Friday 31 August 2012

Andres Iniesta UEFA Best Player

Andrés Iniesta has been voted the 2011/12 winner of the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award in Monaco.

The FC Barcelona midfielder, who helped Spain defend their UEFA European Championship title this summer, finished ahead of club-mate Lionel Messi, last year's inaugural winner, and Real Madrid CF's Cristiano Ronaldo in a poll of sports journalists representing each of UEFA's member national associations.

Iniesta collected his prize following today's UEFA Champions League group stage draw at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco and said: "I'm very happy to receive such recognition. As I always say, such awards for one individual can't be achieved without the whole team. So it's a sensation that I want to share with my team-mates at the club, and in the national team. It's recognition for the work that you have done well, and that people are proud and have faith in what you do."

The 28-year-old was in inspired form for Spain at UEFA EURO 2012: he was named Best Player of the Tournament after starting all six games and was also included in the Team of the Tournament. Iniesta also broke Emilio Butragueño's record of 50 Liga matches without defeat last term. He finally ended up on the losing side in game 56 when Real Madrid CF triumphed 2-1 at the Camp Nou in April.

The UEFA Best Player in Europe Award was born out of an initiative by UEFA President Michel Platini and has the intention of reviving the spirit of the old European Footballer of the Year award. For the vote, players were judged by their performances during the 2011/12 campaign in all competitions, both domestic and international, and at club and national team levels.

How the journalists voted:
1 Andrés Iniesta (ESP) – FC Barcelona (19 votes)
2 Lionel Messi (ARG) – FC Barcelona (17 votes)
Cristiano Ronaldo (POR) – Real Madrid CF (17 votes)

Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday 30 August 2012

Sergio Garcia's Caddie Dilemna

Sergio Garcia used a caddie from a nearby golf club when he won the Wyndham Championship on Monday in North Carolina. For the opening playoff event at The Barclays, he has turned to Wayne Richardson, who typically roams the fairways getting yardage for the CBS Sports telecast.

"He's not a professional caddie, but I don't feel like I need that at the moment," Garcia said. "I'm probably just going to do my own thing until the end of the year, and then at the end of the year I'll decide what's best for me."

As the No. 33 seed in the FedEx Cup, Garcia is assured of playing next week in the Deutsche Bank Championship, and he mostly likely will be in Indianapolis for the BMW Championship. The big question is what he does for a caddie at the Ryder Cup.

"Same thing," Garcia said. "Doesn't change anything."

But when asked if he would use a local caddie from Medinah at the Septemebr 28-30 matches, Garcia was more vague.

"No. I'll see who I use," he said.

He won last week for the first time in four years on the PGA Tour, though the 32-year-old Spaniard won twice last year on the European Tour. He hopes to carry some of that momentum into the next month of playoff events.

It starts at Bethpage Black, where Garcia has some history. 

He played in the final group with Tiger Woods in the 2002 U.S. Open, starting four shots behind and closing with a 74. He tied for 10th in the 2009 U.S. Open, making up ground the last day with a 70.

His first time at Bethpage Black was when Garcia was working so hard on his swing that he constantly re-gripped and waggled the clubs, and the New York fans were on him all day. At one point, Garcia was seen pointing back using the middle finger.

It's not a bad memory, just a forgotten one.
Enhanced by Zemanta

NFL Starts with Replacement Officials

The NFL will open the regular season next week with replacement officials and said it was prepared to use them "as much ... as necessary" afterward.

Replacements will be on the field beginning next Wednesday night when the Dallas Cowboys visit the New York Giants to open the season, league executive Ray Anderson told the 32 teams. Negotiations are at a standstill between the NFL and the officials' union.

The NFL Referees Association was locked out in early June and talks on a new collective bargaining agreement have gone nowhere. Replacements have been used throughout the preseason, with mixed results.

In 2001, the NFL used replacements for the first week of the regular season before a contract was finalised. The speed of the game and the amount of time starters are on the field increase exponentially for real games, making the replacements' task more challenging.

Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, told the clubs in a memo Wednesday that the replacements will work "as much of the regular season as necessary," adding that training with each crew will continue.

The NFL noted it has expanded the use of instant replay as an officiating tool this year to include all scoring plays and turnovers. Officiating supervisors will be on hand to assist the crews on game administration issues.

"We are not surprised, based on Ray Anderson's statements ... that the NFL was not going to reach out to us," NFLRA spokesman Michael Arnold said. "However, this is consistent with the NFL's negotiating strategy which has been 'take it or leave it and lock them out.' It now appears the NFL is willing to forgo any attempt to reach a deal in the last seven days before opening night."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello responded Wednesday night, saying, "On the NFLRA, we are prepared to resume negotiations at any time. NFLRA talks to the media a lot more than it talks to us."

The NFL Players Association, which went through a 4½- month lockout last year before settling on a new contract, expressed disappointment about the decision to use replacements.

Colts safety Antoine Bethea said there is a feeling of solidarity with the officials.

"They've got to do what they've got to do, and we were in a similar situation a little while ago," Bethea said. "So you can't fault those guys for doing what they have to do."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said last week that he expects replacement officials to do "a very credible job" and described the league's differences in negotiations with the NFLRA as "philosophical."

But NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith was vocal in his criticism of the replacement officials and also referred to the lockout as "absurd" in a recent interview with

Anderson said the sides remain considerably apart on economic issues, including salary and retirement benefits. He also told the teams there is a substantial difference on operational issues.

"One of our key goals in this negotiation is to enhance our ability to recruit, train and replace officials who are not performing adequately," Anderson said. "We believe that officials should be evaluated and performance issues addressed in the same way as players, coaches, club management and league staff. We have proposed several steps to accomplish this, including having a number of full-time officials and expanding the overall number of officials."

The NFL is offering to add three full officiating crews, increasing the total number of officials to 140. The NFLRA insists the compensation being offered with such an increase would reduce officials' pay.

The league is proposing having seven officials -- one per position of referee, umpire, line judge, side judge, back judge, field judge and head linesman -- who would train, scout and handle communications, safety issues and rules interpretations year-round. Now, all NFL game officials are part-time employees, with outside jobs ranging from lawyer to teacher to business owner.

In response, the NFLRA has said it is not opposed to full-time officials "if they are fairly compensated."

The union also disputes the value of the league's current salary offer, which it says would not be the 5 percent to 11 percent increase the NFL claims.

According to's Darren Rovell, the average pay for NFL game officials last season was $149,000. Under the NFL's last proposal, that would increase to more than $189,000 by 2018. In addition, a game official in his first year in 2011 made an average of $78,000. Under the NFL's last proposal, he would make more than $165,000 by the end of the new agreement.

The union also questions the league's adherence to player safety initiatives by using replacement officials, none of whom has recently worked Division I college games. Many of the officials who were replacements in 2001 came from the Division I level.

"The league has placed a lot of emphasis on player health and safety in the last few years and we do feel we are an integral part of that," Arnold said. "We think it is unfortunate and we really don't understand why the league is willing to risk playing safety and the integrity of the game by utilising amateur officials."

Anderson told the teams that the replacements have "undergone extensive training and evaluation, and have shown steady improvement during the preseason."

Arnold disagreed.

"The referees want to get back on the field," Arnold said. "Our members have been engaged in extensive preparations and are ready to go."

Replacement Officials Factoids
• The NFL will pay the head referee $3,500 per regular-season game. The six others on the field will make $3,000 per game.

• The head referee will make about 6.5 times less than the lowest-paid player on the field. The rookie who is getting paid a minimum will make $22,941 a week.

• At $1,058,823 per weekly paycheck, Peyton Manning will make 302 times more than the head referee officiating the game.

Enhanced by Zemanta

FBI Filed Paterno Threat Letters

The FBI kept a thick file on Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, but it mostly involves threatening letters sent to him and his staff years ago, and there's no mention of his former assistant Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted this year of molesting boys.

Paterno's 868-page file shows he received a series of threatening letters sent in the late 1970s and early '80s from someone who signed them A Bitter Father. The author blames Paterno for family problems that apparently surfaced after his son left the university's heralded football program prematurely.

"I feel you are responsible for me loosing (sic) my son," A Bitter Father writes. "He went to Penn State because of you in the first place. He feels he got a bum deal and I agree. He lost interest in everything and went from bad to worse."

Another anonymous letter, to an assistant coach, suggests Paterno was responsible for the assistant's "tragic accident." The file doesn't say what the accident was.

The FBI posted the late coach's file online Wednesday in response to Freedom of Information Act requests from media outlets. The Washington Times first reported on the contents, which also had been mailed to media outlets a day earlier.

Paterno died in January at age 85, two months after losing his job over the Sandusky sexual-abuse scandal.

An FBI memo dated Dec. 16, 1977, said Paterno found the letters troubling.

The FBI withheld 44 pages of Paterno's file, citing privacy issues and the protection of a confidential source.

The FBI spent several years investigating the written threats sent to Paterno, his staff and even a Penn State television commentator, following leads that took agents to a Roman Catholic church and a shipbuilding company in the Pittsburgh area. The leads apparently went nowhere.

Additionally, Penn State basketball coach Dick Harter received a threatening letter in 1980, the file shows.

A Bitter Father later apologized to Paterno, saying he had spoken to his priest and realized he shouldn't blame others for his troubles. But the letters seem to have continued.

Sandusky, Paterno's longtime defensive coordinator, was convicted in June of sexually abusing 10 boys, some on campus. He awaits sentencing and maintains he's innocent.

Former FBI director Louis Freeh led a recent Penn State internal investigation into the Sandusky matter, faulting Paterno and other university leaders for putting the university's reputation and football program over the safety of children.

Paterno's family strongly denied he protected Sandusky for fear of bad publicity.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Robson Closes Clijsters Singles Career

Getty Images
Kim Clijsters' singles career ended where she wanted it to, just not the way she hoped.

The four-time Grand Slam champion lost 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) to 18-year-old Laura Robson of Britain in the second round of the U.S. Open on Wednesday, and will head into retirement after she finishes playing in doubles at Flushing Meadows.

Clijsters walked away from the sport once before, in May 2007, then returned after a 2½-year hiatus. But now 29 and a mother, the Belgian insisted this season that she means it this time, and decided the U.S. Open -- and its hard courts that she conquered on the way to three championships -- would be her final tournament.

"It's the place that has inspired me so much to do well and to do great things. It's hard to explain sometimes why," Clijsters said in an on-court interview, her face flushed and her eyes welling with tears.

"This completely feels like the perfect place to retire," Clijsters told the spectators at Arthur Ashe Stadium, many of whom rose to shower her with a standing ovation. "I just wish it wasn't today."

The loss Wednesday ended Clijsters' 22-match winning streak in New York, encompassing titles in 2005, 2009 and 2010, plus Monday's first-round victory.

She missed the hard-court major in 2004, 2006-08 and last year, thanks to a combination of injuries and the time she took off while starting a family. Her daughter, Jada, was born in February 2008. By August 2009, Clijsters was back on tour; unseeded and unranked, because she only played in two previous tournaments during her comeback, she won that year's U.S. Open.

"Since I retired the first time, it's been a great adventure for my team and my family," said Clijsters, who was 28-0 against players ranked outside the top 10 at the U.S. Open before Wednesday. "It's all been worth it. But I do look forward to the next part of my life coming up."

Her previous defeat at Flushing Meadows came against Belgian rival Justine Henin on September 6, 2003, in the tournament final. Robson was 9 at the time.

This did have the feel, in some ways, of a changing of the guard.

Clijsters finished with a career singles record of 523-127 (a winning percentage of .805) and 41 titles, including her last major trophy at the 2011 Australian Open. She spent a total of 20 weeks ranked No. 1, as recently as February 2011.

Ranked 89th, and with only one prior victory over a top-25 player, Robson has been viewed -- particularly back home in Britain -- as an up-and-coming player whose smooth left-handed strokes would carry her far.

But she had never produced the kind of grit and court-covering athleticism that carried her past the 23rd-seeded Clijsters. And until now, Robson never had won more than one match in a Grand Slam tournament; her claim to fame had been teaming for a silver medal in mixed doubles at the London Olympics with Andy Murray, who played his second-round U.S. Open match Wednesday night.

Robson knows, though, how much Clijsters means to the game, not only as a superb player but as someone who by all accounts is universally liked -- by fans, tennis officials and even opponents.

"She's always been someone that I've looked up to since I started on the tour. She's always been incredibly nice to be around," Robson said. "I think we're all going to miss her."

When the contest ended with Clijsters sailing a backhand return long, allowing Robson to convert her third match point, they met at the net. Clijsters began to extend her arm for the customary handshake, and Robson pulled her in for a hug.

"I want to thank Kim," Robson told the crowd, "for being such a great role model to me for so many years."

Less than an hour later, Clijsters was hanging out in the players' garden alongside the stadium. She shared a laugh with some friends, hugs from others, and paused to pose for a photograph alongside 14-time major champion Serena Williams, who was headed out after partnering sister Venus for a first-round victory in doubles.

Clijsters was the only seeded woman who lost during the afternoon session of Day 3, when the winners included No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, defending champion Sam Stosur, 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and 2011 French Open champion Li Na.

Joining Robson with a surprise victory was American wild-card entry Mallory Burdette, the NCAA runner-up who reached the third round in her Grand Slam debut by eliminating 69th-ranked Lucie Hradecka 6-2, 6-4.

Until recently, Burdette planned to take premed courses as a senior at Stanford in pursuit of a career in psychiatry.

"It's been a crazy ride," the 252nd-ranked Burdette said.

Could get even wilder: She next faces four-time major champion Maria Sharapova, a 6-0, 6-1 winner Wednesday night over 78th-ranked Lourdes Dominguez Lino of Spain.

With Clijsters' husband -- Brian Lynch, an American who used to play professional basketball in Belgium -- fidgeting from his front-row seat in the stands, Clijsters wound up getting the worse of lengthy exchanges. As big a forehand as Clijsters owns, Robson was out-hitting her, compiling a 16-11 edge in winners off that wing.

Clijsters went up a break in the second set, helped by a pair of double-faults by a slightly shaky Robson -- nerves that were understandable, given the setting and the significance of this match. But Robson got right back in it, playing gutsy, go-for-the-lines tennis, repeatedly pounding the ball hard as can be, and seeing shots land right where she aimed.

"I really enjoyed myself out there," said Robson, who found herself singing along to the pop songs that blare over loudspeakers during changeovers.

As you might expect from a teen, the youngest player ranked in the WTA's top 100.

Try as she might, Clijsters could not quite gain the upper hand, no matter how many times she yelled "Come on!" and raised a clenched fist after winning points.

On one well-disguised drop shot by Robson, Clijsters raced forward and did her trademark splits through the doubles alley, stretching to get her racket on the ball. But her response landed in the net.

"I just wasn't good enough at the end of the match," Clijsters acknowledged.

She won't get the chance to play another.

"As a little girl, I got Christmas rackets under the tree and outfits of Steffi Graf and Monica Seles, and I would want to wear them to bed, I was so excited," Clijsters said. "So for me to have been able to have been a part of women's tennis, and on top of women's tennis for so many years -- you don't think about it when you're in it; you're kind of on automatic pilot. ... Now that I think about it, it's been a crazy rollercoaster at times, as well."

Enhanced by Zemanta

Real in Super Copa Win

Higuain Celebrates : Getty Images
Real Madrid secured its first Spanish Supercopa since 2008 on away goals after a narrow win over archrival Barcelona in Wednesday night's second leg at the Bernabeu.

The hosts had failed to win in their last seven home meetings with Barcelona but went about ending that record early on with goals in the first 20 minutes from Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The visitors were then reduced to 10 men as Adriano was shown a straight red card for denying Ronaldo a clear goalscoring opportunity, but they regained their composure and were brought back into the game by a stunning free-kick from Lionel Messi just before halftime.

"The first half belonged to us and generally the whole game did," Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas said. "We came in on a bad run and the fans were doubting us a bit, but there are days when you have good luck and days when you have bad."

Chances continued to come at both ends after the break but Real failed to make its man advantage count and was nearly made to pay as Messi shot just inches wide deep into stoppage time.

The game provided coach Jose Mourinho with the last piece of silverware missing from his Spanish trophy cabinet. The Portuguese coach's 20th title means he has won every trophy available in the four leagues where he's coached -- Spain, England, Italy and Portugal.

Real had failed to win any of its previous three games this season but did not seem like a team lacking in confidence as it stormed out of the gates early on.

Higuain should have opened the scoring on seven minutes when his low effort across Victor Valdes' net was well-blocked by the keeper, but the Argentinian was gifted his goal only two minutes later by national-team compatriot Javier Mascherano as the Barca defender misjudged a long ball forward from Pepe and allowed Higuain to run through and this time finish low beyond Valdes.

It was two just nine minutes later as Ronaldo pounced on an error this time by Gerard Pique. The Portuguese brilliantly back-flicked the ball into his path and, despite a poor second touch, his powerful shot rebounded in off Valdes' body.

The chances continued to come for Real as Valdes again denied Higuain from a narrow angle before Pepe had a header controversially ruled out for a push on Mascherano.

Part of Barca's disorganization at the back possibly could be put down to a late change in the starting lineup as the injured Dani Alves had to be replaced by Jordi Alba with Adriano moving to right back, and the Brazilian's torrid evening only lasted 27 minutes as he hauled down Ronaldo when he seemed set to break free on Valdes once more.

"I wouldn't say we started badly," Vilanova said. "Madrid weren't running over us; they played two balls in behind that surprised us, although it is true that Higuain already had another chance. Madrid took their chances but I want to take the positives."

After another unsettling five-minute period for the Catalans, new coach Tito Vilanova eventually introduced Martin Montoya for Alexis Sanchez and a return to four at the back seemed to offer the visitors some comfort as they began to make an impression on the game.

Montoya was inches away from converting a vicious low cross from Andres Iniesta before Messi did eventually halve the deficit moments before the break with an incredible swerving free kick from 30 yards.

Ronaldo nearly responded with a long-range effort himself that flew just past and Angel Di Maria also shot narrowly wide as Madrid ended the half threatening a third.

However, at the start of the second period, it was Barca's tiki-taka that began to dictate play as the pace of the game dropped markedly.

Pedro very nearly scored a carbon copy of his goal in the first leg as Mascherano's perfectly weighted pass saw him through on goal but his prodded finish did not have enough power to get through Casillas' legs and the Spain captain collected at the second attempt.

Sami Khedira then nearly restored Real's two-goal cushion but was denied by another fine Valdes save at the end of a brilliant run.

Barca remained dangerous, though, and another brilliant piece of play from Messi released Alba through on goal, but he just overran the ball as he rounded Casillas and was eventually crowded out.

Higuain should have given Real breathing space with 11 minutes remaining but he hit the outside of the post with only Valdes to beat and that miss nearly cost his side as Barca came desperately close to equalizing in stoppage time.

Firstly, Montoya was denied by a solid save from Casillas before Messi seemed destined to hand Barca the cup as he found space on his favored left side just outside the area but the ball slipped just wide and Real clung on for its Supercopa title in four years.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Wozniacki Crashes Out of US Open

Getty Images
Caroline Wozniacki's US Open campaign came to an abrupt end as she lost in straight sets to Irina-Camelia Begu.

It was a poor performance by the eighth seed, who was comfortably beaten 6-2 6-2 by the world number 96 from Romania.

Serena Williams needed just 55 minutes to dispatch fellow American Coco Vandeweghe 6-1 6-1.

Second seed Agnieszka Radwanska eased into round two with a thumping victory over Russia's Nina Bratchikova.

The Pole wore strapping on her right shoulder but showed no signs of discomfort in a 6-1 6-1 win and will be joined in the second round by 12th seed Ana Ivanovic, who beat Ukrainian qualifier Elina Svitolina.

Another ex-world number one, Venus Williams, dispatched American compatriot Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-3 6-1.

Two-time champion Williams has slipped to 46th in the world amid her struggles with Sjogren's Syndrome but looked in superb condition during the 62 minutes she spent on court.

Next up for the seven-time Grand Slam champion is German sixth seed Angelique Kerber, who overwhelmed Britain's Anne Keothavong.

Wozniacki, who played with strapping on her right knee, was the day's biggest casualty.

"I didn't play particularly well, made too many errors. It's unfortunate because it's a huge tournament, a tournament you want to play well in," said the 22-year-old, who also lost in round one at Wimbledon in June.

"It's frustrating to have some injuries, but it happens to everyone. It's just about moving on.

"After the year's finished you can evaluate, you can see what was good and wasn't so good and work from there. I still have plenty of years in me. Hopefully I can just turn it around and play even better."

Three-time champion Serena Williams had no trouble reaching the second round, where she will play Spain's Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez for a place in the last 32.

"The conditions were really crazy, but, hey, it's the US Open so you have to be ready for the worst conditions," said the reigning Wimbledon and Olympic champion.

"I was ready and, coming here as Olympic champion, I feel so great."

Earlier on Tuesday, world number two Radwanska needed just 54 minutes to book a meeting with Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain.

There was no such success for her sister, Urszula Radwanska, as she went down 6-1 6-1 to 20th seed Roberta Vinci of Italy.

Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open champion from Serbia, won 6-3 6-2 and will next play unseeded Swede Sofia Arvidsson, a 6-4 6-2 winner over 41-year-old Japanese Kimiko Date-Krumm.

Jelena Jankovic, the Serbian 30th seed, beat Kateryna Bondarenko 6-1 6-2, while home favourite Sloane Stephens progressed after a 6-3 6-4 victory over 22nd seed Francesca Schiavone of Italy.

Enhanced by Zemanta