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Alcaraz back from brink to beat Tiafoe in Wimbledon thriller

Alcaraz back from brink to beat Tiafoe in Wimbledon thriller

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Alcaraz back from brink to beat Tiafoe in Wimbledon thriller

Carlos Alcaraz came back from the brink in a five-set thriller against close friend Frances Tiafoe at Wimbledon on Friday, winning 5-7, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-2 to keep his title defence on track.

The Spanish third seed was out-hit and out-fought for large periods of the match on Centre Court by his US opponent but found an extra gear when he needed to in a match lasting nearly four hours.

The two men were meeting for the first time since Alcaraz came out on top in an epic five-set match in the semi-finals of the 2022 US Open on the way to his first Grand Slam title.

“Always a big challenge playing against Frances,” said Alcaraz. “He is a really talented player, really tough to face and he has shown again that he deserves to be at the top and fight for big things.

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“Really difficult for me to adapt my game, to find solutions to put him in trouble but really happy to do it at the end of the match.”

The Spaniard, bidding to become only the sixth man to win the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back, beat Novak Djokovic in a thrilling final last year.

He will face America’s Brandon Nakashima or 16th seed Ugo Humbert of France in the fourth round as he seeks a fourth Grand Slam title at the tender age of 21.

TIAFOE POWER

Tiafoe, seeded 29th, put Alcaraz’s serve under intense pressure in the opening set, carving out six break points and taking two of them to win it 7-5.

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But the Spaniard slashed his error count in the second set, breaking twice to level the match under the roof on a damp day in London.

Alcaraz fended off another clutch of break points from Tiafoe in the third set but cracked in the seventh game and the American, combining brutal power with finesse, made the crucial breakthrough, whipping up the crowd as he sealed the set.

The champion was in deep trouble at 0-30 in the ninth game of the fourth set but won four straight points to stay on serve.

An energised Alcaraz stepped up a level in the tie-break, powering his way to a 5-0 lead and cupping his ear to the crowd as he pulled level at two sets apiece.

An early break in the decider for Alcaraz emphatically underlined the change in momentum and he repeated the feat to take a 4-1 lead.

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Tiafoe held serve to delay the inevitable but Alcaraz served out to love, sealing the deal with a clever drop shot before letting out a roar and raising his arms to the sky.

The three-time major winner said he had faced a lot of difficult moments in the pivotal fourth set but was just thinking about “hitting one more ball”.

“I have to tell myself to go for it,” he said. “If I lose it, I lose it but I have to feel that I want it all the time and most of the time it works on my side and that happened today again.”

Alcaraz is chasing his third trophy of the season. Last month, he triumphed at Roland Garros to become the youngest man in history to win a major on all three surfaces.

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The bickering and ‘cold sweat’ as Paris built its Games

The bickering and ‘cold sweat’ as Paris built its Games

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The bickering and 'cold sweat' as Paris built its Games

The seven-year odyssey of the Paris Olympics should reach shore after a spectacular but hopefully serene opening cruise down the Seine on Friday at the end of a voyage that has survived rocky political moments.

Following the horse-trading to win the Games, came the French infighting over how to host them.

Paris was not sure it wanted to risk another rebuff after losing its 2005 bid for the 2012 Games to a London bid that the French believed inferior.

After the 2015 terror attacks on the French capital, Anne Hidalgo, elected Paris mayor in 2014, decided the city needed to act to rebound from the trauma.

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Just after his election as president in 2017, Emmanuel Macron promoted France’s case to the International Olympic Committee.

Since 2005, France had built a national velodrome and a canoe-kayak venue near Paris.

“By missing the Games, we built all the facilities,” said a former elected official.

After Los Angeles agreed to go for the 2028 Games, France was awarded the 2024 Games in September 2017.

France would host a “sober” Games, using existing facilities and temporary arenas in postcard Paris: the Eiffel Tower, the Invalides, Place de la Concorde. After testing the water with a cautious toe, it added politically-charged swimming in the Seine.

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Hidalgo, a Socialist, dredged up an old and unfulfilled promise by Gaullist Jacques Chirac, when he was mayor, that Parisians that would be able to swim in their river.

On July 17, ten days before the Games, Hidalgo took a dip in front of a battery of cameras.

Behind the scenes, the waters were sometimes murky as the national government, local elected officials, and the organising committee (COJO) bickered.

“Deep down, we are pains in the ass,” said one former local elected official to describe the relationship with COJO.

Paris organisers have made much of the planned legacy. A major beneficiary was to be the department of Seine-Saint-Denis, to the north of Paris, home of the main stadium and the Olympic village.

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But the high price of tickets and elevated security mean the residents have difficulty feeling included in the mega-sports festival on their doorstep.

Saint-Denis has gained a swimming pool but the department was deprived of several promised events. When shooting, to the fury of local officials, was moved in 2022 to Chateauroux in central France, the early stages of the boxing was switched to suburban Villepinte to compensate.

Hidalgo sent ripples through COJO in 2019 when she vetoed France’s oil and energy titan Total as a sponsor.

‘Money’s worth’

COJO did not plug its last big sponsorship hole until July 2023, when, after months of negotiations and “messages” from the Elysee Palace, French luxury goods behemoth LVMH signed.

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“There are some bluffs in this kind of negotiation,” said Antoine Arnault, son of company owner Bernard Arnault. “We wanted to get our money’s worth.”

There were also culture clashes between French bureaucracy and the glitz and hype of anglophone international sports administrators and marketers.

The head of COJO, Tony Estanguet, a French triple Olympic champion, straddled the cultures by talking of an Olympics which will “break the codes”.

There was friction with the police when COJO and Paris decided to hold the opening ceremony on the Seine, breaking the tradition of Games beginning in the main stadium.

Originally planned as a people’s party along the banks, the police have had their way and most spectators will sit in allocated seats in fenced-off areas.

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The budget has led to time-honoured problems as it has ballooned.

Paris has been hit by inflation as well as the Covid pandemic and the knock-on effect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The IOC, which is struggling to attract potential hosts, agreed to lower standards.

“The instructions to the IOC are to help Paris. The Olympics must be a success,” one Olympic source told AFP.

Evens so, in December 2022, COJO increased its predicted operating budget by 400 million euros, more than 10 percent. With infrastructure, the bill is close to 9 billion euros ($9.8 billion), 2 billion more than the 2019 estimate. That still makes Paris one of the cheaper recent Summer Games.

COJO has suffered a few bumps along the way. It was raided on suspicion of a conflict of interest, in particular in awarding “consulting contracts” and Estanguet’s salary package has been subject to investigations by the national financial prosecutor’s office.

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There was a race to complete all the work, with finishing touches still being applied days before the start.

Nicolas Ferrand, in charge of the construction of the athletes’ village, said he was in a “cold sweat” after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, fearing shortages of materials.

Whatever happens, “two weeks before everyone will say that ‘it’s a disaster’ and in fact it’s not,” said a close friend of mayor Hidalgo. 

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Lyles runs 100 metres personal best in final Olympic tune-up

Lyles runs 100 metres personal best in final Olympic tune-up

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Lyles runs 100 metres personal best in final Olympic tune-up

 Noah Lyles warmed up for his assault on the Olympic 100 metres title in impressive style on Saturday when the American world champion ran a personal best of 9.81 seconds in the final Diamond League meeting before the Paris Games.

Lyles, probably the biggest name in the sport at the moment, delivered on his promises in the final race of the day in front of a sellout crowd of 60,000, easily the largest on the Diamond League circuit, clipping two hundredths off his best.

South African Akani Simbini took second in 9.86 and Botswana’s Letsile Tebogo was third in 9.88 as the first five broke 10 seconds.

Lyles has developed into the biggest personality in athletics and, having taken the 100m world title in Budapest last year to add to three, and an Olympic bronze, over the 200m, he is becoming the man to beat in the blue riband event.

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“That was fun,” said Lyles, who was sluggish out of the blocks but supreme over the second half of the race. “I could have had a better start but the transitions were great and coming away with a PB this has been what I prayed for and what I wanted.”

In the women’s 200m American Gabby Thomas delivered a late surge to edge past Julien Alfred of St Lucia in a thrilling finish.

Thomas, a bronze medallist in Tokyo and silver winner at the last worlds, clocked 21.82 seconds, carrying Alfred to a personal best of 21.86.

HOME FAVOURITES WIN

Keely Hodgkinson delivered an emphatic statement that she is the woman to beat in the 800m in Paris when she took more than half a second off her own national record with a dominant 1:54.61 victory in a British 1-2-3.

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Still only 22, Tokyo silver medallist Hodgkinson is favourite for Olympic gold after Athing Mu failed to qualify following a fall in the US trials.

Hodgkinson was already the only athlete to go under 1.56.00 this year and was joined by compatriot Jemma Reekie (1:55.61), who edged Georgia Bell (1:56.28), both with personal bests, in the second and third fastest times in the world.

Another home favourite stepped up in the men’s 400m as Matthew Hudson Smith won in a spectacular 43.74 – a European record and world lead.

A year ago at this meeting Hudson-Smith left the track in a wheelchair after tearing his Achilles tendon. He recovered to take silver in last year’s world championships and now, as the 12th-fastest man in history, is a real contender to become the first British winner of the event at the Olympics since Eric Liddell 100 years ago in the same city.

Since then, the only European to triumph over one lap was Viktor Markin of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Moscow Games boycotted by the United States.

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Jamaica’s Nickisha Pryce also looked very impressive in running a world-leading time of 48.57 to win the women’s 400m.

Femke Bol of the Netherlands easily won the women’s 400-metre hurdles in 51.30 seconds, cementing her status as another gold-medal contender in Paris. The 24-year-old world champion dominated from the start, with Shamier Little finishing second in 52.78, a season’s best for the US athlete.

In the men’s version, Brazil’s Tokyo bronze medallist and former world champion Alison dos Santos won in 47.18.

Italy’s Leonardo Fabbri caused a surprise in the shot put, throwing 22.52 metres to beat Ryan Crouser of the US (22.37).

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No false hope for Verstappen as McLaren set pole pace

No false hope for Verstappen as McLaren set pole pace

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No false hope for Verstappen as McLaren set pole pace

Formula One leader Max Verstappen said Red Bull needed to do more work on their car after McLaren locked out the front row in an eventful Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday.

The triple world champion, winner of seven races so far this season, will start third on Sunday at a track where overtaking can be tricky.

“I mean, for sure they (upgrades introduced in Hungary) work, but we’re still not first, right? So we need more. It’s as simple as that,” the Dutch driver told reporters.

He admitted his frustration, which was evident on his last flying lap when he banged the steering wheel as he crossed the line.

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“I think looking back at my qualifying, I was very happy with the laps, but balance wise everything is really on the edge. I’m pushing as hard as I can,” he said.

“I feel like I probably push harder than I did last year, but it’s just not coming any more to have these great lap times. So I guess it just means that we are a bit slower. So we have work to do. Simple as that.”

Verstappen won 19 races last year as Red Bull won all but one of the 22 in the most dominant season on record.

This season Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren have all won and a total of six different drivers have stood on top of the podium in 12 races.

McLaren now appear to have the quickest car.

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“We’ll try our very best. Try to have a good, stable balance with the car. And I hope if I find that, that I can follow them,” Verstappen said of the McLarens, with Lando Norris on pole and Oscar Piastri second.

“But I don’t know. I mean, honestly, my long runs have been OK, but nothing fantastic or special. I think it’s better to be realistic than sitting here and spreading false hope.”

Verstappen did not take part in the last two minutes, after the pitlane reopened following Yuki Tsunoda’s crash in the RB, and the champion explained that there had been no point going out again.

“I didn’t want to drive anymore. I had no tyres, so they were used, so I was never going to improve. So there was no point for me to be in the pit lane waiting. 

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