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Horror finish

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SERENA Williams suffers a stunning loss to Wang Qiang in the Australian Open.     AFP

MELBOURNE, Australia (AFP) — Serena Williams was sensationally knocked out of the Australian Open third round by China’s Wang Qiang, torpedoing her bid for a record-matching 24th Grand Slam crown.

Williams, 38, was the bookies’ favorite to win an eighth title at Melbourne Park but she came unstuck against a determined Wang, who took only one game off the American last time they met.

The 6-4, 6/7 (2/7), 7-5 upset means Williams, whose last Major win was at the 2017 Australian Open when she was pregnant, has fallen short at eight Grand Slams since returning from having a baby in 2018.

“I think my team always believed I could do it,” said 27th seed Wang, who lost 6-1, 6-0 to Williams in last year’s US Open quarterfinals.

“After the last time, I really did a lot of hard work on and off court. I believed I could do it.”

Her reward is a clash with Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, who upset Williams’ close friend Caroline Wozniacki, sending the Dane into retirement.

Williams, seeded eighth, started slow against the fast, positive Wang, and she was three break points down in the ninth game when Wang punched away a forehand to grab the break.

Serving for the set, Wang won a full-blooded rally to bring up set point and then sealed it to go one set up — a far cry from their last meeting in New York.

Williams came out firing for the second set but her chances plunged when she was broken to go 3-2 down, and it looked all over when she let Wang off the hook on break point in the eighth.

However, Wang wobbled when she was serving for the match and Williams won a titanic 24-shot rally to break the Chinese player for the first time, raising her arms in triumph.

I think my team always believed I could do it.

Williams staved off more break points before dominating the tiebreaker, where she benefited from another net cord and a Hawk-Eye review before tying the match with a service winner.

In the tense final set, both players held firm but Wang pounced when Williams was serving to stay in it, converting her third match point as the American netted.

Wang received a torrent of criticism from Chinese fans after her capitulation to Williams in the last eight at Flushing Meadows.

The 28-year-old from Tianjin has now achieved her deepest Australian Open run, after reaching the third round last year, a prelude to her best Major performance at the US Open.

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Boston back in business

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Marcus Smart (right) and Kemba Walker join hands in helping the Boston Celtics win Game 3. KEVIN C. COX/GETTY IMAGES/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MIAMI (AFP) — The Boston Celtics hit back on Saturday, leading wire-to-wire in a 117-106 victory over the Miami Heat that cut the gap in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Eastern Conference finals to two games to one.

Jaylen Brown scored 26 points and Jayson Tatum added 25 points and 14 rebounds for the Celtics, who avoided falling into an 0-3 hole from which no NBA team has rallied to win a best-of-seven playoff series.

After their 17-point lead slipped away in a game-two loss on Thursday — the second straight game they surrendered a double-digit lead in defeat — Celtics players could be heard exchanging heated words in their locker room.

But they were all on the same page on Saturday, displaying a sense of purpose in the NBA’s quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida, and maintaining their poise as the Heat narrowed a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit to five with less than a minute to play.

Marcus Smart, a perfect 10-for-10 from the foul line, produced a string of clutch free throws and the Celtics hung on for the win.

“Down 0-2 in the series, we played some games we thought we should have played better,” Brown said. “We wanted to make it an emphasis to come out tonight and play 48 minutes, and we did.”

Center Bam Adebayo led the Heat with 27 points, 16 rebounds and three steals. Rookie Tyler Herro scored 22 points for Miami and star forward Jimmy Butler scored 17.

But Boston outscored Miami 60-36 in the paint and held the Heat to 38.8 percent shooting from the floor.

“They came out, Boston did, with great force in this game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You do have to credit them for that. “They sustained it for the better majority of the game. We were on our heels most of the game.”

The Celtics were buoyed by the return from injury of playmaker Gordon Hayward, who played 30 minutes off the bench and scored six points with five rebounds and four assists in his first game in more than four weeks.

“The first five minutes I was gassed,” admitted Hayward, adding that he was feeling it in the right ankle he sprained in game one of the Heat’s first-round series against Philadelphia.

Hayward left the bubble to rehabilitate the injury, returning and going through quarantine before he could return to the court.

Boston led 31-22 at the end of the first quarter, and were up by 12 early in the second before the Heat surged back.

Miami, led by Herro’s 16 points in the period, twice cut the deficit to three points before the Celtics reasserted themselves to take a 62-50 lead into halftime.

“There’s some great guys in that locker room,” Brown said of the Celtics’ unity. “A lot of emotion, a lot of passion, but we’re a family and we’re here for each other.

“We exemplified that when we came out together and stayed together during some tough moments. They made a big run I think at the end of the second quarter, Tyler Herro made some big plays.

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Goal

Solid showing for Etheridge

Ian Suyu

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Azkals star goalkeeper Neil Etheridge came up with an impressive debut performance as Birmingham City FC battled Swansea City FC on Sunday to a rare nil-nil draw in the second match day of the English Football League.

Etheridge pulled off his first clean sheet of the season, highlighted by his last minute heroics against the heavily-powered Swansea team, regarded as one of the powerhouse teams.

Despite the goalless encounter between the squads, the Filipino stopper expressed his satisfaction with the team’s performance in the early stage of their season.

With an additional point on their end, the 30-year-old goalkeeper said that their performance will definitely boost their momentum for their upcoming matches.

“Great feeling to make my Birmingham City FC debut! A good point away from home, keeping the momentum,” said Etheridge, who is the first Filipino to ever play in the prestigious Premier League with his former club Cardiff City FC.

“The boys worked hard for 90 minutes, with the bonus clean sheet on the road.” Birmingham manager Aitor Karanka also agreed with Etheridge and said that the squad’s collective effort really countered the Spurs’ fiery offense.

Birmingham is currently seated in the middle of the league rankings, with one win and one draw on their card. The club is next scheduled to battle the visiting Rotherham United FC at their home turf on 26 September.

“I’m really pleased because it’s a second game against another team that was in the playoffs last year and this was another really good performance,” said Karanka.

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Argentine sends Nadal packing

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Rafael Nadal gets a beating from Diego Schwartzman. CLIVE BRUNSKILL/POOL/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ROME, Italy (AFP) — Clay court king Rafael Nadal crashed out of the Italian Open on Saturday, falling to a straight sets defeat to Argentine Diego Schwartzman in a tournament the Spaniard had won nine times.

Eight-seeded Schwartzman meted out a punishing 6-2, 7-5 loss in Nadal’s final warm-up before his bid for a 13th French Open, and record-equaling 20th Grand Slam in just over a week.

Top men’s seed Novak Djokovic also stumbled on the Roman clay but recovered to win through 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 against German qualifier Dominik Koepfer.

“It was not my night at all,” said Nadal, who had won all nine previous meetings against 28-year-old Schwartzman, but could not match his rival’s stunning game on the red clay of the Foro Italico.

“He played a great match, not me, when this happens you have to lose,” continued the 34-year-old.

“It’s not a moment for excuses. I’ve spent a long time without competing, I played two good matches.”

The two-time defending champion was making his comeback after a six-month coronavirus-enforced break having skipped the US Open ahead of Roland Garros with its first round on 27 September.

“Losing as many serves, you can’t expect to win a match, it’s something that I have to fix, I know how to do it,” he warned.

“It’s a special and unpredictable year, I’ll probably go back home and let’s see.”

Schwartzman next plays Canadian 12th seed Denis Shapovalov for a place in the final.

“Today I played my best tennis,” said the Argentine.

Djokovic, meanwhile, let his frustrations spill over in a two-hour battle with his 97th-ranked German rival.

Two weeks after his US Open default for accidently hitting a line judge with a ball, the Serb struggled to contain his emotions, throwing his racket after a lost service game, with shouts of anger resounding in the silence of the empty Central Court.

“Well, let me tell you that it’s not the first nor the last racquet that I’ll break in my career. I have done it before,” he warned.

“I’ll probably do it again. I don’t want to do it, but when it comes, it happens.

“That’s how I guess I release sometimes my anger.”

Djokovic was broken four times before advancing to his 11th semifinal in Rome, where he reached the final nine times and won four titles.

The 33-year-old next plays Norway’s Casper Ruud who also needed to fight to get past Italian fourth seed Matteo Berrettini 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5).

“Clay is definitely Casper’s preferred surface,” said Djokovic of his first meeting with the 34th-ranked Norwegian.

“This is where he feels most comfortable. It’s semifinals and it is anybody’s game. I’ll do some homework and be ready for that one.”

Ruud — son of former player Christian Ruud — becomes the first Norwegian to reach the last four of a Masters tournament.

Ruud, 21, was relishing “a great opportunity for me to play against one of the big three.”

Berrettini’s elimination ended home hopes in the tournament which will be open to 1,000 spectators from Sunday’s semifinals.

In the women’s competition, Simona Halep remained on track for a first Rome titles, advancing to the semifinals after Kazakh rival Yulia Putintseva retired while trailing 6-2, 2-0.

Halep has twice finished runner-up in Rome in 2017 and 2018, and “really wants to win” the tournament.

“It’s one of the biggest goals now,” said Halep who is on a run of 12 consecutive victories after winning in Dubai in February and in Prague after the lockdown.

She will play Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, the ninth seed, for a place in the semifinals after the Spaniard ousted US Open finalist Victoria Arazenka.

Defending champion Karolina Pliskova, the second seed, will play fellow Czech Marketa Vondrousova, last year’s French Open runner-up.

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Golf

Saso finishes joint eighth

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Yuka Saso ends up in the top ten. DAILY TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO

Yuka Saso rallied with a five-under par 67 on Sunday to finish in a tie for eighth place in the 51st Descente Ladies Tokai Classic in Aichi, Japan.

The 19-year-old Filipino-Japanese rookie, who won the long-driving contest Saturday, made six birdies against a lone bogey to finish the tournament on five-under 208, tying Mone Ami (70), Sumika Nakasone (70) and Ai Suzuki (71).

Saso opened with a birdie and added two more on 4 and 5 before stumbling with her lone bogey on 6. Then she birdied 9, 13 and 15 before cruising with pars the rest of the way.

She earned 1,876,000 yen (P869,869) for her fourth Top 10 finish in the tour.

Ayake Furue defeated Hiroko Azuma via playoff to win the tournament.

Both players finished the tournament on 15-under 201 after shooting identical 68s in the final round.

Pei-Ying Tsai settled for third place on 11-under after a 69 while three players — Shoko Sasaki (67), Naruha Miyata (68) and Miki Sakai (69) — tied for fifth on 10-under.

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Pogacar rules Tour de France

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Tadej Pogacar pedals his way to victory. KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

RONCHAMP, France (AFP) — In a dramatic last-gasp turnaround Tadej Pogacar won the Tour de France on Saturday as the overnight leader Primoz Roglic suffered a mountainside meltdown during a thrilling individual time-trial on the last day of real racing.

It was a staggering end to a bizarre Tour and the penultimate stage duel between two compatriots of different generations will go down as one of 2020’s great sporting moments.

The 21-year-old Pogacar will now lead the peloton into Paris on Sunday wearing the overall leader’s yellow jersey and, barring a freak disaster, will climb onto the top step of the podium.

“I cried, I’m sure I’ll cry again,” said Roglic, who led the race 12 days before wilting at the final hurdle.

Staggeringly, the youngster Pogacar will also pull on the polka dot jersey as best climber on the Tour, and also the white one as best under-25s rider.

“I’m just a kid from Slovenia,” he said.

“When I started watching in 2009 or 2010 I was following Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, watching television all day and then riding afterwards.”

“I could hear nothing on the final climb and I went for it with everything,” he said.

After the dust settled Pogacar said he had further targets.

“I’ll be going to the world championships at Imola,” he said ahead of the rescheduled event next weekend.

Often unlucky Australia’s veteran Richie Porte climbed to third overall here to make the Tour podium for the first time, while Spain’s Mikel Landa and Enric Mas rounded out the top five with strong finishes too.

“It was such a sweet moment,” Porte, 35, said.

“Everyone knows the journey I’ve been on to finally end up on the Tour podium after growing up in far away Australia.”

“The two Slovenians were on another planet to us, they threw bricks at each other, there was no holding back,” said the Trek rider.

Porte said he considered staying home as his wife was expecting a baby.

“She told me to go but didn’t want to see me at the back of the peloton.”

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Wolff devours Winged Foot

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Matthew Wolff makes a lot of heads turns. GREGORY SHAMUS/GETTY IMAGES/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK (AFP) — Matthew Wolff, a 21-year-old American making only his second major start, fired a five-under par 65 to seize the clubhouse lead in Saturday’s third round of the US Open.

The 2019 US college champion for Oklahoma State, who shared fourth at last month’s PGA Championship in his major debut, solved wicked Winged Foot to stand on five-under 205 after 54 holes.

“Every time I was in the rough and had a good lie I took advantage of it,” Wolff said. “I minimized the mistakes. It was a good day all around.”

South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, fired a 68 to stand second in the clubhouse on 209 with American Bryson DeChambeau the only under-par rival still on the course at two under.

“Any under-par round at a US Open you’ll take,” Oosthuizen said. “(Wind) definitely died down for us. Definitely lucky on the draw today.”

World number 36 Wolff, who won his first PGA Tour title at Minneapolis in only his third tour start, needed only 10 putts over his first nine holes, shooting a astonishing 30 on the front nine as veteran rivals struggled on the famed Mamaroneck, New York, layout.

He found only two of 14 fairways but made impressive iron shots to match Winged Foot’s lowest US Open round ever, Justin Thomas’s opening 65.

“I tried to shoot as low as possible with hitting as few fairways as possible,” Wolff joked. “That will get me ready for tomorrow.

“I got really fortunate with the lies in the rough. I just stuck with my game. We had a bunch of good lies. It was a grind out there.

“I’m just going to go out there, do the same thing and whatever happens happens.”

Wolff, who began the day four back of leader Patrick Reed, made a 14-foot birdie putt at the opening hole, a 15-footer to birdie the par-4 fourth, a five-footer for birdie at six and a 13-foot birdie putt at the par-3 seventh.

He closed the front nine with a three-foot birdie putt at the par-5 ninth then grinded out six pars in a row before his first bogey at the 16th, missing an eight-footer for par.

Wolff blasted out of the rough 10 feet from the cup at 18 and sank his closing birdie putt.

“I feel really good with my putting,” Wolff said. “I just told myself it was just another putt.”

Oosthuizen sank an eight-foot birdie putt at the fifth and added eight pars on the front nine. On the back side, he followed a bogey at the par-3 10th by sinking an 18-foot birdie putt at 11.

At 14, Oosthuizen blasted out of the rough to 10 feet and made his birdie putt, then found rough and a bunker to bogey 16 before dropping his approach at 17 to three feet and making another birdie in response to a bogey.

Oosthuizen suspects he will need a repeat performance to capture his first major in a decade.

“I need to play pretty similar to what I did today,” he said. “A lot can happen even in the last two, three holes, so try and get yourself in a position with three, four, five holes to go and see what you can do.

“Just need to go out and play some good golf tomorrow.”

Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, who made four birdies and three bogeys in his first seven holes, scrambled to a 70 to stand alongside American Xander Schauffele on level par 210.

Matsuyama, chasing his first major crown, opened with a birdie, followed with back-to-back birdies, then reeled off three birdies in a row on putts inside eight feet before a three-putt bogey at the par-3 seventh.

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Golf

Bianca, Dottie make cut

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For the second straight day, Bianca Pagdanganan and Dottie Ardina shot identical scores — even-par 72s — to safely make the cut in the LPGA Portland Classic at the Columbia Edgewater in Portland, Oregon Saturday.

Pagdanganan and Ardina are among 13 players tied for 43rd spot on two-under 142 and get a chance to play together for the first time in the final round on Sunday.

Both Filipinas are paired with American Andrea Lee at 9:15 a.m.

Pagdanganan, the 22-year-old rookie making her fourth start in the LPGA, began with three bogeys in the first six holes.

“I struggled a bit with my irons but I eventually got it together,” said the reigning Southeast Asian Games champion.

Pagdanganan strung up four straight birdies from 9 to 12 until she closed with a bogey on 18.

Averaging 274 yards off the tee, she found only nine of 14 fairways and missed seven greens.

The 26-year-old Ardina, on the other hand, missed only one fairway but missed six greens.

She had a roller-coaster round of five birdies against the same number of birdies.

Both ICTSI-backed players lie 12 shots behind leader Mel Reid who fired seven birdies in a seven-under par 65 to take a two-stroke lead over defending champion Hannah Green.

England’s Reid, a six-time winner on the Ladies European Tour who is chasing a first LPGA title, heads into Sunday’s final round on 12-under par 132.

“Put myself in great position, a position that everyone wants to be in, so I’m excited for the opportunity tomorrow,” said Reid, who strung together four birdies in a row from the sixth through the ninth and rolled in her final birdie of the day at the 18th.

“Just keep doing the same thing and see where tomorrow afternoon takes us,” added Reid, who shared seventh at the ANA Inspiration in Rancho Mirage, California, last week.

“I felt like I hit it really good last week, so kind of took that momentum going into this week,” said Reid, who said she benefitted from the day off on Thursday after the tournament was reduced to 54 holes because of poor air quality due to wildfires.

“I think it did me a favor having an extra day off,” she said. “I was pretty tired from last week.”

Australia’s Green, who shared the first-round lead with American Cydney Clanton, followed her opening 66 with a four-under par 68 for a 10-under total of 134.

She shook off a bogey at her opening hole, the 10th and put herself alone in second with a birdie bomb at her final hole, the ninth.

“I got off to such a great start, so it’s always hard to back up a low round,” said Green, whose two wins last year included her Portland triumph and her first major title at the Women’s PGA Championship.

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Goal

Barca: Messi our leader, captain

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MADRID, Spain (AFP) — Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has said he does not want to argue with Lionel Messi and believes the Argentinian is excited to play under new coach Ronald Koeman.

Bartomeu also said he has no intention of resigning, despite a petition to oust him as president gathering more than 20,000 signatures last week.

Messi has reintegrated with the team since admitting he had been forced to stay at Barcelona and claiming Bartomeu had broken his word over a clause in his contract allowing him to leave.

The 33-year-old could still depart for free when his contract expires next summer.

“As president I will not enter into any conflict with Messi,” Bartomeu said on Saturday in an interview with Catalan television channel TV3.

“Messi is our captain, the leader. We have seen him in recent days and does his talking on the field as we have seen. The issue is parked. What has been said has been said.

“I couldn’t allow, like anyone on the board or coaching staff, to let the best player in the world go. The team needs him. Things have to be discussed at home. You have to support the team and the players.

“We have to congratulate ourselves that Messi is still with us. He is excited about Koeman. The important thing is he plays for Barca, at his home. We want him to retire at the club and to start a project with Messi.”

The chaos surrounding Messi’s future prompted a motion of censure against Bartomeu, who will face a vote of no confidence if more than 16,520 of the 20,867 signatures against him are approved.

A vote will then be held and if two thirds of voting members go against Bartomeu, he will have to step down, with an election held perhaps as early as January.

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Hoops

Austria: COVID-19 brings balance to league

Bea Micaller

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Leo Austria believes the PBA’s 45th season is a wide-open race. DAILY TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO

The coronavirus pandemic has made the 45th season of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) into a free-for-all among the 12 teams, San Miguel head coach Leo Austria told the Daily Tribune.

Austria swears the lockdown, which began in the second week of March, brought balance to the league where only a few teams managed to reach the top.

“I agree with that. This pandemic was a trial for everyone but it became a great equalizer in the league,” Austria said in a telephone conversation Sunday morning.

“There’s no such thing as the most or least favored teams. For me, we are all now equal.”

The Beermen, who are itching to rewrite history by copping their sixth-straight Philippine Cup title this year, were the heavy favorites among 12 teams prior to the tip-off in early-March.

Parading a star-studded roster, Austria relies heavily on six-time MVP June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Chris Ross and Alex Cabagnot.

In the last six years, San Miguel has been the perennial team to beat.

The team started its campaign on the right note by defeating Magnolia, 94-78, during the season 45 grand opening last 9 March at the Araneta Coliseum.

This despite the absence of Fajardo who will be out for a year due to a shin injury and is likely to miss out the season reboot on 9 October in Angeles City, Pampanga.

Austria bared Fajardo’s absence will be a great factor in their run this year but shared his team is not just about the 6-foot-10 gentle giant.

“We will bank on our other player and I must admit, June Mar’s shoes are really hard to fill,” said Austria, holder of three PBA Baby Dalupan Coach of the Year plums.

“We still have Mo (Tautuaa) and other guys are expected to step up in June Mar’s absence.”

But despite a still intact team, the chief tactician bared that all teams have to start from scratch ahead of the league resumption.

“Before, SMB is I think the favorite team since we have June Mar and other veteran players but this pandemic, there is really no advantage to any team,” the 62-year-old mentor stressed.

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