Serena chases record 24th Slam as Osaka, Halep eye US Open

Serena Williams has not played since retiring from the WTA Toronto final with back spasms. (Reuters/File)
Updated 24 August 2019

Serena chases record 24th Slam as Osaka, Halep eye US Open

  • Williams has not played since retiring from the WTA Toronto final with back spasms

NEW YORK: Serena Williams has the US Open spotlight as she chases tennis history, but a host of Grand Slam winners and high-ranked rivals are also taking aim at the title.

The 37-year-old American will be the focus of attention when the Flushing Meadows fortnight begins Monday with her 1st-round night match against Russian Maria Sharapova, the most anticipated of the women’s openers.

“Of course I’m going to watch it,” said top-seeded defending champion Naomi Osaka, who beat Williams in last year’s US Open final. “I think everyone in New York is going to watch it.

“I’m not that surprised that that happened, because at every Grand Slam there’s always some sort of drama. Like a first round. Like, Oh my God. So this match just happens to be that for this tournament.”

Williams will try to capture her 24th Grand Slam singles title to match the all-time record set by Margaret Court. The 8th-seeded Williams, who could meet 2nd-seeded French Open champion Ashleigh Barty of Australia in the quarter-finals, has not won a Slam since the 2017 Australian Open when she was pregnant, losing the US Open final to Osaka last year amid controversy and the past two Wimbledon finals — including last month to Romania’s Simona Halep.

Barty, Osaka, Halep and Czech 3rd seed Karolina Pliskova, seeking her first Slam title, are among the foes trying to deny Williams yet again in a quest she insists doesn’t dominate her thoughts.

“I think it’s definitely meaningful, but at this point in my career, I just try to think of different things and even bigger goals — so it’s just like 24 is just a thing,” Williams said earlier this month.

“There are so much more important things in my life. And obviously tennis is super important to me ... but yeah there are always other things in life, I feel, that are really big on my plate too.”

Williams has not played since retiring from the WTA Toronto final with back spasms, handing Canada’s Bianca Andreescu the title.

“Definitely if she manages physically, then I think she can do really well here,” Andreescu said.

“She’ll do great, as she always does,” added 2017 US Open winner Sloane Stephens.

Osaka won last year’s final after Williams was given a game penalty by umpire Carlos Ramos, who US Open officials have decided will not work on any match with Serena or Venus Williams at this year’s US Open.

This time, Osaka has had a better run-up to the Open despite a 1st-round Wimbledon crash out.

“Last year, I lost three matches in a row before I came here, so I just wanted to get one match. Then it just kept building on from that,” she said.

“This year, I went to two quarter-finals back to back and I feel very confident about how I am right now.”

While it’s Osaka’s first time defending a Slam, she had her first taste of defending a title this year at Indian Wells.

“Going to Indian Wells and learning how defending champion pressure feels, I think it definitely helped me out going into this tournament,” Osaka said. “Because I just feel more loose and comfortable here.

“I’m not sure if it’s because the last couple of months have been kind of turbulent, but definitely I feel really comfortable and I know that, despite everything, I play well here every year. So I’m not too worried about that.” And she’s much better after pulling out in Cincinnati with a left knee injury.

“It’s getting better. I’ve been playing more, longer every day,” she said. “Luckily I’m a fast healer so I think it’s looking good.”


‘Loved and appreciated’ Bale starts as Spurs win, Celtic undone by Milan

Updated 23 October 2020

‘Loved and appreciated’ Bale starts as Spurs win, Celtic undone by Milan

PARIS: Gareth Bale said it felt good to be “loved and appreciated” after helping Tottenham to a 3-0 win over LASK of Austria in the Europa League on Thursday.
The Welsh international started his first match since his return from Real Madrid and played for an hour before Jose Mourinho gave him a break.
Bale had come on as a substitute last Sunday with Tottenham 3-0 up against West Ham before his team collapsed to give up a 3-3 draw.
“It is amazing to be back,” Bale told BT Sport on Thursday.
“It is a big reason why I play well and why I came back. You want to be loved and appreciated. I will give everything for this shirt.”
However, he admitted it will take time to find his feet.
“I am a bit stiff. It is like a mini pre-season for me and I am trying to get minutes into the legs,” he said.
Despite Bale starting, it was on-loan Carlos Vinicius who made an impressive debut in the Group J opener.
Vinicius started in place of the resting Harry Kane and he made goals in either half for Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min, while he would have also netted himself had Andres Andrade not scored an own goal.
Bale made that goal where Andrade put through his own net.
Leicester made the perfect start in Group G with a comfortable 3-0 win over Zorya Luhansk of Ukraine.
James Maddison, Harvey Barnes and Kelechi Iheanacho were on the scoresheet.
In Glasgow, Celtic struggled against Serie A leaders AC Milan who were 2-0 up at half-time thanks to goals from Rade Krunic and Brahim Diaz.
Mohamed Elyounoussi reduced the arrears after the break, but Jens Petter Hauge broke clear to secure Milan’s Group H 3-1 win in stoppage time.
Milan were so comfortable that they could afford to take off Zlatan Ibrahimovic just after the hour.
Earlier Thursday, Arsenal came from behind to down Rapid Vienna 2-1 and Rangers beat Standard Liege 2-0.
After a goalless first half Arsenal went behind when keeper Bernd Leno fluffed a clearance on a night he will want to forget.
Taxiarchis Fountas capitalized on Leno’s clanger, much to the joy of the 3,000 home fans allowed in to watch under coronavirus safety protocol, but the Gunners then turned the game around in four second half minutes.
David Luiz put them level with a deft glancing header off Nicolas Pepe’s free-kick, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang then tapping home to bag the three Group B points.
It was an eventful night for Mikel Arteta’s side.
Alongside eight yellow cards, there was an eye-catching display from Thomas Partey on his first start since his transfer deadline day move from Atletico Madrid.
A frustrated follower of the game from his London sofa was Mesut Ozil, who has been left out of both Arsenal’s Europa League and Premier League squad.
“When I can’t support on the pitch tonight, I will support in front of the TV in London.” tweeted Ozil.
The other Group B game was being played out in Dublin where Dundalk, only Ireland’s third ever representative in the group stage, were beaten 2-1 by Norwegians Molde.
In Belgium, Steven Gerrard’s Rangers took on Standard Liege fresh from their Old Firm derby win over Celtic which moved them four points clear in the Scottish Premiership last weekend.
James Tavernier scored from the spot after Noe Dussenne handled in the area to put them into a 19th minute lead.
Then three minutes into stoppage time Kemar Roofe produced a wonder goal from the halfway line, the ball flying over the head of bewildered keeper Arnaud Bodart.
Benfica had claimed the first goal of the night and they went on to beat Lech Poznan in Poland 4-2 in the other Group D game.
Elsewhere, Bayer Leverkusen ran riot 6-2 against French side Nice and Spanish side Granada, in their first ever European campaign, beat PSV Eindhoven 2-1.