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Sabalenka 'so bad' on return in Dubai loss to Vekic

Published in Tennis
Tuesday, 20 February 2024 11:40

Aryna Sabalenka's first appearance since winning the Australian Open ended in defeat by Croatia's Donna Vekic at the Dubai Tennis Championships.

Sabalenka lost 12 of the last 13 games as Croatia's Vekic won 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 6-0 in their second-round match.

"The level was so bad from me," said the Belarusian second seed.

World number one Iga Swiatek, who took the Doha title last week, won 6-4 6-4 against Sloane Stephens, while third seed Coco Gauff also progressed.

Gauff, who turns 20 next month, won 6-1 7-5 against Italy's Elisabetta Cocciaretto, but it was far from straightforward to close out for the US Open champion.

With service games proving difficult for both players, Gauff was unable to see out victory at 5-4 but instantly broke back for 6-5 and ended a run of six successive breaks to take her second opportunity.

Gauff will face in-form Czech Karolina Pliskova in the last 16, while Swiatek meets Ukraine's Elina Svitolina with the chance to avenge a defeat in the Wimbledon quarter-finals last year.

The top eight seeds received first-round byes in Dubai, meaning 2022 Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina was among the host of WTA stars playing their opening match on Tuesday.

Rybakina, who won a title in Abu Dhabi before finishing runner-up to Swiatek in Doha, dropped the first set against Victoria Azarenka but won the second before the Belarusian had to quit through injury.

The Kazakh fourth seed plays Poland's Magdalena Frech next, while Vekic's reward is a meeting with Romania's Sorana Cirstea.

'Proud' Murray earns first win of 2024

Published in Tennis
Tuesday, 20 February 2024 10:16

Andy Murray earned his first win of the 2024 season with a superb performance to beat France's Alexandre Muller in the Qatar Open first round.

Britain's Murray ended a six-match losing streak with a 6-1 7-6 (7-5) victory over the world number 75.

A manic celebration showed what it meant to the 36-year-old, who also raised his arms in relief when reminded it was his first victory of the year.

Murray, ranked 50th, plays 18-year-old Czech Jakub Mensik in the second round.

"Obviously the last few months have been tough on the court for me, I've not won many matches and lost a lot of close ones, so I'm delighted to get through," said Murray.

"I'm proud I managed to get through the match, get a win and hopefully this is the start of a better run."

Murray's victory also came in spite of a knee injury which required treatment early in the first set.

Already a break up at 2-0, it looked as though it could be another frustrating day for the former world number one when he felt a tweak in his left knee and asked for a medical timeout after he held for 3-0.

Speaking to the physio on court, the Scot explained he had been feeling pain in the area for a few days and had received treatment for a cyst on his meniscus the day before Tuesday's match.

To his relief he was able to play on unhindered, continuing to show some of the best tennis he has shown in what has been a chastening start to the season.

The anticipation reached its peak today as the draw for the knockout stages of the ITTF World Championships 2024 took place at the Busan Exhibition and Convention Centre (BEXCO).

The draw results have set the stage for thrilling matchups ahead, pitting table tennis powerhouses against contenders in what promises to be a series of intense battles leading up to the round of 16.

In the Womens Teams draw, the host team Korea Republic, along with powerhouses China, France, Germany, Japan, Romania, Hong Kong; China, and Chinese Taipei, have secured direct qualification to the Round of 16 after topping their groups. Those who ranked second and third spots will face off in a Round of 24 playoff starting tomorrow morning.

The draw, held after the conclusion of the Womens Teams Group matches, unveiled a series of thrilling matchups. With Korea Republic aiming high, a potential quarterfinal showdown against reigning champions China adds an extra layer of excitement for fans. Additionally, Luxembourg, led by the experienced legend Xia Lian Ni and Portugal are poised for a rematch, evoking memories of their Round of 16 clash from the ITTF World Team Championships Finals 2022.

In the Mens Teams, similarly China, Japan, Korea Republic, Germany, France, Slovenia, Portugal, and Sweden have secured direct passage to the round of 16. Top-seeded China eagerly anticipates their potential encounter with second-seed Japan in the quarterfinals. However, before setting their sights on that clash, they must first overcome the winner of the intense bout between England and Romania. Meanwhile, Team France inspired by the Lebrun brothers, finds themselves in a favourable position, fuelling their aspirations to make an impression before Paris 2024. In the same half of the draw, Team Sweden aim to capitalise on their strength and target a medal.

As the curtains fell on the group stages, day five of the ITTF World Championships 2024 unleashed a torrent of thrilling battles, leaving fans on the edge of their seats. Yet, the excitement is far from over as tomorrow, 21 February, promises an electrifying showcase of top-tier table tennis, with Olympic berths hanging in the balance for those advancing to the Quarterfinals of the ITTF World Championships Finals 2024.

With up to eight Olympic quota spots in each respective team competition at Paris 2024 up for grabs, the stakes have never been higher. In the mens team event, France, China, Australia, Sweden, Brazil, Canada, and Egypt have already secured their spots, while the womens quotas have been clinched by France, China, Australia, Germany, the United States, Brazil, and Egypt. However, the battle for remaining quotas intensifies, with teams striving to secure their passage to Paris 2024. You can stay updated with the race to Paris 2024 here.

Dont miss out on all the action as the drama unfolds in Busan. Catch the action live on WTTs YouTube Channel and visit the event page to stay updated with everything Busan 2024.

Egypt to stage 2024 World Squash Championships

Published in Squash
Tuesday, 20 February 2024 05:35

Nour El Sherbini will aim to match Nicol Davids record of eight world titles on home soil after Egypt was handed hosting rights for the 2024 world championships in May.

The 2023-24 CIB PSA world championships will be staged between May 9-17, the PSA announced on Tuesday. With only three months to go, the city and venue has yet to be revealed to Squash Mad, although Cairo was stated on the PSA website calendar.

This will be the first worlds there will be a $1.15m prize purse on offer to take place since the Olympic vote last year. And given Egypts stranglehold in the sports biggest showcase, this edition will be an interesting one to forecast who may be a 2028 medal prospect (or even those who may be playing for a different nation).

It will be the third time since 2016 in the mens edition that Egypt has hosted the event and fifth time since 2014 with the womens worlds.

Meanwhile Egyptian men and women have won every championships since 2015, stretching back eight editions.

El Sherbini is searching for an eighth world title and sixth in a row. Should she achieve it, she will equal Davids record, which was achieved over a decade.

PSA chief executive Alex Gough said: Egypt is undoubtedly a powerhouse in the sport, with five players inside the top 10 of both the mens and womens PSA World Rankings, while some of the greatest players in the history of the sport have hailed from the nation. Im sure we will witness an incredible atmosphere.

Its great to have CIB on board as title sponsors once again. We have a fantastic relationship with CIB, whose support for squash in Egypt has been nothing short of incredible. We look forward to working with them in the coming months and to announcing details of the venue for the event soon.

CIB chief executive Hussein Abaza added: The squash community in Egypt is thriving and Im sure that staging the pinnacle of the sport here will help inspire the younger generation, who will be able to cheer on their heroes in person.

RFU debated selling Twickenham and buying Wembley shares

Published in Rugby
Tuesday, 20 February 2024 06:43

The Rugby Football Union considered selling Twickenham and buying a 50% share in Wembley, according to a document seen by the BBC.

The Twickenham Stadium Masterplan Programme (TSMP) revealed that the RFU board discussed the proposal in March last year but no formal approach was made to the Football Association (FA).

The RFU will instead focus on redeveloping Twickenham, which has been England's home ground since 1909.

"Previous considerations looking at the viability of moving to alternative sites have been rejected," the RFU said in a statement.

The TSMP said the RFU wanted it to focus on exploring the 'stay' option and "did not advance the 'leave' option whereby the RFU would explore the potential to dispose of Twickenham Stadium and purchase a 50% share of Wembley Stadium".

England have played at Wembley twice - against Canada in 1992 and Wales in 1999.

Renovation plans in the TSMP include reducing Twickenham's capacity from 82,000 to 80,000 to "improve spectator comfort", repairing the roof and improving transport connections.

The work would be carried out between the end of the 2027 Six Nations and the start of the 2028 tournament.

Costs of 663m quoted in the TSMP are for completing the whole plan, but it will not be undertaken in its entirety.

The RFU said: "The RFU board has not agreed any new redevelopment plans.

"Work will be undertaken over the next 12 months to consider next-stage designs and assess what interventions might take place and when within the existing stadium footprint over the next 10 years."

Sinfield 'humble enough' to support Jones' new England defence

Published in Rugby
Tuesday, 20 February 2024 10:56

Former England defence coach Kevin Sinfield says he is "humble enough" to support Felix Jones' new defence.

The ex-South Africa coach took over the role from Sinfield in January after England's third-place World Cup finish.

Sinfield, 43, now coaches individual skills and kicking, and will move in a "different direction" after England's summer tour of Japan and New Zealand.

"I want to win so why wouldn't I do something that would help us win," Sinfield told Rugby Union Daily.

"My feelings on the role I play here are irrelevant and I will continue to do my best while I am here and try and help the lads and support the coaches.

"It is a funny situation but I feel like I am humble enough to go: 'I want to win, I want to support'."

The rugby league legend had been Steve Borthwick's right-hand man since the pair left Leicester Tigers to coach England at the end of 2022.

After a difficult start to 2023, when England finished fourth in the Six Nations before suffering World Cup warm-up defeats by Wales and Fiji, their defence improved at the World Cup.

However, Borthwick's side were defeated by the Springboks in the semi-finals and failed to score a try against a defence which was coached by Jones, who then helped South Africa to back-to-back World Cups as a coach.

"Very quickly we established a healthy relationship and that will continue for a long time. Whether I am with England or not, I will keep in touch with Felix," he added.

"I have been asked several times what is next and I am really not too sure, but that is what is really exciting about the future as I will be able to shape it and make it fit."

Tuilagi & Lawrence passed fit for Scotland

Ollie Lawrence and Manu Tuilagi have been passed fit and available for England's Six Nations game against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Both centres missed their side's opening victories over Italy and Wales because of injury and face a difficult job to disperse the combination of Fraser Dingwall and Henry Slade.

However, the pair were picked ahead of Dingwall and Slade for last autumn's World Cup squad.

"It has gone from an area where we thought we were pretty light - especially at the start of the tournament - to now having six good ones," Sinfield added.

"Fraser [Dingwall] and Henry [Slade] offer a bit more ball movement and a bit more finesse at the line, but what Manu and Ollie bring is they will kick the door down.

"It's about trying to find the right balance for us this weekend. Ollie [Lawrence] and Manu [Tuilagi] haven't been in with us that long but we know them pretty well from the World Cup and what they've done previously.

"Then there's the experience of Henry and Fraser's ball skills and game management in and around that midfield, so we've got a real healthy competition there."

Scrum-half Alex Mitchell was ruled out of the game at Murrayfield and will see a specialist on Tuesday to determine the extent of his injury.

Second row George Martin is available after missing the opening two rounds.

Scotland no longer Calcutta Cup underdogs - Dawson

Published in Rugby
Tuesday, 20 February 2024 06:35

Scotland are no longer Calcutta Cup underdogs and "happy to carry the favourites tag", says former England captain Matt Dawson.

The Scots have won their past three Six Nations matches with England.

The sides meet at Murrayfield on Saturday in a game that will have a huge bearing on their respective Six Nations campaigns.

"The tide has somewhat changed in the last three years," Dawson told the BBC Scotland Rugby Podcast.

"Scotland have probably been favourites and have shouldered that responsibility really well. That's not easy to do for any team, particularly in this modern era where everyone is underplaying themselves and everyone wants to be underdogs.

"You feel Scotland have had enough of that, they've had decades of being underdogs."

Scotland are looking to bounce back after a controversial defeat by France in round two. The officials denied the hosts a match-winning try in the last play from Sam Skinner, and checked their momentum in the championship following victory over Wales.

England arrive at Murrayfield having won two from two against Italy and Wales. Steve Borthwick's side have won eight of their past nine Test matches, their only defeat a one-point loss in the World Cup semi-final against eventual champions South Africa.

Despite a growing sense that England may finally be starting to move in the right direction following years of underachievement, Dawson believes Gregor Townsend and his players carry none of the fear of facing their Calcutta Cup rivals that may have affected Scotland sides in years gone by.

"Gregor's instilled this [attitude of] be happy to carry the favourites tag and expect to win against the big sides," said Dawson, a World Cup winner in 2003.

"That doesn't mean that you're always going to win but it gives you a huge amount of confidence and I feel that Scotland are a bit more like that than England.

"History is always going to tell you that England are arrogant and over-confident, but I don't see that from the England side. If anything I see that confidence coming from Scotland rather than England and when it's managed and kind of bottled up it's a heck of a weapon to have.

"If you can create that aura around you, which I do believe Scotland are making massive strides towards, it's very difficult to go into their backyard and win."

Red Wings' Rasmussen signs four-year extension

Published in Hockey
Tuesday, 20 February 2024 11:10

The Detroit Red Wings signed forward Michael Rasmussen to a four-year contract extension worth $12.8 million on Tuesday.

Rasmussen, 24, has appeared in 55 games this season, posting 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) and a plus-11 rating.

He was due to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season following the expiration of the three-year, $4.38 million extension he signed on July 22, 2021.

The ninth overall pick of the 2017 NHL draft by Detroit, Rasmussen has 109 career points (47 goals, 62 assists) in 293 games with the Red Wings.

The Red Wings host the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday. Detroit entered Tuesday holding the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Club América sees stock value triple on first day

Published in Soccer
Tuesday, 20 February 2024 11:51

Shares in Liga MX's Club América, a spin-off from Mexico's largest broadcaster, Televisa, which controls one of the country's top football clubs, soared by as much as 200% in their market debut on Tuesday.

The group, also known as Ollamani, represents Mexico's current league champions Club América and their iconic Estadio Azteca, bringing together Televisa's former betting business and publishing operations.

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Within their first hours of trading, shares hit 34.50 pesos ($1.34) compared to a starting price of 11.50 pesos, their hurtling increase triggering several brief market trading suspensions as some 1.6 million shares swapped hands.

América join a select list of publicly traded football clubs, such as Manchester United, Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax. An estimated 25 football institutions across 13 countries are publicly traded.

Club América is the first of Liga MX's clubs to enter the local stock market. It is the country's most successful club with 14 championship wins, and its home stadium has a capacity of over 80,000 and has hosted two World Cups.

These include the 1986 tournament which saw Argentina legend Diego Maradona score his legendary "Hand of God" goal against England.

Stock in Club América and Estadio Azteca will be traded independently.

FIFA has recently announced that Azteca will host the 2026 World Cup's inaugural match, and experts hope this could attract some $150 million to improve the facility.

The debut is a boost for Mexico's stock market, which has for years lacked new listings and has seen companies choose to delist from the exchange.

"It's the euphoria of the first day of trading," Roga Capital financial specialist Jacobo Rodríguez said, noting his firm had forecast the price at some 17 pesos. "We'll have to see how it settles in the coming days."

Televisa, which retains control of its television business, said the split would allow both companies to focus on their respective industries. Analysts, meanwhile, have said the move could facilitate a possible merger between Televisa and fellow broadcaster Megacable.

Televisa's spin-off accounted for some 10% of group revenues, and its investors have received one CPO title for each Televisa share they held.

Klopp: Jota to miss 'months' with knee injury

Published in Soccer
Tuesday, 20 February 2024 11:51

Jurgen Klopp has said he can't provide a timeframe on Diogo Jota's injury but said the Liverpool forward will be out for "months."

Jota was stretchered off the pitch in the first half of Liverpool's win over Brentford on Saturday after Christian Norgaard landed heavily on his leg.

- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

"With Diogo it will take months [not weeks]," Klopp said in a news conference on Tuesday.

"I couldn't say a timeframe even if I wanted to. That is just how it is. When you don't have these players it makes no sense [to speculate]."

Jota's injury comes as a blow to Liverpool, who have leant heavily on the Portugal international in Mohamed Salah's absence. In 28 appearances in all competitions this season, the 27-year-old has contributed 18 goal and assists.

The diagnosis means Jota will join Trent Alexander-Arnold on the absentee list for the Carabao Cup final against Chelsea on Feb. 25.

Curtis Jones is also a doubt for the cup final at Wembley, after being withdrawn early in the first-half against Brentford due to injury.

Klopp confirmed that the midfielder has a ligament issue and will miss Wednesday's clash with Luton.

Alisson will also miss the visit of Luton, with Klopp adding that the Brazil No.1 won't be available for the "foreseeable [future]" due to a muscle injury.

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