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Stars Stumbled at Wimbledon as Murray, Djokovic Crash Out

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Defending Champion, Andy Murray on Wednesday crashed out at the quarter finals of Wimbledon after losing in a five set game to 24th seeded Sam Querrey of the U.S. 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-1.

It was indeed a difficult match for the defending champion as he was limping between points and fading down the stretch. He had come into the tournament dealing with a sore left hip and it clearly impeded him at Centre Court. He grimaced as he stumbled or landed awkwardly while attempting shots.

The American took full advantage to reach the first Grand Slam semifinal of his career — and the first for any American man anywhere since Andy Roddick was the runner-up at Wimbledon in 2009. “I am still in a little bit of shock myself,” Querrey said.

Murray was not the only surprise exit. Three-time Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic stopped playing because of a right arm injury while trailing 2010 runner-up Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic 7-6 (2), 2-0.

After dropping the opening set, Djokovic took a medical timeout while a trainer massaged his arm. A day earlier, during his fourth-round match, Djokovic had his right shoulder worked on by a trainer.

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But seven-time champion Roger Federer moved into his 12th semifinal at the All England Club with a straightforward 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory over 2016 runner-up Milos Raonic. That left Federer as the only member of the sport’s so-called Big four still standing: In addition to the exits for Murray and Djokovic, Rafael Nadal lost in the fourth round. That quartet has combined to win each of the past 14 Wimbledon titles.

In Friday’s semifinals, Querrey will face 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic of Croatia, who also won a five-setter Wednesday, getting past 16th-seeded Gilles Muller 3-6, 7-6 (6), 7-5, 5-7, 6-1 with the help of 33 aces. On the other half of the draw, Federer will face Berdych.

Murray is normally a terrific returner, but Querrey hit 27 aces. He was impeccable for portions of the match, finishing with 70 winners and only 30 unforced errors.

“He was dictating all of the points,” Murray said.

From 1-all in the fourth, Querrey grabbed eight games in a row to take that set and lead 3-0 in the last.

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“I didn’t start my best, but I just kept with it. Kept swinging away and then really found a groove in the fourth and fifth set,” Querrey said. “And everything kind of seemed to be falling my way then.”

It is the second year in a row that the 29-year-old Californian upset the defending champion and top-seeded man at the All England Club. In 2016, he ended Djokovic’s 30-match Grand Slam winning streak by beating him in the third round.

Murray didn’t have that sort of recent dominance, but he is a three-time major champion and had been to at least the semifinals at the All England Club in seven of the past eight years.

The hip, though, was a problem this time. Murray had to skip some practice sessions and pull out of a couple of planned exhibition matches before Wimbledon. Even though he kept insisting once the tournament began that he was OK, he was not capable of his best.

Murray’s serve speeds slowed, and his backhands didn’t have their usual verve. He couldn’t play his usual court-covering defense.

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“I was pretty close today. It wasn’t like I was, like, a million miles away from winning the match,” Murray said. “Obviously the end was a bit of a struggle.”

Querrey is the lowest-ranked player to ever beat two-time Wimbledon champion Murray in his 12 appearances at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament.

For Murray, this was the fourth five-set match he’s lost in a row. Querrey is headed in the opposite direction: Merely 4-10 in fifth sets for his career until last week, he has won each of his last three matches by going the distance: against 12th-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the third round, Kevin Anderson in the fourth, and now Murray.

Querrey always has had an intimidating serve, but he’s never managed to put together his overall game for enough matches to play on the final weekend at a major.

Indeed, until last year’s win over Djokovic, he might have been best known for some of his unusual off-court episodes. In Thailand for a 2009 tournament, he cut two muscles in his right arm when he sat on a glass table that shattered. Two years ago, he appeared on the reality TV show “The Millionaire Matchmaker.” There’s a popular video clip on social media of Querrey — sunglasses and hat on, shirt unbuttoned — dancing with friends wearing horse-head masks.

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Now Querrey’s on-court accomplishment Wednesday will make headlines. Win two more matches, and he’ll be the Wimbledon champion.

 

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Venus Williams among sporting figures to get own Barbie doll

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 Venus Williams poses with a Barbie doll, in Puerto Rico in this undated handout image. Mattel/WME Sports Studio/Handout via REUTERS

Seven-times Grand Slam champion Venus Williams and Australian soccer player Mary Fowler are among nine athletes to get a Barbie doll in their likeness as toy maker Mattel seeks to shine a light on women sports role models ahead of the Paris Olympics.

Mattel unveiled the dolls on Wednesday, each with their bespoke accessories. Fowler’s wears gloves and holds a football while Williams’ doll, dressed in an all white tennis dress and visor as well as wearing earrings, comes with a miniature racket.

The former world number one said she hoped to motivate young girls into sports with the doll.

“I literally can’t imagine my life without sports and without the game,” Williams said in a video, in which she held the doll.

“I want other young girls to have that invaluable experience of playing a sport and what it teaches you and what you learn and what you take from it, not just that moment (but) for the rest of your life… I think it’s so important for girls to be in sports.”

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Other sports figures to have a doll in their likeness include French boxer Estelle Mossely, Polish sprinter Ewa Swoboda, Spanish doctor and paratriathlon athlete Susana Rodriguez, Italian former swimmer Federica Pellegrini, Canadian soccer player Christine Sinclair as well as Mexican and Brazilian gymnasts, Alexa Moreno and Rebeca Andrade.

The dolls, unveiled as Barbie turns 65 this year, “(recognise) the impact of sport in fostering self-confidence and ambition among the next generation”, Krista Berger, senior vice president of Barbie and Mattel’s Global Head of Dolls, said.

“By shining a light on these inspirational athletes and their stories, we hope to champion the belief that every young girl deserves the opportunity to pursue her passions and turn her dreams into reality,” she said in a statement.

-Reuters

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Serena Williams to host 2024 ESPYs in July

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Serena Williams poses at the Met Gala, an annual fundraising gala held for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute with this year's theme 'Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion' in New York City, New York, U.S., May 6, 2024. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

Tennis great Serena Williams will host the 2024 ESPYs in July, ESPN announced on Tuesday.

The 23-times Grand Slam champion, who retired after the 2022 U.S. Open and is widely regarded as one of the greatest tennis players of all time, will take the stage July 11 at The Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

“This is a dream come true for me, and something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember,” Williams, 42, said in an ESPN news release.

“It has been a sensational year for sports and an unprecedented one for female athletes. I can’t wait to celebrate everyone on-stage in July.”

The ESPYs, which are co-produced by ESPN and Full Day Productions, commemorate the past year in sports by recognizing major athletic achievements, reliving unforgettable moments, and saluting the leading performers and performances.

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-Reuters

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Rafael Nadal wins at Barcelona Open on injury return

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Rafael Nadal enjoyed a winning start at the Barcelona Open as he returned from another long-term injury in what could be his final year before retirement.

The Spanish 22-time major champion, who turns 38 in June, won 6-2 6-3 against inexperienced Italian Flavio Cobolli in their first-round match on Tuesday.

Now ranked 644th, Nadal was playing for the first time since January because of a hip injury and abdominal issues.

Nadal has indicated that 2024 is likely to be his last as a professional player.

After pulling out of last year’s French Open with a hip problem, the former world number one said he planned to retire at the end of this season.

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Nadal, who is considered as one of the best players in history and greatest clay-courter of all time, has only played one event since.

But, before making his latest comeback in Barcelona, Nadal said he was not “putting a deadline” on his retirement and would only keep playing as long as he felt it was “worth it”.

This win was a positive step, if a somewhat straightforward assignment, as the record 14-time champion aims to return to Roland Garros next month.

“I’m just having fun and happy to start with a victory,” said Nadal, who faces a tougher opponent next in Australian world number 10 Alex de Minaur.

“I’m going through some tough moments but at the same time when I’m able to be on tour and compete a little bit it means a lot.”

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What shape was Nadal in?

It was intriguing to see what shape Nadal would be in against 62nd-ranked Cobolli, who has only played in the main draw of a Grand Slam twice.

A record 12-time champion in Barcelona, Nadal was playing his first clay-court match in 681 days – when he won the 2022 French Open final.

There was an air of anticipation as a packed crowd awaited Nadal’s arrival on the court which is named in his honour, external with the gangways on his walk out full of ball kids and tournament staff.

A near-standing ovation and huge roar greeted Nadal, while the familiar pre-match foibles – aligning his water bottles, box jumps at the net and zigzagged sprint to the baseline – were also lapped up.

It was less certain whether the shot-making and athleticism which they have also become accustomed to seeing from Nadal would return as well.

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Doubts had been raised about the impact of the abdominal injury on his serve and, although it appeared he wasn’t serving at full tilt, he showed few issues.

There was, understandably, some early rust in his groundstrokes before Nadal quickly found fluency from both forehand and backhand wings.

With Cobolli looking slightly overawed and showing uncertainty in his shots, Nadal cemented an early break for a 4-1 lead and wrapped up the opening set in 43 minutes.

Whipping a trademark forehand winner down the line in the second game of the second set illustrated his growing confidence.

Nadal edged a run of three straight breaks and saw out victory by taking his second match point, showing his delight with trademark underarm fist pump.

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