Djokovic wins Australian Open to equal Nadal’s Grand Slam record

Djokovic wins Australian Open to equal Nadal’s Grand Slam record
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates after defeating Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas to win the Australian Open at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, Jan. 29, 2023. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 30 January 2023

Djokovic wins Australian Open to equal Nadal’s Grand Slam record

Djokovic wins Australian Open to equal Nadal’s Grand Slam record
  • Djokovic defeated the Greek third seed Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/5) at the Rod Laver Arena
  • The Serb’s dominant win drew him level with Nadal on a record 22 Slams, two clear of now-retired Roger Federer

MELBOURNE: An emotional Novak Djokovic called it “the biggest victory in my life” after sweeping past Stefanos Tsitsipas to win a 10th Australian Open title and equal Rafael Nadal’s 22 Grand Slam crowns on Sunday.
The Serb will return to world number one as he overcame a hamstring injury and off-court drama to defeat the Greek third seed 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/5) on Rod Laver Arena.
The 35-year-old climbed to his player’s box afterwards to embrace his mother and broke down in uncontrollable tears, collapsing to the ground sobbing.
His father Srdjan was again missing after he sparked controversy by posing with a fan carrying a Russian flag featuring Vladimir Putin’s face following his son’s quarter-final win.
The emphatic victory over Tsitsipas capped a remarkable return for Djokovic to Melbourne Park, having missed last year’s tournament when he was deported over his Covid vaccination stance.

“I have to say this has been one of the most challenging tournaments I’ve ever played considering the circumstances, not playing last year, coming back this year,” he said, wearing a jacket with 22 emblazoned on it.
“I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome, comfortable, to be in Melbourne.
“I try to pinch myself and really live through these moments, it’s a long journey,” added Djokovic, who was more emotional than usual.
“Only my team and family know what we have been through in the last four or five weeks and this is why I’d probably say this is the biggest victory in my life considering the circumstances.”

There had been an air of inevitability about Djokovic triumphing once more.
After his three-year ban from Australia was lifted, he won the lead-up Adelaide International before reinforcing his status as an all-time great in Melbourne.
His dominant win drew him level with Nadal on a record 22 Slams, two clear of now-retired Roger Federer.
The Spanish great made a second-round exit with a hip injury, one of a series of shocks which upended the men’s and women’s draws during the first major of the year.
“I guess we always find the A-game on the Slams,” Djokovic said of equalling his old rival Nadal. “This is what I feel both Nadal and myself probably still fight for.
“It is still what motivates us the most, winning the biggest titles in our sport and trying to keep up with the young guns.
“Tennis is in good hands,” he added. “But we’re still not going anywhere.”
Nadal and Djokovic have won 16 of the last 19 Slams.

The 36-year-old Spaniard though is set to slide down the rankings when they are released on Monday, in contrast to Djokovic.
The Serb will dethrone Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz and return to the top for the first time since June. Tsitsipas will climb one place to three.
Both men were back on a court that helped them rise to stardom.
Djokovic won his first Grand Slam in 2008 on Rod Laver Arena while Tsitsipas burst on the scene in 2019 when he stunned defending champion Federer in the last 16.
Moving freely with only minimal strapping on his troublesome left hamstring, Djokovic opened with a comfortable hold after being greeted by huge cheers.
He worked two break points on Tsitsipas’s opening serve, to no avail, but kept probing and the Greek handed him a break for 3-1 with a careless double fault.
Tsitsipas, 24, in only his second Grand Slam final to Djokovic’s 33rd, appeared nervous, losing the first set.

But he battled back into contention in a much closer second set as his confidence grew, earning his first break point — and set point — when Djokovic blasted a backhand wide.
But the Serb clung on to keep the set on serve and it went to a tiebreak, where his greater experience roared to the fore.
Against the odds, Tsitsipas broke for the first time on Djokovic’s opening serve in set three, only to relinquish the advantage immediately after a gripping rally.
It again went to a tiebreak, where Djokovic once again raised a level.
“I’ve had the privilege to play a lot of difficult, high-intensity matches, but I would like to say one more time Novak brings the best out in me,” said Tsitsipas, who is still yet to win a major.
“He’s the greatest that has ever held a tennis racquet, for sure.
“I don’t think there’s any reason for me to be affected by today’s loss,” he added.
“It is a step forward. I’m looking forward to scoring more points during this season, making bigger results, fighting for bigger trophies.”


Most unwanted? How sports treat the Russia problem

Most unwanted? How sports treat the Russia problem
Updated 27 March 2023

Most unwanted? How sports treat the Russia problem

Most unwanted? How sports treat the Russia problem
  • IOC says it wants to continue its ban “on flag, anthem, colors or any other identifications” from the two countries but is seeking a pathway to let their athletes compete

PARIS: International sports bodies are taking wildly varying stances on allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes and teams to compete while the war in Ukraine continues.

With the Paris Olympics fewer than 500 days away, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) says it wants to continue its ban “on flag, anthem, colors or any other identifications” from the two countries but is seeking a pathway to let their athletes compete.

That strategy will be discussed again this coming week when the IOC executive board meets.

Here, AFP Sport looks at how sports are handling the dilemma.

While World Athletics on Thursday lifted the ban on the Russian track and field federation for state-sponsored doping, its athletes remain barred from competition while Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine continues. The body’s president Sebastian Coe said “the unprecedented sanctions” imposed on Russia and Belarus by countries around the world “appear to be the only peaceful way to disrupt and disable Russia’s current intentions and restore peace.”

Russian and Belarusian players are allowed to compete on the main ATP and WTA tours but not under their flags or country names. They are banned from the Davis Cup and BJK Cup tournaments. Players from Russia and Belarus were also banned from Wimbledon last year although Moscow-born Elena Rybakina, competing for Kazakhstan, won the women’s singles title.

Russia was thrown out of 2022 World Cup qualifying and are banned from Euro 2024 qualifying which started this week. Instead Russia played a friendly in Iran.
Belarus are not banned from Euro qualifying but they must play home games at neutral venues while their clubs are still allowed to enter European tournaments.
Denis Rogachev, the head of the Russian Football Union, said “negotiations are underway” to play in the Central Asian championship in June and that “a negotiation process is underway with UEFA and FIFA on a phased return.”

The sport has not yet lifted the ban on Russians and Belarusians, which means none have so far qualified for Paris or this year’s World Championships in October. The next opportunity for teams and individuals to book a place for the worlds, where Olympic places will be up for grabs, are the European Championships in Turkiye in April. Russians and Belarusians were not included in the European draw on Tuesday, the cutoff point for competing. Switching to Asia could offer an Olympic pathway to Russians.

Russian fighters were allowed to compete at the recent women’s world boxing championships in India, a move which prompted a boycott by countries including United States, Ukraine, Canada, Sweden and Britain.

Theoretically, drivers from Russia and Belarus can compete as “neutral” drivers in Formula One. But the only Russian driver, Nikita Mazepin, was dropped shortly before the start of the 2022 season by the Haas team. F1 also dropped the Sochi Grand Prix from its 2022 schedule, and canceled plans for annual races to be held in St. Petersburg starting this season.

Russia and the Soviet Union have won the annual ice hockey world championship seven times but on Thursday the International Ice Hockey Federation banned them for a second straight year saying that “it is not yet safe to reincorporate the Russian and Belarusian teams.”

With its Olympic qualifying process about to start, the International Fencing Federation decided on March 10 to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to take part, although it said it was up to the IOC whether they could compete in Paris. The German, Finnish and Swedish fencing bodies responded by canceling events they were due to host.

Russians and Belarusians were banned from the world championships in Budapest last June and July. For now, aquatic sports are among those playing a waiting game. Governing body FINA told AFP in February: “At this time, there are no further updates regarding the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in World Aquatics competitions.” That means they are still banned from the world championships in Fukuoka in July, but the sport’s Olympic rules means swimmers have until late next June to match the qualifying times.
 


Boutier beats Hall in playoff to claim 3rd LPGA victory

Boutier beats Hall in playoff to claim 3rd LPGA victory
Updated 27 March 2023

Boutier beats Hall in playoff to claim 3rd LPGA victory

Boutier beats Hall in playoff to claim 3rd LPGA victory
  • With the victory, Boutier claimed her third LPGA victory and became the winningest French player on tour

GOLD CANYON, Arizona: Celine Boutier beat Georgia Hall with a birdie on the first playoff hole Sunday to win the LPGA Drive on Championship.
Boutier forced a playoff by making a testy birdie putt at the par-5 18th to close out a 4-under 68, matching Hall (65) at 20-under 268 in the LPGA’s first full-field event of the season.
Playing the 18th hole again, neither golfer found the green with their second shot of the playoff. Boutier, chipping from nearly the same spot as she did in regulation short and right of the green, pitched to about 4 feet. Meanwhile, Hall hit her second shot into a greenside bunker, blasted beyond the hole and failed to convert her birdie effort. That set the stage for Boutier’s winning birdie putt.

Celine Boutier plays her shot on the 17th tee during the final round of the LPGA Drive On Championship on March 26, 2023 in Arizona. (Getty Images/AFP )

With the victory, the 29-year-old Boutier claimed her third LPGA victory and became the winningest French player on tour, moving past Patricia Meunier-Lebouc and Anne-Marie Palli. She had previously won the 2019 ISPS Handa Vic Open and 2021 ShopRite Classic
After three birdie-filled rounds at Superstition Mountain Golf Club, the final round started with 17 players within three shots of the lead and stayed to form. Hall made the most of her fourth round, posting one of three 7-under par scores, including going 6 under on the back nine to charge into the early lead.
Japan’s Ayaka Furue closed with a 65 and finished third at 19 under. Na Rin An of South Korea was alone in fourth at 18 under with a closing 67, while American Ally Ewing (67) and South Korea’s Jin Young Ko (68) were another stroke back in fifth.
 


Andreescu and Sabalenka march into last 16 in Miami

Andreescu and Sabalenka march into last 16 in Miami
Updated 27 March 2023

Andreescu and Sabalenka march into last 16 in Miami

Andreescu and Sabalenka march into last 16 in Miami
  • Andreescu will face in the next round Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova, who beat world No. 9 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland 7-6 (10/8), 6-3
  • Sabalenka will next face Barbora Krejcikova, the 2021 French Open winner, who beat American Madison Keys 7-6 (7/4), 6-3

MIAMI GARDENS, Florida: Former US Open winner Bianca Andreescu and world number two Aryna Sabalenka cruised into the last-16 of the Miami Open on Sunday with straight sets victories at Hard Rock Stadium.
Sabalenka’s power was simply too much for Marie Bouzkova with the Belarussian breaking serve twice in the opening set on the way to a 6-1, 6-2 victory.
Any chance of a comeback from Bouzkova vanished when she was broken in the opening game of the second set and Sabalenka was in no danger on her serve, not facing break point at any time in the 66 minute encounter.
Andreescu looks a player reborn and she oozed confidence as she enjoyed a 6-4, 6-4 victory over American Sofia Kenin.
The 22-year-old Andreescu, the 2019 US Open winner, has been impressive so far having beaten Emma Raducanu and world number 10 Maria Sakkari in the previous rounds.
In a match with few rallies, Andreescu dominated with her serve game, with a 70 percent first serve percentage and it was not until mid-way through the second set that Kenin caused any real problems.
Kenin, the 2020 Australian Open winner, broke Andreescu to cut the lead to 4-3 but despite the improved forehand from the Floridian, Andreescu kept her cool and won with her first match point.
“These victories are definitely very sweet and I’ve had many tough matches against Sofia, so it feels really good to get through,” said Andreescu who converted all three of her break points.
“I definitely feel like I am getting better match by match, even physically. Like I’m feeling really good. I’m feeling very fresh,” she added.
Andreescu will face Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova in the next round after she beat world number nine Belinda Bencic of Switzerland 7-6 (10/8), 6-3.
In a good day for Russian women, qualifier Varvara Gracheva reached her second straight WTA 1000 fourth round with a straightforward 6-1, 6-2 win over Polish lucky loser Magdalena Frech.
The 22-year-old Gracheva also made it to the last 16 as a qualifier at Indian Wells.
There will also be a strong Czech presence in the fourth round with Petra Kvitova, Barbara Krejcikova and Marketa Vondrousova all winning on Sunday.
Two-times Wimbledon winner Kvitova beat Donna Vekic 6-4, 7-6 (7/3), surviving a strong effort from the Croat in the second set.
“She was always coming back after a (service) break, and it wasn’t really easy already in the first set. ... It was very difficult, she played very well, she served very well,” said Kvitova.
Barbora Krejcikova, the 2021 French Open winner, beat American Madison Keys 7-6 (7/4), 6-3 while Vondrousova beat out-of-form compatriot Karolina Pliskova 6-1, 6-2
Romanian Sorana Cirstea made it to the fourth round in Miami for the first time in a decade after beating Czech Karolina Muchova 7-5, 6-1.
The 32-year-old, now coached by Swedish former Australian Open winner Thomas Johansson, is enjoying a mini-revival after also reaching the same stage in Indian Wells last month.


World champion Francesco Bagnaia avoids Marquez mayhem to win MotoGP opener

World champion Francesco Bagnaia avoids Marquez mayhem to win MotoGP opener
Updated 27 March 2023

World champion Francesco Bagnaia avoids Marquez mayhem to win MotoGP opener

World champion Francesco Bagnaia avoids Marquez mayhem to win MotoGP opener
  • Marc Marquez crashed and wiped out home favorite Miguel Oliveira on lap three to leave the way clear for Bagnaia

PORTIMAO, Portugal: World champion Francesco Bagnaia won Sunday’s season-opening Portuguese MotoGP after a costly mistake by pole-sitter Marc Marquez.

Ducati star Bagnaia coasted across the line ahead of Aprilia’s Maverick Vinales in the Algarve sunshine to follow up his win in MotoGP’s inaugural sprint 24 hours earlier.

Marquez crashed and wiped out home favorite Miguel Oliveira on lap three to leave the way clear for Bagnaia to get his championship defense off to a perfect start.

Bagnaia leaves Portimao with a maximum 37 points from the first of the 21-race season.

“That’s the start me and my team wanted,” the Italian told motogp.com. “We have to keep going like this.”

He then joked that after Saturday’s 12-lap dash in the sprint “I’m not used to such a long race.”

Bagnaia’s compatriot Marco Bezzecchi, riding Ducati’s VR46 bike, came in third to complete the podium.

If it was reasonably plain sailing for the world champion it was anything but for Marquez.

A rare moment of madness from the Spaniard provided the main drama of the afternoon.

The pole sitter clipped Jorge Martin and then his out-of-control Honda slammed into the back of Oliveira’s KTM, wiping out the Portuguese rider who had high hopes of a podium finish in front of his home fans.

Marquez received a hostile reception from some of the fans on his return to the pits where he quickly made his way to Oliveira’s garage to offer his apologies.

The six-time former world champion suffered a suspected hand fracture as well as a time-penalty.

Martin, facing an uphill task to get back into the race, eventually slipped out with six laps left.

Oliveira had led fleetingly, following a quick start from the second row on the grid, before Bagnaia forged to the front, seconds before Marquez made his intervention.

Vinales was encouraged by his promising start to the season.

“I feel good, I missed the chance to overtake because ‘Pecco’ (Bagnaia), I knew, had a little more (pace). “I’m actually really happy — we are going to fight in the front.”


Ireland wait on captain ahead of France clash

Ireland wait on captain ahead of France clash
Updated 27 March 2023

Ireland wait on captain ahead of France clash

Ireland wait on captain ahead of France clash
  • Seamus Coleman to be given chance to prove his fitness ahead of Euro 2024 qualifier on Monday

DUBLIN: Republic of Ireland captain Seamus Coleman will be given every chance to prove his fitness ahead of Monday’s Euro 2024 qualifier against France.

The 34-year-old Everton defender has a slight thigh strain and Ireland manager Stephen Kenny is prepared to wait until as late as possible before deciding if his skipper can take part in the Lansdowne Road tie.

“No, he is not ruled out, we will have to see how today goes. We train today,” said Kenny, at a pre-match news conference on Sunday.

“Seamus is a very good player. It’s not so much his experience, it’s that he’s playing well at the moment. Experience is a factor, but his performances for Everton have been very good.

“For footballing reasons, he merits his place in the team because he has been playing very well for Everton and had an injury-free run and been able to train regularly over the last number of months and performed very well for Everton.

“He is the captain, of course, but we’ll have to see on that.”

Republic left wing-back Callum O’Dowda suffered a groin injury during Wednesday’s 3-2 friendly victory over Latvia and while he too has yet to be ruled out, Preston’s Robbie Brady has been drafted in as cover.

Earlier, Morocco stunned Brazil 2-1 on Saturday as the north African side recorded a first ever win over the five-time world champions.

Midfielder Sofiane Boufal, in the 29th minute, gave Morocco the lead before Brazil skipper Casemiro levelled in the 67th minute in Tangiers.

But Abdelhamid Sabiri struck the winner in the 79th minute as Morocco showed that becoming the first Arab or African nation to reach the World Cup semifinals last year was no fluke.

Only 10 of the 23-man squad that took Brazil to a disappointing quarter-final exit at the World Cup made the trip to Morocco for the game.

The injured Neymar was again missing with his number 10 shirt passing to Real Madrid youngster Rodrygo.

Brazil also had a new manager in the dugout with interim coach Ramon Menezes having replaced Tite who stepped down after the World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of Croatia.

The Brazilian Football Confederation hopes to be able to announce the name of its new coach before the start of qualifying for the 2026 World Cup in September.

According to Brazilian media, the federation’s first choice is Carlo Ancelotti, currently in charge of Real Madrid.

However, he is not expected to make a decision on his future before the end of the European season.

Before kick-off at the Ibn Batouta stadium on Saturday, both teams paid tribute to Pele, who died last December at the age of 82.

Until Saturday, Morocco had suffered defeats in their only two other meetings with Brazil — 2-0 in a 1997 friendly and 3-0 in the group stage of the 1998 World Cup in France.