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Fourth seed Naomi Osaka outgunned Karolina Pliskova Thursday to set up an Australian Open final against Czech eighth seed Petra Kvitova.


The 21-year-old Japanese star overcame the seventh seed 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 to reach a second straight Grand Slam decider after her breakthrough triumph over Serena Williams at last year’s US Open.


Osaka started strongly to take the first set as the match began with the roof of Rod Laver Arena closed amid sweltering temperatures exceeding 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 Fahrenheit).


But Pliskova, who ousted American great Williams with an epic comeback to make the semi-finals on Wednesday, roared back in the second before Osaka edged past her in the third.


“I expected it, I expected a really hard battle,” Osaka said of Pliskova’s attempt to come back from a set and a breakdown.


“I just told myself to regroup in the third set and try as hard as I could no matter what, and I managed to win.”


She said her win at Flushing Meadows helped settle her nerves against the never-say-die Czech.


“I was so scared serving second serves, I was like ‘oh my God, please!'” she said. “I guess that’s experience, I don’t know.


Osaka is bidding to become the first woman since Serena Williams in 2015 to win the US and Australian Opens back to back.


She will also become the new world number one, replacing Romania’s Simona Halep, if she beats Kvitova in the final.


Pliskova was the bookies’ favorite for the title after her effort against Williams but made a slow start, hitting only four winners to Osaka’s 16 in the first set.


The fired-up Japanese also dominated on serve as she ended Pliskova’s 10-match winning streak.


After blasting down an ace in her first service game, Osaka carved out three break points on Pliskova’s serve.


A blistering backhand gave her the advantage following a baseline slugfest with the Czech.


Pliskova double-faulted to hand Osaka a second break and the Japanese star went on to serve out the set with an ace after 32 minutes.


The opening four games of the second set all went against serve as Pliskova threw everything at Osaka trying to find a way back into the match.


Osaka absorbed the pressure and continued to play her shots as the dogged Czech went on the attack.


She held on until two unforced errors, trailing at 5-4, handed a jubilant Pliskova the second set after 41 minutes.


Osaka managed a crucial hold as the third game of the third set turned into a seven-minute arm-wrestle, fending off three break points.


She then broke in the next game but Pliskova continued to press and the Japanese player had to see off a break point with an ace before serving out the match.


She hit another ace on match point which was called out but successfully challenged the decision to ensure she made the final.


AFP

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Serena Williams denied choking after falling victim to one of the greatest ever comebacks Wednesday, saying she was powerless as Czech for Karolina Pliskova “just went crazy” to storm into the Australian Open semi-finals.


Williams had Pliskova on the rack serving at 5-1 in the third set but the seventh seed fended off four match points to bounce back and end the American’s latest bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam.


“She just played lights out on match point, literally hitting lines,” Williams said. “Just went for it, just went crazy on match point. she just played unbelievably.”


The 37-year-old made a slow start and conceded the first set but had recovered and looked set for a hard-fought win before a desperate Pliskova went on the rampage.


“She was killing me… I was almost in the locker room, now I’m standing here as the winner. It’s a great feeling,” an exhausted Pliskova, seeded seven, said after the two-hour 10-minute epic.


“My mind was in the locker room. I wasn’t playing very well in the third set but I thought let’s try, this game (will make it) 5-2. She got a little bit shaky in the end so I took my chances and I won.”


Pliskova, who will play Japan’s Naomi Osaka in the semis, was on the brink until Williams double-faulted with the end in sight.


The 37-year-old, a seven-time Australian champion, then failed to win a point on serve for the rest of the match.


The elated Czech rated it the best comeback of her life and said she always believed she could beat the American legend.


“I know she’s the greatest ever, but I don’t want to put her somewhere where I would not have a chance to beat her,” she said in explaining how she approached the match.


“I beat her before. She was No.1 at that time. I knew I’m going to have my chances. But I had to play well.”


Williams said there was nothing she could do against an opponent in such form.


“I can’t say that I choked on those match points, said the American, who made a comeback last year after having a baby. “She literally played her best tennis ever on those shots.”


Williams seeded 16, had blazed through the early stages of the tournament, seeing off world number one Simona Halep in the fourth round.


But against Pliskova she lacked the intensity she had previously displayed and was soon trailing for the first time during her campaign after a slew of uncharacteristic errors.


The American said it was a lesson to not take anything for granted on match point.


“This is when you go psycho when you have match point… just go bananas on it,” she said.


Pliskova, who entered this year’s tournament on a high after winning the Brisbane International warm-up, came out firing and bested Williams on serve to take the first set.


Williams rebounded in the second before imploding in the decider.


Former world number one Pliskova has made the quarter-finals in her last two appearances at Melbourne Park and made the final at the US Open in 2016.


She has been a regular in the second week of Grand Slams in recent years, reaching the quarters or better six times since late 2016, but is still searching for a breakthrough win.


The Czech said the win over Williams was a huge confidence booster before facing US Open champion Osaka.


“She’s dangerous but nobody is more dangerous than Serena,” she said.


AFP

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British Premier League club Cardiff City’s record new signing, Argentina-born striker Emiliano Sala, was on board a light aircraft that disappeared over the English Channel on Monday night, police sources told AFP.


Sala, signed by Cardiff on Saturday from French club Nantes for a club record fee, was flying to Cardiff aboard a small plane that went missing around 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the island of Guernsey.

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Cristiano Ronaldo returned to Madrid on Tuesday for a court date in which he could be fined 18.8 million euros ($21.4 million) for tax fraud in a deal reached with the Spanish taxman.


As part of an agreement arranged in June with the former Real Madrid hero’s lawyers, prosecutors are also asking that the Portuguese attacker, who last summer left the Spanish capital for Italian champions Juventus, be handed a 23-month jail sentence.


However, Ronaldo would not spend a day in prison as sentences of up to two years are generally not enforced in Spain for first-time offenders in non-violent crimes.


The five-time Ballon d’Or winner did not speak to the crowd of reporters waiting behind blue police barriers for him to arrive at the court in northeastern Madrid for the hearing, which is expected to last just a few minutes as the deal is officially presented to the judge.


Dressed in black and wearing dark sunglasses, a smiling Ronaldo climbed up the courthouse steps holding hands with his girlfriend Georgina Rodriguez.


The judge will give the final sentence on Tuesday or the coming days, according to a court spokesman.


Ronaldo’s lawyers had asked that he be allowed to enter the building by car to avoid the media spotlight.


But the court president refused the request, saying that despite his “great fame”, he wouldn’t “compromise security” at the building, according to a court document.


Ronaldo’s request to appear via videoconference was also denied.


Madrid prosecutors opened a probe into Ronaldo in June 2017 and he was questioned in July that same year.


“I have never hidden anything, nor have I had the intention of evading taxes,” he told the court then, according to a statement from the sports agency which represents him, Gestifute.


Prosecutors accuse him of having used companies in low-tax foreign jurisdictions — notably the British Virgin Islands and Ireland — to avoid having to pay the tax due in Spain on his image rights between 2011 and 2014.


His lawyers said there had been a difference in interpretation of what was and was not taxable in Spain.


The deal between Spain’s taxman and his lawyers has allowed Ronaldo to avoid having to sit through a long trial that could have damaged his image and seen him handed a heftier sentence.


Ronaldo is not the only footballer to have fallen foul of Spain’s tax authorities.


His former Real Madrid team-mate Xabi Alonso will appear at the same Madrid court on Tuesday on a separate tax evasion charge.


Public prosecutors are demanding that Alonso is handed a five-year jail sentence and pay a fine of four million euros.


Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, once Ronaldo’s big La Liga rival, paid a two-million-euro fine in 2016 in his own tax wrangle and received a 21-month jail term.


The prison sentence was later reduced to a further fine of 252,000 euros, equivalent to 400 euros per day of the original term.


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Serena Williams ground down top seed Simona Halep in an epic three-setter to take her quest for a record-equalling 24th major into the Australian Open quarter-finals on Monday.


The 37-year-old American beat the Romanian top seed 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 in an epic three-setter to line up a last eight clash with Czech eighth seed Karolina Pliskova.


It was Williams’ first match against a world number one since returning after having a baby in September 2017 and the American showed why many already regard her as the greatest of all time.


She unleashed an early onslaught and Halep was in danger crumbling before the French Open champion regrouped for a stirring comeback.


“It was an intense match and there were some incredible points,” Williams said.


“She’s the number one player in the world and there’s a reason why… (but) I’m such a fighter, I just never give up.”


Williams won her 23rd Grand Slam Down Under two years ago while two months pregnant and is the bookies’ favorite to claim an eighth Australian title, despite being seeded 16th.


Another major would match Margaret Court’s tally and an intensely-focused Williams had not dropped a set in three matches before meeting Halep.


Williams’ started slowly when she allowed Halep to bring up three break points in the opening game, conceding with a double fault.


But the American broke back in the next, racing to the net for an overhead smash when one of her powerfully hit returns flew high off Halep’s racquet.


She then ran away with the first set 6-1 in 20 minutes, blasting 10 winners to three against the world’s top-ranked player.


Halep did better early in the second set, and when the American did break her in the third game she immediately broke back.


Standing well behind the baseline, she drew Williams into more rallies and began to find her range, hitting the corners to move the American around.


Halep broke again to take a set off Williams, celebrating with a fired-up double fist pump.


The turning point came in the sixth game of the third set when Halep clawed three break points but Williams held and took a decisive break in the fifth.


AFP

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Serena Williams sent an ominous Australian Open warning with a 49-minute first-round demolition of fellow mum Germany’s Tatjana Maria.

The American giant is bidding to match Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam crowns on her first return to Melbourne Park since winning in 2017 while eight weeks pregnant.

Now 37, she kept a low profile in the lead-up to the opening major of the year and came out of the blocks flying against fellow mum Tatjana Maria, pummelling her German opponent 6-0, 6-2.

Sporting a striking jade green jumpsuit and fine mesh stockings on Rod Laver Arena, the 16th seed wasted no time in getting out of the blistering Melbourne heat and said it was good to be back.

“The last time I was here I was pregnant and playing at the same time which is insane,” she said. “It’s weird walking back on -– by myself this time -– it feels good. I have so many memories from the last time I was here.”

Bidding for an eighth Melbourne Park crown, few are betting against Williams despite her lowly seeding and she next faces Canadian Eugenie Bouchard who eased past China’s Peng Shuai.

Williams played at the mixed teams Hopman Cup in Perth this month, but her appearance on Tuesday was her first outing on tour since a meltdown in losing the US Open final to Naomi Osaka in September.

Japan’s Osaka, seeded four, begins her campaign in the night match on Rod Laver Arena against Poland’s Magda Linette following Novak Djokovic’s first outing.

Czech seventh seed Karolina Pliskova, who has made the quarter-finals in her last two appearances at Melbourne Park, safely progressed, but 10th seed Darya Kasatkina slumped out, winning just three games against Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky.

American Madison Keys, who reached the semis at the French and US Open last year, as well as the quarters in Melbourne, ensured she too lived to fight another day, crushing local wildcard Destanee Aiava 6-2, 6-2.

Last year’s beaten finalist and world number one Simona Halep plays Kaia Kanepi later.

Like Williams, men’s world number one Djokovic is also gunning for a piece of history as he looks to win a record seventh Australian Open title.

The Serb starts against American qualifier Mitchell Krueger.

Young gun Alexander Zverev comfortably began his tilt at a maiden Grand Slam title. The fourth seed Zverev, who is hoping to establish himself as a serious threat to Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal, cruised past Aljaz Bedene 6-4, 6-1, 6-4.

“I’ve had about 86 injuries and the ankle is still a bit swollen,” said the 21-year-old.

“But I’ve done everything right in my preparation. Now I either play well or I don’t.”

Eighth seed Kei Nishikori, who won in Brisbane last week, looked down and out against little-known qualifier Kamil Majchrzak, losing the first two sets before the Pole began badly cramping.

He bravely fought on before calling it a day after winning just two of the next 17 games.

“I was trying to play but he was playing amazing tennis. I have to be happy that I didn’t lose today,” said a relieved Nishikori, who next faces Croat Ivo Karlovic.

Elsewhere, 15th seeded Russian Daniil Medvedev went through in three sets while 12th seeded Italian Fabio Fognini beat Spain’s Jaume Munar, who retired with cramps while two sets down.

South Korea’s Chung Hyeon, a giant-killer last year when he beat Zverev and Djokovic on the way to the semi-finals, demonstrated his fighting qualities again, coming from two sets down to beat American Bradley Klahn.

In other matches Tuesday, Australian hero Nick Kyrgios will have his work cut out against Canadian 16th seed Milos Raonic, a former world number three.

(NAN)

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Arsenal’s inconsistency has dealt a blow to their hopes of a top-four finish in the Premier League, manager Unai Emery said following a 1-0 defeat by West Ham United on Saturday.

Arsenal, which failed to finish in the top four in the last two seasons to miss out on Champions League qualification, has 41 points, six behind fourth-placed Chelsea.

“Now, its more difficult, its clear,” Emery told reporters after Arsenal’s third defeat in six league games following a 14-match unbeaten run earlier in the season.

“I think the most important thing for us is to recover our confidence and be more competitive. We need consistency over 38 matches. Now it isn’t enough at the moment.”

Arsenal has the opportunity to close the gap with Chelsea, which defeated Newcastle United last time out when they host Maurizio Sarri’s team on Saturday.

“The big opportunity for us is that we can take in our hands the possibility to be closer to them,” Emery added.

“This (Saturday’s) result makes that more difficult.”

Emery will also keep an eye on a resurgent Manchester United which drew level with them on 41 points.

United won their fifth Premier League matches in a row under caretaker boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

(Reuters/NAN)

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A tearful Andy Murray on Friday announced he would likely retire this year due to severe pain from a hip injury, saying next week’s Australian Open could be the last tournament of a glittering career.


The former world number one and three-time Grand Slam winner broke down at a press conference in Melbourne as he said the pain had become almost unbearable.


“I can play with limitations. But having the limitations and the pain is not allowing me to enjoy competing or training,” the emotional Scot said.


Thirty-one-year-old Sir Andy said he would like to finish at his home Grand Slam in Wimbledon, but ruefully admitted he might not make it that far.


He will be remembered as the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years and as a player who battled his way to the top in a golden era for the game alongside Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.


“Wimbledon is where I would like to stop playing, but I am not certain I am able to do that,” he said.


“I’ve been struggling for a long time. I’m not sure I can play through the pain for another four or five months.


“Pretty much-done everything that I could to try and get my hip feeling better and it hasn’t helped loads.”


He pulled out of last year’s Australian Open to have hip surgery and only returned in June at Queen’s Club in London.


He ended the season at Shenzhen in September after only a handful of appearances to concentrate on working his way back to full fitness.


But he was knocked out in the second round on his return at Brisbane last week and called it quits on Thursday after less than an hour of a practice match in Melbourne against Djokovic, with his movement clearly hampered.


“I think there is a chance the Australian Open is my last tournament,” he said.


While he intends to begin his opening-round match against 22nd seed Roberto Bautista Agut next week, how his body withstands potentially grueling five-set clashes in energy-sapping heat remains to be seen.


“I’m going to play. I can still play to a level, not a level I’m happy playing at,” he said.


One of the so-called Big Four, along with Federer, Djokovic, and Nadal, who has dominated the game for years, Murray’s ranking has slumped to 230.


He hasn’t reached a Grand Slam final since winning his second Wimbledon title in 2016 but has nevertheless enjoyed a glittering career since turning professional in 2005, with not only three Grand Slam titles, but two Olympic gold medals and 45 ATP crowns.


Notably, in 2013 Murray became the first British man to win Wimbledon for 77 years, ending the nation’s obsession with finding a champion to follow in the footsteps of Fred Perry.


Top Australian coach Darren Cahill, who until recently was mentoring world number one Simona Halep, said Murray was an example of the never-say-die attitude that separated the best from the average.


“When you search for examples of ’emptied the bucket to be as good as they could be’ there should be a picture of Andy Murray sitting under that quote,” he tweeted.


“Remarkable discipline for training, competition, sacrifice, perfection, a little crazy but a legend of a bloke.”


Former star Andy Roddick also paid tribute on Twitter.


“I tip my cap to @andy_murray! Absolute legend. A short list of best tacticians in history. Unreal results in a brutal era. Nothing but respect here. I hope he can finish strong and healthy,” he said.

Another Twitter user, Juan M. del Potro wrote;


Murray said he had an option of another operation on his troublesome hip, but it was more about his quality of life after hanging up his racquet.


“That’s something I’m seriously considering right now,” he said.

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JOSE MOURINHO is free to take charge of Real Madrid after Manchester United paid him £15 million compensation.


The Special One has been contacted by the La Liga side about making a sensational return to the Bernabeu this season.


But the 55-year-old was not able to accept a contract with another club until the pay-off negotiations were complete.


Mourinho has received the payment after his agent Jorge Mendes met up with United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.


According to the Daily Mail, a source close to the manager said: "There are no issues over Jose's contract with Manchester United. Everything has been sorted.


"Jose is able to take on another job right now but is in no rush.


"He is very relaxed about it and would be happy to wait until the end of the season if he needs to."

That frees him up to talk to Real, and there are claims in Portugal that he will meet with Benfica in the coming days to hear what they have to say.


The Sun reports that United agreed to the payment after his disappointing two-and-a-half-year stint at Old Trafford following a meeting between Mourinho’s agent Jorge Mendes and United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward

Mourinho was in charge of Madrid from 2010 until 2013 when he guided them to La Liga glory and won the Copa del Rey.


The source added: "There has been no contact, but they did get in touch with Jose after Lopetegui was dismissed.

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Aaron Ramsey has agreed on a five-year deal with Juventus worth £36m and will join the Italian champions on a free transfer at the end of the season. The midfielder has been discussing a move for weeks and will leave Arsenal after 10 years at the club.


It had been clear the Wales international would move in the summer and Juventus had been the frontrunners to secure the 28-year-old’s signature. Ramsey will be paid around £140,000 a week (£7.2m a season), making him Juventus’s second-highest earner behind Cristiano Ronaldo but ahead Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa.


Juventus, who have won the past seven Serie A titles, signed Ronaldo for €100m last summer and are nine points clear of Napoli in second place after 19 games. They have reached two of the last four Champions League finals, albeit losing both, to Barcelona in 2015 and Real Madrid two years later. They are in the last 16 of this season’s competition, where they face Atlético Madrid.


The Juventus manager, Max Allegri, and the director Fabio Paratici are huge admirers of Ramsey, who is likely to be given a place in the Juventus starting XI, most likely playing with Miralem Pjanic and Blaise Matuidi in a three-man midfield. He is likely to replace one of Emre Can, Rodrigo Bentancur and Sami Khedira, with the latter possibly leaving the club in the summer.


Ramsey signed for Arsenal from Cardiff for £4.8m. He has played 252 top-flight games for the club, scoring 52 goals. He won three FA Cups, scoring the winning goal in the 2014 and 2017 finals.


He played arguably the best football of his career during Euro 2016 when Wales reached the semi-finals, although he was suspended for the last-four game when Portugal beat Chris Coleman’s team 2-0.


Ramsey has had his injury problems but Juventus are delighted to have secured him on a free transfer, while Arsenal will regret seeing a player in the prime of his career leave under these circumstances.


With Arsenal choosing to renew the contract of Mesut Özil – another star whose deal was due to expire this summer – they put themselves in a position where they could not re-sign Ramsey too. The Arsenal manager, Unai Emery, also had major reservations about both Özil and Ramsey fitting into his plans and the style he wants to play.


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