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Leclerc wins Australian Grand Prix

Charles Leclerc extended his championship lead by winning the Australian Grand Prix and Max Verstappen retired for the second time in three races on Sunday.

Ferrari driver Leclerc led from start to finish at Albert Park to secure his second victory of the season, with Sergio Perez finishing second and George Russell third.

World champion Verstappen pulled over on lap 39 of 58, while Leclerc’s team-mate Carlos Sainz – who started the day second in the driver standings – spun off early in the race after starting back in ninth spot.

Leclerc got off to a good start and Lewis Hamilton moved up from fifth to third behind world champion Verstappen.

The safety car was deployed when Sainz found himself in the gravel after losing control on lap three, with Leclerc extending his advantage as Perez used the DRS to overtake Hamilton.

Verstappen pitted for hard tyres on lap 19 and the safety car was out again when Sebastian Vettel retired, giving Russell the opportunity to pit and remain in third place.

Leclerc fended off Verstappen when the race restarted and that was as close as the Dutchman came to taking the lead before he pulled over due to another issue with his Red Bull.

Monegasque Leclerc was untroubled, easing to a second win in three races and put the icing on the cake by clocking the fastest lap.

Leclerc finished over 20 seconds ahead of Perez, with Russell securing a podium spot and Hamilton crossing the line in fourth spot.

Leclerc could not have wished for a better weekend as he converted his pole into a victory and nipped in with the quickest lap to secure maximum points.

The 24-year-old’s win was the Scuderia’s third in four races in Australia and extended his lead to 34 points ahead of Russell, who jumped into second spot with his second podium finish in Formula One.

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Rafael Nadal has won a record-breaking 21st grand slam title, beating Daniil Medvedev 2-6 6-7 (5) 6-4 6-4 7-5 in the Australian Open tennis men’s singles final.

Most of the build-up focused on the historic significance of the Spaniard bidding for his 21st grand slam title, but he found himself under pressure from the start on Rod Laver Arena.

Medvedev stamped his authority on the final by dominating the first set. Nadal saved two break points in a long third game but was then broken to love in the fifth as Medvedev, who was booed onto court by a section of the crowd, proved the steadier from the baseline.

Successive double faults then contributed to a second straight break and Medvedev served out the set 6-2.

There were dramatic scenes with Nadal facing break point serving for the second set at 5-3 when a man waving a banner jumped out of the crowd and down onto the court.

He was only metres from Medvedev but was immediately tackled by several security men and hauled away before the match resumed.

Nadal began to play more offensively in the second set and twice managed to break the Medvedev serve.

But holding his own proved a constant challenge and Medvedev twice responded, saving a set point at 5-3 before hitting back to level.

Into a tie-break they went, and again Nadal led 5-3, but this time Medvedev produced a sequence of fine points to take it 7-5, ending it with a backhand pass and taunting the crowd, who responded with boos.

Nadal had not recovered from two sets down to win a match since beating Mikhail Youzhny at Wimbledon in 2007, while he faded physically after the first two sets against Denis Shapovalov and Matteo Berrettini here.

But his competitive desire has never been in doubt and recovering from 0-40 at 2-3 in third set to hold galvanised the Spaniard.

With Medvedev beginning to look weary and muddled in his shot selection, Nadal pounced at 4-4 before serving out the set 6-4.

Medvedev was allowing himself to become increasingly wound up by the crowd, appealing repeatedly to umpire John Blom to control the “idiots”.

His mood was not improved when he double-faulted to drop serve in the third game of the fourth set and, although he got back on terms immediately, Nadal took his seventh break point in the next game.

Nadal created a set point on his opponent’s serve at 5-3, which Medvedev saved, but the 20-time grand slam champion took it 6-4 on his own serve to level the contest.

Both men headed off court for a bathroom break but Medvedev could not break Nadal’s momentum, a trademark forehand passing shot from the Spaniard giving him a 3-2 lead in the deciding set.

The Russian had three chances to break back in the next game but could not take any of them and Nadal was two points away at 30-0 serving at 5-4.

But a double fault proved costly – and betrayed the tension of the moment – and a netted backhand from Nadal saw Medvedev break back for 5-5.

The Russian, though, could not hold his own serve, giving Nadal a second chance to serve for it.

This time he did not falter, bringing up three match points and clinching it 2-6 6-7 (5) 6-4 6-4 7-5 after five hours and 24 minutes at 1.11am local time.

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Roger Federer has confirmed he will not feature in next year’s Australian Open – and says he would be “extremely surprised” if he plays at Wimbledon.

In an interview with Swiss publication Le Matin, the 40-year-old added that he does not anticipate returning to competition until next summer.

The 20-time grand slam winner is recovering from a series of knee operations.

Federer, who has not played since he lost his quarter-final match against Hubert Hurkacz at Wimbledon on July 7, said: “I will be able to resume running quietly in January and resume sessions on the court with complex support in March or April.

“Today, I therefore estimate my return to competition in the summer of 2022. I would be extremely surprised if I could play Wimbledon.”

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Novak Djokovic remains the king of Melbourne Park after clinching a ninth Australian Open title with a comfortable victory over Daniil Medvedev.

The world number one had never been beaten in a final at his most successful tournament, but that record seemed to be under considerable threat given the form of his opponent, who went into his second grand slam final on a run of 20 successive victories.

But Djokovic gave another reminder of what makes him one of the greatest exponents the sport has ever seen with a relentless display of baseline hitting to win 7-5 6-2 6-2.

The victory brought him a third successive title in Melbourne and an 18th slam crown overall, moving him to within two of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the top of the men’s all-time standings.

This was one of the more remarkable of those 18, with Djokovic looking down and out after sustaining an abdominal injury in the third round against Taylor Fritz and battling through matches against Milos Raonic and Alexander Zverev.

He declared himself back in peak condition after beating Aslan Karatsev in straight sets in the semi-finals, which proved to be bad news for Medvedev.

The Russian’s strengths are very similar to those of Djokovic, with the 25-year-old a relentless hitter from the baseline, particularly on the backhand side, and a tremendous athlete for his 6ft 6in frame.

He had won three of his last four matches against Djokovic, including in straight sets at the ATP Finals in London in November, but he quickly discovered the Serbian in Melbourne is a different animal.

Djokovic set his stall out by racing to a 3-0 lead, only for Medvedev to fight back and level.

The world number one’s serve has been particularly impressive this tournament, though, arguably keeping him in it when he was struggling physically, and he held comfortably from there before breaking to take the first set.

Tactically it was a very smart performance from the top seed, who was making Medvedev play from the centre of the court, particularly off his forehand, and drawing the errors he was looking for.

Djokovic’s consistent excellence has the effect of making the court seem smaller and smaller for his opponent, and Medvedev started to over press, aiming closer to the lines and missing.

A break of serve to start the second set was swiftly snuffed out by a run of four games in a row for Djokovic, and even smashing a racket did nothing to alleviate Medvedev’s frustration.

Another break of serve handed Djokovic the second set, and the match was all but over when Medvedev, missing only the steam coming out of his ears, dumped a volley into the net to trail 2-0 in the third.

Medvedev had fought back from two sets down to push Nadal to a fifth set in his previous slam final at the US Open in 2019, but that was never on the cards here and Djokovic took his first match point with an overhead.

With his ninth title, the 33-year-old becomes only the second man after Nadal in Paris to win a slam more than eight times.

Djokovic’s success also continues the unprecedented dominance of himself, Federer and Nadal, who have now won 15 of the last 16 slam titles despite all being well into their 30s.

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Karolina Muchova stunned world number one Ashleigh Barty with a sensational comeback sparked by a medical time-out to progress into the Australian Open semi-finals following a 1-6 6-3 6-2 win.

The 25th seed looked out of sorts in a first set which lasted only 24 minutes and at this stage it seemed the home favourite sealing her place in the last four was a formality.

A medical time-out proved the catalyst for the Czech to wrestle back some momentum and, after she levelled, it was Barty who lost her radar and a catalogue of unforced errors saw hopes of a maiden Australian Open victory ended.

For Muchova her remarkable tournament continues with Karolina Pliskova and Elise Mertens already dispatched but this victory tops the lot and seals a first ever appearance at the last four of a grand slam

In her on-court interview, the 24-year-old semi-finalist reflected on her medical time-out and said: “I started to feel a bit lost at the end of the first set.

“My head was spinning so I took a break and it helped me. I tried to get back and play a bit faster and it worked well.

“They checked my (blood) pressure, I was a bit lost and spinning. They cooled me down with ice and it helped me.”

French Open winner Barty refused to be drawn into a debate about the long break in play when she attended her press conference.

She insisted: “If she wasn’t within the rules, the physios and the doctors would have said so. That’s the laws of our game, is that we have those medical time-outs for cases that are needed. Obviously she needed that today. Completely within the rules for her to take that.

“From my point of view, I’ve played a lot of matches where there have been medical timeouts. I’ve taken medical timeouts myself before, so that shouldn’t be a massive turning point in the match.

“I was disappointed that I let that become a turning point. I’m experienced enough now to be able to deal with that.”

Barty had got the better of the Czech in their previous meeting at the US Open in 2018 and signalled her intentions with a break in her opponent’s first game in temperatures of 25 degrees in Melbourne.

Muchova could not find her range and a string of wayward shots were followed by a double fault to put her on the verge of a bagel following 16 minutes of play at the Rod Laver Arena.

It was avoided but Barty secured a routine first set by a 6-1 scoreline before the tide turned in unexpected fashion following a medical time-out.

The world number 27, in only her second ever grand slam quarter-final, went off for a long period after a rare winner and when she returned it was now her Australian opponent who could not land any shots.

Five of the next six games in the set went the way of Muchova to level proceedings with Barty hitting 18 unforced errors.

Momentum was firmly with the underdog and another break at the start of the decider increased the pressure on the home favourite, who was seeing hopes of becoming the first Aussie woman since Wendy Turnbull in 1980 to reach the final of the Australian Open fade fast.

With the crowd not due to return until Thursday after a five-day lockdown for the state of Victoria ends, Barty had to find support from within and yet let another game slip despite nerves getting the better of the duo with the finish line in sight.

Serving for the match, Muchova sealed her passage into the semi-finals with an ace to claim one of the best victories of her career.

Jennifer Brady clinched a second consecutive last four appearance at a major with a 4-6 6-2 6-1 win over fellow American Jessica Pegula in the quarter-finals.

The Fed Cup team-mates produced an entertaining contest with breaks aplenty in addition to various long rallies.

Brady, who reached the US Open semi-finals in August, recovered from losing the first set and being broken in the first game of the decider to fight back and knock out her good friend.

She said: “I know we will be having a lot more tough battles. Some may go her way, some may go mine. Luckily today it went mine and I am really happy to be moving onto the semi-finals.”

World number 61 Pegula’s fantastic journey in the tournament came to its conclusion despite a strong start where she won 12 consecutive points to seal the opener.

After 22nd seed Brady began to channel her growing frustration, winners became more frequent and three breaks secured the second set.

When Pegula broke at the start of the third, the balance of the tie looked set to turn once more, but the player ranked 24 in the world responded in style to triumph in the next six games and set up a semi-final date with 25th seed Muchova.

The winner will make a grand slam final for the first time where they will meet one of either Naomi Osaka or Serena Williams.

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Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka both survived close battles to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.

Third seed and title favourite Osaka saved two match points on her way to a 4-6 6-4 7-5 victory over last year’s runner-up Garbine Muguruza while Williams was a 6-4 2-6 6-4 winner against Aryna Sabalenka.

Seventh seed Sabalenka has been one of the form players of the last few months and many people have been waiting for the big-hitting Belarusian to make a grand slam breakthrough.

She fought back from 1-4 to draw level in the final set but Williams was just too strong in the end.

The 39-year-old, who is now again within touching distance of a record-equalling 24th grand slam singles title, said: “It felt good to kind of clutch that in the end and get through that.

“I just felt like even games that I lost, I was so close to winning. Not all games, but probably most of those games. I just needed to play better on the big points. I knew that I could. I still hadn’t reached my peak. I was like, ‘OK, Serena, you got this, just keep going’.”

Among Williams’ support camp is sister Venus and the 10th seed credited her sibling for keeping her calm.

“She’s really one of the only voices I hear,” said Serena. “I don’t know if I zone out and she’s the only one I hear. I know when I hear her voice, it just makes me calm and confident. I think there’s something about it that just makes me feel really good.”

Osaka hung on by the skin of her teeth against Muguruza, who was full of confidence after a strong start to the season.

The Spaniard led by a set and a break and held two match points at 5-3 in the deciding set only for Osaka, the 2019 champion in Melbourne, to pull through with a run of four games in a row.

Asked how she had dug herself out of trouble, the Japanese star said: “I’m not really sure, to be honest. I was just trying to fight for every point, then it sort of led me to win.

“On the first match point, I was just thinking that I didn’t hit a decent serve that entire game, so I should really focus on my serve. I feel like my serve stats were pretty good that set, so I was just telling myself to do better.

“Then on the second point, when the rally started, I just told myself not to push (the ball) but also don’t do something crazy and make a really bad unforced error.”

Osaka also credited a brief moment of temper for clearing her mind, saying: “I felt the entire match I was overthinking. There was a moment when I got angry and hit my racquet on the ground. I feel like I released a lot of the thoughts that I had. It just made me go more into instinct-based tennis.”

Osaka will next face the highly unconventional Hsieh Su-wei, who at 35 became the oldest player to reach a first slam quarter-final in the Open era with a 6-4 6-2 victory over Marketa Vondrousova.

Hsieh came close to beating Osaka at the Australian Open in 2019 and, asked what makes her challenging to play, the third seed said with a laugh: “Have you watched her play? It’s like, ‘What’?

“She’s one of those players that, for me, if it was a video game, I would want to select her character just to play as her. Because my mind can’t fathom the choices she makes when she’s on the court. It’s so fun to watch. It’s not fun to play, but it’s really fun to watch.”