UEFA likely to move Champions League final from Istanbul

An aerial view shows Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Turkey's Istanbul, which had been selected to host the 2020 Champions League final. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 29 May 2020

UEFA likely to move Champions League final from Istanbul

  • The tournament was stopped by the COVID-19 outbreak
  • UEFA is due to hold further talks with Turkish officials about finalizing the announcement

LONDON: This season’s Champions League final will not be held in Istanbul as planned due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the New York Times reported on Friday.

Quoting a person with knowledge of the matter, the report said organizer and European football’s governing body UEFA is considering other venues for the final in a bid to complete the tournament, which was stopped by the COVID-19 outbreak.

It was stopped in March halfway through the Round of 16 stage due to precautionary measures taken to prevent the spread of the virus.

According to the NYT’s source, UEFA is due to hold further talks with Turkish officials about finalizing the announcement. Istanbul’s Ataturk Olympic Stadium was due to host the final on May 30.

UEFA is also still in talks about finishing its secondary competition — the Europa League — which should have seen its final hosted in Gdansk in Poland.

August is being pencilled as the month in which both the Champions League and Europa League will be completed, in time for national leagues to start their 2020/2021 seasons in September. 

A final decision will be announced after a meeting of UEFA’s executive committee on June 17, according to the source who did not speak publicly due to talks still taking place.

Leagues that have restarted, such as Germany’s Bundesliga, and leagues already announced to restart are adopting strict hygiene measures and playing in empty stadiums o make sure games are played as safely as possible, which is likely to be the approach taken by UEFA in its competitions.

With many European countries limiting travel and imposing strict quarantine measures on arrival for visitors, it is likely that most of the remaining games will take place in the place picked to host the final.

According to Spanish media reports, UEFA is planning to host this year’s Champions League final in Lisbon. There are a small number of other candidates, according to the person with knowledge of the matter.

“A working group has been set up with the participation of representatives from the leagues and clubs to examine calendar solutions and format options that would allow for the completion of the current season,” said a UEFA spokesman. “A variety of options is being looked at and no decisions have been made at this stage.”

UEFA, which pays much of its TV revenues to clubs in prize money, could lose hundreds of millions of dollars if the competition is not completed.

No fans, no problem as Serena wins on return

Updated 12 August 2020

No fans, no problem as Serena wins on return

  • The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion looked to be flirting with an early exit in the second set

LOS ANGELES: Serena Williams shrugged off the absence of fans to make a winning return from her six-month coronavirus layoff on Tuesday, defeating lowly ranked Bernarda Pera in three sets at the WTA Top Seed Open tournament in Kentucky.

Williams, who before Tuesday had not played a competitive game since a Fed Cup appearance in February, came from behind to defeat American world No. 60 Pera 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in two hours and 15 minutes at the Top Seed Tennis Club in Lexington.

The former world No. 1’s first round victory played out to an empty arena. This week’s tournament — the first WTA event in the US since the COVID-19 pandemic — is taking place without spectators.

Williams, 38, later revealed that the sedate surroundings had suited her game.

“It was a really calm atmosphere, it was really chill,” Williams said.

“I can’t say I disliked it. I didn’t mind it at all. I’ve been through so many things in my career and this was totally different. I think I won today because I was calm for once in my career.

“Kind of reminds me of junior days. Something nostalgic about that. I kind of enjoyed it.”

The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion looked to be flirting with an early exit in the second set, but recovered from 0-40 down at 4-4 before holding and eventually winning the set.

“I just knew I could do better,” Williams said. “It was an interesting game. I just had to get used to her game a little bit. She played really well.”

Williams will now play either sister Venus or Victoria Azarenka in the second round.

Pera had seized an early advantage in the first set, breaking Williams to take a 3-2 lead before holding for the remainder of the set to win 6-4.

Williams was soon in trouble on her service game in the second set, falling 0-40 in the opening game before battling back to hold.

Williams moved into a 3-1 lead with a break of Pera’s serve in the fourth game, but her Croatia-born opponent hit back immediately with a break of her own before holding to level at 3-3.

With the next two games going to serve, Williams looked to be in trouble after falling 0-40 down in the ninth game. But she dug deep to hold for a 5-4 lead and then broke for the set when Pera sent a forehand return wide.

The momentum spilled into the deciding set, and another misdirected forehand from Pera handed Williams a break to move into a 3-1 lead.

Another break took her into a 5-1 lead and she closed out the win by holding to love, wrapping up victory with a cross-court forehand that left Pera stranded.

This week’s WTA tournament is the first to be staged in the United States since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the tennis season earlier this year.