Top seeds Djokovic, Barty toppled in Cincinnati semifinals

Novak Djokovic of Serbia congratulates Russian Daniil Medvedev after their semifinal match on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 19 August 2019
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Top seeds Djokovic, Barty toppled in Cincinnati semifinals

  • Medvedev’s upset win sent him into a title showdown with another unexpected finalist

CINCINNATI: World No. 1 Novak Djokovic wilted under pressure from Daniil Medvedev Saturday, falling 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 to the ninth-seeded Russian in the Cincinnati Masters semifinals.

Medvedev’s upset win sent him into a title showdown with another unexpected finalist, 16th-seeded Belgian David Goffin, who defeated France’s Richard Gasquet 6-3, 6-4 to reach his first ATP Masters 1000 final.

A fuming Djokovic, who looked to have control of the contest in the early going, was caught out when Medvedev stepped things up in the second set.

“I don’t know how I turned it around, I was so tired after the first set and I thought I might not be able to keep up the intensity,” said Medvedev, who has competed in 15 hardcourt matches since July 30.

“But I had a momentum chance in the second set and the crowd gave me energy,” added the Russian, who will be playing his second Masters series final in eight days, after falling to Rafael Nadal in Montreal last Sunday.

“Novak had been destroying me on second serve, so I just went for it,” Medvedev said. “It’s a great feeling to win and beat the No. 1.”

Djokovic, the defending champion who was playing his first tournament since his Wimbledon triumph in July, need some time to cool down before pondering his loss.

“He deserves to be in the mix, certainly, with all his results,” Djokovic said. “He’s working his way to top 5. “He’s definitely one of the best players in the world at this moment.”

There was an upset in the women’s draw as well, as Russian veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated top-seeded Australian Ashleigh Barty 6-2, 6-4.

Kuznetsova, a two-time Grand Slam champion who has been hindered lately by injury, will be in search of her 19th WTA title — and her first in more than a year — when she takes on American Madison Keys in the final. Keys, the 2017 US Open runner-up, defeated compatriot Sofia Kenin 7-5, 6-4.

Kuznetsova denied Barty a chance to reclaim the world No. 1 ranking, which the Australian would have done by reaching the final.

Djokovic said there was little he could do in the face of Medvedev’s go-for-broke style.

“When I had my racquet on the ball I was returning also his serves, but you can’t really predict someone or prepare yourself for someone serving that big second serve consistently from 4-3 to the end of the match with making maybe two double faults out of God knows how many serves,” he said.

With the US Open starting on August 26, Djokovic said he took “mostly positives” from the week.

“Today I did lose a tennis match, but I didn’t do too much wrong,” he said. “So I’ll take that and I’ll move forward to New York and have a good practice week.

“I’m going to go to fight for a title as everyone else does — and I like my chances.”

Medvedev won 12 of the last 14 points in the second set to square the match against Djokovic, then ran up a 3-1 lead in the third on the way to victory on his first match point.

Instead the triumph by 34-year-old Kuznetsova leaves injured Naomi Osaka atop the rankings with the US Open looming.

Barty, who had rallied from a set down in each of her previous two matches, also said she was taking positives from the week to Flushing Meadows.

“This was a week that I battled through,” Barty said. “At times I played some good stuff. At times I played some pretty awful stuff.

“I’ve learned a lot from this week, and there are nothing but positives going into New York,” she said.

Keys booked her finals spot as she won an all-American match littered with 12 breaks of serve.

She earned match points with a flick volley winner angled steeply cross-court and amazed herself with the get. “I looked at my box in shock,” she admitted. “I’m really feeling great about my tennis.


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.”