No. 1 Barty to face Pliskova in 1st Wimbledon final for both

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Australia's Ashleigh Barty (left frame) and Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova celebrate after defeating their respective opponents in the Wimbledon semi-finals in London on July 8, 2021. (AP & AFP photos)
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Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova returns against Belarus's Aryna Sabalenka during their 2021 Wimbledon Championships semi-final match in London on July 8, 2021. (AFP)
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Australia's Ashleigh Barty returns against Germany's Angelique Kerber during their 2021 Wimbledon Championships semi-final match in London on July 8, 2021. (AFP / POOL)
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Updated 09 July 2021

No. 1 Barty to face Pliskova in 1st Wimbledon final for both

  • Barty stands one win from a second Grand Slam title after beating 2018 champion Kerber 6-3, 7-6 (3) on Thursday
  • Pliskova emerged from a power-hitting and serving display to come back to defeat No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka 5-7, 6-4, 6-4

WIMBLEDON, England: It was difficult for Ash Barty to imagine that a trip to her first Wimbledon final was just around the corner when she stopped playing at last month’s French Open with a hip injury.
Or even when she was two points from being pushed to a third set by Angelique Kerber in their semifinal at the All England Club.
Barty does not let obstacles trouble her for too long. She figures out a way and pushes forward. That’s why she’s ranked No. 1 and it’s why she stands one win from a second Grand Slam title after beating 2018 champion Kerber 6-3, 7-6 (3) on Thursday.
“I’ve had ups and downs and everything in between and I wouldn’t change one day or one moment or one, kind of, road that we’ve taken in my path and my journey,” said Barty, who was the 2011 junior champion at the All England Club and stepped away from tennis for almost two years starting in 2014 because of burnout. “It’s been unique. It’s been incredible. It’s been tough. There have been so many things that led to this point.”
Her opponent in Saturday’s final will be No. 8 seed Karolina Pliskova, who emerged from a power-hitting and serving display to come back to defeat No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.
“Super proud about the way how I handled the situation out there,” Pliskova said.




Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova returns against Belarus's Aryna Sabalenka during their 2021 Wimbledon Championships semi-final match in London on July 8, 2021. (AFP)

Pliskova produced 14 aces, Sabalenka 18, and the combined total was the most in a women’s match at Wimbledon since they started keeping such stats in 1977. The difference in this match, ultimately: Pliskova was broken just once, Sabalenka twice.
After going 0 for 8 on break points in the first set, the first set she dropped in six matches, Pliskova “got a bit frustrated,” she acknowledged afterward.
But she went 1 for 1 in that category in each of the last two sets.
“She just returned like crazy — like, really good — and I couldn’t do anything,” said Sabalenka, the only top-20 seed in the draw without a major quarterfinal appearance until now.
Neither Pliskova — whose coach, Sascha Bajin, used to work with Naomi Osaka and was Serena Williams’ hitting partner — nor Barty had ever been past the fourth round at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament.
“Coming into this tournament, the dream was to make the second week. ... Sascha was super confident in me,” said Pliskova, a 29-year-old from the Czech Republic who was the runner-up at the 2016 US Open to Kerber and used to be ranked No. 1. “He said, ‘I told you, you were going to make the final.’”
The 25-year-old Barty won the 2019 French Open and has been atop the WTA rankings for 1 1/2 years.
She is the first woman from Australia to reach the title match at Wimbledon since Evonne Goolagong won the trophy 1980; Barty has been wearing an outfit intended as a tribute to Goolagong this fortnight.
“Now to kind of give myself a chance to create some history, almost in a way that’s a tribute to her, is really exciting,” Barty said.




Australia's Ashleigh Barty returns against Germany's Angelique Kerber during their 2021 Wimbledon Championships semi-final match in London on July 8, 2021. (AFP / POOL)

She arrived in England not having competed since June 3, when she withdrew during her second-round match in Paris, her left hip in too much pain to continue.
“To be honest, it was going to be touch and go. Everything had to be spot on to give myself a chance to play pain-free and to play knowing that I could trust my body,” Barty said. “If you told me a month ago we’d be sitting in this position, I really wouldn’t have thought that we would even get close.”
On Thursday, she faced a big test in the second set, which Kerber was two points from owning when Barty served at deuce while trailing 5-2. The full-capacity crowd was backing the comeback effort for the 33-year-old German, too, with shouts of “Come on, Angie!” and “Go on, Kerber!”
But Barty steeled herself to hold there, then broke to get within 5-4 with a cross-court forehand passing winner.
That was part of a 38-16 advantage in total winners for Barty, responsible more than anything else for her triumph. And this was remarkable: She compiled that many point-ending shots while making only 16 unforced errors.
“A great level, the best level I’ve played in quite some time,” Barty said. “Angie is an incredible competitor. She brought out the best in me today.”
It was a rather entertaining and, from point to point, rather even contest, two talented baseliners willing to try a volley, drop shot or lob when required. They were each other’s equal for long exchanges — in all, 22 points lasted at least nine strokes, with Kerber winning a dozen.
Their approaches are different, though. Kerber is a left-hander who hits flat groundstrokes and is just fine with handling foes’ low shots, often dropping a knee onto the turf to get leverage.
Barty is a righty who relies on heavy topspin for a forehand packed with power, and her slice backhand can produce tricky bounces on the grass.
She ended up with an 8-0 edge in aces and 18-9 in forehand winners.
“I was trying to playing my game,” Kerber said. “But she had always a good answer.”


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.