Teenage sensation Sinner upsets former Dubai champ

Jannik Sinner on his way to beating former champion Roberto Bautista Agut at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. (AN photo by Ali Khaled)
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Updated 18 March 2021
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Teenage sensation Sinner upsets former Dubai champ

  • Youngest player in FedEx ATP Top 100 Rankings will meet Karatsev in quarter-finals

DUBAI: Italian teenager Jannik Sinner claimed a dramatic 6-4 3-6 7-5 victory over fourth seed and former champion Roberto Bautista Agut on Wednesday to move into the quarter-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

The measure of Sinner's two-hour, 24-minute victory can be judged by the fact that his opponent has already reached two finals this year, in Montpellier and last week in Doha.

The gripping battle remained in the balance right up until the final ball was struck. The opening set went to Sinner, the No. 16 seed, after he broke to lead 5-4. Bautista Agut leveled the match by breaking to lead 5-3 in the second before serving out the set.

In the deciding set, Sinner held the advantage by breaking to lead 4-2 and although Bautista Agut brought it back to 4-4, a double fault at 6-5 gave Sinner a match point he took advantage of.

Sinner, who is making his Dubai debut this week, is still a new name to many but he has already set numerous records. He ended 2020 as the No. 1 teenager on the ATP Tour and he won his second ATP250 title earlier this season in Melbourne.

Sinner took the 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals title in Milan and he also advanced to the 2020 French Open quarter-finals, the first debutant to do so since Rafael Nadal in 2005. He was also the youngest quarter-finalist there since Novak Djokovic in 2006.

“Today I tried to play aggressively, especially on the return game,” said Sinner, the youngest player in the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings. “Some points I played a little bit slower to change the rhythm. I think that was the key.”

Second seed Andrey Rublev enjoyed a comfortable win over Taylor Fritz, taking just over an hour to win 6-3 6-1. While leading 3-1 in the second set, Rublev fended off six break points en route to the victory.

Third seed Denis Shapovalov, playing his 200th career match and again performing under the watchful eye of coach and former two-time Dubai finalist Mikhail Youzhny, also advanced to the quarter-finals with a 6-4 6-3 win over Hubert Hurkacz. 

The 21-year-old Shapovalov produced a confident and aggressive performance to overcome an opponent he had lost to in their previous two meetings. He always held the edge in what was still a closely fought opening set, breaking to lead 2-1 and fighting off a break point to hold 5-3 lead before securing the set. The second set was more comfortable as Shapovalov again broke for 2-1, and although he failed to convert three more break points at 3-1, he broke serve once more in the final game.

He has been waiting for his game to catch fire this season after losing two matches in the ATP Cup, suffering a third-round defeat at the Australian Open and winning just one match last week in Doha. Shapovalov believes it is all coming together, but still issued a note of caution as he pursues his bid for a second career crown.

“I played some really good tennis,” Shapovalov said. “Obviously I have struggled against Hubert in the past and he is such a great player. He has got great weapons and is really tough to play against so I am really happy to get my first win against him. With the way I was playing, I was really feeling it in the important points.

“I really feel I have put in a lot of good work with Misha (Youzhny), especially after the Australian Open. We had a good training block so in that sense for sure I do feel confident in my game and how I am feeling physically. I am hoping to play as well tomorrow but it is never guaranteed.”

Jeremy Chardy battled his way to a 6-7(3) 6-4 6-4 win over eighth seed Karen Khachanov.

Chardy fired 19 aces but had to battle for 2 hours 35 minutes to edge past Khachanov, who failed to win the only break point of the opening set before claiming the tiebreak. The first break of the match did not come until late in the second set when Chardy took a 5-4 lead and served out to level the match, and just one break settled the deciding set.

In other matches, Kei Nishikori beat Aljaz Bedene 6-4 6-4, Aslan Karatsev defeated Lorenzo Sonego 3-6 6-3 6-4, Marton Fucsovics upset 11th seed Dusan Lajovic 6-1 4-6 6-4 and Lloyd Harris beat Filip Krajinovic 7-6(5) 6-4.

The quarter-finals will feature Shapovalov against Chardy, Karatsev facing Sinner, Rublev taking on Fucsovics, and Harris meeting Nishikori.


Al-Hilal face new Saudi season without sidelined Neymar

Updated 21 May 2024
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Al-Hilal face new Saudi season without sidelined Neymar

  • The injury-prone player left the French club for Al-Hilal in 2023, the latest world-famous footballer snapped up by the big-spending Saudi Pro League

RIYADH: Neymar remains sidelined from knee surgery and will miss his Saudi Pro League champions Al-Hilal’s pre-season training, coach Jorge Jesus said on Tuesday.
“All I know now is that the time given to Neymar to recover and during similar injuries is approximately from 10 to 11 months.
“If we calculate mathematically, he will not be ready at the beginning of the pre-season training,” Jesus told reporters in Riyadh.
Neymar underwent surgery in his native Brazil last November to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus damage suffered during a national team match the month before.
The 32-year-old was stretchered off in tears during Brazil’s 2-0 loss to Uruguay in a World Cup qualifying match on October 17, after colliding with opposing midfielder Nicolas de la Cruz.
Whilst he may have been absent from the pitch Neymar has been busy off it recently.
He was ringside to witness Oleksandr Usyk beat Tyson Fury to win the world’s first undisputed heavyweight championship in 25 years in Riyadh on Sunday.
Last month a Brazilian court suspended a $3 million fine imposed on the player for building a lake at his mansion on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro without an environmental license.
In March he performed a ceremonial first pitch before the Marlins’ home MLB opener in Miami against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was on the grid before the Formula One season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir.
In January the French finance and economy ministry was searched as part of a probe into the 2017 transfer of the Brazil football superstar to Paris Saint-Germain.
Officers with anti-corruption units carried out the searches amid suspicions that PSG may have received favorable tax treatment as part of the transfer.
Neymar joined Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona in 2017 for a world-record fee of 222 million euros ($242 million), scoring 118 goals in 173 matches despite a series of injuries.
The injury-prone player left the French club for Al-Hilal in 2023, the latest world-famous footballer snapped up by the big-spending Saudi Pro League.
He earns 100 million euros a season in Saudi Arabia, according to a source close to the negotiations, while PSG pocketed 100 million euros in the deal.
This month he was omitted from Brazil’s Copa America squad by national coach Dorival Junior.
His club coach in Saudi, Jesus, conceded his absence was an issue, but added Tuesday that “the solution was Malcolm” referring to the Brazilian winger who scored 22 goals in 46 games.


Pochettino leaves Chelsea after just one season in charge

Updated 21 May 2024
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Pochettino leaves Chelsea after just one season in charge

  • “Chelsea FC can confirm that the club and Mauricio Pochettino have mutually agreed to part ways,” Chelsea said in a statement
  • “Thank you to the Chelsea ownership group and sporting directors for the opportunity to be part of this football club’s history,” said Pochettino

LONDON: Mauricio Pochettino has left Chelsea after just one season in charge by mutual consent, the English club announced on Tuesday.
The Blues finished sixth in the Premier League thanks to a fine run toward the end of the season but missed out on Champions League qualification and a trophy.
“Chelsea FC can confirm that the club and Mauricio Pochettino have mutually agreed to part ways,” Chelsea said in a statement.
In just two years under the ownership of an American consortium fronted by LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly and private equity group Clearlake Capital, Chelsea have spent over £1 billion ($1.3 billion) on new players.
The vast majority of that was spent on rising stars and Pochettino pointed to a lack of experience and a lengthy injury list for failing to achieve consistent results.
Chelsea lost the League Cup final 1-0 to Liverpool after extra-time and pushed Manchester City all the way before losing in the FA Cup semifinals by the same score.
But there had been signs that Pochettino’s project was coming together in a run of five consecutive wins to end the campaign that ensured Chelsea will be in Europe next season.
They will qualify for the Europa League if Manchester United lose to City in the FA Cup final and the Conference League if the Red Devils shock the English champions.
“Thank you to the Chelsea ownership group and sporting directors for the opportunity to be part of this football club’s history,” said Pochettino.
“The club is now well positioned to keep moving forward in the Premier League and Europe in the years to come.”
Chelsea sporting directors Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley said: “On behalf of everyone at Chelsea, we would like to express our gratitude to Mauricio for his service this season.
“He will be welcome back to Stamford Bridge any time and we wish him all the very best in his future coaching career.”
Pochettino is the fourth manager to depart under Boehly’s regime after Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and Frank Lampard.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Pochettino met Boehly for dinner on Friday before his departure was confirmed after an end-of-season review with Stewart and Winstanley.
The 52-year-old arrived in west London with the task of getting Chelsea back on track after they finished 12th in the 2022/23 Premier League season.
The Argentine had to bed in another influx of new signings as Chelsea broke the British transfer record to buy Moises Caicedo for £115 million.
He suffered a difficult start as they won just three of their opening 10 Premier League games.
But led by the stunning form of Cole Palmer, only City, Arsenal and Liverpool picked up more points than Chelsea in the second half of the season.
According to reports Stuttgart’s Sebastian Hoeness, Girona boss Michel, Ipswich Town’s Kieran McKenna and Enzo Maresca of Leicester are among those in contention to be next in the Stamford Bridge hot seat.
Pochettino began his coaching career at Espanyol before shining in a short spell at Southampton.
That earned him a move to Tottenham, where he established Spurs as regulars at the top end of the Premier League and took the club to a first ever Champions League final in 2019.
Pochettino was sacked by Tottenham just months later before joining Paris Saint-Germain in 2021, where we won one Ligue 1 title and French Cup in 18 months in charge.


Man United’s Rashford left out of England’s provisional Euro 2024 squad after disappointing season

Updated 21 May 2024
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Man United’s Rashford left out of England’s provisional Euro 2024 squad after disappointing season

  • “These are difficult calls, you are talking about players who are very good players who have been an important part of what we have done,” Southgate said
  • Rashford was arguably the biggest name to be omitted

BURTON, England: Marcus Rashford was left out of England’s provisional squad for the European Championship on Tuesday.
The Manchester United striker has paid the price for a disappointing season at club level and failed to make the cut for Gareth Southgate’s initial 33-man selection.
Jordan Henderson and Reece James were also left out.
“These are difficult calls, you are talking about players who are very good players who have been an important part of what we have done,” Southgate said. “With Marcus, I feel players in the same area of the pitch have had better seasons, it’s as simple as that.”
Rashford was arguably the biggest name to be omitted — especially after enjoying a career-best campaign two seasons ago when he scored 34 goals for club and country.
It has been a different story over the past year when he has managed just eight goals for a United team that suffered their lowest-ever Premier League finish — eighth.
He responded later on Instagram to say he was “Wishing Gareth and the boys all the best” for the Euros.
The squad will eventually be reduced to 26 players on June 8, with the Euros kicking off in Germany on June 14.
Rashford’s United teammate Kobbie Mainoo was selected after an outstanding breakthrough season and Chelsea forward Cole Palmer was also included.
Palmer was likely one of the forward options Southgate referred to when explaining Rashford’s omission after he scored 22 Premier League goals in his first season at Chelsea — a record only bettered by Erling Haaland.
Henderson and James were also notable omissions.
Former Liverpool captain Henderson misses out after his decision to leave Anfield for the Saudi Arabian league last year, while James’ absence comes on the back of an injury-plagued campaign for Chelsea.
Henderson has remained a part of England’s set up despite his controversial decision to join Al-Ettifaq. He left after just six months and completed a move to Dutch giant Ajax, but a muscle injury late in the season convinced Southgate to leave him out.
“Hendo has given himself every chance. The determining factor is the injury he picked up around the last camp. He’s missed five weeks,” Southgate said. “He hasn’t been able to get to the intensity in the games since then.”
James, who missed the Qatar World Cup because of a knee injury, has struggled with his fitness for much of the past season and played only 11 games.
Liverpool’s Jarell Quansah and Curtis Jones were called up for the first time, as well as Crystal Palace midfielder Adam Wharton.
Southgate said United defender Luke Shaw is “up against it” to prove his fitness after an injury-disrupted season.
“This has been as complicated a group as I can remember picking, and we’ve had quite a few complicated ones,” the England manager said.
Squad:
Goalkeepers: Dean Henderson (Crystal Palace), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal), James Trafford (Burnley)
Defenders: Jarrad Branthwaite (Everton), Lewis Dunk (Brighton), Joe Gomez (Liverpool), Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace), Ezri Konsa (Aston Villa), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Jarell Quansah (Liverpool), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle United), Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
Midfielders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Jude Bellingham (Real Madrid), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Curtis Jones (Liverpool), Kobbie Mainoo (Manchester United), Declan Rice (Arsenal), Adam Wharton (Crystal Palace)
Forwards: Jarrod Bowen (West Ham United), Eberechi Eze (Crystal Palace), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Anthony Gordon (Newcastle United), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Bayern Munich), James Maddison (Tottenham), Cole Palmer (Chelsea), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Ivan Toney (Brentford), Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa)


Bayer Leverkusen are two steps from soccer immortality, starting with Europa League final vs Atalanta

Updated 21 May 2024
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Bayer Leverkusen are two steps from soccer immortality, starting with Europa League final vs Atalanta

  • On Saturday, Leverkusen will be heavily favored to win the German cup final against a Kaiserslautern
  • The biggest remaining challenge for coach Xabi Alonso’s team is game No. 52 of 53, in Dublin against an Atalanta that are finishing the season strong.

DUBLIN: Bayer Leverkusen are two games from European soccer immortality.
The new champion of Germany have two cup finals in four days — starting Wednesday in the Europa League against Atalanta — to complete a previously unthinkable unbeaten season in domestic and continental competition.
On Saturday, Leverkusen will be heavily favored to win the German cup final against a Kaiserslautern team that finished 13th in the second division, not so far from falling into relegation playoffs.
And so, the biggest remaining challenge for coach Xabi Alonso’s team is game No. 52 of 53, in Dublin against an Atalanta that are finishing the season strong.
It feels fitting because the Europa League has been a regular drama for Leverkusen.
Three times in six games in the knockout rounds the team were 2-0 down deep into the second half and still behind entering stoppage time: In both round of 16 games against Qarabag and in the semifinals return leg against Roma.
In another streak-saving Europa game, at West Ham in the quarterfinals, Leverkusen were set to advance on aggregate score yet needed an 89th-minute goal by wing-back Jeremie Frimpong to draw 1-1 and stay unbeaten.
“We don’t want to wait until the last seconds of the game,” said Patrick Schick, whose three stoppage-time goals against Qarabag in March were key to advancing 5-4 on aggregate. “We would like to make it clear, really, earlier.”
Atalanta defender Berat Djimsiti acknowledged Tuesday it was “certainly added motivation” trying to be the team to beat Leverkusen. “They have achieved some extraordinary things this season.”
There have been other stellar teams in European soccer who added the elite Champions League to their domestic league title, unlike Leverkusen playing in the second-tier Europa League.
Still, Manchester United in 1999, Inter Milan in 2010, Barcelona in 2011 and Manchester City last year also lost some games and were wealthy clubs whose success could have been expected. Each started their season with established, star-packed teams led by coaches — Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola — who’d already won multiple domestic and European trophies.
This is Alonso’s first full season coaching at the top level. His team were in relegation trouble last season. There was no superstar transfer signing in the offseason.
“For me it’s very special,” the 42-year-old Alonso said last week. “My first title as a coach was the Bundesliga. It was super, it was very special. But a title in Europe would be wonderful and hopefully we will be able to say that.”
Alonso twice won the Champions League as an elegant midfielder, with Liverpool and then Real Madrid, who will play Borussia Dortmund for this season’s Champions League title. That June 1 final at Wembley Stadium is between two teams involved in the failed Super League breakaway in 2021 — Madrid driving it forward, Dortmund declining their invitation.
Bayer Leverkusen and Atalanta were nowhere close to being invited to the breakaway three years ago and today represent soccer projects that won respect from neutral fans across Europe.
Both are based in provincial cities, each with more than 100 years of history, reaching surprise peaks. Before this season, they had only ever won three trophies: Atalanta’s Italian cup in 1963 and Leverkusen’s 1988 UEFA Cup — the forerunner of the Europa League — and Germany cup in 1993.
While Leverkusen once lost a Champions League final, to Madrid in 2002, and Atalanta were minutes away from a semifinals place in 2020, neither have felt entitled to European success.
Their modest stadiums in Leverkusen and Bergamo add up to a combined capacity of about 51,000 that could fit into the Dublin venue, formerly Lansdowne Road, that will host them Wednesday. For a showpiece European final, the official limit is 48,000.
Leverkusen and Atalanta do not figure in UEFA research of the top-50 earnings list of European clubs for total matchday income from ticket and hospitality sales.
Two well-run clubs, relying on smart transfer dealings — albeit underwritten, respectively, by pharmaceutical giant Bayer and Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca — had combined total revenues last year that added up to about the same $500 million as Manchester City’s player wage bill alone.
Yet both Leverkusen and Atalanta, under coach Gian Piero Gasperini since 2016, play easy-on-the-eye soccer in attack and team-first defense.
“They play one against one on the whole pitch,” Schick said of Atalanta. “Wherever you move, you have one defender behind you so they don’t leave you the space to breathe.”
Atalanta have been a refreshing force under Gasperini and already have a place in the Champions League next season. In any normal year they would be popular first-time European title winners.
What Leverkusen have done is not normal, though, and a legend could be just days from being created.


Salah hints at Liverpool stay, targets trophies next season

Updated 21 May 2024
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Salah hints at Liverpool stay, targets trophies next season

  • “We know that trophies are what count and we will do everything possible to make that happen next season,” Salah posted on social media
  • “Our fans deserve it and we will fight like hell“

LONDON: Mohamed Salah said Liverpool “will fight like hell” to win trophies next season as the Egyptian hinted he will at least see out the final year of his contract at Anfield.
Salah has just 12 months remaining on his deal and has been linked with a move to the Saudi Pro League.
The Reds reportedly rejected a £150m offer from Al-Ittihad for the 31-year-old last September.
“We know that trophies are what count and we will do everything possible to make that happen next season,” Salah posted on social media.
“Our fans deserve it and we will fight like hell.”


Liverpool won the League Cup in Jurgen Klopp’s final season in charge but missed out on the Premier League, FA Cup and Europa League.
Klopp’s departure after over eight years in charge of Liverpool has raised doubts over the futures of a number of star players, who rose to prominence under the German’s reign.
Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold are also entering the final year of their contracts.
Former Feyenoord boss Arne Slot was confirmed as Klopp’s successor by Liverpool on Monday.