Tennis legends Serena Williams and Roger Federer have been confirmed among entries for the upcoming Australian Open.
Apart from the star duo, world number one Ash Barty and eight-time champion Novak Djokovic (SRB) will lead the fields at the tournament slated to be held from February 8-21.
There was a question mark over Federer, who warned this month he was in a “race against time” to be fit after two rounds of knee surgery. But the Swiss legend has begun training in Dubai and was among those entered to play at Melbourne Park.
At the Melbourne Park, Serena will set herself up to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles by winning an eighth Australian Open crown.
“Although the AO will look a bit different to previous years, the safety of everyone is our top priority. We have the opportunity to stage a very safe, and happy Slam, and give the players the experience of competing in front of crowds again, something they’ve missed for most of this year,” Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said in a statement on Thursday.
“There are so many great storylines for AO 2021. Serena is gunning for her eighth AO title while Novak, who often seems invincible at Melbourne Park, is going for a record ninth title. Our own world No.1 Ash Barty will return to Grand Slam competition, as will Roger Federer as he comes back from injury. And there’s a new crop of rising stars coming up to challenge them all,” he added.
Joining defending champion Djokovic is world number two Rafael Nadal Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev, Diego Schwartzman and Matteo Berrettini.
Also in contention on the women’s side are world number two Simona Halep, 2020 US Open champion Naomi Osaka, defending champion, Sofia Kenin, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, Bianca Andreescu, Petra Kvitova, Kiki Bertens (NED) and Aryna Sabalenka
Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka returns, having missed the tournament in 2020, alongside19-year-old Iga Swiatek, the newest grand slam women’s champion who won Roland Garros in October.
A total of 104 players will receive direct entry into the men’s and women’s singles main draw and a further eight are awarded wildcards, while 16 places will be determined at the qualifying rounds.
In the past 17 years, the all-time grand slam leading trio of Djokovic (2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020), Federer (2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2017, 2018) and Nadal (2009) have won the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup 15 times between them.
There have been eight different women’s champions since 2011 – Kenin (2020), Osaka (2019), Caroline Wozniacki (2018), Serena Williams (2017, 2015), Angelique Kerber (2016), Li Na (2014), Azarenka (2013, 2012) and Kim Clijsters (2011).
The ATP had earlier announced that men’s qualifying for the Australian Open would take place in Doha and Dubai from January 10-13 before players relocated to Melbourne to enter 14-day quarantine.
Australia Open was earlier scheduled to start from January 18, however the schedule was updated because of the Covid-19 restrictions.
South Africa captains fear suspension due to administrative crisis
South Africa’s Test captain Dean Elgar, limited overs captain Temba Bavuma and women’s captain Dane van Niekerk signed a statement by the country’s cricketers in which they apologised to stakeholders due to the administrative crisis in Cricket South Africa (CSA).
They also expressed fear that government intervention in the administration of the sport could lead to the International Cricket Council (ICC) suspending the team with just months left for the men’s T20 World Cup this year.
The statement has been written on behalf of the South African Cricketers’ Association (SACA) and signed by its president Khaya Zondo.
“The governance crisis that has engulfed cricket for over 18 months has now escalated to the point where the Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture has formally noted his intent to intervene in the sport. We respect the fact that the Minister has shown great patience in dealing with the governance crisis, and the events as they unfolded at the Special General Meeting of 17 April 2021, were in bad faith and disrespectful not only to his office, but to all cricketers and the public,” said the cricketers in the statement.
“Government intervention in the sport will have dire consequences, the full extent of which we do not yet know. The right to represent South Africa may be withdrawn and the ICC may suspend Cricket South Africa. These outcomes will in turn impact touring, broadcast rights and sponsorship deals. Ultimately the financial viability of the game will suffer and cricket at all levels will be severely prejudiced,” they said.
The players said that they recognise the importance of the support of sponsors in their own careers.
“As players, we wish to speak directly to the many sponsors of our beloved game – such as SAB, Betway, Momentum, KFC – we recognise and acknowledge that your involvement in the game supports our careers and provides funding for the development of the game throughout South Africa. We apologise for the actions of our Administrators who have undermined and betrayed your commitment to the sport. We are aware that many of you have engaged SACA directly over the past 12 months, confirming your support for us, the players, and for that we thank you,” they said.
“And finally, to the most important stakeholder in the game – the public – we ask that you continue to support cricket. It is the most wonderful game, and we are immensely proud to represent you on the field. We implore the Members’ Council, Interim Board, Ministry and SASCOC to resolve this impasse so as to ensure that we can continue to do so,” said the statement.
They also expressed concern over the development of the women’s game, especially considering the success the national team has enjoyed recently.
“The Momentum Proteas Women’s team has enjoyed unparalleled success over the past 14 months, and the women’s game in South Africa is on the verge of significant expansion. The development of the game is now under serious threat, and at a time when we should be enthusiastic about the future, we have to be concerned about its future,” it said.
“The Proteas Men’s team has an ICC World T20 Event in November. Preparation has already started for this event, and the current state of cricket administration undermines our work in this regard. It may even lead to our suspension from this event should the ICC decide to suspend South Africa,” said the statement.
CSK should build their team around Ravindra Jadeja: Michael Vaughan
Former England captain Michael Vaughan said that Chennai Super Kings (CSK) should build their team around Ravindra Jadeja considering his all-round abilities.
“You may say that Dhoni will play for 2-3 more years but let’s be honest, he’s not gonna play a great deal after that. So you’ve got to start looking at who you can build a team around and to me, Ravindra Jadeja is the kind of cricketer that I would build my team around. I just think he’s that good with the ball, in the field, with the bat in hand, his mindset, his mentality is very good,” said Vaughan on Cricbuzz.
Jadeja played a crucial role in CSK’s win over Rajasthan Royals on Monday. He took two wickets, including the all-important scalp of opener Jos Buttler and took four catches.
“Jadeja for me is the kind of player to whom you can say ‘You’re going to bat at No.4 or 5, get in there early. We might even open the bowling with you, depending on who is batting We’ll put you in key fielding positions.’ He is ready for that. I think he is that good a cricketer,” Vaughan said.
While there have been talks of CSK considering using England all-rounder Sam Curran as the focal point to build their future teams, Vaughan feels that Curran is too young for that kind of responsibility.
“We were talking the others that are they (CSK) trying to build a team around Sam Curran but I think Sam’s too young and he’s not quite ready for that kind of mantle yet. 4-5 years down the line maybe but I think Sam Curran’s a better cricketer when he is under the radar. Just let him be. Don’t need to put too much pressure on him, he’ll deliver,” Vaughan said.
Barcelona president ‘convinced’ Lionel Messi will remain at Camp Nou
Barcelona president Joan Laporta is “convinced” Lionel Messi will sign a new contract to stay with the La Liga giants.
Messi is out of contract at the end of the season and the 33-year-old’s future with Barca is far from certain amid strong links to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Manchester City, DPA reported.
Laporta remains determined to re-sign Messi, who has spent his entire senior career at Camp Nou.
As Barca prepare for the weekend’s Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao, Laporta was asked about the record six-time Ballon d’Or winner. “Everything is progressing adequately,” Laporta said.
“I will do everything within the club’s capabilities to get him to stay. That’s what we’re doing. Messi is motivated. He is an extraordinary person and I am convinced that he will want to continue at Barca.”
Messi has scored a league-high 23 goals and supplied eight assists in 28 La Liga appearances for Barca this season.
In total, Messi has netted 29 goals across all competitions in 2020-21.
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