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WWE fans get in on action for historic Saudi showdown

PARIS: Novak Djokovic’s 26-match Grand Slam winning streak ended in the French Open semifinals because he made some odd strategic choices, because the wild weather bothered him, because the chair umpire got under his skin.Mostly, though, because Dominic Thiem managed to outperform Djokovic at his own brand of defense-to-offense, speed-and-power baseline game.Thiem put an end…

WWE fans get in on action for historic Saudi showdown

PARIS: Novak Djokovic’s 26-match Grand Slam winning streak ended in the French Open semifinals because he made some odd strategic choices, because the wild weather bothered him, because the chair umpire got under his skin.Mostly, though, because Dominic Thiem managed to outperform Djokovic at his own brand of defense-to-offense, speed-and-power baseline game.Thiem put an end to the No. 1-ranked Djokovic’s bid for a fourth consecutive major championship Saturday with a dramatic 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 victory in a wind-whipped and rain-interrupted match that spanned more than four hours over two days.“I don’t want to point out some reasons or find excuses for this loss,” said Djokovic, who had won nine of his past 10 five-setters and was 29-9 overall in such matches. “I mean, he took it, he won it, and well done to him.”It wasn’t easy. Shouldn’t be against Djokovic, who kept digging holes for himself and climbing out.Thiem wasted two match points with quick unforced errors when serving for the victory at 5-3 in the fifth, but he made his third chance count, smacking a forehand winner to break Djokovic in the last game.“An epic match. I mean, so many ups and downs. And rain, going back to the locker, on court again. Somehow I had the feeling that I had the lead in the whole match, and then at the end, it got so tough,” Thiem said. “Both of us, we could win, and I luckily got the better in the end.”

Austria’s Dominic Thiem and Serbia’s Novak Djokovic great each other after their semifinal match at the French Open in Paris on June 8, 2019. (REUTERS/Charles Platiau)

Djokovic was stopped two victories short of collecting his fourth consecutive major championship, a run that began on the grass at Wimbledon last July, then continued on the hard courts of the US Open and Australian Open.Instead, it is Thiem, an Austrian ranked No. 4, who now gets a chance to win his first Grand Slam trophy on the red clay of Roland Garros.Thiem will face 11-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal on Sunday in a rematch of last year’s final. Nadal won that one, part of an 8-4 lead for the Spaniard in their head-to-head series.“All the time, if someone reaches the finals here, it’s against Rafa,” Thiem said with a laugh.It will be the fourth straight day that Thiem is in action because of postponements, whereas Nadal will be well-rested, having played his quarterfinal Tuesday and his semifinal Friday, when he beat Roger Federer 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. Beating Thiem again would allow Nadal to raise his Grand Slam total to 18 titles, moving him with two of Federer’s record for a man.

Ashleigh Barty wins first major title

In the women’s final, which started 1½ hours late Saturday because it followed Thiem-Djokovic at Court Philippe Chatrier, No. 8 seed Ashleigh Barty of Australia won her first major title by beating unseeded 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-3.On Friday, Thiem had just broken Djokovic to go up a break at 3-1 in the third set when their match was suspended because of a shower. They resumed 18½ hours later, in dry, breezy conditions. The wind that was so fierce Friday — spreading loose, rust-colored clay dust from the court surface all over the place, making for something that seemed like a sandstorm — was much more manageable Saturday. It rippled players’ shirts but did not cause havoc with serve tosses and shots the way it had the evening prior.“One of the worst conditions I have ever been part of,” Djokovic said about Friday. “That’s all I can tell you.”

Australia’s Ashleigh Barty celebrates with the trophy after winning the French Open final for women against Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic. (REUTERS/Charles Platiau)

Repeatedly, they engaged in long and entertaining points that lasted 10 shots, 20 shots or more. They used anticipation and enviable court coverage to track down each other’s shots. They walloped the ball from all angles.The very longest of these exchanges tended to go Djokovic’s way: He won 37 of 61 points (61 of nine or more strokes.For whatever reason, Djokovic often felt compelled to try to shorten points often, hardly his usual strategy. So that led to this key statistic: He won only 35 of 71 points when he went to the net. Thiem, meanwhile, took 18 of 20 on his more judicious forays forward.Serving at 15-all while down 6-5 in the third set, Djokovic was agitated by a warning from chair umpire Jaume Campistol for letting the serve clock expire. Djokovic wouldn’t let it go, complaining so much he was called for unsportsmanlike conduct.The lack of focus drifted into his play, too, including a serve-and-volley attempt that handed that set to Thiem.After forcing a fifth, Djokovic faltered again, getting broken to trail 3-1 when he missed a volley, before Thiem held for 4-1, shortly before rain came.Djokovic was a point from losing when Thiem served at 5-3, 40-15. Except Thiem couldn’t close. Dumped a backhand into the net. Pushed a backhand wide. Sent a forehand long. Slapped a backhand into the net.Hard to recover from that sort of collapse.But Thiem regrouped. It was Djokovic who faltered — and who lost, something he hadn’t done on a Grand Slam stage since the 2018 French Open quarterfinals.

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Ravi Shastri reappointed India’s cricket coach

MASON, Ohio: Seven-time champion Roger Federer was ousted from one of his favorite tournaments in only 61 minutes Thursday, falling in straight sets to a 21-year-old qualifier he’d never faced. Andre Rublev — with only one career win over a top-five player to his credit — took advantages of Federer’s numerous mistakes for a 6-3,…

Ravi Shastri reappointed India’s cricket coach

MASON, Ohio: Seven-time champion Roger Federer was ousted from one of his favorite tournaments in only 61 minutes Thursday, falling in straight sets to a 21-year-old qualifier he’d never faced.
Andre Rublev — with only one career win over a top-five player to his credit — took advantages of Federer’s numerous mistakes for a 6-3, 6-4 victory that further depleted the top of the men’s bracket in the Western & Southern Open.
Federer has won the tournament more than anyone, using it as a springboard to the US Open. He had 16 unforced errors against the 70th-ranked Rublev, who raised both fists and wiped a teary eye in celebration after Federer’s forehand sailed long to end it.
Struggling with his serve, Federer got broken twice in the first set.
“And there you have it. It set the tone for the match a little bit,” Federer said. “He was super clean — offense, defense, serving well. He didn’t give me anything.”
Federer, who lost a classic five-set match for the Wimbledon title to Novak Djokovic, thinks he’s in good shape heading into the US Open despite the upset in Cincinnati.
Second-seeded Rafael Nadal withdrew before the start of the tournament because of fatigue after winning the Rogers Cup in Montreal on Sunday. Djokovic was the only one of the Top 3 left, set to play later in the day.
The day began with the ATP fining Nick Kyrgios $113,000 for expletive-filled outbursts that included smashing rackets, insulting a chair umpire and refusing to get ready to return serve during a second-round match the previous night.
Back against the wallIn the women’s bracket, top-seeded Ashleigh Barty reached the quarterfinals, joined by a resurgent Venus Williams.Barty beat Anett Kontaveit 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, raising her fist in triumph after fighting off one match point to take the 2-hour, 10-minute match. She was down a break in the second set before rallying on a day when she struggled to find consistency.“The best thing is when my back was against the wall, the tennis was there,” Barty said. “It may not have been there the whole match, but we were able to find it when we needed it.”Barty, the French Open champion and currently ranked No. 2, can move up to the top spot by reaching the final.With the crowd cheering for her, Williams recovered from a rough first set and beat Donna Vekic 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, her best stretch of tennis in since she won three straight matches in March at Miami.After a first-round loss in Toronto last week, her ranking slipped to No. 65, her lowest in seven years. With sister Serena cheering courtside, Venus reached the semifinals.“I mean, I’m pretty pumped,” Venus Williams said. “When you’re winning, it’s fun.”Serena Williams withdrew from the tournament because of back spasms. She calmly watched her sister advance.“I think she believed in me,” Venus Williams said. “She was rooting hard but didn’t seem panicked at all after I lost the first set.”

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Low-ranked Rublev ousts Federer in Cincinnati; Barty advances

MASON, Ohio: Seven-time champion Roger Federer was ousted from one of his favorite tournaments in only 61 minutes Thursday, falling in straight sets to a 21-year-old qualifier he’d never faced.Andre Rublev — with only one career win over a top-five player to his credit — took advantages of Federer’s numerous mistakes for a 6-3, 6-4…

Low-ranked Rublev ousts Federer in Cincinnati; Barty advances

MASON, Ohio: Seven-time champion Roger Federer was ousted from one of his favorite tournaments in only 61 minutes Thursday, falling in straight sets to a 21-year-old qualifier he’d never faced.Andre Rublev — with only one career win over a top-five player to his credit — took advantages of Federer’s numerous mistakes for a 6-3, 6-4 victory that further depleted the top of the men’s bracket in the Western & Southern Open.Federer has won the tournament more than anyone, using it as a springboard to the US Open. He had 16 unforced errors against the 70th-ranked Rublev, who raised both fists and wiped a teary eye in celebration after Federer’s forehand sailed long to end it.Struggling with his serve, Federer got broken twice in the first set.“And there you have it. It set the tone for the match a little bit,” Federer said. “He was super clean — offense, defense, serving well. He didn’t give me anything.”Federer, who lost a classic five-set match for the Wimbledon title to Novak Djokovic, thinks he’s in good shape heading into the US Open despite the upset in Cincinnati.Second-seeded Rafael Nadal withdrew before the start of the tournament because of fatigue after winning the Rogers Cup in Montreal on Sunday. Djokovic was the only one of the Top 3 left, set to play later in the day.The day began with the ATP fining Nick Kyrgios $113,000 for expletive-filled outbursts that included smashing rackets, insulting a chair umpire and refusing to get ready to return serve during a second-round match the previous night.
Back against the wallIn the women’s bracket, top-seeded Ashleigh Barty reached the quarterfinals, joined by a resurgent Venus Williams.Barty beat Anett Kontaveit 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, raising her fist in triumph after fighting off one match point to take the 2-hour, 10-minute match. She was down a break in the second set before rallying on a day when she struggled to find consistency.“The best thing is when my back was against the wall, the tennis was there,” Barty said. “It may not have been there the whole match, but we were able to find it when we needed it.”Barty, the French Open champion and currently ranked No. 2, can move up to the top spot by reaching the final.With the crowd cheering for her, Williams recovered from a rough first set and beat Donna Vekic 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, her best stretch of tennis in since she won three straight matches in March at Miami.After a first-round loss in Toronto last week, her ranking slipped to No. 65, her lowest in seven years. With sister Serena cheering courtside, Venus reached the semifinals.“I mean, I’m pretty pumped,” Venus Williams said. “When you’re winning, it’s fun.”Serena Williams withdrew from the tournament because of back spasms. She calmly watched her sister advance.“I think she believed in me,” Venus Williams said. “She was rooting hard but didn’t seem panicked at all after I lost the first set.”

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Liverpool beats Chelsea on penalties to lift Super Cup

PARIS: The saga of Neymar’s seemingly inevitable departure from Paris Saint-Germain is proving a long, drawn out affair bringing the curtain down on what will ultimately feel like a fleeting and failed experiment.Having arrived in France in 2017 hoping a world-record transfer to PSG would help him emerge from the shadow of Lionel Messi at…

Liverpool beats Chelsea on penalties to lift Super Cup

PARIS: The saga of Neymar’s seemingly inevitable departure from Paris Saint-Germain is proving a long, drawn out affair bringing the curtain down on what will ultimately feel like a fleeting and failed experiment.Having arrived in France in 2017 hoping a world-record transfer to PSG would help him emerge from the shadow of Lionel Messi at Barcelona and win the Ballon d’Or, two years on he looks set to leave with his reputation having taken a serious hit.There is no doubting the 27-year-old forward is a brilliant player, and there is every chance he will get the success he craves — collectively and, chiefly, individually — by returning to Spain, whether with his old club or Real Madrid.However, there is every reason to believe a Kylian Mbappe-led PSG, and football in France in general, will ultimately be better off without him.The French champions’ first Ligue 1 game of the campaign last Sunday, a 3-0 win against Nimes, saw supporters unfurl banners insulting the 222 million-euro ($264 million at the time) man.Neymar himself was not involved in that game, left out amid the uncertainty over his future. He already missed the season-opening Champions Trophy against Rennes in China due to suspension.Since moving to the Parc des Princes, he has played in almost exactly half of his club’s matches.When he has been on the field he has frequently been brilliant, scoring 51 goals in 58 games, but when it has really mattered he has been absent.Foot injuries saw him miss three of the four Champions League knockout matches the Qatar-owned club have played in since his arrival. Without him, they lost in the last 16 to Real Madrid in 2018 and then to Manchester United this year.“I like Neymar, I want to keep playing with him, with Kylian and with everyone,” coach Thomas Tuchel said last weekend.“But the reality is that we must find solutions without ‘Ney’. You can’t lose Neymar and just find someone else who will do the same things.”Mbappe added that “without Neymar, it’s not the same team,” but PSG can still improve by investing in a more balanced squad — summer signings made so far under sporting director Leonardo are a step in the right direction.Center-back Abdou Diallo, midfielders Ander Herrera, Pablo Sarabia and Idrissa Gueye have arrived. With the money recouped from the eventual sale of Neymar, not to mention the saving on his 36 million-euro annual wage, more reinforcements can be brought in.The off-field circus around Neymar has been an unwelcome distraction for too long. On the field, Paris will still have Mbappe.The other side of the coin is what this means for PSG’s brand. After all, Neymar’s following on social media far outstrips that of his current club.Similarly, when the French league (LFP) put their television rights up for auction last year, they capitalized on the Brazilian’s presence. Rights for the four seasons from 2020 were sold to Chinese-owned group Mediapro for 1.15 billion euros a year, a huge increase on previous deals.Television stations could be forgiven for being a little concerned now, but LFP chief Didier Quillot remains bullish.“It’s always better to have several stars in your league. That said, during the Champions Trophy in China, it was Kylian Mbappe who was the star. His popularity is growing around the world,” he told sports daily L’Equipe.In any case, Ligue 1 is in a constant state of renewal, forever prepared to see star players move abroad. Nicolas Pepe, Ferland Mendy, Tanguy Ndombele and Ismaila Sarr have all left this summer.The game in France can move on from Neymar, and everyone will be relieved to let the football on the field do the talking if and when he departs.

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