Cold comfort as Roland Garros starts in shadow of coronavirus

Ground staff clean the court as the women’s singles first round of the Roland Garros 2020 French Open match between Victoria Azarenka and Danka Kovinic on September 27, 2020 was interrupted due to the weather conditions. (AFP)
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Updated 27 September 2020

Cold comfort as Roland Garros starts in shadow of coronavirus

  • A resurgence of COVID-19 cases means that only 1,000 spectators will be allowed into the grounds each day

PARIS: Roland Garros gets underway in chilly, damp Paris on Sunday still in the grip of the coronavirus which organizers had hoped they would escape by unilaterally pushing back the clay court Grand Slam event by four months.
Opening day will see 2018 champion Simona Halep start her bid for a third major while 40-year-old Venus Williams kicks off her 23rd French Open.
Andy Murray takes on fellow three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka in the day’s marquee tie in a rematch of their epic 2017 semifinal duel.
However, it will be an eerily unfamiliar tournament, even for defending champion Rafael Nadal, chasing a 13th Paris title, and 2016 winner and world number one Novak Djokovic, as well as Serena Williams, pursuing an elusive 24th major.
A resurgence of COVID-19 cases means that only 1,000 spectators will be allowed into the grounds each day.
In 2019, more than 500,000 people watched the two-week tournament on site.
Organizers had hoped to welcome 20,000 fans a day but in the space of just a few weeks, that figure was quickly downsized to 11,500, then 5,000 before the French government slashed it to a 1,000 maximum.
“Tens of millions of euros have gone up in smoke,” said French Tennis Federation marketing chief Stephane Morel as he mourned the loss of ticket income.
Players, meanwhile, have been confined to two tournament hotels with tight restrictions on their movements.
It’s at the hotels where they undergo Covid-19 testing, a source of controversy and recrimination in the build-up.
Last weekend, five players due to take part in men’s qualifying were stood down.
Two had tested positive while three others had been in contact with coach Petar Popovic who also tested positive.
Popovic told L’Equipe it was a “scandal” and had “(Rafael) Nadal been in our shoes, he would have had the right to a second or third test.”
On Friday, veteran Spaniard Fernando Verdasco said he was “outraged and frustrated” after being withdrawn following one failed Covid-19 test which he claimed fell between a steady stream of negative results.
Verdasco said he should have been allowed a second test.
Inside the grounds of Roland Garros, situated in the prosperous western district of Paris, there are further signs of the effect of the pandemic.
Normally bustling shops, food outlets and other commercial stalls have been shuttered.
Everyone at the tournament, including players if they are not in action or in practice, is masked. Hand sanitizers dot the site.
Instead of the early summer sun usually associated with the tournament in its traditional May-June slot, players will shiver in 16°C on Sunday with rain and high winds forecast for the first week.
That should mean overtime for the new retractable roof over the showpiece Court Philippe Chatrier.
On court Sunday, Halep, the top seed in the absence of world number one Ashleigh Barty, who opted not to defend her title on health grounds, takes on Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo, ranked at 70.
Wimbledon champion Halep is the favorite especially with US Open champion Naomi Osaka missing through injury.
Former world number one Murray tackles 2015 champion Wawrinka in his first appearance in Paris in three years.


Mickelson says world golf rankings need LIV events to be credible

Updated 06 October 2022

Mickelson says world golf rankings need LIV events to be credible

  • The LIV Series stages its first event in Asia this week
  • LIV has announced plans to expand from eight events this year to 14 in 2023

BANGKOK: Six-time major winner Phil Mickelson on Thursday backed moves to award world ranking points for events on the breakaway LIV Golf circuit, saying it would help maintain the “credibility” of the global leaderboard.
The LIV Series stages its first event in Asia this week and on Wednesday announced a deal to have tournaments co-sanctioned by the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Tour and awarded Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points.
The OWGR has not announced whether points will now be awarded to LIV events, starting with this week’s tournament in Bangkok.
But Mickelson, whose departure from the US PGA Tour helped kickstart the big-money LIV series, said it was in the ranking body’s interests to do so.
“I think for the World Golf Rankings, this is a great way to keep its credibility, while not bringing politics into the decision-making process,” the 52-year-old left-hander said on the eve of the LIV’s Bangkok Invitational.
LIV has already staged five events but without any ranking points awarded for its players — including British Open champion Cameron Smith and former world number one Dustin Johnson.
Mickelson, Smith and Johnson are all competing at the new Stonehill course outside the Thai capital for a share of $20 million, with $4 million up for grabs for the winner, easily the largest purse for a golf tournament in Asia.
A host of top players have joined the series, plunging golf into bitter civil war as the US PGA Tour and the Europe-based DP World Tour have scrambled to hold on to talent while the Asian Tour, and now the lesser-known MENA Tour, have aligned themselves with LIV.
Only the top 50 players in the world qualify automatically for the four majors, so top names have been concerned about slipping down the rankings.
But Mickelson said he had no worries that LIV events would be given points appropriately.
“The reason I’m not concerned is that the number of points are based on the quality of the field and not the organization that’s running the tournament, and the quality of our field is remarkably strong,” he said.
“I’m sure for the world golf rankings to maintain their credibility, they’ll continue to award the proper number of points that the tournaments deserve for all tours.”
US players who have signed up to LIV Golf have been indefinitely suspended from the PGA Tour, while the DP World Tour has issued fines and short-term bans.
LIV has announced plans to expand from eight events this year to 14 in 2023, with players competing for $405 million in prize money.

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Paris 2024 marathon to trace path of French Revolution

Updated 06 October 2022

Paris 2024 marathon to trace path of French Revolution

  • The marathon route unveiled on Wednesday was modelled on the path of the October 1789 Women’s March on Versailles
  • Organizers have also added two mass events — a marathon and a 10-km run — to allow non-Olympians to run the course

PARIS: Competitors in the marathon at the Paris 2024 Olympics will run from central Paris to Versailles and back, on a course designed to salute women and trace one of the pivotal historic events of the French Revolution.

The marathon route unveiled on Wednesday was modelled on the path of the October 1789 Women’s March on Versailles — when thousands, mainly female market traders furious over the price of bread, marched to the lavish palace of King Louis XVI.

They forced him to return with them to the center of the capital in an event that historians say ended the absolute power of the monarchy.

“We’re trying to give some meaning to our events and choosing this course was a good way to do it,” Paris 2024 boss Tony Estanguet told Reuters. “We really want to innovate.”

For the first time since women began running the Olympic marathon in 1984, women will conclude the athletics program, with their marathon coming a day after the men’s event.

This map released by Olympics Paris 2024 on Wednesday shows the marathon course for Paris Olympics in 2024. The marathon will start from Paris City Hall and wind past famed landmarks. (AP)

“Women first. We wanted to celebrate women,” Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo told a news conference.

“Paris is a place of revolution. It’s a revolutionary city, so this course makes sense,” added Valerie Pecresse, the head of the Ile de France (greater Paris) region.

Organizers have also added two mass events — a marathon and a 10-km run — to allow non-Olympians to run the course. Each will be open to 20,024 participants.

“Our country proclaims loud and clear that high-level sport must more than ever be a source of inspiration for all generations while driving mass participation,” French Sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said.

“Sport has the power to positively transform society: Let us give it every means to do so.”

The marathon course will pass Parisian monuments including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, the Palais Garnier, the Jardin des Tuileries and several world-famous bridges.

“Beyond a doubt, the Paris 2024 marathon will have something special about it. To perform in such an impressive setting, in a place so charged with history and symbolism, will be a unique experience,” said two-time Olympic champion and world record holder Eliud Kipchoge.

“I could not ask for a more perfect race for the Games.”

It will also be an unusually challenging route, with 438 meters of altitude gain.

“It appears to be more demanding than normal,” World Athletics president Sebastian Coe told Reuters. “Clearly it’s a marathon that will be challenging. But some marathon runners prefer undulating courses.” 


Haaland scores double as City cruise past Copenhagen, Chelsea boost knockout phase hopes

Updated 06 October 2022

Haaland scores double as City cruise past Copenhagen, Chelsea boost knockout phase hopes

  • Lionel Messi scored but Paris Saint-Germain were held to a 1-1 draw by Benfica in Lisbon

PARIS: Erling Haaland continued his remarkable goalscoring form by netting twice as Manchester City thrashed FC Copenhagen 5-0 in the Champions League on Wednesday, while Chelsea saw off AC Milan to revive their hopes of reaching the last 16.

Holders Real Madrid survived a spirited challenge from Ukrainians Shakhtar Donetsk at the Santiago Bernabeu to win 2-1 and extend their advantage in Group F.

Lionel Messi scored but Paris Saint-Germain were held to a 1-1 draw by Benfica in Lisbon. 

Paris Saint-Germain's Argentine forward Lionel Messi celebrates with teammate Kylian Mbappe after scoring the opening goal during the  Champions League  Group H match between SL Benfica and PSG. (AFP)

Haaland went into City’s game against Copenhagen at the Etihad Stadium having becoming the first player in Premier League history to score three successive home hat tricks in Sunday’s demolition of Manchester United.

The Norwegian slammed in the opening goal on seven minutes with his weaker right foot before prodding in a rebound for his second 25 minutes later.

The 22-year-old has now scored 28 times in his 22 Champions League appearances, already breaking Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record for most goals in a player’s first 30 games in the competition.

“I’ve never witnessed anything like it in my life,” City’s Jack Grealish told BT Sport.

“For the first and second goals I was just laughing. He is always there.

“The ‘keeper said something to me as I was walking back. He said ‘He’s not human!’ I said ‘You’re telling me?’ Hopefully he can carry on this form and take us to glory.”

Visiting center-back Davit Khocholava put through his own net, with Haaland waiting behind him, to make it three before half-time.

Haaland was denied a fourth City treble as he was replaced at the interval, but a Riyad Mahrez penalty and Julian Alvarez’s fourth goal for the club completed the rout.

Pep Guardiola’s men remain three points clear of second-placed Borussia Dortmund in Group G and will qualify for the knockout phase with a victory in the Danish capital next week.

Jude Bellingham scored for the third time in as many Champions League outings as Dortmund romped to a 4-1 victory at Sevilla.

The Spanish club responded to the defeat — and a desperately poor start to the season which has left them 17th in La Liga — by sacking coach Julen Lopetegui shortly after the final whistle.

Chelsea ended their wait for a win in Group E as goals from Wesley Fofana, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Reece James sealed an impressive 3-0 triumph over Italian champions AC Milan at Stamford Bridge.

The Blues made it back-to-back victories under new boss Graham Potter to set up a crucial clash at the San Siro in six days’ time.

Chelsea are second in Group E, level on points with third-placed Milan, one point behind leaders Salzburg who edged out Dinamo Zagreb 1-0.

“It’s easier when you win games,” said Aubameyang. “The mood is very good at the moment. We’ll try to keep it up.”

Shakhtar put on a battling display in Madrid, with goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin making 11 saves, but could not overcome a two-goal deficit against Real.

Goals in the first half-hour from Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior put Real in control and the 14-time champions made it three wins from three in Group F despite Oleksandr Zubkov’s effort for Shakhtar.

Madrid will be sure of a last-16 spot if they can beat second-placed Shakhtar next time out.

RB Leipzig are just a point behind Shakhtar after Joe Hart’s error helped the Germans down Celtic 3-1.

The former England goalkeeper’s poor pass led to Andre Silva restoring Leipzig’s lead in the second half before the Portugal striker netted again late on.

Benfica remain level on points with leaders PSG at the Group H summit after a hard-fought draw against one of the tournament favorites.

Messi produced a trademark left-footed finish into the top corner after a neat exchange of passes also involving Neymar and Kylian Mbappe to score his 127th Champions League goal in the 22nd minute.

Benfica leveled four minutes before the break as Danilo Pereira scored an own goal and both sides spurned chances to win in the second half.

Messi only scored 11 goals in 34 games in his first season for PSG last term, but already has eight in 13 this time around.

“It’s normal, it takes a little time,” PSG skipper Marquinhos told Canal Plus. “Now he feels a little more comfortable... I hope Leo Messi has a great season until the end to win this title.”

Juventus moved within four points of the top two as Adrien Rabiot’s brace and a Dusan Vlahovic goal gave the Italians a 3-1 victory over Maccabi Haifa for their first points.


Fan who caught Aaron Judge’s 62nd home run offered $2 million for ball

Updated 06 October 2022

Fan who caught Aaron Judge’s 62nd home run offered $2 million for ball

  • Cory Youmans grabbed the historic souvenir on the fly as it sailed into the front row of section 31 in left field

NEW YORK: The owner of a sports memorabilia auction house says he has offered $2 million to the fan who caught Aaron Judge’s American League-record 62nd home run.

JP Cohen, president of Memory Lane Inc. in Tustin, California, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he has texted and emailed Cory Youmans, the man who caught Judge’s milestone shot Tuesday night at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. Cohen says Youmans has not yet replied.

“I feel the offer is way above fair, if he is inclined to sell it,” Cohen said in a telephone interview with the AP on Wednesday.

Youmans grabbed the historic souvenir on the fly as it sailed into the front row of section 31 in left field. The homer pushed Judge past Roger Maris for the AL season record — a mark many consider baseball’s “clean” standard because the only National League players who hit more have been tarnished by ties to steroids.

Youmans, who is from Dallas, works in the financial world. He was asked Tuesday what he planned to do with the prize while security personnel whisked him away to have it authenticated.

“Good question. I haven’t thought about it,” he said.

The record price for a home run ball is $3 million, paid for Mark McGwire’s record 70th from the 1998 season.

Cohen had previously pledged to offer $2 million for Judge’s 62nd homer. He said his company has a good relationship with the Yankees and it would be willing to loan the ball to the team for an exhibit. He added the team has frequently exhibited items owned by Memory Lane at Yankee Stadium.

“We did make an offer of $2 million and that offer is still valid,” Cohen said.

After the Yankees lost 3-2, Judge said he didn’t have possession of the home run ball.

“I don’t know where it’s at,” he said. “We’ll see what happens with that. It would be great to get it back, but that’s a souvenir for a fan. He made a great catch out there, and they’ve got every right to it.”

Youmans was among the crowd of 38,832, the largest to watch a baseball game at the 3-year-old ballpark.


Chastened Man United back in Europa League action

Updated 05 October 2022

Chastened Man United back in Europa League action

  • United flew to Cyprus on Wednesday after Ten Hag held a summit with his players
  • He encouraged them to speak openly about their failures against City

DUBAI: Erik ten Hag says Manchester United will learn lessons from Sunday’s humiliating 6-3 loss to Manchester City.
The healing process begins with a trip to Omonia Nicosia for the third round of matches in Europe’s second-tier competition.
United flew to Cyprus on Wednesday after Ten Hag held a summit with his players where he encouraged them to speak openly about their failures against City.
Ten Hag said he was grateful to City manager Pep Guardiola for bringing his team down to earth after four straight wins in the Premier League had seen spirits rise at United.
“It was a reality check, so we have to learn from it and carry on,” he said. “But we can get a lot of confidence about this theory, when you beat Arsenal, you beat Liverpool and now we get a reality check with Man City — so we know we have to step up.”
In other standout matches, Roma have the chance to move level on points with Group C leader Real Betis when they meet in Italy, while Arsenal can go top of Group A with a win at home to Norwegian team
EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE
West Ham go for a third straight win in their group as the English team head to Anderlecht for a repeat of the 1976 final of the now-defunct Cup Winners’ Cup.
West Ham, which have beaten Romanian club FCSB and Danish club Silkeborg, are one of five teams on a maximum six points — along with FC Basel, AZ Alkmaar, Villarreal and Istanbul Basaksehir