Latest battle between Djokovic, Nadal won by...

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Latest battle between Djokovic, Nadal won by...

From Comcast SportsNetMONACO (AP) -- Rafael Nadal finally managed to beat Novak Djokovic in a final, thrashing the top-ranked Serb 6-3, 6-1 on Sunday to win the Monte Carlo Masters for the eighth consecutive year and end a run of seven straight defeats to his rival in title matches.Nadal was hardly troubled by Djokovic in this one and broke the Serb's serve five times in a one-sided affair on clay to win his 42nd straight match at Monte Carlo. It was his first title since last year's French Open and the 47th of his career."I always loved this tournament since I was a kid. One of my dreams was play here," Nadal said. "It's a historic tournament (where) you see all your idols when you are a kid playing here."The 25-year-old Nadal thrust his hands in the air after clinching victory in style with an ace that flew past the beleaguered Djokovic, who beat Nadal in an epic Australian Open final this year."If you see the finals I win here, all the finals are against probably top-six players," Nadal said. "That's something that makes the victories even more difficult."Nadal now leads their head-to-head series 17-14, but it was his first win against Djokovic since an early match at the 2010 ATP Finals in London. The Serb had beaten Nadal in three consecutive Grand Slam finals and handed him his only defeats on clay last year."Winning against Novak in (the) final after losing a few ones is important for me," Nadal said. "My level of tennis was high during the last four matches."Nadal was also relieved to come through the tournament without further aggravating his troublesome left knee, having rested it and had treatment for three weeks before coming to Monte Carlo."I am very happy because my knee is not limiting (my) movement. I can run 100 percent," Nadal said. "You have pain, but (if) you feel you can run to every ball, (then) the pain never is a problem."Nadal has won a record 20 Masters titles, putting him one ahead of 16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer.Djokovic, who has been playing through grief since the death of his grandfather Thursday, said he felt emotionally drained and was unable to summon the mental strength he needed to dig deep against Nadal."I definitely don't want to take away anything from Rafa's win. He was a better player," Djokovic said. "But it's a fact that I just didn't have any emotional energy left in me."Djokovic's grandfather was buried back home in Serbia on Saturday."I've never been caught up in this kind of emotional situation before," Djokovic said. "I'm just happy to reach the finals really under the circumstances. It's been a very difficult week for me to go through mentally."He has not decided what his schedule will be over the next few days."I obviously have to go to visit my grandfather's grave and see, because I wasn't there (at the) funeral yesterday," he said. "So I'll be there."Nadal had promised to be aggressive and, after Djokovic held in his opening service game at love, the Spaniard was relentless in running the Serb all over the court."Fantastic, impressive. The way he's been treating this sport is a real example of a champion," Djokovic said of Nadal's eight straight wins at Monte Carlo. "I only have nice things to say about him. Every year he comes back and he looks like he's the first time in this place."Djokovic struggled to find a rhythm, making 25 unforced errors to just 11 winners. Nadal, meanwhile, timed most of his shots to perfection and pushed Djokovic further and further back."I think today he played just enough to win," Djokovic said. "I just wasn't there. You know, I didn't play well, play at all, you know. I just was out there trying to put the ball in the court."The breezy conditions seemed to bother Djokovic more than they did Nadal, although the swirling winds were not as intense as Saturday.Nadal, the 10-time Grand Slam champion, found his range quickly and broke Djokovic in the third game when the Serb's backhand sailed wide.In the second set, Nadal went up 3-0 after breaking Djokovic's serve then holding at love.That was soon 4-0 as Nadal won a long rally on break point. Djokovic looked to have won it with a big forehand, but Nadal somehow managed to lob Djokovic while fully stretched out. The ball landed right at the top of the court, surprising Djokovic, whose hurried return set up nicely for Nadal to whack another brutal forehand winner.Although Djokovic broke right back, any thought of a comeback was snuffed out by Nadal when he broke Djokovic at love.

Cubs not worrying about a thing after split with Marlins: 'We're right there'

Cubs not worrying about a thing after split with Marlins: 'We're right there'

MIAMI – Jon Jay walked into a quiet clubhouse late Sunday morning, turned right and headed directly toward the sound system in one corner of the room, plugging his phone into the sound system and playing Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”

The Cubs outfielder whistled as he changed into his work clothes at Marlins Park, singing along to the lyrics with Anthony Rizzo a few lockers over: “Don’t worry, about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be all right.” 

That’s what the Cubs keep telling themselves, because most of them have World Series rings and the National League Central is such a bad division.

“The biggest thing is to keep the floaties on until we get this thing right,” manager Joe Maddon said before a 4-2 loss left the Cubs treading water again at 38-37. “We’re solvent. We’re right there. We’re right next to first place.”

The Cubs will leave this tropical environment and jump into the deep end on Monday night for the start of a four-game showdown against the Washington Nationals in the nation’s capital.

Miami sunk the Cubs in the first inning when Addison Russell made a costly error on the routine groundball Miami leadoff guy Ichiro Suzuki chopped to shortstop, a mistake that helped create three unearned runs. Martin Prado drilled Mike Montgomery’s first-pitch fastball off the left-center field wall for a two-out double and a 3-0 lead. Montgomery (1-4, 2.03 ERA) lasted six innings and retired the last 10 batters he faced.

“Keep The Floaties On” sounds like an idea for Maddon’s next T-shirt. The 2017 Cubs haven’t been more than four games over .500 or two games under .500 at any point this season. The 2016 Cubs didn’t lose their 37th game until July 19 and spent 180 days in first place.

“That’s what was so special about it,” Rizzo said. “We boat-raced from Game 1 to Game 7 with a couple bumps in the road, but this is baseball. It’s not going to be all smooth-sailing every day. You got to work through things.”

As MLB addresses long game times, why Mark Buehrle’s zippy pace is worth highlighting

As MLB addresses long game times, why Mark Buehrle’s zippy pace is worth highlighting

Sometime in the future, near or far, Major League Baseball will probably begin using a pitch clock to penalize sluggish hitters and pitchers.

The sport without a clock will, someday, have a clock. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian offered that as one of his predictions for what baseball could look like 20 years from now, which would be one of Rob Manfred’s signature reforms as commissioner. 

This kind of change wouldn’t be necessary, though, if more pitchers were like Mark Buehrle. 

“Buehrle was hyper,” pitching coach Don Cooper said. “He wanted to go, go, go.”

No pitcher since 2007 — when Pitch F/X began calculating “pace” — worked faster than Buehrle, who averaged 16.7 seconds between pitches. Only 56 qualified pitchers since 2007 can be considered to work “fast,” i.e. with an average time between pitches of 20 seconds or fewer (it’s a list that includes fellow former White Sox left-handers John Danks and Chris Sale). And that’s only 12 percent of the 473 qualified pitchers in the last decade.

Buehrle’s 99-minute complete game against the Seattle Mariners in 2005 still is the only nine-inning contest to be completed in fewer than 100 minutes since 1984. There was that memorable 1:53 duel with Mark Mulder and the Oakland A’s in 2003, and both Buehrle’s perfect game and no hitter lasted 2:03. 

Of course, Buehrle didn’t just work quick, he pitched well while zipping through innings. Buehrle finished his career with a 3.81 ERA, made four All-Star teams and threw at least 200 innings every year from 2001-2014. He had a .572 career winning percentage, too, so Cooper knew about Buehrle would give the White Sox a chance to win in about six out of every 10 starts.

“But you also know it’s going to be about two hours and 10 minutes, too,” Cooper added. 

A given game’s length isn’t all about the pace of the pitcher, of course. Batters can slow things down by stepping out of the box and calling for time, and games can feel like a slog with replay delays and mid-inning pitching changes. 

Still, how quickly a pitcher works usually dictates the pace of a game and how long it takes to be completed. Cooper wondered why hitters didn’t step out more against Buehrle to disrupt his rhythm, but perhaps the answer is that everyone on the field gets caught up in the quick pace set by the pitcher. 

“Everybody tells me they were so happy when I pitched for a quick game, but every time I was on the bench in between my starts, it was a 3, 3 1/2 hour game and it wasn't very much fun,” Buehrle said. “I think some of these games do get too long. Pitchers take their time, hitters get out of the box. I don't get all that but that's just the way I worked. I just grabbed the ball and went.”

Maybe adding a pitch clock with penalties affecting the count will force pitchers and hitters to find a quicker rhythm. That was one of the hallmarks of Buehrle’s career, and those snappy starts are one of the reasons why No. 56 was such a popular player on 35th and Shields. 

Former manager Ozzie Guillen, in summing up Buehrle's mentality, also offered some free advice for fixing baseball's pace-of-play problem: “Just throw the ball, get people out and have fun.”