Australian Open: Top-ranked Ash Barty a step closer to ending Aussie drought

Ash Barty is aiming to be the first Australian woman since Chris O’Neill in 1978 to win the Australian Open. (AFP)
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Updated 28 January 2020

Australian Open: Top-ranked Ash Barty a step closer to ending Aussie drought

  • Barty aiming to be the first Australian woman since Chris O’Neill in 1978 to win the Australian Open
  • She won her first title on home soil in Adelaide in the lead-up to this season’s first major

MELBOURNE, Australia: Top-ranked Ash Barty is a step closer to ending a long drought for Aussies at the national championship.
Barty saved set points in the 11th game and another in the tiebreaker before seizing the momentum against two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in a 7-6 (6), 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena. She next faces No. 14 Sofia Kenin, who reached the semifinals at a major for the first time with a 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 78-ranked Ons Jabeur.
Barty fended off eight of the nine break-point chances she faced in the first set before finally getting the upper hand when she won a 22-shot rally, defending for much of it just to stay in the point, at 3-2 in the tiebreaker.
After clinching the first set in 69 minutes, she went on a roll to take a 4-0 lead in the second and take all the momentum away from Kvitova, who beat Barty here at the same stage last year before losing the final to Naomi Osaka.
Barty rebounded from that to win her first major title at the French Open, where she beat Kenin in the fourth round. Until she arrived in Australia, Kenin’s run at Roland Garros — which included a third-round upset over Serena Williams — was her best at a Grand Slam.
There’s a lot of local expectation riding on Barty, who is aiming to be the first Australian woman since Chris O’Neill in 1978 to win the Australian Open. The first major of the decade may see the end of the 42-year wait, and an Australian man hasn’t won since 1976. Barty is already the first Australian woman since 1984 to reach the semifinals of the home Open.
Barty doesn’t expect to feel the pressure. She won her first title on home soil in Adelaide in the lead-up to this season’s first major.
“I’m not going to have anything but a smile on my face when I walk out onto this court,” Barty said of her next match.
Kenin and Jabeur were both into the quarterfinals for the first time at a major.
For Kenin, who was born in Moscow but moved to the United States as a baby and grew up in Florida, the degree of difficulty will only increase.
“I’m in the semis,” she said, when asked for her preference of semifinal rival. “Anyone I play, they’re playing really well.”
Kenin is playing her best tennis, too. Her best previous run at Melbourne Park ended in the second round, when she lost to Simona Halep last year.
She finished last year ranked 14th, and could match Barty in one category: they were tied for most hard-court wins on the women’s tour last year with 38 wins each.
Kenin’s run here included a comeback win in the third round against 15-year-old Coco Gauff, when she made only nine unforced errors across the second and third sets.
In the second set against Jabeur, she saved three break points in a long sixth game, then broke serve in the seventh game to set up the win.
“It was a tough moment,” Kenin said. “I didn’t know it was 10 minutes (but) it was pretty long, the game. After that I got my momentum.”
Jabeur, a 25-year-old Tunisian, was the first Arab woman to make it to the last eight at a major.
“Ï think I proved that I can be in the quarterfinals in a Grand Slam, even if I have a lot of things to improve probably physically and mentally,” she said. “But I’m happy that I pushed through a lot of things. I proved to myself that I could do a lot of great things.”
In later men’s quarterfinals, 20-time major winner Roger Federer was playing 100th-ranked Tennys Sandgren, and seven-time Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic had a night match against Milos Raonic of Canada.


Kobe Bryant: NBA All-Star crowd pays tribute to fallen basketball icon

Updated 17 February 2020

Kobe Bryant: NBA All-Star crowd pays tribute to fallen basketball icon

  • Bryant died along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven victims in a helicopter crash on January 26
  • NBA’s All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award has been permanently named for Lakers star

CHICAGO: Team LeBron beat Team Giannis by two points at the 69th NBA All-Star game on Sunday at a packed United Center that fell silent for eight seconds before tip-off as about 21,000 fans joined hands to pay their respects to global sports icon Kobe Bryant.
The silence was broken by a string of thunderous “Kobe, Kobe, Kobe,” chants that rocked the stadium as the crowd honored Bryant, who wore the No. 8 and No. 24 during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers that was highlighted by five National Basketball Association championships.
The stirring pre-game tribute began with Laker great Magic Johnson rousing the crowd and paying homage to Bryant, killed along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven victims in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Jan. 26.
“We will never see another basketball player quite like Kobe,” Johnson said, highlighting his work with the Los Angeles community along with the love he had for his family. “This is a tough time for the whole NBA family.”
Johnson also paid tribute to former NBA Commissioner David Stern, who oversaw explosive growth in the popularity of the game during his 30-year tenure. Stern died on Jan. 1.
Before tip-off, the singer and actor Jennifer Hudson, who is a Chicago native, sang with a montage of photos of Bryant and his daughter in the background.
The game was a culmination of a weekend filled with tributes to the former Los Angeles Lakers star who was an 18-time All-Star and won the All-Star game’s MVP award four times.
On Friday, Bryant, who is fourth all-time in league scoring, was named a finalist to the Basketball Hall of Fame. On Saturday, the league’s commissioner, Adam Silver, announced that the league’s All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award has been permanently named for Bryant.
Bryant made his NBA All-Star Game debut in 1998 at age 19 – the youngest player to ever play in an All-Star Game. His 18 All-Star selections are the second-most in NBA history, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, at 19.
Players in Sunday’s All-Star game wore No. 2 and No. 24 on their jerseys to honor Kobe and Gianna Bryant, while the game’s format paid homage to Bryant.
The team with the most points after three quarters needed to score 24 points to win, while the trailing team had to score 24 plus the number of points it was down.
Team Giannis held a nine-point lead over Team LeBron after three quarters, but the LeBron James-led side had the last laugh, outscoring Team Giannis 33-22 in the final period to clinch a 157-155 victory.
Team Giannis was headed by Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Team LeBron’s Kawhi Leonard was named All-Star MVP after scoring 30 points, including eight three-pointers.