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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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Euro 2024: Germany is first team into the last 16 with a 2-0 win over Hungary

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Stuttgart, June 20 (IANS) Goals from Jamal Musiala and Ilkay Gundogan ensured hosts Germany became the first team to confirm their place in the knockout stage of Euro 2024 with a comfortable win against Hungary on Wednesday.

Germany, who had started their campaign with a 5-1 win against Scotland, registered their second win in the four-team Group A and stormed into the knockout stages of the competition. They now have six points from two matches with Switzerland on four, Scotland on 1 and Hungary yet to open their account.

Germany found it a more difficult evening than their 5-1 win against Scotland in Matchday 1. Julian Nagelsmann’s side had enough about them to get the three points, which ensured they would at least finish as the best third-place team in the group stage.

After an even opening, Musiala became the first player to score more than once at this edition of the European Championship, adding to his strike against Scotland last week by blasting in from close range to give the hosts the lead.

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Manuel Neuer, making his 17th Euro appearance to go level with Gianluigi Buffon’s goalkeeping record, was called into action on 26 minutes as he dived to his right to brilliantly save a curling Dominik Szoboszlai free-kick.

Toni Kroos came close to doubling Germany’s lead ten minutes into the second half but his deflected effort was clawed away by Péter Gulacsi before Barnabas Varga headed narrowly over for Hungary.

The game was effectively settled when Maximilian Mittelstädt’s low cross was beautifully stroked into the net by Gundogan to make sure of Germany’s place in the last 16.

–IANS

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2nd ODI: Mandhana, Kaur top Wolvaardt, Kapp centuries as India clinch narrow 4-run victory (Ld)

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Bengaluru, June 20 (IANS) India clinched a last-ball victory over South Africa Women, securing the series 2-0 with a match to spare in the second ODI by 4 runs at M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. The match was marked by a record four centuries and a massive total of 646 runs.

India, opting to bat first on a strip with visible cracks and a patch of grass, faced a challenging start. The new-ball duo of Ayabonga Khaka and Masabata Klaas utilised the conditions expertly, restricting India’s openers, Shafali Verma and Smriti Mandhana, to a slow start. Shafali showed promise but fell for a 38-ball 18, leaving India at a tentative 47 for 1 after 15 overs.

It was Smriti Mandhana’s resilience and class that turned the tide. Partnering with D. Hemalatha, who contributed a steady 24, Mandhana gradually found her rhythm. The turning point came with the arrival of Harmanpreet Kaur, whose aggressive yet calculated approach provided the perfect counterbalance to Mandhana’s grace. Together, they forged a formidable 171-run partnership off just 136 balls, lifting India to a commanding total.

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Mandhana’s journey to her seventh ODI century (136 off 120 deliveries) was a masterclass in adaptability. Initially scoring at a run rate reminiscent of Test cricket, she accelerated brilliantly, moving from 31 off 48 balls to her hundred in 103 balls. Her stroke-play, especially her movement around the crease and her precise targeting of gaps, left the South African bowlers in disarray. Mandhana’s milestone was significant as she became the first Indian woman to score back-to-back centuries in ODIs.

Harmanpreet, on the other hand, displayed raw power and impeccable timing, predominantly scoring on the leg side. Her knock was peppered with powerful shots, including nine fours and three sixes, culminating in a spectacular century in 88 deliveries—her first in nearly two years. An untimely miss-stumping by stand-in wicketkeeper Meike de Ridder allowed Harmanpreet to reach her milestone, adding valuable runs in the final over alongside Richa Ghosh, who contributed a quickfire 25 off 13 balls. India’s innings concluded at an imposing 325 for 3.

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South Africa’s chase began on a shaky note, losing three wickets for 67 runs. However, Laura Wolvaardt and Marizanne Kapp’s resilient 184-run stand brought them back into contention. Wolvaardt, showcasing her exquisite technique, kept South Africa’s hopes alive, but it was Kapp’s dismissal that turned the match into a nail-biting finish.

Wolvaardt smashed 135 in as many deliveries and Kaap scored a brilliant 114 off 94 deliveries.

With 11 runs required off the final over, Pooja Vastrakar was entrusted with the ball. Despite conceding five runs off the first two deliveries, she made a stunning comeback, taking two crucial wickets in the next two balls. With five needed off the final delivery, Wolvaardt, who had been left stranded at the non-striker’s end, finally faced the last ball but was undone by Vastrakar’s clever slower delivery as India won the match by 4 runs.

Brief scores:

India Women 325/3 in 50 overs (Smriti Mandhana 135, Harmanpreet Kaur 103 not out; Nonkululeko Mlaba 2-51, Masabata Klaas 1-67) beat South Africa Women 321/6 in 50 overs (Laura Wolvaardt 135 not out, Marizanne Kapp 114; Pooja Vastrakar 2-54, Deepti Sharma 2-56) by four runs.

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–IANS

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T20 World Cup: Will think whether to play both Kuldeep and Yuzi, says Dravid ahead of Afghanistan clash

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Bridgetown, June 20 (IANS) As the Super Eight stage of the T20 World Cup 2024 approaches, India’s head coach Rahul Dravid has hinted at a potential change in the playing XI that could see wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav making his tournament debut against Afghanistan on Thursday. This strategic adjustment comes as India transitions from the pace-friendly pitches of New York to the spin-friendly conditions of the Caribbean.

India’s campaign in the league stage was marked by dominance, securing victories in all three completed games, with their final match washed out due to rain. The team’s prowess was on full display at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York, where the conditions favoured fast bowlers over spinners, leaving little room for Kuldeep Yadav to showcase his skills.

Looking ahead to the Caribbean leg of the tournament, Dravid emphasized the importance of flexibility and adapting to different playing conditions.

“Tough to leave anyone out. All four being left out do possess the quality. But conditions were in favour of pacers. If we feel the need to play an extra spinner in Kuldeep and Yuzi we will give it a thought,” Dravid said at the pre-match press conference.

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“We are lucky to have players with all-round abilities. We had eight batters, but we (also) had seven bowling options,” he added.

With the Super 8 stage set to unfold in the spin-conducive environments of the Caribbean, Dravid’s comments suggest a shift in strategy. Kuldeep Yadav, known for his ability to turn games with his wrist spin, is likely to play a crucial role. Dravid highlighted this tactical consideration, saying,

“Spinners come into play — We picked the squad keeping in mind all kinds of options. In NY we had eight batting options. Yes, wrist spinners will come into play.”

The inclusion of Kuldeep Yadav could provide India with a significant edge, especially in the conditions expected in the Caribbean. Alongside him, Yuzvendra Chahal, another skilled wrist-spinner, remains a potent option, offering depth and variety to India’s bowling attack. This combination could prove to be a formidable challenge for opposition teams.

Dravid also underscored the importance of flexibility in the team’s batting order, highlighting the strategic thinking that goes into such decisions, reflecting on previous games and the unique challenges of T20 cricket.

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“Each situation is unique. Can’t set it in stone. I believe in flexibility. In the Pakistan game, we moved Axar [Patel], specifically thinking around it… Rishabh [Pant] up the order [at No.3], lots of thinking goes into it. I don’t think in Tests [cricket], we will have that flexibility. In T20s where it is a lot about matchups, you see it happening more [flexibility in batting position],” Dravid explained.

The concept of “match-up” in cricket refers to the tactical deployment of players based on their effectiveness against specific opponents. This strategy was vividly illustrated during a tense league match against arch-rivals Pakistan. With India struggling at 19/2 after the early dismissals of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, Axar Patel was promoted to No.4. His quick-fire 20 off 18 balls provided much-needed stability, showcasing the benefits of a flexible approach.

Reflecting on the upcoming matches, Dravid expressed his enthusiasm for the Caribbean leg of the tournament. “Lovely to come to the Caribbean and play cricket. A couple of practice sessions. We are prepared. Afghanistan are a very dangerous side. Their players play more in leagues than our players. They are not a team to be taken lightly. Deservingly in Super 8,” he noted.

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–IANS

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ATP Tour: China's Zhang upsets Medvedev in Halle, Berrettini, Struff, Eubanks too reach quarters

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Halle (Germany), June 20 (IANS) Chinese No. 1 Zhang Zhizhen scored his second Top 5 victory on Wednesday when he upset third seed Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(5) at the Terra Wortmann Open in Halle. From 3/5 in the third-set tie-break, Zhang won four consecutive points to stun the World No. 5 and become the first Chinese player to reach the Halle quarterfinals.

The 27-year-old dropped six consecutive games from 2-2 in the second set but recovered a break deficit early in the decider to pull within striking distance. Zhang, whose previous Top 5 victory came against Casper Ruud at last year’s US Open, again fought off a challenge on serve at 4-5 in the third set, when Medvedev was two points away from victory.

The World No. 42 in the ATP Rankings next faces American Christopher Eubanks, who ousted defending champion Alexander Bublik 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3. It will be Zhang’s first ATP head-to-head meeting with Eubanks.

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Medvedev fell to 28-9 on the season, with his best result being a final appearance at the Australian Open and in Indian Wells. The 28-year-old was aiming for his 10th consecutive ATP 500 quarterfinal.

Earlier in Halle, Jan-Lennard Struff earned a dramatic victory against Luciano Darderi, converting his 10th match point to win 6-7(2), 7-5, 7-6(10) after two hours, 31 minutes. The Italian Darderi will rue letting slip a match point at 8/7 in the third-set tie-break.

Matteo Berrettini defeated American Alex Michelsen 7-6(5), 6-2 and Arthur Fils cruised past Dominik Koepfer 6-3, 6-4. Fils, 20, holds the top spot in the ATP Live Race To Jeddah. The Frenchman is aiming for a return trip to the Next Gen ATP Finals, where he was a finalist in 2023.

–IANS

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T2O World Cup: South Africa edge past USA by 18 runs in a thrilling contest

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North Sound (Antigua), July 19 (IANS) South Africa managed to edge out a resilient USA team by 18 runs in a gripping encounter at the start of the Super 8 stage match of Group 2 in the T20 World Cup at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium here on Wednesday.

Reeza Hendricks, however, continued his run of poor form, managing only 11 runs from 11 deliveries. Skipper Aiden Markram contributed a solid 46 off 32 balls, ensuring the momentum stayed with the Proteas. The middle order wobbled slightly as David Miller fell for a golden duck, but Heinrich Klaasen and Tristan Stubbs’ quick-fire cameos pushed the total to 194 for 4 in 20 overs.

On the bowling front, Saurabh Netravalkar was the standout performer for the USA, claiming two wickets for just 21 runs in his four overs. Harmeet Singh also impressed with his left-arm spin, taking 2 crucial wickets to keep the South African total in check.

Chasing a daunting target of 195, the USA stumbled early, losing three quick wickets for 56 including the in-form Aaron Jones for a five-ball duck. The early blows put them on the back foot, but wicketkeeper-batsman Andries Gous mounted a valiant resistance. Gous played a brilliant unbeaten innings, scoring 80 off 47 balls, keeping the American hopes alive.

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Harmeet Singh, playing a crucial supporting role, forged a significant partnership with Gous. Their alliance gave the USA a glimmer of hope, inching them closer to the target. However, the departure of Harmeet in the penultimate over spelt doom for the American chase.

Kagiso Rabada, the pick of the South African bowlers, was instrumental in sealing the victory. He bowled a masterful spell, finishing with figures of 3 for 18 in his 4 overs. Rabada’s penultimate over was particularly decisive, conceding just two runs and dismissing Harmeet Singh, thereby quashing any lingering hopes of an American upset.

In the end, South Africa’s quality attack proved too much for the USA, but the spirited performance by the American side won them many admirers. The Proteas, starting their Super 8 campaign on a winning note, had to fight hard to secure their two points, underlining the increasingly competitive nature of the T20 World Cup.

Brief scores:

South Africa 194/4 in 20 overs (Quinton de Kock 74, Aiden Markram 46; Saurabh Netravalkar 2-21, Harmeet Singh 2-24) beat USA 176/6 in 20 overs (Andries Gous 80 not out, Harmeet Singh 38; Kagiso Rabada 3-18, Keshav Maharaj 1-37) by 18 runs.

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–IANS

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