Halep advances but Nadal, Pliskova postponed by rain

Simona Halep of Romania returns a shot to Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia during Day 6 of the Western and Southern Open at the Linder Family Tennis Center on Thursday in Mason, Ohio. (AFP)
Updated 19 August 2017
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Halep advances but Nadal, Pliskova postponed by rain

CINCINNATI: Rafael Nadal and Karolina Pliskova, the number one seeds at the WTA and ATP Cincinnati Masters, never got a chance to break a sweat before play was halted Thursday at the rain-hit tournament.
Czech defending champion Pliskova led Italian qualifier Camila Giorgi 3-0 when play was suspended while former and future world No. 1 Nadal and compatriot Albert Ramos-Vinolas never started their third-round match before the final drenching began.
Court conditions more suitable for Olympic swim star Michael Phelps than tennis stars had US 14th seed John Isner, who beat teen Frances Tiafoe 7-6 (7/4), 7-5, happy he snuck in a win between storms.
“Very happy to be off the court,” he said. “We could have easily, if I didn’t break at 5-all, we could be 2-all in a tie-breaker right now, not finishing. That would suck.”
Second-ranked Simona Halep of Romania charged closer to taking the world number one ranking from Pliskova by beating Latvian 15th seed Anastasija Sevastova 6-4, 6-3 to reach the quarter-finals.
“I’m not playing my best tennis in this moment but I’m still winning,” Halep said. “I win against the 15th player in the world playing not like I want and I’m really happy about it.”
But five matches were pushed to Friday, when double duty could come for Nadal, the 15-time Grand Slam champion assured of returning to world number one next week.
Nadal was assured of advancing past injured Andy Murray for the top spot when Roger Federer withdrew from Cincinnati with a back injury.
The 31-year-old Spaniard could meet Australian Nick Kyrgios in Friday’s quarter-finals. Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic led Kyrgios 4-3 in their halted match.
Nadal will be asked to play at 1 p.m. and again at 9 p.m. if he wins, as will the Karlovic-Kyrgios winner.
Eighth-ranked Austrian Dominic Thiem, the only other seed remaining in Nadal’s half of the draw, edged France’s Adrian Mannarino 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/3). He faces Spaniard David Ferrer in the quarter-finals.
Halep, a French Open runner-up for the second time in June, can overtake Pliskova by winning the title in the final major tuneup for the US Open.
“To be number one in the world I think is a big thing,” Halep said. “If I deserve the place, for sure I will win it.”
Ukraine’s fourth-ranked Elina Svitolina, who won her fifth WTA title of the year last week in Toronto to reach a career-high fourth in the rankings, can also become number one on Monday if she wins the title.
But she must face Germany’s Julia Goerges in a postponed match, then play the winner of another postponed match between American Sloane Stephens and Russian Ekaterina Makarova in a Friday double on short rest.
British seventh seed Johanna Konta downed Slovakian 11th seed Dominika Cibulkova 6-3, 6-4, to move into the quarter-final path of Halep, who won her 15th career WTA title earlier this year at Madrid.
Also reaching the quarter-finals was Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza. The sixth-ranked Spaniard saved three match points in downing 17th-ranked American Madison Keys 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7/3).
“You never knew who was going to win until the last point,” Muguruza said. “I had match points against me so it was really hard. I battled back and I’m glad things went my way.”
Muguruza has a last-eight date with eighth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova. The 32-year-old Russian, a two-time Grand Slam champion, eliminated Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2, 6-4.


'We want to make Saudi Arabia proud': Pizzi promises better showing against Egypt

Updated 21 June 2018
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'We want to make Saudi Arabia proud': Pizzi promises better showing against Egypt

  • Saudi Arabia cannot progress from Group A even if they defeat Egypt in their final game on Monday
  • Wednesday’s overall performance was much improved, yet a lack of penetrative passing was obvious

ROSTOV-ON-DON: “Keeping possession of the ball seems to be the absolute and most important thing, but then when you sometimes find issues in getting the ball into your opponent’s half, you have to find other movements and ways of doing that,” said Oscar Tabarez after watching his lackluster Uruguay rely on a solitary Luis Suarez goal to eliminate Saudi Arabia from the World Cup. 
Tabarez was talking about his own team’s struggles, yet the assessment is considerably more applicable to the Green Falcons, who dominated possession and retained the ball with ease in midfield, yet for the second match running looked absolutely bereft of ideas in the final third. With Uruguay and Russia now on six points, Saudi Arabia cannot progress from Group A even if they defeat Egypt in their final game on Monday.
The Green Falcons coach Juan Antonio Pizzi confirmed he intends to stay at the helm of the side for the long-haul, yet is only too aware that the potential of this team is being hamstrung by its inability to score. He called it “our weakness”, adding that his side enjoyed “good ball possession, but no effectiveness”. They, he said, did not have the sufficient “weapons or tools” to equalize.
Pizzi’s side have found the net now just twice in their past five games and against Uruguay managed only three shots on target in 90 minutes — two of which came in added time and were so tame they would hardly have troubled the opposition goalkeeper Fernando Muslera had he been relaxing at his far post sipping a drink. In the 5-0 defeat to Russia last week, they failed to muster a single shot on target. 
Wednesday’s overall performance was much improved, yet a lack of penetrative passing was obvious. One passage of play in the opening exchanges saw Saudi Arabia complete 16 passes untroubled without the ball entering the opposition penalty box. When Uruguay finally won possession, they required only four quick exchanges to find Edinson Cavani on the left wing drilling the ball across the front of goal. 
“I don’t share that assessment,” said Pizzi, when it was put to him that his team was too slow to attack. “We played at the speed that was necessary. We need to be accurate, but if you step up the speed you lose accuracy with your passes. We had control of the game and that was why.”
Striker Mohammed Al-Sahlawi had been the focal point of much criticism from Turki Al-Sheikh, the head of Saudi’s General Sports Authority, after the Russia “fiasco” and was dropped from the side against Uruguay. So too was goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf, another who Al-Sheikh name-checked as having been at fault.
Pizzi, asked whether the scathing assessment from his bosses had forced his hand when it came to team selection, calmly dismissed the suggestion. He also ruled out the notion that administrative issues between the players and the country’s football federation had caused unrest in his squad.
“I have a list of 23 players here and they are all available to play. We are here together and pushing in the same direction. 
“I wanted — and still want — to make the Saudi Arabian people feel proud of our energy and the desire we show in matches. Unfortunately we were unable to do that against Russia and will be playing our next match without any hope of progressing. I hope now they will feel a little more proud even though we are out of the World Cup,” he said.