Djokovic Makes It 370 Weeks At Number One

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic holds the winner’s trophy after winning the final match of the Men’s ATP Rome Open tennis tournament against Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas on May 15, 2022 at Foro Italico in Rome. Andreas SOLARO / AFP

 

Novak Djokovic extended his record at the top of the ATP rankings to 370 weeks on Monday while Rafael Nadal drops down a place to number five.

The Spaniard was knocked out of the Italian Open in the last 16 and is leapfrogged by the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas who made it all the way to the final where he was turned over in straight sets by an inspired Djokovic.

The Serb, who claimed his sixth Italian Open title, has now spent 60 weeks more at number one than the next man on the list Roger Federer (310). Nadal is sixth on the all-time list with 209.

With the French Open starting on Sunday, Djokovic is guaranteed top seeding at Roland Garros and will retain the top spot for at least another two weeks.

Norwegian Casper Ruud climbs two places from tenth to eighth after reaching the semi-finals in Rome while Italian Matteo Berrettini, who had an operation on his right hand at the end of March and will miss the French Open, goes the other way.

Rankings (players representing Russia and Belarus are banned from competing under the name or flag of Russia or Belarus until further notice):

1. Novak Djokovic (SRB) 8,660 pts

2. Daniil Medvedev 7,990

3. Alexander Zverev (GER) 7,200

4. Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) 6,170 (+1)

5. Rafael Nadal (ESP) 5,525 (-1)

6. Carlos Alcaraz (ESP) 4,770

7. Andrey Rublev 3,945

8. Casper Ruud (NOR) 3,940 (+2)

9. Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN) 3,850

10. Matteo Berrettini (ITA) 3,805 (-2)

11. Cameron Norrie (GBR) 3,355

12. Jannik Sinner (ITA) 3,195 (+1)

13. Hubert Hurkacz (POL) 3,095 (-1)

14. Taylor Fritz (USA) 2,920

15. Denis Shapovalov (CAN) 2,671 (+1)

16. Diego Schwartzman (ARG) 2,505 (-1)

17. Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP) 2,135 (+1)

18. Reilly Opelka (USA) 2,090 (-1)

19. Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) 1,903

20. Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) 1,785

AFP

Rublev Beats Djokovic To Win Serbia Open

Rublev and Djokovic.

 

World number one Novak Djokovic was denied his first title of the year on Sunday, falling in three sets to Russia’s Andrey Rublev in the final of the Serbia Open.

Second seed Rublev won through 6-2, 6-7 (4/7), 6-0 against the top seed who had been looking to regain winning form before his French Open title defence next month.

The Belgrade event was only Djokovic’s third of 2022 after he was deported from Melbourne – and denied the chance to defend his Australian Open title – after entering the country unvaccinated.

READ ALSO[FIRST 11] Serena Williams’ Chelsea Ownership Push+Top Sports Stories This Week

However, the 20-time Grand Slam winner was let down by his lack of physical form.

The 34-year-old, who lost in the quarter-finals in Dubai and suffered a shock second-round defeat in Monte Carlo, battled past Laslo Djere, Miomir Kecmanovic and Karen Khachanov in three sets before the court time caught up with the top seed against Rublev.

Djokovic got off to a bad start, dropping serve twice, to lose the first set after have an hour.

Bouyed by the support of the 8,000 crowd, Djokovic fought back in a marathon second set which lasted just over an hour, levelling in the tie-break despite wasting six set points, before running out of steam in the third.

Rublev captured his third title of the season, days after blasting Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players as “complete discrimination”.

Wimbledon banned all Russian and Belarusian players from this summer’s Grand Slam tournament due to the invasion of Ukraine.

It was a decision condemned by the ATP and WTA as well as a host of players including world number one Novak Djokovic who described the sanction as “crazy”.

Rublev has now equalled Spaniard Rafael Nadal for the most tour-level titles in 2022, having also clinched crowns in Marseille and Dubai in February.

AFP

Lagos To Host 2022 ITTF Club Championships, African Cup From May 19

A table tennis court in Lagos.

 

Nigeria’s commercial city, Lagos has been chosen by the African Table Tennis Federation (ATTF) to host the World Championships regional qualification tournament, the African Club Championships and African Cup.

The three tournaments will begin from May 19 to 28 at the Molade Okoya-Thomas Hall, Teslim Balogun Stadium Surulere.

The World Championships regional qualification for West Africa teams will kick-start the tournament on May 19 to 21 while the African Club Championships follow on May 23 to 25. The African Cup which is a singles tournament will climax the event on May 26 to 28.

ATTF President, Khaled El-Salhy confirmed the choice of Lagos was based on the remarkable organization of previous tournaments coupled with the positive comments from players, coaches, and participating teams.

“Lagos has the best bid to host the African Cup in 2022 together with the African Clubs, as ATTF is always satisfied with the remarkable organisation in Lagos coupled with full capacity of spectators in the venue throughout any major competition,” he said.

The ATTF boss said the African Cup would now be a continental qualification for WTT Cup Finals. “The new thing is that the ITTF World Cup may not be held this year and the other option will be the WTT Cup Finals which will include the same policy that continental cup winners will represent each continent.”

Top African players are expected in Lagos for the African Cup where Egypt’s Ahmed Saleh and Dina Meshref are expected to defend their titles against the best players in Africa at the three-day tournament at the Molade Okoya-Thomas Hall of Teslim Balogun Stadium.

“All top players will be competing for the Cup, while they will be aiming for ranking points as well as qualification to represent Africa at WTT Cup Finals taking place later in the year,” he added.

For the African Cup, each participating country will nominate two players each in men’s and women’s events while the host country will nominate four players each for the cup.

Meanwhile, a nine-man Main Organising Committee (MOC) has been approved by the continental ruling body with Wahid Oshodi chairing the committee. President of Cote D’ivoire Table Tennis Federation, Prof. Alfred Germain Karou will deputise Oshodi in the MOC.

Other members include the Executive Chairman of Lagos State Sports Commission (LSSC) Sola Aiyepeku, Dr. Adesoji Tayo, Kweku Tandoh and Tunisia’s Mokhtar Toukabri.

Aruna Sets Another African Record In Qatar

Aruna Quadri

 

Nigeria’s Quadri Aruna has become the first African player to reach the semifinals stage at the WTT Star Contender after an outstanding 3-0 (11-8, 11-8, 11-7) win over China’s Zhou Qihao in the quarterfinals of the Men’s singles in Doha, Qatar today.

En route to the semis, Aruna has now defeated three Chinese players at the tournament. The Nigerian cruised past Liu Dingshuo in the round of 32 and Zhao Zihao in the round of 16.

Aruna’s next opponent is South Korea’s Lim Jonghoon. He will be hoping to avenge his 1-3 loss to the South Korean in the round of 32 at the WTT Contender which took place at the same venue a week ago.

READ ALSO: Tear Gas Fired As Nigeria Fans Riot Over World Cup Loss

The World Table Tennis (WTT) has described the Nigerian’s performance as outstanding.

“Quadri Aruna has been China’s kryptonite in Doha. The Nigerian superstar has added another name to his hit list, defeating Zhou Qihao 3-0 (11-8, 11-8, 11-7) to advance to the Men’s Singles semi-final. That makes three consecutive Chinese team members which Aruna has sent packing. Most amazingly, he has won the last two matches in straight games. Does this make the Nigerian World No.14 the new favourite to take the title?” said WTT.

The semifinal matches will be played on Thursday, March 31, and will be streamed live via the World Table Tennis (WTT) website.

Federer’s Ukrainian Conqueror Swaps Racquet For Kalashnikov

Former Ukrainian tennis man Sergiy Stakhovsky walks prior to an interview with AFP journalists at Independence Square in Kyiv, on March 15, 2022.  Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP

 

In 2013 he achieved one of the great shocks in tennis history, knocking defending champion Roger Federer out of Wimbledon.

Today, the Ukrainian player Sergiy Stakhovsky is a volunteer fighter on a military patrol in Kyiv, which he vows to defend “to the end” against Russian forces.

Now 36, he looks much the same as the journeyman player ranked 116 in the world who lay stretched out in his tennis whites on the hallowed London turf after toppling Federer in the second round nine years ago.

But his outfit now could not be more different as he patrols Maidan Square, symbol of Ukraine’s “fight for democracy”, armed with a Kalashnikov, a pistol in his belt, and his 1.93 metre (6 ft 4 in) frame dressed in khaki camouflage.

“I cannot say that I feel comfortable around a rifle. I am not sure how I am going to react to shooting at somebody,” he tells AFP. “I wish I would never have to be preoccupied with these things.”

READ ALSO: Russia Faces Debt Payment Amid Default Fears

It’s been just over two weeks since he returned to Ukraine and signed up for the territorial brigade, the volunteers tasked with helping the army against the Russian invasion launched on February 24.

“I knew I had to go there”, he says.

‘Despair’

On the eve of the invasion, Stakhovsky was on holiday in Dubai with his wife and three children aged four, six, and eight, having hung up his racquet as a professional player in January after the Australian Open.

The next day, after seeing the television images of Russian bombs falling on his homeland, he says he was plunged into a mixture of “despair” and “misery”.
Much of his family still lived in Ukraine. He spent the next three days at the hotel in a blur as he tried to get information about the situation on the ground, to find shelter for people

“I was full of adrenaline, I slept three or four hours (overall), I didn’t eat”.
He then told his wife he had decided to go back.

“My wife was really upset, I mean, she knew, she understood but she was really upset,” he said. But “now she understands that I couldn’t really do it other way”.

The heartbreaking decision torments him every time he thinks of his family.
“Leaving the kids is not something I’m proud of,” he says.

“My kids don’t know that I’m here, well, they know that I’m not at home, but they don’t know what war is and I’m trying to not get them involved. I told them I’d be right back, it’s been 15 days now… And God knows how many more it’s going to be”.

Like all Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60, Stakhovsky is eligible for call-up by the army and cannot leave the country when the country is at war.
He says that he finds the strength to go because of his countrymen, whom he has seen sign up “in their thousands”.

“If we don’t stand up, we don’t have a country to live in,” he said.
Federer ‘hopes for peace’

The former tennis pro now carries out two patrols a day lasting two hours each to guard the centre of Kyiv from possible infiltrations, particularly around the palace of President Volodymyr Zelensky, the hero of the resistance against Moscow.

“Listen, I am here on foot patrolling,” he said, adding of Zelensky that he was “remarkably brave and knows what he’s doing, and we all believe he knows what he’s doing.”

People from “India to South America” have sent thousands of messages of support and asking how they can help Ukraine, says Stakhovsky.

Among those are “hundreds” of professional tennis players who have not forgotten their former colleague, who rose to a world ranking of 31 in 2010 and was an unofficial spokesman for junior players.

Tennis legends have also offered their support — including the man he stunned at Wimbledon, Roger Federer himself.

“He said that he wishes that there will be peace soon,” said the Ukranian, adding that Federer and his wife were trying to help Ukranian children through their foundation.

One message that particularly touched him came from Serbian world number two Novak Djokovic.

“He lived through this when he was young so he knows exactly what our kids are going through. So from him, that message is, I would say, heavier in terms of meaning.”

As the Russians close in on Kyiv there are fears it could face the same fate as destroyed cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol.

“That’s disturbing”, he said, because “they don’t care whether they’re going to kill a child or military personnel, they just don’t care”.

AFP

Nadal Beats Medvedev To Win Record 21st Grand Slam

Spain’s Rafael Nadal kisses the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup trophy following his victory against Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in their men’s singles final match on day fourteen of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 31, 2022. Martin KEEP / AFP

 

Rafael Nadal roared back from two sets down to win a titanic five-set duel with Daniil Medvedev and claim a record 21st Grand Slam men’s title in the Australian Open final on Sunday.

 

The Spanish great looked dead and buried as the Russian world number two carved out a two-set lead but Nadal surged home for one of his mightiest comeback wins 2-6, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in 5hr 24min on Rod Laver Arena.

READ ALSO: Barty Makes History After Winning First Australian Open

Nadal came out on top in the physical war of attrition to move ahead of era rivals Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer on the all-time list of men’s major winners.

Djokovic missed his chance to improve on his nine Australian Open wins when he was deported over vaccination issues on the eve of the tournament, while Federer is injured.

It was one of the 35-year-old Spanish warrior’s greatest title victories in his 29th Grand Slam final winning his second Australian Open, 13 years after his first in 2009.

Nadal also became only the fourth man to win each of the four Grand Slams twice and the third-oldest man in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam title, behind Ken Rosewall and Federer.

The final went down to the bitter end with Nadal being broken as he served for the championship only for the Spaniard to break back.

On his second attempt to serve it out, Nadal powered to three match points to win amid chaotic scenes in his player’s box and the frenzied crowd.

It is the fourth time in his storied career that Nadal had clawed back to win from two sets down and the second time Nadal had denied Medvedev in a Grand Slam final, winning a five-set epic at the 2019 US Open.

Spain’s Rafael Nadal reacts after winning against Russia’s Daniil Medvedev during their men’s singles final match on day fourteen of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne early on January 31, 2022. Paul Crock / AFP

 

It crowned an extraordinary effort from Nadal at the year’s opening major, having to modify his game to compensate for a degenerative bone disease in his left foot that ended his 2021 season last August.

He then caught Covid in December which, he said, made him “very sick”.

Medvedev had wrecked Djokovic’s calendar Grand Slam push and bid for a 21st title in New York four months ago and was aiming to do the same to Nadal in Melbourne.

Medvedev lost his second consecutive Australian Open final after falling in straight sets to Djokovic in last year’s final.

Nadal now leads Medvedev 4-1, with the Russian also losing to the Spanish lefty in his first major final at the 2019 US Open over five sets.

AFP

First 11: Nigeria’s AFCON Crash + This Week’s Biggest Sports Stories

First-Eleven

 

It’s been a week of drama at the Africa Cup of Nations. Nigeria’s shocking loss to Tunisia, and the red cards that marred the competition, were major talking points in the last seven days. Heartbroken fans trolled Maduka Okoye and Alex Iwobi following the defeat which sent out one of the tournament favourites.

These stories, FIFA’s linking of plans for a biennial World Cup to migration tragedies in the Mediterranean and others, headline First Eleven which gives a recap of the biggest sports gist for the week.

Tunisia Clip Eagles’ Wings

Tunisia’s players celebrate after winning the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 round of 16 football match between Nigeria and Tunisia at Stade Roumde Adjia in Garoua on January 23, 2022. Daniel BELOUMOU OLOMO / AFP

 

The week began on a sad note for football fans in Nigeria after the Super Eagles’ early exit from the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). Nigeria, three-time continental champions, were stunned 0-1 by Tunisia in a Round of 16 game in Cameroon.

Austine Eguavoen’s men went into the game as favourites having won all three group stage matches, the only team to do so. But a 47th-minute strike was enough for the North Africans to break the hearts of millions of fans in Nigeria. Although Nigeria battled to get the equaliser, a red card for former Arsenal star, Alex Iwobi, compounded the Super Eagles’ woes.

Fans Troll Okoye, Iwobi

A photo combination of Maduka Okoye and Alex Iwobi.

 

Iwobi’s sending off triggered a barrage of cyberattacks, not just on the midfielder but goalkeeper, Maduka Okoye. The Sparta Rotterdam man was faulted for not doing enough to stop the 2004 champions from scoring the lone goal in the match. Both were subjects of hate messages from fans who blamed the duo for the Super Eagles’ exit. Their names trended for days on social media, prompting them to disable comments on their Instagram accounts. Okoye, some of the fans claimed, was distracted by praises from female admirers.

Following the defeat, President Muhammadu Buhari had told Nigerians not to write off the team. In a short message on Monday, he asked fans to encourage the side, believing that they can do better in subsequent games.

“They gave everyone the confidence that they were up to it, and I am sure it was something they could have achieved,” a statement from a presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, read. “Nonetheless, we should not write them off”.

Red Cards Mar AFCON

The AFCON was tagged by many as a “tournament of red cards” following the number of players that were sent off in the competition.

 

Nigeria’s loss wasn’t the only thing that made headlines from the AFCON. In the first round of knockout fixtures, seven red cards were issued in eight games.  The development drew condemnation from several quarters. Fans on social media even dubbed the competition “AFCON of Red Cards”, throwing up further debates about the quality of officiating at Africa’s premier championship.

Coach Eguavoen was critical of centre referee, Maguette Ndiaye’s dismissal of the Everton star, describing the officiating as unfair. Aside from the former defender, Ghanaian ex-international, Mikel Essien, also questioned the number of red cards in the tournament. The former Chelsea player while lamenting the situation said it was “shocking” and wondered if the game had become soft.

Tragedy Rocks Tournament 

Supporters of the Comoros national soccer team celebrate their team goal during the match Cameroon vs Comoros in Moroni on Jan 24, 2022. Ibrahim YOUSSOUF / AFP

 

The red car controversy came amid a stampede that killed eight persons and wounded dozens of others before a match between the host nation, Cameroon, and Comoros.  The incident took place at the gates where final tickets checks are made. This prompted an investigation by Cameroonian authorities. The health ministry said the victims were immediately transported in ambulances but traffic slowed down their movement.

In a swift response to the tragedy, CAF blamed the incident on the closure of an entry gate at the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde.

“If that gate was open as it was supposed to, we wouldn’t have had this problem we have now, this loss of life,” African football supremo, Patrice Motsepe, said during a press conference on Tuesday. “Who closed that gate? Who is responsible for that gate?”

A Case For Biennial World Cup

File photo: FIFA president Gianni Infantino speaks during the inauguration of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) new headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on October 30, 2018. Mohd RASFAN / AFP

 

The stampede happened days before FIFA tried to link migration tragedies in the Mediterranean to plans for a World Cup every two years.  Head of the football governing body, Gianni Infantino, said the move can give hope to migrants.

“I understand in Europe the World Cup takes place twice per week because the best players are playing in Europe,” he told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg.

“But if we think about the rest of the world… which doesn’t see the best players, which doesn’t participate in the top competitions, then we have to think about what football brings, which goes beyond the sport.”

Nadal Chases Record In Australia

 

Just as FIFA continues to make a case for a biennial World Cup, tennis stars are in Australia battling for one of the game’s biggest prizes. In a tempestuous match on Friday, Daniil Medvedev powered to a win over Stefanos Tsitsipas to book a date with Rafael Nadal in the final of the Australian Open.  The world number two beat Tsitsipas 7-6 (7/5), 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, the same day Nadal defeated Matteo Berrettini to reach his sixth Australian Open final in Melbourne. The Spaniard, pushing to become the all-all time men’s Grand Slam leader – 21 titles – claimed a 3-6 2-6 6-3 3-6 win.

The women’s category saw a ruthless Ashleigh Barty book a spot in the final. She won in straight-sets, demolishing Madison Keys, and will now face hard-hitting Danielle Collins in Sunday’s game.

Djokovic Still In The Court

In this file photo, Novak Djokovic of Serbia takes part in a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 13, 2022. Mike FREY / AFP

 

Although he is not in Australia, a leaked entry list, which made its way to social media, has indicated that Novak Djokovic would be playing at next month’s ATP Dubai tennis tournament. The Serb was in the news weeks ago after a COVID-19 vaccination row. But the list shared by tennis journalists showed that Djokovic was named as the top seed for the event.

This is coming weeks after he was deported by Australian authorities following a legal tussle. The unvaccinated player’s next move had become a subject of speculation since he landed at home in Belgrade, via Dubai. He was initially given an exemption to play at the Australian Open despite being unvaccinated but the Australian government later revoked his visa, a move upheld by the Federal Court.

Ranieri Fired 

In this file photo taken on April 01, 2018, ex-Nantes’ Italian head coach Claudio Ranieri attends the French L1 football match between Nantes and Saint-Etienne at The La Beaujoire Stadium in Nantes. LOIC VENANCE / AFP

 

Earlier in the week, the English Premier League “sack race” continued. This time, Italian manager, Claudio Ranieri, was the latest casualty following his dismissal by Watford. He was sacked just after 14 games in charge as the Hornets’ boss, the club said in a statement earlier in the week. Ranieri was dismissed, just about three months after he got the job.

“The Hornets’ Board recognises Claudio as a man of great integrity and honour, who will always be respected here at Vicarage Road for his efforts in leading the team with dignity,” Watford said about the Italian.

The 70-year-old was brought on to stabilise the team which is battling relegation. But a string of poor results have left them in the murky waters of England’s elite league. The Hornets have only managed seven points since he arrived at the Vicarage Road. Ranieri’s last game in charge was a 3-0 loss to relegation rivals, Norwich, just last week. They are second bottom on the league log, following a loss of seven out of their last eight domestic matches.

Joshua Denies Pay Off Claims

In this file photo, Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usyk (L) fights British heavyweight champion boxer Anthony Joshua at the end of their heavyweight boxing match at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in north London on September 25, 2021. Usyk defeated Joshua on points. Adrian DENNIS / AFP

 

In boxing, Anthony Joshua has refuted reports claiming he agreed to a ($20 million deal to step aside from his heavyweight title re-match with Oleksandr Usyk. The reports had suggested that the Nigerian was ready to let the Ukrainian fight Tyson Fury in the unification title bout. But Joshua insisted the stories were false.

“I’m hearing people saying: ‘AJ accepts £15million to step aside’. I ain’t signed no contract; I ain’t seen no contract,” he was quoted as saying in a Talksport online video posted on Twitter. “So, as it stands, stop listening to the bullshit until it comes from me. I’m the man in control of my own destiny; I’m the man that handles my business.”

Usyk had defeated Joshua in September to deprive the 32-year-old of his World Boxing Association (WBA), International Boxing Federation (IBF), and World Boxing Organization (WBO) belts.

Buhari’s Message To Olympians

A file photo of President Muhammadu Buhari.

 

And as the Winter Olympics inches closer, President Buhari has urged Nigerian athletes to make the country proud in the games. A statement from the presidency on Tuesday quoted Buhari as telling the nation’s representatives of his trust in their ability to deliver.

“The President trusts that Nigerian athletes participating in different events will excel at the competition, surpassing the previous record in PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2018, when the nation competed for the first time,”  the Nigerian leader told the athletes, according to a statement from Femi Adesina.

Buhari said the Olympic Games is an avenue to foster friendship among countries. This is as he hoped that athletes will put the core values of the event –  excellence, friendship, and respect – on display.

Djokovic Lands In Dubai After Australia Deportation

File photo: Novak Djokovic of Serbia attends a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 14, 2022. MARTIN KEEP / AFP

 

Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic landed in Dubai on Monday after his sensational deportation from Australia over his coronavirus vaccination status shattered his dream of scoring a record 21st Grand Slam title in Melbourne.

As the Australian Open got under way, the men’s defending champion stepped off an Emirates plane carrying two bags and wearing a mask — his final destination unknown.

The dramatic deportation followed a protracted and high-stakes legal battle between the unvaccinated Djokovic and the Australian authorities that polarised opinion and tarnished reputations on both sides.

Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed” after a Federal Court unanimously upheld the cancellation of his visa on public order grounds.

READ ALSO: Djokovic’s Family ‘Disappointed’ Over Deportation From Australia

He now faces a possible three-year ban from Australia, where he was won nine of his 20 Grand Slam titles — a tally that equals the all-time record alongside Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is wrestling with record coronavirus numbers, said “there was a very clear message sent”.

But he hinted that Djokovic could be allowed to return within three years “in the right circumstances”.

“It (the ban) does go over a three-year period, but there is the opportunity for them to return in the right circumstances and that would be considered at the time,” he said in a radio interview.

Legal Drama 

The humbled Djokovic boarded a flight from Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport for Dubai late Sunday, accompanied by a retinue of aides and officials.

Emirates flight EK409 took off at 10:51 pm local time (1151 GMT), according to an AFP reporter on board, and landed before dawn in Dubai.

Twice in the last 11 days Australia’s government had ripped up Djokovic’s visa and placed him in immigration detention  — saying his presence could fuel anti-vaccine sentiment amid a wave of Omicron cases.

Twice the Serbian star fought the decision in court, winning one round but losing Sunday’s decider in Australia’s Federal Court, James Allsop, ending a week of legal drama.

“I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love,” Djokovic said, acknowledging the game was up.

The controversy looks set to rumble on, with Djokovic’s image seriously damaged and Australia feeding a growing reputation for hostility towards visitors.

But Morrison, who faces a tough reelection battle this year, is unlikely to suffer much of a public backlash over the saga, even among those with misgivings about his hardline immigration policies.

Many Australians — who have suffered prolonged lockdowns and border restrictions that effectively kept families and loved ones apart — believe Djokovic gamed the system to dodge vaccine entry requirements, and are happy to see him go.

“I think they did the right thing asking him to leave. If he was still here it would be all Djokovic. But the tournament is about so much more than him,” one tennis fan, Simon Overton, told AFP as the Australian Open got under way in Melbourne Park.

But others, including Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, condemned the Australian decision to deport Djokovic.

“They think that they have by this, this mistreatment of 10 days, humiliated Djokovic, but they have humiliated themselves,” Vucic told a state media outlet.

‘With or Without Him’ 

 

During the roller coaster days leading up to the Australian Open — and Djokovic’s deportation — it emerged the tennis ace contracted Covid-19 in mid-December and, according to his own account, failed to isolate despite knowing he was positive.

Public records show he attended a stamp unveiling and a youth tennis event, and granted a media interview around the time he got tested and his latest infection was confirmed.

Djokovic declined to give evidence in the case to dispel the notion that he is opposed to vaccines.

“He has now become an icon for the anti-vaccination groups,” government lawyer Stephen Lloyd said. “Rightly or wrongly he is perceived to endorse an anti-vaccination view and his presence here is seen to contribute to that.”

“He could set the record straight if it needed correcting. He has not — that has important consequences.”

Spanish great Nadal took a swipe at his rival on Saturday as players complained the scandal was overshadowing the opening Grand Slam of the year.

“The Australian Open is much more important than any player,” Nadal told reporters at Melbourne Park.

However, Djokovic’s compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic, who was set to face the nine-time champion in the first round on Monday, called the incident a “bitter pill to swallow”.

“Our little Serbian team here in Melbourne is upset and disappointed,” Kecmanovic wrote on Instagram.

AFP

Djokovic: Australia ‘Humiliated Themselves’ With Court Ruling, Says Serbian President

File photo: Novak Djokovic of Serbia attends a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 14, 2022. MARTIN KEEP / AFP

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic lashed out at Australian authorities Sunday morning, hours after a federal court paved the way for the deportation of Novak Djokovic on the eve of the Australian Open over his vaccine status. 

“They think that they have by this, this mistreatment of ten days humiliated Djokovic, but they have humiliated themselves. Djokovic can return to his country with his head held high,” Vucic told a state media outlet.

Vucic has remained steadfast in his support for Djokovic throughout the drama, calling the earlier detention of the unvaccinated tennis star a “political witch hunt”.

“I spoke earlier to Novak Djokovic after the decision and I encouraged him. We look forward to seeing him return to his country, where he is always welcome,” the president added.

READ ALSO[Djokovic] Australian Open More Important Than Any Player, Says Nadal

Earlier in Australia, Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed” by the federal court’s ruling that upheld the government’s right to rip up his visa over fears he is stoking anti-vaccine sentiment and dashed his dream of a record 21st Grand Slam

In Serbia, the ruling stoked outrage among Djokovic’s fans.

“It’s a farce … All this has nothing to do with the sport,” Nebojsa Viskovic, a journalist covering notably tennis, told AFP.

“All the criticism about whether he was vaccinated or not doesn’t hold water.”

Many other Serbs echoed the view.

“The decision is not a surprise but is still shameful,” said Jadranka Misic, a 29-year-old sociologist from Belgrade.

For tennis fan Milovan Jankovic, Australia and the tournament itself had secured little more than a Pyrrhic victory.

“It’s going to be ridiculous to hold the tournament without the defending champion and nine-time winner.

“If I were Djokovic I would never set foot in Australia again,” the 57-year-old salesman added.

An “extremely disappointed” Djokovic said he would comply with the unanimous ruling.

AFP

‘Disappointed’ Djokovic Deported From Australia 

File photo: Serbia’s Novak Djokovic leaves the court after being defeated by Germany’s Alexander Zverev in their Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games men’s singles semifinal tennis match at the Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo on July 30, 2021. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

 

Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia Sunday having lost a sensational legal battle over his coronavirus vaccination status and with his dream of clinching a record 21st Grand Slam in tatters.

An “extremely disappointed” Djokovic said he would comply with a unanimous Federal Court decision to uphold his visa cancellation over fears he could stoke anti-vaccine sentiment.

“I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open,” he said on the eve of a tournament that he has dominated for a decade.

“I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love.”

An AFP reporter captured images of Djokovic at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport late Sunday, as the humbled star boarded a flight for Dubai.

EK409 took off at 10:51 pm local time (1151 GMT).

Just hours earlier, in a few dry words, the chief justice of Australia’s Federal Court, James Allsop, dispensed with the unvaccinated tennis superstar’s attempt to reinstate his cancelled visa and to make tennis history.

“The orders of the court are that the amended application be dismissed with costs,” Allsop said in understated remarks that ended a week of legal high drama.

Three Federal Court justices had listened to half a day of feisty legal back-and-forth about Djokovic’s alleged risk to public order in Australia.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke claimed Djokovic’s stance could inspire anti-vaccine sentiment, leading some people to face the pandemic without vaccination and inspiring anti-vaxxer activists to gather in protests and rallies.

Hawke welcomed Sunday’s verdict, saying: “Australia’s strong border protection policies have kept us safe during the pandemic.”

“(They) are also fundamental to safeguarding Australia’s social cohesion,” he said.

The player’s high-powered legal team tried but failed to paint Australia’s effort to deport him as “irrational” and “unreasonable”.

Despite the star being unvaccinated, lawyer Nick Wood insisted his client had not courted anti-vaxxer support and was not associated with the movement.

The government “doesn’t know what Mr Djokovic’s current views are”, Wood insisted.

The court did not endorse the government’s decision but ruled the action was legal under rules that give the minister exceptional and almost unquestionable executive power.

Anti-Vaccination ‘Icon’ 

Novak Djokovic was denied aces to participate in the Australian Open despite ab exemption from two panels of medical experts
In this file photo taken on October 22, 2020, Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic attends an open-air press conference in Belgrade.  (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP)

 

The Australian Open defending champion and first seed had been scheduled to play against fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic on Monday evening.

But Djokovic has spent much of the last week in immigration detention, with his visa twice being revoked by the government over his refusal to get a Covid-19 vaccine before arrival — a requirement for most visitors.

Government lawyer Stephen Lloyd said the fact Djokovic was not vaccinated two years into the pandemic and had repeatedly ignored safety measures — including failing to isolate while Covid-19 positive — was evidence enough of his anti-vaccine views.

“He has now become an icon for the anti-vaccination groups,” Lloyd said. “Rightly or wrongly he is perceived to endorse an anti-vaccination view and his presence here is seen to contribute to that.”

In a written submission the government also pointed out that Djokovic chose not to give evidence at the hearing.

“He could set the record straight if it needed correcting. He has not — that has important consequences.”

Because of the format of the court, the justices’ decision would have been almost impossible to appeal.

Scott Morrison’s government had tried and failed to remove Djokovic once before — on the grounds he was unvaccinated and that a recent Covid infection was not sufficient for a medical exemption.

A lower circuit court judge ruled that officials at Melbourne airport made procedural errors when cancelling his visa.

For a few days, Djokovic was free to train — before a second visa revocation and a return to a notorious Melbourne immigration detention facility.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic lashed out at Australian authorities.

“They think that they have by this, this mistreatment of 10 days, humiliated Djokovic, but they have humiliated themselves. Djokovic can return to his country with his head held high,” Vucic told a state media outlet.

Vucic has remained steadfast in his support for Djokovic throughout the drama, calling the earlier detention of the tennis star a “political witch hunt”.

“I spoke earlier to Novak Djokovic after the decision and I encouraged him. We look forward to seeing him return to his country, where he is always welcome,” the president added.

‘With Or Without Him’ 

Many Australians — who have suffered prolonged lockdowns and border restrictions — believe the player gamed the system to dodge vaccine entry requirements.

The case has been seized on by culture warriors in the roiling debate over vaccines and how to handle the pandemic.

The tennis ace contracted Covid-19 in mid-December — allowing for the medical exemption — and, according to his own account, failed to isolate despite knowing he was positive.

Public records show he attended a stamp unveiling and a youth tennis event, and granted a media interview around the time he got tested and his latest infection was confirmed.

Djokovic is tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slam titles each.

Spanish great Nadal took a swipe at his rival on Saturday as players complained the scandal was overshadowing the opening Grand Slam of the year.

“The Australian Open is much more important than any player,” Nadal told reporters at Melbourne Park.

“The Australian Open will be a great Australian Open with or without him.”

AFP 

Osaka Vows To Have Fun After Making Winning Return From Long Break

Japan’s Naomi Osaka reacts after a point against France’s Alize Cornet during their women’s singles match at the Melbourne Summer Set tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 4, 2022. William WEST / AFP

 

Naomi Osaka said Tuesday that she aims to enjoy herself on the court this year as she won on her return to action following a tearful exit at the US Open in September.

The four-time Grand Slam champion, who has fallen to 13 in the rankings, said after her third-round defeat at Flushing Meadows that she was “dealing with some stuff” and would take an indefinite break from tennis.

The former world number one from Japan had mostly laid low before flying into Melbourne last week to prepare for her Australian Open defence.

Read Also: Wolves Beat Man Utd To End Rangnick’s Honeymoon

The 24-year-old was nowhere near her best but defeated France’s 61st-ranked veteran Alize Cornet 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in the Melbourne Summer Set tournament and said that being back in Australia was like “a breath of fresh air”.

Osaka is determined to avoid the “extreme build-up” of emotions last year that made her feel “sad”.

“I feel like for me, I only really have one major goal this year, and it’s completely unrelated to results,” she said, holding a press conference again after her stance last year over the negative impact they had on her mental wellbeing.

“For me, I just want to feel like every time I step on the court I’m having fun. I can walk off the court knowing that even if I lost, I tried as hard as I could.

“Also I have a goal in the press room — that I’m never going to cry again, so hopefully that works out in my favour,” she added.

“I’m the type of person that cared a little bit too much about the results and the ranking and stuff like that.

“And I just need to find a way to enjoy the game again because that’s the reason why I was playing in the first place.”

Osaka last year withdrew from the French Open and Wimbledon over mental health issues, saying her problems were exacerbated by speaking to the media after matches.

She said on Tuesday her feelings and emotions were “like an extreme build-up and you just happened to see it all released last year”.

During her self-enforced absence, Osaka tried to have a normal life away from the pressures of the tennis tour, spending time with family and friends and enjoying sleepovers, something she had never experienced before.

“During the off-season, I just hung out with my friends and talked to my family a lot, and I felt like that was a way of decompressing the pressure I had on myself,” she said.

“Then I just slowly started to regain the feeling of love that I had towards the game — and it’s not like it ever completely went away.

“But I felt like it got overshadowed by a lot of emotions that I was feeling, just by constantly playing year after year… sometimes it’s good to remember why you’re playing.”

Her win on Tuesday set up a last-16 clash with Belgium’s Maryna Zanevska, who eased past Croatia’s Petra Martic in straight sets.

China’s Peng Denies Sex Assault Claim As WTA Continue Investigations

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai denied being sexually assaulted by a senior communist leader
(FILES) This file photo taken on November 3, 2017, shows Peng Shuai of China looking on during her women’s singles match against Elena Vesnina of Russia at the Zhuhai Elite Trophy tennis tournament in Zhuhai, in south China’s Guangdong province. 
STR / AFP

 

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has denied alleging that a senior Communist Party leader sexually assaulted her and insisted she is living freely, in her first media interview since her accusations triggered concerns for her safety.

However, the comments did not ease worries at the Women’s Tennis Association, which said Monday that it still had “significant concerns about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion”.

In a post last month on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform, Peng had alleged that former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli — who is in his 70s — coerced her into sex during an on-off relationship spanning several years.

In comments to Lianhe Zaobao, a Singaporean Chinese-language newspaper, Peng denied making the allegation.

“I would like to stress a very important point: I have never said nor written anything accusing anyone of sexually assaulting me,” the 35-year-old said in footage apparently filmed on a phone at a sports event in Shanghai on Sunday.

“I would like to emphasise this point very clearly.”

The post was quickly scrubbed from the Chinese web, but not before screenshots were posted on Twitter, setting off a global outcry.

The former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion then disappeared from public appearances for around three weeks.

The incident sparked international concern about her safety, including those from the United Nations, the White House, and fellow tennis stars.

In the Zaobao video, when asked about the Weibo statement, Peng did not deny the post but described it as a “private matter” that people had “many misunderstandings” about.

She did not elaborate.

In the video, a person is heard asking if she is able to move around freely and if she has been under surveillance since making the accusations.

Peng responded that she has “always been very free”.

The WTA said it was still not convinced of Peng’s wellbeing.

“We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault,” the organisation said in a statement emailed to AFP.

The WTA has suspended all tournaments in China, including Hong Kong, over concerns about Peng.

 ‘My own free will’

The latest video follows images of Peng published by Chinese state media, including some of her at a tennis tournament.

They also published a screenshot of an email Peng purportedly wrote to the Women’s Tennis Association saying “everything is fine”.

But that did little to ease worries.

WTA chief Steve Simon said at the time he had “a hard time believing” Peng’s email and questioned whether she was really free to speak openly.

In the latest video, dressed in a red T-shirt and dark down jacket, both with “China” emblazoned on them, Peng told Zaobao that the email was legitimate and written, “entirely of my own free will”.

Hours earlier, unverified images posted online by a Chinese state-affiliated journalist showed Peng speaking with Yao and two other Chinese sports figures — Olympic sailing champion Xu Lijia and retired table tennis player Wang Liqin.

In Peng’s original post in November — removed after about thirty minutes — she purportedly accused Zhang of pressuring her into sex, and wrote that she was “very scared” and “kept crying”.

Peng reportedly claimed they then went on to have a relationship, which continued until Zhang stopped recently.

All discussion of Peng’s claims have been quickly scrubbed from China’s tightly-controlled internet, and the foreign ministry has said the case was being “maliciously” hyped up.

-AFP