Verstappen says Dutch fans are free to boo F1 rival Hamilton

First place for pole position Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands after qualification ahead of the F1 Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps racetrack in Spa, Belgium on Aug. 28. The Belgian F1 Grand Prix will take place on Sunday. (AP)
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Updated 02 September 2021

Verstappen says Dutch fans are free to boo F1 rival Hamilton

  • While Verstappen will be cheered on by raucous supporters, Hamilton will be playing away from home on Verstappen’s patch
  • “You can’t go on the speakers and tell the home crowd ‘Don’t boo,'" Verstappen said Thursday at the Dutch GP

ZANDVOORT, Netherlands: Max Verstappen will not tell his home crowd how to behave at this Sunday's Netherlands Grand Prix, even if they jeer Lewis Hamilton more than at previous races.
While Verstappen will be cheered on by raucous supporters, Hamilton will be playing away from home on Verstappen’s patch.
“Well, I look at it like this. When you go to a football match, you come to a home ground and the opposition will be booed at some point. You can’t go on the speakers and tell the home crowd ‘Don’t boo,'" Verstappen said Thursday at the Dutch GP.
“It’s not up to me to say ‘Guys, don’t boo.’ Of course, some of them will boo,” he added, "but I can’t decide for them, and I can't tell them (not to). Do you think they’re really going to listen to me?”
Things could get even more hostile considering Hamilton has been whistled and jeered by Verstappen’s fans ever since he knocked him out of the British GP in July.
The first-lap incident at Silverstone saw Hamilton making a risky overtake move on race leader Verstappen and clipping the side of his car, causing the Dutch driver to crash out of the race. He scored no points while Hamilton won — despite a 10-second time penalty — to trim Verstappen's overall lead.
Verstappen felt that the way Hamilton and his Mercedes team celebrated that British GP victory was disrespectful, considering he was in the hospital having checks.
Hamilton was loudly jeered by Dutch fans at the podium ceremony at Silverstone and subsequently at the Hungarian GP — where Hamilton moved into the championship lead — and the Belgian GP last weekend.
With F1 returning to the Netherlands for the first time since 1985, tens of thousands of orange-clad Dutch fans will be expected every day.
Verstappen calls them his “Orange Army” but just hopes the hostility does not go too far.
“As long as it doesn’t affect Lewis, that’s the most important thing," he said. “It’s going to be great to see fans here, even though it’s not going to full capacity.”
While Hamilton does not agree with jeering, he accepts it's part of sport.
“It's naturally something you could expect. I've never been someone that would go to an event and boo, but I understand it,” Hamilton said. “You see it at football events, it's just the passion the fans have, or the dislike they have of their opponents. But I respect it."
He says getting jeered works in his favor.
“I try to turn that energy they propel towards me into something positive," he said.
After last weekend's rain-soaked Belgian GP, which was won by Verstappen after a few laps behind a safety car, fans will be eagerly anticipating a proper race this Sunday on a circuit that first hosted a race in 1952.
The undulating 4.3-kilometer (2.7-mile) track is located at a seaside resort town just outside of Amsterdam. Rising and falling through dunes, it is fast with banked turns of up to 18 degrees offering plenty of chances for overtaking.
“Everyone is interested in the banked corners," Verstappen said. "It gives you more opportunity in what lines you can take. When you make a mistake, you can get punished. We don’t know how we’re going to react to it, because with banked corners the car wants to pull itself down.”
Verstappen is only three points behind Hamilton in the standings and could move ahead on Sunday. Hamilton is chasing a record-extending 100th F1 win.
All three drivers on the podium will get the first-ever F1 trophy made entirely from recycled materials. It is a replica of the one awarded at Zandvoort in 1939 and is made from recycled beer bottles, plastic and plywood.
“Yeah, it’s not the best," Verstappen said dryly, when asked to comment. "Recycled glass, that’s good. But it just looks ugly.”


Badosa outlasts Azarenka to win Indian Wells in her debut

Updated 18 October 2021

Badosa outlasts Azarenka to win Indian Wells in her debut

  • Badosa joins Bianca Andreescu in 2019 and Serena Williams in 1999 in winning the title in her first appearance
  • Azarenka, the two-time major champion and former top-ranked player, was seeking just her second title since 2016

INDIAN WELLS, California: Paula Badosa edged Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (5), 2-6, 7-6 (2) on Sunday to win the BNP Paribas Open in her debut in the Southern California desert, where the tournament returned after a 2 1/2-year absence because of the coronavirus.
She joined Bianca Andreescu in 2019 and Serena Williams in 1999 in winning the title in her first appearance. It was Badosa’s second title of her career, having won in Belgrade earlier this year.
Cameron Norrie played Nikoloz Basilashvili in the men’s final later.
Badosa and Azarenka struggled for over three hours, trading back-to-back service breaks five times. The last time Azarenka broke for a 5-4 lead in the third, and Badosa broke right back for a 5-all tie.
“We were both going for our shots, really pushing each other to the max,” Azarenka said.
Badosa missed a backhand that allowed Azarenka to hold at 6-all.
Badosa dominated the tiebreaker, racing to a 6-2 lead. Azarenka dumped a forehand into the net to give Badosa match point.

Paula Badosa poses with the trophy and a flag after defeating Victoria Azarenka at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament on Oct. 17, 2021, in Indian Wells, California. (AP Photo/John McCoy)

Badosa cracked a forehand winner, then collapsed at the baseline. She lie face down, crying and shaking, before getting up. Azarenka came around the net and hugged the 23-year-old Spaniard.
“I remember when I was 14, 15 years old seeing you,” Badosa told Azarenka after raising the crystal trophy. “I told my coach, ‘One day I hope I can play like her.’“
Azarenka, the two-time major champion and former top-ranked player, was seeking just her second title since 2016. She last won in 2020 at Cincinnati. The 32-year-old from Belarus came up short in her bid to become the first woman to win Indian Wells three times, having taken the title in 2012 and 2016.
Azarenka’s season was interrupted by injuries and she made early exits in the Grand Slam events. Her best result was making the fourth round at the French Open.
“This year has been challenging a bit,” she said, “but finishing on a strong note, not necessarily with the result I wanted but with the progress I wanted to seek, that’s really positive.”
Azarenka noted her 4-year-old son, Leo, was watching on TV.

Paula Badosa kisses her trophy after defeating Victoria Azarenka at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament on Oct. 17, 2021, in Indian Wells, California. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) 

“I’m not bringing home the biggest trophy,” she said, “but it’s still a trophy and I’m sure he’ll enjoy playing with it.”
In the first-set tiebreaker, Badosa had leads of 4-0 and 5-3. Azarenka tied it 5-all on Badosa’s netted forehand. Azarenka missed a backhand to give Badosa a set point and the Spaniard cashed in with a backhand winner to take the set.
“It was like a roller coaster mentally, emotionally,” Badosa said.
She beat fifth-seeded Barbora Krejcikova in the fourth round, No. 15 Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals and No. 14 Ons Jabeur in the semifinals — all in straight sets — to reach the final.
“The first thing I learned this week is that nothing is impossible,” Badosa said.
Badosa earned $1.2 million, more than her previous prize money for the year of just over $1 million.
She came into the tournament ranked 27th in the world; a year ago, she was 87th. Badosa is projected to rise to a career-best 13th in Monday’s WTA Tour rankings.
“I never thought that would happen that fast,” she said.
Badosa may not be done this year, either. By winning the title, she overtook Ons Jabeur for the eighth and last qualifying spot in the race to the WTA Finals, to be held next month in Guadalajara, Mexico.
The combined ATP and WTA tour event was one of the first major sporting events canceled in March 2020 when the coronavirus took hold in the US It will return to its usual March slot next year.


Oman gets center stage as T20 World Cup gets underway 

Updated 17 October 2021

Oman gets center stage as T20 World Cup gets underway 

  • The seventh World Cup begins with a double-header at the 3,000-seat venue outside Muscat 
  • The arch-rivals Pakistan and India will meet in Dubai on October 24 

Muscat: Oman and Papua New Guinea open the Twenty 20 World Cup on Sunday in the unlikely surroundings of Al Amerat where the global showpiece gets underway after being chased out of India by Covid-19.

The seventh World Cup begins with a double-header at the 3,000-seat venue outside Muscat.

Later Sunday, Bangladesh face Scotland while Ireland, Namibia, Netherlands and 2014 champions Sri Lanka join the fray on Monday.

The eight teams in the first round of qualifying are chasing four places in the Super 12 round-robin stage. 
England, Australia, South Africa, defending champions West Indies, India, Pakistan, New Zealand and Afghanistan will be waiting with all matches in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.

The top four then progress to the semifinals before the final in Dubai on November 14.

There is plenty at stake. A place in the next round 

guarantees a spot in the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia.

There is also a financial incentive. Teams exiting at the first hurdle take home a modest $40,000.
The eventual champions pocket a $1.6 million winner’s cheque.

Oman are playing in their second T20 World Cup having shocked Ireland in 2016, the last time the tournament was held before the planned 2020 edition in Australia fell victim to the pandemic.

Oman’s team is made up almost exclusively of semi-professional South Asian expatriates who combine cricket with full-time work. Many train at 5:30 in the morning.
“There was a time when bowling and fast bowling was the only strength of the Oman team. Now I feel we are doing well as a whole unit,” said Oman vice-captain Aqib Ilyas.

“This team is much better than the one in 2016 and we have raised the bar.”

Papua New Guinea are making their T20 World Cup debut.

They have already acclimatized to conditions in the Gulf having been in Oman for a month.

Bangladesh have just one victory at the tournament since 2007 but with a world ranking of six, will be heavily fancied to make the second round. 
They go into the tournament with home series wins over Australia, New Zealand and Zimbabwe under their belts.
“We have to be humble and not take anything for granted. 

We will have to be at our best from the first ball against Scotland,” said Bangladesh skipper Mahmudullah who has been sidelined in the build-up with a back injury.

The Scots have fallen at the first hurdle in their three previous T20 World Cup appearances, in 2007, 2009 and 2016.

They claimed their first and only win at the tournament five years ago — an eight-wicket triumph in a rain-affected match against lowly Hong Kong.

“We’re diving into the tournament head first really and it’s a real challenge for us,” said Scotland skipper Kyle Coetzer. 
“But we have beaten them (Bangladesh in 2012) in the past in T20 cricket with a Richie Berrington hundred.”
The top nations will join the event — played in stadiums 70-percent full — on October 23, with Australia and South Africa meeting in the opener of the Super 12 stage and England up against West Indies. 
England beat New Zealand to win the 50-over world title at Lord’s in 2019. 
Eoin Morgan’s team will, however, be without Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer, who played key roles in that one-day World Cup triumph. 
England had to defend 19 runs in the last over of the 2016 T20 final in Kolkata but West Indies’ Carlos Brathwaite famously hit Stokes for four straight sixes, giving the Caribbeans their second world T20 title. 
Many of that winning team will be back, led by Kieron Pollard and old war horses Dwayne Bravo, 38, and 42-year-old Chris Gayle. 
Asian giants India, who were the original hosts of the 2021 event before the pandemic meant a shift to the Gulf, will begin their campaign against arch-rivals and fellow former champions Pakistan on October 24 with Virat Kohli looking to go out with a bang before stepping down as captain of the T20 side.

Pakistan have won their last 10 Twenty20 internationals in the UAE and captain Babar Azam claimed Saturday that run will give his men the edge over India next weekend. 
“Definitely we have played a lot of cricket in the UAE,” Babar said Saturday when asked about his team’s dismal 0-5 record against India in T20 World Cup clashes.
“These conditions suit us and we know how to play here.” 


Howay the lads: A new era begins for Newcastle

Updated 17 October 2021

Howay the lads: A new era begins for Newcastle

  • Football club set to play first match since $410 million takeover by Saudi-led consortium

LONDON: After decades in the football wilderness, a new era of hope begins on Sunday for the long-suffering fans of Newcastle United football club.

Tens of thousands of “Toon” devotees will pack the club’s famous old St. James’ Park stadium for the team’s first match since this month’s $410 million takeover led by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund.

Sunday’s challenge could hardly be tougher. The visitors are Tottenham Hotspur — and a win would take them into the Premier League’s top 5, while Newcastle languish third from bottom with just three points all season.

HIGHLIGHT

Tens of thousands of ‘Toon’ devotees will pack the club’s famous old St. James’ Park stadium for the team’s first match since this month’s $410 million takeover led by the Public Investment Fund.

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce is looking forward to it. “The most important thing for the fans is to see their team win a game and I know they’ll be right behind the players in an atmosphere which I doubt we’ll have witnessed at St. James’ Park in a long time,” he said.

Although most observers expect Bruce’s 1,000th match in charge to be his last, as the new owners rebuild Newcastle, new club director Amanda Staveley — a prime mover behind the takeover — gave him her backing for now.

“Change does not always happen overnight,” she said. “It demands time, and that we follow a carefully considered plan and strategy. Steve has been very professional in our dealings with him and he and his coaching team will take the team on Sunday.”

Newcastle fans, meanwhile, will be hoping Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s judgment is correct.

“In the long term, of course, we have to say that they are going to be a superpower,” Klopp said.


Azarenka books spot in Indian Wells final against Badosa

Updated 17 October 2021

Azarenka books spot in Indian Wells final against Badosa

  • Azarenka clinched victory on her first match point when Ostapenko slammed a forehand into the net

INDIAN WELLS: Victoria Azarenka, who is hoping to become the first three-time WTA winner in Indian Wells, punched her ticket to Sunday’s final by rallying to beat former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Two-time Australian Open winner Azarenka continued her solid play in the California desert as she goes for her first title of 2021 and 22nd of her career.

The 32-year-old arrived in the semifinals without dropping a set and after losing the first one to Ostapenko she settled in and found her form.

Azarenka will face Spaniard Paula Badosa, who defeated Ons Jabeur in straight sets 6-3, 6-3.

Azarenka is seeking to win the tournament for the third time after victories in 2012 and 2016.

She is the only former champion left in either the women’s or men’s field, and with another victory can separate herself from the list of women who have won the trophy twice — which includes Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

Azarenka clinched victory on her first match point when Ostapenko slammed a forehand into the net.

This was the second career meeting between the two but the first on hardcourt, so it took Azarenka time to feel her opponent out and figure out her weaknesses.

“She was playing really incredible in the first set, not giving me much,” said Azarenka.

“I was just trying to find an opportunity — actually create an opportunity — for me to get back into the match and take a little bit more control. I really had to fight for every ball.”

Ostapenko controlled most of the first set, breaking Azarenka in the second game to go up 2-0. She then held serve to jump out to a 3-0 lead using her powerful ground strokes to move the Belarusian around the court.

Azarenka went down again 2-0 in the second set but then caught fire while holding serve in the third game.

That started a run of five straight games to take a 5-2 lead. Ostapenko held serve once more but Azarenka served out the set to level the match.

Azarenka raised her level another notch in a hard-fought third set, winning the final three games to get to the final where she will face Badosa for the first time.

Meanwhile, Badosa has reached the final in her first appearance in Indian Wells, cooling off Jabeur, who has been one of the hottest players on the Tour with 48 wins in 2021.


Ten-match win streak in UAE gives Pakistan edge over India — Babar

Updated 16 October 2021

Ten-match win streak in UAE gives Pakistan edge over India — Babar

  • The arch-rivals will meet in Dubai on October 24
  • Pakistan have never won a World Cup match against India

DUBAI: Pakistan have won their last 10 Twenty20 internationals in the United Arab Emirates and captain Babar Azam claims that will give his men the edge over India in their World Cup opener.
The arch-rivals will meet in Dubai on October 24 in what will be the biggest clash of the tournament that starts Sunday in Oman and the UAE.
Pakistan have never won a World Cup match against India, but that does not bother Babar who believes familiarity with the UAE pitches will help them break the jinx.
“Definitely we have played a lot of cricket in the UAE,” Babar said in a captain’s press conference when asked about his team’s dismal 0-5 record against India in T20 World Cup clashes.
“These conditions suit us and we know how to play here. We need to keep things simple in all the departments.”
The UAE was Pakistan’s home base after the deadly terror attacks on the visiting Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009 forced cricket out of the Asian nation.
Pakistan, who are third in the T20 rankings behind England and India, also have Afghanistan and New Zealand in their group at the World Cup.
Babar acknowledged that captaining the team in the 16-nation tournament was indeed an honor and said his recent form will give him confidence.
“Good performances give you confidence,” Babar, who has hit two T20 centuries this year, said.
“I am in form, hence it will benefit me.”
Babar, who has over 2,000 T20 runs, tipped Kiwi skipper Kane Williamson to stand out as the tournament’s best batter and Pakistan speedster Hasan Ali as the premier bowler.
Meanwhile, India captain Virat Kohli played down the famous rivalry, describing the match with Pakistan as “just another game“
“I have always approached this game as just another game of cricket. I know there is a lot of hype created around this game more so with ticket sales and the demands for tickets,” said Kohli.
“Right now the value of those tickets is ridiculously high. So that’s all I know, friends asking me for tickets left, right and center, I refused.
“Yes, the environment, you can say, is different. From the fans’ point of view it is definitely louder. From the players’ point of view, we stay as professional as we can.”