World number one Novak Djokovic revelled in his "phenomenal" year, despite his ATP Finals exit to Alexander Zverev.

Djokovic's season came to an end on Saturday, the 20-time grand slam champion beaten 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 6-3 by Zverev in the Turin semi-finals.

A five-time winner of the season-ending tournament, Djokovic missed out on the chance to claim a record-tying sixth Finals title after falling to Olympic Games gold medallist Zverev.

While his year did not end the way he wanted, Djokovic reflected on another successful campaign, which saw the 34-year-old equal the record for most major trophies thanks to wins at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon.

Djokovic also missed out on becoming just the third man to complete the Grand Slam – a feat last achieved by Rod Laver in 1969 – after losing to Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final.

"It was a great season, no doubt. I did not play many tournaments, but still managed to end the year at number one for the seventh time, broke records for the year-end number one, historic number one, won three out of [the] four Slams," said Djokovic, who surpassed Pete Sampras for most year-ending number ones.

"The year was phenomenal. Maybe could have done better in some other ATP events. But all in all really good ending of the season as well with a title in Paris and semi-finals here."

On the match against Zverev, Djokovic said: "Of course we want to win against each other, but there is that respect and appreciation for each other that is more important than winning or losing.

"That's something that I always had with Sascha. I really appreciate that. I wish him all the best. He's a great guy, fantastic tennis player, I'm sure soon to be a Grand Slam champion."

It will be the first Finals decider without a player aged over 25 since 2005, when David Nalbandian beat Roger Federer.

Zverev – the third seed – is bidding to become the first player to beat the world number one and two in the semis and final since Andre Agassi in 1990.

Russian number two Medvedev stands in his way and Zverev added: "Every time we play it takes hours. I have not spent more time on court with anybody other than him [Djokovic] this year.

"I am happy with the win and happy to be in the final here and to give myself the best chance for tomorrow [Sunday]."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar Tom Brady insisted there is a "real urgency" for the NFL Super Bowl champions to arrest their slump ahead of Monday's clash with the New York Giants.

The Buccaneers (6-3) have lost back-to-back games as they prepare to host the Giants at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

Brady has not lost three consecutive regular-season games since 2002, when he dropped four in a row, and the record seven-time Super Bowl champion knows the Buccaneers must start winning sooner rather than later.

"I think we have to change it and I think winning football is about doing the right thing as often as possible," Brady told reporters on Saturday.

"Everyone being on the same page, great communication and just giving the best effort as possible on every play. Things aren't always going to be perfect out there, but you have to have as few as mistakes as possible.

"I think there's a real urgency for us to have it right."

Despite their loss of form, the Buccaneers still lead the NFC South, ahead of the New Orleans Saints.

"It's not nearly as fun putting all the work in and us trying to grind and get it right," said Brady. "We're not doing what it takes on the field in order to win.

"In order to do it right, you put in a lot of time and energy and detail into what we're doing. It will feel a lot better when we win, but we have to go earn it and we're going against a team that challenges you to do it."

Brady is 5-1 in his six career regular-season games against the Giants (passing for more than 330 yards in four of those six games) but 0-2 against them in Super Bowls.

The 44-year-old leads the NFL this season in big plays passing (26), attempts per game (41.9), completions per game (28.2), passing yards per game (318.9), having completed 254 passes for 2,870 yards and 27 touchdowns.

His passer rating (106.1) through nine games is his best since 2015 with the New England Patriots.

"I actually have great teammates and great group of coaches and we're going to work our butt off to get it right," said Brady. "I think there are definitely things that we've done a good job of, but it's identifying those things and then working at them.

"I think the expectations are high for a reason because we have a lot of talented players, and we know that we can play at a high level. We just have to go do it."

The Buccaneers, meanwhile, will again be without star Antonio Brown against the visiting Giants.

Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians confirmed Brown's absence on Saturday – the wide receiver has not played since Week 6 due to an ankle injury.

Baltimore Ravens star Lamar Jackson is listed as questionable for Sunday's NFL clash with the Chicago Bears.

Ravens quarterback Jackson is in doubt to face the Bears due to an illness, the franchise announced on Saturday.

Former MVP Jackson returned for full practice on Friday, having missed two days with an illness.

Jackson has only missed two games in his four-year career in the NFL – sitting out the 2019 season finale (rest) and a Week 12 fixture in 2020 (COVID-19).

Baltimore's Jackson rushed nine times for 39 yards in the Week 10 loss to the Miami Dolphins for an average of 4.3 yards, his lowest mark since Week 4 against Denver Broncos. However, his 6.0 yards per carry this season leads the league amongst qualified players, according to Stats Perform.

This season, Jackson has completed 199 of his 309 passes for 2,447 yards and 14 touchdowns with a 93.1 passer rating, while he has rushed for two scores and 639 yards.

The Ravens, who top the AFC North with a 6-3 record, have lost their last two games against the Bears but both encounters have gone to overtime and were decided by a field goal.

Talor Gooch is one round away from his first PGA Tour trophy after earning a three-stroke lead at the RSM Classic.

Gooch moved to the brink of a breakthrough victory on Saturday thanks to the American's three-under-par 67 in the third round in Georgia.

The 30-year-old, a one-time winner on the Web.com Tour in 2017, extended his lead courtesy of four birdies and just one bogey at Sea Island Golf Club, where he is 16 under through 54 holes.

"Any day like that is going to be a grind on the tour," Gooch said. "To be frank, what you're trying to do out there is avoid bogeys.

"It would have been easy today at times to just really get conservative and really be defensive. I was pleased I was able to stay aggressive at times."

Gooch holds a 54-hole lead/co-lead for the first time in his PGA Tour career – his previous best 54-hole position was solo second at the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba a fortnight ago.

In his first 101 starts on the PGA Tour, Gooch's best 54-hole score was 198 (2020 Wyndham Championship. He has now carded 196 through three rounds twice in his last three starts.

"I want to be the best and I want to compete against the best and I want to be the best Oklahoma State golfer on TOUR," he said. "Everyone talks about Matt Wolff and Viktor Hovland … rightfully so. They're incredible players.

"But that's always a nice little something to kind of get you to work a little bit harder, be a little bit more diligent and try to prove them wrong."

Seamus Power (67) and Sebastian Munoz (69) are 13 under heading into the final round, while Tom Hoge is a shot further back following his third-round 67.

It is rare to head into a game wondering if the Kansas City Chiefs can match the explosiveness of their opponents on offense.

But such has been the success enjoyed by the Dallas Cowboys' attack in 2021, that the issue of whether the Chiefs can keep up looms over a mouthwatering matchup on Sunday.

The Cowboys' offense is the best in the NFL by yards per play with an average of 6.33, Dak Prescott building a case for both MVP and Comeback Player of the Year in a stunning return from the grisly ankle injury that prematurely ended his 2020 campaign.

Prescott leads the NFL with a passer rating of 110.8, throwing 20 touchdowns to five interceptions and averaging 8.19 yards per attempt, good for fifth in the league.

The Cowboys scored 29 points in the second quarter of their 43-3 win over the Atlanta Falcons last week. That is the most points ever scored by the team in a single quarter.

That was Dallas' largest win since a 48-7 victory against the Arizona Cardinals in October 2000. Including the playoffs, the Cowboys are 5-2-1 all-time in games immediately following a win of at least 40 points. 

The odds of the Cowboys improving to 8-2 as they compete for the top seed in the NFC playoffs would, therefore, appear to be stacked in their favour, even on the road at Arrowhead Stadium.

Entering Week 11, the Chiefs rank 10th in yards per play with 5.88, indicating they may struggle to operate at the same efficiency as Prescott and the Cowboys.

And that average was boosted significantly by their Week 10 blowout win over the Las Vegas Raiders, which saw Patrick Mahomes throw for 406 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.

Mahomes is the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era with multiple games of 400+ passing yards, 5+ touchdown passes and no picks in a career. 

If the man many consider the most talented quarterback in the NFL can replicate that performance, then the Chiefs will obviously have little issue keeping pace with the Cowboys. 

Yet his ability to do so partially rests on Dallas' desire to adapt and avoid living in single-high safety coverages Mahomes can pick apart as he did against a Raiders defense that showed no willingness to amend the gameplan.

If Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn throws different looks at Mahomes, then the challenge could be substantially harder for a quarterback who is tied third in the NFL with 10 interceptions against a defense that has lived off turnovers, Dallas' 17 takeaways the fifth-most in the NFL.

The slight improvements a vulnerable Kansas City defense has made over recent weeks are unlikely to be enough to slow down Prescott and Co.

For the Chiefs to solidify their position atop the AFC West by moving to 7-4 and silencing more doubters in the process, Mahomes will have to prove last week was not a flash in the pan and that this offense is firmly back to its best.

Novak Djokovic fell at the semi-final stage of the ATP Finals for a second year in succession as he was defeated by Alexander Zverev on Saturday.

World number one Djokovic was hoping to reach the final of the season-ending tournament for the eighth time but came up against Zverev in exceptional form, the third seed winning 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 6-3.

Neither player managed to get a break point until the 10th game, such was the quality of serving, and it was Zverev who was put under pressure. He responded well, though, with an exceptional serve before saving himself and denying Djokovic a one-set lead.

Zverev then wasted two break points of his own in the next game, the set ultimately going to a tie-break, and the match's first double fault from Djokovic handed the advantage to his opponent, who came out on top in a lengthy rally and then saw a blistering serve give him the set.

Djokovic initially looked rattled and frustrated at the start of the second set, yet a bad miss from Zverev let him off the hook as the five-time champion avoided suffering an early break.

Zverev took just 58 seconds to win the fifth game and go 3-2 up and his next service game was also won to love, but Djokovic finally got the elusive first break to make it 5-4 before converting his fifth set point.

Djokovic could not take that momentum into the decider and, although it went with serve for the first three games, a sloppy showing in game four allowed Zverev to pounce for his first break of the match.

He survived a brief wobble and a break point before eventually closing out a wonderful victory, serving to love again as he set up a final clash with the defending champion Daniil Medvedev.

 

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Djokovic – 27/29
Zverev – 35/24

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS 

Djokovic – 15/1
Zverev – 14/1

BREAK POINTS WON 

Djokovic – 1/4
Zverev – 1/4

New Zealand were beaten for a second week in a row after losing 40-25 to France in an exhilarating final game of the Autumn Nations Series for both teams.

Fabien Galthie's men matched the effort of Ireland, who beat the All Blacks last week 29-20 in Dublin, and once again the visitors did not have an answer to an intense showing against northern hemisphere opposition.

Three converted first-half tries at the Stade de France put the hosts in a commanding position at half-time, and despite a better second-half effort from New Zealand, they were unable to overcome a determined Les Bleus side.

France began with a bang by scoring their first try after just two minutes as a driving maul gave Peato Mauvaka the chance to place the ball down.

Two penalties from Jordie Barrett brought New Zealand back to within one point before 10 minutes had even been played, but just two minutes later France had their second try.

Determined work from Romain Ntamack saw him burst through a wobbly All Blacks defence to cross the line, which Melvyn Jaminet converted with ease.

A French penalty made it 17-6 after 25 mins, before another try from Mauvaka followed. It was the 24-year-old's fifth try in his last three games and meant that France led 24-6 at the break.

The 18-point deficit was the most New Zealand have ever trailed by in a Test, so it was no surprise to see them determined to fight back in the second half.

Barrett managed to work a try for New Zealand in the corner six minutes into the second half, though was unable to convert from out wide, but the comeback looked on four minutes later when Rieko Ioane raced down the right to score closer to the posts, which Barrett this time converted to cut the lead to six points.

Jaminet put another penalty through the posts shortly after to extend the French advantage, but a third All Blacks try from Ardie Savea, also converted by Barrett, brought the game to within two points with 20 minutes still to play.

The drama continued shortly after as Ntamack sensationally began a counter-attack after saving the ball from behind his own try line, leading to another French penalty - which Jaminet converted - and a yellow card for Savea.

France stretched the lead further with 12 minutes to go as a sloppy pass from David Havili was intercepted by Damian Penaud for a simple try under the posts, and a final Jaminet penalty with the final kick of the match to take his total to 20 points rounded off a famous win.

France finally beat New Zealand on home soil

Les Bleus had lost their last 14 games against New Zealand – only against Wales had they lost more consecutive Tests (15 between 1908 and 1927), and this was their first home win against the All Blacks since November 2000.

The French were fully deserving of their win, with fewer bad passes (3-8) and handling errors (5-10).

All Blacks defence all over the place

New Zealand have now lost three games in 2021, and it is the first time they have lost to three different nations (South Africa, Ireland and France) in a calendar year since 2000 (Australia, South Africa and France).

They have conceded 69 points in their two defeats to Ireland and France, leaving their often devastating attack far too much to do at the other end.

Max Verstappen heads into Sunday's Qatar Grand Prix well off the pace of Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes and under investigation by the stewards, with the fallout over the title rivals' battle in Brazil refusing to die down.

Verstappen is under investigation for refusing to slow down under waved yellow flags in qualifying.

The world championship leader has been summoned to the stewards having apparently failed to respond to single waved yellows on his final lap after Pierre Gasly suffered a puncture on the pit straight.

If found guilty, he will likely face a grid penalty having qualified second behind Hamilton, who set a blistering time of 1:20.827.

Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas (third) and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz (seventh) are also under investigation for the same offence.

Qualifying came after an elongated drivers briefing that lasted over an hour as they sought clarification over what represents fair driving following the tussle between Verstappen and Hamilton in Sao Paulo, which saw the latter forced off track as they fought for the lead.

Asked if the FIA had succeeded in clarifying the issue, Verstappen told the drivers' media conference: "I think it's always trying to align everyone in having the same process in the way you think, everyone.

"Everyone is different, right? And everybody I think has their own way of racing and defending and overtaking, and of course very hard for the FIA as well to, how do you say it? To get everyone on the same line.

"Of course, they decide but every driver has a different opinion. And I think yesterday [Friday] it was all about sharing their opinions, and then the FIA explaining their process of thought behind it. So, I think we came a long way, and it was a very long briefing. So, yeah, I think at the end it was pretty clear."

Hamilton, though, had a very different view.

"It's not clear. Every driver, except for Max, was asking just for clarity, most drivers were asking for clarity, but it wasn't very clear," he said. 

"So, yeah, it's still not clear what the limits of the track are. It's clearly not the white line anymore, when overtaking but… yeah, we just go for it. We just ask for consistency. So, if it's the same as the last race then it should be the same for all of us in those scenarios and it's fine."

With victory, Hamilton could trim Verstappen's lead to seven points were the Dutchman to finish second, and he has every reason for confidence with his Mercedes taking pole by a gap that surprised even himself.

"Probably the last three races in qualifying we have been ahead of them, which has been a bit of a surprise," added Hamilton. 

"Today definitely wasn't expecting to have as big a gap as that. I looked, I was relatively comfortable and was around tenth or so ahead throughout the session, but to be able to pull out that extra time felt great and it's a great showing of the hard work, all the guys, as I said we were here until midnight last night. The guys were here even later than that. Really great work from everyone.

"Long-run pace is good. We always end up getting closer… or our pace closes up to each other when it comes to race pace and yeah, I think the car is in a good place. It's a difficult circuit to follow so, yeah, I'm looking forward to the start."

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) has welcomed a video released by China state-run media that appears to show tennis star Peng Shuai, but continued to raise concerns about her safety.

Peng has been widely considered to have been missing since making sexual assault allegations against Zhang Gaoli, the ex-vice premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee.

The video was posted on Twitter by Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Global Times, who said it was taken on Saturday and shows Peng with her coach and friends in a restaurant in Beijing.

A statement released by WTA chairman and chief executive officer Steve Simon on Saturday said: "I am glad to see the videos released by China state-run media that appear to show Peng Shuai at a restaurant in Beijing. 

"While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference. 

"This video alone is insufficient. As I have stated from the beginning, I remain concerned about Peng Shuai's health and safety and that the allegation of sexual assault is being censored and swept under the rug. 

"I have been clear about what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads."

Earlier on Saturday, Hu Xijin had claimed that Peng was safe and well in her own home and will soon "show up in public" to allay concerns about her wellbeing.

Three purportedly new pictures of Peng have been reportedly posted on Chinese messaging app WeChat, along with a "Happy Weekend" message.

A last-gasp penalty from Rhys Priestland denied 14-man Australia a memorable comeback against Wales at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.

Smarting from a 32-15 defeat to England last time out, the Wallabies were up against it when Rob Valetini's red card and a 10-point deficit left them staring at a potentially heavy defeat.

However, Wales – who survived a scare against Fiji after despite Eroni Sau's red card – were pegged back and it required steely nerves from Priestland beyond the 80-minute mark to secure a 29-28 win.

Australia began in brilliant fashion as Andrew Kellaway collected a grubber and touched down, although Dan Biggar quickly reduced the deficit with a penalty, but the match swung firmly Wales' way when Valetini was shown red for a dangerous high tackle that left Adam Beard bleeding, Biggar then kicking a further three points.

Although James O'Connor's penalty put the 14 men ahead, Kurtley Beale was sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on and Ryan Elias scored Wales' first try after good work at the resulting lineout.

O'Connor and Biggar exchanged further penalties and the latter converted after Nick Tomkins intercepted a pass and scored a simple try, with a TMO check allowing it to stand.

Then came the threat of a late surprise. Nic White finished a fine move involving Beale, and although Biggar's boot stretched Wales' lead again, Filipo Daugunu touched down in the corner with O'Connor's kick striking the post to spare the hosts.

Beale's kick then put Australia ahead with two minutes to play, but after winning a penalty inside the visitors' 22 in the 81st minute, Priestland kept his nerve to send Cardiff into raptures.

Marcus Smith nailed a last-gasp penalty as England rounded out their November internationals with a 27-26 win over South Africa in a barnstorming Twickenham Test.

Making only a third Test start, the unflappable Smith made the decisive contribution in a match that looked like getting away from the White Rose after an enterprising performance was mixed with ill-discipline.

England outscored South Africa three tries to one but a penalty count of 18 allowed the Springboks to stay in the game and the visitors were leading until the last minute.

However, the win marks a measure of revenge for Eddie Jones' side, who were beaten in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final the last time these two sides went head-to-head.

England were dominant in the first half and Manu Tuilagi crossed after fine work from Smith opened the play for Henry Slade to make the long pass.

The nerveless Handre Pollard put South Africa on the board prior to Freddie Steward showing great power to bundle over from close range and extend England's lead.

But England's lack of composure at the breakdown meant the lead was only five points at the break, with Pollard nailing three more kicks to Smith's one, and more poor discipline saw South Africa inch ahead thanks to Pollard and Elton Jantjies kicks.

A fine breakaway score from Joe Marchant was answered by an unconverted score from Makazole Mapimpi after Will Stuart was sin-binned, and Frans Steyn kicked another penalty for South Africa.

But Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi saw yellow himself, before another penalty in front of the posts in the final minute allowed Smith to have the final say.


Smith, Steward offer bright glimpse of the future

Smith may only be in the infancy of his international career but he already looks an assured presence at this level.

Full-back Steward put in a fine performance at full-back too. The pair look a very exciting prospect for an England side who played with plenty of attacking intent and backed up a fine win over Australia last time out.

Young front row survives the test but penalties a worry

Much of the narrative ahead of this one was whether the inexperienced duo of hooker Jamie Blamire and prop Bevan Rodd could cope against South Africa's pack.

For the most part they passed the test superbly, but for all their endeavour England were guilty of giving away far too many cheap penalties. On another day, and against a player of the quality of Pollard who hurt them so badly in the World Cup final, it could have been far more costly.

The NFL is a passing league. If a team has a quarterback who can elevate those around him and an offensive line that can protect him, chances are they will be well-positioned to contend for the playoffs.

Though the elite quarterbacks in the league can fit the ball into tight windows on a consistent basis, the odds of success on that side of the ball are much higher when those signal-callers are paired with receivers who can defeat man coverage and get into open space.

Excelling at finding the soft spot in zone coverage is also important, while the top play-callers in the NFL frequently engineer space for their receivers.

Yet receivers who can win one-on-one are a tremendous help to quarterbacks, especially those who can defeat the blitz regularly with their ability to efficiently read the field and find the open man.

While determining the 'best' receiver in the NFL is a subjective process that can hinge on an affinity for certain styles of play, success in beating defenders in coverage can be quantified.

Stats Perform has done so with its open percentage metric, which tracks how often a receiver gets open when they're matched up against man coverage and have enough time to run a route. Plays that break down before a matchup with a defender can take place or scramble drills where a receiver uncovers after running his initial route are discounted.

So who are the best and worst in that regard? Here we look at the top performers, some surprise names uncovering more often than perhaps expected and those who rarely separate from defenders.

THE ELITE

A year in which Cooper Kupp leads the NFL with 1,141 receiving yards has seen him established as arguably the premier route runner in the NFL.

That is reflected by his open percentage of 57.75, which is the highest of any player with more than 10 coverage matchups.

Getting open on 41 of his 71 matchups, Kupp has consistently excelled at creating separation. His burn percentage, which measures how often a receiver wins his matchup with a defender when he's targeted, of 65.2 is above the average of 60.3 for wideouts (min. 10 targets), while he is fourth in the NFL in burn yards per route (4.2).

Joining Kupp near the top of the tree is Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings. Proving his record-breaking rookie year was no fluke, Jefferson has faced 108 coverage matchups and got open on 55 of them, good for an open percentage of 50.93. 

Eleventh among receivers with a burn percentage of 73.4 and averaging 3.3 burn yards per route, there has been no sign of a sophomore slump from Jefferson, whose combination of separation ability and prowess at the catch point has turned him into one of the most dependable and dynamic receivers in the league.

Keenan Allen (53.16) is Kupp's closest challenger, the Los Angeles Chargers veteran underlining his status as one of the NFL's most underappreciated receivers by getting open at a rate that may only heighten frustrations around his team's underperforming offense.

Kansas City Chiefs star Tyreek Hill (47.78) boasts an elite open percentage that belies his underwhelming big play rate of 28.0 per cent, with Stefon Diggs' (47.62) success at getting open dispelling the notion of a drop-off from last year's receiving leader. Davante Adams (45.65) is unsurprisingly also among the league's best, yet he is accompanied by some eyebrow-raising names.

SURPRISE STUDS

It has been tough to watch an uninspired Pittsburgh Steelers offense this season and think anyone is getting open.

Almost every passing play the Steelers run seems to end in a contested catch, yet a wideout who thrives in those situations is also winning the vast majority of his coverage matchups.

Indeed, second-year wideout Chase Claypool ranks behind only Kupp and Allen in open percentage, uncovering from a defender on 35 of his 68 matchups (51.47). 

However, a burn yards per route rate of 2.5, just above the average of 2.3, and his struggles in the burn yards per target metric (10.30) indicate that, while Claypool is separating from coverage, he is not putting significant distance between himself and defenders. He will likely need to continue relying on his superiority at the catch point.

As with the Steelers, you won't find too many people who draw a sense of excitement watching a Teddy Bridgewater-led Denver Broncos offense.

There is no doubting the talent on Denver's attack. With Jerry Jeudy hurt and Noah Fant so far failing to take the second-year leap many expected, Courtland Sutton has shone brightest and is on course for a 1,000-yard season, though Tim Patrick's impact has been comparable.

Save for Kendall Hinton (47.83 on 23 matchups), it is the relatively unheralded Patrick who has proven Denver's best at separating, his open percentage of 44.44 from 90 matchups level with Dallas Cowboys star Amari Cooper.

A below-average burn yards per route of 2.0 speaks to a paucity of substantial separation, but Patrick is using the distance he is able to put between himself and defenders to create explosive plays, his big-play rate of 36.7 per cent comfortably above the average of 29.2.

Again leading tight ends in receiving yards (747), most would expect Travis Kelce of the Chiefs to top the list at that position for open percentage. Instead, it is a former AFC West standout in ex-Charger Hunter Henry.

Scoring seven touchdowns in as many games prior to being kept out of the endzone in Thursday's win over the Atlanta Falcons, Henry possesses an open percentage of 48.15. However, he has not been double-teamed this season.

Darren Waller has a double-team percentage of 17.2 and has still managed to get open 46.75 per cent of the time. The attention the Las Vegas Raiders star draws and his ability to succeed despite it illustrate his position as one of the league's biggest matchup nightmares and arguably the gold standard at tight end.

NO ROOM FOR MANOEUVRE

The Packers' offense has stuttered by its own high standards in recent weeks, with their underwhelming numbers not just a product of Jordan Love's struggles against the Chiefs.

Since Week 6, the Packers are averaging 213.2 net passing yards per game – 20th in the NFL. For the season, they are 16th in yards per pass play (6.46).

That mediocrity can, in part, be attributed to a lack of receiving depth beyond Adams, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling's issues getting open encapsulate that problem.

Valdes-Scantling is supposed to be the Packers' deep threat who can stretch defenses with his ability to separate vertically.

Open on only five of his 38 coverage matchups – a percentage of 13.16 – Valdes-Scantling is not fulfilling his role. The Packers will likely need to be more explosive in the playoffs if they are to go all the way, meaning Valdes-Scantling must up his game.

Bryan Edwards is in a similar situation in Las Vegas. Scarcely utilised last season, Edwards has seen a bump in targets in 2021, the Raiders often going to him downfield. 

Edwards' average depth of target is 17.2 yards, but he has found deep separation hard to come by, uncovering on 17 of his 111 matchups (15.32 per cent). Yet with a gaudy burn yards per target average of 15.01 and a big-play rate of 50.7 per cent that is third among receivers (min. 10 targets), Edwards is a player who takes full advantage of the little separation he gets when Derek Carr looks his way.

Edwards' former South Carolina team-mate San Francisco 49ers star Deebo Samuel is performing at the highest level of his young career. Samuel is second behind Kupp with 979 receiving yards and already has seven total touchdowns this season.

However, Samuel ranks near the bottom of the league in open percentage (15.07), with the difference between that number and his overall production a reflection of how he is used by San Francisco.

His average depth of target is 8.6 yards, below the NFL average for receivers of 11.0, speaking to the Niners' reliance on him on screens and short passes that are an extension of the run game.

Third in burn yards per route and leading all wide receivers with an average of 9.6 yards after catch per reception, Samuel takes advantage of those short targets with his speed, elusiveness and power, while he can win at the catch point downfield even without separation. The 49ers often get Samuel in space in the backfield but, for one of the league's most unique players, separation is not always a requirement.

Max Verstappen conceded Red Bull are struggling for pace after a "beautiful" lap from Lewis Hamilton saw the Mercedes driver take pole for the Qatar Grand Prix.

Hamilton, who cut Verstappen's lead in the drivers' championship to 14 points with his victory in Sao Paulo last time out, was quickest on Saturday with a blistering lap of 1:20.827.

Verstappen could not get close to that and was left to settle for second for the first Formula One race in Qatar, the Dutchman finishing 0.455 seconds off the pace.

Valtteri Bottas was third for Mercedes, with Red Bull's setback of Verstappen being unable to get ahead of Hamilton on the grid exacerbated by Sergio Perez failing to make it out of Q2.

Perez will start in 11th, meaning it is Hamilton who has a clear edge going into another crucial race.

Speaking after qualifying, Verstappen said: "[We're] lacking a bit of pace, it's been just a bit more tricky for us, again, in qualifying.

"It just shows we're struggling a bit more than normal. All to play for, but I wish we could have fought for more.

"There's a lot of unknowns, we just need to work on our start and we'll see where we end up."

The difference between Hamilton and Verstappen marked the largest pole margin in dry qualifying this year, with things looking up for the seven-time world champion after a challenging week.

"Yesterday was a really difficult day, Thursday and Friday I wasn't feeling too well, really had to dig deep," said Hamilton.

"I was here until midnight last night, working with the engineers, we found a lot of areas where I could improve. 

"We didn't have any traffic, that last lap was beautiful, this track is amazing to drive.

"I felt fantastic today, slept really well last night, that made a big difference."

Asked about strategy for the race, Hamilton added: "It's not the easiest of circuits to follow, but it's also not massively degrading on the tyres.

"It could be a one or two [stop], we'll find out tomorrow. It's nice and wide into turn one, so we'll be giving everything."


PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.455s
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +0.651s
4. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +0.813s
5. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +0.843s
6. Lando Norris (McLaren) +0.904s
7. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +1.013s
8. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +1.054s
9. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +1.201s
10. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) +1.958s

Daniil Medvedev will defend his ATP Finals crown on Sunday following a commanding straight-sets victory over Casper Ruud in the semi-finals.

Reigning champion Medvedev cruised through to the final after wrapping up a 6-4 6-2 win in one hour and 20 minutes in Turin.

The world number two will face Novak Djokovic or Alexander Zverev as he aims to become the ninth different player to successfully defend this title.

Medvedev reached the semi-finals of the year-ending championship with a match to spare, winning three out of three in the Red Group, and did not offer up a single break point against Ruud, who he had beaten in both of their previous meetings.

The US Open champion took early command, breaking in game three and holding before serving to love to take the opening set.

The winner of five ATP Tour titles in 2021, world number eight Ruud was aiming to become the third debutant to lift this trophy in five years after Grigor Dimitrov (2017) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (2019).

However the Norwegian, who squeezed past Andrey Rublev on Friday, was broken twice in the second set as Medvedev surged into a 5-2 lead, before serving out to complete a ninth straight win at this event.

Should Djokovic beat Zverev, it will bring up a fourth meeting of 2021 between the world’s top two players. The Serbian beat Medvedev at the Paris Masters earlier this month and in the Australian Open final at the start of the season, but went down in straight sets at Flushing Meadows in September.


WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Medvedev – 20/16
Ruud – 16/26

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS 

Medvedev – 3/2
Ruud – 1/3

BREAK POINTS WON 

Medvedev – 3/9
Ruud – 0/0

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been activated off the team's reserve/COVID-19 list.

Roethlisberger missed last week's clash with the Detroit Lions, which finished 16-16 after overtime, but the Steelers' director of communications Burt Lauten confirmed on Saturday that the 39-year-old will be back for Sunday's meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Steelers are 5-3-1 and second in the AFC North, though Roethlisberger's absence was felt against the Lions.

Mason Rudolph started in his place, but missed a glut of opportunities to deliver touchdown passes, including a late throw into the dirt that should have put Ray-Ray McCloud into the endzone.

Rudolph threw for, 242 yards, one touchdown, one interception and registered a completion percentage of 60.

While Rudolph told ESPN on Thursday that he was preparing to start against the Chargers, it appears he will be back on the bench, with Roethlisberger able to return to action.

Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl champion, has thrown for 1,986 yards and 10 touchdowns so far this season across eight games.

Rory McIlroy got himself back into the lead at the DP World Tour Championship, holding a slender one-shot advantage heading into the final round of the season.

McIlroy, a three-time European Tour champion, dropped two shots on the 18th on Friday, handing a share of the lead to Sam Horsfield, Shane Lowry and John Catlin in Dubai.

Yet Lowry and Catlin both struck costly one-under par 71s on Saturday, with McIlroy going round in 67 to propel himself back in front.

The Northern Irishman stands on 14 under, though had a wobble on the 17th when he almost found the water. Luck was on his side as the ball nestled on a rock on the water's edge.

McIlory bravely decided to take the shot on, despite the risk the ball could have ricocheted back into the wet. It paid off, with the former world number one getting it across the green and then almost chipping in to make par, but he had to settle for a bogey, his second of the day after an awful tee shot on the opening hole.

He got that shot back with a birdie on the last to put the pressure on Horsfield, who could only bogey to finish on 67 and 13 under for the week heading into what looks set to be an enthralling final day.

"I thought I did well considering the start," said McIlroy, who is hunting his third DP World Tour Championship title.

"I responded well with birdies on two and three, ended up turning on three-under par. The back nine was good, gave myself good chances on 14 and 16 but didn't convert those.

"A bogey on 17 that in the end was a good bogey, I just thought it was important to make birdie at the last to get into the final group."

Robert MacIntyre was the big riser, the Scot going around in five under to take a share of third place with Alexander Bjork. 

MacIntyre's round included a 70-foot birdie and 20-foot eagle on the front nine, while he then birdied four holes out of five only to slip up with a bogey on the 18th.

Level at T5 and within three of the lead with Lowry, Catlin and Joachim Hansen is Collin Morikawa, who still holds a lead in the Race to Dubai rankings.

The 24-year-old - who is aiming to become the first American to win the European Tour – carded a bogey free 69, though will be disappointed to only birdie three holes.

Given none of the other contenders in the Race to Dubai are within six shots of the lead, Morikawa seems all set to be crowned European Tour champion, barring a collapse on Sunday.

Collin Sexton will miss the rest of the NBA season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus, the Cleveland Cavaliers have announced.

The Cavs guard was injured in the 126-109 win over the New York Knicks on November 7 and the severity of the issue has now been confirmed.

A team statement read: "Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton sustained a season-ending left knee injury on Sunday Nov. 7th at New York, later confirmed on Nov. 8th after an MRI administered at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health.

"Sexton underwent successful surgery on Nov. 17th to repair a meniscus tear after additional evaluation over the past week determined that surgery was the best course of action to treat the affected area."

The release added: "His return to basketball activities will be updated as appropriate."

It marks a significant blow for a Cavs team who started the season well but have been hampered by injury issues. Six regulars were unavailable against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.

Sexton was second for the Cavs in scoring, averaging 16 points before his injury. He was also averaging 3.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists in Cleveland's opening 11 matches.

Tennis star Peng Shuai is safe and well in her own home and will soon "show up in public" to allay concerns about her wellbeing, a leading Chinese state media journalist claimed on Saturday.

Peng has been widely considered to have been missing since making sexual assault allegations against Zhang Gaoli, the ex-vice premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee.

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, said two-time grand slam doubles champion Peng "didn't want to be disturbed".

Three purportedly new pictures of Peng have been reportedly posted on Chinese messaging app WeChat, along with a "Happy weekend" message.

They show her sitting in a room surrounded by soft toys, lifting up a grey cat, and holding a toy panda. In each of the pictures, which have not been externally verified as being recent, Peng appears to be well and content.

Hu wrote on Twitter: "I confirmed through my own sources today that these photos are indeed Peng Shuai's current state.

"In the past few days, she stayed in her own home freely and she didn't want to be disturbed. She will show up in public and participate in some activities soon."

There have been fears expressed for Peng's safety from within tennis and beyond, and the veracity of subsequent messages from Peng – both on email and posted in her name on Weibo – has been questioned.

There has also been early scepticism expressed about the latest pictures of the 35-year-old.

United States president Joe Biden on Friday called for China to provide "independent and verifiable proof of her whereabouts and that she is safe".

WTA stars Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka are among leading figures to have spoken of their concern for Peng, and men's world number one Novak Djokovic weighed in on Friday, saying he would support any move by the women's tour to back out of events in China.


French sports daily L'Equipe on Saturday led its front page with the question "Ou est Peng Shuai?" – Where is Peng Shuai? – as global concern continued to escalate.

Australia's former doubles world number one Paul McNamee said it was vital that hard evidence is produced to confirm she is safe and well.

McNamee wrote on Twitter: "Peng Shuai, an independent woman of substance, is someone I got to know pretty well. Along with everyone else in the tennis community, I am very worried, as we long to see her and, I reiterate, hear her voice in person."

WTA chairman Steve Simon was quoted on Friday by the BBC as saying his organisation still had not heard from former French Open and Wimbledon doubles winner Peng directly and warned it would have no issue backing out of events in China without proof the player was safe.

The authenticity of an email said to have been sent from Peng this week to the WTA has been questioned, leading Simon to say it "only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts".

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has insisted all players, including Novak Djokovic, must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to compete at the January grand slam.

Djokovic's vaccination status is unclear, and he has so far refused to confirm whether he has been jabbed, which has led to doubts over whether he will be in Melbourne.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has made it clear that tennis stars arriving for the tournament must be prepared to show proof of having protection against the virus.

For Djokovic, who is competing this week at the ATP Finals in Turin, it remains to be seen whether he is willing to go through that process.

Tiley told Channel Nine: "It's been made very clear, when the Premier announced several weeks ago that in order to participate at the Australian Open, to come into Victoria, you'll need to be fully vaccinated.

"Immediately we communicated that to the playing group, it is the one direction that you take that is going to ensure everyone's safety. All the playing group understands it, our patrons will need to be vaccinated, all the staff working at the Australian Open will need to be vaccinated.

"But when we're in a state where there's more than 90 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, they've done a magnificent job with that, it's the right thing to do."

Tiley said organisers "would love to see Novak" make the trip to a tournament he has won a record nine times.

Djokovic sits on 20 grand slam titles, the same mark as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He needs one more to set the outright men's record, having lost to Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final in September.

"We have been speaking to Novak Djokovic's team and Novak and the team understand clearly that in order to come and play the Australian Open they'll need to be fully vaccinated," Tiley said, according to ABC.

"I know that he wants to play it, he's clearly indicated that and he knows the conditions that he'd have to undergo in order to be eligible to play."

The tournament is due to get under way on January 17, with the player bubbles and quarantine measures that were in force at the 2021 edition no longer in place and Melbourne Park set to operate at full capacity.

Australian player Nick Kyrgios this week said he believes the vaccine mandate is "morally wrong".

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