Marquez back in the saddle after surgery

MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez has got back on a bike in Spain for the first time since he had major shoulder surgery in December.

Honda said in a statement on Friday that the 25-year-old, a five times MotoGP champion including the last three, had tried out a practice bike near his home in eastern Spain to see if his shoulder was ready.

The first pre-season test at Malaysia’s Sepang circuit starts on Feb. 6.

“I needed this,” said Marquez, who has a new team mate this year in compatriot and three times MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo.

“Riders in general need to have their minds clear. At least on the trip to Malaysia, which is 14 hours long, I will be thinking I have ridden a bike, got on the brakes, felt the throttle and the clutch.

“We have done a few laps that have helped me to see where things are.”

Marquez said the force while braking, particularly at left-handed corners where he had to support his left shoulder, was problematic.

“That is where we have to continue working, have patience in Malaysia and get to March at full fitness,” he said. The season starts in Qatar on March 10.

Lorenzo will miss the Sepang test after undergoing wrist surgery this month.

Liverpool fans want title badly but must be patient, says Virgil van Dijk

Virgil van Dijk said he could feel the nervousness of the Anfield crowd during Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Leicester on Wednesday but believes it unnecessary with 14 games of the title race remaining.

The restiveness of the home support was noticeable as Liverpool missed an opportunity to go seven points clear of Manchester City in dropping points against a team outside the Premier League top six for the first time this season.

Van Dijk insists the atmosphere did not affect him but, with a five-point lead and four months of the campaign to go, said now is not the time for impatience.

Asked whether Anfield felt nervous, he said: “It sounded like it.” Did it transmit to him? “Not to me,” he replied. “You get that feeling as well from the crowd and I think it’s not really necessary at the moment. But everyone wants to win so bad and that’s what we want as well. But sometimes you need to be very patient.”

Van Dijk denied Liverpool’s desperation for a first league title in 29 years will complicate matters for Jürgen Klopp’s team as the run-in progresses.

“I don’t think so. In the end it’s all about showing on the pitch and we’re not going to be affected by that. We want everyone to cheer us on and keep pushing even if we have tough moments, even if we’re 1-0 down or maybe more. We just need everyone to pull in the same direction and keep going, that’s the only way forward.”

Courtesy: The Guardian

All roads lead to Madrid as new Davis Cup era dawns

The Davis Cup starts a new era this weekend as the revamped team competition kicks off with 12 qualifying-round ties spread across the globe to decide which nations progress to November’s finals week in Madrid.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) believe the new structure, which will culminate with 18 nations battling it out in the Spanish capital as a climax to the season, will breathe new life into an event first held in 1900.

Change is rarely smooth though, and already some of the old problems are resurfacing with several big names notable by their absence while critics of the new format have again been vocal.

With last year’s semi-finalists — Croatia, France, Spain and the United States — exempted to the Davis Cup Finals week, and Britain and Argentina handed wildcards, this week’s action will decide the 12 remaining spots.

Switzerland and Serbia are both in action, at home to Russia and away to Uzbekistan respectively, but they will have to do without Roger Federer and newly-crowned Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic who are both unavailable.

Austria, who host Chile in Salzburg, will be missing world number eight Dominic Thiem who has cited health reasons for his withdrawal from the team.

Of the current ATP top 10 only Alexander Zverev is in action this week, spearheading Germany’s home clash with Hungary.

While the popular ‘home-away’ format is retained for the qualifiers, the ties have been shortened to two days with two singles on Friday and a doubles plus two singles on Saturday.

Matches will be played over best-of-three sets not best of five — a move designed to lighten the load.

This weekend’s matches will be the last chance for teams to play in front of a partisan home crowd, apart from Spain who are hosting the Nov. 18-24 finals.

HEWITT CRITICAL

Australia captain Lleyton Hewitt has already weighed in with his thoughts on the changes — criticising the involvement of Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique’s investment company Kosmos in the revamped Davis Cup format.

The ITF signed a 25-year $3 billion deal with Kosmos with the changes being voted in last August.

“He (Pique) knows nothing about tennis,” Hewitt told reporters on Tuesday before his side’s home tie against Bosnia Herzegovina. “It’d be like me asking to change things for the Champions League.

“The two biggest points of difference were, one, the home and away aspect of it and, secondly, (it) was the best of five sets. If you look at the pinnacle of our sport, which are the four majors, they’re best of five sets. “Having (the finals) in one place is ridiculous.” Kosmos declined to comment on Hewitt’s remarks.

ITF president David Haggerty says he is excited about the new format and that having a soccer World Cup-style event in one host city will open up the sport to new markets and fan bases and generate more TV revenue streams.

He argues that the few people outside Croatia and France would have watched last year’s final, won by Croatia, in Lille.

A further fly in the ointment is the ATP Cup — a team event to be launched in Australia next January — although the proof of the pudding will be how the Madrid showpiece is received.

While some nations are weakened this week, Russia can call on world number 11 Karen Khachanov and 16th ranked Daniil Medvedev, who reached the Australian Open last 16, against a Swiss side missing Federer and Stan Wawrinka.

Exciting talent Denis Shapovalov plays for Canada in Slovakia, while China and Japan meet in the competition for the first time in 10 years, although Kei Nishikori is missing for the Japanese.

 

Sharapova withdraws from St Petersburg with shoulder injury

Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova withdrew from her second-round match at the WTA St Petersburg Ladies Trophy on Wednesday because of a shoulder injury, tournament organisers said.

“Sharapova is withdrawing from her match today due to a right shoulder injury,” the WTA St Petersburg Ladies Trophy 2019 wrote on Twitter.

Sharapova, 31, had been set to play fellow Russian Daria Kasatkina, the third seed in the tournament, in the second round. Kasatkina wins by walkover, organisers said.

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion who rarely takes part in tournaments in Russia, had earned her first WTA win in the country in more than a decade on Monday by defeating Australia’s Daria Gavrilova in straight sets.

Hewitt flays 'ridiculous' changes to Davis Cup format

Australia’s Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt has criticised Barcelona soccer player Gerard Pique and his Spanish investment group Kosmos for making sweeping changes to the 119-year-old tennis competition.

The Davis Cup will be revamped to create a tennis World Cup after the International Tennis Federation (ITF) signed a 25-year $3 billion deal with Kosmos where the home-away system will be replaced by an 18-team tournament played over a week in Madrid.

The new format will have the usual five sets reduced to three and Hewitt believes it was “ridiculous” to make so many changes to the sport’s premier international tournament.

“He (Pique) knows nothing about tennis. It’d be like me asking to change things for the Champions League,” Hewitt told reporters ahead of Australia’s Davis Cup qualifier against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

“The two biggest points of difference were, one, the home and away aspect of it and, secondly, was the best of five sets. If you look at the pinnacle of our sport, which are the four majors, they’re best of five sets.”

Former world number one Hewitt is also not in favour of playing the entire tournament at a single venue, saying it was an idea that would not work in tennis.

“Having it at one place I think is ridiculous, I don’t think many of the top players will play,” he added. “They’re basically running the ITF and a soccer league is the main sponsor of the Davis Cup.”

Australia play their Davis Cup qualifier against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Adelaide on Friday and Saturday.

Murray undergoes hip surgery in London

Former world number one Andy Murray has undergone a hip resurfacing surgery in London, the 31-year-old Scot said on Tuesday.

Murray has struggled to regain form since undergoing hip surgery last year and was knocked out in the first round of the Australian Open earlier this month, having said the tournament could be his last as a professional.

His post on Instagram featured an X-ray picture of his hip. “I now have a metal hip,” Murray wrote in his post.

“Feeling a bit battered and bruised just now but hopefully that will be the end of my hip pain.”

In an emotional news conference in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open, Murray announced he would retire this year, preferably after a farewell appearance at Wimbledon.

The two-time Olympic champion told BBC this month that surgery was the only option if he wanted to extend his career.

“There is a strong possibility I won’t come back and play after an operation. I want to play tennis, but not with the hip I have right now,” he said.

The ATP Tour posted a tweet in support for Murray: “Get well soon Andy, we know you will do everything to get back on tour!”

Three-time Grand Slam Murray initially had surgery on his right hip in January 2018 and has played 15 matches since returning to action last June.

He was due to play in next month’s Marseille Open but withdrew from the tournament last week.

Former Williams F1 driver Sirotkin to race at Le Mans

Former Williams Formula One driver Sergey Sirotkin will race in the World Endurance Championship, including the Le Mans 24 Hours in June, for the remainder of the season, organisers said on Tuesday.

The Russian has joined SMP Racing in their number 17 LMP1 car alongside compatriot Egor Orudzhev and Frenchman Stephane Sarrazin for the rounds at Sebring, Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans.

It will be Sirotkin’s second time at Le Mans after competing there in 2017.

He lost his seat at struggling former champions Williams at the end of last season after a difficult rookie campaign in which he scored just one point from 21 races.

After New York drama, Osaka savours Australian coronation

With a resilience forged in the strife-torn U.S. Open final, Naomi Osaka clinched her second Grand Slam title at the Australian Open on Saturday, but this time there was no drama that could sour her triumph.

Osaka’s breakthrough victory in New York in September was overshadowed by an explosive row between her opponent Serena Williams and the chair umpire Carlos Ramos, the fall-out from the ruckus echoing well beyond match point.

Reduced to tears during the trophy ceremony, her crowning moment as Japan’s first Grand Slam title winner was spoiled as a hostile crowd at Arthur Ashe stadium jeered.

She later spoke of the moment as “bittersweet” and one she wanted to move on from only a day after it occurred.

On Saturday, the tears flowed again, firstly in anguish after losing the second set in a riveting final and finally in joy as she celebrated a 7-6(2) 5-7 6-4 victory over the brave twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.

There was not an ounce of bitterness as Osaka accepted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup from Asia’s first Grand Slam champion Li Na, with only warm cheers ringing from the Rod Laver Arena terraces.

“In New York, most of the crowd was for Serena. Here it felt like they were split a little bit,” Osaka told reporters.

“Yeah, I mean, honestly when I was playing her, and I heard the crowd was for both of us, I was very happy. At the same time I was just trying to focus on playing the match.”

Being Osaka, there was also a bit of awkwardness.

The 21-year-old started her victory speech by apologising for not being a strong “public speaker”, then stopped halfway through to put the trophy down.

After throwing out a few ‘thank yous’, she admitted to forgetting what had been in her speech notes and wrapped things up quickly.

Osaka might be forgiven for not being the most polished speaker. After all, it was only the third title of her career.

That two of the three titles have been at Grand Slams speaks volumes of her potential, however, and she appears set for plenty more chances to hone her speeches.

Her racket, of course, may be the tour’s biggest loudspeaker, with the boom of her 192 km/hr serves and winners echoing around centre court.

Such power can be volatile over the course of three sets and she was brought to tears when broken serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set.

But, as against semi-finalist Karolina Pliskova and her tricky third round opponent Hsieh Su-wei, Osaka’s steel reappeared and she hammered eighth seed Kvitova mercilessly until she was broken.

With the win Osaka became Asia’s first world number one and the first player of any nation to win her first two Grand Slam titles back-to-back since Jennifer Capriati in 2001.

On the strength of Saturday’s final, more major silverware may be just around the corner.

Osaka spoke of a tournament where she had found the ability to win on “will power alone”, a quality regularly attributed to Williams throughout her career of 23 Grand Slam titles.

“For me, I feel like it hasn’t really sunk in. Maybe in the next tournament I play, if I see the number one next to my name, I’ll feel something,” she said.

“But for now, I’m more happy that I won this trophy.”

Devastating Djokovic claims record seventh Australian title

Novak Djokovic claimed a record seventh Australian Open crown in devastating style on Sunday as he condemned Rafa Nadal to the most stinging defeat in their long Grand Slam rivalry.

Three years after thrashing Andy Murray for the 2016 trophy, the Serbian regained his Melbourne Park throne with a 6-3 6-2 6-3 procession, clinching his 15th Grand Slam title and third in succession.

Moving past Pete Sampras into outright third on the all-time list of Grand Slam winners, Djokovic will head to Roland Garros looking for a second “Nole Slam”, having already swept all four majors in 2015-16.

Only Federer’s 20 and Nadal’s 17 outstrip Djokovic’s tally of Grand Slam trophies, but on the strength of the champion’s virtuoso performance at Rod Laver Arena, they will be looking nervously over their shoulders.

It was a win that left even Djokovic marvelling, seven years after needing a record five hours and 53 minutes to fell the Spaniard in the 2012 classic at Melbourne Park.

“It ranks right at the top. Under the circumstances, playing against Nadal, such an important match, it’s amazing,” the 31-year-old told reporters after needing barely two hours to extend his perfect record in seven Australian Open finals.

The peerless Serb broke Nadal five times while conceding only a single break point, and coughed up only four unforced errors in the first two sets.

Sealing the win when a desperate Nadal fired a backhand long, Djokovic kneeled on the blue hardcourt and shook his fists at the sky.

He moved past Federer and Australian great Roy Emerson’s six Melbourne titles, after two barren years Down Under with elbow problems.

After raising the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup aloft, Djokovic said American Sampras had inspired him to pick up a racket.

“It was definitely a sign of destiny to start playing tennis, to aspire to be as good as Pete. To surpass him with Grand Slam titles, I’m speechless,” he said.

Blitzed from the start, Nadal could only congratulate an opponent that condemned him to his worst Grand Slam defeat in their long rivalry.

“It has been very emotional two weeks. Even if tonight was not my best, I had somebody that played much better,” said the 32-year-old.

“I am going to keep fighting hard, going to keep working hard to be a better player every time, for the good things in life.”

TOTAL DOMINANCE

It was a greater humbling than even the quarter-finals of the 2015 French Open, when Djokovic thrashed Nadal 7-5 6-3 6-1 to end his six-year winning streak at his favourite claycourt tournament.

Broken in his first service game on Sunday, it was clear not everything was right with the Spaniard when at 4-2, he swung a forehand and completely missed the ball.

He was unable to take a point off Djokovic’s serve until the ninth game, when the Serb was already serving for the first set.

Nadal’s remodelled serve was clinically dismantled, and he punched his racket strings in frustration after giving up two break points in the fourth game of the second.

The Serb threw a fiery glance at his players’ box after breaking to 5-2 and fired two aces to take a two-set lead.

All business, Djokovic marched back to his seat in silence, without so much as a quiet fist-pump.

Nadal battled on but every piece of magic he produced was outdone by the Serbian sorcerer.

The Spaniard scrambled in to feather a sliced drop-shot over the net, raising premature cheers but Djokovic simply swooped on it and sent an even cleverer drop-shot cross-court.

After further baseline punishment, he broke Nadal for the fourth time, pulling him around like a puppet-master before tripping him up with another drop-shot.

Nadal finally prised a break point in the fifth game of the third but it quickly disappeared in a maelstrom of power hitting.

From there, Djokovic knuckled down to complete one of his most stunning victories.

Firing a forehand down the line to bring up two championship points, he converted the second when Nadal struck a backhand long, and the Serb’s reign over Melbourne was restored with a thunderous chorus of Serbian cheers.

Osaka, Kvitova chase double delight in Melbourne final

The rewards could not get bigger when Petra Kvitova takes on Naomi Osaka in Saturday’s Australian Open final with one of them set to emerge as a fresh champion at Melbourne Park as well as the new world number one.

Four months after stunning 23-times Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in the final of the U.S. Open last September, 21-year-old Osaka is one win away from becoming the first player since Jennifer Capriati to win the next Grand Slam after her maiden major title.

The fourth seed, one of the cleanest strikers of the ball in women’s tennis, is not expecting it to be a cakewalk, especially being pitted against an opponent as aggressive as Osaka and also more experienced with two Wimbledon titles under her belt.

Osaka fought back from a set and 4-1 down against Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei in the third round at Melbourne Park and showed her determination in winning two more three-setters to keep a 13-match victory streak in Grand Slams running.

She will need all of that grit if she hopes to stop Kvitova, who is yet to drop a set en route to her maiden Australian Open final, in their first career meeting.

“I think to have the opportunity to play her for the first time in a final of a Grand Slam is something very amazing,” Osaka told reporters after her semi-final win. “I’ve watched her play the Wimbledon finals.

“I know what a great player she is. It’s definitely going to be very tough for me.”

Kvitova is one match away from capping one of the most inspiring comebacks in the history of the sport, having had to undergo a nearly four-hour surgery on her playing hand in 2016 after being attacked by a knife-wielding intruder at her home in the Czech Republic.

She missed the 2017 tournament at Melbourne Park while recovering from the surgery and it was just not a case of overcoming a physical injury as the attack left an indelible mental scar too.

“I have been in the final of the Grand Slam, but this is a little bit different,” she told reporters on Friday.

“I’m not playing on the grass, but I think it’s just probably a little bit more special because it’s after everything I have been through. So I think it’s just different, but I don’t think it’s, like, more nervous.”

The 28-year-old, currently sixth in the rankings, won the Sydney International warm-up before arriving in Melbourne and has not looked back, having strolled past her opponents in a 11-match winning streak.

Saturday could, however, be a different fight against the big-hitting Osaka, who hammered 56 winners and clubbed 15 aces to defeat another Czech player in Karolina Pliskova.

“I need to play my best tennis, what I can say. I think Naomi is on fire. She’s in very good form,” Kvitova said.

“She’s an aggressive player, which I am, as well. So I think it will be about who gonna take the first point and push the other a little bit.”

With both players evenly matched in their aggressive play and ability to serve big, Kvitova’s coach Jiri Vanek believed the player with the bigger heart will win Saturday’s contest.

Vanek’s opposite number Sascha Bajin believes Osaka’s fitness and mindset will give her the edge in rallies.

The number one ranking will be the cherry on the top for the winner as she will unseat Romanian Simona Halep, who was ousted by Serena Williams in the fourth round, at the top spot of the women’s game on Monday.

It will be a first-ever week as world number one for either players as Osaka is at her career-best ranking at fourth, while Kvitova climbed as high as second during 2011.

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