‘On edge’ Federer makes winning Paris return

Switzerland's Roger Federer in action during his first round match against Italy's Lorenzo Sonego on Sunday. (Reuters)
Updated 27 May 2019
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‘On edge’ Federer makes winning Paris return

  • Angelique Kerber’s hopes of completing career Grand slam end after early exit
  • Kerber, 31, has now lost six times in the French Open first round

PARIS: Roger Federer marked his return to Roland Garros after a four-year absence with a straight sets win over Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego on Sunday, admitting he “felt on edge,” as Angelique Kerber’s hopes of completing a career Grand Slam suffered a quick kill.

Federer, a 20-time major winner, had not played the tournament since 2015 when he reached the quarterfinals.

However, on Sunday, it was as if the 37-year-old had never been away as he swept to a 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 victory in one hour 41 minutes on a packed, rebuilt Court Philippe Chatrier.

It was his 60th successive first round win at a Grand Slam.

“I felt on edge at the start, my heart was beating crazily,” said Federer, who hailed the new-look stadium which has been 90 percent rebuilt in readiness for the installation of a retractable roof for 2020.

“I felt great playing on this court. It looks very attractive, so congratulations to everyone involved.

“Hopefully I can play here again for my next match.”

That match will be against German lucky loser Oscar Otte who won just his second match in eight years on the tour by seeing off Malek Jaziri of Tunisia 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 6-0.

“I would be surprised if Roger knew my name,” said Otte, the world No. 145.

Federer broke serve five times and fired 36 winners past 24-year-old Sonego, the world No. 73 who made the quarterfinals at the Monte Carlo Masters.

German fifth seed and reigning Wimbledon champion Kerber saw her hopes of a career Grand Slam ended by Russian teenager Anastasia Potapova.

Kerber slumped to a 6-4, 6-2 defeat to 18-year-old Potapova who was making her French Open debut.

“Kerber is actually one of my idols, and when I was young I was looking for her game,” said the 81st-ranked Russian who hit 28 winners past her German opponent.

Kerber, 31, has now lost six times in the French Open first round.

The German left-hander had come into Roland Garros carrying a right ankle injury which forced her to pull out of the Italian Open and retire from her second round tie in Madrid.

“I didn’t have many expectations coming in,” said Kerber, who was broken six times in the match which brought the curtain up on the newlook Chatrier arena.

Potapova’s first win over a top 10 player gives her a second round clash against 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic.

Greek sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who stunned Federer on his way to the Australian Open semifinals and beat 11-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal in Madrid, also made the second round.

The 20-year-old sixth seed brushed aside Germany’s Maximilian Marterer 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (7/4).

The new Court Simonne Mathieu, a 5,000-capacity semi-sunken arena enclosed by greenhouses, was officially unveiled on Sunday.

It forms part of the €350 million upgrade of the entire site which will also see the demolition of the Court 1 ‘bullring’ after the 2018 tournament.

Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 champion, had the honor of opening proceedings against America’s Taylor Townsend and the 19th seed marked the occasion with a 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 win.

“It’s cute,” said the Spaniard. “It’s not small, but it’s, you know, cozy.”

Other winners on the first day included Japanese seventh seed Kei Nishikori, a quarterfinalist in 2015, who eased past France’s Quentin Halys 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.

However, Italian 16th seed Marco Cecchinato, the man who sent Novak Djokovic crashing out in the quarterfinals in 2018, fell at the first hurdle.

Cecchinato lost to 37-year-old Frenchman Nicolas Mahut —  who has slipped to 253 in the world — 2-6, 6-7 (6/8), 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.

Canada teenager Felix Auger-Aliassime withdrew from the tournament with a thigh injury, just a day after finishing runner-up to Benoit Paire in Lyon.

The 18-year-old was seeded 25 and had been due to face Australia’s Jordan Thompson in the first round on his maiden appearance in the main draw in Paris.

Auger-Aliassime’s spot in the first round draw has been taken by Spanish lucky loser Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

Second seed Karolina Pliskova closed play on Chatrier with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Madison Brengle of the US.


Al-Hilal advance into AFC Champions League semifinals

Updated 18 September 2019

Al-Hilal advance into AFC Champions League semifinals

  • Riyadh-based team beat Al-Ittihad of Jeddah in the all-Saudi final eight showdown

JEDDAH: Al-Hilal battled from one goal down early to beat Al-Ittihad in the all-Saudi quarterfinal and advance to the AFC Champions League semifinals at the King Saud University Stadium in Riyadh.

After a goalless draw in the first leg in Jeddah, Ittihad looked to have the advantage of  the away goals rule after scoring in the 10th minute courtesy of Ziyad Al-Sahafi.

But the Riyadh-based Hilal regrouped and tallied three unanswered goals to qualify for the final four on 3-1 agregate victory in the two-leg final eight contest. Hilal meet Qatar’s Al-Sadd in the semifinals.

Andre Carrillo equalized for Hilal with a goal in the 44th minute. Salem Al-Dawsari  and Italian import Sebastian Giovinco then put Hilal on the way to victory with goals in minutes 48 and 78.

Earlier in Japan, captain fantastic Shinzo Koroki's powerful first-half header via crossbar and goalkeeper proved enough to squeeze Urawa Red Diamonds into the semifinals  at the expense of Shanghai SIPG on the away goals rule Tuesday.

Wang Shenchao equalized for the visitors with a cool volley on the hour, but the Japanese side comfortably held on for a 1-1 draw and a semifinal place courtesy of the goals scored by Tomoaki Makino and Koroki three weeks ago when the first leg was drawn 2-2 in Shanghai.

The prolific Koroki was, however, officially denied his seventh strike of the campaign on a technicality.

Gloveman Yan Junling was credited with an own goal after palming Koroki's 39th-minute header from Takahiro Sekine's cross onto the woodwork and watching helplessly as it cannoned back into his outstretched arm and over the line.

That was harsh on Yan, who had kept his toothless side — packed with expensive imports — in the tie with a string of saves as Urawa pressed for the cushion of a second goal on a sultry night in Saitama.

It was a poor performance by Vitor Pereira's SIPG side, who were devoid of penetration up front without suspended 55 million euro Brazilian striker Hulk, who had scored both first leg goals from the penalty spot as they came from 2-0 down.

Instead they started with Marko Arnautovic at centre forward, the big Austrian having been signed from English Premier League West Ham last month for 25 million euros.

But with playmaker Oscar — who cost 60 million euros from Chelsea — having an off night, chances remained few and far between.

SIPG had little fluency in the attacking third, a familiar trait that has seen them exit with a curious unbeaten streak of seven draws and one win in their last eight matches in this year's Champions League.

Arnautovic's best efforts were a wasteful header over from six yards out, which would not have counted anyway as the referee had blown for a push, and a tame shot easily deflected for a corner eight minutes from time.

After Shenchao's equalizer SIPG still needed another goal but it was Urawa who seconds later came closest, Daiki Hashioka thumping a shot against the crossbar and Tsuyoshi Otsuki's side continued to carry the more serious threat on the counter attack.

Urawa, the 2007 and 2017 AFC Champions League winners, progress to their fourth semi-final appearance where they will face either defending champions Kashima Antlers or Guangzhou Evergrande, who play Wednesday. Their first leg in China ended 0-0.