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.


Saudi Professional League’s long-awaited return leaves Al-Ittihad in relegation trouble

Updated 04 August 2020

Saudi Professional League’s long-awaited return leaves Al-Ittihad in relegation trouble

  • All sporting activities in Saudi Arabia were indefinitely suspended on March 14 after the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic globally

DUBAI: After an absence of almost five months, Saudi Professional League (SPL) football returned with a priceless win for Al-Fateh over Al-Fayha, an alarming loss for giants Al-Ittihad at Abha and comfortable run-out for Al-Raed against Damac all having a significant impact on the relegation battle.

All sporting activities in the Saudi Arabia were indefinitely suspended on March 14 after the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic globally, but on June 12 the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) announced the SPL will resume on August 4 with the season set to be completed by September 9.

Sixteen minutes into the match that kicked off the league’s 23rd match day, Al-Fateh’s Moroccan midfielder Marwane Saadane converted a penalty for a lead the home team would hold until the break, despite the efforts of the Al-Fayha’s 34-year-old Chilean Carlos Villanueva in particular.

Three minutes into the second half, Al-Fayha thought they had equalized, but Admilson de Barros’s fine finish was overturned after VAR deemed an offside had taken place in the buildup.

There would be more disappointment for the team in 11th place. On the hour, a firm header from Abdulkareem Al-Qahtani looked to have squared the match, but after consulting VAR the referee once again chalked off the goal, the ball having struck the Al-Fayha player’s arm before crossing the line.

Al-Fateh’s Algerian midfielder Sofiane Bendebka settled the match on 75 minutes with a left-foot strike from Mohammed Fuhaid’s low cross. The goal moved Al-Fateh onto 22 points and renewed hope of beating the drop.

“Today the team was very focused,” match winner Bendebka said. “We needed to win as it was the first match after the break. It was difficult, but the three points will allow to compete in the coming weeks.”

“The remaining matches will be like a marathon, “ he added. “ We have eight matches in 35 days. With five allowed, that helps as well.”

Al-Fayha’s Portuguese coach Jorge Simão couldn’t hide his irritation at losing in such a manner.

“First, it’s good to be back, second I am very proud of my players,” Today the better team didn’t win, we did everything that we could to win this match. We fought, we created chances to score,

“Of course I don’t want to talk about the referee,” he added when asked about the two disallowed goals. “This is football, we start with a loss, but we have seven matches till the end, we will fight till the end.”

At Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Stadium, troubled visitors Al Ittihad took a 20th-minute lead against Abha Club through Brazilian star Romarinho, but were pegged back six minutes into the second half thanks to Mehdi Tahrat’s equaliser. With only five minutes left, Ammar Al Najjar scored to give Abha a win and leave Al-Ittihad, on 23 points, only a point above the relegation zone.

In the third match, taking place at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium, sixth placed Al-Raed recorded a comfortable 3-0 win over Damac, who remain second bottom on 16 points, six from safety and favorites for relegation.

“In the two late matches, Al-Faisaly beat Al-Taawoun 2-1, while Al-Ahli overcame Al Hazem 4-2. “ 

The 23 round  is set to be completed on Wednesday when second-placed Al-Nassr host leaders Al-Hilal — currently six points ahead — in a match that could go a long way to deciding the destination of the title, while Al-Wehda face Al-Shabab at home and Al-Ettifaq visit Al-Adalh.

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