France Crush Australian Dreams To Win Fed Cup Final

France’s Caroline Garcia (R) talks with Kristina Mladenovic during the doubles match against Ashleigh Barty and Samantha Stosur of Australia in the Fed Cup final tennis competition between Australia and France in Perth on November 10, 2019. Tony Ashby / AFP

 

A jubilant Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia led France to its first Fed Cup title since 2003 on Sunday, winning a deciding doubles rubber to crush Australian dreams 3-2.

In the last tournament played under the current format, the pair kept their focus at Perth Arena to overcome Ashleigh Barty and Samantha Stosur 6-4, 6-3, denying the home team their first crown in 45 years.

It was France’s third title and first since they beat the United States 16 years ago, piling more misery on seven-time champions Australia who have now lost all nine of the last Fed Cup finals they have appeared in.

Mladenovic and Garcia, who won the 2016 French Open doubles title, bounced back from going an early break down in the first set to expose Stosur’s weaknesses, with the veteran out-of-sorts and making too many mistakes.

World number one Barty, stunned by Mladenovic in a singles rubber earlier Sunday, did her best to keep Australia in the hunt, but the French pair were clinical, racing to victory as their team-mates went wild.

“I’m the proudest man on the planet right now, I’m so proud of my girls and my team. They deserve it because they fought for a long time for this title,” ecstatic France captain Julien Benneteau said courtside.

“For sure I am going to have a lot of beers now.”

The final marked the last Fed Cup played under the current format, with an overhaul next year seeing 12 nations compete in a six-day event in Budapest.

That will mean an end to home ties and the atmosphere they bring, with the 26,951 fans turning up over two days in Perth the second-highest Fed Cup attendance on record after Roland Garros (30,000) in 2005.

The doubles clash was set up by Ajla Tomljanovic hauling the home team back into the tie by beating France’s Pauline Parmentier 6-4, 7-5.

She came on court after 40th-ranked Mladenovic upset Barty 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/1) in an epic.

Croatian-born Tomljanovic, in her Fed Cup debut for Australia, had been thrashed 6-1, 6-1 by Mladenovic in the opening singles rubber on Saturday.

But captain Alica Molik kept faith with her and she bounced back to beat Parmentier 6-4, 7-5.

“Really glad I got a second chance today and got the win and kept us in,” said the Australian. “The team has been unbelievable all week and it is such a privilege to play for you guys.”

Earlier Barty, who has been in scintillating form, whipping Garcia 6-0, 6-0 on Saturday after winning the WTA Finals in China last weekend, crashed in a classic.

“From my point of view I fought as hard as I could and I hope that I did my team proud and all Australians proud. I fought with everything I had left,” said Barty.

Barty started where she left off after the “double bagel” of Garcia on Saturday, breaking Mladenovic’s first service game with a net volley to extend her streak to 15 games this weekend.

But Mladenovic held serve to end the Barty run and it became a closer affair before the Australian began forcing errors to take the first set.

Barty saved five break points in the opening game of the second set, but Mladenovic finally worked a first crucial break with some quality passing shots, with a forehand long from Barty giving her a 5-4 lead.

She held her nerve to serve out the set.

Mladenovic, who beat Barty on clay in Rome earlier this year, was on a roll with the French star breaking then holding for a 3-1 third-set lead.

Stung, Barty rallied for 3-3 but the errors again crept in and the set ultimately went to a tense tie breaker where Mladenovic triumphed.

“I just kept believing because I felt I was out there fighting and giving her a hard battle. I’m just so proud how I kept pushing and obviously won the game,” said Mladenovic.

Serena Wins Perth Season-Opener Ahead Of Grand Slam Tilt

Serena Williams of the US hits a return against Maria Sakkari of Greece during their fifth session women’s singles match on day three of the Hopman Cup tennis tournament in Perth on December 31, 2018. TONY ASHBY / AFP

 

Serena Williams overcame a sluggish start to win her opening match of the new season in Perth Monday, two weeks out from 2019’s first Grand Slam.

The 37-year-old was a long way off her commanding best and was visibly frustrated with her own game early in her Hopman Cup singles match, but still did enough to beat Greece’s Maria Sakkari in straight sets.

However, it was Sakkari and her team-mate Stefanos Tsitsipas who had the last laugh as Greece beat the USA 2-1 in the mixed doubles Group B tie.

In her first tournament outing since the controversial loss to Naomi Osaka in the US Open final in September, Williams struggled early and her groundstrokes were erratic in the first set.

Sakkari, ranked 41st in the world, gained an early break and served for the first set but couldn’t capitalise despite several gilt-edged opportunities.

That opened the door for Williams, the bookmakers’ favourite for the upcoming Australian Open in Melbourne, to power back and ultimately win 7-6 (7/3), 6-2 in an hour and 44 minutes.

Williams had her left ankle worked on at the end of the first set but it didn’t stop her dominating the second, in which she looked more like the player who has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles.

“I was making a lot of errors and I’m like ‘it’s okay, it’s your first match, it’ll get better’,” she said.

“It’s never easy (first match), there are lot of errors that are going to be made and I think we both did pretty good.”

Williams said her taped ankles weren’t a concern so soon before 2019’s first Grand Slam, blaming a little discomfort with her shoes.

Williams won her last Grand Slam in Melbourne in 2017 but wasn’t able to defend her title due to the birth of her first child.

Bidding to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 titles, she was beaten in last year’s Wimbledon and US Open finals.

Williams said she was looking forward to facing Swiss champion Roger Federer on Tuesday when the USA plays Switzerland and the pair will be opponents for the first time in the mixed doubles.

“I have been looking forward to it, this is so cool,” she said, adding it was “like a dream come true”.

Earlier, world number 15 Tsitsipas gave Greece the initial advantage in the tie as he edged past Frances Tiafoe in three sets, 6-3, 6-7 (3/7), 6-3.

The Greek 20-year-old won the first set comfortably and secured an early break in the second.

But the 39th-ranked American broke back in the sixth game and levelled the match in the tie-break.

Another early break by Tsitsipas put him ahead in the third and a sizzling backhand winner on match point secured victory for the Greek.

The Greek duo kept their tournament alive when they won the deciding mixed doubles, 4-1, 1-4, 4-2.

AFP

Fire Threat Eases In Western Australia

fireMilder conditions have helped firefighters contain a bush fire in Western Australia which was reported to have killed two people and continued to burn.

The fire engulfed the entire town of Yarloop near Perth last week, destroying at least 128 homes.

Police authority disclosed that the bodies of two men in their 70s were discovered in the remains of burnt-out houses.

More favourable conditions on Sunday allowed firefighters to set up restraint lines.

BBC said that the Department of Fire and Emergency Service noted that the fire perimeter was currently about 232 kilometres (144 miles).

Buhari Congratulates Nigeria’s World Scrabble Champion

LaKE CHAD-BuhariNigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, has congratulated Wellington Jighere, a Nigerian who has emerged World Scrabble Champion in Perth, Australia.

President Buhari made the call on Sunday evening to felicitate with the Nigerian, who is the first ever from Africa.

Wellington Jighere (36) defeated Lewis Mackay of Cambridge, England, by 448 points to 426 to win the Championship which was competed for by 450 players from around the world.

Indomitable Nigerian Spirit

According to a statement from the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, the President congratulated the entire team on their success.

“I called to rejoice with you over your performance. You have done the country proud, and we are very happy. Please, pass my congratulations to other members of Team Nigeria,” President Buhari told Jighere.

The new Champion Jighere was delighted at the phone call from the President, and pledged to bring more glory to the nation.

Five other Nigerian representatives finished in the top 50 scrabble players in the world bracket.

President Buhari also congratulated Nigeria’s U-20 female football team, Falconets, for their success, qualifying for the U-20 Women World Cup.

He said: “This is a clear case of the indomitable Nigerian spirit. Such will soon be evident in all aspects of our national life”.

The Falconets had walked a tight rope after scraping just a 2-1 win over South Africa in Nigeria two weeks ago. With the away goal counting double rule, all that South Africa needed today was a single goal, but the Nigerian girls turned the table.

He said “This is a clear case of the indomitable Nigerian spirit. Such will soon be evident in all aspects of our national life”.

Nigeria Win World Scrabble Championship In Australia

ScrabbleNigeria made history on Sunday, winning the World Scrabble Championship in Perth, Australia.

In the finals of the best of seven games decided on Sunday, Nigeria’s Wellington Jighere defeated England’s Lewis Mackay 4-0, to emerge the new World Champion.

Team Nigeria had only six senior players at the Championship, after the youth team and officials were denied visa.

The Nigeria Scrabble Federation had expressed beliefs that the achievement in Perth would develop the board game in the nation.

Ihejirika Demands 100bn Naira In Suit Against Australian Hostage Negotiator

Azubuike-Ihejirika1The Immediate Past Chief Army Staff in Nigeria, Lieutenant General Azubuike Ihejirika, has sued an Australian hostage negotiator, Mr Stephen Davies, who accused him of sponsoring Boko Haram insurgency in the north eastern part of Nigeria.

In a libel suit filed at the Abuja High Court by his team of lawyers, General Ihejirika is demanding 100 billion Naira as aggravated damages for defamation.

The Retired General, who left military service in January 2014, said that he has “suffered ‎grievous wrong and has been exposed to scandal, ridicule, humiliation, character assassination, credit and reputation brought into disrepute, both within and outside the country, as a result of the libelous statement in question”.

General Ihejirika is also seeking an order of perpetual injunction restraining Davis or his agents from further making defamatory comments about him.

He also seeks an order compelling Mr Davies to publish forthwith a dull and unqualified retraction and apology conspicuously in the front page of a daily newspaper to assuage the plaintiff for the said false malicious and libelous publication.

Meanwhile, he has secured an order of court to serve the process to Mr Davis, who lives in Perth, Australia, with the court’s processes.

Mr Davis was assisting the Nigerian Government to negotiate with the Boko Haram sect towards securing the release of some over 200 girls abducted by the terrorist group in April 2014.