Sunday 25 January 2015

Murray Moves into Melbourne QF

Andy Murray extended his streak of consecutive grand slam quarter-final appearances to 16 with a roller coaster victory over Grigor Dimitrov at the Australian Open.

Murray looked set to be dragged into a decider when Dimitrov led 5-2 in the fourth set, but won the next five games to complete a 6-4 6-7 6-3 7-5 success in just over three and a half hours.

The match started on Sunday evening but fittingly stretched into the first hour of Australia Day and Murray will now look to improve on his perfect 10-0 record against Australian players at tour level when he takes on home favourite Nick Kyrgios for a place in the semi-finals.

Murray weathered an early storm from Dimitrov, who raced into a 3-0 lead before Murray won six of the next seven games to claim the opening set.

That set the pattern for an unpredictable contest with Murray twice going a break up in the second set and serving for it at 6-5, only to crack under the pressure and serve a double fault to allow Dimitrov to get back on level terms.

Trailing 3-2 in the tie-break, Murray then failed to put away an overhead at full stretch to allow Dimitrov a backhand winner down the line as the 23-year-old moved 6-3 in front.

Murray saved two points on his own serve but could do nothing about the third as a service winner gave Dimitrov the set in 70 minutes and levelled the match at one set all.

Murray’s mood didn’t improve in the third set when he was unable to take any of the four break points he created in the fourth game.

The object of his anger then switched to umpire Jake Garner, who failed to spot the ball had bounced twice before Dimitrov retrieved it.

Murray regained his composure to break Dimitrov in the eighth game and this time had no trouble serving out to take the set 6-3 and go two sets to one up.

Dimitrov, who put Murray out of Wimbledon last year, was not about to throw in the towel, saving yet another break point at the start of the fourth set.

Murray was frustrated at converting just five of his 16 break points and Dimitrov compounded the agony by taking his fourth break point out of seven to surge into a 3-0 lead.

Dimitrov had to work hard to hold onto his next two service games and it was beyond midnight when Murray saved a set point to force his opponent to serve for the set.

And that proved crucial as the 10th seed committed two errors on his previously reliable forehand to allow Murray back into the match, a chance the former Wimbledon champion gratefully accepted.

After holding serve to level at 5-5, Murray broke Dimitrov again with a backhand return winner that had the Bulgarian smashing his racket into the ground before standing on it to ensure he had broken it in half.

Murray still had to complete the job and in the end was grateful for the assistance of a massive net cord to seal a thrilling win.

"I got quite lucky at the end, a couple of net cords went my way and that was the difference really," said Murray.

"A lot of the games were close, back and forth, and the momentum was switching both ways all the time.

"Grigor is an unbelievable athlete, he's extremely quick around the court, so agile, and he gets shots that other players don't get to and he's got fantastic hands as well.

"I'm just glad that I managed to get through it at the end."

Thursday 22 January 2015

Nihao Atletico Madrid

A Chinese conglomerate has bought a 20% stake in the Spanish champions Atlético Madrid. The Dalian Wanda Group purchased the stake in the La Liga club for €45m (£34.4m).

A statement from the club read: “Wanda Group’s capital contribution in the club will allow Atlético to significantly shore up its balance sheet, as well as accelerate the growth of its brand globally.

“Both parties have agreed that the transaction will be implemented through a rights issue, in which all of the cash provided by the Wanda Group will be injected in the club, thus benefiting all existing shareholders.

“To this end, the Wanda Group has committed to subscribe a number of shares representing, after completion of the capital increase proposed which the club’s board of directors will immediately submit to the general shareholders’ meeting, a 20% equity share of Atlético Madrid through a €45m investment.

“Wanda Group is a leading Chinese conglomerate operating in sectors such as entertainment, hotels and real estate with an extensive footprint in its domestic market and strong growth in Europe and the US.

“Furthermore, Wanda Group has a deep knowledge and a long-standing presence in Chinese football, where it was the main sponsor of the Chinese Super League for several seasons.”

The Atlético president Enrique Cerezo, one of the club’s leading shareholders, was thrilled with Wanda’s decision to invest in the Madrid side.

“This is magnificent for our club,” he said. “That a company like Wanda becomes a shareholders of Atlético is fantastic for the team and for all of our fans.

“We are going to be able to do a lot more things with Wanda on board. Wanda’s investment will be very important for the economy of the club.”

As part of the agreement, Atlético and Wanda will work together towards opening three football schools in China. Atlético will also be invited to play in China every year and the Spanish club will provide special training programmes in Madrid for Chinese youngsters.

Atlético, coached by the Argentinian Diego Simeone since 2011, won their first La Liga title in 18 years last season and finished runners-up behind Real Madrid in the 2013-14 Champions League.

The Rojiblancos are third in the Primera Division standings at the halfway stage of the season.

Atlético have loaned their Uruguay forward Cristian Rodríguez to Parma until the end of the season.

Rodríguez helped Atlético win the Spanish league last season, but has fallen out of favour since playing for Uruguay at last summer’s World Cup.

Crikey Rafa Gives us a Twirl

Serena Williams was reluctant to discuss suggestions of sexism at the Australian Open after a male on-court interviewer sparked outrage by asking some female players to “give a twirl”. However, the world No1 acknowledged that men such as Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer would never be asked to do the same in post-match TV interviews.

Both Williams and Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard were asked to spin around to show off their outfits during on-court interviews in Melbourne, prompting an angry response on social media and accusations of sexism levelled at the TennisAustralia commentator Ian Cohen, who made the request.

Williams, a second-round winner over Vera Zvonareva on Thursday, revealed she had not enjoyed the experience, but would not be drawn on whether it was sexist or not.

The American said: “A commentator asked me to twirl. I wouldn’t ask Rafa or Roger to twirl. Whether it’s sexist or not, I don’t know. I can’t answer that.

“I didn’t really want to twirl because I was just like, you know, I don’t need all the extra attention. But, yeah, it was fine.

“I don’t think and look that deep into it. Life is far too short to focus on that. We have so many other problems we want to deal with that we should focus on. Whether I twirl or not, it’s not the end of the world. It’s about being positive and just moving forward.”

Bouchard looked slightly bemused by the request, which followed her straight-sets win over Kiki Bertens on Wednesday, admitting in her post-match press conference the question had taken her by surprise. “It was very unexpected. I mean, yeah, I don’t know. An old guy asking you to twirl, it was funny,” said the seventh seed.

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Alone They Stand

Getty Images

Jackson Out of 6 Nations

Ireland are likely to be without Ulster fly-half Paddy Jackson for the entire Six Nations tournament after he suffered a dislocated elbow.

The 23-year-old requires surgery which will keep him on the sidelines for 10 to 12 weeks after he was hurt during Ulster’s European Champions Cup defeat to Toulon on Saturday.

"Paddy Jackson suffered a dislocated elbow in Saturday's defeat to Toulon at Stade Mayol," said an Ulster statement.

"A scan on Monday revealed that he has an unstable joint and that he will require surgery. He is expected to be out of rugby for between 10 and 12 weeks."

Ireland will also be without Jonathan Sexton for their Six Nations opener against Italy on February 7, leaving Leinster’s Ian Madigan, who has played mostly at inside centre this season, as the most likely starter at No 10 in Rome, although Munster's Ian Keatley is another contender.

Sexton has been advised to rest for 12 weeks after being concussed for the fourth time in a year in November's win over Australia. He should be available to play against France in Dublin on February 14.

Ulster centre Stuart Olding, 22, is also expected to be out of action for a similar period to Jackson because of an elbow operation after he was injured against Toulon.

Meanwhile, Ireland's long-term absentees Sean O'Brien and Cian Healy are closing in on a return to action, but Leinster have ruled out either facing Wasps in the Champions Cup this weekend.

O'Brien is battling back from two consecutive shoulder operations, while prop Healy is nearing a return after a severe hamstring tear.

Leinster are hopeful they will be available to face the Dragons on February 15, but they may still struggle to feature for Ireland in the Six Nations.

Cipriani Set for Lancaster Call

England head coach Stuart Lancaster is set to name Sale fly-half Danny Cipriani in his extended Six Nations training squad.

Cipriani will be confirmed in the wider national squad on Wednesday to prepare for the championship opener against Wales in Cardiff on Friday, February 6, along with Harlequins' 36-year-old back-rower Nick Easter.

Cipriani could still, however, officially remain in England's second-string Saxons squad, with George Ford, Owen Farrell and Stephen Myler the senior playmakers in Lancaster's thoughts.

Easter will earn a first squad call under Lancaster, and has not featured for England since the 2011 World Cup.

Bath's rugby league convert Sam Burgess will be named in the Saxons squad as he continues his quest for a place at this year's World Cup.

Lancaster could promote a number of Saxons stars into his Six Nations training squad, but crucially choose not to add them to his senior elite player squad (EPS).

The England boss adopted the same tactic last season, in a bid to counter a lengthy injury list and keep his options open for as long as possible.

Though Cipriani comes into the senior training squad, the 27-year-old could yet feature in the Saxons' one-off clash against Ireland Wolfhounds in Cork on January 30.

Cipriani has been mulling over a move to French and European champions Toulon this summer at the end of his current contract with Sale.

Sale boss Steve Diamond has previously admitted fears the nine-cap fly-half will leave for France if overlooked once more for England action.

Cipriani remains fourth in England's pecking order, but now has the chance he has craved to prove himself a tangible World Cup option in upcoming training sessions.

Lancaster would prefer Cipriani to remain in the Aviva Premiership, with England still adhering to the policy of not selecting overseas-based stars save for "exceptional circumstances".

The former Wasps fly-half could still view being fourth in England's pecking order as enough motivation to seek a new challenge in France next season.

Easter will slot into the extended training squad to offset the loss of Gloucester number eight Ben Morgan, who has suffered a broken leg.

Morgan ended the autumn Test series England's form loose forward, but will be replaced in England's starting line-up by Saracens' Billy Vunipola.

Talisman centre Manu Tuilagi could miss the entire tournament as his recovery from nagging groin trouble continues to lag.

Northampton lock Courtney Lawes is also out of the running for the first two rounds with an ankle injury.

Federer Makes Progress in Sydney

Roger Federer was involved in an on-court spat with a television cameraman as he reached the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday.

Federer lost the opening set of his second-round match to Italy's Simone Bolelli before calling the trainer to Rod Laver Arena for what initially appeared to be a blister on the little finger of his right hand.

The Swiss star looked decidedly uncomfortable and was further irritated by the presence of a camerman close by.

He angrily ushered away the cameraman, saying "Do you need to be so close?", before recovering his composure to eventually secure a 3-6 6-3 6-2 6-2 victory.

Asked about the injury, second seed Federer said: "I don't know. It felt like a bee stung me. I never had this pain before - it was disturbing me. I knew taping it wasn't the right thing so I just wanted to speak to the trainer. Thankfully it wasn't as bad at the end.

"It was a great match. I thought Simone played really well in the first set, so I really had to fight until the middle of the third set and once I got the break I was able to relax a little bit, but it was tough and I'm really pleased to come through.

"I was already seeing myself explaining losing in the second round and I'm happy I don't have to do that interview."

Elsewhere in Melbourne, there was a comfortable win for Andy Murray, while Rafael Nadal was also aiming to secure a third-round spot as he took on Tim Smyczek.

Sunday 18 January 2015

Vonn Equals 35 Year Record

Two serious knee surgeries, fog, soft snow and mounting pressure to match one of skiing's most hallowed records.

Tiger Woods couldn't be in attendance Sunday when girlfriend Lindsey Vonn matched Annemarie Moser-Proell's 35-year-old record of 62 World Cup wins, as he is practicing for a tournament later this month in his return from a back injury.

But he was watching on the Internet in Florida, where it was 5 a.m., and sent Vonn a congratulatory message.

"He said, 'Good job,' and he's proud of me," Vonn said. "He was watching with his daughter Sam, so they were up early in the morning."

Might this record inspire Woods to revive his golf career and reach Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships? Woods has been stuck at 14 since 2008.

"He's a pretty determined guy," Vonn said. "I don't think he needs any inspiration from me. He's been working really, really hard, and I'm looking forward to watching him come back, because he has put a lot of work into it and I'm sure he's going to be back on top soon."

Vonn added that Woods is planning to attend some of her races at next month's world championships in Vail and Beaver Creek, Colorado.

"It's tough to have two athletes competing at the same time, but he's definitely going to make something work," she said.

Woods has already made a good impression on Vonn's mother.

"I've met him," Lindy Lund told The Associated Press. "Nice guy. I like him."

The American fought through difficult conditions to win a demanding downhill Sunday and match Annemarie Moser-Proell's 35-year-old record of 62 World Cup wins, capping a comeback from injuries that kept Vonn out of last year's Sochi Olympics.

"The last two years have been pretty tough, and a lot of people counted me out and thought I would never reach this record," Vonn said. "A lot of people thought that I would never win again. I never stopped believing in myself, and I think I proved everyone wrong."

Vonn clocked a time of 1 minute, 39.61 seconds down the Olympia delle Tofane course to finish 0.32 seconds ahead of Elisabeth Goergl of Austria.

"It was just a tough day out there. The snow was a little bit soft, but I did the best that I could," Vonn said. "I fought really hard, and to have a 62nd win with my whole family here pretty much -- I'm missing some brothers and sisters -- it just feels amazing and it's such a special day."

Vonn's father, mother, stepfather, stepmother and younger sister Laura attended the race. Family and members of Vonn's coaching staff put on celebratory T-shirts that said, "Congratulations to our golden Lindsey! Awesome!"

Daniela Merighetti of Italy was third, 0.54 seconds back.

Vonn can break Moser-Proell's record in a super-G scheduled for Monday.

"I think 62 is more important to me," Vonn said. "Now I feel like from here on out I'm already tied for No. 1. So I'm just going to try to continue to win races, and I'm skiing for another three years, so there's a lot of racing left in me and I'll just keep on doing my best."

Moser-Proell, an Austrian great, established the record between 1970 and 1980.

Swedish standout Ingemar Stenmark holds the men's record of 86 wins.

"I feel like everyone has been talking about [the record] so much and it's a little bit frustrating because I just want to focus on the skiing," Vonn said. "I felt it was just getting ahead of the actual skiing. I'm happy that the story is hopefully behind me now so I can just move forward and continue to do my best and hopefully get a lot more wins."

Vonn was on track to smash the record two years ago before she crashed at the world championships and tore up her right knee, requiring serious surgery. She attempted to return for Sochi but re-injured her knee two months before the Games and had to have surgery again.

"I'm trying to push the limits, always take tighter lines and ski like the men," Vonn said. "Sometimes it doesn't work and I crash. That's part of my sport. But I don't change anything. That's my mentality -- go big or go home.

"So having those ups and downs make the ups that more special," Vonn added. "The last few wins have been so incredible."

This was Vonn's third win of the season -- all in downhill -- and the eighth of her career in Cortina.

And it was anything but straightforward.

As clouds moved over the middle of the course, the race was momentarily suspended after 12 skiers came down. When Vonn and the other favorites went, visibility varied over each section of the piste.

Vonn came down with the No. 20 bib and had a nervous wait when Goergl came down with No. 22 and was faster at the first two checkpoints. But Goergl couldn't keep up with Vonn on the final turns.

"I wasn't very fast on the top. I don't really know what I did exactly," Vonn said. "But I maintained my speed on the bottom, and that's where I won the race."

Goergl, who swept gold in downhill and super-G at the 2011 world championships, wasn't interested in discussing Vonn's record.

"For me, it's more about the racing and the competition," the Austrian said. "The statistics and all that stuff, I don't really care."

Vonn had a few bobbles at the start of her run but increased her lead over then-leader Merighetti at every checkpoint. At the finish, Vonn collapsed to the snow in a scene of relief then used her ski poles to pick herself up, flashed a big smile and received a hug from overall World Cup leader Tina Maze, who finished fifth.

The crowd of a few thousand fans in the finish area gave Vonn sporadic cheers, as most of them were rooting for Merighetti to hold the lead.