Serena Williams battled into the US Open last 16 Saturday as the tournament endured fresh controversy after New York health officials ordered the women’s top doubles pairing be withdrawn over coronavirus restrictions.
Williams, chasing a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title, came from a set down to oust 2017 champion Sloane Stephens 2-6, 6-2, 6-2, in what she called an “intense” encounter on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“In that first set I don’t think she made any errors, honestly. She was just playing so clean and I just said, ‘I don’t want to lose in straight sets,'” said Williams.
With spectators barred from this year’s Flushing Meadows event due to the pandemic, second and fourth seeds Sofia Kenin and Naomi Osaka took advantage of suites they have been assigned to check out the competition.
“It’s cool us players can watch each other. It’s interesting, I like it,” said Williams, who will play 15th seed Maria Sakkari for a place in the quarter-finals.
The Greek player, who stunned Williams at the Western & Southern Open last month, progressed with a 6-3, 6-1 dismantling of America’s 22nd seed Amanda Anisimova.
Off the court, number one seeds Kristina Mladenovic and Timea Babos were yanked from the women’s doubles competition after Mladenovic was instructed to quarantine for coming in contact with French compatriot Benoit Paire, who tested positive for COVID-19 last weekend.
“All persons who were identified as having prolonged close contact with the infected player will quarantine in their rooms for the remainder of their quarantine period,” the United States Tennis Association said in a statement.
The USTA said local public health authorities had issued the quarantine notices, which prevented the players commuting from their hotel to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
“The USTA is obligated to adhere to government guidance at the State, City and County level,” the body said.
– ‘Brutal’ –
A spokesman for New York state’s health department said the decision was “in the best interest” of health and safety.
But France’s Alize Cornet described the move as “very brutal.”
“It’s definitely weird because she could play her first round of singles and first round of doubles, and now suddenly she’s kicked out,” Cornet added, after progressing to the last 16 when Madison Keys retired injured.
The shock intervention came a day after government officials tried to prevent Adrian Mannarino, who had also been in contact with Paire, from playing his last-32 match.
The health department contacted the USTA to say Mannarino should be quarantining in his hotel room.
The match got underway three hours after its scheduled start time, after authorities ruled it could go ahead following discussions with tennis officials that also included lobbying by world number one Novak Djokovic.
Mannarino and Mladenovic were two of 11, mostly French players, put under enhanced safety protocols on Monday after Paire was withdrawn from the US Open the previous day following his positive test.
– Pironkova wins again –
The players signed an agreement with New York City authorities that allowed them to remain in the tournament under the enhanced restrictions, which involved daily testing and barred them from communal areas in their hotel.
Mannarino said Friday that organizers told him that New York state authorities had taken over the case and ruled that he was now not allowed to play.
Following her first-round singles win on Monday, Mladenovic said she had been “living in a nightmare” following Paire’s positive test result.
The US Open is taking place behind closed doors because of the deadly pandemic.
Players movements are tightly controlled and everyone onsite is being tested regularly to minimize the risk of infection.
Paire, who later tested negative, exited the tournament in a huff, accusing authorities of operating a “fake bubble.”
The players who were in contact with him have been told they won’t be allowed to fly out of New York until next week.
Back on the court Saturday, Russian third seed Daniil Medvedev, Italy’s sixth seed Matteo Berrettini and Andrey Rublev, all entered the last 16 with easy three-set wins.
Second seed Dominic Thiem also progressed to round four, overcoming 2014 champion Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
And Canada’s 94th-ranked Vasek Pospisil shocked eighth-seeded Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut and Australia’s 21st seed Alex de Minaur upset 11th-seeded Russian Karen Khachanov.
In the women’s draw, unranked Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, playing her first tournament in three years, knocked out 18th seed Donna Vekic.
Second seed Sofia Kenin defeated Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur 7-6 (7/4), 6-3 to set up a match against Belgium’s Elise Mertens for a quarter-final place.
And former number one Victoria Azarenka said she had “a great opportunity” to end her seven-year wait for a third Grand Slam after booking a last 16 berth with a straight-sets win over Poland’s Iga Swiatek.
The final of the women’s Euro is set to be played at Wembley, which is also the venue for both semi-finals and the final of the men’s tournament.
The English FA’s director of women’s football, Sue Campbell, said that the host nation backed the decision to delay the tournament by a year.
“We agree that this decision will ultimately benefit the tournament, creating its own window in the football calendar. It will also allow us all more time following this challenging period to deliver an unforgettable event befitting of a home Euro,” she said.
Impressed by the world-class organisation of the event and the huge followership the annual ITTF Challenge Plus Nigeria Open commands globally, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) has described the tournament as a model for others.
At the press briefing to herald the tournament in Lagos, Executive Vice President, ITTF, Dr Alaa Meshref, said upgrading the tournament to Challenge Plus was done as a result of its global acceptance by players.
“We are happy to have a tournament with the fans coming to watch and this has improved with more players eager to come to Nigeria,” the ITTF chief said
He commended the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF) and the Lagos State Government for their commitment to table tennis, while hoping that the tournament would continue to set example for others.
Meshref said: “We are excited with what is happening in Nigeria when it comes to table tennis and we are thrilled by the commitment of those involved in the organisation of this championship. We believe that in no distant time, the tournament will rival others in Europe and Asia in terms of prize money. We must commend the NTTF and Lagos State Government for what they are doing to the sport. ITTF will continue to support this tournament. It is a model for others in the world.”
For the president of the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation, Engr. Ishaku Tikon, the tournament has continued to set new records with over 32 nations competing this year. “We are grateful to our sponsors and we want to thank the sports-loving governor of Lagos State for his commitment to the tournament. I welcome every player to Nigeria this year,” the NTTF chief said.
As part of preparation for the first round of the African qualifying race for the Women’s Football Tournament of next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, Super Falcons’ Head Coach, Thomas Dennerby has invited 30 players to start a camping programme in Abuja as from Thursday, 8th August.
Nigeria has been drawn to face Algeria in the first round of the qualifying fixtures, with both legs of the fixture to be concluded between 26th August and 3rd September 2019.
The Nigeria Football Federation has announced that the return leg of fixture, which first leg will be in Algeria, will take place at the Agege Stadium, Lagos – one of the venues inspected by a FIFA team on Tuesday as possible host venue of the 10th FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup that Nigeria is bidding to host next year.
All invited players are expected to arrive at the Abuja camp on Thursday, 8th August 2019.
Goalkeepers: Jonathan Alaba (Bayelsa Queens); Christy Ohiaeriaku (Delta Queens); Tochukwu Oluehi (Rivers Angels); Chiamaka Nnadozie (Rivers Angels)
Goalkeepers Alaba Jonathan, Christy Ohiaeriaku and Chiamaka Nnadozie will contest for the number one position with Oluehi, who maintained her place among the sticks as the Falcons won a ninth African title in Ghana last year and has kept the position ever since.
All invited players have been asked to report to camp in Abuja on Sunday, 28th April as training sessions would commence on Monday, 29th April.
The tournament will begin on May 8 to 18 with the Super Falcons to play in Group B alongside Burkina Faso, Niger Republic and Mali. Host nation Cote d’Ivoire will tackle Senegal, Togo and Ghana in Group A.
Former Super Eagles Captain, Joseph Yobo, has predicted that Ghana would win the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) ongoing in Equatorial Guinea.
“I tip Ghana to win the tournament. As our brothers and long term allies, I would like them to win the tournament. Above all, I think they have a good team,” he said.
The Black Stars beat host country, Equatorial Guinea, in the semi-final to land in the final match against Ivory Coast who beat Algeria to progress.
Yobo, who confessed that he has not been following the tournament, feels the Black Stars led by former Chelsea Manager, Avram Grant, have shown enough resilience to win the trophy.
The Sunday evening duel would be a replay of the 1992 AFCON final, which saw Ivory Coast defeating Ghana to win in Senegal.
It is believed that the Black Stars, gunning for a fifth continental glory, would also be seeking revenge.
Ghanaian Striker, Jordan Ayew, has, however, said that the AFCON 2015 final match against Cote d’Ivoire would not be about revenge for the 1992 defeat that the Ghanaian team including his father – Abedi – suffered at the hands of the Elephants.
While expressing his hope for a win against the star studded Elephants, he said that the team’s focus would on ending their three decades of heartbreak in Africa’s biggest football prize.
Jordan insisted that he and his brother, Andre would not have revenge at the back of their minds when they walk on to the pitch to face Africa’s best player for four years, Yaya Toure; former Arsenal forward, Gervinho and other top players who make up the equally glory starved Ivorian team.
“We want to win the game on Sunday not because of 1992, but because we have not won an AFCON tournament since 1982,” Jordan said.
Ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations AFCON 2015 final match that is to hold at the Bata Stadium on Sunday, the Ghanaian team are optimistic of the outcome.
Andre Ayew, the Ghanaian forward has vowed that the Ghanaian team will fight to win Sunday’s AFCON final match against Cote d’Ivore for the whole of Ghana.
The Ghanaian forward has shone in this competition, scoring three goals but he insisted it was the result of the confidence he has enjoyed both from his teammates and the coach.
“I have tried to raise my game because I have been given responsibilities both on and off the pitch. It is due to the group and the confidence from the coach,” he said.
He also blamed inexperience for the Black Stars loss at the 2010 AFCON final to Egypt saying that 14 players had been brought from the U20 World Cup and the team was in the final after three months of the tournament where they were attacking, but couldn’t score.
Ayew said, “I remember the red coat my father wore (sitting on the sidelines in the 1992 final). My father is a Ghanaian and so I want to win this cup for all Ghanaians.”
Ghana last won this competition in 1982 with Andre’s father, the legendary Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew, one of the top stars from that triumph in Libya.
Ten years later, Ayew senior could not play another Africa Cup final after he picked up a second yellow card against Nigeria in the semi-final and Cote d’Ivoire went ahead to beat the Black Stars 11-10 on penalties after a goalless 120 minutes of action. “When you get to the final, you need to do everything to win the trophy,” he said.
Ghanaian Black Stars Captain, Asamoah Gyan, returned to training in Bata on Saturday ahead of the AFCON 2015 final against Ivory Coast.
Gyan did not join his colleagues during the team work out, but trained separately with physical trainer Jamie Lawrence due to his health status.
Gyan must pass a late fitness test to make Avram Grant’s starting line-up for the final against Ivory Coast.
The 29-year-old missed Ghana’s AFCON 2015 semi-final against Equatorial Guinea due to a hip injury he suffered against Guinea last Sunday.
Avram Grant, the black star coach also said that reaching the final of the AFCON tournament is as important to him as reaching the UEFA Champions league final.
“For me, I do not rate any final as the best; it’s a good achievement we have reached with these guys and all Ghanaian should get behind the team,” he said.
The former Chelsea boss took charge of the West African giants three weeks to CAF’s flagship competition, but has managed to reach the final of the competition.
[highlight]Enugu Rangers, Nigeria’s representative in the 2013 CAF Champions League could only scrape a 0-0 draw against Angola’s Recreativo Libolo on home soil at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium yesterday.[/highlight]
With this result, Enugu Rangers has boxed itself and its chances of moving to the next round of the competition as they will hold by the Angolan club for the second leg in a fortnight to end the third round tie which will determine who moves on or bow out.
It was rather unfortunate for Rangers as from the blow of the whistle, it was an attacking strategy but for the Angolan keeper Landu ensured that Rangers didn’t get the much desired win on home soil as he stopped all efforts to get the ball behind him failed even though Rangers were gifted an opportunity to lead through Emeka Eze in the dying minute but he went off target, ending the game at a drab 0-0 draw.
Goalkeeper Chigozie Agbim captained Enugu Rangers into the encounter. it would be recalled that Agbim and another Rangers players Sunday Mba were in the heat of a transfer saga that left Rangers an option of paying quickly for Agbim’s transfer fee to Warri Wolves to ensure the goalkeeper get registered for the encounter because Agbim was the only fit goalkeeper Rangers could boast ahead of the CAF Champion league clash of Sunday.