Simona Halep battles service demons to stay alive at Australian Open

Former world number one Simona Halep struggled to find her groove against the 102nd-ranked Pole Magdalena Frech before banking the win 6-4, 6-3 on Margaret Court Arena. (AFP)
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Updated 18 January 2022

Simona Halep battles service demons to stay alive at Australian Open

  • Error-strewn clash with Poland’s Magdalena Frech which saw 11 service breaks
  • Both players struggled to hold serve in the opening set

MELBOURNE: Former world number one Simona Halep labored into the Australian Open second round Tuesday after an error-strewn clash with Poland’s Magdalena Frech which saw 11 service breaks.
The fit-again Romanian 14th seed came into the Grand Slam full of confidence after her first title in 16 months at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament this month.
But she struggled to find her groove against the 102nd-ranked Pole before banking the win 6-4, 6-3 on Margaret Court Arena to keep her dreams of a third major title alive.
“I found it so difficult today, I was unsure if I could play good tennis,” she said.
“But in the end I won and that makes me very happy. Hopefully this week I can play better and better.”
Halep, the runner-up in 2018 to Caroline Wozniacki and semifinalist two years later, is on her way back after a truncated 2021 season when she struggled with calf and knee injuries.
And it was a far from convincing performance, with both players struggling to hold serve in the opening set, with Frech broken three times and Halep twice.
Ultimately, the Romanian was stronger in the rallies and she finally sealed the set on serve with a trademark backhand down the line.
Neither player’s serve improved in the second set with Halep immediately breaking before Frech went on a three-game win streak as the error-count mounted.
Halep then reeled off five games in a row to ensure victory and a second round clash with either American qualifier Katie Volynets or Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia.


Bangladesh’s Mushfiqur to skip West Indies tour for Hajj pilgrimage

Updated 23 May 2022

Bangladesh’s Mushfiqur to skip West Indies tour for Hajj pilgrimage

  • Bangladesh will begin West Indies tour for a month from June 16
  • Pace bowler Mustafizur Rahman has been recalled for the Test series

DHAKA: Bangladesh wicketkeeper-batsman Mushfiqur Rahim will skip next month’s West Indies tour to perform Hajj, while pace bowler Mustafizur Rahman has been recalled for the Test series.
Bangladesh will travel to the West Indies for two Tests, three Twenty20 internationals and three one-day internationals from June 16 to July 16.
“Mushfiqur has asked for a leave to perform Hajj and his wish has been granted,” Bangladesh Cricket Board chief executive officer Nizamuddin Chowdhury told AFP in reference to the Islamic pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
Left-arm pace bowler Mustafizur has not played a Test match since February 2021 but has remained a vital cog in Bangladesh’s limited-over sides.
He has been recalled to the Test series in the absence of Shoriful Islam and Taskin Ahmed, who both are sidelined with injury.
Shoriful, however, was included in the Twenty20 international and one-day international sides. Taskin was included for ODIs, which will be held at the final leg of the tour.
Batsman Anamul Haque was also recalled to T20I and ODI sides for his prolific form in domestic cricket.
Anamul made 1,138 runs in the recent Dhaka Premier League, the highest by any batsman in a single List A competition in history.
Pace bowler Mohammad Saifuddin also returned to Twenty20I and ODI sides after recovering from injury.
The first Test of the series will be held at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua from June 16 to 20. Saint Lucia will host the second Test from June 24-28.
The first two T20Is will be held in Dominica on July 2 and 3 while the third T20I will be held in Guyana on July 7.
Guyana will host all three ODIs, respectively on July 10, 13 and 16.


Justin Thomas wins 2nd PGA title in playoff after 7-shot rally

Updated 23 May 2022

Justin Thomas wins 2nd PGA title in playoff after 7-shot rally

  • Thomas now has a PGA Tour victory in each of his last eight years and moves to No. 5 in the world
  • In eight majors at Southern Hills, it was first time a player rallied from any margin to win, and it was only the second playoff

TULSA, Oklahoma: Justin Thomas is a major champion when he least expected it.

Thomas matched a PGA Championship record Sunday when he rallied from a seven-shot deficit at Southern Hills, and then saved his most exquisite shot-making for a three-hole playoff to defeat Will Zalatoris.

He closed with a 3-under 67, matching the low score of a final round made difficult more by nerves than the wind. He seized control in the playoff with a 3-wood to 35 feet on the 301-yard 17th hole for a two-putt birdie.

He tapped in for par and stood erect with a smile, a mixture of joy and disbelief.

“I was asked early in the week what lead is safe and I said, ‘No lead,’” Thomas said. “I can’t believe I found myself in a playoff.”

Thomas needed plenty of help, and Mito Pereira provided it in a tragic finish. The 27-year-old from Chile, playing in only his second major, took a one-shot lead to the final hole and drove into a creek to make double bogey.

It was the first time since Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot in the 2006 US Open that a player lost a one-shot lead in the final hole to lose a major.

Zalatoris looked like he had thrown away his chances for a first major — and first PGA Tour victory — when he three-putted from just outside 20 feet on the 16th hole. But he responded with a birdie from the bunker at the 17th and holed an 8-foot par putt on the 18th for a 71.

He joined Thomas at 5-under 275, and they played on when Pereira faltered.

Thomas, who had gone 14 months since his last victory at The Players Championship last year, now has a PGA Tour victory in each of his last eight years and moves to No. 5 in the world.

John Mahaffey in the 1978 PGA Championship at Oakmont was the other player to come from seven shots behind on the final day. He also won in a playoff over Tom Watson and Jerry Pate.

Thomas was still seven shots behind when he made his remarkable run, a mixture of key birdies and keeping mistakes off his card. It started with a 65-foot birdie putt from just short of the green to a back pin on the par-3 11th. He edged closer with an 18-foot birdie on the next hole.

He was lurking, while the leading pack behind him was leaking oil.

Zalatoris and Cameron Young each caught Pereira, ever so briefly. All of them found trouble in the rough and in the sand. Thomas nearly holed a long bunker shot on the 16th, made birdie from a left bunker on the reachable 17th and had a 10-foot birdie putt he thought he needed at the end.

He missed, and got a reprieve.

Pereira was on the cusp of becoming Chile’s first major champion, and giving South America the career Grand Slam.

Even after five bogeys, he never lost the lead and delivered clutch par saves from the bunker left of the ninth green and from well behind the 10th green. None was bigger than his 12-foot putt on the 16th to stay one shot ahead.

It all came undone with one swing.

His sawed-off swing with the driver, so effective on the previous hole, peeled to the right and into the creek down the right side of the 18th fairway. After a penalty drop, his approach up the hill started left and never cut back, landing in the rough. His chip rolled off the back edge of the green.

His double bogey gave him a 75, a hard-luck end to such a promising week.

“On Monday, I just wanted to make the cut. On Sunday, I wanted to win,” Pereira said. “I’ll take this to learn for the future.”

Young, whose father is a longtime PGA professional, also will look back at missed chances. Playing with Zalatoris, a former roommate at Wake Forest, Young was in the mix all day and was briefly tied for the lead. His hopes ended on he 16th went he found a bunker right of the green, blasted out weakly to 30 feet and three-putted for a double bogey. He closed with a 71.

Matt Fitzpatrick of England, who played in the final group with Pereira, also stayed in range, two shots behind until his sloppy bogey on the 17th. He shot 73 and tied for fifth with Tommy Fleetwood (67) and Chris Kirk (68).

Rory McIlroy made a brief run with four straight birdies on the front nine, putting him at 4-under par for the tournament. He was 2 over the rest of the way and finished eighth.

In eight majors at Southern Hills, it was first time a player rallied from any margin to win, and it was only the second playoff. Retief Goosen won the other in the 2001 US Open after he three-putted from 12 feet on the final hole. At least he got another chance, unlike Pereira.

Six of the seven previous major champions at Southern Hills are in the World Golf Hall of Fame. The 29-year-old Thomas, now with two majors among his 15 career PGA Tour victories, is surely headed there one day.

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Salah and Son share Premier League Golden Boot

Updated 23 May 2022

Salah and Son share Premier League Golden Boot

  • South Korea’s Son netted twice in Tottenham’s 5-0 win at Norwich to move to 23 goals — one clear of Salah, but the Egypt forward struck late in Liverpool’s 3-1 win at home to Wolves

LONDON: Mohamed Salah and Son Heung-min shared the Premier League Golden Boot on Sunday after both forward scored on the final day of the season.
South Korea’s Son netted twice in Tottenham’s 5-0 win at Norwich to move to 23 goals — one clear of Salah, but the Egypt forward struck late in Liverpool’s 3-1 win at home to Wolves.
Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo finished third with 18 goals in his first season back in the Premier League.
Salah’s goal was ultimately in vain as Jurgen Klopp’s team finished one point behind Manchester City, who scored three goals in five minutes to beat Aston Villa 3-2.
Tottenham’s win secured a fourth-place finish, meaning they qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Son, 29, said it was “incredible” to have the award.
“I can’t believe it,” he told the BBC. “I got really emotional. I dreamed of it as a child. Literally it’s my in hands. I can’t believe it.
“Until my goal I was really frustrated that I missed big chances. I told the players I missed the easiest chances and scored one of the toughest ones.
“I didn’t give up. I wanted to score today. The team helped me a lot at half-time. They wanted to help me, you could see it today.”
Spurs manager Antonio Conte was delighted to see club and individual ambitions realized with the rout of the Canaries at Carrow Road.
“This was our target,” he told the BBC.
“First to get in the Champions League but then when there was a chance to help Sonny reach the top scorer, we enjoyed it,” the Italian added.
“I have seen his team-mates try to help him. The award is for Son but it’s for the whole team. They helped him reach this big achievement.”


AC Milan win first Serie A title since 2011

Updated 23 May 2022

AC Milan win first Serie A title since 2011

  • Fans partied in Milan and poured onto the pitch in Reggio Emilia as the ‘Rossoneri’ returned to the top of the Italian game after years of poor teams and financial problems since their last league crown in 2011

MILAN: AC Milan won their first Serie A title in 11 years on Sunday after beating Sassuolo 3-0 in Reggio Emilia to snatch the crown from local rivals Inter Milan.
Needing just a point to claim the Scudetto Milan swept their hosts aside thanks to an Olivier Giroud brace and another from Franck Kessie in the first half in front of an army of away fans at the Mapei Stadium.
Stefano Pioli’s Milan finished two points ahead of Inter, who beat Sampdoria 3-0 at the San Siro.
Fans partied in Milan and poured onto the pitch in Reggio Emilia as the ‘Rossoneri’ returned to the top of the Italian game after years of poor teams and financial problems since their last league crown in 2011.
Milan were imperious in winning their sixth match on the bounce and securing a title which for long tracts of the season looked like Inter’s to lose.
They were helped by a hat-trick of assists from exciting winger Rafale Leao, who has come of age this season and is reportedly a summer target for Paris Saint-Germain.
Giroud has struck some of the most important goals of Milan’s charge to the title and again showed why he is the man for the big occasion in the 17th minute.
He was in the right place at the right time to sweep Leao’s low pass through Andrea Consigli’s legs and send the massed ranks of Milan fans wild.
Sassuolo immediately wilted in the face of a Milan onslaught and practically handed Giroud the chance to net an almost identical second just after the half-hour mark.
Leao was again the provider, this time robbing the ball from Gian Marco Ferrari before rolling another low pass over for Giroud, who lashed in his 11th of the season and made it party time in the stands.
And it was another poor mistake from a Sassuolo player four minutes later which allowed Milan to relax and enjoy the celebrations kicking off around them.
This time it was Maxime Lopez who was robbed by Rade Krunic, with Leao bursting this time down the right and cutting back for Kessie, who smashed in the third to sign off in perfect fashion ahead of his move to Barcelona as a free agent in the close season.
The second half was dedicated to the Milan celebrations and despite some spirited Sassuolo play it was only a matter of time before the away side sealed the title for a 19th time.
Inter fans packed the San Siro in the hope that their team would pounce on a Milan slip-up but it was they who had more problems breaking the deadlock against a Samp team with nothing to play for.
A bubbling atmosphere slowly dissipated as news of Milan’s goals came in and there was also frustration at Inter’s inability to make the most of their clear dominance.
As so often this season it was Ivan Perisic who took matters into his own hands, calmly finishing into the bottom corner with his left foot after being nicely set up by a rampaging Nicolo Barella.
From there Samp gave up the ghost and two goals in as many minutes from Joaquin Correa just before the hour ensured Inter would finish with a win.
Home fans applauded their team off the pitch despite what must have been a painful way to lose their Serie A crown, with the hardcore in the Curva Nord chanting coach Simone Inzaghi’s name in a show of faith which is likely to be shared by the club.
After the title was decided on the last day the relegation battle is also going down to the wire with Salernitana and Cagliari fighting to avoid playing in Serie B next season.
Salernitana sit just outside the drop zone, two points ahead of Cagliari, ahead of their respective matches with Udinese and Venezia.


Man City retain Premier League title with dramatic late comeback

Updated 22 May 2022

Man City retain Premier League title with dramatic late comeback

  • Ilkay Gundogan came off the bench to score twice with Rodri also on target as Pep Guardiola’s men held off Liverpool’s title charge to win the league by a point

MANCHESTER: Manchester City retained the Premier League title in the most dramatic of fashion as they hauled themselves back from 2-0 down to beat Aston Villa 3-2 with three goals in the final 15 minutes on Sunday.
Ilkay Gundogan came off the bench to score twice with Rodri also on target as Pep Guardiola’s men held off Liverpool’s title charge to win the league by a point.
In scenes remiscent of the first of City’s now six league titles in 11 seasons when Sergio Aguero scored a 93rd minute winner to deny Manchester United the title on goal difference, the champions produced a remarkable comeback at the Etihad.
Goals from Matty Cash and former Liverpool favorite Philippe Coutinho looked set to gift the Reds the title.
Jurgen Klopp’s men did their job by also coming from a goal down to beat Wolves 3-1 at Anfield, but City’s rescue act ensured Liverpool’s bid for an unprecedented quadruple is over.
Gundogan started the comeback as he headed in Raheem Sterling’s cross at the back post.
Rodri then side-footed home from outside the box and Gundogan completed the fightback by tapping home Kevin De Bruyne’s cross at the back post.
Guardiola said before the game he wanted no repeat of Aguero’s legendary late strike a decade ago.
But the Calatan was the most relieved man in Manchester as he sealed the 10th league title of his coaching career in just 13 seasons.
Fans swarmed onto the pitch to celebrate at full-time and the crossbar at the goal where City scored all of their goals was snapped under the weight of supporters sitting on it.

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