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Roger Federer isn’t the GOAT and neither is Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic

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Roger Federer isn't the GOAT and neither is Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic

Shortly after Novak Djokovic mastered Rafael Nadal at this year’s Australian Open final to lock down his 15th Grand Slam singles title, the simmering GOAT debate came to a boil again. We immediately asked whether we need to start thinking about the top-ranked Serbian as the best ever. But it raised another interesting question: Is it really possible the three greatest players of all time are active right now?

Sure, it’s feasible, but it’s highly unlikely. This embarrassment of generational riches — Roger Federer owns 20 major singles titles, Nadal has 17, just two more than Djokovic — suggests our metrics for determining the GOAT are far too simplistic. The cumulative success of this trio is so overwhelming that it makes you wonder if it’s even fair to compare them to their predecessors. If you acknowledge that, the GOAT debate changes drastically.

A little history is in order, because it helps us understand how we got here. Up until Pete Sampras hit his stride, most people assumed Roy Emerson’s record of 12 major singles titles would not be broken in the Open era. The game had changed too much, they thought. The depth in the ATP was too great. Nobody was even bothering to play the Australian Open, where Emerson had collected six of his singles titles.

But two critical things were also happening: the rehabilitation of the Australian Open (a tournament that icons Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe had played a combined total of just eight times in a total of 49 years of Grand Slam play) and the homogenization of the Grand Slam surfaces.

By the time Sampras emerged, it was no longer a three-Slam game. The opportunity to win a major every year increased by 25 percent. Just as important, over time, the hard courts at the US Open and Australia became medium-to-fast-paced (depending on the year), the fast grass at Wimbledon was slowed to hard-court-like speed, and the changes in equipment and court maintenance helped eliminate the dreaded clay-court specialists who once terrorized seeds at the French Open.

“One of the ingredients in the success of the Big Four, other than their being incredibly gifted, is that they don’t have to adjust as much to different styles or surfaces,” Tennis Channel analyst Paul Annacone, who has coached both Sampras and Federer, recently told ESPN.com. “Back in the day, the discrepancy between surfaces opened opportunities and presented challenges. Now the only thing different is the movement, but even that’s changing. It used to be you’d slide on clay; now guys are also sliding on hard, so how different can the movement really be?”

True, Nadal is still a different player on clay; his exceptional record (86-2, 11 singles titles), which is unmatched at any major by any player, proves it. But apart from that detail, today’s majors don’t reward some styles while punishing others. They favor the most talented all-court players and reduce risk for them. Hence, the rich get richer.

The speed at which these three titans eclipsed Sampras’ record, after Emerson’s had stood for so long, means a basic haul of major titles is just the entry fee into the GOAT debate. Other aspects of the record then become much more important. Those include head-to-head records, success in other first-rate events (like Masters 1000s) and overall winning percentage.

Let’s not forget that because he spanned the amateur and Open eras, Rod Laver was denied the opportunity to play majors for six years starting at age 24, the year after he completed a calendar-year Grand Slam. Laver returned in the Open era and then accomplished another sweep of the majors in 1969. He remains the only Open era player with two calendar Grand Slams.

All this suggests there’s no real GOAT — maybe there’s a herd of them.

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Reports: Bears to cut K Parkey in March

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Reports: Bears to cut K Parkey in March

After a difficult season culminated by a crucial missed field goal on a potential game-winning field goal in the NFC playoffs, kicker Cody Parkey will be released by the Chicago Bears when the new league year begins in March.

FILE PHOTO: Sep 17, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey (1) watches his field goal during the first half against the Seattle Seahawks at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

According to multiple reports on Friday, the team intends to cut ties with Parkey once the NFL free agency period begins on March 13.

Parkey, who turned 27 on Tuesday, endured an inconsistent season in Chicago after inking a four-year, $15 million contract last winter following the team’s release of Robbie Gould, the Bears’ all-time leading scorer who moved on to the San Francisco 49ers.

Parkey, a five-year veteran, not only missed a career-high seven field-goal attempts and three extra points during the regular season, but his 43-yard attempt in the final seconds of the NFC wild-card round against the Philadelphia Eagles first hit the upright then the crossbar before bouncing back on the field.

Despite the NFL later ruling that the kick was partially blocked, Parkey took much of the public blame for the Bears’ season ending.

Parkey began his career with the Eagles in 2014 when he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, scoring a franchise-record 150 points while making 32 of 36 field-goal tries. In two seasons with the Eagles, Parkey never missed an extra point.

Parkey later kicked for the Cleveland Browns in 2016 and Miami Dolphins in 2017.

In January, the Bears signed Tulsa product Redford Jones after conducting a workout that reportedly included multiple hopefuls. Jones made 50 of his 67 field-goal attempts at Tulsa from 2015-17, and he does have a kick on his resume where he hit both uprights. Unlike Parkey’s double-doink, though, that 2016 attempt against Cincinnati ended up going over the crossbar for three points.

“We need more production out of that position,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said last month after signing Jones. “We know we need to get better there, and it will be an area of focus.”

—Field Level Media

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WTA roundup: Bencic upsets Svitolina to reach Dubai final

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WTA roundup: Bencic upsets Svitolina to reach Dubai final

Belinda Bencic secured a spot in the final by stunning two-time champion Elina Svitolina 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3) on Friday at the Dubai Duty Free Championships in the United Arab Emirates.

Tennis – WTA Premier 5 – Dubai Tennis Championships – Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Dubai, United Arab Emirates – February 22, 2019 Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic in action during the Semi Final against Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina REUTERS/Satish Kumar

Bencic trailed 5-3 in the final set before recovering to defeat the sixth-seeded Svitolina. She will face second-seeded Petra Kvitova in the championship match after the Czech Republic star defeated Taiwan’s Su-Wei Hsieh 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

“I think I’m always the most proud of how I fight,” Bencic said after posting the victory. “Even when I lose, I learned myself to just look in the mirror and be proud of myself when I’m fighting, when I’m giving my all, when I’m trying to do what I have to do.”

Bencic won eight consecutive points after Svitolina was in position to close out the match. Then the Switzerland native carried the momentum into the tiebreaker to notch one of the biggest victories of her career by outdueling the Ukrainian.

“Basically, I stayed in the zone, even in (the) tiebreak,” Bencic said. “I was barely breathing, just playing automatic. You are not thinking any more. It’s where the instincts just guide you through it.”

Bencic will be seeking her third career title when she squares off with Kvitova, who will be shooting for her 27th.

Kvitova dropped the first set on Friday before recovering to win the last two.

“It was a tough one today, for sure,” Kvitova said. “She really didn’t give me anything for free. It was a tough first set. I’m glad that I was able to came back in the second. I didn’t play great at the end of the first.

“I think I’m pleased with my kind of mental focus after losing the first set, that I was calmer when I came back and played from the beginning of the second set. I still kind of felt that I can do that somehow. I don’t know. It was something weird.”

Kvitova overcame eight double faults to claim the victory.

Hungarian Ladies Open

Top-seeded Alison Van Uytvanck defeated Ukraine’s Kateryna Kozlova 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 to advance to the semifinals in Budapest.

Van Uytvanck, of Belgium, will face fifth-seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova in the semis. The Russian dispatched third-seeded Frenchwoman Pauline Parmentier 6-3, 6-2.

Eighth-seeded Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic will face Russian Anastasia Potapova in the other semi. Vondrousova outlasted Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 while the 17-year-old Potapova fought past Romania’s Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 6-7 (5), 7-5 in 2 hours, 50 minutes.

—Field Level Media

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Patriots owner Robert Kraft facing charges of solicitation of prostitution

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Patriots owner Robert Kraft facing charges of solicitation of prostitution

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is facing charges of misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution after he was twice videotaped paying for a sex act at an illicit massage parlor, police in Florida said Friday.

The 77-year-old Kraft was one of 25 people involved in the alleged solicitation at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter.

Michael Edmondson, spokesman for the state attorney’s office in Palm Beach County, told ESPN that the nature of any charges that the 25 people face will not be released until next week.

Kraft has denied wrongdoing.

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