Barty has Kerber on her mind, Pliskova prepares for big-hitter Sabalenka in semis

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Australia's Ashleigh Barty in action during her quarter-finals match against Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic on Day 8 of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships on July 6, 2021.(REUTERS)
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Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova plays a return to Switzerland's Viktorija Golubic on Day 8 of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships on July 6, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 08 July 2021

Barty has Kerber on her mind, Pliskova prepares for big-hitter Sabalenka in semis

LONDON: One is motivated by a significant anniversary, another rediscovered the grass is definitely greener for her form, a third is driven on by “brutal” critics and the fourth, the girl with a tiger tattoo, finds herself in unknown Grand Slam territory.
The stage is set for the women’s Wimbledon semifinals on Thursday with three of the contenders new to the experience.
Headline names such as 2019 champion Simona Halep, four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka and seven-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams are missing but there is the present world number one and two former number ones in the last four.
Ashleigh Barty’s clash with Angelique Kerber would be fit for a final, pitching the world number one against the 2018 Wimbledon champion.
The other semi is an intriguing duel between former world number one Karolina Pliskova and the powerful second seed from Belarus, Aryna Sabalenka.
Barty is motivated by a higher purpose.
For it is 50 years ago her fellow indigenous Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley won the first of her two Wimbledon titles.
Barty has worn a specially-designed dress as a tribute to the ‘iconic’ scallop one her “friend and mentor” wore in that 1971 final.
“It’s a really special anniversary for a lot of Australians, but for indigenous Australians in particular,” said Barty at the outset of her not always convincing campaign.
“I think this is a really special one.”
Barty’s serve has been found wanting at pivotal moments — even her quarter-final opponent Ajla Tomljanovic broke her twice in their second set — but she believes her form is coming together.
“I think obviously play on grass is very different,” she said after her quarter-final.
“The grass season for me, it’s one tournament, pretty cut-throat.
“I certainly wasn’t as loose as I have been with errors and kind of ill-timed lapses. But I felt really sharp today.”

Barty, though, knows she will have to move up a gear if she is to see off Kerber.
The 33-year-old German has bounced back to top form after first round exits at both the Australian and French Open.
“I know one of Angie’s greatest assets is the fact that she can run and hunt and put the ball in an awkward situation to nullify my aggression and my weapons at times,” said Barty.
“It’s a really fine balance.”
Kerber, 33, has improved as the Championships have progressed from earning along with her second round opponent Sara Sorribes Tormo a five-minute standing ovation for their three hour marathon.
The 25th seed has gone on to impressive wins over higher-seeded duo Coco Gauff and then Karolina Muchova.
“I have always in my career had some ups and downs but I was always believing I could come back because I know what I can do,” said Kerber.
Pliskova too has never doubted herself despite dropping out of the top 10 — she is ranked 13 — after being a regular since 2016.
A first appearance in a Wimbledon semifinal has justified that self-belief — she is yet to drop a set and has only had her serve broken three times.
The 29-year-old Czech has hit 40 aces and she served one with full force directed at her doubters after she beat Swiss Viktorija Golubic on Tuesday.
“The Internet is the biggest problem,” said Pliskova who had failed to get to the second week of a Slam in her last five outings.
“Not that I would really read all the messages and all the comments, but sometimes you just see something or like some articles.
“I think they can be quite brutal. I was five years in the top 10. Then one week I’m not in the top 10, and it’s like huge drama, especially in my country.”
Sabalenka has defied the skeptics questioning her second seed status as she has broken new ground in reaching the last four having never before got past the fourth round of a major.
The 23-year-old’s tiger tattoo on her left thigh — due to her being born in 1998 the Year of the Tiger — led to her parents not speaking to her for a week.
However, she has lived up to the image of the tiger both in power and fighting spirit in eye-catching wins in the past two rounds over Elena Rybakina and Ons Jabeur to earn her place in the last four.
Pliskova will need no reminding of the 23-year-old Sabalenka’s battling qualities.
When they last met in Cincinnati in 2018 Sabalenka beat Pliskova having saved two match points.


Wimbledon quarterfinalist Kyrgios due in court in Australia

Updated 16 sec ago

Wimbledon quarterfinalist Kyrgios due in court in Australia

WIMBLEDON, England: Wimbledon quarterfinalist Nick Kyrgios is due in court back home in Australia next month.
A lawyer representing him said Tuesday the “precise nature of” the allegations “is neither certain at this moment nor confirmed by either the prosecution or” the 27-year-old professional tennis player.
“While Mr. Kyrgios is committed to addressing any and all allegations once clear, taking the matter seriously does not warrant any misreading of the process Mr. Kyrgios is required to follow,” attorney Pierre Johannessen wrote in a statement emailed to the media.
Johannessen wrote that “the allegations are not considered as fact” by the court, and Kyrgios is not “considered charged” with an offense until a first appearance in court.
The Canberra Times reported that Kyrgios is supposed to appear in court on Aug. 2. The newspaper cited local police as saying that a 27-year-old Australian man is involved in a case about “common assault following an incident in December 2021.”
Canberra police did not immediately respond to an after-hours request for comment emailed by The Associated Press.
Kyrgios is scheduled to play Cristian Garin at Wimbledon on Wednesday. It’s the third Grand Slam quarterfinal of the Australian’s career — he is 0-2 in the others — and first in 7 1/2 years.
An ATP spokesperson said: “The ATP is aware of the Australian case involving Nick Kyrgios but as legal proceedings are ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

Police probe racism claims after fan abuse at England-India Test

Updated 05 July 2022

Police probe racism claims after fan abuse at England-India Test

  • The Bharat Army said "many" of its members at the Edgbaston ground had been targeted by "a very small minority" in Monday's fourth day of play
  • Inquiries are being made to identify an alleged offender whose image was circulated on social media

BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom: Police have launched an investigation after India fans claimed they were racially abused during England’s fifth Test victory in Birmingham.
The Bharat Army, the official India supporters’ club, said “many” of its members at the Edgbaston ground had been targeted by “a very small minority” in Monday’s fourth day of play.
A post on the group’s Twitter account read: “Sad to say many of our members experienced racist abuse from a very small minority of individuals. We will work with @Edgbaston to share all your feedback.
“Thank you to those England fans who stood by us.”
West Midlands Police on Tuesday said they were liaising with officials at Edgbaston to understand what happened.
Inquiries are being made to identify an alleged offender whose image was circulated on social media.
The England and Wales Cricket Board said: “We are very concerned to hear reports of racist abuse at today’s Test match. We are in contact with colleagues at Edgbaston, who will investigate. There is no place for racism in cricket.”
Stuart Cain, chief executive at Edgbaston, added: “I’m gutted by these reports as we’re working hard to make Edgbaston a safe, welcoming environment for all.
“Having seen the initial tweets, I’ve spoken personally to the gentleman who raised them and we’re now speaking to the stewards in this area to establish what happened.
“Nobody should be subject to any form of abuse at Edgbaston. So, once we’ve got all the facts, we will make sure this issue is addressed swiftly.”
Former Yorkshire spinner Azeem Rafiq retweeted a thread detailing some of the alleged incidents along with the comment: “Disappointing to read.”
His evidence to a parliamentary select committee last year sparked an investigation into his claims of institutional racism at Yorkshire which resulted in ECB charges and major reforms.
England won the fifth Test on Tuesday’s final day after centuries from Yorkshire pair Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow.


Poulter, 2 others win court stay to play in Scottish Open

Updated 05 July 2022

Poulter, 2 others win court stay to play in Scottish Open

  • The PGA Tour suspended its members who signed up for the Saudi-backed series run by Greg Norman

VIRGINIA WATER, England: Ian Poulter and two other players who signed up for the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series won a stay Monday from a British court that allows them to play in the Scottish Open.

Poulter, Adrian Otaegui of Spain and Justin Harding of South Africa challenged their suspension from the Scottish Open and two other tournaments, the penalty for playing a LIV Golf event outside London without a release from the European tour.

They will be added to the field this week at The Renaissance Club for the Scottish Open, the first European Tour event co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

The PGA Tour suspended its members who signed up for the Saudi-backed series run by Greg Norman. Poulter is also a PGA Tour member.

Poulter was among 16 players who hinted at legal action over European tour penalties, though the temporary stay after a hearing before Judge Phillip Sycamore, who was appointed by Sports Resolutions (UK), applied only to the three players.

“I will simply say we are disappointed by the outcome of today’s hearing, but will abide by the decision,” European Tour CEO Keith Pelley said in a statement. “It is important to remember, however, this is only a stay of the sanctions imposed, pending the hearing of the players’ appeal as to whether those sanctions were appropriate.”

Pelley was at the JP McManus Pro-Am in Ireland and said he would withhold a more detailed response until the charity event was over, out of respect to the hosts. McManus has attracted a world-class field that includes Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Scottie Scheffler and a host of other major champions.

Poulter also is playing the two-day event in Ireland.

Earlier in the day, he told BBC Sports he was fighting for his right to play golf.

“My commitment to the European Tour has been there since day one,” he said. “And it’s still there today. I’m proud of playing so often, when it was to the detriment of world ranking points and FedEx Cup points I could have earned playing more in America.”

Along with the suspension, players who competed in LIV Golf without permission were fined £100,000 ($121,000), roughly the amount of last-place money in the $20 million LIV events.


Five things to watch out for on the Tour de France

Updated 05 July 2022

Five things to watch out for on the Tour de France

DUNKIRK, FRANCE: The Tour de France gets back underway Tuesday after a successful three days in Denmark with a series of testing stages that will shape the destiny of the 2022 yellow jersey.

Here, AFP Sport takes a look at five things worth watching out for in the next seven days:

— With three hilly stages, two mountain days and the treacherous cobbles, attack-minded Mathieu van der Poel of Alpecin will be straining at the leash to once more claim the overall leader’s yellow jersey after a fine run in 2021. He can probably not do it in the mountains, but the one-day specialist sits just 20 seconds off Wout van Aert’s lead and may even go for the gun between Dunkirk and Calais on Tuesday.

— The Tour takes on 20km of the old mining roads that led the Paris-Roubaix to gain its nickname ‘the Hell of the North’. That stretch could provide a shake-up in the overall standings and may also reveal the true nature of the pecking order inside the teams with more than one leader.

If Tadej Pogacar’s hand injury is worse than he is showing, it will be put to a rude test. Ineos could protect Adam Yates, or opt to allow Geraint Thomas to plow on if he is in difficulty. Primoz Roglic would appear stronger for Jumbo, but they also have Jonas Vingegaard as a possible leader and will also consider how long to try and keep Wout van Aert in yellow.

— The last time the Tour took on this climb in the Vosges mountains to the storied summit finish, Thomas gained time on all his key rivals on the punishing upper reaches contested over gravel. The Tour winner will likely not be revealed here, with time differences between the overall contenders expected to remain within 30-40 seconds. But this is the Tour’s first summit finish, first mountain stage and will provide major form pointers ahead of the crucial Alpine stages ahead.

— The 10th stage in the Swiss Alps is potentially the most gruling test of the week, with over 40km of tough ascents. It will put Ineos’ promise to race aggressively to the test. They have two climbers in their ranks capable of a bid to put time into defending champion Pogacar, or at least wear him out on a Tour thin on traditional mountain challenges.

— Ineos were talking up a fight ahead of the Tour, suggesting they would race aggressively in their bid to end Pogacar’s reign. Their two leaders are climbers Daniel Martinez and Yates who will have to wait for the mountains to launch an attack. Jumbo-Visma, runners-up in the past two years, said they would be concentrating on just surviving the opening stages. The merits of those differing strategies will be put under the microscope this week.


Barcelona strengthen squad by adding Kessie, Christensen

Updated 05 July 2022

Barcelona strengthen squad by adding Kessie, Christensen

  • Kessie has 58 international appearances with his national team and played at the Tokyo Olympics as Ivory Coast reached the quarterfinals
  • Christensen comes after his contract with Chelsea ended. His deal is also until 2026 and contains the same buyout clause as Kessie’s

BARCELONA, Spain: Barcelona boosted their midfield and defense by signing Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen on Monday.

The 25-year-old Kessie, who had been playing for AC Milan since 2017, arrives as a free agent on a contract until June 2026 and a buyout clause of €500 million ($522 million).

Christensen comes after his contract with Chelsea ended. His deal is also until 2026 and contains the same buyout clause as Kessie’s.

Kessie will be officially introduced on Wednesday. The Ivory Coast midfielder will be the second Ivorian to play for Barcelona, after Yaya Toure in the late 2000s.

The 26-year-old Christensen will be introduced on Thursday. The Danish central defender joined Chelsea’s youth teams in 2012 and had a stint with Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga before returning to Chelsea.

Christensen helped Chelsea win the Champions League, the Europea League and the Club World Cup, and was on the Danish national team that reached the semifinals of the 2020 European Championship.

Barcelona called him “strong and with great vision, a powerful center back who is excellent in the air” and “technically proficient with the ball at his feet, a perfect fit” for the Catalan club.

Kessie has 58 international appearances with his national team and played at the Tokyo Olympics as Ivory Coast reached the quarterfinals.

Kessie moved to Italy in 2014 to sign for Atalanta, where he played in the club’s youth squads before joining second-division team Cesena on a loan. Coach Gian Piero Gasperini eventually brought him back to Atalanta and he scored twice in his Serie A debut in 2016.

Kessie joined Milan on loan in 2017 and permanently signed with the club in 2019 for €33 million ($34.5 million). He helped AC Milan win its first title in 11 seasons this year. In his six seasons with Atalanta and Milan, Kessie scored 45 goals.

Barcelona called Kessie “the complete package” and a “strong midfielder with tactical awareness.”

“Kessie is a player who contributes in attack and in defense,” the club said. “Capable of winning the ball back in midfield, the African midfielder also has impressive stats as a goal-scorer, partly due to his ability to make runs into the penalty area.”

He will join a midfield that includes Sergio Busquets, Nico González and Frenkie de Jong.