Star point guard Damian Lillard denied reports he will request a trade from the Portland Trail Blazers in an offseason of ceaseless speculation.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the Olympic Games as a member of Team USA, Lillard said he has yet to make a decision about his future despite rumours of an impending trade request emerging on Friday.

"I woke up to those reports, a lot of people reaching out to me," said Lillard. "But it's not true. I'll start off the rip and say it's not true.

"A lot of things are being said. It hasn't come from me. I haven't made any firm decision on what my future will be."

The comments from the six-time All-Star came hours after TrueHoop's Henry Abbott reported Lillard would be formally requesting a trade in the coming days.

Lillard also insisted he "expects to be" with Portland when the 2021-22 season tips off but reiterated that he does have some concerns about the Trail Blazers' title chances.

"I think if you look at our team as it is, I don't see how you say this is a championship team," Lillard added.

“My intention and my heart is set on being in a Trail Blazers uniform for my entire career. But over time … you want to win it all. And we have to make strides to do that.”

Portland has played in eight straight postseasons, including a run to the Western Conference finals in 2019 that ended in a sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.

After first-round exits in the last two playoffs, Portland replaced long-time head coach Terry Stotts with Chauncey Billups, the first of perhaps many moves in a pivotal offseason for the Blazers.

Lillard is scheduled to meet with Billups and general manager Neil Olshey in Las Vegas before the Tokyo Olympics begin to discuss the future of the organisation.

Portland is 12-16 over the last three postseasons, despite Lillard averaging 28.3 points and 7.2 assists while shooting 39.6 percent from three-point range, leading many to believe it is time for him to seek a stronger supporting cast.

Lillard, who celebrated his 31st birthday on Thursday, is under contract for the next four seasons for $176.3 million.

"The best way to put it is be more urgent," Lillard said. "Be urgent about our next step and how we move forward. We've made the playoffs all these years. We're not a bad team, we're a good team.”

"It's a lot of positives. But we've reached that point where it's not enough.”

French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova marched through to the Prague Open semi-finals following a straight-sets victory over doubles partner Katerina Siniakova.

The in-form second seed has six titles to her name this season; three of which have come alongside Siniakova in doubles events.

Together, they have triumphed at Roland Garros – adding to Krejcikova’s singles success – as well as in Madrid and the Gippsland Trophy.

However, this was their first singles meeting at Tour level, which went with the form book as Krejcikova claimed her 18th win in 19 matches after comfortably prevailing 6-3 6-0.

The home favourite, who is still to drop a set in the Czech capital, will play Wang Xinyu in the semi-finals after the world number 147 beat Grace Min 6-3 6-3.

Lewis Hamilton paid tribute to the Silverstone crowd after beating Max Verstappen in qualifying for the British Grand Prix and securing top place on the grid for Saturday’s inaugural F1 Sprint.

Trailing Verstappen by 32 points in the Drivers’ Championship, Hamilton has the momentum at Silverstone after pipping the Dutchman to victory in Friday's qualifying session by a tenth of a second.

Mercedes have won seven of the last eight races on this track with six of those triumphs going to Hamilton, who claimed his first pole here back in 2007.

After finishing fourth in Austria, the seven-time World champion is aiming to avoid consecutive finishes outside the podium for the first time since 2017.

And inspired by the raucous home crowd, he made the ideal start in ensuring he will head the grid in the F1 Sprint.

Stefanos Tsitsipas will head into the Tokyo Olympics on the back of a disappointing quarter-final exit at the Hamburg European Open.

The world number four made a fast start to his match against Filip Krajinovic, winning the opening five games, but fell away to lose in three sets after an hour and 59 minutes.

Tsitsipas is due to represent Greece at the behind-closed-doors Games in Japan, where he will be among the medal favourites.

His racket bizarrely fell apart in the second set against Krajinovic, with Tsitsipas left clutching just the handle as the head broke off when he attempted a backhand.

Despite reaching for a replacement racket, Tsitsipas could not get the better of his 44th-ranked Serbian opponent.

Krajinovic said, according to the ATP website: "He started really well, really aggressively. I could not find my game, could not find my serve, he was overpowering me. But at the end of the first set, I started to feel better, I was going for my shots.

"It paid off in the end. I am happy to beat Tsitsipas, he is an amazing player. I always play well here, and I hope I keep playing well here."

Krajinovic advances to take on a fellow Serbian, Laslo Djere, in the semi-finals, after Djere swept to a 6-2 6-2 win over Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili.

Spanish second seed Pablo Carreno Busta prevented a third Serbian reaching the final four, beating Dusan Lajovic 7-6 (7-4) 6-3, and he will face Federico Delbonis on Saturday.

At the Nordea Open in Bastad, Sweden, top seed Casper Ruud had his path to the semi-finals smoothed by the withdrawal of scheduled opponent Henri Laaksonen due to injury.

That walkover means Norwegian Ruud will next tackle Roberto Carballes Baena, who beat Slovakian Norbert Gombos 6-4 6-2.

Chilean second seed Cristian Garin bowed out, beaten 6-4 4-6 6-2 by Argentinian Federico Coria. Coria's semi-final opponent will be Germany's Yannick Hanfmann, a 6-4 6-3 victor over French qualifier Arthur Rinderknech.

Louis Oosthuizen did not realise he had broken an Open Championship record until he got off the course at Royal St George's on Friday.

The South African carded a 65 to move to 11 under, with his overall score of 129 the lowest after 36 holes at golf's oldest major.

It left the 2010 Champion Golfer of the Year two strokes clear of Collin Morikawa, with Jordan Spieth one stroke further back.

But Oosthuizen, who has finished second in two majors already this year, had no idea he had just made history when he sunk a par putt at the last.

 

"I only heard that when I walked in, so I wasn't aware of what it even was before," he conceded after fine conditions made the Kent links ripe for low scoring, with playing partners Jon Rahm and Shane Lowry shooting 64 and 65 respectively.

"To have any record at the Open or part of any record at the Open is always very special.

"I think I've played really good the last two days. It was as good a weather as you can get playing this golf course. All of us took advantage of that.

"I think in our three-ball we had a 64 and two 65s, which you don't really see around a links golf course."

The 38-year-old has had a succession of close calls since he claimed the Claret Jug at St Andrews 11 years ago, with a remarkable six runner-up spots in majors.

Asked if there was an issue with getting it over the line, he replied: "I don't know. I think in a few of them I needed to play just that little bit better coming down the stretch.

"It's just I don't think I would have done a lot different in a lot of them.

"Right now I think where my game is at, I just need to put myself in position, and this year is the best I've been putting, and I just need to hit greens and give myself opportunities for birdies."

It was moving day at The Open Championship on Friday but the sunshine refused to budge.

While Louis Oosthuizen recovered the overnight lead that he had lost to Collin Morikawa earlier in the day, a few fans' favourites ensured they will be around at the weekend.

Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry both did enough to make the cut and world number one Dustin Johnson surged up the leaderboard.

But our man on the ground also had an eye on events on the fringes of the action...

BUTTER FINGERS!

When the players walk off the 18th green they pass under the grandstand that surrounds the putting surface.

Above them will often be a gaggle of fans trying to get their attention so they might throw a golf ball their way.

But when that chance comes you have to be ready to take it, and one young fan's hopes were dashed when Tommy Fleetwood tossed a ball within his grasp but he let it slip.

When a marshal picked it up to throw it back to the waiting fans, it was a different young hopeful who managed to seize the opportunity.

MERRY CHRISTMAS?

Lucas Herbert's caddie had fans in a festive mood, despite it being the middle of July.

Nick Pugh sports a bushy white beard and, as he made his way from the 15th green to the 16th tee, one cheeky fan asked if the jovial Scot had received his Christmas list.

Pugh saw the funny side and retorted: "Ho ho ho!"

BEERY ME...

They are not compulsory, but some spectators are choosing to wear face masks in these coronavirus times.

That is all well and good, but it's important to remove your mask before attempting to drink your beer.

One fan probably won't need to learn that lesson again after inducing much mirth following a botched attempt to take a swig from his pint with his face mouth covered.

Louis Oosthuizen holds a two-shot lead at the halfway stage of the 149th Open Championship after posting a record 36-hole score at golf's oldest major.

The South African, who claimed the Claret Jug in 2010, continued his stunning form at majors in 2021 with a 65 on Friday, with 129 the lowest total after two rounds at this event.

Tournament debutant Collin Morikawa, who had earlier carded a 64 at a sun-drenched Royal St George's, is Oosthuizen's closest rival on nine under, with 2017 winner Jordan Spieth one stroke further back.

Oosthuizen finished in a tie for second at the US PGA Championship in May and was outright runner-up at the U.S. Open the following month. 

He faces stiff competition from a chasing pack that also includes world number one Dustin Johnson following his 65 to move seven under, while Brooks Koepka is on five under.

 

Favourable weather on the Kent coast meant the course was set fair for low scoring and 2020 US PGA Championship winner Morikawa took full advantage.

His round included a run of five birdies in seven holes before a bogey at the 15th – the tricky par four playing at an average of 4.4 – halted his progress.

Oosthuizen did not go out until the afternoon but quickly made his intentions clear with a birdie at the first, though the highlight of his round was an eagle three at the 14th.

Reigning champion Shane Lowry also enjoyed a fine day as he shot 65, while pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm went one better to keep his slim hopes alive.

Rory McIlroy birdied the last to ease any lingering fears of missing the cut, while 2018 champion Francesco Molinari did not make the weekend after a 74 that included a quadruple-bogey seven at the sixth, where he took three shots to get out of a bunker.


SHOT OF THE DAY

There was joy for Englishman Jonathan Thomson as he hit the first ace at the 16th en route to a 67.

CHIPPING IN

Rory McIlroy: "I felt a little nervous going to that 18th tee. I knew I needed a par at least, but birdie to at least be comfortable."

Jonathan Thomson: "The hole-in-one was obviously awesome. It was a real confidence booster after what had been up until that point a real grind."

A LITTLE BIRDIE TOLD ME...

- Jordan Spieth's halfway score of 132 is the American's second lowest at a major.

- Emiliano Grillo shot a 64, which was six strokes better than his opening round.

- Phil Mickelson improved on his opening effort by eight strokes, but still missed the cut at 12 over.

Damian Lillard believes changes need to be made by the Portland Trail Blazers if they are to end their now 44-year wait for an NBA title amid swirling speculation about his future.

A report on Friday suggested star point guard Lillard will request a trade from the Blazers having spent his entire NBA career in Portland.

He will reportedly address those claims during a media availability session for the United States' Olympic basketball team on Friday.

Lillard has been named an All-Star six times in his career and has helped the Blazers reach the playoffs in each of the past eight seasons.

It is his clutch shooting that has consistently kept Portland in the mix and, since he entered the league in 2012, only Stephen Curry (2,460) and James Harden (2,125) have made more three-pointers than Lillard's 2,051.

Portland reached the Western Conference Finals in 2019 but were swept by Curry and the Golden State Warriors.

However, this season's exit at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in six games was their fourth first-round elimination in five seasons and led to the Blazers parting ways with head coach Terry Stotts. Chauncey Billups is the man now tasked with leading them to a first NBA Finals since 1992 and a first championship since 1977.

Asked by Yahoo Sports if the Blazers have matched his commitment to the franchise, Lillard said: "To make it to the NBA, I had to give it everything I had.

"I was going to do what needed to be done to win games. I didn't come into the league worrying about what others were doing in the organisation. I didn't come in with that type of mentality.

"But I've been active in probably 95 per cent of the games in my career. I've played through injuries, and I've been a part of two rebuilds. I feel like I've experienced everything with the Trail Blazers, and I've worn that jersey as a badge of honour and with a lot of pride and care.

"I never felt like my job was to go in and critique what other people were doing in the organisation. My job was to make sure the team is functioning and trying to lead them to the best results. I've always assumed everybody’s mentality was the same.

"Even when I'm playing well and we come up short at the end of the season, I go home and the first thing I do is look in the mirror and tell myself we didn't win a championship. Or if I didn't play as well as I should have, I've had to look in the mirror and tell myself that my performance was unacceptable and I have to do better. And then you go do better.

 

"I think that's the stage we're at as a team where we all, not just me, not just my team-mates, not just our new coaching staff, the front office, everybody in this organisation must look in the mirror because we've constantly come up short.

"We have to look in the mirror and say I have to be better because whatever it is we're doing is not working and it's not giving us the shot to compete on the level that we want to compete on."

On why he feels this is a pivotal juncture in his career, Lillard added: "There are a few reasons: One being I'm not getting any younger. Our environment has always been great.

"We're not losing a lot, but we were eliminated by a shorthanded Denver team that I felt we should have beat. I just walked away from that really disappointed. I was like, 'Man, this just isn't going to work'.

"We're not winning the championship, but we've got a successful organisation. We're not a franchise that’s just out here losing every year and getting divided.

"We have positive seasons; we just don't end up with a championship. So I feel like at this point, I basically made the decision that if you do what you've always done, you'll always be where you've always been.

"Just like I hold myself accountable for a bad performance or hold myself accountable to make sure that I work my a** off when I’m training, I must be accountable for saying what needs to be said even if it's not popular. And that just comes with age.

"When I was younger, I felt like maybe I'll be out of place, but I feel like I've earned the right to say we must do better. We must do better if we want to win on that level."

Mark Cavendish could not secure a 35th Tour de France stage win to break Eddy Merckx's record as Matej Mohoric prevailed on stage 19 to claim his second victory of this year's race.

Cavendish, 36, was tipped to break the all-time record for stage wins, set by Merckx in 1975, but he will now have to wait for the opportunity on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday.

Under 48 hours after Bahrain Victorious had their team hotel and bus raided, Mohoric's triumph – his second and the team's third win at this year's Tour – resembled a procession as he cruised home with a near one-minute advantage.

A sprint finish in Libourne to conclude the 207km route seemed perfect for Cavendish to create history, yet his team, Deceuninck-QuickStep, did not manage the breakaway effectively this time.

Mohoric was part of the initial group to break clear inside the final 100km before that section of riders halved in size with 30km to go.

Five kilometres later, the Slovenian seized the initiative as he produced another long-range attack to secure the lead, remaining untroubled as he eased to the finish.

With Cavendish back in the peloton, it was Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) and Casper Pedersen (Team DSM) who claimed second and third respectively in the sprint.

Yellow jersey holder Tadej Pogacar had an easy time of it, as his procession into Paris gets well and truly underway.

Barring any problems in Saturday's time trial, Pogacar is a certainty for the general classification, king of the mountains and young rider triumphs.

STAGE RESULT

1. Matej Mohoric (Bahrain Victorious) 4:19:17
2. Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) +0:58
3. Casper Pedersen (Team DSM) +0:58
4. Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma) +:1:02
5. Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe) +1:08

CLASSIFICATION STANDINGS

General Classification

1. Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) 79:40:09
2. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) +5:45
3. Richard Carapaz (INEOS Grenadiers) +5:51

Points Classification

1. Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) 304
2. Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) 269
3. Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) 216

King of the Mountains

1. Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) 107
2. Wouter Poels (Bahrain Victorious) 88
3. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) 82

What's next?

A shorter and flatter route than last year’s ride to La Planche des Belles Filles, the 31km time trial towards Saint Emilion will suit the specialists in this discipline and is unlikely to be as dramatic as the last Tour’s equivalent test, which saw Pogacar snatch victory from Primoz Roglic.

Collin Morikawa feels has the right mindset to cope with the pressure of majors after he took the lead at the Open on Friday with a fine 64.

The debutant surged up the leaderboard with a tremendous second round, moving to nine under for the tournament.

A stunning card from the 2020 US PGA Championship winner showed just one bogey and he could have even moved further clear had a putt on 18 not skirted the cup.

Morikawa made seven birdies as he took advantage of fine early conditions at Royal St George's.

As well as his US PGA win, Morikawa, 24, also has a 2021 top-10 finish to his name at that tournament, as well as coming fourth at the U.S. Open last month.

"Yeah, I look at them as obviously they're starred," he said of his success at majors so early in his career.

"We have four of them a year, and you're trying to definitely win these four because they're that big. 

"Talking about last year's PGA, I had seen every single guy before, I had played with every single guy, and that doesn't make anything different. 

"It's just the stage that we're on, more media, more spectators, more people around. 

"But that's everything outside that I could control. For me, it's just let's go figure out this golf course Monday through Wednesday like I have been the past couple years and figure it out on what I need to do to play well. 

"This style of golf is very different, but playing last week at the Scottish Open helped tremendously."

 

Morikawa posted a 67 in round one but believes his play was similar across the first two days.

"Just sticking to what I've been doing," he said of his Friday success.

"On Thursday I thought I played really well, just wasn't hitting as many fairways. Was able to hit a few more fairways early on in the round this time."

Morikawa ended his round three clear of overnight leader Louis Oosthuizen, who was joined at six under by fellow South African Daniel van Tonder as well as Emiliano Grillo, Marcel Siem and Jordan Spieth.

A flying start from former champion Spieth, who birdied his first two holes on Friday, meant he was promptly up to seven under and within two of his American compatriot, though he then dropped a shot at the third.

Birdies on 17 and 18 meant Grillo matched Morikawa with a 64, while Siem also gained two shots in the final two holes to sign for an impressive 67.

Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, all but ensured he will finish above the cut line with a crucial birdie on 18.

The Northern Irishman is level par for the week after a second straight 70. 

In an up-and-down round two, he recovered nicely from consecutive bogeys to start his day but then bogeyed 16 and 17 before improving his position once more at the last.

The British and Irish Lions will aim to protect a proud record that goes back almost a century when they tackle the Stormers on Saturday in Cape Town.

It was 1924 when the Lions last lost consecutive non-Test matches on a tour of South Africa, and Warren Gatland's side head into the weekend on the back of a midweek defeat.

That loss on Wednesday came at the hands of a strong South Africa A, with the Lions going down 17-13 to a team that featured several World Cup winners.

Coach Gatland has named a wholly new XV for the tussle with the Stormers, and he insists places for the first Test against the Springboks next weekend are very much up for grabs.

Asked about scrum-half Ali Price, who has Gareth Davies and Connor Murray as competition for the number nine Test jersey, Gatland urged the Scotland international to grasp his chance against the Stormers.

"I'm pleased with the way he's gone. He's kicked well. He's got that left foot variation. He's made a couple of nice breaks and he's defended well too," Gatland said.

"He's had a really good tour so it's a really good game for him to play on Saturday and give him an opportunity to put his hand up."

Alun Wyn Jones could remarkably have a part to play too, having recovered from the dislocated shoulder he sustained against Japan at Murrayfield last month.

Test rugby's most-capped player, initially designated as captain of the Lions for this tour, will be on the replacements' bench against the Stormers.

Gatland said: "I spoke to Alun Wyn and spoke to the medical team about the ability to put him on the bench. We felt if he was going to be in contention next week that he needed to have a hit-out to prove 100 per cent he was fit and ready to go."

A minor ankle knock means Welsh fly-half Dan Biggar sits out the Stormers clash, as Gatland warned there was a risk he would be "sore" afterwards.

"If it was a Test match, he would have fronted up and be ready to go," said the head coach added.

The Lions will be on their guard against a team who boast, in wing Edwill van der Merwe, the leading try-scorer from South Africa's Rainbow Cup competition this year. Van der Merwe bagged five tries, with no other player scoring more than three, and he also recorded the best average gain per carry of any player to run with the ball on more than five occasions in the competition (11.2 metres per carry).

Across their five games in that tournament, the Stormers won twice and lost three times, but each match was decided by a margin or four points or fewer, and they averaged the most tackles per game of any side (130) and had the best tackle success rate (86 per cent).

 

FINAL CHANCE TO STAKE A CLAIM

Gatland confirmed a combination of Biggar at 10 and Owen Farrell at 12 remains an option for the Lions for the Test series. He said: "We haven't had that opportunity to play those two together, the way that things have gone. First thing is we want to see how the midfield combination with Robbie [Henshaw] and Elliot [Daly] goes as well.

"We have got other options and that 10-12 combination ... we know with his experience that Owen could easily fit into that 12 position. It's not something that, because we haven't used, it we wouldn't potentially consider."

SMITH THE BOLTER

Marcus Smith has a monumental opportunity this weekend, selected to start at fly-half in the final match before the Tests get under way. Fresh from an England Test debut, it is suddenly not beyond the bounds of possibility that the 22-year-old international newcomer could come into the reckoning for next Saturday.

His opposite number will be a familiar face, with former Harlequins club-mate Tim Swiel selected at number 10 by the Stormers.

British & Irish Lions: Stuart Hogg (captain), Josh Adams, Elliot Daly, Robbie Henshaw, Duhan van der Merwe, Marcus Smith, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tadhg Furlong, Adam Beard, Jonny Hill, Tadhg Beirne, Hamish Watson, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Zander Fagerson, Alun Wyn Jones, Sam Simmonds, Gareth Davies, Chris Harris, Louis Rees-Zammit.

Stormers: Sergeal Petersen, Seabelo Senatla, Rikus Pretorius, Dan du Plessis, Edwill van der Merwe, Tim Swiel, Godlen Masimla; Leon Lyons, JJ Kotze, Neethling Fouche, Ernst van Rhyn (captain), JD Schickerling, Nama Xaba, Johan du Toit, Evan Roos.

Replacements: Andre-Hugo Venter, Kwenzo Blose, Sazi Sandi, Justin Basson, Marcel Theunissen, Thomas Bursey, Abner van Reenen, Juan de Jongh, Lee-Marvin Mazibuko, Niel Otto, Leolin Zas, Cornel Smit.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– The British and Irish Lions have never played the Stormers but played Western Province on 16 occasions, winning the last seven of those clashes. They also played Boland on four occasions, the other feeder team for the Stormers (W4).
– In 2009, the Lions required a late James Hook penalty goal to secure the win against Western Province (26-23) at a wet Newlands. Tommy Bowe, Ugo Monye and Martyn Williams all scored tries for the tourists that day.
– The Lions have lost just one of their past 10 matches immediately prior to the first Test of a tour (2013 v Brumbies), not losing such a fixture in South Africa since 1962 against Northern Transvaal.
– Smith was the only player to evade more than half of the tackle attempts that were made on him in the Premiership last season, among all those who faced 50 or more such attempts. He also made more break assist passes (27) than any other player in the league and ranked second for try assists (15).

Tournament debutant Collin Morikawa surged into the lead at The Open with a second-round 64 to move to nine under on Friday.

The 2020 US PGA Championship winner's stunning card showed just one bogey as the American ended his round three clear of overnight leader Louis Oosthuizen.

Morikawa made seven birdies as he took advantage of fine conditions at Royal St George's, but he squandered the chance to get to 10 under with a putt on 18 that skirted the cup.

Daniel van Tonder moved level with South African compatriot Oosthuizen following a 66, while Tony Finau signed for the same score to get to four under.

 

Rory McIlroy, who matched Finau's 70 on Thursday, remained at even par through 11, while 2018 Champion Golfer of the Year Francesco Molinari is unlikely to make the weekend after a 74 left him two over.

Oosthuizen goes out at 14:59 local time alongside reigning champion Shane Lowry and pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm, both of whom will be looking to improve on rounds of 71.

Lewis Hamilton is optimistic the upgrades Mercedes are bringing to the British Grand Prix will help his team cut the gap to Red Bull.

Three straight Formula One wins have helped Max Verstappen open up a 32-point lead over Hamilton in the drivers' championship, while Red Bull are 44 clear in the constructors' standings.

Having finished fourth in Austria, Hamilton is bidding to avoid finishing two consecutive races outside the podium for the first time since 2017.

Toto Wolff's outfit are winless in their past five GPs, their worst run in the hybrid era (since 2014) and as many races without finishing first as in their previous 17.

But the seven-time world champion now has hope for his home event.

"There's a lot of changes on the car," Hamilton told reporters.

"It is not a massive update in terms of the gap that we have seen in the races, but it definitely helps us in terms of closing that gap quickly,

"Massively looking forward to it. A lot of work has gone on over the past couple of weeks. 

"So, I'm hoping that coming back to a circuit that suits us a little bit better and hopefully bodes well for a closer battle at least with the Red Bulls."

 

The home support he will receive and the new race weekend format – with points available in a Saturday sprint race that will also determine the grid for Sunday – means Hamilton is hopeful he can reduce Verstappen's lead.

There will be two practice sessions – with only one on Friday before qualifying for the sprint race will also take place – rather than the usual three.

That means it could be harder to judge the gaps between cars in the pecking order prior to the competitive action.

"Another element is this sprint race that we have: this new format," said Hamilton. "Of course, it's easy for any of us to get it wrong but there's opportunities there, which is exciting.

"There's always talk of the energy and the buzz that the fans bring, and without doubt when it's your home grand prix and the British crowd, you come with more.

"So, I'm hoping that all of those [elements] together close that nice gap those guys [Red Bull] have grown out in terms of performance, and enables us to take it to them this weekend.

"With all those elements I hope and pray, yes, that [cutting Verstappen's lead] is the case."

Hamilton is enthused by the return of a sell-out crowd to Silverstone.

He added: "Ever since the first time I came and raced here in 2006, but particularly in Formula 1 – 2007 – the roar of the crowd here is unlike anywhere else.

"Considering we‘ve had a drought in terms of fans not being at the races in the past year, the energy has definitely been very much missed."

Red Bull are also expecting a closer battle than has been seen in the previous races.

Verstappen said: "We are very focused. They are bringing upgrades, so naturally I think if they work, they [will be] closer. 

"Of course, we've been happy with the last few races, but we always look at things we could do better and that's what we'll try and do this weekend again."

The Atlanta Braves have moved to replace the injured Ronald Acuna Jr after announcing they have acquired outfielder Joc Pederson in an exchange with the Chicago Cubs.

Pederson, 29, batted .230 (59-for-256) with 11 home runs in 73 games for the Cubs in the 2021 MLB season and is exchanged for first baseman Bryce Ball.

The acquisition of Pederson, who has competed in two Home Run Derbies, comes after Acuna tore his ACL attempting a catch last week, ruling him out for the remainder of the season.

Pederson was part of the Los Angeles Dodgers side who won the World Series last year, where he batted .382 (13-for-34) with two home runs.

Acuna tops the 2021 MLB charts for the Braves at .283, with 24 home runs, along with 72 runs.

The Braves are currently third in the National League East with a 44-45 record.

Tom Brady stunned the NFL and wider sporting world by winning a seventh Super Bowl title at age 43, and he reportedly achieved that feat while battling an injury that would ruin the season for most players.

Brady revealed in May that his offseason knee surgery that was originally reported as a "clean-up" back in February was, in fact, "pretty serious".

And the extent of the problem was fully disclosed on Thursday, with NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reporting Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Super Bowl glory in his first season with the team through the pain of playing on a completely torn medial collateral ligament (MCL).

The difficulty level of leading a new team to a championship, having previously spent the past 20 years with the New England Patriots and winning six titles, while battling a knee issue of that severity cannot be overstated.

However, after the Bucs lost three of four games to head into the bye week 7-5, Brady made it look remarkably easy, guiding Tampa Bay to eight straight wins, a streak capped off with a 31-9 rout of the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV, as they captured the Lombardi Trophy for the second time in franchise history.

Brady finished his maiden season with the Buccaneers with 4,633 passing yards (third in the NFL), 40 touchdowns (tied-second) and 12 interceptions. His 41 passing plays of 25 yards or more in the regular season trailed only Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans (42).

Per Stats Perform data, Brady was fourth in air yards per attempt among quarterbacks with at least 100 passes. His average of 9.5 provided a further indication of his renaissance as a deep-ball thrower in Tampa.

He was second in pickable pass percentage, throwing an interceptable ball on just 2.2 per cent of his attempts. Only Alex Smith (2.1 per cent) did a better job in that regard.

The difference after the bye was stark. Brady's yards per game jumped from 275 to 299.3 while his passer rating improved to 112.4 from 95.1. He threw 28 touchdowns to 11 interceptions prior to the bye, but tossed 22 scores and just four picks across his final eight games.

His yards per attempt average leaped from 6.96 to 8.74, as the Bucs offense became more potent following the break.

Indeed, the Bucs averaged 28.7 points per game before the bye but upped that tally to 33.9 over the course of the final four regular-season and four postseason games.

Brady will be 44 when the Bucs start their quest to defend the title against the Dallas Cowboys on September 9. Conventional wisdom suggests the challenge should be tougher for him at an older age.

Yet Brady continues to challenge conventional wisdom and go beyond the limits of what was thought possible for an NFL quarterback. If the knee is healed, there's a chance that, soon to be in his mid-forties, he could be even better in 2021.

The New York Yankees announced their Thursday clash with the Boston Red Sox has been postponed following positive coronavirus tests within the organisation.

Yankee Stadium was due to play host to the series opener of arguably the most historic rivalry in baseball, with MLB restarting its regular season following the All-Star break.

Instead, the game has become the eighth of this campaign to be postponed due to COVID-19.

A statement posted on the Yankees' Twitter account read: "Following positive COVID-19 tests within the Yankees organisation, tonight's game between the Yankees and the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium has been postponed to allow for continued testing and contact tracing.

"MLB will continue to provide scheduling updates as available."

The Yankees are scheduled to host the Red Sox on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Boston leads the American League East with a record of 55-36; the Yankees (46-43) are eight games back in the division and four and a half games back of an AL Wild Card spot.

The Carolina Panthers have signed tackle Taylor Moton to a four-year, $72million extension.

Moton was franchise tagged by the Panthers back in March, with Carolina set a deadline of 16:00 EST on July 15 to sign him to a long-term deal.

And they achieved that goal on Thursday, inking him to a contract that will net him $43m in guaranteed money.

The standout on a largely underwhelming Panthers offensive line last year, starting right tackle Moton allowed 32 pressures on 412 pass protection snaps.

His pressure rate of 7.8 per cent was the eighth-best among right tackles with 200 or more pass protection snaps in 2020.

Moton was the only franchise player who headed into Thursday without a long-term deal to sign one before the deadline.

He joined Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, New York Giants defensive lineman Leonard Williams and Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons in getting new contracts.

Marcus Williams of the New Orleans Saints will play on the franchise tag, along with fellow safety Marcus Maye, whose negotiations with the New York Jets came to nothing.

Wide receiver Chris Godwin is set to cash in next year in free agency after he failed to come to terms with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Cam Robinson of the Jacksonville Jaguars will play on the tag for the first time, but for Washington Football Team guard Brandon Scherff it is the second year he will have that franchise designation for the entire season.

 

Conor McGregor has claimed he already had "multiple stress fractures" to his shinbone before stepping into the octagon to fight Dustin Poirier on Saturday.

The 33-year-old broke his leg in the first round of the UFC 264 event in Las Vegas after stumbling backwards and trapping his foot beneath himself.

The fight was subsequently stopped by medics and Poirier claimed the victory by TKO – his second win against McGregor in their trilogy of fights.

McGregor has since undergone surgery to repair a break to the lower tibia in his left shin, which could potentially keep the Irishman out of action for the next year.

But in a six-minute video posted on Instagram on Thursday in which he rides around on a motorised scooter, McGregor insisted he had informed UFC chiefs of his injury problems prior to the bout.

"I was injured going into the fight," he said. "People were asking me when was the leg break – at what point did the leg break? Ask Dana White. Ask the UFC. Ask Dr Davidson, the head doctor of the UFC. They knew.

"My leg – I had stress fractures in my leg going into that cage. There was debate about pulling the thing out because I was sparring without shin pads, and I was kicking.

"I kicked the knee a few times, so I had multiple stress fractures in the shin bone above the ankle, and then I had trouble with the ankle anyway throughout the years of fighting all the time."

Former two-weight world champion McGregor also revealed how he now has a titanium rod inserted in his "unbreakable" leg, which he joked makes him feel like fictional cyborg The Terminator.

"I used to just train on my back, and that's how I developed those ground-and-pound shots from the back. That's why Dustin backed away when he was on top of me and I was landing the upkicks and the elbows," he said.

"It's a horrible place to be in when you're against someone like me. You can't land.

"You take so much effort to try and land shots from your top position, and while you're trying to do that and losing your energy, you're getting lumped out by downward elbows and vicious upkicks. 

"It was a skill I developed because I had the damaged leg, and I had to adjust my training.

"What I needed was a titanium shinbone and now I've got a titanium rod from the knee to the ankle. The doctor says it's unbreakable. Once I keep building back, playing with the balance, then build the strength, I have an unbreakable titanium leg. 

"I'm like Arnie [Arnold Schwarzenegger] in Terminator 2! I've got all the tools to do this and I'm going to do it – what a story it's going to be."

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