The latest episode in Jos Buttler's outstanding 2022 IPL took Rajasthan Royals through to the final and a rematch with Gujarat Titans.

The Royals were beaten by the Titans in the first qualifier, forcing them to face Royal Challengers Bangalore on Friday for a place in the season's showpiece.

Buttler ensured RCB were soundly beaten, smashing an unbeaten 106 off 60 balls to clinch a seven-wicket victory.

The Royals still had 11 balls to spare when Buttler's sixth six completed the job on 161-3.

None of the England star's team-mates had to pass 25 runs as he did all the heavy lifting in partnerships of 61 with Yashasvi Jaiswal, 52 with Sanju Samson, 35 with Devdutt Padikkal and 13 with Shimron Hetmyer in reply to RCB's 157-8.

A stunning Buttler catch had removed the dangerous Rajat Patidar (58) in the outstanding moment of the RCB innings, too, as his almost single-handed pursuit of the title continued.

Buttler blowing away the competition

This has long since been Buttler's best IPL campaign, and there remains a slim chance he also takes the tournament record. In pursuit of Virat Kohli's 973 runs in 2016, he moved on to 824 for this tournament with his fourth century. The rest of the players in this year's IPL have produced only four hundreds between them.

As well as the most runs in the 2022 IPL, Buttler leads the way for fours (78, 26 clear of second place) and sixes (45, 11 clear).

Top two tussle once again

This will be the Royals' first final since the inaugural IPL in 2008, when they took the title, but Rajasthan will have their work cut out against a Titans side who are in their debut season.

Gujarat finished two points ahead of the second-placed Royals in the points table, having won the match between the pair by 37 runs. The margin in the subsequent qualifier was seven wickets. Buttler top-scored for Rajasthan on both occasions, but their opponents have collectively shown they have the firepower to match him.

Real Madrid duo Marcelo and Thibaut Courtois have hailed Carlo Ancelotti's impact on the side on the eve of their Champions League final clash with Liverpool, with the former saying he is "lucky" to have worked with the Italian.

Ancelotti has made a stunning impact since returning to the club he led to the 2014 Champions League title, winning LaLiga by a 13-point margin and leading Los Blancos to the showpiece event in Paris against all odds.

Madrid have become the first team to reach the competition's final after losing a game in each of the last 16, quarter-finals, and semi-finals, while Ancelotti could win the trophy for a fourth time as head coach.

That would make the Italian the most successful boss in the competition's history outright, and he has won three of his previous four Champions League finals – though his one such defeat came against Liverpool as Milan boss in 2005.

Speaking alongside Ancelotti at Madrid's pre-match press conference in Paris, both players hailed the Italian's abilities to communicate with Los Blancos' star-studded squad, with Marcelo saying he felt fortunate to have worked under the 62-year-old.

"I've known him for eight years, I've been lucky enough to train with him," the Brazilian said of his head coach.

"He understands football very well and knows how to manage the locker room. It's normal that we all want to play. 

"This season we haven't had almost any problems, the coach leaves us alone, tells us the truth. That gives confidence to work."

Madrid goalkeeper Courtois, who is yet to win European football's biggest prize and was a runner-up to Los Blancos when on loan at Atletico Madrid in 2014, echoed the left-back's praise of Ancelotti, crediting him and his staff with fostering an excellent team spirit at the Santiago Bernabeu.

"The good dynamics of the team is due to the coaching staff, we train very well and we know that they make decisions," he said.

"But they manage it very well, everyone has played. That's why we are where we are."

Including Marcelo, Madrid have four different players in their squad to have made 100 or more Champions League appearances (Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Marcelo, and David Alaba). 

They could become the first team to name a starting XI in the competition's final featuring four or more players with a century of Champions League appearances, having fielded three in their 2018 final win over Jurgen Klopp's team (Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Sergio Ramos).

Meanwhile, Marcelo, who is out of contract at the end of this season, says any decision on whether he will extend his 15-year stay with Madrid will be made after the final.

While the 34-year-old was unwilling to give any hints as to where his future may lie, he referred to the Spanish giants as "the club of his life", and says the team has given him "everything" in his career.

"Everyone knows my passion and my love for the club of my life, which is Madrid," Marcelo added. 

"[Former club] Fluminense was in its time, it gave me everything at the beginning. Madrid has given me everything too. 

"I won't say what I think now. I don't want a statue, my story is made in Madrid, and I will continue to do so. After the final, we'll see what we do."

Karim Benzema is continuing to grow as a leader on and off the pitch after inspiring Real Madrid to the Champions League final, according to head coach Carlo Ancelotti.

The France international leads the scoring charts in this season's competition with 15 goals, which is just two behind Cristiano Ronaldo's all-time record in a single campaign.

That includes back-to-back hat-tricks in the knockout-stage wins over Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea, and three goals across both legs against Manchester City in the semis.

Benzema is enjoying his best campaign yet in front of goal and will look to round off 2021-22 in style when Madrid face Liverpool in Saturday's final at Stade de France in Paris.

Asked what improvements he has seen in Benzema this season, Ancelotti said: "He has more personality and leadership now on and off the pitch.

"What has not changed is his quality, which is still top, and also his humility."

At 34 years and 160 days, Benzema is out to become the second-oldest player to score in the Champions League final after Paolo Maldini (36y 333d) for Milan – also against Liverpool in 2005.

The 34-year-old has happy memories of playing against the Reds, having opened the scoring in Madrid's 3-1 victory when the sides met in the 2018 final in Kyiv.

Marcelo, who was also on the pitch that day and is seeking an incredible 25th trophy with Los Blancos this weekend, has also been impressed by Benzema's leadership qualities.

"He has shown that [leadership], though it's not just been this season," Marcelo said at Friday's pre-match news conference. 

"His character and presence has helped the team a lot. He doesn't even need to talk for that. He plays great football for us."

Carlo Ancelotti believes the weight of history behind Real Madrid has pushed Los Blancos to another Champions League final.

Liverpool stand in the way of a 14th triumph at the highest level in Europe for Madrid, who have not lost in the final of the competition since defeat to the Reds in Paris in 1981.

The Stade de France will play host to Saturday's clash between Jurgen Klopp's Reds and Ancelotti's Madrid, with the Italian looking to lift the Champions League for a record fourth time as a manager.

Madrid's run in Europe this season has been packed with late heroics, having overturned a two-goal deficit to defeat Paris Saint-Germain and staved off a late Chelsea comeback to triumph in extra-time.

Los Blancos saved their best for the semi-final, though, Rodrygo scoring twice in the dying moments before Karim Benzema sealed a remarkable turnaround with an extra-time penalty against Manchester City.

While questions remain about whether Madrid will be able to pull off another result against Liverpool, Ancelotti insists his side are full value for their place in the showpiece game.

"We deserved to reach the final," he told a news conference on Friday. "Quality and talent is not enough. You have to combine it with commitment.

"The history of this club has pushed us to the final. To win the final you have to deserve it.

"We have to show our qualities, as we have done the whole season. The collective commitment has been great, with a lot of individual quality.

"Liverpool will be intense and direct, that's what they will propose. Whoever is able to show their quality will win."

Ancelotti has succeeded in three of his previous four Champions League finals as a coach, with the one exception when Liverpool completed a Madrid-like comeback to defeat a star-studded Milan on penalties in 2005.

However, the 62-year-old pinpointed that defeat, in which Milan were 3-0 up at half-time before losing, as his favourite European final he has overseen.

"Dreams can't be controlled. I have good memories of my finals. The final that was my favourite was in 2005 when we lost to Liverpool," he said.

"Anything can happen in a final and you have to be ready. We've prepared well and we're going to give the best we have. If it's enough, I don't know, because football has something that can't be controlled.

"The build-up is very nice, you have to enjoy it until the referee whistles the start. Then another story begins."

Ancelotti will perhaps be wished well by Liverpool's Merseyside rivals Everton, whom he managed last season before returning to Madrid for a second spell.

"The Everton fans will go with us. I have great memories. I'm sure they will support me tomorrow," he said.

As for his starting XI, Ancelotti suggested he has made up his mind but not informed his players who will make the cut.

"The line-up is decided, but I'm not going to say it. The players don't know it," he said.

Trent Alexander-Arnold has been impressed by Vinicius Junior in Real Madrid's run to the Champions League final, but says Liverpool have a plan to deal with the Brazilian.

Vinicius has been directly involved in 37 goals for Madrid in all competitions this season, a tally that includes three goals and six assists in the Champions League.

With those nine goal contributions, Vinicius is one short of becoming the first South American player 21 or under to be involved in 10 or more since Lionel Messi in the 2008-09 campaign.

While it may be Karim Benzema who is at the centre of much of the pre-match focus in Paris, Alexander-Arnold will be tasked with dealing directly with Vinicius down Madrid's left.

Asked ahead of Saturday's showpiece at the Stade de France how he intends to go about stopping Vinicius, Alexander-Arnold said: "You expect to come up against the best.

"There will be battles all over the pitch; we have game plans for everyone we face.

"As for Vinicius, he's an exciting player to watch, but we have a job to do as a collective and as individuals. There are individual battles, but it's the team that wins."

Alexander-Arnold is set to start his third Champions League final, which would see him surpass the record for the youngest to do so, held by Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller (23y, 245d). Alexander-Arnold will be 23 years and 233 days old on Saturday.

The England international has started 46 games for Liverpool this season – only Virgil van Dijk (50) and Alisson (53) have been used from the beginning more often.

 

 

The most recent of Alexander-Arnold's starts came in last Sunday's 3-1 win against Wolves, which was not enough to prevent Manchester City from pipping the Reds to the Premier League title.

Despite the dream of a quadruple being ended, Alexander-Arnold insists that loss will not linger over Liverpool in the French capital.

"Not at all. We've put that behind us," he said. "We have the experience this season to focus on the competition we have ahead of us.

"For us, we've found it useful to ignore other competitions. Whatever has happened before last week, yes it was disappointing and hard to take, but you put it behind you.

"We have a Champions League final to prepare for and what better way to make up for it by coming to Paris and an amazing venue to win the best competition in the world."

Andy Robertson will almost certainly be selected on the opposite flank to Alexander-Arnold, with the left-back himself playing a huge part in the Reds' latest European run.

Liverpool are playing their 63rd game of the season – no side in Europe's top five leagues will have played more – having gone all the way in winning the FA Cup and EFL Cup.

Indeed, the last side from across the Premier League, LaLiga, Ligue 1, Serie A and Bundesliga to play more times in all competitions were Manchester United in 2016-17 (64 games).

Madrid have played 55 matches, meanwhile, and sealed the LaLiga title with four matches to spare, allowing Carlo Ancelotti to heavily rotate in recent weeks.

But Robertson is adamant that fatigue will not be an issue for his side against the Spanish champions.

"They've obviously had a bit more relaxed preparation and wrapped up their league two or three weeks ago," Robertson said.

"They've maybe not played as many games and at a high tempo. We knew how hard our run was going to be on our bodies, but we're in the best possible shape.

"We've come through a lot and yes we've had injuries and problems, but the lads are fully fit. It's important we take the competitive nature of a tough season into the last game.

"Real have had a fantastic season winning the league and being in incredible games in the Champions League, they've been a joy to watch.

"We have to stand in their way. Our fans demand a lot this season and we want to win it for them."

Jurgen Klopp described Real Madrid as favourites to win Saturday's Champions League final as he challenged Liverpool to stand up to the Spanish giants' big-game belief.

Madrid are into their fifth final in nine seasons following a series of incredible comeback victories in the three previous knockout rounds.

Carlo Ancelotti's men trailed for 178 minutes in their semi-final with Manchester City, and were 5-3 down going into the final minute of normal time in the second leg, yet they still advanced 6-5 on aggregate.

That came on the back of a Karim Benzema-inspired comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 and a similarly impressive recovery effort to see off Chelsea in the quarters.

Indeed, Los Blancos have trailed for 243 minutes in games in this season's competition – 21 per cent of minutes played – compared to 105 minutes in which Liverpool have trailed.

Liverpool are no strangers to digging deep, having already won two domestic cups this term with victories on penalties, and Klopp wants his players to focus on themselves.

"If you look at the history of the clubs and the way Madrid celebrate those comebacks, I would say it's them," Klopp said when asked who he considers the favourites.

"It's because of the experience. I want us to be on the same level in these kind of things. I want us to be completely ourselves in this game.

"If we are on the top of our game we are difficult to play. My main concern is for us to be ourselves and be confident."

Klopp was speaking at a pre-match news conference at the Stade de France on the eve of Liverpool's 63rd and final game of a gruelling campaign.

Saturday's contest will mark the third time Liverpool have faced Madrid in a European Cup or Champions League final, which is the most between two clubs in the competition.

Liverpool won 1-0 when the sides faced off in Paris 41 years ago, with that still the most recent of Los Blancos' major European final defeats.

The Spanish side came out on top in the most recent meeting between the clubs in the showpiece, courtesy of a 3-1 victory in Kyiv four years ago.

That was Klopp's third straight final defeat as Liverpool manager, but his side have since won five major finals in a row, including the 2019 Champions League against Tottenham.

Many pinpoint the loss to Madrid in the Ukrainian capital as a turning point in his tenure, though it was not as important as 12 months later when beating Spurs, in the view of Klopp.

"We delivered that night against Madrid [in 2018] and circumstances hit us," Klopp said. "We couldn't react and arrived on three wheels.

"Things happened. You have to learn to win. The boys developed in the last few years enormously. We are part of a massive club.

"The boys are exactly the right players for this club. People saw that different when I arrived. 2018 was important but 2019 was more important."

The Stade de France is a fitting venue for such a high-profile fixture, but the game was originally scheduled to be held in Saint Petersburg.

UEFA changed the venue in February following Russia's military invasion of Ukraine, and Klopp said his side are looking to perform for the people in the war-torn country.

"Until you ask me now, I'm only focused on the game. I'm happy the game is here for thousands of reasons, and it's a strange one," he said, after a pause to gather his thoughts.

"The war is still going on, and we have to think about that. It being not in Saint Petersburg is the right message Russia should get. Life goes on even when you try to destroy it.

"We play this final for all the people in Ukraine. I hope there are people who can watch it and we do it for you as well."

Rafael Leao expressed his excitement over speculation of interest from Real Madrid, but the Milan forward assured his "feet will remain firmly on the ground".

The Portugal international has starred for Milan since joining from Lille in 2019 and played an integral role as Stefano Pioli's side secured their first Scudetto in 11 years.

Leao scored 11 times and assisted eight in 34 Serie A appearances over the 2021-22 season, setting up two goals in the final-day 3-0 win over Sassuolo that sealed the title.

No Milan player outscored him – Olivier Giroud also scored 11 league goals – or recorded more assisted for the Rossoneri this term.

Leao regularly tormented Serie A defences with his powerful runs down the left flank, with only Adama Traore (107), Kylian Mbappe (112) and Allan Saint-Maximin (150) completing more dribbles than him (98) across Europe's top five leagues.

The form of Pioli's key man has led to reports Madrid are interested after missing out on Paris Saint-Germain's Mbappe, but Leao insists he is focusing on life with the Rossoneri.

"I'm at Milan, I have another two years on my contract," he told A Bola. "Untouchable? I'm happy with these words. I feel at home, but right now my focus is on the national team.

"[The rumours about Real Madrid] make me happy, but my feet are firmly on the ground. It is a pride to work with highly experienced players. 

"As for my development, I left Sporting [CP] when I was young and went to Lille. People may not know it, but Ligue 1 is a strong league, I have evolved."

Leao will now target World Cup success with Portugal in Qatar as he looks to partner fellow Sporting academy graduate Cristiano Ronaldo.

"Two years have not gone as I would have liked, but now I am more mature and confident, the season has gone as I wanted," he added.

"I hope to do great things in the future. I want to be a point of reference in my club and in the national team… the highest point is, for example, winning a World Cup."

Meanwhile, Milan technical director Paolo Maldini insists Leao will never be put up for sale by the Rossoneri.

"Of course he is not for sale," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "He is still a rough diamond who from one year to the next has already improved so much.

"We signed him from Lille for €24million and immediately put a €150m release clause on him, because we believed so much in this player.

"He was always potentially a great champion, but he needs to continue this growth process that he is only part-way through.

"He is extremely intelligent but needed to be helped along the way and I spoke to him a lot.

"Clearly, if in future Milan are not at the level of Leao or if Leao is not at the level of Milan, things could change. But at this moment, the growth is exponential for both the club and the player."

Angelique Kerber crashed out at the third round of the French Open as Aliaksandra Sasnovich claimed another scalp on Friday.

Three-time grand slam winner Kerber headed to Paris as the 21st seed but in good form after victory at the Internationaux de Strasbourg last week.

Kerber, whose last major title came at Wimbledon in 2018, made it seven straight clay-court wins for the first time in her professional career after defeating Elsa Jacquemot on Wednesday at Roland Garros.

However, Sasnovich – who defeated US Open winner Emma Raducanu in the previous round – proved a step too far for 21st seed Kerber, who fell to a 6-4 7-6 (7-5) loss on Court Simonne-Mathieu.

World number 47 Sasnovich next faces Italy's Martina Trevisan, whose best result at a grand slam was the quarter-finals at this competition two years ago.

Trevisan became the first Italian female player to win eight or more matches in a row since Francesca Schiavone in 2017 by defeating Daria Saville 6-3 6-4 in the third round.

Meanwhile, American teenager Coco Gauff negotiated past Kaia Kanepi 6-3 6-4 to tee up a fourth-round clash with 31st seed Elise Mertens, who was a 6-2 6-3 winner over Varvara Gracheva.

Jurgen Klopp said he "couldn't care less" about rumours linking Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich ahead of Liverpool's Champions League final against Real Madrid.

The Liverpool manager could be poised to lose one of the most significant players in his squad at the end of the season.

Mane said earlier in the week that he would give "special" news regarding his future after the European showpiece game in Paris.

That and his suggestion it would be "the best answer" sparked speculation he would agree to stay at Liverpool, but it may not be quite so clear-cut, with Klopp having palmed away questions on Friday rather than offered any assurance that the 30-year-old will remain at Anfield.

"This is the wrong moment to speak about that. Wherever Sadio plays next season, he will be a big player," Klopp said.

Bayern raided Borussia Dortmund for talent during Klopp's time with BVB in the Bundesliga, with Robert Lewandowski notably prised away on a free transfer at the end of the 2013-14 season.

With Lewandowski's Bayern future now in doubt, as he seeks a move, possibly to Barcelona, the Bundesliga champions are on the hunt for a goalscorer.

Klopp said: "Sadio's in the shape of his life for sure. He's in brilliant shape. It's a joy to watch him at the moment.

"Football has asked him a lot this season – an incredibly long season, a lot of finals and this kind of things, one of the most successful for him and for us.

"The Bayern Munich rumours, I couldn't care less in the moment. We are all fully focused on the game. Sadio's completely focused on the game; he knows exactly how important it is to him and how important it is to us.

"So no concerns, completely normal."

Klopp said he could cope with the speculation surrounding Mane, who has helped Liverpool win the EFL Cup and FA Cup already this season.

The forward has played 50 clubs games this term, scoring 23 goals, as well as helping Senegal reach the Africa Cup of Nations final, scoring the penalty that clinched shoot-out success.

"It's not the first time in my career before decisive games that Bayern Munich rumours come up," Klopp said.

"I'm not exactly [sure] what I did that [means] it happens, but no problem at all."

Rafael Nadal eased into the last 16 at the French Open as he cruised to a 6-3 6-2 6-4 victory over Botic van de Zandschulp on Friday.

Nadal breezed past Jordan Thompson and Corentin Moutet to reach the third round, where the Spaniard had few difficulties on Court Suzanne-Lenglen against world number 29 Van de Zandschulp.

The pair exchanged breaks to begin the match, but the 13-time winner at Roland Garros soon took control as he only lost four points on his service in the first set, all of which came in the first game.

Van de Zandschulp continued to struggle in the second set as Nadal triumphed in a lengthy third game to break again, before following suit in the Dutchman's next service to further his advantage en route to taking a two-set lead.

World number five Nadal again opened the third set by battling to break Van de Zandschulp twice and had the opportunity to go 5-0 up with points in hand.

The Dutchman fought back to win three straight games before claiming another, leaving the set finely poised at 5-4 to Nadal.

However, the 35-year-old Nadal regained his composure to wrap up victory and will next face Felix Auger-Aliassime, who defeated Filip Krajinovic.

Data Slam: Nadal on course for Djokovic meeting

Only Novak Djokovic (325) and Roger Federer (369) have more grand slam match wins than Nadal (301), who remains on course to meet the world number one in the quarter-final.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Nadal – 25/13
Van de Zandschulp – 19/31

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Nadal – 2/1
Van de Zandschulp – 3/3

BREAK POINTS WON
Nadal – 6/12
Van de Zandschulp – 2/3

European club football's main event is almost here, with two bona fide giants of the game set to face off at the Stade de France on Saturday.

Either Real Madrid or Liverpool will be crowned champions of Europe in Paris; whichever team manages it will be providing their fans with a glorious end to a tremendous season.

Of course, Madrid did what Liverpool could not on the domestic front, as Los Blancos head into this game as LaLiga champions – the Reds ultimately missed out to Manchester City on the last day of the Premier League campaign.

But this has still been a successful season for Jurgen Klopp's side, who could yet claim a treble having already lifted the EFL Cup and FA Cup in England.

It promises to be an immense spectacle, with Opta's pre-match facts highlighting the wealth of footballing greatness that is set to be on display.

The history

Much of the build-up to this match has centred around two separate narratives of "revenge" relating to the 2018 Champions League final meeting between these two.

The first obvious desire for retribution comes simply from the fact Madrid won 3-1 in Kyiv – the other surrounds Mohamed Salah, whose match was ended early on that occasion after a collision with Sergio Ramos.

Either way, if Liverpool – and Salah – are to have their vengeance, they'll need to contend with Madrid's astonishing record: they have won each of their previous seven Champions League/European Cup finals.

To put that stat into context, no other team have even won the competition more than seven times, let alone won in seven consecutive final appearances.

But if you're looking for omens, answer this: who last beat Madrid in a European Cup/Champions League final, and where was it played?

Liverpool, in Paris (1981)…

The managers

For about 24 hours, Klopp had joined an exclusive list of managers who had reached the European Cup/Champions League final four times.

But then Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid pulled off their third great escape in as many knockout ties, meaning the Italian would set a new record for the most final appearances as a manager in UEFA's flagship competition.

But the historic achievement he'll no doubt be craving is still up for grabs.

Victory on Saturday will ensure Ancelotti is the first manager to lift the trophy four times, having won the competition in 2003, 2007 and 2014.

But here's another omen. The only club to beat an Ancelotti team in a Champions League final? That's right, Liverpool in 2005.

Nevertheless, Klopp doesn't have a particularly encouraging record against Los Blancos. He's faced them nine times in the Champions League, with his 33 per cent success rate the worst among teams he's faced at least three times.

The danger men

It would be fair to bill this match as something of a Ballon d'Or shootout.

Certainly, ahead of Saturday, the favourite is Karim Benzema, and with good reason. The France striker has enjoyed an incredible season and been central to Madrid's route to the final – he has scored 15 goals, two behind the all-time record for a single Champions League/European Cup campaign.

What helps make that such a remarkable achievement is the fact he would become the second-oldest scorer in a Champions League final (34 years, 160 days) after Paolo Maldini (36 years, 333 days) if he does net in Paris.

Madrid will likely need to keep the vengeful Salah in check, however.

Since the start of the 2017-18 season, the Egyptian has 44 Champions League goal involvements, a tally bettered only by Robert Lewandowski (55) and Kylian Mbappe (47).

If Liverpool are successful, Salah will surely become the frontrunner for the Ballon d'Or – unless Sadio Mane, who has scored three in his past four Champions League games and won the Africa Cup of Nations, has a decisive impact.

The prize

Liverpool are bidding to join Milan with seven European Cup/Champions League crowns, the second-most in the competitions' collective history.

Of course, the only team with more than seven are Madrid. Victory for them will take them to 14 titles, remarkably twice as many as any other club, a fact that really highlights their obsession with the competition.

Either way, a behemoth of European football will enjoy another memorable occasion in Paris on Saturday.

But if it's Liverpool who succeed, it'll be difficult to look at this as anything other than the early stages of English domination in the Champions League, given Premier League teams have won two of the past three already.

Novak Djokovic cruised to a straight-sets win over Aljaz Bedene in the third round of the French Open, beating the Slovenian 6-3 6-3 6-2 to set up a last-16 clash with Diego Schwartzman.

Serbian star Djokovic, who is bidding to become the first player other than Rafael Nadal to win consecutive men's singles titles at Roland Garros since Gustavo Kuerten triumphed in 2000 and 2001, produced a ruthless display to blow away world number 195 Bedene in just one hour and 44 minutes.

Djokovic started as he meant to go on, launching an onslaught which forced Bedene to save five break points throughout his first two service games, before the Slovenian finally succumbed to a break in his third.

The top seed was virtually perfect on his own serve, winning 94 per cent of points on first serve in the opening set before picking up another decisive break just three games into the second.

Despite appearing to struggle with the glare at times on a sun-bathed Court Philippe-Chatrier, Djokovic continued his professional display to move closer to victory, recording just three unforced errors to his opponent's 13 in the second set.

To the delight of some in the crowd, Bedene forced his first and only break point of the encounter in the opening game of the third set, only for Djokovic to power a fierce volley past the 32-year-old before recovering to hold serve.

The world number one did not look back from there, breaking to love in the fourth game before wrapping up a routine win after forcing two match points on Bedene's serve to set up a seventh career meeting with Schwartzman, against whom he boasts a 100 per cent record.

Data Slam: Dominant Djokovic wraps up another straight-sets win

The world number one looks to be hitting form at the perfect time after a troubled start to the year: Djokovic has won 19 straight sets of tennis since the start of the Internazionale d'Italia earlier this month, recording a series of perfect displays since his Madrid Open final loss to Carlos Alcaraz.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Djokovic 30/18
Bedene 23/37

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Djokovic 9/1
Bedene 4/2

BREAK POINTS WON

Djokovic 5/11
Bedene 0/1

Jurgen Klopp is expecting both Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho to be fit to feature for Liverpool in Saturday's Champions League final against Real Madrid.

The two key midfielders were doubts for the Reds heading to Paris this week.

Thiago hobbled out of the final match of the Premier League season against Wolves with a calf injury, while a hamstring complaint means Fabinho has not played since the win at Aston Villa on May 10.

However, Klopp offered a positive update in his pre-match news conference on Friday.

"The mood is good, very good," the Liverpool manager said. "We're really excited about being here now, getting a feeling of the stadium, the location. That's all good.

"It looks good for both Thiago and Fabinho. Fabinho trained completely normal; Thiago trained yesterday with the team, will train today, and then we will go from there."

Liverpool are unbeaten in the nine games they have played this season without either Thiago or Fabinho in the starting XI, although they have drawn three of those matches.

The pair have appeared together in the line-up 20 times in 2021-22, contributing to an outstanding 17 wins.

Kylian Mbappe is already the best player in France and can continue to make history after signing his new contract with Paris Saint-Germain, according to Ronaldinho.

Last week, Mbappe agreed a new three-year deal with the Ligue 1 champions, rejecting Real Madrid's public advances in a huge transfer blow to the Champions League finalists.

The World Cup-winning forward scored 39 goals and added 21 assists during a remarkable individual season with PSG, as Mauricio Pochettino's team secured a10th league title in the club's history.

The 23-year-old is already the second-highest Ligue 1 goalscorer in PSG history, scoring 171 goals in 217 league outings for the Parisian giants – only Edinson Cavani (200 goals in 301 games) has more.

Former PSG star Ronaldinho, who scored 25 goals in two seasons with the club before departing for Barcelona in 2003, says Mbappe is already out-shining team-mates Lionel Messi and Neymar.

However, Ronaldinho also insisted PSG would have been able to cope had the France star left for Madrid, highlighting the quality of his team-mates.

"Right now, of the future... he's a player that could be part of history," he told Mail Online. "He deserves all the respect he's getting. He is making history and can continue to create happiness for us in this game.

"Today he is the best player for PSG. If he left to go anywhere else, it would only be to have the chance to be the best player in another country. He's already the best in France.

"Paris Saint-Germain has some of the best players in the world right now – Messi, Neymar, Sergio Ramos. 

"Some of the best players in the world are in this team. So, if one of the best players in the world leaves, other top players will continue in their place."

 

Meanwhile, Ronaldinho's former Barcelona team-mate Messi endured a mixed first season in France, recording 11 goals and 14 assists in all competitions but being jeered by his own fans in the aftermath of March's Champions League defeat to Madrid.

However, Ronaldinho insists the Argentine is happy in Paris, highlighting his 2021 Ballon d'Or win as evidence of his continued quality.

The former Camp Nou star also insists Barcelona will recover from Messi's departure and return to the top of the game under Xavi's management, backing the Blaugrana boss to create another "beautiful" team.

'If my friend is happy, it's the right decision, and I believe he is very happy," Ronaldinho said of Messi. "He is going through a period of adapting, but he's already been voted the best player in the world.

"People said they were surprised when I left Barcelona and when Messi left. But Barcelona continues to be Barcelona. 

"Things change in football, naturally. Now the club's hierarchy needs to bring in new players with talent to continue being successful.

"They already have a great coach who has a foundation in the history of the club. So, the club can begin it's rebuild with this manager to create a beautiful team. They need to now give the manager the opportunity to build a great team.

"It won't be easy. They need a bit more time to build a side that is based around the best players. But I think players are happy to be playing for one of the best teams in the world."

Leon Goretzka says Germany are not setting any firm World Cup targets after two disappointing tournaments, but hopes Die Mannschaft can "make a good impression" in their upcoming UEFA Nations League games ahead of their trip to Qatar.

The Bayern Munich midfielder has won 41 caps for his country, scoring 14 goals, but has enjoyed limited tournament success with the national team, featuring in underwhelming campaigns at the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020.

Germany crashed out in the group stages in Russia in 2018 before being eliminated by England in the last 16 at the Euros last year, also missing out on qualifying for the Nations League semi-finals in 2020-21.

Goretzka, who missed Germany's 2014 World Cup triumph after suffering an injury in a pre-tournament friendly, recalled those negative experiences as he insisted Hansi Flick's side had yet to set any targets for their trip to Qatar.

Asked by Sky Sports Germany whether winning the tournament was a realistic aim, the 27-year-old said: "Answering the question doesn't do us much good. 

"We'll play our Nations League games first and see that we make a good impression and can go to the World Cup free. 

"I've already taken part in tournaments where we were considered one of the favourites and we failed quite a bit. Then there were tournaments where nobody expected us [to perform well] and we won. 

"Basically, we are an absolute footballing nation with great successes in the past, and accordingly we have our expectations in such a competition."

Germany have been drawn into a tricky Group E for the tournament, alongside Japan, Costa Rica or New Zealand, and Spain, having lost their last meeting with La Roja 6-0 in November 2020.

Before that, Flick's side face several tough Nations League fixtures, including a home clash with England and a double-header against European champions Italy, and Goretzka believes those contests will provide Germany with a real test after Flick won eight of his first nine games at the helm. 

"The opponents we have now are much more important," he added. "These are top games at the very highest level.

"We haven't had one under Hansi yet, so [with] many games against top opponents, which is why we made a good impression. Now we can prove that at another level, higher up."

Meanwhile, at club level, Goretzka endured an injury-hit campaign with Bayern, making just 19 league appearances as Julian Nagelsmann's men won the Bundesliga title, fewer than fellow midfielders Marcel Sabitzer (25), Joshua Kimmich (28), and Jamal Musiala (30).

Despite their domestic dominance, the midfielder said Bayern's Champions League quarter-final exit against Villarreal meant the team's season "wasn't satisfactory", and is targeting better things next term.

"We have a lot of things to improve. We played a pretty good, if not excellent, first half of the season. We were in the flow then," he added.

"You can't say that about the second half of the season. We weren't up to par in the important games - that wasn't Bayern-like. Getting kicked out in the Champions League hasn't happened to us against such an opponent in recent years. 

"That's why this season overall wasn't satisfactory, but that's what makes many in the club extremely motivated to do better next year."

Page 1 of 673
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.