Rafael Nadal says Wimbledon ban on Russian and Belarusian players unfair

Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal said the ban on Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s Wimbledon was unfair. (AFP)
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Updated 02 May 2022

Rafael Nadal says Wimbledon ban on Russian and Belarusian players unfair

  • ‘I think it’s very unfair to my Russian tennis mates, my colleagues’
  • ‘It’s not their fault what’s happening in this moment with the war’

Australian Open champion Rafa Nadal labelled the ban on Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s Wimbledon over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as unfair.
The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) barred players from the two countries from competing at this year’s grasscourt major in response to what Russia calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine. Belarus has been a key staging area for the invasion.
“I think it’s very unfair to my Russian tennis mates, my colleagues. In that sense it’s not their fault what’s happening in this moment with the war,” 21-times major winner Nadal told reporters at the Madrid Open on Sunday.
“Let’s see what happens in the next weeks, if the players will take some kind of decision ... there’s one thing that’s negative, there are things that are clear. When the government imposes some restrictions, you just have to follow them.”
AELTC Chairman Ian Hewitt said British government guidance did not allow players to compete at the event based on their rankings and there were two available options — declining entries or allowing entries but only with specific written declarations from individual players.
Britain’s former world number one Andy Murray said there was no right answer on the issue.
“I’m not sure how comfortable I’d feel if something happened to one of the players or their families (as a result of signing the form),” Murray said.
“I don’t think there’s a right answer. I’ve spoken to some of the Russian players ... some of the Ukrainian players.
“I feel really bad for the players who aren’t allowed to play and I get that it will seem unfair to them. But I also know some of the people who work at Wimbledon, and I know how difficult a position they were in.”
The AELTC’s decision has been condemned by both the men’s and women’s tours as well as several other players.
World number one Novak Djokovic, who has also criticized the ban, said on Sunday that he had spoken to Russian players during last week’s Serbia Open and it was tough for them to be excluded from the tournament.
“It’s hard. I understand that there is frustration. ATP is going to, I guess, analyze the whole situation and understand what can be done,” said the Serbian.
“I stand by my position that I don’t support the decision. I think it’s just not fair, it’s not right ... now I guess it’s on player council, the tour management, to really decide along with the players what is the best solution in this situation.”


Alaba free-kick gives Real Madrid win to start title defense

Updated 15 August 2022

Alaba free-kick gives Real Madrid win to start title defense

  • The winner arrived with 15 minutes remaining at Almeria’s Power Horse Stadium, as Alaba strode onto the pitch and curled a free-kick in off the upright after Luka Modric had been fouled just outside the box

MADRID: David Alaba scored with a stunning free-kick immediately after coming on as a substitute as reigning champions Real Madrid came from behind to beat Almeria 2-1 in their opening game of the season in La Liga on Sunday.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side trailed to an early goal by Largie Ramazani away against their promoted opponents, but Lucas Vazquez equalized just after the hour mark.
The winner arrived with 15 minutes remaining at Almeria’s Power Horse Stadium, as Alaba strode onto the pitch and curled a free-kick in off the upright after Luka Modric had been fouled just outside the box.
Real were made to work hard for the points against an Almeria side who won last season’s second-tier title to return to La Liga after a seven-year absence.
“We had lots of shots on goal but once we got the first goal it made things much easier for us,” said Ancelotti.
“I am happy with the way the game went. We were not spectacular but there were lots of things to take into account, like the game on Wednesday and the heat.”
At one point it looked like Madrid might suffer a defeat in their opening league game of the season for the first time since 2008, with Ancelotti’s decision to rotate his squad not initially paying off.
The Italian had made five changes to the line-up that started in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in the UEFA Super Cup in Helsinki, when goals by Alaba and Karim Benzema gave the defending European champions the first silverware of the campaign.
Alaba and Modric were among the players dropped to the bench, while close-season signings Antonio Rudiger and Aurelien Tchouameni were handed first competitive starts for their new club.
Yet the game was just six minutes old when former Chelsea defender Rudiger was caught out by a ball over the top and Ramazani ran through to beat Thibaut Courtois.
Ramazani, the 21-year-old Belgian winger who used to be on the books at Manchester United, ran off to celebrate in acrobatic fashion as Saudi-owned Almeria enjoyed a dream start to their top-flight comeback.
Yet the hosts needed some inspired goalkeeping from Fernando Martinez to keep them ahead into half-time, with the standout save coming low to his left to deny Rudiger five minutes before the break.
Vazquez then had the ball in the net in the 43rd minute only to be denied by a very tight offside call, but the full-back was the man who dragged the away side back level in the 61st minute as he pounced on a loose ball in the area to score.
Almeria, who had already seen a hanging Vinicius cross strike the frame of their goal on its way behind before that, soon conceded again.
When Modric was fouled just outside the box by Rodrigo Ely, Austrian defender Alaba was waiting on the sideline for the chance to come on.
The break in play allowed him to replace Ferland Mendy, and he came straight on to take the free-kick and score in stunning fashion to complete the latest comeback from Ancelotti’s team.
Earlier, Japan star Takefusa Kubo marked his Real Sociedad debut by scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win at Cadiz.
Kubo, 21, moved to San Sebastian last month on a five-year deal from Real Madrid, after never managing to break into the first team at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Signed by Madrid from FC Tokyo as an 18-year-old in 2019, he was farmed out on loan to Mallorca, Villarreal and then Getafe, before returning to Mallorca last season.
Carlos Soler’s penalty gave Valencia a 1-0 win over promoted Girona in their first La Liga outing under new coach Gennaro Gattuso.
Valencia held on after having Swiss defender Eray Comert send off early in the second half.
Barcelona were held to a 0-0 draw by Rayo Vallecano in their opening game at the Camp Nou on Saturday.
Atletico Madrid begin their campaign away at Getafe in one of three matches to be played on Monday.


Halep holds off Haddad Maia to win third WTA Canadian crown

Updated 15 August 2022

Halep holds off Haddad Maia to win third WTA Canadian crown

  • The former world number one from Romania added the trophy in Toronto to those she captured in Montreal in 2016 and 2018

TORONTO, Canada: Simona Halep kept control against unpredictable Beatriz Haddad Maia on Sunday, beating the Brazilian 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 to win a third WTA Masters 1000 title in Canada.
The former world number one from Romania added the trophy in Toronto to those she captured in Montreal in 2016 and 2018.
She needed two and a quarter hours to deny the South American lefthander the upset victory.
“Here there are many Romanians and they always come to support me. I’m really happy that I could win also here,” said Halep, who was backed by chants of “Si-mo-na!” from her vocal fans throughout the match.
She shrugged of nine double-faults and broke Haddad Maia five times from 10 chances as she became the third player with at least nine WTA 1000 titles, after Serena Williams (13) and Victoria Azarenka (10).
Halep, who was playing in her ninth final at the elite level as Haddad Maia tackled her first, won her 38th match of the season and claimed her biggest success since the Rome trophy in May, 2020.
After a year outside of the world’s top-10 she is projected to rise to sixth this week with the start of the US Open approaching on August 29.
“I was there for many years but now I feel like it’s a big deal to be back in top 10,” she said. “I’m really happy with this performance.
“When I started the year I was not very confident and I set the goal to be top-10 at the end of the year — and here I am.
“It’s a very special moment. I will enjoy it. I will give myself credit. I’m just dreaming for more.”
Haddad Maia, enjoying a breakout season that included grasscourt titles at Birmingham and Nottingham in June, had toppled world number one Iga Swiatek on her way to the final.
She struck first with a break on the way to a quick 3-0 lead. But Halep, a two-time Grand Slam champion, quickly responded, winning the opening set as she spun off six straight games to claim the opener 6-3, in 50 minutes.
Haddad Maia answered in the opening game of the second set with a break, consolidating through a double break for 4-0 before Halep stopped the rot to hold for 1-4.
The Brazilian delivered a huge serve on set point three games later to square the contest at a set each.
But Halep came out ahead after they traded three breaks of serve in the final set, wrapping it up on her second match point as Haddad Maia fired a service return into the net.
Haddad Maia said she was at times overwhelmed by the occasion.
“It was an emotional beginning, even when I was 3-Love up I couldn’t hold the emotions. I couldn’t control myself,” she said.
“Simona started to play better, to improve. I was trying to be more aggressive.
“Today Simona deserved it, she played better than me,” added Haddad Maia, the first Brazilian to reach the final of a WTA 1000 event. “She was more brave.
“Sometimes we learn — today, it’s a day to learn.”


Chelsea 2 Tottenham 2: ‘Fair tackle’ as Tuchel insists no hard feelings after Conte clash

Updated 14 August 2022

Chelsea 2 Tottenham 2: ‘Fair tackle’ as Tuchel insists no hard feelings after Conte clash

  • Conte’s overexuberant celebrations of Spurs’ first equalizer resulted in the two coaches being booked for squaring up
  • Tuchel was not happy at the Italian for not making eye contact during a handshake at full-time

LONDON: Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said he was happy to take a “fair tackle” from Tottenham boss Antonio Conte after both were shown red cards for clashing twice during a heated 2-2 on Sunday.
Conte’s overexuberant celebrations of Spurs’ first equalizer resulted in the two coaches being booked for squaring up.
Tuchel then responded by running down the touchline in celebration when Chelsea retook the lead through Reece James 13 minutes from time.
But Harry Kane’s 96th minute equalizer meant Conte had the last laugh.
Tuchel was not happy at the Italian for not making eye contact during a handshake at full-time, which sparked another melee between both sets of coaches and players.
“It was hot from the temperature and hot between the benches and hot on the field and hot between the spectators,” said Tuchel with temperatures soaring above 30 degrees Celsius in the English capital.
“There’s no hard feelings. I feel like it was a fair tackle from him and a fair tackle from me.
“We did not insult each other, we did not hit each other, we were fighting for our teams and from my side there’s absolutely no hard feelings. I’m surprised that we both got a red card for that.”
Tuchel’s ire was instead directed toward the officials as both Tottenham’s goals could have been disallowed.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s strike was allowed to stand despite a potential foul on Kai Havertz in the build-up and Richarlison standing in an offside position when the Dane’s shot was hit.
Before the corner leading to Kane’s equalizer, Spurs defender Sergio Romero also escaped a red card for dragging Marc Cucurella to the ground by his hair.
“It was a clear foul on Kai Havertz. Ok, the situation goes on and on and on, then it is a clear offside,” added Tuchel.
“Since when can you pull hair on the football field? It’s ridiculous.
“That’s the only frustration. I’m the happiest coach on earth because we played a fantastic match.”
Conte batted away several questions about his tete-a-tete with Tuchel, but admitted a gap between the sides remains despite Spurs’ improvement.
Chelsea won all four meetings between the sides last season, three of them after Conte took charge in November.
“In my opinion it is better to talk about the game,” said Conte. “Chelsea showed to be a really good team, but compared to last season we did a bit better.
“The difference is clear. This team won the Champions League two years ago, last year won the Club World Cup, got to the final of the FA Cup and Carabao (League) Cup.
“There is a difference between Chelsea and Tottenham but we are here to reduce this gap. Last season we lost three times, this time we drew so it’s a little step forward.”


Cameron Smith has claret jug and now eyes No. 1 in the world

Updated 14 August 2022

Cameron Smith has claret jug and now eyes No. 1 in the world

  • Even as J.J. Spaun picked up a pair of late birdies and Will Zalatoris moved into contention for his first PGA Tour title, it was Smith who got everyone’s attention Saturday in the FedEx St. Jude Championship

MEMPHIS, Tennessee: British Open champion Cameron Smith has spent all week ignoring queries about reports he will be the latest to leave the PGA Tour for Saudi-backed LIV Golf. His only concern was try to win the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Now there’s another perk at stake: No. 1 in the world.

Even as J.J. Spaun picked up a pair of late birdies for a 2-under 68 to main a one-shot lead over Sepp Straka, and Will Zalatoris moved into contention for his first PGA Tour title, Smith is who got everyone’s attention Saturday in the FedEx St. Jude Championship.

He birdied his last hole for a 67, leaving him among those two shots out of the lead and fully aware that a win takes him to No. 1 in the world.

“That’s been one of my goals probably since the start of the year is to try to get to that top spot,” Smith said. “Try and chase it down.”

A week that began with a federal judge denying the request from three LIV Golf players to be part of the postseason could very well end with a new No. 1 that appears headed for the rival series.

Distractions don’t seem to be a problem for the Aussie, and there is no shortage of them.

“There’s definitely been a few more, but for me, I’m just trying to hit the best shot I can,” Smith said. That’s what I’m here to do is to hit good golf shots and make birdies.”

Spaun had a two-putt birdie on the par-5 16th and holed an 18-foot birdie putt on the next hole to claim the 54-hole lead a 13-under 197. Straka was right there with him until he failed to save par from the bunker on the 18th for a 68 that left him one shot behind.

Both are first-time winners on the PGA Tour this year, and a victory in a FedEx Cup playoffs even carries even more weight — $2.7 million to the winner and a guaranteed spot at East Lake for the FedEx Cup finale.

Zalatoris is just as hungry for a win. He has been a tough customer in the majors, losing in a playoff at the PGA Championship and finishing one back in the US Open. He is No. 14 in the world. And he has yet to win on the PGA Tour.

Zalatoris opened with a 71 that put him in such a hole that even his fiancee wanted to know their plans if he didn’t make it to the weekend.

“I told her, ‘Let’s cross that bridge when he get there,’” Zalatoris said with a smile. He decided to let his new caddie, Joel Stock, read putts in their second official round together. Zalatoris shot a 63 and followed with a 65 on Saturday.

He also was two behind, along with Trey Mullinax (66).

As for the chase to the next playoff event, consider Tyler Duncan. He is No. 118 in the FedEx Cup, and only the top 70 move on to the BMW Championship next week in Delaware. Duncan had a 67 and was tied for sixth. He was three behind, and even if he doesn’t win, he can move on if he can hold his position.

Ryan Palmer had a 32 on the back nine to salvage a 69 leaving him on the cusp of the top 70 that will advance.

There are 16 players separated by four shots, a group that includes Sam Burns and Tony Finau. A winner in his last two starts, Finau ended his streak of 11 rounds at 68 or lower. He made a bogey on the last hole gave him a 69, leaving him four behind.

No one stands out like Smith, for so many reasons. Not only is it his first start since being introduced at St. Andrews as the “champion golfer of the year,” the Daily Telegraph reported Tuesday that he had signed with LIV and would join the defectors outside Boston after the Tour Championship is over.

Smith has steadfastly refused to talk about it.

“I’m a man of my word and whenever you guys need to know anything, it’ll be said by me,” Smith said Tuesday. 

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Brazil’s Haddad Maia to face Halep for Canadian WTA title

Updated 14 August 2022

Brazil’s Haddad Maia to face Halep for Canadian WTA title

  • The first Brazilian to get to the final of a WTA Masters event has now won 17 matches since June, when she won grasscourt titles in Birmingham and Nottingham

TORONTO: Simona Halep will bid for a third Canadian title at the WTA Toronto Masters on Sunday against determined Brazilian outsider Beatriz Haddad Maia.

Haddad Maia stunned 2021 finalist Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 7-6 (9/7) in the semifinals while Halep put years of big-match experience to good use in a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over seventh-seeded American Jessica Pegula.

Halep, the former world No. 1 from Romania who won 2016 and 2018 trophies in Canada, showed her definitive return to form with the victory after dropping from the top 10 in the rankings a year ago due to injury.

“We never played against each other,” Halep said. “So I didn’t really know what to expect.

“But it was a great fight. I’m really happy that I went through.

“Of course, I can improve,” Halep added. “But I’m building the confidence, I’m building the game, and I’m really happy that I’m in this position.”

Haddad Maia, who stunned world No. 1  Ita Swiatek in the third round, blunted the noted serving attack of Czech Pliskova, who fired nine aces in defeat.

The first Brazilian to get to the final of a WTA Masters event has now won 17 matches since June, when she won grasscourt titles in Birmingham and Nottingham.

The South American, ranked 24th in the world, is guaranteed to breach the Top 20 next week.

Her match was a rollercoaster, with Haddad Maia fighting off Pliskova while leading 5-1 in the opening set.

Pliskova then seized a 4-1 lead in the second only for Haddad Maia to claw her way back.

Halep, who will return to the top-10 thanks to her victory, needed two and a quarter hours to knock out American Pegula, who was the highest seed left in the field.

The 30-year-old winner of Roland Garros and Wimbledon titles could return to sixth in the world if she beats Haddad Maia on Sunday.

She will again have experience on her side as she competes in her 18th career Masters final in search of her ninth title at the elite level.

Halep lost the opening set against Pegula in 35 minutes but levelled at a set apiece thanks to an early break in the second.

Halep missed two match points on her opponent’s serve and swiped her racquet angrily on the cement as Pegula held for 4-5 in the third.

“The fire is back, it’s a good sign if I do that,” said the Romanian, who was supported by a sizeable number of compatriots in the stands.

Halep clinched the win on her third opportunity as Pegula hit the net with a return.

“I changed a little bit the tactics,” Halep said. “In the first set, it was a little bit too fast.

“She was hitting super strong and I didn’t feel the rhythm. Then I just calmed down and I tried to just push her back a little bit more.”

Halep saved 12 of the 17 break points she faced as she earned her 37th victory this season while playing in her seventh semifinal of 2022.