Defending champ Zverev beats error-prone Nadal at ATP Finals

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LONDON (AP) Defending champion Alexander Zverev pulled off another big win at the ATP Finals, beating top-ranked Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-4 Monday for his first career victory over the Spaniard.

Nadal had a 5-0 record against Zverev but had an uncharacteristically mistake-filled performance at the O2 Arena.

In his first match since pulling out of the Paris Masters semifinals with an abdominal injury just nine days ago, Nadal dropped his serve three straight times, didn’t force a single break point, and his normally powerful forehand was responsible for more than four times as many unforced errors (13) as winners (3).

Still, Nadal insisted his poor play wasn’t the result of any physical problem.

“I did not feel pain in the abdominal at all,” he said. “So the physical issue was not an excuse at all. The only excuse is I was not good enough tonight.”

The whole thing was over in just 84 minutes and means Zverev has beaten each of tennis’ Big Three in his last three matches at the O2.

The German defeated six-time champion Roger Federer in last year’s semifinals and then five-time winner Novak Djokovic in the final.

Nadal has a history of being far from his best at the ATP Finals, which comes at the end of a gruelling season that often takes its toll on the Spaniard because of his ultra-physical playing style. He has qualified for the event for 15 years in a row but has pulled out of it on six occasions because of injuries. He has never won the title, reaching the final twice.

This year he hasn’t finished a tournament since winning the U.S. Open in August, also pulling out of Shanghai because of a hand injury. But he showed up to London hoping to stave off Djokovic for the year-end No. 1 ranking.

Djokovic won his opening match on Sunday and this loss cuts Nadal’s lead over the Serb to just 440 points in the rankings table – each round-robin win is worth 200 points – with a total of 1,300 more points up for grabs for each player.

“Knowing that I would not be at my 100% in terms of feelings, in terms of movement, in terms of confidence or hitting the ball, I needed my best competitive spirit this afternoon, and I was not there in that way,” Nadal said. “I need to play much better in two days.”

Earlier, Stefanos Tsitsipas earned his first career win over Daniil Medvedev – a victory that clearly meant a lot to the Greek.

Not only because Tsitsipas was 0-5 against the Russian before winning 7-6 (5), 6-4, or that it came in his ATP Finals debut.

But mainly because two of the biggest rising stars in tennis simply don’t like each other that much.

“It’s a victory that I craved for a long time now, and it’s great that it came at this moment,” Tsitsipas said. “Our chemistry definitely isn’t the best that you can find on the tour. It’s not that I hate him (but) we will not go to dinner together.”

The grudge dates to their first meeting, in Miami last year, when Medvedev berated Tsitsipas for not apologizing after hitting a net cord during a point, a spat that ended with both players trading insults on court.

“After that, I think I didn’t win a single game. He did get into my head, and I was very frustrated that it did go this way,” Tsitsipas said. “He started telling me that I should apologize, that what I do is unsportsmanlike. . Somehow it did affect me. I did get (angry) and said what I said, which I do regret, but at the time I was very frustrated.”

Since that match, Medvedev had earned another four straight wins over Tsitsipas, including in the Shanghai semifinals in October.

But on Monday, the sixth-seeded Greek earned the only break of the match to take a 5-4 lead in the second set and clinched the win with a forehand overhead at the net.

“He was better today, but I felt like I was missing some things,” Medvedev said. “This frustrates me after. I do think it would frustrate me against any other opponent. I hate to lose against anybody. Of course I wanted to make it even more bigger head-to-head, but it’s the way it is.”

Both players are making their debut at the year-end tournament for the world’s top eight players, which features a round robin before the semifinals. Medvedev established himself as one of the best hard-court players on tour this season, reaching the U.S. Open final and winning four titles on the surface.

But Tsitispas – the first Greek player to qualify for the ATP Finals – used an aggressive forehand to keep the Russian from dictating the match, coming to the net 26 times and winning 22 of those points.

On Tuesday, Federer faces Matteo Berrettini and Djokovic takes on Dominic Thiem.

More AP Tennis: https://www.apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Two horses euthanized after being injured in races at Del Mar

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DEL MAR, Calif. — Two horses have been euthanized after suffering injuries during races at Del Mar, ending the track’s stretch of safe competition.

Both Ghost Street and Prayer Warrior suffered front leg injuries about 90 minutes apart Sunday at the seaside track north of San Diego.

Ghost Street, a 3-year-old gelding, was injured in the third race on turf. Prayer Warrior, a 3-year-old colt, was hurt in the sixth.

Ghost Street was winless in four career starts with earnings of $6,311 for trainer Patrick Gallagher. Prayer Warrior had three wins in eight career starts and earnings of $37,501 for trainer Jeffrey Metz.

In the second, Princess Dorian was pulled up at the top of the stretch with a front leg injury. The 5-year-old mare was taken to an equine hospital at nearby San Luis Rey Downs. Del Mar said she had X-rays and her prognosis was “improving.”

The mare is owned by Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson, who tweeted, “She is worth nothing as a broodmare. If I can give her a great life I will do so any way possible.” He included the hashtag HorsesComeFirst.

The deaths were the first in races at Del Mar since the 2018 fall meet, when there was one fatality. Del Mar was the safest major track in the U.S. last year, according to the Jockey Club Equine Injury Database.

Last July, two horses died at Del Mar when they collided in training.

“Del Mar has implemented a series of industry-leading safety and welfare reforms over the past several years. We will continue our commitment to safety at the highest levels for our horses and riders,” track officials said in a statement.

Del Mar’s fall meet began Nov. 6 and runs through Dec. 3.

Santa Anita has had 37 deaths since last December, including seven at its recently concluded fall meet. The highest profile was Mongolian Groom, who was euthanized after injuring his leg in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic shown on national television.

How James Harris paved the way for Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson

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During pro football’s 100th season, I’ll re-visit important games, plays, players and events from NFL history.

1969: James Harris becomes the first African-American to open a pro season as starting quarterback

Fifty years ago, Harris, an eighth-round rookie from Grambling who played under legendary coach Eddie Robinson, entered Bills training camp seventh on the quarterback depth chart in Buffalo. The previous year, Denver’s Marlon Briscoe became the first black starting quarterback in a pro game, but not at the start of a season. Harris, after the AFL-NFL merger a year later, became the first black quarterback to start an NFL season, in Buffalo in 1971.

We spoke not only about winning the Bills job a half-century ago, but also about how he feels now, seeing African-Americans Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson at the front of the class for the league MVP 50 years later.

“When I got drafted in the eighth round by the Bills, I figured I wasn’t going to play. I figured if I was a first or second-rounder, I’d have a real chance … but eighth? I didn’t really see the chance. But I decided to go and take my chance. Coach Robinson said, ‘If you go, don’t expect it to be fair. You’ll have to be better.’ So I figured, the only way to make it would be out-throw everybody, and come in totally prepared. I threw so many that summer. Maybe 50 deep outs a day. I was ready when I got to camp, because I didn’t feel I could have a bad day.

“The hardest thing for me, being from Monroe, La., and going to Grambling, was I never really talked to white people. And here I was, in a huddle with them. If I could just get to the passing part of it, I knew I’d be fine. But I get in the huddle and call the play, and all my linemen were white. That adjustment was tough. My first call, I call the play to both sides of the huddle, and I’m not looking at anyone, just saying the play. They said, “WHAT?” And I had to repeat it. That wasn’t easy for me. You’re fighting a lot of things people said about black quarterbacks at the time—we couldn’t lead, weren’t smart enough, worried about our character.

“The competition was rough. Jack Kemp, Tom Flores, Dan Darragh, Kay Stephenson—all established guys. I felt like I was fighting for a job every day. Every day, at 6 the next morning, they were knocking on the doors [in the players’ dorm]. Every day it could have been me. Training camp was long in those days—it started right after the Fourth of July. So every day, you wake up, lay in bed, and you hear the knocks. My room was in the middle of the hall. So you hear the knocks starting on one end and going down the hall. You’re just hoping, Skip my door. And they did—every day. Actually, one day they did knock, and I thought that was it. Turned out it was for my roommate. I got named the starter.

“First game was against Joe Namath, coming off the Super Bowl. It was in Buffalo. I’d been through quite a bit of fanfare already—people coming to the hotels, wanting to meet me, coming to the stadium early to see me. That day, I’ll always remember Joe walking across the field to find me and shake my hand, wish me luck. I appreciated that.”

Harris became the first black quarterback to start in the NFL for three franchises: the Bills (1971), Rams (1974) and Chargers (1977). In ‘74, playing for the Rams, he won a playoff game and made the Pro Bowl. He became a long-time scout and personnel official for several teams. Now 72 and living in Florida, Williams is thoughtful about the state of quarterbacking. I thought when I called him to talk about what happened 50 years ago, he might talk about how his career helped pave the way for black quarterbacks. But instead he said: “I can’t help but think about all the guys who didn’t get the chance. I mean, there were black quarterbacks who were really good back then—not just marginal guys who could make a roster, but good quarterbacks who could have started in the NFL for a long time if they got a fair shot.

“Marlon Briscoe was like Russell Wilson is today—he could have been every bit the player Russell is. Eldridge Dickey of Tennessee State [first-round pick by the Raiders in 1968 who got moved to wide receiver in his first training camp] was one of the best quarterbacks I ever saw. Could have been a lot like Steve McNair, only faster. David Mays of Texas Southern, Matthew Reed who followed me at Grambling—best high school quarterback I have ever seen, Parnell Dickinson from Mississippi Valley State, Roy Curry of Jackson State, Jefferson Street Joe Gilliam … all could have been NFL quarterbacks. All of them.

“When Doug Williams had the great Super Bowl he did [Williams threw for four touchdowns and was the Super Bowl 22 MVP], that impacted the next group of black quarterbacks. It was huge—he did it on the biggest stage. Then Warren Moon, playing well enough to make the Hall of Fame.”

I asked: “What does it mean to you that Wilson, Jackson and Watson might be 1-2-3 for MVP right now, and Mahomes might be in the running before the end of the year?”

“It proves only one thing,” said one of the singular figures in black quarterback history. “That it’s always been about opportunity.

“The black quarterback didn’t just come of age recently. We didn’t have the opportunity. As I’ve traveled around playing, scouting, meeting players, it’s always touched me: These guys, so many guys, didn’t get a chance to play because they were black. And I think, That could have been me. We all grew up, we dreamed of playing football, playing quarterback, and in the end, the dream became a nightmare for so many. Today, the dream is realistic. The dream can be fulfilled.”

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America column here