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Happy Wednesday! I'll be straight up with you right off the jump here: Yesterday was not the most riveting day in terms of sports news, so that made my job a little tougher this morning. However, the newsletter train doesn't slow down even if the news cycle does, so we've still got plenty of stuff for you to take in with your breakfast this morning.

The Champions League knockout stage got underway yesterday so we'll go over some of the big takeaways here shortly. On top of that, we're going to touch on some key Australian Open storylines (including two huge upsets yesterday) and the start of spring training this week.

It's also a great day to have a mailbag attached at the bottom of the newsletter, so a huge thank you goes out to everyone who sent interesting questions for me to work with. If I didn't get to yours today, please hit me back again next week! Love you forever.

Come on then. Let's do it. 


📰 What you need to know

1. Rafael Nadal, Ashleigh Barty fall at Australian Open 🎾

The Australian Open featured two huge upsets on Wednesday. World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty fell to 25th seed Karolina Muchova in the quarterfinal round and, on the men's side, No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal lost in a stunner to No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Here's a brief breakdown of what went down in both matches:

  • Barty lost in three sets (6-1, 3-6, 2-6) and it ended her campaign to become the first Australian to win the tournament on home soil since 1978. Her 31 unforced errors between the final two sets did not help her case
  • Muchova used a medical timeout to have her head/neck examined after losing the first set and going down 2-1 in the second set. Following the short break, she won six of the next seven games to force a decisive third set
  • Nadal actually won the first two sets and seemingly was going to cruise to victory but he fell apart after dropping the tiebreaker in the third set. Tsitsipas never looked backed and took the fourth and fifth sets
  • It it just the second time Nadal has ever lost at a Grand Slam after winning the first two sets

Muchova will take on Jennifer Brady, who beat Jessica Pegula (daughter of Terry & Kim Pegula, owners of the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres) in the semis. Tsitsipas has to go through Daniil Medvedev on Friday if he wants to make his first career major final.

Barty's defeat specifically is huge news for Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, who will clash in the semifinals later tonight. It's the first time Serena and Osaka will meet since the 2018 US Open final -- the infamous match that saw Serena get into an ugly, lingering dispute with a court umpire. Serena, 39, is still seeking her 24th Grand Slam singles title, which would tie Margaret Court's all-time record.

Serena's last Grand Slam title came at the Australian Open in 2017 and she's lost all four Grand Slam finals she's made since then -- including the 2018 US Open.

2. Champions League knockout stage gets underway ⚽

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At long last, the Champions League knockout stage is underway. The Round of 16 kicked off yesterday and the first day of action may have been worth the wait depending on which team you root for. If you're a Barcelona fan? Not quite. Paris Saint Germain had their way with Barca in the first leg yesterday and now Lionel Messi & Co. are in a tough spot heading into next month's rematch. 

Our Rogers Gonzalez has the things you need to know from Tuesday's matches:

  • Kylian Mbappe and Marco Verratti were unstoppable: With Neymar sidelined, the Parisian side needed some of its other playmakers to come up big yesterday and that's exactly what happened. Mbappe was dominant in a three-goal showing and Verratti finished with a pass completion percentage of 90.5 in a 4-1 PSG win
  • Koeman is not the man for the job: Barcelona continues to struggle in cups and Ronald Koeman's time with the club might be numbered. He may have a 62.86% winning percentage, but Barca doesn't look like a contender to win anything and Koeman hasn't done much to prove that outlook might change. He hasn't won a major trophy in a top-five league in Europe since 2008
  • Liverpool got their swagger back: A nice 2-0 win over RB Leipzig on Tuesday might have been just what the doctor ordered for Liverpool. They weren't overly dominant, but they played clean and now might have some confidence behind them. They can absolutely still make a run if they consistently play their game 

Of course, the knockout stage is a two-leg series ... so the clubs that shined yesterday still have to bring it when they meet again in March. Conversely, a bad day yesterday doesn't necessarily mean death for Barca and Leipzig ... though it does make the road ahead a lot more bleak. 

And don't forget, there's more in store today. We've got Juventus-Porto and Borussia Dortmund-Sevilla meeting for first leg clashes this afternoon at 3 p.m. (it'll be the first time Cristiano Ronaldo returns to his native Portugal as a player for Juventus.) As always, you can stream those matches on CBS All Access.

3. Pitchers and catchers report today! ⚾

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We may still be a ways away from Opening Day, but some may say that baseball season officially begins today. That's because pitchers and catchers are due to report to spring training today to get ready for the full 162-game season that lies ahead (remember: MLB's proposal for a delayed 154-game season was rejected by players earlier this month.)

I'll be honest with you: Baseball season has completely snuck up on me. I've been so distracted and thrown for a loop by the wonky pandemic timeline that I've almost completely lost track of where we are in the calendar year. If you're in the same boat, it might be helpful to outline some key MLB dates in order to get our bearings.

  • February 17 (that's today!): General reporting date -- Each club sets its own reporting dates, but most clubs will open camp today, with pitchers and catchers first to arrive
  • February 26: Mandatory reporting date -- The CBA requires players to report to spring training at least 33 days prior to Opening Day, so this is the latest players can arrive to camp
  • February 27: Exhibition games begin -- The Cactus League (Arizona) and Grapefruit League (Florida) exhibition seasons are slated to begin the day after the mandatory reporting date. Due to the pandemic, the Grapefruit League will reportedly separate teams into "pods" on the east and west coasts of Florida
  • Opening Day: April 1 -- Play ball

For those keeping track at home, we've got about six weeks of spring training ahead of us until the games start to count for real. It's pretty tough to imagine the sweet smell of hot dogs and Cracker Jacks when half of the country is stuck in frigid temperatures with ice and snow all over the ground, but Opening Day isn't too far away. After that, summer is right around the corner.

4. Next MLB offseason's top free agents ⚾

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Now that spring training is here, that means the MLB offseason is basically over. It got off to a very quiet start but, ultimately, things got pretty spicy. 

So, is it too early to look ahead to next offseason already? Probably. Is that going to stop us from doing it anyway? Absolutely not. 

Our R.J. Anderson is keeping the offseason content alive by looking ahead to the names that might headline next year's MLB free agent class. Here are the top guys you should keep in the back of your mind:

  1. Trevor Story, SS, Rockies
  2. Javier Baez, SS, Cubs
  3. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
  4. Carlos Correa, SS, Astros
  5. Michael Conforto, OF, Mets
  6. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Mets
  7. Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs
  8. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs
  9. Travis d'Arnaud, C, Braves
  10. Jon Gray, RHP, Rockies

So, uh, good news for any teams that may be in the market for a quality shortstop next winter. Bad news (or at least semi-concerning news) for the Cubs, who will have some quality players needing new deals and an ownership group that hasn't seemed to want to break out the checkbook to field a quality product lately.  

Of course, it seems fair to assume that not ALL of these names will ultimately hit the market, but it never hurts to be prepared. 


📝 Odds & Ends

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📺 What to watch tonight

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🏒 Panthers vs. Hurricanes, 5 p.m. | CAR -160 | TV: NHL Network

🏀 Heat vs. Warriors, 10 p.m. | GSW +1 | TV: ESPN

🏒 Jets vs. Oilers, 10 p.m. | EDM -140| TV: NBCSN  

🏀 Jazz vs. Clippers, 10 p.m. | LAC +2 | TV: League Pass


🥇 The best thing I saw yesterday

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release of "Happy Gilmore," Adam Sandler posted a video of himself doing Gilmore's patented running drive in the tee box. (Spoiler alert: Happy can still smash it.) To make a great thing even better, the one and only Shooter McGavin responded with a video of his own.


Mailbag!

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Columbus Blue Jackets at Washington Capitals
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If you could have lunch/dinner with any active athlete, who would it be and where would you take them? - Annmichele

Being a massive hockey fan, I would probably say Alex Ovechkin. Not only is he one of the greatest to ever play the game, he's also genuinely a rock star. I'd imagine he would be excellent company and have some incredible stories to share from throughout his career. Plus, if you followed the Capitals' Stanley Cup celebration, you know that guy can be quite a good time when he's got a few drinks in him. As for where we'd go, I think the only answer is Mamma Lucia -- the restaurant that Ovie orders chicken parm from before every single home game. 

I read that there were a couple of endings written for the final episode of "Your Honor." Did you like the one that aired? Did you expect that's how it would end? And, with this kind of ending do you see a sequel for next season? - Michael

So, the thing about "Your Honor" is that I was completely captivated by it and I looked forward to it every single week, but I don't think it was all that good. It was captivating, but it also had so many cringeworthy and annoying moments that drove me crazy, and so many elements didn't make sense or were completely unnecessary. I didn't necessarily love the way the finale ended -- I feel like the show undercut the final twist by having so many farfetched twists leading up to that moment -- but I'm also not confident that any of the other endings would have been better. The writing was just kind of a mess altogether. I can't imagine a sequel from here, but who knows.

Did you get your PS5?  If so, favorite game? -Jeff  

I did! I don't have a favorite PS5 game because I haven't played any yet (my PS5 has basically been a "NHL 21" machine so far.) The next-gen release titles are SERIOUSLY lacking right now but I'm planning on getting "MLB The Show 21" when it comes out next month. Looking forward to that.

Of all the Avengers, who is the most likely to make a surprise appearance in "WandaVision?" -Phin

Totally guessing here, but I feel like Captain Marvel would probably make the most sense considering the Monica/Maria Rambeau connection. It wouldn't be completely shocking if Monica got a visit from Carol Danvers at some point during the series, would it? Then again, with how weird the series has been so far, we might be cruising toward a Doctor Strange appearance. Either way, I've been enjoying it so far, even if the first two episodes were pretty rough.

Being an old school hockey fan, do you think the NHL will ever return to the "Broad Street Bully" days?  Also, how do you feel about my Flyers carrying Lord Stanley around Center Ice in July? - Chris

With how much the game has transitioned to favoring speed and skill over grit and violence, it seems unlikely that we're going to see that style/brand of violent play come back anytime soon. We've seen a steady decline in fighting and the league has seemingly been trying to rid the game of dangerous, predatory hits for years. That being said, I still absolutely believe that grit, physicality and violence still have (and will continue to have) a lot of value on the ice -- especially during the postseason.