Nadal, Osaka in Australia comebacks as Djokovic targets more glory

Japan's Naomi Osaka attends a training session ahead of the Brisbane International tennis tournament at Pat Rafter Arena in Brisbane on Dec. 27, 2023. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 27 December 2023
Follow

Nadal, Osaka in Australia comebacks as Djokovic targets more glory

  • Nadal begins what is set to be a farewell season at the Brisbane International from Dec. 31-Jan. 7 alongside Andy Murray and world No. 8 Holger Rune
  • The Japanese star, who gave birth to daughter Shai in July and has previously struggled with her mental health, admitted she was “nervous” but “excited”

SYDNEY: Rafael Nadal returns from a “winding, tortuous” injury journey in Brisbane this week, while fellow superstar Novak Djokovic kickstarts his bid for an unprecedented 11th Australian Open title at Perth.

It appeared last season that the veterans, with 46 Grand Slam crowns between them, may never share a competitive court again.

But the prospect is back in play with Spain’s Nadal recovering from hip surgeries that sidelined him for almost a year.

He begins what is set to be a farewell season at the Brisbane International from Dec. 31-Jan. 7 alongside Andy Murray and world No. 8 Holger Rune.

Top-ranked Djokovic has opted for the mixed teams United Cup in Perth and Sydney, starting Friday, as have fellow top 10 players Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Taylor Fritz.

Barring last-minute setbacks, Nadal and Djokovic will then grace the courts of Melbourne Park for the Australian Open from Jan.14, perhaps for the last time together.

The 22-time Grand Slam tournament winner Nadal has not played since a second-round loss to American Mackenzie McDonald at the Australian Open this year, leading to what coach Carlos Moya said was “a winding, tortuous road, with many curves.”

Now 37, Nadal said he expects “nothing” from himself this time around.

“I have internalized what I have had throughout my life, which is demand myself the maximum,” he said in announcing his return.

“Right now what I really hope is to be able not to do that, to accept things are going to be very difficult at the beginning and give myself the necessary time.”

Since being sidelined, Nadal has been overtaken in the total number of Grand Slam tournaments won by his Serbian arch-rival, who is targeting an all-time record 25th major title in Melbourne.

The 36-year-old Djokovic won three Grand Slams in 2023, but ended the season with two losses to burgeoning Italian Jannik Sinner at the Davis Cup.

Spanish world number two Carlos Alcaraz also notched a sensational win over Djokovic in the Wimbledon final.

The fourth-ranked Sinner gets his season under way at the Kooyong Classic exhibition event in Melbourne, while Alcaraz has nothing currently scheduled before the Australian Open.

Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka also makes her highly anticipated return in Brisbane, having not played since September 2022.

The Japanese star, who gave birth to daughter Shai in July and has previously struggled with her mental health, admitted she was “nervous” but “excited.”

“I definitely want to win more Grand Slams,” she said.

Like Djokovic, women’s world No. 1 and four-time Grand Slam winner Iga Swiatek will acclimatize in Perth with her Polish teammates at the United Cup.

The French Open champion briefly surrendered her top ranking to Aryna Sabalenka during 2023 but reclaimed it with a gutsy triumph at the WTA Finals in Cancun.

“It was certainly a demanding season that taught me a lot and which makes me even more proud,” said Swiatek, an Australian Open semifinalist in 2023.

Sabalenka is also a starter at Brisbane in a stacked field featuring eight of the world’s top 20 women as she looks to build on a sensational year, kickstarted by winning her maiden Slam at Melbourne Park.

“It’s a tournament that’s attracted so many good players in the past and I’m hoping it will set me up for another successful summer,” said the Belarusian world number two of the Brisbane event.

Fourth-ranked Elena Rybakina, who Sabalenka beat to win the Australian Open title, is another in Brisbane.

World No. 3 Coco Gauff defends her Auckland Classic title from Jan. 1, after a breakthrough season for the 19-year-old that saw her claim her first Grand Slam at the US Open.

She is joined in New Zealand by Elina Svitolina and Caroline Wozniacki as they continue their comebacks from maternity leave, while former US Open champion Emma Raducanu returns from multiple ankle and wrist surgeries.


Coach Thomas Tuchel says he’s still leaving after talks on extending Bayern Munich stay fell through

Updated 17 May 2024
Follow

Coach Thomas Tuchel says he’s still leaving after talks on extending Bayern Munich stay fell through

  • “We found no agreement on further cooperation so the agreement from February remains in force,” he said
  • In the three months since Bayern said Tuchel was leaving, they have tried and failed to sign a series of high-profile replacements

MUNICH: Thomas Tuchel says he is still leaving Bayern Munich after talks on extending his stay at the club fell through.
Bayern said in February that Tuchel would leave at the end of the season, but the coach said Friday that he held talks with the club on a “180-degree turn” that would have seen him stay after all.
“We found no agreement on further cooperation so the agreement from February remains in force,” he said.
In the three months since Bayern said Tuchel was leaving, they have tried and failed to sign a series of high-profile replacements.
Xabi Alonso is staying with Bayer Leverkusen after beating Bayern to the Bundesliga title, Tuchel’s predecessor Julian Nagelsmann signed an extension with the German national team, and Ralf Rangnick remains with Austria.
Bayern are without a trophy this season for the first time since 2012 after losing the Bundesliga title to Bayer Leverkusen, but Tuchel’s team were praised for reaching the Champions League semifinals before a narrow loss to Real Madrid.
There was also a petition from some Bayern fans calling on the club to keep Tuchel.
Strong European performances prompted the club to reach out to him in an attempt to persuade him to stay, the coach said.
“Above all, the feedback after Real Madrid over this last week was the basis to think again about the 180-degree turn, but we didn’t reach any agreement,” he said. “I don’t want to go into the individual points and the motivations behind them. That is behind closed doors and stays that way.”
There was tension last month after Tuchel said he had been insulted by comments from the club’s honorary president Uli Hoeness claiming the coach “doesn’t think he can improve” the team’s young stars.
Tuchel said at the time that Hoeness’ comments were “so far removed from reality” and added: “On the one hand it insults my honor as a coach, because I think we’ve shown as a coaching team for the last 15 years that young players, especially from the academy, always, always, always have a place with us in training and that they have a place on the field with their performances.”
Tuchel is heading into his last game with Bayern at Hoffenheim on Saturday with second place in the Bundesliga on the line. The injury list is as long as ever in a season when he has rarely had his first-choice team available.
Striker Harry Kane is undergoing treatment on a reported back injury, while Leroy Sané, Kim Min-jae, Kingsley Coman, Raphael Guerreiro and Jamal Musiala are also injured and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is unavailable with flu, Tuchel said. Right back Sacha Boey has been granted personal leave.
Bayern’s two-point advantage over third-place Stuttgart and superior goal difference mean that a draw with Hoffenheim — which is seventh and chasing European qualification — should be enough to guarantee second position. Stuttgart host Borussia Moenchengladbach.


FIFA orders legal review of Palestinian call to suspend Israel

FIFA President Gianni Infantino delivers his speech at the FIFA Congress in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 17, 2024. (AP)
Updated 17 May 2024
Follow

FIFA orders legal review of Palestinian call to suspend Israel

  • Israel has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials. Israel says its strikes are targeted at militants

BANKOK: Soccer’s world body FIFA ordered an urgent legal evaluation on Friday of a proposal by the Palestinian Football Association to suspend Israel over the war in Gaza, promising to address it at an extraordinary meeting of its council in July.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino took the decision at an annual Congress in Bangkok, where the PFA president made an emotional plea to delegates to hold a vote to suspend Israel from all club and national competitions, accusing it of multiple breaches of FIFA statutes.
The Palestinian proposal accuses the Israel Football Association of complicity in violations of international law by the Israeli government, discrimination against Arab players, and inclusion in its league of clubs located in Palestinian territory. The IFA rejected that.
The request for sanctions against the IFA comes two years after FIFA’s decision to suspend Russia from international competitions over its invasion of Ukraine.

HIGHLIGHT

The request for sanctions against the IFA comes two years after FIFA’s decision to suspend Russia from international competitions over its invasion of Ukraine.

“FIFA cannot afford to remain indifferent to these violations or to the ongoing genocide in Palestine, just as it did not remain indifferent to numerous precedents,” PFA President Jibril Rajoub said.
“How much more must the Palestinian football family suffer for FIFA to act with the same urgency and severity as it did in other cases? Does FIFA consider some wars to be more important than others and some victims to be more significant?“
Since an Oct. 7 cross-border raid by militant group Hamas that Israel says killed more than 1,200 people, the Gaza offensive has left more than 35,000 Palestinians dead, according to Gaza health officials. Israel says its strikes are targeted at militants.
Rajoub said 193 Palestinian players had been killed, football infrastructure destroyed, its leagues suspended and its national team required to play World Cup qualifiers abroad.

‘Cynical, political and hostile’
The proposal was sent to FIFA in March and added to the Congress agenda with the support of the Algerian, Jordanian, Syrian and Yemeni federations.
The Asian Football Confederation gave its backing on Thursday for action against Israel.
IFA chief Shino Moshe Zuares said the proposal was based on motives and ambitions that “have nothing to do with the spirit of sports or the FIFA value of separating sports from politics.”
“Today, maybe more than ever, I believe that football must be a key element in healing the fractures and the wounds, helping us and everyone to recover,” he told the Congress.
“Yet, once again, we are facing a cynical, political, and hostile attempt by the PFA to harm Israeli football.
“I am holding myself back and will not speak about the true motives out of respect for this institution,” he said.
Infantino expressed extreme shock over the Oct. 7 attacks and the offensives in Gaza and said due to the “obvious sensitivity of the issue,” independent legal experts would be brought in urgently to analyze the Palestinian allegations.
Those findings would be referred to the FIFA Council, its main decision-making body outside of the Congress, to convene an extraordinary meeting in July and take appropriate decisions, he said.

 


Nicholas Pooran powers Lucknow Super Giants to dead-rubber IPL win over hapless Mumbai Indians

Updated 17 May 2024
Follow

Nicholas Pooran powers Lucknow Super Giants to dead-rubber IPL win over hapless Mumbai Indians

  • Mumbai out, Lucknow too failed to qualify for the playoffs

MUMBAI: Nicholas Pooran starred in Lucknow Super Giants’ 18-run victory over pre-tournament favorites Mumbai Indians in the last game of a disappointing Indian Premier League season for both teams Friday.
The maverick West Indies’ wicketkeeper-batsman hit eight sixes in his 29-ball 75 to take Lucknow to 214-6 after Mumbai skipper Hardik Pandya won the toss and chose to field first.
Mumbai crashed to 196-6 despite an impressive start by openers Rohit Sharma and Dewald Brevis in their rain-interrupted chase.
Pandya said that it was “quite difficult” for five-time champions Mumbai, who finished the 10-team league in last spot.
“This season we didn’t play good quality cricket and it cost us the whole season,” Pandya said.
Lucknow too failed to qualify for the playoffs and ended the tournament in sixth spot.
Captain KL Rahul said that it was “very disappointing.”
He blamed mid-season injuries to key players and said that they “didn’t play well enough collectively and couldn’t come together” as a team.
Earlier, Nuwan Thushara got Mumbai off to a great start and removed opener Devdutt Padikkal for a first ball duck.
Padikkal’s partner Rahul stitched together a 48-run partnership with Australia’s Marcus Stoinis, who fell to Piyush Chawla’s leg-spin for a 22-ball 28 in the sixth over.
Chawla also removed Deepak Hooda (11) to reduce Lucknow to 69-3 by the 10th over.
Thushara finally removed Pooran in the 17th over to end his match-defining, 109-run partnership with Rahul.
He also removed rookie Arshad Khan (0) in the same over and finished with 3-28 in his four-over spell.
Chawla removed Rahul, who took 41 balls for his 55 runs, in the 18th over and finished with 3-29.
Key unbeaten cameos by Ayush Badoni (22) and Krunal Pandya (12) took Lucknow to 214-6.
Mumbai’s openers took their team to 88 before Brevis fell for 23 in the ninth over.
India skipper Sharma top-scored with a 38-ball 68 with 10 fours and three sixes before he fell in the 11th over.
In between, Mumbai also lost their best T20 batsman, Suryakumar Yadav, for 0 and were reduced to 97-3 while out-of-form skipper Pandya fell for 16.
Indian rookie Naman Dhir hit five sixes and four fours in his unbeaten 28-ball 62.
Leg-spinner Ravi Bishnoi, who removed Sharma, and Afghanistan’s Naveen-ul-Haq, who removed Brevis, took four key Mumbai wickets between them.


Pakistan’s army chief vows full support for hockey team after silver medal win in Malaysia

Updated 17 May 2024
Follow

Pakistan’s army chief vows full support for hockey team after silver medal win in Malaysia

  • The national hockey team reached the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup final for the first time in 13 years
  • The Pakistani players were also hosted and praised by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif this week

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s army chief General Asim Munir vowed on Friday to fully support the national hockey team while meeting with its players and applauding them for winning a silver medal in the recent Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia.

A day earlier, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also hosted the Green Shirts in Islamabad in recognition of their outstanding performance at the tournament, where they reached the finals for the first time in 13 years.

Sharif praised the team’s performance and reiterated his administration’s commitment to promoting sports, particularly hockey, in the country.

The army chief also praised the squad during the interaction with its players in Rawalpindi.

“The hockey team has brought immense pride to the nation, and we are committed to providing them with comprehensive support to ensure their continued success,” he was quoted as saying in a statement released by the military’s media wing, ISPR.

He also extended his best wishes to the players for their future endeavors.

Cricket has generally overshadowed other sports in Pakistan, including hockey, in terms of popularity and media attention.

This is despite the fact that hockey is the country’s national sport and has a rich history of international success. Yet, it has not received the same level of sustained interest or investment as cricket, with the disparity impacting its development and visibility within the country.


England captain Buttler buoyed by return of ‘superstar’ Archer ahead of Pakistan series

Updated 17 May 2024
Follow

England captain Buttler buoyed by return of ‘superstar’ Archer ahead of Pakistan series

  • Injuries have blighted Jofra Archer and he has not played top-level cricket for the past year
  • Buttler says he relies on Archer who has a trick up his sleeve in every cricket tournament

LONDON: England white-ball captain Jos Buttler is glad to see “proper superstar” Jofra Archer back in action following the fast bowler’s wicket-taking return to action for Sussex’s 2nd XI.

Injuries have blighted Archer’s international career and he has not played top-level cricket for the past year.

England, however, have recalled Archer for the defense of their T20 World Cup title in the United States and the West Indies next month, with the paceman also selected for the upcoming warm-up series against Pakistan.

Archer continued his build-up to the four-game series against Pakistan by turning out for Sussex’s second string on Friday.

He was parachuted into the match on day four, taking the new ball and returning figures of 1-11 in six sharp overs in Kent’s second innings at Beckenham.

The 29-year-old, previously playing domestic cricket in his native Barbados, hit home opener Ekansh Singh on the helmet and then had him caught in the slips.

Archer will join the England squad in Leeds ahead of the first Twenty20 international against Pakistan at Headingley on Wednesday.

Buttler, who returned early from the Indian Premier League to oversee England’s World Cup preparations, told Britain’s Press Association news agency: “It’s a huge encouragement for him to be back and see him ready to play.

“Everyone knows what he is capable of and the attitude he possesses. As a captain he is someone you can always turn to in a game because he always has a trick up his sleeve.

“It’s great to be able to call on him but it’s important to manage expectations. He has been out of it for a while now so we will need to look after him and realize that it might just take him a little while to be the Jofra of 2019.”

Dynamic batsman Buttler added: “He is a proper superstar but we do have to be smart with him. It’s a jump in intensity from what he’s doing now to international cricket and you can’t really replicate it.”