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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Federer falls to Simon; Nadal reaches third round

TORONTO -- Top-ranked Roger Federer was knocked out of the Rogers Cup with a 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 loss to France's Gilles Simon in a second-round match Wednesday night.

Federer, who won the tournament in 2004 and '06, was playing his first match since losing the Wimbeldon final in five sets to Spain's Rafael Nadal.

Roger Federer

AP Photo/Frank Gunn

Roger Federer won the Rogers Cup in 2004 and '06 and reached the final last year.

"That's just unbelievable for me to win against him," Simon said.

Federer, who became the first top seed to lose in his first match here since Lleyton Hewitt in 2002, finished second here last year to Serbia's Novak Djokovic.

"The problem was my game today," Federer said.

It was the biggest surprise of a soggy day at the tournament that saw play disrupted for nearly six hours by thundershowers.

Second-seeded Rafael Nadal looks like the favorite now, though he didn't look stellar in his first match Wednesday, struggling early on before ousting Ottawa-born qualifer Jesse Levine 6-4, 6-2.

There were several other notable upsets on the day. Croatian Marin Cilic ousted 12th-seeded Spaniard Tommy Robredo 6-3, 6-4; Sweden's Robin Soderling defeated 13th seed Fernando Verdasco of Spain 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-4; Argentina's Jose Acasuso beat 14th-seeded Fernando Gonzalez of Chile 6-3, 3-6, 6-3; and Russian Igor Andreev got past 16th-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

Of course, nothing compares to eliminating Federer.

"For sure, this is my best victory," said Simon, ranked 22nd in the world. "I don't think that you win so many times against the No. 1 in the world. It happens maybe in the career of a player maybe two, three times if you are lucky."

Tennis scores

Need the scores from any match played in this or any other tournament? Results

The match started off smoothly for Federer until Simon broke his serve to go up 4-2 in the second set. Federer returned the favor and held serve to draw to 4-4 and then 5-5, but Simon held serve in the 11th game and broke Federer in the 12th to take the set.

"As the match went on I struggled a little bit to put the forehands away," Federer said. "He's a good baseliner. We saw that today. He moves well. He's deceiving because he's kind of thin and tall but moves really well for his height, you know. He flicks a lot of balls with his backhand as well, so when you come in you can't see where he plays."

Suddenly, Federer's side of the bracket looks wide open.

Fourth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko is the highest seed remaining there. He defeated Germany's Tommy Haas 6-3, 7-6 (6) on Wednesday. Seventh-seeded James Blake was also a winner, beating Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman 1-6, 6-1, 6-2.

On the other side, there's defending champion Djokovic, as well as fifth-seeded Spaniard David Ferrer, eighth-seeded Andy Murray of Britain, and ninth-seded Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka -- who won their matches Wednesday -- and of course, Nadal.

The Spaniard seemed to have the support of the fans at the beginning of his match against Levine. One fan waved a Spanish flag with "Vamos Rafa" scrawled across it.

Some support swayed over to Levine's side as the plucky 20-year-old took an early lead and played Nadal tough.

"I think they really got behind me a lot of times, and that was helpful," said Levine, who moved to Florida when he was 13 and represents the U.S. in international play. "There was a lot of Rafa supporters out there. I was trying to hold my own and hoping to get some support behind me, and I felt like there was."

Levine said he was rolling until he stopped to think about whom he was playing, and where.

"I think I was in that zone, not sure really where I was, and then I kind of came to my senses and realized that I'm playing Nadal on center court," he said. "Obviously, nerves got a little bit of me there."

Levine took advantage of an uncharacteristically sluggish Nadal early. He broke the Wimbledon champion in the fourth game before taking a 4-1 lead in the first set. But then he failed to capitalize on a break-point chance in the next game. Up 4-3, he missed another break point, and Nadal took over from there.

"Once he got that break back I think that he really got settled into the match," Levine said. "I came out kind of flying, and that's what I wanted to do, but I didn't want to let him back in like I did, obviously."

Still, Nadal was impressed by Levine, who's ranked No. 123 in the world, though he did admit to having never seen him play before their match.

"He's young, so he can be a very good player," Nadal said. "Today wasn't my best match obviously, but I didn't feel very bad after the beginning. If I don't play better, I'm going to have a lot of problems."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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Iraqi Teams Banned From Olympics

BAGHDAD — Just two weeks before the start of the Olympics, Iraq was told Thursday it's not welcome in Beijing because of a political feud in Baghdad that angered the games' guardians and exiled a country that arrived to a roaring ovation at the opening ceremony four years ago.

The International Olympic Committee told Iraqi sports officials in a letter that it would uphold its ban imposed in June after the government in Baghdad replaced its national Olympic panel with members not recognized by the IOC.

The IOC had called the move unacceptable government interference.

In Iraq, it also smacked of the lingering sectarian bitterness between the new Shiite power brokers and the Sunnis who were once favored under Saddam Hussein _ whose son, Odai, ran the nation's Olympic committee as a personal fiefdom and was accused of torturing athletes who came up short.

"Clearly we'd very much like to have seen Iraq's athletes in Beijing," said IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies. "We are very disappointed that the athletes have been so ill-served by their own government's actions."

But Davies suggested there was still a possibility for last-ditch talks to salvage Iraq's place before the games open Aug. 8.

"If there can be some movement and if a resolution can be found, that's still an open door," she told CNN. When asked if there's a window of about a week, she said "Correct."

At the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, the crowd at the opening ceremony rose to its feet as the small Iraqi team entered the stadium for the first Olympics since the fall of Saddam. The team was led by Najah Ali, a 106-pound boxer who carried the red-white-and-green flag. Later, the pint-sized underdog pumped his fists after winning a bout in an early round and shouted from the ring that his victory was "a symbol of freedom."

Iraq's soccer team also became one of the feel-good stories of Athens when it made a surprising run to the semifinals _ only to be defeated by Italy 1-0 in the bronze-medal game.

This year, at least seven Iraqi athletes were expected to compete in Beijing in sports including weightlifting, rowing and archery. Their spots were given to other nations by the IOC.

Iraqi sports officials reacted with disbelief and outrage as they watched the efforts for Beijing vanish. Iraq has only one medal _ a bronze in weightlifting in 1960 _ since its first appearance at the Summer Olympics in 1948.

"Unjust," said Fawzi Akram, a member of the sports committee in parliament. "Iraq is passing through an exception period and should be given special consideration."

The official who received the IOC's letter _ Jassim Mohammed Jaafar, the minister of sport and youth _ grumbled: "We reject this unfair decision."

But it's been coming to a head for months.

In May, Iraq's government dissolved the 11-member National Olympic Committee. Among the claims was that it was illegitimate because it lacked enough members for a legal quorum _ even though four members of the committee, including its chief, were kidnapped two years ago and their fates remain unknown.

There's also possible echoes of Iraq's sectarian rifts. The Youth and Sports Ministry is dominated by Shiites who also control the government. Iraq's Olympic Committee had included several holdovers from the Saddam era.

The IOC banned Iraq in June, but said it was open for talks. Iraq, too, promised to meet the IOC and present "solid evidence" of corruption, unfair elections and other alleged failings by the committee.

But on Thursday, the IOC said the deadline to open negotiations had run out _ just as athletes begin their final preparations for Beijing.

"We are deeply sorry for this result," said the IOC letter.

Iraq is not the first country to miss an Olympics because of government interference.

In the most recent case, Afghanistan was prevented from sending a team to the Sydney Games in 2000 when the Taliban regime's heavy hand extended to sports.

The U.S. Olympic Committee also had a stake in the Iraq team, signing an agreement in 2006 to help with training for Beijing.

White House press secretary Dana Perino expressed disappointment.

"I'm sure that the Iraqi athletes who have trained so hard and were finally going to represent a country that is free and sovereign and working to establish its democracy, they have to be terribly disappointed, and I'm disappointed for the athletes as well," she said.

While many Iraqi officials rallied behind the government, the mood among fans was sour.

"The (IOC) decision will be a catastrophe for Iraqi sports," said Dia Hussein, coach of the Iraq Police Soccer team, which plays in the national league. "I blame the Iraqi government for bringing this on the country."

Yaroub Kadim, a 22-year-old university student, described sports as "one of the only real lifelines connecting everyone in the country."

There's a cruel irony in the suspicions that sectarian power plays may have sunk Iraq's Olympic hopes. Sports has become one of the few genuine sources of national unity since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

In July 2007, Iraqis erupted with joy when their national team _ the Lions of the Two Rivers _ won the Asia Cup. Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds poured into streets lined with blast walls to celebrate, shoot guns in the air and bask in a common Iraqi pride.

The soccer team was also hit by a ban by the sport's governing body, but was lifted in time for Iraq to compete in the World Cup qualifying tournament. Sports figures also have joined the long rolls of civilians killed in the war.

The Olympic cycling coach, national wrestling coach, a soccer federation member and a prominent volleyball player have been killed, most in 2006 during the height of sectarian slayings.

(This version CORRECTS SUBS 10th graf to correct number of athletes to at least seven sted five. )

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Digital revolution could be Olympics' salvation

Digital revolution could be Olympics' salvation

Digital revolution could be Olympics' salvation A man takes a photograph before the start of the flag raising ceremony at dawn in Beijing's Tiananmen Square June 4, 2008. REUTERS/David Gray

By Robert Woodward

LONDON (Reuters) - For the Olympic movement, the digital revolution is armed with a double-edged sword -- it has lured the younger generation away from sport but could open up the Olympic experience to a far wider audience.

"It (digital media) will have a transforming impact on the Olympics at multiple levels," says Shoba Purushothaman, CEO of Web-based video marketing platform The NewsMarket.

"It will change story-telling for the Games by making it more human and personal."

A Summer Games was one of the sporting and television highlights of the year for today's parents and grandparents.

In the 21st century, young people have a huge variety of sport, music and entertainment media to flick through, both on television and the internet, and the Olympics has no special aura for many of them.

"The Olympic Games are not that credible or relevant to most young people in the developed or developing world," says Alex Balfour, head of new media at the London 2012 organizing committee.

The average age of viewers for the 2004 Games in Athens was over 40 and shows no signs of falling.

"I will maybe watch highlight shows on TV later in the evening but I can never see myself watching it live," said Richard Cousins, a 19-year-old British student.

If the Games lose their cachet in years to come, billions of dollars from sponsorship and broadcasting rights that support the Olympic movement could melt away.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has recognized the warning signs and took steps to attract a younger audience by introducing sports like snowboarding to the Winter Olympics, and BMX cycling which makes its debut in Beijing in August.

In February, the IOC went further by choosing Singapore to host the first summer Youth Olympics in 2010, a "key moment" in the words of IOC President Jacques Rogge.

"They (the Youth Olympics) will also be the platform through which youngsters will learn about Olympic values and the benefits of sport, and share their experiences with other communities around the globe," Rogge said.

Platforms and access to communities in the digital world could be just as important in deciding if the Olympics retain their high profile, experts said ahead of a Summer Games in Beijing which is being billed as the first digital Olympics.

"The Olympic Games will be played out on Facebook, YouTube and Flickr whether we like it or not. We need to engage not disengage with them," Balfour told a conference on sports and technology in London. Flickr is a photo-sharing Web site owned by Yahoo.

CONTROLLED BLOGGING

U.S. internet users viewed more than 12 billion online videos during May, according to digital research firm Comscore, a 45 percent increase over the year before. About one-third of those were on YouTube, owned by Google.

But fans expecting to visit the site to catch up on the day's action in Beijing next month are likely to be disappointed because the IOC is having problems adjusting to the share-it-all ethos of the internet.

In company with other major sports federations, the IOC keeps a very tight rein on its showpiece occasions and views video postings on sites like YouTube as a threat to its rights holders, who can broadcast on television and a number of digital platforms.

The IOC uses video-fingerprinting technology and Web-crawling (monitoring) techniques to prevent unauthorized content being uploaded and track illegal content on Web sites.

However, it has acknowledged the young's infatuation with social networking sites and the increasing power of citizen journalism.

In February, the IOC said it would allow blogging by athletes for the first time at August's Games. In 2010, the 3,500 competitors at the inaugural Youth Olympics will be urged to have their own blog.

"Technology is the key enabler for the Olympic Games," said Alexander Vronski, technology vice president for the Sochi Winter Games of 2014. "New media can engage nations."

MINORITY SPORTS

Technological advances mean minority sports will get a greater share of the spotlight via streaming video on Web sites and digital television.

In the United States, NBC will offer 3,600 hours of coverage of the August 8-24 Games, triple its offering from the Athens Games, and about a third of this will be streamed over the internet.

3G mobile phone technology could also have a huge impact on the Olympics, allowing athletes and visitors in the Chinese capital to communicate their experiences to those back home.

"People taking photos and video with their cell phones will change the way we watch the Games," says The NewsMarket's Purushothaman.

"For the first time, digital technology will liberate how we all, sitting outside, see the Games." But the IOC will not allow spectators to publish on the internet photos and video taken inside Olympic venues.

"As the iPhone capabilities are growing by the day I can probably see myself using my iPhone to view Olympic clips on the go, maybe on my way to work or when out with my friends," said Richard Woods, 20, a public relations executive.

The long-term goal of the IOC in embracing modern technology is to try to get young people away from their video consoles and out into the fresh air to play sport and stay healthy.

One reason London was chosen to stage the 2012 Games was its pledge to engage young people in the Olympic project and to encourage them to participate actively in sport.

Jon Tibbs, whose public relations company has several Olympic clients, says the "digital marketplace has the potential to re-engage hundreds of millions of people with sport" and, as an added benefit to the Olympic movement, re-energize the interest of consumer companies in sponsoring the Games.

Rogge believes that once youngsters have been persuaded to play sport, they will realize digital competition -- even the active interactivity of Nintendo's Wii console -- is no match for the cut and thrust of sporting competition.

"You will never achieve in a video game," Rogge told The Times newspaper in May. "It is not really success."

(Additional reporting by Mike Buonaiuto and Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Sara Ledwith)

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Army grad won't get shot with Lions after change in military policy

DETROIT (AP) -- Caleb Campbell will not get a chance to play for the Detroit Lions because of a change in military policy.

Campbell was a seventh-round draft pick for the Lions in April. At the time, Army policy would have allowed the West Point graduate to serve as a recruiter if he made the team.

But a subsequent Department of Defense policy has superseded the 2005 Army policy.

In a letter to Lions president Matt Millen dated Wednesday, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jonathan P. Liba wrote that Campbell has been ordered to give up professional football for "full-time traditional military duties."

Liba wrote that 2nd Lt. Campbell may ask to be released from his active duty obligations in May 2010.

Liba said Campbell was allowed to enter the draft "in good faith."

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Favre A Buccaneer By The End Of The Week?

That's the "hunch" LA Times' columnist Sam Farmer has about how this whole Favre situation will mercifully end. (Roger Goodell is also anxious to resolve this. Sorry Packers. ) Farmer went on Dan Patrick's radio show and, although he couldn't state it as fact, said that the way things have played out and based on Jon Gruden's unabashed man-love of the gunslinger, it's a likely scenario. Either that, Farmer said, or Favre will crawl back into his Mississippi mud pit and re-retire.

The speculation about Favre heading to Tampa moved aroundplenty this week, but it has all been disregarded. (Of course) But if Farmer is to be trusted — and there's no reason not to at this point — it appears if Favre is going anywhere, it's the Bucs. For now.

Guess the conversations Favre has had with Gruden were all made on a pay phone.

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Seven Free Agents Who Should Go To Europe

Europe isn’t the NBA’s ugly stepbrother anymore. No sir, it ditched the taped-up glasses, freshened its wardrobe, and discovered this thing called deodorant. Sure, Europe may never be as popular as the NBA, but some Leagues overseas are learning what it take$ to attract the world’s premiere athletes.

Given the changing economic circumstances, several American players may follow in Josh Childress’ footsteps…and pronto.

Here are seven free agents who should make Europe a big part of their summer plans…

David Harrison

It’s no lie David Harrison has the talent of an NBA starter. It’s also no lie Harrison takes playing in the world’s finest league a bit for granted.

Harrison could handle a culture shock, in fact he probably needs one. His game, too, could quickly adapt to the European style. Like other European bigs, he runs the floor well, plays the screen-and-roll to perfection, and is hella foul prone.

The things to do in Rome or Portugal blow Indianapolis out of the water. For a guy who’s curious about life outside of basketball, Europe is a great option. Not only will the opportunity to play in a completely new environment suit Harrison, his game might also thrive.

He’s an excellent candidate to make a long career overseas, especially with the value Europe places on talented 7-footers.

Kwame Brown

The turn of the century was an odd time for the NBA.

High schoolers were like Beanie Baby collectibles once were – for a year or two, nearly everyone was willing to spend ungodly amounts to get a hold of them.

Now the Beanies are worth less than their plastic display cases. So what can you do with something that doesn’t hold value?

Give it away to someone who can use it.

Believe it or not, Kwame Brown could be a great player in European leagues, and he certainly would regain some value playing overseas. He’d feel more comfortable without the American media always breathing down his back.

And, hey, if Kwame can get in shape and put up decent numbers, he could prove he’s worthy of a reserve spot in the League.

Robert Horry

You can bet Big Shot Bob isn’t flashing that million-dollar smile tonight.

The Spurs inked Kurt Thomas for the next two seasons, essentially telling Horry he needs to retire or find another place to play.

Horry’s got a big decision ahead of him: Does he retire at low point in his career or does he finish strong in another League? Being the winner that Horry is/was, he’s going to try to win his eighth championship next year…

His only option might be overseas.

Ricky Davis

Because Europeans love body hair, Ricky Davis would be a huge success on foreign hardwood if he chose to revive his famous muttonchops.

A decent second or third scorer in the states – Davis would likely be someone’s first option in Europe. Known for once attempting a shot on the wrong basket in order to add a rebound to his line, Davis’ aggressive style and versatility would benefit his European teammates who lack his athleticism. His swagger on and off the court has suffered in the shadow of Pat Riley; so a change of pace might be best for him.

Specifically, someplace he can run the show.

Jason Williams

When you’re replaced by a second round draft pick, you know it’s time to move on. Trouble is, not many teams would be willing to drop their mid-level exception on J-Will.

In other words, this point guard is between a rock and a hard place.

Let’s face it, when you think European point guard, you don’t think Jason Williams. Sure, he can do everything the your typical European point is capable of – shoot from long-range, hit the open man, gets injured way too often – but his flashy game isn’t your typical match.

While it’s not likely Williams will look overseas, it’s still a good option…if he wants to play significant minutes again.

Sam Cassell

Cassell’s wide smile and often-obnoxious court gestures (i.e. wiggling his fingers on the free throw line making reference to his championship rings) would drive the Euro fans crazy.

He’s a proven leader and floor general who plays well in the clutch.

Having been on eight different NBA teams, including the Bucks, Clippers and Nets, he’d adapt quickly to someplace like Russia, Iran or Lithuania. Being a 3-time champion doesn’t hurt his chances of touching major paper as the 38-year-old brings his career to a close “over-the-water.” Overall, he’s proven he can play well in multiple roles and in multiple locations. Don’t be surprised if you hear he signed with a team on Mars.

Shaun Livingston

Livingston single-handedly turned SportsCenter into Faces of Death one night in February of 2007. The Clippers might as well have renounced the point-guards rights the moment his “highly graphic” knee injury took place. Instead, they waited a year and let Livingston blog on the team website.

The 22-year-old Livingston’s rehab has slowed to a snail’s pace.

Signing in Europe would give him the opportunity to earn a lot of money and possibly play a much shorter schedule – so as to ease himself back into playing at a high level. Problem is, there aren’t many guaranteed contracts overseas like Childress’ and someone who is coming off an injury needs that job security.

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