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One small step for Zhang, one giant leap for Chinese men’s game

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One small step for Zhang, one giant leap for Chinese men's game

 China has long been the sleeping giant of men’s tennis but on Monday the giant stirred as Shanghai trailblazer Zhang Zhizhen advanced to the second round of the French Open.

One of three Chinese men in the draw, Zhang became the first from the nation to win a main draw match at Roland Garros in 86 years after Serbian opponent Dusan Lajovic retired due to illness when trailing 6-1 4-1.

Compatriots Shang Juncheng and Wu Yibing bowed out in defeat but 26-year-old Zhang has a big chance to go further when he takes on Argentine qualifier Thiago Agustin Tirante for a place in the third round.

That would bring him a step closer to the fourth-round mark set by Kho Sin-Kie in 1936. Kho, who was born in colonial-era Indonesia but represented China in Davis Cup, also reached the third round in 1937. “Last year …. even quallies (qualifiers) I couldn’t get in,” world number 71 Zhang told reporters.

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“This year I’m enjoying (the) first win here. “We have so many (people) waiting for us to get (the) first win.” In the modern era, Chinese tennis has been dominated by women, with twice Grand Slam champion Li Na becoming the country’s first major winner at Roland Garros in 2011.

The men’s game has been a much slower burn, with Wu Di becoming China’s first singles entrant at a Grand Slam main draw in the professional era in 2013 when he lost in the first round of the Australian Open.

It took nearly another decade for a Chinese man to claim a main draw win, with Wu Yibing breaking a 63-year drought on the way to the third round at last year’s U.S. Open.

Teenager Shang followed that by reaching the second round of the Australian Open in January on his Grand Slam debut as the youngest player in the draw.

Zhang, the oldest of the Chinese trio and a relatively late bloomer, has now kept the streak alive after setting a number of tennis ‘firsts’ for the country in recent months.
Last October, he became the first Chinese man to crack the top 100 in the ATP’s world rankings and this month became the first to reach the quarter-finals of an ATP Masters 1000 tournament at the Madrid Open.

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“Now we are passing the quallies and coming to the main draw,” Zhang said of the Grand Slam breakthroughs. “That’s one step, again, like a step forward.

“(Chinese) Girls have a lot of people playing. Now we (men) are more and more. “Yeah, we are trying to catch the girls.”

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Moment of truth for revamped Italy as Euros title defence begins

Moment of truth for revamped Italy as Euros title defence begins

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Moment of truth for revamped Italy as Euros title defence begins

Italy kick off their European Championship title defence against Albania on Saturday as a new-look team tries to rebuild the reputation of one of the world’s most important football nations.

Luciano Spalletti’s Italy take on Albania in Dortmund in the first of three clashes in a fiendishly difficult Group B which also contains Spain and Croatia.

And those two later fixtures make Saturday’s hugely important, as with the four best third-place finishers in the six groups reaching the knockout stages, a win over Albania would give Italy a great chance of going through.

Italy come into the tournament in quietly confident mood, with delegation chief Gianluigi Buffon insisting that the Azzurri are “an underrated team” despite being holders and four-time World Cup winners.

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Buffon was one of the stars of the show when Italy won the 2006 World Cup in Germany, when a golden generation of players including Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Andrea Pirlo and Fabio Cannavaro took their country to one of its greatest ever football triumphs.

Since then the national team has been going through something of an identity crisis, unsure of its position in the global game and no longer feared as in decades past.

Italy might be reigning champions but after winning the last Euros three years ago they missed out on qualification for a second straight World Cup.

And qualification for this summer’s Euros, which begins on Friday, was complicated by Spalletti’s predecessor Roberto Mancini jumping ship to Saudi Arabia in August last year.

‘Future greats’

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Spalletti has been entrusted to guide his nation out of another bout of deep soul searching and he has done so by casting aside the team which became national heroes by beating England at Wembley in the Euro 2020 final.

“I can see that we have players in the squad who will become future greats. They have the quality,” Federico Chiesa said on Thursday in an interview with UEFA. “We want to show what we’re made of at the Euros. Let’s see what we can do.”

Juventus forward Chiesa is one of the few graduates of the victory in 2021 still assured of a starting place, alongside Nicolo Barella, assuming he recovers in time from a thigh injury.

Spalletti is also sweating on the fitness of Barella’s Inter Milan teammate Davide Frattesi, who scored Italy’s only goal in Sunday’s encouraging warm-up win over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Albania meanwhile are taking part in just their second Euros and the Eagles will be swept along by the enthusiasm of their supporters.

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Armand Duka, the head of Albania’s football federation, claimed in an interview with Sky that “more than half” of the Westfalenstadion will be taken up by his countrymen.

And with 10 of Sylvinho’s squad playing in Italy, there will be plenty of familiar faces for the Azzurri to deal with. “Italy will be a special match. In Dortmund we will play probably the most important match of our lives,” said Duka.

“We’d be delighted to get out of the group, but we’ll be happy in any case just to have taken part in the Euros.” 

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Lee leads LPGA Meijer Classic by two

Lee leads LPGA Meijer Classic by two

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Lee leads LPGA Meijer Classic by two

Alison Lee fired a seven-under-par 65 to take a two-shot lead after the first round of the LPGA Tour’s Meijer Classic on Thursday.

The 29-year-old from California relied on a red-hot putter and a steadily improving swing to reel off seven birdies and an eagle to pull clear of a crowded leaderboard.

Lee, who is still looking for her first victory on the LPGA Tour just under a decade after joining the professional ranks, revealed afterwards she spent the build-up to this week’s tournament in Michigan attempting to iron out kinds in her swing.

Yet despite long hours on the driving range last week, she remained uncomfortable even after teeing off at Blythefield Country Club on Thursday in suburban Grand Rapids. “There can be some days I don’t feel quite confident,” Lee said after her round.

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“You just have to work with what you got. That’s how I felt today. As the round went on I would say the last four, five holes, definitely felt a lot better with my swing.”

The highlight of Lee’s round came on her penultimate hole, the par-five eighth, where she nailed an eight-iron to within 15 feet with her second shot, before rolling in the eagle putt.

“It was definitely really nice to shoot a low one today,” Lee said. “Giving a lot of credit to my putter. I made a lot of really, really good par saves, and a lot of good birdies. “Overall really happy and pleasantly surprised about my round.”

No fewer than nine players are tied for second place behind Lee on five under after shooting 67s. The chasing pack includes Canada’s Brooke Henderson, who eagled the 18th to move up the leaderboard. Eleven players are a further shot back on four under.

This week’s tournament is the final tune-up before next week’s Women’s PGA Championship, which is being held at the Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Washington from June 20-23. 

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Haidar Sultan grabs gold medal in Brics Games

Haidar Sultan grabs gold medal in Brics Games

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Haidar Sultan grabs gold medal in Brics Games

 Haidar Sultan of Pakistan has bagged the first gold medal in the Weightlifting event of the Brics Games at the Kazan city of Rusia.

Sultan, who outclassed the Russian weightlifters in a tough fight and won the first gold medal for Pakistan in the Games, said a press release.

He contested in the 61kg weight category and lifted a total weight of 261kg i.e. 115kg in Snatch and 146kg in the Clean & Jerk.

It was his outstanding performance at any national or international competition. Sultan was far behind his Russian competitors in the Snatch event, but his third and final lift of 146 kg in the clean & jerk event turned conclusive, for his maiden victory at the international BRICS Games.

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Sultan was accompanied by the seasoned and professional coach Shuja Ud Din Malik, who himself had been the Commonwealth Games 2006 Gold Medalist and Record holder.

The motivation by Imdaullah Meman, the chef-de-mission, and the technical expertise of the coach Shuja ud Din Malik, maintained the fighting spirit of the Sultan, who was very happy about his victory.

Sultan thanked Pakistan Sports Board PSB for the financial and administrative support for the tour. Sultan hails from Gujranwala district of Punjab and represents the Pakistan Army at the national level. 

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