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Serena back to physical and emotional best, says coach
21 January 2019, 9:09 PM

Serena Williams is back to her physical and emotional peak for the first time since returning from childbirth last year, according to the American’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou.

The 37-year-old Williams produced a dazzling display to beat world number one Simona Halep in three sets in the fourth round of the Australian Open on Monday and looks in the mood to add to her 23 Grand Slam titles in Melbourne.

Williams, who won the 2017 Australian Open when pregnant with daughter Alexis Olympia, came close last year but lost two finals — at Wimbledon to Angelique Kerber and at the U.S. Open to Naomi Osaka.

But Frenchman Mouratoglou believes she is now ready to matching Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Slams.

“I think she’s fitter than she was last year, because even though she made a lot of effort to come back in shape last year, I don’t think she had enough time,” he told reporters.

“For a top-level athlete to come back and be 100 percent fit after having a baby any time, I think there was not enough time.

“I feel now she’s back to being Serena on both the physical and emotional side. I think her level is good. I think she needed a big fight, and it happened today.”

Mouratoglou has been coach to Williams for seven years but their partnership came under the spotlight last year in a stormy U.S. Open final during which she was given a warning by umpire Carlos Ramos for off-court coaching from the Frenchman.

Despite her insistence that she had done nothing wrong, and subsequent loss of temper, Mouratoglou admitted afterwards that he had been passing on instructions.

Mouratoglou said he had not worried that it might end their fruitful relationship.

“First of all, I hope that every time a coach gets a code violation for coaching, he doesn’t get fired, otherwise there will be guys fired every two days,” he said.

“Second, I hope that our seven years’ relationship is a bit stronger than a chair umpire.

“Third, she’s much too smart to do that. It’s not a reason for taking a decision that would have an impact on your future.”

Asked if last year’s disappointments had increased her motivation, Mouratoglou said: “I think she was very motivated last year, but it was just too early for her.

“I mean, she was ready to reach a final but there is a big difference between reaching a final and winning it.

“I didn’t want to say it when she lost, because it sounds like an excuse, but you cannot buy time. Things take time.”

Shoprite to appeal $1.4 million competition fine
21 January 2019, 8:46 PM

South Africa’s Shoprite said on Monday it would appeal against a 20 million rand ($1.4 million) fine handed to its ticket-selling subsidiary by the country’s Competition Tribunal, which found agreements signed by the firm had hit competition.

The judgment was announced ahead of a similar case that is currently before the tribunal, which relates to a later time period and is more serious because the company is included as a respondent and it carries a recommended fine of 10 percent of the turnover of Shoprite’s retail unit.

The initial case, covering 1999-2012, was referred to the tribunal in 2010 after five rivals of ticket seller Computicket, owned by Shoprite since 2005, complained the business abused its dominance by signing exclusive agreements with clients.

“There is sufficient … evidence to suggest that the exclusive agreements had resulted in anti-competitive effects,” the tribunal’s judgement said.

“Computicket will appeal the Competition Tribunal’s finding,” Shoprite, South Africa’s biggest retailer, said in response.

In December, Shoprite was named as a respondent to another case brought to the tribunal by South Africa’s Competition Commission, which recommended fining both Computicket and Shoprite’s retail division as much as 10 percent of their annual turnover.

Shoprite doesn’t disclose the turnover of its retail unit, but the division makes up the bulk of the group’s revenue, which stood at 145.3 billion rand in 2018. It is up to the tribunal to decide whether the commission’s charges and proposed fine stand.

In the earlier case, the commission recommended a fine of just under 22 million rand, whereas Computicket thought it should be closer to 10 million rand.

Shoprite’s shares were down 0.23 percent at 1134 GMT.

Aggressive Sharapova eliminates holder Wozniacki in Melbourne
18 January 2019, 5:23 PM

Maria Sharapova scorched the Rod Laver Arena with her aggressive tennis to eliminate defending Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki 6-4 4-6 6-3 in the third round on Friday.

Five-times Grand Slam champion Sharapova, who won her last major at the 2014 French Open, hit 37 winners against 10 from her opponent and converted her second matchpoint to set up a fourth round clash against Australia number one Ashleigh Barty.

Sharapova, who won the Australian Open in 2008, headed into the match with a 6-4 lead in their previous meetings and went for her shots from the first point making it difficult for the third-ranked Dane with a game built on defence.

“I thought the level was quite high. She is the defending champion of this event and it’s no secret she loves this arena,” Sharapova said in a courtside interview.

“These are the types of matches I train for so it’s really rewarding to win that last point. I’m definitely not walking around thinking I have experience and think they’re just going to give it to me.”

Wozniacki had the first break but handed the advantage back with a double fault before the Russian 30th seed, who was suspended for 15 months for taking banned drug meldonium in 2016, won three consecutive games to take the set.

After a trade of breaks, Wozniacki took the match into a deciding set after a double fault from Sharapova gave her a set point which she converted to level the entertaining encounter on Rod Laver Arena at 1-1.

Sharapova shrieked in delight after converting her third breakpoint in the seventh game with a scorching forehand and broke Wozniacki again to seal the victory in two hours and 24 minutes.

Sharapova will brace for a hostile crowd in the fourth round when she takes on local hope Barty, who beat Greek Maria Sakkari 7-5 6-1.

“I think her story is phenomenal, she loves playing here,” Sharapova said of her next opponent. “I know it’s going to be a tough crowd but I go out here to perform and play tennis.”

Ivory Coast’s Gbagbo to stay detained until February
18 January 2019, 4:23 PM

Ivory Coast ex-president Laurent Gbagbo will stay behind bars at least until a fresh appeal hearing on February 1, despite his acquittal this week by the International Criminal Court, the tribunal said Friday.

Judges cleared 73-year-old Gbagbo on Tuesday on charges of crimes against humanity relating to a wave of violence after disputed elections in 2010, and ordered his immediate release.

The crisis claimed some 3,000 lives.

But prosecutors at the Hague-based court challenged the release of Gbagbo, who has already spent seven years in jail, saying he should be detained while they make a broader appeal over his acquittal.

“The detention of Mr Laurent Gbagbo… shall be maintained pending the consideration of the present appeal” against his release, the ICC’s appeals judges said in a statement.

They will hold a fresh hearing on February 1 “in order to hear further submissions on the appeal.”

Judges made the same order for Gbagbo’s co-defendant and right-hand man Charles Ble Goude.

Prosecutors had argued that there was a “concrete” risk the Ivorian pair fail to return to the ICC if a subsequent appeal overturned Tuesday’s decision to acquit them.

Gbagbo’s daughter has said he intended to return to the Ivory Coast if released.

Nadal subdues local hope de Minaur in third round clash
18 January 2019, 4:21 PM

Rafa Nadal subdued Alex de Minaur 6-1 6-2 6-4 in their third round clash at the Australian Open on Friday after dominating the home town’s top-ranked male player.

The second seed comfortably controlled baseline exchanges, forcing the young Australian to take ever greater risks to compete with the 17 times Grand Slam champion.

“I tried to make him feel that my ball was good enough that he was not (in) control of the point – almost never,” Nadal said.

The Spaniard has won three consecutive straight sets matches against Australians, and will play Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych in the fourth round.

Alarm bells started ringing at the packed centre court almost as soon as the Friday match started.

Nadal held his service game easily, while de Minaur needed 16 points to hold serve, raising immediate questions over whether the young Australian could keep up with his Spanish opponent.

It was the only game de Minaur won that set.

Nadal, who later described his opponent as probably the quickest player on tour, exerted similar pressure in the first game of the second set. This time he broke de Minaur’s serve after a marathon 20-point game.

With superior firepower on his ground strokes, Nadal could take control of baseline exchanges without taking too many risks.

De Minaur tried to lift his tempo to prevent being bullied around the court – a tactic that naturally carries more risk, and one that he could not successfully sustain.

A packed centre court stadium tried desperately to encourage their charge, but the 19-year-old had his work cut-out trying to hold his own service games, let alone pressure Nadal on his.

“If I could have just held on a little bit more with my serve, applied a bit more pressure early on in the sets, then maybe I could have got… more chances on his serve,” de Minaur said.

De Minaur saved five match points before succumbing in an identical scoreline to the pair’s third round Wimbledon match-up last year.

Although mainly known for his aggressive ground game, Nadal recorded a very high first serve percentage (75), leaving his opponent very few opportunities.

The strong serving display also sounded a timely warning to the rest of the field that Nadal is a bona fide contender for the title despite coming into the tournament under an injury cloud.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are both searching for a record seventh Australian Open title in Melbourne, while a younger generation led by Germany’s Alexander Zverev are looking to unseat the aging champions.

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