Nadal dazzles as Sharapova hits all-time low at Australian Open

Spain’s Rafael Nadal makes a forehand return to Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien during their first round singles match on Tuesday. (AP)
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Updated 21 January 2020

Nadal dazzles as Sharapova hits all-time low at Australian Open

  • Nadal, the first player to be world No. 1 in three different decades, is still thriving at 33

MELBOURNE: Top seed Rafael Nadal turned on the style as he launched his bid for a record-equaling 20th Major title at the Australian Open on Tuesday, but falling star Maria Sharapova hit a career low.

Australia’s Nick Kyrgios also cantered into the second round, but fourth seed Daniil Medvedev had to fight his way past American Frances Tiafoe in four sets.

Nadal, one shy of Roger Federer’s Grand Slam mark, dropped only five games as he swatted aside Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 in just over two hours at a sunny Rod Laver Arena.

“It was a positive start,” said the reigning Roland Garros and US Open champion, wearing a bright pink singlet and matching trainers.

“What you want in the first round is just to win, and it’s better if it’s in straight sets.”

He joins Federer and defending champion Novak Djokovic in round two as the Big Three look to tighten a stranglehold that has brought them all but one of the last 14 Australian Open titles.

Nadal, the first player to be world No. 1 in three different decades, is still thriving at 33 but it’s a different story for five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova.

The 32-year-old, playing on a wildcard as she wrestles with a shoulder injury, lost 3-6, 4-6 to Croatian 19th seed Donna Vekic, making her an opening-round loser at three straight Grand Slams for the first time.

The future looks uncertain for the former world No. 1, who won Wimbledon when she was just 17 but has not reached a Grand Slam final since she lifted the 2014 French Open trophy.

“I can speak about my struggles and the things that I’ve gone through with my shoulder, but it’s not really in my character to,” Sharapova said.

“I was there, I put myself out there (playing). As tough as it was, I finished the match — it wasn’t the way that I wanted.”

Britain’s Johanna Konta, a two-time Slam semifinalist, also fell at the first hurdle as she battles to overcome a knee problem, losing 4-6, 2-6 to unseeded Tunisian Ons Jabeur. On a bumper day of 88 first-round matches, after rain wiped out half of Monday’s schedule, former US Open champion Marin Cilic and Milos Raonic both moved safely through.

Italy’s Fabio Fognini, two sets down against America’s Reilly Opelka when their match was suspended on Monday, returned to win it in five after a stormy encounter when both players argued furiously with the umpire.


India’s cricket great Virat Kohli not ready to ease leadership workload

Updated 19 February 2020

India’s cricket great Virat Kohli not ready to ease leadership workload

  • ‘It’s been about eight years now that I’ve been playing almost 300 days a year’
  • ‘The team wants a lot of my contribution in the next two or three years, so that we can ease into another transition’

WELLINGTON: Virat Kohli admitted Wednesday that captaining India in all three cricketing formats was grueling but insisted he was not yet ready to ease his leadership burden.
Speaking ahead of the opening Test against New Zealand in Wellington on Friday, Kohli, 31, said stepping back was on his mind, but not for a few years.
“It’s not a conversation to hide away from,” he told reporters. “It’s been about eight years now that I’ve been playing almost 300 days a year.
“With the traveling, practice sessions and the intensity being right up there all the time, it does take a toll on you.”
Asked about fellow players who had dropped one or more forms of the game in order to extend their careers, Kohli replied: “I’m not in that space at the moment.”
“Periodic breaks for me seem to work pretty OK,” he added.
“At a time when the body doesn’t respond as well, maybe at around 34, 35, you might have a different conversation, but for the next two or three years I have no issues.”
Kohli, who took over the Test captaincy in late 2014, said he wanted to ensure the Indian team was in a good place when he finally relaxed his grip on the reins.
“The team wants a lot of my contribution in the next two or three years, so that we can ease into another transition, which is what we faced about five or six years ago,” he said.
“The mindset is obviously on the larger picture and from that point of view, I am preparing myself for a rigorous three years.”
Kohli backed rookie opening batsmen Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw to shine at Wellington’s Basin Reserve, where India have not won a Test since 1968.
“These guys have no baggage, they’re not desperate in any way to perform here,” he said.
“They play with a fearlessness that can motivate the whole team and give us the kind of starts we want.”
Kohli expected the notorious Wellington wind to play a role in the match, saying it had to be carefully considered when weighing up bowling options.
“Wind in this stadium more than any other in the world plays a massive, massive role,” he said.