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.”


Rahm tells Spanish teen tennis star to embrace routine

Updated 18 May 2022

Rahm tells Spanish teen tennis star to embrace routine

  • Rahm’s advice was to stay with his regimen and work habits even if tempted to make changes in the wake of early success

TULSA, OKLAHOMA: Reigning US Open golf champion Jon Rahm of Spain has some advice for teen tennis star compatriot Carlos Alcaraz — embrace the routine and put in the work.

World No. 2 Rahm praised the 19-year-old Spanish sensation on Monday as he prepared for Thursday’s start of the PGA Championship at Southern Hills.

Alcaraz, who won his first ATP title in March at Miami, captured his second earlier this month at Madrid, defeating 20-time Grand Slam winners Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic plus third-ranked Alexander Zverev on his way to the crown and a jump to sixth in the world rankings.

“Pretty impressive, especially in the world of tennis. He’s got some big shoes to fill,” Rahm said.

“Historically Spain has had great tennis players, and with Rafa out there it can be probably daunting yet really exciting too for somebody like him.

“He has got a great start. Hopefully he can keep it going and be a great champion.”

Rahm’s advice was to stay with his regimen and work habits even if tempted to make changes in the wake of early success.

“Believe in yourself and keep working, I would probably tell him,” Rahm said.

“You see a lot of people... they win a major championship and they decide they need to change things because they need it to get better.

“There’s a reason he’s gotten to this point. Just keep using that routine and keep getting better. Don’t need to do a complete 180 flip. Just keep believing in yourself, keep practicing and keep training and results will come.”

Rahm has done that this week in the hope he can add to his major title haul, which began last June at Torrey Pines.

The 27-year-old Spaniard comes in off a victory two weeks ago at the Mexico Open, Rahm’s seventh career US PGA triumph and first since last year’s US Open.

“I don’t know if I needed more confidence, but a win is a win. It was a good one,” Rahm said.

“Hadn’t had my best year so far. I had a couple of really good finishes, but since Torrey, I wasn’t really relevant on the leaderboard, so it was nice to be up there and get the win.”

Rahm says tee shots will be crucial to attack the course this week, but Southern Hills will test all facets of his game.

“If you’re in the rough, you might not be able to be aggressive toward the pins,” Rahm said. “You have to hit a lot of fairways out here.

“Everything needs to be good. Iron game, short game, putting, driving, everything — otherwise something really will have to excel for something else to be lacking.”


Medvedev rules himself out for French Open crown after loss in return from injury

Updated 18 May 2022

Medvedev rules himself out for French Open crown after loss in return from injury

  • Medvedev went under the knife after losing in the quarterfinals in Miami, meaning the Geneva loss was his only clay-court match ahead of Paris

GENEVA: World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev on Tuesday ruled himself out as a title contender at next week’s French Open after losing his first match back after an hernia operation.

The US Open champion, who underwent surgery last month, was beaten 6-2, 7-6 (7/5) by French veteran Richard Gasquet in the Geneva Open round of 16.

Medvedev said it was hard to look beyond Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic as favorites to win the second Grand Slam of the year and said he would work further on sharpening up his game in the remaining days before Paris.

“I don’t play my best tennis on clay courts. I know that I’m capable of making some good results, as I did in the past. But for this I kind of need to be in the zone,” Medvedev told reporters.

“I don’t feel as confident on clay as on other surfaces, that’s why I lost 7/5 in the tiebreak finishing with a double fault. It’s disappointing but I’ve had tougher losses in my career.

“Physically I felt not bad. With more days of practice I should be ready for Roland Garros.”

The 26-year-old Russian reached the 2021 French Open quarterfinals.

“I haven’t played for a month and a half, two months. I’m going to try to work both physically and tennis-wise and hopefully I can find the game I had there last year — which is not going to be easy,” he said.

Medvedev went under the knife after losing in the quarterfinals in Miami, meaning the Geneva loss was his only clay-court match ahead of Paris.

“Clay for my body is the most dangerous surface. For me it’s clay courts — every time, every year I have some problems where I cannot be 100 percent,” he said.

“I’m not a favorite for Roland-Garros but I do want to play well. If I can find my level again, I can be dangerous.”

It was the first time 35-year-old Gasquet had defeated a top two player since beating Roger Federer in 2005 — his only other victory over a top-two opponent in 38 attempts.

“It’s a great victory for me and it’s incredible for me to win against Daniil, even if he’s coming back from injuries,” Gasquet said.

“It’s a great moment and that’s why I still continue to play and try to do well.”

The former world No. 7, who underwent hernia surgery himself in 2019, was surprised by the speed of Medvedev’s comeback.

“The first match after surgery it’s always difficult, so I knew it was tough for him but I know how good he is,” he said.

“He has come back quickly because two months off is not a lot after an operation. It’s impressive. It will take time for him to get back to his best.”

The world No. 75 faces Poland’s Kamil Majchrzak in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Last year’s Geneva winner Casper Ruud, runner-up Denis Shapovalov and Reilly Opelka are the top 20 players still in the draw.


Liverpool beat Southampton 2-1, title race goes to the wire

Updated 18 May 2022

Liverpool beat Southampton 2-1, title race goes to the wire

  • The victory leaves Jurgen Klopp’s team a point behind Manchester City heading into the final round of a thrilling league campaign
  • Liverpool were 14 points behind City at one point in January, albeit with two games in hand

SOUTHAMPTON, England: The Premier League title race is going to the wire. Remarkably, an unprecedented quadruple is still on for Liverpool.

Tired and hit by injuries after winning the FA Cup final on Saturday, Liverpool fielded a second-choice lineup against Southampton and demonstrated a great mentality to come from behind to win 2-1 on Tuesday.

It leaves Jurgen Klopp’s team a point behind Manchester City heading into the final round of a thrilling league campaign. That’s on Sunday, when Liverpool are at home to Wolverhampton at the same time as City host Aston Villa — managed by Liverpool great Steven Gerrard.

“Whatever happens this season, we have done ourselves proud,” Liverpool midfielder James Milner said. “All we could do is take it to the last game and we’ve done that.”

City remain the favorite in their bid for a sixth league title in 11 seasons, but Liverpool have done their part by taking the defending champions all the way.

In fact, the Reds are taking every competition to the final game this season, with a Champions League final against Real Madrid still to come on May 28. They’ve already won both domestic cups in a season for the ages.

Joel Matip completed Liverpool’s latest comeback by unwittingly heading home the winning goal in the 67th minute at St. Mary’s Stadium.

Klopp’s team had also come from behind in its previous two league games, a 2-1 win against Villa and a 1-1 draw with Tottenham. It just doesn’t know when it is beaten.

“We keep going,” Klopp said. “We never give up. That’s how it is.”

The game came only three days after Liverpool’s energy-sapping FA Cup triumph over Chelsea, which went 120 minutes before the Reds won a penalty shootout. Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk were injured at Wembley Stadium and didn’t travel to Southampton. Fabinho was already injured. Andrew Robertson and Luis Diaz were unused substitutes.

Despite the slew of changes, Liverpool dominated a passive Southampton team with nothing left to play for this season but still fell behind in the 13th minute when Nathan Redmond cut inside from the left and sent in a shot that deflected off Milner and into the far corner.

Liverpool’s players kept their composure and replied 14 minutes later when Diogo Jota laid the ball off to Takumi Minamino, who displayed quick feet before firing a rising shot inside Alex McCarthy’s near post. The Japan forward was on loan at Southampton last season and hadn’t started a league game since then.

The rest of the match saw Liverpool camped inside Southampton’s half but only managing to create half-chances. The atmosphere was starting to get tense when Liverpool was gifted what proved to be the winning goal, after a corner by Kostas Tsimikas was glanced on at the near post by Southampton forward Mohamed Elyounoussi.

The ball flew across the area, skimmed off the head of Southampton’s Kyle Walker-Peters, hit the forehead of Matip and rebounded into the far corner beyond McCarthy’s despairing dive.

Liverpool were 14 points behind City at one point in January, albeit with two games in hand. Somehow, the title is still within reach with 90 minutes left to play. And Gerrard, who never won the league with Liverpool as a player, could yet have a decisive role in helping his former team win it this time.

“If we said in January it would go to the last game, we would have taken that,” Liverpool manager Jordan Henderson said. “Hopefully Stevie and Villa do us a favor.”


More medal success for Saudi on Day 2 of GCC Games

Updated 17 May 2022

More medal success for Saudi on Day 2 of GCC Games

  • Day of action resulted in podium finishes in athletics, swimming and shooting

The second day of the GCC Games taking place in Kuwait proved fruitful for the Saudi contingent with several more podium finishes in the athletics, swimming and shooting categories.

Saudi sprinter Mohammed Al-Maawi took silver medal in the 400 meter hurdles competition with a time of 50.6 seconds, while his colleague Moadh Al-Saad came in third place with a time of 53.34 seconds to secure the bronze.

On another day of fine results for Saudi’s athletes, Hassan Doshi claimed a gold medal in the triple jump competition with a distance of 16 meters, while teammate Mohammed Al-Yami came in fourth place with a distance of 14.61 meters.

Meanwhile, Osama Al-Aqili won the bronze medal in the discus with a throw of 51.97 meters.

The Saudi women’s 4×100 relay team missed out on a medal after finishing fourth in the final with a time of 53.52 seconds.

In the 10 meter Air Pistol competition, Saudi’s Atallah Al-Anzi snatched the gold medal at the Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Olympic Shooting Complex, and that was followed with silver for Abdul Aziz Al-Anzi in the 50 meter Rifle category.

In the men’s swimming competitions, Ahmed Al-Hashem took bronze in the 1500 meter freestyle, while the Saudi team came third place in the 4x100m medley relay race, securing bronze medals for Al-Hashem, Mohammed Al-Muhr, Youssef Buarish and Ali Al-Issa.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Saudi Arabian men’s basketball team went down 67-63 to the United Arab Emirates.

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Frankfurt, Rangers try to end title drought in their Europa League final clash

Updated 16 May 2022

Frankfurt, Rangers try to end title drought in their Europa League final clash

  • Both clubs have huge fan bases, and tens of thousands are expected to swarm into southern Spain this week to try to see their team succeed again

LONDON: Eintracht Frankfurt and Rangers will get a chance to end decades of despair when they meet in the Europa League final on Wednesday.

For Frankfurt, it will be an opportunity to win their first European trophy in more than 40 years. For Rangers, a chance for their first continental title in 50 years.

Triumph in the second-tier competition in the Spanish city of Seville will also guarantee the winner an automatic spot in the group stage of next season’s Champions League.

“For Eintracht, for the fans, for the club, for the players, (winning again after 42 years) would be the most important thing ever,” Frankfurt coach Oliver Glasner told UEFA.com. “It has extraordinary significance, great significance, and that’s why we’re going to try our best so that we come home with the trophy and spend one or two nights celebrating with our fans.”

It will be Frankfurt’s first European final since beating Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1980 in an all-German matchup in the UEFA Cup, the predecessor to the Europa League.

Rangers were close to European glory when they played in the UEFA Cup final in 2008, but they lost to Zenit St. Petersburg. The Scottish club is looking for their first European trophy since earning the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1972.

Both clubs have huge fan bases, and tens of thousands are expected to swarm into southern Spain this week to try to see their team succeed again, prompting concern from local authorities and UEFA.

There had been fan violence involving visiting fans in Seville when local clubs Sevilla and Real Betis hosted matches earlier in the competition. Before the semifinals between Frankfurt and West Ham in Germany, more than 30 arrests were made after supporters of both clubs clashed in several locations in Frankfurt.

Fans of the German club also attracted headlines when more than 30,000 made their way into the Camp Nou in Barcelona for the second leg of the quarterfinals.

UEFA has asked for fans without tickets not to travel to Spain for Wednesday’s final, and warned about the dangers of purchasing tickets on the secondary market.

More than 40,000 seats will be available at Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán Stadium, but only about 10,000 tickets were allocated to each club. Seville city officials planned to open fan zones to accommodate those not able to make it to the game.

The match will pit two physical and high-intensity teams with impressive runs to the final.

Rangers, led by captain and top scorer James Tavernier, lost their first two group games but eventually gained momentum. It will be boosted by having already eliminated two German clubs — Borussia Dortmund in the first knockout round and Leipzig in the semifinals.

“When you’re in the knockout stages, it’s all or nothing, and the character of my players has been outstanding,” said Rangers coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who was hired in November after Steven Gerrard joined Aston Villa. “To be able to win against those strong opponents is really good, so we have the character to play this final, we have the qualities, and we also have the belief. That’s the most important thing, to have the belief that you can achieve.”

Frankfurt, led by veteran goalkeeper Kevin Trapp, made it to the final unbeaten after eliminating some strong opponents — Real Betis in the round of 16, Barcelona in the quarterfinals and West Ham in the semifinals. Frankfurt are trying to become the third unbeaten team to win the title in the Europa League era, after Chelsea in 2019 and Villarreal in 2021.

“Every team that gets to the final has earned it because it’s a long road. You have to win a lot of matches,” Glasner said. “Rangers eliminated two top teams from the Bundesliga over two legs. That shows they’re very good and also shows they’re well equipped for German football, so I’m expecting a very even, hard-fought contest.”

The last encounter between the two clubs was painful for Rangers. The Scottish club conceded six goals in each of the two legs of the European Cup semifinals in 1960, being deprived of an opportunity to play a home final in Glasgow. Frankfurt went on to lose the final to Real Madrid 7-3.

Frankfurt have not made it back to Europe’s top club competition since that final, while Rangers made their last appearance in the group stage of the Champions League in the 2010-11 season.

The last time the UEFA Cup final was played in Seville, in 2003, Rangers’ Scottish rival Celtic lost the title to José Mourinho-coached Porto.