Djokovic, Sinner into Monte Carlo quarters as Medvedev rages

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic plays a forehand return to Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti during their Monte Carlo ATP Masters Series Tournament match on April 11, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 12 April 2024
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Djokovic, Sinner into Monte Carlo quarters as Medvedev rages

  • Djokovic: I don’t think I am still at my top level but it was a great test today against a great player, a very talented player
  • De Minaur moved into the last eight with a 6-3, 6-4 victory against fellow Australian Alexei Popyrin

MONTE CARLO: Novak Djokovic avenged last year’s Monte Carlo Masters defeat by Lorenzo Musetti to reach the quarterfinals Thursday along with Jannik Sinner, while Daniil Medvedev launched into a furious tirade during his defeat.

World No. 1 Djokovic made a poor start and endured a second-set wobble before coming through 7-5, 6-3 against the 24th-ranked Musetti, the man who beat him at the same stage 12 months ago.

“I don’t think I am still at my top level but it was a great test today against a great player, a very talented player,” Djokovic said.

“I am really glad to overcome the challenge and look forward to the next one.”

Djokovic goes on to play Alex de Minaur, the 11th seed from Australia, in the last eight.

The Serbian top seed dropped serve in the opening game against Musetti before working his way back to level at 4-4, and then snatched the set on a double fault by his opponent.

Djokovic broke twice early in the second set either side of losing his own serve to surge 4-1 ahead. Musetti clawed back to within a game but Djokovic broke again for 5-3 before closing out the win.

Djokovic has struggled to find his best form in recent times in Monte Carlo. He has not won the tournament since the last of his two titles in 2015, failing to advance beyond the quarter-finals in seven subsequent appearances.

Australian Open champion Sinner improved his record to 24-1 this season with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Jan-Lennard Struff.

The world No. 2 broke at 4-4 en route to pocketing the first set and won nine of the final 11 games to sweep to victory.

“I broke him quite early and then he broke me back. I knew it was going to be really tough, but I guess I returned really well, especially on second serves. I can be very happy,” said Sinner.

Sinner next faces Holger Rune who defeated the Italian in the semifinals last year before finishing runner-up to Andrey Rublev.

Rune made the last eight after a three-hour 30-minute 7-6 (11/9), 3-6, 7-6 (7/2) win over Grigor Dimitrov, saving two match points in the 12th game of the deciding set.

“It was a great match,” said Rune. “I thought I played a very good first set, it was very long, one-and-a-half hours. So it was tough physically.”

Like Dimitrov, Rune had earlier completed a rain-delayed third round clash.

“I had a match earlier today which was two sets, so I played five sets today actually, which is pretty brutal,” added the Dane.

Medvedev tore into the officiating for the second day running as he was beaten 6-3, 7-5 by Karen Khachanov.

Medvedev was hit with a point penalty to start the final game after berating chair umpire Carlos Bernardes and then became embroiled in a heated discussion with the tournament supervisor.

The world No. 4 had already been warned after hurling his racquet when he double-faulted to lose his service game and leave Khachanov a game away from victory.

Medvedev, who took issue with two line calls in his second-round win on Wednesday, felt aggrieved when a Khachanov forehand was not called out during a rally that resulted in the latter earning two break points at 5-5.

The arrival of the physio to treat a finger bleed at the ensuing changeover tipped Medvedev over the edge, with the Russian yelling “did I ask for the physio!” at the umpire.

He then demanded of the supervisor “who will take responsibility?” for the decisions.

Television replays appeared to show the shot in question from Khachanov had landed wide of the court.

“It’s second day in a row. Guys, open your eyes. Do something. It’s out,” raged Medvedev.

“The mark is out. They don’t know how to referee anymore. Who will take action?

“Yesterday the ball is out, it’s called in. Who will take action. This ball is out there. Who will take responsibility? It’s not my responsibility to referee the matches.

“It’s this guy in the glasses (the line judge). He doesn’t need glasses because he doesn’t see anything. He should not be a referee.”

Khachanov’s reward is a quarterfinal Friday against Stefanos Tsitsipas, who saw off fifth seed Alexander Zverev 7-5, 7-6 (7/3).

De Minaur moved into the last eight with a 6-3, 6-4 victory against fellow Australian Alexei Popyrin.


West Ham’s Paqueta charged over alleged betting breaches

Updated 23 May 2024
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West Ham’s Paqueta charged over alleged betting breaches

  • Paqueta has been charged with four breaches of FA rules in relation to his conduct in West Ham’s Premier League matches
  • The 26-year-old has also been charged with two further breaches in respect of alleged failures to “comply pursuant to FA Rule F2“

LONDON: West Ham midfielder Lucas Paqueta has been charged with alleged breaches of Football Association betting rules after a probe into claims the Brazilian deliberately earned yellow cards.
Paqueta has been charged with four breaches of FA rules in relation to his conduct in West Ham’s Premier League matches against Leicester in November 2022, Aston Villa in March 2023, Leeds in May 2023 and Bournemouth in August 2023.
The 26-year-old has also been charged with two further breaches in respect of alleged failures to “comply pursuant to FA Rule F2.”
Paqueta was interviewed by the FA in September and gave the English game’s governing body access to his phone.
The FA investigation started after suspicious betting patterns surrounding Paqueta’s booking for shoving Bournemouth’s Illia Zabarnyi in the closing minutes of a 1-1 draw on the opening day of this season.
“West Ham United’s Lucas Paqueta has been charged with misconduct in relation to alleged breaches of FA Rules E5 and F3,” an FA statement said on Thursday.
“It’s alleged that he directly sought to influence the progress, conduct, or any other aspect of, or occurrence in these matches by intentionally seeking to receive a card from the referee for the improper purpose of affecting the betting market in order for one or more persons to profit from betting.”
Paqueta has until June 3 to respond to the charges, subject to any request for an extension to the deadline.
Writing on his Instagram page, Paqueta was quick to deny the charges.
“I am extremely surprised and upset that the FA has decided to charge me,” he said.
“For nine months, I have co-operated with every step of their investigation and provided all the information I can.
“I deny all the charges in their entirety and will fight with every breath to clear my name. Due to the ongoing process, I will not be providing any further comment.”
In their own statement, West Ham said: “The club acknowledges receipt of the FA charge received by Lucas Paqueta for alleged breaches of their Rules.
“Lucas categorically denies the breach and will continue to robustly defend his position.
“The club will continue to stand by and support the Player throughout the process and will make no further comment until the matter is concluded.”


French Open: Nadal faces Zverev in first round

Updated 23 May 2024
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French Open: Nadal faces Zverev in first round

  • Nadal had been coy about whether he would compete Roland Garros after two seasons of off-and-on action because of injuries

PARIS: Rafael Nadal is in the French Open field, after all, and the 14-time champion was set up for a challenging first-round matchup against Alexander Zverev from Thursday’s draw.
Nadal had been coy about whether he would compete Roland Garros after two seasons of off-and-on action because of injuries, including a surgically repaired hip that forced him to miss his favorite tournament a year ago.
After a loss at the Italian Open this month, Nadal said he needed to think about whether to play in Paris. But he has been practicing on the red clay at Roland Garros this week and his name was officially in the bracket.
Unseeded.
His matchup against the No. 4-ranked Zverev is a rematch of their 2022 semifinal that ended when Zverev tore ligaments in his right ankle.
The French Open begins on Sunday.


T20, cricket’s fast and furious format, in spotlight as World Cup looms

Updated 23 May 2024
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T20, cricket’s fast and furious format, in spotlight as World Cup looms

  • First cricket World Cup to be hosted on US soil starts June 1
  • T20 cricket is completed in just over three hours, unlike Tests or ODIs

The first cricket World Cup to be hosted on US soil starts June 1 and will be shared with countries in the Caribbean, represented by the two-time champion West Indies.

Fear not. It won’t drag on.

This World Cup is in the Twenty20 format, the fastest and most action-packed version of cricket.

Unlike test cricket matches, which started out as timeless before being shortened to five days, T20 doesn’t require any breaks for tea or lunch and is completed in just over three hours — roughly the same as a Major League Baseball game.

Players wear colorful uniforms, unlike the all-white test cricket kits, and venues have a party vibe.

The 20 competing teams have been divided into four groups in the league stage, which kicks off with the US against Canada in Dallas. The top two teams in each group advance to the knockout rounds. The final is set for Bridgetown, Barbados on June 29.

WHEN DID TWENTY20 CRICKET START?

T20 was first played at franchise level in England in 2003. That makes it a baby in terms of cricket, which has been played in one form or another for at least 400 years.

Within four years, T20 had its own World Cup and it has spawned far-flung leagues in traditional and new cricket markets. The most lucrative franchise cricket competition by far is the Indian Premier League.

Major League Cricket, which attracts players from around the world, made its debut in the US last year. Season 2 will launch July 4.

SPEED AND ENTERTAINMENT

The two important factors with the T20 format: It hurries the game up, meaning, generally, much more excitement. The game is also shortened time-wise and is easier to consume for young or new fans or — and this is key — TV programming.

While the format leads to high-tempo action on the field, T20 has also sparked an evolution in off-field entertainment in cricket. Cheerleaders dancing on podiums, DJs sitting behind decks spinning tunes and fancy dress themes are all part of the T20 game for crowds, bringing a colorful new twist for those at the stadium and broadcast viewers.

RULES

Cricket’s main rules still apply in T20 games, meaning there might still be a steep learning curve for new fans unfamiliar with the leg before wicket law, or “lbw” for short — when a batter is called out for using his protective leg pads to block a delivery from hitting the stumps.

At least there will be no ties. Test cricket has two ways for a game to have no winner, even if it’s been going on for five days.

But in T20, even if the teams get exactly the same number of runs — 150 runs is an average score and more than 200 is a good score — then there is a “Super Over” to decide the game. That means each team faces one over of six balls to smash as many runs as it can and whoever wins that tie-breaker wins the game.

THE FINER DETAILS

Like test and one-day international cricket, it’s a game between two teams of 11. Each team gets to bat for 20 overs (a series of six deliveries from the same bowler) which translates to 120 deliveries, excluding extras, per inning. Hence the name Twenty20.

The leather ball is white and similar in appearance to a baseball.

Bowlers run to the crease and use a rotating arm action to bowl the ball and try to knock the bails off three 28-inch stumps from the opposite end of the 22-yard pitch. Batters try to protect the stumps while scoring runs as quickly as possible by hitting the ball over or between fielders.

And so, at least in the T20 format, they regularly hit the ball out of the ground, not unlike a home run.

PAST WINNERS

Unlike the traditional Cricket World Cup, which was first contested in 1975, has been played mostly in the 50-over format, and has been dominated by six-time champion Australia, success in the global T20 tournament has been more evenly shared.

Only West Indies, representing the Caribbean nations, and England have won it twice. India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia have one T20 title each.

THE STARS

Virat Kohli, India: A feisty and formidable batter who has set records in the Indian Premier League and over a long career with the national team. There’s an array of high-profile stars in the India squad but none has a bigger following than the 35-year-old former captain.

Rashid Khan, Afghanistan: The 25-year-old leg-spinner has been the top-ranked T20 bowler in international cricket and is still very much in the Top 10. He’s a star in the IPL and for the Afghan national team.

Jofra Archer, England: If he’s fit, he’s super fast. The Barbados-born paceman hasn’t played a lot of cricket in the last few years because of injury but has been rushed back into the squad for the defending champions because of his intimidating bowling and experience in Caribbean conditions.

Mitch Marsh, Australia: A big, burley “allrounder” — meaning he bats and bowls — Marsh can get an innings away to a blazing start and also bowl with pace. He has been recovering from a hamstring problem which curtailed his IPL season and isn’t likely to bowl at the start of the World Cup but will play as captain regardless. He was the player of the final when Australia clinched its first T20 world title in 2021.


West Ham name Julen Lopetegui as new boss

Updated 23 May 2024
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West Ham name Julen Lopetegui as new boss

LONDON: West Ham named former Real Madrid and Spain boss Julen Lopetegui as their new manager on Thursday after David Moyes’ departure from the London Stadium.
The 57-year-old Spaniard had been out of work since leaving Wolves on the eve of the just-concluded Premier League season.
Lopetegui will officially begin work with the Hammers on July 1, replacing Moyes after the Scot’s exit at the end of this season.
“We came here with the idea and the thought to make a big, big noise,” he said. “That’s why we came here, and we are excited by this challenge.
“Of course, we are going to do our best to help the club and the team to achieve the best level and to achieve our aims.
“I assure the fans that they are going to be key in all our achievements.”
West Ham joint-chairman David Sullivan said Lopetegui’s appointment would “ensure a strong opportunity to build on the positive progress made in recent seasons.”
The Hammers finished ninth in the Premier League in the 2023/24 season.


Cricket’s rising demands are impacting physical and mental health

Updated 23 May 2024
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Cricket’s rising demands are impacting physical and mental health

  • Against a background of outstanding achievements are cries for help by professional cricketers who want to reduce their workload

Fred Trueman of Yorkshire and England was long regarded as his nation’s greatest fast bowler. In his prime, he bowled a thousand overs for Yorkshire during a summer.

This was an era when the only cricket matches on view, apart from Tests, were three-day county championships between 17 counties. In 1964, Trueman was the first bowler to claim 300 wickets in Test matches. When asked if he thought his achievement would be beaten, his response — typical of the man — was: “Aye, but whoever does it will be very tired.”

Since then, 36 bowlers have beaten Trueman’s record. Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan claimed 800, followed by Australia’s Shane Warne with 708, and then there is England’s James Anderson, who has 700 and is due to play his last Test this year.

Anderson’s longevity and fitness is truly remarkable. He has sent down almost 40,000 deliveries in Test matches alone, the fourth highest among those taking more than three hundred wickets. He is not admitting to any tiredness and is regarded by some as having claim to be England’s finest quick bowler, rather than Trueman. Both their achievements, in different eras, are extraordinary. Trueman’s feat was accompanied by a bowling average of 21.57, only bettered by Malcom Marshall (20.94) and Curtly Ambrose (20.99). Anderson’s is 26.52.

It is against the background of these achievements that current cries for help by professional cricketers to reduce their workload should be gauged. Another of Yorkshire’s finest players is Joe Root who, in 140 Tests for England so far, has scored 11,626 runs. This puts him 10th on the all-time list of top Test run scorers. His workload has been intense for years, even more so when he captained England in 64 Tests, yet he rarely complains. Last week, however, he called for a major rethink of English cricket’s crowded schedule.

This was accompanied by the Professional Cricketers Association calling for change “before something disastrous happens.”

Based on a survey of professional male cricketers, the PCA revealed that key concerns are physical heath (81 percent), travel conditions (75 percent) and mental health (62 percent). Long-distance driving late at night, whether moving between matches or traveling home, is a particular worry. It is argued that player welfare and performance are compromised by the lack of time to recover, prepare and practice.

Professional cricket in England and Wales has a particular issue in that there are four men’s competitions shoe-horned into a window between mid-April and the end of September, with August given over entirely to The Hundred. Last year, proposals to reduce the amount of four-day county cricket and T20 cricket were rejected by the counties. Effectively, the 50 over competition has been downgraded because so few of the top players appear in it. According to Root, the objective should be to get “the standard of first-class and county cricket as close as you can to the international game.”

Professional cricketers in England and Wales have raised the issue of congested schedules and travelling pressure before. The explosion of T20 cricket in the last 20 years has increased this congestion and turned it into a more international concern. In India and Australia, for example, the distances between venues are much greater, with flying and its attendant risks additional factors.

In November 2023, during the announcement of India’s ODI squad for a series against Australia, India’s captain, Rohit Sharma, blamed excessive travel for injured players across the teams. It is in the interests of all cricket boards to narrow the gap between the standard of the breeding ground of first-class cricket and international cricket. Each one has different ways of doing so, a reflection of relative resources, geography and historic structures.

In India, reform is proposed for 2024-25. It seems likely that the Ranji Trophy, the country’s state-based long format game and the equivalent of the English county championship, will be split into two halves. White ball tournaments would be held in between. The main drivers behind this are to address variable winter weather conditions in the north and to allow longer gaps between matches to facilitate travel and recovery. This is similar reasoning to that aired by Joe Root and the PCA.

More forgiving schedules may release pressure on mental health, an often-overlooked facet of professional sport. There have been a number of high-profile cases in recent years in cricket. Azeem Rafiq’s experience of racism at Yorkshire was one. Another was Jonathan Trott, who played 52 Tests for England between 2009 and 2015. He left England’s tour of Australia in November 2013, unable to cope with the demands at that level. A man with very high levels of concentration lost them and referred to the impact of social media, saying: “People don't look you in the face and have a conversation and ask you how you are.”

Rohit Sharma, in the aftermath of India’s defeat in the 2023 ODI World Cup Final, was mentally shattered. He eschewed social media and opted out of ODI and T20I assignments against South Africa. Men’s cricket is a tough environment that appears not to appreciate that mental health issues are real. The growth of women’s cricket has brought about a change in approaches to mental health within the game. A webinar which I joined this week promoted by the Cricket Research Network discussed the different physiological challenges which women face in advancing in the game.

Quite what Fred Trueman would have made of this is an open question. He was an un-constituted menacing quick bowler who bullied opponents. It is not unreasonable to assume he would have been aghast at the notion of women playing professional cricket.

After his playing days were over, he became a pundit and commentator. His catch line was: “I don’t know what is going on.” He would be even more at a loss in today’s world of social media and Bollywood-style cricket.