Instead of playing center court in Australia, Djokovic poses for selfies in Dubai airport

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Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic poses for a selfie after landing at Dubai Airport, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, January 17, 2022. (Reuters)
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Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic walks with his team after landing at Dubai Airport after the Australian Federal Court upheld a government decision to cancel his visa to play in the Australian Open, in Dubai, January 17, 2022. (Reuters)
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Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic poses for a selfie after landing at Dubai Airport after the Australian Federal Court upheld a government decision to cancel his visa to play in the Australian Open, in Dubai, January 17, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 January 2022

Instead of playing center court in Australia, Djokovic poses for selfies in Dubai airport

  • The world number one flew out of Melbourne late on Sunday
  • Djokovic was escorted to Melbourne Airport by Australian Border Force officials

DUBAI: On the first day of the Australian Open, the world’s best male tennis player was taking selfies with fans at a Dubai airport arrivals gate.
Instead of warming up for his first scheduled match on center court at Melbourne Park in front of thousands, Novak Djokovic was 11,600 km (7,200 miles) away, agreeing to photos with a handful of fellow travelers.
“Hey mate, sorry about what’s happened,” one man said as he lowered his face mask for a snap with Djokovic, who kept his own mask on as he waited just off the airbridge for his entourage to exit the plane.
The world number one flew out of Melbourne late on Sunday after the Federal Court upheld a government decision to cancel his visa, capping days of drama over the country’s COVID-19 entry rules and his unvaccinated status.
The ruling dealt a final blow to Djokovic’s hopes of chasing a record 21st Grand Slam win at the Australian Open, which started on Monday.
Djokovic was escorted to Melbourne Airport by Australian Border Force officials, who formed a guard around the player in an airport lounge before taking him to the door of the plane.
While his coach Goran Ivanizevic and two others in his entourage were seated in business class, Djokovic was afforded the privacy of first class for the overnight 14-hour Emirates flight.
His arrival in Dubai early in the morning was far more low key. Djokovic stood alone, wearing a blue tracksuit top, jeans and trainers, carrying a tennis bag and holding his passport, as he waited for his three companions to also exit the plane.
The player agreed to a handful of fan photos before demurring and allowing airport officials to move people along.
A few hours later, instead of gearing up for his scheduled first round match against compatriot and world number 77 Miomir Kecmanovic, Djokovic was escorted by airline staff on a terminal buggy to the departure gate for a flight to Belgrade, where he checked in alone.
While he was in the air from Melbourne to Dubai, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison left the door open for him to compete at next year’s Australian Open despite an automatic three-year ban from entering the country.
Morrison noted there was scope for that three-year ban to be waived “in the right circumstances.”
Djokovic, however, did not appear to be in the mood to contemplate a return to Australia, ignoring a shouted question in Dubai about whether he planned to attempt a return Down Under.


Female referee at men’s World Cup wants the game to shine

Updated 28 June 2022

Female referee at men’s World Cup wants the game to shine

  • Yamashita is one of three women picked by FIFA to be referees at the men’s World Cup in Qatar, which opens on Nov. 21

TOKYO: Japanese referee Yoshimi Yamashita agrees with Pelé or whoever it was decades ago that first described soccer as the “beautiful game.”
Yamashita is one of three women picked by FIFA to be referees at the men’s World Cup in Qatar, which opens on Nov. 21. It’s the first time a woman will be in charge on soccer’s largest stage.
She sees her job this way: Let the game shine, as it should.
“One of the big goals as a referee is to bring out the the attractiveness of soccer,” she said Monday in Tokyo in an interview with the Associated Press. “I do my best for that, and I will do what I should at that time toward that end. So if I need to communicate with the players, I will do that. If I need to show a card, I will show a card. Rather than control, I’m thinking about what to do toward the big goal of bringing out the appeal of soccer.”
Stéphanie Frappart of France and Salima Mukansanga of Rwanda are the other women who were selected. There are 36 referees in total. FIFA has also named three female assistant referees in a pool of 69: Neuza Back of Brazil, Karen Diaz Medina of Mexico, and Kathryn Nesbitt of the United States.
Though it’s likely all three will be in charge of games, it’s not a given. They would also be used as so-called “fourth referees” on the sidelines. However, they cannot be used as assistants.
“Each match official will be carefully monitored in the next months with a final assessment on technical, physical and medical aspects to be made shortly before the World Cup,” Massimo Busacca, FIFA’s director of refereeing, said in a statement.
Yamashita’s selection puts the focus on Japan’s low ranking on most measures of equal pay for women, and in global studies of gender equality.
Only 14.3 percent of the seats in Japan’s national legislature are held by women — 152nd of 190 countries in a study published several months ago by the US Congressional Research Service. Another study on the gender pay gap placed Japan 120th of 156 countries.
“I would be very happy if women could play an active role in sports in this way, and if sports and especially soccer could lead this,” Yamashita said. “In Japan, there is still a long way to go in the world of soccer (regarding participation of women), so it would be great if this could connect to promotion of female participation in different ways, not only in soccer or in sports.”
Women’s soccer has led the way in Japan. Japanese women won the 2011 women’s World Cup, were runners-up in 2015, and have been been consistently among the game’s elite teams.
Yamashita went through a workout on Monday just outside Tokyo, sweltering in temperatures that reached 35 C (95 F). She laughed when she was reminded that games in Qatar — located on a tip of the Arabian Peninsula — will be much cooler, being played in the Northern Hemisphere winter and in air-conditioned stadiums.
Yamashita seemed relaxed during the interview, removed from the obvious pressure. She has been a referee in Japan’s men’s J League, and has also been in charge of the Asian equivalent of the men’s Champions League. She also handled matches during last year’s Tokyo Olympics.
“Of course, I think the pressure is huge,” she said, “and I think I have a lot of responsibility. But I am really happy to take this duty and pressure, so I try to take it positively and I try to be happy.”
She described the excitement of leaving the waiting room just before a match.
“I guess it cheers me up in that moment. I feel like that’s when I switch gears the most,” she said.
She said the difference in the men’s and women’s game was, of course, speed. But not simply that some men might run faster.
“It’s the speed, but not just the players’ speed,” she said. “Not the ball speed. It’s just the game speed. It means for me I have to make quicker decisions — more speed.”
Yamashita conducted most of the interview in Japanese, but said she would use English and “facial gestures, body gestures” when communicating with players in Qatar.
“Usually when I give a card, I say nothing,” she said, shifting to English. “But when I give a warning, I just tell them I’m not happy. They understand.”


World number two Jabeur into Wimbledon second round

Updated 27 June 2022

World number two Jabeur into Wimbledon second round

  • She will face either Rebecca Marino of Canada or Poland’s Katarzyna Kawa for a place in the last 32

LONDON: World number two Ons Jabeur eased into the Wimbledon second round on Monday with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Swedish qualifier Mirjam Bjorklund.
Jabeur, a quarter-finalist in 2021 and fresh from the grass-court title in Berlin, will face either Rebecca Marino of Canada or Poland’s Katarzyna Kawa for a place in the last 32.


Kyrgios happy to make ‘top 10 players look ordinary’

Updated 26 June 2022

Kyrgios happy to make ‘top 10 players look ordinary’

  • Kyrgios has been defeating the stars and upsetting officialdom while delighting his army of fans ever since

LONDON: Nick Kyrgios resumes his bittersweet relationship with Wimbledon vowing to continue making “top 10 players look ordinary.”

The volatile Australian shot to fame at the All England Club in 2014 when ranked 114 in the world, he stunned two-time champion Rafael Nadal.

Kyrgios has been defeating the stars and upsetting officialdom while delighting his army of fans ever since.

“I’ve played top-10 players in the world this year and made them look pretty ordinary,” the 27-year-old said Sunday.

“I know where my game’s at. I know if I’m feeling confident, I’m playing well, I’m able to just light it up kind of whenever I want.”

The facts back him up.

Having sat out the entire claycourt season, Kyrgios has excelled on grass this summer, reaching the semifinals back-to-back in Stuttgart and Halle.

World No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas fell to the Australian in Halle. That was the Greek’s third loss in four meetings with Kyrgios.

Fellow members of the top such as Andrey Rublev and Casper Ruud have also fallen victim to a sometimes inspired Kyrgios in 2022.

Kyrgios made the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2014 on the back of his famous win over Nadal.

However, recent visits have not been so fruitful and he has yet to get past the fourth round in his last six visits.

Along the way, he has been accused of tanking, complained about the state of the grass last year while admitting he deliberately speared a ball at Nadal in the pair’s bad-tempered 2019 rematch.

Kyrgios knows he has the tools to make the second week at Wimbledon again.

“I know if I’m serving well and I’m playing well, I can beat anyone. I have pretty much beaten everyone in the draw before,” he said.

“It’s hard. It’s like not many people have gotten over the hump of winning a slam. I’m one of the people that has to deal with that every week.

“Like, Oh, he’s probably one of the biggest wastes of talent. He should be winning a Slam.”

Kyrgios will still play to the crowd.

In recent seasons, he has sought the advice of fans on serve placement, perfected the underarm serve.

The darker, flip side has seen thousands of dollars in fines and a suspended 16-week ban in 2019.

“The crowd knows I’m going to try and bring a lot of energy, bring a lot of flair and entertainment,” Kyrgios said.

“I think that’s just something I come with now. I can’t really get rid of that. It’s just something I want to do as well.”

Something else he’d like to see is a relaxation of the All England Club’s strict all-white dress code, suggesting allowing a black sweatband or headband.

“I think it would look cool. Obviously Wimbledon doesn’t really care what looks cool,” he said.


Bagnaia wins Dutch MotoGP after Quartararo crashes out

Updated 26 June 2022

Bagnaia wins Dutch MotoGP after Quartararo crashes out

ASSEN, Netherlands: Italy’s Francesco Bagnaia won the Dutch MotoGP on Sunday to reignite his title challenge after championship leader Fabio Quartararo crashed out of an incident-packed race.

Frenchman Quartararo fell twice, flipping spectacularly over his handlebars in the second incident although he walked away afterwards, shaking his fists in anger at his error.

Bagnaia, in contrast, stayed out of trouble on his Ducati to record his third victory of the season and a welcome full points score after failing to finish in the last two races.

“I am so happy after two difficult races,” the Italian said.

In a great day for Italian riders, Marco Bezzecchi on a Ducati for Valentino Rossi’s VR46 team was second while Spanish rider Maverick Vinales rounded out the podium in the 11th race of the 20-season.

Quartararo heads into the summer break with a 21-point lead over Aleix Espargaro, who was fourth on Sunday.

The Frenchman fell on the fifth then on the 13th lap out of 26 in front of an enthusiastic crowd in the Netherlands.

Even if he quickly got back on his feet, he had to give up after this second accident.

The Frenchman got off to a bad start and was quickly overtaken by Aprilia rider Espargaro.

It was while he was trying to recover second place, in an attempt on the inside of a bend, that Quartararo lost control of his Yamaha, ending up in the gravel although he was soon back in the saddle, albeit in last place.

But a few laps later, his race was over after an acrobatic tumble.

“I made a rookie’s mistake. I attacked as it was the last lap and the last bend,” Quartararo said of his first fall, which he said had left something feeling “not right” with his bike.

As soon as the race was over he apologized to Espargaro for forcing him off the track in the fifth lap.

This was the first time since 1994 that Yamaha have failed to score a point at Assen.

For Bagnaia, taking the chequered flag was a welcome change of fortune.


McLaughlin books athletics worlds berth with 400m hurdles world record

Updated 26 June 2022

McLaughlin books athletics worlds berth with 400m hurdles world record

  • McLaughlin's performance capped a day of 11 finals and a farewell to the US championships for Olympic great Allyson Felix — 21 years after she ran in her first
  • Olympic champion Lamont Marcell Jacobs was not at his best but took victory in 10.12 seconds, four hundredths of a second quicker than second-place Chituru Ali, after posting 10.17sec in the heats

EUGENE, OREGON: Sydney McLaughlin punched her ticket to the athletics World Championships with a world record 51.41sec victory in the 400m hurdles at the US trials on Saturday.

McLaughlin shaved five-hundredths of a second off the world record of 51.46 she set in winning Tokyo Olympics gold last Aug. 4, delivering a dominant performance at Eugene’s Hayward Field that saw runner-up Britton Wilson cross the line more than a second back in 53.08sec.

Shamier Little was third in 53.92. The trio will represent the US on the same Hayward Field track in July — when reigning world champion Dalilah Muhammad also aims to defend her title.

With a bye as champion Muhammad — who beat McLaughlin in Doha in 2019 but took silver behind her in Tokyo — received a waiver to skip the trials to recover from a hamstring injury.

McLaughlin showed she didn’t need her great rival to push her to new heights in this championship season.

Her performance capped a day of 11 finals and a farewell to the US championships for Olympic great Allyson Felix — 21 years after she ran in her first.

Felix finished sixth in the 400m, making her almost certain to earn consideration for a relay at the World Championships.

Felix is calling time on a career that includes 29 world and Olympic medals — including seven Olympic golds.

After a gritty semifinal performance to earn a place in the final, Felix — greeted by a massive ovation — clocked 51.27sec.

Talitha Diggs, daughter of four-time Olympian Joetta Clark-Diggs and the NCAA collegiate champion, used a powerful finishing kick to win the women’s 400m in 50.22, overhauling early pace-setter Lynna Irby and Kendall Ellis in the final 20 meters.

Ellis took second in 50.35 and Irby was third in 50.67.

Michael Norman, seeking World Championships gold to help expunge the memory of a disappointing fifth-place finish at the Tokyo Games, delivered an emphatic victory in the men’s 400m with a world-leading 43.56sec.

NCAA collegiate title holder Champion Allison broke 44 seconds for the first time, taking second in 43.70, with Randolph Ross third in 44.17.

World record-holder Keni Harrison won the 100m hurdles in another world-leading time of 12.34sec. Alaysha Johnson was second in 12.35 and Alia Armstrong was third in 12.47.

World champion Nia Ali opted out of the final but will complete the formidable US contingent in the event next month.

In other events, world 200m champion Noah Lyles clocked 19.95sec to top the first-round times, and revealed he was rebounding from a bout with Covid.

Lyles said he learned after his win in New York on June 12 that he had coronavirus, not realizing until after the event that his muscle soreness and chills were symptoms of illness.

“To be honest I’m so in shape I’m not too worried about it,” Lyles said.

Erriyon Knighton, who owns the fastest time in the world this year of a 19.49, was second-fastest in the heats in 20.08.

Reigning 100m world champion Christian Coleman advanced to the semis with a time of 20.13 but said he still wasn’t sure if he’d pursue a 100-200 double at worlds.

Fred Kerley, who dazzled with a 9.76sec semi on the way to winning the 100m on Friday, booked his 200m semifinal spot with a time of 20.29.

Abby Steiner, coming off a world-leading 21.80sec to win the NCAA collegiate title this month, topped the women’s 200m heat times in 22.14sec.

Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Gabby Thomas, who owns the third-fastest time in history, made it safely into the semis with the seventh-quickest time of the day 22.59.

Sha’Carri Richardson, who shockingly failed to advance from the 100m heats on Thursday, also advanced with a time of 22.69 — finishing second to Thomas in their heat.

Reigning world champion and Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Grant Holloway and Devon Allen stayed on course for a 110m hurdles showdown with the top two times in the heats.

Holloway, whose American record of 12.81 is one one-hundredth off the world record, won his heat in 13.11sec, second-fastest of the round ahead of recently crowned NCAA champion Trey Cunningham’s 13.13.

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Allen, who stunned Holloway with the third-fastest time in history of 12.84sec in New York two weeks ago, won his heat to qualify third-fastest in 13.27.

Olympic champion Jacobs wins Italian 100m title

In Rieti, Lazio, reigning Olympic champion Lamont Marcell Jacobs continued his preparations for next month’s World Championships by winning the Italian men’s 100 meters title on Saturday.

The 27-year-old was not at his best but took victory in 10.12 seconds, four hundredths of a second quicker than second-place Chituru Ali, after posting 10.17sec in the heats.

Jacobs, who also won the world 60m indoor title earlier this year, only ran his first two 100m races of the season last month in Savona.

“It was useful to resume competition,” he told RAI Sport on Saturday.

“I’m not yet able to manage a complete 100m, especially with two races in an hour. In training I had to do everything at a moderate pace.

“So it was more difficult to manage at a high intensity. In the closing stages, I had a little more trouble and decided to hold back a little to avoid any fitness problems.”

Jacobs is scheduled to run in Stockholm next Thursday before flying to the worlds which get underway in American city Eugene on July 15.

There, he will lock horns again with reigning world champion Christian Coleman, who he beat to the indoor title in Belgrade in March.

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