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Defending champ Rafa Nadal attends the Roland Garros draw at L'Orangerie on Thursday. Photo: Julien Crosnier/FFT
Karthik Swaminathan



Familiar foe Djokovic pursues a second ‘Djoker Slam’

Toronto: When the year’s first major concluded Down Under, there was only one thing on most people’s lips: Novak Djokovic, following his demolition job of Rafael Nadal, had guaranteed himself a third shot at a ‘Novak Slam’. Could he do it… again?

The Serb had been unsuccessful in his first attempt seven years ago (l. Nadal), but he wouldn’t be denied on the terre battue in 2016 (d. Andy Murray) when he became the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time.

Since that historic win, Djokovic’s pursuit of titles plateaued; he needed to do some soul-searching before returning with a bang—and how. The 32-year-old is three-for-three at Grand Slams, commencing Wimbledon last season (d. Kevin Anderson).

The Serb again went missing after his exploits in Australia this January and he wouldn’t make another final till the Madrid Open earlier this month where he beat fast-rising 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas for his 33rd Masters 1000 title.

Talks of a “comeback”, however, were short-lived. Another conspicuously missing name had sprung back to life.

The ‘King of Clay’—who had himself endured a title-less streak since victory at the Rogers Cup (d. Tsitsipas) in Toronto last August—bludgeoned everyone in his path as he steamrolled to a record-extending 34th Masters 1000 crown at the Italian Open. Capping off his Roman conquest was a 6–0, 4–6, 6–1 humbling of the World No. 1.

The Coupe des Mousquetaires and Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen will be up for grabs this coming fortnight.  Photos: Twitter @rolandgarros

[Quick trivia: Nadal dished out four bagel sets en route the title in Rome—Fernando Verdasco, Nikoloz Basilashvili and Jeremy Chardy being the other three recipients]

The gauntlet had been thrown. The dice cast. The Tour, currently in Nadal’s territory, was approaching the man’s citadel: Roland-Garros, where he has won an eye-popping eleven times. Yes, he has made all of the crushed earth his own over the course of an outlandish career, but with no title to show going in to this month’s showdown at the Foro Italico, the murmurs were getting louder. Even if only momentary, Nadal’s ruthless displays did their bit to quash all talks.

Of course, the clay court season thus far has had other storylines: such as Fabio Fognini’s maiden Masters 1000 triumph in Monte Carlo (d. Dusan Lajovic), Dominic Thiem winning Barcelona (d. Daniil Medvedev) without dropping a set and the return of 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, who had not played on clay since May 2016.

Roger Federer will have to bring his A game to progress to the semifinals.

All said, however, while 126 other players will contest for the Coupe des Mousquetaires this fortnight, it doesn’t require much effort to predict the bout people expect to materialise on the third Sunday of the event: will it be a second four-for-four major sweep, or an unprecedented twelfth title at a Slam?

Sport, though, is a great leveller and success only comes through sheer effort. For both Djokovic and Nadal to cross swords for a 55th time on June 9—already an Open Era record (men’s) in terms of matches they’ve contested against one another—each has to overcome six challengers.

The draw ceremony took place on May 23 and revealed some surprises. Thiem and his good friend Sascha Zverev find themselves in the top half along with Djokovic, while Federer and Kei Nishikori have been drawn in Nadal’s side of the draw. Here is a look at how the four sections seem to shape up:

Men’s seeds:

1. Novak Djokovic 2. Rafael Nadal 3. Roger Federer 4. Dominic Thiem
5. Alexander Zverev 6. Stefanos Tsitsipas 7. Kei Nishikori 8. Juan Martín del Potro
9. Fabio Fognini 10. Karen Khachanov 11. Marin Cilic 12. Daniil Medvedev
13. Borna Coric 14. Gaël Monfils 15. Nikoloz Basilashvili 16. Marco Cecchinato
17. Diego Schwartzman 18. Roberto Bautista Agut 19. Guido Pella 20. Denis Shapovalov
21. Alex de Minaur 22. Lucas Pouille 23. Fernando Verdasco 24. Stan Wawrinka
25. Félix Auger-Aliassime 26. Gilles Simon 27. David Goffin 28. Kyle Edmund
29. Matteo Berrettini 30. Dusan Lajovic 31. Laslo Djere 32. Frances Tiafoe

First quarter:

Top seed and 15-time major winner Djokovic opens his challenge against young Hubert Hurkacz, a strapping 22-year-old from Poland. While no one expects the 6’5” Hurkacz to trouble Djokovic in what will be the pair’s first face-off, the Serb can expect some resistance given his opponent’s big-hitting game style—centered around a big serve and flat, powerful groundstrokes off both wings. Another beanpole, the 6’6” Sam Querrey, could lie in wait in round two (Djokovic leads their head-to-head 8–2). The American famously knocked out Djokovic when they last faced off (Wimbledon 2016). World No. 28 Gilles Simon is a projected third round opponent (Djokovic leads 11–1) while Borna Coric could lie in wait in the last 16 (Djokovic leads 3–0). Sascha Zverev is a possible quarterfinalist (head-to-head equal 2–2).

Other players in this section include the swashbuckling 20-year-old Denis Shapovalov of Canada, the mercurial pair of Fognini and Nick Kyrgios, and Roberto Bautista-Agut.

Semifinalist pick: Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic has a good chance to complete a ‘Novak Slam’ at the French Open.

Second quarter:

Thiem, the World No. 4, is the highest seed in this quarter. A runner-up last year (l. Nadal), the 25-year-old has been among the three best clay court players in the last three years but has not had much silverware to show for his efforts. The Austrian commences his campaign against USA’s Tommy Paul and could face Sascha Bublik and Kyle Edmund respectively in the second and third rounds. A mouth-watering last-16 clash with either Gaël Monfils (Thiem leads 4–0) or Fernando Verdasco (Verdasco leads 4–0) is a possibility which would, quite literally, be a near-perfect appetiser ahead of another big-hitting showdown, potentially against the Tower of Tandil—Juan Martín del Potro (del Potro leads 4–0), the World No. 9.

Del Potro, meanwhile, has his hands full right from the get-go as he faces 23-year-old Nicolas Jarry, the 6’5” Chilean. The prodigiously talented 18-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime of Canada could provide the Argentine a sterner test should they meet in the last 32. Lucas Pouille, the second-highest ranked Frenchman (behind Monfils), and the towering Karen Khachanov are some of the other powerful shot-makers in this loaded quarter.

Semifinalist pick: Dominic Thiem

World No. 4 Dominic Thiem has shown tremendous form of late and is a possible semifinalist.

Third quarter:

Whatever may be at stake for the two best players as they enter this tournament, no one will argue about the status of the current World No. 3: the biggest crowd-puller there is in tennis today. Federer, who famously got the monkey off his back when he triumphed on Court Philippe Chatrier a decade ago, makes his return to the French Open for the first time since the 2015 edition when he lost to compatriot and eventual champion Stan Wawrinka. Federer’s return to active clay court competition this year, while not forgettable, had its share of highs and lows. The 37-year-old played at a high level—despite squandering match points in a defeat in Madrid (l. Thiem) and an eventual walkover in Rome (to Tsitsipas)—and enters the second major with a 22–3 record for the year (including titles in Miami and Dubai besides a runner-up showing in Indian Wells).

Italians lurk in the third seed’s path. First up for Federer is Lorenzo Sonego while Matteo Berrettini and Marco Cecchinato could, respectively, be potential third and fourth round adversaries. Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri is a probable second round opponent (Federer leads 2–0). The promising Tsitsipas could lie in wait in the quarterfinals.

Other prominent names in this section include Wawrinka, Diego Schwartzman and Marin Cilic besides youngsters Casper Ruud and Frances Tiafoe.

[Quick trivia: Currently, Cecchinato is the last player to have beaten Djokovic in a major]

Semifinalist pick: Stefanos Tsitsipas

Fourth quarter:

Nadal, the most decorated clay-court player of all time, headlines the final quarter and couldn’t have asked for a better start to his title defense. The Spaniard will open against qualifiers in the first two rounds before a possible last 32 clash against David Goffin (Nadal leads 3–1). Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili is a projected fourth round adversary (Nadal leads 3–0) while Nishikori could pose the second seed’s earliest challenge in the quarterfinal (Nadal leads 10–2).

Medvedev, Alex de Minaur and Laslo Djere are some of the promising youngsters in this part of the draw.

Semifinalist pick: Rafael Nadal


Semifinal 1: Djokovic d. Thiem

Semifinal 2: Nadal d. Tsitsipas

Final verdict: Nadal d. Djokovic

Cricket Lounge

Australia crush Sri Lanka to go top in World Cup




Australia beat Sri Lanka by 87 runs.

London: Australia beat Sri Lanka by 87 runs in their 2019 ICC World Cup group stage clash at the Oval on Saturday. The victory took Australia to the top of the table with eight points, while Sri Lanka remain at fifth place with four.

Chasing a target of 335, Sri Lanka were bowled out for 247, despite a 115-run opening stand between Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Perera.

Australia’s charge to 334/7 was largely powered by captain Aaron Finch’s 153 off 132 balls, which was part of a 173-run stand between him and Steve Smith (73 off 59) for the third wicket.

Finch hit 15 fours and five sixes and also shared an 80-run opening stand with David Warner (26 off 48).

Finch was dismissed by Isuru Udana in the 43rd over after which Sri Lanka managed to get a grip on the game with frequent wickets.

Smith was dismissed in the next over and by the time the Australian innings came to an end, they had lost seven wickets with Glenn Maxwell (46 off 25) and Mitchell Starc (5 off 4) at the crease.

Sri Lanka made a strong start to the chase with captain Karunaratne and Kusal pegging back the Australian pacers and Maxwell.

Starc, however, got the breakthrough by taking Kusal’s middle stump while the latter was on 52 off 36 balls. Sri Lanka never managed to get a significant partnership after that.

Lahiru Thirimanne, who replaced Kusal, became Jason Behrendorff’s first World Cup wicket and Karunaratne was dismissed on 97 off 109 by Kane Richardson.

While the top three wickets contributed 186 runs to the Sri Lankan total, the rest only managed 61. Starc ended the innings with figures of 4/55 while Richardson took three wickets.

Pat Cummins was the man who took the final Sri Lankan wicket and ended the match with two to his name.

Brief scores: Australia 334/7  (Aaron Finch 153 (132), Steve Smith 73 (59), Dananjaya De Silva 2/40) beat Sri Lanka 247 (Dimuth Karunaratne 97 (108), Kusal Perera 52 (36), Mitchell Starc 4/55).

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Cricket Lounge

No individual competition with Amir, says Kohli ahead of Indo-Pak clash




Virat Kohli is confident of a good show by India against Pakistan.

Manchester: On the eve of the marquee India-Pakistan clash at the World Cup, India captain Virat Kohli said on Saturday that while Mohammad Amir remained a threat, his team will focus on the other bowlers as much as on the left-arm speedster.

“I am not going to say anything for TRPs,” Kohli said in the pre-match presser on Saturday.

“Only the white or red ball matters to me, regardless of who the bowler is. As I had said earlier for (Kagiso) Rabada before the South Africa match, you have to respect any bowler’s skill set. At the same time, you should have faith in your ability to score against any bowler,” he said.

“And it isn’t like the match will be won or lost on the basis of whether I score well or he (Amir) takes a lot of wickets. The other 10 players also have to play well from both sides for getting a result. In my mind, I don’t have any competition with one particular player and I don’t see any need for me to prove myself against anyone. For me it is simple, if you don’t play well then even a part-time bowler can get you out,” Kohli said.

The last time India played Pakistan in an ICC tournament was at the 2017 Champions Trophy when Amir wiped out the mighty Indian top order comprising Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Kohli inside the first nine overs. India went on to lose the match by 180 runs.

While Amir’s form took a dip since then, he seems to have returned to his destructive best in the ongoing World Cup, recording his career best ODI figures of 5/30 in Pakistan’s previous game against Australia.

Kohli also did not disclose whether India will go with the same bowling combination as in the previous two matches or go for an extra pace option.

“We will consider different combinations depending on the conditions. If extra pace is an option, we will consider it. If it is a shortened game, we will consider it as well,” he said.

Kohli said that despite the hype surrounding the much-awaited fixture, the mood in the dressing room was the same as it would be for any other game.

“We have discussed nothing different from the time we landed in England. The mood in the dressing room hasn’t changed. We understand that any game we play for the country can be emotional and adrenaline-filled, so no one game is more special for us than the other.

“As cricketers who have been selected to play for the country, our responsibility is to treat every game equally, regardless of the opposition. For us nothing changes, we are a top side because of the cricket we play and we need to remember that. So the conversation has not changed at all and it won’t change in the future as well,” the India skipper said.

The build-up to the game has predictably seen a war on social media and through advertisements from both camps. When asked what message Kohli had for the fans, Kohli said they should enjoy the atmosphere.

“We expect it to be a full stadium and the fans should enjoy the game. In a World Cup you are bound to have full stadia in every match, so for us players it won’t be any different.

“I can’t tell the fans to think in a particular manner. The mindset of the player is bound to be different from that of a fan. You can’t mix the two and you can’t expect fans to think in a professional manner (like the players do). The fans should enjoy the game the way we have over the years, but as players we have to remain professional,” Kohli said.

The match at the Old Trafford in Manchester is scheduled to begin at 10.30 a.m. local time (3 p.m. IST).

India have played three matches in the tournament so far, winning two while one was a washout. Pakistan have played four matches thus far, off which they have lost two, won one, while one was abandoned due to rain without a ball being bowled.

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Football Lounge

Coutinho stars as Brazil thump Bolivia in Copa America opener




Brazil lacked a cutting edge in the absence of star forward Neymar.

Sao Paulo (Brazil): Philippe Coutinho scored two second-half goals as Brazil kicked off their Copa America with a 3-0 victory over Bolivia.

On Friday, the Barcelona attacker netted twice inside five minutes before substitute Everton put the result beyond doubt with a long-range strike at Sao Paulo’s Morumbi Stadium, reports Xinhua news agency.

Despite the comprehensive scoreline, the five-time world champions were below their best against an organised if unthreatening Bolivia outfit.

For long periods, Brazil lacked a cutting edge in the absence of star forward Neymar, who was ruled out of the tournament last week because of an ankle injury.

“It was a tough match for us,” Coutinho told reporters after the game. “At half-time, the manager (Tite) asked us to focus more and to control the ball better. We managed to do that. The first goal changed the course of the match.”

Brazil dominated possession early but struggled to find ways past a resolute Bolivia defence. Roberto Firmino and Thiago Silva had early chances from corners while Coutinho failed to make clean contact with a header after a Filipe Luis cross.

Tite opted against making changes at half-time and his faith was rewarded almost immediately.

Argentinian referee Nestor Pitana consulted the video assistant referee before ruling that Adrian Jusino used his left hand to obstruct Richarlison’s chipped shot. Coutinho then dispatched the resultant spot-kick into the bottom left corner.

The goal quickly released the pressure on Brazil and the Selecao netted again four minutes later when Coutinho headed in after a precise cross from his former Liverpool teammate Firmino.

Everton, introduced as an 85th-minute substitute for David Neres, completed the rout with a fine solo goal, five minutes from time.

The Gremio forward cut in from the left before smashing a low drive from the edge of the box that curled into the bottom right corner of Carlos Lampe’s goal.

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