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Wednesday January 16, 2019

Williams demolishes Maria in 49 minutes to ease into second round

courtesy of RTE

Serena Williams took just 49 minutes to come through 6-0 6-2

 

Serena Williams made an emphatic return to competitive tennis at the Australian Open.

The American’s clash with fellow mother Tatjana Maria was her first outside of exhibition events since the tumultuous US Open final last September.

But, while the events of that day still generate plenty of interest, Williams is focused firmly on trying to secure that elusive 24th grand slam singles title.

This was certainly a great start, with the 37-year-old, dressed in a striking green playsuit, taking just 49 minutes to come through 6-0 6-2. German Maria won only five points in an 18-minute first set but made a better fight of it in the second.

The result extended Williams’ winning streak in Melbourne to eight matches following her title in 2017, and she said: “I think the last time I was here I was pregnant and playing, which is insane, so it’s kind of weird walking back on – by myself this time.

“I have so many wonderful memories from the last time I was here, it was literally the best match of my career.”

Williams has kept a low profile since the defeat by Osaka and was in no mood to revisit the occasion.

Asked if she had discussed coaching signals with Patrick Mouratoglou after the warning from umpire Carlos Ramos that sparked the whole furore and whether she agreed with the Frenchman that on-court coaching should be allowed, Williams said: “I literally have no comment.”

She next faces an intriguing match against Eugenie Bouchard, who is climbing back up the rankings after two years in the doldrums.

The Canadian, who soared into the top 10 in 2014, dropped as low as 193 in the rankings last season but has worked her way back into double figures and a 6-2 6-1 victory over Peng Shuai earned her a shot at the title favourite.

Williams said: “It will be a great match. She plays really well. She does everything well, and I really like that she doesn’t quit. People write her off, and she doesn’t let that bother her. She continues to fight and do what she needs to do.”

Johanna Konta survived a deciding tie-break to defeat Ajla Tomljanovic and become the third British player to reach the second round of the Australian Open.

Konta lost to Tomljanovic in Brisbane earlier this month but produced a fine performance to come through 7-6 (7/4) 2-6 7-6 (10/7).

There was little to separate the pair throughout a tight and big-hitting contest but Konta was rewarded for her aggression in the first-to-10-points tie-break, becoming the second British player after Katie Boulter to win using the new scoring format.

Declan Rice fires Hammers past Arsenal

courtesy of RTE

 

Declan Rice celebrates his clicnically taken goal against Arsenal

Declan Rice steered home a terrific 48th-minute goal to edge West Ham past Arsenal at the London Stadium and further enhance his soaring reputation.

The 19-year-old’s excellent effort capped a man-of-the-match performance against the Gunners, who had two goals chalked off for offside.

It was his first goal for West Ham, and was yet another reminder of why England and the Republic of Ireland are currently in a tug of war for his services.

FULL MATCH DETAILS HERE

Rice is expected to make a decision on which country he’ll represent in the next couple of weeks. For now, he’ll bask in a sweet home win over Unai Emery’s polished outfit.

Arsenal began brightly and then had a flurry of chances after falling behind but West Ham were good value for the three points as they put a dent in the visitors’ top-four hopes.

Former Gunners midfielder Samir Nasri, rebuilding his career at West Ham after a doping ban, was at the heart of much of the hosts’ best work on his Premier League debut for the club.

It was the Frenchman’s neat lay-off that allowed Rice the space to curl a superb shot past Bernd Leno.

Rice had headed wide in a first half in which West Ham took charge with Felipe Anderson drilling a shot fractionally wide of the post after another lay-off by Frenchman Nasri.

Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette had a double chance early on and Matteo Guendouzi’s 25-metre effort flew just wide but Arsenal struggled to exert any sustained pressure.

Alex Iwobi shaved the post with a low shot but Arsenal failed to score for the first time in 21 Premier League matches. They remain fifth on 41 points while West Ham move up to eighth on 31 points before the rest of the weekend fixtures.

Harrington has no doubts over McIlroy for Ryder Cup

courtesy of RTE

 

Padraig Harrington, pictured as a vice-captain, with Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Ryder Cup

Padraig Harrington says there is “no doubt” Rory McIlroy will be included in Europe’s 2020 Ryder Cup team as he dismissed doubts about the Northern Irishman’s commitment.

McIlroy has controversially revealed he may not fulfil the requirements for European Tour membership next season, which could leave him ineligible for the biennial competition against the United States.

The 29-year-old, who lives in America, last week described the European Tour as “a stepping stone” and reiterated his intention to concentrate on the PGA Tour in 2019.

But Harrington, who was named European captain on Tuesday, is confident McIlroy will be available for selection in Whistling Straights next year as his team attempt to defend the trophy won in Paris in September.

“I can only look at his actions. That man loves the Ryder Cup. He’s become a leader in the team room,” said Harrington.

“He gives so much to the Ryder Cup; the Ryder Cup gives so much back to Rory that he can’t get anywhere else.

“He gets the glory, the opportunity to be loved on the golf course. He gets the exuberance, the crowd.

“You don’t get that day in, day out. You don’t get that regularly. His actions are all about the Ryder Cup.

“He will be 100% behind and in that Ryder Cup team, there’s no doubt about it. You just have to know the man behind the scenes.”

McIlroy has competed in the last five Ryder Cups, winning in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2018.

Players must be a member of the European Tour to take part in the competition and, under regulations introduced in January 2017, “cannot be a European Ryder Cup captain or a vice-captain if they decline membership of the European Tour or fail to fulfil their minimum event obligation in any season, from 2018 onwards.”

McIlroy needs to play four European Tour tournaments outside the majors and World Golf Championship events in order to retain membership, but currently only has two on his schedule.

Harrington stated: “I know there’s words there, but the actions nowhere near match up.

“He is as European as they come. Yes, he’s moved to the States. His family’s there.

“He wants to win the Masters and those words are coming out but his actions are not that way at all. His actions are so European.”

Man United continue winning ways as Reading make cup exit

courtesy of RTE

Romelu Lukaku celebrates his goal against Reading in the FA Cup

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s winning start to life at the Manchester United helm continued but the FA Cup third-round triumph against embattled Reading was the caretaker manager’s most unconvincing performance to date.

United racked up their fifth straight victory since the Norwegian replaced Jose Mourinho, although the Royals provided a test that belied their place five points adrift of safety in the Championship.

Reading arrived at Old Trafford without a win in their previous 10 matches but proved a handful on an afternoon that saw United emerge 2-0 victors thanks to Juan Mata’s penalty – after a lengthy video assistant referee delay – and a cool Romelu Lukaku strike.

FULL MATCH DETAILS

In truth, many of Solskjaer’s nine changes under-delivered against Jose Gomes’ Royals in a performance that underlined the work still required.

This match also highlighted the tinkering still required with VAR as the length of delay was almost as frustrating as lack of communication inside Old Trafford before Mata scored from the spot.

Lukaku netted his third in as many games in first-half stoppage time, but things could have been different had Danny Loader and Callum Harriott done better with fine chances either side of the break.

But Reading’s lack of quality in the final third allowed United to head to Dubai for their warm weather training camp fresh from a fifth win, second successive clean sheet and FA Cup progress.

Despite the lack of quality on display, there was a good atmosphere throughout as the club’s work on improving the Old Trafford atmosphere was audible from those moved to the area normally housing the away fans.

Yet that intensity was not matched on the field, with much-changed United struggling for fluidity against organised Reading.

Alexis Sanchez’s strike from distance was the only moment of note until confusion reigned in the 20th minute, when Fred slotted home after collecting a return pass from Mata.

The linesman indicated offside, but referee Stuart Attwell held his finger to his ear as he received information from the VAR – the kind of communication lacking inside the ground, leading fans to jeer as the delay continued.

There was 125 seconds between Fred’s strike and the decision to award a penalty, with Omar Richards adjudged to have fouled Mata in the build-up and the Spaniard stepping up to send goalkeeper Anssi Jaakkola the wrong way.

“VAR, VAR, VAR” chanted United fans playfully when Andy Yiadom handled a Sanchez cross soon after, with Lukaku seeing an effort denied after bursting through as the home side looked to extend their advantage.

But Reading had now settled and began to probe, with Loader wasting their best chance after going past Sergio Romero but going so wide that the United goalkeeper was able to block him off.

Harriott tried his luck from distance as the visitors continued their unlikely push, with the Reading man having a shot on target that was far tamer than Yiadom’s stinging effort that forced Romero into action.

But just as Reading’s hope began to grow along came Lukaku to extinguish it, keeping his cool when meeting a pass from Sanchez to round Jaakkola and roll into the empty net.

United continued to wobble after the break as Harriott saw a shot saved by Romero after being put through by substitute Sone Aluko, leading Solskjaer to make three changes.

Limping Sanchez was among those withdrawn, while 19-year-old Tahith Chong came on for his debut.

Marouane Fellaini was another introduced and should have turned home an Ashley Young cross before Romero denied the lively Aluko in a stretched second half devoid of real quality.

The Old Trafford faithful remained in good voice, but, other than Andreas Pereira’s late attempt, there was little else to sing about.

Liverpool are in Man City’s heads

courtesy of RTE

Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp meet on the Etihad Stadium sideline again tonight.

 

Jim Beglin believes that Liverpool are in Manchester City ‘heads’ since last season’s Champions League tie and reckons that Pep Guardiola will be forced to abandon the cagey approach he adopted at Anfield earlier in the season.

Liverpool and Manchester City played out a drab scoreless draw in early October, with Riyad Mahrez blowing a golden opportunity for the visitors in the final minutes, when he skied a penalty into the crowd.

Aside from that however, it was a game of relatively few clear cut chances with City succeeding in stifling a Liverpool attack which had overwhelmed them in March’s Champions League encounter.

Speaking on Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio 1, Beglin insisted that it was premature to label the meeting a ‘title decider’ and plumped for a draw when pushed.

“I wouldn’t regard this as a title decider. I would consider it a title shaper. It could have a big psychological impact if one side can outdo the other. But it’s way too early (to be called a ‘title decider’).

“We’ve seen big comebacks in the past in the Premier League. You can never take it easy. Even if tonight’s game ends in Liverpool’s favour, Manchester City won’t be backing off. There’s no easing up. The pressure is on you right to the end.

“Manchester City have to change their gameplan, really. I think Liverpool are in their heads. When Liverpool hosted them at Anfield earlier this season, City adjusted their game. They didn’t come to try and play the open game we’ve seen in the past because they obviously suffered in the Champions League last season.

“Pep Guardiola changed it all around but they’ll have to be less cautious this time. The caution we saw at Anfield will have to take a backseat.

“I can make a case for either to go and win it. But I think, having played in a few of these type of games myself, they’re often very, very tight, with little in it. A low scoring draw tonight.

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