ROSE VICTORY INSPIRES ENGLISH GOLFERS

ARDMORE, Pennsylvania: Justin Rose’s breakthrough win at the US Open could open the door for England’s golden generation of golfers to finally make their collective mark in the record books.

Rose, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Lee Westwood have long starred on the Ryder Cup stage and Donald and Westwood have risen to top the world rankings.

But until Merion Golf Club on Sunday, none of them had been able to lift one of the sports’s four major titles – the US and British Opens, the Masters and the PGA Championship.

The pressure on one of them to finally deliver on the biggest of stages was cranking up with each passing major.

Ulstermen Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke joined the club of major winners as did young Americans Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson and South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.

Still the English trophy cupboard remained empty and, prior to Merion, no Englishman had won a US Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970 and none had won a major since Nick Faldo at the 1996 Masters.

All that came to a glorious end on Sunday when 32-year-old Rose held his nerve down a gripping home stretch to stave off a late challenge from crowd favourite Phil Mickelson.

It was about time, for himself, and the country Rose said.

“There’s been a very strong crop of English players for quite some time now, with myself, obviously Westwood and then Poulter as well, Paul Casey was up there for a good while and is probably going to make a comeback, I think,” he said.

“I really hope it does inspire them And I think it was always going to be a matter of time before one of us broke through.

“It was just going to be who. And I always hoped it was going to be me to be the first, obviously. But I really hoped that it sort of has broken the spell and guys can continue to sort of match up some for themselves.”

Donald was paired with Rose for the last round at Merion and would have gained first-hand knowledge of how his close friend managed to keep his game together as Mickelson charged and the rain pelted down just as Rose was entering the tough last five holes of the course.

He had his own problems to deal with after an errant drive at the third struck and laid out one of the workers who was walking the course with another group.

After the mishap, Donald took a bogey at the third to start a run of three bogeys in a row, then a double bogey at six and, after a birdie at seven, made two more bogeys to end any chance at victory after starting the day, like Rose two adrift.

Had the roles been reversed would the final outcome have been different? No-one can tell, But Donald believes that the win by Rose is a door opener.

“It’s going to mean a lot. It’s been too long really,” he said.

“I think we’ve had a lot of talent coming out of England and hopefully we’ve broken our bad period. This will be a great week for Justin and for England.”

Next up is the British Open at Muirfield, eastern Scotland in a month’s time and there is another target to aim at there for English golfers as the country’s last winner in that tournament was Faldo in 1992 at, of all places, Muirfield.

Nigeria snatch draw, Eto’o bags brace in World Cup qualifiers

African champions Nigeria snatched a dramatic draw and there were vital wins for Burkina Faso, Cameroon and South Africa on Saturday in World Cup qualifiers.



Nnamdi Oduamadi, who was not part of the 2013 Cup of Nations-winning squad last month, equalised three minutes into stoppage time after 17-year-old Francis Kahata had given Kenya a shock first-half lead in Calabar.



Burkina Faso, runners-up to Nigeria in South Africa after a giantkilling run that far exceeded expectations, trounced Niger 4-0 at home in a must-win match, although the impact was diluted as group leaders Congo Brazzaville also won.



Record four-time African Footballer of the Year Samuel Eto’o scored in each half as fallen giants Cameroon used home advantage to win 2-1 against Emmanuel Adebayor-less Togo and take the Group I lead.



Thabo Matlaba and Bernard Parker were on target as wasteful South Africa won 2-0 in Cape Town over Central African Republic, whose capital Bangui fell this weekend to rebels opposing President Francois Bozize.



There were also victories for Ivory Coast, playing without dropped icon Didier Drogba, Malawi and Tunisia while 2013 Cup of Nations flops Angola fought back to hold Senegal.



Kenya captain Victor Wanyama, from Scottish champions Celtic, predicted his side would stun Nigeria, and they came agonisingly close after Kahata scored from a free kick.



But the Super Eagles salvaged a draw three minutes into additional time when the Harambee Stars failed to clear and Oduamadi earned his country a point that left them ahead of Malawi in Group F on goals scored.



Malawi upset Namibia 1-0 in Windhoek through a mid-second half goal from Gabadin Mhango to give caretaker coach Edington Ng’onamo a win in his first competitive outing.



Ivory Coast, whose fifth consecutive failure to justify favouritism at a Cup of Nations cost Drogba his place, outplayed Gambia 3-0 in Abidjan through goals from Wilfried Bony, Yaya Toure and Salomon Kalou.



Tunisia moved five points clear of Sierra Leone in Group B after winning the top-of-the-table clash 2-1 in Rades with Oussama Darragi and Wahbi Khazri on target before Alhassan Kamara reduced arrears.



Giant Queens Park Rangers centre-back Christopher Samba was the Congo match-winner against Gabon in Pointe Noire, snatching the only goal on 67 minutes to give the Red Devils a six-point Group E advantage.



Senegal, playing a first competitive game under French coach Alain Giresse, took a first half lead through Moussa Sow in Conakry only for Amaro Costa to equalise for Angola 15 minutes from time.



The fixture was moved to the Guinea capital because of a one-year ban on the national stadium in Dakar after crowd trouble forced a Cup of Nations qualifier against Ivory Coast to be abandoned last October.



Jonathan Pitropia, voted player of the tournament at the 2013 Africa Cup, gave Burkina Faso a third-minute lead, Aristide Bance hit the second before half-time and Charles Kabore and Prejuce Nakoulma added late goals.



Another nine qualifiers will be played Sunday and a further two fixtures Tuesday will bring the mini-league competition to the halfway stage with the 10 group winners advancing to the knockout final phase.

PH pugs to see action in Asian Elite Championship

The road to the country’s first ever Olympic gold medal continues as a young, five-man Philippine boxing team leaves on Sunday to take part in the Asian Elite Championships July 1 to 9 in Amman, Jordan.

Fresh from a triumphant campaign in the recent Third China Open held in Guiyang Province on June 16 to 22 where a seven-boxer national delegation went home with a gold medal, a pair of silver medals and a bronze, the Association of Boxing Alliance of the Philippines (ABAP) is sending a team composed of battle-scarred Rey Saludar and Junel Cantancio and three other neophytes to the prestigious competition.

Head coach Pat Gaspi announced in SCOOP Sa Kamayan session on Friday that completing the five-man lineup are 16-year-old Rogen Ladon, 19-year-old Mario Fernandez and Joel Bacho, also 19, as part of his association’s preparation for this year’s 27th Southeast Asian Games, next year’s Asian Games and up to the Olympic Games three years from now.

Of the three youngsters, only Ladon, flyweight, had seen action in a pair of international competitions, while Fernandez, bantamweight and Bacho, light-welterweight, represented the country in international arena only once each.

The 25-year-old Saludar, fighting out of Polomok in South Cotabato, has, so far carried the country’s colors in no less than 10 international tournaments, bringing home three gold medals, one in the Asian Games three years ago in Guangzhou, China, one in the Tammer Cup in Finland, also in 2010 and another in the San Francisco Invitational in California.

Cantancio, the 27-year-old nephew of Olympian and Asian Games veteran Leopoldo Cantancio, has seen action in an International dual match with Sri Lanka and the Asean championships where he both took home a gold medal each. He also won a silver medal in the China Open in Guiyang.

Joey Barton says Neymar overrated

Controversial former England international Joey Barton sank his claws into Brazil starlet Neymar on Tuesday, taking to Twitter to dismiss the South American’s abilities.



“Neymar is the Justin Bieber of football. Brilliant on the old YouTube. Cat piss in reality,” was Barton’s damning view of the Santos forward long dubbed as Brazil’s hero-in-waiting as they bid to win a sixth World Cup on home soil next year.



Former Manchester City and Newcastle midfielder Barton, who now is on a season loan with Marseille from Queens Park Rangers, had already mocked Neymar as ‘overrated’ after Brazil’s friendly loss to England last month.

Ethiopia snatch win to keep World Cup dream alive

Ethiopia snatched a dramatic 1-0 home victory over Botswana on Sunday to keep alive hopes of a first appearance at the World Cup in Brazil next year.



Substitute Getaneh Kebede, who replaced fellow-striker Adane Girma for the second half in Addis Ababa, snatched the lone goal two minutes from time in the high-altitude east African city.



Ethiopia returned to the top of Group A with seven points, two more than overnight leaders South Africa, who overcame Central African Republic 2-0 in Cape Town thanks to goals from Thabo Matlaba and Bernard Parker.



Tanzania scored three second-half goals to thrash four-time World Cup qualifiers Morocco 3-1 in Dar es Salaam and climb to within a point of Group C pacesetters Ivory Coast.



Thomas Ulimwengu broke the deadlock a minute after half-time and there was a brace for Mbwana Samata before Youssef El Arabi reduced the arrears four minutes into stoppage time.



This humiliating loss, coupled with draws against Gambia and Ivory Coast, means Morocco are all but out of the running for Brazil, and the future of recently appointed coach Rachid Taoussi must be in doubt.



Litsebe Marabe levelled a minute from time to give minnows Lesotho a 1-1 draw with 10-man Zambia in Maseru after Collins Mbesuma opened the scoring following the red carding of goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene for a professional foul.



The failure to collect maximum points was a bitter blow for Zambia, who stay top of Group D, but Ghana closed the gap to just one point by hammering Sudan 4-0 in Kumasi.



Asamoah Gyan, joint 2013 Cup of Nations leading scorer Mubarak Wakaso, Abdul Majeed Waris and Emmanuel Agyemang Badu were on target for the Black Stars, who are chasing a third consecutive World Cup appearance.



Mali, third behind Nigeria and Burkina Faso at the recent Cup of Nations in South Africa, fought back to overcome Rwanda 2-1 in Kigali and rise two places to the Group H summit.



Meddy Kagere scored after 37 minutes to raise hopes of a first qualifying win for the Rwandan Wasps after a heavy away loss to Algeria and a last-gasp home draw with Benin.



But Mali scored twice within six minutes early in the second half through Mahamadou Samassa and Abdou Traore to take a two-point lead over Benin with twice World Cup qualifiers Algeria a point further back.



Liberia moved from the bottom of Group J to second place, one point behind Senegal, after Patrick Wleh and captain Anthony Laffor scored to secure a 2-0 victory over Uganda in Paynesville.



Former giants Cameroon gained most from a 0-0 stalemate between Democratic Republic of Congo and Libya in Kinshasa as it kept the Indomitable Lions top of Group I, one point ahead of the Mediterranean Knights.



Cape Verde, who reached the 2013 Cup of Nations quarter-finals as debutants, equalised three times before losing a Group B thriller 4-3 to Equatorial Guinea in Malabo with Emilio Nsue scoring a hat-trick for the victors.



Mozambique and Guinea drew 0-0 in a dour Group G clash in Maputo, leaving leaders Egypt with a chance to open a five-point gap should they beat generally poor travellers Zimbabwe in Alexandria on Tuesday.

Rio Ferdinand still has England future: Lampard

Frank Lampard believes that Rio Ferdinand has not yet played his last game for England, despite the defender having withdrawn from the national squad this week.



England manager Roy Hodgson had called Ferdinand up for the first time for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro, only for the 34-year-old to pull out, citing fitness concerns.



Ferdinand won the last of his 81 caps in a Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland in June 2011.



Despite his withdrawal, the Manchester United centre-back insists that he still wishes to represent his country, and Lampard says his current form means he deserves an opportunity.



“He’s a top-drawer player, Rio, and he’s certainly not finished,” Lampard told a press conference at England’s St George’s Park training base in Burton upon Trent, central England.



“Looking at his performances against (Real) Madrid, especially away, he was outstanding.



“Regular performances week in and week out, he’s a top performer, has been and still is.



“I don’t know the ins and outs of his future, but the way he’s playing at the minute, he’s one of the top defenders in the Premier League for sure.”



With Ferdinand’s fellow centre-backs Phil Jagielka, Michael Dawson and Gary Cahill all currently nursing injuries, Lampard said the timing of his former West Ham United team-mate’s withdrawal was unfortunate.



“(I was) sorry for him and the team. He’s been in fantastic form,” the Chelsea midfielder said.



“We’re losing a player of quality. As I said, now it’s very important that the squad gets the results that it needs so there are no personal issues – it’s about all of the team.”



However, Lampard, who is also 34, said he understood Ferdinand’s motives.



“Being one of the older lads, once you pass 30 years of age you have to manage yourself differently, maintain yourself, train more, train less, rest periods… particularly lads who have picked up injuries,” he said.



“I know Rio picked up a few injuries earlier in his career and he’s been very disciplined in keeping on top of himself to make sure he gets the most out of his career, so a lot of respect for that, and everyone is different.”



England visit Group H’s bottom side San Marino on Friday, followed by a trip to group leaders Montenegro the following Tuesday.



Hodgson’s side are expected to make light work of minnows San Marino, but defeat by Montenegro would seriously undermine their chances of qualifying automatically for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.



England beat Brazil 2-1 at Wembley in their previous outing in February and Lampard’s fellow midfielder James Milner says it is important that they harness the momentum from that game.



“These two games are big games for us,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of results that we would have liked to turn into wins but haven’t.



“The last result against Brazil was big for us so that’s a positive sign.”



Despite expectations that England will prevail handsomely against San Marino, Milner says his side must approach the fixture with due care and attention.



“First and foremost we want to win and if we win by a few goals, that will give the team confidence,” said the versatile Manchester City man.



“That memory then goes into the bank for Tuesday night and hopefully it can happen again.



“With the creative players that we have got, hopefully we will get a goal early on and push on from there.



“These are the types of game you want to play in. San Marino, we should beat them, but they’ll make it difficult for us.



“Even if we score a goal, they are going to stay behind the ball. We just have to make sure we keep doing the right things and use the full width of the pitch.”

2014 World Cup Qualifying: England held by dogged Montenegro

Montenegro produced a rousing second-half display to earn a 1-1 draw at home to England on Tuesday that enabled them to preserve a two-point lead in their World Cup qualifying group.



Wayne Rooney appeared to have atoned for his red card on his last visit to Podgorica by giving England a sixth-minute lead that looked set to send Roy Hodgson’s side to the top of Group H.



However, the hosts rallied after the interval at a raucous Podgorica City Stadium and claimed a deserved equaliser in the 76th minute when substitute Dejan Damjanovic bundled home.



“We stopped playing after the break for 20 or 30 minutes and away from home you can’t afford to do that,” England captain Steven Gerrard told ITV.



“They took control in the second half apart from the last 10 minutes, but we are still confident we can finish top of the group.”



The result means that, if Montenegro win at home to Ukraine in June, England will be five points off the pace by the time they play their next qualifier at home to Moldova in September.



On his team’s mid-game revival, Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic explained: “I told them clearly there’s nothing to be afraid of. We should put the ball on the ground and be calm in starting the action again.”



England coach Hodgson made six changes to the team that outclassed San Marino 8-0, with Gerrard returning alongside Glen Johnson, Ashley Cole, Michael Carrick, James Milner and Danny Welbeck.



England had been promised a caustic atmosphere, and fighting broke out between the home fans before the game had even begun, but if there had been any pre-match nerves in the visiting ranks, they did not show.



In the third minute, Rooney beat Mladen Bozovic with a delicately measured lob that came back off the post, and three minutes later, the hosts’ goalkeeper had to touch a rising drive from Johnson over the bar.



From the corner that followed England went ahead, Rooney resisting the attentions of his marker to meet Gerrard’s delivery with a header that found the bottom-right corner for his 35th international goal.



Brnovic had put his faith in his “two Ferraris”, Stefan Jovetic and Mirko Vucinic, but they were initially subdued; Jovetic dragging wide in the 15th minute.



Milner drilled a shot wide for England, while Rooney narrowly failed to find Welbeck with a cross before being unable to adjust himself quickly enough to convert a low centre from Milner.



The visitors might even have had a penalty shortly before half-time, when Stefan Savic appeared to clip the escaping Welbeck inside the area, but instead the Manchester United forward was booked for diving.



Brnovic introduced striker Damjanovic at half-time and the early stages of the second half saw the home side procure a glut of chances.



Jovetic hit the side-netting with a header, Marko Basa headed wide, Jovetic hooked a volley off-target, and Vucinic should have done better than place a half-volley over the bar when a half-cleared corner fell to him.



England goalkeeper Joe Hart also had a heart-in-mouth moment, patting down a shot from Vucinic and then leaping on the ball after it bounced off his leg towards the net.



Still Montenegro came, and in the 72nd minute Vucinic bent a shot inches wide of the right-hand post despite the unmarked Damjanovic screaming for the ball to his right.



Hart flew to his right to parry a crisp half-volley from Jovetic and from the corner that followed, a scramble saw the ball squirt out and hit the post.



The compact stadium was rocking, and England’s resistance did not last long.



Damjanic claimed the equaliser, at the third attempt, bundling the ball home after Hart had saved his bullet header from a corner and his initial follow-up had been blocked.



Smoke from several flares drifted across the pitch as England struggled to respond, but Gerrard saw first a last-minute volley and then an injury-time free-kick repelled by Bozovic.

Djokovic dream still alive after Wawrinka test

MELBOURNE – Novak Djokovic survived an almighty scare from an inspired Stan Wawrinka in a five-hour, five-set thriller at the Australian Open on Sunday, reaching a 15th consecutive grand slam quarter-final but only after digging himself out of a huge hole.

For the first 50 minutes of the contest, Wawrinka played as if possessed by his compatriot Roger Federer and confounded the world number one with brilliant backhands and ferocious forehands to notch up five straight breaks of serve.

Even when Djokovic had weathered the worst of the storm and clawed his way back from 6-1 4-1 down to win the second and third sets, the world number 17 made the Serbian earn every point and forced a decider after a dramatic tiebreak.

The Swiss blew four precious break points in the ninth game of the fifth set and Djokovic converted his third match point with a brilliant backhand winner to seal a 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7 12-10 win.

In a conscious echo of his win over Rafa Nadal in last year’s nearly six-hour final on Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic ripped off his shirt and roared in delight at a victory which kept alive his hopes of a third successive title at Melbourne Park.

“We are only halfway through the tournament but it felt like a final to me,” said Djokovic, who will meet fifth seed Tomas Berdych in the next round.

“He deserved equally to be a winner of this match. Tonight he showed his qualities. He was the aggressor on the court and I was just hanging in there trying to fight.

“I always believed I could win the match and I am absolutely thrilled to be in the next round. It certainly brings back memories of last year with Rafa.”

Wawrinka, who left the court with tears in his eyes, was distraught after coming up short despite playing the match of his life.

“I think it’s the best match I’ve ever played,” he said. “At the end I was really close and I was really sad to lose, it was a great disappointment for sure.”

In the women’s draw it was business as usual as Maria Sharapova progressed with brutal efficiency to reach the last eight having lost just five games all week – an Australian Open record.

Agnieszka Radwanska continued her perfect start to the year with her 13th successive victory to set up a quarter-final with Li Na, while David Ferrer eased further into the gap in the draw left by his injured compatriot Nadal.

TIPSAREVIC RETIRES

Injury-hampered fifth seed Angelique Kerber crashed out, however, and she was joined at the exit by men’s eighth seed Janko Tipsarevic, who retired from his tie with a foot problem after spending more than 11 hours on court in his four matches.

Sharapova has achieved her four wins in just 249, earning more than $1,000 a minute given the $250,000 purse for quarter-finalists.

The second seed was held up briefly when her serve deserted her in the first set but she still hammered Belgian Kirsten Flipkens 6-0 6-1 to set up a repeat of last year’s last eight clash with compatriot Ekaterina Makarova, who upset Kerber 7-5 6-4.

“I didn’t start the match really great (but) then I started really getting under the ball and being aggressive and just had a little bit more energy,” Sharapova said.

Ferrer has reached the quarter-finals for the third straight year with much less hoopla than Sharapova but with almost as much efficiency.

On Sunday, he prowled the baseline of the Rod Laver Arena to great effect and ended the challenge of error-prone Japanese Kei Nishikori 6-2 6-1 6-4.

“It’s very important to get to the second week not feeling too tired and in good physical condition,” said Ferrer, who will face Nicolas Almagro in an all-Spanish quarter-final.

Fifth seed Berdych had said playing big-serving South African Kevin Anderson would be like facing himself but the contest only really came to life in an epic third-set tiebreak, which the Czech won 15-13 to claim a 6-3 6-2 7-6 win.

Radwanska made four unforced errors to 34 for Ana Ivanovic in their fourth round tie and sealed a 6-2 6-4 rout of the former world number one with her seventh ace.

“She’s a player, it’s no secret, who doesn’t make too many winners, but she has good hands,” said Serbian Ivanovic. “She can really get the opponents to feel a little awkward and make you go for too much.”

Li converted all five of the break points she earned in her 7-6 6-1 win over Julia Goerges to reach the last eight of a grand slam for the first time since she won the French Open.

“I’m really looking forward to the quarter-final,” said the Chinese, a losing finalist here two years ago. “It’s been 1-1/2 years. I kept losing in the fourth round so for me it was a very important match today.”

Almagro was the beneficiary of Tipsarevic’s retirement.

“That’s not the way you want to win,” said the 10th seed, who was leading 6-2 5-1 when the Serbian decided he could not continue.

(Editing by John Mehaffey)

Indian football team fails to qualify for AFC Challenge Cup

India failed to qualify for the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup on Tuesday after they were pipped by Bangladesh and Turkemenistan for a spot in the the continent’s second tier tournament meant for emerging football nations.



India, the 2008 champions, had finished second behind Myanmar in Group A qualifying round of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup earlier this month and their fate had remained hanging on the results of other groups.



Wim Koevermans’ men were edged out by Bangladesh and Turkemenistan on goal difference after all the three sides finished second in their respective groups.



Turkemistan and Bangladesh had goal differences of plus nine and plus five respectively and they made it to the final round of 2014 AFC Challenge Cup in Maldives as two best second-placed teams.



India could only manage a goal difference of plus four. They had beaten Chinese Taipei and Guam but had lost 0-1 to hosts Myanmar at Yangon earlier this month.



The qualifying round of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup was divided into five groups and each group matches were played in a centralised venue. The five group toppers and two best second-place teams will join hosts Maldives in the final round next year.



Under tournament rules, the second-place team will be decided first by the number of points, followed by the goal difference.



India took part in the 2011 Asian Cup in Doha, Qatar, on the basis of winning the 2018 AFC Challenge Cup at home. It will be a huge setback for the country which is aiming to raise its football profile as it failed to play even in the second tier competition, not to speak of the top tier.



India had also done miserably in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup and now it has failed to even qualify for the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup. The winners of 2012 and 2014 AFC Challenge Cup would be given automatic berths in the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia.



Now, India has no chance to play in the 2015 Asian Cup as its low FIFA ranking among Asian countries also meant that it cannot play in the qualifying round which has started earlier this month.

LOCOG issue statement on tennis tickets

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games have released a statement following some fans’ anger on day seven of the Olympic tennis event at Wimbledon.



Supporters with tickets for the No. 1 Court at the All England Club arrived disappointed this morning as they learned they would only see one singles semi-final, after the tickets said they would see one men’s semi and one women’s.



Three of the four singles semis are on Centre Court, with both men’s last-four encounters on the bigger showcourt.



However, due to the consistent rain over the week at SW19, organisers had to reschedule the order of play to accommodate some of the players who are also in doubles action.



LOCOG quoted a statement on the London 2012 website that read: “All Games schedules advertised were correct as of Monday July 16, 2012. They however can change between this date and the date of the competition.



“Playing at least three semi-finals on Centre Court ensures completion as the roof can be deployed in the event of more inclement weather.



“Four of the players on Centre Court (Victoria Azarenka, Juan Martin del Potro, Andy Murray and Serena Williams) are still involved in a doubles competition and this gives us the best chance of keeping the programme on schedule.”



Click here for a full order of play for today’s action.

UEFA Champions League: Carlo Ancelotti confident of Barcelona upset

Paris Saint-Germain coach Carlo Ancelotti is relishing the challenge of facing Champions League favourites Barcelona in the quarter-finals and believes his expensively assembled side are capable of producing an upset.



“We have our chances. They are a team that are dangerous and very strong but it is exciting to prepare for this match. There is always a chance and no team is unbeatable,” the 53-year-old Italian explained ahead of Sunday’s Ligue 1 match at Saint-Etienne.



“On paper, it is normal to say that Barca or Real are the best teams in the world. But football and the beauty of it is that a team with perhaps less quality can still win. Anything can happen,” he added.



“This match will not be a problem for motivation. It will be about courage and character.”



The first leg is to be played on April 2 at the Parc des Princes with the return leg set for April 10 in Barcelona.

Michael Owen ponders move into management

Michael Owen is contemplating a move into management or coaching when he retires from football at the end of the season.



The 33-year-old Stoke and ex-England striker said Tuesday he will call time on his playing days come the finish of the current campaign.



Owen, who made his name at Liverpool before spells with Real Madrid, Newcastle and Manchester United, plans to continue working as a football pundit and will launch his own management company.



However, Owen told the BBC on Saturday: “I have not closed the door on management. I find it hard to say no to people. If someone offers you a good job, I’d think, ‘I would love to do that’.”



Owen’s failure to command a regular place at Stoke this season prompted his decision to retire, with the forward having so far scored one goal in seven appearances for the Potters this term.



It was with Liverpool that a 17-year-old Owen burst on the scene, scoring 158 goals in 297 games for the Merseysiders from 1996 to 2004.



He made the rest of the world sit up and take notice with a superb solo goal for England against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup finals in France — one of 40 in 89 appearances for his country.



But his career was blighted by a succession of injuries and Owen said: “I did not have a break for years and years.



“That is something I would advise young players now to guard against.”



He added that had he started out as a professional with United, the strength of the squad at Old Trafford would have prevented him from playing too many matches at too young an age.



However, Owen stressed he’s no regrets about joining Liverpool where he won the UEFA Cup, FA Cup and two League Cups.



“I had the choice to join Manchester United when I was a kid but I chose Liverpool. Yes, I could be playing a bit longer, might have had a few more medals in a pocket but who knows?



“I would not swap my time at Liverpool — they were my best years.”



Owen came to be regarded as an expensive luxury by many Newcastle fans during his injury-hit spell with the north-east side.



After his BBC interview, Owen went on to Twitter on Saturday to say he was never offered a new contract by the Magpies, who released a statement to that effect ahead of the 2008/09 season.



Owen joined Newcastle for ?17 million ($26 million) from Real Madrid in 2005 but left on a free transfer in 2009 when the club were relegated from the Premier League, joining Manchester United for the following season.



“Newcastle fans, following my Football Focus interview, plenty of you tweeting me saying you don’t blame me for getting injured but for leaving when we got relegated,” he wrote on Twitter.



“Despite the club saying they did, they didn’t ever offer me a new contract despite them putting it in the press that they did.



“How could they when they had just been relegated? It would have been financial suicide. I’ve seen it a million times, a club will blatantly lie to their fans to take the moral high ground, leaving the player with no leg to stand on.”



Owen added: “I’ve taken the stick for years which is fine but you really don’t know half of it. All will be revealed one day.”

Rebuilding

Raffy Ledesma

The Boston Celtics era of the “Big Three” is officially over.  It was reported yesterday that the Celtics are trading their core veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries along with 3 future first round draft picks.  Celtic guard Jason Terry is also part of the deal.

For a team in full rebuilding mode, trading their ageing stars was a huge first step to clear salary cap space. Garnett is owed $12 million for next season and the Nets guaranteed to keep his contract.  Pierce, meanwhile, will be making $17 million. Pierce and Garnett join Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brooks Lopez to form a formidable, championship caliber unit.  They will also play under their contemporary newly appointed Nets coach Jason Kidd.

With Boston’s trades, they suddenly have enough money and draft picks to accelerate the rebuilding process.

A few days before this mega deal, the Celtics also let go of longtime coach Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for a 1st round draft pick. Rivers said that he would rather coach a playoff-ready team than to stick around and start from scratch.

The signing of Rivers is seen as the first step to keep prized point guard Chris Paul in Los Angeles. Paul reportedly wanted the Clippers to hire Rivers or he would test the free agent waters. Rivers, one of the four active coaches with an NBA title, has announced that his first order of business to preach defense in his new team. Rivers is set to make $27 million over the next 3 years–the same amount on his remaining contract with the Celtics.

Boston is still looking for a replacement coach and is expected to sign a young and low-profile coach to cut on costs while they are rebuilding.  They are looking at assistant coach Jay Larranaga to take over.

The end of this Celtics era is a blow to many fans that enjoyed the team-up of their beloved Big Three back in 2007. Garnett, Pierce, and Ray Allen transformed the Celtics from one of the worst teams in the league to a champion in just one season. Under the trio, the Celtics completed the largest single-season turnaround in NBA history. They posted a 66-16 record in their first year together (2007-2008), an unprecedented 42 game improvement.

The Celtics won their 17th championship that year over their historical rivals L.A. Lakers.

The team went back to the NBA Finals again in 2010 but failed to win the title.

It is also sad to see Paul Pierce leave since he has been synonymous to Celtics basketball over the last 15 years. Pierce was picked No. 10 in the 1998 draft and has been through many highs and lows in the organization.

Indeed, nothing lasts forever and it is about time that the Celtics let go of the past and start looking to the future. The first two years of this rebuilding process will definitely be painful but with the history and track record of this organization, the Celtics will be back on top in no time.

raffyrledesma@yahoo.com

Karim Benzema fined 18,000 euros for speeding

Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema has been fined 18,000 euros ($23,335, ?15,580) and banned from driving for eight months after being caught speeding, a Spanish court confirmed on Friday.



The court in Alcorcon, near Madrid, found the French international guilty of driving at 194.4 kilometres (120.8 miles) per hour – more than 80kmph over the limit – in the early hours on Sunday, February 3.



“The Court of First Instance has today found Real Madrid player Karim Benzema guilty in a case held at 10.00 hours this morning with the punishment of a daily fine of 150 euros for eight months (amounting to 18,000 euros) and the removal of his driving licence for eight months and one day,” said a statement from the court.



The trial had been brought forward from Tuesday, March 26 because of the likelihood that Benzema would be involved in a World Cup qualifying match between France and Spain in Paris that evening.



“The day of the 26th had been put in place for the trial to take place,” said a spokesman for the court.



“However, it became clear after the fixing of that date that this coincided with the date of the game between France and Spain.



“Therefore, the prosecutor and Benzema’s lawyer looked for a date that would suit both parties and that has been this morning.”



Benzema is not the only Madrid player to have fallen foul of the law for driving offences in recent weeks.



Left-back Marcelo was fined 6,000 euros for driving after his licence had been revoked, whilst Mesut Ozil was fined 500 euros and had six points removed from his licence for performing an illegal turn.

Webber to leave F1 at the end of season

SILVERSTONE, United Kingdom: Mark Webber on Thursday confirmed what many close observers suspected when he announced that he will be leaving Red Bull and Formula One at the end of this season to switch to sportscar racing with Porsche’s LMP1 team. The Australian, who will be 37 in August, has been expected to make a move ever since his Red Bull team-mate, triple world champion Sebastian Vettel, disobeyed team orders to “steal” victory from him at the Malaysian Grand Prix in March. Webber made the announcement by posting a Porsche statement on his website markwebber.com.

AFP

Robin Soderling behind schedule in comeback

Robin Soderling has revealed that he is behind schedule in his comeback from glandular fever.



The Swede, who has not played since July due to the illness, had hoped to be back this month, but has yet to begin full training.



“I was hoping to be ready for tournaments in February but unfortunately I am not there yet. The good news is that the symptoms of the mono-like sore throat and fever are gone, but for some reason my body still cannot handle intense training,” said the two-time French Open finalist.



“I get very tired when I do something physical. I am working with my medical team to understand why and what the next step is. My full focus of each day is to get healthy and strong.



“Hopefully it won’t be much longer but I cannot compete until I am 100% fit.”



The illness has caused Soderling to drop from fifth to 14th in the world due to his long period of inactivity.

Costa Rica ask FIFA for replay of US match

Costa Rica have asked soccer’s governing body for a replay of Friday’s World Cup qualifier against the United States, won 1-0 by the Americans during a snowstorm in Commerce City, Colorado.



Costa Rican Football Federation Treasurer Rolando Villalobos said in a statement on Sunday that documentation had been sent to FIFA to back the claim, including photographs and videos.



The Costa Rican federation said the climatic conditions threatened the physical integrity of the players, left the sidelines and markings on the field largely not visible and led to the entry onto the field of snow-clearing personnel, which it claimed was not permitted.



The federation also argued that “ball movement became impossible given the quantity of snow on the field” and called on FIFA to punish the match officials who allowed the game to proceed.



“What happened the night … has no precedents, since it not only went against the sporting spectacle, but also against the physical integrity of the officials and players,” the statement said.



During Friday’s game, plows and shovels were used to clear the penalty areas, center circle and midfield stripe as snow got heavier, and a yellow-and-purple ball was used.



Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto urged the referee to suspend the game, but U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann made a case for playing on because both teams faced the same conditions.



Clint Dempsey scored the winning goal in the 16th minute.



The protested loss left Costa Rica at the bottom of its division with one point.



The U.S. Soccer Federation declined to comment.

Deadly Djokovic batters Berdych to reach semis

MELBOURNE – Serbian superman Novak Djokovic remained firmly on course for a third straight Australian Open title on Tuesday after dismantling Tomas Berdych in four sets to set up a last four meeting with Spanish comeback king David Ferrer.

Showing no signs of fatigue from the grinding five-hour duel with Stanislas Wawrinka that ended in the early hours of Monday morning, Djokovic defused the big Czech’s big serve 6-1 4-6 6-1 6-4 to progress comfortably to his 11th successive grand slam semi-final.

Maria Sharapova was just as impressive as she continued a ruthless march through the women’s draw with a 6-2 6-2 savaging of Ekaterina Makarova, while Li Na ended Agnieszka Radwanska’s winning streak to continue her love affair with Melbourne Park.

Ferrer staged what he described as a miraculous comeback from two sets down to beat fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro 4-6 4-6 7-5 7-6 6-2 but immediately said he would need something even more spectacular if he was to get to his first grand slam final.

Living up to his reputation as the fittest player on the tour, world number one Djokovic returned with his usual deftness and moved his 6ft 5in (1.96m) opponent around the court.

The 25-year-old whipped through the first set against fifth seed Berdych quicksmart, stalled only a little as he lost the second before racing to victory in two and a half hours, sealing the win with his 10th ace.

“It was a great performance,” Djokovic said. “I was hoping to have a shorter match and not go over five hours like the last match.

“It is always going to be tough against Tomas … but I came out and played my best tennis.”

Sharapova crushed fellow Russian Makarova in just 66 minutes to set up a last four appointment with Li at a cost of just nine games conceded in the tournament, a record low for the Australian Open.

The second seed and 2008 champion relentlessly pummeled Makarova with a barrage of thumping serves and fierce forehands, leaving the 19th seed scrapping for dignity by the end.

“She’s playing unbelievable, so aggressive, and just in the right spot of the court. It’s really tough to play against her now,” said Makarova.

MIRACLE VICTORY

“In the end I just was fighting for the games, because I was thinking that, yeah, it’s tough to beat her.”

Ferrer stared defeat full in the face three times before taming Almagro after being dominated by some brilliant tennis from the 10th seed for the first two sets.

The fourth seed looked to be heading for the exit when he faced Almagro serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set but he hustled along the baseline to claw his way back into the contest.

Twice more Almagro had chances to serve out for victory but he blew them both before suffering a leg injury and Ferrer, who had won all 12 of their previous meetings, emerged a winner after three hours and 44 minutes.

Ferrer, 30, has lost all four of his previous grand slam semi-finals, including defeats to world number one Djokovic at the U.S. Open in 2007 and last year.

“It was a miracle I won this match,” said Ferrer. “I tried to fight and do my best but next round I need to play my best tennis, better than today,” he said.

“Nole is a special player.”

Li reached her third semi-final in four years at the Australian Open with a 7-5 6-3 victory over Radwanska in the opening match of the day.

Radwanska had come into the contest bursting with confidence on a run of 13 successive wins but looked underpowered as she was bludgeoned into submission by Li in the 102-minute contest.

There were 10 service breaks in the 21 games and sixth seed Li grabbed six of them to set up a contest against Sharapova, who won all three of their encounters last year.

The former French Open champion clearly likes the bright blue courts at Melbourne Park, even if she will probably need to get her unforced error count under the 40 mark if she wants to reach a second final after 2011.

“I really don’t know what it is here,” Li said. “It seems whenever I come down here my results are always quite consistent, no big setbacks or anything.

“I’m not sure whether it’s the winter training but it does seem like I’m just better at this tournament.”

Radwanska, who had not lost a set on her way to the quarter-finals, said it was possible that she had paid the price for playing and winning warm-up events in Auckland and Sydney.

The Pole also thought Li had a good chance against Sharapova.

“I think it’s 50/50, to be honest,” she said. “They’re both playing very well tennis this week, definitely. For sure it’s going to be good match.”

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Bibat, Becierra tie Van der Valk at helm

Michael Bibat and Dante Becierra came through with a pair of four-under 67s to catch opening day leader Guido Van der Valk at the helm for a one-stroke lead over unheralded Elmer Saban in the second round of the P1 million ICTSI Rancho Palos Verdes Classic at Rancho Palos Verdes Golf and Recreational Estates on Thursday.

Bibat, outgunned by Van der Valk in their opening day shootout, got back at the Dutch ace, ratting off three birdies in the last six holes to complete a 34-33 card and match Van der Valk’s seven-under output after the erstwhile solo leader slowed down with a 69 after an impressive 66.

“My short irons clicked and also I have started to get used to the speed of the greens, that’s the most important thing,” said the Srixon-backed Bibat, the former Asian Games bronze medalist whose best finish in five years was fifth at Southwoods in 2008.

Becierra, a former Hong Kong Amateur Open champion, leaned on an strong at the back and went on to fire six birdies in the first 13 holes to momentarily seize the solo lead at eight-under with a birdie on No. 4. But he missed the green on the next and wound up with a bogey before parring the last four holes for a 32-35.

Saban, perhaps the least from among a slew of local bets to ever figure for the title race in the 54-hole championship sponsored by ICTSI, also shot a 67 to grab solo fourth at 136, just one stroke behind, while Jay Bayron, another local ace, carded a bogey-free 69 for solo fifth at 137.

With Charles Hong and Rufino Bayron joining Elmer Salvador and Anthony Fernando at 138 after a 66 and 68, respectively, the battle for the top P200,000 purse could go down to the last putt.

Van der Valk survived his game-long struggle with his putter and was lucky to remain in the title hunt in the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.

“Today (yesterday) I really played nice but failed to cash in my putts. That would have made the difference if I made some of it,” he said.

Salvador birdied No. 1 then recovered from a bogey-bogey mishap from No. 3 with four birdies in the last 13 holes, including three straight from No. 6 as he shot a 68 while Fernando, the former national champion also seeking a breakthrough win as a pro, carded a 70.

Frankie Minoza, who matched par in the first round, missed joining the 138 group with a closing bogey on No. 9 for a 68, dropping to fifth at 139 in a tie with Cassius Casas and Edward Reyes, who both had 68s, Reymon Jaraula.

Other three-under overall scorers were Edward Reyes, the third man in the Bibat-Van der Valk flight who shot a 68, and unheralded Reymon Jaraula, who shot a 69, and Rolando Marabe, who turned in a 70.

Defending champion Carl Santos-Ocampo made a 69 but remained too far behind at 140, five strokes adrift, in the company of Clyde Mondilla and Paul Minoza, who had 67s, and Tony Lascuna, Richard Sinfuego, Rey Pagunsan, Benjie Magada and Jun Bernis, who all had 69s, and Mhark Fernando and Rene Menor, who settled for 71s.

Amateur LJ Go, who started the round in second just a stroke off Van der Valk, sputtered with a 73 and dropped to the big group of 140 scorers.

MALIGNAGGI FACES UNBEATEN BRONER IN BATTLE OF CHAMPS

NEW YORK: Hometown hero Paulie Malignaggi defends his World Boxing Association welterweight title against unbeaten US compatriot Adrien Broner on Saturday in a showdown of rival champions. Broner, the reigning World Boxing Council lightweight champion and a former world super featherweight champion, steps up two weight divisions to fight Malignaggi before his loyal supporters at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Malignaggi, 32-4 with seven knockouts, makes the second defense of the title he took from previously unbeaten Ukraine fighter Vyacheslav Senchenko with a ninth-round stoppage last year in his rival’s homeland.

AFP

Makarova eager to face rampant Sharapova

MELBOURNE – Russian Ekaterina Makarova is eager to meet Maria Sharapova in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open on Tuesday even though her compatriot has been one of the dominant women players of the tournament.

The 19th seed met Sharapova in the same round last year at Melbourne Park, with the world number two recording a 6-2 6-3 victory and Makarova is keen on seeing if she has the game to match it with the world’s best.

“I really want to play against her,” Makarova said. “During last year we played lot of times, and I never beat her.

“So I’m really interested to play against her. She’s in good form now, in good shape. I hope I show my good tennis again.”

Makarova had entered last year’s quarter-final against Sharapova having beaten Serena Williams. Makarova was then ranked 52nd in the world.

This year, she was seeded but still managed to upset a top-10 player when she beat fifth seed Angelique Kerber in the fourth round. She also beat 11th seed Marion Bartoli in the third round and Sharapova was not taking her lightly.

“I have to do the right things to beat her,” she said.

“If I win that, it’s moving on to the next one. That’s how I go about a tournament, a grand slam.

“Obviously I want to be playing my best tennis towards the end of the second week.”

While Sharapova has overpowered her opponents, tennis purists should be looking forward to the first match in the quarter-finals with world number four Agnieszka Radwanska playing China’s sixth-seed Li Na.

Radwanska and Li are renowned more for their touch and construction of points rather than relying on the power game that the top three seeds Victoria Azarenka, Sharapova and Serena Williams have utilized ruthlessly in the tournament.

“It’s never easy playing against her,” Radwanska said of the 2011 French Open champion. “She’s a very consistent player and moving very well, serving well.

“We played in Sydney. It was really tough match (and)… I really have to play… hundred percent to beat her.”

Men’s champion Novak Djokovic, who was forced into a five hour, five set marathon against Stanislas Wawrinka has been given some respite from that clash, with his match against Tomas Berdych the first match in the night session.

The winner of the Djokovic-Berdych match will face either fourth seed David Ferrer or his Spanish compatriot 10th seed Nicolas Almagro in the semi-finals.

Almagro has not beaten Ferrer in 12 previous clashes but his eyes are firmly set on ending that streak and moving into his first grand slam semi-final.

“(It) is a big opportunity for me to be in a semi-final,” Almagro said.

“I’m ready to fight. I’m healthy and I’m happy with my tennis. I think I’m playing really good.

“We’ll see what happens.”

(Editing by Alison Wildey)

I-League: Sporting Clube de Goa rally to beat Salgaocar 3-1

Nine-man Salgaocar succumbed to repeated attacks from Sporting Clube de Goa and went down 1-3 in a rescheduled 12th round I-League football clash at the Duler Stadium in Mapusa on Wednesday.



Salgaocar led 1-0 at the breather but had two of their players sent off in the second session, including goalkeeper Karanjit Singh.



Augustine Fernandes gave Salgaocar the lead while Spanish striker Juan Pena (penalty) restored parity for Sporting at the hour mark.



Substitute striker Victorino Fernandes scored the second for Sporting in the 90th minute and Ogba Kalu made it 3-1 in added time.



Salgaocar were the better team in the first session and took the battle to the opposition.



Nigerian striker O.J. Obatola and Brazilian striker Josimar Martins combined well upfront but all the hard work was undone by poor finishing.



After some near misses, Salgaocar surged ahead in the 38th minute after the Sporting Clube defence momentarily went to sleep.



With a player injured in their own half, Sporting urged their own player to push the ball out of play but that request went unheard.



Instead, Sporting defender Jovel Martins lost the ball and it paved the way for Augustine Fernandes to bulge the net.



Almost immediately, Salgaocar had a chance to take a 2-0 lead but Francis Fernandes, picked beautifully by Rocus Lamare, targeted the side netting.



Even in the second session, Salgaocar should have scored another goal. This time the culprit was Obatola who, despite having only the goalkeeper to beat, shot horribly wide.



Salgaocar eventually paid for their follies as Sporting struck back.



Substitute Victorino Fernandes won a penalty after he was brought down by goalkeeper Karanjit Singh, who was sent off with a straight red card.



Spanish striker Juan Pena converted the spot kick to make it 1-1 in the 61st minute.



In the 68th minute, there was more drama as Salgaocar’s Josimar and Sporting’s Joyner Lourenco were both sent off for an off-the-ball incident.



Sporting made the best use of their numerical advantage as substitute Victorino Fernandes finally scored the match winner from a goalmouth melee in the final minute of play.



Ogba Kalu then scored another goal in added time to help his team complete a 3-1 victory.

Rafael Nadal pleased after ‘difficult’ Barcelona Open win

Rafael Nadal has praised opponent David Ferrer following the world number two’s Barcelona Open title win.



The 25-year-old edged out his fellow Spaniard 7-6 7-5 to clinch his seventh title at the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona.



“Without doubt it was my most difficult match since the start of the clay season,” he said. “I think that David more than deserved to win this title and I really wish him the best for the rest of his career.



“David always takes you to the limit and I really had some good fortune in that first set. When you have five set points against you and you save all of them obviously there is a good deal of luck involved.



“It was something of a lottery but it came down on my side and I am sorry for him but very happy.”



The triumph was the 48th professional title of Nadal’s career.

I’m not finished – Federer

Roger Federer AFP PHOTO

LONDON: Roger Federer insisted he will play on for many more years to come despite crashing out of Wimbledon in a shock defeat that brought his extraordinary Grand Slam run to a juddering halt.

Though downbeat, the Swiss legend said he would not go into panic mode after being knocked out by unfancied Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round on Wednesday.

The world No. 3 said there was perhaps a sea change happening in tennis where lower-ranked players now had the belief to mix it with the sport’s best, like himself, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal.

Federer’s shock 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (7/5), 7-5, 7-6 (7/5) loss to world No. 116 Stakhovsky on his Center Court stomping ground brought the curtain down on his run of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final appearances, which started at Wimbledon 2004.

At 31 years old, some are questioning whether Federer’s all-conquering powers are now openly in decline.

But the man himself insisted he had plenty left in the tank.

“I still have plans to play for many more years to come,” the seven-time Wimbledon winner said.

“It’s normal that after all of a sudden losing early after being in the quarters 36 times, people feel it’s different.

“I wish it wasn’t going to end here. But I don’t think that’s something fans are going to mourn.

“It’s a great number. I can be proud of it. But I’m moving on.”

He said he would reflect on the run “when I’m retired—and that’s not right now.”

Federer plans to use his unscheduled time off to recharge and focus on the rest of the season.

“What do you do after something like this? What do you do? Do you do the 24-hour rule? You don’t panic at this point, that’s clear. Just go back to work and come back stronger.

“Somewhat simple; hard to do sometimes. But usually I do turnarounds pretty good. I’m looking forward to what’s to come. I hope I can play a good end to the season.”

And the 17-time Grand Slam champion felt he was generally performing well.

“This is a setback, a disappointment, whatever you want to call it. But then overall I think I played great eight months ago at the World Tour Finals, I played great at the Australian Open,” he said.

“I didn’t play so much as of late. At the same time that gives me more flexibility with my schedule moving forward and next year as well.

“I have more options now than I did have one year ago when I was running around trying to chase down every possible tournament and every point to get back to world number one.

“Overall I think I’ve been playing actually not so bad, like some have portrayed it. Season’s not over here. Only just in the middle. Still have a lot of tennis left.”

Federer said more credit was due to lower-ranked players, with so much attention focused on the ‘big four’.

“I think there was a time where some players didn’t believe they could beat the top guys. So maybe there’s a little bit of a thing happening at the moment. I’m happy about that, that players believe they can beat the best on the biggest courts in the biggest matches,” he said.

“I think it’s very important, that belief. We’re missing the teenagers overall, so it’s up to other guys to do it like we’ve seen this week, at other places as well. All we can do is give it all we have, be a professional, train hard, do all the right things, what you’re supposed to be doing.

“I’m looking forward to playing hopefully injury free for the rest of the season, then we’ll go from there.”

Police probe after coins thrown at Lampard, Terry

Police launched an investigation on Sunday after coins were thrown at Frank Lampard and John Terry during Chelsea’s 2-0 win over West Ham at Stamford Bridge.



Lampard, a former West Ham player, celebrated his 19th-minute goal — his 200th for Chelsea — in front of the away end along with substitute Terry where objects were hurled at them.



“We are investigating instances of coin-throwing at Chelsea verses West Ham on Sunday, March 17. There have been no arrests. Inquiries continue,” said a police spokesman.



A West Ham statement read: “West Ham United will be working with Chelsea to investigate the reports of missile throwing during Sunday’s game at Stamford Bridge.



“Any individual found to have acted in an inappropriate way will have to face the consequences of their actions, including the possibility of a ban from attending future matches.”

Seattle group signs deal for Sacramento pro basketball team

SEATTLE – A Seattle-based investment group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen has signed a binding agreement to buy a controlling interest in the Sacramento Kings basketball team, paving the way for a return of professional basketball to a city still pining for the loss of its SuperSonics in 2008.

Terms of the deal, announced by Hansen’s group and confirmed on Monday by the National Basketball Association, were not disclosed. The NBA must approve the deal and that could take several months.

Hansen’s group, which includes Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, has city council approval to build a new $490 million arena near the waterfront south of downtown Seattle, although that plan still faces opposition from the city’s port authority.

Several reports put the value of the deal at about $340 million, but neither of the negotiating parties nor the NBA would comment on details.

Seattle sports fans can still be spotted wearing the green and yellow of the SuperSonics – founded in 1967 and champions of the NBA in 1979 – even after the team was moved to Oklahoma City to become the Thunder in 2008. The move followed rancorous disagreements between team owner Clayton Bennett and the city over public investment in Seattle’s dilapidated KeyArena.

Hansen said on Monday he cannot discuss his group’s plans for the franchise, but it is widely expected that he will give the Kings the SuperSonics name and install the team at KeyArena while a new stadium is built.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, who has given political support to efforts to bring basketball back to Seattle, sent a congratulatory message to the investment group on Monday.

Although the Kings are a different franchise from the Sonics that left Seattle in 2008, he welcomed the return of a team that will likely bear the same name.

“This is an exciting day for our city and for Sonics fans everywhere,” said McGinn. “While there is more work ahead, this is a major step toward bringing the Sonics home.”

Owners of the Kings, the Maloof family, confirmed the deal on Monday.

“Chris (Hansen) will be a great steward for the franchise,” said Gavin Maloof, Kings co-owner who was speaking on behalf of the family.

The basketball franchise is set to join a resurgent Seattle sports scene. The Seattle Seahawks football team reached the NFL playoffs this year with a late-season surge, while the Seattle Sounders are the best-attended soccer team in North America by a wide margin.

The Seattle Mariners baseball team have not performed well recently, but pitcher Felix Hernandez brought some excitement to the city last season with the 23rd perfect game in Major League history.

(Additional reporting by Frank Pingue, editing by Philip Barbara)

PH to see action in Rugby World Cup 7

The Volcanoes, under American coach Al Caravelli, are set to compete in the 2013 Rugby World Cup Seven slated on June 28 to 30.

Caravelli told reporters during a press conference in Pasay City on Wednesday that he is very optimistic of his wards’ chances in the tournament.

“The players are growing individually and as a team by leaps and bounds.” Said Caravelli, a former USA Rugby coach. “While we are still very new to international rugby we are learning every day and continuously improving.”

Besides the Philippines, Japan and Hong Kong are the other two Asian countries that gained entry into the competition. The Volcanoes clinched a spot in the World Cup Seven by defeating South Korea in the qualifying tournament in November last year.

The Philippines will be playing with Zimbabwe, Kenya and Samoa in Pool C.

“As far as I’m concerned, Samoa is the toughest team in our bracket. They are bigger, stronger and faster,” said Caravelli. “But I believe the Filipinos will give them a good fight. We need to be smarter and rely on our speed.”

Matthew Saunders, Michael Duhig, David Feeney and Austin Dacanay are expected to lead the Volcanoes’ campaign in World Cup 7.

“The preparations for the World Cup campaign were different compared to the other tournaments as we’ve been able to train together for a longer amount of time. Usually, the squad is informed and then we fly over a week before the tournament but this time, we’ve been lucky enough to have over three weeks of preparation prior to flying to Russia,” said Saunders.

The Volcanoes are bound to leave for Russia on June 23.

Josef T. Ramos

Leading players to get their way on doping controls

MELBOURNE – Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and other leading tennis players calling for increased blood testing in tennis could get their wish in 2013 with the introduction of athlete biological passports to the sport.

In the aftermath of Lance Armstrong’s admission last week that he was on drugs when he won each of his seven Tour de France titles, several top players at the Australian Open have revealed that they have received relatively few blood tests.

World number one Djokovic said last week that he had not been blood tested “in six or seven months”.

The biological passport is a method of monitoring selected biological parameters over time, rather than trying to detect individual substances, and was considered one of the main reasons for the success in catching cheats in cycling.

“We’re looking very, very closely at it and I think there’s a reasonably good chance that will be operational probably towards the end of 2013,” Dr Stuart Miller, the head of the International Tennis Federation (ITF)’s anti-doping effort, told BBC radio on Monday.

In 2011, the most recent set of figures available, the ITF conducted only 21 blood tests out of competition and 131 in total, a figure well outweighed by urine tests, which numbered 2,019.

At the Paris Masters last October, U.S. Open champion Murray led the calls for more blood tests in tennis, a view backed up in Melbourne by Roger Federer and Djokovic.

Blood tests are more expensive to administer than urine tests and Miller admitted that they were subject to financial constraints.

The Tennis Anti-Doping Program, which operates under the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) code is funded by the ITF along with the men’s (ATP) and women’s (WTA) tours and the grand slams.

On Tuesday, the ITF confirmed that the total investment in the anti-doping program was $2 million per year.

That included around $400,000 for the administration, paid for solely by the ITF, which covers staff, education, court costs and insurance.

Miller said tennis was doing everything it could to try to catch cheats.

“We are looking with our partners at the ATP, WTA and grand slams to identify areas we think we can improve,” he said.

“We think we need to increase the proportion of blood testing we do under the program and we think we could also do with tending to increase the proportion of tests we do out of competition.”

The ITF said it is committed to increasing its contribution in 2013 and former top-10 player Guy Forget, now the tournament director of the Paris Masters, said he believed drug taking was still happening in tennis.

“I don’t think our sport is clean, I’m sure some guys are cheating,” he told the BBC.

“I think it’s a minority, probably, but that’s why Roger and Andy are right to say we should put more money into blood tests and have more controls because we should fight this any way we can.

“I lost matches probably to guys who beat me with an unfair advantage because they were taking drugs.

“For sure it has happened. I can look in the mirror knowing I have never taken anything. But some guys might have done it.

“First of all some guys have tested positive, even if it’s only a few, some have.”

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

Andy Murray would ‘love’ Olympic gold medal

Andy Murray has admitted that he would ‘love’ to win an Olympic gold medal at this summer’s London Games.



Despite hopes of putting an end to his search for a first Grand Slam, the world number four wants to put on a show for his British fans.



“It’s a fantastic year for tennis in the capital,” Murray told The Metro. “I want to win my first Grand Slam, but I would also love to gain an Olympic gold medal.



“I’ve played in it before and have some special memories of being there with athletes from other sports.”



“I have to alter my schedule a bit but that isn’t a problem. The Olympics are much higher in profile than they used to be and [Roger] Federer, [Novak] Djokovic and [Rafael] Nadal will be there. And being in London makes it very special for me as I will be playing in front of my fans.”



World number two Nadal won the men’s singles tournament at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Anne Keothavong targets Olympic Games

Great Britain’s number two Anne Keothavong has set herself the target of qualifying for the Olympic Games in London next year.



The 28-year-old is currently ranked number 72 in the world but must rise almost 20 places to have a chance of representing her country next summer.



“For some time now, my biggest goal for 2012 has been to be ranked high enough by the summer to qualify for the Olympics,” she told Tennishead.



“I need to be around number 60 in the world by the grasscourt season.



“When I sat down to discuss my goals just after the US Open when my ranking was outside the top 100 I said to myself, ‘OK, I need to do something good here to be in with a shout,’ and I feel much more confident of my chances of making it now.”



Hackney-born Keothavong is currently training for the Australian Open, which gets underway next month.

Hampton to face Vesnina in Eastbourne final round

EASTBOURNE, United Kingdom: American qualifier Jamie Hampton will play her first career final on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) when she faces Russia’s Elena Vesnina in the final of the Eastbourne International.

The 41st-ranked Hampton earned her place with a 6-7 (8) 7-5, 6-3 upset of former world number one Caroline Wozniacki on Friday, while Vesnina followed up her ouster of China’s second seed Li Na in the quarter-finals by crushing Belgian Yanina Wickmayer 6-2, 6-0 in just 51 minutes.

The men’s final was also set with second seed Gilles Simon to take on Spain’s Feliciano Lopez.

Simon beat 2011 champion Andreas Seppi, the Italian seventh seed, 6-4, 6-3, while Lopez, a former Wimbledon quarter-finalist, defeated Croatian Ivan Dodig 7-6 (7/3), 6-1.

“To be in the finals is a great feeling, it’s good for me, for my game, for my confidence for the rest of the year,” said Lopez.

“I’m very happy with my performance, and hopefully I can keep playing like this until the end of the year so I can improve my ranking again.”

Simon will be appearing in his first career grass court final, the 14th of his career.

A winner of ten trophies, Simon is the sixth Frenchmen to reach the final here.

Earlier, the Hampton-Wozniacki clash took nearly three hours but could have ended much earlier had fifth seed Wozniacki managed to complete a straight-sets win.

As it was, the Dane was made to pay the price for missed opportunities by her surprise opponent in their first meeting.

“Obviously I would have loved to have won today, it would have been worth it to be out there for three hours,” said Wozniacki.

“Actually we played a very good match. The wind that was there, it was so difficult. But I had my chances. I didn’t take them, and, she played very well, I have to say.

Premier League: Old boys Berbatov, Jol come back to haunt Tottenham

Tottenham Hotspur’s challenge for a Champions League place received another setback on Sunday when they lost 1-0 at home to Fulham to register a second consecutive Premier League defeat.



Having eliminated Inter Milan from the Europa League on Thursday, Spurs were bidding to tighten their grip on third place in the table and Gareth Bale had an early header cleared off the line by Sascha Riether.



However, the hosts lost Michael Dawson to injury at half-time and then saw former striker Dimitar Berbatov claim the game’s only goal in the 52nd minute when he converted Riether’s low right-wing cross.



Spurs’ best chance fell to Jermain Defoe in the dying stages, but his effort from Bale’s cut-back met its match in a superb reflex save from Mark Schwarzer.



Coming in the wake of last weekend’s 3-2 loss at Liverpool, Spurs’ defeat left them vulnerable to attack from fourth-place Chelsea, who can claim third place if they overcome West Ham United at Stamford Bridge later on Sunday.



Earlier, Sunderland failed to capitalise on the dismissal of Norwich City goalkeeper Mark Bunn as they were held to a 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light.



After Wes Hoolahan headed Norwich in front in the 26th minute, the visitors lost Bunn to a straight red card when he handled the ball outside his area.



Craig Gardner levelled for Sunderland with a 40th-minute penalty after a handball by Sebastien Bassong, but Sunderland could find no way past the visitors’ 10 men in the second half.



The draw left Sunderland seven points above the relegation zone after their seventh game without a win, while Norwich jump two places to 12th in the Premier League standings.



In the day’s other game, third-bottom Wigan Athletic can close to within three points of safety if they defeat Newcastle United at the DW Stadium.

NCAA Season 89 unfolds

San Beda College commences its campaign for a fourth straight title with a bout against host Saint Benilde College while title contenders San Sebastian College-Recoletos Stags and Letran Knights square off on Saturday in the opening

of the 89th National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) seniors basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

The Red Lions, the winningest team in the oldest collegiate league in the country with 17 titles, take on the Blazers at 4 p.m. while the Stags and the Knights clash at 6 p.m.

An opening ceremony will usher the start of the season at 3 p.m.

New Red Lions coach Boyet Fernandez, who replaced Ronnie Magsanoc, expressed confidence that the Mendiola-based squad can hurdle the challenges in their quest to become the first team in 17 years to win four championships in a row.

San Beda almost did it under coach Frankie Lim in 2006 to 2008 but the Stags foiled their attempt in 2009.

Top contender Letran with 16 titles, will also parade a new coach in the person of Caloy Garcia, the assistant coach of Rain or Shine.

Veteran players Mark Cruz, Raymund Almazan, Jonathan Belorio, Franz Dysam, Kevin Racal, Jamil Joseph Gabawan and Reynaldo Publico will spearhead the campaign for the Knights, who won the championship for the last time in 2005.

“I told my players that being a Stags is a huge responsibility because it has a huge championship history, said Topex Robinson, assistant coach of Alaska, who is returning as mentor of the Stags.

Though the Stags will miss the deadly trio of Calvin Abueva, Ronald Pascual and Ian Sangalang this season, Robinson said that the squad will rely on their vast championship experience in their hunt for a 14th title.

Premier League: Sunderland frustrated by 10-man Norwich

Sunderland failed to capitalise on the dismissal of Norwich City goalkeeper Mark Bunn as they were held to a 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light on Sunday.



After Wes Hoolahan headed Norwich in front in the 26th minute, the visitors lost Bunn to a straight red card when he handled the ball outside his area.



Craig Gardner levelled for Sunderland with a 40th-minute penalty after a handball by Sebastien Bassong, but Sunderland could find no way past the visitors’ 10 men in the second half.



The draw left Sunderland seven points above the relegation zone after their seventh game without a win, while Norwich jump three places to 11th in the Premier League standings.



The tussle for Champions League qualification takes centre stage later on Sunday.



Tottenham Hotspur, who began the day in third place, can put seven points between themselves and fifth-place Arsenal if they win at home to Fulham.



Chelsea, meanwhile, will look to tighten their grip on the fourth and final qualifying berth when they welcome West Ham United to Stamford Bridge.



In the day’s other game, third-bottom Wigan Athletic can close to within three points of safety if they defeat Newcastle United at the DW Stadium.

Serena faces next generation, Murray takes on Chardy

MELBOURNE – Serena Williams comes face to face with the next generation of U.S. tennis when she takes on 19-year-old Sloane Stephens in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open on Wednesday.

Stephens secured her maiden appearance in a grand slam quarter-final with a composed three-set win over Serbia’s Bojana Jovanovski and further impressed with her wise-cracking performance in an on-court interview after the match.

Joking about her nervous relatives and the A$250,000 ($262,600) prize money, Stephens also told the crowd at Hisense Arena that Williams had told her to grunt “louder”, a reference to the 15-times grand slam champion’s sometimes ear-splitting shrieks during play.

Much has been made of Williams’s reported role as mentor to the 29th seed but the off-the-cuff comment continued a bit of banter from the teenager at the world number three’s expense, carrying on from their heated match at the Brisbane International earlier this month.

Eventual champion Williams won the match in two sets but Stephens took the fight to the 31-year-old and was irked by her fist-pumping exhortations after winning big points.

Stephens told her coach that Williams was being ‘disrespectful’ during a change of ends, but later played down the comment as a joke.

With a sixth title at Melbourne Park on the line, Williams has backed away from the mentor role, saying she felt no responsibility toward Stephens.

“It’s hard to be a real mentor when you’re still in competition,” said Williams, who strolled into their clash with a 6-2 6-0 thrashing of 14th seed Maria Kirilenko.

BRILLIANT RUN

The pair will meet in the second match on Rod Laver Arena before Andy Murray takes on France’s 36th-ranked Jeremy Chardy.

Chardy has enjoyed a brilliant run to his maiden grand slam quarter-final, overcoming sixth seed Juan Martin del Potro and 21st-seeded Andreas Seppi, and says he has the confidence to beat “everyone”, including third seed Murray.

“He’s a lot more calm on the court and he deals with emotion a lot better,” former France Davis Cup captain Guy Forget told Reuters of Chardy. “Once he was too aggressive and emotional, but now he’s choosing his shots a lot better.”

Chardy also beat the 25-year-old Scot at the Cincinnati Masters in their last match and is certain to offer him more competition than 14th seed Gilles Simon, who could hardly run in their three-set match, having exhausted himself in a near-five hour marathon in the previous round.

The winner will book a semi-final against either Roger Federer or seventh seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who play in the evening session at Rod Laver Arena.

Federer destroyed the Frenchman in three sets the last time they played at Melbourne Park in the 2010 semi-finals, but Tsonga avenged the defeat the following year at Wimbledon, when he stunned the 17-times grand slam champion in the quarter-finals.

It has all been one-way traffic since, however, with Federer winning their past four encounters, leaving aside a walkover at the 2012 tournament in Doha when the Swiss pulled out injured.

Belarusian Victoria Azarenka, needing to defend her title successfully to preserve her world number one ranking, kicks off the action against twice grand slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia.

($1 = 0.9519 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by John O’Brien)

Rafael Nadal focused on self improvement

Rafael Nadal has claimed that he wants to improve his own game rather than focus on keeping up with Novak Djokovic.



The Spaniard has lost his last seven matches against Djokovic but admits that he is not driven by his rivalry with the world number one.



“I don’t want to improve to beat Novak, to beat Roger [Federer] or to beat nobody. I try my best every day to improve my level of tennis, to be a better player year by year,” said Nadal.



“And if that’s enough to beat Novak, fantastic. If not, I’m gonna keep working. When I wake up every morning and I go on court for practice, I don’t think about Novak. I think about the things I need to keep improving, I think about myself.



“I don’t have the spirit of revenge, I don’t have the spirit of obsession with another player. My spirit is to try and be a better player every day for myself. That’s my satisfaction.”



Nadal’s most recent meeting with Djokovic was the Australian Open final loss in January.

Alex Ferguson casts doubt on Rio Ferdinand’s England recall

Alex Ferguson says it is not certain that recalled Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand will take his place in the England squad for their forthcoming internationals with San Marino and Montenegro.



Ferdinand was a surprise name in the England squad selected by Roy Hodgson this week after previously being overlooked by the national team manager.



But Ferguson says concerns about Ferdinand’s fitness may mean that he withdraws himself from the squad.



“I think he has to make sure he is OK in terms of the number of games he has played. That’s a factor,” said Ferguson. “Rio is considering that and we will see what the outcome of that is.



“Obviously, I was as surprised as anyone when I heard that (Ferdinand had been called up).



“I need to speak to our doctor. We prepare Rio in certain ways, he has certain treatments to go through, certain procedures, which have given him fantastic performance levels when he has played for us. We have to consider that.



“We have been doing it for two years and it works. We have a detailed programmes, give him the treatment he needs for the various complaints he has had in terms of his back, groin, things like that.



“So far it has worked very well. We will have to look at all these things before Rio decides.”



Ferguson also hit back at allegations from Rafael Benitez that he snubbed a pre-match handshake before last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Chelsea in the FA Cup.



A thrilling tie at Old Trafford was almost eclipsed by the claims of Chelsea’s interim manager that Ferguson had refused to shake his hand before kick-off, prompting Benitez to walk onto the field and ignore his counterpart at the final whistle.



“Absolute nonsense,” Ferguson said. “Why wouldn’t I shake his hand? Think about it.



“I never saw him. I was signing autographs at the front, chatting with that young kid who always wants to shake my hand before the game because he says it brings us luck! I moved across and I never saw him.



“I don’t know why he said that. If he wanted to shake my hand, he could have stood in front of me. I’ve absolutely no idea why he said that. It’s nonsense.”



Ferguson has also analysed the state of English football in the wake of the Premier League clubs’ poor showing in this season’s Champions League.



No English side have reached the quarter-finals after United’s controversial exit to Real Madrid and Arsenal’s defeat over two legs by Bayern Munich. Chelsea and Manchester City had earlier failed to make the knock-out stages.



“You can’t put us all in one basket,” said Ferguson. “I think our performance against Real Madrid was outstanding and we could have been in the last eight.



“It is also cyclical. You look at the performance levels of (Borussia) Dortmund and Bayern Munich and they have improved this year.



“Spain has been like that for a few years now, but a few years ago English teams were in the semi-finals, the final regularly. It’s a bit of a cycle in terms of German teams progressing.



“I don’t think you can put us all in one basket in terms of deterioration. I don’t think that at all.”

Two weeks and counting for the HarBowl hype

BALTIMORE – With two weeks of hype left before the Super Bowl, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is already trying to play down the drama of facing his little brother for the National Football League championship.

John used to share a room with his brother Jim and, like many siblings, they would place tape down the middle of the room to claim their turf.

Their story has already been told. And told. And told.

“Every story has been told,” he told reporters Monday.

“We’re not that interesting. There’s nothing more to learn. The tape across the middle of the room story, OK, you got it? It’s OK.

“It was just like any other family, really.”

Baltimore shocked the New England Patriots 28-13 on Sunday to win the AFC and reach the Super Bowl, while the San Francisco 49ers, coached by Jim Harbaugh, edged the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 in the NFC to set up a HarBowl on February 3 in New Orleans.

The brothers have already squared off in the regular season, U.S. Thanksgiving 2011, when the Ravens defeated the 49ers 16-6 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

John Harbaugh, 50 years old and 15 months older than Jim, is hoping the spotlight of the Super Bowl would not be on the coaches.

“I really hope the focus is not so much on that,” he said. “We get it, it’s really cool and it’s exciting and all that. But it’s really about the team, about the players, about the guys you’re talking about.

“It’s about the players, the guys out there on the field who are actually in the arena whose face is marred with dust and sweat and blood, you know?

“Remember that one (a Theodore Roosevelt quote)? That’s what it’s about. The more we focus on those guys, I think the better it is for everybody.”

The game will mark the first time that brothers will face each other in a professional championship game as coaches.

“I guess it’s pretty neat,” said Harbaugh. “But is it really going to be written about? It’s not exactly like Churchill and Roosevelt or anything.

“It’s pretty cool, but that’s as far as it goes.”

Jim also hopes to keep talk of the ‘Battle of the Brothers’ to a minimum but says there is a negative side to facing the Ravens.

“I think it’s a blessing and a curse. A blessing because that is my brother’s team. And also personally I played for the Ravens. Great respect for their organization. Know many of the Baltimore Ravens players and have a great respect for them and their team and I’m happy for them,” he told reporters on Monday.

“The curse part would be that the talk of two brothers playing in the Super Bowl and what that takes away from the players that are in the game. And every moment that you’re talking about myself or John that’s less time that the players are going to be talked about.

“I just feel like the fighters are first. The ones that are playing in the game, the players, they’re the ones that have the most to do with it. And they’re the ones we should be talking about,” he said.

John has been the Ravens’ head coach since 2008 while Jim, a former quarterback who played in the NFL from 1987 through until 2001, is in his second season on the 49ers sideline.

“He’s an incredibly competitive person,” John said of his brother. “He will fight you for anything. Whether it was a game of cards growing up, whatever, he was going to find a way to win no matter what.

“That’s what made a great player, it’s what made him a good student in college, it’s what makes him the man he is.”

(Additional reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Frank Pingue)

Ignore statistics when Federer faces Raonic

MELBOURNE – Roger Federer has won 17 grand slam titles, Milos Raonic has only ever been to a grand slam fourth round twice previously.

At the start of the 2013 season, Federer had won 76 titles and more than $76 million in prize money. Raonic, three titles and just under $2 million.

Federer has won all three of their previous clashes, all in 2012.

But the Swiss world number two and the giant Canadian are only too aware that sometimes pure statistics do not reflect the true nature of tennis.

In all three of their matches at Halle, Madrid and Indian Wells, the world number 15 had Federer on the ropes. So much so, Federer acknowledged that he won games he should have lost.

“I’ve had some tough matches with him in the past,” Federer said of his expectations facing the 1.96-metres (6-foot-5) tall 22-year-old. “All of them went the distance. Some of them I should have lost, maybe one or two.

“Indian Wells, I felt like I was more in control than the other two. In Madrid I was in a lot of trouble. Halle was extremely close.”

Raonic, who told Reuters earlier in the tournament that Monday’s clash was the sort of match he needed to win to “kick down the door” to reach the top 10, added the experience of playing so well against Federer last year would be beneficial.

“I think I played well in the other ones,” Raonic said.

“I think I got pretty damn close the one time in Madrid. I got pretty close in Halle.

“I just know how to deal with it. I think I have a higher tolerance within myself and a higher belief within myself stepping up against Roger.”

The winner of the clash will face a Frenchman in the quarter-finals, either seventh-seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or ninth-seeded compatriot Richard Gasquet.

U.S. Open champion Andy Murray will face an exhausted Gilles Simon in the final match on Hisense Arena.

The 14th-seeded Frenchman, who beat compatriot Gael Monfils in a marathon five-set clash on Saturday, said he was in pain everywhere from cramping and pointing to his arms, legs and shoulder.

“Cramp here, I don’t even know it is possible to cramp here,” he said to laughter after he pointed to his jaw.

“I don’t have a lot of chance to win this one, but this is my job to go on the court and to do the maximum to bother him and to give him a hard time.”

Women’s champion Victoria Azarenka, who struggled against American Jamie Hampton in the third round, is also in fourth round action on Monday and will play a confident Elena Vesnina, who won her first WTA title in Hobart before the grand slam began.

“Elena is playing one of her best tennis in her life, and is especially very confident after winning title,” Azarenka said.

“Fourth round of the grand slam, second week, everybody wants to win and everybody is playing good.

“I’m looking forward to it.”

Azarenka’s potential semi-final opponent Serena Williams is also back on court facing an in-form Maria Kirilenko.

“Maria is playing consistent tennis, especially the past 16 to 18 months, she’s been so consistent,” Williams said.

“So my goal is just to be really focused against such a player that’s doing so well.”

(Editing by Patrick Johnston)

Federer faces historic Wimbledon bid

Roger Federer AFP PHOTO

PARIS: Ten years after Roger Federer made his Grand Slam breakthrough at Wimbledon, the 17-time major winner returns to the All England Club next week as defending champion, but with the clock ticking.

The Swiss put his growing army of critics firmly in their place in 2012 when, after back-to-back quarterfinals defeats, he captured his seventh Wimbledon title, equalling the record of Pete Sampras.

Federer, meanwhile, ended a 10-month title drought at the weekend when he won the Halle grasscourt tournament for the sixth time—it was his first piece of silverware since Cincinnati on the eve of the 2012 US Open.

That would have spiced up his confidence ahead of Wimbledon, but there are huge doubts over whether or not he can carry that spring in his elegant step onto the famous lawns of south-west London and be the first man to win Wimbledon eight times.

Age is a factor. Federer will be 32 in August.

An eighth victory for Federer next month would make him the second oldest champion at Wimbledon in the Open era, just behind Arthur Ashe who was six days short of his 32nd birthday when he triumphed in 1975.

Then there will be the all-important seedings which will be announced on Wednesday where two-time champion Rafael Nadal, fresh from a record-breaking eighth French Open victory, is likely to be seeded five.

That could see Federer facing his old rival as early as the quarterfinals while Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, the runner-up last year, are potential semifinals opponents.

Hot-serving Serena bludgeons past Kirilenko

MELBOURNE – Serena Williams was at her enigmatic best on Monday after she bludgeoned her way into the Australian Open quarter-finals with a 6-2 6-0 win over Maria Kirilenko.

The 31-year-old American wasted little effort in demolishing the 14th seed in 57 minutes to set up a showdown with young compatriot Sloane Stephens, yet as far as Williams was concerned she struggled against the Russian.

“I was surprised. I felt like Maria played really well,” Williams told reporters. “I was just trying to play well, just to keep up.”

Kirilenko tried to execute a high-risk game plan against Williams, but the third seed simply swatted her aside with contemptuous ease.

She served six aces to Kirilenko’s one and her top speed for serve was 201kph. Kirilenko’s was 170kph, three kph below Williams’s average.

Williams’s first serve completion was 87 percent and her second serve was just as potent with Kirilenko adding she thought she had made only one successful return.

Williams also gave up just three break-point opportunities, none of which the Russian converted. Williams converted five from seven. The American also hammered 22 winners and forced Kirilenko into 15 errors.

That dominance has continued a trend Williams began after twisting her ankle in her first-round clash against Romania’s Edina Gallovits-Hall.

Last year at Melbourne Park, Williams entered the tournament with a badly injured ankle that she said contributed to her fourth round exit to Ekaterina Makarova.

This year, she is not taking any chances, blasting away at every opportunity. So far Williams has dropped just eight games and spent a total of four hours, 12 minutes on court although almost 10 of those were while getting treatment for her ankle injury against Gallovits-Hall.

Kirilenko simply shrugged her shoulders in her media conference after the match.

“I played like I want to play something unbelievable, every shot I want to do the good shot but sometimes you just have to play simple, maybe just through the middle,” Kirilenko said.

“But when I played through the middle, then she started to make winners. Maybe I was trying too much.

“We didn’t even have long points. It was really difficult to get the rhythm. It wasn’t my day.”

NO MENTOR

Williams will now meet the 19-year-old Stephens in the quarter-finals, a clash that could be seen as the handing over of the mantle of American women’s tennis.

The pair met in Brisbane earlier this month and Williams said then she thought the right hander could be one of the best players in the world one day.

Williams, however, ruled out taking on any mentoring role for Stephens, or for that matter Madison Keys, and the teenager should be now be aware that there would be no sentimentality attached to the match.

“I would need a better definition of the word ‘mentor’,” Williams added. “I feel no responsibility. I doubt she has any expectations of me to be responsible for anything.

“I just feel like being the older one, probably maybe some of the younger players look up to me.

“(But) it’s hard to be a real mentor when you’re still in competition. I’m here to compete and do the best I can.

“I have a tough match, so we’ll see.”

(Editing by John O’Brien and Alison Wildey)

Tottenham fury over Inter ‘monkey chants’

Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas has demanded UEFA take action against Inter Milan after claiming Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor was subject to “monkey chants” during Thursday’s Europa League clash.



Adebayor scored the crucial extra-time goal which allowed the Londoners to progress to the quarter-finals on the away goals rule despite a 4-1 defeat on the night in the second leg of their last-16 tie at the San Siro.



“Chants were very, very easy to hear. It’s difficult for Inter, we have seen it before. It doesn’t mar the game but it is something to be avoided,” Villas-Boas told reporters.



Three weeks ago, Inter were fined and warned about their supporters’ future conduct after racist chanting was heard during the derby with city rivals AC Milan.



Inter were fined 50,000 euros ($66,000) for its fans’ repeated “expressions of racial discrimination to a player of the opposing team” and the unfurling of insulting banners.



Some hardcore Inter fans were seen waving inflatable bananas during the game.

2014 World Cup qualifiers: Mario Balotelli, Marco Reus give Italy, Germany easy wins

Mario Balotelli scored both goals as Italy defeated Malta 2-0 to move three points clear at the top of their World Cup qualifying group B on Tuesday.



The AC Milan striker opened his account early in the first half from the penalty spot before doubling his tally just before half-time, making it 10 goals in his last nine matches for both club and country.



However, the home side could count themselves a little unlucky as they missed a penalty and also clattered the crossbar in the first half.



With Denmark held to a 1-1 draw in Copenhagen by second-placed Bulgaria, Italy extended their lead at the top of their group and even have a game in hand.



Meanwhile, Malta remain rooted to the bottom of the group with zero points from five matches.



The hosts started reasonably brightly, pressing the Azzurri at every opportunity and not allowing them time to settle on the ball. But it was that eagerness to close down at every moment which was soon to be Malta’s undoing.



Luke Dimech overstretched as he tried to tackle Stephan El Shaarawy in the eighth minute and tripped the AC Milan forward in the penalty area.



That gave Balotelli the chance to open the scoring, sending goalkeeper Justin Haber the wrong way from the spot.



However, moments later Malta had a penalty of their own as Andrea Barzagli let Andre Schembri race clear into the box only for Gianluigi Buffon to bring him down.



Michael Mifsud stepped up to take the resulting spot-kick but could not beat the Italian number one.



Thirty-one-year-old Mifsud could have made up for that mistake just a couple of minutes later as he left Leonardo Bonucci for dead, but his long-range shot looped over Buffon and smacked the crossbar, much to the disappointment of the Maltese crowd.



Malta then escaped as Riccardo Montolivo steamed forward and rounded Haber, only to see his shot from a tight angle bounce wide.



The Italians slowly started to exert their authority and Andrea Pirlo saw a freekick blocked by the wall, before Balotelli put another just over the bar.



Malta’s reprieve was brief, though.



Almost on the stroke of half-time, Bonucci found Mattia De Sciglio on the left with a superb long ball. The youngster showed excellent control as he advanced towards the goal before his cut-back found Balotelli, who side-footed into the far corner from close range.



Italy could, and should, have added another just after the break when Ignazio Abate raced down the right side into the box, but his cross was poorly controlled by Emanuele Giaccherini who, nevertheless, forced a brilliant reflex save from Haber.



Claudio Marchisio was a little fortunate at the other end when he appeared to trip Mifsud as the striker raced into the penalty area, but the referee waved play on, much to the disgust of the Maltese, who were convinced they should have had another spot kick.



Meanwhile, A three-goal barrage within nine first-half minutes set Germany up for a 4-1 home victory over a resilient Kazakhstan on Tuesday to remain in control of their 2014 World Cup qualifying group.



Germany’s Marco Reus hit the opener after 23 minutes, Mario Goetze doubled in the 27th and Ilkay Guendogan make it 3-0 in the 32nd. Reus finished the scoring in the 90th minute for the Germans, who could have scored more but hit the posts or crossbar six times in the match in Nuremberg.



Genrikh Shmidtgal hit one back for the Kazakhs in the 46th minute.



Germany top Group C with 16 points from six matches, followed by Ireland with 10 points from five matches and Sweden with eight points from four qualifiers.



German coach Joachim Loew once again used midfielder Goetze up front in the 4-2-3-1 system as striker Mario Gomez was still unavailable with his thigh injury.



Germany dominated play from the very start but it was Kazakhstan with the first chance as Sergey Ostapenko’s header off a corner went just right of the post after eight minutes.



The hosts continued their onslaught with Guendogan hammering his volley against the left post in the 21st minute, and Goetze followed a minute later by finding the left upright.



Germany finally hit the back of the net in the 23rd minute as Reus turned in from the left side and struck home a low shot from 21 yards.



Germany doubled the advantage just four minutes later with captain Philipp Lahm rushing forward and through the left side of the Kazakh defense before crossing at the last second to Goetze, who finished off the attack.



The barrage was continued in the 32nd minute as Guendogan was the beneficiary of Mesut Oezil’s cross to the near right post where the Dortmund midfielder hit home for his first goal for Germany.



Guendogan was close to another goal nine minutes later but his attempt went off the upper half of the crossbar.



Kazakhstan increased the pressure on the ball after the break and trimmed the deficit to 3-1 in the 46th minute on a mistake by Germany ‘keeper Manuel Neuer, who played a backpass too far away and Shmidtgal raced onto the ball and blasted into the empty goal.



Germany nearly finished the game for good in the 72nd minute only to see Kazakh ‘keeper Andrey Sidelnikov save shots by Oezil and Thomas Mueller before Oezil hit the rebound off the left post and Sami Khedira followed seconds later with a shot off the right post.



The ball went off the crossbar four minutes later as Sidelnikov batted Mueller’s looping shot off his own framework.



Kazakhstan joined the post party with Valerij Korobkin hitting the outside of the left upright off a set piece in the 79th minute.



Lahm saved another Kazakhstan goal in the 89th minute, stopping Shmidtgal’s shot at the line before Reus finalised a counter attack in the 90th minute for his second goal.

Maria Sharpova returns to world no. 1

Maria Sharapova has returned to the summit of the women’s tennis rankings following her French Open win on Saturday.



The ranking completes a remarkable comeback for the Russian, who last sat atop the pile in 2008 before a shoulder injury saw her plummet to 126th in the world.



However, victory at Roland Garros, which completed a career Grand Slam for Sharapova – making her only the sixth woman in the Open Era to achieve that feat, and the 10th overall – was enough for the 25-year-old to reclaim top spot.



“It’s such an amazing feeling to be back in the position of being number one in the world,” said Sharapova.



“I had the joy of holding the number one trophy many years ago.



“Since then, I’ve gone through the injury and come back, and to be holding it a few years later is a huge achievement for me. It’s a special day and I hope I can keep the ranking for a long time.”



Sharapova replaces Victoria Azarenka at the top of the rankings.

Kaepernick keeps cool to deliver 49ers Super Bowl spot

ATLANTA – Colin Kaepernick showed he has the big-game temperament as he led the San Francisco 49ers on a record NFC Championship comeback over the Atlanta Falcons and into the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years.

Kaepernick, making just his ninth NFL start after taking over from injured incumbent Alex Smith midway through the NFL season, showed he is more than up for the task as he completed 16-of-21 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown.

“He just played great. I don’t even know how to say it. It was a great performance by the quarterback,” 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said after his team’s 28-24 win.

“He just competes like a maniac all the time, in practice and in games. It’s always the same when I’m looking in through the facemasks, that is what I’m seeing the guy doing.”

The second-year quarterback did not come close to the record 181-yard rushing performance that gained him plenty of attention after last week’s win over Green Bay but still led an offense that made effective use of the running game in the second half.

It was Kaepernick’s calmness under intense pressure while staring at a 17-point second quarter deficit to the top-seeded Falcons that was most impressive.

“Going out on the field frantic isn’t going to help you lead, you have to stay calm and try to lead your team,” the 25-year-old, whose second-quarter touchdown pass to Vernon Davis pulled his team to within three points, told reporters.

Kaepernick showed his leadership ability by entering the field late in the fourth quarter to encourage an Atlanta defense that did not allow a point in the second half to keep out the Falcons.

“I went there and talked to them, told them this is for a Super Bowl. They said, ‘We got you.’”

A word of encouragement, a cool head when needed, but also the ability to lead by example with his two second quarter touchdown drives setting the tone for the second half.

After going down by 17, Kaepernick said that there was a real sense that the game could slip beyond their grasp if San Francisco did not respond.

“We just knew we had to score on that next drive. You can’t let a team like this get any more than that,” he said.

Harbaugh came in for some criticism for sticking with Kaepernick when Smith was deemed healthy a week after his injury but his decision has been amply justified.

The coach declined a chance to reflect on that decision while Kaepernick said simply: “I’m just glad he made that decision.”

He is not the only one.

“He can do whatever he wants, run the ball, throw the ball, he is a football player,” enthused running back Frank Gore, whose second half touchdowns earned the 49ers the win.

It was clear that Atlanta’s defense were pre-occupied with stopping Kaepernick from making the kind of runs that destroyed Green Bay last week, but he said he was unconcerned with the debate over whether to dub him a ‘running quarterback.’

“I don’t want to be categorized as a quarterback, I want to be my own man.”

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

Netter Huey, partner advance in London

Filipino-American Treat Huey and British partner Dominic Inglot scored a straight-set victory to advance to the second round of the 2013 Wimbledon Championships men’s doubles being held in London, England.

The No. 16 seeds Huey and Inglot nailed a 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 opening-round victory over Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut and Daniel Gimeno-Traver. The game lasted for one hour and 37 minutes.

Huey and Inglot registered a total of 108 points including 16 aces and 21 winners while Agut and Gimeno-Traver got a measly 85-point output with only two aces and nine winners. Huey and Inglot won four of 10 break points.

Huey and Inglot will be facing the unseeded German tandem of Andre Begemann and Martin Emmricj, a 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-1 winner over Americans Denis Kudla and Tim Smyczek.

Huey and Inglot have already surpassed their first-round finish in the past three editions of the Grand Slam tournament. For reaching the second round, they are now assured of 12,00 Euros.

However, Huey and Inglot are in a possible third-round meeting with the No. 1 pair of Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan, owner of the 2012 London Olympics gold medal and many-time Grand Slam doubles champion. The Bryan brothers are in the upper half of the draw along with Huey and Inglot.

In mixed doubles, Huey will be playing with American Raquel Kops-Jones. They advanced to the second round via walk over. Huey and Kops-Jones are just awaiting the winners of the first-round match between Julian Knowle of Austria and Zhang Shuai of China, and Australians John Peers and Ashleigh Barty.

EPL collated: Everton shatter City hopes, Arsenal sniff Chelsea with Swansea win

Ten-man Everton all but ended Manchester City’s title defence with a gritty and controversial 2-0 win over the Premier League champions at Goodison Park on Saturday.



Everton survived the dismissal of Steven Pienaar and a strong late penalty appeal from City to hand Manchester United the opportunity to go 15 points clear at the top of the table by beating Reading later.



City were incensed when referee Lee Probert awarded a free-kick rather than a penalty despite an apparent hand-ball in the box by Everton’s Marouane Fellaini when the visitors trailed 1-0.



City assistant coach David Platt said manager Roberto Mancini was too “angry” to speak to media after the game and claimed his side had been denied a blatant spot-kick.



“You’ve just played it to me (on a television replay) and it’s not even on the line of the area, it’s three yards inside,” he told Sky Sports.



“People can draw their own conclusions, but we didn’t get it. Perhaps we could have got more out of the game if the decisions had gone for us.”



Leon Osman made the breakthrough for the hosts in the 32nd minute, meeting Seamus Coleman’s lay-off with a swerving shot from 25 yards that deceived goalkeeper Joe Hart and flew into the top-left corner.



Pienaar was sent off with half an hour to play following a shin-high foul on Javi Garcia, but second-choice Everton goalkeeper Jan Mucha kept the visitors at bay with fine saves to thwart Carlos Tevez, James Milner and Pablo Zabaleta.



Substitute Nikica Jelavic curled in Everton’s second goal in injury time to seal a win that banished memories of last weekend’s abject loss to Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup.



“We have had one or two dips but that was more like us today,” said Everton manager David Moyes.



“I thought we had a bad performance last week, which the fans rightly reminded us about, but we just reminded them they are supporting a really good team.”



Victory temporarily lifted Everton into fifth place, but they slipped back to sixth after Arsenal won 2-0 at Swansea City to move to within two points of fourth-place Chelsea.



January signing Nacho Monreal and Gervinho struck late in the game at the Liberty Stadium as Arsene Wenger’s side responded in positive fashion to their mid-week elimination from the Champions League.



Meanwhile, Liverpool lost ground in the race for European qualification after losing 3-1 at Southampton.



Morgan Schneiderlin neatly converted a Jay Rodriguez knock-down in the sixth minute to put Southampton ahead at St Mary’s, before Rickie Lambert doubled the hosts’ lead with a deflected free-kick.



Philippe Coutinho replied for Liverpool on the stroke of half-time, but Rodriguez made sure of victory in the 80th minute as Mauricio Pochettino’s side pulled seven points clear of the relegation places.



Queens Park Rangers were left seven points adrift of safety at the foot of the table after losing 3-2 to relegation rivals Aston Villa in a thrilling encounter at Villa Park.



After Jermaine Jenas gave QPR an early lead, Villa hit back through Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann, only for Andros Townsend’s deflected strike to draw the visitors level in the 73rd minute.



However, there was a further twist in the tale, as Christian Benteke stroked home the winning goal from Weimann’s cut-back with nine minutes remaining.



Benteke’s goal allowed Villa to put six points between themselves and the bottom three, although third-bottom Wigan have two games in hand.



In the day’s other game, Stoke City failed to reverse their disappointing recent form in a goalless draw at home to West Bromwich Albion.

Churchill Brothers fail to script win against Salgaocar

Churchill Brothers Sports Club’s lead at the top of the table is now three points but the title favourites will ponder on missed opportunities as they were forced to settle for a goalless draw against Salgaocar Football Club at the Duler Stadium, Mapusa, on Wednesday, according to an AIFF report.



This is Churchill’s second draw on the trot after they shared the spoils with ONGC 1-1 in the previous game.

Needing a win to open up a comfortable lead at the top, Churchill started aggressively but could not translate their domination into a win. Churchill were also hampered by injuries to Brazilian midfielder Roberto Mendes da Silva and wing-back Raju Yumnam, both of whom had to be replaced within half an hour.



Salgaocar too were keen to continue with their winning run and get away from the threat of relegation. They played methodically and had their strikers been more sharp, they could have got something out of the game.



Randeep Kumar first tested the Churchill goalkeeper with a long ranger which Sandip Nandy parried away for an abortive corner. Minutes later, Francis Fernandes tried the same tactic but his booming shot sailed past the post.



At the other end, Sunil Chhetri and Henri Arnaud made some good runs but didn’t come up with anything special that could trouble Salgaocar goalkeeper Karanjit Singh.



The only time Karanjit needed to be at his best was when Bineesh Balan made a solo run but could not get past the goalkeeper.



In the second session, Salgaocar saw more of the ball but failed to beat a determined Sandip Nandy under the horizontal bar.

Nandy was later adjudged as the Man-of-the-Match.

Sabillo to arrive in Manila next week

WORLD Boxing Organization (WBO) minimum weight champion Merlito “Tiger” Sabillo will arrive in Manila next week for the final phase of his preparation for his first title defense against Colombian challenger Jorle Jacinto Estrada on July 13 at the Solaire Casino in Pasay City.

“Since this is Sabillo’s first title defense in front of his fellow Filipinos, I believe he’s ready,” ALA chief trainer Edito Villamor said in a phone interview. “He won’t let the people down. So far, he is now close to 100 percent and by July 13 he’s on his peak form.”

Sabillo, a 29-year-old native of Negros Occidental, is undefeated in 21 fights winning 11 of them via knockout. He bagged the vacant WBO belt through an eighth round technical knockout win over Colombian Luis Dela Rosa in March.

Estrada for his part has a fight record of 16 wins and six losses. Five of his victories were by knockout.

Motor racing: Kubica to test DTM car but F1 a long way off

LONDON – Polish driver Robert Kubica will test a Mercedes DTM touring car in Spain this week but any Formula One return remains a long way off as he continues his rehabilitation from a near-fatal rally accident.

New Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff told reporters on Tuesday that the former BMW-Sauber and Renault driver would be testing with the HWA team at the Valencia circuit.

“We all obviously like Robert, he’s a very special chap and what we want to do with Mercedes-Benz is give him a chance doing a proper test in a proper race car and seeing how he goes on and how he feels,” he said.

“This is what we will be doing in the next days and I’m very glad that he’s able to do that. He’s very much looking forward to it and he’s very excited. Let’s see how it goes.”

Wolff said Kubica was not yet 100 percent fit and had not driven a car with such downforce since he suffered severe arm and hand injuries while competing in a minor rally in Italy in February 2011.

Asked whether Mercedes might give him a run in a Formula One car if the test was successful, the Austrian said that was not on the horizon.

“If the DTM test goes well and we see that he is doing well in a proper race car with downforce, I think there are still some physical constraints to drive a monocoque (single seater) chassis with his elbow and arm,” he said.

“I think we all would love to see Robert doing well in a Formula One car in the future but that is definitely too early at this stage.”

Kubica, Poland’s first and only Formula One racer who was a grand prix winner with BMW-Sauber in 2008, was considered a champion of the future before he had his accident.

The Pole has competed in and won minor rallies as part of his rehabilitation. He said last September that he was still hoping to return to Formula One eventually but might never return to the same physical level as before.

The Mercedes DTM car has a V8 engine delivering some 500 brake horsepower compared to in excess of 750 bhp for a Formula One V8.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Mark Meadows)

Jose Mourinho hints at returning to former club

Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho has hinted that in the next football season he could return to coach Inter Milan or Chelsea.



Mourinho is under pressure in Spain although his side have reached the Champions League quarterfinals as his team continues to trail behind Barcelona in La Liga.



“I have an adventurous spirit and do not know what will happen next season,” he was quoted as saying by Xinhua.



“It’s not easy to choose a new destination after working in England, Portugal, Italy and Spain. Maybe I could return to somewhere I’ve already been. Watch out for surprises.”



Mourinho has been linked with potential returns to Inter and Chelsea although the Nerazzurri would be more likely considering he was fired by Roman Abramovich.



The self-claimed Special One won the Treble with the Nerazzurri in 2010 before walking away to take on the Real Madrid challenge.

UE Red Warriors ready to wreak havoc in Season 76

The University of the East Red Warriors are all set for the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 76 which will begin on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

Red Warriors head coach Boycie Zamar expressed readiness saying: “I am pleased to announce that UE is ready for the UAAP.”

Zamar, who replaced former UE coach Jerry Codinera in the middle of the Season 75, also reiterated his commitment to UE after being named recently as assistant coach of the Barangay Ginebra Kings in the Philippine Basketball Association.

“I think there will be no problem [being part of Ginebra’s coaching staff and being the head coach of UE] since there are also some coaches in the UAAP who are also members of the coaching staff in other PBA teams. But if there’s any, I’ll prioritize UE,” he said.

UE will begin its campaign against Far Eastern University in the opening day at 2 p.m. right after the opening ceremonies at 1 p.m.

The Red Warriors are fresh from winning the FilOil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup where they defeated National University 81-68, in the finals.

Roi Sumang and Charles Mammie, the 6-foot-7 Sierra Leone native, are expected to spearhead the team’s campaign along with Michael Noble, Chris Javier, Lord Casajeros, Ralf Olivarez, Adrian Santos, Jairold Flores and Jhon Rey Sumido.

The rookies to watch are La Salle Greenhills’ Mario Emmanuel Bonleon, Hope Christian High School’s Leo Guion and San Sebastian College-Recoletos’ Gino Jumao-as.

“We just need to be consistent plus discipline and determination. Our target is to make it to the Final Four first. It’s a wide-open race this season. All teams are strong and we need to be prepared each and every game,” said Zamar.

Balotelli levels as Italy draw 2-2 against Brazil in friendly

Daniele De Rossi sparked Italy’s fightback and Mario Balotelli scored a superb second-half equaliser as the Azzurri battled to a 2-2 draw against Brazil in a friendly on Thursday.



Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side, hosts of the 2014 World Cup, came into this match looking for a win following a 2-1 loss to England last month.



Any doubts Scolari may have had about Brazil on their travels evaporated by the interval after Fred and then Chelsea attacking midfielder Oscar scored one apiece to give Brazil a 2-0 lead.



Italy turned the tables after the break with De Rossi reducing the arrears in the 54th minute, and Balotelli pulling his side level only three minutes later with a fine, curling effort which beat Queens Park Rangers ‘keeper Julio Cesar.



“I saw a lot positive things,” said Scolari, who is still looking for the first win of his second spell in charge of Brazil.



He also had kind words for Santos striker Neymar after recent criticism.



“Tactically, Neymar played well, probably his best match for Brazil. We had him as a second striker and he made life difficult for Italy’s defence.”



While Brazil do not participate in qualifying for the World Cup, Italy sit top of Group B on 10 points, four ahead of second-placed Bulgaria with the Czech Republic in third a point further adrift.



The Azzurri face Group B opponents Malta on Tuesday while Brazil face Russia in a friendly on Monday in London.



“We played a good match against a team which has the potential to be great,” said Italy coach Cesare Prandelli.



“We were 2-0 down at half-time, we don’t quite know how, but the important thing is we didn’t lose our composure and we always looked to score.”



While Scolari opted for a formidable three-man attack in Fred, Neymar and Hulk, with Ronaldinho left at home for this trip, Cesare Prandelli’s pre-match plans were upset when Claudio Marchisio pulled out late through illness.



AC Milan midfielder Riccardo Montolivo stepped in, with Juventus’s Emanuele Giaccherini the link man for Balotelli and Roma striker Pablo Osvaldo up front in a 4-3-1-2 formation which Italy tweaked after the interval.



Italy started brightly with both Giaccherini and Balotelli forcing early saves from Cesar, and then Osvaldo coming even closer when he headed over from Balotelli’s cross on the left.



Those missed chances proved costly when defender Andrea Barzagli headed a cross from the left towards the back post where Fred, unmarked, beat Gianluigi Buffon with a coolly-taken volley on 33 minutes.



Andrea Pirlo, with a curling effort that went just past Cesar’s far post, and Balotelli again spurned chances and Italy were made to pay when Oscar slipped the ball past Buffon with the outside of his right boot after a calm lay-off by the impressive Neymar.



Prandelli tweaked Italy’s formation after the break, with Stephan El Shaarawy replacing Osvaldo and Alessio Cerci making his debut replacing Pirlo.



De Rossi sparked the fightback, the Roma midfielder poking home from close range after the ball fell kindly following a corner.



Balotelli’s leveller three minutes later was a fine effort, the striker charging towards the edge of the area before unleashing a superb drive which looped over Cesar and into the top corner.

Sports Mole’s WAG of the week: Jelena Ristic





Age: 24

Occupation: Finance

WAG of: Novak Djokovic, world number one

WAG since: 2006



There are very few accolades within the world of tennis that Novak Djokovic hasn’t won.



The Serbian had a truly remarkable 2011 in which he claimed the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open titles on his way to becoming the world number one.



As if that wasn’t enough for ‘NoDjo’, he has also won the heart of Jelena Ristic.



The pair have been dating since late 2006 when Djokovic was an unknown quantity to many in tennis.



In stark contrast to the common perception of an everyday WAG, Ristic has forged a career for herself while her man went about his crusade to the top of the world rankings.



Having studied finance in Milan, Ristic now holds a job among the high-flyers in the millionaire’s playground that is Monaco.



Somewhat inevitably, Djokovic’s success has seen interest in the couple rise dramatically over the past two years. Ristic enjoys watching tennis (luckily) and can be seen watching Djokovic in all the major tournaments worldwide.



The glamour couple of tennis appear to have taken the increase in attention well, appearing at many social events as well as the Serbian version of Hello! magazine.



The latest of these events was the Laureus World Sports Awards in London, where unsurprisingly Djokovic was named sportsman of the year. Ristic also turned heads at the event in a black dress.



Djokovic is widely expected to propose some time this year, with a wedding anticipated for 2013.

Local aces brace for Rancho Palos Verdes showdown

Elmer Salvador rejoins the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour, completing a deep cast of Davaoeno shotmakers tipped to lead the chase for top honors in the P1 million ICTSI Rancho Palos Verdes Classic beginning today (Wednesday) at Rancho Palos Verdes Golf and Recreational Esates in Davao.

Salvador, a former Order of Merit (OOM) champion, skipped the last ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour leg at Orchard last month due to illness and has struggled in his return to competitive golf, finishing tied for 44th finish at the Queens Cup in Thailand and 62nd at Selangor Masters in Malaysia last week.

But the reticent shotmaker vows to rebound strong this week, along with a slew of top local shotmakers expected to contend for the top P200,000 purse in this fifth leg of the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour.

The 82-player field is indeed teeming with talent. From local aces Tony Lascuna, the reigning Order of Merit champion, to ICTSI John Hay winner Jay Bayron, to the likes of Jhonnel Ababa, Marvin Dumandan, Ferdie Aunzo, Rufino Bayron and Cassius Casas to title-hungry Michael Bibat, Rey Pagunsan and veteran Frankie Minoza, the title chase in the 54-hole championship could go down to the last putt.

“It’s tough to predict one’s chances now. Anybody can win,” said Lascuna, who is seeking a follow-up to his runaway victory at ICTSI Calatagan.

Jay Bayron is also out for No. 2 after scoring a come-from-behind victory over Miguel

Tabuena in Baguio while Rufino Bayron and Bibat are all gunning for a breakthrough in the circuit put up by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.

Minoza is also shooting for a second victory this year after nipping the Bayron brothers in a playoff to capture his first The Country Club Invitational crown last February, while Dumandan and Pagunsan are trying to end a long title drought in the circuit backed by Nike Golf, Empire Golf and Sports Shop, Mizuno, Titleist, Srixon, Foot Joy, Callaway, Pacsports, Custom Clubmakers, Cleveland Golf and Sharp.

Lascuna and Rufino Bayron hope to come up with a strong start in a 7:30 a.m. flight that includes Cassius Casas while Salvador drew a late start at 11:20 a.m. with Reymon Jaraula and Benjie Magada.

Minoza is grouped with James Ryan Lam and Danny Zarate at 11:40 a.m. while Jay Bayron and Rey Pagunsan are bunched with last year’s Pueblo de Oro leg winner Charles Hong.

Carl Santos-Ocampo is also primed up for a second straight championship, hopeful of duplicating his feat last year when he nipped Lam and Randy Garalde on the second playoff hole for his maiden victory. The Filipino-American bet will start at 11:30 a.m. in the group of Aunzo and Christopher delos Santos.

Next up is the ICTSI Del Monte Championship on July 3 to 5 in Bukidnon while the ICTSI Pueblo de Oro Championship will be held July 10-12 at Pueblo de Oro.

Sharapova juggernaut rolls into Melbourne semis

MELBOURNE – Maria Sharapova’s biggest challenge to achieving her second Australian Open title, apart from Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams, could actually be between her ears.

Not that anyone has managed to exploit any mental deficiencies in the world number two… yet.

The Russian not only continued her perfect run in Australian Open quarter-finals on Tuesday by swatting aside Russian compatriot Ekaterina Makarova 6-2 6-2 to set up a semi-final against Li Na, she also set a record at the grand slam.

With her 66-minute victory, Sharapova has now dropped just nine games in total, the fewest number conceded by a semi-finalist at the tournament.

Monica Seles conceded 12 games on her way to the 1991 semi-finals. Seles went on to win the title.

The world number two, along with defending champion Azarenka and 15-times grand slam winner Williams, have been a class above the rest of the women’s draw at Melbourne Park with few now expecting anyone other than the trio to win the title.

Sharapova has refused to get too far ahead of herself, dragging out the “one match at a time” cliche after each round, though she said after her demolition of Makarova that she was pleased she was staying mentally switched on during matches despite their one-sided nature.

“That’s always one of the toughest things, keeping that focus, especially when you have when you feel like you’re doing the right things and you have your opponent in the right position,” Sharapova said.

“You really have to follow through with what you’ve done and keep doing it (and) keeping your head in the right direction.”

TOUGH OPPONENT

The right direction is lifting the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy for the second time and Sharapova came into the quarter-final brimming with confidence.

Not only had she not dropped a set, she had also not lost any of her previous five Australian Open quarter-final matches, with one of those victories against Makarova last year.

The 24-year-old Makarova was expected to be a tough opponent having already beaten 11th seed Marion Bartoli and fifth seed Angelique Kerber to make the quarter-finals and despite Sharapova’s rampage through the four previous rounds, she thought her 19th-seeded compatriot would be a challenge.

“She’s beaten quality players over the course of last week, and I know that she’s capable of playing really good, with deep hitting,” Sharapova said.

“Also a lefty, which is a bit tricky and I thought I handled that pretty good and was able to keep my focus all the way through the match.”

Sharapova, who had won her first two round matches 6-0 6-0, has bullied her opponents into submission with her powerful serve and booming groundstrokes.

Against Makarova, however, she experienced something almost alien to her – she had her serve broken for the second time. The previous break of serve was by Venus Williams in their third round clash.

As such, Makarova’s temerity to break in the fourth game of the match was duly punished as Sharapova rattled off the next four games to clinch the first set in 31 minutes, then win the opening two games of the second, which only highlighted her laser-sharp focus.

“If I do come into a situation where I feel like I have to pull through or I’m not playing my best tennis or she’s up and I have to find a way to win, then that’s what you have on that given day,” Sharapova said.

“Do I want to be in that position? Absolutely not.

“If I start the match well, I want to follow through with that along the whole way and keep that motivation and the way that I’m playing, doing the right things and keeping that focus. That’s the important thing.

“It’s not to think, ‘oh well, should I just give away a few games’?

“It’s not really a mentality of a winner, I think.”

(Writing by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O’Brien)

Vilanova to return to Barcelona this week

Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova will return to the Nou Camp “this week” from New York, where he has been receiving treatment for cancer, the Spanish giants said on Monday.



“Tito Vilanova will be back in Barcelona this week after two months spent in New York,” Barca said on its website.



Vilanova has been Stateside since January 22 to undergo treatment after suffering a relapse of the cancer in his parotid gland towards the end of last year.



Assistant coach Jordi Roura has taken charge of Barcelona in the absence of Vilanova, who first underwent surgery in November 2011.

Djokovic at his peak in Wimbledon lucky dip

PARIS: Novak Djokovic believes he is at the peak of his powers as he targets a second Wimbledon title with his confidence buoyed by avoiding Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal in the draw.

The world number one and top seed captured the All England Club title in 2011 before Federer reclaimed it in 2012 for the Swiss star’s seventh triumph.

“I believe I’m at the peak of my career and playing really good tennis,” said the 26-year-old Serb.

Djokovic goes into his ninth Wimbledon having opted not to play a grasscourt warm-up following his epic five-set semi-final loss to Nadal at the French Open.

But he insists that shattering defeat — which left him still searching for an elusive Roland Garros title — can only make him stronger for Wimbledon.

“I wanted the title so much, but I don’t think it’s gonna take a toll on me because I have been in these particular situations before,” he said.

“So hopefully I can get inspired again to play my best tennis in Wimbledon.”

Djokovic enjoyed the luck of the draw on Friday when Federer, seeking a record eighth Wimbledon title, two-time winner Nadal, and Murray, the 2012 runner-up, were all placed in the opposite half of the draw.

That means Djokovic can only face one of those rivals and not before the final.

“It is the one I always dreamed of winning and it was the highlight of my career. I love playing in Wimbledon—the grass is the most special surface in our sport,” he said.

Djokovic endured a light-hearted build-up to Wimbledon, which starts on Monday, by playing an exhibition at Stoke Park on the edge of London.

In one match, he and Bulgarian star Grigor Dimitrov performed tongue-in-cheek impressions of Maria Sharapova’s on-court routine.

By Friday evening, the video had been viewed more than 300,000 times on YouTube.

Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion and the girlfriend of Dimitrov, was also warming up at the plush Hurlingham Club in the capital.

“Look at these two clowns,” tweeted the Russian in response.

But there is a serious side to Djokovic, of course.

During the French Open, he was heartbroken by the news that his childhood coach Jelena Gencic had passed away.

He often described Gencic as his “second mother”.

Zheng Jie confident for the Olympics

Zheng Jie has revealed that her performances at Wimbledon have given her confidence for the upcoming Olympic Games in London.



Despite taking the first set, the 28-year-old was knocked out at SW19 yesterday afternoon at the round three stage by four-time winner Serena Williams.



However, Zheng has insisted that her belief remains intact ahead of the Games which get underway in a fortnight.



“She is very good player, and I played very close in that match,” Zheng told AFP.



“I think it gives me more confidence for the Olympics, and also I’m so happy to come back to the Centre Court and many guys came to support me and gave me the power to fight.”



Zheng won bronze at the 2008 Games in Beijing.

Folayang Wants Rematch With Iranian Grappler

Eduard Folayang (right) battles Kamal Shalorus in One FC: Rise to Power. AFP FILE PHOTO

Top Filipino mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Eduard “The Landslide” Folayang is seeking a rematch against seasoned Iranian grappler Kamal “The Prince of Persia” Shalorus in One Fighting Championship (FC).

Folayang is trying to revive his MMA career that suffered two back-to-back defeats since December.

“I want a rematch,” the former sanshou [wushu contact fighting champion] Folayang (12-4 win-loss record) told The Manila Times in a phone interview. “If given an opportunity, I will grab that opporstunity and start training hard to avenge my loss. I’m also hoping to have two more fights within this year.”

Meanwhile, Universal Reality Combat Championship (URCC) founder Alvin Aguilar said that Folayang should concentrate on fixing his weaknesses if he wants to bounce back from his defeats.

“Eduard isn’t already past his prime yet but he must follow a program. Well, if not, he’s through. I know his potential and weaknesses; if he does not work on his weaknesses then his career is over. But if he does, his heart is so huge that he will retire as one of the greats” Aguilar told the Times via text message.”

Folayang also absorbed a devastating technical knockout loss from Lowen Tynanes in URCC 22: Dekada in December 2012. The 40-year old Shalorus (8-3-2 record) defeated the Filipino via unanimous decision in One FC: Rise to Power at the Mall of Asia Arena in May.

Folayang, 28, said that he has no plans of returning to the United States to seek additional MMA training, “I’m not thinking of any overseas training so far. My training continues at the Team Lakay gym,” he said, concluding, “I want to concentrate more on my conditioning because during the bout [with Shalorus], I felt so heavy but there was no excuse for that.”

Josef T. Ramos

Money talking louder than ever in F1

LONDON – Timo Glock’s sudden exit from Marussia has brought into sharper focus an age-old truth of Formula One – that money makes the wheels go round – and highlighted the gulf between cash-rich rights holders and struggling teams.

Passion, engineering brilliance and sheer hard work can only go so far and must be paid for. In the end, teams are always chasing the sponsorship dollar even if they manage to keep their rivals behind them on the track.

Glock was paid to drive at Marussia but the team made clear in a statement on Monday that was a luxury they could no longer afford when their survival was at stake in harsh economic circumstances.

The German had become an anomaly on a starting grid whose lower slots are increasingly being filled by drivers bringing ‘budget’ with them.

“The ongoing challenges facing the industry mean that we have had to take steps to secure our long-term future,” said team principal John Booth in a statement.

“Tough economic conditions prevail and the commercial landscape is difficult for everyone, Formula One teams included.”

Marussia, one of three ‘new’ teams who were encouraged into the sport in 2010 with the promise of a budget cap and favorable terms that swiftly evaporated, have the smallest budget of any current outfit.

That still translates into some $70 million a season, however, and by finishing 11th overall behind Caterham last year they missed out on millions in prize money divided among the top 10 teams.

The team made no secret when hiring Britain’s Max Chilton, a Formula One rookie this season, that he would need backing to secure the drive and Glock’s exit will allow them to bring in much-needed cash for the second seat as well.

Marussia are not alone there, with vacancies outstanding at Force India and Caterham as both teams assess a number of candidates who can boast both an FIA super-license and substantial support.

The failure of Spanish-based HRT, who had Indian Narain Karthikeyan and Chinese reserve Ma Qing Hua helping to pay the bills last year before they folded, has shown how vulnerable some teams are in a sport whose revenues were expected to exceed $2 billion last year.

NOT SPORT

Against that backdrop, with none of the three new teams (Marussia, Caterham, HRT) scoring a point in three seasons and others above them also feeling the squeeze, driver decisions have focused on more than just talent and experience.

“That’s the way of F1 at the moment (I) hope it will change again soon because like this it has nothing to do with sport!” Glock said on Twitter on Monday in a message to Red Bull’s Australian Mark Webber that was later deleted.

Other leading drivers commiserated with the German, a veteran of 91 race starts with three podiums for Toyota.

“We know that many drivers know to arrive in Formula One they need to have sponsors, they need to have money, especially in the small teams,” Ferrari’s Felipe Massa said in a video chatroom on the Italian team’s website.

“And honestly this is not a great thing for Formula One and maybe it is part of the commercial side.”

The ‘pay driver’ is not a new phenomenon, and indeed some of the greatest names in Formula One fell into that category when starting out.

Austrian triple champion Niki Lauda, now a key part of the Mercedes management team, paid substantial sums to March for drives in Formula Two and Formula One in the early 1970s.

By 1974 he was racing for Ferrari and being paid handsomely for his talents.

Seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher made his debut for Jordan in 1991 after cash changed hands while Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, Mexican Sergio Perez and Russian Vitaly Petrov have all been dubbed pay drivers.

Maldonado is now a race winner for Williams, Perez has replaced Lewis Hamilton at McLaren and Petrov’s 11th place for Caterham in Brazil in November gave his team 10th in the championship and was worth many millions.

Damon Hill, the 1996 champion with Williams, is not alone in expressing concern that money may now be talking too loudly in a sport that should be an arena for the world’s best drivers.

“It wouldn’t work in football,” he told Reuters last year. “If you wanted to play centre forward for Man United, you still have to be pretty good.

“This sport has always been complicated from that point of view and I don’t know what the solution is,” added the Briton, who also brought a personal sponsor with him when he joined Williams in 1993.

“There will always be a need for more money when the stakes get higher because people want to be more competitive. Everybody’s a pay driver on the rungs up the ladder to F1.” ($1 = 0.7510 euros)

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

Van der Vaart aims to make difference for Netherlands

Rafael van der Vaart says you need a mixture of experience and youth at the World Cup and the veteran midfielder can underscore his credentials to play in Brazil when the Netherlands take on Romania in a qualifier on Tuesday.



The 30-year-old Hamburg playmaker is not the first choice attacking midfielder for Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal, but with Wesley Sneijder out injured Van der Vaart is expected to play his 105th international match against third-place Romania in Group D.



Van der Vaart showed on Friday he can still influence the outcome of an international match when he came on for Sneijder and scored the opening goal against Estonia early in the second half of a match the Dutch went on to win 3-0.

Christian Benteke sinks QPR to boost Aston Villa survival bid

Aston Villa eased their relegation worries as Christian Benteke’s late strike clinched a crucial 3-2 win over fellow strugglers QPR on Saturday.



Paul Lambert’s team moved six points clear of the Premier League’s bottom three thanks to Benteke’s winner nine minutes from the end of a thrilling encounter at Villa Park.



QPR had taken a first half lead through Jermaine Jenas, only for Gabriel Agbonlahor to equalise against the run of play just before the break.



Andreas Weimann put Villa ahead early in the second half before Andros Townsend hauled QPR level to set up a dramatic finale capped by Belgian striker Benteke’s seventh goal in the last eight league games — his 17th since his ?8 million move from Genk last year.



While Villa can look to the final weeks of the season more optimistically after this win, QPR remain bottom of the table and are now seven points from safety.



To make matters worse for Harry Redknapp’s team, they should have been out of sight before half-time after a dominant opening.



Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan made two excellent saves in the space of 60 seconds to keep his side on level terms.



The United States international backpedalled to turn a looping header from Christopher Samba over the bar after he had connected with a Jose Bosingwa free-kick.



Then Guzan made an even better save to turn aside another effort from Samba, this time from just inside the box.



But Guzan was beaten when Villa substitute Joe Bennett played a careless pass just inside his own half which was seized on by Jenas who released Bobby Zamora in space.



Zamora’s low drive was parried by Guzan but Jenas continued his run into the box and was first to the loose ball to make no mistake from close range.



Villa narrowly avoided falling 2-0 down when Bosingwa’s powerful free-kick struck a post.



But in first half stoppage-time Villa forward Agbonlahor scored a vital equaliser, timing his run to the far post and heading home Matt Lowton’s cross.



The momentum swung Villa’s way after that Bennett atoned for his earlier costly error by setting up Weimann for his 11th goal of the season in the 59th minute.



Bennett showed good control before supplying the pass to Weimann who cut inside before drilling a low left-footed shot past Julio Cesar.



With 17 minutes left, on-loan Tottenham winger Townsend levelled for QPR when his deflected shot flew past Guzan.



There was no sign of Villa’s young team buckling under the pressure and after 81 minutes Weimann drove over a low cross which was turned in by Benteke to spark wild celebrations from the home players and fans.

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