Practice makes perfect: Serena’s serve leads to win in Paris

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Serena Williams (US) plays a return to Mihaela Buzarnescu (Romania) during their match on day four of the French Open tennis tournament in Paris on June 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
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Russia's Daniil Medvedev in action during his second round match against Tommy Paul of the US in the French Open on June 2, 202. (REUTERS/Benoit Tessier)
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Updated 03 June 2021

Practice makes perfect: Serena’s serve leads to win in Paris

  • In the men's edition, Russia's Daniil Medvedev defeated American Tommy Paul
  • Williams has won three of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles in the French Open

PARIS: Her superior serve back at its unreturnable best, Serena Williams was in full control of her French Open match — until, suddenly, that stroke wasn’t as dominant and neither was she.
And then, pushed to a third set by an opponent offering up all sorts of spins and speeds and angles, Williams regained her form and forged to the finish.
Williams got back to the third round at Roland Garros, where she has won three of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles, by pulling away to beat 174th-ranked Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-3, 5-7, 6-1 Wednesday on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Her serving, especially at the outset, was much better than in her first-round win. In that one Monday, she only put 51 percent of first serves in play and got broken three times in 10 games.
“I’ve been practicing my serve a lot. I’ve been playing, in practice, unbelievable on my serve. The other night was, ‘Wooooow,’ she said, rolling her eyes. “I’m glad it came better today. My coach told me it’s good that I’m doing it well in practice, because eventually it will be good in the match.”
It sure was, especially at the outset against Buzarnescu, who didn’t manage to put any serves in play in the first game.
By the end of the first set, Williams had won 20 of 23 points she served.
In the second set, things changed.
Buzarnescu made the measure of those powerful offerings and managed to get herself right back in the thick of things, breaking twice in a row.
“She’s one of the best servers in the world. It’s not easy to read her serve. Being the first time playing against her, it took a while for me to adjust my position in the court on the return,” said Buzarnescu, who called it “a dream” to be able to face Williams. “I’m just happy I was able to figure it out. I hope next time, I can do it earlier.”
After a bit of a reset, Williams got going back in the right direction.
“I knew going into the third, I just had to zero in on those important points,” she said. “If I could just take those, it would be an easier time for me.”
Last year, Williams withdrew before the second round in Paris because of an injured left Achilles. No such issues so far this time, and the 39-year-old American covered the court well, although she did have some tape on her right thigh.
Next for the No. 7-seeded Williams is an all-American matchup against Danielle Collins, who overwhelmed Anhelina Kalinina 6-0, 6-2.
It was a strong French Open afternoon for the US, including victories in the women’s draw for No. 23 Madison Keys and in the men’s for No. 31 John Isner, No. 32 Reilly Opelka and unseeded players Stevie Johnson and Marco Giron.
It’s the first time that four American men made it to the third round at Roland Garros since a half-dozen got there in 1996 — and Taylor Fritz still has to play his second match on Thursday.

Medvedev beats Tommy Paul

Another American, Tommy Paul, got off to a good start against No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, a two-time Grand Slam runner-up, in the night session Wednesday. But Medvedev, who was 0-4 for his career at the French Open until this week, came back to eliminate Paul 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3.
Medvedev will take on Opelka for a spot in Week 2.
Earlier in the day, down 4-1 in the third set, 2020 US Open runner-up Alexander Zverev decided it was time to shorten his match.
He was determined to avoid another lengthy fight following a five-setter in the first round, so he applied pressure on qualifier Roman Safiullin. The sixth-seeded German won the next game at love, broke back by pushing his rival into unforced errors and was nearly flawless in the tiebreaker.
The reward was a 7-6 (4), 6-3, 7-6 (1) victory to advance to the third round.
“I’m happy to be through in three sets,” Zverev said. “I think it’s going to be important for me during the course of this tournament.”
Zverev, facing a rival he has known since they were juniors, dropped his serve three times on Court Suzanne Lenglen and hit 10 double-faults. But a 25-shot rally in the final tiebreaker epitomized Zverev’s hang-in-there attitude.
First on the defensive, Zverev turned it around and won the point with a passing shot.
Others moving into the third round included qualifier Henri Laaksonen, who hit 53 winners to upset 11th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, and Kei Nishikori, the 2014 US Open runner-up, who was taken to five sets for the second consecutive match before downing the big-hitting Karen Khachanov 4-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.
The 23rd-seeded Khachanov was treated by a trainer in the fifth set after cutting his right middle finger by hitting his racket strings in anger.
Nishikori extended his record in five-set matches to 26-7.


Algeria want to replace Guinea as 2025 Cup of Nations hosts

Updated 01 October 2022

Algeria want to replace Guinea as 2025 Cup of Nations hosts

  • Algeria football boss Zefizef Djahid said his country “will be candidates to host the 2025 AFCON”
  • Confederation of African Football president Patrice Motsepe said Guinea would not host the 2025 edition because they were "not ready to do so"

JOHANNESBURG: Algeria football boss Zefizef Djahid said on Saturday his country will bid to stage the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) after original choice Guinea were stripped of the hosting rights.
Speaking during the African Nations Championship (CHAN) draw ceremony at an Algiers opera house, he announced that “Algeria will be candidates to host the 2025 AFCON.”
On Saturday, Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Patrice Motsepe said Guinea would not host the 2025 edition because they were “not ready to do so.”
The west African country, one of the poorest in the continent, has currently only one international-standard stadium, and Cup of Nations require six.
Launched in 1957 in Sudan as a three-country event, the Cup of Nations has gradually increased to 24 teams from the 2019 finals in Egypt.
Talking at a press conference in the Algerian capital ahead of the CHAN draw, South African billionaire Motsepe said “about 10 countries” are interested in replacing Guinea.
“What I can assure you is that we are not going to choose a country that is not at an adequate level to meet our quality standards.”
Motsepe did not name the potential bidders, but AFP understands former hosts Morocco, Nigeria and Senegal could be among the interested countries.
“I can assure you that there is no country in Africa that is going to be favored,” stressed Motsepe, seemingly referring to criticism that is he pro-Morocco.
The CAF boss recently told AFP that “the only reason Morocco has been hosting CAF competitions is because they are the only country prepared to do so.
“Our bidding process is open to all 54 member nations and sometimes we stretch the deadline to encourage multiple candidates, but only Morocco deliver a formal bid.”
Morocco boasts world-class facilities and infrastructure and recently staged a hugely successful Africa Women’s Cup of Nations, with 40,000-plus crowds attending some matches.
Later this year the kingdom will host the eight-club CAF Women’s Champions League and, next year, the men’s qualifying tournament for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
A Moroccan official reportedly said his country “would consider” a bid to stage the premier African football tournament for the first time since 1988.
Outgoing Nigerian football boss Amaju Pinnick recently suggested his nation and neighbors Benin should make a joint bid.
Nigeria staged and won the Cup of Nations in 1980 and finished runners-up when they co-hosted the 2000 edition with Ghana.
Algeria were another country to host and win the Cup of Nations, defeating Nigeria in the 1990 final. Senegal were the 1992 hosts.
Cameroon hosted the last Cup of Nations this year and the Ivory Coast are next in line with the finals set for January and February 2024.


Sherif becomes first Egyptian to win WTA Tour event

Updated 01 October 2022

Sherif becomes first Egyptian to win WTA Tour event

  • Besides earning her first career title, Sherif also notched her first win over a top-10 opponent

PARMA, Italy: Mayar Sherif became the first Egyptian to win a WTA Tour event by beating top-seeded Maria Sakkari 7-5, 6-3 at the Parma Ladies Open on Saturday.
Besides earning her first career title, Sherif also notched her first win over a top-10 opponent.
Along with Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, who reached the Wimbledon and US Open finals this year, Sherif is raising the profile of tennis in North Africa.
The 74th-ranked Sherif actually had to win two matches on Saturday, first overcoming sixth-seeded Ana Bogdan 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the semifinals, which were postponed a day due to rain.
The seventh-ranked Sakkari beat Danka Kovinic 7-5, 6-2 in her semifinal earlier Saturday.

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Smalling heads Roma to win at struggling Inter Milan

Updated 01 October 2022

Smalling heads Roma to win at struggling Inter Milan

  • Inter started strongly and were effectively camped in Roma's half for most of the first half
  • The hosts thought they had taken the lead with 10 minutes gone

MILAN: Chris Smalling headed Roma to a 2-1 win at Inter Milan on Saturday which kept them in touch with Serie A leaders Napoli following their 3-1 win over Torino.
England defender Smalling perfectly met Lorenzo Pellegrini’s free-kick with 15 minutes remaining to complete Roma’s comeback from going behind to Federico Dimarco’s fine first-half strike.
Jose Mourinho’s side, who levelled through Paulo Dybala six minutes before half-time, are four points behind Napoli in fourth place after a win which also leaves Inter further back in the title race.
Simone Inzaghi’s seventh-placed team are eight points off the pace after losing for the fourth time in their eight matches, hardly the best preparation for the crucial Champions League visit of Barcelona on Tuesday.
Inter started strongly and were effectively camped in Roma’s half for most of the first half, the away side not able to do anything more than sit back and try to hold off waves of attack.
The hosts thought they had taken the lead with 10 minutes gone, Edin Dzeko punishing dreadful defending from his former team by spinning and hitting a low shot past Rui Patricio.
However the Bosnian had strayed offside in the build up and Inter had to wait until the half-hour mark for the goal their play deserved.
Inter academy product Dimarco followed up on his goal against Hungary which helped put Italy in the Nations League final four by sweeping home Nicolo Barella’s nicely-weighted pass.
The hosts looked heavy favorites for the three points but the goal woke Roma, who were level nine minutes later.
Starting up front in place of Tammy Abraham, Dybala had just been denied by a Samir Handanovic double save which also kept out Leonardo Spinazzola when he thrashed in his brilliant leveller from the Italy left-back’s deep cross.
The Argentina forward was replaced by Abraham just before the hour and Inter responded, Hakan Calhanoglu hitting a free-kick off the bar before Kristjan Asllani, stepping in for Marcelo Brozovic, flashed a curling effort just wide.
However Roma settled and Smalling tipped the result in the away side’s favor with his second of the season to give Mourinho a precious win against his old club.
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa scored his maiden Serie A goals in Napoli’s home win over spirited Torino, his brace in the first 12 minutes setting up the hosts for their sixth win on the bounce in all competitions.
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s fifth of his first Serie A season eight minutes before half-time will also keep Napoli in first place unless Atalanta beat Fiorentina by five goals on Sunday.
“I’m very happy, I don’t want to lie, it’s the first time for me in Serie A,” Anguissa told DAZN.
“It’s important to score but I just want to do my job. If the goals come, I’m happy but the first thing for me is my team, for my team to win.
“So, if we can win all the games, even if I don’t score, I don’t care. I just want to win.”
Napoli go into next week’s trip to Ajax in high spirits knowing they could take a big step toward the knockout stage of the Champions League.
Luciano Spalletti’s side have also netted 18 times in their eight league fixtures despite having to do without starting center-forward Victor Osimhen for their last three matches.
Torino, who scored through Antonio Sanabria just before the break, stay ninth after losing their third straight game and are level on 10 points with local rivals Juventus who host Bologna on Sunday.
Ivan Juric’s side have been unlucky to collect no points from their last three fixtures, with their previous two defeats coming late and after decent performances.


Leclerc takes Singapore GP pole as Verstappen aborts lap

Updated 01 October 2022

Leclerc takes Singapore GP pole as Verstappen aborts lap

  • “They told me to box and then I realized what was going to happen. We ran out of fuel,” Verstappen told broadcaster Sky
  • Leclerc clinched a season-leading ninth pole and finished .022 ahead of Verstappen's teammate Sergio Perez and .054 clear of Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton

SINGAPORE: Max Verstappen looked on course for pole position at the Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday when his Red Bull team aborted his lap with just seconds left in qualifying because of a fuel issue and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took pole instead.
“Why? Why? Why?” Verstappen asked when told to box, before unleashing an expletive.
He soon found out why.
“They told me to box and then I realized what was going to happen. We ran out of fuel,” Verstappen told broadcaster Sky. “It is incredibly frustrating and it shouldn’t happen ... At least you (should) track that throughout the session to know you aren’t going to make it. We should’ve seen that way earlier.”
Verstappen starts eighth, although he’s won from 14th on the grid this season in Belgium.
He was well clear of Leclerc at the time splits but Red Bull called him in as he was about to go under fuel limit regulations. Drivers can be disqualified if they don’t have enough fuel left in the tank, which would have meant starting from last place.
Still, he was clearly displeased at what happened.
“I am not happy at all at the moment, I know of course it is always a team effort and I can make mistakes, and the team can make mistakes, but it is never acceptable,” he said. “Of course you learn from it, but this is really bad. It shouldn’t happen.”
Leclerc clinched a season-leading ninth pole and finished .022 ahead of Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez and .054 clear of Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton.
“It was incredibly close, a really exciting session,” said Hamilton, who has a record 103 career poles but none this year. “A really clean qualifying session. It was so difficult to get that lap perfect.”
Perez is confident he can challenge for victory.
“It’s an opportunity tomorrow from the start to attack Charles and I’ll go for the win,” Perez said. “It’s quite disappointing to miss out by two hundredths but at the end of the day I think they did a fantastic job. Very happy.”
But Verstappen’s grid position deals a blow to his chances of wrapping up the title on Sunday on a street track difficult for overtaking. That gives Leclerc a good chance to win his fourth race of the season.
“I thought we wouldn’t get pole but it paid off and I’m really happy,” Leclerc said. “It was really, really special, every qualifying in street tracks are super on the limit.”
Leclerc called it “a matter of time before Max gets his title.”
Verstappen leads Leclerc by 116 points and will clinch his second straight title only if he scores 22 points more than Leclerc, his most realistic challenger.
He must win to secure the title Sunday, along with two other scenarios involving Leclerc. If Verstappen wins, Leclerc can finish no higher than ninth; if Verstappen wins and earns a bonus point for fastest lap, Leclerc can finish no higher than eighth.
The race buildup has seen bickering between teams over an alleged 2021 budget cap breach by Red Bull, which drew an angry response from Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
Also, Hamilton was summoned to appear before the stewards for a potential jewelry breach shortly after third practice had ended at the Marina Bay Circuit.
The seven-time F1 champion was later cleared after being investigated for an alleged infringement of Appendix L, Chapter III of the FIA’s International Sporting Code, which includes a prohibition on the wearing of jewelry. The summons related to Hamilton’s nose stud, which he had previously removed when the FIA’s jewelry ban was applied.
Hamilton said he explained to stewards before qualifying started that he needs to keep the stud in due to complications linked to a blood blister on his nose. Hamilton said he has a doctor’s letter showing all this and stewards accepted his explanation after reviewing footage.
Meanwhile, two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso will start behind Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. and from fifth place in his record 350th F1 race on Sunday, which will be one more than 2007 F1 champion Kimi Raikkonen.
McLaren’s Lando Norris was sixth and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly qualified seventh ahead of Verstappen, Kevin Magnussen (Haas) and Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) in 10th.
Williams driver Alex Albon, racing just three weeks after being hospitalized with appendicitis and then suffering respiratory failure, qualified 19th.
He went out of Q1 with Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon — who have a combined 19 F1 wins. Bottas starts from 16th spot with Ricciardo 17th and Ocon 18th.
Earlier Saturday, Leclerc led a rain-hit third and final practice ahead of Verstappen. Half the session was lost as marshals swept water off the 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) track, which mostly dried out for qualifying.
Midway through Q2, some drivers changed to the quicker slick tires while other stayed on intermediaries. Mercedes driver George Russell starts 11th after being knocked out of Q2 with four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin).


Gallagher haunts Palace as Chelsea boss Potter seals first win

Updated 01 October 2022

Gallagher haunts Palace as Chelsea boss Potter seals first win

  • Potter was taking charge of Chelsea for just the second time since replacing the sacked Thomas Tuchel in September
  • The former Brighton boss had overseen a 1-1 draw with RB Salzburg in the Champions League

LONDON: Graham Potter earned his first win as Chelsea manager after Conor Gallagher returned to haunt Crystal Palace with the decisive goal in a 2-1 victory at Selhurst Park on Saturday.
Potter was taking charge of Chelsea for just the second time since replacing the sacked Thomas Tuchel in September.
The former Brighton boss had overseen a 1-1 draw with RB Salzburg in the Champions League and was seconds away from another frustrating result until England midfielder Gallagher rode to the rescue.
Odsonne Edouard had put Palace ahead early on before former Barcelona forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang equalized with his first goal for Chelsea late in the first half.
That set the stage for Gallagher to come off the bench and win it for Chelsea deep into stoppage-time, in the process breaking the hearts of the team he played for on loan for the whole of last season.
“It’s a very special moment to come on and get the winner. It was written in the stars. Everyone knows how much I loved it at Palace but I’m just buzzing to get my first goal,” Gallagher said of his maiden strike for Chelsea.
Relieved to get off the mark after a tricky test in south London, Potter said: “We’re delighted with the result. It’s a tough place to come. I thought we started quite well but conceded from the first action into the box.
“Credit to the boys, they recovered well and did not let their heads go down. It was nice to get an equalizer and get back in the game.
“There’s character, that’s for sure. They could’ve felt sorry for themselves after conceding the goal but the players stood up all the way through.
“There was a collective spirit among the players. We are delighted with the three points.”
Edouard met Jordan Ayew’s seventh-minute cross and lifted the ball past Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga into the top corner.
Raheem Sterling was inches away from a quick equalizer when the Chelsea forward pounced on his own rebound and watched his second effort hit the post.
Palace were furious when Ayew looked through on goal, only to be stopped in his tracks by Thiago Silva, with the Chelsea defender escaping with just a booking.
Silva’s presence on the pitch proved vital moments later when Reece James found the Brazilian at the edge of the area and he nodded the pass in the direction of Aubameyang, who spun and fired past Vicente Guaita.
Palace nearly went back in front after half-time when Michael Olize battled his marker before picking out Wilfried Zaha, who could not beat Kepa with a powerful strike.
Gallagher was warmly received by Palace fans when he stepped on the pitch in the 76th minute.
But those friendly sentiments were quickly forgotten when he curled in the decider to spark jubilant celebrations among Potter and his backroom staff.