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Sabalenka wins Australian Open women’s singles title after final thriller

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MELBOURNE, Jan. 28 (Xinhua) — Fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus fought back from a set down to defeat reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina to win the Australian Open women’s singles title on Saturday.

In a nerve-jangling final, Sabalenka overcame the gallant 22nd seed 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to record her first Grand Slam triumph.

It capped a spectacular tournament for 24-year-old Sabalenka, who hadn’t dropped a set before the final, and now will move to No. 2 on the world rankings.

23-year-old Rybakina of Kazakhstan was unable to add a Grand Slam title to last year’s Wimbledon crown, but she still moves inside the world rankings’ top 10 for the first time in her career.

An emotional Sabalenka collapsed on court after clinching the two-hour, 28-minute epic match before running over and celebrating with her team.

“It’s tough to explain what I’m feeling right now,” said Sabalenka, who had 51 winners and 17 aces. “Oh, I just super happy. Super happy. Proud. I don’t know how to explain. Just the best — it’s the best day of my life right now.”

Sabalenka prevailed in a match between two heavy hitters but not before a major fright. The volatile Belarusian looked to be melting under the bright lights in her first Grand Slam final.

She struggled against Rybakina, who looked unperturbed and won five straight points to capture an early break in the opening set.

But Sabalenka hit back against the strong-serving Rybakina with a break in the eighth game, only to immediately lose her serve, and was broken through a double fault to further sour her mood.

Rybakina held her nerve to draw first blood and became the first player to win a set against Sabalenka this year.

Sabalenka appeared in major trouble as she struggled to hold serve in the opening game of the second set, but she fended off Rybakina’s best efforts.

It seemed to compose Sabalenka, who rediscovered her blistering groundstrokes to claw back into the contest.

She gained a break and nearly had a stranglehold of the set with a slew of break points in a marathon sixth game, which Rybakina survived to hang on.

But the writing was on the wall and Sabalenka soon leveled up to set the stage for a thrilling deciding set.

Both players raised their game in a titanic third set before Sabalenka made her move with a decisive break in the seventh game before calmly serving it out to clinch her first Grand Slam title.

“I would say that not many girls can put me really under pressure. Against her, it’s not easy because she has a great serve and she plays really aggressive. Her ball is coming very heavy,” Rybakina told reporters.

It was a disappointment for 23-year-old Rybakina, but she proved her shock Wimbledon triumph was no fluke after a stellar run in Melbourne yielded impressive victories over top seed Iga Swiatek in the fourth round and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals.

Sunday will be the final day of competition and is headlined by the men’s final between nine-time champion Novak Djokovic and third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The women’s doubles final will be contested between the Czech pair of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, and Japan’s Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara.

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Costa Rica holds Brazil in Copa America opener

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LOS ANGELES, June 24 (Xinhua) — Five-time World Cup winner Brazil was held to a goalless draw by Costa Rica in its opening Copa America Group D match here on Monday.

Marquinhos appeared to hand Brazil the lead in the 29th minute at SoFi Stadium when he tapped in at the far post after Raphinha’s free-kick from the left wing.

But the goal was overturned after a review by the video assistant referee found the Paris Saint-Germain defender was in an offside position.

Brazil dominated possession but was unable to break down a Costa Rica defense that often included 11 players behind the ball.

Lucas Paqueta went closest to breaking the deadlock in the second half when his long-range effort rebounded off the right post. Bruno Guimaraes and substitute Savinho were also left to rue missed chances in the final minutes.

“They sat back and it was very hard to find space, especially on such a small pitch,” Marquinhos said after the match.

“We did our best to win but we weren’t good enough. We have to be sincere with ourselves and look at what we can do better in our next game.”

Earlier, Daniel Munoz and Jefferson Lerma scored two first-half goals as Colombia clinched a 2-1 victory over Paraguay at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Euro 2024: Italy stuns Croatia, Spain advances with perfect record

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BERLIN, June 24 (Xinhua) — Mattias Zaccagni’s last-grasp 1-1 equalizer against Croatia sent reigning champion Italy through the Euro 2024 group stage while Spain capped a perfect Group B run with 1-0 win over Albania in the last round of group play on Monday.

Croatia started offensively minded knowing that only a win would see it progress into the round of the last 16.

Luka Sucic created the first clearcut chance with five minutes gone after unleashing a hammer from 20 meters, forcing Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to tip the ball around the post.

Italy needed some time to gain a foothold and came close in the 20th minute when Mateo Retegui headed Ricaardo Calafiori’s cross goalwards.

Luciano Spalletti’s men should have taken the lead before halftime but neither Alessandro Bastoni nor Lorenzo Pellegrini was able to overcome Croatia custodian Dominik Livakovic, who was equal to both promising efforts.

After the restart, Croatia grabbed the lead as Donnarumma initially defused Luka Modric’s penalty attempt, but the Squadra Azzurra couldn’t clear the ball from the area, allowing Modric to tap home another parry from Donnaruma from very close range.

Italy started an onslaught on Croatia’s goal area as Spalletti’s men needed a share of spoils to book their berth for the next round.

Bastoni came close with a header, but Croatia well positioned defence was able to keep Italy at bay. It looked like Croatia would go through with a narrow win, but Calafiori initiated a last attack before teeing up for Zaccagni, who curled the ball from the edge of the box into the top right corner to flabbergast Croatia.

In the other Group B encounter, front runner Spain extended its winning run to three games after eliminating Albania 1-0 with the sole goal from Ferran Torres.

With the results, Spain rounded off a perfect group stage with 9 points followed by Italy (4 points), Croatia (2 points) and Alabania (1 point).

The top two of each of the six groups and the best four third finishers will enter the round-of-16 knockout stage.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Copa America: Pulisic helps U.S. breeze past Bolivia

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ARLINGTON, United States, June 23 (Xinhua) — Christian Pulisic scored one goal and set up another as the United States began their Copa America campaign with a 2-0 victory over Bolivia here on Sunday.

Pulisic put his side ahead in the third minute at AT&T stadium when he played a one-two with Tim Weah from a corner before curling a shot into the far corner while running away from goal.

The 25-year-old AC Milan attacker then set up Folarin Balogun to drive home a low finish just before halftime.

The tournament hosts were in cruise control in the second half and were rarely threatened by their South American rivals, who had just three shots on target for the match.

“We came out flying with a lot of intensity,” Pulisic said after the match. “Obviously an early goal helped us a lot, but all around it was a pretty dominant performance.

“We could have scored a few more to put it away, but all in all it was a really good start to the tournament. We should build some confidence from this; the games are going to get harder from here so we’ve got to be ready.”

The United States will play Panama in Atlanta in their next match on Thursday while Bolivia will meet Uruguay in New Jersey the same day.

Source(s): Xinhua

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