Djokovic back in a big final at Italian Open, against Tsitsipas

Djokovic back in a big final at Italian Open, against Tsitsipas
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Novak Djokovic with a cake adorned with the number of his 1,000th tour-level wins earned after winning the semifinal match against Norway's Casper Ruud at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome on May 14, 2022. (AP)
Djokovic back in a big final at Italian Open, against Tsitsipas
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Poland's Iga Swiatek signs autographs after defeating Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka during their semifinal match at the WTA Rome Open Women's tennis tournament on May 14, 2022 at Foro Italico in Rome. (Tiziana Fabi / AFP)
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Updated 15 May 2022

Djokovic back in a big final at Italian Open, against Tsitsipas

Djokovic back in a big final at Italian Open, against Tsitsipas
  • The Serbian star recorded the 1,000th win of his career, making him only the fifth man to reach that mark after Jimmy Connors (1,274 wins), Roger Federer (1,251), Ivan Lendl (1,068) and Rafael Nadal (1,051)
  • In the women's draw, top-ranked Iga Swiatek will face another player on a run, Ons Jabeur, as she attempts to defend her Rome title

ROME: This is just what Novak Djokovic needed a week before the French Open.

The top-ranked Serb beat Casper Ruud 6-4, 6-3 at the Italian Open on Saturday to reach his biggest final of the year.

Having missed a big portion of the season because he wasn’t vaccinated against the coronavirus, Djokovic will attempt to extend his five-match winning streak over Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final.

“I can expect a big battle,” Djokovic said. “But I’m ready for it.”

Tsitsipas reached his first Rome final by rallying past Alexander Zverev 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Djokovic is seeking his sixth title in the Italian capital.

In the women’s semifinals, top-ranked Iga Swiatek routed Aryna Sabalenka 6-2, 6-1 for her 27th straight win and will face another player on a run, Ons Jabeur, as she attempts to defend her Rome title.

Jabeur beat Daria Kasatkina 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 for her 11th consecutive victory after lifting the Madrid Open trophy last week.

Djokovic recorded the 1,000th win of his career, making him only the fifth man to reach that mark after Jimmy Connors (1,274 wins), Roger Federer (1,251), Ivan Lendl (1,068) and Rafael Nadal (1,051).

After the match, Djokovic was presented with a cake with “1,000” written on it.

“I was seeing Roger and Rafa celebrating those milestones and I was looking forward to get to 1,000 myself,” Djokovic said.

Djokovic is playing only his fifth tournament of the year, with his best previous result the final of the smaller Serbia Open, his home tournament, last month. Last week, he was beaten by 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz in the semifinals of the Madrid Open.

Against Ruud, the first Norwegian to break into the top 10, Djokovic jumped out to 5-1 in the opening set with an array of shot-making that negated his opponent’s power.

On one point early on when Ruud pushed Djokovic wide of the doubles alley, the Serb practically did the splits as he responded with a backhand winner up the line with his racket just a few inches above the red clay court.

Djokovic’s most recent match against Tsitsipas came in last year’s French Open final, when he rallied from two sets down to take the trophy.

Djokovic also needed five sets to beat Tsitsipas in the Roland Garros semifinals two years ago, and they went the full three sets when Djokovic won in the Rome quarterfinals last year.

“I’ve looked back to those matches. I’ve analyzed them,” Tsitsipas said. “There are things that didn’t work for me after two sets to love up in Roland Garros. I guess I was always pretty stubborn, didn’t want to change (tactics). … There’s always one more match where I can perhaps maybe do something different.”

Tsitsipas has been pushed to three sets in three of his four matches this week, having also overcome local favorite Jannik Sinner in straight sets in the quarterfinals.

Tsitsipas has also played all of his matches in the midday heat.

“The heat hasn’t been easy. But that’s what I prefer,” the Greek player said.

Tsitsipas defended his title at the Monte Carlo Masters last month and is aiming for another big clay-court title.

The Italian Open has been played at the picturesque Foro Italico, which includes a court lined by neo-classical statues, since 1935.

“It’s one of the tournaments that has the most history in our sport,” Tsitsipas said. “You can see walking around the site, one of the most beautiful stadiums — the Pietrangeli. So there’s a lot of history playing in these courts and you feel very proud that you’ve made your way here and are able to participate in such a historically rich event.”

Swiatek’s streak is the longest by a woman since Serena Williams won 27 in a row over 2014 and 2015. The all-time longest streak belongs to Martina Navratilova, who put together 74 straight in 1984.

“I’m just constantly surprising myself that I can do better and better,” Swiatek said. “I feel like I actually can believe now that the sky’s the limit. That’s the fun part.”




Poland's Iga Swiatek signs autographs after defeating Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka during their semifinal match at the WTA Rome Open Women's tennis tournament on May 14, 2022 at Foro Italico in Rome. (Tiziana Fabi / AFP)

Seeking to win her fifth straight tournament, Swiatek dominated the eighth-ranked Sabalenka with power, consistency and finesse.

“Today I felt like I really understood the clay,” Swiatek said.

The hard-hitting Sabalenka took a medical timeout late in the second set and had her back treated.

Swiatek, who was a surprise champion at the French Open in 2020 when she was ranked No. 54, will be the favorite to add a second title at Roland Garros when the year’s second Grand Slam starts next weekend.

Jabeur, who is also quickly developing into a French Open contender, saved a match point late in the third.


Butler, Heat drag Celtics to Game 7 in Miami

Butler, Heat drag Celtics to Game 7 in Miami
Updated 28 May 2022

Butler, Heat drag Celtics to Game 7 in Miami

Butler, Heat drag Celtics to Game 7 in Miami
  • Butler’s 47 points were the seventh-most in NBA history for a player facing elimination

BOSTON: Jimmy Butler had 47 points, nine rebounds and eight assists and the Miami Heat forced the Eastern Conference finals to a decisive seventh game by beating the Boston Celtics 111-103 on Friday night.

Ten years after LeBron James had 45 points in Boston to help the Heat avoid Game 6 elimination en route to the first of their back-to-back NBA titles, Butler scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to top him and send the series back to Miami.

With a victory at home Sunday, the Heat would advance to the NBA Finals for the second time in three years.

“This is the way it should be, with these two teams. It should have gone seven games,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I’m just really thrilled that our group gets an opportunity to compete in a Game 7 in front of our home crowd.”

In the most back-and-forth game of the series, Boston took a 97-94 lead on Derrick White’s 3-pointer with under five minutes to play — the first time all series the lead has changed hands in the fourth quarter. Kyle Lowry answered with a 3 and then added two free throws as Miami scored 11 of the next 13 points.

Lowry finished with 18 points and 10 assists before fouling out with 2:18 left. Butler made 16 of 29 shots, hitting 4 of 8 from 3-point range and all 11 free throws.

“Matching his intensity from the start wasn’t there,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “Understanding that he was going to put it on his shoulders, and we didn’t match it.”

Jayson Tatum had 30 points and nine rebounds and Derrick White came off the bench to score 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter for Boston. The Celtics are trying to reach the finals for the first time since 2010.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown scored 20 points, missing a pair of free throws with the game tied at 99 after Lowry fouled out. Brown fouled out himself on a charge offensive that was assessed after a challenge on a missed dunk with 13 seconds left and the Celtics down by four.

Butler’s 47 points were the seventh-most in NBA history for a player facing elimination.

Elgin Baylor had 61 against Boston in Game 5 of the 1962 finals. Wilt Chamberlain topped 50 three times, Sleepy Floyd had 50 against the Lakers in 1987 and Jamal Murray scored 50 against Utah in 2020.

It was also the third-most to stave off elimination against the Celtics. In addition to Baylor, Chamberlain had 50 in Game 5 of the East finals in 1960.

James’ 45 against Boston in Game 6 of the 2012 conference finals set the stage for a Game 7 win in Miami.

The Heat are hoping Butler’s performance can do the same.

“I get it, people can easily draw the comparisons between the two,” Spoelstra said. “That’s a different era. That’s a different team. I want our guys to embrace this moment.”

Miami guard Tyler Herro missed his third straight game with a strained groin, costing the team its No. 2 scorer. Kyle Lowry (hamstring), Max Strus (hamstring) and P.J. Tucker (knee) had been listed as questionable but were in the starting lineup.

Boston’s Marcus Smart (sprained right ankle) and Robert Williams III (sore knee) tested their injuries pregame and were also in the lineup.

TIP-INS

Heat: Butler had 14 points, five rebounds and four assists in the first. He scored or assisted on 24 of Miami’s 29 points in the quarter.

Celtics: Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who was inducted into the ballclub’s Hall of Fame on Thursday night, was courtside. Ortiz threw out a ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park earlier in the evening. Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez was also at the game, wearing his World Series ring.


Bouwman rules Giro 19th mountain stage, Carapaz keeps leader’s pink jersey

Bouwman rules Giro 19th mountain stage, Carapaz keeps leader’s pink jersey
Updated 28 May 2022

Bouwman rules Giro 19th mountain stage, Carapaz keeps leader’s pink jersey

Bouwman rules Giro 19th mountain stage, Carapaz keeps leader’s pink jersey
  • Bouwman negotiated the jostling on a sharp final bend to beat his four breakaway companions for his second stage win after Potenza in southern Italy two weeks ago
  • The Giro will go down to the wire with Saturday’s stage in the Dolomites now looking crucial to the outcome

CIVIDALE DEL FRIULI, Italy: Dutch rider Koen Bouwman won a sprint finish in the mountains for stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia at Santuario di Castelmonte on Friday as Richard Carapaz held the leader’s pink jersey.

Ecuador’s 2019 Giro winner Carapaz holds a slim three-second advantage on Australian Jai Hindley two days before the race finishes with a time-trial in Verona.

Bouwman negotiated the jostling on a sharp final bend to beat his four breakaway companions for his second stage win after Potenza in southern Italy two weeks ago.

Quick Step’s Mauro Schmid of Switzerland was just behind with Italian Alessandro Tonelli of Bardiani three seconds off the pace.

“After I won one stage I said anything else would be a bonus,” said Jumbo-Visma’s Bouwman who is assured of the top climber’s blue jersey providing he finishes the race.

“Today I rode for the Maglia Azzurra and I’m glad I secured it.

“I knew about the last corner but I didn’t expect it to be that sharp.

“I had to break but it’s great that I was in the best position there. That gave me the win. I’m delighted.”

Carapaz survived the setback of losing his key mountain lieutenant Richie Porte early in the 178km stage from Marano Lagunare which included four climbs and crossed into neighboring Slovenia.

Ineos Grenadiers rider Porte was dropped from the peloton on the first climb of the day, the third-category Villanova Grotte, after 70km of racing. Organizers later confirmed the 37-year-old Australian had withdrawn from the Giro.

“It’s been a pretty hard stage,” said Carapaz.

“It’s a pity that we lost Richie Porte early in the race but the team has done a great job and Pavel Sivakov is in a great shape.

“All top three riders, we’re together. It’s fine with me. Whatever happens tomorrow will be fine with me too.”

A 12-man breakaway approached the main climb of the day, the Kolovrat over 10.3 km and with a 9.2 percent gradient, with more than nine minutes on the peloton.

The four survivors only lost a little over a minute on this climb near Caporetto, the site of a historic defeat for the Italians in the First World War.

Neither Carapaz nor Hindley tried to pull ahead in the final climb having made several attempts earlier along with Spaniard Mikel Landa, third in the standings.

The Giro will go down to the wire with Saturday’s stage in the Dolomites now looking crucial to the outcome.

The 20th stage, the last in the mountains, includes three great climbs — the San Pellegrino, the Pordoi for the highest point of this year’s race at 2,239 meters above sea level concluding at the Fedaia, with a spectacular steep climb in the last 5,400 meters.

Sunday’s final stage is a 17.4km individual time-trial into Verona where Ecuadorian Carapaz claimed overall victory three years ago.


World No.1 Scheffler clings to a  share of lead at PGA Colonial 

World No.1 Scheffler clings to a  share of lead at PGA Colonial 
Updated 28 May 2022

World No.1 Scheffler clings to a  share of lead at PGA Colonial 

World No.1 Scheffler clings to a  share of lead at PGA Colonial 
  • After winning his first US PGA title at Phoenix in February, Scheffler won at Bay Hill and captured the WGC Match Play title in March then won his first major title at the Masters in April to overtake Spain’s Jon Rahm as world No. 1 

LOS ANGELES: Top-ranked Masters champion Scottie Scheffler fired a 5-under par 65 to keep a share of the lead after Friday’s second round of the US PGA Charles Schwab Challenge.

Scheffler, chasing his fifth victory of the year, stood alongside fellow Americans Beau Hossler and Scott Stallings on 9-under 131 after 36 holes at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.

After winning his first US PGA title at Phoenix in February, Scheffler won at Bay Hill and captured the WGC Match Play title in March then won his first major title at the Masters in April to overtake Spain’s Jon Rahm as world No. 1.

“I’ve definitely enjoyed the stuff that comes with winning majors and winning the other tournaments that I have,” Scheffler said. “It has been a lot of fun.”

Scheffler has not made a bogey in the first two rounds.

“I love that stat,” Scheffler said. “I kept the stress off myself for the most part.”

Scheffler missed the cut at last week’s PGA Championship, giving him a much-needed break before a hometown event.

“It has been busy,” he said. “Definitely a good reset. I came home and did nothing on Saturday and had a relaxing practice on Sunday. It was definitely a good little break.”

Hot and windy weather is forecast for the weekend.

“I like it when the conditions are really hard and so I’d rather it be very difficult than very easy,” Scheffler said. “If you’re playing really good golf, you can extend yourself and I’m really excited for the challenge this weekend.”

Scheffler opened with back-to-back birdie putts from about four feet and made a par save from just inside 10 feet at the par-4 seventh.

He began the back nine with a birdie then holed a 24-foot birdie putt at the 12th and a 14-footer for birdie at the 17th to share the lead again after being among eight co-leaders following the first 18 holes.

“I worked really hard just improving my iron play and creating a lot of different shots for myself,” Scheffler said. “This course is a lot about the approaches to the green and it looks like the hard work is paying off out here.”

Stallings fired a 64, the best round so far this week. He closed the front nine with a 20-foot birdie putt at the eighth and holeout from 37 feet at the ninth, then sank a birdie putt from just inside 29 feet at the 18th to share the lead.

“Had some good looks early,” said Stallings. “I felt good on the greens, felt good with my stroke and nice to see them fall in there toward the second half of the round.”

Hossler holed birdie putts at the par-3 eighth from 24 feet and the par-3 13th from 21 feet to highlight his bogey-free 65.

“Played a solid round,” Hossler said. “Nothing too exciting. Hit a lot of greens and just made the round relatively stress free.”

Patrick Reed, the 2018 Masters champion, was fourth on 132 with fellow Americans Pat Perez and Chris Kirk sharing fifth on 133.

Justin Thomas, who won his second major title at last week’s PGA Championship, and fellow American Will Zalatoris, who lost at Southern Hills in a playoff, each missed the cut.

Chile’s Mito Pereira, who missed out on the PGA playoff after a 72nd-hole collapse on Sunday, fired a 66 to stand on 136.


Djokovic, Nadal and Alcaraz roll into last 16 at French Open

Djokovic, Nadal and Alcaraz roll into last 16 at French Open
Updated 28 May 2022

Djokovic, Nadal and Alcaraz roll into last 16 at French Open

Djokovic, Nadal and Alcaraz roll into last 16 at French Open
  • The 35-year-old Serb is aiming to become the oldest men’s singles champion in Paris in the Open era as he chases a record-equalling 21st Grand Slam title
  • The Spanish teenage star is the youngest man in the Roland Garros fourth round since Djokovic 16 years ago

PARIS: Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal closed in Friday on a blockbuster clash at the French Open as both reached the last 16, while 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz became the youngest man to make the second week in Paris since 2006.

Reigning champion Djokovic and 13-time winner Nadal are on course to meet in the quarterfinals, with the Spaniard seeded outside the top four at Roland Garros for just the second time.

World No. 1 Djokovic strolled to a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 win over Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene and Nadal eased past Dutch 26th seed Botic van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

“I’m always very motivated when I get on the court, with the desire to produce my best level each time. It’s not always possible to do it, but today it was very good,” said Djokovic.

The 35-year-old Serb is aiming to become the oldest men’s singles champion in Paris in the Open era as he chases a record-equalling 21st Grand Slam title.

Next up for Djokovic, who was also French Open champion in 2016, is a matchup with Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman, the 15th seed.

Nadal, the 21-time major champion, improved his record at Roland Garros to 108-3 after seeing off 2021 US Open quarter-finalist Van de Zandschulp.

He has now reached at least the fourth round in 17 of 18 visits to Roland Garros, with the exception of 2016 when he withdrew in the third round with a wrist injury.

“Today has been a very good test and very positive test, because I was able to play my best match of the tournament so far, without any doubt,” said Nadal.

The Spaniard had a break point for 5-0 in the third set, but Van de Zandschulp refused to roll over, winning four of the next five games before Nadal put away his second match point, having saved a break point in between the two.

“You always feel a little bit the nerves to finish the match, so I’m happy to be through in straight sets,” said Nadal, who plays Canadian ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime for a place in the last eight.

In a twist to that clash, Toni Nadal, the uncle and former coach of the Spaniard, is now working with Auger-Aliassime.

Alcaraz gained revenge against the only man to beat him on clay this year, defeating US 27th seed Sebastian Korda 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 in the evening session.

The Spanish teenage star is the youngest man in the Roland Garros fourth round since Djokovic 16 years ago.

“I’m trying to have fun out there. I just enjoy every single second. I love playing tennis,” said Alcaraz, who saved a match point against countryman Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the previous round.

He has won 20 of 21 matches on clay this season and next faces 21st seed Karen Khachanov. The Russian knocked out Cameron Norrie in four sets as the 10th-seeded Briton became the highest-ranked player to fall.

Alexander Zverev, the third seed and 2021 semifinalist, ended the run of American Brandon Nakashima, winning 7-6 (7/2), 6-3, 7-6 (7/5).

The German Olympic champion, who also saved a match point in round two, next takes on Bernabe Zapata Miralles, the 131st-ranked Spaniard who downed John Isner in five sets.

Amanda Anisimova, the 27th seed and a 2019 semifinalist, advanced to the last 16 as injury-plagued Karolina Muchova retired down 6-7 (7/9), 6-2, 3-0 after falling and twisting her ankle midway through the second set.

Last year’s US Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez beat Olympic champion Belinda Bencic of Switzerland 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, while Aliaksandra Sasnovich defeated three-time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber 6-4, 7-6 (7/5).

Coco Gauff, the youngest player left in the French Open, made the last 16 with a straight-sets win over Kaia Kanepi, the oldest woman in the tournament at 36.

Sloane Stephens, runner-up in 2018, ended the run of French teenager Diane Parry in straight sets, while Swiss 23rd seed Jil Teichmann overcame two-time former Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10/5).


Mane’s Liverpool future hangs in the balance ahead of European final

Mane’s Liverpool future hangs in the balance ahead of European final
Updated 28 May 2022

Mane’s Liverpool future hangs in the balance ahead of European final

Mane’s Liverpool future hangs in the balance ahead of European final
  • The Senegalese star, who has been at Liverpool since 2016 and has a year left on his deal, teased this week that he “will answer after the Champions League (final) if I’m staying or not”

PARIS: Sadio Mané’s last game for Liverpool could be on Saturday in the Champions League final against Real Madrid.

The Senegal international’s future was a hot topic on Friday when Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp held his pre-match news conference at Stade de France in Paris.

Klopp was unwilling to make any guarantees about Mane staying at Liverpool, amid reported interest from German champion Bayern Munich.

“This is the wrong moment to speak about that,” Klopp said. “Wherever Sadio will play next season, he will be a big player, definitely.”

Mane, who has been at Liverpool since 2016 and has a year left on his deal, teased this week that he “will answer after the Champions League (final) if I’m staying or not.”

“Come back to me on Saturday,” Mane added in an interview with Sky Sports, “and I will give you the best answer you want to hear, for sure. It’s special.”

Klopp seemed irritated that stories about Mane’s future have come up before the Champions League final and suggested it might have something to do with him being the former coach of Borussia Dortmund — the biggest title rival of Bayern Munich in Germany.

“It’s not the first time in my career that before a decisive game, Bayern Munich rumors are coming up,” Klopp said. “I don’t know what I did. It happens.”

Klopp also expressed his surprise that a new playing surface had been laid at the Stade de France late Thursday, barely two days before the biggest match in European club soccer.

Paris is a replacement host for the game, with Saint Petersburg — where it was initially scheduled to be played — stripped of hosting rights after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The field has been belatedly relaid because there were concerts staged at the stadium last weekend.

“Obviously not the best news for both teams. I have no idea how it will be,” Klopp said.

“If somebody thought it was a good idea to bring the pitch the day before the game, it’s an interesting idea, to be honest. But it didn’t kill my mood a percent. I’m really happy we were here — we would have played on a petanque (surface).”