Gauff ousts 2nd seed Sabalenka in Lexington

Coco Gauff during her match against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus at the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Kentucky on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Updated 13 August 2020

Gauff ousts 2nd seed Sabalenka in Lexington

  • Sabalenka won her third career Premier 5 title in Qatar before the WTA Tour was suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Venus Williams earlier beat former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka to set up the mouth-watering matchup with her younger sister Serena

WASHINGTON: US teen Coco Gauff notched another impressive tennis victory Wednesday, toppling second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals of the WTA tournament in Lexington, Kentucky.

Gauff, playing her first tournament in the coronavirus-disrupted season since she stunned defending champion Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open, lined up a quarterfinal clash with eighth-seeded Tunisian Ons Jabeur, a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 winner over Olga Govortsova.

“I’m just happy to have pulled it through today,” Gauff said after coming out on top in a see-saw battle that lasted two hours and 24 minutes.

Up 5-2 in the first set, the 16-year-old American would need a tiebreaker to put it away.

Sabalenka, who won her third career Premier 5 title in Qatar before the WTA Tour was suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, took a 5-2 lead in the second set and held off a challenge from Gauff to knot the match at a set apiece.

The third set opened with a string of service breaks, Sabalenka twice clawing back a break.

But Gauff gained a break to lead 5-4 and served out the match with an angled forehand winner.

“It was all about staying calm and composed, making her play balls,” Gauff said. “In the second set, I hit more double faults and errors, so my goal for the third was to change that.”

Gauff, who won her first WTA title at Linz last year, said she had room to improve on her serve.

“I definitely served better in my first match than today, but you’re going to have good and bad days,” she said, “and I like to go for my serves, so that’s the give and take.”

In other second-round matches Wednesday, Czech Marie Bouzkova beat Russian Anna Blinkova 6-4, 6-2 to line up a clash with American Jen Brady, who toppled sixth-seeded Magda Linette of Poland 6-2, 6-3.

The marquee match of the second round was set for Thursday, with top-seeded Serena Williams due to take on sister Venus.

Serena shrugged off the absence of fans in a come-from-behind victory over Bernarda Pera on Tuesday, the 23-time Grand Slam champion’s first competitive match since a Fed Cup appearance in February.

Venus Williams beat former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka to set up the mouth-watering matchup with her younger sister — their first since the 2018 US Open.

“It has been quite the draw for me, but quite honestly, this is perfect, because I haven’t played in forever, so I want to play the best players,” Venus said. “And I think I got my wish playing Serena, so here we go.”


Guardiola under pressure as City chase elusive crown

Updated 20 October 2020

Guardiola under pressure as City chase elusive crown

  • Despite all their domestic success in recent years, City have never gone beyond the semifinals of the Champions League

LONDON: Pep Guardiola starts his latest bid to lead Manchester City to Champions League glory with the shadows of past failures casting doubt on his ability to secure that elusive title.

City host Porto in their opening Champions League group match on Wednesday with Guardiola's failing in the tournament weighing heavily on both the Spanish boss and his club.

Despite all their domestic success in recent years, City have never gone beyond the semifinals of the Champions League and Guardiola has found the competition equally vexing for much of the last decade.

Since he won the Champions League as Barcelona boss for the second time in 2011, Guardiola has failed to return to the final of Europe's elite club competition.

That nine-year drought includes four years of frustration since he took charge at City in 2016.

In that time, Guardiola has seen City beaten by Monaco in the last 16 and Liverpool, Tottenham and Lyon in the quarterfinals.

He also lost in three semifinals during his time as Bayern Munich manager before moving to City.

Last season's shock 3-1 defeat against Lyon in Lisbon was especially galling as City were heavy favorites against the French side.

Guardiola deserved a large portion of the blame for that letdown after his tactical tinkering appeared to unsettle his players and did nothing to tilt the tie in City's favor.

Interpreted by Guardiola's critics as further proof that his Champions League success at Barcelona was due to the presence of the great Lionel Messi's presence, the only bright side of the Lyon loss was that it was not their farewell to Europe for a while.

For several months last season, it appeared City would not even be competing in the Champions League this term after UEFA gave them a two-year ban from European competitions for Financial Fairplay breaches.

City's legal dream team won that battle and the suspension was eventually thrown out on appeal.

Whether Guardiola can be as successful in Europe as City's Abu Dhabi-based owners were in the court room remains far from certain.

Adding to the unease around City ahead of their European campaign is the unresolved issue of Guardiola's future.

Guardiola is out of contract at the end of the season and has yet to agree on a new deal amid speculation that he may decide to leave the Etihad Stadium in 2021.

For now, Guardiola will focus on Porto's visit to Manchester rather than entertaining questions about his long-term plans.

The 49-year-old insists he has to earn a prolonged stay at City by improving on last season's disappointment, which saw them surrender the Premier League to Liverpool and win only the League Cup.

There have been some worrying signs already as Leicester thrashed City 5-2, while Saturday's 1-0 win against Arsenal was far from convincing.

Significantly, Guardiola was able to welcome back Sergio Aguero last weekend as City's record goalscorer made his first appearance for four months after knee surgery.

City have lacked a cutting edge in Aguero's absence and Guardiola's hopes of a serious Champions League challenge hinge on the Argentine striker staying fit.

"The important thing is that Sergio comes back in good physical condition, starts to get his rhythm, doesn't get more injuries and plays good," Guardiola said.

"We know what he means for us, we know how we appreciate him, but now he has to show like every one of us, me first, that we deserve to continue here and playing good and winning games."