Nadal bounces back from loss to Alcaraz, beats Isner in Rome

Spain’s Rafael Nadal in action during his second round match against John Isner of the US at the ATP Masters 1000 Italian Open — Foro Italico, Rome on Wednesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 11 May 2022
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Nadal bounces back from loss to Alcaraz, beats Isner in Rome

  • Nadal was coming off a loss to 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz in the Madrid Open quarterfinals last week
  • When the match finished, Nadal headed straight to the practice court to hit more balls

ROME: Once is enough when it comes to beating Rafael Nadal on a clay court.
Throughout his career, Nadal has never lost consecutive matches on his favorite surface and the Spaniard extended that perfect record on Wednesday by beating John Isner 6-3, 6-1 to reach the third round of the Italian Open.
Nadal was coming off a loss to 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz in the Madrid Open quarterfinals last week. After a first-round bye, he improved to 44-0 in matches on clay following a loss on the surface.
Perhaps more importantly, Nadal regained some confidence as he works his way back from a rib stress fracture that kept him out for six weeks before the tournament in Madrid.
While he would clearly love to add to his record total of 10 Italian Open titles, Nadal’s bigger objective is regaining his top form in time for the French Open, which starts in less than two weeks. Nadal has won 13 of his 21 Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros.
When the match finished, Nadal headed straight to the practice court to hit more balls. He explained that he’s a “bit in a rush” to find his best form “as soon as possible.”
“I need to work as much as I can,” Nadal said. “The match today was not that demanding physically.”
It was essentially decided during one brief stretch.
Nadal struggled on his serve at 3-3 in the first set, missing a forehand into the net then double-faulting to set up break points for Isner. But the American made unforced errors on both of his break-point opportunities and Nadal eventually held.
In the following game, Nadal broke Isner’s serve when the 6-foot-10 American missed a comfortable forehand volley into the net. Nadal then held at love to close out the first set and broke Isner’s serve in the opening game of the second.
“I finished better than I started — without a doubt,” Nadal said. “He had some chances on the returns. I was in his hands in that moment. Lucky that he missed those shots.”
Nadal improved to 19-0 against Americans on clay, having been forced to a deciding set only twice — both times by Isner, who pushed Nadal to five sets at the 2011 French Open and three sets at the 2015 Monte Carlo Masters.
Up next, Nadal meets Denis Shapovalov, the Canadian he beat at the same stage last year in a grueling three-set comeback victory in which the Spaniard saved two match points.
“Super lucky,” Nadal said, reflecting back to playing Shapovalov last year. “I know how dangerous he is. I need to play better than today.”
Three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka, playing only his second tournament after more than a year out following two surgeries on his left foot, edged Laslo Djere 7-6 (8), 3-6, 6-4 to set up a meeting with top-ranked Novak Djokovic.
“It’s going to be really difficult for me, because I’m not ready to compete — I think — at that level,” Wawrinka said of facing Djokovic. “But it’s what I need. I need those challenges. I need to push myself as much as I can to keep improving.”
Wawrinka had loud support from a packed crowd on the picturesque Pietrangeli court, which is lined with statues.
“The reason why after two surgeries, one year out, I’m still playing tennis at 37 years old is to live those moments as much as I can,” Wawrinka said. “I’m enjoying it a lot.”
Second-seeded Alexander Zverev, who was routed by Alcaraz in the Madrid final on Sunday, beat Sebastian Baez 7-6 (6), 6-3 to end the Argentine qualifier’s eight-match winning streak.
Also, Stefanos Tsitsipas saved two match points before getting past Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (4); and Marcos Giron, an American qualifier, picked up his fourth win and five days by beating 2020 finalist Diego Schwartzman 6-1, 7-6 (4).
In an all-Italian matchup during the night session on Campo Centrale, 20-year-old Jannik Sinner beat 34-year-old Fabio Fognini 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
Wearing a ribbon with the colors of Ukraine’s flag pinned to her hat, defending women’s champion Iga Swiatek extended her winning streak to 24 matches with a 6-3, 6-0 victory over Romanian qualifier Elena-Gabriela Ruse.
The top-ranked player from Poland will next face former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, who beat Camila Osorio 6-2, 6-4.
Ons Jabeur, coming off her maiden 1000 title in Madrid, defeated Ajla Tomljanovic 7-5, 6-2.
Also, 2019 French Open semifinalist Amanda Anisimova eliminated Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic 7-6 (5), 6-1; and Coco Gauff, who reached the semifinals a year ago, defeated fellow American Madison Brengle 6-2, 6-4.
Madrid finalist Jessica Pegula advanced when Anhelina Kalinina withdrew before their match because of an upper back injury. The American will next face third-seeded Aryna Sabalenka.


Xavi says Barcelona president will have to explain why he won't continue as coach

Updated 11 sec ago
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Xavi says Barcelona president will have to explain why he won't continue as coach

“These have obviously been tough days, but my conscience is clear,” head coach Xavi said
The 44-year-old said that he will now “take a break” from coaching

BARCELONA: Xavi Hernández said Saturday that he is leaving Barcelona with “a clear conscience” that he did his best after the club decided to part ways with the former player, but that it will be up to president Joan Laporta to explain why he is going.
“These have obviously been tough days, but my conscience is clear,” head coach Xavi said.
“I have been here two-and-a-half years. It has not been easy. But I think that we can feel proud of the work we have done.”
In his first news conference since Barcelona announced on Friday that Xavi would not finish the final year of his contract, the 44-year-old said that he will now “take a break” from coaching.
His last game in charge will be at Sevilla on Sunday.
Xavi’s departure comes just one month after he had walked back a previous decision he made in January to leave the club this summer. In April, he said that he had changed his mind because the team was playing better, and he believed it could bounce back from a trophy-less campaign.
Laporta had publicly celebrated Xavi’s commitment to stay at that time. But last week the president was reportedly displeased when the head coach spoke openly about how the club’s poor finances would impede them from competing with fierce rival Real Madrid.
Neither Laporta nor any club official has said why they wanted Xavi to leave, and the head coach did not shed any light on the circumstances of his exit either.
“The president told me his reasons for why he thinks the club needs a change, and I can only respect that. I am a club man,” Xavi said. “We shook hands, hugged and wished one another the best. From now on I will be just another fan.
“He will have to explain his motives.”
Xavi’s only previous coaching job was at a Qatari club before Laporta brought him back to take over at Barcelona in November 2021. He led the team to the Spanish league title last year, their first major trophy since Lionel Messi left, and signed a one-year contract extension in September.
But Barcelona struggled to compete this campaign and they will finish the league a distant second to champion Madrid.
Spanish and German media speculated that former Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick would become Xavi’s replacement.
Whoever arrives will inherit a team with young talents Lamine Yamal, Pau Cubarsí and the injured Gavi Páez but with very limited financial resources to sign new players.

Former Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney appointed Plymouth manager

Updated 25 May 2024
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Former Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney appointed Plymouth manager

  • Move to Argyle is the fourth managerial role of Rooney’s coaching career
  • Former football star was sacked after just 83 days in charge of Birmingham earlier this year

LONDON: Former England and Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney was appointed as the new manager of Championship side Plymouth on Saturday.
A move to Argyle is the fourth managerial role of Rooney’s coaching career, which has so far failed to live up to his stellar playing days.
“Taking this role at Plymouth Argyle feels like the perfect next step in my career,” said Rooney in a club statement.
“This is an opportunity to be part of an exciting project. I look forward to helping to build a squad of players to play expansive football — and to entertain the Green Army.”
The 38-year-old was sacked after just 83 days in charge of Birmingham earlier this year.
Rooney won just two of his 15 matches in charge of the Blues, which contributed to their relegation to League One.
He previously had a short spell with former club DC United in Major League Soccer.
But United’s all-time record goalscorer did thrive in difficult circumstances during his first job at Derby as the club entered administration.
“Throughout the interview process, Wayne showed himself to be a passionate, intelligent, and knowledgeable candidate with an appetite to prove himself and develop his managerial career,” said Plymouth chairman Simon Hallett.
“His ambitions and aims match ours perfectly and we feel he is the perfect candidate to provide the exciting and attacking brand of football that we all like to see and help us achieve the club’s mission.”
Plymouth narrowly avoided relegation in their first season back in English football’s second tier for 14 years, finishing 21st in the Championship.


Nadal says ‘not 100 percent certain’ it is his final French Open

Updated 25 May 2024
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Nadal says ‘not 100 percent certain’ it is his final French Open

  • “There is a good chance that it will be my last French Open,” said the Spaniard
  • Nadal has 22 Grand Slam titles

PARIS: Rafael Nadal said Saturday that it is likely he is appearing at the French Open for the final time but cautioned it was “not 100 percent certain.”
“There is a good chance that it will be my last French Open, but I cannot say that I am 100 percent certain that it will be the last,” said the Spaniard.
Nadal, who has won the French Open 14 times and will celebrate his 38th birthday on June 3, faces world number four Alexander Zverev in the first round in Paris on Monday.
The Spanish legend has racked up 112 wins in 115 matches at the tournament since his title-winning 2005 debut when he was just 19.
He has 22 Grand Slam titles — second only to Novak Djokovic’s 24 on the all-time men’s list — but his career has been plagued by injuries.
Nadal has played just four tournaments since January last year after suffering a hip injury and then a muscle tear.
As a result, his ranking has slumped to 276 in the world and comes into the French Open unseeded.


Al-Hilal stars Mitrovic, Neves praise new Saudi lifestyles

Updated 25 May 2024
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Al-Hilal stars Mitrovic, Neves praise new Saudi lifestyles

  • Mitrovic: ‘I’m really happy. My family is happy. The club is amazing. So far, it’s a great experience’
  • ‘A lot of players from Europe call and ask how can they get here’

LONDON: Football stars Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ruben Neves have praised their moves to the Saudi Pro League, speaking highly of their new lives in the Kingdom.

In an interview with Sky News, the two Al-Hilal players — who left Fulham and Wolves, respectively — discussed the lifestyle differences between England and Saudi Arabia.

Last year, more than 23 European players moved to the Kingdom’s top football league in a major coup for Saudi sporting administrators.

“After seven years in England I think the first thing was the sun. I never had summer sun in my life,” Mitrovic said.

“It’s been different you know, different culture, different football, the mentality of people as well, but so far I’m really happy.

“My family is happy. The club is amazing. So far, it’s a great experience and looking forward to more years.”

The Serbian international praised the privacy and laid-back way of life in Riyadh. “The people here are crazy about football but you have a bit more privacy here. We live on a compound, we’re a little bit more isolated, and people from Europe and around the world live there you know, the life is really nice,” he said. “You wake up, have breakfast, a little workout, then recovery in the pool in the sun.”

One difference from the European training standard is that clubs in the Kingdom train in the evening, avoiding the midday heat.

Neves told Sky News that Al-Hilal’s regime gives him more time to spend with his family. “It’s a bit different to the routine from Europe here because of the weather, of course,” he said.

Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves, center, says that Al-Hilal’s regime gives him more time to spend with his family. (AFP)

“We train most of the time after 6 p.m. I like it because I can spend the day at home relaxing. I can take the kids to school, I can pick them up from school, and I can be a little bit with them before I come to training. We have a lot of things to do here because it’s a big, massive city, so we are enjoying it.”

Though both players said the Premier League is the world’s best, they believe that the SPL is not far behind — and is on par with some European leagues.

Mitrovic expects more major European signings during the summer transfer window this year.

“Any of the big names is going to have a big impact and would be welcomed with open hands,” he said.

“A lot of players from Europe, you know they call and ask how can they get here. A lot (of calls), trust me.”

Neves hailed the dedication of Al-Hilal fans. “When you play at home the stadium is always full, 30,000 people. The difference I felt here from England is that when we go to play away the stadium is mainly our fans,” he said. “We have fans all around Saudi, so that feels really good for us.”


Rising Stars Arabia 4 looks to unearth boxing talent in region and beyond

The first edition of Rising Stars Arabia took place in September 2023 in Abu Dhabi. (Supplied)
Updated 25 May 2024
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Rising Stars Arabia 4 looks to unearth boxing talent in region and beyond

  • The fourth edition of the grassroots boxing competition takes place in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night

The fourth edition of Rising Stars Arabia is set to take place on Saturday, May 25, at the Space 42 Arena in Abu Dhabi, with the emerging grassroots boxing event once again aiming to raise the profile of fighters from the region.

This event, in association with the Abu Dhabi Department of Tourism and Culture, represents a vision that founder Ahmed Seddiqi has been nurturing from fight to fight.

“Our goal, and DCT’s goal, is to find the next champion from the region,” he said. “We’ve been going extremely strong. We’re getting good recognition in the boxing world, both globally and regionally.”

The Rising Stars platform, as Seddiqi describes, is continuously expanding.

“We have many requests coming from different parts of the world, not just the region.”

The initiative began with a focus on the Arab region but has since expanded to include markets such as India and beyond.

This growth in international interest is due in part to the global reach of the promotion’s broadcasting partners — DAZN and ESPN Knockout — and the fight card for Saturday’s event boasts a selection of top prospects from the region.

Moussa Gholam, a top 10-rated fighter globally, makes his return to the promotion, while Faizan Anwar, a UAE-based Indian fighter with an unblemished record across 17 fights, looks set to seize greater opportunities in the future. The event also features Tony “Lightning” Curtis, the youngest professional boxer from the UK, on the undercard.

“It’s a fully stacked card,” said Seddiqi. “If you have a fighter from India or Afghanistan who may not attract much interest in the American or European markets, what we are doing here in Abu Dhabi is offering a global platform for these fighters to show their talents. It’s all about giving a chance and an opportunity for fighters to prove themselves. They might end up on the global stage.”

Rising Stars Arabia’s growth from a regional event to a potentially global one is a testament to the platform’s success across the first three editions.

“In the next season starting in September, we aim to include prospects from around the world fighting on the platform,” Seddiqi said.

“It’s important in the boxing world to provide a platform specifically for upcoming stars — the kids who finish the Olympics with medals, world champions in the amateurs, or fighters from countries that haven’t been given attention. We want to give them a platform to showcase their talents.”

Looking ahead, Seddiqi is optimistic about both the future of the event and boxers from the region.

“In the next two years, or perhaps even sooner, we can see one of the fighters from the Rising Stars platform fighting for a world title, becoming a world title contender, or fighting for the world title eliminator.”