Federer, Djokovic advance as Serena pulls out in Cincinnati

Novak Djokovic returns a shot against Sam Querrey during the WTA-ATP Cincinnatti Masters. (Reuters)
Updated 14 August 2019

Federer, Djokovic advance as Serena pulls out in Cincinnati

  • Williams had hoped to rebound from the back spasms that forced her out of the WTA final in Toronto

CINCINNATI: Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic overwhelmed opponents at the WTA-ATP Cincinnati Masters on Tuesday, where Serena Williams withdrew because of back trouble.

Williams had hoped to rebound from the back spasms that forced her out of the WTA final in Toronto on Sunday, where she lasted only four games before retiring.

But the 23-time Grand Slam champion said her back was “still not right” casting a further shadow on her chances at the US Open starting in Flushing Meadows on August 26.

For Djokovic and Federer, back in action for the first time since the Serb’s victory over the Swiss in the Wimbledon final, it was a smooth start to their US Open buildup.

Federer, seeded third, remained unruffled by a one-hour rain interruption at 2-2 in the second set, eventually defeating Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Londero 6-3, 6-4 to reach the third round at the event he has won seven times.

“I’m very happy, even if it was a bit tricky with the rain delay,” Federer said. “I’m happy to be back on court.

“This is the start of a long, long hardcourt swing. It’s good to begin with a win.

“I didn’t know that much about my opponent — he’s new to the tour — but at the end you have to concentrate on your own game.”

Defending champion Djokovic double faulted three times as he dropped serve in the opening game against Sam Querrey but quickly put things right and pulled away for a 7-5, 6-1 victory over the American.

“I ended the match well even if the start was nervy,” said Djokovic, who would break Querrey twice to take the first set then roll to victory.

“Sam was feeling comfortable on the court at the start and dictating. It was tough facing his big serve,” Djokovic said.

He added that he was “hoping for a better performance in the next round,” when he’ll take on Spanish qualifier Pablo Carreno Busta— who withstood 32 aces from John Isner and a match point before beating the American 6-4, 6-7 (1/7), 7-6 (8/6).

Williams, meanwhile, was left just trying to get healthy after pulling out of her scheduled first-round match against qualifier Zarina Diyas.

“I came to Mason (Ohio) on Sunday and have tried everything to be ready to play tonight, and was still hopeful after my practice this morning,” Williams said in a statement released by tournament officials.

“But unfortunately my back is still not right.”

It’s another injury blow for the 37-year-old American, who was hampered by knee trouble earlier this season and remains in search of her first title since the 2017 Australian Open.

In early action, Stan Wawrinka won a first-round battle as he eliminated 2017 Cincinnati champion Grigor Dimitrov 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (7/4).

Under leaden skies after an overnight thunderstorm, Dimitrov broke in the 12th game of the first set to take the lead. The 33-year-old Swiss fought back with the only break in the second set.

Wawrinka then raced into a 5-1 lead in the final set but wasted two match points in the eighth game and was broken twice while serving for victory.

Wawrinka had to hold off his Bulgarian opponent in the final-set tiebreaker before squeezing through in more than two and a half hours with his 10th ace.

Venus Williams kept the family flag flying, the 39-year-old American putting her decades of experience to good use in a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7/4) victory over defending champion Kiki Bertens.

“Before the match I felt quite good. Stepping on court, I’d say first few games was pretty bad,” Bertens said. “I didn’t start the match in a loose way. I knew that I had to defend the title.”


Free-scoring Salzburg pose serious threat to leaky Liverpool

Updated 10 December 2019

Free-scoring Salzburg pose serious threat to leaky Liverpool

  • Injury-hit Reds have consistently leaked goals despite streaking clear at the top of Premier League

LONDON: Liverpool travel to Salzburg on Tuesday needing to avoid defeat to the confident Austrian champions to guard against an embarrassing Champions League group stage exit for the holders.

Jurgen Klopp's men are used to getting through to the knockout stages the hard way. In each of the past two seasons they have needed home wins to secure a place in the last 16 before going on to make the final.

However, the specter of a free-scoring Salzburg, led by the Champions League's top scorer in Erlin Braut Haaland spells trouble for an injury-hit Liverpool backline that has consistently leaked goals this season despite streaking clear at the top of the Premier League.

The Reds' recorded a first clean sheet in 14 games in Saturday's 3-0 win at Bournemouth, but lost another center back as Dejan Lovren limped off in the first half.

Should the Croatian miss the trip to Austria, Joe Gomez will be Klopp's only fit partner for Virgil van Dijk in central defense.

Van Dijk narrowly missed out to Lionel Messi in the battle for the Ballon d'Or last week in recognition of the transformative effect he has had on Liverpool's fortunes over the past two years.

But even the towering Dutchman has been incapable of stopping the steady flow of goals against in recent months.

Injuries have meant there has been a constant rotation of Lovren, Gomez and Joel Matip alongside Van Dijk, while the attacking impetus offered by fullbacks Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold leaves space in behind to be exploited.

Goalkeeper Alisson Becker also missed the first two months of the season due to a calf injury to further unsettle the backline.

The Brazilian is now back, but another injury to Fabinho has robbed the back four of the best player to protect them in the holding midfield role.

"I forgot how it feels, to be honest," said Klopp on finally ending the long wait for a clean sheet at the weekend.

"It's great, we should have them more often. It was the most-used word in the dressing room by the boys — "clean sheet, clean sheet, clean sheet."

"Obviously everybody was desperate for that, now we have it so let's have it more often.

"The next game where a clean sheet would be useful is already around the corner, against Salzburg on Tuesday."

That is easier said than done as Liverpool know from their first meeting with Jesse Marsch's men in October.

The hosts seemed to be cruising to another Anfield win in the Champions League as they raced into a 3-0 lead, but Salzburg hit back to level at 3-3 before Mohamed Salah's winner ensured Liverpool edged a seven-goal thriller.

Salzburg have scored 87 goals in 24 games in all competitions this season, 28 of which have come from Norwegian wonderkid Haaland in just 21 appearances.

The 19-year-old started on the bench when the sides met at Anfield due to injury, but came on to inspire the visitors' revival in the second half and scored one of his eight Champions League goals.

"He's not the only threat from Salzburg but he's a proper one," said Klopp of the danger posed by Haaland ahead of the sides' first clash.

Salzburg need to win to make the last 16 on their first appearance in the group stage in 25 years.

A point would be enough for Liverpool to progress, but they need to win to secure top spot in Group E ahead of Napoli.

Given Liverpool's paucity of clean sheets and Salzburg's thirst for goals, attack would appear to be the best form of defencse for the European champions.