Wimbledon Watch: Rafael Nadal breezes through, Novak Djokovic survives thigh scare, Marin Cillic crashes out

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Rafael Nadal celebrates winning the second round match against Kazakhstan's Mikhail Kukushkin (REUTERS/Tony O'Brien)
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Novak Djokovic celebrates winning his second round match against Argentina's Horacio Zeballos . (REUTERS/Toby Melville)
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Marin Cilic reacts against Argentina's Guido Pella during their men's singles second round match on the fourth day of the 2018 Wimbledon Championships. (AFP/Glyn KIRK)
Updated 05 July 2018
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Wimbledon Watch: Rafael Nadal breezes through, Novak Djokovic survives thigh scare, Marin Cillic crashes out

  • Novak Djokovic made it through with a straight sets win over Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, despite a slight injury scare in the third set
  • Cilic's early exit opens up Federer’s path to the final even more

LONDON: World number one Rafael Nadal made it to the third round at Wimbledon on Thursday with a straight sets victory over Mikhail Kukushkin.
The Spanish second seed won 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 on Center Court against the world number 77.
Nadal, a two-time Wimbledon champion, faces Australia’s Alex De Minaur on Saturday for a place in the last 16.
Elsewhere, Novak Djokovic made it through with a straight sets win over Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, despite a slight injury scare in the third set.
The former world number one, seeded 12th at the All England Club as he makes his way back from an elbow injury, won 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 for his 60th win at the tournament.
The three-time Wimbledon champion, more used to playing on the main Center Court or Court One arenas, was in the strange position of playing on the 4,000-seater Court Two.
Djokovic had treatment on his left thigh in the third set but overcame the problem to see out the set.
He faces either British 21st seed Kyle Edmund or US qualifier Bradley Klahn in Saturday’s third round.
Meanwhile, in the biggest shock of the tournament so far, Guido Pella of Argentina came from two sets down to stun third-seeded Marin Cilic at Wimbledon, beating last year’s finalist 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6, 7-5 in the second round.
Cilic looked headed for a routine victory before the match was suspended by rain in the third set on Wednesday but the former US Open champion couldn’t find the same rhythm on Thursday.
“Yesterday he was playing so, so good, and hitting the ball so hard that I couldn’t do anything,” the 82nd-ranked Pella said. “So the rain helped me a lot.”
Cilic was runner-up to Roger Federer last year and showed great form by beating Novak Djokovic in the Queen’s Club final last month.
His early exit opens up Federer’s path to the final even more, with No. 8 Kevin Anderson now the highest-seeded player left in the Swiss star’s side of the draw after No. 6 Grigor Dimitrov lost in the first round.


Giorgio Chiellini confident Juventus can buck recent trend of Supercoppa defeats

Though upbeat, Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini admitted that it will be a “difficult match.” (AN Photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 16 January 2019
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Giorgio Chiellini confident Juventus can buck recent trend of Supercoppa defeats

  • Skipper also happy the match is being played in Jeddah, and sees it as a ‘step forward’ for Saudi Arabia
  • AC Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso sidesteps questions about Gonzalo Higuain’s rumored move to English Premier League

JEDDAH: Juventus have been experiencing a worrying trend in cup finals of late. Despite securing the Serie A and Coppa Italia double for three seasons running, they have lost back-to-back Supercoppas and seven out of nine European cup finals. It’s a trend, however, that captain Giorgio Chiellini believes can be halted on January 16 when his side takes on AC Milan in the Supercoppa Italiana final at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
“We want to change that trend that has seen us lose the last two Supercoppa finals, and this is the ideal opportunity,” said the defender. “We have changed a great deal in two years, but we’ve got to prove ourselves with actions rather than words because we let a few too many of these trophies slip through our fingers and it’s a shame.
“It’s going to be a difficult match but the objective is to start 2019 lifting a trophy above our heads.”
Chiellini also defended the choice of Jeddah as the venue for the game against a backdrop of criticism by some. He said that it was “right” to give the Saudi port city the chance to host the showpiece match.
“I am happy this game is being played here and can be seen as a further reason for progress in this country, and I see it as a step forward and not a problem,” he said. “We (soccer players) cannot change the world but initiatives such as this can provide a new start.
“We have been given a warm welcome and I hope tomorrow can be remembered by the Saudi people as a wonderful celebration. We have to provide a spectacle of Italian football and know that all fans will be happy with our performances.”
As the rival teams faced the media on the eve of the match, both were confident about their chances of lifting the first silverware of the Italian soccer season. This year marks the 31st Supercoppa, a match contested by the previous season’s Serie A domestic league champions and the winners of the Coppa Italia. When a single team wins both honors, as was the case last season, they take on the Coppa Italia runners-up.
This year’s game, the tickets for which reportedly sold out in two days, might also mark a farewell to Italian football for striker Gonzalo Higuain, who is currently on loan to AC Milan from Juventus but is widely rumored to be on the verge of a move to Chelsea in the English Premier League. If the Argentine international is indeed on his way out, he will be hoping to end his stay with the Rossoneri with some silverware while also, perhaps, sticking it to his parent club.

Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso (center) said Higuain has never told him he wants to leave the club. (AN Photo by Huda Bashatah)

Asked about the status of any transfer talks, AC Milan head coach Gennaro Gattuso was careful to avoid feeding the rumor mill.
“At this moment, I have to repeat the same words: there are many rumors but Higuain is training well and working with everyone just fine and is at our disposal,” he said. “I base my decisions on how players train during the week and how they work with the staff and their teammates. We’ll see tomorrow whether he plays or not.
“I want to reiterate that Higuain has never told me he wants to leave. I am waiting for that. He has to decide what to do, how to resolve this issue, but right now he is training with great professionalism. We’ll see.”
Gattuso then nipped this line of questioning in the bud by adding: “I want to be honest; I don’t even want to talk about Higuain as we’re here for the Supercoppa.”
Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri, meanwhile, is well aware that while they are undefeated in Serie A this season after 19 games, with 17 wins and two draws, league form counts for little in a cup final, as evidenced by their recent results in such games. As such, he is keen to avoid any complacency among his players.
“One of the great strengths of this team is our respect for the opposition, otherwise you don’t win as many games as we have,” he said. “There are 22 points separating our teams in Serie A but those don’t matter here. If we do not have great humility and respect for Milan tomorrow, then it’s unlikely we will win the game.”
The prematch press conference inevitably included questions about Cristiano Ronaldo. Since his 112 million euro ($128 million) move to Juventus from Real Madrid last summer, the Portuguese star has netted 15 goals in 25 appearances. On Wednesday, the five-time winner of the Ballon d'Or — an award presented each year by France Football magazine to the player judged to be the best in the world — will aim to lift his maiden trophy with his new club, after having bagged 15 titles during his nine years with the Spanish giants.
While Ronaldo did not appear at the press conference, Allegri was asked whether the striker had arrived in Italy with a stronger and hungrier desire to win.
“He would have to win something first to prove that,” the coach said. “Cristiano is accustomed to winning; he has won four of the past five Champions Leagues and many more titles. Ronaldo is the best player in the world and clearly an added bonus for us. Our situation has certainly improved with his presence.”
Wednesday night’s match is sure to be hotly contested, as Juventus and AC Milan currently share the record for Supercoppa titles, with seven each. While Juventus are making their seventh successive Supercoppa appearance, it is perhaps AC Milan who can lay claim to bragging rights, given that the last time these two teams met in the Supercoppa, in 2016, the Rossoneri ended up on top following a penalty shoot-out after the game ended in a 1-1 draw after extra time. With all the talking officially done, all that remains is a historic night of top quality soccer at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium.