Serena Williams earns first win of season in Toronto

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TORONTO — Serena Williams hadn’t won in so long, she said she couldn’t even remember the feeling.

She picked up her first victory since the 2021 French Open, beating Nuria Parrizas-Diaz 6-3, 6-4 at the women’s National Bank Open.

“I’m just happy to get a win. It’s been a very long time, I forgot what that felt like,” Williams said.

It’s just the second tournament of the season for the 40-year-old Williams, who returned to competition at Wimbledon just over a month ago. The 23-time Grand Slam champion fell in the first round to Harmony Tan in three sets at the All England Club.

Before then, she last competed at the 2021 Wimbledon tournament, where she retired in the middle of her first match due to a torn hamstring suffered after slipping on the grass surface.

Williams, who will turn 41 at the end of September, will next face either 12th-ranked Belinda Bencic or Tereza Martincova.

Williams has won this tournament three times and reached the final in her last appearance at the hardcourt event in 2019, losing to Bianca Andreescu when she was forced to stop because of injury.

But Williams has played little since and knows she needs time on the court.

“I feel good, I felt like I competed well today. I think that’s what I needed to do, is just compete,” she said. “Mentally, I’m getting there. I’m not where I normally am (or) where I want to be. Any match I play, whether I win or lose, helps me.

“I haven’t played a lot in the last year, (even) two years. I think that helps me physically. I feel much better in practice, it’s just getting that to the court. Literally, I’m the kind of person (where) it takes one or two things and then it clicks.”

Williams started out strong, taking the first two games with relative ease.

Parrizas-Diaz tied it 2-2, but despite Williams’ struggles at certain points, the 31-year-old Spaniard couldn’t find enough of a consistent flow to get ahead. Williams found her rhythm, mixing solid touch with her signature power and putting shot after shot out of Parrizas-Diaz’s reach.

Williams’ effort had the fans on their feet roaring and some even bowing.

Williams won the final three games to take the first set, then surged ahead in the second after the 57th-ranked Parrizas-Diaz took a 4-3 lead. She endured a nine-deuce game to hold serve and even the set, then broke in the next game before serving out the victory.

While Williams says the end of her remarkable career is in sight, she’s enjoying her time and staying in the moment.

“I’m getting closer to the light. Lately, that’s been it, I can’t wait to get to that light,” she said, adding the light represents “freedom.”

“I love playing though, it’s amazing,” she added. “I can’t do this forever, so sometimes you just want to try your best to enjoy the moments and do the best that you can.”

Chicago Bears’ new-look team is a work in progress with rookie head coach Matt Eberflus

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I want you to look at this photo of me and Bears wideout Darnell Mooney Friday after practice. I was explaining something about the importance of a quarterback and receiver being in perfect alignment. I said to him: “In that incredible New England comeback from 28-3 in the Super Bowl against Atlanta, guess which wide receiver had the most targets in the fourth quarter and overtime for the Patriots. Malcolm Mitchell.” That’s when his face got that way. Like, who is Malcolm Mitchell? Rookie. Played only one year in the NFL. Bad knee forced him to quit. I said, “When I asked Tom Brady about it, he said there was a reason for it: 112 practices.” All those comeback routes Mitchell ran late in the game and Brady targeted him on were because they’d run them a couple of hundred times in practice, and Brady trusted him implicitly.

Darnell Mooney is entering his third season with the Bears.

My point: I’d just watched Justin Fields practice in the new Luke Getsy offense imported from Green Bay, and I felt very much that it’s a work in progress. Fields rolled right several times, a la Aaron Rodgers, and looked for a receiver, and he ended up tucking it and running. It’s only with time that someone—Mooney, rookie Velus JonesDante Pettis, tight end Cole Kmet — or maybe more than one will get in tune with Fields, and the young QB will be able to find a receiver instead of running. Nothing wrong with running, of course — Fields is fleet and quick. But it’s good to know if he rolls right six times a game, he has a legit run or pass option five or six times.

“I’m happy you shared that story with me,” Mooney said. “I’m not sure how long it will take. But that makes perfect sense.”

This is what a new offense is like, and this is what a new regime is like. Rookie GM Ryan Poles says he doesn’t like calling this a teardown, but what do you call a camp roster with 54 of 91 players brand new…and the personnel staff new, and the coaching staff new, and the franchise quarterback in his 16th month on campus?

This is going to take a while, but Poles isn’t taking shortcuts, and that’s good. When Poles traded 31-year-old Khalil Mack to the Chargers for second- and sixth-round picks, it was a signal that Poles and coach Matt Eberflus want to build for the long haul. That’s why I don’t think this is a make-or-break year for Fields. He’ll have every chance to win the job long term, and patience will be a virtue with this staff. Getsy is a teacher of the first order. “Probably the best quarterback coach I’ve had in my life,” said Fields.

When I watched Fields Friday, what I thought needed the most work was his anticipation throws, his rhythm throws. Not to harp on Brady, but what became rote with him was knowing precisely where each receiver would be on each route, so he could throw when the receiver wasn’t looking, certain of the spot he’d be when the ball was released. Fields isn’t there yet.

“We’re working on the rhythm throws,” Eberflus said.

Fields gets it. He knows mastering an offense means being able to throw ball after ball to a spot, not waiting to see him be open. The key will be for Fields and for the fans to understand this will take time, and lots of the final pieces aren’t on this roster yet.

“Each day I feel we take a step forward,” said Fields. That’s important.

I’m not bullish on the Bears to contend this year. On the total rebuilds — Bears, Giants, Texans, Jags — that’s really okay. In fact, it’s preferable. I am bullish on the groundwork being laid by Poles and Eberflus. The respect they have for Bears history, and the desire to get the Bears back to contention, was evident Friday. Eberflus, when setting up his office, wanted to honor the history of the franchise and make every player aware that their jobs are to return the franchise to prominence. In the space behind his desk that most coaches reserve for family photos or mementos, the new coach asked for pictures of the nine Bears with retired numbers. When players sit in his office, he asks them to name at least three of them. Some get Walter Payton. Some get Dick Butkus. But it’s ancient history to most. But they matter, and Eberflus wants to keep them alive for this generation.

Also behind his desk, in the middle of display of the great Bears, are two empty plexiglass shelves, small ones, and two empty spots at the base of the display. Eberflus wanted the two shelves for George Halas Trophies, emblematic of the NFC champions. And he wanted the spaces below to be there for two Super Bowl trophies.

Matt Eberflus enters his first season as head coach of the Chicago Bears.

That’s right: Super Bowl trophies. They don’t call them Lombardi Trophies around here, by the way.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column

Inside Titans training camp: How Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee moved on from meltdown

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NASHVILLE—In GM Jon Robinson’s office the other day, we were talking about how the Titans are regularly disregarded when discussing Super Bowl contenders…yet the team is on a three-year playoff streak and was the AFC’s one seed last year. Robinson smiled and said, “I’m gonna play you a song real quick,” he said, and started fiddling with his iPhone.

“Eric Church. ‘The Outsiders.’ That’s who we are,” Robinson said. Now came Church, the country star.

They’re the in crowd, we’re the other ones
It’s a different kind of cloth that we’re cut from

And so on. This is an interesting team with a braintrust that can patch holes as well as any team in football. Robinson and Mike Vrabel built a rock-ribbed defense and strong run game, with a pretty good pass game too (until divisional weekend), and they survived a ridiculous spate of injuries to lock in the AFC’s top seed. Tennessee used a league-record 91 players last year, won 12 games, and became the first team in NFL history to have eight wins over teams with winning records…despite missing Derrick Henry for half the year with a foot injury.

Vrabel gave a Belichickian response when I asked him about the Titans’ image. “I try not to focus on things that don’t matter,” he said. “We just try to build a foundation to help us withstand the ups and downs of an NFL season.”

The last time we saw the Titans was a down of epic proportions—the 19-16 home loss to Cincinnati to end the season. Ryan Tannehill threw three interceptions, one on the Titans’ first offensive play and another, the dagger, on the Titans’ final offensive play of the game. That pick, with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter of a 16-all game, led to the winning 52-yard Cincinnati field goal at :00. And it led to huge questions about the future of Tannehill in Tennessee. His resume is overall good, but he’s lost three straight playoff games, averaging 17.3 points in the three. It would have cost the Titans a $57.4-million dead-cap charge in 2022 to move on from him, and so that was never an option.

But there’s another part of this story, a mental-health part.

“The game was heartbreaking,” Tannehill told me. “Put me in a dark spot.”

really dark spot. He’s out of it now, mostly, but for the first time in all his years playing football, the game knocked him for such a mental loop he had to seek professional help.

“I hadn’t really been in that spot before,” he said after a broiler of a practice. “It was weeks and weeks of not really sleeping, and then kind of slowly got better from there, working my way through it. It wasn’t something that I just passively got through. I was intentionally seeking out help, talking to somebody and trying to work through the mental side of it.

Catching up with Ryan Tannehill at Titans camp.

“The mental side is such a big thing for everybody in life, but especially in sports. We talk about it as an organization. We have guys that help us with our bodies, help us train. We also have people that help with our minds. Being able to take advantage of that and kind of destigmatize the mental side of things. We’re all gonna go through something at different points in our life. It’s okay, right? Now you have the opportunity to work through it and be intentional about growing through the process and moving forward.

“You’re not pushing away the feelings. You’re acknowledging the feelings. You’re really feeling them and digging through why you’re feeling them, and then moving past it at that point. You’re not stuffing it away and hoping just to never feel it again. You’re acknowledging it, knowing it’s there, and then moving through it.

“Now, it’s a scar. That’s kind of how I’ve described it is that it’s a scar. It’s always there. You remember it. But it’s not a wound anymore. It doesn’t hurt the same. You acknowledge like yeah that sucked. But this is a new year. We have everything out in front of us. What happened last year, whether it was good or bad, it doesn’t matter at this point. You have to take each day as its own and take advantage of it.”

Teammates, staffers, coaches all talk of Tannehill being the same positive guy he’s always been. Now they’ve got to hope he truly is past it and can be the guy who’s gone 30-13 in three Titans seasons. His future in Tennessee probably depends on it.

As for the team, and the mental side of the game, the most important guy in Tannehill’s football life is squarely behind him—and his openness about the mental side of the game.

“We spend a lot of time in this game on our bodies,” Mike Vrabel said. “We need to spend as much time on our minds.”

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column