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International

Australian Open: Novak Djokovic breezes past Karatsev to reach 9th final

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Serbian world no.1 Novak Djokovic on Thursday got closer to winning his ninth and third consecutive Australian Open title by crushing Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in the semi-finals at the Rod Laver Arena.

Djokovic was utterly dominant throughout the match and ended Karatsev’s dream run. The Russian is the first man to reach the semi-finals on his debut in a Grand Slam.

Djokovic, meanwhile, has won the title every time he has reached the final at the Australian Open. The 33-year-old 17-time Grand Slam champion has struggled with an abdominal injury during the tournament but showed no signs of the problem against Karatsev.

“This is the best I have felt in the entire tournament. It felt great, I could swing through the ball and no pain,” he said after the match.

“It was my best match so far and came at the right time. I’m thrilled.”

Earlier, American 22nd seed Jennifer Brady reached her first Grand Slam final after beating 25th seed Czech Karolina Muchova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. She faces Naomi Osaka in the final as the Japanese beat 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams earlier on Thursday.

Muchova saved as many as five match points off Brady’s serve in the final game. Brady raced to a 30-0 lead and then got to her first match point at 40-15. However, Muchova then won the next three points consecutively before Brady held to make it deuce for the first time in the game.

The pair then exchanged advantages over the next nine points before Muchova hit a return long, giving Brady the victory.

“I can’t feel my legs right now. They’re shaking, my heart is racing. After the first set, I thought to myself, ‘let’s focus Jenny.’ I actually felt strange when I came out, I was excited but also a bit flat-footed. I don’t think I had that much intensity in the beginning of the match, but that improved over time,” said Brady on court after the match.

“I think it will be a really tough match against Naomi Osaka. She’s won a few Grand Slams, and we had a really great battle at the US Open, in the semi-final. I’m just going to hang with my team now, spend some quality time, do some recovery work and have a good gym session. I’m going to be a bit nervous tomorrow, but also very excited,” she added.

World No.3 Osaka will be playing in her second Australian Open final after winning the title in 2019. In the one hour and 15 minute-match, Osaka rebounded from a poor start to beat ‘her idol’ Serena Williams in straight sets 6-3, 6-4 to book her place in the Australian Open final.

This will be the 23-year-old Japanese’s second consecutive Grand Slam final and fourth overall.

After the match, Osaka accepted she was “nervous and scared in the beginning”.

“Then I sort of eased my way into it. For me, I think the biggest thing is just having fun and it’s the first day having the crowd in a while … it’s always an honour to play her. I just didn’t want to go out like really bad, so I just wanted to try my best.”

She added: “I don’t know if there’s any little kids out here today, but I was a little kid watching her play and just to be on the court playing against her for me is a dream.

“I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned over the years is just like, you know, you’re competitive, you’re playing against another competitor. That itself is the funnest part because tennis is a game.”

Williams’s bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title will now have to wait until the French Open which is scheduled to start on May 24.

Osaka faces either Czech Republic’s Karolina Muchova or USA’s Jennifer Brady, both of whom are yet to appear in the final of a Grand Slam. She has extended her winning streak to 20 matches.

Williams raced a 2-0 lead in the first set before Osaka took control. Osaka then broke Williams at the start of the second set before running off to claim her third win against the 39-year-old American in five matches.

Williams’s forehand was off the mark throughout the match as she made 24 unforced errors against Osaka’s 21. Notably, Williams made six unforced errors on return whereas her opponent made just one throughout the match.

International

Coach Shastri hints that he might step down after T20 World Cup

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Ravi-Shastri

 Indian cricket team coach Ravi Shastri has given a big hint that he is likely to step down from the hot seat after the ICC T20 World Cup in the UAE and Oman when he said that “I believe one thing — never overstay your welcome.”

Shastri, who was squarely criticised for launching his new book in London and spreading the Covid-19 virus among the support staff two days before the fourth Test at The Oval, said on Saturday, “I believe so because I’ve achieved all I wanted,” when asked whether the ICC T20 World Cup would be his last outing with Team India as chief coach.

“Five years as No 1 (in Test cricket), to win in Australia twice, to win in England. I spoke to Michael Atherton earlier this summer and said: ‘For me, this is the ultimate — to beat Australia in Australia and win in England in Covid times.’ We lead England 2-1 and the way we played at Lord’s and the Oval was special,” Shastri told The Guardian.

“We’ve also beaten every country in the world in their own backyard in white-ball cricket. If we win the (T20) World Cup that will be the icing on the cake. There is nothing more. I believe one thing –never overstay your welcome. And I would say that, in terms of what I wanted to get out of the side, I’ve over-achieved. To beat Australia away and to lead the series in England in a Covid year? It is the most satisfying moment of my four decades in cricket,” said Shastri.

Within days of the book-launch function, where no masks were worn, Shastri had tested Covid-positive and went into isolation along with four members of his support staff. And when assistant physio Yogesh Parmar too tested positive, the players became anxious and finally the fifth and final Test in Manchester had to be called off.

“It was funny because in my 10 days I didn’t have a single symptom barring a little sore throat. I never had any temperature and my oxygen level was 99% all the time. I didn’t take any medication through 10 days of my isolation, not a single paracetamol. I tell the guys: ‘Once you’re double jabbed, it’s a bloody 10-day flu. That’s it,'” said Shastri.

On whether he discussed the emerging situation with players, Shastri replied, “No. I didn’t know who had got it (Covid-19). I didn’t know (the physio) got it suddenly and tested positive. He physically treated five or six players. I think that’s where the issue started. We were aware that the incubation period meant that someone might get it in the middle (of the Test). A lot of players had their families there. So it became a situation where you don’t know what that player is thinking. He’s got a young kid, you know, he’s got to think of them. It was a little, I would say, touchy.”

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International

Coach Shastri hints that he might step down after T20 World Cup

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Indian cricket team coach Ravi Shastri has given a big hint that he is likely to step down from the hot seat after the ICC T20 World Cup in the UAE and Oman when he said that “I believe one thing — never overstay your welcome.”

Shastri, who was squarely criticised for launching his new book in London and spreading the Covid-19 virus among the support staff two days before the fourth Test at The Oval, said on Saturday, “I believe so because I’ve achieved all I wanted,” when asked whether the ICC T20 World Cup would be his last outing with Team India as chief coach.

“Five years as No 1 (in Test cricket), to win in Australia twice, to win in England. I spoke to Michael Atherton earlier this summer and said: ‘For me, this is the ultimate — to beat Australia in Australia and win in England in Covid times.’ We lead England 2-1 and the way we played at Lord’s and the Oval was special,” Shastri told The Guardian.

“We’ve also beaten every country in the world in their own backyard in white-ball cricket. If we win the (T20) World Cup that will be the icing on the cake. There is nothing more. I believe one thing –never overstay your welcome. And I would say that, in terms of what I wanted to get out of the side, I’ve over-achieved. To beat Australia away and to lead the series in England in a Covid year? It is the most satisfying moment of my four decades in cricket,” said Shastri.

Within days of the book-launch function, where no masks were worn, Shastri had tested Covid-positive and went into isolation along with four members of his support staff. And when assistant physio Yogesh Parmar too tested positive, the players became anxious and finally the fifth and final Test in Manchester had to be called off.

“It was funny because in my 10 days I didn’t have a single symptom barring a little sore throat. I never had any temperature and my oxygen level was 99% all the time. I didn’t take any medication through 10 days of my isolation, not a single paracetamol. I tell the guys: ‘Once you’re double jabbed, it’s a bloody 10-day flu. That’s it,'” said Shastri.

On whether he discussed the emerging situation with players, Shastri replied, “No. I didn’t know who had got it (Covid-19). I didn’t know (the physio) got it suddenly and tested positive. He physically treated five or six players. I think that’s where the issue started. We were aware that the incubation period meant that someone might get it in the middle (of the Test). A lot of players had their families there. So it became a situation where you don’t know what that player is thinking. He’s got a young kid, you know, he’s got to think of them. It was a little, I would say, touchy.”

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Heather Knight shines as England Women win opening ODI vs New Zealand

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 Veteran England star and captain Heather Knight slammed a 107-ball 89 and Katherine Brunt scored a quick 43 as the hosts powered to a 30-run victory in the opening One-day International against New Zealand Women at the County Ground here.

Sent in to bat on Thursday evening, England were bowled out for 241 in the 50th over, with captain Knight (89) leading the way alongside Tammy Beaumont (44) and Brunt (43).

That proved 30 runs too many for New Zealand, as Brunt (1/22) and the England attack squeezed them out of the game, eventually bowling them out for 211 in the 47th over.

England were put in to bat first by New Zealand and got off to a good start. Openers Lauren Winfield-Hill and Beaumont capitalised on the bad balls and kept the scoreboard ticking. They were going strong at 44 in the ninth over when Hannah Rowe (1/47) struck, removing Winfield-Hill on 21 via a faint nick through to the keeper.

Her wicket did little to slow down the scoring as captain Knight joined Beaumont at the crease. The duo forged a strong partnership and soon took England past the 100-run mark in the 22nd over.

Just as it looked like England were going to reach top gear, Sophie Devine (2/57) provided New Zealand with the second breakthrough, ending the half-century stand. Beaumont fell just six runs short of a fifty, struck in front of the middle stump.

Two overs later, Natalie Sciver (2) fell to the returning Lea Tahuhu (2/32). She also picked up the wicket of Amy Jones (2) in the 30th over and Jess Kerr (3/42) got Sophia Dunkley (5) in the 32nd over to reduce England to 140/5.

Despite the regular fall of wickets, Knight continued to take on the New Zealand bowlers. She paired with Brunt to push England past 220. The 88-run stand was broken by Leigh Kasperek (1/48) in the 47th over when she caught and bowled Knight for 89.

The remaining four England wickets fell for 13 runs as the hosts were bowled out for 241.

New Zealand were in trouble early in the chase as Sciver (2/10) accounted for Suzie Bates (1) and Lauren Down (5) inside the opening 10 overs.

The pressure continued to mount as Kate Cross (2/37) had Maddy Green (19) caught at slip in the 13th over to reduce New Zealand to 31/3. The duo of Amy Satterthwaite (79*) and captain Sophie Devine (34) rebuilt the innings in a 78-run stand but just as they were getting back into the game, Cross struck again, removing the Kiwi skipper for 34 in the 29th over.

Wickets fell at regular intervals from there as New Zealand slipped to 143/8, with Sophie Ecclestone (2/39) on a hat-trick at one point after removing Katey Martin (9) and Brooke Halliday (0).

Brief scores: England Women 241 in 49.3 overs (T Beaumont 44, H Knight 89, K Brunt 43; J Kerr 3/42, S Devine 2/57) beat New Zealand Women 211 in 46.3 overs (A Satterthwaite 79 not out, S Devine 34; N Sciver 2/10, K Cross 2/37, S Ecclestone 2/39) by 30 runs.

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