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India's Sharma eager to reprise top form in WGC-Mexico championship

Feb 8: India’s Shubhankar Sharma can’t wait to return to the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship later this month.

A year ago, the 22-year-old prospect took the world by storm, grabbing the second- and third-round leads against a star-studded field at Club Golf de Chapultepec before finishing T9.

While disappointed he failed to cross the finish line first, Sharma’s valiant run in Mexico propelled him to global fame and set him off on an adventure of a lifetime where he featured in all four World Golf Championships plus the majors, won the Asian Tour Order of Merit title and was afforded the Arjuna award which is one of the highest sporting accolades conferred in India.

Sharma believes his 2018 campaign will form the building blocks as he pursues greater success in his burgeoning career, which presently includes two victories in Asian Tour-European Tour sanctioned tournaments achieved in South Africa and Malaysia.

He has so far endured a subdued start to 2019 with two missed cuts from three tournaments but a timely return to the tree-lined and tricky Chapultepec course from February 21 to 24 will get his adrenaline rushing again.

“I’m looking forward to going back to Mexico. Obviously, I’ve got lots of special memories and feelings from last year’s tournament. I really like the golf course where you have to be sharp with your game. I’ll be giving my best for sure. You never know what can happen … golf is funny game. I wasn’t able to win it last year and I’ll keep trying,” he said.

Sharma, who grew up watching major golf events with his father during the wee hours of mornings in their Chandigarh home, shot rounds of 65, 66 and 69 to turn the spotlight on himself before closing with a 74. It marked a magical week which included an amusing encounter with eventual winner Phil Mickelson, who had brushed Sharma away when the Indian approached him on the practice putting green as the American though he was a journalist looking for an interview.

“It (Mexico) was definitely a highlight in 2018. I couldn’t finish it off, but it was a turning point for me. It showed I could play against best in the world in what was my first WGC of my career. Having a chance to win at this stage of my career was a good experience, and upon my return home, I received a lot of support and a lot of kids now look up to me and they also believe they can play at the highest stage,” said Sharma.

“Mexico was a really big stage and I had a chance to win which was huge. Hopefully I’ll get more opportunities.”

In October, he reinforced his growing credentials by taking the co-third round lead in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia before finishing T10 with a final round 72. He believes he can eventually break through and earn the right to compete full time on the PGA TOUR.

“You always learn something new, there’s a lot of pressure and the body can react differently. In Mexico and CIMB, I learned a lot. It’s more of the mental approach, getting more comfortable playing in the lead groups. I’m comfortable playing in the lead but at the highest stage, it’s a different level. I think you just have to tell yourself it’s golf. That’s what I’ll try to do,” he said.

In all, Sharma featured in 33 tournaments around the globe in 2018 and he hopes to trim his schedule this season to ensure his mind and body are fresh whenever he tees it up.

“I played a lot of big events. A lot of good things happened and it raised my confidence that I could play against the best,” he reflected. “It was a long season and I got to learn about my body. I’m learning to get over jet lags and getting rested up. The body and mind react differently when you play so much and it’s something I’m learning to manage. I’m hoping to get the scheduling right, make a proper schedule and stick to it. I was also playing on new courses on most weeks and hopefully it becomes easier when I get back to those places that I’ve been to.”

His goals for 2019 are quite clear– he intends to join the International Team for the Presidents Cup at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club in December and also challenge for a PGA TOUR card through the non-member category.

“I’m aiming for more consistency, more top-10s, top-15s,” Sharma said. “Winning will be great but I’m looking for more top results in a consistent manner.

“Getting into the Presidents Cup team … that’s right up there. I really want to be part of the team. The PGA TOUR is a goal but I’m not going to push it too hard. I’ve got Mexico and The Open on my schedule right now which counts towards the PGA TOUR so hopefully I can have some good results and see where it takes me.”

Saina Nehwal first Indian to win Indonesia Masters

NEW DELHI, Jan 27: Saina Nehwal created history as she became the first India women shuttler to win the Indonesia Masters badminton tournament on Sunday. Saina was named the winner after her final opponent Carolina Marin conceded the final due to an injury that she sustained during the first game.

Reigning Olympics champion Marin got off the blocks quickly as she raced away to a 5-1 early lead. Saina had no answers to Marin’s quick baseline play as in no time, the Indian ace fell 4-10 behind.

But that is when calamity struck for the number fifth seed as Marin twisted her right foot following an awkward landing after hitting a shot. Marin was down on the ground for a brief period and wincing in pain. She tried to continue and even won the first point after the injury stoppage.

But unfortunately for the former world number 1 as Marin couldn’t continue further as pain got the better of her and she had to withdraw from the final. Saina was crowned the champion even though she admitted during the post-match presentation that she didn’t like way it all ended for Marin.

“It is important year for all of us. This was not good at all. She is a tough competitor, she started off well and it is unfortunate what happened today,” said Saina, who last won a BWF title in 2017 in Malaysia.

It is a creditable performance for the Indian, who had suffered a shin injury late last year.

“I just came out of injury. I played this events to see how good is this. and I’m happy I could play the semifinals at Malaysia and final here. Looking forward to get back to shape and play next tournament,” she said.

“I have been getting injured in the last few years. I always try to come back stronger, there is no secret. I want to thank physios and coaches who are supporting me a lot.” Saina had won a gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, a bronze at the Asian Games, besides reaching finals at the Denmark, Indonesia Masters and Syed Modi International.

Novak Djokovic hails Rafael Nadal rout as his ‘best’ Slam final performance

MELBOURNE, Jan 27: Novak Djokovic said he played his “best final in a Grand Slam” to win a record magnificent seventh Australian Open with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 rout of Rafael Nadal on Sunday.

“It’s one of the best, if not the best, matches I’ve played in a Grand Slam final,” the Serbian world number one said after winning his 15th major title in just 2hr 4min.

The demolition of second seed Nadal put Djokovic, 31, out on his own ahead of Roger Federer and Roy Emerson, who both won six Australian Open men’s singles titles.

The top seed dropped to his knees and kissed the ground after vanquishing his greatest rival.

“It’s quite unreal we are still playing at this level and still competing for the biggest titles in sport and it’s just an amazing evening,” he said, pausing frequently to hold back his emotions.

“Under the circumstances, maybe this is the best quality tennis I have played against Rafa in a final.”

“I’m just trying to contemplate on the journey in the last 12 months. I had the surgery exactly 12 months ago,” he added, referring to an elbow operation that saw him slump out of the world’s top 20 before bouncing back to win Wimbledon and the US Open.

“To be standing now here in front of you today and managing to win this title and three out of four Slams, this is amazing. I am speechless.”

The pair’s only previous final in Australia, in 2012, developed into a record-breaking 5 hr 53 min slugfest -- the longest in Grand Slam history.

A repeat of that epic never materialised with Nadal uncharacteristically nervous at the start and Djokovic taking an immediate advantage that he would never relinquish.

Djokovic said a fast start had always been his plan.

“(It was) exactly what I intended to do, to step out and bring on the intensity because I knew there would be intensity waiting for me on the other side.”

The Spaniard had not lost a set and had not had his service broken since the third set of his first round match but that streak ended in a flash as the Serb came sprinting out of the blocks.

“I definitely needed a good start, we had both been playing well coming into the match,” said Djokovic. “I knew I had a good chance if could dictate the play.”

Djokovic was in total control on his own delivery and won his first four service games without conceding a single point, even inducing Nadal to miss a forehand completely on the way to grabbing the set in 36 minutes.

The second set followed a similar pattern, with Djokovic racing through games on his own serve, while Nadal struggled to hold.

The pressure told in the fifth game and Djokovic broke again when Nadal hit a lob volley long after an exchange at the net.

The on-song Serb was so fired up he broke Nadal again to go to 5-2 before serving out for a two-set lead with three aces in a row with just 1hr 16min on the clock.

The statistics were as telling as the scoreline: Djokovic had served eight aces to Nadal’s one and made just four unforced errors while the Spaniard had coughed up 20.

When Djokovic broke again in the third game of the third set it was just a matter of how quickly he would finish off Nadal.

The end was swift, as Djokovic withstood one break point at 3-2 before administering the last rites in a flurry of winners off both wings.

“Even if tonight was not my best day of course I had someone that played a lot better than me tonight,” said Nadal.

Victory extended the Serb’s win-loss record against Nadal to 28-25 and squared the Grand Slam final count between the pair at 4-4.

Djokovic has now completed a hat-trick of Slams following his wins at Wimbledon and the US Open.

He will go to Paris in May for the French Open seeking to become the only man in the Open Era to win all four majors twice.


Hardik Pandya, KL Rahul interim suspensions lifted

NEW DELHI, Jan 24: India cricketers KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya can finally breathe a sigh of relief as the BCCI Committee of Administrators on Thursday removed their interim suspension orders with immediate effect.

The decision was taken after discussions with Amicus Curiae, Mr. P.S. Narasimha. The suspension orders dated 11.01.2019 will be immediately lifted pending appointment and adjudication of the allegations by the BCCI Ombudsman.

The CoA issued a statement which read: “The Committee of Administrators (“CoA”) had, by emails dated 11.01.2019, and in exercise of Rule 41(6) of the Constitution of BCCI, suspended Mr. Hardik Pandya and Mr. K.L. Rahul in view of the allegations of misconduct against them, pending adjudication of the allegations under Rule 46 of the approved BCCI Constitution.

“Since the adjudication of all allegations of misconduct against any cricketer registered with, inter alia, the BCCI is required to be undertaken by the BCCI Ombudsman, whose appointment is pending directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, the CoA is the of the view that the interim suspension orders dated 11.01.2019 should be presently lifted with immediate effect. The above matter and decision has been taken with the concurrence of the Learned Amicus Curiae, Mr. P.S. Narasimha.

In view of the above, the suspension orders dated 11.01.2019 is immediately lifted pending appointment and adjudication of the allegations by the BCCI Ombudsman.”

Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul came under fire for certain comments they made during their appearance on the show ‘Koffee with Karan’. The duo was criticised as the comments were seen to be disrespectful towards women.

They were suspended for an indefinite period for their comments. The duo was asked for an explanation about their alleged misconduct and indiscipline to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

“From the Indian cricket team point of view, any inappropriate comments that are made in that scenario are something that we definitely don’t support and the two concerned players felt what has gone wrong and they have understood the magnitude of what’s happened,” Kohli said at the SCG ahead of the opening ODI against Australia.

“Definitely it has to hit anyone hard, they will definitely understand the things that have not gone right,” he added.

Virat Kohli creates history, becomes 1st player to win ICC, Test and ODI cricketer of the year

NEW DELHI, Jan 22: Indian captain Virat Kohli reigned supreme as he swept all the awards on offer at the ICC awards 2018. He became the first player in history to win the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for ICC Cricketer of the Year, the ICC Men’s Test Player of the Year and the ICC ODI Player of the Year awards following an extraordinary 2018.

Kohli he has also been named the captain of the ICC Test and ODI teams of the year for a fabulous run in international cricket. Kohli scored 1,322 runs at an average of 55.08 in 13 Tests with five hundreds during the calendar year while in 14 ODIs he amassed 1202 runs at an astonishing average of 133.55 with six centuries. He also scored 211 runs in 10 T20Is.

“It feels amazing. It’s a reward for all the hard work that you do throughout the calendar year. I feel really grateful and very, very happy with the team doing well at the same time myself performing. Having recognition at the global level from the ICC is something you feel proud of as a cricketer because you understand that there are many players playing the game,” Kohli said.

“To be rewarded in this manner from amongst all of them is obviously a very proud moment for me and something that gives you more motivation to keep repeating the same things because you have to keep the standard of cricket up and keep bringing in consistent performances. From that point of view, these awards give you that extra motivation,” he further added.

Kohli had won the Sir Garfield Trophy and ICC ODI Player of the Year awards last year and was also the ICC ODI Player of the Year in 2012.

“This is well-deserved recognition for an extraordinary talent. His regard for the game and particularly for Test cricket is also recognized and appreciated. He is passionate in his support of the longest form of the game and its continued importance. To be recognized as a true cricketing great you need to be successful at all formats of the game and Virat has become a great ambassador for our sport,” ICC Chief Executive David Richardson heaped praises on Kohli.

Team India scripts history by winning series in Australia

SYDNEY, Jan 6: A dominant India won a historic first-ever series in Australia on Monday with a 2-1 victory after play in the fourth and final Test in Sydney was abandoned due to rain.

Australia were still 316 runs behind when the match was called off as a draw, leaving India with a series triumph after wins in Adelaide and Melbourne.

Australia were all set to resume their second innings on six without loss, still 316 runs behind India’s first innings 622-7 declared, after the tourists enforced the follow-on on the rain-disrupted fourth day.

It is the first time they have managed the feat since they began touring Australia in 1947-48.

Persistent light rain washed out the first session of the fifth day of the final test between Australia and India at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Monday.

The lunch break was taken as scheduled at 12.30 a.m. local time (0130 GMT) with the covers still on the wicket.

However, things did not improve and play was finally abandoned after the lunch break.

India came into the Sydney Test with a 2-1 lead in the four-match Test series after winning the matches in Adelaide and Melbourne while the hosts were able to win the second match in Perth.

“It’s a great feeling for all of us. We’ve been working really hard to win a series overseas. And especially doing it in this country, it’s never easy,” Cheteshwar Pujara said after played was called off on Monday.


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