Sinner soars in big moments to defeat Medvedev in China Open final

Sinner soars in big moments to defeat Medvedev in China Open final
Italy's Jannik Sinner with the champion trophy after defeating Russia's Daniil Medvedev in the men's singles final at the China Open tennis tournament in Beijing on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Updated 05 October 2023
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Sinner soars in big moments to defeat Medvedev in China Open final

Sinner soars in big moments to defeat Medvedev in China Open final
  • The Italian triumphed in an otherwise deadlocked match to claim the first such tournament since 2019 after Beijing ditched tight pandemic-era health restrictions
  • World No. 2 Iga Swiatek swatted aside compatriot Magda Linette to surge into the China Open quarterfinals

BEIJING: Jannik Sinner said holding his nerve in “important moments” was the key to edging out world No. 3 Daniil Medvedev in Wednesday’s China Open men’s final, which turned on a pair of high-stakes tiebreaks in Beijing.

The Italian triumphed 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/2) in an otherwise deadlocked match to claim the first such tournament since 2019 after Beijing ditched tight pandemic-era health restrictions.

Neither man was able to break the other’s serve but Sinner missed a presentable opportunity in the first set when he walloped an overhead volley long on break point and allowed the Russian to hold from deuce.

It was a different story in the tiebreak, with the world No. 7 racing into a 5-0 lead and sealing the deal when Medvedev struck a forehand into the net.

A similar stalemate ensued in set two with the first dozen games going with serve before Sinner again showed his composure when it mattered.

He took the lead in the tiebreak with a deft drop shot and never looked back, whipping a stunning cross-court passing shot for match point and battering back a Medvedev serve to seize victory in front of a raucous crowd.

“At some point, I started to return a little bit better... read his serve a little bit better, and that gave me confidence, especially for the tiebreak,” Sinner said at a post-match news conference.

“The important moments in every match... today I also managed somehow that they (went) my way,” the 22-year-old added.

“Today’s final was a very high level final, (and) I’m very happy about the ending of this tournament,” he said.

Medvedev admitted that his opponent played “much better than me” in both tiebreaks.

“He managed to control his emotions better in these tie-breaks (and) not make mistakes... (while) I made some easy ones,” said the 27-year-old.

“In a way it’s luck, but also experience and stuff like this. That’s why he won.”

World No. 2 and tournament favorite Carlos Alcaraz was eliminated by Sinner in their semifinal on Tuesday.

The top-ranked men’s player, Novak Djokovic, is not playing in China this year.

Earlier, world No. 2 Iga Swiatek swatted aside compatriot Magda Linette to surge into the China Open quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-1 victory.

Swiatek raced into a 5-0 lead in the first set and snuffed out any hope of an unlikely comeback when she forced her fellow Pole to fire a forehand long.

The four-time Grand Slam champion then presided over a second-set masterclass, blitzing an exhausted Linette with an unrelenting salvo of mighty groundstrokes to wrap up the match in just over an hour.

Swiatek faces Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina or the ninth seed Caroline Garcia of France next.

“It’s always nice to play like that because you make your opponent run,” Swiatek said after the match.

“But overall, I just kind of played what I felt I needed to and what I felt was right at the moment.”

World No. 4 Jessica Pegula crashed out with a 6-4, 6-2 defeat to Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko.

Ostapenko faces Liudmila Samsonova in the last eight after the Russian defeated Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk 6-4, 6-7 (4/7), 7-5.

ATP SHANGHAI MASTERS

Meanwhile, the first round of the ATP Shanghai Masters kicked off in the financial hub Wednesday.

A delighted home crowd watched on as Zhang Zhizhen and Bu Yunchaokete both made it through to the second round — the first time two Chinese men have done so.

Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic eliminated three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka in straight sets to add to his impressive list of wins this year— including over Djokovic and Sinner.

But Britain’s Andy Murray had a miserable night, losing to Russian Roman Safiullin 6-3, 6-2.

The loss crowns a disappointing set of recent results for the 36-year-old, who has won the tournament in Shanghai three times previously.

He also crashed out of the China Open in the first round last week in Beijing.


Eiffel Tower stadium wows Olympic beach volleyball players: ‘I got goosebumps’

Eiffel Tower stadium wows Olympic beach volleyball players: ‘I got goosebumps’
Updated 7 sec ago
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Eiffel Tower stadium wows Olympic beach volleyball players: ‘I got goosebumps’

Eiffel Tower stadium wows Olympic beach volleyball players: ‘I got goosebumps’
  • The first training session for the Olympic beach volleyball athletes took place Wednesday at the photogenic venue
  • The Eiffel Tower stadium, with its 12,000 seats, is poised to be a centerpiece of the Paris Olympics and Paralympics

PARIS: Lezana Placette felt a wave of calm looking up at Paris’ most iconic landmark.

“Whenever I get a bit nervous, I’ll just turn my head and look at the Eiffel Tower. That should help remind me what I play for,” the French beach volleyball player said, standing on the sand of the Olympic stadium in the tower’s shadow for the first time.

The first training session for the Olympic beach volleyball athletes took place Wednesday at the photogenic venue.

The French women’s team, Placette and her teammate Alexia Richard, took the court for a 45-minute session under sunny Parisian skies. The duo, who have played together for a decade, will represent France in their first Olympics together.

“I got goosebumps stepping into the court and imagining the French fans cheering,” Richard said.

The Eiffel Tower stadium, with its 12,000 seats, is poised to be a centerpiece of the Paris Olympics and Paralympics. The atmosphere during practice was a blend of excitement and reverence, as athletes familiarized themselves with the venue installed in a park that once served as the training grounds for Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Paris organizers have made an effort to creatively tie the Summer Games to the city’s rich history, setting events like BMX, 3x3 basketball and skateboarding in the historic La Concorde square, and the equestrian competition in Versailles. For many athletes, the presence of the Eiffel Tower adds an unparalleled sense of grandeur.

“We’ve got the best seat in the house. I don’t know who made the call for setting us here, but I really appreciate it,” Adrian Carambula from Italy said.

Yorick de Groot of the Netherlands, participating in his first Olympics, also took in the extraordinary setting. After his practice session, the 24-year-old spent several minutes capturing the moment with photos, selfies and videos, both with his coaches and alone, cheerfuly laying in the white sand.

“I have to show this to my people at home, to make sure that they believe me. This is a memory that I will never forget,” de Groot said.

The anticipation is heightened by the promise of a full stadium, a stark contrast to the empty venues of the Tokyo Olympics due to COVID-19. Organizers have announced that most of the competition will be played to sold-out crowds.

“Visualizing a packed stadium like this is what gets me going,” said Carambula, who at 36 believes this will be his last Olympics after competing in Rio and Tokyo.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited the stadium on Wednesday, accompanied by Tony Estanguet, head of the Paris 2024 organizing committee, and French Sports Minister Amélie Oudea-Castera. Macron shared his enthusiasm in a selfie video from the top row of the stands facing the Eiffel Tower.

“See the rings behind me? And the Eiffel Tower? Everything is ready, let’s open up the Games,” Macron said.

After the beach volleyball tournament, which starts Saturday, the stadium will transition to host the blind football competition during the Paralympics.


Messi-less MLS fall 4-1 to Mexican league in All-Star Game

Messi-less MLS fall 4-1 to Mexican league in All-Star Game
Updated 6 min 45 sec ago
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Messi-less MLS fall 4-1 to Mexican league in All-Star Game

Messi-less MLS fall 4-1 to Mexican league in All-Star Game
  • Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi did not play for MLS due to a right ankle injury suffered in Argentina’s victory over Colombia in the Copa America final
  • Argentine striker German Berterame and Moroccan winger Oussama Idrissi also scored for the Mexican league’s elite squad in the triumph at Columbus, Ohio

WASHINGTON: Second-half goals by Argentine strikers Juan Brunetta and Maximiliano Meza gave Mexico’s Liga MX a 4-1 victory over Major League Soccer in Wednesday’s MLS All-Star Game.

Argentine striker German Berterame and Moroccan winger Oussama Idrissi also scored for the Mexican league’s elite squad in the triumph at Columbus, Ohio.

MLS had won both prior All-Star meetings with Mexican league rivals, playing to a 1-1 draw and winning 3-2 on penalty kicks in 2021 and taking a 2-1 triumph in 2022.

Berterame, a 25-year-old forward for Mexico’s CF Monterrey, opened the scoring in the 16th minute.

Cucho Hernandez, a Colombian winger for the Columbus Crew, equalized for MLS in the 17th minute.

Idrissi answered for Liga MX in the 41st minute to give his squad a 2-1 lead at halftime.

Reserve Brunetta, a striker for Tigres UANL, boosted Liga MX’s lead in the 68th minute and Meza, a winger for Monterrey who also came off the bench to start the second half, added another goal in the 69th for the final margin.

Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi did not play for MLS due to a right ankle injury suffered in Argentina’s victory over Colombia in the Copa America final.

Messi, who also missed two MLS games last week, is uncertain for Miami’s home game Saturday against Puebla as Inter begin defending the Leagues Cup, a second-year tournament involving MLS and Liga MX clubs that begins on Friday.
 


Iga Swiatek: Clay queen targets Olympic gold

Iga Swiatek: Clay queen targets Olympic gold
Updated 44 min 2 sec ago
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Iga Swiatek: Clay queen targets Olympic gold

Iga Swiatek: Clay queen targets Olympic gold
  • The Polish world No. 1 has been dominant on the red clay of Paris, winning four of the past five tournaments
  • Swiatek has sporting pedigree — her father Tomasz represented Poland in rowing at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul

PARIS: Iga Swiatek is returning to a happy hunting ground as she seeks a first Olympic crown to add to her four French Open titles at Roland Garros.

The Polish world No. 1 has been dominant on the red clay of Paris, winning four of the past five tournaments and is unbeaten there since a quarterfinal loss to Greece’s Maria Sakkari in 2021.

The five-time Grand Slam champion, who won the US Open in 2022, is seeking to go much further than she did at the Tokyo Games in 2021, where she lost to Paula Badosa in the second round.

Swiatek, 23, has had plenty of time to prepare for the Paris Olympics after her early exit from Wimbledon, where she lost in the third round to Yulia Putintseva.

The painful defeat on the grass at the All England Club brought Swiatek’s 21-match winning streak to a shuddering halt.

She was asked afterwards how she would prepare for the Olympics in Paris.

“For sure I’m going to take a lesson and rest a bit more,” she said. “I don’t know, I feel like even though I didn’t perform well at this tournament, because of how the whole season is looking, I deserve it.

“I should literally do it better because I’m not going to be able to go through the whole season playing good tennis.”

In 2020, Swiatek announced herself to the tennis world when she won the French Open without dropping a set.

She was the first Polish player, male or female, to win a Grand Slam singles title and has dominated the event since, with her one blip coming three years ago.

Last month she beat Italy’s Jasmine Paolini in a one-sided final, becoming the fourth woman in the modern era to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen four times after Justine Henin, Chris Evert and Steffi Graf.

The world No. 1 also completed a Madrid-Rome-Roland Garros clay treble. The only other woman in history to do it in the same season is Serena Williams.

Swiatek has sporting pedigree — her father Tomasz represented Poland in rowing at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

“Normally a small child has trouble hitting even one or two balls but she could keep it going for dozens of shots,” recalls Artur Szostaczko, her first coach.

“She was a fighter.... I knew that if it went to a super tie-break, there was no need to worry — Iga wouldn’t crack under the pressure.”

Szostaczko taught Swiatek until she was 10 years old.

She was then coached by Michal Kaznowski, who remembers that Swiatek always wanted to be treated on an equal footing with her hard-working big sister Agata.

“Iga got really mad at me because I proposed some basic drill where I would feed Agata eight balls but only six to Iga because she was younger,” he said

“That made her angry. She went to her dad and said she wants just as many as Agata.”

Swiatek will hope that determination carries her all the way to the gold medal on her favorite courts in Paris.
 


Late-night gamer Verstappen eyes redemption at Belgian Grand Prix

Late-night gamer Verstappen eyes redemption at Belgian Grand Prix
Updated 25 July 2024
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Late-night gamer Verstappen eyes redemption at Belgian Grand Prix

Late-night gamer Verstappen eyes redemption at Belgian Grand Prix

A week after ranting on the team radio in Budapest, Max Verstappen heads to the Belgian Grand Prix warned to take “nothing for granted” and advised by Red Bull to give up late-night simulation racing during race weekends.

The series leader and three-time world champion departed Hungary in a petulant mood after finishing a frustrated fifth, swearing on team radio and in post-race interviews, having gone to bed at three am before the race.

It was his and Red Bull’s third consecutive race without a win and he will need to deliver a more composed and professional performance on his preferred circuit on Sunday to avoid extending his winless run to four for the first time since 2020.

Another defeat and his commanding supremacy of the past, he won 19 of 22 races last year, will be forgotten.

“Hungary was a tricky race and a weekend to forget and move forward from,” said Dutchman Verstappen, whose combative manner did not go unnoticed.

“We have been working to optimize our performance and get the best out of the car that we possibly can.

“Spa has always been my favorite track with fast corners and lots of opportunities to overtake. The fans are also great and we get a lot of support there,” he added.

After winning the last three Belgian Grands Prix, Verstappen will be seeking to return to form with a fourth victory, but he may have to start from the back half of the grid if, as expected, Red Bull, fit his car with a fifth new engine of the season.

The limit for new power units is four, but Verstappen has proved at Spa in the past that he can overcome grid penalties when he seizes the momentum.

Born in Belgium to a Belgian mother, but grew up in the Netherlands, Verstappen always enjoys passionate backing from the local crowd and he may need it as he bids to extend his lead, trimmed to 76 points last Sunday, ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris.

Coincidentally, Norris, who was also involved in some colorful ‘team orders’ radio exchanges last Sunday, also has a Belgian mother and he will be seeking to reduce the gap further by winning on Sunday, after handing victory last weekend to his team-mate Oscar Piastri following instructions to do so.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has warned the threat from McLaren, the in-form team with the fastest car, and both Mercedes and Ferrari, could wreck their season if they cannot respond and gather points more emphatically than they have.

“We’re just going to develop the fastest car we can, and that’s what we’ll continue to do,” said Horner.

“In the drivers’ championship, obviously Max has a good lead — but that can diminish very quickly, so, nothing can be taken for granted.”

The team’s influential director Helmut Marko, a close adviser and confidante to the world champion, told speedweek.com: “We agreed that he would no longer run simulations so late in the future.”

Most attention may be focussed on the leading title contenders, but that will suit Piastri who showed commendable assurance as he claimed his maiden victory last Sunday.

“Spa’s not been the happiest of hunting grounds for us recently, but I’m confident we’ll be strong,” said the 22-year-old Australian.

“We’ve got a car that’s become a real all-rounder so I’m super confident and I think the team should be as well.”

After winning his home British race and then finishing third for Mercedes last weekend, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton will also be a challenger on a track where he has won four times as will Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who took pole last year and won in 2019.


Moussa Diaby joins Al-Ittihad from Aston Villa

Moussa Diaby joins Al-Ittihad from Aston Villa
Updated 25 July 2024
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Moussa Diaby joins Al-Ittihad from Aston Villa

Moussa Diaby joins Al-Ittihad from Aston Villa
  • Moussa Diaby joins fellow Frenchmen Karim Benzema and Ngolo Kante in Jeddah

RIYADH: Frenchman Moussa Diaby has joined Al-Ittihad, the club announced on Thursday.
The Jeddah team posted an announcement video with the player wearing Ittihad’s black and yellow jersey.
He will join the Tigers on a five-year contract after successfully passing a medical exam in Alicante, Spain, a club statement said.
“Hello Tigers, I am here,” Diaby announces in the video, holding a vintage rotary phone.
“I am thrilled to join Al-Ittihad and be part of a project that aims to build a strong team reflecting the club’s rich history and values. I look forward to collaborating with my new teammates to achieve victories and bring joy to our dedicated fans,” said the Frenchman.
“Diaby has an impressive track record, having played in the top leagues of France, Germany, and England, where he has showcased his talent and skill as a winger,” the statement read.
Domingos Oliveira, the CEO of Ittihad, said: “Our sports committee identified the need to strengthen the winger position with an exceptional player, and we are confident that Moussa Diaby is one of the top players who stand out globally in this role.”
The 25-year-old midfielder played 54 games for English Premier League side Aston Villa, including 25 appearances last season during their impressive fourth place finish.
In Spain, the player was welcomed by the team’s sporting director, Ramon Planes, and introduced to his new teammates and the technical and administrative staff.
He joins fellow Frenchmen Karim Benzema and Ngolo Kante in the west coast city.
The left-footed Diaby, a pacy and versatile player, is not known for scoring lots of goals but his attacking threat will be an advantage for the Tigers.
Ittihad had a disappointing season last year with a fifth place finish, after winning the Saudi Pro League title a year earlier.
The Jeddah side has brought in veteran French player Laurent Blanc as coach to boost their chances against the other big three clubs in the SPL: Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr and Al-Ahli.
Ittihad are currently in pre-season training in Spain and will play Seville on Friday.