Mercedes confirmed the worst-kept secret in Formula One this week as they announced George Russell will drive for the Silver Arrows.

Russell will take the seat of Valtteri Bottas, who is set to join Alfa Romeo after failing to mount a drivers' championship challenge during his time with Mercedes.

A product of the Mercedes junior driver programme, Russell earned his spot with Mercedes through a series of impressive performances for Williams, while he was also praised for his display filling in for future team-mate Lewis Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix last year.

But how do Russell and his predecessor compare? Stats Perform looks at the numbers from their respective careers to assess whether Russell can be an upgrade.

Bottas too often the bridesmaid

Bottas has sprayed the post-race champagne plenty of times already this season. He has claimed seven podiums in 2021 but has not been on the top step. Indeed, with six third-place finishes and one second-place, Bottas has collected the most podiums without winning in the campaign so far.

That is reflective of Bottas' career with Mercedes. Unlike the man he succeeded, Nico Rosberg, Bottas has never truly been a threat to Hamilton despite the dominance the team has enjoyed.

The Finn has finished second 29 times in his career, more than any other driver who has failed to win the championship. Only Rubens Barrichello can match him. Since 2017 when he joined Mercedes from Williams, Bottas' total of 45 second and third-places finishes is more than any other driver.

And when he reflects on his Mercedes tenure, Bottas will in part have to look back on a number of missed opportunities. Rene Arnoux (11.1%, 2 of 18) and Nelson Piquet (20.8%, 5 of 24) are the only drivers to in F1 history to claim a lower percentage of victories from pole position than Bottas (29.4%), who has qualified fastest 17 times but gone on to win the race on just five occasions.

 

George growing in stature

While it can be argued Bottas has struggled to get the best out of what has been, for the most part, the clear top car on the grid, Russell has this year taken a Williams car that pales in comparison to what the team produced during their glory years beyond expectations.

Though his second-place at the Belgium Grand Prix was secured in part because the weather meant only two laps could be completed behind the safety car, his reward for a brilliant qualifying performance made him the first Williams driver to claim second since Lance Stroll in 2017.

Russell has elevated Williams from backmarkers to regular residents in the midfield, reaching Q2 of qualifying in 12 of 13 attempts in 2021. He had reached that stage nine times in his previous 37 qualifying appearances.

Even when the Williams car was the worst in the field in 2019, Russell still had the edge over Robert Kubica in qualifying. He qualified ahead of his team-mate in all 21 grands prix, becoming the first rookie driver to achieve that feat.

Bottas had the edge at the Sakhir Grand Prix when Hamilton was absent, beating Russell to pole, but the Brit was only denied victory as a puncture handed the win to Sergio Perez.

If he can avoid such misfortune going forward, Russell's track record with Williams this year indicates he could provide Hamilton with stiff competition in qualifying and on raceday.

There will be plenty of nerves around NFL locker rooms this week, with career-altering seasons lying ahead.

Many players will get second chances if the coming year does not go as planned, but some will not.

In a league where there are only 32 starting berths for quarterbacks and a further 32 openings for head coaches, the competition is brutal.

Coming off testing campaigns, Stats Perform picks out the QBs and coaches who cannot afford another slip-up in a make-or-break 2021.

Sam Darnold

New Carolina Panthers QB Darnold is still just 24, but so poor were the former third overall pick's performances across three years in New York that the Jets moved him on to take Zach Wilson with the second selection in 2021.

In Darnold's third and final miserable season with the Jets, he threw just nine touchdowns to 11 interceptions – numbers that could have been even worse as he threw 22 pickable passes, his pickable pass percentage of 6.51 the fifth-worst among QBs with 100 or more attempts.

Only the run-heavy Baltimore Ravens averaged fewer net passing yards than the Jets last year (174.8 per game), a metric in which the Panthers ranked a mediocre 18th led by Teddy Bridgewater.

If Darnold cannot even reach those standards, his career as a leading man could be over already. Of course, Carolina start against Wilson and the Jets.

Daniel Jones

Playing in the same city as Darnold, Jones might have got off a little lightly. He is after all eight days older than Darnold, albeit he came into the league a year later.

There were signs of promise for the New York Giants in 2019, but Jones has not progressed as hoped. The clock is ticking, with opportunities elsewhere likely to be scarce given he was a surprise pick at number six two years ago.

Sacked 45 times in 2020, Jones might argue he has lacked protection from a poor Giants offensive line.

Sadly, the QB has looked best running for his life, averaging a league-leading 9.70 yards when the designated ball-carrier – and a slightly above average 4.62 when scrambling – but still scoring only a single rushing TD last year.

Kliff Kingsbury

Appointed in 2019 and handed first overall pick Kyler Murray, Kingsbury's first task in Arizona was to make the Cardinals more effective and exciting on offense – something he achieved by delivering the second-highest season-to-season improvement in total net yards in franchise history (+1,602).

But the Cards still finished last in the NFC West with only five wins, missing the playoffs for the fourth successive season. A further year down the line, that drought is ongoing thanks to a desperate 2020 collapse from 6-3 to finish 8-8.

With the talent on this team, 2021 needs to bring tangible results. Failure to deliver again could spell trouble for Kingsbury or general manager Steve Keim – an unenviable position to be in at the helm of still the worst team in football's best division.

Carson Wentz

Wentz is slightly different to the other names on this list in that he has enjoyed success in the NFL already. A Week 14 ACL tear in 2017 meant he watched the Philadelphia Eagles' Super Bowl win from the sidelines, but his 33 passing TDs had already set a franchise record.

Those performances felt a long way away in an awful 2020 campaign, though. Statistically, he could hardly have been worse.

Wentz threw a joint-high 15 picks and led the way with 28 pickable passes, making up 6.78 per cent of his attempts while just 68.8 per cent were accurate, well-thrown balls – a league low among QBs with 100 or more passes. Given he also lost 326 yards to his NFL-leading 50 sacks, there was very little that went well when Wentz had the ball in his hands.

The 28-year-old is now on the Indianapolis Colts, reunited with the man who helped inspire his superb 2017 campaign in Frank Reich, but has already suffered with a foot injury and a COVID bout. With Reich as his head coach, Wentz has to return a better player or his days as a starter in this league are done.

Matt Nagy

The mood music around Chicago is not great heading into the new season. The arrival of Justin Fields in the 2021 draft should provide cause for optimism, but it appears unlikely the rookie will play right away to the frustration of fans.

Mitchell Trubisky is at least gone after a dismal run as the Bears' QB – last year comparable to Wentz by a number of advanced metrics but also averaging a below-par 7.94 air yards – but coach Nagy is starting with Andy Dalton, rather than Fields.

Nagy is also calling plays again, having given up that duty as the offense failed last year.

There has been plenty wrong on that side of the ball for the Bears in recent years, but Nagy is running out of excuses. Either his approach has to work or he must adapt fast.

Jameis Winston

Nobody on this list can be as motivated as Winston, who must have feared he had already used up his NFL lives as he watched the versatile Taysom Hill fill in for Drew Brees last season. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Winston's former team, won the Super Bowl.

But the erratic deep passer has won the New Orleans Saints' starting job ahead of Hill this year. His haphazard style might have to change if he is to keep the role, however.

Winston threw 33 TD passes in 2019, but he also had 30 interceptions – that combination a league first. His 10.70 air yards ranked second, yet 46 pickable passes led the NFL by some distance.

His play is at complete odds to the safer approach from the retired Brees, who last year threw to an open target with 81.8 per cent of his attempts and dispatched an accurate, well-thrown ball 81.0 per cent of the time but only averaged 6.41 air yards.

As in Tampa, Winston should be fun to watch. As in Tampa, he will do well to stick around... and a third chance feels unlikely.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expecting Dak Prescott to be at his best as the Dallas Cowboys quarterback returns to action in Thursday's NFL season opener. 

Prescott did not play in the pre-season and has not seen live game action since suffering a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle last October against the New York Giants. 

But Cowboys CEO and director of player personnel Stephen Jones said Tuesday that Prescott is "100 per cent ready to go" for the game and he has "total confidence in Dak and how he feels about what he can do for this football team." 

The defending Super Bowl champions are of similar mind, said Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians. 

"Knowing him [Prescott] personally like I do, there's no change in him, with the way he's gonna play," Arians told reporters. "He only knows one way how to play, and that's full-speed."

At full speed, Prescott is one of the most dangerous playmakers in the NFL. In his last full healthy season, 2019, Prescott led the NFL with 4,902 passing yards and 30 touchdowns, and added 277 yards and three more TDs running the ball. 

He was off to a similarly effective start before going down in Week 5 last season, completing 68 per cent of his passes for 1,856 yards with nine passing and three rushing touchdowns. 

The opposing quarterback Thursday, Tom Brady, can relate to returning from a serious leg injury. He spoke Tuesday of his mindset in coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his left knee in the first quarter of the 2008 opener, an injury that cost him the rest of the season. 

"We kind of feel invincible at times, especially playing a really physical sport, but I think one thing about getting injured is we're not invincible," Brady said. "I think you have a different perspective when you come back.

"You're really disappointed when you lose games, but it's more disappointing when you don't get to play in games. I'd rather play and lose than not play at all, as crazy as that sounds. If you're not playing it just means you're at home.

"I remember that was a tough year just sitting, watching, watching all my teammates, and I made a pretty conscious decision I was gonna do everything I could at that point to stay healthy as I could my entire career."

Brady has, starting every game since the 2009 season opener aside from his four-game "Deflategate" suspension at the beginning of the 2016 season. 

As he prepares to begin his 22nd NFL season, Brady knows he and his team will need to out-play Prescott and the Cowboys to get off to the start they want. 

"[Prescott is] a really talented player," Brady said. "Really since the day he got in the league he's shown to be a great leader of the team, and you know we're just expecting him to play like that, like Dak Prescott does.

"He's very talented, moves in the pocket, throws a good ball, they've got a lot of talented skill players.

"So for us, offensively, we're gonna have to do a good job putting our defence in a good position, I don't think we can give any extra possessions.

"Turnovers will be a big factor, field position is going to be important. It's a big challenge for our team."

The Tampa Bay Rays added to their season-long list of eye-popping statistics as they rolled past the Boston Red Sox 12-7 at Fenway Park on Tuesday. 

Nelson Cruz and Mike Zunino combined to go seven-for-nine with a double, a triple, four home runs and eight runs batted in as the first-place Rays built a 12-1 lead before Boston tacked on six runs in the final two innings. 

Cruz homered in the third and fith innings to reach 30 for the season, making the 41-year-old the oldest MLB player to reach that mark. Zunino is close behind Cruz on the season, hitting his 28th in the fourth inning and 29th in the sixth. 

According to Stats Perform, they are the second visiting duo to each have at least two home runs and at least four RBIs in the same game at Fenway Park since Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris of the New York Yankees on May 30, 1961.

While those two were going deep, Wander Franco was getting on base once again. The rookie walked in the seventh to extend his on-base streak to 37 games, breaking a tie with Mantle to put him behind only Hall of Famer Frank Robinson (43) in consecutive games reaching base for a player 20 years old or younger. 

The Tampa Bay win and another Yankees loss extended the Rays' American League (AL) East lead to nine and a half games. 

 

Astros storm back to beat Mariners, Angels spoil Snell's brilliant outing

The Houston Astros trailed the Seattle Mariners 4-2 heading to the bottom of the ninth inning, but Alex Bregman's two-run homer tied the game and Carlos Correa won it 5-4 for Houston with a walk-off ground-rule double in the 10th. 

San Diego Padres starter Blake Snell was perfect through six innings but ended up taking the loss when Jo Adell hit a two-run single with two outs in the seventh on the way to a 4-0 Los Angeles Angels win. Snell has held opposing hitters to a .071 batting average over his last four starts, which Stats Perform says is the lowest since Johnny Vander Meer held batters to a .063 average over four games – including his back-to-back no-hitters – in 1938. 

Avisail Garcia hit his 25th home run while Eric Lauer and two Milwaukee Brewers relievers held the Philadelphia Phillies to five hits in a 10-0 victory. The Brewers lead the National League (NL) Central by 11 games over the Cincinnati Reds.

Ozzie Albies homered for the fourth successive game, his two-run shot in the seventh giving the Atlanta Braves the lead for good on the way to an 8-5 victory over the Washington Nationals. Albies also drove in runs with a fourth-inning sacrifice fly and an eighth-inning single. 

 

 

Cole leaves injured as Yankees lose again

Gerrit Cole left in the fourth inning with hamstring tightness and the New York Yankees lost 5-1 to the Toronto Blue Jays, their eighth defeat in 10 games in a skid that began immediately after a 13-game winning streak. With their sixth straight win, the Blue Jays are now two games back of the Red Sox in the American League wild card race. 

 

Pujols hits another homer in St Louis

Albert Pujols got a standing ovation from the fans in St Louis, where he starred for 11 seasons, before hitting his 206th home run in the city and the 679th of his career.

 

Hitting a homer directly after getting a standing ovation is so awesome. pic.twitter.com/EdJGzkmOdS

— MLB (@MLB) September 8, 2021

 

Tuesday's results 

Minnesota Twins 3-0 Cleveland Indians
Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 Detroit Tigers
Baltimore Orioles 7-3 Kansas City Royals
Tampa Bay Rays 12-7 Boston Red Sox
Atlanta Braves 8-5 Washington Nationals
Toronto Blue Jays 5-1 New York Yankees
New York Mets 9-4 Miami Marlins
Milwaukee Brewers 10-0 Philadelphia Phillies
Cincinnati Reds 4-3 Chicago Cubs
San Francisco Giants 12-3 Colorado Rockies
Los Angeles Dodgers 7-2 St Louis Cardinals
Houston Astros 5-4 Seattle Mariners
Texas Rangers 3-1 Arizona Diamondbacks
Los Angeles Angels 4-0 San Diego Padres
Chicago White Sox 6-3 Oakland Athletics

 

Blue Jays at Yankees

Luis Gil has yet to surrender a run in three career MLB starts and the Yankees (78-60) will hope for more of the same as they try to stop Alek Manoah and the streaking Blue Jays (75-62). 

Gerrit Cole does not sound too worried about the hamstring injury that compelled him to leave Tuesday's start early, and the New York Yankees hope his instincts are right. 

Cole signalled for the physio with two outs in the fourth inning of a 5-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays and departed the game with what the team officially called left hamstring tightness. 

Manager Aaron Boone said after the Yankees' eighth defeat in 10 games that the team has not scheduled an MRI on Cole's leg. 

"I know in talking to Gerrit, he feels pretty optimistic about it, something that’s popped up with him before," Boone told reporters. "Hopefully, it’s something he got out in front of enough and we’ll see where we’re at in the coming days."

Cole said he began to feel discomfort earlier in the fourth inning, which began with two Toronto singles, a sacrifice fly, a walk and another sacrifice fly that put the Yankees in a 3-1 hole. 

"I was out there for a few pitches trying to weigh the pros and cons, and I just wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get through the inning," Cole said. "You’re only one pitch away from making it worse." 

Cole was pitching on extra rest after dominating the Los Angeles Angels in his previous start on September 1. He allowed four hits and a run with no walks and 15 strikeouts in seven innings of that game, his fourth strong start in a row after spending two weeks on the COVID-19 injured list. 

It was not immediately clear on Tuesday whether Cole would miss his next scheduled start. 

"It’s tough to say right now," he told reporters. "I’m obviously disappointed about the outcome of today. I just want to reserve judgment and see how this thing reacts the next 24-36 hours.

"I guess maybe for my own mentality I just want to make sure I’m good or if I need a few extra days. 

"I’m gonna definitely be as smart about it as I can, and trust my instincts... Hopefully I’ll be able to make the next one. We’ll see how it shakes out."

 

Canadian 12th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime feels "ready to attack the biggest stages" of tennis after becoming the first male player born in the 2000s to reach a major semi-final.

Auger-Aliassime advanced to face second seed Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals on Friday after a 6-3 3-1 walkover win over Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz who succumbed to an upper right leg injury after back-to-back five-set wins.

The 21-year-old Canadian, whose previous best performance at a major was reaching this year's Wimbledon quarter-finals, has defeated Alcaraz, Francis Tiafoe and 18th seed Roberto Bautista Agut on his way to the last four.

Prior to this year's Wimbledon, Auger-Aliassime had never gone beyond the fourth round at a major.

"There's one part, I'm feeling more and more confident playing in these big stages," he told ESPN. "It doesn’t get much bigger than this. When you get comfortable on this court [Arthur Ashe Stadium], everything else is a bit lower.

"I've tried to switch my mentality over the past year to try to be more consistent with my focus, my confidence and my inner self belief. I feel I've grown a lot as a person and a player and now I feel like I'm ready to attack the biggest stages of our sport."

Auger-Aliassime labelled the career milestone as "amazing", albeit coming with a "weird ending" as Alcaraz retired without any major signs of injury beforehand.

The Canadian will take on 2021 Australian Open runner-up Medvedev, who defeated Auger-Aliassime in their only previous meeting in 2018.

"He's one of the best players, he's the most solid on hard courts probably right now with [Alexander] Zverev and Novak [Djokovic]," Auger-Aliassime said during his on-court post-match interview.

"I'm going to have to play my best tennis, try to mix things up, maybe come in a lot, try to see what I can do to disturb him."

Auger-Aliassime's triumph also means two Canadians have reached the men's and women's semi-finals at the same major for only the second time, following Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard at Wimbledon in 2014.

He joins Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez who defeated fifth Elina Svitolina in three sets to continue her dream run at the US Open reaching the last four.

"It's fantastic. She's amazing," Auger-Aliassime said about 19-year-old Fernandez. "I watched her match again today, I really hope the best for her.

"She's a great person, she's got great heart. I'm really happy all her hard work is paying off. I hope we keep going."

Canadian 12th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime has progressed to his first-ever major semi-final after Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz's shock withdrawal in the second set of their US Open quarter-final.

Alcaraz, who had won back-to-back five-setters to reach the last eight, retired 68 minutes into Tuesday's quarter-final trailing 6-3 3-1.

The result means Auger-Aliassime, who has never won an ATP Tour title, will take on second seed Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals on Friday.

The Spanish 18-year-old was attended to by a physiotherapist 2-1 down in the second set and was seen pointing to his upper right leg without receiving any discernible treatment.

Alcaraz had not shown any major signs of injury prior to that yet withdrew following the completion of the next game with the Canadian in control.

Beyond the unusual circumstances, the victory marks a major milestone for 21-year-old Auger-Aliassime, who joins countrywoman Leylah Fernandez in reaching this year's US Open semi-finals.

This marks the second time that two Canadians have reached the semis in the same grand slam, joining Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard at Wimbledon in 2014.

Auger-Aliassime, whose best previous major result was reaching this year's Wimbledon quarter-finals, was strong on his first serve early, delivering 6-1 aces in the first set.

Leading 3-2, the Canadian broke Alcaraz at the third attempt, before both players held to give Auger-Aliassime the chance to serve for the set at 5-3.

In a dramatic game, Auger-Aliassime offered up three break points trailing 0-40, only to rally and win the game to close out the set in 44 minutes, aided by 12 winners.

The 21-year-old broke Alcaraz in the first game of the second set, before Alcaraz's premature retirement, handing the Canadian victory.

Data Slam: First of a new men's generation

Auger-Aliassime becomes the first male born in the 2000s to reach a Grand Slam semi-final, marking a new generation in men's tennis.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Auger-Aliassime – 15/16

Alcaraz – 9/16

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Auger-Aliassime – 8/4

Alcaraz – 1/1

BREAK POINTS WON

Auger-Aliassime – 2/7

Alcaraz – 0/3

Aryna Sabalenka has ranked among the top dozen players in the world since 2018, but her grand slam results always seemed underwhelming. 

In 12 career majors heading into 2021, Sabalenka had advanced past the third round only once, a fourth-round exit at the 2018 US Open. 

Now she is into her second successive grand slam semi-final after defeating Barbora Krejcikova 6-1 6-4 Tuesday, and she said the adjustments she has made this year have paid off. 

"I think I improved my volley game, my slice game," Sabalenka told ESPN after her latest win. "I mean, I would like to say my service game [too] but today's didn't work well."

She added with a smile: "I don't know, maybe the court's a little bit smaller, I don't know, I need to check it. But, yeah, I improved a lot."

Indeed, Sabalenka won seven of eight net points (to eight of 14 for her opponent) and consistently won points on her first serve even though it did not go in as often as she would have liked. 

Sabalenka entered the match having won 82 per cent of points on her first serve in the tournament and was down to 76 per cent Tuesday as she got only 57 per cent of her first serves in the court, but that was plenty good enough to handle Krejcikova. 

She said she focussed on putting as many balls back in play as she could and believed that was the key to her victory, as her opponent had 29 unforced errors and just 14 winners. 

Though the match was rather one-sided, Sabalenka enjoyed the support of the crowd in her first time playing Arthur Ashe Stadium during the night session. 

"I really love to be in New York and the US Open, one of my favourite slams, and I'm really enjoying my game here and every second on this court," she said. 

She also knows she probably will not get the same level of fan support in the semi-final, where she will face Canadian teen sensation Leylah Fernandez. 

"She's playing well, she's moving well and the crowd here [is] for her so I would say it's like nothing to lose for her," Sabalenka said. "It's going to be interesting match and I'm really looking forward to this one."

Second seed Daniil Medvedev refuses to start thinking about a US Open final against Novak Djokovic despite reaching his third straight semi-final at Flushing Meadows on Tuesday.

Medvedev dropped a set for the first time at this year's US Open but still got through, winning 6-3 6-0 4-6 7-5 over Dutch qualifier Botic van de Zandschulp on Tuesday.

The 25-year-old will play the winner of the quarter-final between Canadian 12th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime and Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz in the last four.

Top seed Djokovic, who has won all three majors this year, looms on the other side of the draw, with a quarter-final match-up on Wednesday against sixth seed Matteo Berrettini, while fourth seed Alexander Zverev is still alive.

"I don't think about him [Djokovic], because as we saw, anybody can beat anybody," Medvedev said at his post-match news conference.

"If he's in the final, and if I'm there, I'm happy. He plays on the days where I don't play so I watch his matches just because I enjoy watching tennis.

"I'm not going to root or cheer for somebody. I'm just gonna enjoy the tennis and then prepare for the winner. It's same every match."

Medvedev's victory clinches his spot in the final four at Flushing Meadows for the third straight year, having lost the 2019 final to Rafael Nadal.

"[I'm] really happy to be in the semis again, third time in a row," Medvedev said. "I couldn't dream of it four years ago, but now it's three."

Medvedev will be several years older than his next opponent, with Auger-Aliassime turning 21 last month and Alcaraz is still only 18.

Neither has ever reached a major semi-final either, while Medvedev will be playing in his fourth, having won two of them previously including at this year's Australian Open.

"I always said that experience helps me," Medvedev said. "You never know, because you're gonna play tough opponents, semis or final.

"Who knows? Maybe Novak. But first of course Felix or Carlos. Whoever wins gonna be on huge fire. You know they are much younger than even me.

"But for them it's going to be a first semis of a slam. Experience is not everything, because, for example, when I was in my first semis of a slam, I won it. Doesn't mean if you're there for the first time you're gonna lose it. But I like that I have this experience."

Aryna Sabalenka is into the semi-finals at a second successive grand slam after making easy work of Barbora Krejcikova at the US Open on Tuesday. 

The second seed cruised past eighth-seeded Krejcikova 6-1 6-4 to set up a semi-final meeting with Canadian teen Leylah Fernandez at Flushing Meadows. 

Sabalenka is coming off a semi-final appearance at Wimbledon, her best career result in a major, and she was rarely tested in her quarter-final rout of Krejcikova.

The pair appeared evenly matched heading in, both having won 42 matches this year with Krejcikova taking three tournament titles – including Roland Garros – and Sabalenka two. But there was a clear separation between the pair on this night at Arthur Ashe Stadium. 

Sabalenka started strong, breaking Krejcikova in her first service game to take an early lead and never looking back as she hit 12 winners to the Czech's five in the opening set.

Krejcikova lost her last chance to salvage the first set in the sixth game, as she double-faulted on the fourth break point she faced in the game to give Sabalenka a 5-1 lead before the Belarusian had an easy hold to secure the set. 

The second set featured more of the same as Sabalenka broke her opponent in the opening game, dropping only one point as Krejcikova imploded with three unforced errors and a double fault. 

Sabalenka was not quite as sharp as the set unfolded, falling behind 0-30 in consecutive service games, but she fought back to win both without facing a break point. 

While Krejcikova stablised on her own service games, the damage was done. Sabalenka served out the match without dropping a point, capping her triumph with an ace. 

 

Data Slam: Sabalenka top winner on Tour

The victory was Sabalenka's 43rd match win of the year against 14 losses, breaking a tie with Krejcikova (42-11) and Ash Barty (42-8), both of whom have won grand slam titles this season, for the most WTA Tour wins in 2021. 

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Krejcikova – 14/29
Sabalenka – 22/23

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Krejcikova– 4/5
Sabalenka – 6/7

BREAK POINTS WON

Krejcikova – 1/6
Sabalenka – 4/10

Jacob deGrom's return to the majors remains up in the air despite New York Mets team president Sandy Alderson declaring the pitcher's elbow sprain has "resolved".

DeGrom, who has an ERA of 1.08 with 146 strikeouts in 92 innings across 15 starts this MLB season, was placed on the Mets injury list in July with forearm tightness.

The 33-year-old right-hander was shut down on July 30 after a setback and has not pitched in the majors since July 7 due to the elbow issue.

The Mets previously described the issue as "right elbow inflammation" but Alderson revealed it was a "sprain" of the ulnar collateral ligament while also trying to downplay the severity.

"A sprain is the lowest grade partial tear and at this point the sprain has resolved itself," Alderson said.

"The elbow is perfectly intact, based on the MRIs and our clinical evaluations through our doctors.

"[Sprain] is a technical term… another term for a very mild ligament condition."

DeGrom was cleared to resume throwing on August 25 but still remains unavailable to play, with no immediate likelihood of a return.

The pitcher had been in contention for a third Cy Young Award and a possible MVP push but his injury issues have thwarted that.

The Mets are 69-69 and still plausibly in contention for a National League wild card spot which may impact the franchise's thinking on a deGrom return this season.

The New England Patriots drafted Mac Jones to be their quarterback of the future, but the rookie is not surprised that future will start in Week 1 of the NFL season. 

Jones beat out incumbent starter Cam Newton, who was released last week, and will be under center in Sunday's season opener against the Miami Dolphins. 

In an interview Tuesday with Boston radio station WEEI, Jones said he was "not really" caught off-guard when he learned in a team meeting that he had won the job. 

"I mean, like I always say, I prepare to be the starter and every day you come in and I got the chance to get a lot of reps, so nothing really changes," Jones said. "Just trying to be a good teammate.

"Trying to learn the plays every day and fix what I messed up on, listen to [offensive coordinator] Josh [McDaniels] and all the guys in the quarterbacks room, you just take their advice like I always have since I have been here.

"Like I said, nothing really changes. It’s exciting.”

Jones, who turned 23 on Sunday, led Alabama to the College Football Playoff national championship last season. He completed a record 77.4 per cent of his passes while throwing for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns and just four interceptions. 

While his resume was as impressive as any rookie's, the jump to the NFL can be daunting. Jones said Newton was a mentor to him throughout the off-season and training camp and was helpful throughout even though they were competing for a job. 

"Obviously Cam is a great guy, a great player, and hopefully he lands somewhere," Jones said. "I definitely learned a lot from him and I'm excited to keep learning from Brian [Hoyer] and everyone in the quarterback room."

Jones has been impressive throughout the pre-season, completing 36 of 52 passes (69.2 per cent) for 389 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions as the Patriots won all three of their games. 

Beginning Sunday, the stakes will be much higher, and Jones knows he will have to perform to maintain his role. That would be true anywhere in the NFL, but the pressure figures to be turned up given New England's championship pedigree. 

"It is a great opportunity and it’s something I have always wanted to do - be a NFL starting quarterback," Jones said. "But like I said, it doesn’t really mean much. The label is the label, but you’ve got to go out and produce and that’s just what it comes down to." 

US Open semi-finalist Leylah Fernandez joked Canada's staple sweet treat must be behind the country's emergence of talent after she continued her remarkable run at Flushing Meadows.

Fernandez – who turned 19 on Monday – beat world number five Elina Svitolina  6-3 3-6 7-6 (7-5) to book her spot in the last four in New York.

She is the youngest player to reach the semi-finals at the major since Maria Sharapova back in 2005, and has already beat defending champion Naomi Osaka and former world number one Angelique Kerber.

Fernandez won her first title earlier in the season, triumphing in Monterrey, but this was her first appearance in a grand slam quarter, and she had to come through it in a third-set tie-break – the seventh at this year's edition of the tournament, already more than in the previous three combined.

She is not the only youngster flying the flag for Canada, however, with Felix Auger-Aliassime in action in the men's side of the draw, facing Spain's Carlos Alcaraz – the youngest ever quarter-finalist at the US Open in the Open Era.

Asked in her on-court interview for the reason Canada are producing such talented youngsters, an ecstatic Fernandez quipped: "I would say it's the maple syrup! The Canadian maple syrup is very good!"

Explaining her win, Fernandez said: "I honestly have no idea what I'm feeling right now. I was so nervous, thank you so much to the crowd, the New York crowd, cheering me on, fighting for me, never giving up for me. Thanks to you I was able to push through today.

"Svitolina, she's a great player, she fought for everything, she runs for everything, she deserves to be in the quarter-finals and I'm honoured to have a fight with her.

"I told myself to trust my shots, trust that everything was going to go well and even if I lose, I had to go for it and I'm glad I did."

 

Fernandez is coached by her father, who was not in attendance at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"He told me to go out there, have fun, fight for every ball, for every point," the teenager said.

"Today's your first quarter-final, don't make it your last, don't make it your last match over here, fight for your dream.

"My family tell me after every match to just enjoy it, tomorrow is a new day, I'll start from zero and work hard now."

Next up is a semi-final with either Aryna Sabelenka or Barbora Krejcikova, the winner of this year's French Open.

"I'm not going to think about it," Fernandez concluded. "I'm going to enjoy tonight, I'll leave the planning and strategy to my dad back home."

Leylah Fernandez carried on her brilliant form to clinch a place in the semi-finals of the US Open with a 6-3 3-6 7-6 (7-5) victory over Elina Svitolina.

The newly turned 19-year-old has put her name into the history books with a wonderful run at Flushing Meadows, dethroning the defending champion Naomi Osaka and three-time grand slam winner Angelique Kerber on her way to the quarter-finals.

Fernandez's streak will not stop there, and she will now play for a place in the final after overcoming world number five Svitolina in a tense tussle at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Svitolina was the first to blink as Fernandez broke to nose ahead in the first set, which she took in 40 minutes.

Yet the 2019 US Open semi-finalist struck back in set two, saving three break points to serve out the set.

The Canadian made a brilliant start to the decider, only to concede serve immediately after nudging herself into the lead.

Fernandez rallied herself to break again and Svitolina looked beaten, with the youngster on the verge of the semi-final at 5-2 up.

Once again, however, Svitolina found some resolve, reeling off three consecutive games and forcing a tie-break.

Despite Svitolina seemingly finding a second wind, it was Fernandez who raced into a 4-1 lead, only to once more be pegged back.

Svitolina found another ace to make it 5-5, but a passing shot from Fernandez clipped the net to evade the Ukrainian, who then sent a return long – to the jubilation of the crowd – that sealed a stunning triumph for Fernandez, who collapsed to the court in tears.

Data Slam: New ground for another teenage sensation

Fernandez turned 19 on Monday and celebrated in incredible style a day later. It is her first grand slam semi-final, as she hunts what would just be a third Tour final overall (and a second title after her Monterrey success this year). She will need to cut down on her unforced errors (31), and she only hit one ace compared to Svitolina's eight, but in what was just her second third-set tie-break, Fernandez showed maturity well beyond her years. Next up, it is Aryna Sabalenka or French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Svitolina – 32/25
Fernandez – 42/31

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Svitolina – 8/3
Fernandez – 1/5

BREAK POINTS WON

Svitolina – 4/6
Fernandez – 4/10

The Seattle Seahawks and left tackle Duane Brown have agreed to a reworked contract, ensuring he will be on the field for their regular-season opener.

Brown had abstained from practice for most of the Seahawks offseason programs in search of a new deal.

The two parties have come to terms on an arrangement that means Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson will have his best pass protector when the Seahawks face the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

According to multiple reports, Brown's deal has been adjusted so that per-game roster bonuses now take the form of guaranteed money. The Seahawks have also inserted an injury protection benefit for 2022.

While Wilson complained of getting hit too much in the offseason, little of the Seahawks' struggles to protect him were the fault of Brown, whom the Seahawks acquired in a trade from the Houston Texans in 2017.

Indeed, Brown's pressure rate allowed of 5.2 per cent ranked sixth in the NFL last season, though Wilson was sacked 47 times, the third most in the league.

With his financial demands satisfied, Brown can now focus on making sure Wilson has more time to throw this season, starting against a Colts team whose 39 sacks for negative yardage ranked tied-10th in the league in 2020.

Daniil Medvedev took the first spot in the men's semi-finals at the US Open as he beat qualifier Botic van de Zandschulp in four sets on Tuesday.

Second seed Medvedev was two sets up with just over an hour played at Arthur Ashe Stadium, yet was ultimately made to work for a 6-3 6-0 4-6 7-5 triumph.

The Russian, a beaten finalist at Flushing Meadows in 2019 and a semi-finalist last year, broke Van de Zandschulp three times in the opening set, which he took at the fourth time of asking as his Dutch opponent offered up the first sign it would not be an easy day for the favourite.

Medvedev wrapped up a second set bagel with ease, though Van de Zandschulp – who beat in-form world number 11 Casper Ruud en route to the quarters – found some resolve in the third.

Unforced errors from the world number two handed Van de Zandschulp hope and the 25-year-old stuck 91 per cent of his first-serve points to take advantage.

Medvedev's wobble was short lived, however, with his composure regaining as he held his serve in what proved to be the final set.

A match point went begging as Medvedev missed the chance to break, but victory was assured on Van de Zandschulp's next serve, with a drop shot nestling into the net.

Next up for Medvedev is Felix Auger-Aliassime or Carlos Alcaraz, with the latter the youngest men's quarter-finalist at the US Open in the Open Era.

Data Slam: Medvedev's serve too strong

Medvedev won a whopping 83 per cent of his first serve points, converting 54 of 65, and finished with 13 aces. "I'm really happy with my serve in the fourth set, and to get through without a tie-break," he said. Indeed, in the final set, the 25-year-old's first serve percentage was up at 85. 

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Van de Zandschulp – 36/35
Medvedev – 36/24

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Van de Zandschulp – 4/4
Medvedev – 13/1

BREAK POINTS WON

Van de Zandschulp – 2/5
Medvedev – 7/12

With every NFL season, new stars emerge, thrusting themselves to the forefront of the consciousness with breakout campaigns that put them firmly in the conversation as one of the best players at their position.

Often such years come as a significant surprise, as was the case in 2020 when Justin Jefferson broke the record for receiving yards by a rookie, topping 1,400 having only posted 70 through his opening two games.

But frequently it is possible to project breakout seasons before they happen by looking at the numbers from previous years and the situation a player finds himself in heading into the campaign.

Using its advanced metrics, Stats Perform looks at five players poised to emerge with stellar performances in the 2021 season.

Joe Burrow – Cincinnati Bengals

The fate of the Bengals' season, and perhaps that of head coach Zac Taylor, rests predominantly on how Burrow fares on his return to regular-season action after a serious knee ligament injury curtailed his rookie year.

Burrow, the first overall pick in 2020, being back at his best is far from a guarantee. However, the former LSU star has seemingly grown in confidence in the preseason after some initial struggles in training camp and demonstrated enough in his 10 games last campaign to suggest he can justify his draft status and lift the Bengals from the AFC North cellar.

The primary issue facing Burrow is the lack of talent on the offensive line protecting him, which is a lowly 28th in the NFL per Stats Perform's rankings, with Cincinnati bemusing many by selecting wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase instead of tackle Penei Sewell with the fifth pick in this year's draft.

Yet Burrow does an excellent job of moving in the pocket and finding lanes out of it to escape pressure. He reads the field well and delivers his throws with consistently accurate placement. Burrow ranked sixth in the NFL among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts with a well-thrown percentage of 80.6.

That number dipped to 69.8 when under pressure, but still gave him the best mark of any quarterback in the AFC North, reflecting his poise when the pocket breaks down.

With Chase joining Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd in an impressive wide receiver room, Burrow has the weapons to make a huge leap in year two providing he stays healthy and the offensive line can produce even a slight improvement.

Damien Harris – New England Patriots

While the New England offense disappointed for the most part last year, their running game was efficient, and Harris played a significant role.

He averaged five yards a carry in recording 691 rushing yards and two touchdowns in 10 games. Those latter two numbers may be slightly underwhelming, yet Harris was one of the premier backs in the league when it came to getting to the second level of the defense in a hurry.

A patient back who reads his blocks intelligently, Harris' decisiveness and burst when he identified the running lane to hit allowed him to average 3.11 yards before contact by a defender per attempt, putting him 10th in the NFL.

His rate of 2.05 yards after contact was less impressive but still above the average of 1.91, while Harris was 11th in the NFL with 3.15 yards per carry on rush attempts where there was a run disruption by a defender.

The Patriots possess the third-best run-blocking line in the NFL, according to Stats Perform's rankings, and – though Cam Newton's exit may make their ground game less diverse – Harris could reap the benefits of facing lighter boxes if Mac Jones' impressive preseason translates into the regular season and gives New England's passing attack a much-needed jump.

Brandon Aiyuk – San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers' second first-round pick of 2020 was in a difficult situation as he dealt with sub-par quarterback play between the struggles of the oft-injured Jimmy Garoppolo and backup Nick Mullens before they finished the season with C.J. Beathard.

However, the former Arizona State receiver still excelled in defeating coverage with his route-running ability and showed his potential with the ball in his hands after the catch.

Aiyuk caught 60 passes for 748 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games as a rookie. He added a further two scores on the ground.

His big-play percentage of 33.1 was third among rookies with at least 50 targets behind Gabriel Davis and Tee Higgins. Davis has Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders as competition for targets with the Buffalo Bills while Higgins will have to share the receiving workload with Chase and Boyd.

George Kittle and Deebo Samuel will command a significant number of targets for San Francisco but Aiyuk holds an undisputed position at the top of the wide receiver depth chart, meaning he will likely see enough passes thrown his way in 2021 for him to outperform both Davis and Higgins.

With Garoppolo healthy and Trey Lance lurking as a high-upside successor, Aiyuk is in a much better spot in 2021 to surpass 1,000 yards and establish himself as one of the league's brightest young stars at the receiver position.

Marcus Davenport – New Orleans Saints

Davenport has yet to justify the trade up the Saints struck to draft him in 2018 despite flashes of the brilliance that convinced New Orleans to make such a dramatic move up the board.

His influence was limited by a series of injury issues in 2020 but Davenport still registered a pressure rate of 21.3 per cent that was 11th among edge rushers. His run disruption rate of 15.7 per cent was 12th.

The Saints did spend a first-round pick on an edge rusher in Payton Turner, whose stock rose dramatically late in the process. However, with Trey Hendrickson, who had 13.5 sacks last year, having departed for a lucrative payday with the Bengals, Davenport is in line for a clear uptick on the 374 defensive snaps he played in 2020.

At his best, Davenport is an explosive pass rusher blessed with tremendous power who can drive blockers back with the bull rush but also bend around the edge and flatten to the quarterback with excellent closing speed.

The Saints have not seen his best often enough, yet if he can stay healthy, Davenport can play a crucial role for the New Orleans defense as part of a front that has enough talent to ensure he will regularly have the benefit of one-on-one matchups to help him significantly pad his career total of 12 sacks.

Darious Williams – Los Angeles Rams

There is a strong argument that Williams has already enjoyed his breakout campaign, having racked up 14 passes deflected and four interceptions for the Rams last year.

Despite his superb 2020, Williams is not a player talked about as one of the premier cornerbacks in the NFL. Should he back up last season's efforts with a similarly productive 2021 for a Rams team many expect to contend for the Super Bowl following Matthew Stafford's arrival, that may change.

Williams excels at reading the eyes of the quarterback to break on the football and make plays at the catch point, with his ball skills reflected by his gaudy press breakup and interception numbers.

Only K'Waun Williams of the San Francisco 49ers allowed a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on plays where he is targeted regardless of whether the ball is catchable, at a lower rate than Williams, who did so on 30.3 per cent of balls thrown in his direction.

Williams' big-play percentage allowed of 16 was the 12th-best among all cornerbacks and, though his on-ball production may be a product of playing across from Jalen Ramsey, the fact he so frequently stood up to the test when challenged by opposing passing games indicates he is a player who can continue his ascent in his fourth year.

George Russell said he is "absolutely buzzing" for next season's Formula One world championship after he agreed a move to Mercedes.

It was confirmed on September 6 that Valtteri Bottas would be ending his Mercedes stint after five seasons with the team, joining Alfa Romeo for 2022 on a multi-year deal.

Bottas has served as the second-seat driver to Lewis Hamilton, helping Mercedes to four constructors' titles.

However, with the Finn now joining Alfa in the wake of Kimi Raikkonen's impending retirement, Mercedes have signed up Hamilton's fellow Briton Russell from Williams.

"Looking ahead to next season, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't absolutely buzzing," Russell said in a statement released by Mercedes.

"It's a huge opportunity and one I want to grab with both hands. But I'm under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge; it's going to be a steep learning curve.

"For now, though, I have nine more races as a Williams driver, and I want to make sure they are the best nine of my time with the team.

"Then, and only then, can I turn my attention to 2022."

The 23-year-old, who has signed a long-term contract with Mercedes, has spent the last three seasons with Williams and has achieved one podium finish in his Formula One career to date.

However, that came in contentious circumstances at this season's Belgian Grand Prix as Russell was awarded second after only two laps had been completed in sodden conditions.

When Hamilton returned a positive positive coronavirus test before the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix Russell stepped in to replace him, finishing ninth.

Russell revealed he is excited to become a team-mate of Hamilton's.

"I've looked up to Lewis since I was in go-karts," Russell said of the seven-time F1 champion.

"The opportunity to learn from someone who has become a role model both on and off the track can only benefit me as a driver, a professional, and a human being."

 

Russell was on the Mercedes young driver programme in 2017 and won that season's GP3 Series championship before he became Formula Two champion the following year.

Mercedes team principal Toto Woolf claimed Russell and Hamilton will provide a formidable team over the next few seasons.

"We are very happy to confirm that George will have the opportunity to take the next step in his career and join Mercedes," Woolf added.

"He has been a winner in every racing category – and the past three seasons with Williams have given us a taste of what the future could hold for him in F1.

"Now, it is our challenge together to help him continue learning within our environment and alongside Lewis, the greatest F1 driver of all time.

"I am confident that as their relationship grows, they will form a strong team and deliver for Mercedes on and off the track in the years to come.

"It's a weight off our shoulders to have our plans for 2022 clear and announced."

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