Rejuvenated Murray battles into first final since 2019

Britain’s Andy Murray hits a backhand to Reilly Opelka of US during their match at the Sydney Tennis Classic in Sydney on Friday. (AP)
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Updated 14 January 2022

Rejuvenated Murray battles into first final since 2019

  • The 34-year-old three-time major winner has now strung together four wins in a row for the first time since being crowned champion at Antwerp 3 years ago
  • Murray again was exceptional against towering Reilly Opelka at the Sydney Classic

SYDNEY: Former world number one Andy Murray stormed into his first final since 2019 on Friday where he will meet Russian top seed Aslan Karatsev in a massive boost to his confidence ahead of the Australian Open.
The 34-year-old three-time major winner, who underwent career-saving hip surgery, has now strung together four wins in a row for the first time since being crowned champion at Antwerp nearly three years ago.
He again was exceptional against towering Reilly Opelka at the Sydney Classic, battling through their semifinal 6-7 (6/8), 6-4, 6-4, successfully blunting the American’s giant serve.
Murray, who has been given a wildcard into next week’s Australian Open, said he was encouraged by how he was playing heading into the opening Grand Slam of the year, a tournament where he is a five-time finalist.
“It would be amazing to start the year with a win, it’s already been a great week for me,” said the Scot, now ranked 135, who closed his eyes and let out a huge roar on winning the match.
“It’s big progress from anything I’ve done in the last year or so. To string four matches together like this, against a couple of top players,” said Murray, setting his sights on a 47th career title.
“I’ll go for 47 tomorrow. I’ve played better with each match and hopefully I step it up again tomorrow.”
He will face world number 20 Karatsev who came through a 3hrs 6mins epic against Briton Dan Evans 6-3, 6-7 (13/15), 6-3 to make Saturday’s final.
World number four Barbora Krejcikova saved seven match points to edge an epic third-set tie-break against Anett Kontaveit and storm into the women’s decider.
The French Open champion looked out for the count when she lost the first set to love against the seventh-ranked Estonian, but refocused to take the match into a deciding third.
It could have gone either way in a high-quality toe-to-toe encounter from two of last year’s most improved players, who signalled they will be a real threat at next week’s Australian Open.
But it was Krejcikova who eventually triumphed 0-6, 6-4, 7-6 (14/12) after 2 hours and 30 minutes on her fifth match point, after saving seven, to prevent Kontaveit from reaching her fourth final in a row.
She will play Spain’s world number nine Paula Badosa in the final after she cruised past 26th-ranked Russian Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 6-2.
“I just planned to fight more and try and stay in the match,” Krejcikova said on her comeback from a first-set bagel.
“I felt that at some point I would get my chances and it was important to convert them. I had to find a plan B and I’m really happy that I did. It was a wonderful match.”
Both players were newcomers to the season-ending WTA Finals last year, where they had their only previous meeting, which the Estonian won in straight sets en route to the final.
That victory was part of Kontaveit’s stellar year-end run, where she won 28 of her last 32 matches.

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Premier League clubs agree changes to Covid postponement rules

Updated 45 sec ago

Premier League clubs agree changes to Covid postponement rules

LONDON: Premier League clubs must have at least four positive coronavirus cases in their squad before a match can be called off under new guidance issued Wednesday following a number of controversial postponements.
The change comes after criticism of the way some clubs were perceived to be exploiting the previous rules.
If a club could not field 13 outfield players and a goalkeeper either from their squad list or appropriately experienced under-21 players, the match would be postponed.
But that rule included absences unrelated to Covid-19, such as injury or international duty.
There was a growing belief that teams hit by absences of key players were using the flexibility in the rules to have matches called off.
There have been 22 postponements in the Premier League under the Covid criteria since the omicron variant led to a surge in cases among players and staff in December.
Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow recently said the rules were not fit for purpose, while Tottenham were furious at the league’s decision to grant a postponement request to Arsenal for the north London derby.
“Following a club meeting today, the Premier League’s Covid-19 match postponement guidance has been updated to include a Covid-19 impact threshold,” a Premier League statement said.
“From now on, if a club applies to postpone a match on the grounds of insufficient players due to Covid-19, they must have a minimum of four positive cases within their squad.”
The league said the new rules would take effect before the next Premier League fixture, the rearranged match between Burnley and Watford on February 5.
Some top-flight managers had complained that changing the rules mid-season could force them to play weakened teams if four players had Covid, while other sides had benefited from postponements.
But it was reported that no clubs spoke out against the change at Wednesday’s meeting.
“Throughout the pandemic, the Premier League has adapted its guidance in response to the wider public health situation. The guidance was last updated in December in response to the emergence of the omicron variant,” the statement added.
“Club applications will continue to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.”

Martial: I can hit the ground running at Sevilla

Updated 26 January 2022

Martial: I can hit the ground running at Sevilla

  • Martial has only started two Premier League games for United this season
  • "I'm ready to play," said Martial at his official presentation in Seville on Wednesday

SEVILLE: Anthony Martial said on Wednesday he is fit and ready to play immediately for Sevilla after joining on a six-month loan deal from Manchester United.
Martial has only started two Premier League games for United this season and the 26-year-old forward has made just one appearance this year, after coming off the bench against West Ham last weekend.
“I’m ready to play,” said Martial at his official presentation in Seville on Wednesday.
“I have trained hard to be ready. If the coach wants me to play, I can do it now. My objective is to play, to help the team, to score goals, give assists. That’s my goal for these months.”
Martial told United’s interim coach Ralf Rangnick he wanted to leave in January due to a lack of playing opportunities.
The French international could be given a fresh start if, as expected, Rangnick is replaced in the summer but Martial kept the door open to staying longer at Sevilla.
“At the moment it is for 5 months, but we never know what the future may hold,” Martial said.
He will join Sevilla’s title challenge in Spain, with the team sitting second in La Liga, four points behind Real Madrid.
The team have the best defensive record in the league but have been less impressive in attack.
Martial said he was persuaded to join Sevilla by the club’s coach Julen Lopetegui and sporting director Monchi.
“What convinced me to come was the conversations with the sporting director and with the coach,” Martial said.
“They showed me that they wanted me here. I wanted to come, I wanted to play more and prove my worth at a club like Sevilla.”


Tsitsipas storms into Australian Open semifinal

Updated 26 January 2022

Tsitsipas storms into Australian Open semifinal

  • Stefanos Tsitsipas stormed into his third Australian Open semifinal against either Daniil Medvedev or Felix Auger-Aliassime

MELBOURNE: Stefanos Tsitsipas stormed into his third Australian Open semifinal with a blistering straight-sets victory over Jannik Sinner on Wednesday.
The Greek fourth seed played his best tennis yet in the year’s opening major to romp past the 11th-seeded Italian 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in 2hr 6min and into a semifinal against either Daniil Medvedev or Felix Auger-Aliassime.


Hakimi fires Morocco into quarter-finals after Malawi scare

Updated 26 January 2022

Hakimi fires Morocco into quarter-finals after Malawi scare

  • Gabadinho Mhango gave outsiders Malawi, playing their first ever knockout game at the tournament
  • Hakimi drilled in the winner on 70 minutes to set up a meeting with Egypt or Ivory Coast in the last eight

YAOUNDE: Achraf Hakimi scored a brilliant free-kick to send Morocco through to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations after a 2-1 win over Malawi on Tuesday.
Gabadinho Mhango gave outsiders Malawi, playing their first ever knockout game at the tournament, a shock early lead with a stunning goal from 40 meters at Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium.
But Youssef En-Nesyri headed Morocco level in first-half stoppage time before Hakimi drilled in the winner on 70 minutes to set up a meeting with Egypt or Ivory Coast in the last eight.
That quarter-final was due to take place at Olembe Stadium in Yaounde but will be moved after a fatal crush outside the ground on Monday which killed eight people and injured 38.
As with the earlier match between Senegal and Cape Verde in Bafoussam, a minute’s silence was observed before kick-off and players of both teams wore black armbands.
Morocco, bidding for a second Cup of Nations title and first since 1976, fell behind on seven minutes when Mhango caught Yassine Bounou off his line with a superb long-range strike.
The Atlas Lions responded by creating a series of chances as Imran Louza stung the palms of Charles Thomu, who then did well to keep out Hakimi’s powerful free-kick and the follow-up from Louza.
Mhango dragged wide for Malawi after a terrific long ball from Micium Mhone, but the Flames found themselves under sustained pressure as Morocco captain Romain Saiss volleyed against the bar.
En-Nesyri prodded weakly at Thomu from close range before the Malawi goalkeeper tipped Hakimi’s low drive onto the post and then denied Sofiane Boufal with his legs.
Morocco were finally rewarded for their persistence on the stroke of half-time as En-Nesyri rose to power Selim Amallah’s deep cross past Thomu.
Hakimi appealed vociferously for a penalty in the second half when his cross struck the arm of Malawi defender Dennis Chembezi, but the Paris Saint-Germain star took matters into his own hands to secure victory.
His late equalizer against Gabon had secured top spot in the group stage, and Hakimi delivered again with another magnificent free-kick 20 minutes from time to end Malawi’s impressive run.


Favorite Medvedev, Tsitsipas target Australian Open semifinals

Updated 26 January 2022

Favorite Medvedev, Tsitsipas target Australian Open semifinals

  • The women's quarter-finals will wrap up with American Danielle Collins targeting a second Melbourne Park semi-final against giant-killing Frenchwoman Alize Cornet
  • Medvedev knows he needs to keep a lid on his temper, which was pushed to the limit in the last round under severe examination by serve-and-volley specialist Maxime Cressy

MELBOURNE: Title favorite Daniil Medvedev will need to keep his cool Wednesday to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open after a mini-meltdown in the previous round.
Should the Russian second seed get past young Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime in the night match on Rod Laver Arena, then the prize could be a last-four showdown with fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The women’s quarter-finals will wrap up with American Danielle Collins targeting a second Melbourne Park semifinal against giant-killing Frenchwoman Alize Cornet, and Polish seventh seed Iga Swiatek taking on veteran Estonian Kaia Kanepi.
The men’s US Open champion Medvedev knows he needs to keep a lid on his temper, which was pushed to the limit in the last round under severe examination by serve-and-volley specialist Maxime Cressy.
“It was long and it was not easy, they were all tough sets,” said Medvedev after a tetchy performance where he clashed with the umpire, complained of bad luck and screamed “It’s boring!” at Cressy’s relentless tactics behind his big serve.
The US Open champion admitted he was relieved to come through the most severe examination of his title credentials so far.
“If I didn’t win the fourth set I would have been in a tough mental shape,” said Medvedev, the de facto top seed after the deportation of defending champion Novak Djokovic on the eve of the tournament.
He faces ninth seed Auger-Aliassime who took a confidence-boosting win against the 2018 Australian Open finalist Marin Cilic in four sets in the last 16.
“It’s amazing. It puts my belief even higher, I lost three times to Marin in the past, this is my first win against him,” the 21-year-old said.
Tsitsipas survived a late-night fright to reach his third Australian Open quarter-final where he has an afternoon encounter with Italian 11th seed Jannik Sinner.
Tsitsipas was staring at defeat 2-1 down before he clawed back to beat the 20th seed Taylor Fritz in five sets of classic punch and counter-punch tennis.
“It was an epic match. I gave everything out on the court today, I am very proud of myself with the way I fought,” said the 23-year-old Tsitsipas.
The 20-year-old Sinner made light of his debut on Rod Laver Arena to end the hopes of Australia’s Alex de Minaur in straight sets and reach the last eight.
“It was a tough test for me, because he’s an incredible player,” said Sinner.
Cornet has reached her first Slam quarter-final at the 63rd attempt, where she will face 27th seed Collins, an Australian Open semifinalist in 2019.
Asked what her goals were now after reaching a first quarter-final, Cornet replied: “Going further.”
“I mean, I’m not gonna stop now.”
Collins is climbing back up the rankings after “scary” surgery last year for endometriosis.
Her side of the draw has opened up nicely after second seed Aryna Sabalenka, third-ranked Garbine Muguruza, sixth seed Anett Kontaveit and former world number one Simona Halep all exited early.
“I think that all of us can appreciate each other’s toughness and tenacity and what we do,” said Collins of Cornet, with both known for their fierce competitive instincts.
Both the 2020 French Open champion Swiatek, who is just 20 years old, and Kanepi, 16 years her senior, will be in their first Melbourne Park quarter-final.
“When I had that French Open run, it was all pretty surreal,” said Swiatek.
“Right now I feel like I really have to work for it if I want to win another (Slam).”
Kanepi admitted she knew little about her opponent Swiatek.
“I haven’t watched her, I never played her, and I don’t know how her ball feels,” she said. “So we’ll see when I play her. I expect to play good.”