Greece to unleash Antetokounmpo on US at World Cup

Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo gestures during the Basketball World Cup Group F game against New Zealand. (AFP)
Updated 06 September 2019

Greece to unleash Antetokounmpo on US at World Cup

NANJING: Greece will unleash snarling Giannis Antetokounmpo on Team USA after the reigning NBA MVP dragged his country into the second round of the Basketball World Cup on Thursday.

The Milwaukee Bucks forward played a starring role in an edgy 103-97 victory over New Zealand to set up a tasty meeting with the holders on Saturday.

The 24-year-old made a sluggish start in China as Greece defeated Montenegro but then lost narrowly to Brazil to make the meeting with the “Tall Blacks” a must-win.

The so-called “Greek Freak” showed that he meant business from the off in Nanjing, nailing a thunderous dunk with 77 seconds on the clock, the determination and drive etched across his face.

He repeated the feat a minute later, growling with menace afterwards.

Antetokounmpo, ably assisted by his older brother Thanasis, finished with a team-best 24 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.

Chants of “MVP! MVP!” occasionally rolled around the arena as Antetokounmpo finally stamped his mark on the World Cup.

“Listen, the situation with Giannis is a little bit complicated, for sure he is the superstar of the team, everyone knows what he can do,” Greece coach Thanasis Skourtopoulos said.

“From the other side, we need to protect his health so we have to take care about the amount of time he plays. “The next game with the USA is much better for him because he knows the mentality and the way they play.

“Now it’s time for him to increase the time (he plays) and everything in the game.”

Brazil and the Czech Republic are the other teams in the group in the next stage.

Even without their megastars the US swatted aside already eliminated Japan on Thursday, 98-45.

New Zealand’s defeat meant that local rivals Australia became the first team —  other than hosts Japan —  to qualify for next summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

Antetokounmpo was the focus of attention in Nanjing, although he was in danger of being upstaged by Corey Webster, the red-hot Kiwi who plays for the NZ Breakers.

The 30-year-old guard almost single-handedly kept the Kiwis in the hunt with 31 points as they refused to lie down, coming within five points of the Greeks midway through the fourth quarter.

Tempers frayed in the last 30 seconds, amid Kiwi claims that one of their players was punched in the back of the head.

Australia defeated European heavyweights Lithuania 87-82 to top the “Group of Death” but both teams were already into round two, where they meet France and the Dominican Republic. France, touted before the tournament as medal contenders, took top spot in Group G after beating the Dominicans 90-56.

Diriyah Tennis Cup serves up top-class fare

Updated 13 December 2019

Diriyah Tennis Cup serves up top-class fare

  • Day one of the three-day tournament saw Fognini, Monfils, Medvedev and Goffin through to the semi-finals

RIYADH: A new chapter was written today in Saudi Arabia’s sporting history as the first international tennis matches took place as part of the epic month of Diriyah Season.

The Diriyah Tennis Cup presented by Saudi Aramco will certainly go down in history as eight of the world’s best tennis stars met in the Diriyah Arena for the first-ever international tournament played in the Kingdom. 

The event also goes down in tennis history as not only the first in Saudi Arabia, but also one of the first to use Hawk-Eye Live technology. Replacing the need for line judges and providing more accuracy, Hawk-Eye Live sends visual and audio cues to the chair umpire and off-court monitors within a tenth of a second of a ball bouncing, to show faults and out of bounds shots without relying on the naked eye.

The first day as part of a three-day tournament saw all eight players in action in the opening matches. First up on court was Italian and world number 12 Fabio Fognini taking on American John Isner world number 19 and holder of the third fastest serve of all time in Men’s Tennis. Although both players will be written into the Kingdom’s history books, it was Fognini who was the record breaker as he delivered the first international serve and match win ever recorded, 7-6 6-4. 

Speaking after his win, Fabio Fognini said: “I won the first game of the competition, it’s nice. It’s something I will remember for sure and the people will remember as it is the first year we play here. I know they want to do something more [grassroots tennis], especially to improve tennis in this country so I’m happy.”

Commenting after the historic match, John Isner also added: “Very unique to be here and be part of this. I never thought I’d be here playing in Saudi Arabia. Very grateful and happy to be here. The ball kids did great tonight, fantastic job.”

Second up on the Diriyah Arena court was Swiss Stan Wawrinka, the world’s number 16, against Frenchman Gael Monfils the world’s number 10. Monfils took the win in straight sets 6-3 6-3. Monfils rallied the crowd by encouraging them to cheer and danced after some of his winning shots.

“So far it’s great. The offering they have here for us to perform is incredible. The court is one of the best…it’s quite nice. The people are very nice. I feel very good.” said Monfils.

Daniil Medvedev of Russia and Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany met in the third match of the evening. Medvedev made light work of Struff to take the win 6-3 6-1 and advance to the semi-finals.

Speaking after his win, Medvedev commented: “Was a great match. It’s never easy like this, after the end of the season, holidays and in the middle of pre-season to know how you are playing at this moment – are you strong or not? Today was a great match, beating Jan so easy is a great achievement because he’s a great player so I am really happy. The atmosphere was also really good and warm.”

In the final match of the night, Belgian’s David Goffin rallied with Lucas Pouille of France. Goffin took the final place in tomorrow night’s semi-finals beating Pouille 6-2 6-4.

After the match, Goffin commented: “Super organisation – the stadium is very nice. First time for me playing in Saudi, it’s a great atmosphere. I think for the people tonight it was something to see, professional tennis matches here. I think it was great for us and them as well. It’s a nice court and stadium – it could be a very nice center court in a big tournament.”

Today’s results will see Fognini of Italy meet Monfils of France in semi-final 1 and Medvedev of Russia will take on Goffin of Belgium on Friday 13th December. The remaining four players will still continue to play as part of the Consolation Bracket. The Diriyah Tennis Cup will conclude with the final on Saturday 14th December.