NEW DELHI: Tennis legends Serena Williams and Roger Federer have been confirmed among entries for the upcoming Australian Open.
Apart from the star duo, world number one Ash Barty and eight-time champion Novak Djokovic (SRB) will lead the fields at the tournament slated to be held from February 8-21.
There was a question mark over Federer, who warned this month he was in a “race against time” to be fit after two rounds of knee surgery. But the Swiss legend has begun training in Dubai and was among those entered to play at Melbourne Park.
At the Melbourne Park, Serena will set herself up to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles by winning an eighth Australian Open crown.
“Although the AO will look a bit different to previous years, the safety of everyone is our top priority. We have the opportunity to stage a very safe, and happy Slam, and give the players the experience of competing in front of crowds again, something they’ve missed for most of this year,” Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said in a statement on Thursday.
“There are so many great storylines for AO 2021. Serena is gunning for her eighth AO title while Novak, who often seems invincible at Melbourne Park, is going for a record ninth title. Our own world No.1 Ash Barty will return to Grand Slam competition, as will Roger Federer as he comes back from injury. And there’s a new crop of rising stars coming up to challenge them all,” he added.
Joining defending champion Djokovic is world number two Rafael Nadal Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev, Diego Schwartzman and Matteo Berrettini. Also in contention on the women’s side are world number two Simona Halep, 2020 US Open champion Naomi Osaka, defending champion, Sofia Kenin, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, Bianca Andreescu, Petra Kvitova, Kiki Bertens (NED) and Aryna Sabalenka
Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka returns, having missed the tournament in 2020, alongside19-year-old Iga Swiatek, the newest grand slam women’s champion who won Roland Garros in October.
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PANT-JADEJA POWER INDIA TO 338/7 ON DAY 1
A brilliant century from wicketkeeper-batter Rishabh Pant and his 222-run stand with Ravindra Jadeja powered India to 338/7 on the first day of the fifth and final Test against England at Edgbaston Stadium here on Friday. At the end of day one, Jadeja (83*) and Mohammed Shami (0*) were on the crease. India resumed their innings at 174/5 after Tea. Rishabh Pant showed his attacking intent by smashing pacer Matty Potts for two brilliant fours in the very first over after Tea. The duo continued kept piling runs, bringing up their 100-run partnership.
Jadeja kept rotating the strike as Pant took a more aggressive role as the innings progressed. Potts, James Anderson and spinner Jack Leach faced some hard hitting from Pant. He brought up his fifth Test hundred off just 89 balls. This was the third fastest hundred by an Indian outside Asia, with Virender Sehwag hitting the fastest in 78 balls against West Indies in 2006, followed by Mohammed Azharuddin against England in 1990 in 88 balls. Pant went ballistic in the 61st over bowled by spinner Leach, smashing him for 4,6,4,6.
Jadeja also continued looking good with the bat and brought up his half-century. The pair also brought up their 200-run stand in 218 balls. Joe Root earned his team the breakthrough, dismissing Pant for an entertaining 146 off 111 balls. The 222-run stand between Pant and Jadeja finally ended in the 67th over after Zak Crawley caught Pant at the slip.
This brought Shardul Thakur to the crease. He was dismissed by Ben Stokes for one, caught by wicketkeeper Billings. Mohammed Shami was the next man on the crease. India ended the first day of the match in a comfortable position.
India was 174/5 at Tea due to an unbeaten 76-run stand between Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja. India were struggling at 98-5 when the duo joined forces.
Resuming the innings at 53/2 after lunch, the duo of Hanuma Vihari and Virat Kohli added eleven more runs to their partnership, before Vihari was dismissed for 20 after being trapped leg before wicket by pacer Matty Potts.
This brought wicketkeeper-batter Rishabh Pant to the crease. Kohli was soon back to the pavilion as well. He was caught by fantastic delivery from Potts at 11 runs, with the ball hitting the inside edge of his bat and hitting the stumps. Shreyas Iyer then came to the crease and was looking good and hit Potts for three fours. But he was dismissed for 15 by James Anderson after being caught by wicketkeeper Sam Billings.
I AM HAPPY WITH MY PERFORMANCE IN DIAMOND LEAGUE: NEERAJ CHOPRA
Olympic champion javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra broke his own national record enroute to a personal best timing to finish second at the prestigious Diamond League Meet here.
Neeraj came tantalisingly close to achieving the coveted 90m mark in the meet on Thursday night, which was won by reigning world champions Anderson Peters of Grenada with a throw of 90.31m. Neeraj hit the 89.94 mts mark, to miss out on the gold by a narrow margin.
Peters recorded the 90.31m mark in this third throw out of six attempts. Neeraj’s best throw came in his first attempt and after that he could manage only 84.37m, 87.46m, 84.77m, 86.67 and 86.84m. Neeraj, however, bettered his own national record of 89.30m recorded last month at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Turku, Finland.
Germany’s Julian Weber came third with a throw of 89.08m recorded in his fifth attempt. In an exclusive conversation with The Daily Guardian, Tokyo Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra gave insights on achieving silver medal at Diamond League event and upcoming World Championships. Excerpts
Q. How do you feel about your performance today? Did you expect to start off with 89.94m and how does it feel to get a new personal best and national record?
A. Feels great. There was nothing like I have to win in the first throw. But the mindset was to play well. And you have to put all your efforts. The first throw was very good, it was quite close to 90 meters and looked like it would probably do. But still gave my best so feeling very good.
Q. What was going through your mind when Anderson Peters threw over 90m in the third attempt? Did it push you to try to go beyond him in your remaining attempts?
A. Yes, of course, when Anderson Peterson crossed 90 meters, I also felt that everything has to be done and if the whole technique with a javelin falls in one line, then everything will be perfect. When we put the effort into throwing everything, the body also gets tired. I am happy today, all the throws were good enough. I am happy with this performance. Played Diamond League after a long time and it was good. Now I will put my emphasis on the next competition that will happen.
Q. This was your first Diamond League event after the Zurich finals in 2018. How important are the Diamond League events for you? And how does it feel to do well in such a big event?
A. Yes, it was my first Diamond League after Zurich in 2018. And I like it very much. I like it very much right from the start because world-class athletes come and play with us like in Olympics or World Championships. And it’s a very good competition. It happens in big cities and people come to see it. In India also, people are getting to know what is Diamond League and what the different competitions are. So it feels great.
Q. You have started your season with 3 events. You will to now go Oregon for the World Championships in a few weeks. How do you feel about your form going into Oregon? What will you be focusing on now over the next 18-19 days?
A. I don’t know, it will be known only in Oregon. For every competition, every day is different. And one more thing is that people think that when I start playing in the competition, there will be pressure on me as an Olympic champion, but it is not like that at all. I play with ease and free-mindedness. And I perform well there, and there is no pressure in my mind about anything. I train well and give my 100% in every competition.
Q. This year, there have been some very close javelin events with many athletes doing well. What do you think of your chances of going into Oregon? Are you feeling any pressure as a reigning Olympic Gold Medalist?
A. Yes, for next Oregon, there are not many days left, nothing much will change. Whatever training is going on, I try to improve on that.
Q. Only one Indian has ever won a World Championship medal in Athletics; is there any added pressure on you because of that?
A. No, there is no such pressure that we have won only one medal at the World Championship. I will put my full effort and that is my work and will do just that. There is nothing like pressure in the World Championship. But after going there I will know how the mindset is in Oregon.
Q. There were many people in India trying to follow your performance online and on streams. How does it feel to have had such an impact in a country where athletics is not traditionally followed a lot?
A. Very nice, very happy that people in India are seeing athletes online also. And the biggest thing is that many Indians had come to Stockholm, and Indian Ambassadors also came to meet. It feels great that the love for athletes in the country is growing so much, and people are knowing about it.
DJOKOVIC BEATS KOKKINAKIS; SANIA CRASHES OUT IN FIRST ROUND
The six-time champion Novak Djokovic produced a masterclass on the grass court on Wednesday at Wimbledon, where the top seed breezed to a second-round victory against Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Djokovic took just two hours to defeat the Australian 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 to extend his winning streak at SW19 to 23 matches. One game was enough for the six-time champion to click into top gear on Wednesday against Kokkinakis. Djokovic broke the Australian in the second game and didn’t look back.
On day three of Wimbledon, the home favourite crashed out of the tournament as Andy Murray suffered second-round exits on Centre Court. Murray featured in the late match but was met by the ruthless power of John Isner, who served his way to a 6-4 7-6 6-7 6-4 victory in over three hours.
On the other hand, the fifth seed Carlos Alcaraz defeated Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor 6-4, 7-6(0), 6-3 to reach the third round at the grass-court major for the first time.
Playing her in last Wimbledon, veteran Indian tennis star Sania Mirza suffered a heartbreak as she along with her partner and Lucie Hradecka of Czech Republic made a first-round exit from the women’s doubles event at the All England Club on Thursday. The Indo-Czech pair which was seeded sixth and one of the favourites squandered a set lead to lose to Polish-Brazilian duo of Magdalena Frech and Beatroz Haddad Maia 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Saina, 35, who is on her final swansong, though still has a chance as she and Mate Pavic of Croatia will compete in the mixed doubles and will take on Natela Dzalamidze and David Vega Hernandez in the first round.
Bumrah to lead India in fifth Test, Pant named deputy
India team skipper Rohit Sharma has been ruled out of the rescheduled fifth Test against England to be played from Friday as he is affected by Covid-19.
Rohit underwent a rapid antigen test Test on Thursday morning and tested positive for Covid-19. The All-India Senior Selection Committee has named Jasprit Bumrah as captain for the upcoming Test and Rishabh Pant as his deputy.
The fifth and final Test against India will take place from July 1 onwards in Edgbaston. The rescheduled match is a part of last year’s five-match Test series that had to be delayed after the fourth Test due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Indian camp. India lead the series 2-1.
India are on the brink of securing their first Test series victory in England since 2007. However, they face an England side riding high on momentum under the new leadership of coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes.
They swept New Zealand – the reigning ICC World Test Championship winners – 3-0 at home. India will only have played one warm-up match against Leicestershire heading into the Test. England have adopted a high-risk, high-reward strategy under McCullum and Stokes, a move that helped them secure convincing victories against New Zealand.
India’s Test squad: Jasprit Bumrah (Captain), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Hanuma Vihari, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rishabh Pant (vice-captain) (wk), KS Bharat (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Shardul Thakur, Mohd Shami, Mohd Siraj, Umesh Yadav, Prasidh Krishna, Mayank Agarwal.
England has also announced the playing XI for the fifth Test.
England Men’s Team v India: Alex Lees, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes (c), Sam Billings (w), Matthew Potts, Stuart Broad, Jack Leach, and James Anderson.
IT’S VERY IMPORTANT TO HAVE BELIEF IN YOURSELF: P.V. SINDHU
Star India shuttler P.V. Sindhu registered a stunning comeback win against Thailand’s Phittayaporn Chaiwan to reach the quarterfinals of the Malaysia Open tournament on Thursday. In an exclusive conversation with The Daily Guardian she gave insights about her game and credits to her parents. Excerpts Q: Your biggest opponents are also your good friends. You have great friendship on tour. Your take? A: Yeah, definitely it is very important to have friendship off court because on courts you always have a rivalry against each other. But off court you ought to have good relations with different players of different countries. It is always nice to have that good friendship and good relationship otherwise amongst the players. Q: You are training with Coach Park Tae-Sang since late, what is the difference between the coaching styles of foreign coaches and Indian coaches? A: I think nothing much difference, what I would say that each player and each coach has different style of play, has a different mindset. So, you need to understand the player accordingly and make sure you give them what is required, you make them do if they are lacking in skill, lacking in endurance or actually coach should understand the player what is he doing, what mistakes is he committing and what is she or he is lacking in and that is how accordingly you will train the players. As I mentioned earlier that every coach has different skill, unique techniques. Q: What would you be if not a badminton player? A: When I was really young I thought of becoming a doctor, but now as I grew up I feel that I am better as a badminton player. Q. How do you relax on your off days? A. Generally, we always keep travelling for our tournaments, but on Sundays when I am at home and when its my off I just go relax, go for a massage, spend time with my nephew or play with my dog. That’s my off days and way of relaxing. Q. How do you motivate yourself in between the game? A. Motivate I would say, when you are in between of the match and you are fighting you always have to think this way that it’s still not over until it’s over because you know you have worked so hard for it, you have come so far and when you are playing a match you have to be focused. It’s very important to have believe in yourself. That is what I do and it keeps me going. Q. What is Sindhu according to Sindhu and what lessons would Sindhu like to give to Jr. Sindhus? A. Well, I know that who I am and where I am, it’s really not so easy to reach here, I have worked so hard and come so far. So, to my junior Sindhu I would say that you need to be more patient and you need to be more consistent. I have learnt a lot of lessons in my career so far, I just need to believe in myself and the same I will teach the junior Sindhu. Q. Apart from physical strength you are known to be mentally strong. A. Well, it is very important to be both physically and mentally strong because that’s what keeps you going. If you are physically strong and not mentally strong I think it does not work and vice versa, so you have to make sure that both are equally important. Definitely, I would say they are my best friends, my physical and mental strength. Q. Role of parents raising a champion kid. Sacrifices are not often acknowledged. Your views. A. Yeah, my parents really supported me a lot, because of them I am here today, they both used to work in wild ways and because of me they had to give up work, so to make sure that they shift nearby to the academy and I can save time for myself, my sports rather than wasting time in commuting. By the time I come back, I am really tired, and my mom is ready with the food, there are lot of other sacrifices and I am really lucky to have parents like them. And themselves being the sports persons really helped me a lot. I am really lucky. Q. Recently we saw your “kachcha badam” reel. your fans went gaga on the social media, they went crazy watching your moves on the same. so your fans including me are waiting for the next viral reel of yours, which would be your next pick in the song? A. Thank you so much! I really don’t know…it could be any song, any reel it could be. So please wait, it’s a surprise (giggles). PS: If you are unversed, Sindhu has immense love for making trending reels and does not stay behind when it comes to following one. She had previously shared a reel on another viral song Kacha Badam.
TEAM MANAGEMENT AND SELECTORS MADE A BIG MISTAKE
Ahead of Test against England from July 1 the difficulties of Team India are not ending. Earlier due to injury KL Rahul was unavailable for the test, and now Indian captain and opening batsman Rohit Sharma became Covid positive before the match. So now Rohit has also been ruled out of fifth test. After that, now the question arises who will replace Rohit to open the innings? However, the Indian team management has send Mayank Agarwal, to England as a replacement for Rohit. But the matter of concern is that Mayank has not got enough opportunity to practice like the other Indian players present in this tour. According to me sending Mayank Agarwal to England with enough match practice could impose more difficulties for Team India. This can be termed as a blunder by the team management and the selectors as they failed to include a replacement after KL Rahul was ruled out and only two openers Rohit Sharma and Shubham Gill were sent with the Indian team.
In the absence of Rohit Sharma, I would suggest Cheteshwar Pujara to open the batting with Shubman Gill. He is a better option than Mayank Agarwal. Hanuma Vihari at number three, Virat Kohli at number four, and Shreyas Iyer at number five would be the right choice. In the last few months, Pujara has scored a lot of runs in county cricket and his defence is also very strong so together with Shubman Gill, he can handle the opening innings well. Hanuma Vihari was sent at number three in the last test match against Sri Lanka, and he scored a half-century.
Now the situation has become such that Team India has no other option but to try a new opener and anyway India has no shortage of young players, and these players are waiting when they get an opportunity to prove their talent. The only thing that goes in favour of Mayank Agarwal is that he is the regular opener for the team. Of course, there will be pressure on him but this pressure is going to be on him as well as India’s top order as to how they give India a good start, as the Indian team will have to put a score of more than 350 on the board in the first innings.
The writer has been a national selector apart from being a former wicket-keeper batsman.
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