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Sabalenka, Rybakina promise power-packed Australian Open final

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Sabalenka, Rybakina promise power-packed Australian Open final

Two of the biggest hitters in women s tennis go toe-to-toe when Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina clash in Saturday s Australian Open final in Melbourne.

Belarusian fifth seed Sabalenka is in the form of her life and on the brink of a maiden Grand Slam crown.

The 24-year-old comes into the showpiece under the Rod Laver Arena lights on a 10-match unbeaten streak in Australia, having won the Adelaide International and is yet to drop a set in 2023.

She has defeated Wimbledon champion Rybakina in all of their three previous meetings.

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Rybakina, 23, has coolly moved through the draw, unfazed by the snub of her opening match being shunted out to the wilderness of Melbourne Park s Court 13.

The Russian-born player, who now represents Kazakhstan, has accounted for three Grand Slam champions on her way to the final, including world number one Iga Swiatek.

Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka followed on the back of Rybakina s dominant serve, which has smacked down 45 aces so far, more than any other.

Rybakina s graceful power appears effortless at times, emanating from clean ball-striking and immaculate timing.

Sabalenka is more brutal, her muscles generating spin and driving the ball through the court.

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It is a trait Sabalenka has always possessed but was often stymied by her fractious nerves.

But not this year as she finally won a Slam semi-final at the fourth attempt against the unseeded Pole Magda Linette.

Sabalenka has turned it around by working tirelessly last year with her coaches, a sports psychologist and a biomechanical specialist.

“I was trying to do less screaming after some bad points or some errors,” Sabalenka said. “I was just trying to hold myself, stay calm, just think about the next point.

“I m still screaming  C mon!  and all that stuff. Just less negative emotions.”

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 Deal with it 
Sabalenka is now so confident of handling her emotions — demonstrated as she smoothly fought back from 2-0 down in the first set against Linette — that she has dispensed with her sports psychologist.

“I realised that nobody other than me will help,” Sabalenka said.

“I spoke to my psychologist saying,  Listen, I feel like I have to deal with that by myself because every time hoping that someone will fix my problem, it s not fixing my problem. 

“I just have to take this responsibility and I just have to deal with that.”

Rybakina, the 22nd seed, will be full of confidence heading into her second major final in the past seven months.

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She s lost only one set during the Australian Open fortnight, and that was against last year s runner-up Danielle Collins.

But if her first serve deserts her, Rybakina can come under pressure, as happened against the combative Azarenka in the semi-finals when she was broken three times.

But she is more than just a big serve and has enough all-court game to ward off most danger — her wide reach and ability to hit winners off both wings enabling her to get out of trouble.

With one major victory already achieved, Rybakina believes the experience will give her an edge.

“Everything was new at Wimbledon,” Rybakina said. “Now I more or less understand what to expect. 

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World champion Brecel excited by new ‘golden ball’ format

World champion Brecel excited by new ‘golden ball’ format

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World champion Brecel excited by new 'golden ball' format

World champion Luca Brecel is excited to be among those looking to complete the first ever 167 break after the new golden ball was introduced at Saudi Arabia’s first professional snooker event this week.

The opening season of the Riyadh World Masters of Snooker offers players the chance to win a prize of $500,000 if they can complete a maximum 147 and then pot the golden ball.

The golden ball, worth 20 points, sits on the top cushion during the frame for as long as a player can still complete a maximum and is removed when the chance is gone.

The event, which runs until Wednesday, features players such as Ronnie O’Sullivan, Shaun Murphy, Mark Williams and Ding Junhui.

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“Yeah, it’s exciting the golden ball. Obviously it’s a big prize and well, it’s going to be very difficult. It’s a nice challenge and I’d love to have a go at it. Even if I don’t make it I would just like to have a try,” Brecel told Reuters on Tuesday.

“The 147 in itself is really difficult but now you need to be perfect on the black as well to go to the golden ball which is even more difficult.” Former world champion Judd Trump is also enjoying the challenge.

“It’s something cool. I think it’s always good to kind of push new ideas and I think the challenge of making a different break, a 167 here, would be very special,” Trump said.

“I think the 167 is just that little bit harder now and with that comes a bigger prize. So, I think that 167 is very special for the first time.”

Following the announcement last month of the creation of a Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters which will become the ‘fourth major’, Brecel said it was good to see the sport expanding into new countries.

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“(It’s) very good for us and for snooker. It’s nice to be able to come to these countries and hopefully maybe Qatar and Dubai will follow and in the future maybe go up to the U.S. as well and make snooker really, really big in all the countries in the world,” he said.

With a 10-year deal agreed, the tournament’s first edition will take place in Riyadh from Aug. 31 to Sept. 7. It will be a ranking event open to all tour players, plus six local wild cards. 

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Scaled-back opening ceremony for Paris Olympics to offer 326,000 tickets

Scaled-back opening ceremony for Paris Olympics to offer 326,000 tickets

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Scaled-back opening ceremony for Paris Olympics to offer 326,000 tickets

A total of 326,000 tickets are set to be sold or given away for the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympics on the River Seine, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Tuesday, giving the exact number for the first time. Security fears have seen the size of the waterborne parade dramatically reduced.

“We will have 104,000 spectators on the lower bank who have paid for a ticket,” Darmanin told a hearing in the Sénat. “Then you have 222,000 people on the higher banks (with free tickets).”

Darmanin estimated that another 200,000 people would watch the event along the river from buildings that overlook the Seine, with an additional 50,000 in fan-zones in the capital.

Resistance from French security services and worries about potential terror attacks saw the number of spectators downgraded from as many as two million people.

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However the event is still set to break records in terms of its size, with all previous opening ceremonies taking place in an athletics’ stadium.

The open-air ceremony on boats is in keeping with promises to make the Paris Olympics “iconic”, with the local organising committee keen to break from past traditions in the way it stages the world’s biggest sporting event.

A total of 180 boats are set to sail around six kilometres down the Seine, of which 94 will contain athletes, the top security official for the Paris region, Marc Guillaume, told the same hearing.

Darmanin added: “No country has informed us that they do not want to take part … They have confidence in our organisation.”

Special security

The executive in charge of planning and risk management at the Paris organising committee told AFP last week that special security measures would be considered for high-risk delegations such as those from the US or Israel.

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“Every delegation has its own unique circumstances, and we’ll look at solutions that are adapted to the risk,” Lambis Konstantinidis said.

The Olympics have been targeted with attacks in the past, notably Munich in 1972 and Atlanta in 1996.

France was placed on its highest alert for terror attacks in October after a suspected Islamist burst into a school in northern France and stabbed a teacher to death.

The country has been consistently targeted by Islamic extremists over the last decade, particularly from the Islamic State group, while Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza is seen as exacerbating domestic tensions.

Around a million people are set to be screened in advance by French security forces for possible security risks, including the athletes, journalists, private security guards and people who live close to key infrastructure. 

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Sinisterra signs long-term deal with Bournemouth

Sinisterra signs long-term deal with Bournemouth

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Sinisterra signs long-term deal with Bournemouth

Luis Sinisterra has made his move to AFC Bournemouth from Leeds United permanent, signing a long-term deal with the Premier League team on Friday.

Bournemouth reportedly agreed to a £20 million fee with Championship (second-tier) side Leeds.

The 24-year-old Colombian had been impressive since joining Bournemouth in September on a loan spell from Leeds United, with three goals and three assists in his 17 appearances.

“I’m really happy to make this move. I’m excited to play for Bournemouth for the long term,” Sinisterra said. “I feel really comfortable here and the fans are really nice. When I meet them in the streets, they show the love.”

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Andoni Iraola’s team are 12th in the table on 27 points, but are winless in their last four games. They play Fulham at Craven Cottage on Saturday. 

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