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Stosur and Tomic advance in Paris

Sunday, October 13th, 2019

Australian spearheads Samantha Stosur and Bernard Tomic have safely progressed to the second round of the French Open in Paris.

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Riding high after claiming her first title of the year in Strasbourg at the weekend, Stosur downed rising American Madison Brengle 6-1 6-3 before Tomic dug in for an impressive 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4 victory over Italian qualifier Luca Vanni.

Stosur’s victory thrust the women’s 26th seed and former finalist into a meeting on Wednesday with French wildcard Amandine Hesse, who earlier eliminated Jarmila Gajdosova in three sets.

Seeded 27th in the men’s event, Tomic could face Davis Cup teammate Thanasi Kokkinakis next after grinding out just his second win in six trips to Paris – and first since 2012.

Vanni had beaten Tomic in a tough three-setter at altitude in Madrid earlier this month and threatened to get the better of him once again on Monday.

Tomic, though, hung tough and snared the decisive break in the fourth game of the pivotal third set to take control.

He broke the Italian again early in the fourth before serving out the match after two and 32 minutes.

Ajla Tomljanovic was the first Australian through to round two storming past compatriot Casey Dellacqua 6-2 6-2 in just 62 minutes.

The 22-year-old world No.58 struck 29 winners to Dellacqua’s seven to progress to a second-round showdown on Wednesday with German 11th seed Angelique Kerber.

“Casey’s a very tricky player and we’ve had some tough matches in the past so I was ready to battle today,” Tomljanovic said.

“Even if the scoreline says it was easy, it really didn’t go that way.

“I had to stay focused from the beginning and I’m very happy with this and the way I performed today.”

Coached in tandem by Samantha Stosur’s mentor David Taylor, Tomljanovic upset former world No.2 Agnieszka Radwanska en route to the last 16 in Paris last year and looms as a dark horse to make another strong run in 2015.

Like Dellacqua, Gajdosova and fellow Australian Sam Groth crashed out of the claycourt major on day two.

Gajdosova suffered a disappointing 2-6 6-3 6-2 loss to French wildcard Amandine Hesse, while her ex-husband Groth was gallant in a 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 6-3 6-3 loss to accomplished 21st seed Pablo Cuevas.

Ranked 272nd in the world, Hesse had never previously won a grand slam match before.

After taking the opening set, Gajdosova’s game dropped off as the local hope raised hers to thrill a partisan French crowd on Court 3.

Early goals seal Norwich’s win in playoff final

Sunday, October 13th, 2019

Cameron Jerome put Norwich ahead in the 12th minute before Nathan Redmond stunned Boro with a second three minutes later to see the Canaries back in the top flight after one season in the second tier.

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The Canaries, who finished the regular season in third place behind Bournemouth and Watford, beat local rivals Ipswich Town 4-2 on aggregate in their playoff semi-final to reach the Wembley final.

They can now look forward to receiving at least 120 million pounds in revenue from prize money, TV rights and sponsorship.

Norwich skipper Russell Martin told Sky Sports: “It’s emotional after last year, which was so hard to take. Middlesborugh did brilliantly this season but we put in probably our best performance of the season.”

Norwich almost opened the scoring after nine minutes when Bradley Johnson’s sweet left-foot shot from 20 metres hit the bar after Jerome completely missed the ball with his head.

Middlesbrough immediately broke down the other end and Jelle Vossen struck the angle of bar and post with a fine effort with the outside of his right foot from 25 metres.

But it was Norwich who took the lead when Jerome tucked the ball past goalkeeper Dimitrios Konstantopoulos from close range after taking the ball off Spaniard Daniel Ayala on the left.

Boro, who were late arriving at Wembley after their coach got stuck in heavy traffic, looked half asleep as Jerome was allowed to make his way unchallenged towards the near post.

Midfielder Redmond added Norwich’s second with a low right-foot strike into the far corner after controlling a cross from Steven Whittaker with his left following a fine flowing build-up.

Middlesbrough looked more dangerous after the break and began to pose some problems for Norwich with Patrick Bamford, on loan from Chelsea, at last testing goalkeeper John Ruddy.

Norwich should have scored again when Martin headed over from a corner and although Boro applied some pressure late on they never looked like salvaging anything from the match.

The win was a triumph for the Canaries’ 33-year-old manager Alex Neil, who joined the club in January from Hamilton having led the Scottish side into the top flight last year via a playoff success.

Norwich’s victory was also cheered by TV chef Delia Smith, the club’s joint majority shareholder with husband Michael Wynn Jones, who was celebrating with the Canaries fans at the end.

(Writing by Ken Ferris; Editing by Mike Collett)

Coughing Sharapova canters into French Open second round

Sunday, October 13th, 2019

The second seed, who will next face fellow Russian Vitalia Diatchenko, was barely bothered by a cold in a late-afternoon canter on Court Philippe Chatrier.

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“I’m getting over it, and hopefully it will pass by soon,” Sharapova, who warmed up for Roland Garros by winning the Italian Open, told a news conference.

Sharapova, wearing a sailor shirt and a matching blue skirt, wasted chances to move 4-0 up as Kanepi broke back to trail 3-2, but normal service soon resumed.

The double Roland Garros champion won three games in a row to win the opening set having made only four unforced errors.

Kanepi buried a backhand into the net to hand Sharapova a break in the fourth game of the second set, but the Estonian broke back as the unforced errors started to pile up on the Russian’s stats sheet.

Sharapova wasted one match point but a Kanepi double fault ensured a routine victory.

It was not too easy, however, on a windswept centre court.

“I had a tough opponent ahead of me. I knew that it was going to be tough and it wasn’t going to depend on the tennis,” she said.

“And the conditions were pretty difficult as well. So really, overall just happy I got through and have a day off tomorrow and I should be better by then.”

Sharapova wasted no time in post-match interviews to the disappointment of the crowd who booed her out of the court.

“Of course I totally understand that, you know, everyone usually does post-interviews and answers a few questions to the crowd. It’s absolutely normal,” she said.

“I’m not making any excuses but I’ve got to do what I have to do.”

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Martyn Herman and Justin Palmer)

Thurston backs NSW’s halves pairing

Sunday, October 13th, 2019

In a surprise shot in the arm for Mitchell Pearce, Queensland’s milestone man Johnathan Thurston has backed the much maligned NSW half’s switch to pivot for Wednesday night’s State of Origin opener.

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Cynics believe NSW may be at sixes and sevens with their halves after Blues coach Laurie Daley pitchforked the unproven Pearce into the untried position of five-eighth alongside incumbent Trent Hodkinson.

But Thurston admitted he was living proof that the Sydney Roosters halfback could make the Blues No.6 jersey his own.

Groomed as a pivot at his first NRL club, the Bulldogs, Thurston has interchanged between the halves positions effortlessly for the Cowboys, Queensland and Australia, claiming three Dally M Medals and eight straight Origin series wins along the way.

“Yeah, I grew up playing a lot of five-eighth, playing in that position is not unfamiliar – I was recruited by the Cowboys as a six so I am comfortable with it,” Thurston said.

And he surprisingly backed Pearce to do the same.

“They (Pearce, Hodkinson) are both quality halfbacks and have been playing some great footy over the last few weeks so I think it will work,” he said.

“And there has been a bit of hoopla over Trent so he will be confident after guiding them to a series win (last year).

“Mitchell plays on the ball, so he’ll probably direct the boys around the park.

“Trent at the Bulldogs plays out the back more, off his forwards.”

He even gave the new-look NSW halves pairing some valuable advice.

“We’ll do some video on them and come up with a game plan but communication between them in guiding the boys around is the key,” he advised.

Pearce would be forgiven for soaking up all the information he can get from Thurston, who celebrates a record 31st straight Origin on Wednesday night.

Pearce has not played five-eighth since schoolboy football.

If that tidbit had not raised a chuckle in the Maroons camp, a “highlights” reel of Pearce’s Origin gaffes uploaded on YouTube before the season opener surely would have.

To put Pearce’s past Origin frustrations in perspective, the footage goes for six, solid minutes.

Oh, and he has never featured in a winning Origin series.

He is back after being overlooked for the entire 2014 series due to his involvement in a Sydney nightclub incident in the weeks leading up to the Origin opener last year.

Dramatic derby win sends Roma into Champions League

Sunday, October 13th, 2019

Central defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa was the unlikely hero as he headed the winner five minutes from the end of a feisty encounter that produced eight yellow cards, several skirmishes between players and numerous protests.

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Third-placed Lazio, who needed a draw to make sure of a place in the Champions League playoff round, now have their hopes of qualifying in the balance while the chances of Napoli, who are fourth, have been rekindled.

The two sides meet in Naples on Sunday with the hosts needing a win to pip Lazio for third place and qualify at their expense.

Juan Iturbe put Roma ahead in the 73rd minute with his first goal since October before Filip Djordjevic headed Lazio level eight minutes later in a thrilling finale.

Earlier, Miroslav Klose had an excellent chance for Lazio after five minutes but the former Germany forward headed wide when he looked certain to score.

Tempers flared after Lazio midfielder Senad Lulic cynically felled Iturbe with a tackle from behind but, despite Roma players surrounding the referee demanding a red card, the Bosnian escaped with a booking.

Roma players were again demanding a red card for Lulic after he fouled Francesco Totti early in the second half. The referee was again unmoved and instead booked Vasilis Torosidis for dissent.

Lulic was substituted minutes later.

Miralem Pjanic injected new life into Roma when he came on in the 68th minute.

Victor Ibarbo, who replaced a lacklustre Totti, somehow fired wide from six metres when he was left unmarked but almost immediately made amends by producing a low cross that Iturbe turned in for Roma’s opening goal.

Roma appeared to be on top until Felipe Anderson floated a cross to Klose at the far post and he nodded the ball on for Djordjevic to equalise.

Yanga-Mbiwa was at fault for that goal, allowing Djordjevic to get free, but made amends by heading in from Pjanic’s free kick to ensure that Roma would finish second behind champions Juventus.

(Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Tony Jimenez)

Stokes leads England to dramatic win at Lord’s

Sunday, September 8th, 2019

The fiery all-rounder dismissed Kane Williamson for 27 and Brendon McCullum for a golden duck before a defiant sixth-wicket partnership of 107 between Corey Anderson and BJ Watling gave New Zealand hope of salvaging a draw.

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But Mark Wood removed Watling for 59, Anderson was lbw to Joe Root for 67 and England quickly got rid of Mark Craig and Tim Southee.

Last-wicket-pair Matt Henry and Trent Boult survived for eight overs amid mounting tension before the latter was brilliantly caught at third man by a diving Moeen Ali off Stuart Broad as the Kiwis were bowled out for 220.

New Zealand, chasing 345 for victory, collapsed to 12 for three before lunch but Williamson and Watling lifted them to 61 for three.

Stokes, who struck the fastest test century at the home of cricket on Sunday, had the obdurate Williamson caught by Root in the slips for 27 before bowling captain McCullum with a venomous delivery that cut back sharply.

Anderson survived the hat-trick ball and immediately went on the attack, hitting Stokes for two fours and a six, and he continued to play positively alongside the more circumspect Watling as New Zealand took tea on 134 for five.

Wood broke the partnership when Watling gloved a fast straight delivery to wicketkeeper Jos Buttler and Anderson was trapped by Root.

Stokes returned to bowl Craig for four with a rapid full-pitched delivery and Southee was caught and bowled by Moeen for 20.

James Anderson and Broad had ripped out the top order to give England the scent of victory before lunch.

Martin Guptill edged Anderson’s second ball of the innings to Gary Ballance at third slip.

Broad trapped Tom Latham lbw with his first delivery to reduce the touring side to nought for two and he also dismissed Ross Taylor in the same manner as New Zealand slumped to 12 for three.

Earlier, Kiwi left-armer Boult picked up the last four wickets in under an hour as England were bowled out for 478.

The hosts resumed on 429 for six and Boult had captain Alastair Cook caught by wicketkeeper Latham for 162 before bowling Broad for 10.

Moeen was lbw for 43 and Anderson was bowled for nought to give Boult figures of five for 85 in the innings and nine wickets in the match.

(Editing by Justin Palmer)

Coric leads teenage assault on Roland Garros

Sunday, September 8th, 2019

Coric, who plays with a maturity way beyond his years and is already in the world’s top 50, beat experienced American Sam Querrey in four sets while wildcard Kokkinakis, one of his country’s exciting brigade of young guns, battled past Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili, also in four.

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Tiafoe, who only turned 17 in January and is the youngest of the seven teenagers in the main draw, found his first grand slam appearance a chastening one as he lost 6-2 6-1 6-4 to hard-hitting Slovakian Martin Klizan.

“It was great. I had a blast. I didn’t play my best today. Hopefully I can play again in the main draw next year,” wide-eyed wildcard Tiafoe, looking every bit the nervy teenager, said in front of the world’s media.

“It’s definitely different, walking around, seeing the greats in the locker room.

“But it’s great. Definitely fun.”

Tiafoe will be one to watch in the future but Coric is already looking like the real deal, with comparisons already being made to a young Novak Djokovic.

The 18-year-old, also making his debut at Roland Garros having rapidly scaled the ATP rankings to reach 46th, looked like a seasoned professional, saving a set point in the opener on his way to a 7-6(8) 6-3 0-6 6-3 victory over Querrey.

Apart from a wobble in the third set Coric had too much craft for the world number 38.

“It’s for sure a motivation, it gives you more self-belief to know that someone else who’s your age can do it,” Coric said of the new brigade.

Spanish claycourt specialist Tommy Robredo waits in the next round, although with a win against Nadal and Murray already on his CV, Coric will not go in to that clash feeling daunted.

Nick Kyrgios, 20, is already established as head boy in Australia’s new golden generation after his stunning Wimbledon upset of Nadal last year, but Kokkinakis, 19, looks like keeping him company in the years ahead.

Already up to 84th in the rankings after winning his first claycourt title, a Challenger in Bordeaux this month, he delighted a sizeable Aussie contingent with some dazzling tennis against Basilashvili.

Fellow Aussie Bernard Tomic, himself only 22, is next.

“Feel like I’m playing good enough tennis to knock him off. Should be a good match,” Kokkinakis said.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Justin Palmer)

Stosur keen to come up for air

Sunday, September 8th, 2019

Samantha Stosur expressed relief at overcoming a frantic French Open build-up to safely progress to the second round at Roland Garros for the 10th time.

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Stosur’s 6-1 6-3 dispatch of American Madison Brengle on Monday edged the in-form 26th seed to within a win of a likely third-round confrontation with defending champion Maria Sharapova.

The former runner-up and two-time semi-finalist will be a raging favourite to keep up her end of the bargain with victory over lowly-ranked French qualifier Amandine Hesse on Wednesday.

But before plotting a path past the world No.272, Stosur was eager to come up for air.

Stosur’s last-minute acceptance of a wildcard into Strasbourg may have yielded a morale-boosting first title of the season, but it also left the Australian No.1 in mad scramble to make it to Paris.

She only arrived at midnight on Saturday before squeezing in brief practise session on Sunday and hitting Court 3 for her tournament opener less than 24 hours later.

The former US Open champion hadn’t even unpacked before powering past Brengle, the world No.36, in barely an hour.

“I have done a few loads of washing and there is stuff everywhere. I need to go to the supermarket to get some food,” Stosur said.

“You feel like everything has been kind of a whirlwind. Obviously this was a very quick turnaround, coming here and then playing straight away, so it was nice to get through this one.

“Now I feel like I can practice and then settle in, do a few things and then take it from there.”

Stosur’s resurgence since reuniting with long-time coach David Taylor last month – after falling out of the top 20 for the first time in five years – has raised hopes of another title push on her favourite claycourt surface.

“I have played some of my best tennis here. I like the court and the surface and everything else,” she said.

“Having said that, I have also had some disappointing experiences as well, so it doesn’t mean that is all plain sailing and that you are rolling in and everything is fantastic.

“But I know that my game suits here, if I can put it all together and keep doing what I am doing, I know that I can do well.”

Sharapova and Murray show off title credentials

Sunday, September 8th, 2019

Defending champion Sharapova was nursing a cold but opened her bid for a third Roland Garros title in four years with a 6-2 6-4 victory over Estonian Kaia Kanepi on a breezy Court Phillipe Chatrier.

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Men’s third seed Murray then took his winning streak on the red dust to 11 matches by overpowering Argentine lucky loser Facundo Arguello 6-3 6-3 6-1, maintaining his unbeaten run since marrying long-term partner Kim Sears.

Sharapova, who was also champion in 2012 and runner-up in 2013 despite an intense dislike for the surface earlier in her illustrious career, produced her usual power tennis to ease through to the second round.

It was not a perfect performance, perhaps due to the cough that was troubling her, but she never looked in danger as she set up a meeting with fellow Russian Vitalia Diatchenko.

Sharapova left to a few boos though after declining an on-court interview.

“Unless I’m really in my coffin I’m going to be out there,” she told reporters. “I got sick a week before the tournament, not right before.

“I guess it’s a little bit better timing but it’s just the way it is. I’m getting over it, hopefully it will pass soon.”

DARK HORSE

The world number two is in the opposite side of the draw to her old nemesis, top seed Serena Williams, and will need to be 100 percent to negotiate her way through to the final.

Former runner-up Samantha Stosur, an easy winner against American Madison Brengle, could await in the third round while eighth seed Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain, tipped as a dark horse for the title, is a possible foe in the quarter-finals.

Suarez Navarro beat Monica Niculescu of Romania 6-2 6-2 but several seeds tumbled on day two in swanky western Paris.

Spain’s Feliciano Lopez, the men’s 11th seed, became the highest casualty so far, losing 6-3 7-6 (9) 6-3 to Russian Teymuraz Gabashvili while women’s 14th seed Agnieszka Radwanska’s slump continued as the former world number two succumbed 6-2 3-6 6-1 to Germany’s Annika Beck.

American veteran Venus Williams, seeded 15, also lost, although a 7-6 (5) 6-1 defeat by compatriot Sloane Stephens barely registered on the shock scale.

With nine-times champion Rafa Nadal and top seed Novak Djokovic keeping their powder dry until Tuesday, Murray joined Roger Federer in getting a head start with a confident display on Court Phillipe Chatrier.

There were a few early nerves, a double-fault in the opening game giving Arguello a break point that he could not convert and again when he allowed his 137th-ranked opponent to recover from 3-0 down to level at 3-3 in the first set.

Once Murray, twice a French Open semi-finalist, broke in the eighth game though he was untroubled.

“I hope (nerves) are always there,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time I played a first-round match in a slam and did not feel nervous.”

Murray was joined in the second round by fourth seed Tomas Berdych who beat Yoshihito Nishioka 6-0 7-5 6-3.

Nishioka was one of seven teenagers in the men’s draw, two of whom produced excellent wins on Monday.

Croatian Borna Coric, 18, beat American Sam Querrey 7-6 (8) 6-3 0-6 6-3 while Australian wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis, 19, put out Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili.

Kokkinakis will face countryman Bernard Tomic next.

Nick Kyrgios, yet another Aussie young gun, lived up to his 29th seeding by breezing past Denis Istomin.

Home crowds flocking in to the grounds had plenty to cheer too with French number one Alize Cornet opening proceedings on centre court with a fighting 4-6 6-4 6-1 triumph over Italian Roberta Vinci and the ever-popular Gael Monfils, the 13th seed, defeating compatriot Edouard Roger-Vasselin.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

Stephens downs Venus to advance into Paris round two

Sunday, September 8th, 2019

It was not a major surprise though as Stephens has reached the fourth round of the claycourt grand slam in the past three years.

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She will face Briton Heather Watson next.

Seven-times grand slam champion Williams, whose best result in Paris is a runner-up spot in 2002 but had not gone past the second round in the last four years, made the better start, opening a 2-0 lead but Stephens proved more accurate.

The 22-year-old broke back and sent the opening set into a tiebreak, which she easily won as her opponent, whom she had never met, netted a forehand.

The 34-year-old Williams never recovered and looked short of energy in the second set as Stephens raced to a 3-0 lead and never looked back, ending the baseline contest with an ace.

“I feel like I had some good practices coming into Roland Garros but sometimes things don’t always work out the way you would like,” said Williams.

Stephens’s biggest fright of the match came in the second game of the second set, when a pigeon came down flying past her as she was about to receive a serve.

“First of all, I didn’t know what it was,” an amused Stephens, who reached the semi-finals at the Strasbourg Internationals last week, told a news conference.

“I thought it was way closer to me than it actually was. So that was why I screamed so loud. And I don’t know, in the moment, things just happen and it was just scary and I was like, ahhh and a scream came out.

“And then she probably wasn’t happy because she probably would have hit an ace and it was just a weird moment.”

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Martyn Herman and Justin Palmer)