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Coach Conrad tasked with restoring South African Test fortunes

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Coach Conrad tasked with restoring South African Test fortunes
GLOBALTIMESPAKISTAN

Cricket South Africa on Monday announced Shukri Conrad and Rob Walter as coaches of the country’s Test and limited overs teams respectively.

Conrad, 55, a former first-class cricketer, has worked with many of South Africa’s leading players as head coach of the South African Academy since 2014. He also coached the South African Under-19 team.

He has experience at senior domestic level with the Cape Cobras and Lions franchises and had a brief spell as head coach of the Uganda national team.

He takes over a Test side that has slumped to heavy defeats in recent away series against England and Australia -– and which has a severely curtailed programme over the next four years.

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The Proteas play a two-match series against the West Indies at the end of February and do not play another Test until India tour South Africa at the end of the year.

But CSA chief executive Pholetsi Moseki said the appointment of a specialist Test coach was an indication of the importance of Test cricket despite CSA having reduced the number of fixtures in order to accommodate a new T20 league.

“We haven’t relegated Test cricket to the margins,” said Moseki. “We want to invest to get Test cricket back to the standard we expect.”

CSA director of cricket Enoch Nkwe said a “massive goal” for Walter was to work towards the 2027 Cricket World Cup which South Africa will co-host with Zimbabwe and Namibia.

His first task, though, will be to ensure South Africa qualify for this year’s World Cup and to “do our utmost best” at the tournament in India.

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Walter was the South African team’s strength and conditioning coach between 2009 and 2013 before becoming head coach of the Titans franchise.

He guided them to three titles in three seasons before moving to New Zealand in 2016, where he coached Otago and more recently Central Districts.

Both coaches will only start their jobs in February -– which means Walter will only take charge after South Africa play England in three one-day internationals later this month.

The two coaches replace former Test wicketkeeper Mark Boucher, who was contracted until the end of the World Cup later this year but resigned to take a job with the Mumbai Indians franchise in the Indian Premier League.

Nkwe said he was embarked on a major “reset” of both red-ball and white-ball cricket which could involve flexibility in agreeing contracts with players leaving the national system in an era of lucrative T20 leagues.

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Tsitsipas – Melbourne finalist who was ‘a few breaths from dying’

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Tsitsipas - Melbourne finalist who was 'a few breaths from dying'

Stefanos Tsitsipas will become Greece’s first Grand Slam champion and a world number one if he wins the Australian Open final on Sunday — he will have his father to thank if he does.

There are not many athletes whose careers and outlooks have been forged by near-death experiences, but the 24-year-old world number four is an exception.

In 2015, while taking part in a third-tier event in Crete, a teenage Tsitsipas and a friend went swimming and almost fatally misjudged the strength of the currents.

“We couldn’t breathe, I felt awful to be inside the water and was terrified. I didn’t know how all this was going to end,” Tsitsipas once recalled.

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“My father saw us from afar and he jumped in, started swimming towards us and pushed us towards the beach. I was just a few breaths away from dying.

“If we were supposed to die and lose our lives that day, we would have to do it together. My father was a hero.

“That was the day I saw life with a different perspective. I remember after that how much psychologically it changed me.”

Tsitsipas shares the same birthday as Pete Sampras — August 12 — and is studious, contemplative.

Stefanos Tsitsipas signs autographs after his victory against Russia’s Karen Khachanov

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He speaks Greek, English and Russian, and has dabbled in Spanish and Chinese.

Sporting family

Sport is in his genes. Life-saving Apostolos is his coach while mother Julia Salnikova is an ex-tennis pro.

His grandfather, Sergei Salnikov, was a 1956 Olympic gold medallist in football playing for the Soviet Union.

Since turning pro in 2016, Tsitsipas’s career has been on a steadily upward curve.

He was ranked 210 in the world in his first season but was inside the top 100 by the end of 2017 and as high as five in 2018, the first Greek to achieve such a status.

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By the time he was 21 he had already swept wins over the sport’s three biggest beasts — Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Tsitsipas was the first Greek man to win a tour title and has claimed nine in total, but a Grand Slam crown has remained elusive.

He hopes that will change when he faces Djokovic in Sunday’s Australian Open final. Victory would also make him world number one for the first time.

His only previous major final was in 2021 when he came agonisingly close to the French Open crown, racing into a two-set lead in the final over Djokovic before the Serb mounted an epic comeback to claim victory.

His biggest win to date came while he was still 21. He captured the 2019 season-ending ATP Finals title, becoming the youngest champion since Lleyton Hewitt in 2001.

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‘Very smart’

Blond-haired and standing 6ft 4ins (1.93m) tall, Tsitsipas has long been touted as a possible heir to Djokovic, Nadal and Federer.

He comes across as one of tennis’s more rounded players, but he can be feisty too.

He has developed an intriguing rivalry with Daniil Medvedev, another coming up fast behind the “Big Three”.

The Russian once described Tsitsipas’s game as “boring”.

Tsitsipas branded Medvedev an “(expletive) Russian” in a fiery encounter in Miami.

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His Melbourne opponent Djokovic, no stranger to controversy himself, is a fan.

“He is a hard worker, dedicated, nice guy,” the Serb once said.

“He’s very smart and wise. I love the fact that he is more than just a tennis player and he’s always looking to learn from experience and to understand something new about himself.

“That’s the trait of a champion, of someone who has great potential to be number one in the world and win Slams and be a great ambassador for the sport.”

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Australian Open chief tells Djokovic family: ‘Be really careful’

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Australian Open chief tells Djokovic family: 'Be really careful'

Australian Open chief Craig Tiley on Saturday advised Novak Djokovic’s family to be “really careful” of people using the tournament’s global exposure as a platform for “disruptive” purposes.

It follows a video posted on a pro-Russian YouTube account showing Djokovic’s father Srdjan posing in Melbourne Park with a fan holding a Russian flag that featured the face of Vladimir Putin.

It sparked a backlash from Ukraine and led to calls for Djokovic senior to be banned from the tournament.

He decided to skip his son’s semi-final victory on Friday and it remains to be seen if he will be at Sunday’s final.

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Tiley told the Melbourne Age newspaper he had spent “a fair amount of time talking to the Djokovic family”.

“My advice is that you have to be really careful because if this is an event of global significance, it’s a platform,” he said he told them.

“When you have hundreds of thousands of people come through the gate, you’re going to naturally have some people that are coming here with an intention to be disruptive, and don’t get yourself caught in the middle of that.

“And they completely understand that,” he added. “The family were very good. They were upset that it was taken that way. There was no intention of it.

“His dad particularly does not support war and they’re very focused on supporting peace.”

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Serbian star Djokovic insisted after his semi-final win there had been a “misinterpretation” of the images and his father had “no intention whatsoever to support any war initiatives”.

He said his father had been greeting fans outside Rod Laver Arena after every match and had been “misused” on Wednesday night.

Tiley said the Open had more than 1,000 accredited journalists and growing TV audiences and “it does become a platform and that’s new for us. It never used to be like that”.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, Russian and Belarusian players have normally competed under a neutral white flag as independents, as is the case at the Australian Open.

Spectators have been banned from having Russian or Belarusian flags at the Grand Slam after Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia and New Zealand demanded action when they were seen among the crowd early in the tournament.

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Djokovic battles Tsitsipas in high stakes Australian Open final

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Djokovic battles Tsitsipas in high stakes Australian Open final

Novak Djokovic will look to rise above the drama that has engulfed him at Melbourne Park and claim a record-extending 10th Australian Open title on Sunday in a generational clash against Stefanos Tsitsipas.

A year after being deported from Australia on the eve of the Grand Slam for lacking Covid-19 vaccination, Djokovic has battled a hamstring strain, heckling spectators and a media storm over his father mixing with fans toting banned Russian flags at the tennis.

In handling everything within his control, though, Djokovic has been supreme.

The Serb’s dominant semi-final victory over American Tommy Paul on Friday stretched his winning streak at the event to a record 27 in the professional era, eclipsing Andre Agassi’s 26-match run between 2000 to 2004.

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Never beaten at Melbourne Park after reaching the semis, fourth seed Djokovic is rated an unbackable favourite to triumph again under the floodlights at Rod Laver Arena.

Despite that, the decider presents possibly the best matchup fans could have hoped for following the early exit of injured champion Rafa Nadal.

It offers a rematch of the dramatic 2021 French Open final, in which Djokovic came back from two sets down to snatch the title and leave Greek Tsitsipas heartbroken.

Not that the match was fresh in Djokovic’s memory.

“I think he (Tsitsipas) has never played a (Grand Slam) finals, am I wrong?” Djokovic asked incredulous reporters this week.

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The stakes are sky-high for both players.

At 35, Djokovic needs one major title to draw level with 36-year-old Nadal’s 22 in the all-time Grand Slam race. Meanwhile third seed Tsitsipas is desperate to become the first Greek to win a Grand Slam crown, having put the nation on the tennis map.

Whoever wins will take the world number one ranking from Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz, who missed the tournament through injury.

At 24, Tsitsipas may feel his time has come. He buried his semi-final hoodoo at Melbourne Park against Russian bruiser Karen Khachanov in four sets on Friday after falling three times previously at the hurdle.

“These are the moments I’ve been working hard for,” said Tsitsipas.

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“To be able to play in finals that have a bigger meaning than just the final.”

The atmosphere promises to be electric, and possibly volatile as tension builds.

Melbourne’s strong Greek community, the most populous outside Greece itself, will be in full voice at Rod Laver Arena.

They will rival the army of Serbian supporters who have gorged on Djokovic’s success since his first title at Melbourne Park as a 20-year-old in 2008.

Neutral fans, meanwhile, could well rally behind Tsitsipas in the hope of seeing a genuine contest.

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With a huge serve, thumping groundstrokes and comfort on all areas of the court, Tsitsipas has the weapons to trouble anyone on tour. Whether he has the endurance and mental fortitude to dislodge iron man Djokovic remains to be seen.

For all the huff and puff of the younger generation, only Daniil Medvedev has managed to beat the Serb in a completed match at a hardcourt Grand Slam since a shock fourth round loss to Chung Hyeon in the 2018 Australian Open.

Not even Nadal or retired great Roger Federer have ever bested Djokovic in a final at Melbourne Park, and the Serb is hell-bent on extending that incredible record.

“Of course, I have professional goals and ambitions. Those are Grand Slams and being number one in the world,” said Djokovic.

“So I do want to make more history of this sport, no doubt.”

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