Jan 24, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Happy Friday! The NHL All-Star Game is on Saturday, the NFL Pro Bowl is on Sunday, and there's also Lakers-Sixers, two golf tournaments and the Australian Open to enjoy. Me? I'll be watching skiing. Find out why below.

Today's word count: 1,357 words (5 minutes).

1 big thing: 🎾 Serena stunned; Gauff upsets Osaka
Photo: Graham Denholm/Getty Images

Serena Williams suffered a 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5 loss to No. 27 seed Wang Qiang in the third round of the Australian Open, marking her earliest exit at Melbourne Park in 14 years and ending her bid for a record-equaling 24th Grand Slam title.

  • By the numbers: Williams had 27 unforced errors on her backhand side, part of a total of 56 miscues. Wang made only 20.
  • What she's saying: "I'm way too old to play like this at this stage of my career. Definitely going to be training tomorrow, that's first and foremost — to make sure I don't do this again."
  • 🎥 Watch: Match highlights (YouTube)
Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Coco Gauff upset defending champion and World No. 3 Naomi Osaka 6-3, 6-4 to move on to the Round of 16 in her first Australian Open. She was in complete control the whole match.

  • Why it matters: For the third straight major championship, the 15-year-old has taken the sports world by storm and looks poised to become the future face of women's tennis.
  • The backdrop: Osaka easily defeated Gauff 6-3, 6-0 at last year's U.S. Open and most analysts predicted a similar outcome this time around. But the young American flipped the script in Round 2 of what could be the next great tennis rivalry.
  • 🎥 Watch: Post-match interview (YouTube)

Elsewhere:

  • Caroline Wozniacki, who topped he world rankings at the age of 20 and spent 71 weeks as world No. 1, retired from tennis following her loss.
  • Stefanos Tsitsipas, the men's No. 6 seed and last year's semifinalist, was knocked out by No. 32 seed Milos Raonic.
  • Roger Federer, the men's No. 3 seed, is currently in a nail-biter with Australia's John Millman (I predict he will have won by the time you read this, but it's been a struggle through four sets).
2. 🇦🇹 "The Streif": The world's scariest ski race
Switzerland's Didier Defago skis to victory on the Strief in 2009. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

The world's best skiers will descend upon the small town of Kitzbühel, Austria this weekend for the most important — and dangerous — race on the men's World Cup calendar: the Hahnenkamm.

The main event: All eyes will be on Saturday's downhill event (coverage on NBC Sports Gold), where skiers will fling themselves down "the Streif," a track so daring that most would prefer victory in Kitzbühel over winning Olympic gold.

  • "The Streif downhill track is a two-minute, two-mile test of guts: a 3,000-foot drop at an average 65 miles per hour (and maxing out much faster than that). Crashes are commonplace. A helicopter is at the ready to airlift skiers to the nearest hospital." (NBC Sports)
  • "What separates the Streif from any other World Cup track is the top 30 seconds. You have no chance to build into this race — it's in your face from the moment you kick out of the start." (Red Bull)
  • "To win on the Streif is to join the pantheon of ski gods. ... Even Robert Redford had his moment in the gritty 1969 cult film 'Downhill Racer,' which celebrated the Hahnenkamm's unique crucible of emotional pressure, physical danger and raw sex appeal." (The Guardian)

The setting: "Most of the year, Kitzbühel, a medieval town of eight thousand residents ... is a fancy resort, with swank hotels and shops, but the [Hahnenkamm] transforms it into a riotous carnival, part Indy 500, part South Padre Island," writes The New Yorker's Nick Paumgarten.

  • "The bars and the old cobbled streets fill with enthusiasts of all ages, many of them with no place to sleep ... while in lamplit panelled Stuben the upper crust of Middle Europe convene for private self-congratulation over their good fortune at being here, now, at the center of the Alpine universe."
  • "The madness has always been an essential component of the experience for the racers, too. They usually stay in hotels in town and walk to the gondola, through the throngs. The revelry often keeps them up at night, occasionally luring them out and sucking them in."

🎥 Watch: "The World's Most Dangerous Downhill Ski Race" (YouTube)

3. 🏒 NHL Power Rankings ahead of the All-Star Game
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Table: Axios Visuals

The 2019-20 NHL season takes a pause this weekend for the All-Star festivities in St. Louis. My top five teams at the break:

  • Capitals: Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson can't stop scoring, and rookie Ilya Samsonov is quietly leading the league in goals against average (2.06 per game) and could supplant Braden Holtby as the team's top goalie.
  • Lightning: Victor Hedman plays a lot like Hall of Famer Nicklas Lindström (offensive firepower plus gritty defense) and leads a talented crop of young Swedish defensemen who are taking over the NHL.
  • Penguins: Pittsburgh has been the league's most injured team and was without star Sidney Crosby for 28 games. That would break most teams, but the Penguins have thrived.
  • Blues: St. Louis had a 4.5% chance to repeat as champs, which was the lowest implied probability for any defending champion since at least 1985. But through 49 games, the Blues have clearly proven that last year was no fluke.
  • Bruins: Boston has the NHL's best home record, the league's leading goal-scorer (David Pastrňák with 37) and dominates on special teams (third-best power play and penalty kill).

Go deeper:

4. 🏀 Giannis, LeBron lead NBA All-Star starters

Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Image

The NBA announced the starters for this year's All-Star Game last night, with Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James named captains for the second straight year after leading their respective conferences in fan votes.

East:

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (captain)
  • Trae Young
  • Kemba Walker
  • Joel Embiid
  • Pascal Siakam

West:

  • LeBron James (captain)
  • Luka Dončić
  • James Harden
  • Kawhi Leonard
  • Anthony Davis

Projected reserves:

  • East: Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Bradley Beal, Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum, Domantas Sabonis, Bam Adebayo
  • West: Damian Lillard, Nikola Jokić, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Rudy Gobert, Brandon Ingram
5. 📊 By the numbers
Photo: Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR via Getty Images
  • ⛳️ 69 strokes: Tiger Woods is three strokes off the lead after shooting a three-under 69 in the opening round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Keegan Bradley and Sebastian Cappelen (six-under 66) are tied for the lead and Rory McIlroy (five-under 67) sits alone in second.
  • 🏀 243 straight: No. 3 UConn used a dominant third quarter to beat No. 23 Tennessee, 60-45, in the first matchup in 13 years between the longtime rivals. The Huskies have now won 243 straight games against teams outside the AP Top 10.
  • 🏈 224 concussions: There were 224 reported concussions during the NFL's 2019 preseason and regular season, which is a slight increase from 214 in 2018. Meanwhile, the league said ACL (47) and MCL (109) injuries each dropped to five-year lows.
6. 🏀 America's best high school hoopers
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Reproduced from CBS; Table: Axios Visuals

North Carolina is in the midst of one of its worst seasons in recent memory, but yesterday's release of the McDonald's All-American Game roster served as a reminder that sunnier days lie ahead.

  • By the numbers: North Carolina has four signees on the 24-man roster, followed by Duke with three and Kentucky with two. Overall, the roster represents 14 college programs — and four players who have yet to commit.

As for the women's team ... All five members of Oregon's 2020 recruiting class made the roster, which also features my new favorite athlete: Treasure Hunt.

7. Jan. 24, 1962: ⚾️ History is made in Cooperstown

Edd Roush (left), Jackie Robinson, Bob Feller and Bill McKechnie display their Hall of Fame plaques. Photo: Diamond Images/Getty Images

58 years ago today, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, receiving 77.5% of the vote.

  • Joining Robinson in Cooperstown was fellow first-ballot selection Bob Feller, who received 93.8% of the vote after going 266-162 (3.25 ERA) and winning one World Series in 18 seasons with the Indians.
  • The Veterans Committee picked Bill McKechnie, the first manager to win the World Series with two teams (1925 Pirates and 1940 Reds) and Edd Roush, who starred for the Reds from 1916 to 1926.

Go deeper:

8. The Ocho: 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Carpet bowling goes viral
Giphy

Before Wednesday night, most Americans had never heard of indoor bowls (also known as carpet bowling). But after a literally perfect shot by England's Nick Brett went viral, it is now the internet's favorite sport.

Go deeper: Indoor bowls, explained (YouTube)

9. 🏀 NBA trivia

Photo: Austin McAfee/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the second time in NBA history, two players under 22 years old (Young and Dončić) have been named All-Star Game starters.

  • Question: The other instance happened in 1998. Can you name the two players selected?
  • Hint: Both played in the West.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🇯🇵 Six months 'til Tokyo

Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Fireworks exploded above the illuminated Olympic rings in Tokyo's Odaiba Marine Park to mark six months to go until the 2020 Summer Games.

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Kendall Baker

Enjoy the weekend,

Kendall "These stories are awesome" Baker

Trivia answer: Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett