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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Serena Williams is on top again

The women's final had finished in less than an hour, and Serena Williams was walking down the hall in Melbourne Park lined with photos of past Australian Open champions, including herself.

Locked in her arms was the large silver Daphne Akhurst Trophy, which goes to the women's champion.

"It's mine again," Williams said in a lilting voice.

The American champion got no argument from Dinara Safina on Saturday night. After two weeks of uncertainty about the true state of Williams's form, suddenly there was none as Williams swept through the first set in 22 minutes. She then rolled most comfortably to her fourth Australian Open singles title and 10th Grand Slam singles title by the lopsided score of 6-0, 6-3.

The victory means that Williams, not Safina, will be No. 1 when the latest rankings are released on Monday.

"She played too good today," Safina said in her postmatch remarks to the not-quite-sellout crowd in Rod Laver Arena. "I was just a ball boy on the court."

If you are going to challenge Williams in a major tournament, it is best to send a strong signal early. Since 2004, she is an astonishing 45-0 at the Grand Slams when she wins the first set.

Safina, a 22-year-old Russian who is the younger sister of the 2005 Australian Open men's champion, Marat Safin, has earned a reputation as a fighter: battling back from match points in early rounds to reach the final of last year's French Open and doing the same to reach her second major final here.

But from the start Saturday, she looked edgy and confused. Though she flirted with holding her serve in the second game, she wound up double-faulting three times, with the third coming on break point. There was no more suspense after that as Safina won eight points in the opening set while Williams won 26, many of them with full-swinging returns or well-measured forehands.

"I was feeling good, but then of course when you step on the court, it's a different situation," Safina said.

Though Safina broke Williams in the opening game of the second set, Williams immediately returned the favor: rolling to a 4-1 lead. Safina bounced her racket off the court in frustration, which was a more measured approach than her older brother would have adopted in comparably dire circumstances (he would have smashed it).

In just 59 minutes, this final was over as Safina hit a backhand drop shot wide and Williams thrust both arms overhead. The celebration that followed was nowhere near as exuberant or extravagant as her "who me?" moment when she won last year's U.S. Open, but then the big challenges came earlier in this hardcourt tournament.

Williams said she had been near tears over her play after her difficult second-round victory over Gisela Dulko of Argentina. In the fourth round, Williams was down a set against a big-hitting Belarussian teenager, Victoria Azarenka, who retired in the second set because of illness.

In the quarterfinals, Williams lost the first set against the Russian veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova and was struggling on one of the many brutally hot days in Melbourne this year. But Open organizers invoked their extreme-heat policy at the end of the first set and closed the retractable roof in Rod Laver Arena.

Kuznetsova was angry with the decision, but it stood. Williams was able to play the rest of the match (and tournament) in more comfortable climatic conditions, and her big serve - a relative liability in the early stages here - benefited from the change. The final was played outdoors in mild temperatures, the record-setting heat wave having finally broken.

Williams's four singles titles here have all come in odd-numbered years: 2003, 2005, 2007 and now 2009. And as in 2007, when she struggled early and then routed Maria Sharapova in the final, she saved her most dominant display for last.

This was the most lopsided women's final in Melbourne since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario won just two games in a 6-0, 6-2 loss to Steffi Graf in 1994. Justine Henin-Hardenne won just one game against Amélie Mauresmo in the 2006 final but retired because of illness early in the second set.

Williams's older sister Venus, who was upset in the second round here by Carla Suárez Navarro, could have been excused for feeling a little wistful as she watched from the stands Saturday night. Her recent matches with Serena have provided much more entertainment than this final.

Venus was an integral part of Serena's double here, however. The sisters won their eighth Grand Slam doubles title together on Friday, but Serena, 15 months younger than Venus, now has 10 major singles titles to Venus's seven.

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ITA Kick-Off Weekend opens at Dills Tennis Center

ITA Kick-Off Weekend will begin at the Dills Indoor Tennis Center today, hosted by the 14th-ranked University of Arkansas women's tennis team.

"Hosting this weekend's event is obviously a big thrill for our players and staff," said Arkansas head coach Michael Hegarty. "Advancing through the weekend to the Sweet Sixteen in Wisconsin is of course every team's goal."

Along with the Razorbacks (2-0), No. 17 Notre Dame, No. 44 Pepperdine and 58thranked Oregon will all be competing in the event today and Sunday.

The Hogs will play the Ducks at approximately 2 p.m. following the 10 a.m. match between the Irish and Waves.

Arkansas will enjoy homecourt advantage in hopes to qualify for the ITA Team Indoor Championships in Madison, Wisc., for the second-consecutive year. The tournament is a four-team bracket with today's winners facing off Sunday at 2 p.m. for the right to advance to the top 16. The Hogs are coming off a weekend sweep against St. Louis and No. 34 Tulsa.


Rafael Nadal to play Roger Federer in Australian Open final

The chase for history is compelling on its own. With a win Sunday over Rafael Nadal in the final of the Australian Open, Roger Federer would tie Pete Sampras as the top winner of major tennis tournaments with 14.

That will add to the argument that Federer is the greatest tennis player ever, a designation Rod Laver, whose name is on the stadium court here, said would not be wrong.

"We'll have those arguments forever," Laver said. "But Roger's name is there."

But almost as compelling as Federer's history chase Sunday will be to see Nadal's physical recovery from his 5-hour, 14-minute semifinal defeat of Spanish countryman Fernando Verdasco, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (1), 6-4. The match began at 7:30 p.m. Friday and ended at 1:07 a.m. today.

The Australian Open has traditionally played its men's semifinals on different days, so Federer completed a much less physically taxing semifinal win in straight sets over Andy Roddick on Thursday night.

In 2008, Nadal took over the No. 1 ranking that Federer had held at the end of every year since 2003 and beat Federer on the grass courts of Wimbledon last July, a loss that left Federer teary-eyed and signaled to some that the 27-year-old Swiss player might have permanently given his top spot to the 22-year-old Nadal.

"People have been pretty quick to write me off," Federer said. "I mean I won the U.S. Open last year, and I finished second at the French Open. I think it was a pretty good year."

Federer also dismissed the advantage he would seem to have in Sunday's final with his extra rest day combined with the physical pounding Nadal took in a match where his opponent hit 95 winners and where both players were grunting on their strokes as early as the first set.

"He's still got a day off," Federer said. "It's not like he has to play right now. It's just the way it is. I get two days off, one guy only one day. At the U.S. Open we get no days off. Let's be happy to have a day off."

The career edge goes to Nadal, 12-6, with wins in three of their last four meetings including last year's 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7 Wimbledon classic when Nadal became the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to win both the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year.

Patrick McEnroe, former player, U.S. Davis Cup coach and ESPN commentator, called Nadal's semifinal win over Verdasco, "the most physically punishing hard-court match I have ever seen filled with powerful shot-making, relentless defense and phenomenal endurance -- of mind and body.

For the record: An earlier version of this report said that Roger Federer had the career edge over Rafael Nadal, 12-6. It is Nadal who has won 12 of the 18 meetings against Federer.

"And Rafa will have to be superhuman to overcome that plus a fresh, eager Federer."

Nadal wouldn't criticize the schedule.

He didn't finish his post-match news conference until 3:30 a.m. this morning.

"You know, you still have one day off," Nadal said. "So that's the sport. But for sure it's a little bit more fair if you play the same day. This year it's a little bit unlucky to play one match like this, too hard. So for sure Roger is going to be in much better physical shape than me in the final."

McEnroe called Nadal "the Lance Armstrong of tennis. If anyone can bounce back from such an effort," McEnroe said, "it would be Nadal. What can he do? Rest, sleep, massage, eat and drink as much as possible."

This will be Nadal and Federer's seventh Grand Slam championship matchup, and while Federer has those 13 major titles, Nadal has won four of the six head-to-head finals.

"The rivalry is the best in sports, period," McEnroe said. "The records of both speak for themselves, and their games and their personalities are so strikingly effective yet totally different."

Martina Navratilova, who is calling the matches for the Tennis Channel, said the Nadal-Verdasco match was one of the greatest matches she's seen and she thinks Nadal will be at a disadvantage Sunday.

"No matter how great shape you're in, it's a disadvantage," he said. "They really need to revisit that scheduling."

Federer disagrees. "I don't think Rafa will struggle," he said. "I see the point, but I don't think it's a valuable one on this occasion."

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Zimbabwe to remain out of test cricket

Zimbabwe's return to test cricket could be at least six months to two years away, the International Cricket Council said Saturday.

A team headed by Julian Hunte, president of the West Indies Cricket Board, presented an interim report to the ICC's board following a visit to Zimbabwe by Hunte and ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat in November.

"Pending submission of that final report, the board was told that none of the stakeholders spoken to during the visit were of the view that Zimbabwe was ready to return to test cricket, with time frames proposed ranging from six months to two years or more," the ICC said in a statement.

Zimbabwe has not played test cricket since 2006. In August, Zimbabwe withdrew from this year's World Twenty20 tournament in England.

Zimbabwe was replaced by Scotland for the tournament in June.

The African country pulled out because the British government would not grant visas in protest of Robert Mugabe claiming victory in a widely discredited presidential election last year. The England and Wales Cricket Board has also cut ties with Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe Cricket Union chairman Peter Chingoka was replaced at the Perth meetings by Wilfred Mukondiwa, who was listed in an ICC release on the meetings as an alternate for Chingoka.

Chingoka, a supporter of Mugabe, was banned from visiting Australia by the federal government as part of sanctions against the Mugabe regime.

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Cricket lost in paradise

On a few things in the disparate lands that form the Caribbean all are agreed. Their cricket team is rubbish, the game is in crisis and it cannot be allowed to continue. They have been agreeing on this for 15 years and the continuation has been virtually unchecked.

Examinations of the state of the game, which are regular and earnest, are not so much obituaries as descriptions of a dead man walking. It probably makes it more miserable that way, and if anybody thought it would really be a mercy killing there might be a case for sporting euthanasia.

Another point yielding universal accord at present is that the West Indies will lose the forthcoming Test series to England and thus extend to 14 the number of series they have gone without a win. Back in 2004 they managed to beat Bangladesh.

What makes this run more dreadful is the legendary sequence that came a little while before, the one between June 1980 and May 1995, when the West Indies went 29 series without losing, winning 20 of them. That was at least a cricketing generation ago, and 82 players have represented the West Indies in Test matches since with an increasing lack of success. The one-day arena which has occasionally sustained them is no longer doing so: of their last 24 matches from the start of 2007 only six have been won.

The last hurrah was almost exactly 10 years ago when a team obviously already on the skids somehow managed to repel Australia. In one of the epic series, featuring repeatedly miraculous batting exhibitions by Brian Lara, they managed to draw 2-2. Since then, virtually nothing, and if there has been the odd false dawn it has been easily recognisable for what it is.

Cricket, it seems, after a couple of weeks here, is still in crisis if it is not a shambles. The inertia which has dogged the sport for more than two decades shows no signs of being eradicated. Successive boards have been lambasted for not doing enough and have been followed by boards which have not done the same amount.

Ricky Skerritt was the team manager of the West Indies for four years between 2000 and 2004 and is now a senator and Minister for Tourism, Sport and Culture in the small Leewards Island nation of St Kitts & Nevis. He is as aggrieved and alarmed as everybody else that the decline shows no sign of stabilising and that leadership from the centre remains moribund.

“Everywhere, you have problems with club structure, association management and the whole infrastructure of cricket is going downhill,” he said. “It's a problem at local level but the problem at central level doesn't help that because the central West Indies board is constantly talking, talking, talking and not doing. In addition the selection policy has a total randomness about it. Psychologically for this region this is a very hurtful experience.”

Cricket could still be the glue that binds together an eclectic region. It is true that it is not being played at the same level as it was before. The anecdotal evidence is grim. Go anywhere in the sub-continent from the back streets of Multan to the maidans of Mumabi, or indeed in parts of rural England and impromptu games of cricket are to be seen. In the Caribbean, except where there are Asian communities, they are not.

There are abundant reasons: a losing team, ill conceived development programmes, the so-called American influence and as Sir Garfield Sobers pointed out in these pages a while back the changing culture which sees kids, like kids everywhere, using their time in different ways, such as watching telly and playing computer games. But there are no coaches because there are no coaching programmes. Junie Mitchum, for instance, who played for St Kitts & Nevis against England this week is about to become a level three coach purely because he took his badges in England while playing club cricket there.

Solutions have been offered at a rate to match the losses. The trouble is that none has been implemented. It is a mystery in so many ways because as Skerritt said: “It's a horses and courses situation. If you look back at the successive presidents of the West Indies Cricket Board they have all been good people, people who are care and are capable who have come in with the intention of getting things done and generally have been frustrated by a bureaucratic system.”

The latest presidential incumbent is Dr Julian Hunte, a highly decorated businessman and statesman from St Lucia, and so far there is no real sign that he has been any more effective than his predecessors. The same goes for Dr Donald Peters, the chief executive, who has already been suspended once. There is a row at present - it is one long row in one long blame game while the team somehow keeps turning up - about the fate of a report into Caribbean cricket which was compiled after an inquiry led by P J Patterson, the former long-serving Prime Minister of Jamaica.

It would be difficult to think of a heavier hitter than Patterson to conduct a forensic examination of the ills affecting the game and come up with some answers. In cricket report writing terms he is probably the Sir Vivian Richards of the business - to summon up one of the long gone legends.

Patterson's report, more than 100 pages long, was unwieldy in places but it was thorough, painstaking and brutally honest. It delved into the history and said what should be done in the future. Since it was commissioned by the WICB - or at least one of its former presidents - there might have been the possibility that something would have been done about it. A few days ago Patterson felt obliged to break his silence after months of inaction. At its most basic he wanted to know what the hell was happening, though he put it more eloquently in a letter to the board.

“After more than a year, the people of the West Indies are still in the dark as to the outcome of your deliberations and the consequent fate of our report,” he said. “As presently structured the WICB, as trustees, has no obligation to account for its decisions and actions to stakeholders. Unless extensive changes are made to the existing governance structure and soon, we fear the eventual demise of cricket, lovely cricket. We have no interest in embroiling West Indies cricket in more controversy but we can no longer remain silent.”

The inquiry was emphatic on issues ranging from the establishment of cricket academies first suggested 20 years ago to player education. It remarked on player indiscipline, the failure to modernise administration, the corrosive effect of other sports.

It also urged some blue skies thinking, which should not be out of the question given the surroundings here, suggesting how the game might become a major tourist attraction (witness the hordes of England fans who will descend on Antigua and Barbados next month) and that cricket links could be formed with China which already does business with governments in the region.

The WICB responded to Patterson's complaints quickly but did not directly address them. Nothing continues happen. The academies, for instance, vital to player progress, appear as far away as ever. The Board has repeatedly made a hash of things. Short of real cash because there is no regional television station big enough to pay the sort of fee that keeps the English game afloat, it still manages to upset would-be benefactors.

They have a draft plan of their own, supposed to run from 2008, but it remains a draft. Precious little has been done about enacting it. The lack of a cohesive strategy seems to be repelling the American billionaire Sir Allen Stanford whose establishment of a domestic Twenty20 tournament - later complemented by the infamous Super Series with the $20m winner take all match featuring England last year - seemed to offer financial salvation. Instead the WICB got into a mess, desiring Stanford's millions but wondering how to embrace him and upsetting their official sponsor Digicel into the bargain. Stanford is expected to jump any day.

They have had repeated clashes with players, who remain prone to gross indiscipline, but deal with them ineptly. No recent statement remains truer than that given by Chris Gayle not long after he assumed the West Indies' captaincy. “The WICB say they want the best out of the players but we also need the best out of the board.”

West Indies can still compete after a fashion and in Shiv Chanderpaul they have one of the wonders of the age. In the last two years of Test cricket, over 13 Test matches, he has averaged 104. It has been a tour de force of broad shouldered batsmanship, and it deserves its reward in the next few weeks.

And it should not be forgotten that in one important respect the region has improved. The 2007 World Cup, so disappointing in so many ways, at least saw the erection of new stadiums, albeit too inaccessible in some places. But it is truly something to build on.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Visa clearance boosts Crusaders

Celtic Crusaders' troubled pre-season has been buoyed by the news that eight absent players will be available for their season opener at Leeds Rhinos.

Captain Jace van Dijk, leading try-scorer Tony Duggan and player-of-the-year Damien Quinn were amongst the players in Australia awaiting visas.

The eight have now been cleared, will travel on Saturday and arrive Sunday.

The Bridgend-based club start their maiden Super League season at champions Leeds Rhinos on 6 February.

They will face the formidable challenge without the benefit of a full warm-up match, Thursday's planned friendly at Harlequins having been cancelled due to poor pitch conditions at the Stoop.

"We're delighted that all the players will be over and ready for the first match," said assistant coach and football manager Anthony Seibold.

"They've all been training hard in Australia with selected clubs so there will be no problems with their fitness.

"And as all bar two are part of the squad who helped us get to the National League One Grand Final last year, they will have few problems fitting into our training routines.

"This is the best news that we could have ever had and now we can seriously concentrate on our first historic Super League season. It's going to be an exciting time for us."

The other players affected were Darren Mapp, Mark Dalle-Court, Josh Hannay and two of the club's nine new signings, props Ryan O'Hara and Jason Chan.

The problems were caused by the tightening of regulations by the British consulate in Canberra.

Hull FC signing Michael Crocker has had his application for a visa rejected, while earlier this month similar problems saw Todd Carney's proposed move to Huddersfield collapse.

"I really pleased to be coming back and now I want to cement a starting spot," said Duggan, who has scored 98 tries in his last three years at the Crusaders.

"With the guys we kept from last year and the new talent we have brought in the competition for spots will be like never before, so hopefully that will inspire us all to bigger and better deeds.

"After that I want to show I can compete and be successful in a great competition.

"I missed the Challenge Cup game against Leeds last year so I haven't played a competition game against a Super League team.

"Leeds at Headingley in our first Super League game is a dream come true and will be great for the team and the fans."

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Sweden's Henrik Stenson in front in foggy Dubai

Sweden's Henrik Stenson hit a bogey-free 65 to move 11 under and take the clubhouse lead on a weather-affected second day at the Dubai Desert Classic.

Stenson is one shot ahead of Australian Richard Green, who shot 63, and three clear of Sergio Garcia in third.

Overnight leader Rory McIlroy dropped a shot before having to abandon his second round after just three holes.

Fog delayed the start on Friday, so play will begin at 0335 GMT on Saturday in a bid to make up lost time.

The first day was also affected by fog and Stenson arrived at the course at 6am local time to complete a first-round 68.

But he recovered superbly to take the overnight lead courtesy of an eight-foot birdie putt on his 25th and final hole of the day.

"I was a little bit disappointed with the finish to the first round, I felt like I threw a couple away but I gave hardly anything away in the afternoon," said the 32-year-old.

"I had a good touch around the greens and made some good saves and chip-ins and putts.

"It was a grinding day but when I hit bad shots I recovered well and made some good birdies on the good shots."

Tournament officials will hope for a prompt start on Saturday, which should allow the third round leaders to complete nine holes before returning on Sunday morning ahead of their final rounds.

But should fog again delay the start, officials will have to decide whether to extend the tournament until Monday or opt to cut the $2.5m event to 54 holes, depending on the length of any delay.

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NFL great tips Arizona for upset

Former NFL star Rod Woodson believes the Arizona Cardinals will "shock the world" by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in Super Bowl XLIII.

Ex-Steelers defender Woodson was one of the few to predict last year's win for underdogs the New York Giants.

"My heart says Pittsburgh but I really feel the Arizona Cardinals are going to win the football game," he said.

"Nobody believes they will win the game but I really think they're a good enough team to do that."

With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to the fore, and a ferocious defence, Pittsburgh are favoured to win by around seven points by bookmakers.

That would see them clinch an unprecedented sixth Super Bowl trophy in Tampa, Florida.

Arizona have not won an NFL title since 1947, when they were based in Chicago, and until this year had not even been to the play-offs since 1998.

They won just nine of their 16 regular-season games but have sprung upsets over Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia in the play-offs to get to the big game for the first time.

Former defensive star Woodson played for the Steelers for 10 years, including an appearance at Super Bowl XXX, when they lost to Dallas.

But he believes Arizona are ideally suited to beat Pittsburgh because of their offence, led by veteran quarterback Kurt Warner, a winner with the St Louis Rams nine years ago.

"I just think this is a great match-up for Arizona," added Woodson, who finally won an NFL title in 2001 with Baltimore, and will be a BBC studio analyst for the second year running.

"This is their year to win the Super Bowl and shock the world because nobody thought they would be here."

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Lance Armstrong upbeat after comeback

Lance Armstrong finished 29th in the final standings in his competitive comeback in the Tour Down Under.

The seven-times Tour de France winner was 49 seconds behind overall leader Allan Davis of Australia after the 81km sixth and final stage in Adelaide.

Armstrong, making his comeback after three years, took the lead towards the end but was unable to remain in front.

More than 144,000 people turned out to see the stage which was raced over 18 laps of a 4.5km street circuit.

The American hit the front with little more than a lap remaining but quickly fell back into the peleton, finishing 71st on the stage.

"I can't lie. I felt pretty good today," said the 37-year-old American.

"It was a comfortable circuit and I gave it a little go with a couple of laps left but I needed to be with some more guys. I couldn't stay away from the charging field.

"It helps when you have good legs. I felt a lot better today, actually felt the best day of the entire week so when you feel good and you have good legs, you have to go for it don't you."

Armstrong's next race will be the Tour of California from 14-22 February.

"[This] is a good indication I've done the right work. I still have to fine tune things, get lighter, still get fitter and work on certain aspects of my conditioning but I'm headed in the right way," he said.

"I'd say we're on track if not ahead of schedule. Even if it was a normal year when you're focused on July [and the Tour de France] I wouldn't be riding this well in January."

Davis, twice a runner-up in the Tour Down Under, won three of the tour's first five stages to lead by 25 seconds going into the final stage and finished among the main group to ensure victory. Francesco Chicchi of Italy won the stage in a sprint finish.

"I've finally done it, I can't believe it," said Davis.

"This win is very important to the [Quick Step] team. It's the first ProTour race of the season. With three stages and the overall it has been an unbelievable race."

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McLaren & Ferrari in united front

Former bitter rivals McLaren and Ferrari are now "working extremely closely together" as teams seek to show Formula One's rulers a united front.

McLaren boss Ron Dennis confirmed their growing off-track ties on Thursday and said the result has proved "profound".

Ferrari spokesman Luca Colajanni also spent the day at McLaren's Woking factory meeting Dennis and other staff.

"If you had told me a year ago that I would be doing this I would not have believed you," he said.

Reigning constructors champions Ferrari and McLaren have a chequered recent history.

The English team was fined a record $100m (£70m) in 2007 and stripped of all their constructors' points for their involvement in a spying controversy over leaked Ferrari technical data in their possession.

Ferrari also started legal action against their rivals, with Dennis and other executives questioned by Italian police, though the action was later dropped after a McLaren apology.

But the team's top personnel, and the wider climate in which they operate, has since changed significantly.

With the urgent need for cost cutting becoming apparent, the Formula One Teams Association (Fota) was set up in July to represent teams in talks with with the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) and commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone.

Jean Todt also handed over as Ferrari boss to Stefano Domenicali while Dennis is due to step down as McLaren principal on 1 March to make way for Martin Whitmarsh.

Fota are headed by Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, who has criticised Ecclestone's running of the sport.

With FIA president Max Mosley stressing that he is keen to see a significant shake-up in the sport towards cheaper operating costs and, potentially, more standardised engines, Fota is determined to provide a strong voice for the interests of all F1 teams.

While Fota have agreed significant savings with the FIA for this season and beyond, they want to secure a greater share of the sport's commercial revenues than the 50% they currently receive.

Montezemolo recently described Dennis as "a first-class person from a first-class team" and said the sport needed great competition on the track and great unity off it.

And Dennis, who has said he will soon devote more of his time to Fota activities, told the official F1 website: "The result of our co-operation, supported by all the other teams, has already been profound.

"Fota has already achieved great things, and it will achieve even greater things in the weeks, months and years to come.

"We're not complacent; we're not reluctant to embrace radical change; we're not hidebound by on-track rivalries.

"Working together for the good of the future of F1, we'll continue to devise powerful strategies and innovations intended to improve our sport so as to make it more affordable, more environmentally friendly and more appealing to spectators and TV viewers."

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Nolan completes Newcastle switch

Bolton have confirmed Kevin Nolan has joined Newcastle United for £4m on a four-and-a-half year contract.

The midfielder is seen as the ideal replacement for Joey Barton, who faces a long spell on the sidelines at Newcastle after breaking his foot.

"It was an opportunity which was impossible to turn down," Nolan told Newcastle's official website.

"He's got a good eye for goal and has got bags of Premier League experience," said Magpies boss Joe Kinnear.

Nolan spent 12 seasons at Bolton, scoring 50 goals in 345 first-team appearances.

He has featured in all of Bolton's 23 matches so far this season, scoring once.

And Kinnear believes his tenacity will help him become a big success at St James's Park.

"He's a player I think our fans will love," he said. "He's a real inspirational player and a great character. He's the sort of lad that never knows when he is beaten.

"I think he is going to be a very valuable player for us and someone who can help us climb back up the table."

Bolton boss Gary Megson made moves for a replacement for Nolan on Monday, when he signed midfielder Mark Davies from Wolves.

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Ferguson dismisses Olympic role

Sir Alex Ferguson says he would not be interested in managing a Great Britain football team should one take part at the 2012 London Olympics.

The Manchester United boss did speak to Prime Minister Gordon Brown and 2012 chief Lord Coe about the job.

But he plans to retire within three years and told Inside United magazine: "I won't turn to international management. After here, I'm finished."

British Olympic bosses want to enter a team in 2012 despite major opposition.

The national governing bodies for football in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all opposed to the plan and last year Ferguson said he thought it was unlikely that a British team would be take part.

"I'm not sure they would allow it anyway, because countries have their own identity," he said.

Ferguson, who has been United manager since 1986, will be 70 in 2012.

If there was a combined British Olympic football team in London, it would be the first since 1972, when Britain failed to qualify.

The last time a Great Britain side played at the Olympics itself was in 1960.

One of the main reasons for a team not having featured in the Olympics since then is the fear it may threaten the international status of the individual national sides of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

With this in mind, the prime minister spoke to Sepp Blatter, the president of football's governing body Fifa, about the prospect of a British team in 2012.

Blatter has assured the associations that a one-off British team would not affect the status of the home nations but opposition to the plan remains very strong.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond believes the idea is a "massive own goal" and that Brown's enthusiasm for it shows he is "out of touch with Scotland".

Scotland manager George Burley insisted the Scottish Football Association (SFA) was against the idea.

"It's been black and white from day one with the SFA," said Burley.

"The national team comes first and at the moment we are keen to keep our nationality intact.

"We have to have a national Scottish team and we can't put that in jeopardy so there has been no change."

Blatter has said it might be better to enter a team featuring players only from England.

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Chambers aims for European mark

Sprinter Dwain Chambers will use the Birmingham Games on Saturday to achieve the British qualifying standard for the European Indoor Championships in March.

Chambers will be targeting 6.65 seconds for the 60m, but cannot compete at the Aviva International match in Glasgow.

He is banned from competitions organised by the EuroMeets Consortium after his drug test failure.

"I realise that my races will be limited due to this ban, so I aim to compete locally," said Chambers.

Instead, Chambers will be racing at the National Indoor Arena to improve on his performances.

"It will help build up my relationship with the press and the general public who come and watch me compete," said Chambers, who ran 6.52 seconds to take silver in last year's World Indoor Championships.

"I'm in good shape - now I aim to run as fast or quicker."

The European Indoor Championships take place in Turin from 6-8 March.

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Who Will Be No.1 Now?

Jelena Jankovic's run at No.1 will come to an end - at least for now - when the next Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Singles Rankings are published this coming Monday, February 2, 2009.

Following the results at the Australian Open through the semifinals, it is projected that Jankovic will fall to No.3 and Zvonareva will reach a new career-high of No.5. By virtue of her semifinal loss, Elena Dementieva will remain at No.4. But who will be the Top 2?

Whoever wins Saturday's singles final - Serena Williams or Dinara Safina - will be No.1. For Williams it would be a return to the top spot, having spent 61 non-consecutive weeks of her career there; Safina is aiming to become the 19th player in Tour history - and second Russian, after Maria Sharapova - to become the world No.1. Should Safina win and become No.1, it would also be the first time in history that a brother and sister are No.1 on their respective tours (Marat Safin was ranked No.1 on the ATP World Tour for nine non-consecutive weeks between December 2000 and April 2001).

Williams vs. Safina final
Champion will be No.1 and runner-up will be No.2.

Rounding out the Top 10 will be Venus Williams at No.6, Svetlana Kuznetsova at No.7, Ana Ivanovic No.8, Agnieszka Radwanska No.9 and Nadia Petrova No.10.

Looking a little lower down the projections, Zheng Jie is expected to rise to No.20, making her just the second Chinese player ever to crack the Top 20 (after Li Na); Carla Suárez Navarro is expected to rise to No.30 (her Top 30 debut); and Jelena Dokic is expected to surge into the Top 100 (approximately No.91).

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Kevin Pietersen gets huge IPL price tag

Kevin Pietersen has been priced up as the most expensive Englishman in the auction for the Indian Premier League.

The ex-England captain has been valued at a minimum of $1.35m (£944,000), IPL commissioner Lalit Modi has revealed.

The IPL list also includes fellow England stars Andrew Flintoff, Monty Panesar, Steve Harmison, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell and Matt Prior.

Former England internationals Darren Gough and Dominic Cork have also been included in the player auction.

It set to take place on 6 February in Goa where the eight IPL franchises will bid for players.

The league runs from 10 April to 29 May, although contracted England players are only permitted to go for three weeks.

The England & Wales Cricket Board wants to ensure its centrally-contracted players return in time for the Lord's Test against the West Indies on 6 May.

The IPL auction list includes eight players who are centrally contracted to the ECB - Pietersen, Flintoff, Harmison, Bell, Collingwood, Panesar, James Anderson and Ryan Sidebottom.

Flintoff has been rated at a minimum of $950,000 (£664,000), which means that both he and Pietersen can expect to receive more than £350,000 for three weeks work on a pro rata basis.

One-day specialists Ravi Bopara, Owais Shah, Graeme Swann and Luke Wright, who hold incremental ECB contracts, are also on the list - along with the uncontracted Ed Joyce, Rob Key and Sajid Mahmood, who have all played international cricket.

However, former England captain Michael Vaughan said he opted against putting his name forward, preferring to concentrate on regaining his place in the national side.

"I'm not too sure whether I would have been bought at the auction, but my [aim] is to get back into the Test team and to do that I have to play four-day cricket," said the 34-year-old Yorkshireman.

Shaun Udal was also a surprise inclusion on the IPL auction list, but the 39-year-old off-spinner, who captained Middlesex to victory in last year's domestic Twenty20 Cup, has rejected a lucrative short-term deal.

"I've decided, after some soul searching and advice from people I trust, not to enter myself into the auction," he said.

"One of the main reasons is the Middlesex captaincy, which is something that I really treasure."

Seamer Gough, 38, retired from first-class cricket in September after ending his second spell with Yorkshire.

Lancashire released Cork, 37, last August and Hampshire have since signed the all-rounder on a two-year contract.

Essex wicketkeeper James Foster had been on the initial auction list, but the 28-year-old said he will prioritise his county duties.

"Realistically, I do not think it likely that I will be involved this year given the number of international and highly-regarded local wicketkeepers who are already signed up by the franchises and the restriction on the number of overseas players allowed," he told said.

Centrally-contracted paceman Stuart Broad, England's highest-ranked bowler in one-day cricket, has decided against putting his name forward.

Vaughan, new captain Andrew Strauss and opener Alastair Cook were the other contracted players to opt out, along with wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose, who holds an incremental contract.

Hugh Morris, the managing director of the England team, said: "We've got a very important summer ahead of us with the World Twenty20 and the Ashes and this is a decision Stuart has made and we must respect that.

"Players will prepare in different ways for this summer. Stuart has chosen one way and others have chosen another way."

With a limited amount of franchise places available for overseas players in the IPL auction, it is unlikely all the England players will be picked up.

But Morris is confident that for those who do secure an IPL spot, it will prove to be a positive experience: "It's very much down to the players. It's their choice, the IPL is a fantastic opportunity.

"With the Twenty20 World Championship happening in England at the beginning of the summer, it's nice to have the opportunity for some our players to play Twenty20 cricket.

"The players who go there are going to be playing with and against some of the best players in the world in what we see as a very high-profile, very important tournament."

The first English player to play in the IPL was Hampshire's Dimitri Mascarenhas, who signed for Rajasthan Royals last year and is set to return for a second campaign.

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Ramprakash agrees new Surrey deal

Veteran batsman Mark Ramprakash has signed a two-year extension to his contract with Surrey.

The deal will run until the end of the 2011 season when he will be 42.

Ramprakash, who joined Surrey from Middlesex in 2001, has scored almost 32,000 first-class runs and last summer hit his 100th century.

"I have had a fantastic career up until now but still feel like I have much more to give. There is a huge amount of runs left in me," he said.

Ramprakash's main task this summer will be to try and help Surrey win promotion back to County Championship Division One at the first attempt following their relegation last season.

Since then, major changes have taken place at The Oval with former Sussex captain Chris Adams brought in as Professional Cricket Manager.

And he has no doubt that Ramprakash will justify his new contract by continuing his prolific scoring.

"Mark's record in recent years has been simply staggering and I am over the moon that he has decided to extend his career with us.

"Statistics like those he has accumulated throughout his career simply do not lie and I look forward to watching him score thousands more runs and working with him to secure Surrey's future as a successful club for many years to come," Adams told the Surrey website.

Ramprakash played 52 Tests for England between 1991 and 2002 but only managed two centuries at international level and an average of 27 was well below what was expected from a player of his ability.

He showed his versatility by winning the BBC's Celebrity Come Dancing title in 2006 but it was only a brief diversion from his cricket career.

And he now wants to help "shape a new era" for Surrey, "both at the crease and in the dressing room".

He added: "Surrey have a number of exciting young batsmen and it's now down to me, and other experienced players at the club, to work with the management team to help them use their talent and succeed in the professional game."

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Sublime Roger Federer eases into final

Roger Federer strolled into the final of the Australian Open with a straight sets win over Andy Roddick 6-2 7-5 7-5.

The Swiss world number two hit 11 forehand winners in the opening set as he broke his American opponent twice.

Roddick finally found his range with his serve but Federer matched him and broke in the 11th game of the next two sets before closing out the win.

Federer takes on the winner of Friday's semi-final between Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco in Sunday's final.

It will be Federer's 18th Grand Slam final, one short of Ivan Lendl's record of 19, and gives him the opportunity to draw level with Pete Sampras' mark of 14 major titles.

"I didn't know I reached my 18th final. People forget about Ivan and how great he was," said the 27-year-old.

"He had an unbelievable career and it's nice to be getting close to him."

Federer has now won 16 of his 18 meetings with Roddick.

"Andy's been playing really playing well so I knew I had a tough match ahead of me," he said.

"I had a lot of confidence on my serve and I thought I played really well tonight.

"I feel great this time around... and that is why I think I am moving well and playing better."

Roddick has been reaping the benefits of a tough pre-season training regime under new coach Larry Stefanki, reaching his fourth semi-final in Melbourne for the loss of two sets.

But he was outplayed on Thursday, with Federer even recording twice as many aces as the big-serving American.

"I hit the ball pretty well. If you look at his stats for the match, both of us had pretty good stats," said a disconsolate Roddick.

"He just came up with shots when he needed to. That's what he does."

The temperature, which had earlier hit 44C, dropped enough for organisers to re-open the roof on Rod Laver Arena and Federer - as usual - thrived in the evening conditions.

The writing was on the wall as early as the third game when the Swiss broke serve with a trademark forehand down the line.

He completed a double break in the American's next service game and the umpire bore the brunt of Roddick's frustration.

Federer correctly challenged a call on the baseline, but Eric Molina decided it would have been a clean winner and gave the point to the world number two instead of replaying it.

A sublime crosscourt forehand saw Federer open a 5-1 lead and Roddick continued his dialogue with the umpire as they changed ends at 5-2 but Federer kept his focus to wrap up the set.

The second set went with serve for the first 10 games with Roddick sending down six aces to Federer's eight.

But Roddick dumped a shot into the net in his sixth service game and Federer turned the screw with another forehand down the line to open up three break points.

A faltering Roddick sent a forehand into the net and put up little resistance as Federer then held to love to close out the second set.

The American's frustration began to boil over again at the start of set three with several audible obscenities uttered before Molina finally handed him an official warning in game five.

Roddick, who had already saved two break points, cried out after serving a double fault, but the umpire's reprimand appeared to focus his mind as served out the game and then held with ease in his next to open a 4-3 lead.

Federer powered back with a dominant service game of his own before opening up a 0-30 lead on Roddick's serve, but the American dug deep and took advantage of a couple of wayward shots to hold.

However, Roddick was broken again in his next service game. He fought back from 15-40 down and saved a third break point, but played a poor drop shot which Federer put away.

And the world number two completed victory with yet another forehand winner on his first match point.

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South Africa seal one-day triumph

South Africa completed a magnificent Test and one-day double over Australia with an eight-wicket win in Adelaide.

AB de Villiers (82) and Hashim Amla (80) shared an unbroken stand of 144 as the tourists took a 3-1 lead in the one-day series, with one match to play.

After losing the toss in Adelaide, the tourists ripped through the Australia batting line-up with Makhaya Ntini (3-52) and Dale Steyn (3-49) on song.

Only Ricky Ponting (63) and James Hopes (42) provided home resistance.

The commanding victory, on Australia Day at the picturesque Adelaide Oval, will heap further problems on Ponting, who takes his beleaguered side to Perth for the final match of the five-game series on Friday.

Should South Africa win at the Waca, they will usurp Australia at the top of the one-day team world rankings.

"We have turned a good tour into a great one by winning both series and we can now turn it into an amazing tour if we complete a 4-1 victory," said South Africa coach Mickey Arthur.

Ponting won the toss and opted to utilise what looked like a flat batting surface to compile an intimidating total for his opponents.

But his plans were thrown into disarray within the first three overs when both openers needlessly gave their wickets away.

Both men were caught by Morne Morkel - the swashbuckling David Warner mis-hit Ntini to mid-on before partner Shaun Marsh holed out to third man in the next over.

Ponting and Mike Hussey rebuilt the innings with a 93-run stand, with the Australia captain looking particularly imperious through the covers and mid-wicket.

But Hussey's dismissal - trapped lbw by Proteas skipper Johan Botha on 28 - sparked a capitulation by the home side, losing their remaining eight wickets for just 110 runs.

Ponting fell soon after, while Cameron White (30) threatened a lower-order renaissance alongside Hopes before the hard-hitting Victorian edged Steyn to De Villiers, who was keeping wicket in place of the injured Mark Boucher.

Australia's prospects of building a defendable total ended when all-rounder Hopes drilled a lofted drive off Albie Morkel to Neil McKenzie at cover in the 47th over.

And the innings ended an over later when Ben Hilfenhaus was caught behind off Morne Morkel.

With a less than intimidating total to chase on an easy-paced wicket, South Africa made an emphatic start - courtesy of big hitting from Herschelle Gibbs.

The opener struck 38 from 29 balls, using his feet to shuffle down the wicket to the quicks, before guiding Hilfenhaus to Mike Hussey in the 10th over.

Jacques Kallis (13) fell soon after, but man-of-the-match De Villiers and Amla compiled a brilliant match-winning stand.

Amla in particular looked assured, caressing anything straight through mid-wicket while De Villiers used his feet intelligently to disrupt the rhythm of the Australian attack.

De Villiers' innings featured one six and six boundaries from 85 deliveries.

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Nadal into final after epic win

Rafael Nadal will meet Roger Federer in the Australian Open final after the world number one battled past fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco on Friday.

Nadal won a magnificent match 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 7-6 (7-2) 6-7 (1-7) 6-4 to reach his first final in Melbourne.

Verdasco's extra power looked capable of causing an upset throughout as he fired an incredible 95 winners.

But Nadal made the crucial breakthrough in game 10 of the fifth set to seal a dramatic win in five hours 14 minutes.

Nadal, 22, and Federer will meet on Sunday for the 19th time and seventh in Grand Slam finals, with the Spaniard leading 12-6 overall and 4-2 in major finals.

However, it will be the first time they have played each other in Melbourne and on hard courts in a Grand Slam final.

The last time they met was in the epic Wimbledon final last July that Nadal won in five sets.

Verdasco, 25, may have started the second semi-final in Melbourne without a win in six previous meetings with Nadal, but he has been a different player in Australia.

And it was the less heralded of the two Spaniards who earned the first break point in game three, dominating the ensuing rally only to waste all his hard work by hammering a smash over the baseline.

He had another half-chance at 0-30 up in game 10 but Nadal battled through and earned his first break points - also set points - in the following game.

But Verdasco displayed the same poise on big points as in previous victories over Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, saving the first with a huge serve and the second with an unreturnable backhand.

It came down to a tie-break and, after recovering an early mini-break, Verdasco got a huge slice of luck with a net cord at 5-4 before converting his first set point with a forehand volley.

The pattern of the match continued into the second set, with Verdasco's extra pace seemingly giving him the edge until Nadal stepped up a gear.

The top seed earned four more break points in a titanic game eight but Verdasco again got out of trouble with two fabulous serves and two forehand winners, before the pressure finally told in game 10.

A stunning forehand winner down the line produced break point number five of the set for Nadal, and Verdasco made his first major error by firing a forehand over the baseline.

The world number one looked ready to assume total control with a break early in the third set, edging another gripping game with a pinpoint forehand arrowed down the line.

But within moments Verdasco had broken back to love with some blistering winners and the contest was well and truly back on.

Nadal moved ahead again at 4-2, and again Verdacso responded immediately with a backhand winner to get back on serve.

Another tie-break was required and Nadal took the initiative as Verdasco started to make errors, the top seed sealing it with a superb forehand winner followed by an ace.

With the match over three-and-a-half hours old, Verdasco twice called for the trainer early in the fourth set and had treatment on his left calf.

But he showed no let-up in a desperately tight set that saw neither player force a break point as they headed for a third tie-break, which a rejuvenated Verdasco completely dominated with more explosive forehand winners.

The chances came thick and fast in the decider for Nadal, with five break points going begging in the first eight games as Verdasco hung on superbly with some great serving and one incredible forehand winner.

But after letting a 0-30 lead slip at 4-4, Verdasco finally cracked when serving to stay in the match.

Nadal moved to three match points when his opponent double-faulted and, after saving two, Verdasco incredibly double-faulted again to end the longest men's singles match in Australian Open history.

"It was very tough to play aggressive against a player like Fernando," said Nadal.

"He played unbelievable. Only when you're playing very well can you have these wins.

"Roger has a bit of an advantage over me. He's resting right now. But I want to try my best. It's very important for me to be in this final. Whatever happens on Sunday, I've started the season my best ever."

Verdasco said: "I'm sad to play a match like this and lose but I am also very proud of myself for the match I played and how I have done in this tournament.

"Both of us played unbelievable. I will have this match in my mind for the rest of my life."

He added: "It is a pity for Rafa that he had to play such a long match ahead of the final when Roger only played three sets.

"I want him to be 100% to play in the final. I lost but he is a big friend and I hope he wins on Sunday. I wish him all the best."

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South Africa top rankings after win

South Africa followed their Test series win over Australia by replacing them at the top of the one-day rankings, taking the series 4-1 with a 39-run triumph.

They chose to bat in Perth and were anchored by a calm 97 from 117 balls by Hashim Amla, who shared 118 in 23 overs with AB de Villers, who made 60 off 71.

JP Duminy hit an unbeaten 60 from 42 with three sixes to take them to 288-6.

Mike Hussey made 78 and Brad Haddin 63 but debutant seamer Lonwabo Tsotsobe's 4-50 saw Australia all out for 249.

It was another resilient performance from the South Africans, and achieved with one of their most inexperienced line-ups.

There was no Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Ashwell Prince, Mark Boucher or Dale Steyn, and the bowling attack comprised two left-arm debutants, Tsotsobe and 19-year-old Wayne Parnell.

On a warm afternoon for the day/night encounter at the WACA, the fit-again Nathan Bracken created an early opportunity for Australia, when Herschelle Gibbs came down the wicket to him and skied to the on-side, but substitute Cameron White could not hold the difficult chance running back from mid-on.

Still intent on the big shots, Gibbs departed in the next over, top-edging to mid-on having come down the wicket again.

Amla picked up six with a deft upper cut off Ben Hilfenhaus, but Neil McKenzie fell in the first over from James Hopes, also trying to advance down the pitch.

The big partnership that followed contained only four boundaries, all of them to De Villiers, but helped create a strong platform.

De Villiers clearly felt the scoring needed to increase, however, and sacrificed his wicket in the 37th over, caught at deep mid-wicket, while Amla fell three short of the first century of the series when he feathered a catch to the keeper attempting another late cut.

Duminy smashed Mitchell Johnson over mid-on for six as 20 came off the 45th over and added sixes in the next two overs from Bracken as 92 came from the final 10 and a stiff target was posted.

Ponting made a fast start as usual, with two typically fluent drives through the off-side early in his innings off Tsotsobe.

But they were to be his only boundaries as the debutant continued with the prize wicket of the Australia captain, who top-edged a short one and wicketkeeper De Villers ran back to pouch the spiralling chance.

Michael Clarke fell in the next over, attempting to leave one from Morne Morkel, only for the ball to glance off the bat on to the stumps.

Dashing opener David Warner, having smashed Morkel down the ground for four in the third over, flat-batted the paceman over mid-wicket for six.

But having reached 22 he was dismissed in the most unfortunate fashion, as Mike Hussey's straight drive was deflected back on to the timbers by Parnell and a diving Warner was well out of his ground.

The Hussey brothers consolidated, but the required run-rate still increased to more than seven per over, as no boundary was scored for more than 14 overs.

Home supporters were hoping for a partnership of the magnitude of the one between Amla and De Villiers, but it ended on 69 when David drove the innocuous-looking off-spin of Duminy straight to short cover.

That brought in Brad Haddin with 167 needed at a rate of 8.1 per over, but the ever-combative Hussey rode his luck to reach a gritty 50 from 72 balls.

Hussey moved down the pitch to flick a Duminy full toss for a one-bounce four in the 34th over, only the eighth of the innings, but when drinks were taken at the end of the over, the requirement was 144 from 16 - nine per over.

Having survived a difficult chance when Botha could not cling on to one running back from cover, Hussey took the batting powerplay with 37 overs gone and 131 still needed.

With only three men allowed outside the circle, Hussey tried his best to accelerate, launching Tsotsobe over mid-off for six and glancing a full toss behind square for four.

But the young seamer had the nerve to send down a slower ball, and it completely deceived the left-hander to knock back leg-stump.

An eventful over costing 19 was completed by a mammoth six over mid-wicket from Haddin that left 108 needed from 66 balls.

The shrewd Botha bowled Hopes but Haddin's fourth four recorded his fifth ODI fifty from 39 balls.

Albie Morkel injured his leg after a collision with Vaughn van Jaarsveld chasing a top edge in the deep but it not dampen South African spirits, which were soon lifted again as the amiable Tsotsobe appealed for a return catch from Johnson almost as an after-thought, replays confirming a clear dismissal.

Tsotsobe held a catch over his head to oust Haddin and give Parnell a maiden wicket, and substitute Steyn took the winning catch off the bowling of Morne Morkel.

South Africa have the opportunity to claim the top Test ranking from the Australians as well when the series against them begins in Johannesburg on 26 February.

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Rusedski plans surprise comeback

Former British number one Greg Rusedski is planning a comeback at the age of 35 after almost two years in retirement.

The former US Open finalist wants to play again for Britain in the Davis Cup, but team captain John Lloyd told BBC Sport he had turned down his offer.

"I've asked for wildcards into some [ATP] events, so I'm going to see what happens," said Rusedski.

"It's another option for John if he wants it. If he doesn't and I don't have any form, well fair enough."

Rusedski told Eurosport: "I've always been passionate about the Davis Cup and feel I can give something back, whether it's in doubles or it's in singles."

He admitted Lloyd's rejection had come as a blow.

"Obviously anyone would be disappointed," he said. "To at least have a shot there, to play a few events, would have been nice.

"So I'm going to go into the [ATP] events and see what happens and take it from there."

The final years of Rusedski's career were plagued by injury, but he said: "Two years off and now being back in training for two-and-a-half months, the body feels great."

Lloyd told BBC Radio Five Live tennis correspondent Jonathan Overend that he had listened to Rusedski's request for a Davis Cup return but opted against it.

"We talked about it and I thought about it and I called him up the next day and told him this was not the right time," he said.

"I thanked him for desperately wanting to do it but I felt it was the time to move on with younger players."

Since retiring from tennis in April 2007, Rusedski has taken up a role at the Lawn Tennis Association to help identify and develop talented youngsters.

The Canadian-born 18-time ATP Tour winner had dismissed rumours of a Davis Cup comeback in September.

His return is totally reliant on tournaments giving him wild cards, and the likelihood is that he will swiftly abandon it if his requests are turned down.

Lloyd, however, did offer the big-serving left-hander encouragement for the future.

"If he was still willing to play tournaments and play enough matches then maybe we could talk again," he added.

"You know what you're going to get with Greg, someone who's going to fight 110% for every point."

Meanwhile, Lloyd has discarded Alex Bogdanovic for the Britain's match against Ukraine in Glasgow in March.

Lloyd has lost patience with the 24-year-old, who has not won a meaningful Davis Cup singles match in six attempts.

"I believe that Alex has had a lot of opportunities and he hasn't been successful," said Lloyd.

"It's time to move on and give other people a chance."

Lloyd will instead hold a play-off for the other singles places on his team between Josh Goodall, James Ward, Alex Slabinsky, Jamie Baker, Dan Evans and Colin Fleming.

Jamie Murray's place in the team is far from secure as he struggles to find his form in doubles.

Lloyd will pick only one doubles specialist and Murray faces strong competition from Ross Hutchins for that place.

"It's going to come down to results and at the moment Ross Hutchins is the form player," said Lloyd.

"I hope that Jamie gets himself sharp and wins matches because it's going to come down to that."

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Williams Sisters Win Third Australian Open

For the second year in a row a sister act has won the Australian Open doubles title, with Venus and Serena Williams producing another powerful display to defeat Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama in Friday's final, 63 63. The win represents the sisters' eighth Grand Slam title overall and their third triumph at Melbourne Park; this year's No.10 seeds also lifted the trophy in 2001 and 2003.

Cool, calm and collected under the closed roof of the Rod Laver Arena, ninth-seeded Hantuchova and Sugiyama made the better start, their tactic of both standing back on Venus's serve drawing errors from the incoming volleyer. But after Hantuchova produced some fine angles to consolidate her team's early break at 2-0, the Williamses stepped things up a gear, breaking Sugiyama with clever crossover play to level at 2-2.

The Japanese veteran's serve was again put under pressure by heavy returning at 3-4, and the 33-year-old was broken to give the Americans a chance to serve for the set. That done, they again broke Sugiyama for 2-1 in the second, but it would prove to be the first of five consecutive service breaks, which kept proceedings level until 3-3 but also saw Sugiyama sacrifice her serve yet again for 3-4. Two games later Hantuchova was left to keep her team in the match, but by this time the hard-fought contest had acquired an air of inevitability, and the sisters gave away just one point in the final game.

"We played a great team today, they were very tough," said Venus, adding with a chuckle, "I'd like to thank for Serena for being the best partner - I wouldn't play with anyone else." Speaking for her team, Hantuchova congratulated the champions and thanked her own partner, Sugiyama, with whom she was also runner-up at Roland Garros in 2006. "It's a big honor for me to play with someone like you," the 25-year-old Slovak said. "You're not only a fantastic player but one of my best friends."

Indeed, with their complementary styles and communication skills, Hantuchova and Sugiyama, who were a regular fixture on the Tour from 2005 until early 2007, reunited seamlessly during this month's Australian swing. Notably, they beat world No.1s Cara Black and Liezel Huber twice, in the quarters at Brisbane and again in a three-hour epic at the same stage in Melbourne, saving seven match points in the process.

If last year's Australian Open title run by Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko was a surprise, this year's event produced even more shocks, for none of the Top 8 seeds reached the quarters. The Williams sisters opened their section of the draw by defeating fifth seeded Samantha Stosur and Rennae Stubbs in the third round. Ominously, they say they plan to start playing together more often, too: "If we keep playing, I think we can keep winning more titles," said Venus. "We're going to do our best to play the other Slams this year."

After today's final, Sugiyama is projected to rise to No.3 in the doubles rankings, while Hantuchova and both Williams sisters are expected to enter the Top 20.

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Safina-Dokic Most Watched Women’s Match Ever in Australia

The excitement surrounding the Australian Open and Jelena Dokic's comeback reached a fever pitch down under on Tuesday, as the intense three-set match between home hero Dokic and Russian No.3 seed Dinara Safina became the country's most watched women's match at the Australian Open since the ratings system began in 2001.

The match peaked at 3.243 million viewers across Australia's five major metropolitan markets, and was the country's most viewed quarter final and the sixth most watched match, between men or women, since 2001. Roughly half of all television viewers in Australia were watching coverage of the Australian Open.

Dokic, who sees 2009 as her final chance for a major comeback, won her first Grand Slam match since 2003 in her first round match against Tamira Paszek of Austria. She went on to surpass world No.17 Anna Chakvetadze in the second round and then defeated 11th seed seed Caroline Wozniacki in the third round, making 2009 the first time she has reached the fourth round of the Australian Open.

Though Dokic's meteoric rise through the Australian Open was ended in the match, her attitude remains upbeat towards the upcoming year. "I think it was a good match. I played three sets with the No.3 player in the world. Everything is positive. I've had a great tournament," she said at the post-match press conference. "Sometimes things go your way, and sometimes they don't. I have to take all the positives and negatives out of today and really learn for the rest of the year about what I will do differently in a match like that."

Safina had only wonderful things to say about her opponent and the match. "She was No.4 in the world, or even higher," she recalled. "She's a great player. Just a matter of time and she continues working like this, working hard, and, you know, you can see that she's a great player."

Tennis Australia CEO Steve Wood praised the players and the coverage of the event: "The Australian Open 2009 and the comeback of Jelena Dokic truly have captured the hearts and minds of the nation, with viewers continuing to tune in to follow the event and Jelena’s progress," he said. "We are delighted that the viewing public is supporting its own world class sporting event."

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Laura Robson reaches Aussie Open final

Laura Robson reached the final of the Australian Open junior event on Friday.

Yet to drop a set in the entire competition, Robson knocked out Thailand's Noppawan Lertcheewakarn in the semi-final, beating the No.1 seed 6-4 6-3.

The match, which was a repeat of last year’s Wimbledon final, suffered a two-hour delay to allow the temperature in Melbourne to drop from a high of 44C.

Robson finally finished the job off in 74 minutes notching six breaks of serve and three aces along the way.

The 15 year-old, who celebrated her birthday last week, will now meet Ksenia Pervak in Saturday’s final. The Russian defeated Heather Watson in the last eight and is the No.3 seed.

Robson will be chasing her second junior Grand Slam title and, if victorious, is expected to rise to the top of the junior world rankings.

Norfolk's title defence back on track
Peter Norfolk has reached the quad singles final after coming through his must-win third round-robin match on Friday.

Norfolk, who lost his second match against world No.1 David Wagner, got his title defence back on track with a victory over Nick Taylor, beating the American 7-5 6-1.

The British No.1 will face Wagner once again in Saturday’s final as he attempts to win his third quad singles title at Melbourne Park. He will also be bidding to lift the quad doubles trophy when he teams up with Johan Andersson against Wagner and Taylor in the final.

Back in Britain, Norfolk will be making his debut on BBC1’s Question of Sport when the popular quiz show is broadcast on Friday at 7:30pm.

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Robson through to final four in Australia

Laura Robson was a set up but trailing 5-2 when her opponent retired injured during their quarter final in Melbourne.

With conditions climbing to over 40°C on court for a second successive day, Robson won the first set 6-3 but her opponent Elena Bogdan began to play a far more attacking game in the second set and built up a 5-1 lead.

Stretching for a wide ball, Bogan went over on her ankle and looked in considerable pain. After a medical time out and against the advice of the doctor, Bogdan decided to play on although she was clearly struggling to put any weight on her ankle.

With Bogdan wanting to play on in an attempt to secure the second set knowing that the heat rule would force play to be suspended, it was up to the doctor to declare the Romanian unable to continue. Robson is through to her second Grand Slam semi final and will face top seed Noppawan Lertcheewakarn for a place in the final.

Meanwhile, Heather Watson was defeated by third seed Ksenia Pervak 4-6 5-7. The 16 year old battled bravely in the heat and had chances against her higher ranked Russian opponent but was unable to win the crucial points.

Peter Norfolk's Aussie Open quad singles title defence also suffered a set-back as he lost against world No.1 David Wagner 2-6 6-2 4-6. However, the round-robin format means if he beats American Nick Taylor in his last pool match, he will progress to the final to face Wagner for the title.

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Roger Federer Eyes 14th Grand Slam Crown

Swiss superstar Roger Federer will look to equal Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam championship titles in the Australian Open final, after knocking out No. 7 seed Andy Roddick of the United States 6-2, 7-5, 7-5 in two hours and seven minutes on Thursday night.
The second seed will also attempt to join Jack Crawford, Ken Rosewall and Andre Agassi as a four-time champion at the first Grand Slam championship of the season. Federer will be appearing in his 18th career Grand Slam final (tied with Sampras) on Sunday, having spent a total of 12 hours and 35 minutes on court at Melbourne Park this year. Only Ivan Lendl (19) has appeared in more Grand Slam finals.

If 27-year-old Federer goes on to win the Australian Open, he would move into joint-second place alongside Lendl (48-10) and Agassi (48-5) for most match wins at the Melbourne Grand Slam since 1968. Stefan Edberg (56-10), the 1985 and 1987 winner, leads the list.

"I thought that I played really solid out there tonight," said Federer. "I thought the level was high throughout the match. I had a couple good games where I served really well in the first set, and that gave me a lot of confidence going into the second one. I was moving well and getting a lot of balls back and making it difficult for Andy to get the upper hand from the baseline.

"I thought he played a bit more aggressive with his backhand. I think he already tried to do that against me in Miami. I really think he improved the returns. The second serves he takes more easily. I have the feeling he's improved at the net. He's a bit better mover. Before, he didn't run a whole lot for drop shots."

DEUCE Magazine: Federer's No. 1 Focus

Roddick looked set to challenge Federer in the pair's 18th career meeting, having won their previous match at an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tennis tournament in Miami, Florida, last year. But the 2003, 2005 and 2007 semi-finalist found his opponent in inspired form.

Federer was able to convert his first service break in the third game, on his third break point opportunity, with a forehand pass. Roddick's hopes of breaking back immediately were dashed in the next game, with Federer hitting a forehand winner down the line at 30-40. The Swiss capitalised on Roddick's lack of confidence at the net to open up a 4-1 lead, before saving two break points when serving for the set. Federer clinched the 32-minute opening set 6-2, when Roddick hit a backhand crosscourt return out.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Tennis: Nadal and Federer edge closer to another re-match

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer each moved to within two wins of their first re-match since the sensational Wimbledon final six months ago, both hastening into the quarter-finals of the Qatar Open on Wednesday.

Nadal, the top-seeded Wimbledon, French Open and Olympic champion, took only 61 minutes to win 6-1, 6-2 against Karol Beck, the former top 40 Slovakian, and looked as energetically aggressive as ever except for a brief few moments at the start of the second set.

Federer, whose total of 13 Grand Slam titles puts him just one from the all-time record, needed only a little longer, taking 79 minutes in an effective but not always fluent 6-3, 6-3 victory against Andreas Seppi, the world number 34 from Italy.

Nadal's looked marginally the more impressive effort, but Federer was required to play in steadily cooling night-time conditions in unusually low temperatures for this region.

Asked if he felt different about coming into a new season for the first time as world number one and with three big titles to his name, Nadal replied wisely.

"Everybody starts the year with zero," he said.

"But at the same time I have won five Grand Slams, and, I think, 11 Masters Series, and 31 titles altogether and one Olympic gold medal.

"I have all these titles and all these good results over a few years, and that has made me calmer."

Nadal was more upbeat about his performance against Beck, who is trying to fight his way back on to the main tour after dropping out of the top 100.

"It's good if you are winning by this score against a tough opponent: I am pleased that I am playing well and pleased to be in the quarter-finals," Nadal enthused.

"It's warmer today (Wednesday), which is better for the body and better for the tennis and better for everyone."

Talking about his narrow loss to Andy Murray in Sunday's exhibition final in Abu Dhabi, Nadal said that it had helped him.

"Abu Dhabi helped me. I lost a close match as in some moments I lost concentration because I had been outside competition for some time.

"You need more matches to get back into competition but at the same time that match helped me get back into the rhythm and to get good feelings."

Federer might have won a little more quickly had he consolidated his break for 4-2 in the first set, but then missed two points for 5-2 and allowed Seppi to break back.

He also saw his opponent reach break back point for 4-4 in the second set before holding on to that service game; Seppi then tenaciously saved three match points before Federer was able wrap it up at the fourth attempt.

"I hit five times as many balls in this match as in the last one, which is good for me at this stage," said Federer.

"I'm satisfied with my level at the moment.

"To a degree I know where my game is but as the tournament progresses you get tougher opponents and you tend only to play as well as your opponent."

Nadal now faces Gael Monfils, the brilliantly speedy Frenchman who looks capable of pushing into the top ten this year, while Federer must meet Philipp Kohlschreiber, the Switzerland-based top 30 German who had the best year of his career last year.

If both superstars survive, Federer could well have the tougher semi-final, for he should play Murray, who achieved early breaks in both sets against Philipp Petzschner to dominate the match in a 6-2, 6-4 win.

"I go into each match now maybe a bit more focused (than I used to), and when I get on top I'm able to stay on top of opponents for longer without really giving them a chance to get back into it," said Murray.

"Those things come with experience of playing at this level, and it's taken me a few years but I think I'm starting to get better at that."

Federer seemed very well aware that he might experience a tougher draw than Nadal.

"Definitely Murray has caught up, and now it's a matter of him keeping it up and staying healthy," he said generously.

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Home Depot to end Olympics sponsorship

After 16 years as an Olympic sponsor, Home Depot is hanging up its rings.

On Wednesday, the world’s largest home improvement retailer informed 98 employees in its Olympic jobs program that it is ending its sponsorship of the Olympics and Paralympics.

The innovative jobs program had allowed Olympic athletes to work part-time at Home Depot while enjoying full-time pay and benefits, gaining time to train.

Three Georgia athletes will be affected. They are in Morrow, Savannah and Athens, said Home Depot spokeswoman Jean Niemi, who couldn’t immediately provide their names.

Over the course of the retailer’s 16-year sponsorship, more than 660 athletes participated in the jobs program; 300 Home Depot athletes made Olympic and Paralympic teams; and they brought home nearly 150 medals, 95 of them gold.

Athletes will be paid through March 2. After that, they can stay in their current positions for part-time pay, apply for full-time jobs that become available, or leave the company.

Home Depot had been a U.S. Olympic Team sponsor since the 1992 games in Barcelona, followed by the 1996 games in the company’s hometown of Atlanta.

Home Depot, a publicly traded company, doesn’t disclose how much it spends on sports sponsorships. Niemi wouldn’t specify Wednesday night how much money it invests in the Olympic jobs program. “We don’t disclose that at all.”

While other companies also sponsor Olympic athletes, Home Depot’s program was high-profile: It had used its athletes in advertising campaigns.

In May, prior to the summer Olympics, 137 athletes were in the program. At the time, the company had said it was weighing whether to continue its Olympic sponsorship.

Home Depot’s announcement could signal a cascade of ending sports sponsorships, as some big brand names and retailers are suffering from the economic downturn.

Niemi said Home Depot’s decision wasn’t based on the economy, but rather on finding “new ways” to reach out to customers and staffers.

“We came to the decision the time was right to move on and look at other opportunities,” she said. “There are no plans in place as of now as to what to do with the money.”

Summer Olympic games in recent years have been in farflung locations, from Sydney to Athens to Beijing, where the big-box chain has no presence, or only a small one, like its dozen or so fledgling stores in China.

Meanwhile, the company has added on expensive sponsorships for NASCAR and other popular American sports, like college and professional football.

These sports appeal to the main customer base of Home Depot, as the majority of the chain’s stores —- just under 2,000 out of about 2,274 —- are in the U.S. market. Its other three markets are Mexico, Canada and China. Still, the bulk of the company’s revenue and profit comes from its U.S. stores.

Patrick Rishe, director of Sportsimpacts, a St. Louis sports marketing firm and a marketing professor at Webster University, wasn’t surprised Home Depot was cutting back.

“In tough times like these, companies are going after things that are not essential, like marketing and goodwill initiatives,” said Rishe, noting Atlanta-based UPS’ rival FedEx’s decision not to advertise at this year’s Super Bowl. He said the economic and public relations backlash probably won’t be too severe. “I’d like to the think, given everything that’s going on, the general public are probably more likely to cut them some slack,” he said. “If the economy was going well, people might scratch their heads a little, but not now. Besides, a lot of people may not even notice because they’re too busy dealing with their own situation.”

The company’s total advertising and marketing budget in 2007 was $1.2 billion, according to the 2007 annual report, the most recent available.

Several firms track the numbers. One, IEG Sponsorship Report, says Home Depot spent $60 million to $65 million on sports sponsorships in 2007.

The Nielsen Co. reported that Home Depot purchased $25.3 million and $30.1 million in ads during the 2004 Summer and 2006 Winter games, respectively. Nielsen also reports Home Depot spent nearly $12 million on NASCAR ads in 2007, while rival Lowe’s spent $7.7 million.

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Dropped Matthew Hayden considers his cricket future

A "VERY disappointed" Matthew Hayden will consider his Test cricket career over the next few weeks after being dropped from Australia's one-day and Twenty20 sides this morning.

“It’s very disappointing not to fill the cricket calendar,” the veteran opener said on learning of his exclusion from the short form squads.

Mitchell Johnson is also out, along with a number of the players from the Sydney match who are being rested.

However, selectors have signalled their faith in youth by picking young Sydney batting tyro Dave Warner for the Twenty20 side.

Warner, 22, is an electrifying presence at the wicket. He hit 65 from 35 balls against South Australia this week. He has given a contract with an Indian IPL franchise after hitting 97 from 54 against WA and a record one day 165 for NSW against Tasmania.

Nathan Hauritz and Peter Siddle, who have come into the Test team this summer, will be in the 50-over squad. Mercurial paceman Shaun Tait is also back in the one day and Twenty20 squads.

Hayden said: “My immediate future is to go back home to my family and the people that love me the most and just enjoy this time, to tack guard again, it’s been a pretty long last four months.

“I am going to take the time to get my mind around what the future does hold. I will take my time and make a good decision going forward.”

Hayden said he respected the selectors' decision to drop him from the short form games and give youth a chance and that he would play the Shield game for Queensland at the end of the month.

“When you are short of runs you have to start asking questions and they (the selectors) do that better than anyone,” he said.

“For my mind it’s as simple as being committed to playing out the summer and then taking the time to either get back on the horse or make a decision not to. It’s as clear cut as that.”

The Australian understand Hayden was told in the dressing rooms after the side’s win in the Sydney Test that he would not be part of the team to play in the 50 over games against South Africa and New Zealand.

He is also out of the one day sides which indicates he is no longer part of the selector’s long term plans for the next world cups in either format.

Hayden was a key figure in Australia’s recent world cup triumphs but would be almost 40 by the next ODI world cup.

Chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch said this morning that his panel would not make any decision on the Test future of Hayden until they sat down to discuss the squad for South Africa in February.

The batsman has the one Shield game to reiterate his claim.

Hilditch, who had previously endorsed Hayden for the Ashes was less effusive about the batsman’s recent efforts.

“As far as Matthew is concerned we thought the time was right to move on in Twenty20 cricket and in One Day cricket it’s our view that he wouldn’t have got to the 2011 World Cup,” Hilditch said.

“Matthew didn’t give me any indication about his future plans. He wasn’t happy when we told him, but you would be unhappy was.”

“My feeling is that he will play for Queensland.”

Hayden has had a gruelling schedule too, but has not scored more than 40 in the five Tests against New Zealand or South Africa. He only managed two half centuries in four matches against India before that.

He averaged 33 against India, 10 against New Zealand and 19 against South Africa.

Hayden has looked out of sorts and out of form since missing the West Indies series mid-year because of a ham string strain.

The 37-year old must now go back to state cricket if he wishes to regain the form that made him one of the world’s great opening bats.

The first T20 against South Africa will be held at the MCG on Monday. Michael Clarke is being rested because of an injured thumb.



R Ponting©

M Hussey (vc)

D Hussey

B Hilfenhaus

J Hopes

N Bracken

B Haddin

S Marsh

S Tait

D Warner

R Harris

C White

N Hauritz


R Ponting ©

M Clarke (vc)

B Haddin

J Hopes

N Bracken

S Marsh

M Hussey

D Hussey

N Hauritz

B Hilfenhaus

C White

S Tait

P Siddle

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Pietersen quits as England captain, coach fired

England captain Kevin Pietersen resigned and coach Peter Moores was sacked on Wednesday as English cricket staggered into the new year.

Pietersen issued a statement announcing his decision to stand down as captain, but to continue as a batsman, before flying home from a holiday in South Africa.

Hugh Morris, managing director of England cricket, later announced that Moores had been sacked in the wake of an "irretrievable breakdown" in the relationship between captain and coach.

Andrew Strauss was named as new captain with his first task seemingly to restore unity, with just two weeks before the team depart for a tour of West Indies and with an eagerly-awaited home Ashes series against Australia looming on the horizon.

After a day of media frenzy, Pietersen issued a statement signalling the end of his six-month reign as skipper.

"In light of recent communications with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), and the unfortunate media stories and speculation that have subsequently appeared, I now consider that it would be extremely difficult for me to continue in my current position with the England cricket team," Pietersen said.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Football Tramples ‘Superstars of Dance’

The two-hour premiere of NBC’s reality show “Superstars of Dance” delivered 10.4 million viewers on Sunday, according to Nielsen’s estimates. Those results were not enough to lift NBC out of fourth place for the night as that network drew only 5.7 million viewers for a sports-theme “Saturday Night Live” special. Fox was in first place overall, due largely to an overrun of its afternoon football coverage.

The final part of Fox’s broadcast of the National Football League wild card playoff game attracted well over 20 million viewers during the 7 p.m. hour. CBS was runner-up with “60 Minutes” (12.3 million), “Million Dollar Password” (10.4 million), “Cold Case” (12.7 million) and “The Unit” (9.7 million). ABC was third as “Desperate Housewives” (14.3 million) was the night’s highest rated nonsports show.

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Top world athletes to run for Gandhi

Thirty international and about one hundred top-Indian athletes will participate in the maiden Nagpur International Marathon, which has been organised here on January 30 to commemorate the death anniversary of the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi.

The event offers a total prize money of Rs 36,56,000. Top marathon runners from Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Russia, Ukraine and Nepal have been extended invitation in
both men and women section for this first ever event, its organising committee said.

"We run for culture of peace and non-violence," organising committee chairman, Vilas Muttemwar, said at a press conference here.

He said the men's race will cover 42.195kms while women will run a distance of 21.097 kms with a winning purse of rupees 2.50 lakh and 1.50 lakh respectively.

Besides, there will be races of 10km for both men and women, for boys and girls of under-18, under-16 and under-14 years of age, for veterans, handicapped and a celebrity run.

A total of Rs 25,80,00 will be given up to 25th position besides bonus money for Indian athletes upto third position in both section. The races will start from Kasturchand Park ground and finish at Yeshwant Stadium in Dhantoli.

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Australia mourns end of era, claims chief selector's head

"Australian cricket dead and buried".

The headline in the "The Daily Telegraph" perfectly summed up the mood as Australia plunged into depression following the cricket team's first home series defeat in 16 years and chief selector Andrew Hilditch finds himself at the receiving end of the media wrath after the debacle against South Africa.

"The echo of the ball flying off the confident bat of South Africa's Hashim Amla yesterday was the death rattle of Australia's record 16 years without a series loss at home.

"Analysts investigating Australia's dramatic Test cricket demise say there are no suspicious circumstances," the writer said.

The daily also ran a mock obituary of Australian cricket which read "R.I.P. Australian cricket slaughtered by South Africa December 30 at the MCG. Aided and abetted by: Incompetent selectors, Inept batting, Impotent Bowling Dreadful Catching, Poor Captaincy."

Explaining what ails Australian cricket, the writer said, "It simply followed a short illness complicated by player arrogance, chronic selection short-sightedness, poor captaincy decisions, unreliable batting, indecisive bowling and fielding clumsiness.

"Any obituary will say the few spasms of competitiveness Australia mustered in both Tests were brutally amputated by a cohesive South Africa, who recorded their first series victory in Australia," he said.

Doubting Australia's number one status in ICC rankings, the report said, "Australia, propped up by statistics, are still No. 1 in world rankings. But after dismal series losses to India and South Africa, this Australian team is so lifeless it could come to the next Test in a hearse."

In the same daily, Ben Dorries asked a blunt question -- "Who on earth selected the selectors?"

"The head of Australian selection boss Andrew Hilditch should be on the chopping block after his shambolic handling of the side's casualty ward and the extension of Matthew Hayden's career," he said.

"Hilditch said last night it was not time for "chopping and changing" the side. If now isn't the time, after one of the most demoralising efforts ever by an Australian side, then when is it?" he asked.

"Former selection chairman Trevor Hohns, an uncompromising man who made the tough decisions, would have had none of it. He was the man who famously denied Ian Healy a farewell Gabba Test, telling the wicketkeeping great he had played three more Tests than he deserved," he recalled.

"The whole saga around Australian selections has become a disgrace," added the writer.

Insisting that Hilditch and fellow selectors should be made to pay for selection blunders, the report said, "Our cricketers are accountable for their actions and their million-dollar paypackets are scrutinised with their performances every day.

"It is time for Hilditch and fellow selectors Merv Hughes, David Boon and Jamie Cox to also be accountable."

Not sparing Cricket Australia either, the writer said, "If it is good enough for the Reserve Bank to explain why it raised or slashed interest rates then it is good enough for the bosses of Australia's favourite sporting team to explain theirs on a much more regular basis."

Robert Craddock of 'Courier Mail' echoed the same view and turned the heat on the selectors for their handling of injured all-rounders Andrew Symonds and Shane Watson.

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Azhar's son hopes to make it big at dad's happy hunting ground

His father Mohammad Azharuddin began his career at the Eden Gardens. Now 18-year-old Mohammad Ashaduddin, called for the Kolkata Knight Riders selection trials, hopes the venue will do the magic for him as well in his quest to make it big in cricket.

A product of St John's Academy — a club where VVS Laxman learned his basics — Ashaduddin is yet to make it big anywhere, but he is hoping that the KKR call-up will help establish him in the big league.

The left-handed opener said: "I have heard a lot about Eden Gardens from my father... It was one of his favourite grounds, having made his debut [there against England in 1984-85].

"It's a great opportunity for me to prove myself if I get a chance. It can well be the turning point if I can cash in on the opportunity. I am very excited about the call-up."

One of the most successful India captains, Azhar boasts of an average of 107.5 at the Eden Gardens, having scored 860 runs from seven Tests. In ODIs, the former middle-order batsman scored 332 runs at an average of 47.42 from nine matches at the venue.

Unlike his father, Ashaduddin, popularly known as Abbas, loves to play attacking shots, which he says come in handy in the Twenty20 format. "I have learnt cricket watching my father... so he is my first coach. But I have my style of play and I don't want to play like my father. My father had God's gifted talent. I will never get there. I just like to be myself and perform well being a cricketer.

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Dhoni and his men may play T20 in Tihar jail next week

After entertaining crowds in every part of the cricket globe, India's cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and some of his teammates may turn up in Tihar jail next week for a Twenty20 tournament involving the inmates.

According to a Tihar jail source, the jail authorities have approached Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and Ajay Jadeja to turn up for the Twenty20 Tihar Winter Olympics Cricket Tournament's final next week.

Among them, Dhoni and Gambhir have expressed their interest to be part of the event, though they have still not confirmed their participation.

"We have approached these players and are now waiting for their confirmation. We can only tell you the details only after we get their approval", the source said.

The participating teams are made of Tihar prisoners and the cricketers would only play a few overs to encourage them, the source said. If the jail authorities manage to rope in the star players, each of the four participating teams will have at least one professional cricketer in its ranks.

Back in 1994, Sachin Tendulkar played cricket in Tihar while World Cup winning captain Kapil Dev has also played there on a few occasions.

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