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Novak Djokovic and his wife Jelena have tested negative for coronavirus nine days after testing positive.

The world number one, along with Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki, all returned positive tests after playing at the Adria Tour event.

"Novak Djokovic and his wife Jelena tested negative for Covid-19, as the most recent test they took in Belgrade showed," said a statement.

"They felt no symptoms and took the test after consulting with doctors."

The statement from the 17-time Grand Slam winner's management team added: "They spent the past 10 days in self-isolation upon returning from Zadar (in Croatia), having adhered to all Covid-19 protocols and safety measures."

The exhibition event, the opening leg of which was staged at Djokovic's Belgrade tennis complex in mid-June, saw packed stands and players hugging at the net, playing basketball, posing for pictures and attending news conferences together.

The second leg was held in Zadar from 20-21 June.

The players did not break any government protocols, as neither Serbia nor Croatia required the athletes to maintain any social distancing.

However, Djokovic, who was heavily criticised for staging the event, issued an apology, saying he was extremely sorry for the harm that had been caused.

Ambitious Maldives placing its trust in youth

Published in Table Tennis
Thursday, 02 July 2020 10:20

In January this year, the Table Tennis Association of Maldives received a special guest in ITTF President Thomas Weikert. Holding meetings with several important figures during his visit, Thomas and the association held constructive talks focused on a number of subjects, one of which was the country’s youth development.

Many countries are beginning to turn their attention to younger players since the emergence of the likes of Tomokazu Harimoto and Mima Ito in recent years. Meanwhile, the odd promising player is beginning to find its way into senior teams in many countries, the situation in Maldives is even more ambitious with three of the country’s top five female representatives in the world rankings still in their teenage years!

One player in particular outlines Maldives’ brave vision for the future with Fathimath Dheema Ali standing front and centre. Only 12 years of age, Fathimath is the country’s highest ranked player on the international stage at position no.376 in the world – a terrific achievement considering how far she has come since her historic outing at the Liebherr 2018 World Team Championships.

No world ranking to her name at the time, Fathimath made headlines at the tournament in Halmstad as she led Maldives’ third division challenge. Fathimath was the youngest player on duty at the event, aged just 10 at the time!

“I have learned a lot from competing in Sweden particularly on the need to work hard as well as believing in myself.” Fathimath Dheema Ali.

Fathimath wasn’t the only bright young spark in Maldives’ player line-up. Aishath Rafa Nazim, aged just 14 at the time, made her second World Championships appearance in 2018 having debuted at the event two years earlier. Maldives finished 71st overall in Halmstad, but much progress has been made since.

Competing at the 2019 South Asian Games in Nepal, eyes were understandably fixed upon the Indian table tennis contingent who were widely tipped to collect gold, a feat they achieved with flying colours winning seven gold and five silver medals. However, another headline-making act came courtesy of Maldives’ women’s team.

Playing with an air of freedom and exuberance, Maldives enjoyed a historic campaign in Kathmandu with the team claiming its first-ever table tennis medal at the event, finishing third. Offering the younger generation a chance to thrive, Maldives is beginning to reap the rewards.

Exciting times lie ahead for Maldivian table tennis, this could be the start of something very special indeed!

Tri-Track Modifieds Get On Track Sunday At Monadnock

Published in Racing
Thursday, 02 July 2020 10:00

SEEKONK, Mass. – Two months delayed due to COVID-19, the Tri-Track Open Modified Series season hits full speed Sunday at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, N.H.

Celebrating Independence Day weekend, the Tri-Track tour will headline a full day of racing at the high-banked oval with a 100-lap feature. More than 30 drivers have already placed their order for tires and are set to compete with a field full of the top stars in modified racing.

Due to COVID-19, and per guidance from the state of New Hampshire, Monadnock Speedway will run at 50 percent capacity for the event in the grandstands. Teams are restricted to 10 crew members per team and all social distancing and safe health practices will be in place to keep teams, drivers, staff and fans safe. Race fans who can’t make it to the track can purchase the race live on Speed51.com.

The purse for Monadnock has risen to more than $40,000 in total prizes, with $6,000 up for grabs to the winner. Heat and consi races will each pay $300 to win courtesy of Pepsi, with the brand-new Pepsi challenge. A contingency program with select additional awards is also up for grabs. None of the purse has changed since prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following Monadnock, the remainder of the schedule remains in place – with stops at Star Speedway (July 25), Monadnock (Aug. 15) and Seekonk Speedway (Aug. 26 & Oct. 24) still planned.

“Getting the 2020 season off the ground is something we are excited about,” said Wayne Darling, Managing Partner of the Tri-Track Open Modified Series. “We have a stout field of cars set to compete on Sunday and we thank Monadnock for working with us to reschedule our event to Sunday and give everyone the best chance to see some great Modified racing.”

Former Tri-Track champions Ronnie Williams and Matt Hirschman top the list of favorites to compete for the checkered flag on Sunday. Modified stars Chase Dowling, Matt Swanson, Woody Pitkat, Blake Barney, Craig Lutz, Ron Silk and Anthony Nocella are also expected to run for the win. Tri-Track veterans Les Hinckley, Richard Savary, Tommy Barrett and Kirk Alexander are also heading to New Hampshire.

The field includes a mix of Tri-Track stars, along with regulars from the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Race of Champions Tour and Modified Racing Series, along with Monadnock Speedway Sportsman Modified division regulars. Brian Robie, current Monadnock weekly points leader, along with Matt Kimball and Ben Byrne have filed entries to compete with Tri Track. Rising modified stars Joey Cipriano, Calvin Carroll, Derek Robbie, Jacob Perry, Ryan Doucette, Dana DiMatteo, and more, are also expected.

VIDEO: Discussing The Knoxville Nationals Postponement

Published in Racing
Thursday, 02 July 2020 10:37

Days removed from the postponement of the 60th Knoxville Nationals at Knoxville Raceway, SPEED SPORT’s Ralph Sheheen caught up with Knoxville Raceway Director of Marketing Kendra Jacobs to find out what led up to the decision to push the 60th running of the event to 2021.

Team Stokes 233 (Crawley 43, Robinson 2-7) lead Team Buttler 287 for 5 dec by 54 runs

England allrounder Sam Curran is awaiting the results of a Covid-19 test after being placed in self-isolation at the Ageas Bowl, casting a shadow over the second day of the intra-squad clash.

On the pitch, the battle for bowling places intensified as Jos Buttler's team, who declared on their day one score of 287 for 5, dismissed Ben Stokes' side for 233 at stumps.

Buttler's hand was strengthened by Jofra Archer and Mark Wood's first-ever appearance together in red-ball cricket and the pair offered a promising glimpse of what they might be capable of in tandem.

Injury has kept the country's quickest bowlers apart since both played key roles in England's World Cup victory last year, but midway through the morning session they teamed up for a promising eight-over spell that cost just seven runs and yielded the wicket of opener Dom Sibley for 12.

Archer banked the scalp, caught behind flicking the ball down leg-side, but the pair hunted together to unsettle Sibley with pacey short-pitched bowling. Wood might just as easily have been the one celebrating moments earlier, forcing Sibley to fend awkwardly to Ollie Pope, who squandered the chance at short leg.

Wood returned in the afternoon session to take Jonny Bairstow's outside edge with the first ball of his second spell and finished with spotless figures of 1 for 14 from 11 overs, while Archer returned 2 for 37 after adding Ben Foakes for 38. He received treatment for sore feet late on, understood to be a result of wearing new bowling boots, and was replaced by Surrey's Amar Virdi - the 29th player involved in the match.

Sussex seamer Ollie Robinson also offered a reminder of his skills, bowling with precision as he accounted for Moeen Ali and Lewis Gregory in a double-wicket maiden.

Stuart Broad could find himself vulnerable to the growing competition, with the fetching white bandana he wore over his lockdown hair more eye-catching than his figures of 0 for 42.

Moeen's dismissal, lbw for 5, followed a peripheral role with the ball on Wednesday and his hopes of a first Test appearance in a year appear to be receding. Instead, Dom Bess is well placed to hold his place in the side. He bowled more tightly than either Moeen or Jack Leach managed on Wednesday and took a key wicket when he had Keaton Jennings caught at slip before lunch.

Zak Crawley top-scored with 43, a positive innings strewn with neat drives, before he nicked Chris Woakes - yet another able seamer vying for attention. Stokes made his way to 41, and doled out Bess' only real punishment when he launched him for six and four in the same over, before he was stumped charging Matt Parkinson.

Bulked-up Griz rookie Morant ready after hiatus

Published in Basketball
Thursday, 02 July 2020 11:56

Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant, the Rookie of the Year frontrunner, feels like he's really ready to take off after making physical improvements during the NBA's hiatus.

Morant, who is listed at 6-foot-3, 175 pounds, said he added 12 pounds of bulk during the three-plus-month break. He also believes his right knee, which was repaired in a minor arthroscopic surgery last June, is stronger now than it has been throughout a rookie campaign highlighted by several spectacular dunks.

"My knee's feeling way better -- no pain," Morant said during a virtual media availability Thursday. "I actually feel like I'm Ieaving the floor easier and jumping higher. I've just been taking this time to focus on my body, make sure everything's feeling good, so when I go out and play I'll be fine."

Morant, who has averaged 17.6 points and 6.9 assists per game for the surprising Grizzlies, said adding strength has always been a top priority in his development. He has seen the benefits of the added strength during regular pickup games he played in the Memphis area during the hiatus.

"I'm stronger, can absorb contact and those things," Morant said. "Able to use my body more, get through different screens. That's what I was looking to build going to Orlando, to be able to do the things that I've been doing before but better."

Morant, who will miss his daughter's first birthday due to competing in the Walt Disney World bubble, welcomes speculation he's heard that the Grizzlies will lose their grasp of the Western Conference's final playoff spots.

Memphis (32-33), which was expected to endure a rebuilding season with its young roster, has a 3½-game lead over the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings in the race for eighth place. If the ninth-place team is within four games after the eight-game seeding portion of the schedule, there will be play-in games. In that case, the ninth-place team would have to beat the eighth-place team in two straight games to claim the final playoff seed.

"We've been motivated by the doubters all season long," Morant said. "We'll just go out and continue to play our game; don't live and die by the game. Just play together and try to come out with the win. We've been doing that. We're in the 8 position right now, so going into Orlando, it's just more motivation, fuel to our fire."

DeRozan: Bubble rules 'frustrating, overwhelming'

Published in Basketball
Thursday, 02 July 2020 11:56

Along with the plan to restart the season, the NBA included a 113-page health and safety manual distributed to teams and players, which featured protocols such as maintaining 6 feet of separation in every setting outside of practices and games. That means while players can set screens on each other and wrestle for a loose ball, simple things, such as doubles pingpong, won't be allowed.

"The pingpong thing is ridiculous, to be honest," San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan said on Thursday. "Guys can't do this, but we can do this and battle over each other? That part just don't make no sense to me. I got through 10 lines of the handbook and just put it down because it became so frustrating and overwhelming at times, because you just never thought you'd be in a situation of something like this. So it's hard to process at times."

According to the NBA, the manual was based on guidance from public health authorities, and even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite the quirks -- another rule is that each deck of cards has to be thrown away after using -- the NBA's restart protocols and attention to detail have been praised by outside medical professionals.

"I actually have looked at that plan, and it's really quite creative what they are really trying to do," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "I think they might very well be successful with it, to create a situation where it is as safe as it possibly could be for the players by creating this bubble."

With the isolation and other frustrating elements the players will have to deal with, one area of concern is their mental well-being. DeRozan is a vocal advocate for mental health and noted that's an area he's focused on for both himself and other players.

"Definitely been something in play that's being discussed is mental well-being for everybody," he said. "That will definitely be an option for guys, to be able to have resources there to stay on top of that. Because that's definitely going to be a new challenge for us all.

"It's tough. You're taking guys that have been with their families every single day for the last few months and all of sudden, separating everybody into this one confined space and taking away a lot of joyful things we do outside of basketball. ... It'll be something for every single player when it comes to mental health."

On Wednesday, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard expressed doubt about players sticking to the protocols in the bubble. There will be recreational activities and other things to try to occupy free time, but the isolation and confinement will be a hurdle, DeRozan said. As for him, he doesn't plan to pass the time playing video games and watching movies.

"I haven't played video games since I was 16," he said. "You definitely have the opportunity to educate yourself on whatever new topic that you want to learn, so for me it's always about finding some way to self-educate myself with something, whether that's picking five new books, finding something new to study. Kind of put yourself through a side hustle of school, of self-education to keep yourself busy."

Brooklyn Nets center Jarrett Allen was asked Thursday if he was worried about the NBA's ability to keep players safe in the bubble.

"I think for everybody, including myself, there's a little bit of worry," he said. "We're all going into an unknown. But at the end of the day I have no doubt that the two powerhouses, Disney and the NBA, are coming up with the best solution for us. Obviously, there's a little doubt in my mind. We're all human. But I'm confident in them."

Indiana Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis, who was a member of the Lithuanian Olympic national team during the 2016 Summer Olympics, compared the NBA's bubble in Orlando to that of an Olympic village.

"In the Olympic location, it's the same thing. They just call it the Olympic village," Sabonis said. "Basically with every athlete, in that village, it kind of sucks. If you want, you can go out, but really it's not recommended. Everybody's going to eat in the same place, everybody's going to live in the same place and it definitely has that kind of feel.

"I'm used to it. I've been in that many times growing up, although [with] European and world championships it's the same thing. You're all in one area and you're on lockdown."

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is from Greece, shared a similar perspective on the bubble on Wednesday.

"I have done that in Europe. Obviously, it's kind of European style, like a FIBA tournament, going to a hotel, staying there for, not two weeks, three weeks, staying there for a little bit longer, that's the goal," Antetokounmpo said. "But at the end of the day, I think the most important thing that I asked -- is it gonna be safe?

"And I know the NBA and the NBPA worked together to make this place as safe as possible. And I trust them. At the end of the day, we've gotta do our job; and I know the NBA's gonna do their job, and the NBPA are gonna do their job too -- keep us as safe as possible to make this transition as easy as possible for us."

ESPN's Nick Friedell and Eric Woodyard contributed to this report.

Hitting coach Davis will not attend Mets workouts

Published in Baseball
Thursday, 02 July 2020 12:03

Hitting coach Chili Davis will not be at Citi Field when the New York Mets resume their preseason workouts on Friday.

Manager Luis Rojas confirmed that Davis, 60, who signed a two-year deal with the Mets to come back as the team's hitting coach last winter, will not be attending workouts in person, and his presence during regular season games this abbreviated 2020 season is also questionable.

"Chili will be working remotely with us," Rojas said in a videoconference call Thursday afternoon. "He'll be helping out the players; helping out the coaching staff. He won't be (with us) at the start of camp. The timing for him to join us is uncertain, but he will be working remotely."

Rojas stated that every other Mets coach and every player in their 60-man pool has reported to camp and initiated the intake protocols and COVID-19 testing process. The Mets will resume their "spring training" workouts Friday at Citi Field in Flushing.

"I think we're gonna get the best of Chili, whether he's with us as the start of camp or whether he's working remotely," Rojas said. "We're in constant communication. Chili and I practically talk every day. He's in communication with the rest of the coaches like (assistant hitting coach) Tom Slater. (Hitting coordinator) Ryan Ellis is going to be filling in for him; he's going to be assisting Slater."

Last year was Davis' first season with the club, and he had immediate impact. The Mets had a .257 batting average as a team, which tied them for 10th overall -- with the defending NL champion Dodgers.

Davis was the Oakland Athletics' hitting coach in 2012-14 before serving in the same role in Boston (2015-17). The Chicago Cubs then hired him under manager Joe Maddon, where he lasted just one season.

"Chili is going to be helping us," Rojas explained. "He's a great asset. He's got great knowledge, great experience. He helps the players with the hitting, with playing the game. He helps the coaches as well with his view of the game. He's going to add all that experience and repertoire that he can bring to the table."

Rojas also discussed the challenges of playing a 60-game season with the extensive health and safety protocols that will be required.

"It's challenging times," he said. "We started living this in baseball since March, and we are educating ourselves, we are educating the players and we're in constant communication. We're very optimistic that we're going to come into camp, finish the intake process, go through camp, get into the season, and finish it. We know it's challenging. We have an uncertain future. We've seen it in the last few months, it's just tough to predict some things, but we're definitely getting prepared to go ahead and face it."

French Open organisers estimate up to 60% of the usual capacity will be allowed inside Roland Garros when the rescheduled event is held in September.

A maximum of four people will be able to sit together on the main courts with an empty seat between groups.

On the other courts, one seat out of two will be empty when the main tournament starts on 27 September.

The US Open is being held without any spectators in attendance in New York from 31 August to 13 September.

Wimbledon was cancelled this year for the first time since World War Two because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The French Open was postponed from its usual May-June dates and French federation president Bernard Giudicelli said about 20,000 spectators are expected during the early stages of the two-week Grand Slam, with around 10,000 on the day of the final.

Those numbers could still change if the French government revises its current social distancing rules.

Of the show courts at Roland Garros, Court Philippe-Chatrier's usual capacity is 15,500, so a 60% capacity would allow more than 9,000 fans in.

Court Suzanne-Lenglen usually holds 10,068, while Court Simonne-Mathieu seats up to 5,000.

A record 520,000 fans attended last year's event.

"We went for the responsible option," said Giudicelli, who added that wearing a protective mask would be mandatory for people moving around inside the grounds, while it would only be recommended for people sitting courtside.

"Should the situation evolve in the right direction, new tickets would be available in September," he added.

Twelve-time champion Rafael Nadal is the reigning men's champion, with world number one Ashleigh Barty the women's champion, having won her first Grand Slam last year.

With rugby in the rest of the world on hold, Super Rugby Aotearoa - New Zealand's domestic offshoot of the usual southern hemisphere Super Rugby tournament - has attracted more eyeballs than usual.

And one player in particular has been raising the eyebrows above them.

Hoskins Sotutu only made his debut for the Auckland-based Blues at the tail-end of their 2019 campaign.

But the uncapped 21-year-old number eight's hard running, soft hands and all-court excellence have been a fixture of his team's 100% record so far in the tournament.

Born and raised in New Zealand, he also qualifies for Fiji though his father and England though his mother.

According to the Daily Telegraph, his eligibility has prompted coach Eddie Jones to start investigating whether he could be convinced to represent England.

Why is Sotutu so highly rated?

Sotutu's stats from the early rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa are stratospherically high for a relative rookie.

He has made the highest number of tackles and offloads in the tournament. He is fourth in the standings for carries and similarly placed in the number of line-outs won.

But his quality is clearest in select moments rather than particular stats.

Whether it is the delicious cut-out pass to free Mark Telea for a score against the Chiefs or a deft outside-of-the-foot grubber to set up a score against the Waratahs, his highlights reel is growing fast.

His dexterity stems from his upbringing. His father, Waisake Sotutu, represented the Blues as a winger and guided his son as a teenage back.

Sotutu junior, who would attempt to recreate the signature swallow dive of Fiji-born All Black winger Joe Rokocoko as a young player, only switched into the forwards aged 16.

Why would England want him?

Jones has not yet hit upon a settled back-row combination, with number eight being particularly difficult to fill.

Billy Vunipola was the man in possession throughout 2019, but suffered a fourth broken arm in the space of two years in January.

Tom Curry, usually a flanker, stepped in for the 2020 Six Nations but may not be a long-term solution. Wasps' Nathan Hughes seems to have fallen out of favour.

Exeter's Sam Simmonds and Harlequins' Alex Dombrandt both have significant supporters but don't seem to count Jones among them, while Saracens' Ben Earl is yet to be given an international start.

While Sotutu's English heritage would mean he would be immediately available to Eddie Jones under World Rugby rules, the Rugby Football Union's own requirement that England players play their club rugby in England barring "exceptional circumstances" would necessitate a move to the Premiership.

New Zealand, who Sotutu played for at under-20 level, will be particularly alert to the situation after long-time number eight Kieran Read retired last year.

Fiji - for whom Sotutu's father won 12 caps, including against England at the 1999 World Cup - would surely have an emotional pull.

"Whatever is next will come," he told the Weekend Herald last month. "When the decision comes, it will come easy."

Analysis

BBC rugby union correspondent Chris Jones

Eddie Jones has form when it comes to raiding New Zealand's Super Rugby, with Piers Francis and Brad Shields both selected for England before they had played a minute in the Premiership, while the England boss did similar with Ben Te'o back in 2016.

However, while Francis was a handy squad player at the World Cup and Shields never let himself down in his fleeting England career, neither have really made a mark.

Sotutu might well be capable of making more of an impact at the top level, but it is nonetheless a stretch to see him running out at Twickenham any time soon. While the financial lure (around £25,000 per game) of playing for England would tempt anyone - as Nathan Hughes outlined a few years back - cash-strapped Premiership clubs have done their contract dealings already for the next year, and are unlikely for some time to have either the money in their bank accounts or the space in their salary caps to bring in big-name imports.

While it is hard to see it happening, until Sotutu pulls on an All Blacks or Fiji jersey, it is one to watch with interest. But whether England and the Rugby Football Union should be looking to New Zealand, given the wealth of playing talent on their doorstep, is another matter altogether.

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