Osaka fined $15K for skipping French Open media; Thiem out

Japan's Naomi Osaka returns the ball to Romania's Patricia Maria Tig during their first round match of the French open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium on May 30, 2021 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
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Updated 31 May 2021

Osaka fined $15K for skipping French Open media; Thiem out

  • Tennis players are required to attend news conferences if requested to do so
  • The maximum fine is not a big deal to Osaka, the world’s highest-earning female athlete

PARIS: Naomi Osaka was fined $15,000 when she skipped the news conference after her first-round victory at the French Open on Sunday — and drew a stunning warning from all four Grand Slam tournaments that she could face stiffer penalties, including disqualification or even suspension, if she continues to avoid the media.
Osaka returned to Roland Garros after sitting out the tournament last year and turned in a mistake-filled 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory over 63rd-ranked Patricia Maria Tig at Court Philippe Chatrier on Day 1. She had declared Wednesday on social media she would not speak to the press and kept that promise.
Hours later, Osaka turned to her preferred method of communication these days, tweeting: “anger is a lack of understanding. change makes people uncomfortable.”
Other results perhaps were more newsworthy than a straight-set win by the No. 2-ranked Osaka — US Open champion and two-time French Open runner-up Dominic Thiem’s 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 loss to 68th-ranked Pablo Andujar comes to mind — but the events that unfolded after the Japanese superstar’s match were of high interest.
Tennis players are required to attend news conferences if requested to do so. The maximum fine, of course, is not a big deal to Osaka, the world’s highest-earning female athlete thanks to endorsement contracts totaling tens of millions of dollars.
She framed the matter as a mental health issue, saying that it can create self-doubt to have to answer questions after a loss.
“She’s capable of making her own choices and obviously she will do always what’s best for her,” Tig said. “I think that’s what’s happening now.”
Other players, notably 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal and No. 1-ranked Ash Barty, have said they respect Osaka’s right to take a stance but explained that they consider speaking to reporters part of the job.
The fine was assessed by the tournament referee at Roland Garros and announced in a joint statement from the president of the French tennis federation, Gilles Moretton, and counterparts at the sport’s other majors: Tennis Australia President Jayne Hrdlicka, All England Club Chairman Ian Hewitt and US Tennis Association President Mike McNulty.
“A core element of the Grand Slam regulations is the responsibility of the players to engage with the media, whatever the result of their match, a responsibility which players take for the benefit of the sport, the fans and for themselves,” they said. “These interactions allow both the players and the media to share their perspective and for the players to tell their story.”
They said they understand the importance of protecting athletes’ mental health but also noted that “rules are in place to ensure all players are treated exactly the same, no matter their stature, beliefs or achievement.”
The statement said Osaka had been approached and asked to reconsider her position but there was a “lack of engagement.”
Osaka, the group of Slam leaders said, has been “advised” that “should she continue to ignore her media obligations during the tournament, she would be exposing herself to possible further Code of Conduct infringement consequences.”
Citing the rule book, the statement noted that “tougher sanctions” from “repeat violations” could include being defaulted from the tournament and “the trigger of a major offense investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions.”
Osaka’s agent did not reply to an emailed request for comment from the AP.
Her sister, Mari, wrote in a post on Reddit, which she later deleted, that Naomi was “not OK mentally” after a first-round loss this month in Rome.
“Her confidence was completely shattered and I think that everyone’s remarks and opinions have gotten to her head and she herself believed that she was bad on clay,” Mari wrote. “This isn’t true and she knows that in order to do well and have a shot at winning Roland Garros she will have to believe that she can. ... So her solution was to block everything out.”
After her win Sunday, Osaka did go ahead with the perfunctory exchange of pleasantries with an on-court French Open “interviewer” who lobs softball questions so spectators can hear something from the athletes.
The topic of Osaka’s troubles on clay arose in that chat with former player Fabrice Santoro.
“I would say it’s a work in progress,” said Osaka, who has won four Slam titles on hard courts but never been past the French Open’s third round. “Hopefully the more I play, the better it will get.”
Unlike Osaka, Thiem has shown plenty of prowess on clay, never before losing in the first round at Paris and making it as far as the final twice before losing to — who else? — Nadal in 2018 and 2019.
Andujar, who beat Roger Federer on clay in Geneva this month, had never managed to come back to win after dropping the initial two sets for a match.
Two other past Grand Slam champions exited: Svetlana Kuznetsova bowed out against two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in three sets, while Angelique Kerber was beaten in two by Anhelina Kalinina, a qualifier from Ukraine ranked 139th and making her French Open debut.
It was Kerber’s third consecutive first-round exit in Paris; she’s won each of the other Slams once apiece.
With Thiem gone, there are zero past major champions on the bottom half of the men’s draw. There are four on the top: Nadal, Federer, Novak Djokovic — with a combined 58 Slam trophies — and Marin Cilic, with one.
One man who could take advantage of the lopsided nature of the bracket is No. 6 seed Alexander Zverev, the runner-up to Thiem at Flushing Meadows last September. Zverev did not look ready to contend for much of anything Sunday, however, needing a comeback of his own from two sets down to get past 152nd-ranked qualifier Oscar Otte 3-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-0.
Zverev acknowledged he stepped on court Sunday aware — maybe too aware — of his good friend Thiem’s surprising loss.
“You try to focus on yourself. You try to not pay too much attention. But you do know the draw. You know who is where. You know that Dominic is one of the best clay-court players, especially here, one of the toughest opponents you can have. And then he’s out,” Zverev said.
“It does affect you a little bit,” he said. “Maybe that was part of the reason why I was a little bit nervous in the beginning.” ___
Leicester reported from Paris, Dampf reported from Rome. AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich contributed from Washington.


Pakistan battling isolation as cricket host after New Zealand pull out

Updated 18 September 2021

Pakistan battling isolation as cricket host after New Zealand pull out

  • New Zealand would have been the highest profile team to play in Pakistan in more than a decade
  • Pakistan have only hosted South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe since the 2009 attacks

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan cricket began confronting its worst fear Saturday, with the national side staring at another era of isolation from hosting international matches after New Zealand abandoned its tour, citing a security threat.
The All Blacks called off their first Pakistan series in 18 years with Wellington’s backing on Friday just before the first one-day international was due to start in Rawalpindi.
The decision has left cricket-crazy Pakistan reeling, with the nation still recovering from the 2009 militant attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore that wounded six players.
Already struggling to convince foreign teams to tour, Pakistan were forced to play home matches at neutral venues — primarily in the UAE — following the assault.
The decision left a generation of cricket fans growing up having never attended a live game.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former international cricketing hero, and the Pakistan Cricket Board will now have to work overtime to avoid another period of exile.
“With the administration they now have in place at the PCB and how closely linked to the PM it is, there’ll be a real push to ensure they have to play as little as possible in a neutral venue,” cricket writer Osman Samiuddin told AFP.
Their first task will be to convince England, who decide Sunday whether to send their men’s and women’s teams for a scheduled tour to Pakistan next month.
Those tours are to be followed by a series against the West Indies in December and Australia’s first visit since 1998 in February next year.
“England are now likely not to tour. Australia... will also probably not come. So that will be a hit,” Samiuddin said.
“And for fans too, they’ve only just started getting used to going to big games again so for the prospect of that being taken away, it’s going to hurt.”
The newly elected chairman of the PCB Ramiz Raja admitted Saturday that Pakistani cricket was facing “a lot of pressure,” though not for the first time — and that the nation was resilient.
“Your pain and my pain is the same, it’s a shared pain. Whatever happened was not good for Pakistan cricket,” he said.
The PCB bled $200 million in losses during the country’s cricket exile.
Now, alongside the upcoming tours, its bids to host six international events — including the World Cup and Champion’s Trophy between 2024-31 — could also be in jeopardy.
Former players say keeping international cricket in Pakistan is the key priority.
“All cricketers are with the PCB and we have to find ways to avoid further isolation, for the sake of our next generations,” former captain Rashid Latif told AFP.
New Zealand would have been the highest profile team to play in Pakistan in more than a decade.
Pakistan have only hosted South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe since the 2009 attacks.
Ex-player Naushad Ali said his country needs to restore the confidence of the cricketing world.
“Pakistan will have to prove that New Zealand’s decision was wrong and I think only that will earn them sympathy,” said Ali.
“We should not give up our hosting rights and should lobby with other countries.”
But former captain Shahid Afridi believes they have sacrificed a lot over the years and deserve “a better deal.”
“We have done more than enough for them,” he said.
“We toured England and New Zealand (last year) despite fears of pandemic and we want them to reciprocate.”


Salah strike helps Liverpool to top of the table with Palace win

Updated 18 September 2021

Salah strike helps Liverpool to top of the table with Palace win

  • Defending champions Manchester City drop two points at home to Southampton
  • Arsenal beat Burnley and continue climb up table

LONDON: Martin Odegaard scored his first goal since his permanent switch to Arsenal on Saturday to further ease the pressure on Mikel Arteta as Sadio Mane helped fire Liverpool to the top of the Premier League.
Defending champions Manchester City dropped two points at home to Southampton after a 0-0 stalemate while struggling Wolves lost their fourth match in five against 10-man Brentford.
Arsenal were rock bottom of the table before last week’s fixtures but wins against Norwich and now Burnley lifted them to the relative comfort of 12th spot before the late kick-off between Aston Villa and Everton.
Odegaard, who signed from Real Madrid last month after spending part of last season at the Emirates on loan, broke the deadlock in the 30th minute, curling home a free-kick to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at Turf Moor.
Arsenal breathed a sigh of relief when VAR overturned a penalty awarded to Burnley in the second half after Matej Vydra tumbled to the turf following a challenge by goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.
Liverpool forward Mane continued his eye-catching run against Crystal Palace, netting in his ninth league match in a row against the London side to send Jurgen Klopp’s men top of the table with a 3-0 win.
Mohamed Salah’s glancing header from Konstantinos Tsimikas’ corner was kept out by goalkeeper Vicente Guaita but Mane pounced to lash home his 100th goal for Liverpool in all competitions.
Salah doubled the Reds’ lead in the 78th minute before Naby Keita sealed the win with a sweetly struck volley.
Liverpool, champions in 2020, have made an impressive start to the season, scoring 12 goals in their opening five games and conceding just once.
Manchester City will rue their inability to beat Southampton at the Etihad after consecutive 5-0 home wins.
It could have been worse for them after referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot when Kyle Walker bundled into the back of Adam Armstrong in the area, showing the England international a red card.
But the incident was reviewed by VAR and Moss eventually decided to overturn both decisions.
The build-up to City’s match was dominated by a row over attendance levels at the Etihad, with manager Pep Guardiola urging fans to fill empty seats in comments that irritated some supporters.
But fans were frustrated by battling Southampton, who kept City’s attackers at bay despite relentless pressure.
The home side thought they had snatched victory in the dying minutes after goalkeeper Alex McCarthy saved a Phil Foden header and Raheem Sterling tucked in the rebound but the flag was raised.
Watford beat Norwich 3-1 to condemn the newly promoted Canaries to their fifth consecutive defeat.
Watford took the lead in the 17th minute through Emmanuel Dennis but Teemu Pukki equalized before half time. Ismaila Sarr put the visitors back in front in the 63rd minute and scored again with 10 minutes to go.
In the early kick-off, Ivan Toney scored a goal and created another as 10-man Brentford beat Wolves 2-0 to maintain their impressive start to their first Premier League campaign.
The 25-year-old striker won and converted a penalty before setting up Bryan Mbeumo as the Bees prevailed at Molineux despite Shandon Baptiste’s red card in the second half.
Tottenham host Chelsea on Sunday while Cristiano Ronaldo’s Manchester United travel to West Ham.


New Zealand Cricket silent on security threat ending Pakistan tour

Updated 18 September 2021

New Zealand Cricket silent on security threat ending Pakistan tour

  • The foreign ministry in Wellington says the country’s cricket board makes its own security decisions for foreign tours
  • New Zealand Cricket had said on Friday it was abandoning the Pakistan tour following its government’s ‘security alert’

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Cricket officials on Saturday threw a veil of secrecy over the security threat that forced the abrupt cancelation of their Pakistan tour.
According to Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Pakistan leader Imran Khan that the team feared an attack outside the stadium.
The cancelation is a huge setback for Pakistan, which has been trying to revive tours by foreign sides after home internationals were suspended in the aftermath of a terror attack on the Sri Lankan side in 2009.
The announcement on Friday that the series had been called off came just as the first one-day international was due to start at Rawalpindi Stadium, 10 kilometers (six miles) from the team hotel in Islamabad.
In a brief public statement, Ardern said the New Zealand government supported the cancelation as “player safety has to be paramount.”
The foreign ministry, which has been in contact with New Zealand Cricket, said there was an “ongoing and significant threat from terrorism throughout Pakistan” but would not comment on specific security concerns.
“New Zealand Cricket makes its own security decisions and has its own security arrangements in place for all international tours,” a ministry spokesman said.
When New Zealand Cricket first announced it was abandoning the Pakistan tour, it said the decision followed “a New Zealand government security alert” and advice from its own security advisers.
The side previously cut short a tour in 2002 after a suicide bombing outside their team hotel in Karachi killed 14 people, including 11 French naval engineers.
A New Zealand Cricket official told AFP no further comment was planned “at this juncture” and would not say if the security threat that caused the cancelation had been passed to the Pakistan Cricket Board or any other cricket-playing nation.
The England and Wales Cricket Board has said it will decide in the next 48 hours whether to withdraw from a tour planned for next month, while the West Indies and Australia are also scheduled to tour in the next six months.
Pakistan’s interior minister Ahmad was adamant there was “no threat to cricket in Pakistan, there was no threat to New Zealand and there is no threat to England.”
New Zealand were in Pakistan for the first time since 2003 and were due to play three ODIs, followed by five Twenty20 matches.
 


Guardiola defends his plea for ‘more fans’ at Man City game

Updated 17 September 2021

Guardiola defends his plea for ‘more fans’ at Man City game

  • A clash has broken out between City’s esteemed manager and a section of the team’s followers after Guardiola’s plea for “more people” to attend City’s Premier League home match against Southampton
  • The attendance against Leipzig was 38,062 and the Etihad’s capacity is about 55,000

MANCHESTER: For Pep Guardiola, it was a rallying cry ahead of what he expects to be a tough game.
For some Manchester City supporters, it was an ill-timed comment that questioned the loyalty of the club’s fan base.
A clash has broken out between City’s esteemed manager and a section of the team’s followers after Guardiola’s plea for “more people” to attend City’s Premier League home match against Southampton on Saturday — three days after a hard-fought 6-3 win over Leipzig in the Champions League at Etihad Stadium.
The attendance against Leipzig was 38,062. The Etihad’s capacity is about 55,000.
One of the people unhappy with Guardiola’s remarks was Kevin Parker, general secretary of City’s official supporters’ club, who accused the Spaniard of failing to understand the difficulties of attending games on a midweek evening and playing into the hands of opposition teams’ fans who often taunt City for not having capacity crowds at some matches.
“He’s absolutely the best coach in the world but, in the nicest possible way, I think maybe he should stick to that,” said Parker, who described Guardiola’s comments were “disappointing and uncalled for.”
Guardiola responded to Parker on Friday in a news conference ahead of the Southampton game, saying he would “definitely not” be apologizing for his comments and that there had been a “misunderstanding.”
“Don’t misunderstand or put words in my mouth that I didn’t say,” Guardiola said. “That’s what I don’t like. I never will be a problem for my fans. If I am a problem for my fans, I will step aside. Not a problem for me.”
Guardiola said he had seen his players look “exhausted” in the locker room after the end-to-end game against Leipzig and quickly realized they would need fans to get behind them against Southampton, given the quick turnaround of the games and Southampton’s pressing game and energetic style.
“When you play in the Champion League, it’s so demanding on your physicality, and mentally, when they (Southampton) have a long week to prepare the game,” Guardiola said. “So that’s why we need to be all together — the players, the supporters, everyone, to help us to do our best. I know exactly our fans will be there tomorrow to support, and hopefully Mr. Parker can come to watch us.
“Mr. Parker,” Guardiola added, should “review his comments.”
City has struggled to fill the Etihad for some home games in the Champions League, especially in the first one of each season’s group stage. It has led to some rivals fans using the nickname “the Emptyhad.”
There are some reasons given for the lower European attendances — some fans’ disaffection with the tournament organizer, UEFA, for what they perceive as unfair sanctions handed to, or affecting, City in the Champions League; City being involved in games in so many competitions that fans pick and choose matches; the pandemic affecting fans’ finances; a digital ticketing system that doesn’t allow fans to transfer tickets to others if they can’t attend a midweek game.
The fan bases of City’s main rivals in English soccer, including Manchester United and Liverpool, are far bigger globally.
“We are who we are. We are proud of who we are,” Guardiola said. “I know the history, I learned about the history of this club when it was in the lower division, and what it means to travel and follow the team. I respect it a lot.”
City has had near-capacity crowds for its first two home matches of the Premier League season — 5-0 wins over Norwich and Arsenal.


Juventus reports 210 million euros in losses amid pandemic

Updated 17 September 2021

Juventus reports 210 million euros in losses amid pandemic

  • Revenue from player registration rights (transfer market) dropped 129 million euros from 2019-20
  • Ticket sales fell more than 41 million euros from the year before

TURIN, Italy: Juventus reported a loss of 210 million euros ($250 million) for the 2020-21 financial year on Friday, attributed mainly to the pandemic’s effect on the transfer market and ticket sales.
Revenue from player registration rights (transfer market) dropped 129 million euros (more than $150 million) from 2019-20, while ticket sales fell more than 41 million euros ($48 million) from the year before.
While the drops were offset in part by a rise in TV rights income, overall losses were still more than twice as much as in 2019-20.
Meanwhile, Juventus said it was still clinging to the European Super League project promoted by club president Andrea Agnelli, despite the quick collapse of the plan unveiled in April when nine of the 12 teams involved withdrew after a public backlash.
“As at today, it is not possible to predict with certainty the outcome and future development of the Super League project, of the legitimacy of which Juventus remains confident,” the team said.
Juventus’ legal case with fellow Super League rebels Real Madrid and Barcelona challenging what they say is UEFA’s monopoly control of competitions is with the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. A deadline for submissions to the court is next month.