Nadal, Barty impress but Djokovic looms over Australian Open

Spain's Rafael Nadal hits a return against Marcos Giron of the US during their men's singles match on day one of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 17, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 17 January 2022

Nadal, Barty impress but Djokovic looms over Australian Open

  • Osaka successfully opens title defense but Gauff an early big-name casualty

MELBOURNE: Rafael Nadal and Ashleigh Barty made devastating starts to their Australian Open title campaigns on Monday as the Grand Slam attempted to move on from the Novak Djokovic visa saga.

Naomi Osaka launched the defense of her women’s crown with victory but Coco Gauff was an early big-name casualty. The American 17-year-old dumped out in straight sets by Wang Qiang, who is ranked outside the top 100.

The only Australian Open champion in the men’s draw after nine-time winner Djokovic’s deportation, Nadal started his quest to become the first male to win 21 Grand Slams by sweeping aside 66th-ranked Marcos Giron, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2.

The draw has opened up for the Spanish great with defending champion Djokovic out of the picture and the other member of the “Big Three,”  Roger Federer, not at Melbourne Park because of injury.

But the 35-year-old Nadal said he was just relieved to be playing tennis after Djokovic’s refusal to get vaccinated against COVID overshadowed the first Grand Slam of the year right up until the last moment.

Although Djokovic’s absence is good news for Nadal’s tilt at men’s tennis history, he said he would rather the world No. 1 from Serbia was playing.

“The ideal situation in the world of sport is that the best players are on court,” said Nadal, who plays Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann in the second round.

He may not be there, but Djokovic still looms over the tournament.

Nadal was all guns blazing at Rod Laver Arena, showing no apparent ill effects from a foot injury he suffered last year and then being “very sick” with COVID in December.

“Today is one victory in the first Grand Slam. Happy for that. One month ago situation had been different — looks very ugly in some way,” he said.

Other winners in the men’s draw on day one of the so-called “Happy Slam,” where crowds have been capped at 50 percent because of the pandemic, included seventh seed Matteo Berrettini.

The Italian defeated American Brandon Nakashima in four sets despite tummy trouble.

Also through was third seed Alexander Zverev in the night match, but 12th-seeded Briton Cameron Norrie lost in three sets to Sebastian Korda, the son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda.

There was to be no fairytale run for “lucky loser” Salvatore Caruso.

The Italian had earned a place in the main draw when Djokovic was deported but he fell at the first hurdle.

In the women’s draw, top seed and world No.1 Barty made a real statement of intent, crushing qualifier Lesia Tsurenko in 54 minutes, 6-0, 6-1.

The 25-year-old faces Lucia Bronzetti of Italy next as the pre-tournament favorite and home hope chases a maiden Australian Open title.

“There’s always something special about playing on a Monday night in the Australian Open,” said Barty, who will need to deal with high expectations from the home fans.

Japan’s former world No. 1 Osaka, the reigning champion, was also largely untroubled with a 6-3, 6-3 win against Colombia’s Camila Osorio.

Seeded 13 after a disrupted 2021 in which she said she had suffered “long bouts of depression,”  Osaka cruised through in 68 minutes.

“I would say I feel more comfortable in my skin, if that makes sense,” said the 24-year-old, who won the title at Melbourne Park in 2019 and 2021. She will play American Madison Brengle next.

Also through are French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, Greek fifth seed Maria Sakkari and reigning Olympic champion Belinda Bencic.

But there was heartbreak for Tunisian ninth seed Ons Jabeur, who did not even make it onto court and withdrew because of injury before her match.

Also out was the 18th-seeded prodigy Gauff, surprisingly losing 6-4, 6-2 to China’s Wang.

“I think just everything disappointed me about today,” said Gauff.

“I feel like in the pre-season, I worked really hard, and I felt like I was ready to have a good run here.

“Today I just didn’t perform well.”


French player who beat Serena reaches 4th round at Wimbledon

Updated 02 July 2022

French player who beat Serena reaches 4th round at Wimbledon

  • The unseeded Frenchwoman is making her debut at the All England Club
  • Tan’s debut at Wimbledon came on Day 2 of the tournament on Centre Court

WIMBLEDON, England: Whether her opponents are tournament favorites or crowd favorites, Harmony Tan keeps knocking them out of Wimbledon.
First there was Serena Williams, a seven-time champion at the All England Club. Then came 32nd-seeded Sara Sorribes Tormo. On Saturday, it was British player Katie Boulter.
“I think I like grass,” said Tan, who won three straight matches at a tournament for the first time in her career. “I really like to play with some slice, volley, everything with my game.”
The unseeded Frenchwoman is making her debut at the All England Club. She has played at the French Open four times, reaching the second round once. She also played at this year’s Australian Open and again reached the second round. At the US Open, she lost in the first round in 2018 in her only appearance at Flushing Meadows.
On Saturday, Tan beat Boulter 6-1, 6-1 on No. 2 Court. She never faced a break point in the match and converted five of the 10 she earned.
Tan’s debut at Wimbledon came on Day 2 of the tournament on Center Court, the biggest stadium on the grounds. That’s where she eliminated Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, in three sets.
“It was really emotional for the first round against Serena, and after it was just play match for match,” Tan said on court. “Today was really good tennis. I don’t know why, but ... it depends (on) the day.”
Tan will next face either Coco Gauff or Amanda Anisimova. The two Americans will face each other in Saturday’s first match on Center Court.
French Open champion Iga Swiatek was scheduled to face Alize Cornet on No. 1 Court. Swiatek is the top-seeded player at Wimbledon and has won 37 straight matches.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova was scheduled to follow Gauff and Anisimova on Center Court. Then Rafael Nadal, another two-time champion at the All England Club, was to play Lorenzo Sonego in the main stadium after that.

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Maldini signs new two-year director deal with AC Milan

Updated 01 July 2022

Maldini signs new two-year director deal with AC Milan

  • Milan icon Maldini's new deal means that the seven-time European champions will keep the duo who built their Scudetto-winning side
  • Maldini worked alongside sporting director Frederic Massara to take Milan from the doldrums to the top of the Italian game

MILAN: Paolo Maldini will stay on as AC Milan’s technical director after signing a new two-year contract, the Serie A champions announced on Friday.
Milan icon Maldini’s new deal means that the seven-time European champions will keep the duo who built their Scudetto-winning side.
Maldini worked alongside sporting director Frederic Massara, who has also signed a two-year extension, to take Milan from the doldrums to the top of the Italian game.
“This deal highlights the importance of continuity we see throughout the club as we continue to strengthen and grow,” Milan said in a statement.
The 54-year-old confirmed late last night that he had signed an extension after weeks of delays which almost led to Milan starting the summer transfer window — which opened in Italy on Friday — without their key men.
He has been critical in Milan signing some of their most important players, one such example being a now-famous meeting in Ibiza which was crucial to bringing Theo Hernandez to the club in 2019.
France left-back Hernandez was a stand-out player in last season’s surprise title win.
Maldini is one of the greatest players in Milan’s history, winning a raft of trophies over a quarter of a century passed entirely with his boyhood club.
He played over 900 times for Milan, winning the European Cup or Champions League five times and claiming seven Serie A titles before retiring in 2009.
That success was not replicated in an Italy jersey despite earning 126 caps, losing in the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000 finals.
Last month Milan announced that current owners, investment fund Elliott Management, had agreed to sell the club to rival US fund RedBird for 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion).
Milan said that the sale of the club will be completed no later than September.


Marseille’s plans rocked as coach Jorge Sampaoli leaves club

Updated 01 July 2022

Marseille’s plans rocked as coach Jorge Sampaoli leaves club

  • Sampaoli was popular with the club's very demanding fans
  • “Marseille and Jorge Sampaoli announce a mutual decision to end their collaboration,” the club said in a statement

MARSEILLE, France: Marseille’s preparations for next season were rocked Friday as coach Jorge Sampaoli left by mutual consent.
Sampaoli was popular with the club’s very demanding fans and guided 1993 Champions League winner Marseille back into the competition, after the southern club finished second in the French league to Paris Saint-Germain.
“Marseille and Jorge Sampaoli announce a mutual decision to end their collaboration,” the club said in a statement. “Since arriving in Marseille he invested himself fully in putting into a place a style of play and a fighting spirit which corresponded to Marseille.”
The 62-year-old Argentine had demanded a strong summer recruitment drive from club president Pablo Longoria and reportedly was unhappy with a lack of strong signings so far.
Sampaoli took over from Andre Villas-Boas midway through the 2020-21 campaign and the former Argentina coach quickly turned the club’s fortunes around.
The team’s work rate rose sharply as attitudes improved, and he started to get the best out of veteran playmaker Dimitri Payet again.
“Marseille wish to sincerely and very warmly thank Jorge Sampaoli for his work. After 16 months of working together, this work helped the club step up a level,” Marseille said in a statement. “We’re satisfied with how far we’ve come and the emotions we experienced together, but after a long period of reflection the two parties agreed to end this period.”


US basketball star Griner goes on trial in Russia on drug charges

Updated 01 July 2022

US basketball star Griner goes on trial in Russia on drug charges

  • The case was brought after Russian authorities said they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in Griner's luggage at a Moscow airport in February
  • The 31-year-old athlete was seen arriving at Khimki City Court in handcuffs shortly after noon Moscow time on Friday

KHIMKI, Russia: US basketball star Brittney Griner went on trial in a court on the outskirts of Moscow on Friday to face drug charges that could see her face up to 10 years in prison.
The case, which coincides with fraught relations between Moscow and Washington over the conflict in Ukraine, was brought after Russian authorities said they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in Griner’s luggage at a Moscow airport in February.
Griner, a star in the US-based Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), was arrested and charged with smuggling a large quantity of drugs.
The 31-year-old athlete was seen arriving at Khimki City Court in handcuffs shortly after noon Moscow time (0900 GMT) on Friday, wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt and sneakers without laces, which are forbidden in Russian jails.
The prosecutor told Griner that she was being charged with intentionally transporting narcotics. Griner spoke to say she understood the charges.
Three employees of the US embassy, including deputy of chief of mission Elizabeth Rood, were present in the courtroom. Griner was seated in a cage with a zip-lock bag of cookies and a bottle of mineral water.
Griner told a Reuters reporter she was finding detention hard because she was unable to speak Russian, and that she was unable to fully keep up with physical fitness, only general exercises such as stretching.
Her lawyers told Reuters they would not say yet whether or not she would be pleading guilty.

’ILLEGAL DRUGS’
Asked about the case, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied it was politically motivated.
“I can only operate with known facts, and the facts indicate that the eminent athlete was detained with illegal drugs that contained narcotic substances. There are articles in Russian legislation that provide for punishment for such crimes,” he told reporters. “Only the court can pass a verdict.”
US officials and a score of athletes have called for the release of Griner — or “BG” as she is known to basketball fans. They say she has been wrongfully detained and should be immediately returned to her family in the United States.
Griner’s detention also prompted concerns that Moscow could use the two-time Olympic gold medallist to negotiate the release of a high-profile Russian in US custody.
The Kremlin has said that Griner violated Russian laws and denied she was being held hostage amid Russia’s stand-off with the United States.
Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury, had played for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia during the WNBA off-season, like several other US players offered lucrative contracts by the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League.
However some have now left the Russian league, amid Griner’s detention and Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.
Griner’s partner, Cherelle Griner, told CNN in an interview on Thursday evening that she was hoping for a meeting with US President Joe Biden.
“I would love for him to tell me he cares,” Cherelle Griner said.
The US government has warned citizens against traveling to Russia in light of the “potential for harassment against US citizens by Russian government security officials.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week there was “no higher priority” than bringing home Griner and other Americans “illegally detained” abroad.


Duplantis soars to outdoor pole vault record, Olympic champion Jacobs in late withdrawal

Updated 01 July 2022

Duplantis soars to outdoor pole vault record, Olympic champion Jacobs in late withdrawal

  • In yet another dominant pole vaulting display in the final major meet before the July 15-24 worlds in Eugene, Oregon, Duplantis had the competition wrapped up after his third effort at 5.83m

STOCKHOLM: Armand Duplantis warmed up for next month’s world championships in perfect style at Stockholm’s Diamond League meet on Thursday, delighting home fans by setting an outdoor pole vault record.

While Olympic champion Marcell Jacobs was a late withdrawal from track’s blue riband event, the men’s 100m, Duplantis ensured there was drama guaranteed to the end in the field.

In yet another dominant pole vaulting display in the final major meet before the July 15-24 worlds in Eugene, Oregon, Duplantis had the competition wrapped up after his third effort at 5.83m.

The US-born vaulter then nailed 5.93 and 6.03m before clearing 6.16 on his second attempt, the best-ever performance outdoors that bettered by 1cm his previous outdoor best set in Rome in September 2020.

“I feel like I am definitely in shape to win my title and maybe to do something special in Eugene,” said the 22-year-old Olympic champion who holds the overall world record of 6.20m, set at the world indoor championships in Belgrade in March.

The outdoor record, Stockholm-based Duplantis said, felt “quite amazing... but really wasn’t that much of a surprise for me.”

“There’s better things that I can do. I felt really good jumping today but it wasn’t like I did everything so perfect that I don’t think I can do any better.

“It’s extra special when you’re jumping on the track where you train. I live about 10 minutes away so you want to defend your home territory first and foremost!“

With little time to fine-tune preparations ahead of the Eugene worlds, Jacobs— a shock gold winner at the Tokyo Olympics last year — pulled out of the 100m in another blow to his injury-hit season.

His coach Paolo Camossi, however, played down the latest setback for his sprinter, who kicked off the season with world 60m indoor gold in Belgrade before a thigh injury in mid-May disrupted track plans.

“The situation is under control,” Camossi said. “He has a little pain in his glute muscle.

“It would have been too risky to run today, that’s why we decided to withdraw him from the 100m. The risk is just too high with the eye on the world championships in Eugene next month.”

In the absence of Jacobs, South African Akani Simbine clocked a season’s best of 10.02sec to win the 100m ahead of the fastest European this year, Britain’s Reece Prescod (10.15).

World champion Dina Asher-Smith of Britain edged Switzerland’s Mujinga Kambundji, the world indoor 60m champion, in a photo-finish in the women’s 200m, both sprinters credited with 22.37sec.

Femke Bol ensured that, come Eugene, there will be anything but a smooth ride for American Sydney McLaughlin, who set a new world record of 51.41sec in winning the women’s 400m hurdles at the US trials last weekend.

The Dutch hurdler won in Stockholm in a Diamond League record of 52.27sec and her clash with Olympic champion McLaughlin and US teammate and reigning world champion Dalilah Muhammad will undoubtedly be one of the track highlights of the world champs.

“I am still hoping to do something very special also in Eugene,” Bol said. “It was a good race today but not perfect. In the end, I am very glad for this time.

“I am so excited for Eugene. When you see the results from the Hayward Field stadium, I am so excited to go there and I have some great competitors out there.”

India’s Olympic javelin champion Neeraj Chopra threw a national record of 89.94m, but that was only good enough for second place behind Anderson Peters of Grenada (90.31).

“I thought I could throw even over 90m today,” said Chopra, whose gold in Tokyo was India’s first ever Olympic track and field triumph.

“I am close to 90m now and I can throw it this year. Despite the fact that I did not win tonight, I feel very good because I did my best.”

Brazil’s Alison Dos Santos bested Karsten Warholm’s meet record as he set a world lead of 46.80sec in the men’s 400m hurdles.

“I am so proud about this performance. My preparations went well and this result shows it,” said the Brazilian who won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics.

“I think about the world record every day, every night, the Japanese capital.