Verstappen heads to Monaco where Leclerc awaits a change of luck

Verstappen heads to Monaco where Leclerc awaits a change of luck
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, of the Netherlands, after winning the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at the Barcelona Catalunya racetrack in Montmelo, Spain, last weekend. (AP/File)
Short Url
Updated 26 May 2022

Verstappen heads to Monaco where Leclerc awaits a change of luck

Verstappen heads to Monaco where Leclerc awaits a change of luck
  • Verstappen took control of the championship by easing six points clear of Monegasque driver Leclerc of Ferrari, who was forced into retirement at the Circuit de Catalunya

MONACO: World champion Max Verstappen heads home this weekend hoping to survive the chaos and beat archrival and luckless local hero Charles Leclerc again in Sunday’s 79th running of the Monaco Grand Prix.

Just days after leading his teammate Sergio Perez over the line in a Red Bull 1-2 last weekend in Spain, the 24-year-old Dutchman will bid for a repeat to consolidate his grip at the top of this year’s title race.

Verstappen took control of the championship by easing six points clear of Monegasque driver Leclerc of Ferrari, who was forced into retirement at the Circuit de Catalunya.

He seeks a fourth consecutive win and second in the classic contest in Sunday’s potentially rain-affected race.

“Qualifying is critical, like always,” said the 2021 victor.

“Monaco is always a hectic weekend, but special. The track is old school, narrow and it makes your heart rate go so high it’s insane.

“We have to be constantly on the edge. It’s a pretty crazy place with Formula One cars! I finally won there last year — and it was a massive relief to cross the line.”

Like Leclerc, who was born and lives in the Mediterranean principality, Verstappen is based there — for climatic and tax purposes — along with several other drivers including seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.

As a result, they enjoy an intimate knowledge of the circuit regarded as the most iconic and glamorous on the F1 calendar, but also the rare luxury of sleeping at home during a race weekend.

For Leclerc, however, that comfort has yet to be of any help on the tight, unforgiving and sinuous barrier-lined street track that requires total concentration and extraordinary driver skills.

At just 3.337 kilometers, it is the shortest on the calendar, offers few overtaking opportunities, rapid and multiple gear changes and tricky changes in elevation and direction. Only 42 percent of the lap is run at full speed, the lowest of the year.

Despite knowing all this and having gone by bus to school on the same stretches of asphalt, Leclerc has yet to finish his home Grand Prix in three attempts since 2018. Last year, after crashing on Saturday, he could not start Sunday’s race.

Before that, he had to retire after starting from pole in a Formula Two race in 2017 and, more recently, earlier this month, crashed a classic 1974 Ferrari, raced by Niki Lauda, at a historic demonstration event.

Yet he remains calm and optimistic, hoping a change to the classic Monaco routine this year — with practice starting on Friday, and not Thursday, as was once traditional — will help.

“I think it gives us the rhythm of the other races, which could be good so I am looking forward to that and giving it a go,” he said, deflecting any negative thoughts after a power failure in Spain, while leading, brought him his first DNF (Did Not Finish) of the season.

“My attitude is always the same, regardless,” he added. “Every point is valuable. We know that even the smallest mistake can make a bid difference.”

After dominating practice and starting from pole in Spain, Leclerc and Ferrari will hope they can continue to set the pace, but they know Red Bull will be a threat and reliability a key factor.

“Since the start of the season, the team that has done everything perfectly was the one to win. We will do everything to be that team,” said Leclerc.

“We have the confidence that we can make it, which is a good starting point.”

After returning to competitive form with a heavily upgraded car in Spain, where George Russell was third and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton fifth, Mercedes will also be hopeful, but realistic.

“We made a big step and halved the advantage of the front-runners,” said team chief Toto Wolff.

“But there’s still a long way to go. And Monaco was not our happiest place in the past. My expectations are lower than at any other circuit.”

Mercedes have won only once since 2016 after winning four in a row and the unique showpiece race has been Red Bull’s twice in three years since Ferrari’s last win in 2017, with Sebastian Vettel.

To many observers, another Ferrari win and an end to Leclerc’s agonies is long overdue.


Newcastle’s Sven Botman idolizes Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk

Newcastle’s Sven Botman idolizes Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk
Updated 04 July 2022

Newcastle’s Sven Botman idolizes Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk

Newcastle’s Sven Botman idolizes Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk
  • Magpies’ new defender, 22, hopes to reach Premier League elite level
  • Left-footer in team’s summer preparations for season opener on Aug. 6

NEWCASTLE: Sven Botman has laughed off comparisons with compatriot Virgil van Dijk but hopes to one day reach the Liverpool star’s level — and do it with Newcastle United.

Last week Botman became the Magpies’ most expensive ever defender eclipsing the eight-figure sums paid for the likes of Dan Burn, Jonathan Woodgate and Fabricio Coloccini.

And the Netherlands’ youth international hopes to hit the ground running when he begins training with the rest of the Magpies’ first-team squad on Wednesday, after an extended summer break due to his national exertions.

While some look to the development of Van Dijk with Southampton and then the Reds, as a comparison upon which to gauge 22-year-old Botman, the central defender admits he has a long way to go to even be considered in the same conversation as one of the Premier League’s elite.

“I am far from his level,” said Botman, when asked about Van Dijk, regarded by many to be the best defender in world football.

“That is my goal, as Virgil is a great defender. Being in the Premier League, it can help me get faster to his level but I need a lot of time and a lot of matches. And I think Newcastle is the right environment for me to develop myself and to become a defender like him.”

Botman, a near $39 million purchase from Lille, is the third signing of the summer for head coach Eddie Howe, in what has already proven to be a busy transfer window.

The Magpies previously turned Matt Targett’s loan deal from Aston Villa into a permanent one before signing England international goalkeeper Nick Pope from Burnley.

Botman improves a department already blessed with plenty of experience and talent, but how will he complement those around him?

He explained: “I am a tall guy and I am strong in duels. I like to play one (versus one) against a striker but I also like to help the team with the build up from the back. I am left-footed but can also play with the right.

“I need to improve a lot but I am on the right path and I think here at Newcastle is the best step for me to improve myself.

“Newcastle at the moment is a club with a lot of passion. You see players working hard, but at the end Newcastle wants to reach the top end of the league and into Europe. We need to mix that with good football.

“I think in the upcoming five years, things are looking bright.”

It’s much-publicized that United weren’t Botman’s only option this summer.

Serie A champions and seven-times European Cup winners AC Milan were also deep in negotiations to sign the player from under the noses of Newcastle.

“I had some talks with some clubs,” the former Ajax defender admitted.

“I just like the Premier League so much and Newcastle has this project, where the future’s looking brighter. I hope to see myself grow with the club.

“I am delighted. I am thankful to all of the people who worked on this deal. It has been a long trip, but finally we are here.”

While European places and silverware continue to evade United, one of their unique selling points is the club’s fanatical supporters.

More than 30,000 people, bearing in mind the strict eligibility criteria, tried to snap up just 1,000 released season tickets for St James’ Park this season. And home and away sell outs are a weekly occurrence at United.

“I know that they have crazy, super fans,” he said.

“They always play with their heart, and if you watch them it is always played with passion.

“It’s like 52,000 people and I hear it is always sold out, the fans are crazy, so I can’t wait to play.

“I can only say good things about the fans. I get a lot of messages, sorry I can’t read them all.

“When I have seen matches in Newcastle, the whole vibe, the environment in the stadium is incredible. I can’t wait to play there.”

Head coach Howe now turns his attention to signing at least another two forward players to add goals, creativity and speed to the United frontline.

But focusing on getting his number one transfer target through the door, he said: “I’m delighted Sven is joining us. He is technically very good, physically very good and has a great attitude.

“At 22, he already has solid experience at the top level but he is at a great age to grow with this team. I am looking forward to getting to work with him and seeing him with his new teammates.”

Meanwhile, as the Newcastle players returned to pre-season training on Friday, the club announced confirmation of their full pre-season plans.

The club will kick off their summer preparation with a behind-closed-doors encounter with non-league neighbors Gateshead on Saturday. They will then travel to Austria, to a base on the outskirts of Salzburg, to take part in a nine-day training camp, which will see them face 1860 Munich and Mainz during their stay.

The first game of the trip will be on Friday, July 15 against Munich, then Mainz on Monday, July 18. The Magpies will venture out to Portugal to take on Benfica on Tuesday, July 26, although a game the previous weekend is still a possibility.

They will close out their summer games with a double-header at St James’ Park on Friday and Saturday, July 29 and 30. Atalanta then Athletic Bilbao will be the opposition on Tyneside.

Newcastle’s first game of the Premier League season takes place at home on Saturday, Aug. 6 against Nottingham Forest.


Nick Kyrgios eyes Wimbledon quarters as Rafael Nadal picks up the pace

Nick Kyrgios eyes Wimbledon quarters as Rafael Nadal picks up the pace
Updated 04 July 2022

Nick Kyrgios eyes Wimbledon quarters as Rafael Nadal picks up the pace

Nick Kyrgios eyes Wimbledon quarters as Rafael Nadal picks up the pace
  • Australian toppled Stefanos Tsitispas in a heated four-set thriller on Saturday
  • Nick Kyrgios, ranked 40th in the world, thrives on his bad-boy image

LONDON: Nick Kyrgios is back in action at Wimbledon on Monday after his dramatic victory against Stefanos Tsitispas as he closes in on a mouthwatering semifinal with Rafael Nadal.
The maverick Australian toppled Tsitispas in a heated four-set thriller on Saturday, during which he called for the fourth seed to be kicked out of the tournament for hitting a ball into the crowd.
Kyrgios called the umpire a “disgrace” as tempers frayed and the bad feeling spilled over into the post-match press conferences.
The defeated Greek player said his opponent has an “evil side” and described him as a “bully,” comments that Kyrgios laughed off.
Nick Kyrgios, 40th in the world, thrives on his bad-boy image and Saturday’s outbursts were not even his first of the tournament.
But it will be a different challenge against American Brandon Nakashima, a player he has never faced before, and he may struggle to re-create the big-match intensity on Center Court.
Kyrgios, who has only reached the quarter-finals of two Grand Slams, believes he has the firepower to win Wimbledon.
“Round by round, if I keep doing my things, I feel good. I’m all right,” said the 27-year-old, who had vocal support from the crowd on Saturday despite his antics.
Nadal, chasing the third leg of a calendar Grand Slam, found his rhythm in his third-round match against Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego and now faces Dutch 21st seed Botic van de Zandschulp.
The 22-time Grand Slam champion, twice a winner at the All England Club, swept into the last 16 in straight sets after needing four sets to progress in his opening two matches.
“My best match, without a doubt, since the tournament started,” said Nadal, the only top-10 player left in his side of the draw.
“I made improvements today. Very happy for that.
“I made a lot of things much better than the previous days, the determination, the way that I manage to play more aggressive, going to the net plenty of times.”


French amateur football tournament celebrates diversity, fights racism

French amateur football tournament celebrates diversity, fights racism
Updated 04 July 2022

French amateur football tournament celebrates diversity, fights racism

French amateur football tournament celebrates diversity, fights racism
  • Event grew out of local tournaments in France's suburbs where former immigrants have lived for generations
  • Competition challenges French ideals of a colorblind republic that doesn’t identify people by ethnic background

CRETEIL, France: An amateur football tournament in France aimed at celebrating ethnic diversity is attracting talent scouts, sponsors and increasing public attention, by uniting young players from low-income neighborhoods with high-profile names in the sport.

The National Neighborhoods Cup is intended to shine a positive spotlight on working-class areas with large immigrant populations that some politicians and commentators scapegoat as breeding grounds for crime, riots and extremism.

Players with Congolese heritage beat a team with Malian roots 5-4 on Saturday in the one-month tournament’s final match, held at the home stadium of a third-division French team in the Paris suburb of Creteil. The final was broadcast live on Prime Video.

The event competition grew out of local tournaments modeled after the African Cup of Nations that have been held in recent years in suburbs and towns across France where former immigrants with African backgrounds have lived for years or generations. This tournament, however was broader, and international in scope.

Along with teams from former French colonies in Africa, the participants included teams from European nations like Portugal and Italy. Players from France’s former colonies in Asia also competed.

The tournament, which was launched in 2019, challenges the French ideal of a colorblind republic that doesn’t count or identify people by race or ethnic background. The ideal was intended to provide equal opportunity by treating everyone as simply French; in practice, people in places like Creteil experience discrimination and ethnic tensions daily.

HIGHLIGHT

The France team — like its World Cup-winning national team — is made up of white, Black, Arab and multiracial players that reflects the country’s diversity.

“We are Afro-descendants, we are claiming our roots and we are proud,” said tournament founder Moussa Sow, who works at the Red Cross and grew up in a Creteil neighborhood with a tough reputation. “It’s not because we carry this heritage that we are going to erase our French identity.”

The France team — like its World Cup-winning national team — is made up of white, Black, Arab and multiracial players that reflects the country’s diversity.

“We have players who have two or three nationalities. It is a strength for us, a richness,” Sow told The Associated Press.

Sow witnessed firsthand the growing tensions among young people divided into rival groups according to which quarter of Creteil they were from, and wanted to gather inhabitants around the love of football and a celebration of cultural heritage.

Mohamed Diamé, who made 31 appearances for Senegal and played for West Ham and Newcastle in the English Premier League, former Mali and Paris Saint-Germain defender Sammy Traoré and Senegal manager Aliou Cisse all took part. In February, Cisse became a national hero after guiding Senegal to long-awaited victory in the African Cup of Nations.

Traore and Diame both made it to the top level in football and both grew up in Creteil, providing an example to young people that success is within their reach, too.

“I started my first training here when I was 7. I considered people from this neighborhood as brothers,” Diamé told the AP. “This feels like a pro tournament. We have a group chat, we support each other, we are determined.”

The amateur cup has grown since Sow started in 2019. Colorful placards of multinationals and local companies sponsoring the event were seen around the field. Young people and families can grab a merguez sandwich — a spicy sausage of North African origin long popular around France’s football stadiums — or other snacks and sing along to popular French songs, played by a DJ near the field.

“I am happy and proud, despite the anxious climate in France, to see people of different generations gathering,” Sow said.

Even though the tournament is strictly amateur, the technical level among players was good. At last weekend’s semifinals, high-quality cross-field passes and clever dribbles were cheered by the crowd. Some scouts were on the sidelines, sensing an opportunity to recruit talented young players.

Suburbs and satellite towns around big cities, known in French as “les banlieues,” are fertile ground for football talents in Europe. Academies in France — notably Lyon, Monaco, Nantes and Rennes — are ranked among the best in Europe along with Spain for developing young players such as Real Madrid great Karim Benzema and World Cup star Kylian Mbappe.

But these same areas have also carried and been scarred by a rough reputation.

At the end of May, some far-right politicians blamed young people from the suburbs for violence outside the Champions League final at Stade de France in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. They were widely accused of vandalism, disruption of public safety and fraud.

Sow stressed that despite many people being suspicious of young people from the suburbs, where poverty and minority populations are concentrated in France, the tournament in Creteil has gone well. Defeats have been accepted with grace, and fans who have run onto the field after wins have been joyous rather than violent.

The mayor of Creteil supports the events, and a newly elected parliament member for the district, Clemence Guette of the left-wing parliamentary coalition NUPES, came to the semifinals. Guetté called it a “unifying” event that promoted “beautiful values” that sport generates.

Diame, who made around 240 Premier League appearances, has never let that take him away from his roots.

“No matter if you are Black, white, or Asian, everyone is welcome,” he told the AP. “Children, parents, grandparents, uncles or aunts. Everyone is here to enjoy a pure moment of pleasure.”


Groenewegen pips Van Aert to win Tour de France stage 3 in photo finish

Groenewegen pips Van Aert to win Tour de France stage 3 in photo finish
Updated 04 July 2022

Groenewegen pips Van Aert to win Tour de France stage 3 in photo finish

Groenewegen pips Van Aert to win Tour de France stage 3 in photo finish
  • Three years after his last Tour stage win, the 29-year-old Groenewegen was open-mouthed and emotional as he put his hands over his head

SONDERBORG, Denmark: Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen overtook Wout van Aert and Peter Sagan at the line to win the third stage of the Tour de France in a photo finish while Van Aert extended his overall lead on Sunday.

Groenewegen got behind record seven-time Tour sprint champion Sagan’s wheel when he was battling with Van Aert, and found a gap to squeeze through and nudge his wheel over the line to win for the BikeExchange–Jayco team.

“I took a lot of wind and my legs were tired but I still had enough to sprint to the line,” Groenewegen said. “Wout van Aert always jokes, saying that if you are not sure of having won, you still claim the victory and you celebrate. That’s what I did (and) I understood I won from the sport directors screaming in the car.”

Groenewegen’s fifth Tour stage win came a day after Fabio Jakobsen’s first. Two years ago, Groenewegen was blamed for a heavy crash at the Tour of Poland that sent Jakobsen flying through roadside crash barriers. Jakobsen was put in an induced coma and needed five hours of surgery on his skull and face.

Although Groenewegen was remorseful over the incident, he was banned from cycling for nine months by cycling’s governing body UCI.

“My family supported me greatly after what happened,” he said. “My new team has put a lot of faith in me and a great train to lead me out. Every victory at the Tour de France is special.”

Three years after his last Tour stage win, the 29-year-old Groenewegen was open-mouthed and emotional as he put his hands over his head. The win was even more special since he crashed nine kilometers out and had to catch the peloton up.

Sagan was cross with Van Aert, meanwhile, muttering angrily and wagging his finger at him after they crossed the line because he found himself boxed to the right and close to the barriers. But there was no contact and Sagan even appeared to lean on Van Aert.

Van Aert picked up a six-second bonus and is now seven seconds ahead of Yves Lampaert and 14 ahead of two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar in the standings. Pogacar’s rival Primoz Roglic, the 2020 Tour runner-up, is seventh overall and stayed nine seconds behind Pogacar.

The stage started in Vejle on the Jutland Peninsula and ended in Sonderborg in southern Denmark after 182 kilometers (113 miles) of flat racing. Groenewegen’s winning time was 4 hours, 11 minutes, 33 seconds. Pogacar and Roglic were nestled in the main pack with finishing positions irrelevant since they all got the same time.

“It’s been quiet for me today, even though flat stages are always nervous and can be dangerous,” Pogacar said. “I wasn’t affected by the crash in the finale. The first three days have gone well.”

Van Aert wore the leader’s yellow jersey for the Jumbo–Visma team after taking it for the first time on Saturday. He also extended his lead in the green jersey contest for best sprinter.

Huge crowds packed the roadsides in sparkling sunshine as the Danish supporters wearing red and white turned out in force. Proudly wearing the best climber’s polka-dot jersey he claimed on Saturday, Danish rider Magnus Cort, who was in the early breakway group on Saturday, pulled away to take a solo lead for 130 kilometers before being caught with about 50 kilometers left.

“I was a little bit surprised to find myself alone in the lead, but it was nice anyway,” Cort said. “I got a big lead as soon as I broke away, but it was hard to keep the peloton at bay.”

Cort wasn’t upset about being caught, after a weekend he’ll never forget.

“I spent an amazing day out there, enjoying the crowds. I knew what to expect after what we experienced yesterday, but it turned out to be even better because I was in the polka dot jersey,” he said. “It was a perfect day. Life-changing? For sure. The Tour de France is such a big race that it goes well beyond the cycling scene. Everything that happens here transcends the general public.”

Cort picked up more points over the three minor climbs — including the Hejlsminde Strand, the lowest of these at 40 meters above sea level — to keep the jersey until Tuesday. He held up three fingers to celebrate with his home fans and then waved to them after the pack swallowed him up.

“These days have been a dream for me,” Cort said. “Huge, unbelievable. I never imagined them this way.”

Several riders fell on a cobblestone section with about 10 kilometers left but got back up to continue.

After a travel day, the riders will tackle five small climbs in the fourth stage on the route from the coastal city of Dunkerque to Calais.

The race ends on July 24 in Paris.


Jabeur reaches Wimbledon quarterfinal again, sets ‘very high’ goals

Jabeur reaches Wimbledon quarterfinal again, sets ‘very high’ goals
Updated 04 July 2022

Jabeur reaches Wimbledon quarterfinal again, sets ‘very high’ goals

Jabeur reaches Wimbledon quarterfinal again, sets ‘very high’ goals
  • Shaking off the disappointment of a first-round loss at the French Open, Jabeur’s goals are “very high” at the All England Club
  • Just over a year ago, she became the first Arab woman to win a singles title on the elite women’s tennis tour when she lifted the trophy in Birmingham — also a grass-court tournament

WIMBLEDON, England: She headed the ball. She flicked it up with her feet. Ons Jabeur is having fun, and she’s winning.

The Tunisian, who at No. 3 is the highest-remaining women’s seed, advanced to her second straight Wimbledon quarterfinal with a 7-6 (9), 6-4 victory over Elize Mertens on No. 1 Court on Sunday.

“It’s my kind of thing to express a little bit my stress during the match, doing funny things with the football or anything just helps me connect with the crowd,” Jabeur said of her ball skills, like when she chased down and headed away a lob from Mertens that went long. “Be myself on the court really is very, very important.”

The 27-year-old Jabeur saved five set points in the tiebreaker — the closest she’s come to dropping a set through four matches. She improved to 9-0 this season on grass, which includes winning the Berlin Open last month.

Just over a year ago, she became the first Arab woman to win a singles title on the elite women’s tennis tour when she lifted the trophy in Birmingham — also a grass-court tournament.

“I love playing on grass, I love the connection between the nature and me, so hopefully it will continue this way for me and maybe through the finals,” Jabeur said.

Shaking off the disappointment of a first-round loss at the French Open, Jabeur’s goals are “very high” at the All England Club.

“No matter who’s coming, I’m going to build the fight, I’m going to fight till the end because I really want the title,” said Jabeur, who has never reached a Grand Slam semifinal.

Up next is unseeded Czech player Marie Bouzkova, who advanced to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal by beating Caroline Garcia of France 7-5, 6-2.

Simona Halep is the last Grand Slam champion standing on the women’s side. The 16th-seeded Romanian won at Wimbledon in 2019 and at the French Open the year before that. She faces fourth-seeded Paula Badosa in the fourth round on Monday.

Jabeur and Badosa are all that’s left of the top 15 seeds.

Also Sunday, Tatjana Maria eliminated 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the age of 34.

“I always believed that at one point I can show what I can do,” said the 103rd-ranked Maria, who ousted fifth-seeded Maria Sakkari in the third round. “I’m happy that today, I mean, I came back when I was down, so I’m proud of myself.”

Maria will face 22-year-old Jule Niemeier, who is making her All England Club debut, in an all-German showdown for a place in the semifinals. The 97th-ranked Niemeier advanced by beating Heather Watson 6-2, 6-4 on Center Court in just her second Grand Slam tournament.

Jabeur described her match, particularly the tiebreaker, as “10 out of 10 stressful” but that she’s coping better now.

“I am breathing better. I’m expressing more my feelings before the matches. That helps me, like, really play the game that I want to play,” she said.

Jabeur is not a big fan of the antics that were on display in the fourth-round match between Nick Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas on Saturday.

“Tennis is a very beautiful sport. It shouldn’t be that way,” said Jabeur, who after her victory in the Berlin final prepared a cooler with ice for opponent Belinda Bencic, who had stopped playing because of an injured ankle.

So it was no surprise that 90 minutes after her victory on Sunday, while Jabeur was on a balcony doing TV interviews, fans yelled greetings to her from below.

“Me, I’m just someone that enjoys life a lot,” Jabeur said. “For me, a tennis career is going to be very short. What’s more important for me is my character and how people talk about me.”