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You cannot be serious: Murray hits back at McEnroe claim

June 19, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Andy Murray has slammed John McEnroe’s claim the world number one should be seen as ‘a distant fourth’ behind old rivals Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Murray

Murray begins his Wimbledon preparations this week as he defends his title in the grass-court tournament at Queen’s Club and American legend McEnroe may have given the Scot a little extra motivation with his criticism.

Although Wimbledon champion Murray remains top of the rankings, the 30-year-old has struggled this year, while Nadal and Federer have enjoyed unexpected revivals.

At Wimbledon, Federer will be hoping to clinch a 19th Grand Slam, while Nadal and Djokovic are gunning for their 16th and 13th respectively.

McEnroe told the Sunday Times that Murray, who has won three major titles, can’t be ranked on the same level as his ‘Big Four’ rivals.

But while the Scot admits that rings true for their whole careers, he pointed to his record at the Olympics, where he has won two singles gold medals, as evidence to the contrary.

“For me, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. I’m very proud of the Olympic medals, they mean a lot to me,” Murray said at Queen’s Club on Sunday.

“Within tennis, a lot of people just go ‘oh that guy was a better player because he won more Grand Slams than that one or that woman was better because she won more Grand Slams’.

“If that’s the case then what is the point in all of us being here today? Why is everyone here covering this event? There are other tournaments outside the slams as well.

“If you look at the titles and everything those guys have won, I can’t compare myself to them.

“There’s maybe one or two things that I have done that they won’t have but for the most part I would have been fourth.

“But it’s not true of the last year because I’m ranked number one in the world. I’ve been better than them for the last 12 months, that’s how the ranking systems work.”

Murray also stood by his recent claim that he may only have two or three more years left challenging for major honours, despite Federer winning the Australian Open aged 35 in January.

“It’s really hard, it’s always tough to stay at the top of any sport,” Murray said.

“I hope I stay at the top of the game for five, six, seven years but I think just because Roger’s done it doesn’t mean that’s going to happen to everyone.

“Right now, I feel good, but we’ll have to see how I am.”

Murray will face British number four Aljaz Bedene at Queen’s on Tuesday as he looks to hold onto the title he won for a record fifth time last year.

Scots learning how to turn close defeats to wins – Barclay

June 19, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Skipper John Barclay says Scotland are learning from their agonising defeats and are better equipped at closing out tight Tests after toppling the Wallabies in a famous victory in Australia.

BArclay

The Scots will climb to fifth in the world rankings from sixth after holding on for a resilient 24-19 win in Sydney on Saturday, spiritedly defending their try-line as the Wallabies laid siege.

It was Scotland’s second-straight win in Australia after edging the Wallabies 9-6 in Newcastle in 2012, and comes on the back of two heartbreaking one-point defeats at Murrayfield last year and in the quarter-finals of the 2015 World Cup at Twickenham.

Scotland have now won three of their last six encounters with the Wallabies and will take home the Hopetoun Cup, one of the few trophies that had been remaining in Australia’s possession.

Barclay, the 62-capped blindside flanker from Llanelli’s Scarlets, said Scotland’s skills have been under-played and they were making their presence felt in international rugby.

“It will give us confidence. You cannot deny the fact that we’ve been on the wrong side of a couple of these against the Aussies for the last couple of years and it was nice to close one out,” Barclay told reporters after Saturday’s triumph.

“But in this year’s Six Nations we closed out a couple of really important games, tight games against Ireland and Wales, so I think we are getting better at closing out games.

“The important thing is that you learn from the close defeats. Everyone always talks about the Scots being brave, but I don’t think we speak enough about the skills of the guys have.

“Look at the tries we’re scoring, I think it’s brilliant and I think it’s under-played at times.”

Scotland matched the Wallabies’ three tries and after regaining the lead midway through the second period, they held on gamely for a morale-boosting win.

“It’s really a proud day for us all,” said coach Gregor Townsend, who has now won his first two games in charge after last week’s 34-13 victory over Italy in Singapore.

“For everyone involved in Scottish rugby to blow away those frustrations of the last couple of seasons and come away with such an important win is a credit to the players.

“If you have to defend 10-15 minutes like that against a brilliant attacking team, then you need strong bones and that’s what this team has.

“We knew that it would be really tough, Australia showed a lot what they could do in attack but our width in our defence, the fact that everyone in that 15 were looking to get back and compete for ball, really helped us to get a place and slow down their ball.”

Townsend and Barclay paid tribute to the on-field leadership of 29-capped fly-half Finn Russell, who later was called up as one of six injury reinforcements for the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand.

“I have to say that Finn Russell was outstanding. He leads our attack, but I thought he led our defence really well, the amount of tackles he put in and putting his body on the line,” Townsend said.

Barclay added: “I thought the way Finn Russell has changed as a leader and his composure on the pitch breeds confidence to those around him.”

Scotland left on Sunday for their third and final Test of their tour against Fiji in Suva on Saturday.

Ronaldo’s Portugal held by Mexico at Confed Cup

June 19, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Cristiano Ronaldo brushed off speculation about his Real Madrid future, although Portugal conceded a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw with Mexico at the Confederations Cup on Sunday.

Mexico

Ronaldo teed up Ricardo Quaresma to fire Portugal ahead in the first half in Kazan, but the goal was cancelled out before the break by Mexico striker Javier Hernandez’s bullet header.

Cedric Soares restored Portugal’s lead on 86 minutes, but Hector Moreno’s stoppage-time header salvaged a point for Mexico in their Group A opener.

“We could have killed off the match but it didn’t happen. The draw is a fair result without doubt,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos, whose side wore black armbands in honour of the victims of a deadly forest fire back home.

“I would like to say something on behalf of my players. People are very sad in Portugal and the players are thinking of all those who are suffering from what’s happened.”

Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio said his team deserved their point but admitted there was work to be done going forward.

“Hector Moreno’s goal handed Mexican football a huge result,” he said.

“We still need to work on our finishing, we’re not efficient enough in the final third of the pitch.

“The next match will be very tough because New Zealand will give it their all.”

Ronaldo, 32, is reportedly furious over a tax probe into the off-shore accounts dealing with his image rights, and has reportedly vowed to leave Spain.

According to Spanish paper Marca on Sunday, Real Madrid’s coach Zinedine Zidane even broke off his holiday to call Ronaldo to try to persuade his star not to quit the club.

But Portugal’s talisman was at his best in an action-packed first half in his team’s opening match, with hosts Russia and New Zealand still to come in the group.

Ronaldo’s superb volley looked to have helped Portugal take the lead, but the video assistant referee came to Mexico’s rescue after Nani had put the ball in the net.

When Ronaldo’s volley thumped the crossbar, Nani pounced on the rebound, but the video ref spotted that four players were offside.

However, Portugal, and Ronaldo, were not to be denied.

The Euro 2016 winners took the lead on 34 minutes when Ronaldo sprinted into the box and his beautifully-timed pass found Quaresma unmarked in the area.

The Besiktas winger drew Mexico’s goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and tapped home the opening goal.

But Mexico responded with Hernandez testing Portugal keeper Rui Patricio, before putting his side level.

Mexico’s all-time top scorer grabbed his 48th international goal from 93 appearances after some dreadful defending by Portugal.

Borussia Dortmund midfielder Raphael Guerreiro failed to deal with a cross into the box and Carlos Vela teed up Hernandez, who met the cross with a diving header.

After an explosive opening period, the second was a much tamer affair as both teams squandered half chances as the tempo dropped.

With time running out, Southampton right-back Cedric pounced on a loose ball and slammed home Portugal’s second goal.

But with the 90 minutes up, Mexican defender Moreno rose highest from the final corner of the game to head in the equaliser.

Lions floor Maori in All Blacks dress rehearsal

June 19, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Leigh Halfpenny booted the British and Irish Lions to a convincing 32-10 win over the Maori All Blacks on Saturday to regain precious momentum ahead of next week’s first Test against New Zealand.

Furlong

After turning 12-10 ahead, a penalty try soon after half-time and try from lock Maro Itoje — when the Maori had a man in the sin-bin — gave the Lions complete control at a wet Rotorua. Halfpenny kicked six penalties and a conversion.

“It’s important for our momentum, our confidence,” said Lions captain Peter O’Mahony.

“You don’t want to be going into a game against the All Blacks with losses under our belt. This win goes a long way to building what we want to build.”

The Lions’ confidence-boosting win, after Tuesday’s loss to the Otago Highlanders and a week before they face the All Blacks, underscored how the first Test in Auckland will be a battle of contrasting styles.

While the All Blacks ran from all angles in their 12-try, 78-0 win over Samoa on Friday, the clinical Lions stuck to their formula of mixing a kick-and-chase game from Conor Murray with strong, driving, forward play.

They had the better of the Maori in the air and at the breakdown, and they dominated the scrums in the second half.

Such was their overwhelming control, boosted by the scavenging of Sean O’Brien, that they enjoyed more than 70 percent of possession.

But despite an abundance of ball and territory they struggled to beat a tenacious Maori defence and get across the line.

The Lions did, however, successfully shut down the Maori backs and young All Blacks Nehe Milner-Skudder, Rieko Ioane and Damian McKenzie — all considered exceptional ball-runners — had few opportunities.

The one time Milner-Skudder featured it produced the game’s opening try, when he slipped through a gap and kicked ahead.

George North failed to gather the ball, allowing Liam Messam to charge through and touch down on 12 minutes.

It was not until the Maori were down to 14 men, with scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow yellow-carded for a no-arms tackle on Halfpenny, that the Lions benefited with their two tries.

The first was a seven-point penalty try when the Maori forwards, already on a warning from referee Jaco Peyper, gave way in a five-metre scrum.

The second try went to Saracens lock Itoje, who barged over after another Maori scrum disintegrated.

While the pre-match focus was on the Lions’ loose trio of Taulupe Faletau, O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony, it was Itoje who was the towering force among the forwards.

By the time Kerr-Barlow returned to the fray, the fight had gone out of his forward pack and the Lions forwards were able to rumble forward with confidence.

When the Maori had a full complement of 15 on the field, the Lions camped deep in enemy territory but they could not score a try.

Halfpenny landed four penalties in the first half with McKenzie converting Messam’s try and kicking a penalty for the Maori.

In addition to the two tries in the second half for the Lions, Halfpenny added a further two penalties and a conversion.

Manchester United complete £31 million signing of Lindelof

June 16, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Manchester United on Wednesday completed the signing of Swedish international centre-back Victor Lindelof from Benfica for a fee believed to be £31 million (35m euros, $39.6m), the English Premier League side announced.

Lindelof

“I am thrilled to be joining Manchester United,” said the 22-year-old after penning a four-year deal.

“I have enjoyed my time at Benfica enormously and I have learned a lot there. But I’m looking forward to playing in the Premier League at Old Trafford and for Jose Mourinho.”

Lindelof joined Benfica from home-town club Vasteras SK in 2012 and won three Portuguese league titles and two Portuguese Cups during his time in Lisbon.

Lindelof is the second centre-back signed by United manager Mourinho following last year’s capture of Ivory Coast international Eric Bailly from Villarreal.

Mourinho also has England pair Chris Smalling and Phil Jones at his disposal, along with Argentina international Marcos Rojo, while Dutch utility man Daley Blind has slotted into central defence on occasion.

“Victor is a very talented young player, who has a great future ahead of him at United,” said Mourinho on Wednesday.

“Our season last year showed us that we need options and quality to add depth to the squad and Victor is the first to join us this summer. I know that our fantastic group of players will welcome him as one of us.”

Lindelof is United’s first new signing of the summer as they build up towards a Champions League campaign next season.

He told MUTV that he was ready to fight for his place in the team.

“Of course there are some great players here in my position,” said the Swede.

“I’m here to do my best to try to help the team as much as I can and it’s always good to have other good players around you. When you have that, you get better as well.

“I think every move means you have to adapt to a new environment but I feel comfortable in myself. I trust myself and it’s going to be tough but I’m looking forward to it.

“I always had a dream of coming here to play in the Premier League so, for me, it’s a dream come true.”

United are also in the market for a striker, having included Zlatan Ibrahimovic, currently sidelined by a serious knee injury, on their list of players to be released.

Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata is one name linked with a move to Old Trafford.

His agent said earlier this week that United had lodged a “very important offer” with the Spanish giants to try to bring him to Manchester.

Mayweather, McGregor agree to August boxing super-fight

June 16, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Boxing legend Floyd Mayweather and mixed martial arts icon Conor McGregor confirmed plans for a long-awaited showdown on Wednesday, triggering both criticism and anticipation for what is set to be one of the richest fights in history.

UFC 196: McGregor v Diaz

Mayweather and McGregor — kingpins of their sports — will climb into a boxing ring to face each other at Las Vegas’s T-Mobile Arena on August 26.

The 40-year-old Mayweather will be aiming to reach the 50-0 milestone while McGregor is a heavy underdog in the 12-round boxing match. A victory for the Irishman would be a monumental upset.

“Floyd is the greatest of all time and Conor is the master of our sport,” MMA promoter Dana White said. “I thought it would be an impossible deal to do, but it was the right fight at the right time and we got it done.”

Leonard Ellerbe, chief executive of Mayweather Promotions, said the boxer’s team decided to end his 23-month retirement because the clamor for the 154-pound showdown had been impossible to ignore.

“There is not one place I go to with Floyd where he doesn’t get asked the question, ‘Floyd are you going to fight Conor McGregor?’ All Floyd thinks about is fighting Conor McGregor and whipping his ass,” Ellerbe said.

Mayweather announced the fight on his Instagram account with a graphic saying “IT’S OFFICIAL!!!” showing pictures of both fighters and listing Las Vegas as the location while McGregor sent out an earlier tweet stating “THE FIGHT IS ON.”

“Floyd said ‘154 is no problem, I don’t want a catchweight,'” Ellerbe said.

McGregor is the top pay-per-view draw in UFC while Mayweather had been the money-spinner in some of boxing’s biggest bouts, including matchups with Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao and US star Oscar De La Hoya. Mayweather earned $250 million for his fight against Pacquiao.

“There is a different feel from the Pacquiao fight, Ellerbe said. “It is the unknown factor (of fighting a MMA star).”

Neither Mayweather nor McGregor have competed this year. Mayweather retired from pro boxing in 2015 after defeating Andre Berto, while McGregor (21-3) defeated Eddie Alvarez in November 2016.

White said the key to finalizing the fight was luring Mayweather out of retirement.

“Everybody is happy with this deal,” he said. “Nobody is bummed out.”

The boxing format heavily favors the undefeated Mayweather (49-0, 26 KOs), whom many consider to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

McGregor, 28, will be entering unknown territory as he has not stepped into a boxing ring since he was a teenager.

Despite having little or no boxing experience, White insists his MMA client McGregor is confident of victory. McGregor is UFC’s only simultaneous two-division champion.

Ellerbe said Mayweather can’t afford to take McGregor lightly.

“I have seen Floyd buzzed in a fight. Things happen in these kinds of fights,” he said. “Floyd is 40 and he has to prepare. We would be a bunch of damn fools to sit around and sleep on this.”

Although there will be no titles on the line, the fight will provide an opportunity for both to cash in financially.

The event is expected to be a pay-for-view blockbuster, and organizers are hoping it can challenge the 4.6 million pay-per-view buys for Mayweather-Pacquiao.

Stephen Espinoza, executive vice-president of Showtime Sports, said fans will buy the pay-per-view for the fight because of the novelty.

“The sky is the limit,” Espinoza said. “There is nothing to compare it against. No one has seen this type of competition in the ring.”

Not everyone will be excited to see a Mayweather-McGregor exhibition match, however, especially considering that McGregor is a 25-1 underdog.

Boxing champion-turned-promoter De La Hoya had already dismissed the planned fight as an embarrassment for boxing. News of the fight on Wednesday also triggered waves of scorn across social media, with many branding the bout a “freak show.”

Espinoza was unmoved by the criticism, however.

“This is not a referendum on the sport of boxing,” he said.

White said McGregor would be training for the fight in his homeland with Irish boxers. Promoters are hoping the trash-talking McGregor can sell tickets.

In his last fight, McGregor won the lightweight title from Alvarez in November 2015 in UFC’s first Madison Square Garden card.

McGregor received a California boxing license last year, but is still waiting for his Nevada application to be approved.

Springboks await ‘huge onslaught’ by France

June 16, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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South Africa coach Allister Coetzee expects a “huge onslaught” from France Saturday in a Durban Test that could decide the three-match series.

The Rugby Championship: South Africa v New Zealand

The Springboks lead 1-0 after a 37-14 victory over the severely depleted Les Bleus in Pretoria last weekend as they seek to put a disastrous first season for Coetzee behind them.

He oversaw a calendar-year record eight losses in 12 Tests for South Africa, fuelling media speculation that a series loss to the French would spell the end for the 54-year-old.

Coetzee labelled the Pretoria success “the start of a new chapter” while admitting that much-changed France are set to pose a much greater threat at Kings Park stadium.

“We know we will be up against a very well prepared French team in the second Test and are readying ourselves for that,” he told reporters in the Indian Ocean port city.

“They want to bounce back and we want to continue with our processes. Both teams have a lot to play for.

“Although not perfect, I am pleased with our set pieces and expect a huge onslaught from the French in the scrums and line-outs.”

Among eight starting changes by Les Bleus coach Guy Noves are two in the front row, one in the “engine room” and one in the back row, all designed to beef up the pack.

Skipper Guilhem Guirado, rested with six other squad members for the Pretoria Test after playing in the French Top 14 final the previous weekend, is recalled.

So are tighthead prop Rabah Slimani, lock Romain Taofifenua and flanker Kevin Gourdon, while more will be expected of star No. 8 Louis Picamoles than he achieved last weekend.

Former provincial scrum-half and Western Stormers coach Coetzee also believes France will be more formidable at half-back for the second Test.

Fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc and scrum-half Baptiste Serin replace Jules Plisson and Maxime Machenaud, who failed to click at Loftus Versfeld stadium.

“Serin is a much bigger threat around the fringes and more of an attacking force in that he asks lots of questions,” observed Coetzee.

“Trinh-Duc is an experienced player who makes good decisions and brings the players around him into the game.

“The French half-back pairing is going to be a much bigger threat than in Pretoria and a lot of their game revolves around the pair.

“Hopefully, we can apply pressure and it will be up to our players, particularly the loose forwards, to cut down their space and ensure they do not have time to make decisions.”

The other two French alterations see South Africa-born Scott Spedding coming in at full-back and a first cap for outside centre Damian Penaud.

A son of former Les Bleus playmaker Alain, 20-year-old Penaud is rewarded for outstanding late-season form with Top 14 champions Clermont.

“We have the feeling, as with others, that he has talent. Now he must express it,” said France coach Guy Noves.

Coetzee reacted predictably to only his second victory in nine Tests by making just one change, and that was enforced with Lionel Mapoe replacing Jesse Kriel at outside centre.

Kriel scored the first try in Pretoria and later suffered concussion, opening the door for Mapoe, who watched the first Test from the grandstand due to a hamstring strain.

The inclusion of Mapoe raised to eight the number of Springbok starters from Golden Lions, the best-performing South African Super Rugby side for several seasons.

Another Lion is skipper and No. 8 Warren Whiteley, who echoed the views of Coetzee regarding France.

“It is going to be a helluva Test,” he predicted. “The French have done their homework and believe they can level the series.”

Lionel Messi pledges ‘fight’ as Argentina eye World Cup

June 16, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Lionel Messi vowed to “keep fighting” as Argentina attempt to overcome their World Cup qualifying struggles and seal their place in next year’s tournament in Russia.

Argentina

The two-time world champions are fifth in South American qualifying, with only the top four teams guaranteed a place in the 2018 World Cup.

“365 days left to Russia, let’s keep fighting for the dream!” Messi wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday, as Argentina bid to avoid missing the finals for the first time since 1970.

Arch-rivals Brazil became the first side to qualify for Russia in March, but Argentina trail fourth-placed Chile by a point with four matches left to play.

Jorge Sampaoli’s side would face a two-legged play-off against the winners of the Oceania region — New Zealand or Solomon Islands — should they finish fifth.

Argentina, without the suspended Messi, crashed to a 2-0 defeat in Bolivia in their most recent qualifier, but the Barcelona star’s four-match ban for swearing at an assistant referee has since been overturned by FIFA.

He can now return when qualifying resumes in August with a clash against Uruguay, followed by matches against Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador.

Argentina have won only one of eight World Cup 2018 qualifiers played without Messi, compared to five out of six won with him on the pitch.

Warriors celebrate NBA crown with street parade

June 16, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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The Golden State Warriors celebrated their latest NBA championship, waving to the crowd from atop double-decker buses as their victory parade weaved through the streets of downtown Oakland.

Golden State Warriors

The jubilant players hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy and gave high fives to their fans as confetti filled the air.

The parade ended on the shores of Lake Merritt where coach Steve Kerr and the players addressed the crowd during an 80-minute rally.

“We need to enjoy this to the fullest,” star guard Stephen Curry said. “This whole day, this whole atmosphere, is unbelievable.”

The Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games to win the title, capping a brilliant 15-1 post-season run. It was the second parade in three seasons for the Warriors.

“There is nobody having more fun than me,” Warriors owner Joe Lacob said. “This is the best job in the world.”

The championship was the first of forward Kevin Durant’s career, and the NBA finals MVP took in the moment.

Durant’s decision to depart the Oklahoma City Thunder and join the Warriors was criticized by many, but winning the title provided redemption for the NBA star.

“It means the world for me to win the championship,” Durant told the crowd. “Hopefully we can keep it going. Thank you for the support.

“It has been a crazy year for me. Going through this year was so much fun. You come into work each day and it is more like fun.”

Golden State went 40 years between titles after winning the crown in 1975. Three of the franchise’s five titles were secured after the team moved to the Bay Area from Philadelphia.

Vettel blames Hamilton errors for holding him up

June 10, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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World championship leader Sebastian Vettel blamed ‘mistakes’ by Lewis Hamilton for hampering his progress as his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen topped the times in Friday’s second practice for the Canadian Grand Prix.

Hamilton

The four-time world champion German said he did not blame the Mercedes driver, but said it was “annoying” that his rhythm was broken as the pair prepared for their seventh contest in an increasingly-competitive season.

“I think towards the end I understood what we need, what the car needs, what we’re planning to do, so it should be a better day tomorrow,” he told reporters after the session.

“All in all it’s been a tricky session, quite slippery on the track.

“And it was a bit annoying. I was stuck behind him. I wanted to get a good feel to the car so I’d leave a gap.

“Then he would do a mistake, so it’s unfortunate, but it was mistakes. It was breaking a bit the rhythm, but we understood.”

“The problem was when you try to do consecutive laps, with traffic, it’s not ideal. I’m pretty sure he didn’t do them on purpose — he was trying to do the same and get a feeling for the car.

“But it was slippery today and easy to do mistakes. I think I spun twice, but I think it will get better during the weekend. The circuit usually improves a lot here.”

Vettel wound up third fastest behind Raikkonen and Hamilton as Ferrari and Mercedes traded fastest laps in a closely-fought day’s action at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

The Finn, who finished a disappointed and controversial second in Ferrari’s one-two triumph at last month’s Monaco Grand Prix, clocked a best lap in one minute and 12,935 seconds to outpace the Briton, who was fastest in the morning’s opening session, by 0.215 seconds.

Hamilton, who trails Vettel by 25 points in the drivers championship after a disappointing Monaco Grand Prix where Ferrari scored a resounding one-two triumph, was encouraged by Mercedes’ form.

“It’s been a pretty good first day for the team,” he said. “The Ferraris are looking fast here and, as the times show, it’s super close at the top right now.

“I feel like we are still just a little bit behind the red cars at this early stage of the weekend, but we’ll be pushing as hard as we can to close the gap ahead of qualifying on Saturday.

“After a tough weekend in Monaco, the main thing is that our car is already feeling a lot better around Montreal. It should be game on for the rest of the weekend.”

Four-time champion German Vettel was third fastest in the second Ferrari ahead of Finn Valtteri Bottas, who was fourth in the second Mercedes.

The top four were separated by only 0.375 seconds at the end of a closely-contested session.

Dutchman Max Verstappen was fifth for Red Bull, before he pulled up in the closing stages with gearbox problems, ahead of Brazilian Felipe Massa of Williams and two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who posted an excellent late lap for McLaren Honda to go seventh.

Verstappen said he remained optimistic despite his problems.

“I don’t know what it was exactly,” he said. “We need to investigate, but before that it was quite a positive session — I thought we were quite close in the top four on this track,which is normally not my favourite.

“We can be quite pleased with that. We are racing for fifth, but it has been like this all season so it doesn’t really change.

“We are not fighting for victories, but fifth is like a victory for us I guess so you just try to make the best of it.”

Frenchman Esteban Ocon and his Force India team-mate Mexican Sergio Perez were eighth and 10 th either side of Russian Daniil Kvyat in his Toro Rosso.

Irving, James lead Cavaliers over Warriors to avoid sweep

June 10, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Kyrie Irving and LeBron James unleashed a historic scoring spectacle Friday to power defending champion Cleveland over Golden State 137-116 in the NBA Finals, ending the Warriors’ bid for a perfect playoff run.

Cavaliers

Irving scored 40 points, hitting 15-of-27 shots from the floor and 7-of-12 3-pointers, while James added 31 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists to pull the Cavaliers within 3-1 in the best-of-seven championship series.

“The magnitude of the game, it hit me in a very deep place,” Irving said. “You want to play extremely well and you understand that’s a do-or-die game.”

No team has escaped a 3-0 deficit to win an NBA playoff series in 126 tries and the Warriors can claim the crown by winning game five at home on Monday in Oakland, California, but the Cavs made the greatest NBA Finals comeback last year from 3-1 down to beat the Warriors.

“The job is still far from over,” Irving said. “We’re still in a hole. But this is a good start.”

Opening the game with the highest-scoring quarter and half in NBA Finals history, the Cavaliers became the first finals team trailing 3-0 to force a fifth game since the 1996 Seattle SuperSonics.

“At the end of the day we’ve just got some resilient guys,” James said. “We’re battle tested, they’re battle tested. And getting swept is something that you never want to have happen. You hate to get swept, lose two games on your home floor. So I think a lot of guys had that in their mind today, and they came out and played like it.”

The defending champion Cavaliers snapped Golden State’s NBA-record post-season win streak at 15 games. The Cavaliers shot 24-of-45 from 3-point range, setting a finals record for 3-pointers and ending one shy of matching the league’s all-time record.

“We were in attack mode,” James said. “It’s going to be even tougher in game five. But we look forward to the challenge.”

The ninth career NBA Finals triple-double by James broke the all-time record he shared with Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson. No one else has more than two.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 35 points while Draymond Green added 16 points and 14 rebounds and Stephen Curry had 14 points, but the Warriors — who never led — could not manage the ninth sweep in finals history.

“It would have (been special),” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “You can’t hold on to it. It’s gone. It’s over with — 16-1 sounds pretty damn good anyway. Forget about that undefeated talk. It’s time to put on a show for our fans.”

Cleveland led 49-33 after the first quarter and 86-68 at half-time, the Cavaliers setting scoring records for any half or quarter in finals history. Irving had 28 points at half-time with 22 from James and 17 from Love.

The old mark of 81 points in a half was set by the 1982 Philadelphia 76ers.

A physical third quarter featured five of the game’s seven technical fouls, two from heated talk between Durant and James after Love fouled Durant, another on Green that appeared to see him ejected before it was revealed that an earlier technical on him had instead been issued to Warriors coach Steve Kerr.

“It was just an incredibly physical game,” Kerr said. “Ton of fouls called early, a lot of holding and grabbing and pushing and shoving. It got out of hand a little bit, and the third quarter it seemed like the game was stopping every time.”

Asked about the weight of trying for playoff perfection, Kerr said, “I don’t think there was any concern or thoughts about history. I think it was we played a desperate team on their home floor, a great team, with great players, and they came out and handed it to us.”

A James 3-pointer put Cleveland ahead 115-96 entering the fourth quarter. James rested for the first 97 seconds of the fourth quarter but two quick Warriors’ 3-pointers hastened his return as Golden State surged within 115-104.

But they never got closer.

Cavaliers fans were chanting, “Cavs in seven” in the final minutes. It’s the same phrase J.R. Smith had posted on his Twitter feed, which he said was hacked.

Now he says that’s not an impossible notion, a comeback to outdo the greatest comeback they made a year ago.

“I wouldn’t say it’s out of the question,” he said. “If we play like we did tonight, it’s very possible.”

Tite ponders Brazil changes after Argentina loss

June 10, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Brazil manager Tite says he is considering changes for Tuesday’s game against Australia after blasting his side’s poor finishing in the loss to Argentina in Melbourne.

Brazil

The world’s number one ranked team wasted several scoring opportunities as Argentina hung on for a 1-0 win in their Superclasico at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Friday.

A goal from Sevilla defender Gabriel Mercado just before half-time proved the eventual winner as Argentina gained a morale-boosting victory under new manager Jorge Sampaoli.

The two-time world champions and second ranked team are struggling outside the automatic qualifying positions in fifth spot in the South American group with four games left while Brazil have already qualified for the World Cup finals in Russia next year.

Tite looked on as Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus hit the woodwork with the goal at his mercy before Chelsea’s Willian fired into the opposite post with the rebound midway through the second half.

“They (Argentina) were not that superior, but we needed more precision in our finishing to take our opportunities,” Tite told reporters after the match through an interpreter.

“We have a lot of things to assess and I might need to make some changes so that we play with better coherence and in a more organized way.

“Even in the match against Uruguay (4-1 win in Montevideo in March) we had to make some adjustments, but in the end what we really have to find is some goals.”

The Brazilians are staying on in Australia to play a second match in Melbourne on Tuesday against the Socceroos, who are tuning up for this month’s Confederations Cup in Russia.

Tite said he was looking for his side to be more clinical against the Australians, who downed Saudi Arabia 3-2 in a crucial home qualifier for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

“The team played well, but we had some trouble marking their (Argentina’s) top players in the first half, and they were playing faster than us,” he said.

“In the second half, we had more possession and played better.

“We had the effort and the formation we wanted but we need more of the players performing at a higher level.

“We didn’t deserve the victory. We need to be more aggressive and we have to neutralise the other team so that we can get the game more on our terms.”

Tite said Brazil had to make better use of their “technical power.”

“We have to be better prepared. We have to look at the game as a whole: the way we want to play, the technical power that we have, and we have to look at the competition,” he said.

“We want to get to the level that we can dominate the game. That way we can get the performance and the results we want.”

Tite said he would assess the condition of Jesus, who was carried off after he collected an elbow in the face in an aerial challenge with Manchester City team-mate Nicolas Otamendi in the final minutes and taken to hospital for observation.

But Brazil’s team coordinator Edu Gaspar said Jesus had been given the all clear.

“Jesus is fine,” Edu told reporters. “I spoke to the doctor, he said he is OK. He did the exam to see if it (his jaw) is broken or not but nothing has happened.”

Argentina will stop off and play in Singapore on Tuesday, but will be without Lionel Messi and defender Otamendi, who will skip the game to prepare for their weddings later this month.

Barcelona superstar Messi will marry his girlfriend Antonella Roccuzzo on June 30, with Otamendi’s wedding scheduled for June 16.

Spurs’ Kane ready for England captaincy

June 8, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane says he is ready to succeed Wayne Rooney as England’s long-term captain.

Harry Kane

England manager Gareth Southgate has eased Manchester United forward Rooney, 31, out of the picture and says he will decide who captains his side on a match-by-match basis.

He has praised Kane’s “leadership qualities” and despite only being 23, the Spurs hotshot says he is ready to carry the responsibility that comes with the armband.

Asked if he thought it might be too soon for him to take on the captaincy, Kane replied: “For me personally, I don’t think so.

“I’ve been captain for Spurs a few times. You wear an armband and it gets built up a lot to be a captain.

“It is a fantastic thing, but in this team — and in this day and age — there should be more than just one leader out there.

“For me, I don’t think it would (be too early), but that is a matter of opinion really.”

On Southgate’s praise, he added: “It’s fantastic to hear. Any player growing up as a footballer dreams of being England captain one day and I am no different.”

Injuries mean Kane has not played for England since the 1-0 win in Slovakia last September that was to prove the one and only game of Sam Allardyce’s ill-fated reign as manager.

Having sat out England’s last six games, he is due to make his first appearance under Southgate in Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Scotland in Glasgow.

Kane scored 29 goals to win the Premier League’s Golden Boot for the second year running, but he is desperate to improve an England record of five goals in 17 games.

“Club football, you are in a rhythm all the time,” said Kane, who scored seven goals in his last two games of the season for Spurs.

“You are playing week in, week out, but for your country, it’s not like that. You meet up every now and then. But it’s something I have got to get used to.

“I want to get back playing, hopefully get back scoring. If I score maybe a hat-trick at the weekend and a couple in the next game (against France on Tuesday), the ratio might not look so bad.

“As a striker, you can always change that. Five in 17 isn’t a terrible record, but it is something I want to improve. Hopefully that can start at the weekend.”

Crusaders pack All Black power for Lions clash

June 8, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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The Canterbury Crusaders have turned their clash with the British and Irish Lions on Saturday into a dress rehearsal for the All Blacks tight five ahead of the first Test.

Crusaders

The Super Rugby competition leaders have named an All Blacks front row with Joe Moody, Owen Franks and Codie Taylor, along with locks Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano.

They spearhead a squad containing nine All Blacks including a third prop, Wyatt Crockett, on the bench.

Israel Dagg, included in the 33-man New Zealand Test squad to face Samoa and the Lions announced on Thursday, will start at fullback.

Adding to the Crusaders depth is eight-Test flanker Matt Todd, who is on standby as injury cover for the Lions series, and three-Test wing Seta Tamanivalu who missed the cut this year.

Coach Scott Robertson predicted a “fantastic clash”.

“This is a huge and exciting challenge for us,” he said.

“We are facing some of the best rugby players in the world, but we have some of the world’s best in this team too, so it will be a fantastic clash.

“No matter how it unfolds, this will be a game that the players involved will remember as one of the special moments in their careers.”

The only changes to the Crusaders team that maintained their unbeaten Super Rugbyrecord last week against the Highlanders sees a rotation at half-back with Bryn Hall starting, a switch to inside centre for David Havili, Dagg at fullback, and Tim Bateman on the bench.

Crusaders (15-1): Israel Dagg; Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, David Havili, George Bridge; Richie Mo’Unga, Bryn Hall; Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis; Sam Whitelock (capt), Luke Romano; Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody Replacements: Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett, Michael Alaalatoa, Quinten Strange, Jed Brown, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Hunt, Tim Bateman

‘Garbage’ man Murray, Nadal eye dream final

June 8, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal can edge closer to an intriguing French Open final rich in landmark moments on Friday after drastically contrasting campaigns in Paris.

Murray

World number one Murray was the first British man in the Roland Garros final since Bunny Austin in 1937 when he finished runner-up to Novak Djokovic last year.

Two more victories, however, starting with his semi-final against 2015 winner Stan Wawrinka, would make him the first Briton to lift the men’s trophy since Fred Perry 82 years ago.

Nadal, who tackles Dominic Thiem, the conqueror of defending champion Djokovic, is bidding to become the first man to capture the same major on 10 occasions.

Murray arrived in France suffering from a fever, the latest woe in a season which has seen him endure an elbow injury, flu and shingles.

“I came in playing garbage,” admitted the 30-year-old of a Masters clay-court swing which saw him exit in the third round in Monte Carlo and Madrid and lose his opener in Rome.

“If someone had offered me a semi-final spot before the tournament, I would have signed up for that.”

His form in Paris has sent out mixed messages.

He needed four sets to get past Andrey Kuznetsov and Martin Klizan in the first two rounds.

Then, in what was expected to be a third-round ambush, he sailed past Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets and was similarly at ease against Karen Khachanov in the last 16.

However, in the quarter-finals, he dropped the first set against Kei Nishikori before his greater stamina proved decisive.

Nadal, meanwhile, is the hot favourite to collect an unprecedented 10th French Open and 15th career major.

The 31-year-old Spaniard, like Wawrinka and Thiem, hasn’t dropped a set at the tournament.

He should also be the fresher having spent just under eight hours on court through five rounds.

Murray has needed the best part of 14 hours playing time while Wawrinka has been in action for almost 11 hours and Thiem just under 10.

Nadal has dropped just 22 games so far, a figure aided by compatriot Pablo Carreno Busta retiring through injury in the second set of their quarter-final.

Bjorn Borg surrendered just 32 games on his way to the 1978 title, but Nadal insisted he has no interest in such records.

“I don’t know how many games I lost this year, but I really don’t care about this. I only care that I am in the semi-finals,” said Nadal.

“My only goal is try to be ready to play my best. The rest of these things, we can always find behind the stones.”

Wawrinka, like Murray a three-time major winner, has made his trademark understated progress to a third successive Roland Garros semi-final.

The Swiss third seed, at 32, is the oldest man to get to the last four since Jimmy Connors back in 1985.

He trails Murray in head-to-head meetings 10-7 and lost to the Briton in four sets in the semi-finals last year.

Wawrinka has lost 54 games — identical to the figure at the same stage in 2015 when he became champion.

“In the semi-final last year, Andy was really aggressive,” said Wawrinka.

“He was pushing me all the time, so it was tough for me to find any solution.”

Wawrinka, Nadal and Murray in the semi-finals means it’s only the third time that three men over 30 have got to this stage.

It happened at Roland Garros in 1968 and at this year’s Australian Open.

However, Thiem won’t mind being the odd man out.

The 23-year-old Austrian condemned Djokovic to a first straight-sets loss at a major in four years in his stunning quarter-final triumph, avenging his defeat to the Serb in the 2016 semi-finals.

He is the only man this year to have defeated Nadal on clay with his last-eight win in Rome offsetting losses in the final in Barcelona and Madrid.

“It’s going to be the toughest match you can imagine,” admitted sixth seed Thiem, who trails Nadal 4-2 on head to head.

Durant’s late heroics power Warriors over Cavaliers

June 8, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Golden State, powered by Kevin Durant’s clutch scoring in the closing minutes, rallied to beat defending champion Cleveland 118-113 Wednesday in the NBA Finals, moving one victory from the first perfect playoff run in league history.

 Kevin Durant

Durant scored seven of his 31 points in the Warriors’ game-ending 11-0 run, the biggest of them a 3-pointer with 45 seconds remaining that put Golden State ahead to stay at 114-113.

“K.D. made some huge plays down the stretch,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He took over. You can tell he knows this is his moment. He’s been an amazing player in this league for a long time and I think he senses this is his time, his moment, his team… and I think he’s having the time of his life out there.”

Klay Thompson scored 30 points and Stephen Curry added 26 for the Warriors, who seized a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and stretched their record playoff win streak to 15-0.

They will make the first unbeaten playoff run in NBA history with a victory in game four on Friday at Cleveland.

“To find a way to win was an amazing accomplishment and set us up for hopefully a great night Friday where we can back it up,” Curry said.

“We want 16 wins. It doesn’t matter how we get there. But now that we’re in this situation, why not take care of business and finish the job.”

The Warriors set the North American sports playoff win streak mark with their 15th consecutive triumph, moving past the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins’ 14-game run from the 1992 and 1993 Stanley Cup playoffs.

LeBron James scored 39 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and passed off nine assists while Kyrie Irving added 38 points to pace the Cavaliers, but James said he has never faced a “juggernaut” like the Warriors.

“It’s probably the most firepower I’ve played in my career,” James said. “I played against some great teams but I don’t think no team has had this kind of firepower. So even when you’re playing well, you’ve got to play like A-plus-plus.”

No team in NBA playoff history has ever rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a series, although the Cavaliers did become the first team in NBA Finals history to rally from a 3-1 hole to swipe the crown over Golden State last year.

“We had a game that we had won that we let slip away,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “Of course, you’re deflated from losing a game that you should have won. But you’ve got to get back to the drawing board. If we come out with the same fight and intensity… we got a good chance of winning on Friday.”

Irving and James each played about 45 minutes on the court, leaving them fatigued when it mattered most.

“Kyrie and LeBron had it going the whole game, but that’s pretty taxing to go one-on-one the whole game,” Kerr said. “Both those guys were amazing. But that takes a lot out of you.”

Cleveland’s J.R. Smith sank a 3-pointer to give the Cavaliers a 113-107 lead, but the Warriors scored 11 points in the final 2:20 for the fightback triumph while the Cavs missed their last eight shots.

“It’s definitely tough. It hurts,” Irving said. “Did some great things. Came down to the stretch, and they made some big time plays. K.D. comes down, hits a big three… I’ll probably be replaying that play for a while. But it definitely hurts.”

Durant, seeking his first career title after joining the Warriors from Oklahoma City last July, and Curry scored on drives to the hoop to pull Golden State within two.

Durant then followed a Kyle Korver 3-pointer miss for Cleveland with a tension-packed 3-pointer with 45 seconds remaining that put the Warriors ahead 114-113.

“That was liberating right there,” Durant said. “All I was looking at was the bottom of the net and I made sure my feet were behind the 3-point line.”

Irving missed an off-balance 3-pointer and Durant and Curry each made two free throws on the next Golden State possessions to seal Cleveland’s fate.

The win moved Durant one win from the title he sought when he left Oklahoma City for the Warriors last July, one he failed to get in 2012 when his Thunder lost to Miami and James won his first career crown with the Heat.

“It’s an exciting time. I’ve never been in this position, being up in the finals and trying to close it out,” Durant said. “But the job’s not done. We’ve still got a lot of work left to do.”

Man City complete move for goalkeeper Ederson

June 8, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Manchester City have completed the signing of Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson from Benfica, the Premier League club announced on Thursday.

Ederson

The announcement came a week after Benfica said they had agreed to sell the 23-year-old to City for 40 million euros ($45 million, £34.7 million), making him the second most expensive goalkeeper ever.

Ederson will officially become a City player on July 1. City did not disclose the length of his contract.

“I like everything about Manchester City,” Ederson said in quotes published on the City website.

“This is a great club, they have amazing fans and they play splendid football. I have always had the dream to play in English football and now I’m going to make it true.

“With Pep Guardiola, City are growing more and more. He is putting in place a young team for the future. Those were important factors in making my decision.”

In signing Ederson, City manager Guardiola hopes to have put an end to the goalkeeping saga that plagued his first season at the Etihad Stadium.

Guardiola allowed Joe Hart to join Torino on loan, but Hart’s replacement, Claudio Bravo, proved inadequate and back-up goalkeeper Willy Caballero ended the campaign as City’s number one.

Ederson becomes the most expensive goalkeeper since Gianluigi Buffon joined Juventus from Parma for 53 million euros in 2001.

He began his career with home-town club Sao Paulo and spent time in Benfica’s youth system before launching his senior career with Portuguese club Ribeirao.

After a three-year spell with Rio Ave, he returned to Benfica in 2015.

Ederson only became Benfica’s first-choice goalkeeper last season and helped the club to a league and Portuguese Cup double.

He is uncapped at senior level, but was named in Brazil’s squad for their upcoming friendlies against Argentina and Australia in Melbourne.

“We are delighted to bring Ederson to Manchester City,” said City’s director of football Txiki Begiristain.

“He is one of the best young goalkeepers in Europe and he is an important addition to the squad for next season and the coming seasons.”

Ederson is City’s second major signing of the close season following the £43 million ($55.7 million, 49.6 million euros) capture of Portuguese playmaker Bernardo Silva from French champions Monaco.

Caballero, Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy and Jesus Navas have all been allowed to leave as Guardiola reshapes a squad that finished 15 points below champions Chelsea in third place.

Durant, Curry spark Warriors win, record win streak at 14

June 5, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Golden State charged within two triumphs of becoming the first unbeaten NBA playoff champions Sunday by routing reigning trophy-holders Cleveland 132-113 to seize command of the NBA Finals.

Cavaliers

Kevin Durant scored a game-high 33 points while Stephen Curry unleashed his first NBAFinals triple double with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists to power the Warriors, who set an playoff win streak record of 14 games.

“We’re young. We’re hungry. We’re playing great basketball,” Curry said. “We’ve got a great opportunity in front of us and we’ve got to seize it.”

The Warriors, who welcomed back coach Steve Kerr after he missed 11 games with health issues following 2015 back surgery, grabbed a 2-0 edge in the best-of-seven series, which shifts to Cleveland for games three and four on Wednesday and Friday.

“To see him back on the bench was huge,” Curry said. “For him the whole priority was his health and I think he’s in a good place right now.”

Golden State had won a record 73 regular-season games last year and led 2-0 only for Cleveland to make the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history and swipe the title. So the perfect playoff mark wasn’t overly lauded.

“It has been a great run, but none of that matters unless we can finish the job,” Kerr said. “We know, trust me, we know. It was 2-0 last year and we lost.”

LeBron James led the Cavaliers with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists to match a record with his eighth career NBA Finals triple double. Only former Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson had eight prior finals triple doubles. No one else has more than two.

“Right now, it means nothing,” James said minutes after the loss. “But it will mean something. He’s one of the greatest to play this game. When I’m done, I’ll probably look back on it and say it was a cool feat.”

It was only the second time in playoff history that rivals managed triple doubles in the same game, the other in 1970 by New York’s Walt Frazier and Milwaukee’s Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Curry was excited for his statistical feat on a night of fast-paced playmaking and spectacular moves, but disappointed in his eight turnovers, twice what the team had in game one.

“There’s an eight on the stat sheet that I need to correct,” he said. “That’s something that I can control, just being smarter with the ball.”

Kevin Love scored 27 points for Cleveland while Kyrie Irving added 19. Klay Thompson added 22 points for the Warriors.

Durant, seeking his first NBA crown after leaving Oklahoma City last July to join Golden State, became only the third player in NBA history to score 25 points in his first seven NBA Finals appearances, joining Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal.

He, too, shrugged off individual glory.

“We know this is far from over. We know how hard it is to be the best team in the league,” Durant said. “So we got to just keep going, keep our foot on the gas and keep getting better every day.”

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said his team must stay tougher longer defensively after letting the game slip away in the third quarter and the start of the fourth.

“We’ve got to be better as far as not relaxing, not falling asleep, the 50/50 balls, we got to get to those. Every mistake you make defensively, they make you pay, and you saw that,” Lue said.

“We get a chance to go home now to our crowd where we play well. So they won two games. Now we got to go home and regroup.”

Curry seized command in the third quarter with 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists as the Warriors stretched a 67-64 half-time lead to 102-88 entering the fourth quarter.

From there, Golden State steadily pulled away, the Cavaliers having no answer for the Warriors speed and outside shooting.

“The second half, we settled in and just tried to play better and played tougher on defense,” Durant said.

The game turned when Curry sank a 3-pointer and two free throws, then dribbled impressively around James for a layup to cap a 10-3 run that put the Warriors ahead 83-73 early in the third.

“He’s a great defender,” Curry said. “You know you have to do something pretty special to score. But for the most part, you can’t focus like you’re on the playground.”

James had 10 first-half assists, the most in any playoff half of his career, while Curry had 15 points as Golden State took a 40-34 lead in the highest-scoring NBA Finals first quarter in 50 years and the second-highest ever.

Dovizioso edges Vinales in Mugello epic

June 5, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso thrilled the home crowds with a stirring MotoGP victory at Mugello on Sunday over championship leader Maverick Vinales.

Dovizioso

Dovizioso’s fellow Italian teammate Danilo Petrucci was third while veteran superstar Valentino Rossi of Yamaha won plaudits for racing in pain from a training accident and finishing fourth having set the early pace.

Rossi had gone into the race looking worried and drawn.

“I couldn’t really ride the way I would have liked to,” he said. “I will try to recover and be in perfect shape in Barcelona (next weekend),” a deeply disappointed Rossi said.

The four had opened an ominous gap on the rest of the field hitting top speeds of 340kph (211mph) on the long straight and Vinales, on a Yamaha, set much of the pace having won three races so far this season.

“This win is a dream come true,” said the 31-year-old Dovizioso, who had been feeling poorly overnight but eventually beat Spaniard Vinales by 1.281sec.

“The home crowds helped me and the Ducati effort was amazing.”

Dovizioso also led an Italian sweep on the day after Mattia Pasini won the Moto2 race and Andrea Migno narrowly edged the Moto3 category opener.

Huge crowds had turned out at Mugello, many of them igniting yellow and blue smoke bombs at the start of the race in support of Rossi, who provoked a roar of approval by overtaking pole-sitter Vinales on the first turn.

But Rossi’s injured ribs eventually saw him fade as his young teammate Vinales rode a wily race to protect his lead in the overall standings.

“I didn’t want to take any risks at the end and he (Dovizioso) finished really strong,” said the Spanish 22-year-old who won last time out in the French Grand Prix at Le Mans.

“After my fall (in training at Mugello) I was in pain and out of breath so in the end I was super happy to be second,” he insisted after adding 20 points to his tally.

An ecstatic third placed Petrucci said later he’d have taken extreme action for a podium spot. He pushed Vinales hard and had even overtaken him at one point as the line approached.

“If anyone asked me what I would give to be on the podium, I would have said I’d sell my house! It’s unbelievable. It was a great day for me,” he said.

Defending champion Marc Marquez had a quiet day, finishing 6th at 5.885sec, while Jorge Lorenzo, who at one point had overtaken Rossi to take the lead, could only finish 14.39sec off the pace in eighth position.

“At a certain point, I started feeling I was struggling too much in the corners, so I decided to stay there and not risk crashing,” explained Marquez.

After six races Vinales leads the standings with 105 points from Dovizioso on 79 and Rossi on 75, while Marquez shares fourth on 68 with Dani Pedrosa, who got caught up in a late crash with Cal Crutchlow.

Nadal, Djokovic into quarters as champion Muguruza exits

June 5, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Nine-time champion Rafael Nadal and title-holder Novak Djokovic surged into the French Open quarter-finals for a record-equalling 11th time on Sunday, but reigning women’s champion Garbine Muguruza crashed out in the last 16.

DJokovic

Nadal continued his ruthless form at Roland Garros by dispatching Spanish 17th seed Roberto Bautista Agut 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 to match Roger Federer’s mark of last-eight appearances in Paris.

The 14-time major winner has dropped just 20 games in four matches as he strives to become the first man to win 10 titles at a single Grand Slam.

“I’m happy because Roberto is a very good player. It’s very important for me to be in the quarter-finals one more time,” said Nadal, who turned 31 on Saturday.

“Probably I didn’t play as well as I did the other day, but I still played well.”

The fourth seed will meet compatriot Pablo Carreno Busta, through to his first Slam quarter-final, for spot in the last four after the latter stunned Canada’s Milos Raonic.

Carreno Busta, seeded 20th, needed seven match points to clinch a thrilling 4-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-7 (6/8), 6-4, 8-6 win over the fifth-seeded Raonic.

Djokovic also became an 11-time quarter-finalist as he sauntered past Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas 7-6 (7/5), 6-1, 6-3.

The Serb needed 75 minutes to clinch the opening set but then outclassed the 19th seed to set up a showdown with Dominic Thiem.

“There’s no easy match in a Grand Slam quarter-final, it will be very difficult for both of us,” said Djokovic of his upcoming challenge.

The Serb also confirmed that coach Andre Agassi had, as planned, already left Paris.

Austrian sixth seed Thiem thrashed Argentina’s Horacio Zeballos 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the quarters for a second straight year.

Japan’s Kei Nishikori fought off a fierce challenge from South Korea’s Hyeon Chung in an all-Asian tussle held over from Saturday following rain to clinch a place in the last 16.

Chung quickly forced the contest into a fifth set as play resumed on Sunday, but the world number 67 double faulted on match point to gift Nishikori a 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (4/7), 0-6, 6-4 victory.

“I think the rain helps me a lot, because I was really down in the fourth set and mentally I wasn’t ready,” admitted Nishikori, who faces Fernando Verdasco next.

Karen Khachanov will play Andy Murray in the fourth round after the giant Russian beat American 21st seed John Isner 7-6 (7/1), 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (7/3).

Kristina Mladenovic ensured the host nation will have two women in the quarter-finals for the first time since 1994 after dumping out fourth seed Muguruza 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

“I’m sad. It’s a very painful defeat here in the French Open,” said Muguruza, who left Court Suzanne Lenglen angrily wagging her finger at the crowd.

“I just think that they sometimes should be a little bit more respectful,” she added, as Mladenovic thrived on the partisan support.

The French 13th seed is through to just her second Slam quarter-final — after the 2015 US Open — and will face Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky for a spot in the last four.

The Swiss 30th seed, a 2015 semi-finalist, defeated 2002 runner-up Venus Williams 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 to guarantee a first-time major champion will be crowned next Saturday.

Danish 11th seed Caroline Wozniacki knocked off 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 to reach the last eight for just the second time.

Wozniacki, who made her only other quarter-final appearance at Roland Garros in 2010, will next meet Latvian teenager Jelena Ostapenko, a 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 winner over 2010 finalist Samantha Stosur.

Second seed Karolina Pliskova advanced to round four with a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Germany’s Carina Witthoeft.

Pliskova, who had won just twice in five previous French Open appearances before this year, will face Paraguay’s Veronica Cepede Royg for a quarter-final spot.

World number 290 and qualifier Petra Martic reached the last 16 with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Latvian 17th seed Anastasija Sevastova.

Croatia’s Martic, a former top 50 player whose ranking slumped after a back injury sidelined her for 10 months, will face Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina.

Fifth seed Svitolina downed Magda Linette of Poland 6-4, 7-5.

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