Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka, Caroline Wozniacki set to return to 2024 Australian Open

Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka, Caroline Wozniacki set to return to 2024 Australian Open
Naomi Osaka, here with tournament director Craig Tiley, won the women’s singles championship at the Australian Open in Melbourne on Feb. 20, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 11 October 2023
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Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka, Caroline Wozniacki set to return to 2024 Australian Open

Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka, Caroline Wozniacki set to return to 2024 Australian Open
  • The tournament will honor Australian legend Evonne Goolagong Cawley on the 50th anniversary of the first of her four Australian Open title victories in 1974

MELBOURNE: Three former Australian Open champions — Naomi Osaka, Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber — are set to return to Melbourne Park in January following maternity leave, joined by 2022 winner Rafael Nadal and hometown favorite Nick Kyrgios.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley told the tournament launch Wednesday that Nadal (left hip flexor) and Kyrgios (knee, wrist) are expected to return from major injuries in a bid to challenge Novak Djokovic’s dominance at Rod Laver Arena, where he’s clinched 10 of his record 24 Grand Slam titles.

“Our 2022 champion Rafa Nadal has been working hard on his rehab for most of this year,” Tiley said. “He always brings his best to Melbourne and no one can doubt how hard he competes. I’ve been in touch with his team and he’s now back on the court and looking forward to returning to Melbourne in January.”

Tiley said Djokovic and No. 2-ranked Carlos Alcaraz are expected to lead the men’s contingent, while leading players Aryna Sabalenk a and Iga Swiatek and US Open champion Coco Gauff are also expected to play in the women’s draw.

The tournament will run from Jan. 14-28, with its opening day of play on a Sunday for the first time. The Australian Open joins the French Open as the only tennis majors to be held over 15 days.

Tiley also announced that the tournament will honor Australian legend Evonne Goolagong Cawley on the 50th anniversary of the first of her four Australian Open title victories in 1974. She also won Wimbledon twice and the French Open once.

Tiley said Goolagong Cawley’s image will feature on the coin used before matches at the Australian Open and at all warm-up tournaments in Australia in advance of the first major of the year.


Saudi Arabia’s Joud Bukhari wins bronze at Asian 9Ball Ladies & Girls Tournament

Saudi Arabia’s Joud Bukhari wins bronze at Asian 9Ball Ladies & Girls Tournament
Updated 9 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia’s Joud Bukhari wins bronze at Asian 9Ball Ladies & Girls Tournament

Saudi Arabia’s Joud Bukhari wins bronze at Asian 9Ball Ladies & Girls Tournament

RIYADH: Saudi billiards national team player Joud Bukhari won the bronze medal at the Asian Confederation of Billiard Sports 9Ball Ladies and Girls Tournament 2024 currently held in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

As Saudi Arabia marks its first official participation in the tournament, Bukhari became the first Arab, gulf, and Saudi woman to win a medal during the championship.

Separately, eight Saudi male and female officials completed a course held on the sidelines of the Asian tournament, enabling them to officiate international billiards and snooker matches.


Xavi to remain Barcelona coach: club to AFP

Xavi to remain Barcelona coach: club to AFP
Updated 24 April 2024
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Xavi to remain Barcelona coach: club to AFP

Xavi to remain Barcelona coach: club to AFP
  • The 44-year-old decided on his dramatic change of mind after a day of meetings

BARCELONA: Xavi will remain as coach of Barcelona, the Spanish giants told AFP on Wednesday, despite having announced in January that he planned to quit at the end of the season.
Spanish media reported that the 44-year-old, who had signed a contract extension until 2025 last autumn, decided on his dramatic change of mind after a day of meetings with club president Joan Laporta and sporting director Deco.


Kewell’s Yokohama beat Ulsan to reach Asian Champions League final

Kewell’s Yokohama beat Ulsan to reach Asian Champions League final
Updated 24 April 2024
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Kewell’s Yokohama beat Ulsan to reach Asian Champions League final

Kewell’s Yokohama beat Ulsan to reach Asian Champions League final
  • Yokohama will host Al Ain in the first leg of the final on May 11, with the return being held in the UAE on May 25

YOKOHAMA: Harry Kewell said his Yokohama F-Marinos players can “handle any pressure” after beating Ulsan Hyundai 5-4 on penalties on Wednesday to set up an Asian Champions League final against Al Ain.

Former Liverpool and Leeds forward Kewell’s side came through a pulsating semifinal that ended 3-3 on aggregate to reach the Champions League final for the first time.

Trailing 1-0 from last week’s first leg in South Korea, Yokohama scored three goals in the opening 30 minutes in Japan but then conceded twice and had a man sent off before halftime.

Goalkeeper William Popp saved from Ulsan’s Kim Min-woo in the shootout to hand Yokohama the advantage in constant driving rain, before Carlos Eduardo converted the decisive spot kick.

Kewell, who took over as Yokohama coach at the start of the year, said he told his players that “the hardest games you will play are semifinals.”

“I said: ‘Nothing easy in this game’,” said the Australian.

“You are going to get pushed to the limit where I believe you can handle it.

“I think it showed them tonight, they believe now they can handle any kind of pressure.”

Yokohama will host Al Ain in the first leg of the final on May 11, with the return being held in the UAE on May 25.

Al Ain beat Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal 5-4 on aggregate on Tuesday to reach the final.

Yokohama looked certain to join them after a barnstorming start to the second leg but two goals for Ulsan and a 39th-minute red card for defender Takumi Kamijima cranked up the tension.

Ulsan laid siege to the Yokohama goal but Kewell said his players grew in stature as the game went on.

“The players were composed, they were confident,” he said.

“They were getting stronger and stronger as they got closer to the final whistle.”

Ulsan, who had already booked their place in next year’s 32-team Club World Cup in the US by winning the semifinal first leg, were looking for their third Champions League title.

“My players kept going until the end,” said coach Hong Myung-bo.

“It’s unfortunate because we had a lot of chances to score in both the first and second legs.”

Yokohama took the lead in the 13th minute when a defensive mix-up between Kim Young-gwon and Hwang Seok-ho allowed Asahi Uenaka to streak through and score.

Anderson Lopes added a second in the 21st minute, firing home a left-foot shot from just inside the box.

The home side kept up the pressure and Uenaka notched his second of the game on the half-hour mark when he slipped his marker and curled a shot past goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo.

But just as it looked like turning into a rout, Ulsan hit back when Matheus Sales headed home direct from a corner in the 35th minute.

Moments later, Ulsan had a penalty and Yokohama were reduced to 10 men when Kamijima was red-carded for a handball as he slid in to make a tackle.

Substitute Darijan Bojanic, who had come on in the 34th minute, made no mistake from the spot.

Kewell admitted Yokohama “rode our luck at times” as they held off Ulsan but said his players “deserved everything they got.”

“We’re going to enjoy the final,” he said.

“You don’t get a chance to play many finals in your career so when you do, enjoy it and play the way that you’re born to play.”


India’s Pant boosts World Cup hopes with IPL batting blitz

India’s Pant boosts World Cup hopes with IPL batting blitz
Updated 24 April 2024
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India’s Pant boosts World Cup hopes with IPL batting blitz

India’s Pant boosts World Cup hopes with IPL batting blitz
  • Delhi posted 224-4 courtesy of a 113-run stand between Pant and fellow left-hander Axar Patel, who hit 66
  • Hosts kept Gujarat down to 220-8 to win by four runs after David Miller’s 23-ball 55 and an unbeaten 21 off 11 deliveries by Rashid Khan

NEW DELHI: Rishabh Pant smashed an unbeaten 88 as he led Delhi Capitals to a tense IPL win over Gujarat Titans on Wednesday, boosting his chances of playing for India at the T20 World Cup.
Delhi posted 224-4 courtesy of a 113-run stand between Pant and fellow left-hander Axar Patel, who hit 66, after they slipped to 44-3 inside six overs at their home Arun Jaitley Stadium.
The hosts kept Gujarat down to 220-8 to win by four runs after David Miller’s 23-ball 55 and an unbeaten 21 off 11 deliveries by Rashid Khan.
Mukesh Kumar kept his nerve in the final over for Delhi’s fourth win in nine matches as they kept their playoff hopes alive in the T20 tournament.
Pant, 26, struck his third half-century of this season after 14 months away from top level cricket following a frightening car accident when his Mercedes rammed into a barrier, flipped and caught fire in December 2022.
Pant, a wicketkeeper-batsman, suffered multiple injuries and was rushed to hospital before being airlifted to Mumbai for further treatment and surgery.
“Everyday that I’m in the middle, I feel better,” man of the match Pant said after his 43-ball blitz studded with five fours and eight sixes.
“Every hour on the field matters, I love being on the field. I try to give it my 100 percent. I think the first six in the match gives me the confidence in a game.”
Pant has not only fired with the bat in the IPL but his sharp work behind the stumps prompted Delhi’s director of cricket Sourav Ganguly and coach Ricky Ponting to back the India star for making the national team for the World Cup in June.
Up and coming Australian batsman Jake Fraser-McGurk gave Delhi a strong start with his 14-ball 23 but medium-pace bowler Sandeep Warrier took three wickets including two in one over.
Patel, a bowling all-rounder promoted to number three in the batting, brought up his fifty with a boundary off Rashid before another Afghanistan spinner Noor Ahmad had him caught at long-on.
Pant reached his fifty in style with a six off Mohit Sharma and then hammered the medium-pace bowler in a 31-run 20th over when he finished with a six, four and three hits over the fence to raise the roof.
South African Tristan Stubbs watched the blitz from the other end after he smashed Sai Kishore in the 19th over, which went for 22 runs, for his unbeaten seven-ball 26.
In reply, Gujarat lost skipper Shubman Gill for six off Anrich Nortje before impact substitute Sai Sudarshan smashed 65 off 39 balls.
Gujarat lost regular wickets but the left-handed Miller smashed Nortje for three sixes and a four to give Delhi a scare before his departure in the 18th over.
Rashid kept up the fight till the end as Gujarat needed 19 off the final over and five on the last ball.
“I think we played some really good cricket, disappointing to lose in the end, but great character shown by everyone,” said Gill. “Great fight till the end and we never thought we were out of the game at any point.”


Nadal will only play French Open if he can ‘compete well’

Nadal will only play French Open if he can ‘compete well’
Updated 24 April 2024
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Nadal will only play French Open if he can ‘compete well’

Nadal will only play French Open if he can ‘compete well’
  • The 14-time Roland Garros champion conceded that if the action in Paris were to kick off today, he would not be able to participate
  • “I will keep fighting and doing the things I believe I have to do so I can try to play in Paris,” Nadal said

MADRID: Rafael Nadal said on Wednesday he will only play at the upcoming French Open if he feels “capable enough to compete well.”
The 14-time Roland Garros champion conceded that if the action in Paris were to kick off today, he would not be able to participate but vowed to keep fighting for the chance to play at his most successful tournament one last time.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next three weeks. I will keep fighting and doing the things I believe I have to do so I can try to play in Paris, and if I can play, I play, if I can’t, I can’t,” the former world number one told reporters at the Madrid Open on Wednesday.
“I will not play in Paris if I am the way I am now. If Paris were today, I wouldn’t take to the court. That’s the reality. I will only play in Paris if I feel capable enough to compete well.”
Nadal returned to tennis in Brisbane in January after spending almost an entire year on the sidelines nursing a psoas injury. But his comeback was short-lived as he sustained a muscle problem in Australia and has competed in just five matches so far this season.
The Spaniard kicked off his clay campaign in Barcelona last week, where he lost in the second round and is set to face 16-year-old American Darwin Blanch in his Madrid opener on Thursday.
“I don’t think I’m ready to play at my 100 percent but I’m prepared to go out and play tomorrow. It’s important for me to play one last time here in Madrid, for me it means a lot,” said the 37-year-old Nadal.
As he attempts to resume his ‘Last Dance’ in Madrid and say goodbye to one of his favorite tournaments on court, rather than on the sidelines, the 22-time major champion admits his farewell tour hasn’t been as enjoyable as he would have hoped.
“A few weeks ago, I didn’t know if I will be able to play again on the professional tour, so today I am playing,” he added.
“It’s not perfect, of course not perfect, but at least I am playing and I can enjoy again, especially in the few tournaments that are so emotional for me. I’m able to enjoy the fact that I can say probably good-bye on court.”
Nadal says he’s hitting the ball well when he is able to be on court but “it’s about more body limitations. I went through a lot of things last year and a half, two years.”
“So body feelings are not enough good to feel myself playing with freedom enough in terms of body issues. That’s not allowing me to compete the way that I would like to compete.”