Nadal wins epic four-set clash with Djokovic to make French Open semis

Spain’s Rafael Nadal in action during his quarter final match against Serbia's Novak Djokovic on June 1, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 June 2022

Nadal wins epic four-set clash with Djokovic to make French Open semis

  • The Spaniard, seeded fifth, remains on course for a record-extending 22nd Grand Slam title after lifting this year’s Australian Open, which Djokovic missed after being deported from the country over his COVID vaccination status

PARIS: Rafael Nadal edged a late-night classic against old rival Novak Djokovic in the early hours of Wednesday in four sets to reach his 15th French Open semifinal.
The 13-time Roland Garros champion won the pair’s 59th career meeting 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7/4) after a four-hour-and-12-minute quarter-final on a raucous Court Philippe Chatrier.
Nadal sealed his eighth victory in 10 French Open matches against last year’s winner Djokovic at 1:16 am local time (2316 GMT Tuesday) to set up a last-four clash with third seed Alexander Zverev on Friday.
“I’m very emotional. For me it’s incredible to play here,” said Nadal. “This feeling is incredible for me.
“Playing against him is always an amazing challenge... To win against Novak, there is only one way, to play your best from the first point until the last.” 




Spain's Rafael Nadal (R) reacts after winning against Serbia's Novak Djokovic (L) at the end of their men's singles match on Day 10 of the Roland-Garros Open tennis tournament at the Court Philippe-Chatrier in Paris early June 1, 2022. (AFP)


The 35-year-old has lost just three of his 113 matches on the Paris clay since his 2005 title-winning debut and now only trails Djokovic 30-29 in their career head-to-head.
The Spaniard, seeded fifth, remains on course for a record-extending 22nd Grand Slam title after lifting this year’s Australian Open, which Djokovic missed after being deported from the country over his Covid vaccination status.
Djokovic overturned a double-break deficit to take an 88-minute second set and missed two set points when serving for the fourth to force a decider.
The world number one will rue those missed chances while he waits until Wimbledon for his next opportunity to take his Slam tally to 21.
“Congratulations to Rafa, he was better in the important moments” said Djokovic.
“He showed why he was a great champion. Well done to him and his team, he deserves it.”
Nadal was a slight underdog heading into the match after being taken to five sets in the previous round by Felix Auger-Aliassime.
The colder, slower conditions of the night session were also expected to favor Djokovic.
But the ‘King of clay’ smashed 57 winners in a trademark performance to delight the crowd as he gained revenge for his semifinal loss to the same opponent 12 months ago.


Arsenal, Spurs seek to prove title credentials in north London derby

Updated 30 September 2022

Arsenal, Spurs seek to prove title credentials in north London derby

  • While Tottenham’s rise underlines Conte’s managerial acumen, it is arguably Arteta who has done the more impressive work this term
  • Wenger, who led Arsenal to their most recent title in 2004, believes his former team should already be regarded as title contenders

LONDON: Arsenal and Tottenham will be fighting for much more than local bragging rights on Saturday as the north London rivals aim to prove they are serious contenders for the Premier League title.

As top-flight action returns following the international break, Arsenal sit top of the table after an unexpectedly strong start, while unbeaten Tottenham are just one point behind in third place.

With Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United still recovering their equilibrium after turbulent starts to the season, a path has opened up for the north London clubs to gatecrash the title race.

If a title challenger was expected to emerge from either end of the Seven Sisters Road, it was Tottenham who were the more likely candidates after snatching a top-four finish from their bitter rivals and neighbors in dramatic fashion last term.

Arsenal were in pole position to qualify for the Champions League when they moved four points clear of Tottenham with just three games left.

But Mikel Arteta’s side blew their chance as a disastrous 3-0 defeat at Tottenham was followed by a devastating loss against Newcastle, ruining their hopes of returning to the Champions League for the first time since the 2016/17 season.

Buoyed by pipping Arsenal, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy bowed to Antonio Conte’s demands, sanctioning a close-season spending spree that further enhanced the feelgood factor around the club.

With Conte refusing to let his players rest on their laurels, Tottenham have continued to progress in their second season under the demanding Italian.

Conte showed his ruthless side in Tottenham’s last game when he dropped Heung-min Son after his eight-match goalless run and was rewarded with a hat trick from the South Korean after sending him on as a substitute in the 6-2 rout of Leicester.

While Tottenham’s rise underlines Conte’s managerial acumen, it is arguably Arteta who has done the more impressive work this term.

Arsenal’s implosion in the final week of last season could have been a hammer blow to Arteta’s gradual rebuild of a club mired in mediocrity since well before the end of Arsene Wenger’s reign.

The eccentric side to Arteta’s personality was on display during the “All or Nothing” television documentary that captured the Spaniard’s fight to steer the club through troubled waters last season.

But Arteta’s quirks should not obscure the astute way he has infused Arsenal with energy and enthusiasm by promoting a group of talented youngsters, while also shipping out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang following disciplinary problems.

Revitalized by the recent signings of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko, as well as the development of Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, Arsenal have enjoyed the benefits of a relatively benign fixture list so far.

Wenger, who led Arsenal to their most recent title in 2004, believes his former team should already be regarded as title contenders.

“I would say they have a good chance because I don’t see any super-dominating team,” Wenger told Sky Sports. “I believe it is a good opportunity to do it this season.”

However, Arsenal’s only match against a top-four rival this season ended in a 3-1 defeat at Manchester United.

Arteta needs a statement victory to show there is substance to the surge that gave Arsenal their best start to a season since 2004, courtesy of a five-game winning run.

History is in Arsenal’s favor, with Tottenham on a run of 11 top-flight visits to the Emirates Stadium without a win since their last success in 2010.

Yet Arsenal, beaten only once in their past 29 home league games against Tottenham, must find a way to subdue long-time nemesis Harry Kane.

Tottenham striker Kane has scored a record 13 goals in 17 north London derby appearances, including two in their most recent meeting in May.

 

FIXTURES:

Saturday (1400 GMT unless stated)

Arsenal vs. Tottenham (1130), Bournemouth vs. Brentford, Crystal Palace vs. Chelsea, Fulham vs. Newcastle, Liverpool vs. Brighton, Southampton vs. Everton, West Ham vs. Wolves (1630)

Sunday

Manchester City vs. Manchester Utd (1300), Leeds vs. Aston Villa (1530)

Monday

Leicester vs. Nottingham Forest (1900)


Lin, Atthaya shine at LPGA Volunteers Classic

Updated 30 September 2022

Lin, Atthaya shine at LPGA Volunteers Classic

  • The 26-year-old from Guangzhou, chasing her first win on the US LPGA Tour, vaulted into the lead with a brilliant eagle on the par-5 17th hole that took her to 6 under

LOS ANGELES: China’s Lin Xiyu grabbed a one-shot lead from in-form Thai teenager Atthaya Thitikul in the opening round of the LPGA Tour’s Volunteers of America Classic in Texas on Thursday.

Lin fired a 6-under-par 65 to head the field at The Colony Golf Club, north of Dallas, in a low-scoring first round.

The 26-year-old from Guangzhou, chasing her first win on the US LPGA Tour, vaulted into the lead with a brilliant eagle on the par-5 17th hole that took her to 6 under.

Lin’s round included five birdies, with the lone blemish a bogey on the par-4 fourth.

The 19-year-old Atthaya, meanwhile, coming off her second LPGA Tour victory at the NW Arkansas Championship last weekend, had to settle for a 5-under 66 after a bogey on her final hole of the day.

Teeing off on the back nine, Atthaya surged up the leaderboard with a hat trick of birdies on the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to make the turn at four under.

Two more birdies on the first and eighth holes left her at six under, before a bogey on the ninth dropped her down to a share of second alongside Lizette Salas, who also posted a five-under-par 66.

England’s Charley Hull, Thailand’s Moriya Jutanugarn, Canada’s Maddie Szeryk and American Lexi Thompson were tied a further shot back on 4 under after shooting 67s.

Thompson had seemed set for share of second place but saw an otherwise flawless round spoiled with a bogey on her final hole.

Three players, including Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn and France’s Celine Boutier were tied in eighth place after shooting 3-under 68s.


Big in Japan: Warriors-Wizards games to woo NBA fans, sponsors

Updated 30 September 2022

Big in Japan: Warriors-Wizards games to woo NBA fans, sponsors

  • The financial rewards are as clear as the patch of Japanese online retailer Rakuten on the jerseys that Curry and the Warriors will wear
  • Ogura thinks the investments being made by Japanese companies for these games is worth it given the NBA’s strong appeal to the younger generation

TOKYO: Before Stephen Curry makes a single 3-pointer, before Rui Hachimura gets his first ovation from Japanese fans who came to cheer one of their own, the NBA Japan Games are already a huge win in one regard.

The money.

Big money is riding on — and getting spent on — the NBA’s most recent foray into Japan, which has the reigning champion Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards set to play a pair of preseason games there on Friday and Sunday. Every seat inside Saitama Super Arena has been sold, and the league has more marketing partners for games in Japan than ever before.

The financial rewards are as clear as the patch of Japanese online retailer Rakuten on the jerseys that Curry and the Warriors will wear.

“These are the Japanese people who grew up on Michael Jordan,” said Junya Ogura, senior manager at Japanese automaker Nissan’s brand and media strategy department. “We are banking on a return that will come in the future.”

Nissan Motor Co., which sponsors Japanese professional baseball and soccer, had a high-profile deal with tennis superstar Naomi Osaka which recently ended. It is sponsoring NBA games for the first time.

Ogura thinks the investments being made by Japanese companies for these games is worth it given the NBA’s strong appeal to the younger generation, a trend that’s backed up by marketing studies. Nissan is sharing the role of presenting partner for the games with Rakuten, which has had a lucrative relationship with the Warriors — at least $20 million a year, largely to have its patch on Golden State’s jerseys — since 2017.

Rakuten also has a sponsorship deal with Curry, part of his massive off-court empire. Rakuten also sponsors Japanese baseball and soccer and holds the Japan Open tennis championships, plus live-streams NBA games. And that was one of the primary reasons why the NBA returned to Japan for a pair of preseason games between Houston and Toronto in 2019, ending what was a 16-year drought between games in that country.

“Excited to be here,” Curry said.

The tickets cost up to 420,000 yen ($2,900) each for courtside “VIP” seats. Both Friday and Sunday games are sold out at the Saitama Super Arena, where the US won the gold medal at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021. The massive arena was largely empty for those games, tickets unable to be sold because of the virus.

Now, every seat has been grabbed. Plus, the NBA has drawn 15 marketing partners to support the preseason games in Japan, including American Express, Hennessy, NEC and Nike, and now has 19 marketing and promotional partners in Japan.

“Obviously it’s about the money,” said Bob Dorfman, a San Francisco-based sports analyst at Pinnacle Advertising.

“Building the fan base in Asia, and everywhere else in the world, results in more sponsorship dollars, increased media rights and greater merchandise sales.”

The NBA may have more global appeal than other US sports, being easier to understand than football, for instance, according to Dorfman, who has worked in Japan.

“Every team has foreign-born players on their rosters, and the league’s top stars are cultural icons, trendsetters, and social media giants. The game is cool,” he said.

That translates not only into sponsorship money but also youngsters spending on sneakers and other fashion items and merchandising.

Between 1990 and 2003, the NBA staged 12 regular-season games in Japan. The courtship between the NBA and the Japanese fan — not to mention Japanese companies and NBA fans globally — is now fully underway again.

A giant 3D display at a Tokyo street-crossing depicts Curry and other NBA stars as “manga,” or Japanese comic, characters. The NBA’s Japanese-language social media accounts have amassed more than 1.6 million followers.

While the players are in town, they will be taking part in various fan events. Besides Hachimura, the NBA now has another Japanese player, Yuta Watanabe, who is with the Brooklyn Nets.

The NBA is also excited about the potential for women’s basketball. Japanese women were the silver medalists in the last Olympics. Rui Machida, an Olympian, signed earlier this year with the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.

“Our fan base is growing,” said NBA Asia managing director Ramez Sheikh. “There is real momentum around basketball in Japan, and it’s a real important market for the NBA.”

Wizards officials acknowledged they were surprised by the big reaction signing Hachimura drew from Japan. They suddenly saw more Japanese in the stands, tour buses started coming, and Japanese media showed up in big numbers.

“It was all about Rui,” said Hunter Lochman, chief marketing officer at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Wizards. “It’s fast-paced. It’s high scoring. It’s a great sport and it’s a global sport.”

Besides Japan, a pair of preseason games are scheduled for Abu Dhabi this season, with the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks going there early next month. Regular-season games will be played in Mexico City in December and Paris in January.

Kyle Kuzma, a Wizards forward, said he was excited about being in Japan for the first time.

He already had sushi, planned to go shopping and was approached by a fan on the street, who gave him chopsticks with his name and the name of his girlfriend etched onto them.

“This is a big moment,” Kuzma said. “It’s a big stage.”

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Djokovic makes winning return to ATP action in Tel Aviv

Updated 29 September 2022

Djokovic makes winning return to ATP action in Tel Aviv

  • Djokovic eased to a 6-0, 6-3 win over his 115th-ranked opponent in 86 minutes, firing 30 winners and breaking Andujar four times
  • It was the fewest games Djokovic has lost in any match this season

TEL AVIV: Novak Djokovic, playing a singles tournament for the first time since winning Wimbledon in July, reached the Tel Aviv quarter-finals on Thursday with a straight-sets victory over Spain’s Pablo Andujar.
Djokovic eased to a 6-0, 6-3 win over his 115th-ranked opponent in 86 minutes, firing 30 winners and breaking Andujar four times.
It was the fewest games Djokovic has lost in any match this season.
He was always in control against his Spanish rival who he has now defeated three times, taking control of the match by winning the first seven games.
“The first match started off in a perfect way for me,” said Djokovic, who last played in Israel as a teenager 16 years ago in a Davis Cup tie.
“I won seven games in a row and we were fighting in that eighth game (which took over 20 minutes to complete).
“It was one of the longest games I’ve ever played in my life and I’ve played many, many games in my life. But credit to Pablo for fighting and playing a great match as well.”
Former world number one Djokovic hasn’t played a singles event since capturing a seventh Wimbledon title 10 weeks ago after his refusal to get vaccinated ruled him out of the US Open and the entire American hardcourt swing.
His only other appearance had been in the Laver Cup team tournament in London last week.
It was there that he saw long-time rival Roger Federer retire from the sport.
However, the 35-year-old Djokovic, now ranked at seven in the world, insisted on the eve of the Tel Aviv event that retirement was not on his agenda.
“I still want to play tennis even though I achieved pretty much everything that you can achieve in tennis,” said Djokovic, whose 21 Grand Slam titles is just one short of Rafael Nadal’s men’s record of 22.
“I still have passion and hunger to play at a highest professional level.”
Djokovic, showing no sign of the right wrist trouble which bothered him in London, will face Canada’s 149th-ranked Vasek Pospisil in Friday’s quarter-finals.
The Serb boasts a 5-0 career record over the 32-year-old Canadian.
Pospisil reached the last-eight by eliminating Israeli qualifier Edan Leshem 6-3, 6-2.
France’s Arthur Rinderknech saved a match point to clinch a 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (9/7) win against third seed Diego Schwartzman.
The world number 58 will next play Roman Safiullin.
British qualifier Liam Broady stunned fifth seed Botic van de Zandschulp 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 to set up a meeting with second seed Marin Cilic.


Injury-hit Barcelona visits Mallorca with hole in defense

Updated 29 September 2022

Injury-hit Barcelona visits Mallorca with hole in defense

  • After a spate of injuries that has decimated Barcelona over the international break, Xavi may have a huge hole in his defense ahead of Sunday’s game at Mallorca
  • Barcelona will also be without midfielder Frenkie de Jong and forward Memphis Depay

BARCELONA, Spain: When Xavi Hernández oversaw the remodeling of Barcelona’s squad this summer, the coach made sure he was so well covered at right-back that his club could afford to loan out US defender Sergiño Dest to AC Milan.
But after a spate of injuries that has decimated Barcelona over the international break, Xavi may have a huge hole in his defense ahead of Sunday’s game at Mallorca.
Jules Koundé, Ronald Araújo and Héctor Bellerín, who have played at right back this season, are all out for an undetermined period of time. Koundé and Araújo, who can play at center back as well, were hurt while playing for France and Uruguay, respectively, in games to prepare for the World Cup in November. Bellerín hurt his left leg while training for Barcelona.
That leaves Barcelona waiting to see if veteran Sergi Roberto can recover from a muscle problem that has sidelined him for three weeks in time for the trip to the Balearic Islands.
If not, Xavi may be forced to shoehorn a player with little or no experience at right back into the position, draft a player from Barcelona’s youth team, or opt to play with three centerbacks and two wing backs.
Barcelona will also be without midfielder Frenkie de Jong and forward Memphis Depay after they were both hurt while playing for the Netherlands. Neither has been a first-choice player for Xavi this season.
Of the injuries, Araújo’s appears to be the most serious. The 23-year-old defender underwent surgery this week in Finland to repair an abductor muscle in his right thigh that he damaged in Uruguay’s 1-0 loss to Iran on Friday.
Over the next three weeks, Barcelona face two Champions League group games against Inter Milan and a clásico against Real Madrid on Oct. 16.
The only good news for Xavi is that Robert Lewandowski returned in perfect shape from his stint with Poland. The striker leads the Spanish league with eight goals in six games.
Mallorca, coached by Mexican Javier Aguirre, has lost 12 of the last 13 visits by Barcelona to their stadium. Their only win during that stretch came in 2009 with Barcelona already crowned the league champion.
BENZEMA BACK
Karim Benzema is back for Real Madrid after recovering from a tendon injury and a strained muscle in his right thigh that had kept him off the field for over three weeks.
Benzema led Madrid to the Champions League and Spanish league double last season after scoring 44 goals in all competitions.
But his team have not missed him much and have kept up their perfect record this season of nine wins in as many games in all competitions.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side leads the league by two points ahead of Barcelona before they host fifth-placed Osasuna on Sunday.
“I’m feeling very good, comfortable. I’m looking forward to the game on Sunday,” Benzema said. “We’ve got a great team, although it could be said that we’ve got two teams. There’s no difference between those who start the game and those who come on.”
Meanwhile a struggling Sevilla faces a tough test when they visit Atlético Madrid on Saturday. Pressure is growing on coach Julen Lopetegui and the club’s leadership, which sold off talented players this summer, after the team have won just once in eight games overall.
Third-place Real Betis play at Celta Vigo on Sunday, while fourth-place Athletic Bilbao host Almería on Friday.