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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.

Federer serves up Fritz blitz to reach last 16
18 January 2019, 4:21 PM

Roger Federer celebrated his 100th match at the Australian Open on Friday by giving young American Taylor Fritz a centre court schooling to reach the last 16 and set up a mouthwatering clash with ‘Next Gen’ champion Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Chasing a record seventh Melbourne title and his third in succession, the 37-year-old Swiss has been in ominous form at the year’s first Grand Slam and his 6-2 7-5 6-2 masterclass at Rod Laver Arena was another warning to the Tour’s upstarts.

Fritz, 21, was meant to offer Federer a meaningful test with his prodigious serve and powerful ground-strokes but was instead sent packing after less than 90 minutes.

Third seed Federer tied the American in knots with a sumptuous array of drop shots, angled volleys and winners conjured seemingly at will from behind the baseline.

Fans hoping for change at the top of men’s tennis will look to Greek trailblazer Tsitsipas to give Federer a better shake.

The shaggy-haired 20-year-old, who capped a breakout season by claiming the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan in December, has ridden a wave of support from Melbourne’s huge Greek community at the tournament.

Federer has his own army of fans at Melbourne Park, however, and they hung on his every word as he delivered words of encouragement to the young pretenders seeking to knock him off the perch.

“They’re doing great, what do you want me to tell you?” he told Jim Courier in his on-court interview.

“We all want them to win the big stuff but it just takes time … I’m still giving them a hard time sometimes.”

Federer has reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam for a record-extending 63rd time in the professional era and may still be the best equipped player to deny top seed Novak Djokovic from claiming a third Grand Slam title in succession.

Citing Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey, who won an Olympic silver at 40 and continued to run into her fifties, a reporter asked Federer whether his best might still be to come.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said bluntly.

“I think the last 10 years have been a lot of fun, maybe more fun than the first 10, I’m not sure.

“But yeah, I don’t think with four children and with the career that I have had and my body, I want it to be somewhat healthy – and healthy actually when I retire.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, you know, to be quite honest.”

South Africa's Warren Whiteley
Whiteley back in training after injury woes
17 January 2019, 8:10 PM

Captain Warren Whiteley has returned to training with South African Super Rugby side the Lions after suffering a calf injury with the Springboks in November, Coach Swys de Bruin has said.

The 31-year-old, who has been plagued with injury setbacks since being named Bok captain in 2017, hurt himself while touring with the national side in Europe and is in a race against time to be ready for the start of the new Super Rugby season next month.

“Warren is over the worst and it is now a matter of monitoring his progress but he’s busy training with the rest of the squad,” Lions coach De Bruin told reporters.

The loose forward was appointed South Africa captain in June, 2017 but suffered a groin injury after two tests against France and missed a year of rugby.

He was temporarily replaced as Bok skipper by Eben Etzebeth before Siya Kolisi was given the job permanently.

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