Stefanos Tsitsipas survived a minor scare in the first round of the Vienna Open before ultimately going on to beat Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets.

It was neck-and-neck for much of the first set, with neither player losing serve, but Dimitrov appeared to have the upper hand when he got to 6-3 in the tiebreak.

Tsitsipas recovered emphatically, however, the top seed reeling off five successive points to win the set and he went on to book his spot in the second round thanks to a 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 victory. He will face Frances Tiafoe next.

"Grigor is a tough competitor and the level of tennis was really high today. We both competed at our highest [level]," Tsitsipas said afterwards.

"That was great tennis that was being played during the entire match and I got really close to my [best] offence and showed incredible attitude [in] the last game, which was the one that was the most crucial of the match."

Alexander Zverev, seeded second, was also made to work in his first-round clash with Filip Krajinovic.

While he blew the Serbian away in the first set, he found himself 5-2 down in the second as Krajinovic looked set to level the match, but Zverev scrapped his way back and then served to love to win 6-2 7-5. Alex de Minaur awaits the German.

Casper Ruud and Felix Auger-Aliassime, seeded fourth and sixth respectively, were two other high-ranking players who also secured progression, boosting their ATP Finals qualification hopes.

Ruud was pushed hard by Lloyd Harris but eventually outfought the South African in his 7-5 7-6 (7-2) win, while Auger-Alisassime made fairly light work of Ricardas Berankis 6-3 6-2.

Indian Wells champion Cameron Norrie, who is also in with a shot of reaching the ATP Finals, beat Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (7-4) 6-1 to set up a meeting with Auger-Aliassime – the British number one is 11th in the FedEx ATP Race to Turin rankings, one above his next opponent.

At the St Petersburg Open, fifth-seed Taylor Fritz was the highest-ranked player in action and he needed a little over an hour to beat Emil Ruusuvuori 6-1 6-4.

Pablo Andujar defeated Federico Delbonis to set up a meeting with second seed Denis Shapovalov, while Ilya Ivashka beat Laslo Djere for the right to tussle with tournament favourite Andrey Rublev next.

Emma Raducanu collected her first WTA Tour victory as she defeated Polona Hercog at the Transylvania Open in Romania.

Raducanu, who was the surprise US Open champion in September after not dropping a set throughout the tournament, appeared at just her fourth tour-level tournament and came to Cluj as third favourite.

The 18-year-old had lost opening-round matches at previous events in Nottingham, San Diego and Indian Wells.

However, world number 23 Raducanu finally recorded her first victory as she overcame a first-set scare to triumph over Hercog 4-6 7-5 6-1.

In the opening match of Tuesday's fixtures, sixth seed Marta Kostyuk cruised past Bernard Pera 6-3 6-4 to secure her last-16 berth.

Irina-Camelia Begu, ranked one behind Kostyuk for the tournament, did not enjoy similar fortunes as Romanian compatriot Irina Bara triumphed 7-6 (7-2) 0-6 6-4.

Jaqueline Cristian survived a marathon slog against Kaja Juvan as she came from a set down to win 3-6 7-6 (10-8) 7-6 (7-3) and book a second-round meeting with Ajla Tomljanovic.

Number one seed Simona Halep – who departed at the quarter-final stage of the Kremlin Cup last week – plays her first game on home turf on Wednesday against Elena-Gabriele Rusa and could meet Raducanu in the semi-final stages.

Meanwhile, Liudmila Samsonova, the third favourite at the Courmayeur Open, cruised past Stephanie Wagner 6-3 6-0 while seventh seed Jasmine Paolini comfortably dispatched Martina Di Giuseppe 6-4 6-1.

Shuai Zhang, who is the third seed in Italy, also enjoyed a routine victory as she eased past Jessica Pieri 6-1 6-3 after fourth favourite Petra Martic crashed out 3-6 4-6 to Saisai Zheng.

DeMario Davis delivered a supreme defensive effort and earned plaudits from coach Sean Payton after the New Orleans Saints rallied for a 13-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

The Saints linebacker impressed for the visitors with 10 tackles in all as he and his team-mates had five sacks in the hard-earned victory at Lumen Field.

"We take a lot of pride in our defense," Davis said. "We've got to be able to play complementary football. We have a very high standard for our group and there's no other way that we would take it. Defense on the field with the game on the line. We get excited, and we play with a lot of energy in those situations."

Speaking about the string of sacks, which went 5-2 in New Orleans' favour, Davis said: "That's a credit to the cover guys. We can take away the first read, and he has to hold the ball. Credit to the D coordinator and the D line having a good rush plan for us. And then guys just executing their job.

"It's fun to play on defense when you know that all you have to do is do your job and it's going to work. Guys did their job. I think we were getting pressures early on, but we weren't getting them to the ground, we've got to find a way to get him on the ground."

Payton was full of appreciation as he watched on, with the Saints recovering from allowing a stunning 84-yard pass from Geno Smith (12 for 22 passes, 167 yards and one touchdown) to star team-mate DK Metcalf.

With Davis on his game, Payton savoured watching his team improve to 4-2 for the season, dealing the Seahawks (2-5) a fourth straight loss.

The Saints coach said of Davis: "Man, I just love the way he leads and plays with enthusiasm. He's really developed into not just run but pass as well. He's someone who has good instincts, can close the cushion on a run or a play in space. He tackles well. He's playing well, and I'm sure when we look at the tape, we'll see a lot of good efforts. That was a good hard-fought win."

There had been pre-game talk of a bomb cyclone hitting the Seattle area, but the worst-case weather threat failed to materialise.

Payton said such a forecast "kind of gets your attention", but in the end the storm was relatively tame, and the same could be said for the sniping among the sides.

Davis said of the at-times tetchy atmosphere: "Sometimes guys want to be tough on the field and talk after the play, and this is the most physical sport there is. You've got seven seconds to be as physical as you want to be, you got to prove it between the whistles.

"I'm never going to be the guy to talk after the whistles and doing extra because at that point you're just trying to bully someone. I've always been the guy that's going to bully the bully. And team-mates appreciate it when you have their back like that.

"I try to stay pretty level-headed between the whistles and while I'm on the field, but I'm always going to have my team-mates' back, and I think they appreciate it, and it gives them motivation."

Alvin Kamara's 13-yard touchdown reception gave New Orleans their lone TD of the night. Kamara caught 10 passes for 128 yards, becoming the first running back with eight-plus receptions and 100-plus receiving yards in the first half of a game since 2004.

Kamara said of his own effort: "I didn't know what to expect. Every game has a life in of its own self and the flavour of this week ended up getting a lot of touches."

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer says Giannis Antetokounmpo had the "extra gear" required to get the reigning champions over the line in Monday's 119-109 win over the Indiana Pacers.

Antetokounmpo came close to his first triple-double of the new season, finishing with 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

Budenholzer said the two-time NBA MVP was in "attack mode" as the Bucks improved to a 3-1 record.

"I think it was a really aggressive Giannis tonight but at the same time he's still making great passes, great reads, great decisions," Budenholzer told reporters after the game.

"When he's attacking and scoring and finding three-point shooters, that's when we're at our best. He had that extra gear tonight and we needed it."

He added: "Tonight he was special getting into the paint and creating some foul situations for them."

The Bucks were without guard Jrue Holiday (ankle) and center Brook Lopez (back) along with Bobby Portis, employing a shorter starting line-up.

Antetokounmpo admitted he was still getting used to handling Lopez's absence on court.

"At the end of the day, sometimes I feel like not having Brook out there is hard for me," he told reporters. "Should I go screen, should I get out of the way, should I go for the dunk? It makes me second guess sometimes."

Antetokounmpo was also full of praise for 23-year-old Bucks forward Jordan Nwora (nine points, four rebounds and three assists) who he said was "playing great" this season.

DeMar DeRozan insisted the Chicago Bulls "want to win now" after opening the season 4-0 for the first time since 1996-97.

The red-hot Bulls preserved their perfect record with a 111-108 victory against the Toronto Raptors in the NBA on Monday.

Chicago – the last remaining unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference – were busy in the offseason, having recruited four-time All-Star DeRozan, former second pick Lonzo Ball and 2020 NBA champion Alex Caruso.

It came after the Bulls traded for two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic last season.

The last time the Bulls opened with a 4-0 record, Hall of Famer and six-time champion Michael Jordan was on the team in Chicago.

"Part of the reason why I even chose to come to Chicago was everyone was eager to be successful, to want to win," DeRozan said after scoring 26 points against his former team.

"Everybody had that chip on their shoulder, from the city to the organisation to the players that I spoke to.

"That was everybody's mindset, it's all about winning now. We're not in a development stage, we want to win now."

DeRozan added: "We've got a long way to go. We've got a lot more to clean up, to learn. It's a long season, man. [The 4-0 start] is great, but we've got a lot more basketball to go.

"We can't carry this record like it's some kind of badge of honour; we've got to understand that the next game is going to be even harder."

The previous two times the Bulls started 4-0 (1995-96 and 1996-97), they went on to win the NBA championship.

"I think we have a lot of high-character guys, we all want to win and we want to win together," Ball added. "I think when you have a bunch of guys on the same team with the same common goal and the same mindset it makes it easier for the chemistry to click. That's what's going on."

Manchester City had a relatively quiet off-season in the transfer market.

City landed Jack Grealish from Aston Villa in a big-money move but failed in their efforts to sign Tottenham star Harry Kane following Sergio Aguero's exit.

But the Premier League champions could be more active in the January transfer window.

 

TOP STORY – CITY PLAN FOR DE JONG SWOOP

Manchester City are plotting a move for Barcelona star midfielder Frenkie de Jong, according to Calciomercato.

De Jong, who also has interest from Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, signed a five-year deal with Barcelona effective from July 2019, tying him down to 2024.

The 24-year-old Netherlands international has made 11 appearances in all competitions this season and is yet to score.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano claims Manchester United have made no official proposal for former Chelsea and Inter boss Antonio Conte yet amid doubts over the future of Red Devils manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following Sunday's 5-0 rout at the hands of Liverpool. Zinedine Zidane and Ajax's Erik ten Hag are also possible options.

- Manchester United's wantaway Dutch midfielder Donny van de Beek is preparing to make a January move with Voetbal International claiming he has swapped agents. EvertonNewcastle United and Juventus are all interested in Van de Beek, per Metro.

Paris Saint-Germain will switch their attention to Bayern midfielder Corentin Tolisso if they cannot secure a move for Manchester United's Paul Pogba, reports Calciomercato. Pogba has also been linked with Juve and Real Madrid.

Newcastle and Juve are contending to sign Barca forward Ousmane Dembele, according to Sport. Dembele is set to exit Barca at the end of this season and his agent has reportedly been in touch with both clubs about a move, while Liverpool and United are also possible destinations.

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo came close to a triple-double as reigning NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks took down the Indiana Pacers 119-109 on Monday.

Antetokounmpo finished the game with 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, as well as two blocks and a steal to fuel the Bucks.

Bucks team-mate Khris Middleton provided good scoring support with 27 points, five rebounds and seven assists, including a remarkable three-pointer on the first-quarter buzzer.

Milwaukee pulled away throughout the game, leading by 15 points at the final change, having no issues in Jrue Holiday (ankle) and Brook Lopez's (back) absence.

While the Bucks improved to 3-1, the Pacers slipped to a 1-3 record despite Domantas Sabonis' 21 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.

 

 

Bulls maintain perfect start

The Chicago Bulls improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1996-97 thanks to a 111-108 victory against the Toronto Raptors. The Bulls led by 10 points with less than three minutes remaining before Fred VanVleet (15 points and a career-high 17 assists) missed a three-point attempt on the buzzer to send it to overtime.

Jayson Tatum posted 41 points, including six three-pointers, with seven rebounds and eight assists as the Boston Celtics outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 140-129 after overtime. The Celtics closed the extra period with a 14-0 run to storm to victory.

Paul George had a career-high eight steals along with 16 points as the Los Angeles Clippers won 116-86 against the Portland Trail Blazers. Luke Kennard added 23 points.

Jonas Valanciunas put up 22 points and a career-high 23 points as the New Orleans Pelicans snapped a season-opening three-game skid by topping the Minnesota Timberwolves 107-98.

 

Harden's radar still off

The Brooklyn Nets improved their record to 2-2 with a 104-90 win over the Washington Wizards although James Harden's shooting radar was off. The former MVP finished five of 17 from the field, including going at 12.5 per cent from beyond the arc for his 14 points.

Damian Lillard continues to struggle for the Blazers this season. The All-Star finished four-of-15 shooting against the Clippers, while he missed all eight of his three-point attempts. Lillard has made two of 24 three-pointers this season (8.3 per cent). He is shooting 34 per cent overall.

Kevin Durant believes the Brooklyn Nets' chemistry has "grown pretty fast" after the NBA championship-chasing franchise improved to 2-2 for the season with Monday's 104-90 win over the Washington Wizards.

Durant led the way with 25 points along with eight rebounds and four assists for the Nets, while Patty Mills came off the bench to contribute 21 points in Kyrie Irving's ongoing absence.

Brooklyn have relied on Durant, who has top scored in all four games this season, while James Harden's shooting has been errant, and fellow star Irving absent due to his vaccination status 

The Nets bowed out of last season's Eastern Conference semi-finals against eventual champions the Milwaukee Bucks, with injuries to their big three Durant, Harden and Irving taking their toll.

Durant and Harden only played 11 games together last season following the latter's January trade from the Houston Rockets, but they have played all four alongside each other this campaign.

Harden managed 14 points with five-from-17 shooting from the field though he only made one of his eight three-pointers on Monday, but Durant was bullish about their improving chemistry in offense.

The Nets shared around the points with Harden also having nine assists, while starters Bruce Brown (14 points and three rebounds) and Joe Harris (11 points, eight rebounds and two assists) contributed.

"It felt like we always had that unselfish energy around our team," Durant told reporters after the game.

"I felt like our chemistry has grown pretty fast, learning how to play with one another. This was a good step in the right direction.

"It's always good to get a W, it's good for the morale of the team. We want to build on it and keep growing.

"It's a long season. It's still the first few weeks of the season so we want to keep finetuning."

Brooklyn's victory was aided by a strong defensive display, keeping Wizards guard Bradley Beal quiet, led by Durant.

Beal finished with 19 points after shooting 36.4 per cent from the field, making only three from 13 from three-point range.

Nets head coach Steve Nash said: "It's a huge aspect of Kevin's game that he can be an incredible defender and impact the game at that end of the floor at an elite level.

"We know what he can do offensively but we're reminded here that defensively he's incredible at times as well."

The New Orleans Saints flexed their defensive muscles in a hard-fought 13-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks in NFL action on Monday.

This was the first meeting where neither future Hall of Famer Drew Brees (retired) nor Russell Wilson (injured) started at quarterback since 2004, per Stats Perform.

Leading the Saints following Brees' retirement, Jameis Winston (19-of-35 passing for 222 yards, one touchdown and two sacks) helped New Orleans improve to 4-2 for the season against the slumping Seahawks – who dropped their fourth consecutive game – in Seattle.

But it was a defensive battle at Lumen Field, where Saints linebacker Demario Davis fuelled the visitors with five sacks and multiple tackles.

The Seahawks set the tone in the opening quarter following a stunning 84-run pass from Geno Smith (12 for 22 passes, 167 yards and one touchdown with five sacks) to star team-mate DK Metcalf.

It was the longest pass TD for the Seahawks since an 87-yard connection from Matt Hasselbeck to Ben Obomanu in 2010 and the third-longest in franchise history.

New Orleans, though, took a 10-7 leading into half-time thanks to Brian Johnson's 21-yard field goal and Alvin Kamara's 13-yard touchdown reception – the team's lone TD.

Kamara caught 10 passes for 128 yards, while he became the first running back with eight-plus receptions and 100-plus receiving yards in the first half of a game since 2004.

After Seattle kicker Jason Myers levelled proceedings with a monster 50-yard field goal in the third quarter, Johnson settled the contest by nailing his attempt two minutes from the end of the game.

The Houston Astros brushed off any suggestions that they are using 2017's sign-stealing scandal as motivation ahead of their World Series against the Atlanta Braves.

Houston will host the Braves in Game 1 on Tuesday, with the Astros featuring in the third World Series in five seasons.

Houston's 2017 World Series title remains shrouded in controversy the Astros were found to have stolen signs of opposition teams on the way to winning the championship, as well as for part of 2018.

General manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were subsequently fired by the team after they were initially suspended.

The Astros have since regularly been greeted with jeers and boos in road games but manager Dusty Baker, who was appointed in 2020, insisted they were not out to prove people wrong.

"I don't think that's their main source of motivation," Baker told reporters on Monday. "I think people are trying to make it as their main source of motivation. That doesn't motivate you nearly as much as thriving to win and thriving for excellence.

"I think this team is way past that because they know they can play. You can only be driven by 'I'll show you,' or you can only be driven by negative motivation so far."

Houston infielders Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve are both holdovers from the 2017 roster but reiterated Baker's stance.

"I don't think the outside noise motivates us at all," said Correa, who has hit .297 with five RBIs and 11 hits this postseason.

"The guys inside [the clubhouse] - we motivate ourselves to just be better every single day, and you see the results on the field.

"I don't think we're playing here in the World Series because we're motivated to prove to people that we're a really good team."

Altuve, who hit .278 with 31 home runs and 83 RBIs across the regular season, said he had not considered the sign-stealing scandal in the lead-up to the World Series.

"I haven't thought about that, but I think we have the same mindset we always have, just going out there and try to win," Altuve said.

"This is a pretty special team. Everybody just talks about winning. We all want to win. There's not a single guy who talks about something else."

Correa and Altuve were both crucial in offense for the Astros in 2017, recording 14 RBIs in the postseason, with both hitting two home runs in the World Series.

Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said the Ben Simmons situation seems to be "moving very much in a positive direction" amid the All-Star's absence.

Simmons is yet to feature for the 76ers this NBA season, sitting out games against the New Orleans Pelicans, Brooklyn Nets and Oklahoma City Thunder, having sought a trade following the team's shock playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks in 2020-21.

After being suspended for the season opener due to "conduct detrimental to the team", Simmons met with head coach Doc Rivers, star Joel Embiid and the team last week, notifying Philadelphia he was not mentally ready to play and needed time to step away.

Morey provided an update on Simmons, who has reportedly attracted interest from the likes of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Portland Trail Blazers.

"Ben came in at the end of last week and said he had back stiffness, and he's dealing with some personal reasons off the court," Morey told NBC Sports.

"Both [the Sixers] take very seriously. We're working with Ben to provide every resource to help him with what is needed. And he spoke to his team-mates; things seem to be moving very much in a positive direction.

"We're gonna provide all the resources and get Ben what he needs and get him out there as soon as we can. We're taking it day by day, getting Ben what he needs.

"He'll probably be doing individual workouts while he works through this and working through everything that we can help him with and hope to get him back out there as soon as he's ready."

 

Simmons – an elite defender who signed a five-year, $177.2million contract extension in 2019 – and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers, who were eliminated in the semi-finals.

The 25-year-old had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs against the Hawks last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star, according to Stats Perform.

Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career-worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan declared Jimmy Garoppolo will start against the Chicago Bears in Week 8 as he backed his under-fire quarterback.

Garoppolo struggled in Sunday's 30-18 NFL loss to the Indianapolis Colts, completing 16 of 27 passes for 181 yards, including one touchdown, two interceptions and a lost fumble.

Shanahan said it was Garoppolo's "worst game" upon his return from a calf issue which kept him out in Week 5 before San Francisco's bye, but he threw his support behind the 29-year-old.

San Francisco's Shanahan has a dilemma after the team's fourth consecutive loss left the 49ers 2-4 for the season, given Garoppolo's performance and with rookie quarterback Trey Lance hoping to recover from a knee sprain to push his case for selection.

"In terms of deciding who is going at quarterback, that has to do with Jimmy's health," Shanahan told reporters on Monday.

"Jimmy, I wanted to see how his calf was. It's good today and so he'll be starting and hopefully Trey will get back into practice and have a good enough week to where he can dress and if he ends up dressing then there's always a good chance he'll get some plays in there."

Garoppolo has completed 94 of 145 attempts for 1,106 yards this season, with six touchdowns, four interceptions and eight sackings.

His current completion percentage of 64.8 is his worst since the 2018 season (59.6).

"I thought Jimmy had his worst game yesterday [Sunday]. I thought Jimmy's done some good things in the three and a half games that he's played," Shanahan said.

"He did some pretty good things in our first game, getting us up to a 41-17 lead. I think he came back and made some unbelievable plays to give us the lead with 30 seconds left against Green Bay on Monday Night Football... And then he got hurt early in the game versus Seattle.

"He just got his first game back last night in that monsoon and it didn't go very good for any of us."

He added: "We didn't go into that game thinking that Jimmy was one bad game away from losing his job or anything like that."

Shanahan said Lance, who hurt his knee in his only start in Garoppolo's absence in the Week 5 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, "is on pace" to make a limited return to practice this week.

"We know Trey is the future here, and we're trying to do what's best for him and for our team," Shanahan said.

"Trey is coming off a pretty big injury, and we're going to keep bringing him along and keep getting him prepared as good as he can be to always be ready to come in and help on the plays we ask him to, always be ready to take over if Jimmy gets hurt, and being ready to be the future for us, too."

The New York Jets have reacquired former quarterback Joe Flacco as insurance following Zach Wilson's posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury.

Flacco joins the lowly Jets in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday, a sixth-round conditional NFL pick sent the opposite way.

Jets head coach Robert Saleh confirmed rookie QB Wilson will miss two to four weeks with a PCL strain sustained in Sunday's crushing 54-13 loss to the New England Patriots.

Mike White stepped in for Wilson against the Patriots and is poised to make his debut start in his absence, but the Jets have brought in 36-year-old Flacco for depth.

Flacco spent the entire 2020 season at the Jets as backup before moving to the Eagles on a one-year, $3.5million contract.

The former Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl champion was relegated behind starter Jalen Hurts and Gardner Minshew at Philadelphia, who felt he was surplus to requirements.

"Joe is just a great person to be around, a great pro to be around, had a phenomenal preseason and was really good for our [quarterback] room," Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said.

"But the opportunity arose for him to go and be able to contribute somewhere else and also for us to get a pick for that. But our time with Joe Flacco was really good."

Flacco completed 74 of 134 passes for 864 yards, with six touchdowns and three interceptions for the Jets last season.

White completed 20 of 32 passes for 202 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions in his debut for the Jets on Sunday.

The St Louis Cardinals named Oliver Marmol as their new manager to replace the departed Mike Shildt, making the 35-year-old the youngest skipper in MLB.

St Louis dismissed Shildt earlier this month, despite the Cardinals' franchise-record 17-game streak which saw them storm into the MLB postseason.

Marmol served as St Louis' bench coach under Shildt last season, has been part of the team's staff since 2017 and is a former Cardinals draftee and minor leaguer.

"Oli is a career member of the Cardinals organisation, and someone who has built excellent working relationships with our players, coaches and staff members at all levels," Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said in a statement on Monday.

"We believe that he possesses strong managerial skills that will allow for the continued success of our team."

The Cardinals parted ways with Shildt due to "philosophical differences", despite a win percentage of 55.9 across three seasons and a 92-win 2021 campaign.

Marmol, who is younger than active Cardinals Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina, becomes the youngest manager since Eric Wedge, when he took charge of the Cleveland Indians in 2003.

The Houston Astros will be without ace Lance McCullers Jr. throughout the World Series due to a forearm strain.

McCullers – a World Series champion in 2017 – declared himself unavailable for the best-of-seven MLB showpiece on Monday, with the Astros-Atlanta Braves opener scheduled for Tuesday.

The starting pitcher left Game 4 of the American League Division Series (ALDS) against the Chicago White Sox due to forearm tightness and sat out the entire American League Championship Series (ALCS) clash with the Boston Red Sox.

"We're hoping that in a couple weeks, when I would pick up my normal offseason workout routine and things of that nature, that I won't have many restrictions," McCullers said as he expects to be ready for Spring Training in 2022.

"And then we can just flow into pitching in January. [Dr. Neal] ElAttrache has seen the MRI, things of that nature. He told us that he doesn't believe anything is wrong with the UCL, anything like that. Just a pretty solid forearm strain that I had there in Chicago.

"We knew that it was less than a one percent chance that I would have a role in this series, but there was no point to write me off until we had to."

An All-Star during Houston's World Series run in 2017, McCullers enjoyed the best season of his career as the 28-year-old finished with a 3.16 ERA – eclipsing his 3.22 mark in 2015.

McCullers achieved a career-high 185 strikeouts with a 13-5 win-loss record in 2021.

In his first start against the White Sox in the playoffs, McCullers kept the Chicago franchise scoreless through 6.2 innings with four strikeouts.

McCullers pitched 4.0 innings of one-run ball against the White Sox in Game 4, while striking out five batters.  

"The worst thing is I just feel like I can't be there for the team in the way they need me the most, which is on the field," McCullers said.

"…When you have a team like that, and you've been to the postseason so many times, and the World Series is your goal, Spring Training and the season is almost just something you have to do because this is where you want to be, this is where you hope to be.

"For me to not be able to pitch when I feel like these are the moments that I dream of, the moments I’m kind of built for, is probably the worst part."

New York Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson will miss between two to four weeks with a posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) strain.

Jets head coach Robert Saleh announced the injury news on Monday, with Wilson facing up to a month on the sidelines following Sunday's 54-13 loss to the New England Patriots.

Wilson – the second pick in this year's NFL Draft – got hit by Patriots linebacker Matt Judon on a pass attempt early in the second quarter.

"Thankfully, it's not a serious injury," Saleh told reporters.

Saleh added: "I don't think it's a setback. I think it's always good to be able to step away and watch the offense through the lens of another quarterback."

Wilson, who was six-of-10 passing for 51 yards against the Patriots, has completed 57.5 per cent of his passes for 1,168 yards with four touchdowns and nine interceptions in six games.

His completion percentage is second-worst in league, only ahead of Chicago Bears rookie Justin Fields (57.5).

Wilson is also tied for the most interceptions in the NFL, level alongside Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes.

The Jets are 1-5 this season, third in the AFC East behind the Buffalo Bills (4-2) and Patriots (3-4).

Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy has tested positive for coronavirus, he announced on Monday.

Nagy's positive COVID-19 result came after the Bears returned home from Sunday's 38-3 rout at the hands of reigning NFL Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Chicago's special teams co-ordinator Chris Tabor will step in to run team meetings during Nagy's absence.

"This is something that for us, it's a reminder for all of us to be extremely cautious and to understand where we're at," Nagy told reporters via Zoom.

"We've seen it with other teams in the league and society in general, so we're working through that."

The Bears are 3-4 this season following back-to-back defeats against the Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers.

Elijah Wilkinson, Caleb Johnson, Jimmy Graham and Robert Quinn are the four players on the Bears' reserve/COVID-19 list.

Nagy added: "I feel pretty good. Again, you come in in the morning and it's something where every morning on Monday, you come in, you're following protocols, it's what we do.

"So when I got the call this morning from our head trainer, Andre Tucker, you try to be prepared. We're still working through some of the team.

"But that's a good sign for sure. We need to make sure that we do everything we're supposed to do here in regards to the protocols."

Andy Murray beat Hubert Hurkacz at the third attempt this year to advance to the second round of the Vienna Open.

Having lost to world number 10 Hurkacz in both Cincinnati and Metz, Murray claimed a hard-fought victory that took two hours and 40 minutes over three sets.

Hurkacz has enjoyed a brilliant 2021, winning three singles titles, but despite forcing a decider, went down 4-6 7-6 (8-6) 3-6 on Monday in a defeat that dealt a blow to his ATP Finals hopes.

"My movement has been getting a little better with each match," Murray said. "It was a good match that could have gone either way. It was a good win in tough circumstances."

"A lot of my movement is about anticipation and when you're not playing many matches – like I haven't been in recent years – you don't read the play quite as well.

"Now I'm starting to see the ball a little earlier and starting to react a little quicker, which means I will start to chase more balls down."

The Scot has been drawn against Carlos Alcaraz, who beat the 34-year-old's fellow Briton Dan Evans in straight sets. Murray defeated the Spanish teenager in a thrilling tussle at Indian Wells earlier this month.

Third seed and 2021 Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini also made it through, beating Alexei Popyrin 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 to avoid an upset after a keenly contested first set.

Meanwhile, seventh seed Alexander Bublik claimed a comfortable 6-3 6-4 win over Evgeny Tyurnev at the St. Petersburg Open.

Sebastian Korda and Jan-Lennard Struff also progressed in Russia.

Few things in the NFL are as important as continuity.

Teams that develop an understanding through the experience of consistently lining up with the same players have a distinctly better shot of enjoying success than those who are constantly chopping and changing.

Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase already had a well-established rapport from their time at LSU, in which they combined for 20 passing touchdowns in 2019 as a high-powered passing game helped the Tigers surge to a National Championship.

The Cincinnati Bengals banked on that partnership translating to the pro game. A year after taking Burrow with the first overall pick in 2020, they passed on the top offensive linemen in the draft, much to the bemusement of many observers, to select Chase fifth overall.

Their faith in the mind meld between quarterback and wide receiver has, to this point, been handsomely rewarded.

Burrow threw for a career-high 416 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday while Chase went for 201 yards and a score on eight catches to help the Bengals emphatically brush aside the Baltimore Ravens 41-17 and take the lead in the AFC North.

With Cincinnati sitting pretty at 5-2, doubts over whether Burrow could showcase the required progress after the knee injury that prematurely ended his rookie year are a thing of the past. Meanwhile, Chase is in hot pursuit of history and looks a near-lock for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Separated by a year, Burrow and Chase remain firmly on the same page, and they are helping a well-balanced Bengals team write an exciting new chapter in the story of a franchise that has predominantly been a tale of its shortcomings.

 

Burrow joins exclusive group

Burrow, having racked up 406 yards and three scoring throws in a meeting with the Cleveland Browns last year, became the fourth player with two games with at least 400 yards and three touchdown passes within his first 20 career outings. 

He joins a select club also featuring Patrick Mahomes, Nick Foles and Billy Volek.

Given the contrasting careers experienced by those three quarterbacks, that achievement is no guarantee of future success.

However, the displays Burrow has put on show through seven games suggest he is on the right path to vindicating his selection as a first overall pick and becoming a top-tier NFL quarterback.

Burrow does not have the strongest arm in the league, but he can beat defenses with his accuracy and his poise, both of which came to the fore against the Ravens.

He delivered an accurate well-thrown ball on 80.6 per cent of his passes against the Ravens, according to Stats Perform data. That was only just above the league average of 79.8 for the week but it was the highest among quarterbacks who threw 10 passes to have averaged at least nine air yards per attempt.

Burrow finished the game with 11 air yards per attempt, illustrating his willingness to push the ball deep regardless of his perceived deficiencies in arm strength compared to some of the league's best.

And he remained accurate and aggressive in the face of pressure, his composure and intelligent movement in the pocket allowing him to excel even with Ravens pass rushers in his vicinity.

Burrow's well-thrown percentage under duress was 81.8 per cent, while he averaged 13.55 air yards on his 11 pass attempts with pressure.

Frustrating the Ravens with his ability to evade defenders in the pocket, Burrow's cool was exemplified by the Bengals' first touchdown of the game, which saw him shuffle to his left to avoid the monstrous figure of Calais Campbell after a play-action fake and uncork a perfect deep ball to an open C.J. Uzomah.

His prowess in that area has enabled Burrow to thrive while negating the issues on a still problematic offensive line, and having a receiver on a record-setting pace who has put concerns over his skill set to bed has significantly aided the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner's cause.

 

Chase on course for history

The Bengals selected Chase after a pre-draft process that saw plenty of pundits voice their doubts about a player who opted out of the 2020 college football season and who often relied more on physicality than his route-running to defeat the coverage of opposing cornerbacks.

Yet across the first seven games, Chase has made the Bengals' selection look astute by posting 754 receiving yards and scoring six touchdowns.

Chase's total puts him second in the league in receiving yards and means he has surpassed Harlon Hill (685 in 1954) for the most such yards by a player in his first seven career games all-time.

Averaging 107.7 yards per game, he is on track to smash the rookie receiving yards record set by former LSU team-mate Justin Jefferson, who finished the 2020 season with 1,400.

Chase is on pace for 1,830 yards and he is producing at such a rate in part because of the prowess he has displayed as a route-runner.

Going against an All-Pro cornerback in Marlon Humphrey, who went into Week 7 having allowed receivers to get open on only 19 of his 72 coverage matchups, Chase excelled at creating separation.

With 32 seconds left in the first half, Chase beat Humphrey's press coverage through selling an outside release and cleverly using his hands to render the corner's attempt to jam him immaterial as he got free over the middle for a 26-yard catch and run, setting Cincinnati up for a go-ahead field goal.

But Chase saved his best for the game-breaking play of the contest. Initially stemming outside as he lined up against Humphrey again, Chase showed his lower-body flexibility with a fluid break back to the inside on the slant. He then adjusted to a pass thrown slightly behind him before using his balance and body control to avoid three tackle attempts and proceeded to gallop free for an 82-yard score from which the Ravens never looked like recovering.

Announcer Kevin Harlan's description of Humphrey being "in a blender" could hardly have been more accurate and it encapsulated what Chase has blossomed into at the next level.

Producing a big play on 41.1 per cent of his targets – the sixth-highest rate among receivers with at least 25 targets – Chase is a wideout who can discombobulate even the most accomplished NFL corners, and more defenders seem likely to suffer the same fate as Humphrey as the Bengals plot a long-awaited return to the playoffs.

Defense defying expectations

Cincinnati's rise back to prominence is not all about Burrow and Chase, though.

They have played the most substantial role in the Bengals putting up 6.22 yards per play on offense, the third-best average in the league.

Yet a Bengals defense that held the Ravens to their lowest points total of the campaign is also worthy of significant praise.

Cincinnati's defense is allowing 5.14 opponent yards per play, the fourth-fewest in the NFL, the Bengals doing an excellent job of putting their opponents behind the sticks.

Indeed, only the Carolina Panthers (48) have forced more negative plays from their opponents than the Bengals (47).

The combination of an efficient offense boasting a receiver adept at delivering explosive plays and a defense that excels at creating plays where their opponents lose yardage is a winning formula that can lift the Bengals to stunning upsets over well-established contenders like the Ravens.

It remains to be seen whether it can be sustained, but a franchise that at regular intervals in its history has been known for poor personnel decisions and underwhelming performances is being rewarded for making the right choice in this year's draft and seeing its roster compete with rivals that entered the season viewed as existing on another level altogether.

It's way too early to declare the Bengals a complete team. Seven weeks of evidence is not enough for an organisation that has not enjoyed a winning season since 2015. However, what can be said with some certainty is Burrow, Chase and a defense performing well above expectations have put the Bengals in a position where results akin to what they produced in Baltimore will not be a surprise for much longer.

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