Azarenka books spot in Indian Wells final against Badosa

Azarenka books spot in Indian Wells final against Badosa
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Victoria Azarenka of Belarus returns a shot to Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia during the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on October 15, 2021 in Indian Wells, California. (AFP)
Paula Badosa returns a shot to Ons Jabeur of Tunisia at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament on Oct. 15, 2021, in Indian Wells, California (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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Paula Badosa returns a shot to Ons Jabeur of Tunisia at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament on Oct. 15, 2021, in Indian Wells, California (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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Updated 17 October 2021

Azarenka books spot in Indian Wells final against Badosa

Azarenka books spot in Indian Wells final against Badosa
  • Azarenka clinched victory on her first match point when Ostapenko slammed a forehand into the net

INDIAN WELLS: Victoria Azarenka, who is hoping to become the first three-time WTA winner in Indian Wells, punched her ticket to Sunday’s final by rallying to beat former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Two-time Australian Open winner Azarenka continued her solid play in the California desert as she goes for her first title of 2021 and 22nd of her career.

The 32-year-old arrived in the semifinals without dropping a set and after losing the first one to Ostapenko she settled in and found her form.

Azarenka will face Spaniard Paula Badosa, who defeated Ons Jabeur in straight sets 6-3, 6-3.

Azarenka is seeking to win the tournament for the third time after victories in 2012 and 2016.

She is the only former champion left in either the women’s or men’s field, and with another victory can separate herself from the list of women who have won the trophy twice — which includes Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

Azarenka clinched victory on her first match point when Ostapenko slammed a forehand into the net.

This was the second career meeting between the two but the first on hardcourt, so it took Azarenka time to feel her opponent out and figure out her weaknesses.

“She was playing really incredible in the first set, not giving me much,” said Azarenka.

“I was just trying to find an opportunity — actually create an opportunity — for me to get back into the match and take a little bit more control. I really had to fight for every ball.”

Ostapenko controlled most of the first set, breaking Azarenka in the second game to go up 2-0. She then held serve to jump out to a 3-0 lead using her powerful ground strokes to move the Belarusian around the court.

Azarenka went down again 2-0 in the second set but then caught fire while holding serve in the third game.

That started a run of five straight games to take a 5-2 lead. Ostapenko held serve once more but Azarenka served out the set to level the match.

Azarenka raised her level another notch in a hard-fought third set, winning the final three games to get to the final where she will face Badosa for the first time.

Meanwhile, Badosa has reached the final in her first appearance in Indian Wells, cooling off Jabeur, who has been one of the hottest players on the Tour with 48 wins in 2021.


Real Madrid dispatch 10-man Inter to go through top of the group

Real Madrid dispatch 10-man Inter to go through top of the group
Updated 08 December 2021

Real Madrid dispatch 10-man Inter to go through top of the group

Real Madrid dispatch 10-man Inter to go through top of the group
  • Inter had to win to claim first place but after weathering an early storm, Madrid were superior and Kroos' goal put them in control before Barella's sending off

MADRID: Real Madrid will go through as group winners to the Champions League last 16 after Toni Kroos and Marco Asensio each scored in a 2-0 win over Inter Milan on Tuesday.
A comfortable victory at the Santiago Bernabeu, aided by Nicolo Barella's red card in the 64th minute when Inter were one goal down, sent Madrid through top of Group D, five points ahead of the Italians, who advance as runners-up.
Inter had to win to claim first place but after weathering an early storm, Madrid were superior and Kroos' goal put them in control before Barella's sending off and then a superb strike from Asensio made the result secure.
Madrid's reward is a guarantee they will avoid the likes of Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Manchester City when the draw for the knock-out stages is made on Monday, although Lionel Messi's Paris Saint-Germain will be among those in the runners-up pot.
"We wanted to finish first in the group to avoid the stronger teams and we've done that," said Luka Modric.
Other than the shock defeat away at Sheriff in September, Madrid's group stage has been relative plain-sailing, with five wins, including two victories over Inter.
But the challenge now for Carlo Ancelotti's team will be to show they can still mix it with the very best in the latter stages, after they were outplayed last season by Chelsea in the semi-finals.
Karim Benzema was absent after picking up an injury against Real Sociedad on Saturday and while Luka Jovic filled in, Madrid will hope to have Benzema back for the derby at home to Atletico Madrid in La Liga on Sunday.
"We have a few days to see if Karim recovers, I think he will," said Ancelotti.
Madrid are already eight points clear in Spain and, together with their impressive showing in the Champions League, it has been an accomplished first few months for new coach Ancelotti.
Inter were the sharper team early on, popping the ball around Madrid, whose best chances came on the break.
Inter went closest when Marcelo Brozovic sent a dipping effort onto the roof of the net.
Madrid, though, grew into the game, with Luka Modric and Kroos increasingly influential in midfield.
Vinicius Junior looked dangerous but lacked the composure that Kroos then showed for the opener in the 17th minute.
Casemiro dummied a pass from the right, allowing Kroos to collect and while he wanted the shot on his right foot he reluctantly took it on his left, driving straight and hard into the far corner.
The goal knocked the confidence out of Inter, who were on the back foot for the rest of the half.
Vinicius wanted a penalty but fell too easily and then fluffed a four against three on the counter.
Jovic was slid through but fired wide and Rodrygo twice went close, one shot on the turn clipping the post before another hit the side-netting.
After half-time, Inter's Barella blazed over from inside the box and then just after the hour, he was sent off.
Barella was barged out of play and into the sideboards by Eder Militao and he reacted by swinging his right hand into Militao's left leg while on the ground. Militao earned a yellow card for the resulting confrontation and Barella saw red.
That killed any hope Inter had of a comeback and all that was left was for Asensio, on as a substitute, to add Madrid's second in the 79th minute with a wonderful curving shot that flew in off the post.


Competing in Dakar Rally ‘dream come true’ for Saudi driver Dania Akeel

Dakar Rally participant Dania Akeel hopes that Saudi women will fulfil their wishes in order to score achievements in the name of the homeland. (Supplied)
Dakar Rally participant Dania Akeel hopes that Saudi women will fulfil their wishes in order to score achievements in the name of the homeland. (Supplied)
Updated 08 December 2021

Competing in Dakar Rally ‘dream come true’ for Saudi driver Dania Akeel

Dakar Rally participant Dania Akeel hopes that Saudi women will fulfil their wishes in order to score achievements in the name of the homeland. (Supplied)
  • A Saudi champion, Akeel was the winner of the T3 category at the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas

RIYADH: Dakar Rally 2022 participant Dania Akeel’s determination for motor racing has remained unwavering, despite injuries and a horrific accident she had while racing, and has called qualifying for the race in Saudi Arabia as her “greatest dream come true.”

A Saudi champion, Akeel was the winner of the T3 category at the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas, and is participating alongside her French co-driver Antonia De Roissard in the sixth and final stage of this season’s FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies in Hail on board her car “Can Am Maverick X3”, which falls within the T3 category.

This participation is considered a test for her and her co-driver in preparation for the Dakar Rally and a chance she has been eagerly waiting for to represent her homeland.

Akeel also sees it as an opportunity to discover and familiarize herself with the stages’ terrain and roads. Through this participation, she seeks to train and test herself, her co-driver and her car, the same car she will be driving during her most important race in January.

“The Hail rally is a great opportunity for me and my team to prepare for the Dakar Rally, which is the greatest dream that has accompanied me since I started getting into motorsports. This dream is now closer than ever and the Hail rally will be a perfect opportunity for me to train and familiarize myself with some of Dakar Rally’s stages,” Akeel said.

Akeel made history as the first female Saudi driver to participate in a round of an international desert rally, which was held in the Eastern Province as part of the third round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas, along with the first round of the Saudi Desert Rally Championship.

Akeel took the first steps of her career in 2019, as she participated in races on circuits in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. During her first season, she had an accident on the Bahrain International Circuit. This resulted in a pelvis fracture, which made her take a break from motorsports for a while.

She says that the world of cars and motorcycles is very difficult and challenging. It requires strength, courage and a sense of adventure, especially for women, who need to have a strong will because this sport is mostly male-dominated. However, she never backed down and kept pushing forwards to fulfil her ambitions because Saudi women are currently living in the era of women empowerment. She also wished that more girls and women would get into this sport in the Kingdom.

Akeel hopes that Saudi women will fulfil their wishes in order to score achievements in the name of the homeland. She also hopes that Saudi women will be able to achieve their dreams in all sports and fields.


Drivers Al-Attiyah, Alvarez go head-to-head for FIA World Cup glory in Saudi desert

Drivers Al-Attiyah, Alvarez go head-to-head for FIA World Cup glory in Saudi desert
Updated 08 December 2021

Drivers Al-Attiyah, Alvarez go head-to-head for FIA World Cup glory in Saudi desert

Drivers Al-Attiyah, Alvarez go head-to-head for FIA World Cup glory in Saudi desert
  • Saudi ace Yazeed Al-Rajhi eyes a top finish in bid to overhaul Alvarez and snatch second place

HAIL: Competitive action gets underway on Wednesday at the Hail Cross-Country Rally, the final round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.

Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Argentina’s Lucio Alvarez both drive V8-engined Toyota Hiluxes, built in conjunction with Toyota Gazoo Racing and Overdrive Racing, and they will go head-to-head to decide the outcome of the 2021 FIA World Cup Drivers’ Championship.

To win his first FIA World Cup title, Alvarez needs to overturn a 28-point deficit. The Argentine will need to win the rally outright and score at least three additional bonus points for daily stage performances and, even then, the outcome will depend on whether Al-Attiyah finishes lower than eighth overall and fails to secure a single bonus point.

Al-Attiyah said: “I won in Hail back in 2008 and 2011 and with Matthieu (Baumel), my current co-driver, we won the first of the Bajas last December. We will do our best to take the win again and seal the championship. We have a good car. The rally is also very useful experience for us before the Dakar Rally in January.”

It will be a big ask for Alvarez, but the battle has at least confirmed that Overdrive Toyotas should fill the top two places in the points’ standings unless Russia’s Denis Krotov can seal a top-four result and Alvarez fails to finish. Krotov drives an X-raid Mini and starts the rally four points adrift of local hero Yazeed Al-Rajhi. The Saudi knows that a top finish could also see him overhaul Alvarez and snatch second place in the series.

Hoping to upset the applecart and challenge for honors in their own right are the Orlen Team’s Jakub Przygonski and Argentina’s Sebastian Halpern in their X-raid Minis and Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal in a Ford F-150. Former Spanish enduro rider Laia Sanz also joins the German X-raid team to drive a Mini John Cooper Works Rally in readiness for the Dakar challenge that awaits.

With the FIA T3 and T4 championships already settled in favor of Spain’s Cristina Gutierrez and America’s Austin Jones, pride and pre-Dakar experience are at stake in both the hotly contested categories.

Eight teams line up in the T3 section, with Russian Pavel Lebedev leading the way in his Can-Am and facing competition from local favorite Saleh Al-Saif, fellow Saudis Mashael Al-Obaidan, Dania Akeel, Esra Aldkheil, and Hamed Al-Harbi, Germany’s Annett Fischer, and Uzbekistan’s Anvar Ergashev.

Al-Obaidan said: “This is a great opportunity for me to test for Dakar. This is my third race after Sharqiya and Aragon in Spain. It’s the first time that Jacopo (Cerutti), my co-driver, and I have participated together. I’ve been here a couple of times but never in an official race. There are three Saudi females, including myself. The sport is really booming here. I believe there is a really bright future in the Kingdom for everyone.”

Six crews will battle it out over the next four days for T4 honors. South Racing Middle East’s Thomas Bell tops the field and faces competition from Poland’s Marek and Michal Goczal, Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri, Australia’s Molly Taylor, and Ukraine’s Levgen Kovalevych.

There is also a National Rally running behind the main FIA rally, a separate event for motorcycles and quads, a truck category, and dispensation for several 2022 specification machines to compete with teams carrying out pre-Dakar testing.

Czech WRC star Martin Prokop wheels out the latest Ford Raptor Cross-Country, running under the Benzina Orlen Team banner, both Frenchman Ronan Chabot and Argentina’s Juan Cruz Yacopini try out Overdrive Racing’s latest Toyota Hilux T1+, and Sweden’s Sebastian Eriksson gets his hands on the latest T3-2022 South Racing Can-Am Maverick.

The Hail Cross-Country Rally is being organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation under the supervision of the Hail Regional Development Authority in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Sports.

On Wednesday, competitors will tackle the first of four selective sections through the Al-Nafud desert. The competitive stage starts 82.59 kilometers from Rally HQ, includes a passage control and refueling point after 173 km, and runs for 258.14 km. A liaison of 47.31 km guides competitors back to the bivouac.

FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies – driver standings:

1.Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT) 92.5 pts

2.Lucio Alvarez (ARG) 64.5 pts

3.Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU) 57 pts

4.Denis Krotov (RUS) 53 pts

5.Mattias Ekstrom (SWE) 27 pts

FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies – co-driver standings:

1. Matthieu Baumel (FRA) 92.5 pts

2. Armand Monleon (ESP) 64.5 pts

3. Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) 53 pts

4. Michael Orr (GBR) 35.5 pts

5. Emil Bergkvist (SWE) 27 pts


Bayern to ring changes for Barca match behind closed doors

Bayern to ring changes for Barca match behind closed doors
Updated 07 December 2021

Bayern to ring changes for Barca match behind closed doors

Bayern to ring changes for Barca match behind closed doors
  • Barcelona are second in Group E, but need a win at the Allianz Arena, which will be void of supporters due to high numbers of Covid-19 cases in Bavaria, to guarantee a last 16 spot

MUNICH: Injuries will force Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann to make changes for Wednesday’s Champions League match at home to Barcelona behind closed doors.

Bayern are already into the last 16 as group winners, but want a sixth win from six games in the group stages when they host Barcelona, who they trounced 3-0 at the Camp Nou in September.

Barcelona are second in Group E, but need a win at the Allianz Arena, which will be void of supporters due to high numbers of Covid-19 cases in Bavaria, to guarantee a last 16 spot.

Nagelsmann still plans to field “the best available” Bayern team, but at least two of his stars are carrying knocks.

“Leon (Goretzka) broke off training again, he probably won’t play, Serge Gnabry as well,” Nagelsmann said Tuesday.

The plum European tie also comes too early for both Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Joshua Kimmich, who are on the verge of leaving quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19.

Nagelsmann revealed that in Choupo-Moting’s case, “the after-effects of the infection are still such that we will wait until next week, even if he’s negative.”

Kimmich is set to end house isolation on the day of the game, but “after a four-week break, it makes no sense” for him to play, added Nagelsmann.

The Bayern boss said it “feels weird” to face Barcelona in front of empty terraces at the Allianz Arena.

The Bayern boss and his squad wants a perfect set of six wins to round off the group stages as reaching the last 16 “was important and a sixth win would be nice.”

The only time Bayern previously six wins from six was in 2019/20 on the way to winning the Champions League as part of the treble alongside the Bundesliga and German Cup titles.

Nagelsmann has already seen the impact of Xavi Hernandez, who took charge of the struggling Barcelona side four weeks after, but suffered his first defeat as head coach last weekend.

“They defend a little higher under him (Hernandez),” said Nagelsmann.

“The counter-pressing is more like in the days of Pep (Guardiola). That frees up space, but you have to first escape the pressure.”


Walker sent off as Man City crash at RB Leipzig

Walker sent off as Man City crash at RB Leipzig
Updated 07 December 2021

Walker sent off as Man City crash at RB Leipzig

Walker sent off as Man City crash at RB Leipzig
  • Walker was dismissed seven minutes from time for kicking Leipzig striker Andre Silva
  • After the final whistle, City coach Guardiola could not hide his irritation on the sidelines

LEIPZIG, Germany: Kyle Walker was shown a late red card as Manchester City suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at RB Leipzig on Tuesday, but City still advanced to the Champions League’s last 16 as group winners.
Walker was dismissed seven minutes from time for kicking Leipzig striker Andre Silva, who had earlier doubled the hosts’ tally after Dominik Szoboszlai gave Leipzig a first-half lead.
“We showed today that with courage and will we can beat everyone,” Szoboszlai told DAZN.
Before Walker’s dismissal, City had pulled a goal back when Riyad Mahrez finally headed past Leipzig goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi, who had previously pulled off a string of saves.
Walker will now be banned for the first leg of the last 16 tie.
“Right now, we don’t know exactly what went wrong — we’ll have to sit down and analyze this,” said City left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko.
“That we had won the group before the game had nothing really to do with our performance.”
Despite PSG’s 4-1 win against Club Brugge, City will go into Monday’s draw as Group A winners while third-placed Leipzig head into the knock-out stages of the Europa League.
After the final whistle, City coach Guardiola could not hide his irritation on the sidelines at the near-deserted Red Bull Arena as the game was played behind closed doors due to high numbers of Covid-19 cases in Saxony.
“We had already qualified with one game left from a tough group so I am more than satisfied with the performance in every single (European) game,” Guardiola said.
“We struggled in the first half today, but generally we have played well in the group stages.”
Leipzig rallied in their first game since American coach Jesse Marsch was sacked after inconsistent results. His assistant Achim Beierlorzer was on the home bench.
“That was the reaction we had wanted — and expected — to see,” said Leipzig chief executive Oliver Mintzlaff, who fired Marsch on Sunday.
In the build-up, Guardiola warned Kevin De Bruyne that he faces a fight to win back a regular place in the City side after a campaign marred by injuries and a coronavirus infection.
The Belgium midfielder fired wide after 17 minutes with the goal at his mercy, then had a thumping free-kick saved by Gulacsi in his best chances of the game.
Leipzig took the lead against the run of play when Konrad Laimer unleashed a superb pass which beat three defenders and put Szoboszlai in behind the City defense.
The attacking midfielder kept his nerve, rounded City goalkeeper Zach Steffen and fired into the empty net with 24 minutes played.
Leipzig nearly made it 2-0 with half-time approaching when Szoboszlai squared to Silva, but the Portugal striker headed straight at Steffen.
Guardiola responded at half-time by swapping England midfielder Phil Foden, who had an ankle knock, for Raheem Sterling, but Leipzig still held firm.
A huge roar from the home bench echoed around the stadium when Silva thumped home Emil Forsberg’s final pass to make it 2-0 on 71 minutes.
Leaking a second goal caused City to rally and they pulled one back when Oleksandr Zinchenko floated in a cross to the back post which Mahrez buried.
Walker’s dismissal only served to reduce City’s numbers for the final seven minutes as Leipzig held on.