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DJOKOVIC OUTLASTS ROGER FEDERER TO REACH PARIS MASTERS FINAL

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Novak Djokovic ruined Roger Federer’s ambitions of a 100th career title as he outlasted his great adversary 7-6 (6), 5-7, 7-6 (3) in an epic Paris Masters semi-final that stretched his remarkable unbeaten run to 22 matches.nnIn a 47th meeting between the two greats, the stubborn Djokovic simply refused to be beaten as he claimed a fourth consecutive victory over Federer in a tie-break decider after three compelling hours. It gave the Serb the opportunity to mark his return to the world No 1 ranking on Monday by winning a record-extending fifth Paris title in Sunday’s final against the Russian Karen Khachanov, who crushed Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-1.nnDjokovic, who had complained of competing with flu-like symptoms in the earlier rounds, looked proud and relieved to repel a wonderful challenge from Federer. Even though the latter’s serve was not broken once, it was still not enough for the 37-year-old, whose nerve failed him in an anti-climactic final tie-break in which he served a double fault and made two more careless groundstroke errors.nnFederer, who was seeking to become only the second man after Jimmy Connors to win a century of professional tour titles, lost the first set despite having held set point in the tie-break and had Djokovic in trouble in the final set when the Serb received a code violation at 4-4 for chucking his racket away in disgust after the Swiss had saved two break points. Ultimately, though, Federer, who saved all 12 break points on his serve, saw his resilience ended as Djokovic extended his career lead over the Swiss to 25-22 after their longest-ever three-set duel.nnEarlier, Khachanov showed why he is one of the finest young talents in tennis with a thunderous victory over Thiem. The 22-year-old, 6ft 6in Russian, already the owner of two indoor hard court titles this year, moved one step away from the biggest title of his career, crushing his Austrian friend and practice partner in 70 one-sided minutes.nn“It was one of my best matches, and what I’m happy about is that I was increasing my level, which shows that I’m becoming a better player,” Khachanov, who reached his first Masters 1000 final, said.nnThe 18th-ranked Muscovite overpowered a third top-10 player in successive days, having overwhelmed Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals and negotiated John Isner’s huge serves in the last 16.nnThiem, the world No 8 who on Friday had booked his place in this month’s ATP Finals in London, was out of sorts and seemed rushed by the depth and power of Khachanov’s groundstrokes. Remarkably, Khachanov broke the Austrian’s powerful serve five times in a row at the end of the first set and throughout a surprisingly one-sided second.

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Venus Williams among sporting figures to get own Barbie doll

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 Venus Williams poses with a Barbie doll, in Puerto Rico in this undated handout image. Mattel/WME Sports Studio/Handout via REUTERS

Seven-times Grand Slam champion Venus Williams and Australian soccer player Mary Fowler are among nine athletes to get a Barbie doll in their likeness as toy maker Mattel seeks to shine a light on women sports role models ahead of the Paris Olympics.

Mattel unveiled the dolls on Wednesday, each with their bespoke accessories. Fowler’s wears gloves and holds a football while Williams’ doll, dressed in an all white tennis dress and visor as well as wearing earrings, comes with a miniature racket.

The former world number one said she hoped to motivate young girls into sports with the doll.

“I literally can’t imagine my life without sports and without the game,” Williams said in a video, in which she held the doll.

“I want other young girls to have that invaluable experience of playing a sport and what it teaches you and what you learn and what you take from it, not just that moment (but) for the rest of your life… I think it’s so important for girls to be in sports.”

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Other sports figures to have a doll in their likeness include French boxer Estelle Mossely, Polish sprinter Ewa Swoboda, Spanish doctor and paratriathlon athlete Susana Rodriguez, Italian former swimmer Federica Pellegrini, Canadian soccer player Christine Sinclair as well as Mexican and Brazilian gymnasts, Alexa Moreno and Rebeca Andrade.

The dolls, unveiled as Barbie turns 65 this year, “(recognise) the impact of sport in fostering self-confidence and ambition among the next generation”, Krista Berger, senior vice president of Barbie and Mattel’s Global Head of Dolls, said.

“By shining a light on these inspirational athletes and their stories, we hope to champion the belief that every young girl deserves the opportunity to pursue her passions and turn her dreams into reality,” she said in a statement.

-Reuters

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Serena Williams to host 2024 ESPYs in July

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Serena Williams poses at the Met Gala, an annual fundraising gala held for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute with this year's theme 'Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion' in New York City, New York, U.S., May 6, 2024. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

Tennis great Serena Williams will host the 2024 ESPYs in July, ESPN announced on Tuesday.

The 23-times Grand Slam champion, who retired after the 2022 U.S. Open and is widely regarded as one of the greatest tennis players of all time, will take the stage July 11 at The Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

“This is a dream come true for me, and something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember,” Williams, 42, said in an ESPN news release.

“It has been a sensational year for sports and an unprecedented one for female athletes. I can’t wait to celebrate everyone on-stage in July.”

The ESPYs, which are co-produced by ESPN and Full Day Productions, commemorate the past year in sports by recognizing major athletic achievements, reliving unforgettable moments, and saluting the leading performers and performances.

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-Reuters

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Rafael Nadal wins at Barcelona Open on injury return

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Rafael Nadal enjoyed a winning start at the Barcelona Open as he returned from another long-term injury in what could be his final year before retirement.

The Spanish 22-time major champion, who turns 38 in June, won 6-2 6-3 against inexperienced Italian Flavio Cobolli in their first-round match on Tuesday.

Now ranked 644th, Nadal was playing for the first time since January because of a hip injury and abdominal issues.

Nadal has indicated that 2024 is likely to be his last as a professional player.

After pulling out of last year’s French Open with a hip problem, the former world number one said he planned to retire at the end of this season.

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Nadal, who is considered as one of the best players in history and greatest clay-courter of all time, has only played one event since.

But, before making his latest comeback in Barcelona, Nadal said he was not “putting a deadline” on his retirement and would only keep playing as long as he felt it was “worth it”.

This win was a positive step, if a somewhat straightforward assignment, as the record 14-time champion aims to return to Roland Garros next month.

“I’m just having fun and happy to start with a victory,” said Nadal, who faces a tougher opponent next in Australian world number 10 Alex de Minaur.

“I’m going through some tough moments but at the same time when I’m able to be on tour and compete a little bit it means a lot.”

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What shape was Nadal in?

It was intriguing to see what shape Nadal would be in against 62nd-ranked Cobolli, who has only played in the main draw of a Grand Slam twice.

A record 12-time champion in Barcelona, Nadal was playing his first clay-court match in 681 days – when he won the 2022 French Open final.

There was an air of anticipation as a packed crowd awaited Nadal’s arrival on the court which is named in his honour, external with the gangways on his walk out full of ball kids and tournament staff.

A near-standing ovation and huge roar greeted Nadal, while the familiar pre-match foibles – aligning his water bottles, box jumps at the net and zigzagged sprint to the baseline – were also lapped up.

It was less certain whether the shot-making and athleticism which they have also become accustomed to seeing from Nadal would return as well.

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Doubts had been raised about the impact of the abdominal injury on his serve and, although it appeared he wasn’t serving at full tilt, he showed few issues.

There was, understandably, some early rust in his groundstrokes before Nadal quickly found fluency from both forehand and backhand wings.

With Cobolli looking slightly overawed and showing uncertainty in his shots, Nadal cemented an early break for a 4-1 lead and wrapped up the opening set in 43 minutes.

Whipping a trademark forehand winner down the line in the second game of the second set illustrated his growing confidence.

Nadal edged a run of three straight breaks and saw out victory by taking his second match point, showing his delight with trademark underarm fist pump.

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