Federer overcomes shaky start to join Grand Slam 100 club

Roger Federer chalked up another monumental milestone to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals on Wednesday, recovering to beat Japan’s Kei Nishikori in four sets and become the first man to record a century of singles wins at any Grand Slam.

Federer, who won 4-6 6-1 6-4 6-4 and now faces Rafa Nadal in a mouthwatering contest, was so poor in the first set that the eighth-seeded Nishikori may have felt the 37-year-old Swiss’s advancing years had finally caught up with him.

Yet the remainder of the match had just enough flourishes of pure brilliance from the eight times champion and number two seed to make it a worthy occasion for the Swiss to become the sole male member of the Grand Slam 100 club.

Federer’s victory ensured Wimbledon will play host to one of the sport’s greatest rivalries, after Nadal also overcame big-serving American Sam Querrey in straight sets to tee up a semi-final clash between the two old foes.

The duo have not met at the All England Club since their titanic tussle in the 2008 final, when Nadal outlasted Federer over five thrilling sets that finished late in the evening gloom.

The two most successful proponents of the men’s game have gone toe-to-toe on 39 occasions, with Nadal winning for the 24th time in their French Open semi-final last month.

To put Federer’s achievements at Wimbledon into perspective, Nadal’s straight sets victory at Roland Garros was his 92nd on Paris’s red clay and while a 93rd and 12th singles title duly followed, he is still short of Federer’s Wimbledon tonne.

“It’s special,” said the Swiss of his latest numerical feat. “If I look back at the hundred, some were so incredibly cool.”

PIERCING FOCUS

There was a brief time on Wednesday, however, when it looked like Nishikori may play party pooper.

Federer’s poor start was seemingly not down to any devilish play or beguiling gameplan from Nishikori, but rather the result of a dramatic drop in standards by the number two seed.

His timing was off, the usual sweet sound of ball-on-racket that is almost unique to the great Swiss was absent, replaced by a duller thud as shots repeatedly flew off target.

The crowd sat dumbfounded as Nishikori despatched a delicate volley to break in the opening game and watched on bemused as the Japanese created another three break points in the third game and one more in the fifth.

In winning that opening set, Nishikori, one of tennis’s most attractive shotmakers, carved out as many break points on the Federer serve as the Swiss had faced in his previous two matches.

“Even if I’m down a set or down a break, no hurry there. I stay calm,” said Federer, whose ability to stay ice cool under pressure seemed to be the only part of his game still functioning in the first set.

Yet when you have spent the best part of two decades weaving magic spells on Centre Court, you know how to pull a rabbit out of the hat when you most need it.

In the blink of an eye, the impostor who had seemingly replaced Federer in the early games was nowhere to be seen as the real deal strode out for the second set and promptly won 12 points in a row to take a 3-0 lead.

The ragged, leggy lethargy of the Swiss’s early play had lifted and in its place a piercing focus carried Federer to the second set in 22 minutes.

Nishikori kept the match alive as a contest, but was constantly battling to defend his serve and one running backhand by the Swiss was delivered with such devastating venom that the Japanese could only bow his head in appreciation.

Federer delivered the decisive blows against the Nishikori serve in the seventh game of the third set and ninth game of the fourth, before the contest was ended after two hours and 36 minutes when the Swiss fired down a 12th ace.

Quiet man Pinot ready to make his presence felt on the Tour

Thibaut Pinot’s love-hate relationship with the Tour de France will face a big test on Thursday when the overall contenders take on their first hilltop finish at the top of La Planche des Belles Filles — the Frenchman’s back yard.

The Tour has always been a complicated affair for the Groupama-FDJ climber, who burst into the limelight in 2012 by winning a mountain stage in Porrentruy.

It was too much, too soon for the then 22-year-old, who crumbled under pressure the following year.

A quiet man who lives among farm animals and loves fishing in the quiet Eastern town of Melisey - population 1,680 - of which his father Regis is the mayor, Pinot openly despises the extravaganza of the Tour, its procession of TV helicopters and thousands of followers.

But he races in a French team and the Tour is a required passage.

In 2014, he managed to finish third overall before snatching a prestigious stage win at L’Alpe d’Huez in 2015 at the end of a disappointing overall showing.

He abandoned in 2016 and 2017, the year he took fourth place overall in the Giro d’Italia, which prompted his team to finally allow him to put all his eggs in the Italian basket in 2018.

DIFFERENT MINDSET

With a podium finish in sight on the Giro last year, Pinot had to pull out before the final stage as he suffered from pneumonia.

An impressive climber who took another dimension when he won the ‘Monument’ classic Giro di Lombardia last year, Pinot’s health is fragile.

This year, however, he is on the Tour on his own free will. A strong team time trial and a handful of seconds snatched from most of the overall contenders have put him in an ideal position ahead of Thursday’s finish at La Planche des Belles Filles after a 7-km climb at an average gradient of 8.7%.

“We’re not here to test ourselves, we’re here to win. The tests, it was before the Tour,” his sports director Philippe Mauduit told Reuters.

“This year he really wanted to be here. When you want to do things right, you come with a different mindset.”

Pinot has been more relaxed this year, and on the back of strong showings all season the 29-year-old has more self-confidence.

He will have a chance to shine on Thursday on a climb he knows inside out.

VERY STRONG

“We live about 15 kilometres from La Planche des Belles Filles. It’s a climb we’ve done since we were young and Thibaut knows every metre of it,” his brother and coach Julien said.

“Thibaut climbed it first when he was 15-17 years old.”

Pinot took 15th place there on the Tour in 2012 and finished second behind Vincenzo Nibali in 2014.

His rivals have already singled him out as one of the top favourites for the win on Thursday, and also for the overall victory in Paris.

“He and his team are impressive, they rode a super team time trial. He’s a real contender for the overall win,” said defending champion Geraint Thomas’s sports director Nicolas Portal.

“He looks very strong and he will have special motivation tomorrow.”

Two-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador told Reuters: “He looks very fit. He will grab his opportunities. There are many things that show it could be his year.”

Pinot trails overall leader and fellow Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe by 52 seconds, 12 behind top favourite Egan Bernal of Colombia and seven behind Thomas.

Since the first time a Tour stage ended up at La Planche des Belles Filles in 2012, the rider in yellow after the stage ended up winning the race — Bradley Wiggins in 2012, Nibali in 2014 and Chris Froome in 2017.

'Big Three' in ominous form as Wimbledon moves into second week

The ‘Big Three’ of Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic head into the second week of Wimbledon carrying the flag for the men’s game after a number of young upstarts failed to live up to their potential on the grandest stage.

The trio, with 14 Wimbledon titles between them, have been in blistering form while players such as Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas — younger men touted to end their hegemony at the majors — went out with a whimper.

Having dropped only one set each in their three rounds so far, the trio seem a safe bet to advance when they face fourth-round rivals who have never before made it to this stage at the All England Club.

Defending champion Djokovic, who endured a hurricane against Hubert Hurkacz before winning in four sets, takes on Frenchman Ugo Humbert for the first time in his career.

“I’ve seen him in Roland Garros. I’ve seen him last year (at the) U.S. Open... big serve, very explosive, very dynamic player,” said Djokovic, who is seeking a fifth Wimbledon title.

“He’s tall, has a big game from the back of the court, flat backhand, very solid. He can play anything really, he’s an all-around player.”

Eight-times winner Federer, who sealed his 350th Grand Slam match win when he dispatched France’s Lucas Pouille on Saturday, has barely been tested so far barring his opening clash against Lloyd Harris where the Swiss rallied from a set down to win.

The 37-year-old meets 17th seed Matteo Berrettini who has claimed two titles this season, including one on grass in Stuttgart, and Federer expects a tough challenge.

“I don’t know him well so that makes it a bit more tricky,” Federer, who warmed up for the tournament with his 10th Halle Open title, said.

“I saw him play in Halle, saw his run in Stuttgart. Now he’s backing it up here. That’s not easy, especially when you’re newer on the tour.”

Third seed Nadal, who has repeatedly expressed his displeasure about the seedings and draw, is the only one among the three who would face unseeded players until the semi-finals, where he could take on Federer.

The Spaniard, who faced his biggest test so far against mercurial Australian Nick Kyrgios, is up against a familiar rival in Portugal’s Joao Sousa.

“We know each other very well, practised plenty of times together. He’s a player that when he’s winning matches, he’s a super dangerous opponent against everybody,” Nadal said.

Ineos already have main Tour rivals playing catch-up

The Tour de France is only two days old but the newly-rebranded Team Ineos have already issued an emphatic response to anyone hoping a change of name for the world’s dominant cycle team might have diluted their aura.

Ineos’s eight riders, led by defending champion Geraint Thomas, did not win Sunday’s 27.6km team time trial around the streets of Brussels but they landed the first blow in a three-week battle for the coveted yellow jersey.

The team’s road captain Luke Rowe said this week it had been a “copy and paste job” since Team Sky, winners of six of the last seven Tours, morphed into Ineos this year, with Britain’s richest man, new boss Jim Ratcliffe, allowing business as usual.

It looked like that on Sunday as the men in black and burgundy roared around the Belgian capital to set a target none of the next 20 teams could match, until Dutch outfit Team Jumbo-Visma’s turbo-charged squad smashed it by 20 seconds.

It stung, but the truth is it was a great day for Thomas and team co-leader Egan Bernal as they opened time gaps on the men most expected to challenge them in the general classification (GC).

Thomas and Bernal endured nervy rides in Saturday’s 194km opener, both snagged by a mass crash in the peloton inside the last three kilometres, although it cost them no time.

A day later it was the likes of Frenchman Romain Bardet,Australia’s former Sky rider Richie Porte, Movistar’s Nairo Quintana, Adam Yates and Jakob Fuglsang who had reason to fret.

Bardet’s AG2R-Mondiale team finished 19th, trailing in 59 seconds adrift of Ineos, Porte’s Trek-Segafredo conceded 58 seconds, Quintana lost 45 seconds while Briton Yates was 21 seconds back with 11th placed Mitchelton-Scott.

Dane Fuglsang, tipped as a pre-race favourite but left bloodied and bruised by a crash on Saturday, was relieved his Astana team only lost 21 seconds to Ineos.

French enigma Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain), the only man to break Team Sky’s grip in the past seven years, lost 12 and 16 seconds respectively.

GREAT DAY

All are playing catch-up, however, against a team notoriously difficult to attack, even if four-time winner Chris Froome is absent after a horrific accident in the build-up.

“It wasn’t to be for the stage victory, but this has to go down as a great day at the Tour de France,” Ineos’s Twitter feed read. “We finish second in the TTT (team time trial), taking time out of a number of GC rivals in Brussels.”

Thomas made the point that Jumbo-Visma’s Steven Kruijswijk, a dangerous all-rounder, took 20 seconds on him, but added that the team was “in a really good place.”

Porte, who at 34 is running out of time to win the Tour, tried to hide his disappointment by saying his team has targeted making big gains in the Alps and Pyrenees.

“It’s not ideal,” he said, “but I’m not throwing my toys out the cot yet. The last week is where the race will be won.”

Yates also preferred to look on the bright side, saying he was glad one of the Tour’s two time trials was done.

“It’s good to be through in one piece, we didn’t lose a chunk of time, just a little bit,” he said.

Dane Fuglsang was just happy he could contribute after suffering a cut eye and knee bruising on Saturday.

“I’m quite happy with (the time loss). I said before the Tour de France started, that for me even 30 seconds was okay,” he said.

Bradley Wiggins, who began Team Sky’s domination by winning the 2012 Tour, said it had been “superb day” for Ineos.

“I know they would have wanted to win it but they have big GC aspirations and you must put it in perspective.”

Regular as clockwork, Djokovic eases into Wimbledon third round

Novak Djokovic trails Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal in many of the game’s most important metrics, but when it comes to consistently reaching the third round at Wimbledon, which he achieved with dazzling ease on Wednesday, he leaves his rivals in his wake.

The Serb dismantled American Denis Kudla 6-3 6-2 6-2 with ruthless efficiency and just enough flamboyance to satisfy the Centre Court crowd.

That put him in the last 32 at the All England Club for the 11th straight year, a professional-era mark only surpassed by American Jimmy Connors — and one more than the game’s most decorated player Federer.

Consistency has become the Serb’s hallmark. While he may lack the shotmaking brilliance of Federer or the raw power and energy of Nadal, he rarely allows his level to slip below a supremely high watermark.

Which makes slip-ups against those plying their trade at the level of Kudla an exceptionally rare occurrence.

“Consistency was one of the keys and focus points of my Grand Slam career going back 10 years — I always aim to play my best in Grand Slams,” he said after a one-hour-and-33-minute stroll that only occasionally flickered into life as a contest.

“I guess the quality of tennis that I produce in the slams is pretty high. That’s what allows me to have the results like this.”

The world number one had only once lost to a player lower than the 111th-ranked Kudla in a Grand Slam — to Denis Istomin at the 2017 Australian Open — and there was never any chance of a repeat on Wednesday.

Things had threatened to turn ugly for Kudla when he lost the first five games, but he fought his corner to ensure the score stayed respectable and the match remained competitive.

The holder and four times champion allowed a few match points to go begging before finally wrapping up victory to set up an encounter with Poland’s 48th-ranked Hubert Hurkacz.

At this stage of the tournament, few would bet against Djokovic winning a 16th Grand Slam title next Sunday and the world number one certainly sounds confident.

“Ambitions are high and I’ve been fortunate in my career to do so well in Slams,” he said.

“I have to think only about the next challenge and take things one step at a time.”

Knee injury puts Van Niekerk's world championships in jeopardy

South African world record holder Wayde van Niekerk’s defence of his 400 metres world title could be in jeopardy after a knee injury.

South Africa's 400m Olympic gold medallist and world record holder Wayde van Niekerk looks on as he attends South African Championships in Germiston, South Africa, April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The two-time world champion had picked up a bone bruise in his right knee that had set back his training by five to six weeks, his agent said in a statement.

“Sadly guys, I’ve had a minor setback on my road to recovery,” Van Niekerk added on Twitter.

“I’ve been pushing myself a bit too hard in training so that I can make a memorable comeback but I have picked up a bone bruise on my knee so won’t be participating in the upcoming @Diamond_League events.”

While the Doha world championships are not until late September and Van Niekerk has already qualified as the reigning world champion, the injury raises questions about whether he will try to make a comeback at all in 2019 and instead prepare to defend his Olympic title in 2020.

Van Niekerk, 26, did not compete in 2018 after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in a celebrity rugby match in 2017.

He has run only one 400 metres this year, clocking 47.28 seconds in February. His world record from the 2016 Rio Olympics is 43.03.

“I will review my competition schedule with my team and together with my coach (Ans Botha) we will decide where and when to race,” Van Niekerk was quoted as saying in his agent’s statement.

Van Niekerk remained “hopeful” of targeting a third world title, the statement said.

“He had MRI scans which showed the ligaments and meniscus in his (right) knee were fine but unfortunately he picked up a bone bruise which has set him back five or six weeks,” the statement added.

Jesus, Firmino send Brazil into Copa America final as Messi fails again

Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino scored the goals as Brazil beat arch-rivals Argentina 2-0 on Tuesday to qualify for the Copa America final.

Played in a white-hot atmosphere and with tempers threatening to boil over, Argentina came close to scoring themselves but both Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi hit the woodwork.

Hosts Brazil will play the winners of Wednesday second semi-final between champions Chile and Peru in Sunday's final.

It was the first time these age-old rivals had met in a major competition since Brazil beat Argentina 3-0 in the 2007 Copa final.

English-based Jesus and Firmino were the stars, each creating the other's goal, although captain Dani Alves had a major say in the opener.

Defeat meant Barcelona great Messi's hopes of landing a major international honour with Argentina became even more remote.

He will get another opportunity next year, though, with the fourth Copa America in the last five years, due to be played in Argentina and Colombia.

- Tackles flying -

In what was always expected to be a feisty affair there were some wild early tackles flying in, and Argentina's Nicolas Tagliafico was first to be booked for a lunge at Jesus.

The pitch looked like it had been trampled by a herd of wildebeest before kick-off and both sides struggled to play flowing football.

Brazil's Casemiro was even jeered after sending a long crossfield ball straight out of play.

The first chance came when Argentina's Leandro Paredes let fly from 30 yards but the ball whistled just over the top of goalkeeper Alisson's goal.

Brazil took the lead on 19 minutes after a piece of individual brilliance from Alves.

He beat three players on a mazy run before sending Firmino clear down the right with a no-look pass, the Liverpool forward crossing for the unmarked Jesus to tap home.

Two-footed lunges were flying in as the match threatened to descend from niggly to dirty.

Argentina almost levelled on the half hour when Aguero headed Messi's free-kick onto the bar, the ball bouncing down just in front of the line before Brazil scrambled it clear.

Messi then burst into life, driving at heart of the Brazil defense and playing in Aguero, who took advantage of a Thiago Silva slip to make space for himself but Marquinhos was quickly across to block the Manchester City striker's shot.

Moments later, Messi beat two men on the right, won back the ball with a sliding tackle after overrunning it, but then wastefully shot high and wide.

At the other end, Arthur shot powerfully, but straight at goalkeeper Franco Armani.

- Pirouetting Jesus -

Argentina pushed Brazil back at the start of the second half and Aguero picked out Lautaro Martinez in the box but he didn't catch his left-foot volley cleanly and Alisson gathered comfortably.

Another promising attacking move ended with Rodrigo de Paul blazing over from 20 yards.

But Jesus produced a beautiful piece of skill, including a pirouetting drag-back, before teeing up Philippe Coutinho who should have done better than shooting over.

Moments later, though, a blocked shot from Martinez looped over to Messi who lashed a shot from an angle against the post, with Alisson beaten.

Alisson was alert to clutch a Messi free-kick on 66 minutes that looked destined for the top corner.

By then, Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni had already gone for broke, bringing off midfielder Marcos Acuna and sending on speedy winger Angel Di Maria, with Messi dropping into a deeper role.

Just as Argentina looked capable of finding a way back into the match, Brazil stung them on the counter-attack with Manchester City's Jesus getting away from two defenders and teeing up the unmarked Liverpool striker Firmino for a tap in on 71 minutes.

Scaloni threw on another forward in Paulo Dybala but there was no way back for Argentina.

Atletico Madrid sign 19-year-old Joao Felix for 126 million euros

Atletico Madrid on Wednesday signed 19-year-old Portuguese striker Joao Felix from Benfica for 126 million euros ($142 million), the clubs announced.

The fee is a record for a Portuguese club and for Atletico Madrid and makes the teenager one of the five most expensive players in history.

Atletico tweeted a video of the player in the Prado gallery in Madrid contemplating paintings by old masters, with the phrase, "enormous talent", before he turned and smiled at the camera with the caption: "Welcome Joao Felix, pure talent."

Felix has reportedly signed a seven-year contract.

He is a potential replacement for Antoine Griezmann who scored 133 goals in five seasons at the club. Atletico have already said the French striker is leaving. He is expected to join Barcelona when his release clause, which dropped to 120 million euros on Monday, is activated.

The Felix signing came on a busy day for Atletico.

Earlier on Wednesday, the club confirmed the signing of Mexican midfielder Hector Herrera from Porto while another midfielder, Rodrigo Hernandez, left Madrid for Manchester City for 70 million euros.

Atletico had already bolstered their midfield with the addition of the 24-year-old Marcos Llorente, bought for 45 million euros from Real Madrid.

Felix, a forward who can play on either flank or centrally, has enjoyed a breakthrough season at Benfica, scoring 20 goals in 43 games and helping the club win the Portugese league title.

He also made his debut for Portugal earlier this month, starting alongside Cristiano Ronaldo in their Nations League semi-final win over Switzerland.

He had been linked with a number of Europe's leading clubs including Manchester City, Manchester United and Juventus.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone said in June that the Portuguese prodigy was in his sights.

"He's a young player," Simeone told Fox Sports Argentina. "Historically, Atletico Madrid is a club that buys young players in order to develop and improve them... Like Griezmann, who when he arrived was not what he is today."

Felix becomes the most expensive Portuguese player in history, breaking the record of 105 million euros Juventus paid last summer for Ronaldo.

Atletico's previous record signing was French midfielder Thomas Lemar who joined last year from Monaco for 72 million euros.

The world transfer record is the 222 million euros Paris Saint-Germain paid Barcelona for Neymar in 2017.

No walk in park as Sung-hyun wins LPGA event by one shot

Park Sung-hyun made a tap-in birdie at the par-five final hole to win the NW Arkansas Championship on Sunday and stake her claim for the world number one ranking.

Park edged fellow South Koreans Park In-bee and Kim Hyo-joo and American Danielle Kang by one stroke at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers.

She finished at 18-under-par 195 after a final round of 66.

A week after coming runner-up at the Women’s PGA Championship major, Park was consoled with her seventh LPGA Tour victory.

She was not thrilled with her front nine on Sunday — two birdies and a bogey — but four birdies on the inward half sealed the deal.

“My round today didn’t go as well as I thought it would,” she said. “I knew that it was important to make a lot of birdies on the front nine.

“There were a lot of opportunities that I missed but I talked with my caddie, and we both said there’s still a lot of hope left, and we waited.”

The 25-year-old is the third double LPGA winner this season, joining compatriot Ko Jin-young and Canadian Brooke Henderson.

Park is projected to displace Ko atop the world rankings, according to the LPGA.

Formula One's young guns offer a vision of the future

Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc are already hailed as future superstars of Formula One but Sunday’s battle of the 21-year-olds in Austria was the clearest glimpse yet of what might lie ahead.

Throw McLaren’s 19-year-old British rookie Lando Norris into the youthful mix as well and the sport looks set on a glittering course.

All three put in standout performances throughout the weekend at Spielberg to put more established drivers into the shade.

Ferrari’s Leclerc and Red Bull’s Verstappen thrilled the crowd with a wheel-banging, race-deciding battle in the closing laps.

They were the youngest top two finishers in F1 history and Verstappen, a six times race winner, had never before stepped up to the top step of the podium without having at least one champion on a lower rung.

Finland’s Valtteri Bottas, at 29 the old man on podium, finished third for Mercedes.

Leclerc’s three previous podium finishes, all third places, were with Bottas’s five times world champion team mate Lewis Hamilton taking the winner’s trophy. This was new territory for both youngsters.

Ferrari’s four times champion Sebastian Vettel, 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, now with Alfa Romeo, and Hamilton had to settle for whatever points they could get in the Styrian sunshine.

The late collision between the Red Bull and Ferrari, ruled a racing incident by stewards, and their differing opinions over the fairness of it also injected an early bit of needle into the fledgling rivalry.

Hamilton, who made his debut as a 22-year-old but is now 34, welcomed the rise of the next generation.

“I’ll go and fight the young ‘uns, man!” he said after qualifying between pole-sitter Leclerc and third placed Verstappen, who moved up to the front row after the Briton was handed a grid penalty. 

“It’s cool. I’m representing for the more grown men I guess.”

While Leclerc and Verstappen kept the fans, many thousands in Dutch orange, on the edge of their seats, Norris also impressed.

Starting fifth, he vaulted up to third at the start and passed Hamilton in a bold move around the outside at the first corner.

Driving a car that was no match for Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull’s challengers, he dropped back but not without giving Vettel, Verstappen and Raikkonen — the oldest driver on the grid — a fight.

Finishing an impressive sixth, his display in Austria came a week after a gritty drive into the points in a hydraulically hobbled McLaren that won him the “Driver of the Day” accolade at the French Grand Prix.

“I was sceptical at first. I thought ‘so young, can he cope with the pressure?’,” Britain’s 1996 world champion and Sky Sports television pundit Damon Hill said of Norris’s season so far.

“Not a hint of it ... he stayed out of trouble, as he said he wanted to do, and he got the result.”

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