Heeding the government’s health advisory, the Philippine Superliga (PSL) has postponed its Fans Day, originally set this Sunday, following the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
PSL chairman Philip Ella Juico yesterday said they are putting premium on the safety and welfare of the athletes, coaches and spectators and will reset the Fans Day which was initially scheduled at the Activity Center of Robinson’s Place in Ermita, Manila to a later date.
All eight competing teams were supposed to show up for an afternoon of games, fun and surprises as a kickoff activity for the new season of the PSL starting with the import-flavored Grand Prix on 22 February.
Reigning champion Petron and other heavy contenders like Cignal, Chery Tiggo, F2 Logistics and Generika-Ayala were to give fans a preview of their respective rosters.
New-look Sta. Lucia, PLDT Home Fibr and Marinerang Pilipina were also set to reveal new recruits.
But with the Department of Health advising to avoid coming up with large gatherings to prevent the spread of the deadly virus that already infected more than 60,000 people in China and 25 other countries, the league decided to put the welfare of its fans above all.
“The number of those infected by the novel coronavirus is spiking while governments of affected countries are trying to contain its spread,” Juico said.
“With this, it is only logical, and responsible, for us to cancel our Fans Day this Sunday to keep any untoward incident from happening. Although we want it to go on as planned, we have to put special premium on the safety and welfare of our athletes, coaches, officials, fans and other stakeholders.”
NextGen stars debut in French Open
Sebastian Korda was one of three NextGen ATP stars to advance to the Roland Garros main draw for the first time.
The 20-year-old, son of 1992 runner-up Petr Korda, booked his place in the first round in Paris with a 7-5, 6-2 triumph against Aslan Karatsev on Friday.
Korda broke the seventh-seeded Russian on five occasions to claim victory in 90 minutes on Court 7.
“I was really emotional and super excited to qualify for the main draw,” said Korda.
Korda is not the only son of a former Roland Garros finalist to qualify for this year’s event.
Emilio Gomez, son of 1990 champion Andres Gomez, booked his place in the main draw on Thursday.
“It’s pretty cool and [I am] really happy that Emilio got through as well and to keep our dads’ names out there,” said Korda.
The American will make his second straight appearance in a Grand Slam main draw, following his debut at the level at this year’s US Open. Korda pushed eventual quarterfinalist Denis Shapovalov to four sets in the first round.
After failing to qualify in each of his three previous Grand Slam appearances last year, 21-year-old Jurij Rodionov will make his main draw debut at a major championship in Paris.
The Austrian, who claimed two ATP Challenger Tour trophies earlier this year, defeated countryman Sebastian Ofner 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in two hours and 18 minutes.
Tomas Machac, who was competing in his first Grand Slam qualifying draw, overcame Frederico Ferreira Silva 7-6(6), 6-4. The 19-year-old Czech also claimed straight-sets wins against Julian Lenz and Go Soeda earlier this week.
Michael Mmoh will also make his debut in the first round at Roland Garros this year. The 22-year-old recovered from a set down to beat Renzo Olivo 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.
“It feels awesome and I won a main draw match at the Australian Open and US Open this year and this feels better because it’s the first time I qualified for a Grand Slam tournament and I had to earn it the hard way,” said Mmoh. “It feels good to play well on clay and to win three matches.
“It means a lot to qualify and I found a way to win it the hard way. I am confident going into the main draw and I couldn’t be happier for Sebi. We spent a lot of time practicing together and it shows how much work we put in during the break.” (ATP)
James with triple-double as Lakers advance to NBA Finals
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers finished off the Denver Nuggets, 117-107, in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals on Sunday (Manila time) to secure the first seat in the NBA championship.
James posted his 27th career playoffs triple-double with 38 points, 10 assists and pulled down 16 rebounds while Anthony Davis got 27 points to carry the Lakers, who wrapped up the best-of-seven series 4-1, back to the NBA Finals for the first time since the Kobe Bryant-led squad won it all in 2010.
Los Angeles denied Denver a chance to mount another series comeback attempt. The Nuggets successfully pulled off historic come-from-behind victories in the first two rounds of the playoffs against Utah and the LA Clippers after being down 3-1.
The Lakers also booted out Portland and Houston both in Game 5.
James took over in the fourth quarter, relentlessly attacking the basket to keep the Nuggets, who erased a 16-point deficit with a furious rally in the third quarter, at bay.
Denver went down, 72-56, with eight minutes left in the third before the Nuggets chipped away their deficit to knot the game at 84 off a pair of Jamal Murray free throws with 11 seconds remaining. Davis put Los Angeles back on top with a trey with just a second left in the period.
Kobe Bryant was NBA Finals MVP in 2010 when the Lakers lifted their 16th title, and it has been an emotional road to the finals this season for the Lakers after the death of Bryant in a helicopter crash in January.
They will take on the winners of the Eastern Conference final series between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. The Heat lead that series 3-2 with game six coming up on Monday.
“We’re going to enjoy it tonight, but we understand we’ve got bigger fish to fry,” James said as the Western Conference title was celebrated on court. “We understand there’s a bigger goal.”
Jerami Grant and Nikola Jokic had 20 points each while Murray had 19 for the Nuggets.
Cold comfort as Roland Garros starts in shadow of coronavirus
Roland Garros gets underway in chilly, damp Paris on Sunday still in the grip of the coronavirus which organizers had hoped they would escape by unilaterally pushing back the clay court Grand Slam event by four months.
Opening day will see 2018 champion Simona Halep start her bid for a third major while 40-year-old Venus Williams kicks off her 23rd French Open.
Andy Murray takes on fellow three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka in the day’s marquee tie in a rematch of their epic 2017 semi-final duel.
However, it will be an eerily unfamiliar tournament, even for defending champion Rafael Nadal, chasing a 13th Paris title, and 2016 winner and world number one Novak Djokovic, as well as Serena Williams, pursuing an elusive 24th major.
A resurgence of Covid-19 cases means that only 1,000 spectators will be allowed into the grounds each day.
In 2019, more than 500,000 people watched the two-week tournament on site.
Organizers had hoped to welcome 20,000 fans a day but in the space of just a few weeks, that figure was quickly downsized to 11,500, then 5,000 before the French government slashed it to a 1,000 maximum.
Millions up in smoke’
“Tens of millions of euros have gone up in smoke,” said French Tennis Federation (FFT) marketing chief Stephane Morel as he mourned the loss of ticket income.
Players, meanwhile, have been confined to two tournament hotels with tight restrictions on their movements.
It’s at the hotels where they undergo Covid-19 testing, a source of controversy and recrimination in the build-up.
Last weekend, five players due to take part in men’s qualifying were stood down.
Two had tested positive while three others had been in contact with coach Petar Popovic who also tested positive.
Popovic told L’Equipe it was a “scandal” and had “(Rafael) Nadal been in our shoes, he would have had the right to a second or third test”.
On Friday, veteran Spaniard Fernando Verdasco said he was “outraged and frustrated” after being withdrawn following one failed Covid-19 test which he claimed fell between a steady stream of negative results.
Verdasco said he should have been allowed a second test.
Inside the grounds of Roland Garros, situated in the prosperous western district of Paris, there are further signs of the effect of the pandemic.
Normally bustling shops, food outlets and other commercial stalls have been shuttered.
Everyone at the tournament, including players if they are not in action or in practice, is masked. Hand sanitizers dot the site.
Instead of the early summer sun usually associated with the tournament in its traditional May-June slot, players will shiver in 16 degrees (60F) on Sunday with rain and high winds forecast for the first week.
That should mean overtime for the new retractable roof over the showpiece Court Philippe Chatrier.
On court Sunday, Halep, the top seed in the absence of world number one Ashleigh Barty, who opted not to defend her title on health grounds, takes on Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo, ranked at 70.
Wimbledon champion Halep is the favourite especially with US Open champion Naomi Osaka missing through injury.
Former world number one Murray tackles 2015 champion Wawrinka in his first appearance in Paris in three years.
Venus at 40
In 2017, the Swiss prevailed in a five-set semi-final, a match so grueling that it contributed to Murray’s lengthy battle with a hip injury which pushed him to the brink of retirement.
The day after sister Serena celebrated her 39th birthday, 40-year-old Venus Williams, who made her debut in Paris in 1997, takes on Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia.
Nadal, bidding to win a 13th Roland Garros and move level with the absent Roger Federer on a record 20 majors, plays Monday.
However, the 34-year-old Spanish star says this year’s tournament will be his “most difficult ever”.
He has also complained about the new Wilson ball being used, claiming it’s too heavy and potentially dangerous.
Nadal starts against Egor Gerasimov, the 83rd-ranked Belarusian.
Djokovic, chasing an 18th major, will get underway on Tuesday boasting a record in 2020 of 31 wins and just one loss due to his US Open default when he swiped a ball away in frustration and struck a line judge.
“I will make sure I don’t make the same mistake twice,” said the 33-year-old Serb who faces Sweden’s Mikael Ymer in the first round.
Casimero crushes Micah in three, retains WBO belt
Call him the Blond Bomber.
Filipino puncher John Riel Casimero proved too much for outgunned Ghanaian challenger Duke Micah as the WBO bantamweight titlist scored a devastating third-round KO Sunday (Manila time) at the Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Making the first defense of the title, Casimero forced referee Steve Willis to stop the one-sided bout just a minute into the third canto after a wicked left uppercut turned Micah’s legs into rubber.
Casimero had floored the previously unbeaten Micah in the second round with a left hook to the side of the war.
So hurt was Micah that he walked towards his corner at the end of the round on spaghetti legs.
Just seconds into the third stanza, the ring doctor got up and motioned to the third man to let him examine Micah.
The physician advised Willis that Micah could continue but made it clear that at the first sign of trouble, Willis has to pull the plug immediately.
That’s exactly what Wilis did when that Casimero uppercut momentarily contorted Micah’s face and had him in trouble anew.
The victory raised Casimero’s record to 30-4 with 21 KOs while the loss was the first for the African, who dropped to 24-1 with 19 KOs.
Casimero, who bleached his hair blond for the fight, did a pushup using just his right hand soon after it was over as his cornermen, starring chief trainer and former world champ Bones Adams, went up the ring to celebrate.
American boxing man Sean Gibbons, who heads the Manny Pacquiao-owned MP Promotions, gave Casimero a hug.
Casimero was the massive favorite in the scheduled 12-rounder and was supposed to battle Naoya Inoue of Japan in April in Las Vegas when the world plunged into a lockdown owing to the coronavirus.
Gibbons, who represents Casimero, says the heavy-handed Ormoc, Leyte native will be back in the ring sometime in January.
The win also meant that the number of Filipino world champions remains at four. The others are Pacquiao, Jerwin Ancajas and Pedro Taduran, all fighting under MP Promotions.
It was a historic night for Casimero, who became the first Filipino fighter to see action with a world title on the line during the COVID-19 era.
Clash of titans
LOS AGELES (AFP) — Manny Pacquiao is mulling a possible fight with Irish mixed martial arts star Conor McGregor as he plots his return to the ring, representatives of the Filipino boxing icon told AFP on Friday.
Sean Gibbons, president of Manny Pacquiao Promotions, told AFP in an email a fight between the eight-division world champion and McGregor would be a “tremendous global event.”
Pacquiao, 41, has not fought since claiming the World Boxing Association (WBA) welterweight crown with a stunning victory over Keith Thurman in Las Vegas in July last year.
A bout against McGregor, who fought welterweight king Floyd Mayweather in a money-spinning 2017 fight, would guarantee Pacquiao another lucrative payday.
Pacquiao has successfully combined a political career in the Philippines, where he is an elected senator while continuing to box at the highest level.
Gibbons said that the two camps were a “long way” from agreeing a fight, but confirmed “it is (definitely) one of the fights being considered for the Senator’s return in 2020.”
“The idea has been brought up on a few occasions for Senator Pacquiao and Conor McGregor to fight,” Gibbons said, adding that McGregor had shown in his fight with Mayweather he was capable of challenging “the best boxers in the world.”
In a statement, Pacquiao’s chief of staff Jake Joson confirmed the veracity of the report.
He said the eight-division world champion would be fighting the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) star to generate revenue that would help over the country’s fight against novel coronavirus.
Joson said negotiations had been going on since last year, but was put on hold when the deadly pandemic broke out in March when the entire country was placed under community quarantine.
And now that McGregor had already made the announcement, they are confirming that the fight is in the pipeline and might push through in the Middle East next year.
“For the sake of all the Filipino COVID-19 victims, Senator Manny Pacquiao will be fighting UFC superstar Conor McGregor next year. The huge portion of his earnings will proceed to those who are affected nationwide by the pandemic,” Joson said in a statement.
“Regarding the news coming from McGregor himself, we don’t deny it. In fact, our lawyers are finalizing all the confidential details, but both boxers are getting ready for one epic last boxing fight.”
“According to Paradigm Sports Management head Audie Attar, the fight may happen in the Middle East next year.”
Earlier Friday, McGregor, who has a long history of making outlandish claims on social media, had said on Twitter he was “boxing Manny Pacquiao next in the Middle East.”
Phoenix mulls Topex promotion
Phoenix Super LPG is mulling the possibility of removing the word “interim” next to Topex Robinson’s title as head coach when it marches to the resumption of the 45th season of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) next week.
Fuel Masters team manager Paolo Bugia said Robinson is already ripe for a professional coaching debut after a long service as deputy with Alaska and Phoenix while calling the shots for Lyceum of the Philippines University in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Bugia said with head coach Louie Alas no longer in the squad, the door is wide open for the 45-year-old Robinson to enter.
“Yes, that’s very possible,” Bugia told Daily Tribune when asked about the possibility of elevating Robinson into a permanent status.
“He’s our No. 1 consideration, but, of course, the top management would have the final say on this.”
With Robinson joining the Fuel Masters as Alas’ chief deputy in 2017, they were able to make a deep playoff run before falling prey to powerhouse San Miguel Beer in the semifinals of the Philippine Cup last year.
Now, that Alas had been let go, Robinson is facing a massive challenge as he handles a team that will miss the veteran presence of Calvin Abueva.
But Bugia stressed that they are not in a hurry to appoint Robinson.
“Actually, to be honest, we have yet to decide. Right now, we are trying to launch the bubble and we are scrambling finding the right mix of players,” he said.
MIAMI (AFP) — The Boston Celtics roared back in the second half to beat the Miami Heat, 121-108, on Friday to stay alive in the NBA playoffs.
Jayson Tatum scored 31 points and pulled down 10 rebounds and Jaylen Brown added 28 points as six Celtics scored in double figures and Boston cut the deficit in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals to three games to two.
Goran Dragic led the Heat with 23 points and Duncan Robinson added 20 for Miami, who are trying to reach the NBA finals for the first time since 2014.
With their season hanging in the balance, the Celtics exploded for 41 points in the third quarter to turn the tide in a game dominated early by Miami.
Under solid pressure from the Heat defense, the Celtics had made just one of their first 12 shots and connected on just five of 20 from the field in the first quarter.
Boston trailed by as many as 12 in the opening period, which ended with the Heat leading, 26-18.
Miami again built the lead to 12 in the second period and finished the first half with a 58-51 lead.
But Boston was beginning to see some shots fall, and as it turned up the intensity on both ends of the floor after the interval Miami had no answer.
The Celtics opened the second half with a 20-5 scoring run.
Marcus Smart’s three-pointer tied it up at 60-60 and Boston took the lead for the first time in the contest, 62-60, on Brown’s layup off a feed from Kemba Walker.
They wouldn’t trail again.
Walker’s three-pointer with 4:26 left in the third gave Boston a 10-point lead and the Celtics took a nine-point edge into the final frame, when they continued to pour it on.
Tatum scored 17 in the third and the Celtics outrebounded the Heat, 16-5, in the quarter.
“We got back to playing Celtics basketball,” Walker said.
“I felt like early in the game we were a little frustrated, bickering at each other at the refs. We got out of it, and just let the game come to us.”
The Celtics will try to build on their momentum against a Heat team determined to put them away in Game 6 on Sunday.
The winners of the series take on either the Los Angeles Lakers or Denver Nuggets for the NBA title in the quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida.
The Lakers lead the Nuggets three games to one in the Western Conference finals.
Boston’s German center Daniel Theis contributed a double-double effort of 15 points and 13 rebounds, Smart finished with 12 points and Gordon Hayward chipped in 10.
“Boston played great in that second half, they deserved and earned what they got,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
“We did not compete hard enough defensively and we paid the price for that. But you do have to credit Boston, they played with great force particularly off the dribble.”
Spoelstra noted that the Celtics scored just four points in the paint in the first quarter but added: “It was just a deluge to the rim after that.”
Boston scored 30 points in the paint in the second half and had 13 fastbreak points to Miami’s zero after the break.
“We didn’t defend as well as we could in the first half and that’s what got our offense going in the second half,” Tatum said.
“We just locked in, we were all on the same page.”
ACCI clears Club 515 of COVID violations
The Alabang Country Club Inc. (ACCI) on Saturday released the results of its investigation and ruled that the Club 515 did not breach COVID-19 protocols when it organized a two-day event on 28 and 29 August.
The ACCI board, guided by the recommendation of the special committee, concluded that the two-day event was not a regular golf tournament but “only a friendly game to celebrate the birthdays of some 515 members falling from April to August 2020.”
Alabang declared that it has been complying with IATF regulations, including the ban on club-sponsored tournaments.
In connection with the Club 515, ACCI said its investigation showed that “the friendly competition was held within the parameters set by the IATF rules.”
The event drew 75 participants, all members of Club 515.
A maximum of four players made up each flight with a 15-minute interval between flights.
Other club members not affiliated with Club 515 were allowed to play.
Each participant made his reservation through the automated reservation system.
There were no spectators during the event. Golfers stayed within safe distance from each other since the course sits on a 74-hectare lot.
Wearing of masks was mandatory except for a few who were asked to remove it briefly for photo opportunities.
Packed lunches were ordered for those who played on Saturday so they had the option to bring them home.
Around 10 participants decided to consume the packed lunches in the club, conscious of social distancing.
Raffle prizes put up by the birthday celebrators were held via the ZOOM platform.
The ACCI said it takes club protocols seriously and has adopted measures to enforce them.
These include deputizing additional safety officers to constantly remind the strict adherence to health and preventive protocols;
Close monitoring via CCTV camera of members, employees, workers and providers;
Continuous release of official advisories and communications through the club’s social media accounts like Facebook and Viber to ensure awareness and compliance of members with IATF rules and regulations.
The ACCI added that it regularly holds refresher training of staff and strictly enforces the rule against sharing of food among members and guests dining in the club.
“The published articles have unfairly dragged the club into the limelight with its false portrayal of a seemingly insensitive breach of health protocols,” the ACCI said.
“While there was no real violation, this perceived transgression of rules resulted in heightened anxiety for our members, the public and the government,” ACCI added.
In its desire to impose discipline and strict compliance with government rules and health protocols, the ACCI strongly reprimanded all participants with a warning that a repeat will merit a severe penalty.
The ACCI also ordered Club 515 to issue a letter of apology addressed to the members of the club.
A day before ACCI released its findings, Daily Tribune published Club 515’s lengthy letter of explanation and apology to club members in its digital edition.
Thiem shoots for ‘bonus’
PARIS, France (AFP) — It took Dominic Thiem 26 attempts to win his first Grand Slam title and now with the US Open crown in his collection, he admits what follows next will be “a bonus.”
The 27-year-old Austrian will be hoping to make it back-to-back major triumphs at Roland Garros, which gets underway on Sunday.
Should world No. 1, and 2016 champion, Novak Djokovic, or 12-time winner Rafael Nadal unexpectedly falter, it is Thiem who is most likely to benefit.
“I felt great coming here because I’ve achieved such a big goal. I mean, at one point whatever comes now is somehow a bonus,” the world No. 3 said.
“On the other hand, I want to do the best I can in every single tournament I play.”
“Especially here in Roland Garros, I had four crazy years with two semifinals, two finals. I love the conditions here. I love the whole tournament.”
Thiem has lost the last two finals in Paris to Nadal as well as the 2017 semifinal against the Spaniard.
He also fell in the semifinal stage to Djokovic in 2016.
Thiem missed the Italian Open in Rome in the immediate aftermath of his victory in New York.
That left him without any clay court tennis since a quarterfinal run in Rio back in February before the coronavirus brought the season to a halt.
Like Nadal, Thiem has also expressed reservations over the new Wilson ball being used at Roland Garros this year.
Nadal complained they are too heavy and could cause physical damage.
“I practiced two days at home with the ball. Now, of course, here. I’m little bit sad because the Babolat at Roland Garros, it was my favourite ball, it was perfect,” Thiem explained.
“The Wilson ball is good, it’s just a little bit slower. It gets a little bit bigger after a while.”
“In general, the conditions are going to be slower. It can be rainy; it can be very cold. So we will see.”