Federer, Nadal, Djokovic set new bar for next generations

Novak Djokovic (L) of Team Europe in congratulated by Roger Federer (C) and Team Europe vice captain Thomas Enqvist (R) after his win against USA's Frances Tiafoe of Team World. (AFP)
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Updated 25 September 2022

Federer, Nadal, Djokovic set new bar for next generations

  • Here we are, 20 years later, and Federer wound up with 20; Djokovic has 21; Nadal leads with 22

LONDON: Here is one way to look at what Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and the now-retired Roger Federer accomplished: The group known as the Big Three of men’s tennis accumulated so many Grand Slam titles — 63 in all — that it seems unlikely anyone will reach the standards they set.

Not anytime soon, certainly.

Here was another way to think about things as the professional level of the sport began its post-Federer life on Saturday, following the last match of his career: What he and the other two members of that distinguished trio, along with Serena Williams, managed to do was demonstrate that it is possible to dominate for decades, not merely years, at a time.

And the 41-year-old Federer, for one, thinks up-and-coming players can learn from the way he and the others of his era went about it, from their self-belief and attitudes about setting goals to their training, nutrition and other methods of ensuring longevity.

He laughed when relaying a conversation with Bjorn Borg, who is the captain of Team Europe at the Laver Cup, about what life was like back when he was winning his 11 major championships from 1974 to 1981 before retiring in his 20s. During an interview with The Associated Press this week, Federer recalled a conversation in which Borg talked about getting one weekly massage and maybe the occasional hot bath during his time on tour.

Federer’s massage routine over his quarter-century as a player?

“Every day, probably. Sometimes I would get tired of them, so I would say, ‘Can we skip a day today?’ You know what I mean? I will not miss those. I mean, I loved my massages from time to time, but come on; number 1,423 gets a little bit like, ‘Jesus. I’d rather do something different,’” Federer said, then added through a self-aware grin: “Complaining at a high level here.”

When Pete Sampras won the 2002 US Open in his last match, he collected his 14th Slam trophy, two more than any other man in the history of tennis to that point. Indeed, there were those who wondered at the time whether that mark would ever be broken.

Seems quaint now. Here we are, 20 years later, and Federer wound up with 20; Djokovic has 21; Nadal leads with 22. The latter two are still adding to their counts: Nadal, 36, won the Australian Open in January and the French Open in June; Djokovic, 35, won Wimbledon in July.

“No. 1, it’s easier nowadays to run through different surfaces. Pete only made one semi at the French. Borg never went to Australia. ... And,” Federer said, “it was less professional back in the ‘70s.”

Federer also made this point: He, Nadal, Djokovic and Williams, and the rise of social media, all contributed to a change in the paradigm of Grand Slam importance vis a vis other tournaments and made chasing those records — and talking about chasing those records — more widely accepted and matter-of-course.

“It’s a different world now,” Federer said.

In bygone days, he said, “It was not about records. This whole record thing started, I’d say, with Sampras wanting to surpass the 12 of (Roy) Emerson. This is what set up this generation that we see with Novak and Rafa right now. For me, I don’t remember much, when I came up in the ‘90s, about all these records. I remember Pete was kind of chasing them, but I was not aware of it. They just said, ‘Oh, you play like Pete, so you’re going to be ‘the next Pete Sampras.’ I was like, ‘Oh, OK.’”

With that, he rolled his eyes.

Then Federer continued discussing Sampras: “I don’t even remember how many Slams he had at that time. I don’t even remember where he passed that record. It was a big moment, I’m sure, but I, a historian of the game, don’t really remember it.”

Players have changed. Media coverage has changed. Fans’ attention has changed.

“We behave different, in the process, as well, and we are driven in a different way. I don’t think you were planning years ahead: ‘OK, I have 10 years ahead, so let’s break it down. What do I have to do to achieve such a thing?’ Back in the day, it was ‘OK, what are we playing next week?’” Federer said. “I just think it’s different and that’s why I think we’ll see more successful players in the future and they’ll be able to play longer, because they’ll maintain their bodies.”

For the current crop of new talent, including US Open champion and No. 1-ranked Carlos Alcaraz, who is just 19, or French Open and US Open runner-up Casper Ruud, who is No. 2 at age 23, the example is there.

Now the question is: Can they follow it?

“They brought it to a whole different level and showed that anything is possible. Just imagine if one of the three was not there, how many the two other ones would have. They would probably be close to 30. ... It gives young players like myself and the younger generation inspiration to see how well it’s possible to play,” Ruud said. “I don’t think that record will be broken, ever, but let’s see in the future. Anything can happen.”

Felix Auger-Aliassime, a US Open semifinalist at age 21 last year, agrees that having something to aspire to is helpful.

As is having role models, which Team World vice captain Patrick McEnroe pointed out the Big Three are in terms of sportsmanship and the “way the game is actually played on the court.”

“Now the younger players are training hard, always trying to improve, being more and more professional,” Auger-Aliassime said. “It does raise the bar of the level and the competitiveness of the sport, which I think pushes the sport forward.”


Vinícius Júnior thanks Ancelotti for success at World Cup

Updated 16 sec ago

Vinícius Júnior thanks Ancelotti for success at World Cup

DOHA: Brazil forward Vinícius Júnior praised Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti for his success at the World Cup.
Vinícius Júnior arrived in Qatar without knowing if he was going to get a chance to start for Brazil, but heading into Friday’s quarterfinal match against Croatia, no one questions his spot in the lineup or his importance for the team.
He said Ancelotti was one of the people who gave him guidance ahead of soccer’s biggest tournament.
“I talked with Ancelotti and he gave me a lot of advice to help me become a starter with Brazil. He gave me a lot of confidence,” the 22-year-old Vinícius Júnior said Wednesday. “He was always was tough with me when he needed to be. He is like a father to me.”
Vinícius Júnior was often questioned at Madrid while Zinedine Zidane was the coach, but quickly established himself as a starter with Ancelotti in command. The Brazil forward said the Italian coach is always sending him messages.
“He is good not only with the technical aspects of the game, but also with how he deals with his players,” Vinícius Júnior said. “I have been improving a lot and Ancelotti has helped me with that. He and (Brazil coach) Tite are very similar and they talk to each other a lot.”
Vinícius Júnior, who has a goal and two assists in the three World Cup games, said he also learned from Madrid midfielder Luka Modric, who will be one of his opponents on Friday at Education City Stadium.
Vinícius Júnior said the pass he gave for Lucas Paquetá’s goal in the round of 16 against South Korea, using the outside of his foot, was something he learned from Modric at Madrid.
“He is always teaching me things, on and off the field,” Vinícius Júnior said. “He helps me every day, making sure I’m always improving. He is a reference to me, playing at a high level at 37 years old, that is something rare. I’m happy that I’ll be playing against him, and let the best team win.”
Within Brazil’s national team, Vinícius Júnior said he also gets advice from Neymar.
“He told me how the World Cup is different than anything else,” Vinícius Júnior said. “He told me that, and I always remember it. And when the national anthem played, I realized what it all meant.”
Vinícius Júnior was among the Brazilian players criticized for their dance celebrations at the World Cup. He had already been targeted because of that while with Madrid. But he promised even more dancing if Brazil keeps succeeding in Qatar.
“The goal is the most important moment in soccer, not only for those who score them but for the entire country,” he said. “We still have many celebrations left, and hopefully we can keep scoring and dancing like this until the final.”

Hansi Flick staying as Germany coach despite World Cup flop

Updated 13 min 44 sec ago

Hansi Flick staying as Germany coach despite World Cup flop

  • Flick was under pressure going into Wednesday’s meeting with Neuendorf and federation vice president Hans-Joachim Watzke
  • “We as a team can achieve much more than we showed in Qatar,” Flick said in the statement

BERLIN: The German soccer federation maintained its trust in Hansi Flick as national team coach on Wednesday despite the disappointing World Cup performance.
Federation president Bernd Neuendorf said the body has “full confidence” in Flick to lead the team through the 2024 European Championship, which Germany is scheduled to host and which Neuendorf described as a “great opportunity” for the future of soccer in the country.
Flick was under pressure going into Wednesday’s meeting with Neuendorf and federation vice president Hans-Joachim Watzke following Germany’s early World Cup exit, their third straight disappointing performance at a major tournament.
Flick left the meeting without a word, but was quoted in a statement from the federation.
“We as a team can achieve much more than we showed in Qatar,” Flick said in the statement. “We missed a big opportunity there. We’ll learn our lessons from it.”
Flick said he was optimistic about Euro 2024 and that he has confidence in the path Neuendorf and Watzke agreed to.
“We want all of Germany to rally behind the national team again at the 2024 European Championship at home,” said Flick, who faced criticism for his team selection and tactics against group rivals Japan, Spain and Costa Rica in Qatar.
Mistakes in defense, where Flick was unable to settle on his preferred back four, and an inability to put away chances cost Germany a place in the knockout round.
Germany’s record under Flick was also poor before the tournament. The former Bayern Munich coach took over from Joachim Löw last year after Germany’s second-round exit from the European Championship and has a contract through Euro 2024.
The federation still needs a replacement for Oliver Bierhoff, who ended an 18-year stint Monday when he agreed to resign as managing director of Germany’s national soccer teams and academy.
Bierhoff is the only casualty so far from Germany’s group-stage exit from the World Cup in Qatar, the team’s second straight embarrassing failure in soccer’s biggest tournament. Germany also was eliminated from the same stage at the 2018 World Cup as defending champion.
Hertha Berlin general manager Fredi Bobic is a reported candidate to take over from Bierhoff, though he said Wednesday he was “very comfortable at Hertha.” Bobic, who has a contract through 2024 with the Berlin club, did not rule himself out, however.
Flick appeared to criticize the federation for Bierhoff’s exit on Tuesday, when he said both he and his coaching staff “are having a hard time imagining how the gap left by Oliver’s departure can be closed.”
The German soccer league was to meet separately later Wednesday when the future of chief executive Donata Hopfen was to be discussed.
Confirmation of Hopfen’s departure after less than a year in charge was expected amid simmering issues of discontent among Bundesliga clubs and teams from the second division.
Hopfen took over from Christian Seifert in January as the first female chief executive of Germany’s top two soccer divisions but has struggled to impose her vision or resolve long-standing questions on issues such as the league’s 50+1 rule limiting the role of outside investors, marketing at home and abroad, and the sale of media rights.
Hopfen’s contract runs through 2024. Asked in October how much support she was getting from league members, she told Kicker magazine, “there’s always room for more.”


British tennis chiefs slam ATP over $1m fine for Russia player ban

Updated 07 December 2022

British tennis chiefs slam ATP over $1m fine for Russia player ban

  • The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) came under pressure from the British government to impose a ban
  • The All England Club, which runs Wimbledon, also barred them from competing at this year's edition of tennis' oldest Slam

LONDON: British tennis chiefs said Wednesday they were “disappointed” at being fined $1 million by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) for banning Russian and Belarusian players from its events.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) came under pressure from the British government to impose a ban.
The LTA stages five events — Queen’s Club in London, Eastbourne, Surbiton, Nottingham and Ilkley — in the calendar of the ATP, which runs the men’s professional tennis tour outside of the four Grand Slams.
Russian and Belarusian players were barred from all five tournaments.
The All England Club, which runs Wimbledon, also barred them from competing at this year’s edition of tennis’ oldest Slam.
Both the ATP and the Women’s Tennis Association stripped Wimbledon of its ranking points in protest at a ban labelled “crazy” by Novak Djokovic.
The Women’s Tennis Association had also previously issued a fine of $1 million to British tennis authorities, split between $750,000 to the LTA and $250,000 to the All England Club.
It is also understood the LTA has been threatened with expulsion from the ATP Tour if it repeats the ban.
The LTA, responding Wednesday to the latest sanction, accused the ATP of a “lack of empathy” over the situation in Ukraine, saying in a statement: “The LTA is deeply disappointed with this outcome.
“The ATP, in its finding, has shown no recognition of the exceptional circumstances created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or the international sporting community and UK Government’s response to that invasion.
“The ATP appear to regard this matter as a straightforward breach of their rules — with a surprising lack of empathy shown for the situation in Ukraine, and a clear lack of understanding of the unique circumstances the LTA faced.”
The statement said the fines would have a financial impact on the LTA’s ability to “develop and host” tennis in Britain.
It added: “We will carefully consider our response and we await the outcome of our appeal against the WTA’s decision and sanction.”
Michelle Donelan, the British government’s Culture Secretary, also urged the ATP and WTA to reconsider their punishments.
“We are clear that sport cannot be used to legitimize this deadly invasion, and that athletes representing the Russian or Belarusian states should be banned from competing in other countries,” she said.
“Despite widespread condemnation, the international tennis tours are determined to be outcasts in this, with investment in the growth of our domestic game hampered as a result.
“This is the wrong move by the ATP and WTA. I urge them to think carefully about the message this sends, and to reconsider.”
Speaking after an executive board meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, IOC president Thomas Bach also took aim at the British government for politicizing participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes.
Despite ice hockey players from the two countries playing in the NHL, Bach said, “on the other hand we had Wimbledon, the British Government interfering and forcing the Wimbledon organizers to exclude Russian and Belarusian players.”
“Governments should not decide on political grounds who is participating in which sports events.
“The qualification for sports events must be on sporting merits and not on political interference.”
Bach accused the British government, and others, of going against the Olympic Charter — guarantor of the IOC’s political neutrality.
“To take a decision, a political decision, on a sports competition is clearly not in line with these resolutions and with these commitments and is not in line with the mission of international sports,” he said.


Bangladesh edge past India to clinch ODI series 2-0

Updated 07 December 2022

Bangladesh edge past India to clinch ODI series 2-0

  • Mehidy Hasan Miraz scores maiden century, takes two wickets
  • Bangladesh beat India by 5 runs to take unassailable lead in ODI series

DHAKA: Mehidy Hasan Miraz hit his maiden one-day international century and took two key wickets as Bangladesh prevailed in a five-run win over India that clinched the series on Wednesday.

The all-rounder made an unbeaten 100 and put on 148 runs for the seventh wicket alongside Mahmudullah Riyad to pull Bangladesh out from a precarious 69-6 and post 271-7 in Dhaka.

India skipper Rohit Sharma batted at number nine with an injured thumb and hit an unbeaten 51 off 28 balls to give Bangladesh a scare as India ended on 266-9 in 50 overs.

Bangladesh, who took an unassailable 2-0 lead with the final match on Saturday, won their second successive series against India after they got past them in their previous meeting at home in 2015.

Rohit, who hit five sixes in his blitz and needed a six to win on the final ball when Mustafizur Rahman held his nerve, had gone for scans after he took a hit while attempting a catch at slip in Bangladesh's innings.

Mehidy, who opened the bowling with his off spin, returned figures of 2-46 as he struck with the wickets of KL Rahul, out lbw for 14, and Shreyas Iyer, who top-scored with 82.

Fast bowler Ebadot Hossain stood out with three wickets including Virat Kohli bowled for five and later cut short the left-handed Axar Patel's knock on 56.

But Mehidy and former captain Mahmudullah set up victory with the highest seventh-wicket stand against India by any team in 50-over matches as thwarted an inspired bowling attack.

India's Mohammed Siraj led the attack after he removed the openers and fellow quick Umran Malik, who also took two, soon joined forces to push Bangladesh onto the backfoot.

Mystery spinner Washington Sundar struck three times in seven deliveries including the key wickets of Shakib Al Hasan (eight) and Mushfiqur Rahim (12).

Mehidy, who starred in his team's opening win by one wicket, hit back and reached his third ODI fifty and soon after Mahmudullah got his 27th half-century. The duo then shifted gears with regular boundaries.

Umran, a tearaway quick, finally got Mahmudullah caught behind but Mehidy kept up the charge to reach his hundred on the final ball of the innings in an unbeaten stand of 54 with Nasum Ahmed, who made 18.


Leading coaches hold tennis try-outs for Saudi women

Updated 07 December 2022

Leading coaches hold tennis try-outs for Saudi women

  • Judy Murray, Barbara Schett-Eagle and Mats Wilander hold tennis try-outs for women on sidelines of Diriyah Tennis Cup
  • Judy Murray: ‘To be able to come here against the backdrop of the Diriyah Tennis Cup, which is a mens’ event, and have a whole womens’ program going on around it, is very, very important’

Female students from Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU) Riyadh participated in tennis coaching sessions with leading international coaches and former players as part of the Diriyah Tennis Cup program.

The students were coached by Judy Murray, mother of leading players Jamie and Andy Murray, former World Number 1 Mats Wilander from Sweden and Austrian Barbara Schett-Eagle.

Some of the women students held a racquet in their hands for the first time and were introduced to the sport by the tennis legends.

“At the sessions we had a real mix of complete beginners who want to learn the game, some people who have been playing for years and wish to improve and also teachers and coaches,” said Judy Murray.

“I have worked in tennis for over 30 years and the last twelve years I have really focused on encouraging women and girls. Not just to play tennis but to get involved in delivering tennis. We don’t have enough female coaches in tennis worldwide, so actually to be able to come here against the backdrop of the Diriyah Tennis Cup, which is a mens’ event, and have a whole womens’ program going on in the community around it, is very, very important.”

“As a — hopefully — role model and female coach I like to go out and share all the content I have created over many years. I am so passionate about getting more women and girls involved, so this is a lovely opportunity for me to come to Riyadh to do that.”

Former leading player Mats Wilander said: “People are very much into sport here. To play tennis with the female students was wonderful. Judy Murray has a wonderful program. It’s important, to bring tennis to the women of Saudi Arabia, women in general and people in general. Everybody should have a chance to experience and try out the sport.”

Former Austrian player Barbara Schett-Eagle added: “I had an unbelievable day playing tennis with the female students, some playing for the first time. I love tennis. It’s my love and my passion. At the end, they were all able to hit a tennis ball. Some never held a racket before. It was great, there were lots of smiles.”

The President of the Saudi Tennis Federation Arij Almutabagani said that she sees a bright future for tennis in the kingdom.

“There is a strong possibility of finding some young talent. We are really starting at the grassroots, at the beginning, but we have to start somewhere. I think Judy Murray is a great inspiration and I think this program with her is a good start and I hope we can work with her in the future,” said Almutabagani.

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