Novak Djokovic fails in Olympic ‘Golden Slam’ quest as US-Russia doping row erupts

Novak Djokovic of Serbia in action during his semifinal match against Alexander Zverev of Germany. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 July 2021
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Novak Djokovic fails in Olympic ‘Golden Slam’ quest as US-Russia doping row erupts

  • The Serb collapsed from a set and a break ahead as German fourth seed Zverev won 1-6, 6-3, 6-1

TOKYO: World number one Novak Djokovic crashed out of the Tokyo Olympics on Friday and a defeated American swimmer launched doping accusations against a Russian rival.
As the athletics events began in a stadium deprived of spectators by anti-coronavirus measures, Jamaican sprint queen Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce made an impressive entrance.
Djokovic's bid for a calendar Golden Grand Slam -- all four Grand Slam tournaments plus the Olympics -- was dramatically ended by Alexander Zverev.
The Serb collapsed from a set and a break ahead as German fourth seed Zverev won 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 to set up a final against Russian Karen Khachanov.
In a bitter row at the pool, American swimmer Ryan Murphy accused Evgeny Rylov of doping after he was beaten by the Russian in the 200m backstroke.
Murphy said he had been "swimming in a race that's probably not clean".
Rylov said he was "surprised" by Murphy's "strange" suggestion.
The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) hit back on Twitter, saying "the broken record is once again playing the song about Russia doping and someone is diligently pressing the button on the English-language propaganda".
The Russian Anti-Doping Agency said Rylov had been tested three times this year and that he was "prepared and clean".
Russia are banned from Tokyo 2020 after being found guilty of state-sponsored doping, meaning their athletes cannot use the Russian flag and anthem.
But more than 330 Russian athletes have been allowed to compete under the ROC moniker, and they had won 10 golds by Friday evening to lie fourth in the medals table.
As competition began in the 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium, Fraser-Pryce successfully launched her bid to become the first woman to win an individual Olympic athletics event three times.
The Jamaican, 100 metres champion in 2008 and 2012, shut down with 20 metres remaining and strode over the line for a comfortable first-round victory in 10.84sec.
One of her rivals, the Ivory Coast's Marie-Josee Ta Lou, blasted to an African record-equalling 10.78sec and reigning champion Elaine Thompson-Herah of Jamaica recorded 10.82sec on what appears to be a fast track.
"If you notice the heats, there's some really quick running. It's good for female sprinting. It's long overdue," Fraser-Pryce said.
The semi-finals and final of that event take place on Saturday evening.
World record-holder Karsten Warholm of Norway strolled to victory in his heat of the 400m hurdles heat, an event that could be one of the highlights.
"It was nice to get out on the track again," said Warholm. "I've been here for two weeks already, I'm starting to get bored so it was very nice to get around."
Qatar's Abderrahman Samba eased through but said he felt the absence of spectators: "It was really, really difficult. I really missed the crowd."
In the pool, South Africa's Tatjana Schoenmaker was overjoyed after becoming the first South African woman to win an Olympic swimming gold for 25 years as she obliterated the eight-year-old world record in the 200m breaststroke, timing 2min 18.95sec.
Australia's Emma McKeon claimed her fourth medal in Tokyo as she blazed to the women's 100m freestyle title in a new Olympic record of 51.96sec.
Hong Kong's Siobhan Haughey -- one of the surprises of the swimming events -- earned another silver medal to add to that from the 200m freestyle.
French judo superstar Teddy Riner came up short in his bid to win a historic third consecutive heavyweight title, losing to Russia's world number one Tamerlan Bashaev in the quarter-final. Riner had to settle for bronze.
The shadow of coronavirus hung over the start of the athletics with the Australian team saying three of its members would remain isolated from the rest of the squad "as a precautionary measure" after a scare.
The three are classed as close contacts of US pole vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has been ruled out of the Games after testing positive for Covid-19.
Ian Chesterman, the chef de mission of the Australian Olympic Committee, told a press conference: "They all tested negative which is good. They also confirmed the daily test results which have also been negative and confirmed their test results before they left Australia."
Coronavirus cases are surging in Japan a week into the Games.
On Friday, Tokyo 2020 organisers reported 27 new cases related to the event -- the highest daily figure yet -- although they insist there is nothing to suggest a link between the Games and rising infections in Japan.


Verstappen’s Bahrain pole delivers relief to Red Bull and Horner

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Verstappen’s Bahrain pole delivers relief to Red Bull and Horner

SAKHIR, Bahrain: Max Verstappen delivered some much-needed relief for his Red Bull team on Friday when he resisted Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to claim pole position for Saturday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
The defending three-time world champion picked up where he left off last year by topping the times in a closely-contested qualifying session at the Bahrain International Circuit at Sakhir.
His success, which he admitted was “a little bit unexpected” arrived after another day of speculation and pressure for team boss Christian Horner, following the anonymous leaking of a cache of alleged private messages and photographs between him and a female member of the team.
This came 24 hours after an internal investigation led by an independent London lawyer had resulted in Horner being cleared of all claims of inappropriate behavior.
Verstappen clocked a fastest lap of one minute and 29.179 seconds to beat Leclerc by 0.228 seconds in the final seconds of the session, securing his third Bahrain pole and the 33rd of his career.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Verstappen.
“The track had a lot of grip, but with the wind over the last few days, it’s been quite tricky to get a whole lap together and it was the same in qualifying.
“In Q1 and Q2 you go a bit faster, with the track ramping up, but to really get everything out of it in Q3 was a little bit difficult. So I’m very happy to be on pole.”
He added: “To be honest, it was a little bit unexpected, but I think the car came to us and I felt happier with the whole car.”
He forecast a close race on Saturday.
“We look good for the race and that’s the most important, but we will see tomorrow. I’m confident we can have a strong race.”
Ferrari’s Leclerc missed pole by only two-tenths of a second as he finished second ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell, Carlos Sainz of Ferrari and Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull.
Two-time champion Fernando Alonso qualified sixth for Aston Martin, ahead of the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri with seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton ninth for Mercedes and Nico Hulkenberg 10th for Haas.
“I’m a bit disappointed,” admitted Leclerc.
“But we had a good qualifying and this offers us a good start to the year.”
Russell praised Mercedes for producing a car that he could build on. “P3 is a good place to start,” he said.
Qualifying got under way with Horner, who has always categorically denied any wrongdoing, under renewed pressure despite being cleared in Red Bull’s investigation led by a London lawyer.
Horner, who turned up at the track on Thursday to oversee the start of the new season, said: “I won’t comment on anonymous speculation, but to reiterate, I have always denied the allegations.”
Verstappen ensured events on the track went more smoothly and he will be favorite to emulate last year’s result when he won the first of 19 races as he swept to his third title.
The session began in cool conditions as temperatures fell under the floodlights at Sakhir’s International Circuit where Bahrain’s maiden race took place 20 years ago.
The air temperature was 18, the track 21.
The first qualifying segment ended with Sainz on top as the Alpines made an early exit along with both Saubers and Williams’ Logan Sargeant.
After topping Thursday’s opening practice, Hamilton squeezed through in 15th place.
Leclerc topped the times on the second runs of Q2 and Sainz was third, sandwiching Verstappen in second, while Hamilton was fourth with a late lap.
In the final seconds of the top 10 shoot-out Verstappen improved to 1:29.179, enough to resist Leclerc by 0.228 seconds to launch his 2024 season in ominous fashion.
Exceptionally the Bahrain race and next weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix are being staged on Saturdays to accommodate the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Alonso feeling great after hinting at retirement

Updated 18 min 29 sec ago
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Alonso feeling great after hinting at retirement

  • “I feel great now, but I know it’s a demanding calendar and in 2026 there are a different set of regulations as well,” said Fernando Alonso
  • “I feel great. I didn’t expect we would be that competitive, to be honest”

SAKHIR, Bahrain: Fernando Alonso on Friday qualified in sixth place for Saturday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix and declared he felt “great” two days after hinting at retirement.
The 42-year-old Aston Martin driver said he had not expected to be so competitive, but added that he hoped he might be in contention to repeat his surprise podium finish last year.
The two-time world champion on Wednesday said he would decide his future after the “first few weeks or races” because of the demands of this year’s unprecedented 24-race calendar.
“Well, first of all, I need to decide if I want to keep racing and that will be the first thing that I need to decide — in a few weeks or a few races,” he said when asked if he was interested in joining Mercedes to succeed Lewis Hamilton next year.
“I feel great now, but I know it’s a demanding calendar and in 2026 there are a different set of regulations as well, which maybe are tempting or maybe not, I don’t know.”
After qualifying, however, the evergreen Spaniard, who has adopted a new diet and fitness schedule, said: “I feel great. I didn’t expect we would be that competitive, to be honest.
“Winter testing was ok, but I think we are not in the pace of the leaders.
“Free practice was competitive, but we found also last year that sometimes in free practice we are running in a different engine mode and in qualifying everything is a bit more realistic.
“It’s going to be difficult in the race, very tight in a group which will damage the tires even more when you are in traffic. So, I think it’s going to be a question mark for everyone. Let’s see.”
He made no further comments about his future, having declared that 24 races is “well over the limit.”
“When I started, we had 16 races, then it was 18 and then I think Liberty (the American owners of F1) came and we had 20 in a season and that was the limit, 20 races, but now we are up to 24.
“It isn’t sustainable for the future, I think, not for anyone.”


Hong Kong beat Saudi Arabia to end Greens’ U19 Cricket World Cup dream

Updated 56 min 28 sec ago
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Hong Kong beat Saudi Arabia to end Greens’ U19 Cricket World Cup dream

  • The young Greens scratched their way to 133 all out thanks to a last wicket partnership of 52
  • Hong Kong chased down their target with ease in 25.4 overs with only three wickets down

BANGKOK: Saudi Arabia’s young cricketers lost their do-or-die ICC U19 Cricket World Cup clash with Hong Kong on Friday as their campaign to progress to the next stage ended in heartbreak.

The young Greens scratched their way to 133 all out thanks to a last wicket partnership of 52, but Hong Kong chased down their target with ease in 25.4 overs with only three wickets down.

Saudi Arabia had won the toss and elected to bat first at Terdthai Cricket Ground in the winner-takes-all contest after both sides had beaten Bhutan and lost to Oman earlier in Group B.

Captain Rayyan Khan started confidently with two cover drives for four off Daniel Mapp to begin the innings, but the Saudis never settled and found themselves on 50 for the loss of four wickets within 20 overs.

Four overs later, they were 60 for seven and were staring down the barrel of a thrashing when they lost their penultimate wicket with just 81 runs on the board.

Fahad Munir, who came in at number seven, had got underway with a four and a six and was looking to hit out with nine wickets down. He managed to strike a second six and two more fours to bring up the Saudi Arabia 100 in the 32nd over.

He became a menace for Hong Kong as he hit two more boundaries and got five runs after four overthrows. Another big hit took him to 48 before a straight drive for four brought up his half-century from 35 deliveries.

Munir was finally dismissed on 59 from 42 balls, as the Saudis set Hong Kong 134 to win, and he looked to do some damage with the ball after the changeover.

But Hong Kong had little to worry about as they reached 108 for the loss of three after 20 overs and number three batter Shiv Mathur reached his 50 from 49 balls, to put his side only 21 runs from victory, and ended up carrying his bat with 63 runs off as many balls.

Hong Kong reached their target to win by seven wickets and will face Malaysia in the first semi-final on Sunday at the TCG.

Also on Friday, Oman held off Bhutan to win by three wickets and they will face Kuwait for a place in the next stage of qualification.


Pollard could be key to Mumbai Indians’ IPL success, says head coach Boucher

Updated 01 March 2024
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Pollard could be key to Mumbai Indians’ IPL success, says head coach Boucher

  • Experience and inspirational qualities come to the fore as MI players chase club’s first IPL title since 2020

LONDON: West Indies legend Kieron Pollard can play a big role in ensuring Mumbai Indians win the Indian Premier League this year, according to head coach Mark Boucher.

Pollard, who is now batting coach at the IPL giants, had a glittering career as a player with the franchise, winning five titles over eight seasons, including four as captain.

His experience and nous will be crucial in helping the current crop of MI players win the club’s first IPL title since 2020, said South African Boucher, who has been head coach since last season.

“(Pollard) is fantastic. He’s got so much character in the changing room; he’s a strong person and a lot of the players trust him and look up to him,” Boucher told sport news website SportsBoom.com.

“Whenever Polly opens his mouth in the dressing room, people listen. Not because he is going to hold them up against the side of the wall, but because they know what he’s done.

“Having him in the dressing room has a calming effect on the batting. You have a look at our stats in the batting, the aggressive nature we went about things (last year), the calmness in the dugouts, all that type of stuff. I think a lot of that can be attributed to Polly as well because of his way that he is and his whole demeanour and understanding that he’s got.

“He’s still playing in franchises around the world he’s in the know about who’s playing good crickets and we feed off that,” he added.

Boucher said the team had high expectations for the coming season, which starts on March 22 and will end, if successful in the grand final, on May 26.

“I think anytime you join Mumbai Indians, there’s a lot of expectation and the expectation is to win at all times. We have won the championship quite a few times. Once the owners and the fans get a sniff of that, then they want to do it every time,” he said.

He particularly praised the team’s batting display and its positive style of cricket last season, acknowledging the challenges faced in the bowling unit as a result of injuries. Although the Indians finished third, falling short of the intended win, Boucher said he viewed it as a commendable effort given the situation.

“Our bowling was a little bit shy because of the injuries that we picked up. The third position is not what we wanted; we wanted to win, but third was not a bad effort, judging what we had to go through last season. But a catch maybe taken here or there could have  put ourselves into a final and then who knows what happens in the final,” he said.

“We do believe in the spinners that we have in the side already. Piyush (Chawla) had a fantastic season last time around. No one really thought that he would probably have that kind of impact that he had. We are backing him to do something similar,” he added.

Boucher also played up the importance of getting results at the team’s home stadium at Wankhede, but also the ability of his team to adapt to different conditions at away grounds.

“In our home games at Wankhede spin doesn’t play a major part in the game. So our side is very much sort of geared toward our home conditions, but we do feel that we’ve got enough cover if we do go into a different venue and the ball is turning and gripping; we do feel that we do have the guys to sort of consolidate those conditions,” he said. 


SAFF launches formal FIFA World Cup 2034 host campaign

Updated 01 March 2024
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SAFF launches formal FIFA World Cup 2034 host campaign

  • Logo, website and short film released under slogan ‘Growing Together’
  • Federation chief Yasser Al-Misehal: ‘Our bid is an open invitation to the world to join us on this exciting journey’

JEDDAH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation on Friday launched its formal bid to host the FIFA World Cup 2034 under the slogan “Growing Together.”
In October last year, the Kingdom said it intended to bid to host the tournament, before the SAFF submitted an official letter of intent and declaration to FIFA.
The campaign proved a formality when the Kingdom became the only country to enter the contest to host the tournament.
The federation, as part of its formal bid, has unveiled a bid logo, website, as well as a short film that celebrates the passion, spirit and diversity of football in the Kingdom.
SAFF President Yasser Al-Misehal said: “Telling our football story to the world is of massive importance. And we believe ‘Growing Together’ is the perfect, yet simple description of our approach to hopefully hosting the tournament in 10 years’ time.”
Bidding to host a FIFA World Cup has been made possible by the rapid transformation taking place in the Kingdom, the SAFF chief said.
“We’ve made unprecedented progress in both the men’s and women’s game and our bid is an open invitation to the world to join us on this exciting journey. As we proved when we welcomed over 100 nationalities to the FIFA Club World Cup Saudi Arabia 2023 in Jeddah, the future is bright when we grow together,” Al-Misehal added.
As one of the fastest and most exciting growth stories in world football, Saudi Arabia, through its bid, seeks to capture the parallel between the Kingdom’s rapid transformation and the positive impacts of hosting FIFA’s flagship event.
Aspiring to become the first single host nation of a 48-team FIFA World Cup, the three pillars underpinning the bid are “Growing People Together,” “Growing Football Together” and “Growing Connections Together.”
Over the last six years, Saudi Arabia has hosted more than 100 international events across almost 40 sports, and is in active football partnerships with more than 100 countries.
The campaign slogan aims to capture the spirit of bonds between the Kingdom and football communities in countries around the world.
The bid logo — made up of intertwined rows of multi-colored ribbons displaying iconic football and cultural symbols — aims to promote Saudi Arabia’s status as a young nation with rich heritage.
It also features five colors reflecting natural diversity across the Kingdom: Desert amber, oasis green, radiance red, rich lavender and sunrise yellow.
The short film released for the bid was filmed across the country, exploring the passion for football in all sections of Saudi society.
It features players from the Saudi under-17 women’s national team and 22-year-old Saudi women’s national team midfielder Layan Jouhari. Background music was composed by powerhouse Saudi platform MDLBEAST.
SAFF recently launched a dedicated bid unit, in line with FIFA regulations, to lead the charge for the Saudi 2034 bid, which will last up until the end of the year.
The unit’s chief, Hammad Al-Balawi, said: “This campaign is powered by the hopes and dreams of 32 million people in Saudi Arabia. Our responsibility is to submit the best possible bid to FIFA, make our country proud and fulfill the trust placed upon us by more than 130 member associations across the world who supported our bid.”
The bid’s website is Saudi2034bid.com. Fans can celebrate the launch of the campaign using the hashtags #Saudi2034bid and #GrowingTogether.