Maria Sharapova looks back to her best as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal show no signs of slowing down

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Four contenders for the Australian crown — Sharapova, Federer, Nadal and Kerber. (AFP)
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Updated 18 January 2019

Maria Sharapova looks back to her best as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal show no signs of slowing down

  • Sharapova dumps out defending champion Caroline Wozniacki.
  • Rafa and Roger brush aside young guns in straight sets victories.

LONDON: It is coming up to the end of the first week of the Australian Open, so we thought we would take a look and see how some of the big names fared on day five of the year’s first Grand Slam.

MARIA SHARAPOVA

Maria Sharapova warned she is in the sort of form to win the Australian Open after she dumped Carolina Wozniacki out with an impressive 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win. It was the Russian’s best win since her return from a drugs ban and she looked like a winner-in-waiting.
“I thought the level was quite high. I knew I’d get a tough match — she (Wozniacki) is the defending champion,” the five-time Slam champion said.
“I haven’t played many matches in the last year against top players so it was really rewarding to win that last set. These are the kinds of matches I train for.”

ROGER FEDERER

Ageless Roger Federer marked his 100th Rod Laver Arena match Friday by storming past Taylor Fritz, then looked forward to a “high quality” last-16 clash against another young gun, Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion continued his quest for a record seventh Australian Open title with a 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 third-round demolition of 21-year-old American Fritz in just 88 minutes of flawless tennis.
Next up is 14th seed Tsitsipas. And the 37-year-old Federer is looking forward to taking on the fiery young Greek, who is 17 years his junior.
Federer played him in the recent mixed teams Hopman Cup, winning a closely contested singles 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/4), and said he was impressed.
“I think he played really well there. I actually did too. I thought it was really high quality tennis,” Federer said.
“This is obviously a different type of match, it being best of five, it being a fourth round of a Slam.”

RAFAEL NADAL

Rafael Nadal declared “everything is a step forward” after brutally brushing aside Alex de Minaur at the Australian Open Friday in just the Spaniard’s third match since the US Open.
The world No. 2 was in ominous form as he continued his quest for an 18th Grand Slam by punishing the Australian teenager in a third-round tennis masterclass 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
“In general terms, everything is a step forward. So that’s positive news for me,” said the man who won the Aussie Open in 2009.
“I’m very happy for the victory against someone who had won seven matches in a row, winning a tournament.”
On his fitness Nadal added: “Probably 10 years ago it would have been difficult not playing much tennis in the build-up but now I have been in this situation many times with the injuries I have had.
“I have to deal with the ups and downs of my body but I try to enjoy any moment on the court.”

MARIN CILIC

The former US Open champions was made to work for his place in the last 16 as he struggled to beat Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3. Verdasco showed glimpses of the form that once made him a top-10 player and had a match point, one he frittered away with a double fault.
I was just slightly luckier in those crucial moments,” the sixth-seeded Cilic said.
“(It is) unbelievable. Emotions were up and down,” Cilic said.
“When I was down two sets to none, it was a big hill to climb.”
It’s the seventh time in Cilic’s career that he has emerged to win a match after dropping the opening two sets.

ANGELIQUE KERBER

Second seed Kerber received a gift ride into the Australian Open fourth round for her 31st birthday when she overpowered local wildcard Kimberly Birrell 6-1, 6-0.
The Wimbledon champion swept world No. 240 Birrell aside in just 58 minutes to set up a last-16 clash with unseeded American Danielle Collins.
Kerber, a winner at Melbourne Park in 2016, said she was used to celebrating her birthday on the road at the season-opening Grand Slam.
“I think it’s the 12th time in a row,” she said. “I’m getting older but I have the best time here and I’ll never forget my birthdays here in Australia.”
Kerber reached the semifinals last year but lost to Simona Halep in a tight three-setter.

 


Woods, Manning win TV charity match as good as real thing

Updated 26 May 2020

Woods, Manning win TV charity match as good as real thing

  • Donations for COVID-19 relief funds kept piling up, and entertainment didn’t stop

NEW YORK: Tom Brady delivered the shot of the match that made it easy to forget the rest of his swings. Tiger Woods didn’t miss a fairway and earned a small measure of revenge against Phil Mickelson.

The PGA Tour is set to return in just over two weeks, and it has a tough act to follow.

In the second and final charity match that brought live golf to TV, this exhibition was as entertaining as the real thing.

Woods lagged a long birdie putt close enough that his partner, Peyton Manning, didn’t have to putt. That secured a 1-up victory over Mickelson and Brady in “The Match: Champions for Charity.”

The goal was to raise $10 million or more for COVID-19 relief funds, and online donations sent money climbing toward about twice that much.

This made-for-TV exhibition would have  worth pay-per-view, the model Woods and Mickelson used for a $9 million winner-take-all match in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving weekend in 2018 that Mickelson won in a playoff under lights. It felt forced, lacked banter and turned out to free because of technical issues.

Throw in two NFL greats in Brady and Manning, and this allowed viewers to ride along for 18 holes at Medalist Golf Club among four of the biggest stars in sport.

Justin Thomas pitched in as an on-course reporter, bringing a mixture of humor and insight with the right amount of words.

Woods and Manning took the lead on the third hole and never trailed, building a 3-up lead in fourballs on the front nine, with Manning making two birdies (one was a net par).

Brady, whose six Super Bowl titles are more than any NFL quarterback in history, took a beating on social media and in the broadcast booth from Charles Barkley, who twice offered $50,000 of his own money toward charity if Brady just hit the green on a par 3. He missed so far right it would be comparable to a pass that landed three rows into the stands.

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton weighed in on Twitter, noting Brady signing as a free agent with Tampa Bay by saying he liked the “Florida” Brady much better.

Brooks Koepka offered $100,000 if Brady could just make a par.

One shot shut everyone up.

Never mind that Brady had to take a penalty drop before getting back to the fairway on the par-5 seventh. With his fourth shot, with Barkley needling him relentlessly, Brady’s shot landed beyond the pin and spun back into the cup.

“Shut your mouth, Chuck,” said Brady, whose microphone piece dangled off the back of his pants.

Woods still thought he won the hole with a 25-foot eagle putt that instead spun hard off the back of the lip. All that, and they ended up halving the hole.

Donations for COVID-19 relief funds kept piling up, and the entertainment didn’t stop even as the rain returned. It caused a 45-minute delay at the start, and as Woods said on the practice range, “I don’t normally play in conditions like this.”

Mickelson brought out his “Tiger Slayer” putter that he used to shoot 64 at Pebble Beach in 2012, the last time they were in the final group on the PGA Tour. Woods shot 75 that day. It didn’t help Lefty with a few critical birdie putts to square the match, though he rolled in a 15-foot par putt to stay 1 down with two to play.

The back nine was modified alternate shot — all players hit tee shots, and it was alternate shot from there. It was key for the quarterbacks to find the fairway for the pros to hit shots into the green, and Brady came through until the 18th.

Woods was playing for the first time since Feb. 16 when he finished last at Riviera in Los Angeles. He chose not to play the next four weeks with his back not feeling just right, and then the pandemic shut down golf and sports worldwide.

Woods looked sharp for the most part, with his game and his words. Mickelson on the fifth hole asked Woods to mark his ball from some 80 yards away.

“You want me to mark with a US Open medal,” said Woods, a three-time champion of the only major Mickelson has not won.

“Do you have one? I have some silver ones,” Mickelson said, referring to his record six runner-up finishes.

Mickelson boasted about taking Woods down on his home course at Medalist, and now their TV matches are tied at 1-1, even with each getting a little help. Mickelson says he was a little nervous on the front nine until he found his groove, driving the green on the par-4 11th with Brady making a 20-footer for eagle that began their rally.

“Phil said he was nervous. I know Tom and I were comparing notes,” Manning said. “To be behind the ropes in these guys’ worlds, to be in the arena with them, it was really a special experience. I was not comfortable the entire time. Knowing $20 million was raised and helping people going through tough times, it was an honor to be invited.

“It’s something I’ll always remember.”