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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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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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Tennis

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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Tennis

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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African Games

Nigeria’s last African Games medal to come from tennis

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Nigeria’s last African Games medal to come from tennis

Nigeria’s second position at the African Games is already sealed as the curtain falls on the delayed Accra 2023 tonight. As usual, Egypt are the runner-away leaders with an amazing 52 gold medals more than that of second-placed Nigeria.

Overall, Egypt have 187 medals as against Nigeria’s 121 as at close of competition on Friday night.

This Saturday, there are contests in just three disciplines – Cricket, Tennis and Volley ball. Nigeria will be involved in only women’s final, playing against Egypt.

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