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Sunday,16-January-2022

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Olympic countdown: Sania Mirza striving for an Olympic medal

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Sania Mirza’s cabinet of trophies is very glittering. As a doubles specialist, Sania has won the women’s doubles title in Wimbledon and US Open in 2015 followed by the Australian Open in 2016. In mixed doubles, her record is equally good. 2009 Wimbledon, 2012 French Open and 2014 US Open. Add to it consecutive WTA Finals in 2014 and 2015.

Sania also has bronze in women’s doubles at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and 2014 Asian Games. In mixed doubles, she won gold in the 2006 and 2014 Asian Games along with silver in the 2010 Asian Games.

But there is one big missing piece from her trophy cabinet, which the 34-year-old aims to lay her hands on at Tokyo: a medal at the Olympics.

Sania almost had the medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics. She was only a few points away from being assured of a medal. But she and Rohan Bopanna lost the mixed doubles semifinals 6-2, 2-6, 3-10 to the American pair of Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram. In the bronze-medal match, Sania and Bopanna went down 1-6, 5-7 to Radek Stepanek and Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic. So close, yet so far from it.

The journey from Rio to Tokyo has been roller-coaster for Sania. A knee injury in 2017 extended into a maternity break. In late 2018, Sania announced her intention to make a comeback into the professional circuit. She returned on the tour at Hobart International in January 2020. Alongside Nadiia Kichenok, Sania won her first tournament on return, beating second seeds Peng Shuai/Zhang Shuai in the final. She had to withdraw in the first round of the Australian Open due to a calf injury.

In the run-up to the Olympics, Sania took part in six tournaments. In between, lockdown caused by the pandemic forced her to bide time. Her best performance in 2021 came in a semifinal finish at WTA Total Qatar Open in March, two months after recovering from COVID-19. Recently, Sania played in the Viking International and Wimbledon, losing in the round of 16 and 32, respectively.

With her protected ranking of nine, Sania had gained direct entry into the women’s doubles event at the Tokyo Olympics.

In Tokyo, she will be partnering Ankita Raina, who has been soaring high in doubles this year.

Breaking into the top-100 rankings, grand slam debuts and a WTA singles title, Ankita is the highest-ranked partner Sania has ever had in women’s doubles at the Olympics. Ankita and Sania have played together in Fed Cup twice, ending on the winning side.

With Ankita as her partner, Sania can expect to complete an unfinished business: adding an Olympics medal to her trophy cabinet.

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PKL 8: Patna Pirates beat Puneri Paltan 38-26

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Raider Sachin scored 10 points as three-time champions Patna Pirates defeated Puneri Paltan 38-26 in Match 17 of Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) Season 8 at The Sheraton Grand, Whitefield, on Tuesday. Sachin scored a Super 10 (10 points) and was ably supported by Patna’s defensive trio of Sunil (4 points), Mohammadreza Chiyaneh (3 points), and Sajin C (3 points). The lack of a quality raider despite promising performances from youngsters will be a cause of concern for the Puneri Paltan who succumbed to their second loss in three matches.

All eyes were once again on Pune’s Rahul Chaudhari but the showman, despite starting the match, was substituted for young Mohit Goyat by coach Anup Kumar in the first half. The trio of raiders including Aslam Inamdar and Pankaj Mohite caused problems for the Patna defence while at the other end Prashant Kumar Rai and Sachin were equally effective.

Patna were facing the risk of an all-out with six minutes left to half-time, but their defender Sajin C completed a Super Tackle to turn the momentum. The three-time champions got lucky later when Monu Goyat entered the lobby without contact, in a do-or-die raid only to be followed by three Pune defenders who had been deceived by his actions. The first half ended 14-14 with Pune having just two men on the mat.

Pune coach Anup Kumar clearly expected from his set of raiders and brought in Shubham Shelke for Pankaj Mohite in the second half. But Patna kept fighting back, thanks to the largely confident tackles from the likes of Mohammadreza Chiyaneh and Sajin. With 10 minutes remaining, Patna had a four-point lead and that was extended a’ Pune’s plan to play on the Do-or-Die raid backfired. Sachin scored two points in the crucial raid for Patna to inspire another ALL OUT in the 13th minute and open a 10-point lead.

Patna maintained the momentum and though Sunil and Vishal Bharadwaj picked up yellow cards in the final minutes as the match became intense the three-time champions ensured there was no late comeback by Pune and clinched an important win.

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PKL 8: Bengal Warriors beat Gujarat Giants

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Bengal Warriors defeated Gujarat Giants 31-28 on Day 3 of the Pro Kabaddi League Season 8 held at The Sheraton Grand, Whitefield, here on Friday. This was Bengal Warriors’ second win in as many matches while Gujarat Gaints have one win and one loss. The Warriors have 10 points the same as Dabang Delhi but are placed second on a lower points-difference while Gujarat have six points.

Bengal Warriors started well and established a slender lead (16-11) against Gujarat Giants at half-time. They maintained their advantage despite the valiant efforts of the Gujarat Giants, managed to register a narrow victory.

Maninder Singh was the top scorer for Bengal Warriors with eight points while Esmaeil Nabibakhsh contributed four points.

Bengal Warriors won 18 raid points as against 19 by Gujarat Giants. But it was in defence that they scored, claiming 10 points as against eight by their rivals. They bagged two all-outs as against none by the Giants.

Rakesh Narwal was the top scorer for Gujarat Giants with 12 points while Rakesh Sungroya contributed four points.

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Rishabh Pant appointed as Uttarakhand’s brand ambassador

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 Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami on Sunday announced that Indian wicket-keeper batsman Rishabh Pant has been appointed as the brand ambassador of the state.

Taking to Twitter, the Chief Minister said that Pant will encourage the youngsters to take up sports.

“One of the best cricket players of India, the idol of youth and son of Uttarakhand, Rishabh Pant has been appointed as “State Brand Ambassador” by our government with the aim of encouraging the youth of the state towards sports and public health,” tweeted Dhami in Hindi, along with the video.

In the video, CM Dhami can be seen interacting with Rishabh and asking about his well-being.

The attacking batter also thanked the Chief Minister for the opportunity, saying that he will try his best to motivate people towards fitness.

“Thank you @pushkardhami sir for giving me the opportunity to be the Brand Ambassador of promoting Sports and General Health among the people of Uttarakhand. I’ll do my best to spread this message and feeling happy that you are taking these steps towards a fitter India,” tweeted Pant.

“Coming from a small town of Roorkee, I am confident that the people here have the ability to make the country proud in various fields of life,” he added.

The 24-year Pant, who was rested for the New Zealand Tests, is currently in Johannesburg, South Africa as the Indian Team is all set to face Proteas in the three-match Test series, starting December 26.

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