Australian Open: Fans are in, but crowd numbers are thin

Australian Open: Fans are in, but crowd numbers are thin
Fans watch the first round match between Canada’s Bianca Andreescu and Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu at the Australian Open on Feb. 8, 2021. Attendance for this year’s first Grand Slam tournament is capped at 30,000 per day. (Reuters)
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Updated 08 February 2021

Australian Open: Fans are in, but crowd numbers are thin

Australian Open: Fans are in, but crowd numbers are thin
  • There was none of the usual jostling or standing on tiptoes to catch a glimpse of a tight match
  • Attendance for this year’s first Grand Slam tournament is capped at 30,000 per day

MELBOURNE: The lines on Day 1 at the Australian Open were noticeably thinner than usual, and the lawn chairs set up in front of the giant television screen in Garden Square were far emptier.
On the outer courts, there was none of the usual jostling or standing on tiptoes to catch a glimpse of a tight match. No waiting in long lines to get a seat, either.
Attendance for this year’s first Grand Slam tournament is capped at 30,000 per day. On Day 1 last year, 64,387 fans crammed onto the grounds at Melbourne Park.
Still, there were actual fans at a Grand Slam again.
“I am not complaining,” Venus Williams said after her match in front of a sparser-than-normal crowd at Margaret Court Arena. She has contested the tournament 21 times. “I think every single person there was probably in awe to be sitting at a sporting event, as much as I was to have them there.”
Tennis went into shutdown last year after the COVID-19 outbreak became a global pandemic. The tours resumed in August but mostly without crowds. No fans were allowed at the US Open and only small crowds were allowed at the French Open.
Watching from a grassy hill overlooking the outer courts, where giant white circles had been painted on the grass to maintain social-distancing, Jason Cameron of Melbourne said he didn’t think fear of the coronavirus was keeping people away this year.
“I think it’s a combination of it being a modified set-up this year ... and it’s February when everyone is back at school and not having the tourists in town,” he said. “It’s going to be a low-key version of the Australian Open this year.”
His friend, Lee Elliott, who flew from Adelaide to catch a bit of the tennis, did think some may have felt nervous to be in a sizable crowd again.
“Once people actually see it on television and that people are going ... maybe, as the week goes on, crowds will improve.”
Not everywhere was subdued on Monday, though. On Court 3, a rollicking crowd chanted and cheered for Australian John Millman as he stretched Corentin Moutet of France to five sets before losing in three hours, 45 minutes. The crowd even managed to get a socially-distanced “wave” around the court. Twice.
“I just made a decision I wanted to support (the tournament) and to step forward and start doing things again,” said Cathie Coughlan, who drove two hours from Bendigo in central Victoria. “There was a bit of trepidation, but then it was a conscious decision to do it.”
Former Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber tried to stay positive about having to endure 14 days in hard lockdown after arriving in Australia last month.
But after her 6-0, 6-4 loss in the first round at Melbourne Park to American Bernarda Pera, Kerber admitted her timing was just off.
The 2016 champion had seven double-faults and just seven winners in the match. The first set lasted all of 18 minutes.
“Of course, you feel it,” she said of the strict lockdown, during which she and 71 other players were confined to their hotel rooms without any chance to practice because they were classified as close contacts of passengers on their charter flights who tested positive for COVID-19 after landing in Australia. “I was feeling this at the beginning ... I was not feeling the rhythm that I was before.”
Kerber didn’t waste any time after her enforced isolation, hitting the practice courts five minutes after being released from quarantine at midnight a little over a week ago. Despite the obstacles, she tried to stay motivated for the Australian Open, one of her favorite tournaments.
Now, however, she’s slightly unsure if it was all worth it.
“Maybe if I knew that before to stay really two weeks in the hard quarantine without hitting a ball, maybe I would think twice about (coming).”


Trae Young shines as Hawks rally past Sixers, Clippers rout Jazz

Trae Young shines as Hawks rally past Sixers, Clippers rout Jazz
Updated 47 min 57 sec ago

Trae Young shines as Hawks rally past Sixers, Clippers rout Jazz

Trae Young shines as Hawks rally past Sixers, Clippers rout Jazz
  • Hawks and 76ers now tied at 2-2 in their best-of-seven 2nd round playoff series
  • Clippers and Jazz are also tied 2-2 and Game five is Wednesday at Salt Lake City

LOS ANGELES: Trae Young poured in 25 points and added 18 assists as the Atlanta Hawks rallied Monday to beat the Philadelphia 76ers in game four of their second-round Eastern Conference playoff series.
Young shot eight of 26 from the floor and drained three threes but he had plenty of help from his supporting cast as all five Hawks starters finished in double figures to level the best-of-seven series at 2-2.
His 18 assists equalled a career high but he also busted out from under the watchful eye of Philadelphia’s defensive specialist Ben Simmons, who was given the task of guarding him. Simmons finished second this year in NBA defensive player of the year voting to Utah’s Rudy Gobert.
The fifth-seeded Hawks overcame an 18-point first-half deficit then traded leads with the Sixers down the stretch but managed to hold on for the victory.
“This team never gives up, no matter what the score is,” Young said. “I love the way we fight and I’m proud of our team tonight.”
Game five is Wednesday night.
Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 22 points, John Collins finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds, and Clint Capela had 12 points and 13 rebounds for Atlanta.
Tobias Harris had 20 points and Joel Embiid recorded 17 points and 21 rebounds for the top-seeded 76ers, who were outscored 54-38 in the second half. Simmons delivered 11 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and two blocks.
Embiid, who averaged 35.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists over the first three games of this series, is playing with a tear in his right lateral meniscus.
He spent time in the locker room in the second quarter and was zero-for-12 from the floor in the second half.
“Even before I went back to the locker room I felt like I didn’t have it,” Embiid said.
“I guess it’s already known,” Embiid said of the wonky knee. “There’s no need to explain myself anymore. I’m just trying to do the best I can.”
Young and Bogdanovic combined for seven threes as the Hawks improved their scoring from beyond the arc. Atlanta committed just four turnovers, compared with 12 for the 76ers.

Elsewhere, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined for 62 points as the Los Angles Clippers breezed to a 118-104 win over the top-seeded Utah Jazz in game four of their Western Conference series.
They each scored 31 points, and George added nine rebounds as the Clippers leveled the best-of-seven series at 2-2.
“We are both being aggressive and our teammates are finding us for open shots,” said Leonard.
Marcus Morris scored 22 of his 24 points during a first half in which the Clippers led by as much as 29 points.
Donovan Mitchell answered the bell by scoring a team-high 37 points in the loss. Mitchell tied the Utah franchise playoff record of six straight 30-point outings held by former all-star Karl Malone.
Game five is Wednesday at Salt Lake City.
“We did a great job of making shots and getting stops when we needed to,” said Leonard. “Everybody was helping each other.”
Leonard left the contest with 4:35 remaining after grabbing his knee, and did not return. He exited after being bumped by Jazz’s Joe Ingles. Leonard said he would be ready to go in game five.
Utah’s Mike Conley (hamstring) sat out and has missed all four games of the series.

 

 


Saudi U-23 squad concludes Spanish training camp as Olympic preparation enters final phase

Saudi U-23 squad concludes Spanish training camp as Olympic preparation enters final phase
Updated 15 June 2021

Saudi U-23 squad concludes Spanish training camp as Olympic preparation enters final phase

Saudi U-23 squad concludes Spanish training camp as Olympic preparation enters final phase
  • Head coach Saad Al-Shehri is leading the Saudi youngsters into an indoor camp on home ground

The Saudi U-23 football squad concluded its Olympic training camp in the Spanish city of Marbella on Monday in the fourth phase of its preparation program for Tokyo 2020, which starts on July 23.

Under the watchful eye of head coach Saad Al-Shehri and his staff, the young Saudi players took part in a final morning training session where they focused on tactical movement and finished with work on dead ball situations.

The Saudi squad returned to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday morning and is now launching the fifth phase of the preparation program, which will take place indoors from June 23.

In Japan, the Saudi U-23 team will face Brazil, Germany and Ivory Coast in Group D of the men’s football tournament.


Global golf superstars confirmed for $1 million Aramco Team Series — London

Global golf superstars confirmed for $1 million Aramco Team Series — London
Updated 15 June 2021

Global golf superstars confirmed for $1 million Aramco Team Series — London

Global golf superstars confirmed for $1 million Aramco Team Series — London
  • The new format, created by Golf Saudi, pairs amateur golfers with seasoned professionals from the Ladies European Tour

RIYADH: Some of the biggest names in women’s golf will tee off in the inaugural Aramco Team Series event in London next month.

The groundbreaking three-day event, which has a $1 million total prize pool, is the first of four over the coming months in a new format that gives amateur golfers the chance to play alongside professional stars of the Ladies European Tour (LET). It is part of series of initiatives by the Saudi energy company to support sport and diversity

“To the LET, the Aramco Team Series — London and the subsequent team events are a massive moment of elevation for the women’s game, and to have a field as strong as we do in London is fantastic,” said LET CEO Alexandra Armas.

“As a tour, we are always more than happy to do things a little differently: take risks, try new things, mix up the way we play and experience golf. That’s certainly what the Aramco Team Series — London promises to do.”

The new format, created by Golf Saudi, proved hugely popular with players during a trial run at the Saudi Ladies Team International in November last year. It is the only format in world golf where amateur players will contribute to the final result.

This year, 36 captains will lead teams of four players assembled through a draft system in which they can choose one player and are assigned another at random. An amateur golfer will complete the quartet. The prize money for the winning team after 54 holes will be split by the professional players.

In addition to the team competition, the professionals will compete for a $200,000 prize for the lowest individual score, along with world and Solheim Cup ranking points.

High-profile names taking part in the inaugural event include: US golfer Lexi Thompson, making her only appearance in England this year; Georgia Hall, the English winner of the 2018 Women’s Open; double-major winner Anna Nordqvist from Sweden; and Emily Kristine Pedersen, the Danish winner of the 2020 Aramco Saudi Ladies International. They are part of a field of more than 100 professionals who will tee off at Centurion Club in St Albans, near London, on July 8.

Former major champion Thompson, who in 2010, at age 12, became the youngest golfer to compete in the US Open, said: “It is really exciting to have not only a brand new format of event to look forward to, but to have another big event on the LET schedule in the UK. It’s a place I love to visit and play golf, so I can’t wait to get going in July.”

Hall, a European Solheim Cup hero, said: “It’s a really great addition to the tour that I think most of us can’t wait to get playing in. It’s a new format and it’s different — and will only be a force for good in women’s golf.

“Investment like this is fantastic to see, and to be able to take the game to new venues around the world and inspire the next generation of young golfers is a really wonderful thing to be part of. Starting in London will, for me, make it extra special.”

The tournament in England will be followed by Aramco Team Series events in Sotogrande, Spain (Aug. 5-7), New York (Oct. 14-16) and Jeddah (Nov. 10-12). Events in Asia are also being planned.

The Jeddah event will tee off just days after the second Aramco Saudi Ladies International, which is scheduled to take place from Nov. 4 to 7. The inaugural event last year was the first professional women’s golf competition to take place in Saudi Arabia, and its success paved the way for Aramco and Golf Saudi to provide additional support to the women’s game.

“We are thrilled to be backing events that have the potential to elevate women’s golf internationally and spur its growth in Saudi Arabia,” said Ahmed Al-Subaey, vice-president of marketing, sales and supply planning at Aramco.

“Participation by the sport’s top golfers in the Aramco Team Series highlights its innovative nature and the exciting opportunities it presents.

“When the team concept was first introduced to us, we saw it as a natural fit for our investment into world sport, particularly our continued support of women’s sport and golf.”


Szczesny’s own-goal continues his run of bad luck at Euros

Szczesny’s own-goal continues his run of bad luck at Euros
Updated 14 June 2021

Szczesny’s own-goal continues his run of bad luck at Euros

Szczesny’s own-goal continues his run of bad luck at Euros
  • Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny sent off in 2012, injured in 2016, now an own-goal at Euro 2020
  • He was also left helpless for Slovakia's winner by Milan Skriniar

ST. PETERSBURG: Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny doesn’t have much luck in his opening game at European Championships.
Sent off in 2012. Injured in 2016. Now an own-goal at Euro 2020.
The Juventus player became the first goalkeeper to score an own-goal at the tournament in Poland’s 2-1 loss to Slovakia on Monday.
Not that he could do much about it.
Szczesny had already committed himself to a dive in an attempt to save a shot from Slovakia winger Robert Mak in the 18th minute when the ball rebounded off his near post, onto his outstretched arm as he lay on the ground, and back into the net.
He was also left helpless for Slovakia’s winner by Milan Skriniar, barely moving as the center back hit a fierce, low shot into the corner in the 69th minute.
Szczesny has established himself as one of the most reliable goalkeepers in Europe, his reputation having soared since joining Juventus from Arsenal in 2017. Poland has long been well-stocked with keepers, with Lukasz Fabianski also a solid option, but Szczesny is the regular No. 1.
Major tournaments are not his friend, though.
In 2012, he was shown a red card in the opening game of a European Championship co-hosted by Poland, punished for a professional foul on Greece player Dimitris Salpingidis in the second half.
In 2016, and again in Poland’s opening match, Szczesny damaged a thigh muscle against Northern Ireland and wound up missing the rest of the tournament.
The pain isn’t just restricted to the European Championship.
In Poland’s opening match of the 2018 World Cup, Szczesny gifted M’Baye Niang a goal for Senegal, which went on to win 2-1.


Scotland stunned by Czechs’ Schick on Euro return

Scotland stunned by Czechs’ Schick on Euro return
Updated 14 June 2021

Scotland stunned by Czechs’ Schick on Euro return

Scotland stunned by Czechs’ Schick on Euro return
  • Schick headed the Czechs in front before the break and then doubled the lead on 52 minutes with an incredible strike from just inside the Scotland half
  • After a 23-year wait to qualify for a major tournament, Scotland’s hopes of making more history by getting out of the group for the first time now look slim

GLASGOW: Scotland’s long-awaited return to a major international tournament was ruined by Patrik Schick’s slick finishing as the Czech Republic won 2-0 at Hampden on Monday to move top of Euro 2020 Group D.
Schick’s header just before half-time opened the scoring, but it was his stunning strike from just inside the Scotland half after the break that will live in the memory as one of the all-time great European Championship goals.
After a 23-year wait to qualify for a major tournament, Scotland’s hopes of making more history by getting out of the group for the first time now look slim.
Steve Clarke’s men face England next on Friday at Wembley before hosting World Cup finalists Croatia at Hampden on June 22.
Playing in front of fans at Hampden for the first time since November 2019 with 12,000 in attendance, Scotland made a nervous start.
David Marshall was the hero of penalty shootout wins over Israel and Serbia to qualify and was needed early on to turn Schick’s powerful effort at the near post behind.
The hosts were desperately missing the driving runs and poise on the ball normally provided by Kieran Tierney on the left side of a back three.
Clarke has settled on a 3-5-2 to make way for two of the Premier League’s best left-backs in the same team.
Without the Arsenal defender, Liverpool’s Andy Robertson was his side’s biggest threat with a series of rampaging runs.
His cross was turned narrowly wide by Lyndon Dykes at the near post before the Scotland captain was denied a moment to remember by Tomas Vaclik.
Robertson burst onto Ryan Christie’s pass but his shot that was headed for the top corner was tipped over by the Sevilla goalkeeper.
A cagey game of few chances burst into life after Schick’s towering leap put the visitors in front three minutes before half-time.
Scotland were slow to react after initially clearing a corner and the Bayer Leverkusen forward rose highest to flick home Vladimir Coufal’s cross.
Marshall was called into action to make two quick saves from Schick and Vladimir Darida in an explosive start to the second-half.
But twice Scotland were inches away from levelling when Jack Hendry’s dipping effort came back off the crossbar before Vaclik clawed away a mishit clearance from Tomas Kalas.
However, the home side were stunned by a moment of brilliance from Schick on 52 minutes as he spotted Marshall off his line from halfway and bent in an incredible shot from just inside the Scotland half.
Chances continued to come and go for Scotland as Stuart Armstrong’s shot was deflected onto the roof of the net and Vaclik’s outstretched leg denied Dykes from close range.
But it was Schick who had the best opportunity late on to complete a memorable hat-trick when he fired too close to Marshall.
Beating old rivals England would more than make amends for the Tartan Army’s disappointment, but Scotland now have a mountain to climb if they are to prevent their long-awaited adventure ending in familiar fashion.