butts out of Japan Open

TOKYO — Top seed Kei Nishikori (pic), withdrew from the Japan Open yesterday due to a buttock muscle injury, disappointing home fans hoping he could recapture the trophy.

The world No 5 became the latest star to pull out of the injury-plagued tournament, after US Open winner and defending champion Stan Wawrinka withdrew due to a back injury.

Nishikori retired during the first set of his second-round match against João Sousa of Portugal, ranked 34th in the world.

Going into the match, Nishikori looked to be in solid shape, comfortably building a 3-0 lead as he made his rival run back and forth across the hard court at Ariake Colosseum.

But the 26-year-old requested a medical timeout, asking his trainer to massage the left side of his lower back.

Resuming the match, Nishikori was clearly a different man, grimacing at times, although he managed to hold his service to make it 4-0 before his legs gave up.

Sousa quickly made it 4-3, and Nishikori was forced to withdraw 41 minutes into the match.

The Japanese star, winner in 2012 and 2014, voiced disbelief at the outcome.

“Until a second ago, I was feeling really good and made it 3-0 before things deteriorated,” he told a press conference.

“I still cannot believe what happened.” — AFP

It won’t be easy to return, warns Gasquet

BEIJING — French tennis player Richard Gasquet — who was once banned after testing positive for cocaine — said yesterday Maria Sharapova will face a “tough” return when her 15-month doping ban ends next year.

Gasquet faced an emotional comeback himself after he tested positive for cocaine at the Miami Open in 2009.

“It is never easy to come back, of course. I think she had 15-months… it’s quite long to come back (after that). Mentally and physically it will be tough for her,” Gasquet told AFP.

The 30-year-old Frenchman was banned for just two and a half months after he persuaded the International Tennis Federation’s tribunal panel he had inadvertently ingested cocaine during a nightclub kiss with a girl who had taken the drug.

Sharapova had her two-year doping ban cut to 15 months by the Lausanne-based Courwwt of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Tuesday, after it ruled she was not an “intentional doper”.

The 29-year-old Russian tennis star — who is estimated to be worth US$200 million (RM829 million) — said she aims to return to the tour in April next year.

At the time of his court comeback, Gasquet said that he had been too upset to pick up a tennis racket during
his suspension.

But his career has since rebounded. He has ended three of the last four years inside the top ten and achieved his best ever Grand Slam performance this year, reaching the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.

“(Sharapova) need(s) to play enough and of course it will be ok for her in the future. We will see… for every case it is different,” Gasquet added. — AFP


Ricciardo thirsty for more


TOKYO — Still buzzing from his Malaysia win, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo has promised to go all out in Japan this weekend — and that could be bad news for Nico Rosberg.

Ricciardo toasted his first Formula One victory in two years by removing his sweaty sneaker and drinking champagne from it, before offering it to Rosberg in a disturbing twist to his trademark celebration.

The German, who finished third behind Ricciardo and Max Verstappen in the other Red Bull on Sunday, bravely supped bubbly from Ricciardo’s shoe. But the Australian revealed that his Mercedes rival had not been overjoyed.

“It was probably the worst race to win because there was so much sweat in the shoe,” a grinning Ricciardo told reporters yesterday.

“But I was so happy I didn’t really care. It was probably more Rosberg — he wasn’t very happy with the taste, but it was fun.

“In the press conference he tapped me and pulled a face and goes: ‘Don’t make me do that again, it was disgusting!’ I said: ‘You’ll have to stop me from winning next time!’ Hopefully we can kick some ass this weekend.”

Rosberg’s distress will have been softened by the fact he now holds a 23-point lead over Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton with five races left this season after the Briton suffered a cruel engine failure in Sepang.

Ricciardo is a distant third in the championship standings but insisted Red Bull could still pose a threat to the rampant Mercedes, particularly with rain forecast for Sunday’s race at Suzuka.

“We definitely have a good chance,” he said.

“In 2014 we were quick in that wet race and our car is as competitive now as it was then, maybe even more competitive.

“In Malaysia we got a little lucky with Hamilton having his problems, but Suzuka should be a little bit better for us,” added Ricciardo, fresh from leading Red Bull’s first one-two in almost three years.

“I would probably put money on Mercedes being quicker, at least in qualifying, but I don’t think the gap will be as big as it was in Malaysia.

“I know we won in Malaysia but we will be more competitive here. If it rains I believe we can win the race. If it’s dry, Mercedes would be the favourites.”

Ricciardo admitted the Japanese Grand Prix weighed heavily on drivers after Frenchman Jules Bianchi died as a result of injuries he sustained in that 2014 race.

“We’re pretty strong to block those things out when we put the helmet on,” he said.

“But it is a little bit emotional coming back to Suzuka since then.” — AFP

Fomenting dope free culture

KUALA LUMPUR — Doping in sports has become an issue in Malaysia and steps need to be taken to not only educate elite athletes but especially those at grassroots level.

The recent spate of doping cases which emerged at the Malaysia Games (Sukma) in Sarawak raised queries as to how affected athletes procured banned substances and who were the Svengalis behind them.

“These revelations have shown us we need to step up efforts on doping not just for elite athletes but also at the grassroots,” said Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) deputy president Datuk Seri Norza Zakaria

“Since the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) upped their punishment from a two-year ban to a mandatory four-year suspension, it is catastrophic for an athlete to be caught with banned substances,” he added.

Two archers, a weightlifter and a boxer had failed drug tests conducted by Anti-Doping Agency of Malaysia (Adamas).

The weightlifter had ingested steroids while the boxer had diuretics in his system.

The weightlifter has since declined to have his B sample tested.

Malaysian Weightlifting Association (MWF) secretary Pang Siew Huat said they were told about the matter through a telephone conversation, but had demanded a written answer from the state weightlifting association.

“Next week is the deadline for them to send in the written answer to us (MWF),” Siew Huat told Bernama.

The surprise came from the archers who tested positive for sibutramine.

National Archery Association of Malaysia (NAAM) acting secretary, Major (rtd) Amir Suharman Adnan said the association had sent letters to the state associations since both archers are students.

“We sent letters to them last Friday and they need to explain before any action is taken. The athletes also need to inform if they want to test their B samples or attend a hearing,” he said.

If found guilty, both archers could face a four-year suspension which could be reduced to two years if proven the consumption was not their mistake.

Wushu exponent Tai Cheau Xuen was banned for four months and stripped of her nanquan-nandao gold medal at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon after failing a test for the same weight-loss drug.

“One of the errors we tend to do is tie ourselves in with sports that have a high risk of cheating while neglecting the rest. For example, weightlifting and bodybuilding,” lamented Norza.

“When it happens, those who have been systematically cheating would continue to do so without getting caught,” he added.

“However, there are instances where the person caught doping did so unknowingly. This is an instance where the coach should be accountable. If you are a national athlete, even if its Panadol, you must check with the associations or Wada if it’s approved.”

Norza has urged Adamas and Education Ministry to help with developing a sports culture free of doping.

One obstacle to achieving this is the cost; it is not cheap to conduct doping tests.

The National Sports Council have informed the three national associations (archery, boxing and weightlifting) they have until Oct 15 to contest the results of the tests.

WhatsApp Image 2016-10-05 at 13.42.33

Wallace: One step at a time

PETALING JAYA — Six teams will compete in Sultan of Johor Cup (SOJC) at Taman Daya Hockey Stadium in Johor Baru from Oct 31 to Nov 6.

The teams are England, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Japan and hosts Malaysia.

After starting their campaign against England on Oct 31, Malaysia will meet Australia (Nov 1), Pakistan (Nov 2), Japan (Nov 4) and New Zealand (Nov 5).

Johor (JHA) said 14 players eligible for the SOJC are playing in the Australian Hockey League with the national senior and development teams.

Those in the senior team are Najmi Farizal Azlan, Nik Aiman Nik Rozemi and Najib Hassan.

Those in the development squad coached by Wallace Tan are Rizwan Azmi, Firdaus Omar, Lukman Nur Hakim, Nor Azmi Rahman, Syed Shafiq Syed Choulan, Amirul Aideed, Ashran Hamsani, Rafizul Ezry Mustafa, Norsyafiq Sumantri, Sufi Ismat Rohulmin and Akhimullah Anuar.

“We will take it one match at a time and I have an indication of the players who will shoulder our challenge in the tournament,” said Wallace.

“It will be a tough tournament as most teams are gearing up for the Junior World Cup.”

SOJC is the only junior invitational tournament held annually and was initiated in 2011 with Malaysia emerging as the champions.

With the exception of Malaysia, all the other teams are building up for the Junior World Cup in Uttar Pradesh, India from Dec 8 to 18.
— Bernama

Jing Yi eyes final

KUALA LUMPUR — It was a breeze for Tee Jing Yi yesterday as she beat Indonesia’s Rusydina Antardayu Riodingin 22-20, 21-8 in the first round of the Thailand Open.

Playing her first tournament since suffering a calf injury against Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi at the Rio Olympics two months ago, Jing Yi said momentum and consistency will be keys to rising up the world rankings.

“I hope to reach the top 20 by next year,” said the world No 28.

“I need to make sure I don’t get injured anymore or I will never reach the top.”

The 25-year-old will play Thailand’s Pompawee Chochuwong today and said she hopes to reach Sunday’s final.

After Thailand, she will play in next week’s Taiwan Masters.

“My first match (against Rusydina) was shaky — I allowed my opponent to take the lead. I must cut this out,” she said.

Jing Yi also revealed she has begun listening to more songs before matches as a means of calming the butterflies.

“That’s my way of preparing. It’s been a habit of mine since the beginning,” she said.

“I have always listened to billboard hits by Charlie Puth and James Bay.

“It helps me de-stress and calms my nerves before matches.”

Meanwhile, former world No 1 men’s pair Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong lost to unseeded Japanese Takuto Inoue-Yuki Kaneko 22-20, 19-21, 21-15.

But there was some good news as mixed pair Tan Kian Meng and Lai Pei Jing easily defeated Hiski Rumengan-Rofahadah Supriadi Putri from Indonesia 21-9, 21-7 to move into the second round.

R. Jeganathan paralympics coach

Don’t get carried away, warns coach

KUALA LUMPUR — Paralympians must focus on future competitions and not be lulled by accolades, incentives and awards says athletics coach R. Jeganathan.

Since winning three gold medals and a bronze at the Rio Paralympics last month, the paralympians have been treated like rock stars.

“We will resume training after two weeks, and I want them to focus on the next competition — International Paralympic Championship (IPC) Grand Prix in United Arab Emirates in March,” he said.

Jeganathan advised athletes to use the monetary awards they received wisely.

“I hope they will not simply spend the money. They should keep it in the Amanah Saham Bumiputra.

“It is for their future, as they are also getting an allowance from the National Sports Council for their daily needs,” he said.

Jeganathan, who is a former bank executive, said there were many up-and-coming athletes who can qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

They include Nasharuddin Mohamad (400m) and Faizal Aidil Suhaimi (100m).

At the Rio Games, Malaysia won gold via Ridzuan Puzi in the T36 (cerebral palsy) 100m, Ziyad Zolkefli F20 (intellectual disability) shot put and Abdul Latif Romly T20 (intellectual disability) long jump.

They received RM1 million for their efforts.

Siti Noor Radiah Ismail won bronze in the T20 (intellectual disability) long jump. — Bernama

Tigers, Lions rivalry still excites fans

SINGAPORE — Excitement and expectations of the Causeway Challenge has reached feverish levels ahead of tomorrow’s match.

Though it is just a friendly between Malaysia and Singapore, fans who are deprived of the causeway rivalry since Singapore pulled of the M-League in 1994, are gearing up for the famous ‘Kallang Roar’ that used to ring around Singapore National Stadium when the teams met.

Singapore have taken a serious approach, with the Lions naming a 25-man squad last week.

Much more interesting, Irfan, the eldest son of Singapore football icon Fandi Ahmad, is be the centre of attraction, as he makes his debut for the national team.

The powerfully built, 1.87m tall Home United player, 19, is the youngest in the team while Geylang International’s Daniel Bennett at 38, is th oldest.

“I have chosen a squad with a good mix of youth and experience.

“We have seasoned professionals like Bennett and Mustafic Fahrudin who can guide the young players like Iqbal Hussain, M. Anumanthan and Irfan,” said Singapore caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy.

Malaysia jumped nine spots from 167 to 158 in the latest Fifa rankings while Singapore are three places ahead.

History favours Malaysia who have won 22 times and lost 19 with 23 draws.

The last time Singapore faced Malaysia was at the Asean Football Federation Cup in November 2014 when Malaysia triumphed 3-1 at National Stadium.

The Causeway Challenge is being held six weeks before this year’s AFF Cup in the Philippines and Myanmar.
— Bernama

Olivier Giroud (2)

Long, winding road for Giroud

LONDON — Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny insists striker Olivier Giroud can come back from his injury problems and force his way into the team.

This despite his replacement Alexis Sanchez, “walking on water” of late.

The France duo would usually be on international duty together but Giroud is nursing a toe injury which has seen him miss the Gunners’ last four games.

Sanchez has been deployed through the middle during Giroud’s absence and has impressed — scoring five goals and making five assists in just nine games.

But Koscielny says his countryman will prove himself again.

“We returned late after Euro 2016, so we had to do more (in training) to be ready physically,” Koscielny told reporters when asked about Giroud’s fitness concerns.

“There is competition up front at Arsenal and Sanchez is walking on water right now, so it’s difficult to remove him from the starting line-up.

“I know Olivier and he has seen more difficult things during his career. We know his mental strength and the season is very long.

“He will have the opportunity to be back and give his answer on the pitch.”

Meanwhile, centreback Per Mertesacker believes the serious knee injury he suffered in July will not spell the end of his career at Arsenal.

Mertesacker has not featured for Arsenal since suffering the problem during pre-season and is not expected to return to fitness until the early stages of next year.

Summer arrival Shkodran Mustafi has formed a solid partnership with Koscielny and Mertesacker’s role as a starter appears to be in jeopardy.

But the former Germany international, whose contract expires at the end of the season, is determined to stay upbeat and is adamant he could still have a key role to play for the Gunners.

“I can reach top level again. I have a feeling this is not the end,” Mertesacker told Kicker.

“I look at the perspectives for me and my family and I’ll intensify those thoughts from January on.

“That’s also the time when you can listen to other things (offers) when your contract is expiring.”

Given Mertesacker is 32, concerns have been raised in regards to his ability to get back to the top level.
— Agencies


Mobile phones 
bad for 

LONDON — Pep Guardiola has blocked his Manchester City players from using the internet at the club’s training base in a drive to foster more face-to-face communication and a greater team spirit.

Guardiola has arranged for certain areas of the City Football Academy (CFA) to be free from 3G signal and disconnected from the in-house Wi-Fi system.

Defender Pablo Zabaleta revealed the move aims to make it harder for players to be distracted by their phones or other mobile devices.

“He forces us to have breakfast and lunch together at the club. The internet is cut off, we are held incommunicado. We don’t even use 3G,” Zabaleta told TyC Sports.

Zabaleta, who is enjoying a resurgence under Guardiola, is a devotee of the 45-year-old’s methodology.

“You always want and dream to be trained by the best coaches, and today I have the opportunity to work with one of the best,” he said.

“You learn a lot, especially the way you live it. Beyond knowledge is his passion for football.”

Other changes made by Guardiola include the banning of pizza after matches, with players now snacking on nuts.

Guardiola has also instructed the squad to eat together at the Etihad following home games.

Players no longer have to stay at CFA before home matches and if any are deemed overweight they run the risk of having to work away from the first-team squad, as Samir Nasri had to do during pre-season.
— Agencies

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