Sunday, August 14, 2016

Rio 2016 Day 8 Summary: Mo Farah defends 10,000m crown, Monica Puig makes history for Puerto Rico

* Mo Farah became Britain's first athlete to win three Olympic golds on the track. He tripped and fell during the 10,000m race. Got up, made his way back to the front, attacked in the last 100m and took the gold with a time of 27:05.17. He is just the fourth man to defend his 10,000m title at the Olympics.

* Bahraini 21-year-old Ali Khamis stole the last spot in the 400m final with a 44.49 run in the semi-finals, that were topped by Kirani James (44.02).

"My rivals were stronger than me, I tried but the last 100m were tough, I wasn't as fast as I needed to be. But thankfully I set a new Bahraini national record," said Khamis, who seemed to slow down towards the end to miss out on a top-two spot in his semi, but he advanced anyway as one of the fastest third-place finishers.

"I still not to be more experienced to keep it up in the last 100m. Hopefully I can improve my time in the final. Making a final at the Olympics, as a Bahraini, and an Arab is a huge honour"

* Michael Phelps closed the curtain on his one-of-a-kind career, helping USA win gold in the 4x100m medley relay, which saw Ryan Murphy set a world record in the opening leg backstroke. Phelps retires from swimming with 28 Olympic medals - 23 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze.

The 31-year-old, who flirted with the idea of retirement after London 2012, won five golds and one silver in Rio.

"This is how I wanted to finish my career. I've lived a dream come true. Being able to cap it off with these Games is just the perfect way to finish," said Phelps, who was watched on by his fiancee Nicole and his son Boomer on an emotional night at the Aquatics Stadium.

* Usain Bolt started his campaign, strolling into the 100m semi-finals, so did two-time doping offender Justin Gatlin, who was fastest of the bunch with a 10.01.

Gatlin hit back at teenage swimmer Lilly King, who said she didn't believe people who have tested positive for banned substances and have served doping suspensions should be competing in Rio, when she was asked if she thought her fellow American, Gatlin should be there.

"I don't even know who Lilly King is - she does swimming, not track and field. I'm not worried about that," Gatlin fired back on Saturday.

* In discus, Germany's Christoph Harting took his brother's crown after winning gold, four years on from when his older sibling Robert Harting took gold at the same event in London 2012. Now that's one overachieving family.

* Jamaican 24-year-old Elaine Thompson clinched 100m gold in stunning fashion, outclassing the field with a 10.71. American Tori Bowie took silver with a 10.83 while two-time defending gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce completed the podium, grabbing bronze with a 10.86. 

* In handball, Egypt squandered a three-goal advantage to succumb to a 27-27 draw. Egypt face Germany in their last group-stage match, with very little chance of advancing. Here's what Pool B looks like at the moment with just one round of matches left. The top four nations advance to the quarter-finals.
* In the last night of swimming, Gregorio Paltrinieri grabbed Italy's first swimming gold medal of the Rio Olympics with a convincing victory in the men's 1,500m freestyle. Paltrinieri threatened Sun Yang's world record before he finally touched in 14:34.57, with America's Connor Jaeger second (14:39.48) and another Italian, Gabriele Detti, third (14:40.86).

* American Jeff Henderson claimed gold in a drama-filled men's long-jump in which a trailing left hand on the very last jump cost compatriot Jarrion Lawson the title.

Henderson managed a best of 8.38m, finishing 1cm ahead of South African Luvo Manyonga, with defending champion Greg Rutherford of Britain taking bronze (8.29). Lawson finished fourth but his final jump went beyond that of Henderson's, only for his left hand's contact in the sandpit to ruin the real reading.

* In tennis, world No34 Monica Puig became Puerto Rico's first-ever Olympic gold medalist, and Puerto Rico's first female Olympic medalist, by defeating Angelique Kerber 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 in the final.

With wins over French Open champion and world No4 Garbine Muguruza, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, and world No2 and reigning Australian Open champion Kerber en route to gold, this was a sensational run from Puig.

The 22-year-old Puig was sobbing through the national anthem on the podium and admitted she didn't know all the words. Puig was born in San Juan but has been living in Florida for a long time. She struggled with the words to "La Borinquena".

"My dad emailed me the lyrics but I didn't really have time to memorise them. I heard people singing and I was choking up. I heard the words. I would have started singing if I wasn't choking," she said.

* In men's singles, Juan Martin del Potro's fairytale run, that started with him taking out world No1 Novak Djokovic in the first round, continued as he overcame Rafael Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 to reach the gold medal match. He faces defending champion Andy Murray while Nadal will fight Kei Nishikori for the bronze.

* Another Kuwaiti won a shooting medal this week, following Fehaid Al Deehani's double trap gold, as Abdullah Al Rashidi took bronze in skeet. Unfortunately both shooters were competing under the Olympic flag with Kuwait suspended by the IOC.

* Pernille Blume, who quit swimming after being told she was too short, gave Denmark its first gold in the Olympic pool in 68 years with a surprise win in the 50m freestyle. Despite going into the final as the fastest qualifier, the 22-year-old was not considered the favourite because she had primarily been a relay swimmer.

"I enjoy swimming the 50m free, it's so much fun but I'd always been told I'm too small to be a 50m free swimmer and I should probably be a 200m swimmer," said the 1.71m Blume. "So I had to take a break from all this and just figure out how I wanted things to go. If I was going to spend so much time doing this, I was going to enjoy it so that's why I came back."

* Poor Nadezhda Bazhina! The Russian diver landed flat on her back during the women's 3m springboard competition, achieving the dubious distinction of scoring a rare "0.0" score. The sad thing is that Bazhina was on course to qualify for Sunday's final before committing the howler. But as she came down for her final spring off the board Bazhina's left foot almost missed it completely, throwing her out of whack.

**Sources include AFP**

Rio 2016 Day 7 Summary: Historic night in the pool, Egyptians Farida Osman and Ahmed Akram suffer heartbreak, Ayana smashes world record on the track

* The night session at the Aquatics Stadium was one we're going to remember forever. It literally had everything, upsets, comebacks, and even the first triple-tie in Olympic history. Let me walk you through it.

Remember Anthony Ervin (above), who won a dead-heat 50m freestyle in Sydney 2000 as a 19-year-old? Well, Ervin quit swimming for 10 years, came back, and on Friday, reclaimed the 50 free gold he had won 16 years earlier but this time he didn't have to share it. At the age of 35, he is now the oldest swimmer to win individual gold at the Olympics.

* Michael Phelps swam the very last individual race of his career when he jumped in the pool for the 100m butterfly. It is an event he had won three times in a row and he was looking to sign off with a bang.

After taking four gold medals earlier this week in the 200 fly, 200 IM, 4x100 free relay and 4x200 free relay, Phelps was hoping to go five for five. A 21-year-old from Singapore called Joseph Schooling had other ideas.

Schooling in the photo above was 14 years old when he went up to his idol Phelps to take a picture with him while the American was in Singapore for a training camp en route to the Beijing 2008. On Friday, Schooling beat Phelps with a time of 50.39 seconds, which broke the Olympic record Phelps had set in the 100 fly in Beijing 2008.

If that's not enough of a story, Phelps ended up tying for silver with his rivals Chad Le Clos and Laszlo Cseh, with all three clocking 51.14 seconds.

In his last individual race, Phelps was beaten by a Singaporean he inspired and shared the podium step with two swimmers he viciously battled in some of the most important races of his career.

It's an ending that is equally ironic and poetic - just the way I like it!

* Another unbelievable moment came courtesy of Maya DiRado, who stopped Iron Lady Katinka Hosszu from capturing a fourth gold of the week by catching her at the last millisecond to win the 200m backstroke. It was a stunning race.

* Track and field kicked off with an explosion as we got to witness the greatest 10,000m race in history. Ethiopian Almaz Ayana, running just the second 10,000m of her career, smashed a 23-year-old world record by more than 14 seconds - clocking 29.17.45 - in a race that saw four woman clock the four fastest times in history.
Unfortunately, with the lack of trust in the cleanliness of the sport at the moment, Ayana's performance raised doping suspicions but she insists "I praise the lord, the lord gives me everything. My doping is my training, my doping is Jesus - otherwise I'm crystal clear."

Let's hope that's true.

* Thirty-two years after her father won a silver medal for shot put in the 1984 Olympics, Michelle Carter can now claim family bragging rights after going one better and striking gold here on Friday.

The 30-year-old from California stunned two-time champion Valerie Adams of New Zealand in a dramatic shot put final at Rio's Olympic Stadium, recording a personal best with her last throw of 20.63m.

It was a sensational victory for Carter, a professionally qualified make-up artist who also campaigns to improve attitudes towards body image via a sports-confidence camp called “You Throw Girl”.

Carter is trained by her father Michael, who went on to have a successful career in American football with the San Francisco 49ers after switching from track and field following his silver in the 1984 Games.

“I'll be going around the house saying ‘Yeah daddy - I got you!’. It feels awesome,” a delighted Carter said.

“Me and him have a running joke. I've won more high school championships, he's won more college championships. I always told him it's going to take the cake if I win the Olympic gold, and today it's happened.”

* Rafael Nadal became just the second player, after Nicolas Massu, to win both men's singles and men's doubles gold at the Olympics as he triumphed with his good friend Marc Lopez in the doubles final on Friday, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 over Romanians Horia Tecau and Florin Mergea. Nadal, a singles gold medalist in Beijing 2008, also advanced to the semis in singles, where he takes on Juan Martin del Potro.

* Bahraini 21-year-old Ali Khamis blasted into the 400m semi-finals on the track with the third-fastest time of the night, clocking 45.12 seconds. * Egyptian boxer Hosam Bakr defeated Cameroonian Dieudonne Wilfried Seyi Ntsengue in the 75kg middleweight action to advance to the quarter-finals, where he takes on Mexico's Misael Rodriguez. Bakr is one win away from a medal.

* Saudi Arabia's first female Olympic sprinter Kariman Abuljadayel was in 100m preliminaries action on Friday. She clocked a slow time of 14.61 seconds but that is definitely not the point.

When Saudi was pressured by the IOC in London 2012 to send females or else they'd ban it from the Games, the Saudis conceded and sent Sarah Al Attar (800m) and Wojdan Shaherkani (judo. At the time, I was worried that Saudi Arabia was just doing that to appease the IOC and that in Rio we would barely get any Saudi women at the Games.

But I was wrong. This time, there are four Saudi Arabian women in Rio and Abuljadayel is one of them. I've been getting so many comments about her slow time, but again, that is not the point.

Hailing from a country that does not encourage women to take up sport, Abuljadayel sprinting down the track in Rio, dressed in clothes she is comfortable in, that do not compromise her beliefs is HUGE.

 * Back to swimming, Egypt's Farida Osman and Ahmed Akram both suffered heartbreak in the 50 free and 1,500 freestyle respectively. Osman placed 18th in the heats, missing out on the semi-finals by a mere 0.09 seconds. Her time of 24.91 seconds is a personal best and a new African record.

"I know I was so close to making it back to semis but I'm really happy with my overall performance in Rio. Performing at such a high stage is something I'm definitely proud of. Rio made me very excited for what to come in Tokyo insha2allah," Osman told me in a text message after her race.

Akram, a Youth Olympics champion, placed 11th in the heats to miss out on the eight-man final. His time of 14:58.37 in Rio was slower than the 14:53.66 he swam to place fourth in the final at the World Championships in Kazan last year and set a new Egyptian record.

**Sources include AFP**

Rio 2016 Day 6 Summary: A tale of two Simones, Phelps continues to flourish in his farewell party

* Simone Biles. Simone Biles. Simone Biles. It may have been the most predictable gold medal of the Games so far but that did not make it any less enchanting to watch. The 19-year-old American gymnast took individual all-around gold on Thursday to grab a second of a possible five gold medals in Rio.

Biles has won the last three consecutive all-around World titles but this is her first Olympics and she did not disappoint.

Standing just 1.45m the bubbly Texan scored highest on three of four rotations - beam, vault and floor - leading a USA 1-2, with Aly Raisman taking silver.

Five golds would see Biles overtake Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina (1956), Czech Vera Caslavska (1968) and Romanian Ecaterina Szabo (1984), who have all won four at the same Games.

Feast your eyes on Biles' floor routine from Thursday (she can elevate to a height that is 2 feet higher than anybody else can, and had she fallen TWICE, she still would have taken gold):

Biles has an incredible backstory. Born in Columbus, Ohio, Biles moved to Texas at the age of three to be brought up along with her younger sister by her maternal grandparents Ron and Nellie Biles. The couple adopted the children after their mother was struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. Two other siblings were adopted by Ron's sister.

Raisman's silver is also an enormous achievement and was brilliant to see. She had missed out on the all-around podium in London 2012 after a tiebreak for third spot with Aliya Mustafina. She found redemption in Rio.

*Another Simone from the United States stole the show in Rio - Simone Manuel, who became the first African-American female swimmer to win Olympic gold when she triumphed in the 100m freestyle on Thursday.
Manuel shared her gold with Canada's Penny Oleksiak who remarkably touched the wall in the same time - an Olympic record of 52.70 seconds.

"I'm super glad with the fact that I can be an inspiration to others and hopefully diversify the sport. But at the same time I would like there to be a day where there are more of us and it's not Simone 'the black swimmer,'" Manuel said after her victory. "Because the title 'black swimmer' makes it seem like I'm not supposed to be able to win a gold medal, I'm not supposed to break records, and that's not true because I work just as hard as anyone else and I love the sport and I want to win just like everybody else."

* Michael Phelps continued to sink more records in his final Olympics before retirement. He became the first swimmer to win the same individual title four Games in a row by triumphing in the 200m IM. It was the 22nd Olympic gold medal of his career, and 26th overall. Only two other Olympians have managed to win the same gold four times in a row: Carl Lewis in the long jump and Al Oerter in the discus.

"To be able to come back and win my fourth 200 IM in a row, I don’t even know how to put that into words," said Phelps.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Rio 2016 Day 5 Summary: An epic day for Arabs at the Olympics

* August 10, 2016 will go down in history as the day Egypt won two Olympic medals in the span of four hours. Few things have warmed my heart more than watching 18-year-old weightlifter Sara Ahmed lift some inconceivable weights to take bronze in the 69kg category in Rio on Wednesday. Apparently they wouldn't postpone her school finals for her, nor allow her to take them in Brazil, so she decided to skip them and it proved to be a wise decision.

Sara is the second-ever Egyptian Olympic medallist, and the first to receive one on the Olympic podium after weightlifter Abeer Abdelrahman received her silver belatedly because the IOC stripped all three medallists from London 2012 last month.

A few hours later, Mohamed Ihab took bronze in the 77kg category. This was Egypt's first men's weightlifting Olympic medal since 1948.
* After getting double trap bronze in Sydney, and trap bronze in London, Kuwait's Fehaid Al Deehani is finally an Olympic gold medallist as he triumphed in the double trap. Al Deehani is Kuwait's only Olympic medallist. He made his Games debut in Barcelona 1992 and has three medals from six appearances. The sad part was that he couldn't lift the Kuwaiti flag nor listen to the Kuwait national anthem because he was competing as an independent athlete under the Olympic flag. Why? Kuwait is suspended by the IOC for government interference in sport.
Al Deehani didn't even know he was going to be able to compete in Rio because of all the drama with the IOC and he said his preparation was sub-par. He was also due to compete in the Trap earlier in the week but someone messed up and didn't sign him up. After all that, even though there is a bittersweet undertone to the whole thing, the 49-year-old can go home with a gold medal. What a legend!

* Check out Nijat Rahimov's celebration after stealing the gold from China's Lu Xiaojun with a world record lift. Best. Celebration. Ever!
* It was an epic night for Arab women as Tunisia's Ines Boubakri won foil fencing bronze. Anyone who has watched her all day will have been taken by her true grit.

* Fabian Cancellara rolled back the years to claim a second Olympic time trial gold, with Dutchman Tom Dumoulin taking silver and Tour de France champion Chris Froome settling for bronze.

* Chris Mears and Jack Laugher won a first-ever diving gold for Britain as they showed there's more to British diving than Tom Daley, taking gold in the 3m springboard synchro.

Rio 2016 Day 4 Summary: Phelps takes his medal tally to 25, Ledecky outsprints Sjostrom, UAE gets a medal

* UAE got its second-ever Olympic medal and first since 2004 through naturalized-Moldovan Sergiu Toma who took bronze in the under-81kg judo. His achievement has been met by mixed reaction on social media from Emiratis due to Toma being Moldovan.
The UAE judo federation says they have been naturalizing athletes to inspire the young Emirati generation. I wrote about how there's a way for Toma to become a role model for UAE youth and not just be that Moldovan who won a medal for the Emirates.
* Simone Biles, arguably the most dominant gymnast the world has ever seen, captured a first of five possible gold medals by helping the USA win the women's team title. If you haven't seen Biles perform before, head to Google immediately and watch her floor routines. You're welcome!
* Top seed and defending champion Serena Williams crashed out to world No20 Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-3 in tennis singles, after earlier losing alongside her sister Venus in doubles. It appears is carrying a shoulder injury, which would explain the eight double faults she hit, five of them in one game to get broken late in the second set. No3 seed Garbine Muguruza also was sent packing, getting humbled 6-1, 6-1 by Puerto Rico's Monica Puig.

* Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal is alive in singles, doubles and mixed doubles. Will the Spaniard, who is playing for the first time since May, get a medal? Or three?

* Japan shocked New Zealand 14-12 in rugby sevens but that wasn't all the misery suffered by the Kiwis that day. They also lost Sonny Bill Williams, who was ruled out of the rest of the tournament with an Achilles' injury.

* China took their Rio diving record to three-for-three as Chen Ruolin and Liu Huixia took 10m platform synchro gold. The victory was a record fifth career Olympic gold medal for Chen, tying the mark set just two days earlier by team-mate Wu Minxia.

Malaysia won a first Olympic diving medal by taking silver in the same event courtesy of Pandelela Rinong and Cheong Jun Hoong. Guess what their government is giving them in return? They will share a RM300,000 cash incentive and a monthly lifetime pension of RM3,000. Now that's what I call true government support for athletes.

* Anna Korakaki picked up Greece’s first gold at the Rio Olympics, and first since Athens 12 years ago, in women’s 25m pistol.

* In handball, Egypt pulled off a sensational victory over Sweden - beating them for the first time - 26-25 with some heroic displays from flag-bearer Ahmed El Ahmar, Mohamed Sanad and Yehia El Deraa. Not to mention, goalkeeper Felfel (aka Mr. Spicy as the beIN Sports commentator kept calling him).

* I'm saving the best for last. Michael freakin' Phelps. The American beast won his 20th and 21st gold medals, triumphing in a thrilling 200m butterfly with a 1:53.36 in a race that saw his rival Chad Le Clos (who upset Phelps in the 200 fly in 2012) miss out on the medals entirely. Phelps then helped USA win the 4x200 free relay. When he won the 200 fly, he sat on the rope in the pool and waved to the crowd, urging them to "bring some noise" and they obliged.
At 31, Phelps became the oldest individual swimming gold medallist in Olympic history. At his final Games, he made sure to soak up the atmosphere. We are truly lucky to be living in this era and witnessing all this live. As for Le Clos, him finishing fourth reminded me of what he told me in our interview from last year. Check it out here.

One of my favourite things about the whole night was watching Kevin Durant and his fellow Team USA basketball players cheer on Phelps like ultimate fanboys. 
* In the same night, Katie Ledecky did something truly amazing as she kept her quest for a freestyle sweep alive. She outsprinted the best sprinter in the world, Sarah Sjostrom, to win the 200 free. A quick reminder that Ledecky is 19 years old.

* Hungary’s “Iron Lady” Hosszu completed the IM double by winning the 200m final in 2:06.58, making it three golds and counting. She went to Rio having never won an Olympic medal in three previous appearances. She now has three golds. And counting.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Rio 2016 Day 3 Summary: Cold war in the pool as Lilly King edges Yulia Efimova

* There was madness in the pool in Rio as 19-year-old American Lilly King backed up her comments about doping offender Yulia Efimova by beating the Russian in the 100m breaststroke, clocking an Olympic record 1:04.93.

Before the race, King had called out Efimova for her doping past (the Russian was suspended for 16 months for failing a drug test in 2014 and was suspended this year for testing positive for meldonium before the ban was lifted because they were unsure whether she had stopped taking the drug before or after it was added to the list of prohibited substances on January 1, 2016).

Efimova was banned from Rio up until the last second and was reinstated in mysterious fashion, without anyone really knowing how and why. She's been getting booed at each of her races in Rio and King did not back down in her stance that athletes who have previously tested positive for a drug should not be at the Olympics.
And while Efimova, who was in tears while talking to the press after taking silver, likened the atmosphere in Rio to the "Cold War", King insists her stance is not "anti-Russian". Asked if she thought her fellow American, two-time doping offender Justin Gatlin should be at the Olympics, King said: "Do I think someone who has been caught for doping should be on the team? No, I don’t."

It's been very interesting seeing how outspoken the swimmers have been about their disdain for their cheating colleagues, which is not necessarily the case in track and field where not everyone is calling out Gatlin publicly. With Mack Horton calling Sun Yang a "drugs cheat" and King ripping Efimova to shreds, there's definitely been an added element of intrigue in the pool this week.

* Sun Yang shrugged off his critics and won a stacked 200m freestyle on Monday night, with a time of 1:44.65 with Chad le Clos (essentially a "fly guy" as he puts it) taking silver with 1:45.20 and American Conor Dwyer taking bronze with 1:45.23. World champion James Guy missed the podium coming fourth in 1:45.49.

* China's Chen Aisen and Lin Yue, teaming up for the first time at an Olympics, won 10m synchro gold in diving with Americans David Boudia and Steele Johnson taking silver and Brits Tom Daley and Daniel Goodfellow snagging bronze. Daley and Goodfellow fell into the pool as they celebrated and Daley, who took individual bronze in London, continues to be the happiest-looking bronze medalist I've ever seen.

We all know Daley has superstar status in the UK, and with his engaged to Dustin Lance Black, he probably is in the US as well. But the fact that UK media splashed Daley's face all over the newspapers and websites, paying little attention to his synchro partner, Goodfellow, was not right. It prompted Goodfellow's mother to call out the media on ignoring her son. So in the spirit of giving the young British diver the recognition he deserves, here's his BBC Rio Postcard video:

* Brazil got its first gold thanks to judoka Rafaela Silva who upset world No1 Sumiya Dorjsuren in the under-57kg final.

* Croatian army officer Josip Glasnovic won a tense shoot-off to secure gold in men's Trap shooting. Egypt's Ahmed Kamar suffered heartbreak in the semi-finals when he lost a shoot-off against Britain's Edward Ling to miss out on advancing to the bronze medal match. Kamar ended up placing fifth overall which is a tremendous achievement. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Rio 2016 Day 2 Summary: Wu Minxia smashes five records in one perfect day of diving

* China’s Wu Minxia etched her name further in the Olympics history books by smashing not one but five records on Sunday, thanks to her 3m synchronized springboard gold alongside Shi Tingmao.

Wu passed legends like American Greg Louganis and "big sister" Guo Jingjing as the most decorated diver in history with an unprecedented five diving gold medals. She is the first man or woman to win seven diving medals in total, and is now the only diver to win four golds in a single event.

At the age of 30, she also became the oldest women's winner in Olympic diving history. Wu also now joins Emilie Heymans (CAN) as the only two women to win diving medals at four different Olympics.
* Majlinda Kelmendi won Kosovo's first ever Olympic gold medal at its maiden Games on Sunday and the judoka will be thanked for a very long time for helping put her country's name on the international map.

The 25-year-old sank to her knees in tears after beating Italy's Odette Giuffrida by yuko in the women's 52kg final. She ran to hug a small group of supporters chanting "Kosovo, Kosovo!"

“I have always wanted to show the world that Kosovo is not just a country that has gone through war,” she said with the Kosovo flag draped around her shoulders. This is the first Olympic Games where Kosovo is officially recognized by the IOC and with its athletes allowed to carry its flag.
* Here's the ultimate highlight from the swimming night session. Ladies and gentlemen, meet China's Fu Yuanhui who made the 100m backstroke final. She ended up getting tied bronze. WATCH THIS:

* Michael Phelps won a record-extending 23rd Olympic medal and a 19th gold after helping USA win the 4x100m freestyle relay in the early hours of Monday morning. Katie Ledecky won the 400m freestyle, smashing the world record by almost two seconds (she swam 3:56.46), Sarah Sjostrom won the 100m butterfly in a world record time (55.48s) while Adam Peaty obliterated his own world record to win the 100m breaststroke (in 57.13s) and provide Britain with its first male swimming gold medallist in 28 years.

* Nada Meawad and Doaa Elghobashy made history for their country as the first Egyptian female beach volleyball team to compete at the Olympics. Choosing not to compete in the typical two-piece outfit worn by most players, the Egyptian pair had permission to play while dressed in conservative wear. They lost in two sets to their German opponents but perhaps helped change perceptions or opened some minds of the people who were watching them.
* Anna van der Breggen overcame the "shock" of seeing Dutch team-mate Annemiek van Vleuten sprawled motionless in the road before going on to claim Olympic cycling gold.
Van der Breggen powered to victory in the women's 137km Games road race around Rio on Sunday, but only after van Vleuten crashed out spectacularly when leading with just 10km to ride.
Van Vleuten looked to be heading for victory but tumbled head over heels in a stomach-churning fall that left her in a crumpled heap on the side of the road, motionless.
She suffered concussion and three fractures to her lower back but tweeted that she is going to be okay. 

* Thirteen-year-old Gaurika Singh, the youngest athlete at the Rio Olympics, won her heat in the women's 100 metres backstroke Sunday after getting into a flap over a torn swimsuit.
The Nepali schoolgirl, who survived the killer earthquake that claimed 9,000 lives in her native country in April last year , quickly changed into a new costume before plunging into the pool for her moment of glory.

*Playing for the first time in over two months, Rafael Nadal eased past Federico Delbonis 6-2, 6-1 to reach the second round in the Olympics tennis tournament and set up a meeting with Andreas Seppi of Italy. Strong winds postponed play on the outside courts on Sunday (and canceled all of the rowing action) but defending champions Andy Murray and Serena Williams both survived, unscathed. Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci blasted officials however for forcing players to play in ugly conditions. Bellucci advanced after his opponent Dustin Brown was forced to retire in the second set (the German had won the first) with an injured ankle.
“It was almost impossible,” said Bellucci. “I don't know how they allowed us to play like this. I have never played in these conditions. The wind was so fast and the match became ugly.”
*Juan Martin del Potro delivered the biggest upset of the tennis tournament so far, taking out top-seeded Novak Djokovic 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2) in what was a sensational display in front of a raucous crowd of Latin Americans cheering on the popular Argentine. And to think, Del Potro's preparation for the first round encounter involved him getting stuck in an elevator for 40 minutes at the Athletes' Village before getting rescued by Argentina's handball team.
The win was Del Potro's second over Djokovic in Olympic play having denied the Serb the bronze medal in London 2012. After years of suffering through injuries and undergoing wrist surgeries, it's amazing to see Del Potro thrive on the big stage.

*In swimming, Yannick Agnel's 200m freestyle title defence came to a crashing halt as he failed to make it through the preliminary heats. The Frenchman swam the final individual race of his international career, failing to reach the semi-finals, placing 19th with a time of 1:47.35. He is set to retire from international competition after the 4x200m relay in Rio.

**Sources include AFP**

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Rio 2016 Day 1 Summary: Thrasher wins first gold of the 2016 Olympics, Syrian hero Mardini wins her heat

* US teenager Virginia Thrasher claimed the first Rio Olympics gold medal with her final shot in the shooting on Saturday. The 19-year-old won the women's 10m air rifle title at the Deodoro shooting venue, holding her nerve to see off China's Du Li on the final shot.

* Italy's Carmine Tommasone on Saturday became the first professional in history to step in to an Olympic boxing ring - and celebrated by teaching his opponent, Mexico's Lindolfo Delgado, a harsh lesson in Rio to claim a unanimous points decision by the judges.

* Australia’s John Millman posted the first double-bagel victory in Olympic history with a 6-0, 6-0 50-minute win over Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis in the singles first round.

* France's Camille Grassineau made history Saturday with the tournament's first try as rugby sevens made its debut at the Olympic Games.

* The first swimming world record of the Rio 2016 Olympics went down at the hands of Adam Peaty who broke his own previous world mark in the 100m breaststroke by 0.37 seconds, clocking 57.55 in Saturday's heats. He did that in his first-ever Olympic swim. Wow!

* Hungarian Iron Lady, Katinka Hosszu, finally claimed her first Olympic medal, on her fourth Games appearance, breaking the world record in the 400m IM by more than two seconds to take gold in 4:26.36. Hosszu looked like she was sprinting through the race and it's highly likely she'll shatter more records this week in Rio.

* Yusra Mardini, the teenager who braved a Mediterranean crossing in a leaky dinghy fleeing war-torn Syria, won her 100m butterfly heat in Rio Saturday to launch an "amazing" Olympic experience. “Everything was amazing. It was the only thing I ever wanted was to compete in the Olympics,” said the 18-year-old, who is representing the first ever Olympic refugee team. “I had a good feeling in the water so I'm happy for that.”

* In tennis, Japan's Taro Daniel, ranked No118 in the world, delivered the first upset of the men's singles draw by taking out world No25 Jack Sock of the United States, seed 14 in Rio.

* China’s world No64 Zheng Saisai shocked world No5 Agnieszka Radwanska in the women’s singles first round 6-4, 7-5. It comes as a huge disappointment for Poland’s Radwanska, who was forced to fly from Montreal to New York to Rio through Lisbon, a trip that took her to three continents and cross the Atlantic twice.

* Vietnam’s Hoang Xuan Vinh produced a pinpoint last shot to deny hosts Brazil an opening day gold medal in the men's 10m air pistol. The 41-year-old Vietnamese claimed gold with a total points haul of 202.5, with Wu in silver only .3 adrift.

* Greg Van Avermaet won a thrilling cycling road race to become the first Belgian man to claim an Olympic gold medal since swimmer Fred Deburghgraeve in 1996. Vincenczo Nibali was in the mix for the podium but crashed on the final ascent. “Words served no purpose, we looked at each other a moment but he was silent. We didn't say a word to each other, his morale was in tatters,” said Italy coach Davide Cassani on the aftermath of the late crash that knocked Nibali out of the bike race with a broken collarbone.

**Sources include AFP**

Friday, July 1, 2016

WIMBLEDON: Nick Kyrgios and Dustin Brown to face-off in clash of epic showmanship

Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images

There aren’t that many occasions in tennis where Australia’s Nick Kyrgios steps on a court against a player with more flair than him but when his opponent is Dustin Brown, the wow-factor scale tips slightly towards the German.

The pair will face-off on Friday in a clash the millenials would describe as “popcorn tennis” as they both look to reach the third round.

Brown, a Jamaican-German with long dread-locked hair which has not been cut since 1996, is a fan-favourite at Wimbledon ever since he beat Lleyton Hewitt in 2013 to reach the third round as a qualifier.

Last year, he played an epic match to defeat Rafael Nadal in the second round on Wimbledon Centre Court, before falling to Viktor Troicki in the third, also as a qualifier.

A recipient of a wildcard this year at the All England Club, Brown has a game that is unmatched on tour. Between his energetic serve-and-volley style, to his affinity to hit tweeners and inch-perfect lobs on demand, the 31-year-old is a human highlight reel.

“It's a circus,” is how the 15th-seeded Kyrgios described what a match against his good friend Brown would be like.

“But it's good. It's good. You know, his style of tennis, it's just big. He's got a big serve. He likes to come in. He's creative. I think that's important to have in tennis.”

Kyrgios himself is one of the most entertaining players on tour. He hits those stunning leaping forehands, generating insane power with a flick of the wrist. He has also mastered the art of a tweener lob and engages with the crowd like no other.

He admits he is a big fan of Brown and recalls one of his favourite shots the German had been able to produce.

“I think he hit an around‑the‑back shot against (John) Isner once. I probably watched it honestly like 15 times. He's got that ability. He can pull out shots like that from anywhere. He's awesome to watch,” said Kyrgios.

The 21-year-old Kyrgios is a huge threat on grass and with his No15 seeding, is tipped to go far this fortnight. The Aussie is on everyone’s radar and it’s hard to imagine this is only his third Wimbledon main draw appearance.

He won the junior doubles title here twice in 2012 and 2013 before returning as a wildcard in 2014 to shock Nadal on his Wimbledon men’s singles debut, when he was ranked just 144 in the world. That victory saw Kyrgios become the first man since 2004 to make the Wimbledon quarter-finals on debut.

He says he feels comfortable now in the big leagues and is happy to carry the favourite tag.

“For me, I feel like that's the great thing about juniors, I feel as if I'm so used to the surroundings, I feel I've played on a lot of courts here,” explained Kyrgios.

“I feel like my juniors success I had here was a big reason why I had success early on the men's tour. I felt comfortable and I felt confident.

“I feel this Wimbledon like I'm used to my surroundings a lot more, probably expecting a lot more out of myself. To me, I do believe I can do good things in this tournament, go far, potentially win it. I don't know, something like that. I mean, I'm just taking it one match at a time at the moment.”

Brown came to Wimbledon having won nine of his last 11 grass court matches over the previous three weeks, that included him winning a Challenger title in Manchester.

“I think he just waits for this time of the year,” Kyrgios said of Brown, who is a grass-court specialist.

“When you're playing a guy like Dustin, you hope it's not a day when he's feeling it, he can't miss, he's enjoying it. When he's playing like that, we all know what he can do, what he's capable of.

“Me and Dustin have been mates for a long time now. I'm a massive fan of his tennis.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

WIMBLEDON: Grass-court debutante Maria Sakkari looking forward to Venus Williams challenge

Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams will on Thursday (match pushed from Wednesday due to the rain) take on an opponent who had never played on grass prior to last week in qualifying.

Greek player Maria Sakkari is a self-proclaimed clay specialist and the 20-year-old had her very first hit on grass last week ahead of the Wimbledon qualifying rounds in Roehampton.

She then won all three of her qualies before posting a first round victory in the main draw over Zheng Saisai on Monday, booking a dream second round with Williams.

Her victory over Zheng has provisionally place her in the top-100 for the first time (official rankings come out the Monday after Wimbledon) and she is raring to go higher.

Contesting just her third career grand slam, Sakkari has matched her best performance by reaching the last 64 (she made the second round in Australia in January before losing in three sets to Carla Suarez Navarro).

“It’s a really good first step for every player to make the top-100, not that this is my goal of course, but it’s a really good first step and it feels good because I’ll have the chance to play in the main draw in many tournaments and that’s the important thing,” Sakkari told me.

Sakkari’s mother is Angeliki Kanellopoulo, a former WTA top-50 player, and is with her here at Wimbledon to witness her special run.

For someone who has played the majority of her tournaments on clay, Sakkari has certainly exceeded everyone’s expectations with her four wins on grass this fortnight.

“Clay, clay, clay, clay, right?” she says with a laugh, referring to her tournament history.

“I came here without having any expectations to play good or to feel good but then I had two days of practice on grass and I started playing qualies. I won one match after the other and here I am.

“I was feeling good, so that’s the important thing. I feel good on grass.

“I tried to adapt as fast as I could and I think that’s what helped me to make it.”

There is a gulf in experience between Sakkari and the 36-year-old Williams, who is making her 19th appearance at Wimbledon and her 71st grand slam main draw.

Sakkari is relishing the challenge though.

“I’m excited, it’s going to be a really nice match. I respect her and I respect what she has done all these years,” says Sakkari.

“I watched so many matches of her and her sister (Serena) and I’m looking forward to playing her here.”

Sakkari was born in Athens and moved to Barcelona three years ago to train there.

“It was tough because I have all my best friends in Greece and my family but I knew that I have to make that step to make my career better,” she says.
With barely any Greek players in action on tour, the reaction to Sakkari’s opening round victory has been big back home.

“My phone hasn’t stopped. It’s really nice to receive all that kind of love from people. I know that for the moment it’s just me from Greece and a few more players like Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is the No1 junior in the world. It’s important for them to have names on the tour and it makes me feel good, it’s nice to have that,” she says.

Williams is seeded No8 at Wimbledon and she survived a tough encounter with Donna Vekic in the first round.

At 36, she has been on tour for over two decades (she turned pro in 1994) and she is showing no signs of stopping anytime soon. “I don't think anyone feels older. You have this infinity inside of you that feels like you could go forever,” said a philosophical Venus on Monday.

“That's how I feel on the court. As long as I'm halfway decent, can get my racquet on the ball, I think I can make something happen. So far so good.”

Venus played her first Wimbledon main draw in 1997, losing in three sets to Magdalena Grzybowska, but reached the quarter-finals the following two years before winning her first of five titles here in 2000.

“I do remember my first year. It wasn't very fantastic. I was just so nervous. It was tough to play your first time. But thankfully since then, I was able to handle my nerves a little better. You know, there's nothing like the first time,” said Venus.

Sakkari will certainly never forget hers.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Murray survives Raonic to set-up final rematch with Djokovic

The Murray clan have got a lot to be proud of as both Andy and Jamie have become the first brothers in the Open Era to reach the finals in men’s singles and doubles at a grand slam.

Andy Murray on Friday pulled off a tough escape against Milos Raonic to beat the Canadian No13 seed 4-6, 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-2 in a four-hour battle and reach his fifth Australian Open final, where he takes on his long-time nemesis Novak Djokovic.

The world No2 joins his brother Jamie as a finalist in Melbourne with the latter set to play his third consecutive grand slam doubles final when he takes to the court alongside his partner Bruno Soares on Saturday against Daniel Nestor and Radek Stepanek.

“For it to be the first time to happen is incredible really. I never would have expected that,” Andy told reporters on Friday.

“(This is) Obviously something that's going to be extremely rare. You're not going to see it very often. We should enjoy it and be proud of it because it's a tough thing to do.”

Looking to reach a ninth grand slam final, Andy struggled to get a read on the massive Raonic serve early on as the Canadian, playing just his second major semi-final, came out blazing.

The world No14 made a nerveless start breaking the Murray serve at love. Raonic saved all three break points to consolidate and protected the advantage he had throughout the set.

The 25-year-old got his first two set points with a 230km/hr service winner and took the set on his second chance, challenging a serve that was mistakenly called out. Murray got a break point in the second game of the second set but a Raonic serve-forehand one-two punch saw the No13 seed get out of trouble.

In the third game, Raonic asked umpire Jake Garner which mark was from Murray’s serve before challenging, and winning the challenge. Murray complained to Garner saying: “You said to challenge in a clear and timely manner. In my opinion, that’s not a clear and timely manner.”

After holding for a 2-1 lead, Murray told Garner in the changeover: “I hope you’re consistent with that for the rest of the match.”

Raonic faced a break/set point, serving at 5-6, and he netted a volley to hand over the set. The third set was a tight affair and remained on serve throughout. Raonic got a break point in the 11th game but Murray survived it. The set went to a tiebreak in which Raonic opened a 5-2 gap and sealed it with an ace.

Three games into the fourth set, Raonic needed an off-court medical timeout to treat an adductor injury. The 1.96m Canadian was never the same again, failing to push off his leg on serve and struggling to move well.

Murray held for 2-2 upon resumption of play before Raonic, who had been ice-cold thus far, got testy with Garner, demanding the umpire overrule the poor line calls, telling him: “I have to play him, not you. Do your freaking job.”

Two games later, Murray broke Raonic at love for a 4-3 lead. Raonic got a break point in the following game but Murray covered the net well to save it and gave about 10 fist pumps in a row to celebrate. Raonic wasted two break points as Murray served for the set at 5-4 but the Scot hung on and took the set on his second chance with a service winner to force a fifth.
Keeping his cool up to that point, Raonic double-faulted to get broken in the opening game of the decider and smashed his racquet in frustration to the sound of echoing boos from the stands. Murray broke again and it wasn’t long before he sealed the win on his first opportunity with an inside out forehand winner.

Amelie Mauresmo, Murray’s coach, said she was amazed at her charge’s fighting spirit.

“He was incredible. He was in a bit of trouble out there and Milos definitely improved a lot and his serve was really hard, I thought Andy, at the beginning, had a lot of trouble reading it, and then as the match went on, he was reading it better and better so that was really a big satisfaction,” said the Frenchwoman, who won the Australian Open title herself 10 years ago.

“He never gives up, that’s basically what happened tonight. And in the fifth set he was able to physically and mentally go over Milos, but yeah, a tough one tonight.”

Murray said he wasn’t surprised by Raonic’s high-quality display but admits he suffered a slow start due to the adjustments he had to make between warming up indoors and ending up playing with the roof open.
It hurts light hell now at this moment. The heartbreak and the disappoint. Regardless, I will not let this keep me down. That is not how I was raised and that is not the kind of person that I am. I thrive of challenges and of difficult moments that on the other side make me better and make me stronger. It's infuriating for the tournament to end on this note and to have to face this knot in my stomach. But it's not the end. Not by any means. I am better than that and I will overcome the challenges my body presents to me, I work far to damn hard and commit every waking moment to tennis, my ambitions and my goals, to not do that. I will grow from this and I will learn. I will give myself this opportunity again and I will move on in a better light. It may not be today or tomorrow but I am gonna do everything to make sure it's someday! At the end of the day, it has been a very special January. I have showed great amounts of improvement and development in my tennis. I have played great and I have done a whole lot of winning. That feels great and I will keep pushing that forward. A huge thank you to the fans and supporters who show their love and passion, on court, through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and any other way possible. You guys are great to me and I am forever grateful. I will much more to cheer for. With much love! Milos
A photo posted by Milos Raonic (@mraonic) on
A heartbroken Raonic spoke to reporters after the match revealing he felt his adductor problem midway through the third set.

“Yeah, it's unfortunate. Probably the most heartbroken I felt on court, but that's what it is,” said Raonic, who struck 78 unforced errors against 72 winners yesterday.

Asked if he felt he still had a chance to fight through the pain, Raonic added: “I think maybe that's why I sort of lashed out after I did at the start of the fifth set.

“I guess that was sort of just the whole frustration of everything sort of getting out. I don't think that's like myself to do, but sometimes it's a little bit too much to keep in.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: No "coffee bar" for Zhang Shuai just yet as she makes the quarter-finals, Keys crashes out injured

Zhang Shuai’s miracle run at the Australian Open continued on Monday night with yet another emotional victory for the Chinese world No133, but it also meant heartbreak for 2015 semi-finalist Madison Keys who left the court injured and in tears.

The 27-year-old, who came to Melbourne with zero wins in 14 grand slam appearances and but has now made her way into the quarter-finals, could barely contain her own emotions as she held her nerve to beat the No15 seed 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 while watching Keys suffer from an adductor injury.

Zhang considered retirement just three months ago and brought her parents to Australia thinking it may be their last chance to see her compete. She says she would have liked to open her own “coffee bar” had she left the sport. We're all invited when she does open it.

But since she got to Melbourne, she has won seven matches – three in qualifying and four in the main draw – and now finds herself one of the last eight remaining players in the draw.

Her win over Keys on Monday makes her the first qualifier to reach the quarter-finals in Melbourne since Mexico’s Angelica Gavaldon in 1990 and she now has a chance to go further should she beat Johanna Konta in the next round.

“I’m very exciting. Very happy, yeah. I don't want to stop. I want more step,” said Zhang, who looked too exhausted to form complete sentences in the press conference.

“It's so tough to play against someone injury because, yeah, when I'm saw her like feel more pain. You know, so tough. Maybe two point you feeling like cannot play, and then next three balls, pong, pong, pong, make two ace, one winner.

“So, so tough. You don't know what's happen. And also last year this happened many times. I'm almost winning the match. I lost. I lost the concentrate. But this time I think I try to concentrate. So I'm happy I win the match, yeah.”
Keys, who was barely able to move after the match and couldn’t make her way to the interview room, says she felt like she tore her adductor towards the end of the first set but wanted to keep on fighting.

“You don’t want to… one I hate retiring, and two, you don’t want to do that to someone who is trying to get into the quarter-finals,” said a tearful Keys, talking to reporters in the media restaurant.

“I thought maybe I could figure it out and somehow get through then have a day off and try but obviously not going to happen.” Asked how disappointed she was, Keys said: “I don’t think there’s a word for it.”

As a qualifier, Zhang has already had an incredibly long two weeks in Melbourne and she convinced herself that her fourth round on Monday was a final to find some strength.

“Before today I'm thinking ‘okay, today is the final’. When somebody already wins six matches at a grand slam, already it’s the final, right?” she said.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Milos Raonic finally knows how good he is, says coach Carlos Moya

Milos Raonic is finally aware of how good he really is… at least that’s what his new coach Carlos Moya believes after he watched his charge upset No4 seed Stan Wawrinka in five sets to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals on Monday.

Entering his fourth round carrying a 0-4 head-to-head against Wawrinka, Raonic scored his first win over the Swiss in dramatic fashion, venturing up to the net an incredible 83 times en route to a 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-3 success.

History was made in the process as Raonic, the No13 seed, became the first Canadian ever to reach four grand slam quarter-finals.

The 1.96m ace machine has now won his last eight consecutive matches, having captured the title in Brisbane to kick off his season, and will face Gael Monfils for a place in the semi-finals.

Raonic has looked like a man on a mission from the start of the year and he handed Wawrinka a loss on January 1 in Abu Dhabi, albeit in exhibition play.

After struggling for most of 2015 with injuries, he finally feels fit and has this aura of confidence around him that was never as evident before.

He brought in Moya to replace Ivan Ljubicic, who joined Roger Federer’s coaching staff, and their first tournament together is shaping up to be a big hit.

After beating Federer in the Brisbane final, Raonic has now notched two top-four victories barely four weeks into the new year.

“For sure he’s a more mature player right now. He’s injury-free which is very good... And now he sort of put things together and he’s playing his best tennis,” Moya said after Raonic’s win.

“I think also mentally he stepped up. He probably wasn’t aware of how good he was and now he starts to realise that he has all the weapons it takes to be a champion and it’s about using them properly.”

Against Wawrinka yesterday, Raonic was the aggressor while his opponent, struggling with a cold since the start of the tournament, fought hard to try and shift the momentum by the third set.

But after Wawrinka levelled the match for two-sets-all, Raonic did not panic - in fact he says he was calm, and his tennis showed it as he didn’t face a single break point in the fifth.

Serving and volleying like it’s 1985, Raonic was successful 54/83 times at the net and he finished the match with a stunning 82 winners against 53 unforced errors.

“I felt very clear in what I needed to do and I believed that I could do it. I think that gave me some kind of calm and some kind of peace inside,” said Raonic of how he felt at the start of the fifth. “There was a very strong belief that the opportunities I was creating, I would be able to make the most of it...

“Last nine months for me, everything was a question. Some days I was hiding the disappointments I was having because of injuries, some days I was not.

“But I think the more as I mature, the more I understand my game, what I need to do, the more I can keep a quiet head on my shoulders.”

Raonic’s all-out aggressive game has been in the making for quite some time. The 25-year-old, the youngest of the eight quarter-finalists, says the time he spent away from the game while injured allowed him to think of ways he can improve.

“When I was sort of sitting there maybe a little bit annoyed with the physical situation I was in, I was asking myself all the time ‘what can I do to get better?’ It was something definitely I felt was necessary for me,” he explains.

Moya says his goal since he started working with Raonic was to convince him what his weapons were and organising the way to use them. He has encouraged him to continue with his attacking game but says it’s important to mix things up.

“He’s a big guy, he has a huge forehand and serve. Here the courts are fast. It’s not easy to pass a guy like him. He has a good volley, good technique. It’s good to mix it up,” said the Spanish coach and ex-world No1.

“To me, sometimes today he served and volleyed in the fourth set every point. So Wawrinka kind of expected him to come to the net. We talked about that, to be more unpredictable.”

On his part, Wawrinka said he was surprised he could take the match to five sets, and said his illness had taken its toll on him.

“I think I honestly come from too far. I've been sick since 10 days now. Still trying to get into the second week. Couldn't really be at my top. When you play a top guy like Milos, it's difficult. You need to be 100 per cent to have a chance to beat him,” said the world No4.

“Today he pushed from the beginning. He was there. That's it. He was better.”

Raonic’s next opponent seems like the polar opposite of the Canadian. Monfils is flamboyant and entertaining; Raonic seems serious and his game is comparatively monotonous.

“I guess the way I describe myself is trying to be efficient,” says Raonic on why he shows little emotion on the court.

“I know from when I was a junior I learned in many tough lessons that sort of when I get too emotional for the positive I can start going to a negative too fast. That cost me too many matches.”

Moya says it’s important to quickly put the Wawrinka win behind them to focus on the next challenge.

“It’s going to be important not to think too much about this match that he just won. It’s a huge win to be honest but still he’s halfway to his biggest goal, which is to win the slam so he has to be calm and knowing that his next match is going to be very difficult as well and we have to help him on that,” said Moya.

Monday, January 25, 2016

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Djokovic hits 100 unforced errors en route to five-set win over Gilles Simon

At Melbourne Cricket Ground, located just a few hundred metres away from Rod Laver Arena, a century is a good thing, but for Novak Djokovic, the century of unforced errors he struck in his five-set victory over Gilles Simon on Sunday were problematic.

The world No1 described his four-hour 32-minute last-16 battle against Simon as a “match to forget” but that 6-3, 6-7 (1), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win also ushered Djokovic into his 27th straight grand slam quarter-final, to tie Jimmy Connors in second place for the most consecutive major last-eight appearances.

Simon, the world No15, had told French media before the match that he had the entire locker room behind him as most of the players were tired of seeing Djokovic win all the time.

“I don't know which locker room he's talking about. Women's locker room I'm pretty popular, I know that,” quipped Djokovic after the clash.

The humour the top seed showed in his post-match press conference was a stark contrast to the fits of rage he experienced on the court as he struck one error after the other frustrated by Simon’s counter-punching.

Each rally felt like it was a match within itself as the ball went back on forth over 30 times per point and each set felt like it deserved a trophy ceremony at the end of it.

“I know a lot of players wanted me to win this match. A lot of players will feel better with Novak out of the draw. That's normal because he's the best player in the world,” explained Simon, who is now 1-10 head-to-head against Djokovic.

“I know exactly what I was doing, but I won't say it. I had a plan. I know him well. We all know which player he is and how hard it is to find any solution against him, to somehow stop the fight and feel better on the court. I think I worked on it good today. He made 100 unforced errors. That's a good number for me, not for him. But unfortunately was not enough.”
The opening set was a drawn out tug of war that gave a clear idea of what the rest of the showdown was going to look like. Djokovic broke at love for 3-1 but Simon broke right back and drew level for 3-all.

The Serb then needed an 11-minute game that saw him save four break points and go through seven deuces before he held serve, sarcastically raising his arms in victory to celebrate.

Djokovic then broke in the following game for a 5-3 lead. Serving for the set, the top seed had to save two break points before he finally sealed it on his fourth opportunity.

Simon was unfazed and snatched the second-set tiebreak 7-1, ending Djokovic’s streak of 26 consecutive sets won, dating back to the ATP Finals in November.

Djokovic led 3-0 in the third but Simon clawed his way back for 3-all. The Frenchman was broken though in game 10 as Djokovic edged ahead.

The world No1 needed another marathon eight-minute game to hold in the opening game of the fourth and was broken in the ninth game to give Simon a 5-4 advantage which was enough for him take the set and force a decider.

Djokovic raced to a 5-1 lead in the fifth but once again, a stubborn Simon pegged him back, and saved two match points to hold for 3-5 – a game which witnessed the Serb’s 100th unforced error.

Serving for the match for a second time, Djokovic aced to get triple match point and he sealed the encounter with backhand winner. He finished the clash a bizarre 6/25 on break point conversions.
In his on-court chat with Jim Courier, someone from the crowd yelled “no more drop shots” at Djokovic, who had done terribly on most of his drop shot attempts throughout the match.

“I hate to say it but you’re absolutely right,” responded Djokovic to the fan in the stands.

The 28-year-old later described his horror show with the drop shots as a “brain freeze”, admitting he was trying to shorten the rallies with Simon forcing him to hit an extra shot, but his strategy wasn’t working.

Djokovic, who faces No7 seed Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals on Tuesday, says he’s not worried about playing as poorly in his next match.

“Actually, it gives me great joy to know that I can't get worse than that, than what I played today,” Djokovic said with a smile. “It doesn't concern me for the next one.

“It's not a very pleasant feeling when you're not playing well. But certainly it's a good feeling when you win not playing well.”

Roger Federer, who had a post-midnight finish in beating David Goffin 6-2, 6-1, 6-4, said enough credit was not being given to Simon in how the Frenchman forced Djokovic to play badly.

“I just feel people talking like Novak had a horrible day. Of course he can play better, but on the other side, you have somebody (Simon) who has the fastest legs and he knows exactly what he's doing out there, and it worked almost to the very end. So it was very close for Novak, and he knows that,” said Federer, who faces sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych in the quarters on Tuesday.

Simon, who has had wins over Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal, says his strength is that he doesn’t fear the top players.

“Like I just see them as humans and tennis players. They are fantastic. They can play an amazing tennis, but they still have some weaknesses on the court,” said the 31-year-old.

He says the scary part about Djokovic though is that he continues to get better.

“He's improving year after year. That's terrible to say because he's already No1. He's improving, so I try to improve also,” added Simon.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Wawrinka's voice, Tomic hits out at Federer, Raonic's heartfelt dedication

Stan Wawrinka joked that he preferred being sick and not having a voice to avoid “talking s***” after the No4 seed overcame Lukas Rosol to reach the Australian Open fourth round on Saturday.

Suffering from a cold for the past week, Wawrinka showed little signs of struggle as he beat the powerful Czech 6-2, 6-3, 7-6(3), slamming down 18 aces in the process, to set up a last 16 showdown with No13 seed Milos Raonic.

Wawrinka’s voice sounded hoarse in his on-court interview with Jim Courier which prompted the American to ask him if he was ill. “Last few days I couldn’t really talk, but I’ve been okay, maybe too many cigars,” joked the 2014 champion.

“I have a bit of a cold, but as long as I feel well on the court, I don’t really need my voice. If I can talk, I talk too much s***, so it’s better.”

Federer said in Brisbane: “He's (Tomic) been good, but then top 10 is another story. The year is not just one month long or one week long. It's 52 weeks. It's every day.

“That he's been struggling to show, to be quite honest. Many seasons now in a row we have seen or heard that top 10 is the goal, and he's missed out on it by a long shot. I think before speaking so highly, maybe it's good to take it to the next level, whatever that is. We shall see.”

Tomic, who booked a fourth round meeting with Andy Murray with a 6-4, 7-6(4), 6-2 over John Millman, did not appreciate the Swiss’ comments.

He said on Saturday: “Well, he has his predictions. I think he's also far away from Djokovic as well if he wants to say that. If he believes I'm very far away from the top 10, I also believe my prediction that he's nowhere near Novak's tennis right now. “It also motivates me. I'm working for that. When I'm playing well, I'm a top-eight player in the world. My ranking has to get there.”

Earlier in the day, French No23 seed Gael Monfils recorded his 350th tour-level victory with a hard-fought 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 triumph over his 35-year-old compatriot Stephane Robert.

Meanwhile, Raonic gave an emotional on-court dedication to the victims of the school shooting in Saskatchewan in Canada after his 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 over Sydney champion Viktor Troicki.

“Today, before I stepped out on court it was a difficult day back home,” Raonic told the crowd at Margaret Court Arena.

“Unfortunately in Saskatchewan, in a very small community, there was a shooting at a high school so I want to take a moment to give thoughts to that community, the family, the students and the school affected. We wish you all the best. Today’s victory was for that community and a quick recovery. All of Canada and I’m sure the world is behind you.”

Saturday, January 23, 2016

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Federer passes Dimitrov test to make fourth round in Melbourne

Best of frenemies: Federer and Dimitrov
Somewhere in a small warm-up room in the winding corridors of Melbourne Park, Roger Federer and Grigor Dimitrov sat side by side watching Lauren Davis force a deciding third set against Maria Sharapova.

Federer gave out a loud ‘woah, are you kidding me?’ reacting to a point and jumped out of his seat when a long rally was over.

“That would’ve been the shot of the tournament,” the Swiss legend told Dimitrov and the rest of the group who were sat with them. The pair continued to watch, having a laugh, kicking about a tennis ball, knowing that a short while later, they would step on Rod Laver Arena and become adversaries. Not a scene you’d typically expect from fierce competitors at the top level of the game.

Soon after, Federer walked off the court a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 third round winner over Dimitrov to improve his record against the Bulgarian to a clean 5-0, and become the first man in history to win 300 grand slam matches in the process.

“Because we know each other quite well, yeah, we were pretty chilled going into the match,” the third-seeded Federer explained of the amusing scene ahead of their match.

“We've both been well-prepared. Sometimes you don't look much at the other guy. But with Grigor it's different, like with other guys on tour. There's many guys I would speak to before a match. That was the situation today.

“But I'm happy it still exists. We're not that far down the road where it's so professional where you can't even look at the guy before you walk on court. We're not there yet and I hope we'll never get there.”

Federer was competing in the Australian Open third round for a 17th consecutive year and his four-set win over Dimitrov made him the oldest man to reach the last 16 in Melbourne since Andre Agassi reached the quarter-finals in 2005.

On a rainy day Down Under, the roof had been closed for the first two matches on centre court but when the showers halted briefly, organisers opened the roof for the Federer-Dimitrov clash.

It proved an unwise decision as the rain started again just one game into the match, which had to be stopped until the court was dried and the roof was closed once again.

The interruption did not appear to faze Federer though, who held serve quickly upon resumption and got his first break point the following game. Dimitrov saved it but was broken in game seven to give Federer a 4-3 lead. It was all the Swiss needed to take the opening set, which he sealed with an ace.

Dimitrov, the No27 seed, struck back to take the second set and draw level but he dropped the third and asked for the trainer to get some treatment for a sore right elbow.

Federer slammed a signature backhand down the line winner to break for a 3-2 lead in the fourth set and he secured the win with a serve-forehand one-two punch to set up a fourth round with Belgian No15 seed David Goffin.

On getting his 300th match win at a major, Federer said: “It's very exciting. Like when I reached 1,000 (victories) last year, it was a big deal for me. Not something I ever aimed for or looked for, but when it happens, it's very special. You look deeper into it, I guess, where it's all happened and how. Yeah, so it's very nice. I'm very happy.”

Dimitrov, who lost to Federer in the quarter-finals in Brisbane earlier this month before reaching the final in Sydney the following week, has played 10 matches in the last 19 days and he admits he may have felt the effects of playing two lead-up tournaments to the Australian Open.

But the former top-tenner, who is looking to find his way back up the rankings, says he can only take positives from his Australian swing.

“I don't regret any decisions I've taken so far. Seems to pay off in a way, the work. I wanted to play a lot of matches. I did play a lot of matches. Lost to quality players, twice to Roger, once to (Viktor) Troicki. That's how it is,” said Dimitrov.

Over on Margaret Court Arena, Novak Djokovic took his winning streak against Italians to 33 consecutive victories after he dismissed No28 seed Andreas Seppi 6-1, 7-5, 7-6(6) yesterday to book a fourth round meeting with France’s No14 seed Gilles Simon.

Djokovic, seeking a sixth title in Melbourne, admits he has set the bar so high for himself that expectations of him have risen to incredible heights.

“It's almost like, you know, after the season that I've had, 2015, anything aside from a title or a final is not a success,” confessed the world No1.