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Big gains for Devine, Jones in ICC Women's ODI Batting Rankings

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Dubai, April 9 (IANS) New Zealand captain Sophie Devine and England’s wicketkeeper-batter Amy Jones have progressed in the ICC Women’s ODI Batting Rankings after the end of their ICC Women’s Championship series which England won 2-1.

Devine, who missed the fifth match of a preceding T20I series and the first two games of the ODI series due to a quad strain, produced a 93-ball 100 not out to win the final match for her team, moving from 20th to a career-best-equaling 10th position in the batting rankings. Jones struck 48 and 50 in the last two matches of the series played in Hamilton that were taken into consideration in the latest weekly update to the women’s rankings, progressing five slots and attaining a career-best 12th position.

New Zealand’s Brooke Halliday (up nine places to 43rd) and England’s Maia Bouchier (up 19 places to 71st) are among others to gain in the batting rankings.

England’s new-ball bowler Kate Cross is up one place to third while New Zealand’s leg-spinning all-rounder Amelia Kerr moved up four places to 10th position. Amelia’s sister Jess Kerr has also moved towards the top 10 of the bowling rankings, her five wickets in two matches lifting her from 16th to 12th position, the ICC informed in a media release on Tuesday.

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Nat Sciver-Brunt (up nine places to 17th) and Hannah Rowe (up three places to 21st) have moved up after finishing with four wickets each in the two matches. Sciver-Brunt and Amelia are also up to second and third on the all-rounders’ list.

In the ICC Women’s T20I Player Rankings, Sri Lanka captain Chamari Athapaththu advanced two places to seventh position after a match-winning 46-ball 73 against South Africa helped clinch the series 2-1. Harshitha Samarawickrama’s score of 54 not out helped her advance two slots and reach 18th position while spinners Sugandika Kumari and Inoshi Fernando have gained in the bowling rankings.

For South Africa, Anneke Bosch (up one place to 16th among batters) and Nadine de Klerk (53rd among batters and 38th among bowlers) are the main gainers.

Australia’s 3-0 win over Bangladesh, which included two matches over the past week, is reflected in the gains for their players. Grace Harris is up 15 places to 40th among batters while in the bowling rankings, Ashleigh Gardner and Annabel Sutherland have moved up two places each to occupy 17th and 22nd positions, respectively.

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Others to gain in the rankings include Tanya Ruma of Papua New Guinea (up three places to 29th) and Zimbabwe captain Chipo-Mugeri Tiripano (up seven places to 47th) among batters, and Bangladesh’s Rabeya Khan (up five places to 16th) and Nahida Akter (up two places to 24th) among bowlers.

–IANS

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French Open: Sumit Nagal loses to Khachanov after a two-hour 27-minute battle

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Paris, May 28 (IANS) Top Indian singles player Sumit Nagal suffered a setback as he went down to 18th seed Karen Khachanov in the men’s singles first round, ending his maiden entry into the main draw of the clay court major on a losing note in the Franch Open here on Monday.

It was expected to be an uphill task for Nagal as he was facing a top-20 player and the match went on expected lines though the Indian did put up some fight in the third set, taking his 28-year-old opponent to the tiebreaker. Also, clay is Nagal’s least favourite surface.

The 26-year-old Nagal eventually lost 6-2, 6-0, 7-6(5) in a 2 hour and 27-minute match played on Court 7 which was initially interrupted by rain here on Monday.

Nagal served four double faults as compared to two by his opponent and could manage to put in only 55 percent of his second serve as compared to 68 percent by Khachanov. The Indian player ranked 95 in the ATP World rankings, who has a 3-6 win/loss record this season, earned nine break points but could convert only 1 while Khachanov capitalised on six of the 13 breakpoints he bagged.

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Nagal held his serve early in the first set but was broken easily by Khachanov. The 28-year-old Moscow-born Kchachanov won nine games in a row from midway through the first set to win the second 6-0 to take a commanding lead.

Nagal won three games in a row in the third set to break his opponent’s serve in the 10th game and tied the score 5-5. Both players held their serve and the set went into a tiebreak. However, Nagal could not win the set and force a fourth set as Khachanov won the tiebreaker 7-5 to win the match in the match that nearly stretched to two and half hours.

While Nagal’s debut in the clay-court grand slam ended in the opening round, the 26-year-old from Jhajjar, who cracked into the top-100 in February 2024, will be looking forward to his debut in Wimbledon a few weeks from now.

–IANS

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French Open: Zverev sends Nadal into sunset with win in first-round blockbuster (Ld)

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Paris, May 27 (IANS) Only time will tell whether people have witnessed him playing for the final time, but fans rose to cheer Rafael Nadal after a spectacular match against Alexander Zverev, who caused a huge upset by beating the 14-time winner in the men’s singles first round of the French Open 2024 here on Monday.

Fourth-seeded Zverev handed Nadal a 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-3 defeat on Monday afternoon, the 27-year-old German becoming the first man to defeat Nadal before the fourth round at Roland Garros and joining Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic as the third man to defeat Nadal on the Parisian clay courts.

Nadal found moments of his vintage best tennis, especially with his trademark forehand passing shot. But Zverev’s booming serve, aggressive forehand, and calm under pressure proved too much to overcome after three hours and five minutes.

“To be honest I don’t know what to say,” Zverev said on court after his win, before handing the mic to the Spanish legend.

“First of all, thank you, Rafa, from all of the tennis world. It’s such a great honour. I’ve watched Rafa play all my childhood, and I was lucky enough to play Rafa when I became a pro, I was lucky enough to play him two times on this beautiful court. Today is not my moment, it’s Rafa’s moment,” Zverev was quoted as saying by the official Roland Garros website.

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There was so much excitement for the match that Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, and WTA No. 1 Iga Swiatek all sat in the stands to take in the action. The encounter was very tightly contested for a straight-sets match, but for every moment in which Nadal seemed to seize the momentum — rallying the raucous crowd fully behind him — Zverev found an answer to retake control.

Nadal, ranked 275 at the moment, had never played Roland-Garros unseeded, and never faced a top-10 player in the first round. He had also never lost consecutive matches on his beloved clay, but Zverev changed all that with a command performance.

Nadal, who fell to 112-4 lifetime at Roland-Garros with the loss, gave his faithful fans plenty to cheer about across the contest, but it was three-time semi-finalist Zverev who held the heavier hand in the key moments as he notched his second clay-court victory over the 22-time Grand Slam champion, and improved to 29-8 lifetime at Porte d’Auteuil.

Thunderous chants rang through the bowels of Chatrier with regularity during the pair’s 11th meeting, Nadal’s feverish fans doing their best to raise the closed roof that covered the court for the entirety of the match. Determined Zverev kept Nadal’s faithful from getting too unruly in the early going, however, as he broke Nadal in the first game of the match before wrestling the opening set with a second break of serve at the 50-minute mark, 6-3.

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The second and third sets followed a different path to a similar end.

Nadal charged to life in the fourth game of set two, saving a pair of break points for 2-2 and breaking for 3-2 as chants of “Rafa! Rafa!” could be heard echoing across the grounds.

Urged on by the faithful, the Spaniard clung to the lead for a spell, but couldn’t ward off his determined adversary, who broke at love for 5-5 and eventually claimed a tense tiebreak to take a 2-0 lead.

There were chances galore for Nadal, which is a testament to just how far he has come since making his return to the tour in April in Barcelona. Though defeated, he left us to wonder what might have been had he had a few more weeks to prepare.

But Monday’s match was Zverev’s for the taking, and he braved the magnitude of the contest with aplomb, rising to the occasion and matching the legendary Spaniard whenever the situation called for it.

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Faced with another deficit in the third set, Zverev wrestled control from Nadal once again, rallying from 2-0 down, winning six of the final seven games to close out his victory in three hours and five minutes.

It was a brilliant contest, full of drama, quality, and tension. The only shame, of course, is that such a high-profile contest happened so early in the Paris fortnight. After the match, Nadal was sent off properly by the fans, who chanted his name for several minutes before he took the microphone to address them, and his future plans.

“The amount of feelings that I had on this amazing court during all my tennis career is just unbelievable,” Nadal said. “I never dreamed I would be here at almost 38 years old, with all the success I had here, winning so many times – it is something that I never dreamt of.

“For me, it’s difficult to say what will happen in the future. It’s a big percentage that I won’t be back at Roland-Garros, but I can’t say 100 percent. I enjoy playing here, I like traveling with the family, and my body is feeling a little bit better than it did two months ago.”

–IANS

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Sweet memories flooding back for Dortmund ahead of Bellingham reunion

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Berlin, May 27 (IANS) Meeting Real Madrid in the 2024 UEFA Champions League final at Wembley this Saturday will see the return of a young man who stands for sweet memories in black and yellow. From 2020 to 2023, Madrid’s England midfielder Jude Bellingham turned out for Dortmund and soon became the club’s talisman and one of football’s superstars.

The club staff’s children gathered after nearly every game at Signal Iduna to hug the youngster who had become a dear friend. Following his introduction at the club’s training camp in the Swiss Alps after having just turned 17, Bellingham started his unprecedented journey on the big stage of international football, reports Xinhua.

The youngster, having helped English second-tier side Birmingham City avoid relegation, stood in front of a group of curious media representatives, before giving a near-perfect introduction that belied his tender years. Four years later, nostalgic feelings might fringe Dortmund’s entourage as the prodigal son slipped into the shirt of Real Madrid a year ago and became one of the Spanish outfit’s dominant figures.

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Dortmund sporting director Sebastian Kehl called the reunion “a fantastic story.”

The official added: “He is joining Real and a year later we meet in the Champions League final. That’s near to kitschy.”

In Dortmund’s shirt, the midfielder made his way into the England team while having received the Kopa trophy in October 2023 from French sports paper France Football, which stands for the world’s best young player. His meteoric rise made even Dortmund seem too small for his genius. Nevertheless, the gigantic football cosmos of Real appeared as a huge challenge.

Only 12 months later, doubts have been removed like scenery in a theatre, shifting aside to make space for a new chapter. In Spain, Bellingham became one of the club’s driving forces. Curiously, rumors are linking Dortmund with his younger brother Jobe, currently under contract at English second-tier side Sunderland.

The 19-year-old is a similar type of player, who is well-equipped for the midfield and the front line. Regardless of the outcome, the name Bellingham stands for top-class football and will presumably forever be around Dortmund. At a rapid speed, Jude Bellingham adopted Real’s aura, representing the world’s best football club.

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The German side not only is facing their former star but “must fight against a mythos.”

“But I have the feeling we will manage as we have an open bill with Wembley, with this final,” Kehl stated, adding that to meet Bellingham before kick-off would be a very special pleasure.

Despite facing the power of the courted midfielder, Kehl said it’s time to turn things for the better for Dortmund, who lost their last Champions League final in 2013 against Bayern Munich.

–IANS

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Namibia and South Africa seal FIH Indoor Hockey World Cup 2025 spots

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Lausanne (Switzerland), May 27 (IANS) The Indoor Africa Cup 2024 came to an end with Namibia men and South Africa women winning gold and securing their spot at the upcoming FIH Indoor Hockey World Cup 2025, which will be played in Porec, Croatia from February 3-9, 2025. With two men’s and two women’s spots available from Africa for the World Cup, South African men and Namibia women also qualified on Sunday for the upcoming premier indoor hockey competition by finishing as the silver medalists at the Indoor Africa Cup.

In the men’s competition South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana competed in the round-robin stage with each team facing the other three once. South Africa won all three matches in this stage to finish top of the standings, followed by hosts Namibia finishing second by winning their games against Zimbabwe and Botswana by comfortable margins.

As the top-2 finishers, South Africa and Namibia headed straight to the final. By their top-2 finish, both teams also qualified for the FIH Men’s Indoor Hockey World Cup Croatia 2025. The two teams had produced a thriller in their round-robin match with South Africa winning out in a tense 5-4 encounter and the finals produced more of the same, according to a release by FIH.

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After a goalless first half, the match sprung into action with South Africa scoring two quick goals early in the third quarter. Namibia finished the quarter strongly though, scoring twice in the final two minutes to go level into the final quarter.

South Africa pulled ahead in the final quarter, but once again Namibia had the answer as the regulation period ended with the two teams tied at 3-goals apiece, sending the title match into the shoot-outs.

The teams matched each other through the first phase of the shoot-out, with both sides scoring twice and missing once, sending the contest into sudden death. South Africa blinked first in the nervy moments, and Namibia sealed the win and the title with a 4-3 win in the shoot-outs to become the champions of Africa.

In the women’s competition South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana competed in the round-robin stage with each team facing the other three once. South Africa finished top of the table with 2 wins and a draw.

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Namibia had a similar record, but an inferior goal difference saw them finish second. In their head-to-head match, South Africa and Namibia drew the game 1-1 and with both teams headed to the final, a thrilling contest awaited.

By their top-2 finish, both South Africa and Namibia had already qualified for the FIH Women’s Indoor Hockey World Cup Croatia 2025. The bragging rights in Africa were still up for grabs, however, and the final did not disappoint.

In a game of two halves, South Africa were phenomenal in the first, scoring three unanswered goals to take a 3-0 lead into the break. But Namibia came blazing back in the second half scoring 3 goals of their own to send the match into a shoot-out with the score tied at 3-3 at the end of the regulation period.

Both teams missed two attempts and scored one in the first phase of the shoot-out, and the game went into the sudden-death phase. South Africa scored their first attempt, while Namibia missed theirs, making South Africa the champions of indoor hockey in Africa.

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–IANS

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French Open: Gauff, Jabeur race through their openers; join Swiatek, Osaka in second round (Ld)

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Paris, May 27 (IANS) American star Coco Gauff scored a swift win as did No.8 seed Ons Jabeur, who also kicked off her campaign on the right foot in women’s singles first round at the French Open here on Monday. Gauff, the third seed, put paid to Grand Slam debutante Julia Avdeeva’s hopes of an upset on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, running out a convincing 6-1, 6-1 winner in just 52 minutes.

Jabeur started off her Roland Garros campaign with a solid 6-3, 6-2 defeat of wildcard Sachia Vickery in one hour and 21 minutes on the same court but under the roof.

It was not until the sixth game that the 21-year-old Gauff managed to hold to get her name on the board but it was merely delaying the inevitable as Gauff held to love on a confident drop shot at the 24-minute mark. There was no hiding the looks of despair and mutterings of helplessness towards her box when Avdeeva was broken in the opening game of the second set.

It was all going wrong for Avdeeva. A head clash with the umpire when the pair both leaned in to inspect a ball mark momentarily stopped play before she returned to the baseline with a grin and a red mark on her forehead.

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Unfortunately for Avdeeva, it did nothing to slow the 2022 finalist’s progression to a second-round meeting with the 2021 semifinalist and another qualifier, Tamara Zidansek.

Having readily admitted to struggles on serve throughout the European clay-court swing, what had been Gauff’s Achilles heel leading in had become her greatest asset on Monday.

Jabeur, the three-time Grand Slam finalist, comes into Paris seeking some consistent form following a stop-start first half of the season. Injuries, particularly a long-term knee issue, have beset Jabeur in 2024 and her record ahead of this week was just six wins to nine losses.

A quarterfinal run in Madrid offered hope of a turnaround, but Jabeur’s run in that tournament ended with a third-set collapse against Madison Keys, followed by an opening exit in Rome to Sofia Kenin.

However, Jabeur was in a confident mood after an efficient win over a third American opponent in a row. She said she overcame some early tension and managed to “play in a relaxed way” as the match went on.

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No.8 seed Ons Jabeur kicked off her Roland Garros campaign with a solid 6-3, 6-2 defeat of wild card Sachia Vickery in 1 hour and 21 minutes under the Court Suzanne-Lenglen roof.

The three-time Grand Slam finalist comes into Paris seeking some consistent form following a stop-start first half of the season. Injuries, particularly a long-term knee issue, have beset Jabeur in 2024 and her record ahead of this week was just six wins to nine losses. A quarterfinal run in Madrid offered hope of a turnaround, but Jabeur’s run in that tournament ended with a third-set collapse against Madison Keys, followed by an opening exit in Rome to Sofia Kenin.

However, Jabeur was in a confident mood after an efficient win over a third American opponent in a row. She said she overcame some early tension and managed to “play in a relaxed way” as the match went on.

She got off to a quick start in each set, capturing the Vickery serve at the first opportunity both times. She was able to keep her nose in front throughout, dropping serve only once (and facing just one other breakpoint outside that game). In total, she tallied 30 winners to 28 unforced errors.

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The Tunisian will next face either 2023 Rome finalist Anhelina Kalinina or two-time Bogota champion Camila Osorio, against both of whom she holds a 2-0 head-to-head record.

Earlier in the day, Women’s world No.1 Iga Swiatek opened her title defense on Monday with a trademark performance, romping to a straight sets victory against local qualifier Leolia Jeanjean on Court Philippe-Chatrier in the French capital.

Swiatek surged to a 6-1, 6-2 victory in quick time, thus registering her 15th consecutive win in the French Open, improving her first-round record at Roland Garros to 6-0. She is the first woman to win 15 consecutive matches at the French Open since Justine Henin, who took 24 consecutive matches between 2005-10.

She next faces Naomi Osaka in the second round, who held off Bronzetti in three sets.

–IANS

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