Australian Open: Naomi Osaka thwarts Serena Williams’ 24th Grand Slam bid

Australian Open: Naomi Osaka thwarts Serena Williams’ 24th Grand Slam bid
The No. 3-seeded Naomi Osaka’s Grand Slam collection also includes last year’s US Open and the 2019 Australian Open. (AP)
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Updated 18 February 2021

Australian Open: Naomi Osaka thwarts Serena Williams’ 24th Grand Slam bid

Australian Open: Naomi Osaka thwarts Serena Williams’ 24th Grand Slam bid
  • Osaka, who also beat Williams in the chaotic 2018 US Open final, reaches her fourth major title match

MELBOURNE: As Serena Williams walked off the court after her latest so-close-yet-so-far bid for a 24th Grand Slam title ended with a loss to Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open, the 39-year-old American paused and put her hand on her chest as thousands of spectators rose to applaud.
Was this, Williams was asked at a news conference after the 6-3, 6-4 semifinal defeat, her way of saying goodbye?
“If I ever say farewell,” she replied with a smile, “I wouldn’t tell anyone.”
When the next question returned the conversation to the subject of Williams’ many mistakes Thursday (Wednesday night EST) — twice as many unforced errors, 24, as winners, 12 — she shook her head, teared up, said, “I’m done,” and abruptly ended the session with reporters.
Once again, Williams played well enough to get to the closing days of a major tournament. And once again, he couldn’t quite get the job done in order to add one more Grand Slam trophy to her collection of 23 and equal Margaret Court for the most in tennis history.
Osaka, who also beat Williams in the chaotic 2018 US Open final, reached her fourth major title match and stretched her winning streak to 20 matches by claiming the last eight points.
“I don’t know if there’s any little kids out here today, but I was a little kid watching her play,” Osaka, 23, said about Williams, “and just to be on the court playing against her, for me, is a dream.”
The No. 3-seeded Osaka’s Grand Slam collection also includes last year’s US Open and the 2019 Australian Open and she is, without a doubt, the most dangerous hard-court player in the women’s game at the moment.
That used to be Williams, of course. But she was off-target too much in this contest.
“I could have won. I could have been up 5-Love,” said Williams, who instead took a 2-0 lead at the outset before dropping the next five games. “I just made so many errors.”
Her forehand, in particular, went awry, with no fewer than 10 unforced errors off that side in the first set alone.
“Too many mistakes there,” she said. “Easy mistakes.”
Williams’ frustration was made plain early in the second set, when she leaned over and screamed, “Make a shot! Make a shot!”
After collecting her professional era-record 23rd Slam singles trophy at Melbourne Park while pregnant in 2017, Williams reached four major finals and lost them all.
She’s also now lost in the semifinals twice in that span.
So on Saturday, at 7:30 p.m. local time (3:30 a.m. EST), Osaka will meet a first-time Grand Slam finalist for the championship. No. 22 Jennifer Brady of the United States was scheduled to face No. 25 Karolina Muchova in Thursday’s second semifinal.
“Everyone’s just really excited whenever they play their first final, but they’re also really nervous,” Osaka said, then added with a laugh: “So I don’t want to wish nerves on someone, but hopefully one of them gets nervous.”


Tottenham fires manager Jose Mourinho

Tottenham fires manager Jose Mourinho
Updated 29 min 6 sec ago

Tottenham fires manager Jose Mourinho

Tottenham fires manager Jose Mourinho
  • Mourinho took over in November 2019
  • His firing comes with seventh-place Tottenham outside the Champions League places but with a League Cup final against Manchester City on Sunday

LONDON: Tottenham has fired manager Jose Mourinho, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Monday.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not yet been made public by Tottenham.
Mourinho took over in November 2019. His firing comes with seventh-place Tottenham outside the Champions League places but with a League Cup final against Manchester City on Sunday.


5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage
Updated 19 April 2021

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage
  • Second round of matches sees wins for Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr while Al-Ahli recover from mauling to claim first point

RIYADH: Two down and four to go. The group stage of the AFC Champions League is starting to take shape and already there are teams that have an awful lot to do if they are to maintain their presence in the tournament going into the knockout stage.

Some are looking good and the feeling around the Al-Nassr camp has improved massively after a 3-1 win over Al-Sadd, one of the favorites for the competition. Al-Hilal collected three points with a comfortable 2-0 win over Shabab Al-Ahli while Al-Ahli bounced back from their opening game mauling to take a 1-1 draw with Al-Duhail.

Here are five things we learned from the second round of matches.

1. Menezes gives Xavi a coaching lesson

Al-Sadd had not lost for 24 games heading into the clash with Al-Nassr. They won the Qatar Stars League without losing a game and with a goal difference of plus 63, which is incredible enough, but when the season is just 22 games long it really is something special. Yet Al-Nassr fully deserved to win.

Abderrazak Hamdallah scored the opening goal from the spot, but after Santi Cazorla equalized on the hour, the Saudi team’s players kept their nerve, their shape, and their discipline and hit the erratic Qatari team on the counter thanks to the intelligent movement and hard work of their forward line.

With the help of two well-timed substitutions, it was a strategy that bore fruit and two goals followed that put the hosts in with a great chance of the second round.

Al-Nassr coach Mano Menezes has not had much time to work with the players but on this performance, there should be more to come even if fans should not get carried away by being the first team to defeat Al-Sadd this year.

2. Al-Breik stars for clinical Al-Hilal

After a somewhat disappointing opening game, Al-Hilal stepped it up a level against Shabab Al-Ahli.

Star foreign players Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Carrillo grabbed the headlines with their very well-taken goals in the first half but Mohammed Al-Breik deserves plenty of credit. The Saudi international created both in a perfect example of how a right-back should get forward in the modern game.

The first was a delicious cross that was whipped in behind the Dubai team’s defense with Gomis on hand to sweep home from close range. The second came from deeper but found Carrillo in space just inside the area and the Peruvian international made no mistake with a fine swivel and shot. Both goals were easy on the eye and the defender played a huge part.

3. Al-Owais, Al-Somah give Al-Ahli hope

After seven straight defeats, a 1-1 draw will lift some of the gloom surrounding the Jeddah club. It was snatched in the final minutes against Al-Duhail who had largely dominated proceedings.

The Qataris struggled however to find a way past Mohammed Al-Owais. The goalkeeper dealt with everything that was thrown at him to keep the score line down to a minimum. Shot after shot came in and there he was tipping deflections over the bar and getting down well to push headers around the foot of the post.

It was due to such heroics that Omar Al-Somah’s last-gasp goal, which came after an overhead kick assist from defender Motaz Hawsawi, earned a much-needed point to break that dismal losing streak.

4. Strikers come to the fore

It may well be that none of the Saudi teams are firing on all cylinders at the moment, but it will be pleasing to fans that their star strikers have all scored already.

If Al-Hilal are going to go all the way and get a record fourth title, then they are going to need the goals of Gomis, and the French forward is looking hungry and dangerous.

Hamdallah was one of the stars of the 2020 tournament and while the Moroccan has not looked as lethal this year, to get on the scoresheet will be an immense relief for both player and coach. Al-Nassr need him if they are to get out of a difficult group.

And then there is Al-Somah. There has been a lot written about the Syrian striker this season but whatever has happened behind the scenes, three goals in two games speaks for itself. If one of the best strikers in Asia continues to score, then Al-Ahli have a chance.

5. Next comes the crunch

The next two games can make or break a team’s chances as they come against the same opposition. Al-Nassr are level on four points with Foolad of Iran. If the Riyadh giants can come out on top over these back-to-back clashes, then they really can start to think about the next stage.

Al-Hilal take on Tajikistan powerhouse Istiklol who are going to make things very tough. The new boys in the competition have also managed four points from the opening two games thanks to some solid defending. Al-Hilal have the firepower however and can take control of the group.

And as for Al-Ahli, there are twin games with Al-Shorta of Iraq. These will not be easy, even if Al-Shorta are regarded as the weakest team in the group, but they do offer a perfect chance to pick up a win and start challenging at the top of the table.


European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League

European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League
Updated 19 April 2021

European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League

European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League
  • Real Madrid president Florentino Perez would be the founding chairman of the Super League
  • UEFA has threatened to bar from any competition clubs who join the breakaway league

LONDON: A group of 12 elite English, Spanish and Italian clubs dramatically split European soccer on Sunday by announcing the formation of a largely-closed Super League. They are leaving the existing UEFA-run Champions League structure despite warnings they could be kicked out of their domestic competitions and face legal action.
The seismic move to shake up the world’s biggest sport is partly engineered by the American owners of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United who also run US franchises in closed leagues — a model they are trying to replicate in Europe.
The power-play came after the rebel clubs reneged on a promise on Friday to back the plan by UEFA — European football’s governing body — to expand the Champions League beginning in 2024. The deal was designed to appease their wishes for more games, seemingly because they couldn’t control the sale of rights to the existing competition.
The Super League plan was first leaked in January but re-emerged this weekend.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez would be the founding chairman of the SL, which said it “intended to commence as soon as practicable” as a 20-team competition playing in midweek like the current Champions League and Europa League.
“We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world,” Perez said in a statement. “Football is the only global sport in the world with more than four billion fans and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires.”
No evidence was presented that supporters want a Super League. Fan groups across Europe last week criticized even the current Champions League expansion plan as a “power grab.”
Only 12 clubs have signed up for now — with none from France or Germany — but the SL hopes for three more as permanent members. Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are the other founding members, along with Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan. Five slots would be left open to be determined each year based on the previous season’s results.
UEFA warned clubs that joining the “cynical project” based on self-interest would see them banned from playing in any other competition — domestic, European or global. It said their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams.
The statement was issued jointly with the leagues and national governing bodies from England, Spain and Italy.
England has the most clubs with the six including Chelsea and Manchester City, who are due to contest a Champions League semifinals this month. Also included is Tottenham, which is outside of the Premier League’s top four to qualify for the Champions League next season,
“By bringing together the world’s greatest clubs and players to play each other throughout the season, the Super League will open a new chapter for European football, ensuring world-class competition and facilities, and increased financial support for the wider football pyramid,” said Joel Glazer, co-owner of Manchester United and SL vice chairman.
Another vice chairman of the new competition would be Andrea Agenlli who on Sunday night quit his role as chairman of the European Club Association, which was working with UEFA on enlarging the Champions League to 36 teams. Agenlli also resigned as a member of the executive committee of UEFA — rupturing his previously-close friendship with the governing body’s president, Aleksander Ceferin.
The UEFA leader has been determined not to grant more control of the sale of television and commercial rights to the clubs.
“We have come together at this critical moment,” Agnelli said, “enabling European competition to be transformed, putting the game we love on a sustainable footing for the long-term future, substantially increasing solidarity, and giving fans and amateur players a regular flow of headline fixtures.”
The rebel clubs are all members of the ECA which has a working agreement with UEFA, signed in 2019, which commits all its members to take part in and respect the Champions League and other European competitions through the 2023-24 season.
While FIFA issued a statement in January warning that players in a Super League could be banned from the World Cup, the world governing body has not denied that its president, Gianni Infantino, has been involved in the breakaway talks with officials, including Real Madrid’s Perez.
“FIFA can only express its disapproval to a ‘closed European breakaway league’ outside of the international football structures,” the world body said in a statement on Sunday while not answering questions about any role by Infantino.
The Premier League said the Super League would “undermine the appeal of the whole game” by going against the principles of open competition. There was even an intervention by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who warned that a Super League would be “very damaging.”
The Super League confirmed on Sunday that each of the 15 founding members would get a share of at least 3.5 billion euros ($4.2 billion) in initial infrastructure grants.
The AP previously reported that this money would be split among four tiers of clubs, with the top six each getting 350 million euros ($420 million). The competition would begin with two groups of 10 teams, with the top three from each group advancing to the quarterfinals. The teams finishing fourth and fifth would be involved in a playoff to complete the last-eight lineup. The knockout phase would still feature two-legged quarterfinals and semifinals before a single fixture final.
The previously-reported Super League proposal hoped to generate 4 billion euros ($4.86 billion) annually from broadcasters.
In comparison, UEFA said the total commercial revenue was 3.25 billion euros ($3.9 billion) for each of the past three seasons from selling the rights to the Champions League, Europa League and UEFA Super Cup.
For the 2021-24 sales cycle, UEFA is expected to sell around $14 billion in broadcast and sponsor deals for its club competitions, which includes the new third-tier Europa Conference League.
Those sales were completed worldwide on the legal commitment of top clubs to play according to the UEFA-ECA accord. Any breach of the cooperation deal would likely lead to legal threats and suits.
“We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening,” UEFA said of the Super League. “Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.”


Quartararo wins Portuguese GP; Márquez 7th in 1st race back

Quartararo wins Portuguese GP; Márquez 7th in 1st race back
Updated 19 April 2021

Quartararo wins Portuguese GP; Márquez 7th in 1st race back

Quartararo wins Portuguese GP; Márquez 7th in 1st race back
  • Márquez had a lackluster race in his return after breaking his right arm at the Spanish GP last summer

PORTIMÃO, Portugal: Fabio Quartararo won the Portuguese Grand Prix from pole position on Sunday, with six-time MotoGP champion Marc Márquez finishing seventh in an emotional return after nine months.

Quartararo finished ahead of Francesco Bagnaia and defending MotoGP champion Joan Mir. The Frenchman moved into the championship lead with the victory at the Algarve circuit. Quartararo’s celebration after the race included an imitation of Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal celebration.

“It’s good to be back in this mindset, I feel like I’m full of confidence,” Quartararo said. “We did an amazing job. Yesterday we were first in all the sessions, and today we won. This is a great way to start the celebrations for my birthday in two days.”

Márquez had a lackluster race in his return after breaking his right arm at the Spanish GP last summer. He missed the rest of last season and the first two races this year.

“I’m relieved,” Márquez said. “Not only about finishing the race, but about being back on a motorcycle, about feeling like a rider again, even though I couldn’t ride the way I wanted to. But this weekend wasn’t about where I finished.”

The Spaniard jumped to fourth at the start and was as high as third during the first lap, but he made contact with another rider on the second lap and eventually dropped to ninth place. He kept a decent pace but could only make up a few positions, finishing just ahead of brother Álex Márquez.

Marc Márquez couldn’t hold back his emotions as he received a round of applause from the members of his team after the race.

“I’m the kind of person who likes to keep things inside and not express my emotions, but I broke down when I returned to the box,” Marc Márquez said. “It was tough.”

Quartararo lost ground early on but was back in front by the halfway point of the race in southern Portugal, holding on for his fifth MotoGP win. He was coming off a win in Qatar two weeks ago.

Jack Miller and Miguel Oliveira crashed early in the race, while Álex Rins fell later when he was near the front. Veteran Valentino Rossi also crashed to add to his struggles at the start of the season, while Johann Zarco — the championship leader coming into the Portuguese GP — went down with six laps to go while fighting at the top.

Zarco had finished second in the first two races of the season, both in Qatar. Maverick Viñales won the season-opener.

It was the third straight win for Yamaha this season.


UEFA says will ban clubs who take part in breakaway 'European Super League'

UEFA says will ban clubs who take part in breakaway 'European Super League'
Updated 19 April 2021

UEFA says will ban clubs who take part in breakaway 'European Super League'

UEFA says will ban clubs who take part in breakaway 'European Super League'

PARIS: UEFA and English, Spanish and Italian football authorities announced on Sunday that any clubs who take part in a so-called European Super League would be banned from all other domestic and continental competitions.
European football’s governing body said it had learned that some English, Spanish and Italian clubs might announce a breakaway competition.
“The clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams,” UEFA said in a statement.
Media reports on Sunday suggested that an announcement on plans to create a Super League could be made later in the day.
Sky Sports reported that Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea were among six Premier League teams set to be part of the plans.
“If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we — UEFA, the English FA, RFEF, FIGC, the Premier League, La Liga, Lega Serie A, but also FIFA and all our member associations — will remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever,” read the statement.
UEFA is planning to announce its reforms to the Champions League on Monday, with an expansion to 36 teams from 32 and two ‘wildcard’ slots expected to be among the plans.
There have been no reports that French or German clubs would be part of the Super League.
“We thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this,” UEFA added.
“We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced.
“This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. Enough is enough.”
The New York Times reported that at least 12 clubs have signed up for the competition, including Juventus and seven-time European champions AC Milan, who have not played in the Champions League since 2014.