US Open: Osaka brings new mindset to court, feels no pressure in opening win

By Sports Desk August 31, 2021

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  • Australian Open: 'I'm good at being me' – Barty will continue to play her own game in bid for Melbourne glory Australian Open: 'I'm good at being me' – Barty will continue to play her own game in bid for Melbourne glory

    World number one Ash Barty promised to carry on playing her own game after booking her spot in the last eight of the Australian Open.

    Barty, the top seed, defeated Amanda Anisimova 6-4 6-3 on Sunday to progress to the quarter-finals in Melbourne for a fourth successive time.

    Anisimova defeated last year's champion Naomi Osaka in the last round, but she proved no match for Barty, who sealed the win in 74 minutes.

    Barty did see her run of holding serve ended, however, after 63 games without being broken, though it was a minor blip in another convincing win. 

    Indeed, the 25-year-old has now won all four of her Australian Open ties without dropping a set.

    Asked what was key to her dominant form, Barty said: "I think the most important thing is I just try to be me, continue to be me, that's all I can do.

    "That's what I’m good at, that's who I and who I want to be."

    Her comments were well received by the crowd at Rod Laver Arena, and Barty is delighted to be playing in front of spectators once again.

    "The last two years have been extraordinarily tough for a lot of people around the world," she said.

    "To have the crowd here, it brings a lot more to the tennis. It makes it a lot more enjoyable for me to play at home."

    Barty struck seven aces and registered a first-serve percentage of 78, while also hitting 23 winners and making exactly half the amount of unforced errors as Anisimova (17 to 34).

    "Amanda is an incredible athlete and incredible competitor. It's nice to see her back playing her best tennis," Barty continued.

    "I enjoyed sharing the court with her and testing myself against her. It was nice to be able to hold firm tonight."

    Asked in a post-match news conference about dropping serve for the first time in eight matches, Barty replied: "It didn't bother me too much.

    "Honestly, I'm not counting how many games I hold in a row or not. The fact I was able to reset, break straight back, was really important, just to be able to reset myself, go again and continue to do the right things."

    Next up for Barty, a two-time major winner who is yet to taste victory in her home grand slam, is another American in the form of Jessica Pegula, who upset fifth seed Maria Sakkari 7-6 (7-0) 6-3.

    "It's going to be a challenge for me to try and push her off that baseline and make her uncomfortable and feel like she has to create," Barty told reporters.

    "But I know that she's also going to be doing the exact same thing to me and trying to make me uncomfortable.

    "That's the chess game that we play. You go out there and have fun with it, see who can execute better on the day, and that's about all there is to it."

  • De Bruyne the second best free-kick taker in the world – Guardiola De Bruyne the second best free-kick taker in the world – Guardiola

    Pep Guardiola declared James Ward-Prowse as the best free-kick taker in the world, but he added Kevin De Bruyne to second after his assist against Southampton.

    Ward-Prowse was lauded by the Manchester City manager ahead of Saturday's clash, which ended in a 1-1 draw as an Aymeric Laporte's header cancelled out Kyle Walker-Peters' opener.

    Southampton captain Ward-Prowse has scored 12 times from free-kicks in his Premier League career, with only David Beckham (18) managing more in the history of the competition.

    But De Bruyne staked his claim for a place on Guardiola's list at St Mary's when he perfectly whipped his free-kick onto Laporte's head for City's equaliser.

    That assist led to follow-up questions to Guardiola on his Ward-Prowse comments, which he firmly stood by after the game with Ralph Hasenhuttl's side.

    When asked if De Bruyne had knocked Ward-Prowse off the top of the free-kick taking perch, Guardiola responded: "Absolutely not. He [De Bruyne] is the second one!"

    The Belgium midfielder's expert delivery was his 80th assist in the Premier League, as many as Beckham has, but the 30-year-old has achieved the feat in 68 fewer outings than the former England international.

    However, how does De Bruyne match up against other top-flight set-piece specialists this term?

    Ward-Prowse sits top of the direct free-kick goals chart in the Premier League, with two to his name in the 2021-22 campaign. 

    Trent Alexander-Arnold, Maxwel Cornet, Michael Olise, Ruben Neves, Jonjo Shelvey, Marcos Alonso, Martin Odegaard, Raphinha, Son Heung-min and Matt Ritchie are all tied for second as the other players to score from a dead-ball opportunity this season.

    Liverpool's Alexander-Arnold also excels in terms of chances created from set-plays (26), with a league-leading three assists from dead-ball situations.

    Ward-Prowse (22), perhaps unsurprisingly, ranks second to Alexander-Arnold under that metric, while Raphinha, Son and Ritchie (all 16) make up the top five in the league.

    De Bruyne is tied for 15th on the list for chances created from set-pieces, with 10 to his name from 17 appearances in the league this term. That is as many as Chelsea's Mason Mount and Aston Villa's John McGinn.

    The City star has created 41 chances in total in this year's Premier League, however, with only Bruno Fernandes (57) and Alexander-Arnold (58) able to better that tally, as the reigning champions prepare for their next league clash at home to Brentford on February 9.

  • Australian Open: Shapovalov honoured to be facing Nadal as Zverev admits 'everything' went wrong Australian Open: Shapovalov honoured to be facing Nadal as Zverev admits 'everything' went wrong

    Denis Shapovalov said it is a privilege to be facing Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open quarter-finals after his win over Alexander Zverev, who conceded "everything" went wrong.

    Zverev had been looking sharp in Melbourne over the last week, with the world number three not dropping a single set en route to the last 16.

    Yet the Olympic gold medallist was on the end of a straight-sets loss on Sunday as he went down 6-3 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 to Shapovalov.

    Zverev made 32 unforced errors, five fewer than Shapovalov, and managed to convert only two of five break points, with the German winning 46/67 first-serve points.

    Asked what went wrong, Zverev bluntly told reporters: "Everything.

    "It's no one else's fault. It's not the coach's fault, it's not my team's fault, it's no one else's fault. It's purely me.

    "As world number three, I have to take responsibility for the things I do and don't do.

    "I give credit to Denis. It's incredible that he's in the quarters, I think he deserves it. He's done a lot of work, improved his game.

    "But I've got to look at myself. Today was just, in my opinion, awful from my side."

    Shapovalov had lost to Zverev in the ATP Cup earlier this month, but after Sunday's win the duo's head-to-head record stands at 4-3 in the latter's favour.

    The 22-year-old Canadian will now face Nadal, with the 20-time grand slam winner having progressed to his 14th Australian Open final by defeating Adrian Mannarino.

    Nadal holds a 3-1 head-to-head record against Shapovalov, though this will be the first time the pair have met in a major.

    "It's always an honour to go up against a guy like Rafa," said Shapovalov after reaching his first Australian Open quarter-final.

    "It's always going to be a battle against him. It's going to be a tough one and I'm definitely going to enjoy it."

    Reflecting on just his second career win over a player in the top five, Shapovalov said: "I think off the ground I was playing really well, really feeling my shots off both wings.

    "I played pretty smart, it felt like things were going my way early on. I lost a little bit of momentum midway in the second set but fought well to come back and just kind of rolled with it after."

    It was also the first time in the tournament that Shapovalov had not had to go to at least four sets.

    "It's probably the one I least expected to finish in three. I'm very happy with my performance, definitely happy with where my game is at," he added.

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