Qualifier Lloyd Harris makes history at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Lloyd Harris became the first qualifier to ever reach the semi-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. (AN photo by Ali Khaled)
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Updated 19 March 2021

Qualifier Lloyd Harris makes history at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

  • Andrey Rublev, Denis Shapovalov and wild card Aslan Karatsev complete the semi-final line-up

DUBAI: Qualifier Lloyd Harris made tournament history on Thursday as he advanced to the semi-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. And Aslan Karatsev became one of the few wild cards to reach the final four in the 28-year history of the event.

“Since 1998, only one wild card had reached the semi-finals of the (event), when Malek Jaziri defeated fellow wild card Stefanos Tsitsipas in 2018, and now we applaud another similar and remarkable achievement by Aslan Karatsev,” said tournament director Salah Tahlak.

“Lloyd Harris is also the first qualifier, since the tournament began in 1993, to reach the semi-finals here, and we look forward to seeing how both he and Karatsev fare on Friday.”

Karatsev reached the semis with a 6-7 6-3 6-2 win over 16th seed Jannik Sinner. Harris overcame Kei Nishikori 6-1 3-6 6-3. They are joined by second seed Andrey Rublev, who defeated Marton Fucsovics 7-5 6-2, and third seed Denis Shapovalov, who beat Jeremy Chardy 7-5 6-4. Shapovalov will play Harris, while Rublev faces Karatsev.

Sinner made the early running against Karatsev, breaking to go 2-0 ahead before building a 4-1 lead. Karatsev broke back in the seventh game of the opening set but it was Sinner who took the tiebreak.

In the second set the tables were turned: Karatsev took a 2-0 lead after winning an 11-minute game on his fifth break point. That set him up to go on and level the match.

After an early exchange of breaks in the third set, Karatsev crucially fought off two break points to hold serve and make it 2-2. From then on he always held the upper hand against his discouraged opponent.

“I started to play better in the second set,” said Karatsev. “I started to feel more the game, to read how he’s playing and where is the weak place where I have to play. In the third set I felt he already dropped down a bit. I was feeling pretty much comfortable returning.”

Harris came through an extraordinary battle with Nishikori who, after suffering a frustrating series of injuries, was attempting to reach his first semi-final since Barcelona in April 2019. Harris dominated the opening set, taking it in just 23 minutes and winning 69 per cent of the points.

But in a remarkable turnaround, Nishikori swept to a 4-0 lead in the second set on the way to taking it 6-3. In the final set the games went with serve until Harris earned a vital break to lead 5-3 and then safely served out the match.

“It was a match of a lot of ups and downs,” Harris said. “In the first set I think Kei was missing quite a bit and I was serving really well, and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere he started reading my serve pretty good and started making a lot more balls, and I didn’t really have a good rhythm.

“Toward the end of the second set I started to find a little more range and we had a few tight games there, early in the third set, before I found a little more rhythm and I used that to get the break.”

Rublev had to work hard in the early stages of his match to gain an advantage over Fucsovics but benefited when his opponent double-faulted to gift him the opening set. Fucsovics, who was recently defeated by Rublev in the Rotterdam final of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, grew increasingly frustrated in the second set as Rublev continued to apply pressure and claimed a decisive 3-1 lead on his fifth break point of the set.

The victory extends his ATP 500 winning streak to 23 matches; his last defeat at this level was in the quarter-finals in Dubai last year to Daniel Evans. Only Roger Federer, with 28 wins, has a longer winning streak.

“That first set, we were going point by point and everything was really close until 6-5 when, probably, he got a bit tight,” said Rublev. “And then he got frustrated and I thought this is my moment, that I really have a chance to win the set now. I made it and then I think he mentally went a bit down. Also he was tired because he played already many matches (to) three sets this week.”

Chardy was bidding to reach his third semi-final of the season, following runs in Antalya and at an Australian warm-up event in Melbourne. He was also a quarter-finalist this month in Rotterdam. In contrast, Shapovalov has been struggling. He lost both of his matches at the ATP Cup, got no further than the third round at the Australian Open and then won only one match last week in Doha.

Their records this season are not reflected in their performances this week, however — Shapovalov won his previous two matches in Dubai in straight sets, while Chardy struggled in all three of his, each time edging through 6-4 in the third set.

When they met on Thursday the first set went comfortably with serve until 5-5, when Chardy struggled with his serve and hit two double faults. This allowed Shapovalov to take advantage of his opponent’s second serve to earn a decisive break, and then serve out the set to love. The second set followed a similar path, with both players holding serve comfortably until 4-4, when Shapovalov broke serve and closed out the match with his 10th ace.

“I’ve definitely focused on my serve a lot in the last couple of weeks, trying for it to have more variation,” said Shapovalov. “I’m definitely very happy with the way I’m serving and hopefully I can continue that. We also worked a lot on my footwork and I’m moving well, and when I’m moving well I feel like everything kind of goes into place.”

Cameron Smith has claret jug and now eyes No. 1 in the world

Updated 14 August 2022

Cameron Smith has claret jug and now eyes No. 1 in the world

  • Even as J.J. Spaun picked up a pair of late birdies and Will Zalatoris moved into contention for his first PGA Tour title, it was Smith who got everyone’s attention Saturday in the FedEx St. Jude Championship

MEMPHIS, Tennessee: British Open champion Cameron Smith has spent all week ignoring queries about reports he will be the latest to leave the PGA Tour for Saudi-backed LIV Golf. His only concern was try to win the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Now there’s another perk at stake: No. 1 in the world.

Even as J.J. Spaun picked up a pair of late birdies for a 2-under 68 to main a one-shot lead over Sepp Straka, and Will Zalatoris moved into contention for his first PGA Tour title, Smith is who got everyone’s attention Saturday in the FedEx St. Jude Championship.

He birdied his last hole for a 67, leaving him among those two shots out of the lead and fully aware that a win takes him to No. 1 in the world.

“That’s been one of my goals probably since the start of the year is to try to get to that top spot,” Smith said. “Try and chase it down.”

A week that began with a federal judge denying the request from three LIV Golf players to be part of the postseason could very well end with a new No. 1 that appears headed for the rival series.

Distractions don’t seem to be a problem for the Aussie, and there is no shortage of them.

“There’s definitely been a few more, but for me, I’m just trying to hit the best shot I can,” Smith said. That’s what I’m here to do is to hit good golf shots and make birdies.”

Spaun had a two-putt birdie on the par-5 16th and holed an 18-foot birdie putt on the next hole to claim the 54-hole lead a 13-under 197. Straka was right there with him until he failed to save par from the bunker on the 18th for a 68 that left him one shot behind.

Both are first-time winners on the PGA Tour this year, and a victory in a FedEx Cup playoffs even carries even more weight — $2.7 million to the winner and a guaranteed spot at East Lake for the FedEx Cup finale.

Zalatoris is just as hungry for a win. He has been a tough customer in the majors, losing in a playoff at the PGA Championship and finishing one back in the US Open. He is No. 14 in the world. And he has yet to win on the PGA Tour.

Zalatoris opened with a 71 that put him in such a hole that even his fiancee wanted to know their plans if he didn’t make it to the weekend.

“I told her, ‘Let’s cross that bridge when he get there,’” Zalatoris said with a smile. He decided to let his new caddie, Joel Stock, read putts in their second official round together. Zalatoris shot a 63 and followed with a 65 on Saturday.

He also was two behind, along with Trey Mullinax (66).

As for the chase to the next playoff event, consider Tyler Duncan. He is No. 118 in the FedEx Cup, and only the top 70 move on to the BMW Championship next week in Delaware. Duncan had a 67 and was tied for sixth. He was three behind, and even if he doesn’t win, he can move on if he can hold his position.

Ryan Palmer had a 32 on the back nine to salvage a 69 leaving him on the cusp of the top 70 that will advance.

There are 16 players separated by four shots, a group that includes Sam Burns and Tony Finau. A winner in his last two starts, Finau ended his streak of 11 rounds at 68 or lower. He made a bogey on the last hole gave him a 69, leaving him four behind.

No one stands out like Smith, for so many reasons. Not only is it his first start since being introduced at St. Andrews as the “champion golfer of the year,” the Daily Telegraph reported Tuesday that he had signed with LIV and would join the defectors outside Boston after the Tour Championship is over.

Smith has steadfastly refused to talk about it.

“I’m a man of my word and whenever you guys need to know anything, it’ll be said by me,” Smith said Tuesday. 


Brazil’s Haddad Maia to face Halep for Canadian WTA title

Updated 14 August 2022

Brazil’s Haddad Maia to face Halep for Canadian WTA title

  • The first Brazilian to get to the final of a WTA Masters event has now won 17 matches since June, when she won grasscourt titles in Birmingham and Nottingham

TORONTO: Simona Halep will bid for a third Canadian title at the WTA Toronto Masters on Sunday against determined Brazilian outsider Beatriz Haddad Maia.

Haddad Maia stunned 2021 finalist Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 7-6 (9/7) in the semifinals while Halep put years of big-match experience to good use in a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over seventh-seeded American Jessica Pegula.

Halep, the former world No. 1 from Romania who won 2016 and 2018 trophies in Canada, showed her definitive return to form with the victory after dropping from the top 10 in the rankings a year ago due to injury.

“We never played against each other,” Halep said. “So I didn’t really know what to expect.

“But it was a great fight. I’m really happy that I went through.

“Of course, I can improve,” Halep added. “But I’m building the confidence, I’m building the game, and I’m really happy that I’m in this position.”

Haddad Maia, who stunned world No. 1  Ita Swiatek in the third round, blunted the noted serving attack of Czech Pliskova, who fired nine aces in defeat.

The first Brazilian to get to the final of a WTA Masters event has now won 17 matches since June, when she won grasscourt titles in Birmingham and Nottingham.

The South American, ranked 24th in the world, is guaranteed to breach the Top 20 next week.

Her match was a rollercoaster, with Haddad Maia fighting off Pliskova while leading 5-1 in the opening set.

Pliskova then seized a 4-1 lead in the second only for Haddad Maia to claw her way back.

Halep, who will return to the top-10 thanks to her victory, needed two and a quarter hours to knock out American Pegula, who was the highest seed left in the field.

The 30-year-old winner of Roland Garros and Wimbledon titles could return to sixth in the world if she beats Haddad Maia on Sunday.

She will again have experience on her side as she competes in her 18th career Masters final in search of her ninth title at the elite level.

Halep lost the opening set against Pegula in 35 minutes but levelled at a set apiece thanks to an early break in the second.

Halep missed two match points on her opponent’s serve and swiped her racquet angrily on the cement as Pegula held for 4-5 in the third.

“The fire is back, it’s a good sign if I do that,” said the Romanian, who was supported by a sizeable number of compatriots in the stands.

Halep clinched the win on her third opportunity as Pegula hit the net with a return.

“I changed a little bit the tactics,” Halep said. “In the first set, it was a little bit too fast.

“She was hitting super strong and I didn’t feel the rhythm. Then I just calmed down and I tried to just push her back a little bit more.”

Halep saved 12 of the 17 break points she faced as she earned her 37th victory this season while playing in her seventh semifinal of 2022.

Popovici on top of the word after record-setting effort in 100m freestyle

Updated 14 August 2022

Popovici on top of the word after record-setting effort in 100m freestyle

  • The 17-year-old Romanian double world champion swam 46.86sec to slice 0.05sec off the old world record set by Brazilian Cesar Cielo in the 2009 World Championships, also in Rome, in the era of buoyant body suits

ROME: David Popovici reacted with “euphoria” after swimming the “best race I ever did” to break the men’s 100m freestyle world record at the European Championships in Rome on Saturday.

“It’s nice being able to say that I am the fastest to ever do it,” Popovici said.

The 17-year-old Romanian double world champion swam 46.86sec to slice 0.05sec off the old mark set by Brazilian Cesar Cielo in the 2009 World Championships, also in Rome, in the era of buoyant body suits.

“It was great and it’s very special to break this record that was set here in 2009 by Cesar Cielo,” Popovici added.

Popovici clearly enjoyed the moment.

“That was euphoria just kicking in. Simply that.”

“There’s not really a lot of adjectives I can give on how I’m feeling. I’m simply just happy,” said Popovici, who speaks faultless and exuberant English.

The fastest time in a textile suit had been 46.96 set by American Olympic champion Caeleb Dressel at the 2019 World Championships.

“I planned to go very fast and I planned to have fun and that was really about it,” said Popovici.

“It hurt, but it’s still worth it and I feel good now.”

Hungary’s Kristof Milak, the world record holder in the 200m butterfly, was second in 47.47 with Italy’s Alessandro Miressi third 47.63.

“Right now, I’m in the world record club,” Popovici said.

“Just after I finished, Kristof Milak said to me welcome to the club.”

Asked if he had swum the perfect race, Popovici replied: “I think so, yeah.”

But then he added: “Well my coach has to decide that but for the moment I think it’s probably the best race I ever did.

Popovici had eased into the final on Friday with a new European record of 46.98 seconds.

“Yesterday I said that the European record was just a step in the right direction, and I was right,” Popovici said.

In June, Popovici became the first man to complete the 100-200m freestyle double at the World Championships in nearly 50 years.

In Rome, he is also entered in the 200m which starts on Sunday and 400m which begins on Wednesday but refused to predict any more world records.

“I think I still like the 200 more but I have to get a little bit closer to the world record maybe not tomorrow, maybe not the day after tomorrow but I have a lot of time, so there is no rush,” said Popovici, who is expected to compete in the world junior championships in Peru starting at the end of August.

Another 17-year-old world champion also added European gold on Saturday.

Italian Benedetta Pilato won the women’s 100m breaststroke in 1:05.97, more than a second-and-half outside the world record set by American Lilly King in 2017.

Pilato was followed home by compatriot Lisa Angiolini and Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte, the 50m world champion.

Swedish veteran Sarah Sjostrom won the women’s 50m butterfly gold for the fifth time in 24.96. The 28-year-old is the only woman to go under 25 seconds in the event in a 50m pool.

France’s Marie Wattel won silver with Maaike de Waard of the Netherlands third.

Frenchman Yohann Ndoye Brouard won the opening final of the evening when he took the men’s 200m backstroke in 1 min 55.62 sec.

He beat Hungary’s Benedek Kovacs and England’s Luke Greenbank.

Viktoria Milhalyvari-Farkas, an 18-year-old, led a Hungarian one-two in the women’s 400m individual medley ahead of Zsuzsanna Jakabos with Freya Colbert of Britain third.

Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri dominated the men’s 800m freestyle ahead of German Lukas Martens and a second Italian Lorenzo Galossi.

The British ended the evening by edging the Swedes and the Dutch to win the women’s 400x100m freestyle relay.


New-look Barcelona held 0-0 by Rayo in Lewandowski’s debut

Updated 14 August 2022

New-look Barcelona held 0-0 by Rayo in Lewandowski’s debut

  • Fittingly, given their poor finish to the match, Barcelona ended with 10 men after Sergio Busquets got a second booking in stoppage time when he swung his arm into the face of Rayo substitute Radamel Falcao

BARCELONA, Spain: Barcelona mortgaged its financial future to give Xavi Hernández the talent he wanted.
But Rayo Vallecano showed Xavi he still has work to do to forge a winning team after his new-look Barcelona was held to a 0-0 draw on Saturday in their Spanish league opener.
The modest club from Madrid frustrated Robert Lewandowski and his fellow Barcelona newcomers by defending well and producing the most dangerous scoring threats. As the minutes ticked by, the energy drained from the 81,000-strong Camp Nou crowd that had turned out to cheer the team that was only made possible by the constroversial decision by club president Joan Laporta to sell off television rights and other assets in exchange for some much needed cash.
The biggest applause Lewandowski heard from the crowd was to show their appreciation for his hustle on defense late in the match with Barcelona stymied in attack. The closest the former Bayern Munich star went to scoring was a header flicked well over the bar in the first half.
Fittingly, given its poor finish to the match, Barcelona ended with 10 men after Sergio Busquets got a second booking in stoppage time when he swung his arm into the face of Rayo substitute Radamel Falcao. Busquets’ explusion will rule him out of Barcelona’s visit to Real Sociedad. Falcao then had what looked to be a winner waived away for offside as Rayo went close to claiming a third straight win over Barcelona after it stunned the Catalan club twice last season.
“It is too bad because we wanted to show our fans that we are on the right path,” Xavi said. “We had generated a lot of expectations, but this is just the beginning. Today is disappointing for every Barcelona supporter, but we have to keep our faith in this way of playing as being the right one to win titles.”
Lewandowski, winger Raphinha and defender Andreas Christensen, who also joined Barcelona this summer, all made Xavi’s starting 11. The three players along with fellow newcomer Franck Kessié and the recently re-signed Ousmane Dembélé and Sergi Roberto were only declared eligible to play by the Spanish league on Friday after Barcelona sold yet another stake in its in-house production company to improve its troubled financial balance.
The delicate state of Barcelona’s finances meant that it was unable to register Jules Koundé, its top defensive signing, in time for the season opener.
Xavi had said the demands placed on him and his team were higher this season because of the effort the club had made to give him a lot more talent after Barcelona won nothing last campaign following the exit of Lionel Messi.
But Xavi still has a way to go to create a team as well-honed as Andoni Iraola’s Rayo, which for a third meeting in a row held Barcelona without a goal. Iraola’s team, led by midfielders midfielders Isi Palazón and Óscar Trejo, erased all the passing lanes for Lewandowski. Barcelona was unable to find the answer through Raphinha and Dembélé, who both wasted the one good chance they each got.
Barcelona’s best chance came from late substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whose goal-bound shot was saved by defender Alejandro Catena in the 85th.
Previously, Barcelona had needed goalie Marc-Andre Ter Stegen to keep the game scoreless.
Ter Stegen closed out quickly to block Álvaro García’s point-blank shot after the forward had streaked away down the left flank and cut back past the sliding Ronald Araújo just before halftime.
Barcelona had another scare early in the second half when Sergio Camello pounced on a ball lost by Araújo. Again Ter Stegen came to the rescue, forcing Camello into taking a shot from a narrow angle that trickled just past the far post.
“My team played tense and with nerves. I had tried to tell them that the pressure was on me,” Xavi said. “But Rayo played well and closed off our passing game. They executed their game plan.”
Iraola, a former Athletic Bilbao player who has impressed as a coach, said his team played well enough to claim another victory at Camp Nou.
“I think we played a great match. I am not satisfied because we wanted a win. It is too bad we couldn’t take the three points,” he said. “Maybe they had more chances, but we had three or four clear opportunities. I am happy for the effort of my team and for having neutralized a great rival.”

Neymar nets 2 as PSG beats Montpellier 5-2 in French league

Updated 14 August 2022

Neymar nets 2 as PSG beats Montpellier 5-2 in French league

  • Neymar scored twice to take his tally to three goals in two league games for the defending champion on a night when Lionel Messi was held scoreless

PARIS: Neymar and Paris Saint-Germain’s high-powered attack put on another impressive display in a 5-2 win over Montpellier in the French league on Saturday as Kylian Mbappe opened his account but missed a penalty in his return from a groin injury.
Neymar scored twice to take his tally to three goals in two league games for the defending champion on a night when Lionel Messi was held scoreless. The Brazil striker was also PSG’s best player in preseason friendlies as he looks to find his peak form for the World Cup in Qatar, which starts in November.
PSG also netted five goals in its league opener and Montpellier opted for a low defensive block to deny space for the hosts. But the pressure was too much for center back Falaye Sacko, who diverted Mbappe’s off-target shot into his own net in the 39th minute.
Sacko then handled the ball in the 42nd when Lionel Messi juggled the ball on a dribbling run. Neymar wrongfooted Jonas Omlin to convert the subsequent penalty for a 2-0 lead.
PSG capitalized on another blunder to add a third goal in the 51st. Mbappe blocked Omlin’s pass and found Achraf Hakimi, whose deflected cross was headed home by Neymar.
Far from his best level, Mbappe still found the net with a flick from a corner in the 69th.
“(Mbappe) is a competitor, he wants to be good, and he wants to be good quickly,” PSG coach Christophe Galtier told Canal Plus. “He needs a bit of time to be 100 percent fit. He will make even more difference when he will be 100 percent fit.”
In his PSG debut, Portugal midfielder Renato Sanches rounded off the scoring with a first-time effort in the 88th.
Omlin pulled off some outstanding saves to frustrate PSG for more than 30 minutes. The Swiss goalkeeper saved a penalty from Mbappe in the 23rd after Jordan Ferri had handled the ball. He then turned around the post a curling free kick from Messi in the 26th.
Montpellier scored with a close-range effort from Wahbi Khazri in the 58th and a half-volley from Enzo Tchato in stoppage time.
Earlier, Rennes’ defensive issues were exposed as it squandered the lead to draw 1-1 with 10-man Monaco.
In a clash between two contenders for European spots, Monaco forward Breel Embolo pounced on a heavy touch from goalkeeper Dogan Alemdar to equalize with a sliding effort in the 73rd.
Rennes striker Gaetan Laborde opened the scoring by converting a rebound in the 59th.
Monaco was down to 10 men in the 15th when midfielder Youssouf Fofana was red-carded for a stamp on Martin Terrier’s ankle.
“We are extremely disappointed,” Laborde said. “When you play with 11 men against 10 almost the entire game, you must come away with three points. It was tense in the dressing room.”
Despite its numerical superiority, Rennes looked shaky at the back. Embolo proved a magnet for fouls and Joe Rodon and Arthur Theate were booked for holding the forward in the 21st and the 23rd, respectively.
Steve Mandanda also received a yellow card in the 31st for catching Embolo in the face while attempting to punch the ball away. The Rennes goalkeeper made amends by stopping the subsequent penalty taken by Axel Disasi before denying Krepin Diatta in the 36th.
However, Mandanda picked up a knock and was replaced by Alemdar at halftime.
Monaco goalkeeper Alexander Nubel helped salvage a point by turning Baptiste Santamaria’s long-range strike around the post in the 27th and parrying a close-range header from Terrier in the 28th.