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.”


Dapper Pirlo and Juventus move on from Sarri era

Updated 22 September 2020

Dapper Pirlo and Juventus move on from Sarri era

  • Pirlo’s Juve look slicker and more attractive than the Bianconeri under Sarri

MILAN: Wearing a suit and tie, new Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo cut a very different figure on the sidelines to his predecessor Maurizio Sarri, who often appeared wearing a tracksuit.

And his Juventus team also looked slicker and more attractive than the Bianconeri of the Sarri era.

Right from the start of Juve’s 3-0 win at Sampdoria in Serie A on Sunday there was an intensity to the team’s play that had been lacking for much of the previous year.

“We accepted the changes made by the club,” Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci said. “This season, the new coach is Pirlo, who has changed our way of interpreting soccer that we had last year.

“It’s too early to say if it is right or not, but it is different.”

Juve’s new players also suit Juve’s new style even if Weston McKennie — the first American to play for the Italian champion — was the only player Pirlo signed.

McKennie assisted on two of his side’s goals and also had chances himself.

Two of the team’s other new players who stood out, Dejan Kulusevski and Arthur, were signed by Sarri but fit well into Pirlo’s set-up.

“We have four central midfielders with the right characteristics to play like this,” Bonucci said. “McKennie, Adrien and Arthur and Rodrigo cover a lot of the pitch. They have the legs to be aggressive and are also good at passing the ball.

“That way, we manage to unite being aggressive and having more quality in possession, I think that’s the difference from last season.”

Pirlo has had little time to settle into his new role. The 41-year-old was handed his first coaching job at the end of July when he was put in charge of Juventus’ under-23 team, which play in Serie C. But he had not led a game before he was promoted to replace the fired Sarri.

However, Pirlo knows several of the players well having played with them at the club.

The former midfield great kicked off an unprecedented era of dominance when he joined Juventus in 2011, helping the side to the first four of its record nine successive Serie A titles.

Pirlo has once again been tasked with leading the team to new heights — this time the Champions League, which Juventus hasn’t won since 1996 but which Pirlo won as a player twice with AC Milan.

Massimiliano Allegri went closest for Juventus, steering it to the final in 2015 and 2017.

“Pirlo is much more similar to Allegri (than Sarri), but everyone has their own character,” Bonucci said with a wry smile and a laugh. “Andrea transmits a lot of calm serenity, as he did when he was a player when you could give him the ball in the midst of five opponents and you were sure he wouldn’t lose it.

“We have great respect for him and for this path that has just begun, which I’m sure will allow us to take away great satisfaction.”