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Venus runner-up again at US Open

New Zealand’s Michael Venus and his Chinese Taipei Hao-Ching partner have been beaten in straight sets in the mixed doubles final at the US Tennis Open in New York.

England’s Jamie Murray and American Bethanie Mattek-Sands defended their title with a 6-2 6-3 win.

Venus and Chan also finished runnersup to Murray in the 2017 final in New York with Murray playing with Swiss great Martina Hingis on that occasion.

It’s Murray’s seventh grand slam doubles title, and fifth in mixed.

Michael Venus and his Chinese Taipei partner Hao-Ching Chan (left) finished runners-up to Britain’s Jamie Murray and American Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Photo: U.S. Tennis Open

A break of the Venus serve, courtesy of a stunning Mattek-Sands return, gave the Glasgow-Minnesota alliance the early initiative.

Murray’s instinctive volley then secured the double break and the opening set was wrapped up in 27 minutes.

Mattek-Sands’ presence had ensured the backing of the home crowd on Arthur Ashe, and they roared with delight when her backhand return whizzed past Venus on championship point.

The colourful American whipped out her phone to take a selfie with her partner as they celebrated a dominant win.

“We played amazing the whole two weeks, a lot of great tennis,” said Murray.

“It’s easier playing on the big courts, I know Beth loves it, playing in front of lots of people and she played an amazing match.

“She says I’m the yin to her yang. We’re really happy to win again.”

-RNZ/AAP

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2018 NFL Predictions-Divisional round

Divisional round

Saturday, Jan. 12

4:35 p.m. Eastern  spread Win prob. Score
Indianapolis 34%
Kansas City -4.5 66%
8:15 p.m. spread Win prob. Score
Dallas 34%
L.A. Rams -4.5 66%

Sunday, Jan. 13

1:05 p.m. Eastern  spread Win prob. Score
L.A. Chargers 42%
New England -2.5 58%
4:40 p.m. spread Win prob. Score
Philadelphia 36%
New Orleans -4 64%

Completed

Wild-card round

Saturday, Jan. 5

FINAL Elo point spread Win prob. Score
Indianapolis 44% 21
Houston -1.5 56% 7
FINAL Elo point spread Win prob. Score
Seattle 46% 22
Dallas -1 54% 24

Sunday, Jan. 6

FINAL Elo point spread Win prob. Score
L.A. Chargers 40% 23
Baltimore -2.5 60% 17
FINAL Elo point spread Win prob. Score
Philadelphia 39% 16
Chicago -3 61% 15
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Leicester vs Tottenham – Match Preview

 

After suffering a heavy defeat to Arsenal last weekend, Tottenham had to bounce back in the best possible way against Southampton in midweek and thanks to a comfortable win by three goals to nil, that is exactly what they managed to do.

And thanks to a combination of results elsewhere that saw their London rivals drop points, it means that Mauricio Pochettino’s men have reclaimed third spot before Saturday’s visit to the King Power Stadium.

It is there where they will face a Leicester City side who are unbeaten in their last six league outings, a run of form which sees them currently occupy ninth place in the table. It is fair to say that Claude Puel’s men are going under the radar as of late, as they prove to be a tough but to crack.

The Foxes were reunited with an old face on Wednesday night as Claudio Ranieri bought his Fulham side to the East Midlands, while it was a trip that proved relatively fruitful for the Cottagers as they managed to earn a much needed point in their bid to stave off relegation.

The question for Leicester is whether or not they can continue their impressive run of form and in turn become a genuine contender for the Europa League places this season, especially as just one point separates themselves and Everton who currently lie in sixth.

To do so they will have to continue their unbeaten run, one that could be in danger with the visit of Tottenham on the horizon. That said, Leicester do seem to have their upcoming opponent’s number after a spate of recent wins.

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Southampton 4 Everton 1: Sigurdsson stunner fails to save woeful Toffees

Managerless Everton’s away-day woes continued as Southampton secured a deserved 4-1 Premier League victory at St Mary’s Stadium despite Gylfi Sigurdsson’s stunner.

David Unsworth’s caretaker spell in charge of the Toffees sunk to a new low in Thursday’s 5-1 Europa League drubbing at the hands of Atalanta and Sunday’s result means they have now gone 15 top-flight matches without a win on the road.

Dusan Tadic toe-poked the Saints into an early lead following excellent build-up play, capping a dominant start for the hosts, whose manager Mauricio Pellegrino has himself been under intense scrutiny.

An injury for the experienced Leighton Baines added to Everton’s troubles, but the visiting fans were celebrating before half-time courtesy of Sigurdsson’s superb leveller – his first league goal for the club – which hit the woodwork three times.

However, it took only seven minutes of the second half for Southampton to restore their advantage, with Charlie Austin neatly heading in Ryan Bertrand’s pinpoint cross via the underside of the crossbar.

Austin doubled his tally with another header, this time Tadic providing the service, and Steven Davis finished the job to leave Everton hovering perilously above the bottom three and in desperate need of fresh ideas.

James Ward-Prowse’s free-kick caused a brief moment of panic in the Everton area as the ball deflected off Phil Jagielka before Jordan Pickford gathered.

Another Ward-Prowse delivery again caught Everton napping as his corner fell for Austin, who skied his effort well over the bar from eight yards out.

The hosts continued to make the early running and Austin struck the right-hand upright after connecting with Cedric Soares’ cross from the right.

Everton could have broken the deadlock entirely against the run of play when Idrissa Gueye forced the Saints to concede possession deep in their own half, with Kevin Mirallas pouncing before racing through on goal, but Fraser Forster was alert to the danger.

The breakthrough came immediately at the other end as Pellegrino’s men countered in style, Tadic racing onto Bertrand’s pass to prod past Pickford.

Things got worse for the visitors when stalwart Baines was forced off injured, with Ashley Williams brought on in his place.

But just when they needed inspiration, Sigurdsson delivered in spectacular fashion as he cut back onto his right foot and fired off a looping 20-yard shot that hit the crossbar, the post and then the bar again before crossing the line.

Southampton’s response came swiftly after the interval, with Bertrand whipping in a delivery and Austin glancing home expertly at the near post, with the bar again grazed.

Austin was at it again before the hour mark, rising to nod in and leave Everton fearing another thrashing.

If any of the numerous candidates to take the Goodison Park helm were watching, they might well have started to think of better ways to spend the festive season than being thrust into the depths of a relegation battle.

After substitute Shane Long was denied by Pickford, Davis added late gloss with a fine finish from outside the box as Southampton ended a three-match winless streak in style to heap misery on the Merseysiders.

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Lakers to retire Bryant’s number in December

The Los Angeles Lakers announced Tuesday they plan to retire the jersey numbers of Kobe Bryant on Dec. 18 prior to the game against the Golden State Warriors,

The team will retire both of Bryant’s numbers. Bryant wore both No. 8 and No. 24 during his 20 seasons with the Lakers.

“As a kid growing up in Italy, I always dreamed of my jersey hanging in the Lakers rafters, but I certainly never imagined two of them,” Bryant said in a statement released by the team. “The Lakers have bestowed a huge honor on me and I’m grateful for the fans’ enthusiasm around this game.”

Bryant, an 18-time All-Star who won five NBA titles with the Lakers, retired following the 2015-16 campaign. He wore No. 8 for his first 10 seasons before switching to No. 24.

Bryant scored 33,643 points, third-most in NBA history behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone.

“Kobe’s jerseys are taking their rightful home next to the greatest Lakers of all time,” Lakers CEO and Controlling Owner Jeanie Buss said. “There was never any doubt this day would come, the only question was when. Once again, Lakers fans will celebrate our hero, and once again, our foes will envy the legendary Kobe Bryant.”

“This honor is very well deserved,” Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson said. “Kobe was one of the greatest Lakers and NBA players of all-time and he’s definitely on my Mount Rushmore.
I look forward to seeing BOTH of his jerseys be retired and celebrating this special day with Kobe and his family.

Bryant sits as the Lakers all-time leader in regular season games played (1,346), points (33,643), three-pointers made (1,827), steals (1,944) and free throws made (8,378), while owning franchise playoff records for games played (220), points (5,640), three-pointers made (292) and free throws made (1,320).
Bryant will become the 10th Lakers’ player to have his number retired, the others being Wilt Chamberlain (13), Elgin Baylor (22), Gail Goodrich (25), Magic Johnson (32), Abdul-Jabbar (33), Shaquille O’Neal (34), James Worthy (42), Jerry West (44) and Jamaal Wilkes (52).

Former announcer Chick Hearn also has his name in the arena rafters

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Ice-cool Stephens too good for Keys in U.S. Open final

NEW YORK- Sloane Stephens stayed composed throughout the U.S. Open final, playing near-perfect tennis to win her maiden grand slam title with a 6-3 6-0 victory against Madison Keys as the future of American women’s tennis seemed assured on Saturday.

The 24-year-old, back this summer from almost a year off the courts because of a foot injury, was never in trouble as her defensive play derailed the 15th-seeded Keys, who was playing with a heavily bandaged right thigh.

“It’s incredible. I honestly had surgery Jan 23 and if someone had told me I’d win the U.S. Open I would have said it’s impossible,” said the unseeded Stephens who, after celebrating, sat down and chatted with Keys.

“Madi is one of my best friends on tour and to play her here, I wouldn’t have wanted to play anyone else. I told her I wish it could be a draw and if it was the other way around she’d do the same. To stand here with her today is incredible, that’s what real friendship is.”

Keys noted, “Sloane is truly one of my favourite people and to get to play her was really special. Obviously I didn’t play my best tennis today and I was really disappointed but Sloane was very supportive and if there was someone I had to lose to today I‘m glad it’s her.”

FILLING A VOID

The friendship could also develop into a great rivalry as both women showed throughout the tournament, and before that, that they could be competing for majors for a while.

“In America, women’s tennis needs to be really high level because it has always been and they need to be filling up the void after the Williams sisters,” former world number one Mats Wilander told Reuters.

Venus Williams, 37, was one of four Americans in the semi-finals but her sister Serena did not take part in the tournament because of the birth of her first child.

In the first all-American U.S. Open women’s final since Serena beat Venus in 2002, Stephens made only six unforced errors to frustrate Keys.

It was a remarkable turnaround for Stephens, who six weeks ago was still ranked 957th by the WTA.

She sealed a straightforward win on her third match point when Keys sent yet another forehand into the net.

Stephens welcomed the biggest victory of her career with a low-key smile, going into the Arthur Ashe Stadium stands to hug her coach, Kamau Murray, before embracing her mother.

Stephens, who will pocket a record $3.7 million (2.8 million pounds) cheque, underwent foot surgery in late January and made her competitive comeback at Wimbledon.

Saying earlier she was simply happy to be running around on courts, Stephens did a lot of running on Saturday to deny the 22-year-old Keys in what turned out to be a one-sided contest.

Stephens played her usual defensive tennis, forcing her opponent to make the extra shot and testing her patience.

She was rewarded with two break points in the fifth game of the first set, converting the first one when Keys again failed to wait for the right moment to accelerate and fired a forehand long.

Stephens held comfortably and bagged the set on her second occasion, Keys hitting a backhand long, her 17th unforced error — compared to Stephens’s only two.

Keys showed signs of frustration as she felt the game was slipping away.

Stephens moved to 40-0 up on Keys’s serve in the following game with a perfect backhand passing shot.

Another ill-timed rush to the net, though, cost Keys a break, Stephens punishing her with a delightful dipping forehand passing shot.

Keys fell 4-0 down when she hit a double fault and although she had her first break points of the match in the fifth game, Stephens held.

Keys hit the ball harder and harder but it would always come back and she needed a 19-shot rally to save her second match point. On the third, she hit her 30th unforced error of the day.

(Julien Pretot)

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Hingis and Murray win U.S. Open mixed doubles

NEW YORK- Switzerland’s Martina Hingis and Britain’s Jamie Murray fought off a match point to defeat Hao-Ching Chan and Michael Venus 6-1 4-6 (10-8) to claim the U.S. Open mixed doubles title on Saturday.

The top-seeded partnership, which won their first tournament together at Wimbledon in July, pushed their team record to an unblemished 10-0 with the win over the number three seed.

Hingis, a former world number one singles player who won the U.S. Open title 20 years ago, praised her partner, who is the brother of world number two Andy Murray.

“He’s a great partner to have. His wingspan as you saw at the end,” she said, referring to Murray’s reaching overhead smash that ended the tight tie breaker to cap off the hour-long contest.
(Rory Carroll)

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Anderson reaps rewards for perseverance and dedication

NEW YORK- Even in tennis, good things come to those who wait. At the age of 31, Kevin Anderson reached his first grand slam final at the U.S. Open on Friday thanks to a 4-6 7-6 6-3 6-4 victory over Spain’s Pablo Carrena Busta.

In this era when players are winning grand slam titles well into their thirties, Anderson almost doesn’t qualify as a late bloomer.

But the South African, the first born there to make a grand slam final since Kevin Curren at Wimbledon in 1985, has shown patience, resilience and unending dedication to make his grand slam breakthrough.

”It’s been a lot of hard work to get to this point,” said Anderson, who will meet world number one Rafa Nadal in the final.

”It feels fantastic.

“It’s been a long road to get here and sometimes tough. We’ve been dominated by a select few individuals and there are definitely times where you think those will be the guys who will always be competing for it.”

Anderson was late to the Tour after choosing to go to college in the United States, at the University of Illinois, where he was coached by Craig Tiley.

Tiley, a former South Africa Davis Cup captain and now the tournament director at the Australian Open, said Anderson deserves every moment of his success.

”He had the same professionalism and dedication and attitude that you see on the Tour today when he was at college,” Tiley told Reuters.

“Obviously he’s been on a long journey. But he’s always had a fantastic attitude and passion for the game. It was a privilege to coach him because of the attitude he had.”

BOUNCED BACK

Anderson always used to be considered a nearly-man, for so long unable to get past the last 16 of a grand slam event, always finding someone just too good on the day.

But despite a series of injuries, from shoulder to knees and at the end of last year, to his hip, he has bounced back brilliantly to put his name in the history books.

He will bid to go one better than Curren, who was runnerup at the 1984 Australian Open final before switching citizenship to the United States ahead of his run to the Wimbledon final.

Johan Kriek was the first South African to win a grand slam singles championship at the 1981 Australian Open but successfully defended the title in 1982 as a naturalised American.

”It’s definitely about perseverance,“ Anderson said. ”I feel like I’ve kept my head down and kept working hard.

”There have been a lot of ups and downs and I feel really happy, I’ve always kept belief.

“It’s been a terrific couple of weeks and I’ve got an opportunity to step on the court in a final and that’s something I’m going to be really excited about.”

It has been noticeable at the U.S. Open how pumped up he has been throughout the event, something Tiley said reminded him of Anderson’s college days.

“At the University of Illinois we had really good teams and it’s a great atmosphere, you have a lot of people around you,” he said.

“After college, back out there on his own, maybe it was a bit more difficult for him to be (extroverted) but he’s playing with a lot of confidence now.”

Anderson has been working on his on-court presence with his team, including Alexis Castorri, the sports psychologist who has worked with Andy Murray.

“It think it helps me to play my best tennis,” Anderson said. It might have taken time, but it has been worth the wait.
(Ian Ransom)

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Nadal gets his revenge, ends Del Potro dream run

NEW YORK – It took eight years but Rafa Nadal gained his revenge, ending Juan Martin del Potro’s hopes of another dream run to the U.S. Open final with a shockingly ruthless semi-final victory on Friday.

The 4-6 6-0 6-3 6-2 thrashing also moved the Spaniard to the brink of a 16th grand slam title.

In 2009 it was Del Potro who dismissed the Spaniard in straight sets to reach the Flushing Meadows final where he defeated Roger Federer to claim his one and only major.

With another inspiring march picking up steam with a fourth round win over sixth seed Dominic Thiem and a quarter-final upset of Federer, Nadal derailed the Del Potro train turning his dream into a nightmare.

”Today was the day to play well,“ said Nadal, a twice U.S. Open champion. ”I was playing so-so at the beginning of the tournament, and I have been playing better and better every day.

”Today was the day to play the best match of the tournament since that moment, because I (was) going to play against the toughest opponent in that moment, and that opponent, as I said before, coming with big confidence.

“I wake up today and say to myself, ‘Today is the day that I’ll play’. I need to play with the right energy, and I need to increase the level of my game.”

Nadal did not get off to the brightest of starts, dropping the opening set as he struggled to handle the towering Argentine’s serve and huge forehand.

But in the second, the world number one seemed to flick a switch and ignite the after burners. Clearly the fresher of the two players after two speedy straight set wins, Nadal used it to his full advantage.

After a draining epic five-setter against Thiem and no less taxing four set quarter-finals win over Roger Federer, Del Potro simply seemed to run out of gas.

Nadal did not hesitate to inflict pain and punishment, rampaging through the rest of the match by winning 18 of 23 games, including nine straight ones to sweep the second set and a 3-0 lead in the third.

”Important day for me. Important victory against a great opponent,“ beamed Nadal. ”He came to that match with confidence after beating Roger (Federer), Dominic (Thiem) too.

”A lot of the matches he played this tournament have been a tough one. But at the same time, I think I played a solid match.

“After the first set I changed it a little bit, changed my tactic, strategy a little bit. And that makes the difference.”

After taking down the 6-foot, 6-inch (198cm) Del Potro, Nadal will face another tall order in Sunday’s final where he will face 6-foot 8-inch (203cm) South African Kevin Anderson.

(Sudipto Ganguly)

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Crowd gathers to watch Nadal warm up before U.S. Open semi-final

NEW YORK- A crowd gathered to watch world number one Rafael Nadal warm up in Arthur Ashe Stadium on a cool and windy Friday at the U.S. Open, ahead of his semi-final showdown with Argentine Juan Martin del Potro later in the day.

Nadal has faced little adversity at the tournament so far, dropping just two sets in his five matches and blowing out 19-year-old Russian Andrey Rublev in straight sets to reach the semi.

Twenty fourth-seeded Del Potro has had a rockier road, having had to fight off two match points and battle back from two sets down to defeat sixth-seeded Dominic Thiem in the fourth round in an instant classic before defeating third seed Roger Federer in the quarter-finals.

Big-serving South African Kevin Anderson was spotted on a practise court stretching his 6-feet 8-inches (2.03 metres) frame as he prepares to meet the other Spaniard in the semi-finals, Pablo Carreno Busta.

Anderson brings a 2-0 head-to-head record against the number 12 seed, who has quietly moved through the draw without dropping a set in five matches.

Earlier in the day, Dutchman Jean-Julien Rojer and Romania’s Horia Tecau won the men’s doubles title after beating Spaniards Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez 6-4 6-3.

The number 12 seeds hit 41 winners between them and made just seven unforced errors as they romped to the title in just under an hour and a half.
(Rory Carroll)