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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Australian Open: Kim Clijsters beats Li Na in final

Kim Clijsters beat Li Na in a pulsating final to win her first Australian Open and fourth Grand Slam title.

Li had made history by becoming China's first Grand Slam singles finalist and made a strong start, but Clijsters powered back to win 3-6 6-3 6-3.

It is the first time that three-time US Open champion Clijsters has won a major title outside of New York.

The 27-year-old has now won back-to-back Grand Slam titles and will rise to second in the world rankings.

She made a typically fast start to Sunday's final, reeling off the opening nine points in a row to grab an early break of serve as Li looked nervous in her first major final.

But the Chinese ninth seed had repeatedly shown her fighting qualities over the past fortnight and headed into the final with an 11-0 record in 2011, and having beaten Clijsters to win the Sydney title on the eve of the tournament.

She quickly settled into the rhythm of heavy hitting off both sides that had seen off world number one Caroline Wozniacki in the semi-finals and began to dominate again.

Three games in a row gave Li the first set, which she sealed with a rasping forehand winner past a stranded Clijsters, and the Belgian looked momentarily lost for answers.

A double fault from Li gave Clijsters a much-needed break at the start of the second set and it prompted a run of four successive breaks as the momentum swung from side to side, with both women under huge pressure on serve.

This time it was Clijsters who took the initiative with a run of five straight games as Li struggled to keep the error count down, but the Chinese player stopped the rot by breaking back with a blistering return to trail 2-1 in the decider.

A nail-biting final set appeared to be unfolding but it was Li who buckled under the pressure, giving up another break of serve with a double fault and a wayward backhand in game four, and Clijsters pumped her fist as she closed in on victory.

When it was required, the former world number one showed her mettle with two quickfire holds of serve to stand on the brink of the title, before closing it out to love and dissolving into tears as the achievement began to sink in.

"I'm a little shaky still," said Clijsters, a beaten Melbourne finalist in 2004. "Li Na was definitely a very tough competitor. She really brought it to me at the start of the rallies. I was on the back foot and leaning back - I don't like that.

"The first set, I thought 'Wow! This is going to fast for me!' It was tough. I felt in the second set she was getting a bit nervous. I was just happy I was able to pull it off in the end."

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Australian Open: Clijsters needed rethink to beat Li Na

A mid-match rethink helped Kim Clijsters battle back to victory in the Australian Open final against Li Na.

The 27-year-old Belgian struggled to find her rhythm for more than a set at the Rod Laver Arena on Saturday.

But a change in tack saw Clijsters claim the second set before running through the decider to complete a 3-6 6-3 6-3 win over 28-year-old Li.

"I tried to do things differently to break her rhythm a little bit and make her think a little bit more," she said.

"I mixed it up a little bit, put some slices in, also hit a few higher shots and it made her make some unforced errors.

"And then she got a little bit aggravated and I just tried to hang in there."

Li, who was aiming to become the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam singles crown, sealed the first set with a fine forehand winner.

"She did everything better than me in that first set," said Clijsters.

"Her ground strokes were heavier, deeper, she served better and she returned better.

"She was playing really well, probably the best she has ever played against me."

But Li was upset by her own supporters midway through the second set, when she claimed they were trying to tell her what to do mid-point, and the switch in momentum began to turn Clijsters' way.

Afterwards, Li said: "I don't know why after I got to the final I had so many Chinese coaches on the court.

"Of course they want me to win the match but they were trying to coach me how to play tennis."

Clijsters broke for 4-3 and again to level the match and at the change-over, Li complained for the third time to the umpire about crowd interference.

It continued to bother Li as she was broken to go 3-1 down in the third before Clijsters held twice to get to 5-2 and then take the set 6-3.

After the match, three-times US Open champion Clijsters admitted she was overwhelmed when Li put the ball wide on match point.

"What gets you is that it's so intense until that last shot and then all of a sudden it's finished, then it's just a big relief," she added.

"The disbelief too that it's over and the fact I was able to turn it around is what makes it so special."

Clijsters, a beaten finalist in Melbourne in 2004, added that she was delighted to finally win the Australian title having come close to clinching it before.

"I will enjoy this win, especially here in Australia," she said. "It's a country which I have always loved coming to and where I have always been well-received.

"I have been close to doing it for a few years so it's nice to finally get it this year."

Li also took the positives from a tournament in which she made history by becoming China's first Grand Slam singles finalist.

"I thought I played some great tennis tonight," she said. "But she played better than me.

"I am still happy with what I did today and proud of myself.

"But she had more experience than me because she has played in more finals.

Hopefully if I can play in another final I will do better."

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Southampton 1 - 2 Man Utd

Manchester United needed to draw on all their resources as they came from behind to beat Southampton and progress to the last 16 of the FA Cup.

Michael Owen hit a post with a cross before League One Saints shocked the Premier league leaders when Richard Chaplow crashed home a fierce drive.

The lead was cancelled out when Owen nodded in from close range.

And Javier Hernandez finished clinically after being put in by Ryan Giggs to complete United's comeback.

But the home side can look back with pride on a performance that boasted good football and a lot of heart.

Looking far from overawed throughout, they frequently took the game to the visitors, but it was Saints' lack of a cutting edge and United's superior finishing that proved the difference in the end.

From the start Southampton played with belief, perhaps sensing that there could be gaps in United's unfamiliar defensive line-up - none of their regular back five were even in the squad.

But the League One side's early endeavours brought only two well-struck but off-target free-kicks and a snap shot from Rickie Lambert.

With the game crying out for width, the home fans roared on winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain whenever he touched the ball, but he was unable to show why he is a £10m target for Liverpool and Arsenal.

At the other end, a disjointed United almost scored a goal that was in keeping with their scruffy performance as Owen launched a cross from the right that drifted over goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski and came back off the inside of a post.

Owen, who also fizzed a shot wide, and striker partner Javier Hernandez barely threatened in the first half as the visitors lacked inspiration in every position.

Southampton created a good opening when Danny Butterfield picked out Guilherme do Prado with a right-wing cross but the Brazilian got underneath the ball and headed off target.

Still, Saints looked the likeliest to make the breakthrough, and it came when Jonny Evans could only half-clear a long ball and Chaplow took full advantage.

The midfielder used his thigh to nudge the ball into space and then rifled a rising drive into the top corner to leave United's debutant keeper Anders Lindegaard with no chance.

The Red Devils continued to toil after the restart, forcing two corners in quick succession but unable to make the count.

The hosts maintained their discipline and shape, even threatening to grab a second goal on the break - left-back Dan Harding made a scintillating run, skipping past a few challenges before prodding a right-footed shot that did not match his build-up.

Sensing an upset, perhaps, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson sent on Nani and Giggs for the ineffective Darron Gibson and Anderson.

It almost had an immediate impact as Nani crossed from the left and Owen toe-poked over at the near post.

And within five minutes of the change United were level. Gabriel Obertan tuned his marker inside out and delivered a cross from the right that hit Hernandez and sat up perfectly for Owen to nod home.

Yet United failed to kick on dominate as might have been expected and Southampton showed great resilience to come back at them.

Lee Barnard swung at Chaplow's cutback and missed completely and then was just too far away to connect with Harding's flashing ball across the face of goal.

But then Ferguson's men caught Saints with a sucker punch as substitute Giggs intercepted a Ryan Dickson pass and played in Hernandez, who slotted in what proved to be the winner.

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Australian Open: Andy Murray to face Djokovic in final

Andy Murray says the burden of Britain's 75-year wait for a male Grand Slam champion will not affect him in Sunday's Australian Open final.

The British number one takes on 2008 champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the Melbourne final at 0830 GMT.

It will be the Scot's third Grand Slam final and another chance to follow in the footsteps of Fred Perry's US Open victory back in 1936.

"It's more of a personal goal and personal dream of mine," said Murray.

"So that's what you need to keep in check and not get ahead of yourself. The historical thing, it's not something I have thought about that much but it's something that for me personally I want to try to win.

"I don't want to get myself so amped up that I play a stinker of a match. If you go in thinking 'no-one has won one for 60-odd years and I might never get another chance'...

"I am going to make the most of the opportunity and give 110% but I also need to make sure I am relaxed and calm on the court. I don't want to get myself too worked up."

Fifth seed Murray lost to Roger Federer in the 2008 US Open and 2010 Australian Open finals but will face a far more familiar rival this time in long-time friend Djokovic.

The finalists, born a week apart, have known each other since they were children and have trained together regularly over recent weeks as both prepared for the Australian Open at the warm-up Hopman Cup event in Perth.

They have met seven times as professionals, with Djokovic leading 4-3 overall but Murray having won the last three in straight sets, all on hard courts.

Speaking to BBC Sport on the eve of the final, Murray said: "I think when we both came on the tour, because we weren't necessarily competing for the biggest tournaments we got on well, then he started to improve a lot and I was trying to catch up.

"I lost to him quite easily a few times and it wasn't necessarily a jealousy thing but I wanted to learn from him a little, but also not wanting him to feel I was looking up to him.

"It took a little while for me to catch up to him but I think the last year-and-a-half, two years, we started to get on very well."

Djokovic, the world number three, told BBC Sport that he and Murray had dreamed in their early years about facing each other in a Grand Slam final.

"I don't think we disconnected, it's just that we had different paths," he said.

"He went to Barcelona to try and develop into a top player and I had my practice and development days in some other countries. We were growing up and we didn't catch up that often.

i think murrays the better player but its going to be very tight

"Then, the last years we started to hang out more, to see each other more often, and it's nice because we have grown up together and known each other since we were 12 or 13 years old, played many times.

"To be able to face your good friend in a Grand Slam final is interesting, it's nice, because we were dreaming of that when we were kids."

Djokovic won his only Grand Slam title to date in Melbourne three years ago when, after beating Federer in the semi-final, he faced Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final.

Sunday's final will be the first at a Grand Slam since that day not to feature either world number one Rafael Nadal or number two Federer.

"I have won here three years ago," said Djokovic.

"Maybe in some ways I'm going to have a little mental advantage over my opponent because I have won the title.

"But still he is going to be very much motivated to win his first title and he's not going to have Roger of Rafa across the net, which I'm sure is going to be a big relief for him."

The last time the two played each other competitively was in the Miami Masters final two years ago, with Murray running out a 6-2 7-5 winner, which continued a reversal of fortune after he lost their first four encounters, including a brutal 6-1 6-0 defeat at the same venue in 2007.

Both men have been in fine form in Melbourne and Murray has made it through to the final for the loss of just two sets, while Djokovic has dropped only one and defeated title holder and 16-time Grand Slam champion Federer in the semi-finals.

"In the final it's very important to serve well and take my chances when I get them," said Murray. "He's struggled a bit on his serve in the last couple of years and that's something that I'll look to try and exploit."

Since Perry's win at Flushing Meadow in 1936, Bunny Austin, John Lloyd, Greg Rusedski and Murray himself are the only others to have made a Grand Slam final.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Batsman Tunes Out Troubles and Sets a Record

Sachin Tendulkar’s 50th score of 100 or more in five-day tests, achieved earlier this week in Centurion, South Africa, was more than just another personal landmark in a career already overflowing with them.

It was a significant moment for cricket as a whole. Cricket as a game thinks in fifties and hundreds and applauds when players reach those marks.

Until recently it was unthinkable that any one man might score as many as 50 centuries in tests. Tendulkar not only met the old record, 34, set by his Indian compatriot, Sunil Gavasker, he smashed it. One more and he’ll have exceeded the original mark by 50 percent.

It is not unthinkable that somebody may one day overtake Tendulkar, though his closest pursuers right now — Ricky Ponting (39) and Jacques Kallis (38) — are far behind in his wake.

It appears unlikely, barring some implausible explosion in the number of the matches or the emergence of an authentic Superman, that we will ever see the next step, somebody scoring 100 centuries in tests, and that makes Tendulkar’s mark of 50 a truly special moment.

For many of the Tendulkar’s millions of followers, he already is Superman. He is a rare sporting marvel, a child prodigy who not only fulfilled the awesome potential he first showed when he broke into India’s team at 16, but then showed the desire and durability that allowed him to maintain his top-level play later on in his career. It is as if Mozart had lived to be 70, composing fresh works of greatness all the while.

That Tendulkar, 37, retains his underlying genius was evident in the first innings at Centurion as India collapsed around him. Tendulkar was facing the most effective and aggressive pace pairing in world cricket — Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel of South Africa — in conditions that perfectly suited them. He did not merely cope, but scored more than a run a ball, producing a succession of breathtaking strokes.

In the second innings, when he reached his own landmark, he was battling for his team, desperately attempting to avert first defeat and then, when that became inevitable, the humiliation of losing by an innings.

It was left to a South African, India coach Gary Kirsten, to shed light on what is perhaps the secret to Tendulkar’s extraordinary durability: practice.

He is, “the model of what an international cricketer should be, and has been for years,” Kirsten said. “I still reckon that I do more throw-downs to him every day than any other member of the squad.”

That comment brought to mind other great athletes who had nothing else to prove, yet still had the inner drive to take them to the next level.

Like the golfer Gary Player, who when complimented on his good fortune said, “And you know, the more I practice, the luckier I get.”

The baseball player Joe DiMaggio explained his dedication to performing well every day by pointing out, “there might be some kid watching who has never seen me play before.”

The 50th century is yet another addition to the monument being built by the man who, without a doubt, is the greatest living batsman. He plays in a batting order that also includes the world’s most explosively brilliant player, Virender Sehwag, and the man who most closely resembles the outcome should anyone ever succeed in constructing the ideal batsman from scratch, Rahul Dravid.

Yet none of them, not even Tendulkar, is India’s most valuable player, in the sense of being the man it can do least without. The match in Centurion left little doubt about who that is: the left-arm quick bowler Zaheer Khan.

While South Africa’s pacemen made the pitch there look lethal, India’s equivalents, shorn of their injured leader, were ineffective and allowed the Proteas to pile up 620 runs for four wickets. With Zaheer, India will just about pass muster in bowling, his presence taking the pressure off the other players. His teammates benefit from the pressure that his speed and movement place on opposing batsmen. Without him, India is way short of what a No. 1 team needs.

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Dulko & Pennetta win Australian Open doubles title

Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta survived match points to beat Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko to win the Australian Open women's doubles title.

The top ranked pair, 2010 Wimbledon semi-finalists, struggled in the first set and trailed 5-4 in the second.

But Argentine Dulko and her Italian partner powered back, and after a break at 3-1 in the decider, came through 2-6 7-5 6-1 in 131 minutes.

The duo won seven titles last year but this was their first Grand Slam crown.

"Last year was a great year, this year we are starting really good," said Pennetta, who lost to the Czech Republic's Petra Kvitova in the fourth round of the singles.

Dulko and Pennetta were blown away in the opening set against Russia's Kirilenko and Azarenka of Belarus and then had to face match points at 5-4 in the second set.

With Azaranka wasting chances for glory when serving for the match, the top seeds broke back and then won three games in a row to level the match at one set each.

Dulko and Pennetta broke early in the decider and swiftly wrapped up the victory when Azarenka, a fourth-round loser to China's Na Li in the singles, hit a backhand into the net.

The win means Dulko remains the world's top-ranked doubles player while Pennetta stays second.

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Briton Ben Swift wins final stage in Tour Down Under

Britain's Ben Swift won the final stage of the Tour Down Under to finish third overall in the six-stage race.

Swift out-sprinted fellow Team Sky rider Greg Henderson for his second win of the event to finish behind winner Cameron Meyer and Matthew Goss.

"I was struggling really badly halfway through after the efforts of Saturday," he said. "I had to hang out there."

Cycling legend Lance Armstrong finished his last overseas race 65th while Mark Cavendish finished 129th and last.

Armstrong refused to speak to reporters afterwards about the latest doping allegations made against him this week.

The seven-time Tour de France champion took part in the race against the backdrop of a United States federal investigation triggered by former team-mate Floyd Landis's allegations that Armstrong and other prominent figures used performance-enhancing drugs.

The Texan, who never tested positive throughout his career, has denied any wrongdoing and tweeted on Friday that he looks forward to being cleared by the US Anti-Doping Agency.

Armstrong's team manager Johan Bruyneel said he could ride a last professional race at the Tour of California in May.

British sprint star Mark Cavendish finished last of the riders who completed the Tour Down Under.

The HTC-Highroad rider had a fall on the second stage and was left nursing some damaging cuts and bruises for the rest of the race.

"Hopefully I'll start winning later in the year and get some stuff for the team," said Cavendish, who has won 15 stages of the Tour de France.

"That [the Tour de France] is the biggest race of the year for the team and for the sponsors. I want to win everywhere but it's very important to win there."

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Jessica Ennis set for Glasgow Aviva international bow

World heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis will make her first international appearance of 2011 on Saturday.

The 25-year-old will go head-to-head in Glasgow with defending world indoor champion Lolo Jones of the United States in the women's 60m hurdles.

The Sheffield-based Ennis will also be action in the women's long jump.

European and Commonwealth 110m hurdle champion Andy Turner is up against American and world number one David Oliver in the men's 60m hurdles race.

Oliver, from Florida, was unbeaten outdoors last season and has run two of the six fastest times ever for the 110m.

However, Turner, 30, believes his muscular opponent could be fallible indoors at the Kelvin Hall.

"He's probably going to be going into the race full of confidence just based on what he did last year," said the Nottingham-born athlete.

"He was pretty much untouchable outdoors, head and shoulders above anybody else in the world.

"He doesn't know what it feels like to be beaten at the moment. He hasn't been beaten for ages.

"I ran 13.28 seconds to win [in Barcelona]. He probably only ran twice slower than that the whole year. That time isn't going to bother him.

"But he knows indoors that he's not the best in the world. He knows his start isn't as good as it probably could be or should be. He is a bit more vulnerable so I don't think he'll be taking it for granted.

"But it would definitely be a massive blow for him mentally if he got beaten, especially by me - I'm just a little skinny guy."

All eyes in Glasgow will be on Ennis' re-match with powerful American Jones in the 60m.

Ennis, who will captain Team GB, set a new British record of 7.97 seconds as she beat Jones in a surprise victory last January.

"I'm sure she will be looking for revenge. It will be good, I think it's good to have that competition," said Ennis, who is preparing for the European Championships in Paris this March.

"It was a nice surprise to win last year and I'm sure she will want to win this year.

"She might be a bit tired after her journey but I'm sure she'll be prepared and I'm looking forward to it.

"I feel in good shape and I feel ready to compete well so I'm hoping I can put down a good performance and keep it rolling into the rest of the indoor season."

As well as Ennis and Turner, Commonwealth 100m champion Mark Lewis-Francis, 2009 world 800m bronze medallist Jenny Meadows and 2008 world indoor silver medallist 60m Jeanette Kwakye are all in action, along with pole vaulter Kate Dennison.


Tiger Woods starts well in Farmers Open at Torrey Pines

Former world number one Tiger Woods made a decent start to his 2011 season, firing an opening-round, three-under par 69 at the Farmers Insurance Open.

With the first winless season of his career now behind him, American Woods hit three birdies in a flawless round on a near-perfect day at Torrey Pines.

It left him five strokes behind leader Kang Sung-hoon, from South Korea.

Kang birdied his final two holes to finish with six overall as well as an eagle to end up eight under par.

American pair Alex Prugh and Rickie Fowler were a shot behind the South Korean on seven under with US compatriot Chris Kirk finishing day one on the North Course with a round of 66.

The best score on the South Course was 67 by American John Daly.

Back at Torrey Pines for the first time since his stunning play-off win at the 2008 US Open, Woods teed off on the back nine and made his first birdie at the par-three 12th where he struck his tee shot to four feet.

With hardly a breath of wind to bother the golfers, it seemed likely Woods - playing on the North Course - would pick up at least two more shots before the turn but wayward drives at the par-five 14th and 18th cost him birdie chances.

Watched by a surprisingly small gallery numbering around 200, Woods birdied the second and then got to three under after sinking a 25-footer at the par-three sixth, where he sank to his knees in relief.

He lipped out with a birdie attempt from 10 feet at the par-four seventh and failed to birdie the par-five ninth after driving into a fairway bunker.

Woods, who was engulfed by a sex scandal at the end of 2009, spent much of last year unsuccessfully trying to repair his marriage and also undergoing the fourth swing change of his career.

He finished the 2010 PGA Tour season without a single title for the first time since he turned professional in 1996 and was deposed as world number one by Britain's Lee Westwood at the end of October.

However, since Woods joined forces with Canadian swing coach Sean Foley after the PGA Championship in August, his form has steadily improved and he began this season with high hopes.

"I'm happy with the way I played, absolutely," said Woods.

"It could have been a lot better if I took care of the par-fives a little bit more, but I didn't do that.

"Hopefully on the South Course tomorrow I can take care of the par-fives and put together a little bit better round."

He added: "You can't make these putts above the hole on the North Course. I knew that from years past and this year's no different.

"They just move too much, and most of the putts I had today were breaking."

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