Djokovic survives scare as rain causes chaos at Australian Open

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic hits a return against Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff during their men’s singles match on Monday. (AFP)
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Updated 20 January 2020

Djokovic survives scare as rain causes chaos at Australian Open

  • World No. 3 Federer was briefly hauled off court while the roof was closed on Rod Laver Arena

MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic survived a scare to join Roger Federer and Serena Williams in the Australian Open second round as heavy downpours caused chaos on Monday, forcing organizers to postpone a swathe of matches.

Defending champion Djokovic was made to sweat before beating Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff in four sets on the first day, when fears over air pollution were replaced by disruption caused by rain.

In the late match, defending champion Djokovic dropped his first set since 2006 in the opening round before recovering to beat Jan-Lennard Struff 7-6 (7/5), 6-2, 2-6, 6-1.

“There is a lot of pressure and a lot of different emotions involved. I definitely try to remind myself to stay present and really enjoy,” said the seven-time Melbourne winner, who brought up his 900th Tour-level victory.

While play continued at the three stadiums with retractable roofs, half of the 64 scheduled matches were postponed, ensuring a big backlog for Tuesday.

Wet conditions are unusual for the Australian Open, which is more used to extreme heat and was plagued by smog from bushfires during qualifying, when players suffered coughing fits and breathing problems.

Air quality was rated “good” as the first round started on Monday but about four hours later play was suspended on outside courts when the heavens opened in Melbourne.

World No. 3 Federer was briefly hauled off court while the roof was closed on Rod Laver Arena before returning to complete a routine 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory over American Steve Johnson.

Williams, on the hunt for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title, won the first set against Anastasia Potapova in just 19 minutes as she cruised to a 6-0, 6-3 win in less than an hour.

“I feel like I can still improve and get better throughout this tournament, for sure. This is a good stepping stone for right now,” Williams said.

However, Williams’ elder sister Venus was ousted in stunning fashion by 15-year-old Coco Gauff, who won 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 in a repeat of her first-round upset at Wimbledon last year.

Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens was the biggest women’s casualty on day one when she crashed out in three sets to Zhang Shuai of China — her fourth first-round exit in Melbourne.

Defending champion Naomi Osaka was done well before the downpour as she dismissed Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-4 in 80 minutes, smashing one powerful serve that broke a net fastening.

“It was really tough for me trying to control my nerves,” said Osaka. “It’s tough to play someone you’ve never played before in the first round of a Grand Slam.”

Later on the covered center court, Australian world number one Ashleigh Barty recovered strongly from a set down to beat Lesia Tsurenko 5-7, 6-1, 6-1.

In the men’s draw, Greek sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who beat Federer en route to last year’s semis, crushed Salvatore Caruso 6-0, 6-2, 6-3.

Player anger over smog dominated the final days before the tournament, which is taking place after bushfires ravaged large parts of Australia, destroying thousands of homes and killing 29 people.

Tournament officials are closely monitoring pollution and will halt play and close the three main stadiums’ roofs if particulate matter suspended in the air hits PM2.5 200.

In other results, Canadian 13th seed Denis Shapovalov argued furiously with the umpire over a code violation for throwing his racquet as he lost in four sets to Marton Fucsovics.

Croatian 25th seed Borna Coric was another first-round loser as he went down to experienced American Sam Querrey, while Australia’s Sam Stosur bombed out against Caty McNally.

But former champion Caroline Wozniacki, playing her last tournament before retiring, safely reached the second round as she beat Kristie Ahn 6-1, 6-3.


Rooney says handling of Premier League pay row ‘a disgrace’

Wayne Rooney said he had the means and the will to make financial contributions, but felt the public pressure being exerted on players was unhelpful. (Files/AFP)
Updated 05 April 2020

Rooney says handling of Premier League pay row ‘a disgrace’

  • The Premier League’s suggested strategy involving a combination of pay cuts and deferrals amounting to 30 percent of wages, was discussed in a conference call with players’ and managers’ representatives on Saturday

NEW YORK: Wayne Rooney has criticized the government and the Premier League for placing footballers in a “no-win situation” over proposed pay cuts after players were urged to make sacrifices during the coronavirus crisis.
The former England captain, now playing with Championship side Derby, penned an impassioned column in the Sunday Times saying his fellow professionals were “easy targets” in the wider response to the pandemic.
It came after the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) said a proposed 30 percent pay cut could hurt the National Health Service because it would hit tax receipts.
Rooney said he had both the means and the will to make financial contributions, either in the form of salary reductions or direct donations to the NHS, but felt the public pressure being exerted on players was unhelpful.
The Premier League’s suggested strategy involving a combination of pay cuts and deferrals amounting to 30 percent of wages, was discussed in a conference call with players’ and managers’ representatives on Saturday.
Initial talks were already taking place before key political figures, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock, called for action.
“If the government approached me to help support nurses financially or buy ventilators I’d be proud to do so — as long as I knew where the money was going,” wrote Rooney.
The 34-year-old added: “I’m in a place where I could give something up. Not every footballer is in the same position. Yet suddenly the whole profession has been put on the spot with a demand for 30 percent pay cuts across the board. Why are footballers suddenly the scapegoats?
“How the past few days have played out is a disgrace.”
The Premier League has been seen as lagging behind other European leagues in its response to coronavirus and was accused by one British lawmaker of operating in a “moral vacuum.”
But Rooney questioned the wisdom of the Premier League in preempting behind-the-scenes talks involving players with its own proposals for sweeping reductions.
“In my opinion it is now a no-win situation,” he said. “Whatever way you look at it, we’re easy targets.”
He said the Premier League’s contribution of £20 million to the NHS was “a drop in the ocean” compared with the amount clubs would save with wage cuts.
And he questioned why stars from other sports were not the focus of similar attention.
Former England striker Gary Lineker echoed Rooney’s sentiments, telling the BBC that footballers he had spoken to were “desperately keen” to offer help but were an easy target.
“Why not call on all the wealthy to try and help if they possibly can rather than just pick on footballers?” he said.
“Nobody seems to talk about the bankers, the CEOs, huge millionaires. Are they standing up? Are they being asked to stand up? We don’t know.”