Zverev beats injury scare to reach Rome Open semis as Collins sets up Sabalenka clash

Germany's Alexander Zverev returns to Taylor Fritz of the US during their quarterfinal match in the ATP Rome Open tennis tournament at Foro Italico in Rome on May 15, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 16 May 2024

Zverev beats injury scare to reach Rome Open semis as Collins sets up Sabalenka clash

  • Zverev is the highest-ranked man left in the event after Daniil Medvedev’s elimination on Tuesday
  • Tabilo will play his first-ever Masters 1000 semifinal at the age of 26, after seeing off unseeded Zhang Zhizhen of China 6-3, 6-4

ROME: Alexander Zverev reached his 18th Masters semifinal in Rome on Wednesday but only after a worrying fall which sparked memories of the horror injury he suffered at the French Open two years ago.

The world No. 5 from Germany defeated Taylor Fritz 6-4, 6-3 to set up a last-four duel with Alejandro Tabilo, the Chilean journeyman who had stunned Novak Djokovic earlier in the tournament.

Zverev’s moment of concern came in just the third game on center court at the Foro Italico when he fell on the clay and landed on his front.

The 2017 champion cut his left wrist and a finger in the tumble and required treatment from the tournament physio before he continued the match.

Zverev, 27, suffered a serious ankle injury at the 2022 French Open after falling on the clay of Roland Garros during his semifinal against Rafael Nadal and missed the rest of the season.

On Wednesday, however, he was able to dust himself down to defeat Fritz in 90 minutes, firing 20 winners with six aces and not facing a single break point.

“Taylor has been one of the best players on clay this year. To have a win like that is great for me, especially after the fall,” Zverev said.

“I still have a little bit of pain, so once the adrenaline settles I’m going to check out tomorrow what it is. But definitely happy with the win.”

Zverev is the highest-ranked man left in the event after Daniil Medvedev’s elimination on Tuesday.

As well as Djokovic’s exit, Italian world No. 2 Jannik Sinner and third-ranked Carlos Alcaraz both dropped out injured before the tournament.

Holger Rune, who lost last year’s final to Medvedev, Madrid champion Andrey Rublev — ranked sixth in the world — and beaten finalist Felix Auger-Aliassime have also been eliminated.

Chile’s Tabilo will play his first-ever Masters 1000 semifinal at the age of 26, after seeing off unseeded Zhang Zhizhen of China 6-3, 6-4 in one hour and 26 minutes.

“I just can’t believe it right now, still trying to soak this in... Definitely an unforgettable two weeks for me,” said a delighted Tabilo, the 29th seed who knocked out top-ranked Djokovic on Sunday.

“It’s definitely the best tennis of my life right now, trying to keep a poker face there because inside I’m just so nervous, every time trying to close out the match gets a little bit tighter.”

Tabilo, in fact, had far less trouble on Wednesday than he did in his battle with Karen Khachanov in the previous round, not facing a single break point on his way to the biggest match of his career at the last major tournament before the French Open.

Women’s second seed Aryna Sabalenka needed just an hour and 13 minutes to see off Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-4 on her way to the semis, improving her record against her Latvian opponent to three wins and no defeats.

Sabalenka will next take on Miami Open winner Danielle Collins who eased past Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 6-3.

“With this amazing atmosphere and with this amazing support... that’s why I’m super motivated here and that’s why I always say that this is the dream tournament for me to win,” said Sabalenka.

The 26-year-old could get a rematch of the Madrid final which she lost in dramatic fashion to world number one Iga Swiatek earlier this month.

Sabalenka, who has won the two most recent Australian Opens, was in a different class to Ostapenko, a former French Open winner, who could do nothing in the face of some punishing hitting.

Rome is the first time since the 2013 French Open that the top three women have reached the last four of a WTA event of 250 level or higher, with Swiatek and world number three Coco Gauff in the other semifinal on Thursday.

The 30-year-old Collins, ranked 15 in the world, announced in January that this would be her final season on the tour before retiring.

She now has 19 wins in her last 20 matches, dating back to the start of Miami where she captured her first WTA 1000 title.

Her only loss since came against Sabalenka in three sets in the fourth round of the Madrid Open.

McIlroy fires bogey-free 65 to share US Open lead with Cantlay

Updated 5 sec ago

McIlroy fires bogey-free 65 to share US Open lead with Cantlay

  • “I’m delighted with the start,” McIlroy said

PINEHURST, US: Rory McIlroy sank a birdie putt from just inside 20 feet at the 18th hole to finish a five-under-par 65 first round and match Patrick Cantlay for the lead at the US Open on Thursday.
World number three McIlroy, chasing his first major victory since the 2014 PGA Championship, delivered a bogey-free round at Pinehurst, defying its dome-shaped greens, sandy waste areas and wiregrass.
“I’m delighted with the start,” McIlroy said.
“As the week goes on the golf course is going to get a bit faster and a bit firey, but right now, there’s opportunities out there and thankfully I was able to take advantage of them.
“I think more so this championship than the others, getting off to a good start is really important to try to keep yourself up there. Because you need to give yourself as much of a cushion as possible knowing what’s lurking around the corner.”
America’s ninth-ranked Cantlay, a back-nine starter, birdied three of his last five holes for an early 65 and with McIlroy took a one-stroke lead over Sweden’s sixth-ranked Ludvig Aberg, Masters runner-up in his major debut, with France’s Matthieu Pavon and American Bryson DeChambeau sharing fourth on 67.
“It’s the US Open. It’s supposed to be hard,” Aberg said. “That’s what we’re doing here.”
McIlroy, a 30-year-old from Northern Ireland, sank a seven-foot birdie putt at the fourth hole then chipped in brilliantly from just off the green for a birdie at the par-5 fifth.
The four-time major winner added a birdie putt from just inside seven feet at the par-5 10th then birdied two of the last three holes, sinking an 11-footer at the par-4 16th and then his tension-packed putt at 18.
“I think the one thing we got a little lucky with today was the cloud cover, so the golf course didn’t get as fiery as I expected it to get this afternoon,” McIlroy said.
“The nice thing is to go out there and take advantage of the conditions and get back out in the morning and try to keep the momentum going.”
McIlroy was second in last year’s US Open, his fifth top-10 effort in a row at the US Open with each better than the last.
An afternoon feature group with the world’s three top players was dominated by McIlroy, with world number one Scottie Scheffler, the Masters champion, firing a 71 and second-ranked Xander Schauffele, who won last month’s PGA Championship, on 70.
Scheffler has five PGA Tour wins this year, the most by any player at this stage since Tom Watson in 1980.
Schauffele snapped a two-year win drought last month with his first major triumph.
Cantlay, seeking his first major triumph, and McIlroy matched the low US Open rounds at Pinehurst, two 65s by Martin Kaymer on his way to victory in 2014.
“Played pretty solid most of the way,” Cantlay said. “The golf course played pretty difficult. But drove it well. Lot of balls on the fairways. Left the ball in the right spots, for the most part.”
Cantlay, the 2021 PGA Tour playoff champion, is a contender for a US berth at the Paris Olympics but must finish no worse than second this week to have a chance.
Aberg sank a six-foot birdie putt at the par-3 ninth to finish on 66 with six birdies and two bogeys.
“Very nice round of golf,” Aberg said. “Not a lot to complain about.”
DeChambeau, last month’s PGA Championship runner-up and the 2020 US Open champion, made a three-foot birdie putt at 13, holed out for birdie from 52 feet at 18 and birdied the fifth after putting his tee shot way right into trees.
Pavon, ranked 24th, soared with eagles at the par-5 fifth on an 18-foot putt and on a 27-foot putt at the par-5 10th hole.
“I made my four best swings of the day on the par-5s and dropped two putts,” Pavon said. “It gave me a little bit of freedom.”
Five-time major winner Brooks Koepka and seventh-ranked Collin Morikawa, a two-time major winner, were among those on 70.
Tiger Woods, a 15-time major winner, struggled to a 74. He had five bogeys in a seven-hole stretch starting at the 16th after teeing off on the back nine.

England thrash Oman to revive T20 World Cup campaign

Updated 14 June 2024

England thrash Oman to revive T20 World Cup campaign

ST. JOHN’S, Antigua and Barbuda: England thrashed Oman by eight wickets as the reigning champions revived their T20 World Cup campaign with a record-breaking success in Antigua on Thursday.
Needing a heavy win to bolster their net run-rate (NRR) as they attempt to overhaul Scotland in the race to qualify for the second-round Super Eights, England dismissed Oman for just 47.
England then made 50-2 in a mere 3.1 overs, captain Jos Buttler 24 not out and Jonny Bairstow, who hit the winning boundary, unbeaten on eight.
This overwhelming Group B victory meant England recorded the largest win in T20 World Cup history in terms of balls remaining.
Oman had no answer to England’s combination of spin and pace, leg-break bowler Adil Rashid taking 4-11 from his four overs, while express quicks Jofra Archer and Mark Wood both had figures of 3-12 in an innings that ended with nearly seven overs to spare.
Number seven Shoaib Khan (11) was the only Oman batsman to reach double figures after Buttler won the toss.
Significantly, England’s NRR climbed to 3.081, better than Scotland’s 2.16. England, however, stayed third on three points, behind Scotland’s five.
Already-eliminated Oman, who ended the tournament having lost all four of the games, just scraped past the record lowest completed total of 39 at any T20 World Cup, posted by fellow-non Test nation Uganda against co-hosts West Indies in Guyana last week.
Archer did the early damage with 2-12 in nine balls.
Oman then lost two wickets in Wood’s first over as they slumped to 25-4 in six overs.
The very next delivery wicketkeeper Buttler luckily removed the bails at the second attempt to stump Khalid Kail off Rashid’s first ball Thursday as wickets continued to tumble.
Phil Salt struck the first two balls of England’s chase for six, only to be bowled off the third by Bilal Khan, but his side were on their way.
England, beaten by Australia after their group game with Scotland was abandoned due to rain, play Namibia on Saturday.
Australia and Scotland, however, will meet on Sunday after England have completed their group games.

Nagelsmann urges Germany to harness the ‘privilege of pressure’

Updated 13 June 2024

Nagelsmann urges Germany to harness the ‘privilege of pressure’

  • “I think it’s normal that you feel a little bit of pressure before a tournament and before important games like these,” the 36-year-old told reporters
  • “We will work out the pressure and we will work out Scotland“

MUNICH: Germany coach Julian Nagelsmann said his side needed to use the pressure of hosting Euro 2024 to their advantage ahead of Friday’s tournament opener against Scotland in Munich.
This summer’s hosts are three-time winners of the European Championship but have endured a poor time since reaching the semifinals at Euro 2016.
Since that tournament, the Germans were eliminated twice at the group stage of the World Cup, and lost to England in the last 16 at the Euros in 2021.
Admitting to being a “little nervous” ahead of his first game coaching Germany at a major tournament, Nagelsmann said he told his players to embrace the pressure in front of their home fans.
“I think it’s normal that you feel a little bit of pressure before a tournament and before important games like these,” the 36-year-old told reporters on Thursday.
“Ultimately for me it’s the most important theme, when I speak with my players, that pressure is a form of privilege.
“We need to simply enjoy being on the pitch. That’s very important. Our players started playing when they were young. They love it (football).
“If you do it that way, you’re doing it right.”
“We will work out the pressure and we will work out Scotland,” he added.
Nagelsmann shed light on the process of bringing veteran midfielder Toni Kroos, who retired from international duty in 2021, back into the squad. Nagelsmann revealed it took a while to convince the 2014 World Cup winner to return.
“It took a period of time to convince him because he wanted to know what we’ll change in the future,” explained Nagelsmann.
“He said he’ll only be part of the team when he feels we can win, so he wanted to know how we’ll change the team.
“Then he said he’ll be part of it and ‘let’s rock’.”
Nagelsmann was wary of Scotland, saying Steve Clarke’s side were not the “kick and rush” team of the past.
“They have flair and good physicality. They may not be full of superstars, but that can make them dangerous.”

Ukraine arrive at Euro 2024 to a patriotic welcome and vivid reminder of the war at home

Updated 13 June 2024

Ukraine arrive at Euro 2024 to a patriotic welcome and vivid reminder of the war at home

  • “We need to talk about this,” coach Serhiy Rebrov said
  • This tournament is “100 percent” different and special, Zinchenko said

WIESBADEN, Germany: With patriotic songs broadcast and thousands of exiled Ukrainians in the stadium, the men’s national team was made to feel at home at their first training in Germany for the European Championship.
After the national anthem played, and before the warmups began, there was a vivid reminder of the war at home that is a constant and uniting force for this Ukraine squad.
Each player had a ball to give to a fan and Oleksandr Zinchenko presented his to a military veteran who had prosthetic legs below each knee.
Near the downtown stadium of Wehen Wiesbaden is the United States military headquarters in Germany which is coordinating the delivery of weapons and other aid from Ukraine’s allies to fight against the Russian invasion. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Wiesbaden six months ago.
It is a subject the Ukraine team want to address, and hope Euro 2024 watched worldwide will help put on center stage.
“We need to talk about this,” coach Serhiy Rebrov said. “I know that some people are tired about the news of the war, but we are continuing to fight, and we need your support.”
“It’s very important that Ukraine is represented in the Euro because we, all Ukrainians, we want to be in (the) European family,” said the former national team star who also played in England and Russia, and coached in Hungary. “On the war we are fighting for all Europe.”
Zinchenko was in the Ukraine team that reached the quarterfinals of Euro 2021, the pandemic-delayed tournament. That was the last European summer before the Russians attacked.
This tournament is “100 percent” different and special, Zinchenko said.
“There are still people dying for no reason and we have to stick together,” said the Arsenal player, stressing that what the players have lived through does not compare to fighters on the front lines and their families.
“For them it is super difficult, for us it’s obviously extra motivation. We all know who is behind us. We need to show our best performance,” Zinchenko said.
Ukraine first play on Monday against Romania in Munich. Four days later, Ukraine play Slovakia in Duesseldorf then finish in Group F against favored Belgium on June 26 in Stuttgart.
Preparation for those games started in earnest on Thursday morning after a formal welcome on the field by politicians from the region where Wiesbaden is the state capital.
The 4,000 fans in the stadium gave standing ovations to greet different groups of players as they passed by doing light warmup runs in laps of the field.
“In Germany, the Ukrainian community is everywhere. We were very happy with everything here,” said Rebrov, one day after the squad arrived.
At home, the country is under constant threat of Russian bombs targeting the people and essential infrastructure for daily life like the power grid.
“I hope when we play the games,” midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi said, “people in Ukraine have lights to watch the games on TV.”
For the past 10 years, Ukrainian champion Shakhtar Donetsk has been unable to play games in its home city because of the conflict in the country’s east involving Russian-backed separatists.
Ukraine midfielder Taras Stepanenko has stayed with Shakhtar through the whole decade, including playing Champions League ‘home’ games this season in Germany. He said on Thursday, “We deserve to be here for our people.
“Every day people die, cities destroyed. Every day when we wake up, we read the news about what the situation is in Ukraine,” said the 34-year-old player appearing at his third straight Euros.
“Every day, I see on my phone screen, messages about air (raids). So, every morning I phone my parents to ask if everything is OK,” Stepanenko added. “We live in this condition almost three years. It’s so difficult.”

Dutch players cut short postseason vacations to answer emergency call at Euro 2024

Updated 13 June 2024

Dutch players cut short postseason vacations to answer emergency call at Euro 2024

  • “And I just had to pack my stuff as quickly as possible and come,” said Maatsen
  • Bologna forward Zirkzee posted a photo of himself smiling broadly on Instagram with the text: “When you get the call to leave Disney for the Euros”

DORTMUND: One of the players was on a boat on a Greek island. The other was in Disney World in Florida.
Yet neither Ian Maatsen nor Joshua Zirkzee had any hesitation answering the emergency call from the Netherlands at the European Championship.
“It’s a childhood dream to be here — it’s definitely worth the return trip,” said Maatsen, the left back who was on vacation in Mykonos with his girlfriend when he was summoned by Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman to replace Frenkie de Jong.
“I suddenly received a call,” he added on Thursday. “And I just had to pack my stuff as quickly as possible and come.”
Maatsen was on loan at Borussia Dortmund from Chelsea in the recently completed season and helped the German club reach the Champions League final, where they lost to Real Madrid on June 1.
He was named in UEFA’s Champions League team of the season and will give Koeman an extra option on the left flank, where he is set to challenge Daley Blind for a starting spot.
“I did enjoy my holiday and processed everything well, including the disappointment of the Champions League final,” he said.
As for Zirkzee, he cut short his postseason vacation in Florida to head to the Netherlands’ base in Wolfsburg after another striker in the squad, Brian Brobbey, hurt a hamstring in training.
After hearing of his call-up, Bologna forward Zirkzee posted a photo of himself smiling broadly on Instagram with the text: “When you get the call to leave Disney for the Euros.”
Zirkzee has never played an international for the Netherlands’ senior team. He joined the Bayern Munich youth academy and played a handful of games for the German powerhouse before moving on loan to Parma then Anderlecht before signing for Bologna in 2022.
The Netherlands open their Euro 2024 campaign on Sunday against Poland in Hamburg.