Alcaraz to face Sinner, Swiatek gets Rybakina in Indian Wells semifinals

Alcaraz to face Sinner, Swiatek gets Rybakina in Indian Wells semifinals
Carlos Alcaraz of Spain in action against Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada in the quarterfinals at the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday in Indian Wells, California.(GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA /AFP)
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Updated 17 March 2023

Alcaraz to face Sinner, Swiatek gets Rybakina in Indian Wells semifinals

Alcaraz to face Sinner, Swiatek gets Rybakina in Indian Wells semifinals
  • Alcaraz posted his first victory over Auger-Aliassime in four meetings with a 6-4, 6-4 win
  • Swiatek is vying to become just the second woman after Martina Navratilova in 1990-91 to win back-to-back titles at Indian Wells

INDIAN WELLS: Top-seeded Carlos Alcaraz beat Felix Auger-Aliassime for the first time in his career to book a semifinal clash with Jannik Sinner at Indian Wells.

Women’s top seed Iga Swiatek lined up a last-four grudge match against Elena Rybakina, who stunned the Polish world No. 1 in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open in January.

Alcaraz posted his first victory over Auger-Aliassime in four meetings with a 6-4, 6-4 win to keep his bid to regain the world No. 1 ranking on track.

“It’s wonderful to beat Felix finally, and the way I did it, playing at a great level,” said Spain’s Alcaraz, 19, who called it perhaps his best match of the season.

Italy’s Sinner reached the final four with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 victory over defending champion Taylor Fritz and now has a chance to avenge his loss to Alcaraz in an electrifying quarterfinal at the US Open last year.

That five-set battle lasted five hours and 15 minutes, its 2:50am finish the latest in US Open history. Alcaraz would go on to lift the trophy and become the youngest world No. 1 in the history of the ATP rankings.

“We’ve played several times and all the matches have been very tough,” Alcaraz said. “I like this kind of challenge, I’m going to enjoy it.”

Alcaraz hadn’t dropped a set in reaching the quarters, but Auger-Aliassime was the first top-10 player he has faced this year.

This time, Alcaraz was ready for him, saying his prior defeats to the Canadian had taught him to “stay there.”

The two-hour clash was a thrilling display of athleticism and shot making from both players.

Alcaraz saved the first break point he faced as he served out the first set, but after he broke to open the second Auger-Aliassime — who saved six match points in a fourth-round win over Tommy Paul — promptly broke back to set the tone for a tense back and forth battle.

Auger-Aliassime had already saved two break points in the 10th game when Alcaraz gave himself another with a backhand volley winner, and with a break in hand he confidently served it out.

Sinner defied difficult, windy conditions to out-gun Fritz, gaining the decisive break in the ninth game of the third set when his pounding forehand to the corner forced the miss from the American.

Sinner polished it off with a hold at love after two hours and 17 minutes.

“I knew the last games would be tough to close it out,” Sinner said. “I just tried to play quite aggressively, which I’ve done.”

Swiatek, the defending Indian Wells champion and winner of the French and US Opens last year, swept past 83rd-ranked Romanian Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-3.

Wimbledon champion Rybakina, who fell to Aryna Sabalenka in the Australian Open final, outlasted 76th-ranked Czech Karolina Muchova 7-6 (7/4), 2-6, 6-4.

“She’s playing really well and in semifinals you always are going to play against the top players, so I’ll be ready,” Swiatek said of taking on Rybakina.

Swiatek, in her 50th week at No. 1, is vying to become just the second woman after Martina Navratilova in 1990-91 to win back-to-back titles at Indian Wells.

Cirstea did all she could to stick with Swiatek, recovering an early break and fending off a break point to level the first set at 2-2.

But Swiatek, adjusting to the warm daytime conditions after two straight night matches, won the next eight games to take a stranglehold on the contest.

Down 4-0 in the second, Cirstea clawed one back and held serve for 4-2 in a spirited display before Swiatek closed it out.

“The most important thing for me is that I came back in the second set to finish it properly,” Swiatek said.

Rybakina had all she could handle from the oft-injured Muchova. She needed three match points, wasting two with a pair of backhand errors before sealing it with her sixth ace of the day.

The other semifinal berths were decided on Wednesday, when Daniil Medvedev — chasing a fourth straight ATP title after victories at Rotterdam, Doha and Dubai — beat Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain to set up a clash with American Frances Tiafoe.

Sabalenka also advanced, blowing away American Coco Gauff to book a meeting with 2022 finalist Maria Sakkari.

UFC 294: Predicting fight line-up for Abu Dhabi in October

UFC 294: Predicting fight line-up for Abu Dhabi in October
Updated 27 March 2023

UFC 294: Predicting fight line-up for Abu Dhabi in October

UFC 294: Predicting fight line-up for Abu Dhabi in October
  • As UFC heads to Yas Island stellar main event may see return of Ireland’s favorite son
  • Potential bouts could see Islam Makhachev defend title, Khamzat Chimaev back in action

ABU DHABI: UFC 294 will see the all-conquering mixed martial arts promotion return to Abu Dhabi on Oct. 21.

The event will mark the last of the current five-year deal between the UFC and the UAE capital.

There will likely be another partnership announced before a fist is thrown in anger at the Etihad Arena, but as with the previous sold-out shows it is expected UFC 294 will be one of the most talked-about cards of the year.

So far, no official bouts have been announced, but there will certainly be a title fight or two. Here are some likely scenarios that will shape the latest Abu Dhabi showdown.

Islam Makhachev to defend his lightweight title

The Dagestani has happy memories of fighting in Abu Dhabi. At UFC 280 he grabbed the lightweight championship from Charles Oliveira with a dominant display that had the Etihad Arena crowd on their feet.

Similar to Khabib Nurmagomedov before him, Islam Makhachev commands a huge following in the UAE, and it will be no surprise to see him topping the bill at UFC 294.

There is currently no natural challenger from the lightweight division that makes sense. Oliveira (ranked No. 1) is taking on Beneil Dariush (No. 4) on May 5, while Dustin Poirier (No. 2) and Justin Gaethje (No. 3) do not currently have a fight booked.

The most likely option is to book another super fight between Makhachev and the current featherweight champion, Alexander Volkanovski. Makhachev may have grabbed a unanimous decision victory over the Australian back in February, but the fight was his toughest test to date. Makhachev versus Volkanovski part two would be a worthy headlining bout. But there could be a surprise in the mix for Makhachev. More on that to come.

Khamzat Chimaev finally gets a fight

For various reasons, the undefeated Khamzat Chimaev has not fought since rag-dolling Kevin Holland and beating him within three minutes in September. His bogeyman status in the welterweight division seems to have had an effect on potential matchups.

If the Chechnya-born fighter is to be believed, then he has been ducked by Colby Covington (No. 2) and most of the middleweight division too.

One thing is for certain, he wants to fight in Abu Dhabi.

Chimaev told “The MMA Hour”: “October will be a big show in Abu Dhabi — it’s like, for me, home country. I like that place. It feels good there.”

His target? The current welterweight champion, Leon Edwards. Although this would be what many fans would want, it is unlikely the British fighter would be willing to climb back into the octagon so soon after his March victory over Kamaru Usman.

Barring any injuries, Chimaev will be on the card. Who he fights is another question entirely.

Jiri Prochazka versus Jamahal Hill for the light heavyweight title

Jiri Prochazka had to relinquish the light heavyweight belt following a shoulder injury that a UFC doctor described as “the worst” he had ever seen.

The always-entertaining Czech fighter had to sit on the sidelines and watch Jamahal Hill overcome Glover Teixeira for the vacant title. Prochazka is still recuperating but told MMA Fighting that “it (the injury) is getting much better than people expected” as he targets a summer return.

However, given the nature of the injury, a slightly longer spell is likely required, and Prochazka against Hill could be the second title fight on the UFC 294 card.

The return of Conor McGregor

It is a long shot, and there would need to be an incredible series of events to allow it, but Conor McGregor fighting at UFC 294 is not impossible. Unlikely, sure, but there is a chance.

McGregor has been out of the octagon for the past two years. A broken leg and then a role in the upcoming “Road House” movie reboot has delayed the return of the UFC’s biggest draw. His next fight will be against fellow lightweight contender Michael Chandler.

The pair are currently opposition coaches on “The Ultimate Fighter” TV show, the finale of which will see the two square off against each other. The earliest this bout can take place is in August, which would not leave much time to recover and recuperate before UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi.

But, and it is a huge one, if the Irishman was to make light work of Chandler and escape unscathed, then a title fight with Makhachev is possible.

It is not exactly fair to the fighters that have remained active in the division, but putting McGregor at the front of the queue for a shot at Makhachev’s belt breaks all kinds of UFC PPV records. Stranger things have happened.

Jaguar roar back to dominate podium at Brazil’s inaugural Formula E race

Jaguar roar back to dominate podium at Brazil’s inaugural Formula E race
Updated 27 March 2023

Jaguar roar back to dominate podium at Brazil’s inaugural Formula E race

Jaguar roar back to dominate podium at Brazil’s inaugural Formula E race
  • Mitch Evans claims first win of the season for Jaguar TCS Racing at 2023 Julius Baer Sao Paulo E-Prix
  • Sam Bird joins teammate Evans on the podium with third place, while Envision Racing’s Nick Cassidy takes second

Mitch Evans of Jaguar TCS Racing led home a one-two-three for the Jaguar powertrain, with Nick Cassidy (Envision Racing) and Sam Bird (Jaguar TCS Racing) crossing the line virtually together.

The trio finished just half a second apart to close out a dramatic inaugural Julius Baer Sao Paulo E-Prix in front of more than 23,000 passionate motorsport fans.

It was a flat out push to the finish at the rapid 11-turn Sao Paulo Street Circuit, with Evans managing to navigate his way through constant position changes to take the checkered flag first, from third on the grid. The New Zealander took the initiative and the race lead from his compatriot Cassidy as the race headed into extra laps following multiple safety car incidents.

His move on lap 32 proved to be decisive, with neither Cassidy nor Evans’ teammate Bird able to undo the leader’s defensive driving — despite Bird having collected a couple of extra percentage points of usable energy during his climb from 10th on the grid at the start. Cassidy had led the race more than once but will be more than satisfied to score three consecutive podiums for the first time in his Formula E career.

The victorious Evans said: “This has come at the perfect time. We had a tough start but the car has been quick so to finally get the victory and some points is incredible. A Jaguar one-two-three. Nick pushed me all the way — we pushed each other — both teams executed brilliantly. This is down to a lot of hard work, there is a lot of graft that goes in with simulations. To try and put these races together regarding strategy is not easy. I wouldn’t have wanted it much closer than that.”

Defending world champion Stoffel Vandoorne (DS PENSKE) started in pole position and led the way early on, fending off Antonio Felix da Costa (TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team) during the first round of ATTACK MODE activations until the race reached its halfway stage.

The lead was almost impossible to track on lap 14 with three or four changes over that tour alone and Cassidy coming out on top.

But Vandoorne would end up sixth after struggling for usable energy from his time at the front. Da Costa had slipped to fourth and briefly made designs on the podium but wound up settling just outside the podium positions. Jean-Eric Vergne (DS PENSKE) headed his teammate home for an eventual fifth spot.

Standings leader Pascal Wehrlein (TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team) had it all to do from 18th on the grid and managed to slice his way through the pack to seventh position at the checkered flag, with Jake Hughes (NEOM McLaren Formula E Team) finishing eighth, just ahead of teammate Rene Rast in ninth and with Sebastien Buemi (Envision Racing) rounding out the top 10.

Meanwhile, Jake Dennis (Avalanche Andretti Formula E) suffered another non-finish after contact from Dan Ticktum’s NIO 333 saw his 99X Electric shoved into Wehrlein’s Porsche.

Wehrlein maintains his Drivers World Championship lead on 86 points from Dennis with 62 points, while Cassidy moves into third just a point behind the Brit. TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team heads Envision Racing 144 points to 103 points with Jaguar TCS Racing third on 83 points.

Runner-up Cassidy said: “I am super happy with the podium today, with a race like that you can’t not be happy right. That was Formula E at its best, so much fun in the car, I hope it was a good watch. Very strategic, Sam did a great job as well, one-two-three Jaguar, pretty cool. I knew (how much energy Sam Bird had), that was a lot of the reason for getting Mitch to go on. I knew to get the win would be pretty difficult and that I would have to do something special on Mitch to turn that round, but I was at a high risk of finishing third.”

Germany is the next stop in the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship for rounds seven and eight and the 2023 SABIC Berlin E-Prix double-header on April 22 and 23.

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.