even — for Draper to be fazed by the moment and the opponent, the setting and the stakes right at the outset.
This was his Grand Slam main draw debut, after all.
Djokovic took two tumbles onto his backside in the first set, losing his footing on the slick grass behind the baseline.
This was his first competitive singles match on the surface since edging Roger Federer in the 2019 final after saving two championship points.
“To be honest, I don’t recall falling this many times on the court,” Djokovic said with a laugh. “Well, quite slippery, whether it’s because the roof is closed or it was raining quite a lot the last few days, I don’t know.”
Draper broke for a 2-1 lead, helped by Djokovic’s double-fault, missed forehand and flubbed volley, and held on for that set.
Djokovic accumulated seven break points in the initial set: one the first time Draper served, two the next time and four the fourth time, a game the left-hander escaped with the help of two aces in a row at 125 mph and 117 mph.
A 125 mph service winner gave Draper that set and he shook his racket, then pumped his right fist.
The crowd roared.
And two hours later, it was all over. Djokovic cleaned up his act considerably, going from just six winners and nine unforced errors in the opening set to a combined 41 winners and 15 unforced errors the rest of the way.
Toronto coach Nick Nurse is an American. Born in Iowa. Owns a home in Florida. A lifetime fan of the Chicago Cubs.
He also carries Canada’s Olympic basketball hopes.
Nurse — the coach of the Canadian men’s national team — hasn’t coached a game in that country since February 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic forced Nurse and his NBA Raptors to play all 96 of their games out of the country since the virus struck in the U.S.
But he’s now back in Canada, and that nation will host one of the four Olympic qualifying basketball tournaments that begin on Tuesday to start determining the final four spots in the 12-team field for the Tokyo Games.
Canada is trying to make the Olympic field for the first time since 2000.
“There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing,” Nurse said. “I’m super appreciative of the guys that are here and we are as a Canada Basketball organization. We’ve been in the bubble in Orlando; a lot of these guys were there as well. We’ve played in front of no fans. We’ve gone through all these protocols. There’s been like 400 straight days of testing or whatever it was.
“The point is, it means everything that they’ve committed. It really does.”
There are 23 teams still in the running for the four remaining spots. It was supposed to be 24 teams; Senegal has been withdrawn from the tournament. FIBA said Monday the decision was a result of issues related to tests that were positive COVID-19. Senegal — which had been training in Germany — will forfeit its games against Puerto Rico and Italy, two teams that will move into the semifinals of the qualifier in Serbia.
“FIBA was informed by the National Federation of Senegal about COVID-19 related disruptions to their preparations in Germany,” FIBA said Monday. “Despite continuous effort from FIBA and the German Basketball Federation to support the Senegalese delegation, the team will not be able to travel to Belgrade and take part in the (Olympic Qualifying Tournament).”
Some things to know about the qualifying tournaments, where the top two finishers from each three-team group will move into the semifinals and try to get into the four Olympic berth-deciding games on July 4:
Teams: Greece, China, Canada in Group A; Uruguay, Czech Republic, Turkey in Group B.
Notable: Canada has eight NBA players on its 12-man roster, including Lu Dort (Oklahoma City), RJ Barrett (New York) and Andrew Wiggins (Golden State). ... Ersan Ilyasova, Furkan Korkmaz and Cedi Osman will try to lead Turkey to its first Olympics since 1952. ... China is seeking a 10th consecutive Olympic appearance.
At stake: The winner of the Victoria tournament will be placed in Group A of the Tokyo Olympic field, and will play there against Iran, France and the United States.
Teams: Germany, Russia, Mexico in Group A; Tunisia, Croatia, Brazil in Group B.
Notable: Germany won’t have Dennis Schröder because of issues securing future contract insurance for the looming NBA free agent. ... Anderson Varejao, now 38, is likely pursuing his final Olympic berth. ... Bojan Bogdanović headed home to Croatia immediately after Utah was eliminated from the NBA playoffs so he could prepare for this event.
At stake: The winner of the Split tournament will be played in Group B in Tokyo, playing Australia, Nigeria and the winner of the Belgrade qualifier.
Teams: Lithuania, South Korea, Venezuela in Group A; Poland, Slovenia, Angola in Group B.
Notable: Goran Dragic’s retirement from international basketball means that Luka Doncic is now the unquestioned leader of the Slovenian team. ... Domantas Sabonis and Jonas Valanciunas give Lithuania what could be a dominant frontcourt.
At stake: The winner of the Kaunas tournament will be placed in Group C of the Tokyo Olympic field, facing Argentina, Spain and Japan.
Teams: Dominican Republic, Philippines, Serbia in Group A; Puerto Rico and Italy in Group B, Senegal withdrawn.
Notable: Senegal’s issues means that, unless FIBA adjusts things, Puerto Rico and Italy basically get byes into the qualifier semifinals. ... Reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic said he will not play for Serbia this summer and will recover from the grind of the season.
At stake: The winner of the Belgrade tournament will be played in Group B in Tokyo, playing Australia, Nigeria and the winner of the Split qualifier.