Spanish giant-killer strikes again in Monte Carlo

Albert Ramos-Vinolas plays a shot to Martin Cilic during the Monte Carlo Masters in Monaco on Friday. (Reuters)
Updated 21 April 2017
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Spanish giant-killer strikes again in Monte Carlo

MONTE CARLO: Albert Ramos-Vinolas scored his second straight upset at the Monte Carlo Masters as the 15th seed beat tournament No.5 Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2 on Friday.
After dumping out world No.1 Andy Murray in the third round the day before, the diminutive Spaniard returned to knock-out mode as he tamed Cilic to surge into the first Masters 1000 semifinal of his career.
He will Saturday face Frenchman Lucas Pouille who came from behind in the final set to overhaul Pablo Cuevas 6-0, 3-6, 7-5 in two hours; the Uruguayan lost serve seven times.
“I know Pouille, he’s a young player coming very strong. It will be super difficult,” Ramos-Vinolas said.
The Spanish surprise winner remains perplexed at the source of his top form.
“To be honest, I think I’m playing good. I’m competing very good. But I cannot tell you exactly what’s happening,” the 29-year-old said.
“I played good tournaments in South America in February on clay. Here I’m playing really good, competing all the points. I cannot really tell you what is happening.”
Cilic led their series 3-1 going in, but the Croatian fell victim to a few dozen forehand errors as his big game never truly gained traction in the battle over two and a half hours on the Monte Carlo clay.
Meanwhile, Maria Sharapova will find out the week starting May 15 if she can compete at the French Open, which starts two weeks later, the French Tennis Federation said.
The five-time Grand Slam winner and former world No. 1 returns to competition next week as a wild card in Stuttgart’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.
The Russian was suspended after testing positive for heart drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open. The ban was reduced from two years to 15 months last October by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Meldonium, which was previously legal, was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) earlier that year, but Sharapova claims she missed the memo instructing her to stop using it.
Her suspension ends on the third day of the Stuttgart tournament, meaning she won’t be allowed even to play before Wednesday.
Top-ranked players Angelique Kerber and Andy Murray are among those who have questioned whether Sharapova should be allowed to resume her career in main draws without playing her way back through qualifiers. Sharapova has also been handed a wild card into the Italian Open in Rome next month.
Now the French Open and possibly Wimbledon must decide whether to give an entry to Sharapova, a former champion of both Grand Slams.
The FFT said in an e-mail response to The Associated Press that “the decision will be taken the week of (Monday) May 15,” without giving further details.
Sharapova, who has titles at all four majors, won at Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014.
The 30-year-old Sharapova was among more than 100 athletes who tested positive after meldonium was banned in sport last year.
Most of those were cleared because of evidence they stopped taking meldonium before it was banned, though Sharapova was suspended because she took it after the cutoff date.
Numerous claims have been made over recent decades about meldonium, which is marketed for sufferers from heart and circulatory conditions, including that it can increase physical and mental endurance.
However, Russian officials have said it is not performance-enhancing for sports, arguing it prevents heart attacks under extreme stress.
Sharapova said last year she used it for 10 years for reasons including a magnesium deficiency, irregular heart test results, and a family history of diabetes.


Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir ‘100 percent ready’ to face England, says coach

Updated 23 May 2018
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Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir ‘100 percent ready’ to face England, says coach

  • Left-armer is fit after a knee injury
  • “He’s fine, he’s ready to go,” says team coach Mickey Arthur

LONDON: Pakistan spearhead Mohammad Amir is “100 percent ready” for the first Test against England at Lord’s starting on Thursday despite a knee injury, according to team coach Mickey Arthur.
The left-arm fast bowler was seen stretching out his right knee as Pakistan beat Test debutants Ireland by five wickets during a one-off match in Malahide, Dublin concluded last week.
Pakistan bowling coach Azhar Mahmood suggested Amir had suffered a recurrence of a “chronic” problem.
But head coach Arthur, speaking to reporters at Lord’s on Tuesday, had no qualms about the fitness of Amir.
“He’s perfect, 100 percent,” Arthur insisted. “He’s fine, he’s ready to go.”
As for Amir, missing Pakistan’s final warm-up match ahead of the two-Test England series, last weekend’s drawn match against Leicestershire, Arthur added: “It was his rotation. (Mohammad) Abbas sat out the first (tour) game, Hasan (Ali) sat out the second, so he sat out the third.”
Amir was the hottest property in world cricket after bursting on the scene as a teenager in 2009 and at 18 he was the youngest bowler to have taken 50 Test wickets.
But his world was turned upside down in 2010 when he became involved in a spot-fixing scandal after deliberately bowling no-balls during the Lord’s Test against England — an incident that would eventually see him sent to prison by an English court and given a five-year ban by the International Cricket Council.
Amir’s first 14 Tests saw him take 51 wickets at just a fraction over 23 apiece, figures that had him on course to be an all-time great.
But the 17 Tests since his comeback two years ago have seen him take 49 wickets at a more expensive average of 34.91
Amir, and Pakistan for that matter, have not been helped by the fact that those 17 Tests since 2016 have also seen 16 catches dropped off his bowling.
The stigma of his spot-fixing exile has started to fade, with Amir playing for Pakistan during their 2-2 draw in a four-Test series in England two years ago.
He also starred for Essex as they won English domestic cricket’s first-class County Championship title last season.
Now the 26-year-old Amir is set to be the leader of an inexperienced Pakistan attack.
England, who didn’t manage a single win during their recent seven combined Tests in Australia and New Zealand, collapsed to 58 all out in Auckland in March as Kiwi left-arm quick Trent Boult took six wickets.
And Arthur backed Amir to do similar damage
“I think Mohammad Amir is the finest exponent of pace and swing when he gets it 100 percent right,” Arthur said.
“We’ve used that spell that Trent Boult bowled in Auckland. We’ve had a look at his lengths.
“We believe he (Amir) bowls incredibly well at left-handers and there will be three left-handers (Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan) in the (England) top four.
“He’s ready, I just hope it goes really well for him because he’s been unlucky at times with the amount of dropped catches.
“He’s ready, he’s determined, he’s fit, he’s strong, he’s excited, he’s in a very good place at the moment.”
Arthur is unusual in having served as the head coach of three leading nations — his native South Africa, Australia and Pakistan.
But he was adamant he had no desire to replace Trevor Bayliss when the Australian steps down as England coach next year.
“No, I’m very happy,” Arthur said. “I’d like to keep going with Pakistan for as long as they will have me because it’s unfinished business for us at the moment. This is a very young cricket team and I worry if we move on what happens to these guys. Their fitness regime is outstanding, they are training hard and they are enjoying their cricket. I’m very, very happy with where I am at the moment,” he insisted.