Osaka, Halep advance; Barty downs Sharapova

Naomi Osaka of Japan returns a shot to Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus in the WTA and ATP Cincinnati Masters. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2019
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Osaka, Halep advance; Barty downs Sharapova

  • The Japanese star will next face a third-round match against Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-Wei

CINCINNATI: World No. 1 Naomi Osaka and Wimbledon champion Simona Halep battled to three-set triumphs Wednesday at the ATP and WTA Cincinnati Masters while top seed Ashleigh Barty ousted Maria Sharapova.

Reigning US and Australian Open champion Osaka needed more than two hours to outlast Aliaksandra Sasnovich 7-6 (7/3), 2-6, 6-2.

The Japanese star will next face a third-round match against Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-Wei, who defeated American Jennifer Brady 7-6 (11/9) 6-3.

Osaka finally scored a win here at the US Open warmup after losing in the first round a year ago.

“I was just trying to have fun,” Osaka said. “In the second set I was taking myself too seriously and was down on myself. “Now I just want to have fun and enjoy it. That’s what I’m supposed to do.”

Osaka advanced with eight aces, 24 winners and breaks on four of five chances against an opponent who was treated on her right knee several times.

Australia’s Barty, 23, won the battle of former No. 1 players in just over 90 minutes. The reigning Roland Garros champion beat five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova, who was Cincinnati champion in 2011, for the second time this season after a win at the Australian Open.

It was Barty’s 40th victory of 2019 and she goes on to face Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit, who beat Polish teenager Iga Swiatek 6-4, 7-6 (7/2).

Barty fired 18 winners, breaking Sharapova four times as the Russian made 31 unforced errors.

Fourth-seeded Halep took a late break in the penultimate game of the final set to beat Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 after two hours on court.

The Romanian has finished runner-up in Cincinnati three times, last reaching the final a year ago against Kiki Bertens.

In the next round, the 27-year-old, who retired injured from her Toronto quarterfinal against Czech qualifier Marie Bouzkova last week, will face American Madison Keys, a 6-4, 6-1 winner over Russia’s Daria Kasatkina.

“It was a very, very tough match,” Halep said. “She played well, hitting the ball very strong. “Mentally, it was tough to return for me at the start after playing injured last week.

“But I didn’t have pain, which is good. It took time to get a rhythm and then do something on court.”

World No. 3 Karolina Pliskova beat China’s Wang Yafan 6-1, 6-3, while seventh seed Elina Svitolina, a semifinalist four years ago, advanced past Belgian Elize Mertens 6-4, 6-1.

In the men’s draw, fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas saved three match points but still lost to Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (8/6).

Kei Nishikori went out to fellow Japanese Yoshihito Nishioka 7-6 (7/2), 6-4. Sixth seed Nishikori has still never advanced beyond the third round in Cincinnati.

Alexander Zverev, seeded seventh, remained winless in his Cincinnati career after losing 6-7 (4/7), 6-2, 6-4 to 19-year-old Serb Miomir Kecmanovic. The German struck an unbelievable 20 double-faults in defeat.

Ninth seed Daniil Medvedev, losing finalist to Rafael Nadal in Montreal last weekend, eased past Benoit Paire 7-6 (7/2), 6-1 and will next face Struff.

France’s Richard Gasquet, who ended Andy Murray’s comeback singles tournament in the first round, saw off Argentinian Federico Delbonis 7-5, 7-6 (7/1).

Australian Alex de Minaur defeated American Reilly Opelka 7-6 (7/3), 6-4 to set up a third-round tie with Nishioka.


Iran assures FIFA that women can attend football qualifier

Updated 22 September 2019
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Iran assures FIFA that women can attend football qualifier

  • FIFA traveled to Iran ahead of the weekend for talks on the matter of women and football
  • The Islamic republic has barred female spectators from football and other stadiums since 1981

MILAN: FIFA has been “assured” that Iran will lift its 40-year ban and allow women to attend a World Cup qualifying game next month.

Football’s governing body wants Iran to end its ban on women entering stadiums that breaches international football statutes prohibiting discrimination.

Global attention on the ban followed the death this month of a 29-year-old activist, Sahar Khodayari, who set herself on fire outside a courthouse. She had been detained for dressing as a man to enter a football stadium in Tehran and faced six months in prison.

“There is women’s football in Iran but we need Iranian women as well to be able to attend the men’s game,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in a speech at a conference on women’s football on Sunday. “And we need to push for that with respect but in a strong and forceful way. We cannot wait anymore.

“We have been assured, that as of the next international game of Iran, women will be allowed to enter football stadiums. This is something very important, it is 40 years that this has not happened, with a couple of exceptions, but it is important to move to the next level and to the next stage.”

FIFA sent an inspection team to Iran this week to meet government and football officials ahead of Iran’s match against Cambodia at the 78,000-capacity Azadi Stadium on Oct. 10 — its first home match of the 2022 qualifying competition.

Infantino’s comments drew praise from United States outgoing coach Jill Ellis, who was at the same FIFA conference in Milan, two months after leading the American women’s team to a second successive World Cup title.

“I think it’s huge,” Ellis said. “FIFA has enough of a pull and ability to influence change and I think it’s absolutely the right thing. I mean I don’t think there should be any discrimination period and to not allow women to go see football I think is, I just can’t even wrap my brain around it in terms of it being something. I think if FIFA can influence that, I think it’s great.”