Murray and Federer to resume Wimbledon rivalry

As the home fans trooped away disappointed from a soaking wet All England Club that day, many were wondering whether the Briton, who had just lost a fourth successive major final, had what it took to get over the line when the real pressure was on.

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With the pair set to meet again in Friday’s Wimbledon semi-final, however, there is no doubt who has enjoyed the better fortune since that encounter in 2012.

A short summary of the intervening period for Murray reads two grand slam titles and one Olympic gold medal, but more importantly, he has shifted a monkey from his back that had threatened to weigh him down for his whole career.

Federer, who clinched a 17th grand slam title that day, has never again tasted major success and with every passing year knows he may never get a better chance to add to his record tally of grand slams.

It is not that the Swiss has plummeted down the rankings. He has stayed at the top of the men’s game and is seeded and ranked ahead of Murray heading into Friday’s clash.

But the modern game is becoming increasingly punishing on the body and at 33 years old the clock is ticking on the Swiss maestro.

His recent record against Murray is superb. He has beaten the Briton in their last three meetings, including a humiliating 6-0 6-1 victory in their last encounter at the ATP finals in November.

That was their last meeting in London, but Murray may prefer to remember their last match on grass — three one-sided sets that secured the Olympic gold medal on Centre Court just weeks after their Wimbledon final.

“I feel like I’m playing better tennis than I was then,” the Briton said.

“I don’t think those matches that we played here in the past will have too much bearing on the outcome on Friday.”

Which is perhaps lucky for Murray. In their 23 matches, Federer leads the head-to-head 12-11 and in the six times they have faced each other on British soil, Murray trails 5-1.

The prize on offer for the winner is likely to be a final against holder and world number one Novak Djokovic, who faces unfancied Frenchman Richard Gasquet and his majestic backhand in the other last four clash.

Gasquet has only ever appeared in two previous grand slam semi-finals, losing them both, and has spent the most time on court of the four semi-finalists at 11 hours 13 minutes.

Barring a testing fourth round clash against big-serving South African Kevin Anderson, Djokovic has looked in fine form on his run to the last four.

He has also proved to be a nemesis to Gasquet throughout his career.

The 21st seeded Frenchman has won only one of 12 meetings against Djokovic and that sole success came eight years ago in 2007.

“I think Gasquet’s backhand (is one of the) best one‑handed backhands in the world,” Djokovic said.

“That’s his weapon. He has a variety. He can play really well from defence and offence. I think he’s also very skilled on the net. He improved his serve. He’s an all‑around player.”

(Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Alan Baldwin)

Sheedy AFL history lesson inspires Bombers

Essendon coaching great Kevin Sheedy has given James Hird a stirring reminder of what is possible in AFL with the right attitude.

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With Hird’s side slumping to their worst loss to St Kilda last week, their fifth straight defeat, and facing the rest of the season without captain Jobe Watson, Sheedy’s dip into the Bombers’ history book is timely.

Seated alongside Hird and former Bomber Adam Ramanauskas, Sheedy recalled one of the worst days of his coaching career: August 1, 1992.

“We lost by 26 goals,” Sheedy began.

“(Like on Sunday), teams just play a game they wish they hadn’t.

“We got smashed by Hawthorn and, the next week, we played Melbourne and we won.”

The 160-point loss to the Hawks was followed by a 32-point victory over the Demons, which remains the Bombers’ best form reversal to this day.

Even more significantly, into the side to play the Demons came second-gamer Hird and Mark Mercuri for his third AFL match.

“Out of a negative … we find a champion,” he said.

“There will be a lot of positives to come out of this, I believe, in the end.”

While the core of that 1992 team would form the ‘Baby Bombers’ that would storm to the 1993 premiership, Hird would probably settle with a few more wins this season.

Hird said he convened a heart-to-heart talk with his playing group on Monday in an effort to leave the 110-point loss behind.

The fourth-year coach said he challenged his players to explain the performance, leaving nothing off the table.

“We spoke very openly on Monday, if there are issues we want to know about them,” he said.

“I’m not going to go into what that feedback was because it was a very private discussion between the players and the coaches.

“But it was a great discussion and, hopefully out of that, we will perform better.

“I’ve no doubt we’ll get a much better effort than we had last week. I can’t see that happening again.”

Hird foreshadowed at least five changes to his side, with injuries forcing out Watson and Adam Cooney (hamstring).

He forecast at least 10 – and as many as 12 – players with less than 50 games to face the Demons, with Jayden Laverde set to debut.

Sheedy nodded with enthusiasm when hearing the youngster could earn his first game.

The legendary coach gave Hird a ringing endorsement, saying the club’s lowly position of 14th was to be expected.

“They just need games, they’re a very young side and everybody doesn’t realise that,” he said.

“You’ve got to be realistic.

“This side is still on the way to finding out what sort of team they’re going to be eventually.

Essendon and Melbourne will play with splashes of yellow in the ‘clash for cancer’ supported by cancer survivor Ramanauskas.

Rogers hits 95 but England eye first innings lead

The tourists, replying to England’s 430 all out, also lost David Warner (17), Steve Smith (33), captain Michael Clarke (38) and Adam Voges (31).

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Smith and Clarke were coaxed into errors by the spin of Moeen Ali who hit an entertaining 77 as the home team kept the Australian fielders busy for 75 minutes in the morning, adding 87 to their overnight total for the loss of the last three wickets.

The 37-year-old Rogers has been superbly consistent in a run of 50-plus scores that began against India in Brisbane in December but he will kick himself as a century appeared there for the taking.

He had progressed largely untroubled towards a fourth Ashes hundred when he tried to cut a ball from paceman Mark Wood that was too close to him and nicked it behind to wicketkeeper Jos Buttler, trudging forlornly off the field at Sophia Gardens.

A deserved 100 eluded him but he still joined a select band with a seventh successive knock of 50-plus, matching West Indians Everton Weekes and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Zimbabwean Andy Flower and Sri Lankan Kumar Sangakkara.

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Rogers and Warner had begun well, sharing a 52-run opening stand before the latter was well caught at first slip by England captain Alastair Cook off James Anderson.

Moments later Cook, much to team mate Joe Root’s mirth, was rolling around in agony after being struck a painful blow in the groin area that forced him off for treatment.

Smith, the world’s number one test batsman, clubbed Moeen to the boundary three times in one over but the spinner had the last laugh by inducing a leading edge that Cook caught at short mid-on, ending a stand of 77 with Rogers.

Clarke also looked set for a big score before dancing down the track to Moeen and offering a sharp return catch.

Australia would have been fairly happy reaching the close of play four wickets down but a late lapse in concentration from Voges, who played a loose drive off Ben Stokes and was caught at short cover, left England feeling they could establish a decent lead.

Earlier, Mitchell Starc shook off a sore ankle to finish with five for 114. Fellow paceman Mitchell Johnson, the scourge of England in their Ashes demolition in Australia last year, conceded 111 runs and went wicketless.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

Cats’ AFL veterans back, Roos drop Thomas

Geelong have regained Jimmy Bartel and James Kelly for Saturday night’s pivotal AFL clash with North Melbourne, while the Roos have axed goalsneak Lindsay Thomas.

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Bartel will play his first game since round three after overcoming a knee injury and Kelly returns from an ankle injury suffered in round 11.

The veteran duo are joined by ruckman Dawson Simpson, with the Cats making three unforced changes.

Thomas is second on North’s goal-kicking list but has failed to hit the scoreboard in the past two games.

He departs the side along with Lachie Hansen (hip), Majak Daw (omitted) and Trent Dumont (omitted) for the encounter that could have big consequences for the finals’ aspirations of both sides.

Reigning premiers Hawthorn take on ladder leaders Fremantle on Sunday in the match of the round.

Both clubs have named extended squads, with the only confirmed change being the inclusion of Hawks’ ruckman Ben McEvoy at the expense of Jonathon Ceglar.

Adelaide will play their first game since the tragic death of coach Phil Walsh when they travel to Perth for Saturday night’s encounter with West Coast.

The Crows regain defenders Ricky Henderson and Jake Lever, while midfielder Riley Knight will make his debut.

Influential onballer Rory Sloane is out with his second fractured cheekbone of the season.

The Eagles have recalled Matt Rosa at the expense of youngster Liam Duggan.

Richmond have brought back ruckman Shaun Hampson to face his old side in the absence of the suspended Ivan Maric, while Carlton regain veteran pair Bryce Gibbs and Andrew Carrazzo for their Friday night clash at the MCG.

Young forward Troy Menzel is also in for the Blues, who have handed long-kicking rookie Tom Fields his AFL debut.

Embattled Essendon lost Jobe Watson to season-ending shoulder surgery this week and Adam Cooney to a hamstring injury, opening the way for Heath Hocking to play his first game of the season after overcoming a serious groin issue.

The Bombers take on Melbourne at the MCG on Saturday afternoon with veteran Heritier Lumumba and debutant James Harmes two of four unforced changes made by the Demons.

The Western Bulldogs lost four players to injury – including key back Jordan Roughead – ahead of their clash with Gold Coast in Cairns, but recalled Tom Boyd and Michael Talia.

Gold Coast have made five changes, with Rory Thompson and Jarrod Harbrow among the inclusions.

Key additions to other extended squads for the remaining Sunday matches include Stephen Coniglio for Greater Western Sydney and Paddy McCartin for St Kilda, while Lance Franklin and Kurt Tippett are back for Sydney who face a Brisbane side boosted by the inclusions of Tom Rockliff, Daniel Merrett and Pearce Hanley.

Kazakhs talk up Aust Davis Cup team

Australia’s Davis Cup squad is so strong that it doesn’t matter that top player Bernard Tomic is banned from next week’s quarter-final, says Kazakhstan captain Dias Doskarayev.

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The dark horse Kazakhs have stolen a jump on Australia, already knuckling down to training in Darwin ahead of the grasscourt tie after arriving on Tuesday while the controversy-hit hosts aren’t expected until the weekend.

Despite reaching the quarter-finals in four of the past five years, they were quick to talk up the Australians.

“Australia is much better than we are, they are playing at home on their favourite surface… We will try to give our best on the court and we have nothing to lose,” said their top player Mikhail Kukushkin, the world No.59.

Doskarayev said it was sad to hear Tomic had been dumped from the Australian side for his spray against Tennis Australia.

“But the line-up and all the number of players for Australia is so great it seems like it doesn’t matter if Tomic is playing or not, you guys have got other players,” Doskarayev said.

He praised “entertaining and emotional” Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis as great young players, said Sam Groth was strong on grass with a massive serve, and called Leyton Hewitt the “older brother” to the up-and-comers.

“All the players are experienced, they’re playing great tennis and they’re the favourites,” he said.

However, his team of Kukushkin, No.123 Aleksandr Nedovyesov, No.135 Andrey Golubev and No. 407 Dmitry Popko would be well prepared.

Kukushkin lost in the first round at Wimbledon, but only after three tough sets against former champion Andy Murray.

“He showed some good performance, maybe it’s a good sign he’s getting confidence from there, but our boys will be ready for sure,” he said.

Doskarayev said the Davis Cup was huge in Kazakhstan, a young country with only 25 years of independence from Russia, where tennis is the No.1 sport.

“To us it’s everything,” he said.

“It gives the self-belief, not just to tennis players but to all athletes in Kazakhstan, it’s very prestigious.”

Vermeulen starts fitness race after successful surgery

The South Africa Player of the Year is the biggest concern on a long injury list for the Springboks, who have also been rocked by the news that fellow loose-forward Willem Alberts is a doubt for the tournament in England starting on Sept.

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“I’m feeling good and positive and can’t wait to start my rehabilitation,” Vermeulen was quoted in a press release from South African Rugby Union (SARU) on Thursday.

South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer said the national side’s medical team would be working tirelessly to get Vermeulen ready to be considered for the World Cup.

“Duane is mentally very tough and he is a warrior who has always bled for his country and I’m expecting exactly the same attitude from him towards his rehabilitation,” Meyer said.

“He is a team player who has often played through the pain barrier and I know nothing will hold him back, while we will do everything we can to get Duane ready in time for the World Cup.”

Team doctor Craig Roberts said South Africa were “confident” Vermeulen would win his fitness race following Wednesday’s surgery.

“The operation went well and we’re grateful to the medical personnel who looked after Duane. The road to recovery is a long one but we’re confident that he can make it to the World Cup,” he said.

Vermeulen will recuperate at home before joining the squad in Johannesburg upon their return from their Rugby Championship opener against Australia in Brisbane on July 18.

South Africa have been drawn in Pool B at the World Cup, alongside Japan, Samoa, Scotland and the United States.

(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by John O’Brien)

Federer’s serve-volley game faces big test

Operation Fedberg is in full swing at Wimbledon, but faces its sternest test yet in a semi-final blockbuster on Friday.

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Taking his silky grasscourt game to another level in his second year with Stefan Edberg in his courtside box, Roger Federer will continue his old-school quest for an unprecedented eighth men’s singles crown against big home hope and 2013 champion Andy Murray.

It shapes as a clash for the ages, with Federer’s majestic net-rushing to be challenged by one of the finest returners in the game.

If ever there’s been evidence that Federer’s appointment of Edberg as a part-time coaching consultant last January has revitalised the 17-time grand slam champion, it’s come in his stylish and seemingly effortless progression to the last four at the All England Club for the 10th time.

In an extraordinary streak stretching nine matches, and back to his second-round encounter with Philipp Kohlschreiber last month in Halle, Federer won 116 consecutive service games before finally being broken in Wednesday’s 6-3 7-5 6-2 quarter-final stroll against Gilles Simon.

Central to his serving masterclasses have been the graceful Swiss’s more-measured forays forward under the tutelage of Edberg, a dual Wimbledon champion himself and serve-volley maestro.

In his first five matches, Federer has won 42 of 51 serve-volley points, the world No.2’s strike rate of 82 per cent at net up from 69 per cent when he made his ninth final last year and lost in five absorbing sets to Novak Djokovic.

Federer – serve-volleying far more frequently, but less successfully in 2014 – says it’s hard to know if the whole package coming together in 2015 means the ageless champion is playing as well as ever.

“If I go out in the semis, then definitely not. But if I do make it to the finals, then we can talk about that,” Federer said.

“It’s been good so far. I felt like I played a very solid last year or so.

“It goes to show what I’m doing off the baseline on my serve, or serve-volleying, the way I’m hitting it and placing it seems to work, especially on the grass now.

“I’m happy to keep it up here now. This is obviously now crunch time when you want to show if your game’s really up to par.”

Federer is relishing a 24th career match-up with Murray and their first grasscourt battle since the Scottish world No.3 reversed his 2012 Wimbledon final defeat with gold-medal glory three weeks later in the London Olympics decider at the All England Club.

“I thought Andy played as good of a final as you can play,” Federer said.

“I never really had a chance. Don’t remember even if I had break points or chances.

“Honestly, it all went by so quickly. He was just better.”

Three years on, and having finally broken Briton’s 77-year wait for another men’s Wimbledon champion, Murray is striving to become the first local since Fred Perry in 1936 to reign on multiple occasions.

“I’ve played Roger many times. I know him well and we get on well but, obviously on Friday, it will be a different story,” Murray said after seeing off Canadian Vasek Pospisil 6-4 7-5 6-4 to seal his 150th grand slam match win and a sixth semi-final spot on London’s pristine lawns.

“We’ve played some good matches here and hopefully this will be a great one.”

NFL star loses finger in fireworks mishap

New York Giants NFL star defender Jason Pierre-Paul has had a finger amputated following a July 4 fireworks accident which left him with severe injuries.

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ESPN cites medical records saying Pierre-Paul had his right index finger removed as a result of the mishap in Florida on Saturday.

The 26-year-old also underwent skin grafts according to ESPN. Previous reports had said the injuries were not expected to threaten the pass-rush specialist’s career.

Pierre-Paul posted two videos to his Instagram account on Saturday that appeared to show him next to a van full of fireworks obtained for holiday celebrations.

USA Today reported on Wednesday that a delegation of team officials had travelled to Miami to see Pierre-Paul in hospital but had returned from Florida without meeting him.

The accident was one of two involving fireworks and National Football League players over the July 4 holiday weekend.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback C.J. Wilson lost two fingers during a firework accident, his father Curtis Wilson Sr. told WBTV in Charlotte in North Carolina.

The 25-year-old was at his home in Lincolnton celebrating the American national holiday with family and friends.

Wilson’s agent, Joel Turner, declined to go into details of the injury.

“As we are dealing with a medical issue, we are in contact with the ball club as well, and they are taking the lead on any information to the public regarding his condition,” Turner told Pro Football Talk.

The Tampa Bay Tribune reported that Wilson’s NFL future may be in jeopardy because of “a severe hand injury”.

BBC and ITV to share Six Nations broadcast rights from 2016

The Six Nations has had a long-standing relationship with the BBC and the broadcaster’s current rights deal was due to run until 2017.

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The competition’s board said in January it could consider offers from pay-TV operators for its next UK broadcast rights deal, which could have meant the championship no longer being shown live on free-to-air television from 2018.

However, the BBC and ITV have agreed a deal reported in British media to be worth 50 million pounds a year to fend off interest from pay-TV channel Sky Sports, which has the rights to most of England’s other internationals.

“Both the BBC and ITV are committed partners of rugby, ITV with their coverage of the Rugby World Cup and the BBC with their long history of covering the Six Nations,” Bill Beaumont, Six Nations council chairman, said in a statement.

“We are excited to be working with them both to continue to develop the interest in the Championship and to ultimately grow this wonderful game for future generations to enjoy, either as a spectator, player or volunteer.”

As part of the deal the BBC will broadcast Wales, Scotland and France home matches, while ITV will show England, Ireland and Italy home games.

There are 15 games in each year of the Six Nations and the BBC will have eight and ITV seven in 2016, but the tally will be reversed the following year.

“The Six Nations is unique, providing a rich and respected rivalry, with many or the world’s best players at the very pinnacle of their careers, playing for their countries with pride and in the right spirit,” chief executive of the Six Nations John Feehan said in a statement.

“This agreement with two major broadcasters will ensure that all these aspects are reflected in the coverage for the fans to enjoy.”

Ireland retained this year’s Six Nations title on points difference and 9.63 million viewers tuned in to watch England battle with France in the championship’s free-scoring climax, surpassing the previous record of 9.56 million when the same teams met in 2011.

The BBC Sport website also recorded its highest ever traffic, with 8.22 million unique UK browsers, beating the previous online record of 8.03 million during the London Olympics in 2012.

ITV holds the exclusive rights to the Rugby World Cup, which is being staged in England this year.

England host Fiji at Twickenham in the opening game of the tournament on Sept. 18.

(Editing by Mitch Phillips)

Boks give Whiteley a start at No.8

South African No.

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8 Warren Whiteley will make his first start for the Springboks against a World XV in Cape Town this weekend ahead of their Rugby Championship opener against the Wallabies.

The Springboks play Australia in Brisbane on July 18 with Whiteley in the frame to be in the run-on side in the absence of powerhouse No.8 Duane Vermeulen who is sidelined indefinitely with a neck injury.

The Australian players know the busy Whiteley well, particularly the NSW Waratahs, who fell to the Lions late in the Super Rugby season.

Coach Heyneke Meyer has named two uncapped players – starting outside centre Jesse Kriel and replacement tighthead prop Vincent Koch – in his matchday 23.

Centre and regular skipper Jean de Villiers continued his remarkable recovery from a career-threatening injury when he was picked in the match against the Robbie Deans-coached World XV at Newlands on Saturday.

De Villiers was included on an eight-man bench, while Stormers’ bulldozer Damian de Allende starts at No.12.

There were fears the 34-year-old South Africa skipper would be forced to retire after suffering a knee dislocation and ligament damage during a defeat to Wales in Cardiff last November.

“We will still manage how he is used against the World XV and afterwards we’d like him to return to Western Province, where he will be available for their Absa Currie Cup warm-ups,” Meyer said.

Lock Victor Matfield, 38, will captain the side with scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar vice-captain.

Other notable absentees for the Boks are scrumhalf Fourie du Preez and flanker Willem Alberts who are both injured.

South Africa (15-1): Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Bryan Habana, Handre Pollard, Ruan Pienaar, Warren Whiteley, Marcell Coetzee, Francois Louw, Victor Matfield (capt), Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Bench: Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Vincent Koch, Oupa Mohoje, Schalk Burger, Cobus Reinach, Patrick Lambie, Jean de Villiers