National Sports Briefs

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 5, 2008

Associated Press
PARIS ó There have been times this year when Roger Federer’s cloak of infallibility slid from his shoulders, when his absolute dominance against anyone but Rafael Nadal and at any tournament but the French Open wasn’t quite so absolute.
Federer arrived at Roland Garros with one title, his lowest count since 2001. He arrived with seven losses, more than his total for any of the previous three entire seasons.
And so it was Wednesday that for the first set of his French Open quarterfinal against 24th-seeded Fernando Gonzalez, Federer looked, well, human. His serve was broken three times. He shanked shots. He was, by his own admission, “a little bit rattled.”
Still, as he’s done so many times, Federer adjusted and regrouped, beating Gonzalez 2-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 to extend his own record by reaching a 16th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal. Federer moved two wins away from completing a career Slam and earning his 13th major championship, which would leave him one shy of Pete Sampras’ mark.
“At one stage, I was a bit afraid,” the No. 1-ranked Federer said, “because the match was not going the way I wanted.”
On Friday, Federer faces 59th-ranked Gael Monfils, a 21-year-old Frenchman who is the lowest-ranked semifinalist in Paris since 1999. It’s Monfils’ first Grand Slam semifinal.
PHOENIX ó The search for a replacement for Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni apparently is down to four candidates.
The last of the group, San Antonio Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer, was interviewed Tuesday, one day after Detroit Pistons assistant Terry Porter had his second interview for the job. Two other assistant coaches, Elston Turner of Houston and Tyrone Corbin of Utah, also have had second interviews.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. ó West Virginia’s road game Sept. 6 at East Carolina will kick off at 4:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN.
WVU announced the time Wednesday.
The Mountaineers have beaten ECU seven straight years, including a 48-7 win in Morgantown last September.
– COLUMBIA, S.C. ó South Carolina football will start out with three nationally televised games this season.
The school said its two Thursday night contests with North Carolina State on Aug. 28 and Vanderbilt on Sept. 4 will be shown by ESPN. Its game with Georgia on Sept. 13 will be shown by CBS.
The game with the Wolfpack at Williams-Brice Stadium will start at 8 p.m.
GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas ó Elaine Fulps is thrilled about the prize she won at a minor league baseball game. But she’s hoping she doesn’t have to collect on it anytime soon.
Fulps, 60, won a $10,000 paid funeral at Tuesday night’s Grand Prairie AirHogs game.
The prize won’t expire until after Fulps does, said Ron Alexander, the sales manager at Oak Grove Memorial Gardens, which partnered with the team and Irving’s Chapel of Roses Funeral Home to sponsor the event.
“I almost croaked many times,” said Fulps, who was wearing a neck brace ó the most recent effect of about 20 surgeries she’s undergone for various medical problems. “God still has me around for a reason. To win a funeral.”
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. ó The heat on the Tampa Bay Rays is self-imposed.
They have the No. 1 pick in the baseball draft, and as a rising club that expects to keep getting better, there’s an added sense of urgency to make the right call today at Disney World.
There’s no consensus best player this summer, so the Rays are considering five prospects for the top spot:
– Tim Beckham, a high school shortstop from Griffin, Ga., who’s viewed as one of the best pure athletes in the draft.
– Buster Posey, one of the nation’s top defensive catchers at Florida State.
– Brian Matusz, a big college lefty who led the country in strikeouts at San Diego.
– Pedro Alvarez, superb hitting third baseman from Vanderbilt.
– Kyle Skipworth, of Rubidoux, Calif., the top-rated high school catcher and possibly the best prep prospect at the position since Joe Mauer was the No. 1 pick seven years ago.