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The Sports Report: Teenagers Leylah Fernandez and Emma Raducanu advance to U.S. Open final

Leylah Fernandez reacts after defeating Aryna Sabalenka during the semifinals
Leylah Fernandez reacts after defeating Aryna Sabalenka during the semifinals
(Associated Press)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Helene Elliott on the U.S. Open: Leylah Fernandez of Canada shrieked and fell to her knees on the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium. She had just continued her magical run through the U.S. Open, advancing to the women’s final by upsetting No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4 on Thursday night, and for a moment she was merely a happy teenager and not a professional tennis player on the brink of something unimaginably great.

Fernandez, who turned 19 on Monday, insisted during an on-court interview that she had no idea how she won her first Grand Slam semifinal. She was too modest. Her poise, ability to adjust to opponents’ tactics and her sheer will helped propel her past Sabalenka, who committed 52 unforced errors to 23 by Fernandez.

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“I just wanted to be in the finals,” said the Montreal-born left-hander, who beat No. 5 Elina Svitolina, No. 16 (and 2016 U.S. Open champion) Angelique Kerber, and defending U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka in the previous three rounds. “I really wanted it. I fought for it.”

Fernandez, who is ranked No. 73 in the world but will move up dramatically in the next rankings, fell behind 0-3 and 1-4 in the first set and looked to be struggling with Sabalenka’s raw power. But as Fernandez has done before, she figured things out, regrouped and forged onward — and she won the set in a tiebreak.

In Saturday’s final, Fernandez will face 18-year-old Emma Raducanu of Great Britain, who defeated No. 17 Maria Sakkari of Greece, 6-1, 6-4.

The men’s semifinals will take place today. No. 12 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada will face No. 2 Daniil Medvedev of Russia in a match that will start after the men’s doubles final but not before noon Pacific time. In the night session, which will start shortly after 4 p.m. Pacific time, No. 1 Novak Djokovic will continue his pursuit of a calendar Grand Slam and a men’s-record 21st Grand Slam singles title when he faces No. 4 Alexander Zverev of Germany.

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Mardy Fish shares moments his life ‘was a living hell’ with hope it can help others

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LAKERS

Dan Woike on the Lakers: The definitive play of DeAndre Jordan’s career happened more than eight years ago, the then-Clippers center rolling after setting a screen and catching a lob pass from Chris Paul. He snagged the ball, cocked it back with his right hand and unloaded a ferocious dunk directly in the face of helpless Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Knight.

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While the crowd tremored in excitement, Jordan walked away with his eyes unapologetically widening. It was “Lob City,” an era of Clippers basketball, personified in one violent stroke of excellence.

That, Jordan made clear Thursday, was then — his chapter with the Clippers now long over with all his focus and attention on a new one beginning with the Lakers.

The team signed the 33-year-old center and 13-year NBA veteran to a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract after he was released by the Pistons and cleared waivers. He’s the latest in a lengthening line of former All-NBA players looking for a championship run on a team loaded with veteran star power.

DODGERS

Jorge Castillo on the Dodgers: The Dodgers are on the wrong side of a tight division race they didn’t expect, still trying to chase down their bitter rivals to the north even with the second-best record in the National League. If they don’t finish in first place, their World Series title defense could end Oct. 6 in the wild-card game. It’s a risk they want to avoid.

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You wouldn’t have known that watching their 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday. The Dodgers lacked urgency, from their lineup creation to the performance between the lines at Busch Stadium. The offense continued its malaise, squandering another strong showing from the pitching staff against a middling club on the fringes of playoff contention.

The lackluster performance dropped them to 2½ games behind the San Francisco Giants in the National League West with 21 games remaining.

“Looking at where we’re at,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “it’s very disappointing.”

NFL

Sam Farmer on the NFL: This stadium was Raymond James Library seven months ago, the NFL’s final stop in an eerie season of silence.

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But the site of Super Bowl LV crackled with energy Thursday night as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played host to the Dallas Cowboys in the Kickoff Opener, the league’s first full house since the Super Bowl in Miami at the end of the 2019 season, back when COVID-19 was but a murmur.

From the moment quarterback Tom Brady whipped the hometown crowd into a froth with his jugular-bulging hype video before kickoff, Buccaneers fans made little use of their seats. They erupted when he punctuated the clip with an unmistakable F-bomb — with a G-rated “Let’s go!” dubbed in its place.

In a game that was closer to a darts tournament, Brady and Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott used surgical precision to put their teams in position to win. The Buccaneers clinched the 31-29 victory with a clutch, last-minute drive capped with a 36-yard field goal by Ryan Succop with seven seconds remaining.

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NFL Week 1 roundtable: Can Rams, Chargers end up in Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium?

NFL Week 1 picks: Rams win, Chargers and Raiders lose

CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: Austin Ekeler missed his second consecutive day of practice Thursday, casting uncertainty on his status for the Chargers’ season opener.

The running back has been slowed by a hamstring injury this week. He was seen running on the side during the portion of practice open to the media but did not participate in any individual drills or team situations.

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If Ekeler is unable to play Sunday at Washington, the Chargers would have Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley and rookie Larry Rountree III as options.

Darius Bradwell, who appeared in two games last season, is on the practice squad.

A torn hamstring cost Ekeler six games last season. He was hurt in a Week 4 loss at Tampa Bay and didn’t return until Week 12 at Buffalo.

RAMS

Gary Klein on the Rams: After eight seasons of relative stability and performance — sometimes at league-leading levels — Rams special teams took a major step backward in 2020.

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Longtime coordinator John Fassel left for the Dallas Cowboys, and coach Sean McVay tried to fill the void with John Bonamego. The Rams went through two kickers before they signed Matt Gay, who performed consistently the rest of the way. Veteran punter Johnny Hekker, a four-time All-Pro, posted the lowest average of his career. And the kickoff and punt return units displayed no big-play capability.

The Rams go into their Sunday night opener against the Chicago Bears as one of the favorites to reach Super Bowl LVI, which will be played at SoFi Stadium.

But the Rams could fall short of that goal if special teams do not improve from a year ago.

UCLA BASKETBALL

Ben Bolch on the Bruins: Jaylen Clark has provided fans a glimpse of his UCLA career on YouTube, revealing his workout routine and a day in the life of a college basketball player.

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Now he’s hoping to form a deeper connection while helping his admirers cash in on the cryptocurrency craze.

The sophomore guard has become the first college athlete to release his own cryptocurrency — called $JROCK — after announcing the name, image and likeness deal Thursday to his more than 22,000 YouTube subscribers and his 59,300 followers on Instagram.

“I’ve seen comments everywhere talking about, I’m the Black Elon Musk,” Clark said later in the day with a laugh, referring to the billionaire entrepreneur. “It’s just super cool to be the first to do anything. When this goes five, six seven — even 30, 40 years from now, I can look back and be like, ‘Yeah, I remember when I kicked all this off.’ ”

USC FOOTBALL

Rayn Kartje on the Trojans: It was only a brief blip in an otherwise fine debut, but with USC driving early in the fourth quarter of its opener, up just six points over San Jose State, Jonah Monheim lunged forward on a first-down pass play and missed his man.

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The young right tackle’s missed block reverberated from there. The pocket collapsed. Kedon Slovis was sacked. And soon, the drive stalled, leaving USC to settle for a field goal.

What might have been a critical mistake was ultimately rendered moot by a pick-six on the ensuing possession. But after an offseason of anxiety around the offensive line, the miss was a reminder of the growing pains USC might still face this season with two redshirt freshmen finding their footing up front.

“We have a lot of room for them to grow to get better,” said new offensive line coach Clay McGuire, “and if we can get them to play to their potential and their ability fundamentally, I think we have a chance to have two really good tackles. Obviously, they’re young. But the thing is there’s a high ceiling there.”

MEN’S WORLD CUP QUALIFYING

Kevin Baxter on soccer: The first World Cup qualifying window didn’t go as planned for the U.S. national team. But it ended a lot better than a lot of people thought it would.

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The Americans drew two games they could have won, lost three starters to injury and another to COVID-19 and saw a one-time locker room leader get suspended and sent home for repeated violations of team protocols.

But they ended the three-match, eight-day ordeal by rallying for an improbable 4-1 win over Honduras late Wednesday night that gives their qualifying chances, if not their confidence, a boost.

The goals, all in the second half, came from Antonee Robinson, Ricardo Pepi, Brenden Aaronson and Sebastian Lletget, erasing a 1-0 deficit Honduras built on Brayan Mora’s diving header midway through the first half.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1933 — Fred Perry wins his first U.S. men’s singles title with a 6-3, 11-13, 4-6, 6-0, 6-1 victory over Australian Jack Crawford.

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1937 — The Cleveland Rams play their first NFL game and lose 28-0 to the Detroit Lions.

1962 — Rod Laver becomes the first man since Don Budge in 1938 to win the Grand Slam beating Roy Emerson 6-2, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, at the U.S. Open. Margaret Smith becomes the first Australian woman to win the U.S. Open with a 9-7, 6-4 win over Darlene Hard.

1966 — Muhammad Ali knocks out Karl Mildenberger in the 12th round in Frankfurt, Germany, to retain his world heavyweight title.

1967 — John Newcombe beats Clark Graebner to win the men’s title in the U.S. Lawn Tennis Assn. championships. Billie Jean King wins the singles, doubles and mixed doubles championships.

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1972 — The United States men’s basketball team loses its first game in Olympic competition. The Soviet Union wins 51-50 with the help of a controversial ending. Dr. William Jones, secretary general of the International Amateur Basketball Federation, tells the referees to have the players replay the final three seconds and the Soviets score a last-second bucket. The Americans, who had the lead when the buzzer sounded the first time, protest in vain. The U.S. team later refuses to accept the silver medal.

1972 — Emerson Fittipaldi wins the Italian Grand Prix to become the youngest to win a Formula I championship. Fittipaldi, 25, wins his fifth race of the season and clinches the title with two races remaining.

1978 — Jimmy Connors becomes the only player to win the U.S. Open on three different surfaces, with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 win over Bjorn Borg. Connors wins the first men’s final played on the Deco Turf II courts at the new USTA National Tennis Center. Connors had won the 1974 U.S. Open on grass and the 1976 U.S. Open on clay courts.

1988 — Steffi Graf becomes the third women to complete the Grand Slam, defeating Gabriela Sabatini 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 in the U.S. Open.

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1993 — Pernell Whitaker and Julio Cesar Chavez fight to a majority draw. Two judges score the fight 115-115 and the third scores the fight 115-113 for Whitaker. It’s the first blemish on Chavez’s record who was 87-0 entering the bout.

1995 — Pete Sampras wins his third U.S. Open men’s singles title, taking down the No. 1 seed and defending champion Andre Agassi, 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.

1995 — Fuad Reveiz of the Minnesota Vikings sets an NFL record for consecutive field goals, converting from 32 and 27 yards to give him 30 in a row.

2000 — Arizona’s Randy Johnson becomes the 12th player to reach the 3,000 strikeout plateau, fanning a season-high 14 in seven innings as the Diamondbacks lost to Florida 4-3 in 12 innings.

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2004 — Zippy Chippy, thoroughbred racing’s lovable loser, makes it 0-for-100 when he finishes last in an eight-horse field at the Three-County Fairgrounds in Northampton, Mass.

2006 — Roger Federer defeats Andy Roddick 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in the U.S. Open final for his third major championship this year and ninth of his career. Federer becomes the first man ever to win back-to-back Wimbledon and U.S. Open crowns for three straight years.

2006 — Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts make fewer mistakes than Eli Manning and the New York Giants in the first NFL game to feature two brothers starting at quarterback. Big brother Peyton is 25-of-41 for 276 yards and a touchdown and the Colts score on five of their first seven possessions to defeat Eli and the Giants 26-21.

2012 — Andy Murray wins the U.S. Open in five grueling sets to become the first British man since 1936 to capture a Grand Slam title. Murray beats defending champion Novak Djokovic 7-6 (10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 in his fifth try in the final of a major tournament.

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2017 — Rafael Nadal wins his 16th Grand Slam title by sweeping Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 in the U.S. Open final.

2017 — The Rams routs the Indianapolis Colts 46-9 in 31-year-old Sean McVay’s impressive debut as the youngest head coach in modern league history.

Supplied by the Associated Press

And finally

The U.S. gets jobbed out of the gold medal in men’s basketball at the 1972 Olympics. Watch and listen here.

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Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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