COVID-19 problems mount for Australian Open as four more participants test positive

A tennis player and coach leave their hotel to train in Melbourne on Jan. 17, 2021 participants quarantine in hotels ahead of the Australian Open tournament. (AFP)
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Updated 18 January 2021

COVID-19 problems mount for Australian Open as four more participants test positive

  • Officials said more cases may come to light as testing continues
  • ‘It’s time to be selfish, time for Victoria to put ourselves first’

MELBOURNE: More players were forced into hard quarantine ahead of the Australian Open with officials confirming on Monday that four additional participants, including an athlete, tested positive for COVID-19 among those arriving in Melbourne.
Health authorities in Victoria state have now reported nine infections among passengers who arrived on charter flights for the Feb. 8-21 Australian Open and officials said more cases may come to light as testing continues.
“All four are associated with the tennis, and they’re all tucked away safely in hotel quarantine,” Victoria state premier Daniel Andrews told reporters of the new cases.
Passengers on three Australian Open charter flights were sent into hard quarantine, including over 70 players who will be unable to train for 14 days ahead of the year’s first Grand Slam.
Players have come up with unique ways to pass time and stay fit in isolation with some hitting balls against a mattress and running sprints in corridors.
Others are allowed five hours outside their hotel rooms each day for preparation, in line with arrangements made by organizers Tennis Australia with health authorities.
But several among those, including Australia’s top-ranked player Alex de Minaur, were unable to train on courts on Monday due to logistics issues with transport.
De Minaur, who returned home after winning an ATP title in Turkey last week, posted a video on Instagram of himself sitting at the front door of his hotel room dressed fully in his practice attire.
“It’s been a challenging few days as we’ve worked with the relevant authorities managing the logistics to ensure everyone is safe as practice begins,” TA said in a statement, adding that transport issues were later sorted out.
“Our team is continuing to work with the authorities to help in any way we can. We understand this has been frustrating for the players and apologize.”
The growing infection count has sparked calls from pundits to cancel the Grand Slam.
“It’s time to be selfish, time for Victoria to put ourselves first,” 3AW radio broadcaster Neil Mitchell said.
“Call off the Australian Open. It’s not worth the risk.”
Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley said on Sunday the tournament would start as scheduled.
Many Australians have questioned the decision to host the tournament with organizers flying in 1,200 tennis players and their entourages Down Under when thousands of citizens are stranded overseas due to the pandemic.
Andrews said the government still supported holding the Grand Slam and backed health officials to deliver it safely.
“We think we’ve struck the appropriate balance,” he said.
“If there was a sense from the public health team that that balance could not be struck, that it was too high a risk, well then we wouldn’t have had the event.”
Some players complained about quarantine conditions and said they had not been advised that they would not be allowed to train if there were cases on their flights.
Frenchwoman Alize Cornet, however, apologized after social media users hit out at her for criticizing the strict health protocols.
Two-time men’s wheelchair Grand Slam champion Gordon Reid said those “kicking up a fuss” are in a minority.
A Spanish tennis website reported that world number one Novak Djokovic had written to Tiley asking that quarantine restrictions be eased for players, including reducing the mandatory 14 days of isolation and having players moved to “private houses with tennis courts” so they could train.
The report drew a backlash from Australians on social media, with Djokovic and players told to check their “privilege.”
Andrews said the biosecurity protocols would not be changed.
“It doesn’t mean that everyone likes them, but that’s not the world we’re in,” he said. “This is a wildly infectious pandemic. There are rules that need to be followed.”
Tennis Australia and Djokovic’s team did not respond to request for comment.
Australia’s biggest outbreak of COVID-19 started from returned travelers infecting staff at quarantine hotels in Melbourne last year but border closures and speedy tracking systems helped keep numbers relatively low.
The country has reported a total of more than 28,600 cases and some 909 deaths since the pandemic began.


Azam, Nabi cruise Kings to victory over Peshawar Zalmi

Updated 03 March 2021

Azam, Nabi cruise Kings to victory over Peshawar Zalmi

  • Afghan allrounder Muhammad Nabi declared man of the match for his impressive inning
  • In Wednesday's second match, Multan Sultans are taking on Quetta Gladiators

KARACHI: Pakistan’s star batsman Babar Azam and Afghan allrounder Muhammad Nabi cruised the Karachi Kings to victory over table toppers Peshawar Zalmi, defeating them by six wickets at the national stadium in Karachi on Wednesday.

Karachi Kings won the toss, invited Peshawar Zalmi to bat first and completed a chase of 189 runs with three balls to spare, making it 13 consecutive wins for a chasing team since the start of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2021.

Azam, who scored 77 out of 47 with the help of six fours and three sixes, fell one run short of scoring his 6,000 runs in the Twenty20 cricket career but ensured a win for his side and a place on the top of the points table. Nabi, who was dropped at 20 by Amad Butt, scored 67 of 35 with the help of eight fours and four huge sixes. He made a partnership of 118 runs with Azam, earning victory for his team. 

Nabi was declared man of the match for his impressive inning.

Kings lost their early wickets in their chase of 189 runs. Sharjeel Khan was caught out at the duck, Joe Clarke and Colin Ingram scored only 17 and three runs. Dan Christian, who came to bat after Nabi, scored16 of nine, including the winning shot.

Batting first, Zalmi’s inning started well but debutant Abbas Afridi sent back openers Kamran Akmal and Tom Kohler-Cadmore to the pavilion back-to-back in the fifth over. Akmal scored 21 of 17 and Kohler-Cadmore made 10 of 11. Shoaib Malik, who captained the team in the absence of injured Wahab Riaz, was the third to go in the next over after facing just two balls and making one run. Haider Ali, who batted well in previous innings, could score just nine out of 12 balls and was caught by Afridi on the ball of Christian in the tenth over.

Partnership of 83 runs between Sherfane Rutherford (46 of 32) and Ravi Bopara (58 of 40 not out) provided Zalmi a chance to score a defendable total, but this was Amad Butt’s blitzing 27 on seven balls that made the match interesting. Butt hammered the last over by Christian which turned a treat for the opposition. The Kings’ Australian bowler gave away 32 (almost 17 percent of Zalmi's total) runs in his last year.

Afridi remained the most successful bowler and grabbed two wickets by conceding 27 in his four overs. Muhamad Ilyas took two wickets in his four by giving away 27 runs. Imad Waseem and Arshad Iqbal proved expensive and conceded 16 and 10 respectively in their one and two overs. Christian who took the wicket of dangerous hitter Haider Ali and conceded 13 in first two remained the most expensive due to his over, which provided Peshawar Zalmi a good chance to fight for a win.

In the day's second match, Multan Sultans are taking on Quetta Gladiators which so far have lost all four matches they have played this season.


Documentary highlights Saudi Greens’ tournament run in 2019

Updated 03 March 2021

Documentary highlights Saudi Greens’ tournament run in 2019

  • All-female team competed in New York City while also promoting environmental causes

RIYADH: The profile of women’s football in Saudi Arabia continues to rise.

The first Women’s Football League was established in the Kingdom last year and now a new film documenting the historic appearance of the Saudi Greens at the 2019 Global Goals World Cup (GGWCup) is being released by the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA).

Launched across the SFA website, its YouTube channel and social media accounts last week, the documentary chronicles the all-women Saudi football team’s journey at the GGWCup in New York City.

It was the first time a female sports team from the Kingdom had ever competed in the US, but the team’s involvement went beyond just a sporting achievement.

The tournament framed the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a sport, as 30 teams worldwide competed to create the kind of world they would like to see. Each team created an action plan with a particular global goal and strived to achieve it in their own country while also competing in five-a-side football tournaments.

Regional qualifying rounds determined which teams progressed to the finals in New York, where the winner was decided based on the impact of its activism and performance on the pitch.

In 2019, the Greens focused on SDG 15 “Life on Land,” bringing attention to the effects of single-use plastics on the environment. Prior to the tournament, team members hosted community events and campaigns across the Kingdom, helping to educate people on the impact of plastics and the wider SDGs in general.

The team distributed reusable bags, collected litter, held awareness talks, and collaborated with local schools and sports clubs to collect plastic bottles and teach children about the importance of recycling.

After they progressed through qualifiers in Copenhagen, the Greens joined 14 other teams at the 2019 finals, where they finished in second place. 

The documentary highlights the team’s experience in New York, but not just in footballing terms. The film also reflects on the team’s social development, international bridge-building and the Greens’ role in boosting female empowerment within Saudi Arabia.

The Greens were formed in 2018 with support from the SFA, the Saudi Ministry of Sports and the country’s Olympic Committee. Less than three year later, the team has come to symbolize progress and female empowerment in the Kingdom.

Since the tournament, the team has hosted virtual workout sessions for the GGWCup Clubhouse, contributed to SFA events and initiatives, and paved the way for the Women’s Football League, which was launched last February.

The latest role for the team will be as ambassadors for the upcoming GGWCup Saudi Arabia – the Kingdom’s first qualifying round of the global competition – due to take place this year.


Islamabad beats winless Quetta by 6 wickets in PSL 

Updated 02 March 2021

Islamabad beats winless Quetta by 6 wickets in PSL 

  • Paul Stirling smashed 56 off 33 balls as Islamabad eased to 157-4 with three balls to spare 
  • Peshawar Zalmi, Islamabad and Lahore Qalandars share a three-way tie atop the leaderboard 

KARACHI: All-rounder Faheem Ashraf and Paul Stirling starred in Islamabad United’s emphatic six-wicket victory over winless Quetta Gladiators in the Pakistan Super League on Tuesday.
Fast bowler Ashraf’s 3-11 limited Quetta to 156-7 and then Stirling smashed 56 off 33 balls as Islamabad eased to 157-4 with three balls to spare.
The match was rescheduled for Tuesday after Islamabad’s leg spinner Fawad Ahmed tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. Two more foreign cricketers, including one unidentified Islamabad player, tested positive Tuesday before the Pakistan Cricket Board decided to go ahead with country’s premier Twenty20 tournament.
Quetta’s fourth successive loss at the toss continued a trend, as all 12 preliminary round matches have been won by teams chasing with all six captains opting to field first after winning the toss.
Peshawar Zalmi, Islamabad and Lahore Qalandars share a three-way tie atop the leaderboard after the conclusion of fourth round matches, with each having won three of their four games.
Quetta skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed (54) hit his second successive half century that featured four consecutive sixes off spinner Iftikhar Ahmed.
But Islamabad always looked ahead after fast bowlers Hasan Ali (2-23) and Ashraf picked up four wickets inside the first six overs of Quetta’s batting powerplay.
Ashraf sent Cameron Delport’s offstump cartwheeling off his first delivery before trapping Sarfaraz leg before wicket in his return spell as Quetta could score only one six and a four in their last seven overs.
Stirling took the game away from Quetta within the first three overs by propelling the total to 44-0. The prolific Irish batsman hammered South Africa’s Dale Steyn for four boundaries in one over after smashing leftarm spinner Mohammad Nawaz for two boundaries and a six in the first over.
Legspinner Zahid Mahmood (2-29) clean bowled Stirling in the 10th over off a sharp googly, but Rohail Nazir (34), playing his first PSL game this season, and captain Shadab Khan (21) made useful contributions to take the two-time champion home. 


Two more foreign cricketers positive for virus in Pakistan 

Updated 02 March 2021

Two more foreign cricketers positive for virus in Pakistan 

  • They bring to four the number of known infections in Pakistan Super League 
  • Pakistan Cricket Board official says league will continue with testing every three days 

KARACHI: Two more foreign cricketers and one staffer tested positive for the coronavirus in the Pakistan Super League on Tuesday. 
One unnamed player was from Islamabad United, while the other two’s names and teams were not identified by Pakistan Cricket Board media and communications director Sami Ul Hasan.

They bring to four the number of known infections in the league after Australian leg spinner Fawad Ahmed tested positive on Saturday. His Islamabad side had its scheduled game against Quetta Gladiators on Monday postponed to Tuesday.

Hasan said that game will go ahead, and the league will continue with testing every three days. Spectators will also continue to be allowed.

All four people who tested positive are in 10-day isolation. 


Sister act as Korda romps to Gainbridge LPGA win

Updated 02 March 2021

Sister act as Korda romps to Gainbridge LPGA win

  • Three birdies in her opening six holes gave her a healthy cushion at the top of the leaderboard, leaving her five shots clear at one stage

MIAMI: Nelly Korda produced a flawless final round to claim a three-shot victory at the Gainbridge LPGA tournament in Florida on Sunday.

Korda — whose elder sister Jessica won the LPGA Tour’s previous event, the season-opening Tournament of Champions in January — fired a three-under-par 69 to finish on 16 under.

The 22-year-old, whose father is former Czech tennis star Petr Korda, had opened up a one-shot lead on Saturday with a four-under-par 68.

On Sunday at Orlando’s Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, she picked up where she left off in the third round.

Three birdies in her opening six holes gave her a healthy cushion at the top of the leaderboard, leaving her five shots clear at one stage.

She then reeled off 12 consecutive pars to remain in control and close out the fourth LPGA Tour victory of her career with her parents and sister Jessica rushing to congratulate her on the 18th green.

“Honestly I did not play very good golf today,” Korda told a television interviewer moments after clinching her first career win on US soil.

“I just stayed really solid. I honestly don’t know how I did it. It was definitely very stressful.

“Winning in front of my parents was a first too, so that was really nice.”

Korda’s 72-hole aggregate 272 left her three clear of Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko who finished tied for second on 13 under.

Thompson had closed to within three of Korda with a brilliant eagle three at the par-five 11th, but a bogey on the following hole stymied her chances of mounting a charge down the stretch. Thompson finished with a four-under-par 68.

New Zealand’s former world No. 1 Ko stormed up the leaderboard at the start of the back nine with four consecutive birdies starting on the 12th hole, eventually carding a three-under-par 69.

World number one Ko Jin-young meanwhile finished five off the lead in fourth place on 11 under. Ko posted a one-under-par-71 after an erratic final round that included four birdies and three bogeys.

There was disappointment for Thailand’s Patty Tavatanakit, who had started the day one off the lead.

The 21-year-old rookie faded with a two-over-par 74, with two bogeys and a double bogey on the front nine dropping her out of contention.

Tavatanakit finished on 10 under alongside Australia’s Sarah Kemp, who shot a three-under-par 69.

Meanwhile, LPGA great Annika Sorenstam, who parred her final hole on Friday to make the cut in her first tour start since 2008, closed with a four-over-par 76, propping up the leaderboard on 13 over.