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Sania, Paes, Bopanna enter French Open second round

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Paris, May 25 : India’s tennis stars Sania Mirza, Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna got their French Open campaign off to a winning start as the trio won their respective women’s doubles and men’s doubles matches to enter the second round here on Wednesday.

World No.1 women’s doubles pair of Sania and her Swiss partner Martina Hingis defeated the Russian pair of Darya Kasatkina and Alexandra Panova 7-6 (4), 6-2 in one hour and 31 minutes.

India’s Bopanna and his Romanian partner Florin Mergea outclassed Frenchmen Stephane Robert and Alexandre Sidorenko 6-2, 6-2 in a one-sided encounter in 56 minutes.

India’s Paes and his Polish partner Marcin Matkowski defeated Belarusian and Uzbekistani pair of Alexander Bury and Denis Istomin 7-6 (3), 7-6 (6) in one hour 46 minutes.

The top seeds Indo-Swiss pair Sania-Martina began the match on a positive note, taking a vital 5-0 lead over the Russian pair in the first set.

But a couple of unforced errors and losing two successive serves handed Darya-Alexandra the advantage as they staged a remarkable comeback to make it 5-5 in the first set.

From there on it came down to 6-6 and the reigning Wimbledon, US Open, Australian Open champions pair held their nerves to win the tie-breaker 7-4 to grab the first set.

The first set win proved a confidence booster for the top seeds as Sania-Martina, courtesy of a couple of aces and powerful forehand shots, took an important 4-2 lead in the second set.

There was no looking back for them as they went on to win the next two games and the second set 6-2 and enter the second round in style.

On the other hand, the sixth seeded pair Bopanna-Mergea started the first set on a good note, taking a comfortable 5-2 lead over the French pair. From there on it was an easy task for the Indo-Romanian duo to clinch the first set 6-2.

The second set was a replay of the first as Bopanna-Mergea took a 4-1 lead and then grabbed the second set 6-2.

Later on the 16th seeded pair of Paes and Matkowski were on the back foot in the first set standing at 3-5 but came back strongly to level things at 6-6 and then eventually win the tie-breaker 7-3 in a one-sided contest to grab the first set.

In the second set too, despite being 4-3 down, the Indo-Polish pair levelled things once again making it 6-6 and won the tie-breaker yet again by 8-6 to march into the second round.

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For Rishabh Pant, lessons on terrace of Roorkie home come handy

It was a pleasant coincidence that the day Pant helped India win their second consecutive Test series in Australia, Sinha’s sugar levels went down.

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Rishabh Pant

New Delhi, Jan 20: On the cemented terrace of his Roorkie home in Uttarakhand, father Rajinder Pant would tie a pillow to the chest of his tiny son Rishabh and bowl with a cork ball to him from close distance to take the fear of facing fast bowlers out of his mind. That, coupled with the Maltova-mixed milk, gave strength to Rishabh’s muscles — a testimony of which was delivered in Brisbane on Tuesday as he hammered an unbeaten 89 to guide India to a match and series triumph.

That novel practice method was a roaring success as Pant, who would take two tiffin boxes to school to save time for cricket practice after school hours, became fearless and that is reflected in his shots. Anyone who watched him accelerate during his 138-ball knock in the fourth and final Test against Australia at the Gabba on Tuesday would vouch that Pant had learnt his lessons well in the tiny Uttarakhand town.

Unfortunately for Pant, his father is no more to watch his talented 23-year-old son play the “most important” innings of his fledgling Test career. But Pant’s mind would surely have gone back to those early coaching classes on the terrace and when he would carry two tiffin boxes to school — from one he would eat during the school timings, and from the other he would eat after his daily extra cricket practice sessions soon after school hours.

“I used to make him practice with a cork ball on the cemented rooftop of our Roorkee home where the ball came off faster. There was no turf pitch in the city at the time. I used to tie a pillow to his chest so that my little boy didn’t get hurt while facing faster deliveries. But he did get hurt; sustained fracture. It was also meant to take the fear [of facing fast bowling] out of him. That was extra coaching, apart from the coaching he received in school,” Rajinder Pant had said in 2019.

Soon, looking at the talent their son possessed, Rajinder and his wife Saroj took the big decision of sending Rishabh to Dronacharya Awardee coach Tarak Sinha in Delhi. Commuting was a big challenge, but the mother took that responsibility. She would wake up in the middle of the night to catch the 3 am bus from Roorkee to Delhi for an arduous five-hour journey, along with Rishabh, so that he could attend the Sinha-run Sonnet Club’s net practice sessions on Saturdays and Sundays at Sri Venkateswara College in south Delhi. She and her son would often stay at a Gurudwara near the college on weekends to so that he could practice on Sundays, before a grown up Rishabh rented accommodation in Delhi.

When Pant started living in Delhi, Sinha took charge and doubled up as his local guardian following permission from his parents.

On Tuesday, after India’s win and having himself won the Man of the Match award, Pant called up Sinha on WhatsApp. Obviously, the coach was happy with his ward’s performance and congratulated him.

Pant ended up with the highest aggregate for India in the Test series with 274 runs in three matches, and the third overall, behind Aussies Marnus Labuschagne (426 runs in four matches) and Steve Smith (313 in four matches).

It was a pleasant coincidence that the day Pant helped India win their second consecutive Test series in Australia, Sinha’s sugar levels went down.

“But, on a serious note, I am happy that Rishabh played responsibly and sensibly. His off-side play has also improved, and it was visible today. He started slowly and gradually accelerated his innings, especially after Australia took the second new ball he hammered several boundaries. Also, he now has a good temperament. And, I have a feeling that the Australians fear him,” Sinha told IANS.

Significantly, Pant, who was promoted to No.5 (in the first innings he batted at No.6), remained unbeaten after three-hour vigil at the crease while facing 138 balls.

“This was in his mind for a long a time — to remain unbeaten and take the team to victory — after some people had criticised him for not finishing off matches. He wanted to be a finisher, and he showed it today that he was on his way,” disclosed Sinha. “I also pointed it out to him that he had missed a few centuries by getting out in the nineties.”

Pant has got out three times in the nineties – twice against West Indies in 2018 and in the third Test against Australia in Sydney this month. On Tuesday, however, he didn’t get the opportunity to reach his century as India won and he remained unbeaten on 89. However, the knock may have cemented his place in the Test XI – and opened a window of opportunity for inclusion in the Indian ODI and T20 teams.

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Pujara is the team’s warrior: Shastri

Shastri said that the team is not interested in any debates. “I think let the boys enjoy it. Debates can carry on. Not interested in any debates,” added Shastri.

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Cheteshwar Pujara

Brisbane, Jan 20: Coach Ravi Shastri called Cheteshwar Pujara a warrior after the India No. 3 took multiple blows on his body, head and arm during his 211-ball 56 that helped lay a solid platform for the Indian team’s three-wicket win in the fourth and final Test at The Gabba on Tuesday.

“Pujara is the team’s warrior. On seeing his performance in Sydney and Brisbane, I told him, ‘Pujju you have finished them’,” Shastri told reporters.

The right-handed batsman’s slow run rate had been a topic of debate yet again over the course of the series. However, the gritty half-centuries on the final day of the third and the fourth Tests seem to have shown his importance in the Indian Test setup.

Shastri said that the team is not interested in any debates. “I think let the boys enjoy it. Debates can carry on. Not interested in any debates,” added Shastri.

Captain Ajinkya Rahane too lavished praise on the 32-year-old batsman. “The way Pujara played today regardless of getting many injuries due to bouncers on the head. He didn’t bother. His goal was to save the wicket,” added Rahane.

Pujara himself tweeted and thanked his fans and supporters on what began as a tough tour him as he struggled to get runs.

“Overcome with emotion and filled with pride. The character and skill shown by the entire squad has been commendable. Moments like these make the countless hours of toil and practice truly worth it. Thank you for all the support and wishes” Pujara tweeted.

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Athletic Bilbao beat Barcelona to win Spanish Super Cup, Messi sent off

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Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi was sent off for violent conduct as Athletic Bilbao stunned Barcelona to win the Spanish Super Cup on Sunday, a dramatic final finishing 3-2 after extra-time.

Moments before Bilbao’s momentous triumph was confirmed, Messi lashed out at Asier Villalibre, who had earlier scored a 90th-minute equaliser in normal time to deny Barca victory.

Antoine Griezmann’s double looked to have sealed the trophy for Barcelona but Villalibre intervened before Inaki Williams’ fabulous strike three minutes into extra time proved decisive.

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