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Li Na became the first Chinese player "to win a Grand Slam singles title by beating defending champion Francesca Schiavone” at the French Open women’s final on Saturday, according to Howard Fendrich of the AP. Li said, "China tennis -- we're getting bigger and bigger." State broadcaster CCTV posted the banner, "We love you Li Na," on their “gushing coverage.” CCTV announcer Tong Kexin said, “This has left a really deep impression on the world." Fendrich noted tennis is considered an “elite sport in China, and while participation is rapidly increasing, it still trails basketball, soccer and table tennis, among others.” Li “broke away from the Chinese government's sports system in late 2008 under an experimental reform policy for tennis players” dubbed "Fly Alone." Li was “given the freedom to choose her own coach and schedule and to keep much more of her earnings: Previously, she turned over 65 percent to the authorities; now it's 12 percent.” That comes to “about $205,000 of the $1.7 million French Open winner's check.” Chinese Tennis Association Vice Chair Sun Jinfang said, "We took a lot of risks with this reform. When we let them fly, we didn't know if they would succeed. That they have now succeeded, means our reform was correct." Fendrich noted Li at her post-match news conference “wore a new T-shirt with Chinese characters that mean ‘sport changes everything,’ and offered thanks to Sun” (AP, 6/4). In N.Y., Ian Johnson noted Li’s victory “triggered a patriotic outburst in the country’s state-controlled media.” One editorial called it “the most glorious achievement of 30-plus years of Chinese sports.” Her victory was “front-page news in most Chinese newspapers Sunday, including the Communist Party’s People’s Daily” (NYTIMES.com, 6/5). The AP’s Joe McDonald noted the victory was "front-page news in Japan and Hong Kong, though tennis has only a small regional following and celebratory sentiment might be dampened by unease at China’s rising military might and a series of political strains” (AP, 6/5). The N.Y. Times ran an image of Li on its front page Sunday (THE DAILY).
REACHING THE MASSES: In N.Y., Christopher Clarey noted although tennis “is not yet a sport for the masses in China and its population of 1.3 billion, a mass audience did see Li’s victory on the state sports channel CCTV.” The WTA reported that an “estimated 65 million Chinese watched at least part of Li’s semifinal victory over Maria Sharapova.” Saturday’s final, which “ended shortly before 11 p.m. in China, was expected to draw similar numbers.” WTA Chair & CEO Stacey Allaster said, “She was already a national hero; she’s just going to go to rock-star status. Look at Yao Ming. She’s going to be there.” Clarey wrote that “could be a big stretch considering the status of basketball and Yao in China.” Still, Li will “always be the first Chinese -- and first Asian -- to win a major singles title” (N. Y. TIMES, 6/5). YAHOO SPORTS’ Chris Chase wrote Li’s victory “should help ignite a tennis revolution” in China and “could prove to be a critical boon for a sport badly in need of new markets and sponsors.” Whether the win “ushers in a revolution of Chinese players in women's tennis is an answer we won't know for years.” But if “past history means anything, it probably won't.” Yao Ming was “supposed to do the same for basketball but almost a decade later there's only a handful of Chinese players in the league.” What Li’s victory "will do is something far more important to women's tennis,” as it “brings the game to a country with 1.3 billion people and an appetite for western sports” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 6/4). In London, Barry Flatman noted China “already boosts 30,000 tennis courts and since the sport returned to the Olympic Games in 1988 the number of registered tennis players has risen from 1 million to 14 million.” Allaster, who has “backed investment into the grass roots in China and even opened a tour office in Beijing, … immediately recognised Li Na’s victory.” Allaster: “She has made tennis history. This will inspire an entire generation of young girls to play tennis and propel the sport to new levels of global popularity and growth” (LONDON TIMES, 6/5).
JUST LIKE A FINE WINE: The N.Y. TIMES’ John Branch in a front-page piece wrote the Li-Schiavone final “captures a shift that is under way in women’s tennis,” as older players are “dominating the biggest events in a sport long recognized for its teenage sensations.” Li and Schiavone “make up the oldest French Open final pairing since 1986, when Chris Evert beat Martina Navratilova.” The “days of child stars like Tracy Austin, Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati appear to be in the past,” as the top players “are getting older” (N.Y. TIMES, 6/4).
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday listened to NFL attorney Paul Clement and NFLPA attorney Ted Olson "spend a good deal of their allotted 30 minutes grappling with the issue of antitrust law vs. labor law in light of the NFLPA's decision to decertify in March," according to Stu Durando of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. The NFL continued to argue that the Norris-LaGuardia Act "prohibits the injunction" delivered by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Nelson. Clement argued "repeatedly that the league would not have instituted a lockout if it didn't think an agreement was on the horizon, calling it 'a self-inflicted wound' and 'suicide.'" Olson contended that "because the players' union took steps to decertify," it now falls under antitrust laws. Olson said that he "knows of 15 cases in which the league has been found in violation of those laws," but Clement argued that the league "should be protected from antitrust lawsuits for a year." Before Friday's hearing ended, appellate judge Kermit Bye said, "We will take this case and render a decision in due course. We won't, I might also say, be all that hurt if you're leaving us out and if you should go out and settle the case." Durando notes more than 20 NFL players attended the hearing, along with NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith and Jets Owner Woody Johnson; NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did not (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 6/4). In N.Y., Judy Battista noted both sides "relied on familiar points in the hearing." Judges Steve Colloton and Duane Benton, who "have voted with the owners on the temporary and full stay decisions, asked almost all of the questions, and they peppered" Olson with "more questions than they did" Clement. Talks between the NFL and NFLPA are expected to resume this week, and it is "possible the appeals court could wait to issue its decision in order to give the parties time to reach a settlement." A decision from the appeals court "would most likely come later this month or in July" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/4).
TIME TO REACH A DEAL: In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch noted legal experts "expect the decidedly conservative appeals panel to rule for the owners by tossing out the injunction permanently, but that doesn't mean the NFL is in the judges' good graces." That was "clear from the acidic closing comment from Bye, who was the lone supporting vote for the players on the temporary injunction but now -- like just about everyone else -- appears to be running out of patience with both sides" (N.Y. POST, 6/4). CBSSPORTS.com's Clark Judge wrote Bye's "suggestion was clear: Find a way to settle this yourselves, guys, and try to make it quick" (CBSSPORTS.com, 6/3). In Philadelphia, Bob Ford noted it is expected the appeals court "will split, 2-1, as they have on previous rulings in this case," and the lockout "will remain in force." What happens "after that isn't as clear, but the players are betting everything that their move to decertify the union -- while continuing to operate as one -- will make it possible to win an antitrust suit against the league." Ford: "Unfortunately for the players, no one ... expects that to actually work" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 6/4). ESPN’s Andrew Brandt said, “If the owners win, the players have to look in the mirror and see an indefinite lockout on the horizon. There are no more markers. There's no more courtroom football. They can appeal, but those are unlikely. So now we're talking about the players having to make a decision on their strategy” ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 6/3). After Friday's hearing, Goodell said the two sides would meet again "soon." He also said that he "planned to spend all weekend preparing for the next round of negotiating sessions, but would not say whether they were scheduled" for this week (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 6/4). YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole wrote, "Plenty of people on both sides should be motivated by what they heard, particularly the admonishment from Judge Kermit Bye at the end. ... Both sides could be hating life if they don’t start talking" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 6/3).
ON THE OWNERSHIP SIDE: Steelers Chair Emeritus Dan Rooney, serving as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, said that he "will not get involved in the current negotiations, officially or unofficially." Rooney said NFL officials "have not" brought him into the CBA conversation, and when asked if he would get involved going forward, he said, "No." Rooney: "Art's involved. He knows what he's doing." Dan Rooney said he would remain the Ambassador "probably another year" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 6/4). Meanwhile, YAHOO SPORTS' Michael Silver wrote the lockout is a "money grab by the owners," and the "bottom line is that the folks who sign the checks are looking to improve their bottom line." Silver added, "Even those of you who sympathize with the owners in this dispute should be repulsed by a far more gratuitous money grab that’s taking place in conjunction with the lockout -- the pay reductions of coaches and other team employees introduced by various franchises throughout the league." Several NFL coaches are "getting dinged severely," and several agents who rep coaches "have confirmed that precipitous pay cuts have been in play" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 6/3).
PICKING SIDES: Vikings coach Leslie Frazier on Friday said that his staff was "not consulted before the NFL Coaches Association filed a brief supporting the players." Frazier said the Vikings coaching staff will "always be supportive of our management." He added, "We've got great management here in Minnesota. The Wilf family has been terrific to our employees. But no we were not contacted by the coaches association regarding that brief" (AP, 6/4). In Phoenix, Kent Somers cited a source as saying that Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt "and his assistants knew nothing about the brief prior to its filing" (AZCENTRAL.com, 6/3). In Boston, Greg Bedard wrote NFLCA Exec Dir Larry Kennan "has had a rough couple of weeks." Since the NFLCA filed an amicus brief in support of the players' antitrust suit, at least 12 teams "have said their coaches either didn't give their consent to or didn't agree with the NFLCA's position." Bedard added, "You could probably make it all 32 teams, because you’d be hard-pressed to find an assistant coach who will tell a head coach or an owner that, yes, they are wrong. ... While Kennan has often had to take unpopular positions on behalf of assistant coaches who can’t lend their own voices out of fear of repercussions, it’s not hard to see why he filed the brief: The NFLCA is housed by and affiliated with the NFL Players Association" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/5).
HALF TIME? SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Daniel Kaplan cites sources as saying that the NFL is "considering season lengths for 2011 as short as eight regular-season games, half its normal number, as the league plans for the possibility of an abbreviated season because of the nearly three-month-long lockout." An eight-game season "could start in late November," so allowing for "five weeks up front for free agency, training camps and perhaps one preseason game, the contingency suggests that the league and players could reach a deal on a new labor agreement as late as mid- to late October and still salvage a season." Sources said that the "eight-game-season scenario is not one that’s been committed to, but it also has not been dismissed and is being studied along with other schedule permutations." Kaplan notes "how many divisional games would be played in an eight-game season, for example, is one issue the league’s competition committee would have to examine" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 6/6 issue).
NASCAR President Mike Helton yesterday "exonerated" driver Kyle Busch and "put the blame on" NASCAR team Owner Richard Childress for an altercation after Saturday's Camping World Truck Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 250 at Kansas Speedway, according to Randy Covitz of the K.C. STAR. Helton said, "Richard Childress' actions were not appropriate and fell short of the standard we expect of owners in this sport." Witnesses said that Childress "approached Busch in the garage after the truck race, and after words was exchanged, began brawling." Childress "was upset with how Busch ...bumped the car of Childress rookie driver Joey Coulter on the cool-down lap of Saturday's race after Coulter had outdueled him for fifth place." Busch, Childress and Busch Sprint Cup car Owner Joe Gibbs "met with NASCAR officials" at 8:30am CT yesterday, and Busch "emerged after about five minutes." Helton said that the "main reason for bringing all the parties together Sunday morning was to prevent any incidents" in the Sprint Cup Series STP 400. Helton added that NASCAR "will announce actions regarding Childress today." Covitz notes Childress "was allowed to direct his Sprint Cup race teams of Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton and Paul Menard" during the STP 400, though there were "some restrictions on where he could go and not go at Kansas Speedway, including the pit area" (K.C. STAR, 6/6). USA TODAY's Nate Ryan notes Childress "watched the STP 400 from the top of his No. 33 team's hauler." Helton said that "ejecting Childress from the speedway was considered." But he added, "We decided to let Richard stay because there needs to be leadership of an organization represented" (USA TODAY, 6/6). Gibbs said, "NASCAR is handling this the correct way, and we're going to let them take charge, which they have" (SCENEDAILY.com, 6/5). However, SCENEDAILY.com's Kenny Bruce wrote the decision to allow Childress to remain at Kansas Speedway for yesterday's race "smacks of favoritism" (SCENEDAILY.com, 6/5).
HEARING IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE: In Charlotte, Jim Utter cited a source as saying that Childress "initiated the incident." The source added that Childress "took off his jewelry before approaching Busch in the garage area and struck him with his fist." Busch and Childress "were separated, traded insults and then Childress grabbed Busch in a headlock and struck him again before the incident was broken up" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 6/4). The altercation happened "about 30 minutes after the conclusion of the race" (SCENEDAILY.com, 6/4). Speed reporter Ray Dunlap said that Childress "went to Busch's garage with the intention of talking to him." But Dunlap added, "What my friends who were there told me, said Kyle lipped off to him, and said, 'Don't worry about it old man,' or something like that, and that really fired him up" (K.C. STAR, 6/5). ESPN’s Nicole Briscoe reported when Busch and Childress met with NASCAR officials Sunday, Busch was not wearing sunglasses. Briscoe: "Perhaps a statement as to how hard or how hard he was not hit by Richard Childress” ("NASCAR Now," ESPN2, 6/5).
FINALLY HAD ENOUGH: ESPN’s Marty Smith reported the animosity between Busch and Childress “goes far back.” Smith: “I talked with people inside (Childress’) organization and ... there was a time when they were wrecking cars unnecessarily, and Childress said to Busch, ‘If this continues to happen I'm going to take care of it myself. I’m going to take care of it myself.’ It seems on Saturday, he lived up to his word” ("NASCAR Now," ESPN2, 6/5). Fox' Jeff Hammond noted, "Don’t forget Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch going at it at the end of that race (last month). Richard Childress sent word and let Kyle Busch know, ‘You touch another piece of my equipment, I’m going to come and I’m going to whip you.’ Yesterday, it was a matter of principle. Kyle hit that #22 truck, and Richard said enough’s enough, and he went down there and he settled it” ("STP 400," Fox, 6/5). In Orlando, George Diaz wrote Childress, "one of the most respected men in the business," did what "any man of honor would do in this situation: He let his drivers know he had their back and wasn't going to take any more of this nonsense" (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 6/5).
INTO THE PENALTY BOX: Fox' Darrell Waltrip said he believes the penalty against Childress will be "pretty serious." Waltrip: "These drivers can get into it on the racetrack, we’ve seen that. They fined the guys for getting in trouble on pit row during Darlington a couple of weeks ago. I think when an owner steps over the line -- I think they might make an example out of him” ("STP 400," Fox, 6/5).