Already regarded as the greatest women’s player ever to pick up a tennis racquet, Serena Williams’s legacy is already assured but the record equaling 24th Grand Slam that would help build statistical proof remains frustratingly out of reach.
Twenty years ago a 17-year-old Williams walked away from the U.S. Open with what would be the first of her 23 Grand Slam titles. On Saturday she had the chance to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record but instead it was Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu grabbing the trophy with a 6-3 7-5 win.
That victory not only raised questions about whether Williams would ever get beyond 23 Grand Slam titles, many also viewed 19-year-old Andreescu’s win as a changing of the guard in women’s tennis.
Since giving birth to her daughter in 2017, Williams has not won a tournament.
Four times now, twice at Wimbledon (2018, 2019) and at the U.S. Open (2018, 2019) Williams has come agonizingly close to that 24th Grand Slam only to fall at the final hurdle.
She did not just lose all four finals — she failed to win a single set.
The next time Williams can attempt to equal Court’s record at the Australian Open in January she would be 38, the climb to the summit ever steeper.
But a defiant Williams refused to accept there would not be another Grand Slam in her future.
“All of it honestly, truly is super frustrating,” said Williams. “I’m, like, so close, so close, so close, yet so far away.
“I don’t know what to say. I guess I got to keep going if I want to be a professional tennis player.
“And I just got to just keep fighting through it.
“I’m not necessarily chasing a record. I’m just trying to win Grand Slams.
“It’s definitely frustrating. I’m still doing what I can do.”
MOVING THE NEEDLE
Like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, Williams is an athlete who moves the needle.
What she wears, eats and says matters.
In the Big Apple, where there is no shortage of distractions for A-listers on a Saturday afternoon, it was the Serena Williams show that was the hot ticket.
When the Queen of Tennis holds court in New York it attracts sporting royalty and on occasion the real thing. Williams’s good friend Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, was cheering her on from the players box.
But no amount of support, royal or otherwise, could lift Williams to the level she needed on Saturday, Andreescu breaking the former world number one to open the final and never letting her opponent get her nose in front.
Williams’s power game has never been in question. Her serve and crushing forehands can still strike fear into opponents.
But the rest of Williams’s game has begun to show signs of wear of time.
She can no longer command the court the way she once did, and her coach Patrick Mouratoglou suggested Williams’s greatest weapon — her unshakable confidence — had faltered under the weight of her own high expectations.
Before the U.S. Open the air of invincibility that once surrounded Williams had all but vanished.
Then she arrived at the doors to Flushing Meadows and looked unbeatable, steamrolling her way into her 10th U.S. Open final.
This was not an old Williams. This was the Williams of old.
Any concerns over the back spasms that forced her to quit the Toronto final and pull out of Cincinnati were eased when Williams opened her Flushing Meadows account with a 6-1 6-1 demolition of old rival Maria Sharapova.
That was followed by routine wins over Karolina Muchova, Petra Martica and Cat McNally before blasting her way into the last four with a jaw dropping 6-1 6-0 rout of China’s Wang Qiang to register her 100th U.S. Open victory.
An even more ruthless 6-3 6-1 semi-final win over fifth seed Elina Svitolina seemed to indicate that the title was there for the taking.
But on Saturday she was looking across the net at a mirror image of her younger self.
A player with a big serve, thundering forehand, all court game, intensity and a cat burglar’s cool, reports Reuters.
Down a set and 5-1 the stress and frustration was written all over Williams’s face.
Then the spirit of a champion took over, Williams fighting off match point and sweeping through four games to level the set and sending a jolt of electricity through a seething Arthur Ashe Stadium.
But in the end youth was served, Andreescu living up to expectations and Williams unable to live up to her own.
Mikel: Hazard’s a lazy player, Lampard hardest working
Eden Hazard has been brandished the “laziest player I have played with” by former Chelsea team-mate John Obi Mikel, while also insisting Hazard remained an “incredible talent”.
Obi Mikel, now playing in Turkey, spent 11 seasons at Chelsea, five of them alongside Hazard, but was far from complimentary of the Real Madrid forward’s work ethic, while insisting Chelsea boss Frank Lampard was the hardest working, reports Sky Sports.
Hazard’s start to life in Spain has not gone to plan, with injuries hampering his progress.
Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has questioned the fitness work Hazard has put in earlier this month, with former team-mate Mikel the latest to question Hazard’s methods.
“The laziest player I have played alongside is Eden Hazard,” Mikel told ‘beIN Sports’ in Turkey.
“Hazard has an incredible talent, maybe not as good as [Lionel] Messi, but he can do whatever he wants with the ball at his feet.
“He didn’t like to train hard. While we were working he was waiting for us to finish training just standing there. But on Sundays he was always man of the match, it was unbelievable.”
When asked who the hardest working player he’s played alongside was he said “Frank Lampard,” with no hesitation whatsoever.
Euro 2020: van Dijk to miss Holland’s final qualifier
Virgil van Dijk will not play in the Netherlands’ final Euro 2020 qualifier against Estonia in Amsterdam for personal reasons.
He played the whole game as the Dutch drew 0-0 in Northern Ireland on Saturday to qualify for the finals.
But the captain left their training camp and will not feature on Tuesday, reports the BBC.
A statement released by the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) said Van Dijk’s absence for the Estonia game was due to “personal circumstances”.
The 28-year-old Liverpool defender has not missed a minute of Premier League football this season, with the Reds eight points clear.
The next league match for the leaders is away at Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Van Dijk, who cost £75m when he joined from Southampton in January 2018, has featured in 64 of Liverpool’s 66 league matches since then.
Brazil rallies to win U-17 World Cup
* France beats Holland for bronze
Hosts Brazil staged a remarkable comeback for the second time in a week on Sunday to beat Mexico 2-1 in front of their own fans and win the Under-17 World Cup for a fourth time.
Just three days after they recovered from being 2-0 down to beat France 3-2 in the semi-finals, Brazil scored two goals in the last 10 minutes to overcome their Latin rivals.
Although Brazil had more of the early chances, Mexico took the lead at 66 minutes when Bryan Gonzalez rose between two defenders to head a cross from the left into the net.
Kaio Jorge equalised from the penalty spot with six minutes remaining after the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) advised officials to pull play back following a challenge on Veron.
Then three minutes into stoppage time, substitute Lazaro ran on to a cross ball and calmly fired home, to the delight of the home crowd.
The Flamengo forward had also come off the bench to score the winner in Thursday’s last-minute win over France.
“They use the VAR when it is convenient for them,” said an unhappy Mexican coach Marco Ruiz. “We had the game under control until the VAR decision. They grew after that.”
The win was revenge of a sorts for Brazil, who lost 3-0 to Mexico in the under-17 final in 2005, as well as to their under-23 team in the final of the 2012 Olympics.
Earlier in the day, Arnaud Kalimuendo-Muinga scored a hat trick to help France come from behind to beat the Netherlands 3-1 and take third-place.
Dutchman Sontje Hansen won the golden boot for the top goalscorer with six goals.
Ronaldo vows to break international goals’ record
Cristiano Ronaldo vowed to break the world record for men’s international goals after scoring his 99th Portugal goal in a 2-0 win over Luxembourg to clinch their place at Euro 2020.
He is 10 behind Iran legend Ali Daei’s tally of 109, after his most prolific year for Portugal with 14 goals.
“All records must be broken and I will beat that record,” he said.
Bernardo Silva’s ball over the top allowed Bruno Fernandes to fire them ahead and Ronaldo scored a late second, reports the BBC.
Holders Portugal needed to beat Luxembourg to make sure of a place at next summer’s tournament.
Fernando Santos’ 2016 winners finished second in Group B, three points clear of Serbia who drew 2-2 against Ukraine.
Ronaldo must wait until the next international break in March for the chance to become just the second male player to reach 100 international goals.
The Juventus forward struck his ninth international hat-trick – and the seventh since he turned 30 – on Thursday against Lithuania to set up the opportunity to hit a century on Sunday.
He says he is not fully fit, having been replaced in Juventus’ last two games before the international break.
“I wasn’t 100% and I’m still not,” he said. “In the last three weeks, I have played at a slightly reduced capacity.
“But when it comes to sacrificing myself for my club and my national team, I do it with pride.”
Tsitsipas fights back to beat Thiem and claim ATP Finals title
Stefanos Tsitsipas confirmed his meteoric rise into the highest echelon of men’s tennis by battling back to beat Austrian Dominic Thiem 6-7(6) 6-2 7-6(4) in a compelling title duel at the ATP Finals on Sunday.
The 21-year-old debutant, the youngest of the eight qualifiers for the elite season-ender at the O2 Arena, displayed resilience and flair in equal measure to become the youngest champion since Lleyton Hewitt in 2001.
Thiem edged an intense first set full of powerful baseline rallies but Tsitsipas, the first Greek player to qualify for the ATP’s blue-riband event, was undaunted and responded in style.
As Thiem’s level dipped, Tsitsipas surged into a 4-0 lead in the second set and then led 3-1 in the decider, reports Reuters.
Twice French Open runner-up Thiem was not finished though and fought back to take the match into a tiebreak.
World number six Tsitsipas, the crowd favorite, led 4-1 but was pegged back to 4-4 before reeling off the last three points, sealing victory when Thiem ballooned a forehand wide.
It is the fourth successive year the tournament has had a first-time winner and incredibly it is just one year since Tsitsipas won the NextGen Finals title for the best up-and-coming players on the men’s Tour.
After a sensational week in London, Tsitsipas looks poised to lead the charge for the young guns in 2020.
“I have no clue how I played so well in the second set,” Tsitsipas said on court. “I was nervous playing in such a big event. But I’m so relieved by the outstanding performance and the fight I showed today.”
Thiem will rue the 40 unforced errors that undermined him on Sunday but back-to-back wins over Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic this week proved that, at 26, he is moving into his prime years, and not just on his favored clay.
Tsistipas was the youngest player to reach the final on debut since American Jim Courier in 1991.
He was also playing for the third successive day after losing a superb group match against Nadal on Friday and eclipsing six-time champion Federer in the semi-finals.
But he showed few signs of nerves or fatigue as he wore down Thiem with his courageous all-court attacking game to pocket a $2.6 million winner’s cheque.
Thiem, who has been battling a cold all week, was hanging on at times in the first set, saving break points at 1-2 and 3-4.
But he edged the tiebreak. Tsitsipas saved one set point with an athletic volley but then offered up another chance which Thiem took by landing a powerful first serve.
Tsistipas’s response was emphatic. He won 16 of the first 18 points of a second set he bagged in 25 minutes.
Under siege Thiem showed guts to hold serve at the start of the decider but when he slapped a backhand into the net to hand Tsitsipas the first break in the third game it appeared the match was slipping away.
The Austrian, whose run to the final will see him end the year ranked fourth in the world, then went for broke, throwing the kitchen sink at Tsitsipas as his groundstrokes rocked the Greek and he leveled the set at 3-3.
Twice Tsitsipas nervelessly held serve to stay afloat as the final moved into a final-set tiebreak for the first time since 2005 and only the fourth time in the event’s 50-year history.
Tsitsipas said after beating Federer that he would love an army of fans like the Swiss great. So it was music to his ears as “Tsitsipas…Tsitsipas” rang around the cavernous hall.
Despite being pegged back to 4-4 he reeled off the next three points to seal his third title of the year.
Olympics Eagles were unlucky – Amapakabo
Nigeria U-23 coach Imama Amapakabo has said his side were unlucky to crash out of the ongoing CAF U-23 African Cup of Nations in the group stage, missing the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games ticket.
The team played a goalless draw with South Africa in Cairo on Friday which was not enough for them to progress to the semifinal of the U-23 AFCON putting the coach under intense criticism.
“We were unlucky and unfortunate to go out because we gave everything, but it’s totally out of my hands,” he told BBC.
“I know that, as a coach, you come under pressure. We have to look at the future – this [Olympic hopes] has ended, whichever way we want to look at it.”
Africa’s most successful side at the Games, Nigeria went out of the U-23 Africa Cup of Nations on Friday with questions raised about Amapakabo’s future following the country’s poor results under his watch.
The Super Eagles B side failed to qualify for the 2020 African Nations Championship (CHAN) and his team also suffered an embarrassing early exit at the regional WAFU Cup tournament in October.
Amapakabo is aware that his position has become untenable following his recent failure, but said that it is up to his employers to make a decision on his future.
“I can’t say anything now because it all depends on what the federation wants in terms of going forward.” he added.
Nigeria – bronze medallists at Rio 2016 – won the 1996 Olympic football tournament and are the first African country to complete an Olympic medal sweep having won a sliver medal in Beijing in 2008.
AFCON 2021 qualifiers: Eagles whip Lesotho 4-2
Victor Osimhen scored twice as the Super Eagles defeated Lesotho 4-2 in 2021 African Cup of Nations qualifiers Match Day 2 tie at the Setsoto stadium on Sunday.
Alex Iwobi and Samuel Chukwueze were also on score sheet for Nigeria while Chidozie Awaziem conceded an own goal.
Manager Gernot Rohr made two changes to the starting line-up that beat Benin Republic in Uyo five days ago, with Moses Simon and Awaziem coming into the side at the expense of Samuel Kalu and Jamilu Collins respectively.
Lesotho took the lead against the run of play when Masoabi Nkoto took advantage of some lax Nigeria defending to put the hosts ahead after eleven minutes following a cross from the left channel.
But the lead would only last till the 26th minute when Osimhen led the Super Eagles press, charging down the right to set up Iwobi who slotted home from close range.
The duo of Chukwueze and Osimhen looked particularly dangerous on the break and alongside Simon, who tested goalkeeper Ntsane Lichaba with a ferocious drive from a free-kick.
On the 36th minute, Osimhen was at it again when he found space to ping in a lob which Chukwueze got on the end of to beat Lichaba with a good header.
The Lille striker was proving too difficult to handle for The Crocodiles, as he would yet threaten after the break when he rattled the cross bar with a shot.
He will then get his goal deep into the game when Ola Aina broke free from the right flank to play him in for a neat finish and take the game to 3-1.
Osimhen made it 4-1 on the 84th minute mark when impressive second half substitute Ramon Azeez shrugged off his marker to find the long-limbed front man who rounded Lichaba to grab his brace as Nigeria looked all but set to close out 2019 in style.
Osimhen wants Yekini’s crown
Victor Osimhen says he wants to do well for the national team and be remembered as one of the greatest strikers that ever played for the Super Eagles.
The former youth international who scored Nigeria’s first goal in the 2021 AFCON qualifying match against Benin, has set his sights on becoming the Super Eagles’ greatest striker of all time.
“I want to be remembered as one of the greatest strikers that ever played for the Super Eagles,” the Forward told www.brila.net.
“A lot of strikers have come through the national team, the likes of Odion Ighalo, Obafemi Martins, Julius Aghahowa and the legend Rashidi Yekini and they did quite well.”
The 20 year-old spoke about how he wants to surpass the record set by Nigeria’s all time top scorer,Rashidi Yekini, who netted 37 goals in 58 appearances.
“I want to really do well, and even surpass their goal tally for the national team but it is not just about my ambition but also for the team to achieve everything they want to accomplish and what the country has set for themselves in terms of football and I’m working so hard to get there.”
Baby Face, Bobby Girl shine at 1st GOtv Boxing Night Mini
West African Boxing Union welterweight champion, Rilwan “Baby Face” Babatunde, and rising female super featherweight boxer, Cynthia “Bobby Girl” were the standout performers at the maiden edition of GOtv Boxing Night Mini, which held on Saturday at the Rowe Park Sports Complex in Lagos.
Baby Face was all menace and speed, knocking out Saheed Lawal in the third of their eight-round national challenge duel. Lawal, who was a replacement for Dennis “The Range” Mbat, who pulled out on account of an accident, gave a good account of himself in terms of defiance. But the WABU champion’s volume punching at velocity was too much for him, as he was quickly in a daze, forcing the referee to stop the fight.
Ogunsemilore, who won her fight by knockout at GOtv Boxing Night 19, confirmed her status as a boxer to watch out for. She defeated Roliat “Mummy’s Pet” Akinsanya by unanimous decision in a thrilling super featherweight bout. The Range boxer exhibited composure and guile beyond her age to outwit her similarly impressive opponent. In the lightweight category, WABU champion, Rilwan “Real One” Oladosu, stopped Ola Adebakin in the first of the scheduled eight rounds. Waheed “Showmax” Shogbanmu got the better of Semiu “Jagaban” Olapade.
Shake-up imminent at NFF secretariat
…as Minister dangles the axe after strings of poor results
The Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, is worried stiff over the way the country’s football fortunes have been on the decline in the past few weeks and the poor results could lead to a shake-up in the secretariat of the Nigeria Football Federation.
Dare was reacting to the recent ouster of the Nigerian team from the U-23 AFCON taking place in Egypt.
The team, under the tutelage of coach Imama Amakapabo, drew goalless with South Africa in a match that the country needed a win. The team had earlier lost 1-0 to Cote d’ Ivoire while the 3-1 win in the second group match was not good enough for Nigeria to book a semifinal berth.
Egypt, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa are still in the race for the three automatic tickets to the football event of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, last year.
The debacle in Egypt followed the Golden Eagles’ early ouster from the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Brazil and the failure of the Super Falcons to qualify for the Olympics.
The Flying Eagles had earlier crashed out of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in the second round this year and Nigeria also had an unimpressive showing at WAFU tournament.
Our correspondent learnt that Dare was worried about the vicissitude of fortune of Nigerian football and is ready to effect a ‘surgical operation’ in the game.
Authoritative sources close to the minister revealed that there might be changes in the secretariat of the federation this week in line with the thinking of the ministry.
“He knows he can’t touch the NFF board but he will carry out the reorganization of the secretariat. He is passionate about initiating reviews of the game and he sees a well-structured and functional secretariat as an important process. He will wield the big sticks this week,” the source said.
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