Nadal dazzles as Sharapova hits all-time low at Australian Open

Spain’s Rafael Nadal makes a forehand return to Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien during their first round singles match on Tuesday. (AP)
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Updated 21 January 2020

Nadal dazzles as Sharapova hits all-time low at Australian Open

  • Nadal, the first player to be world No. 1 in three different decades, is still thriving at 33

MELBOURNE: Top seed Rafael Nadal turned on the style as he launched his bid for a record-equaling 20th Major title at the Australian Open on Tuesday, but falling star Maria Sharapova hit a career low.

Australia’s Nick Kyrgios also cantered into the second round, but fourth seed Daniil Medvedev had to fight his way past American Frances Tiafoe in four sets.

Nadal, one shy of Roger Federer’s Grand Slam mark, dropped only five games as he swatted aside Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 in just over two hours at a sunny Rod Laver Arena.

“It was a positive start,” said the reigning Roland Garros and US Open champion, wearing a bright pink singlet and matching trainers.

“What you want in the first round is just to win, and it’s better if it’s in straight sets.”

He joins Federer and defending champion Novak Djokovic in round two as the Big Three look to tighten a stranglehold that has brought them all but one of the last 14 Australian Open titles.

Nadal, the first player to be world No. 1 in three different decades, is still thriving at 33 but it’s a different story for five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova.

The 32-year-old, playing on a wildcard as she wrestles with a shoulder injury, lost 3-6, 4-6 to Croatian 19th seed Donna Vekic, making her an opening-round loser at three straight Grand Slams for the first time.

The future looks uncertain for the former world No. 1, who won Wimbledon when she was just 17 but has not reached a Grand Slam final since she lifted the 2014 French Open trophy.

“I can speak about my struggles and the things that I’ve gone through with my shoulder, but it’s not really in my character to,” Sharapova said.

“I was there, I put myself out there (playing). As tough as it was, I finished the match — it wasn’t the way that I wanted.”

Britain’s Johanna Konta, a two-time Slam semifinalist, also fell at the first hurdle as she battles to overcome a knee problem, losing 4-6, 2-6 to unseeded Tunisian Ons Jabeur. On a bumper day of 88 first-round matches, after rain wiped out half of Monday’s schedule, former US Open champion Marin Cilic and Milos Raonic both moved safely through.

Italy’s Fabio Fognini, two sets down against America’s Reilly Opelka when their match was suspended on Monday, returned to win it in five after a stormy encounter when both players argued furiously with the umpire.


Young stars light up PSL opener

Updated 21 February 2020

Young stars light up PSL opener

  • Over 10 years after cricket was exiled from Pakistan, Thursday marked its grandest return
  • United collapsed in slow-motion, losing their final eight wickets for just 73 runs and failing to play out their 20 overs

KARACHI: Defending champions Quetta Gladiators kicked off the fifth edition of the PSL in style as they cruised to a win over Islamabad United in the tournament opener on Thursday. Chasing 169 on a balmy Karachi night, the Gladiators reached their target with nine balls and three wickets to spare.
On a historic day when the PSL finally arrived for a full season in Pakistan, another unsavory aspect of Pakistani cricket history cropped up at the start. Former international batsman and Quetta Gladiators’ player Umer Akmal was suspended as the day began, with an investigation pending into alleged fixing. But despite that bombshell, Quetta sounded confident after they won the toss and chose to field.
The official start was delayed after a spectacular, if rather long, opening ceremony came to a circuitous end. But the cricket was off to a cracker, as Quetta took a wicket first ball with Mohammad Nawaz dismissing Colin Munro off his own bowling. Islamabad United however, the league’s most successful side with two trophies, took that loss in their stride. With Dawid Malan cracking big shots, the team from the capital threatened a massive score as they reached the halfway point at 95/2.
Enter Mohammad Hasnain. One of several irresistible young pacers that the league has thrown up over the years, the Karachi native was ferociously fast as he ripped out four wickets in a superb spell. The chalk to his cheese was Ben Cutting, the overseas bowler, who kept taking pace off the ball as he added three crucial wickets to his account. It meant that United collapsed in slow-motion, losing their final eight wickets for just 73 runs and failing to play out their 20 overs.
In reply, Islamabad United initially threatened to have their own young pacer, Musa Khan, take the game away. On a night where the pacers outbowled the spinners, Musa led the way as Quetta lost three quick wickets for next to nothing. But then, yet another youngster decided it was going to be his day.
Azam Khan, son of former captain and Quetta coach Moin Khan, had walked out to bat with jeers and shouts of “parchi,” a reference to his father being among those who selected the side. But the portly batter played, a spectacular innings, hitting sixes for fun. Batting first with his captain Sarfaraz Ahmed and then with Mohammad Nawaz in two crucial partnerships, Azam’s effortless innings meant the match quickly ended as a contest. A flurry of late wickets briefly threatened some drama, but it never came to be.
For Islamabad United, this won’t be a time to panic. The team are notoriously slow starters and have often begun the PSL with weak performances. However, the team’s strength had always been their bowling yet the lack of experience in today’s lineup would be a concern. Captain Shadab Khan would be counting on veteran overseas star Dale Steyn to make his impact count when he joins the side midway through the tournament.
Ultimately though, the occasion was about far more than cricket. Over 10 years after cricket was exiled from Pakistan, Thursday marked its grandest return. Regardless of the outcome, the very holding of this tournament is a huge win for the country.