Djokovic dominates Medvedev to win ninth Australian Open

Serbia's Novak Djokovic kisses the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup trophy following his victory against Russia's Daniil Medvedev during the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 21, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 22 February 2021

Djokovic dominates Medvedev to win ninth Australian Open

  • Serb overpowered the fourth seed 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 to end the Russian’s unbeaten run at 20 matches

MELBOURNE: Peerless world No. 1 Novak Djokovic demolished Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in straight sets to win his ninth Australian Open title and extend his record-breaking reign at Melbourne Park Sunday.

Djokovic overpowered the fourth seed 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 in front of 7,400 fans on Rod Laver Arena to end the Russian’s unbeaten run at 20 matches.

In winning a third straight Australian Open for the second time, the Serb claimed his 18th Grand Slam title to move within two of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal who have 20 each, while denying Medvedev his first.

Rarely has a player been so dominant at a single tournament with the Serb’s record-extending ninth title moving him past Federer’s eight at Wimbledon but still a long way behind the 13 Nadal has won at Roland Garros.

But it was a rollercoaster ride to get there, with Djokovic dropping five sets en route to the final and battling an abdominal injury that nearly forced him to pull out after the third round.

Despite admitting it was a gamble to keep playing, with a risk the injury could get worse and affect the rest of his season, the 33-year-old chose to continue and it paid off.

“Thanks to this court, the Rod Laver Arena, I love you each year more and more — the love affair keeps going,” said a relieved Djokovic, while paying tribute to Medvedev.

“Daniil, a class act, great guy and great person,” he said.

“I really like him off the court ... but on court he’s definitely one of the toughest players I have ever faced in my life.

“It’s a matter of time till you hold a Grand Slam.”

Djokovic’s speech to the crowd came after Tennis Australia chair Jayne Hrdlicka was booed for mentioning the COVID vaccine and the Victorian government.

The unusual scenes came at the end of a tournament that was delayed three weeks over the coronavirus and had to bar fans for five days when state authorities ordered a snap lockdown.

Medvedev, 25, is one of the smartest players on tour, keeping his opponents guessing with his flat and low groundstrokes, changing up the pace and angles, as he blends impenetrable defense with opportunistic offense.

But the Serb, who held a 4-3 head-to-head record against him but had lost three of the previous four, had his measure.

“It’s never easy to find words when you have just lost the final of a Grand Slam,” said Medvedev.

“But congrats Novak and his team. I mean, nine Grand Slams in Australia and 18 total is amazing and probably not the last one.”

“I really wanted to make this match long and more entertaining, but today was not the day,” he added.

In front of a pro-Djokovic crowd, Medvedev overcooked two forehands on his opening service game then sent one into the net to hand the Serb the first break points, then a wild backhand saw him immediately on the back foot.

Djokovic consolidated with a serve to love before the Russian finally got off the mark with a wobbly hold for 1-3. But then a failed drop shot and net volley from the top seed allowed the Russian to break back.

Long rallies ensued and it went with serve until some brilliant groundstrokes from Djokovic earned three break points at 6-5. Medvedev saved two but not the third to lose the opening set.

Undeterred, the tall, pencil-thin Russian kept coming and dialed up the pressure to break Djokovic’s opening serve in set two, only for the Serb to immediately strike back.

Djokovic won three games in a row, despite the disruption of two fans being ejected in an apparent refugee protest, as he took control.

He raced to a 5-2 lead with Medvedev smashing his racquet in frustration as the set and the championship began slipping away.

Deflated, Medvedev dropped his opening serve in set three and never looked like finding a way back as Djokovic, in his 28th Grand Slam final compared to the Russian’s second, drew on his experience to close out the match, dropping to the court in celebration.

The win reinforced Djokovic’s status as world number one, where he will mark his 311th week when the new rankings come out on Monday, surpassing Federer’s record of 310.

Medvedev will move to a career-high three in the rankings, behind Nadal.


Spieth goes 5-0 as Americans rule Presidents Cup again

Updated 26 September 2022

Spieth goes 5-0 as Americans rule Presidents Cup again

  • The International team lost at least four players who defected to Saudi-funded LIV Golf and were deemed ineligible by the PGA Tour

CHARLOTTE, US: The Americans won the Presidents Cup again, no asterisk needed.
Sure, the International team lost at least four players — maybe more — who defected to Saudi-funded LIV Golf and were deemed ineligible by the PGA Tour.
It had eight rookies asked to play a new format before 40,000 flag-waving fans chanting for the home team. And the Internationals have never won on American soil since these lopsided matches began in 1994.
No matter.
The Americans are tough to beat right now in any cup, under any circumstances. 
Jordan Spieth made putts from all over Quail Hollow and capped off a 5-0 week, Xander Schauffele delivering the cup-clinching point and lit up his big cigar, and the Americans won the Presidents Cup for the ninth straight time.
Anyone surprised?
“I think that the biggest challenge for us this week was staying within ourselves and not letting the outside noise get to us,” Spieth said. “We saw notes ... put up all over the place that we were supposed to win and we’re favorites and all that.
“What was so cool — which has been very consistent in the previous few Cups that I’ve been involved in — is everyone’s really, really good at what they do.”
The plucky International team still made them work for it.
Spieth and Patrick Cantlay were in control of their matches and set the tone. Even so, the Internationals kept it interesting, a resilient effort considering they were down 8-2 going into the weekend.
But then Tony Finau flipped his match, Collin Morikawa played like a two-time major champion, Schauffele delivered the winner and another celebration was on.
International captain Trevor Immelman referred to the LIV disruption as one of many hurdles facing his team. And he reacted strongly to any notion his 12 players — only three of them among the top 25 in the world — never had a chance.
“When you consider that we were 8-2 down on Friday evening, this team is no joke, and I’m sick and tired of it being spoken of as a joke,” Immelman said. “We love this event, and we love our team. And we cannot wait to run this back and have another shot.”
The Internationals showed plenty of fight. They just don’t have a cup to show for it.
That stays squarely in the hands of an American team that was coming off a record romp over Europe in the Ryder Cup last year before another one-sided crowd.
Even the American newcomers produced, starting with Max Homa. He rallied from 3 down by winning four straight holes and then holding off Tom Kim for a 1-up victory that gave Homa a 4-0 week in his Presidents Cup debut.
The final score was 17 1/2-12 1/2, not quite the rout it was at Liberty National in 2017 when this US team started to take shape.
US Captain Davis Love III paid tribute to Immelman for having to fill out his team three weeks ago after British Open champion Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann were among the latest batch to join the rival LIV Golf series.
This was a mismatch. The Internationals still made a game of it, and at one point the matches were tight enough that a shocker at Quail Hollow was still possible. But they needed everything to go right, and it didn’t.
“Trevor and his team did an incredible job of rising to the occasion,” Love said.
Love had all 12 players ranked among the top 25 in the world ranking, and just like last year at Whistling Straits in the Presidents Cup, most of them played like it.
“We really don’t have to do much,” Love said. “All we have to do is not mess it up.”
Spieth was in the second match out and made putts from 25 feet, 20 feet and 30 feet for par after driving into the water and 45 feet that made Cameron Davis feel hopeless. He closed out the Australian on the 15th hole.
Spieth became only the sixth player to win all five matches in the Presidents Cup, winning all four of his team matches with Justin Thomas.
Spieth, a three-time major champion and former No. 1 player in the world, first qualified for US teams when he was 20. But he had never won a singles match — 0-3 in the Presidents Cup, 0-3-1 in the Ryder Cup.
And then he fell 2 down after two holes before turning it around in a big way.
“I was more nervous than I should have been because I wanted to get that monkey off my back,” Spieth said. “When you get off early on a Sunday, they’re looking for red on the board. And it feels good to provide it.”
Thomas was trying to join him, but he lost to Si Woo Kim in a match that came down to 10-foot birdie putts on the last hole.
Cantlay put red American numbers on the board quickly for a 3-up lead over Adam Scott and had lost only two holes in a 3-and-2 victory.
For Scott, it was another dose of disappointment. His first Presidents Cup was in 2003 in South Africa that ended in a tie. He has played on every team since then, all losses.
Still, he saw enough out of a scrappy team and the shield on their shirts with which they are starting to identify to not lose all hope.
“It still hurts not to win,” he said. “I think the big difference I felt the last couple years is what’s going on in our team room, what’s going on between the captains and the players, the caddies, everybody involved on our team. I think good things are really starting to happen in that environment.
“A cup is coming our way soon.”


Kuol makes debut as Australia win final World Cup warmup

Updated 25 September 2022

Kuol makes debut as Australia win final World Cup warmup

AUCKLAND: Teenager Garang Kuol, who is being chased by Newcastle United, made his international debut on Sunday in Australia’s 2-0 away win over New Zealand in their final World Cup warmup.

A Mitchell Duke header and Jason Cummings’ penalty in the second half at Auckland’s Eden Park ensured Australia head to the World Cup with two straight wins over their neighbors.

Attacker Kuol, who only turned 18 in mid-September, plays for the Central Coast Mariners but is reportedly set to sign for Premier League side Newcastle United in January.

The fleet-footed teenager came on with 20 minutes left and made his case for a spot in the squad for Qatar when he prised open the New Zealand defense in the buildup to Cummings’ penalty.

“He’s a kid, he’s just turned 18. I told just to go out and enjoy himself,” said Australia coach Graham Arnold.

“I just wanted to give him the experience.

“He showed some quality when he came on, but this is just the first step for him.”

This was Australia’s last game before their opening World Cup match against reigning champions France in a Group D also containing Tunisia and Denmark.

“Overall it was a good performance, but we know the boys can do better,” added Arnold, who changed his entire starting lineup from the side which beat New Zealand 1-0 in Brisbane last Thursday.

“The first half was scrappy, but for the second half the boys really came through.”

New Zealand missed out on a place at the Qatar finals after losing a playoff to Costa Rica.

Australia initially labored against a New Zealand side fired up in front of a crowd of 34,985 watching their first men’s home international for five years.

The Eden Park surface was in impressive condition apart from the odd divot less than 24 hours after hosting a rugby Test match between New Zealand and Australia. Burly New Zealand striker Chris Wood had an early chance, but the Newcastle man was forced off after 30 minutes following a heavy challenge.

Australia squandered the best chance of a goalless first half when Duke drew New Zealand keeper Oli Sail, but Marco Tilio fluffed his shot at an open goal from six yards out. Australia raised the tempo after the break and broke the deadlock early in the second half when Connor Metcalfe floated in a cross from the left and Duke sent his header past Sail.

The visitors doubled their lead when Kuol broke down the left and squared into the middle, where Cummings’ shot was eventually blocked by a New Zealand hand. Scotland-born Cummings stepped up to drill home the penalty and seal Australia’s morale-boosting win.

It was a sad end to the international career of New Zealand captain and former West Ham defender Winston Reid, who retired after the game.

The home skipper came off with 16 minutes left to a standing ovation. “We would have liked to have done better, but it was really nice to play my last game at home,” said Reid.


Russia’s Alexandrova shines in Seoul for third title

Updated 25 September 2022

Russia’s Alexandrova shines in Seoul for third title

SEOUL: Ekaterina Alexandrova overcame nerves to win the third title of her career as she dismantled injury-hampered top seed Jelena Ostapenko 7-6 (7/4), 6-0 in the final of the Korea Open on Sunday.

The two battled to a lengthy tiebreaker after an evenly matched hour-long first set in front of more than 10,000 spectators, a record for the Seoul event.

But everything changed in the second set as Russia’s second-seeded Alexandrova dominated the former French Open champion from Latvia, who required a medical timeout at 3-0 down for a foot problem.

“I think it was tough for me to start because I was really nervous and I couldn’t find the rhythm in the first couple of games,” said Alexandrova, 27.

“But the longer we played, the better I felt on the court.

“I think maybe somewhere in the end of the first set I finally found the rhythm and I just continued to keep it that way in the second set.”

The Russian is enjoying the best season of her career, having also won the Libema Open in the Netherlands in June, and is set to rise to a career-high 21 in the world.

“You always want to achieve more,” Alexandrova added.

“I want to go higher and maybe end the year top 20 in the best-case scenario.”

Ostapenko had advanced to the Korea Open final after former US Open winner Emma Raducanu retired in the third set of their semifinal with injury.


Pakistan snatch victory from jaws of defeat, level England series 2-2

Updated 25 September 2022

Pakistan snatch victory from jaws of defeat, level England series 2-2

  • Pakistan beat England by 3 runs as Shan Masood runs out Topley in last over
  • Needing 167 runs to win, England were bundled out for 163

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan won the fourth T20 clash against England on Sunday, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in a thriller that went down to the last over before the hosts emerged victors in Karachi. 

Playing their 200th T20I, Pakistan managed to win by 3 runs, levelling the four-match series 2-2. Set a target of 167 runs to win, England were bundled out for 163 after Reece Topley was run out by Shan Masood in the last over. England needed only four runs to win at that point but had only one wicket in hand.  

Mohammad Nawaz and Haris Rauf both played their part perfectly in Pakistan’s victory, finishing up with figures of 3/35 and 3/32 respectively.  

Pakistan were cruising to victory at one point before Liam Dawson walked in and smashed Hasnain for 24 runs in the 18th over. All seemed lost for Pakistan until Rauf bowled brilliantly the next over, dismissing Dawson and Olly Stone off successive deliveries.  

Mohammad Wasim bowled the last over. Topley dashed for a run but was several inches short of his crease as Masood hit the stumps, ensuring a dramatic Pakistan victory.  

Earlier, Pakistan’s Muhammad Rizwan played another stellar innings, top-scoring with 88 runs. He shared another half-century partnership with skipper Babar Azam, who scored 36 off 28 balls.  

For England, Topley picked up two wickets while Dawson and Willey took one each. Pakistan finished at 166/4 at the end of 20 overs.


Thailand’s Atthaya grabs LPGA NW Arkansas lead

Updated 25 September 2022

Thailand’s Atthaya grabs LPGA NW Arkansas lead

  • After birdies at the first, third and fifth Atthaya picked up four shots in her last three holes

 

 

LOS ANGELES: Thai rookie Atthaya Thitikul fired an eagle and eight birdies in a 10-under par 61 on Saturday to seize the lead in the LPGA NW Arkansas Championship.

The 19-year-old chasing a second LPGA victory, had a 13-under par total of 128 and a one-stroke lead over Japan’s Yuka Saso, who carded a 6-under par 65 at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers.

Former amateur No. 1 Lilia Vu carded her second straight 65 for solo third on 130 heading into the final round of the 54-hole event.

Atthaya teed off on 10 and picked up three strokes in her first nine holes.

After birdies at the first, third and fifth she picked up four shots in her last three holes.

She eagled the seventh, where her four-iron approach from 210 yards out left her two feet from the pin, and birdied the eighth and ninth.

“I think my mind was blank and just nothing there,” she said of her mindset as she picked up steam coming in. “Just hit a shot, just tap it in, putt it in, just like totally blank.”

She said she plays her best golf when she keeps her mind clear and her plan is to “keep that blank mind for tomorrow.”

The 19-year-old has plenty of experience to draw on come Sunday.

Her 11 international victories include a win in the Ladies European Thailand Championship as a 14-year-old amateur in 2017.

Since winning her first LPGA title in March she has top-10 finishes in the Women’s PGA Championship, the Evian Championship and the Women’s British Open.

“I think (I’ll) just do my best out there and I’m trying to enjoy every moment of it,” she said. “You’re not going to be in the same moment anymore so just keep trying my best.”

Saso, who was among six players sharing the overnight lead, had six birdies without a bogey and she’s hoping she can add a victory to what has been an otherwise average season.

Last year she made her first LPGA title a major when she won the US Women’s Open, but she had her last top-10 finish in January.

Nine players shared fourth place, four shots off the lead. The group included overnight co-leaders Megan Khang, Ryann O’Toole and Lee5 Jeong-eun.

But South Korean Kim Sei-young, who was also among the first-round leaders, faded with a 1-under-par 70 that featured a triple-bogey at the par-four 14th.