Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Sharapova gives Pan Pacific Open a facelift


Sharapova reaches last eight
* Jankovic unfazed by seed jinx
* Azarenka also powers through (Adds Azarenka win, details in paras 5-6)
By Alastair Himmer
TOKYO, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Former world number one Maria Sharapova continued her salvage operation at the Pan Pacific Open by screeching into the quarter-finals on Wednesday.
Wearing a pink dress, the Russian beat compatriot Alisa Kleybanova 2-6 6-2 6-2—to the relief of Tokyo organisers after a flood of early upsets at the $2 million event.
“It took a while to get my reaction and instincts back today,” Sharapova, ranked 25th in the world following shoulder surgery last October, told reporters.
Seventh seed Jelena Jankovic, the highest-ranked survivor, avoided the rush for the exit after Russian Elena Vesnina retired with a thigh strain while trailing 6-1 3-0.
A tournament which began with nine of the world’s top 10 players at least kept its remaining two as eighth seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus also powered on.
The world number nine, a three-times title winner on the women’s WTA Tour this year, beat Czech Lucie Safarova 7-5 6-4 to set up a quarter-final with China’s Li Na.
Sharapova recovered from an error-strewn first set to reach the last eight of a tournament she won in 2005.
The 22-year-old called coach Michael Joyce on court for advice at the end of the set before storming through the second to level the match and turn the tide in her favour.
Pumping up the volume as the ferocity of her hitting increased, Sharapova secured the crucial break at 2-2 in the decider by smashing a forehand return across court.
The three-times grand slam winner sealed victory with a vicious kick serve that bamboozled Kleybanova and celebrated by blowing kisses to all corners of the crowd.
FRESH BREATH
“Michael’s come on court a few times this year,” said Sharapova, referring to the on-court coaching rule approved for this season by the WTA Tour.
“I use it to give me a little boost of energy, not change anything drastically. He just gave me a few pointers. It pumps you up a little bit, gives you that fresh breath of air.”
Sharapova’s next opponent is Czech Iveta Benesova, who knocked out Taiwanese qualifier Chang Kai-chen—shock conqueror of world number one Dinara Safina—with a 7-5 6-2 win.
Jankovic, who finished 2008 as the world number one, was cruising when Vesnina threw in the towel in cold conditions under a closed centre court roof as rain lashed Tokyo Bay.
“My goal is to make the (WTA Tour’s season-ending) championships,” the world number eight said. “I’m really not worrying about what’s happening to the other seeds.”
Jankovic next plays 14th seed Marion Bartoli after the Frenchwoman scored a 4-6 6-2 7-5 win over Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Safina, second seed Venus Williams and French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova all lost their opening matches on Monday after first-round byes.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Obama set to be lord of the rings
















The four cities bidding for the prize honour of hosting the 2016 Olympic Games have begun three intensive days of lobbying – with the Obama factor looming large ahead of Friday's vote by the International Olympic Committee.
The White House announcement on Monday that President Barack Obama would fly in to Copenhagen to appear before the International Olympic Committee in support of Chicago's bid for the Games was the news the other three candidates least wanted.
Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo all fear that the IOC membership could be swayed by Obama's charismatic appeal, as they were four years ago when then British prime minister Tony Blair helped persuade them to choose London over clear favourites Paris for the 2012 Olympics.
Two years later, then-Russian president Vladimir Putin was similarly persuasive when the Black Sea resort of Sochi, rank outsiders, won the right to stage the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Obama, who has close connections with the Windy City, had originally opted to stay at home to deal with his healthcare reform plans and announced that First Lady Michelle Obama would travel instead to the Danish capital.
Chicago bid leaders were delighted by Monday's news which means both Obamas will now be part of the team making the presentation to the IOC membership on Friday.
Close call
Before the announcement of Obama's visit, the Olympic insider publication Around the Rings had rated Rio as marginal favourites over Chicago with Madrid and Tokyo close behind in a contest widely seen as the closest ever.
Rogge is due to form the vanguard of a large IOC contingent in Denmark [GALLO/GETTY]There was little doubt among observers that the Obama factor has tipped the odds in Chicago's favour but, in such a close contest, late lobbying has often been decisive and all four have to consider they still have a reasonable chance.
IOC president Jacques Rogge was due to arrive in Copenhagen later on Tuesday and most of the IOC's 115 membership are expected in the next two days.
Chicago, Rio and Tokyo all launched their last lobbying effort on Tuesday, mainly for the benefit of more than 1,000 accredited written media in the Danish capital and a host of major broadcasters.
Madrid, who have favoured a more low-key approach, were due to start their lobbying in Denmark on Wednesday after Tuesday's planned arrival of King Juan Carlos and Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero.
Celebrities were also flooding in to support the various bids.
Rio were wheeling out World Cup great Pele on Tuesday in a street football photo opportunity while Chicago were parading former US sprint world record holder Michael Johnson and Romanian gold-medal gymnast Nadia Comaneci.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Obama to woo IOC over Chicago bid
















US President Barack Obama will travel to Copenhagen to support the bid by the city of Chicago to host the 2016 Olympic Games, the White House says.
He will join his wife, Michelle, and other administration members at the International Olympic Committee meeting in the Danish capital on Thursday.
Chicago faces opposition from Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo in the vote.
Brazilian, Spanish and Japanese leaders are also expected to lobby IOC delegates at the meeting.
ANALYSIS


These bids are now being run like election campaigns, by hard-nosed political strategists working out tactics for grabbing the second or even third preference votes that will be crucial to the chances of any of the bidders.
Strict IOC rules dictate the boundaries of what is permitted, and transgressing them could be fatal.
Expenses-paid trips to bid cities for voting members - with freebies ranging from the odd case of wine to dental work to scholarships for offspring - were banned after the Salt Lake City "votes for gifts" scandal.
It is all strictly above board now.
However, one of the unexpected consequences of the ban on members' visits seems to be that if you cannot go to the city, the city now comes to you, with half the nation's politicians, sports stars and famous alumni in tow.
Correspondents say the impact of star personalities on Olympic bids was demonstrated when lobbying by former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2005 helped London win the 2012 Games, and Russian President Vladimir Putin led Sochi's bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics in 2007.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva expressed hope on Monday that he would "return from Copenhagen with a victory".
"This is a fight," he said in his weekly radio programme. "And if we don't win, we'll have to prepare for another one."
'Inspiration'
Mr Obama, who was senator for Illinois and lived in Chicago before his election to the White House, will be the first sitting US president to take on such a direct role in an Olympic bid.
He will be joined on Friday by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who are both from Illinois.
"President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama symbolise the hope, opportunity and inspiration that make Chicago great, and we are honoured to have two of our city's most accomplished residents leading our delegation in Copenhagen," Chicago Mayor Richard M Daley said on Monday.
"Who better to share with members of the International Olympic Committee the commitment and enthusiasm Chicago has for the Olympic and Paralympic Movement," he added.

Chicago was chosen ahead of four other US cities to bid for the Games
Candidates for 2016 Olympics
Mr Obama had reportedly told IOC chief Jacques Rogge last week that the pressure of his push for healthcare reform would prevent him from attending the meeting.
The race to host the 2016 Olympics has been described as one of the closest in history.
But correspondents say Chicago, with President Obama's overt support, could be considered a slight favourite.
Chicago was chosen to bid for the Games two years ago by the US Olympic Committee ahead of four other US cities.
The city's plan revolves around providing a compact event in the middle of the city, on the shores of Lake Michigan, using many established venues. The costs of Games will be borne by the private sector - unlike the three other bids.

Other government heads will be lobbying IOC delegates in Copenhagen
It is expected that Chicago's renowned skyline, history and cultural heritage will be positive factors in its Olympics bid, while the city also boasts good transport infrastructure.
Although there is no official IOC continental rotation policy, correspondents say the Americas may have an edge as previous games will have been held in Asia, Europe, and Australasia.
This factor, they add, is considered the most significant weakness of both Madrid - one of the few major European capitals yet to host the Games - and Tokyo's bids.
Rio de Janeiro's successful staging of the Pan-American Games in 2007 and their future hosting of the 2014 World Cup seemed to bolster its prospects, but the IOC recently noted that it would not be capable of providing the level of security and safety required for the Games.

Barcelona face Kiev test



Striker Henry is an injury doubt with a left thigh strain [GALLO/GETTY]Coach Pep Guardiola faces injury concerns over Thierry Henry and Dmytro Chygrynskiy ahead of Barcelona's Champions League match against Dynamo Kiev, a game the Spanish champions need to win to kick-start their title defence.
Despite winning all five games to be neck and neck with Real Madrid in the domestic Liga competition, Barcelona were held 0-0 by Italian champions Inter Milan in the Champions League group play two weeks ago.
They now face the side at the top with Kiev having won their opening match against Russia's Rubin Kazan.
Another draw or a loss would put pressure on Guardiola and he could go into Tuesday's game at Camp Nou without both striker Henry and Ukraine defender Chygrynskiy, who were both injured in Saturday's victory at Malaga in La Liga.
Injury woes
Henry is a doubtful starter with a left thigh injury while Chygrynskiy, signed from Uefa Cup winners Shakhtar Donetsk on the final day of the transfer window, has knee ligament damage and is out for up to three weeks.
At least Barca easily won that game against Malaga and France defender Eric Abidal believes their domestic form has given the Spanish club a boost to beat Kiev at home.
"It is always better to win before a Champions League game to give you confidence,'' Abidal said.
"Dynamo won their opening match (against Rubin Kazan) and we drew. We know that all Champions League games are hard to win but we are preparing well for this one.''
Despite the new injury problems, Barcelona have the strength in depth to beat the Ukraine champion at home in a competition where all the leading contenders avoided defeats in the opening round of games and should be confident of reaching the knockout phase.
Inter travel to meet the Russian champions in Group F and, although the winner of the last four Italian titles are coming off a 1-0 defeat at Sampdoria in the Serie A, they should rebound with a victory on Tuesday to stay in contention for a title they have not won since 1965.
Big match
One of the highlight games of the week's group matches is Bayern Munich at home to Juventus in Group A on Wednesday. The German club lead the group by two points.
Neither team won at the weekend, however, with Bayern losing 1-0 at new Bundesliga leaders Hamburg and Juve were held 1-1 by Bologna to squander a chance to return to the top of Serie A.
Five-time European cup winners Liverpool visit Fiorentina in Group E and are level on points with Lyon, who go to Hungarian league champions Debrecen.
A 6-1 victory over Hull on Saturday is the ideal preparation with Fernando Torres scoring three times for Liverpool to take his tally for the season to an English Premier League best eight.
"He is the kind of player who can change a game and the way he is working at the moment you can see the best from him,'' Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said.
"When a striker, especially, scores goals he has more confidence.
"After last year, when he was injured a lot, he wanted to do well this year again.
"Our players want to win trophies and the big names have to perform, because the other players will follow them.''
Room for improvement
Chasing an elusive 10th title in European football's biggest club competition, Real Madrid began with a 5-2 victory away at FC Zurich in Group C and now host Marseille on Wednesday.
Like Barcelona, they have begun the domestic season with five straight wins but coach Manuel Pellegrini, whose club has twice broken the international transfer record price to build the most expensive squad in the world, sees room for improvement.
"The team is still working on many aspects of the game,'' the Chilean coach said.
"We are improving on many of them. We've scored 16 goals so far, more than three on average per clash. We are also the least scored-upon team.
CL Fixtures
Tuesday 29 September AZ v Standard Liege Arsenal v Olympiakos Barcelona v Dynamo Kiev Debrecen v Lyon Fiorentina v Liverpool Rangers v Sevilla Rubin Kazan v Inter Milan Unirea Urziceni v StuttgartWednesday 30 September AC Milan v FC Zurich Apoel Nicosia v Chelsea Bayern Munich v Juventus Bordeaux v Maccabi Haifa CSKA Moscow v Besiktas FC Porto v Atletico Madrid Man Utd v Wolfsburg Real Madrid v Marseille"We have to improve on several things, but I think we are on the right track regarding others.''
AC Milan, a seven-time winner of European football's top prize, is trying to shrug off some poor domestic form - including a 0-0 draw with Bari on Sunday - and host Zurich, who are joint top with Madrid.
Runners-up last year, Manchester United began with a routine victory over Turkey's Besitkas in Istanbul and now host German champions Wolfsburg for the first time.
Alex Ferguson's team is boosted by going to the top of the English Premier League on Saturday with an expected 2-0 victory at Stoke and will open up a three-point lead in their Champions League group if they win at Old Trafford.
Arsenal and Olympiakos both won their opening games in Group H and meet at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday, when AZ Alkmaar welcome Standard Liege.
The Dutch champions lost 1-0 at Utrecht on Saturday, their third in a row, and another loss will likely increase pressure on coach Ronald Koeman.
"We need to go back to the basics,'' captain Stijn Schaars said.
"We must look back at our form from last season. Hopefully, things can change with victory against Standard Liege.''
English side Chelsea lead Group D but lost their perfect start to the Premier League season on Saturday when they surprisingly lost 3-1 at Wigan.
Now they travel to APOEL Nicosia, who did well to capture a draw with Atletico Madrid two weeks ago.
The Spanish club hope to rebound with a victory at Portuguese champion FC Porto.
Sevilla top Group G and face a lively atmosphere at Rangers on Tuesday, while Stuttgart head for Romanian champions Unirea Urziceni buoyed by a 3-0 win at Eintracht Frankfurt, where Julian Schieber scored twice.

Flintoff: 'England comes first'

mostafa




Flintoff is considering a stint in Australian club cricket [GALLO/GETTY]England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff says he is still passionate about playing for England despite rejecting a central contract but would like to experience club cricket in Australia.
The 31-year-old, who is on crutches after a second operation on his right knee, retired from Test cricket after the fifth Ashes Test in August.
His decision not to sign an England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) deal led to questions over his future in the one-day and Twenty20 sides.
"My motives are true, I want to play for England for a long time," Flintoff said in London where is promoting his new book 'Ashes to Ashes'.
"I wish I could play more Tests but that's a physical impossibility so the next best thing is to play one-dayers and Twenty20, that's my ambition.
"England is first, closely followed by Lancashire who I am still contracted to, but if I speak to a Lancashire fan it's the other way around.
"England's what I wanted to do since I was a kid and I don't know how long I have left to do it so I want to play every single game that I can."
Down under
Flintoff, whose inspirational bowling performance in the second Test against Australia at Lord's helped to give his country the lead in the series, said his decision not to sign the ECB contract was a personal choice that enabled him to pursue other career paths, including playing in Australia.
"The reason I didn't sign the (contract) is that I'm 31, I know my body, I still have some personal ambition.
"If the opportunity arose to play in Australia I would love to do that, I wanted to go when I was younger but because we've toured every winter for the past 15 years I've not had a chance to do that. It's something personally I would love.
"Sometimes players have the end of their careers creep up on them very quickly and they are left with nothing to do. I want to work and I didn't want any restraints on that...there are reasons (why I didn't sign) but none of them are that I didn't want to play cricket for England."
Flintoff, who has a lucrative deal with Indian Premier League (IPL) side Chennai, said he would continue to regain fitness in Dubai, adding that he would offer his coaching services to the United Arab Emirates team while he was there.
"I'm not sure how that will pan out," he said.
"They have amazing facilities in Dubai, I've offered my services to the UAE if I can help in any way."

Sorry Safina loses to qualifier











World number one Dinara Safina cut a dejected figure after suffering a 7-6 4-6 7-5 shock defeat by Taiwanese qualifier Chang Kai-chen in her opening match at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo.
The Russian defending champion, dumped out of the US Open in the third round earlier this month, struggled from the start against a player 131 places below her in the world rankings.
It comes a day after Safina had vowed to improve on the big stage.
"It's not an easy moment," Safina said after surrendering her Tokyo title on Monday.
"I had a lot of chances in the third set but I just let it go.
Sobbing
Safina sat sobbing on the steps of the players' lounge after her latest setback.
"It's so disappointing I didn't play the way I should have played. I never took her out of her comfort zone," she said.
Safina's ownership of the number one spot has been a source of contention after her failure to win a maiden Grand Slam in 2009 and the Russian got off to a bad start here by losing the first set tiebreak 7-5.
The defending Tokyo champion, given a first-round bye at the $2million tournament, rallied to take the second with a thumping backhand.
But after seizing an early break in the deciding set, Safina's nervousness resurfaced as she tamely surrendered her serve with a double-fault at 5-4 up.
Cool Chang
While Safina yelled at herself in Russian, the 18-year-old Chang kept her cool, completing the biggest win of her career by forcing Safina into wild forehand on her third match point.
"I never came into the match thinking I was going to lose badly," said Chang after winning a marathon match in two hours and 44 minutes.
"I just wanted to play tough.
"I was jumping up and down at the end thinking about my mum. She never watches me play but she watches the live scores (on the Internet) so I was wondering what she was thinking."
Earlier, Ai Sugiyama's final WTA Tour appearance ended prematurely when the Japanese player retired from her first-round match with Russian Nadia Petrova while trailing 6-0 2-1.

England loving the batting


England captain Andrew Strauss hailed a positive batting performance which set up a 22-run victory over favourites South Africa and took his team into the Champions Trophy semi-finals.
England piled up 323 for eight, their highest total against South Africa, with Owais Shah falling two short of a ton and Paul Collingwood and Eoin Morgan also lashing half-centuries.
Shah top-scored with 98 off 89 balls, including six sixes, while Collingwood scored 82 off 94 deliveries and Morgan belted 67 off just 34 balls.
Best in memory
"It's the best England batting performance that I can remember," said Strauss at Centurion on Sunday.
"Obviously our confidence was low after the Australia series, but we just wanted to make sure we showed what we can do in this tournament. We didn't want to die wondering.
"We can play the shots, we have the skills, but sometimes it's just a mindset thing. We wanted to loosen the shackles and take the game to them."
England lived up to spin-bowler Graeme Swann's pre-tournament prediction that they could "smash teams all over the place" despite losing 6-1 in a one-day series against Australia just after winning back the Ashes.
And they will be particularly pleased with Shah, who along with Ravi Bopara has failed to shine this summer despite a big reputation in England.
"Owais took control clearing the boundary that many times, it was an absolute gem of an innings. He was well-backed by Collingwood and Eoin Morgan was tremendous at the end again. It was a fantastic batting performance," said Strauss, whose own batting has often compensated for a weak middle order this year.
Jog on
Strauss defended his decision to deny opposite number Graeme Smith a runner in the closing stages of his heroic century.
"We can play the shots, we have the skills, but sometimes it's just a mindset thing. We wanted to loosen the shackles and take the game to them"
England captain Andrew Strauss"He asked me for a runner because he was cramping, but the umpires weren't particularly keen, I thought they were very uncomfortable with it and I didn't think he merited a runner.
"Cramping is about preparation and conditioning and at the end of a long innings you are going to get tired, it happens normally. But I didn't feel he was cramping that badly because he was still able to run," Strauss said.
South Africa captain Smith bemoaned a sub-par performance by his bowlers.
"The pitch played really well and you need to be consistent on those sort of surfaces. There also wasn't much spin out there, but it's hugely disappointing that we conceded more than 300," he said.
"We need to look at aspects of our attack when a pitch plays that well. We bowled three or four good balls an over, but two bad ones every over too."
Fines
Meanwhile Sri Lanka and England have both been fined for slow over-rates.
Sri Lanka, who lost by 38 runs to New Zealand at the Wanderers, were ruled two overs short in the allotted time, an International Cricket Council (ICC) statement said on Monday.
Captain Kumar Sangakkara was fined 20 per cent of his match fees and the rest of the team 10 per cent.
England were ruled one over short while defending their total of 323.
Skipper Andrew Strauss was fined 10 per cent of his match fee and the rest of the team five per cent.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

QB Michael Vick plays for first time in 33 months




PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Michael Vick played in an NFL game that counted on Sunday, though he didn't account for much of the Philadelphia Eagles offense.

Vick was on the field for only nine plays through the first three quarters of the Eagles' game against the Kansas City Chiefs, and not much happened with him in the game.

NFL Week 3
Week 3 actionPatriots 26, Falcons 10 -- Recap Box
Vikings 27, 49ers 24 -- Recap Box
Lions 19, Redskins 14 -- Recap Box
Giants 24, Bucs 0 -- Recap Box
Packers 36, Rams 17 -- Recap Box
Eagles 34, Chiefs 14 -- Recap Box
Jets 24, Titans 17 -- Recap Box
Jaguars 31, Texans 24 -- Recap Box
Ravens 34, Browns 3 -- Recap Box
Saints 27, Bills 7 -- Recap Box
Bears 25, Seahawks 19 -- Recap Box
Bengals 23, Steelers 20 -- Recap Box
Chargers 23, Dolphins 13 -- Recap Box
Broncos 23, Raiders 3 -- Recap Box
Colts 31, Cardinals 10 -- Recap Box
Panthers-Cowboys -- Preview Notes
Vick ran once for 7 yards, threw two incompletions, including one throw that bounced woefully short, and either handed off or acted as a decoy on the other plays. The Eagles built a 27-7 lead after three quarters over the struggling Chiefs in large part on the play of quarterback Kevin Kolb, rookie halfback LeSean McCoy and second-year receiver DeSean Jackson.

McCoy ran for a touchdown and Kolb ran for one and threw for another to Jackson, who had 117 yards receiving in the first half.

Vick could only cheer them on.

Vick, who served 18 months in prison on a federal dogfighting charge, didn't have to wait long to play in his first regular-season game in 33 months, a return that has been much anticipated in the NFL. He had played in two preseason games but was suspended for the first games of the regular season.

On the second play from scrimmage, the 29-year-old Vick lined up as a wide receiver, went in motion and had a handoff faked to him. He then watched as McCoy lost a yard on a carry.

Some in the crowd rose to give Vick a standing ovation as he took the field, though some didn't even notice because he wasn't there long: Vick lined up for one play at wide receiver then returned to the sideline.

A Pro Bowler in three of his six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, Vick went from a hero to a disgrace in 2007 when his association with a dogfighting ring was announced by federal authorities.

Before the game, a group of about 25 protesters gathered at the northeast entrance to the stadium, holding signs saying, "Vick is sick" and "Ethics over athletics." As fans walked by, some began chanting Vick's name and a few shouted insults at the protesters or yelled at them to go home. Philadelphia police stayed close to keep an eye on things.

The only play of note for Vick in the opening half was his second from scrimmage. Taking a shotgun snap, Vick ran an option keeper to the right and gained 7 yards, drawing a cheer from the crowd.

The fleet-footed Vick, who gained 1,000 yards rushing in 2006, got a chance to throw his first pass on the same series on a first and goal from the Chiefs 5. However, it went out of the end zone as he took a big hit.

Vick took a shotgun snap on the Eagles' third series and handed off to McCoy for an 11-yard gain.

Kolb was not on the field for any of the six shotgun snaps Vick took in the first half.

Vick's other plays were a bounced pass attempt to Jason Avant, a handoff to receiver Jeremy Maclin and several handoffs to McCoy.

He spent the rest of the time standing on the sideline, handing his helmet to an equipment man and taking a visor in return.

Vick was released from prison in late July and signed a one-year deal for $1.6 million with an Eagles' option for a second year at $5.2 million. Commissioner Roger Goodell announced in early September that Vick would be eligible to play this week.

Vick has called his offenses "a horrible mistake" and vowed to crusade for animal rights.

Singapore GP result

1 L Hamilton (GBR) McLaren
2 T Glock (GER) Toyota
3 F Alonso (ESP) Renault
4 S Vettel (GER) RedBull
5 J Button (GBR) Brawn
6 R Barrichello (BRA) Brawn
7 H Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren
8 R Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber
9 K Nakajima (JPN) Williams
10 K Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari
11 N Rosberg (GER) Williams
12 J Trulli (ITA) Toyota
13 G Fisichella (ITA) Ferrari
14 V Liuzzi (ITA) Force India

Champ Hamilton wins Singapore GP
















Lewis Hamilton stormed to a floodlit victory in the Singapore Grand Prix as Jenson Button fought through the field to extend his Formula One championship lead to 15 points with three races left.

McLaren's world champion drove brilliantly around the 5.067km Marina Bay street circuit to lead from start to finish in the gruelling 61-lap race, finishing 9.6 seconds ahead of Toyota's Timo Glock.

Last year's winner Fernando Alonso was third for the embattled Renault team, reeling under a suspended permanent ban imposed for fixing the inaugural night race in 2008.

Quick kisser

While Hamilton emerged from the cockpit to kiss pop singer girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger and embrace his mechanics, fellow-Briton Button had as much to celebrate after climbing from 11th on the grid to fifth at the finish.

Closest rival and Brawn team mate Rubens Barrichello was sixth after starting ahead of him in ninth place.

Brawn edged closer to claiming the constructors' title in their debut season as rivals Red Bull let slip a great opportunity to narrow the gap between the teams.

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel had started alongside Hamilton on the front row but a drive-through penalty for speeding through the pitlane on his second stop ended any hope the German had of winning the race.

He had to settle for fourth place.

Vettel's Australian team mate Mark Webber crashed at the end of the finishing straight after 45 laps, allowing Brawn to extend their lead in the constructors' title to 42.5 points with a maximum of 54 still to be won.

Brain hunt

Germany's Nick Heidfeld accused Force India's Adrian Sutil of brainless behaviour after a collision ended the BMW-Sauber driver's record run of Formula One finishes.


Singapore GP result
1 L Hamilton (GBR) McLaren
2 T Glock (GER) Toyota
3 F Alonso (ESP) Renault
4 S Vettel (GER) RedBull
5 J Button (GBR) Brawn
6 R Barrichello (BRA) Brawn
7 H Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren
8 R Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber
9 K Nakajima (JPN) Williams
10 K Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari
11 N Rosberg (GER) Williams
12 J Trulli (ITA) Toyota
13 G Fisichella (ITA) Ferrari
14 V Liuzzi (ITA) Force India

The incident on lap 21 meant the experienced BMW-Sauber driver had failed to be classified in a race for the first time in 42 starts dating back to the 2007 US Grand Prix.

"I think it was extremely stupid of Sutil," Heidfeld said after leaving the track.

"I was ahead of him... my front... he should look where he goes," he fumed.

Asked what his team would do next, the driver responded: "Maybe we try to find a brain for him."

Sutil was initially unrepentant after he had spun on turn 14 and driven into his compatriot.

"I never do careless driving. When I see a possibility, I try it," he told the BBC.

The collision ended a miserable Grand Prix for Heidfeld.

He started the race last and from the pitlane after his team discovered they had made a mistake with the weight of his car in qualifying.

Heidfeld had initially qualified seventh on Saturday night.

Alonso going

Meanwhile Renault Formula One managing director Jean-Francois Caubet strongly suggested on Sunday that double world champion Alonso would leave the team at the end of the season.

"Renault will remain his family," Caubet told French television channel TF1.

"We will miss him but he will miss us."

The Spaniard, who finished third in Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix, has been linked to reigning champions Ferrari for months with his move considered an open secret in the Formula One paddock.

Alonso won world titles with Renault in 2005 and 2006 and rejoined the team in 2008 after a one-year spell at McLaren.

Hamilton on top as Brawn struggle
















Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix on pole after a poor session for Brawn GP saw Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button finish in 10th and 12th.

Barrichello, trailing Button by 14 points in the title race, was fifth fastest but crashed late on and drops five places after changing his gearbox.

Button failed to make the top 10 as the championship leader produced an error-strewn display to finish 12th fastest.

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel will share the front row, with Nico Rosberg third.

In fact, the Williams driver might have hoped for a better session had Barrichello's late crash into the wall not ended qualifying a minute early with the German on a flyer. Rosberg had earlier set the fastest time in the second session.

But that slight annoyance was nothing compared to the fate of Button and Barrichello, who had entered the weekend with high hopes following an upgrade package to their Brawns, which boasted new rear and front wings and a new diffuser.

It's a disastrous session for us. We underestimated the competition... (and) we'll have to see what we can recover on Sunday

Team boss Ross Brawn
Button, in particular, will again face questions over his ability to cope with the pressure of leading the drivers' championship with four races to go as two tentative runs during the second part of qualifying left him back on the sixth row.

"It's a disastrous session for us," admitted team boss Ross Brawn. "We underestimated the competition in second qualifying because we used one old set, then one new set, and didn't get the car balanced well on the new set.

"We were perilously close to losing both cars in that session. The shoot-out wasn't bad, looking at the fuel weights, but that topped it off for us.

"With Jenson dropping out of third qualifying, Rubens had the maximum chance to get some points on Jenson. We'll have to see what we can recover on Sunday."

It is the third time this season that Hamilton has secured pole, and the McLaren looked on the pace throughout qualifying having changed the chassis of his car in order to cure a wiring problem from Friday.

BBC SPORT'S FUEL-ADJUSTED GRID (with projected race first pit stops*)
1 Hamilton (lap 17 of 61)
2 Rosberg +0.553 (lap 16)
3 Vettel +0.617 (lap 14)
4 Webber +1.023 (lap 15)
5 Barrichello** +1.097 (lap 16)
6 Alonso +1.243 (lap 17)
7 Glock +1.289 (lap 17)
8 Kubica +1.511 (lap 19)
9 Heidfeld+1.752 (lap 14)
10 Kovalainen +1.759 (lap 19)
* Calculated on the weight of fuel left in cars after qualifying had finished ** Barrichello drops five places on the grid because of gearbox change
Full Singapore GP qualifying results
Analysis of fuel-adjusted grid
And the reigning world champion revealed he could have got even more out of the car, saying: "The out lap wasn't that bad actually, I had a 10-second window where I didn't have to push that much. I reckon we had another couple of tenths in it for sure.

"(But) it's absolutely fantastic, I'm very happy and very pleased for the team.

"We came with updates, as did everyone else, so we didn't know where we would be. Friday practice wasn't spectacular for me but I came in with a positive approach and big thanks to the guys, they worked up until 10am this morning rebuilding the car.

"I'm pleased to have done this for them. I'm feeling more comfortable in the car and we'll see what happens with the strategies."

Red Bull, too, will be happy with their pace, with Vettel second and Mark Webber fourth on the grid, but Williams's Rosberg showed arguably the most surprising pace, given his team had not expected to impress at Marina Bay.

"Going into qualifying, we weren't sure we would make it to Q3, but in Q2 it worked out fantastically," admitted Rosberg. "With the heavier fuel in Q3 it was a bit more difficult, but third on the grid is fantastic for us.

"Who knows, maybe we can even fight for a win very soon."

Fernando Alonso, winner here last year, will start from fifth as Renault look to put the recent controversy over Nelson Piquet Jr's deliberate crash here 12 months ago behind them.

Interview - top three in Singapore qualifying
"It was a fantastic result for us, we didn't expect to finish there," said the Spaniard.

"[But] I'm not sure we can get much more out of the car tomorrow. You never know though. If we finish the race it will be a good result."

The BMWs of Nick Heidfeld of Robert Kubica will start from seventh and eighth, behind Toyota's Timo Glock and ahead of McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen.

Elsewhere, Ferrari's fears that they would be off the pace were borne out when Kimi Raikkonen could only manage 13th, with team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella again betraying his lack of feel for his new car in finishing back in 18th.

And at the back of the grid, Adrian Sutil followed his front row qualifying last time out in Monza by dropping out of Q1 in 16th place, with the high downforce track clearly not suiting the Force India.

The German's team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi will start from the back of the grid, while Renault's Romain Grosjean also struggled after putting new brakes into his car for the session and, having crashed in first practice on Friday, dropped out in first qualifying alongside Jaime Alguersuari and Fisichella.

Pakistan beat India to reach semis


Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Yousuf shared a record fourth-wicket stand to help Pakistan beat India by 54 runs and reach the Champions Trophy semi-finals.

Pakistan compiled 302 for nine after winning the toss and batting before restricting their arch rivals to 248 all out to spark a pitch invasion from delighted Pakistanis.

The victory led Pakistan to the top of Group A with four points from two matches ahead of Australia on two.

India and the West Indies have no points.

It's a knockout

"From now on, it's like a knockout for us," India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said on Saturday after his side's first match in Group A had ended in defeat.

"If we don't play well, we can pack up and go back home."

Shoaib (128) and Yousuf (87) put on 206 in 193 balls, the biggest stand for any wicket in the Champions Trophy and a fourth-wicket record for Pakistan.

The previous record in the competition was 192 for the first wicket, shared by Indians Virender Sehwag and Saurav Ganguly against England in Colombo in 2002 and Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds for West Indies against Bangladesh in Southampton in 2004.

Pakistan's previous best for the fourth wicket was an unbroken stand of 198 between Kamran Akmal and Misbah ul-Haq against Australia in Abu Dhabi earlier this year.

Shoaib cracked 128 in 126 deliveries, with 16 fours, to record his seventh one-day international century.

The 27-year-old really hit form in the latter stages of his innings, needing just 27 deliveries for his second 50.

Yousuf's 87 featured seven fours in a classy display of wristy strokemaking.

Left-arm seamer Ashish Nehra struck twice with the new ball for India and finished with four for 55.

However he had little support, with only Ishant Sharma pegging back the Pakistan batsmen with two for 39.

Bad call

Rahul Dravid top-scored for India with 76 before being run out in the 42nd over, Umar Gul's fine throw from the cover boundary beating him after Harbhajan Singh had called for a third run.

India were given a powerful start by Gautam Gambhir, who lashed 57 off 46 balls, while Suresh Raina added 46 in 41 deliveries.

Pakistan, though, eventually cruised to victory after claiming the last five wickets for 43 runs.

Naved ul-Hasan, Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal all picked up two wickets.

Seventeen-year-old fast bowler Mohammad Aamer also grabbed two for 46 including Sachin Tendulkar for eight.

Vitali too much for Arreola


Vitali Klitschko retained his WBC heavyweight title with a 10th round technical knockout over previously undefeated challenger Cristobal Arreola in Los Angeles.

Arreola, who was outclassed by the taller and more mobile Ukrainian, did not answer the bell at the start of the 11th round.

The victory was Klitschko's third since returning to the ring in 2008 following an injury-induced retirement in 2005.

"This fight was much more difficult than it looked for me," Klitschko said ringside at the Staples Center on Saturday.

"Cristobal is a tough opponent."

Los Angeles-born Arreola, who was vying to become the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent, sat dejected on his stool when the referee signalled the end of the fight before the start of the 11th round.

He then burst into tears and apologised to his hometown crowd, who had cheered wildly for him throughout the fight.

"I'm sorry guys," Arreola said.

"I just couldn't get to him; whatever I did he would counteract. He just found a way to win."

The 38-year-old Klitschko outclassed Areola throughout, fighting with his hands at his waist and keeping the 28-year-old at a distance by using his reach advantage to land jabs at will.

Arreola was forced to chase the Ukrainian, who then simply used his superior footwork to dance out of any danger and frustrate the challenger, who was bleeding and notably fatigued by the end of the eighth round.

Klitschko, who had last defended his WBC crown in March with a ninth-round TKO of Cuban Juan Carlos Gomez, improved to 38-2, while Arreola slipped to 27-1.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Woods takes lead despite missed putts



ATLANTA -- Tiger Woods had the lead and was ready to turn the Tour Championship into a runaway Friday.

First came a 5-wood up the hill on the par-5 15th that narrowly cleared the bunker, hopped onto the green and rolled toward the flag until it stopped just over 4 feet away. On the next hole, Woods started walking before his shot began its descent to inside 4 feet.

There were so many fans around the 16th green that it was hard to read the video board showing Woods' PGA Tour ranking on putts between 4 and 5 feet. No one would have been surprised to see that Woods had only missed seven from that length all year.

This time, he missed them both.


Harig: Turn Tables on Tiger?
If Padraig Harrington wants that $10 million check for winning the FedEx Cup, he's going to have to change his recent history of playing with Tiger on Saturday at the Tour Championship. Bob Harig

Woods still wound up in the lead Friday at East Lake with a 2-under 68, one shot ahead of Padraig Harrington and Sean O'Hair. Woods might have an even stronger grip on the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus.


He was fuming over the missed putts. He found perspective shortly after signing for his seventh consecutive round in the 60s.

"The day as a whole was a good day," Woods said. "I shot under par, and I got myself ... in the lead."

It couldn't have been that bad, not when all the attention was on two holes where he made a birdie and a par.

"Obviously, I didn't expect him to miss two in a row," Harrington said after a 69. "I looked up at the stats on the board just before he hit it, and he's No. 1 from that range. I don't think he misses two in a row all year. That's probably for sure he hasn't missed two in a row on the year. So it was a surprise."

Not so surprising was Woods in the lead, his 16th time this year to end a round atop the leaderboard. He was at 5-under 135 and in great position for the FedEx Cup. None of the other top five seeds, who can win the $10 million bonus with a victory at East Lake, were among the top 10 on the leaderboard going into the weekend.

Even so, Woods could have made it easier on himself.

One moment, it looked as though Woods was about to double the size of his lead to four shots. Three holes and 30 minutes later, everything pointed Harrington tying for the lead.

When it was over, the possibilities were plenty.


Sobel: Double Vision
For competitors and fans, knowing where someone stands at this week's Tour Championship simply takes a quick glimpse at the leaderboard. Figuring out the FedEx Cup rankings? That's another story. Jason Sobel

Ernie Els came to life with five birdies over his last 10 holes for a 66 and was only two shots behind at 3-under 137. Kenny Perry, who nearly wilted in the heat Thursday, also had a 66 and was at 2-under 138, along with Jerry Kelly (67).

Masters champ Angel Cabrera (67), U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover (71) and British Open champion Stewart Cink (72) were in the group at 1-under 139.

The FedEx Cup is still a possibility for the likes of Harrington and O'Hair, both of whom are more concerned now with the crystal trophy and mere $1.35 million from winning the Tour Championship.

"If I win this golf tournament and Tiger finishes second ... I'm going to be throwing a big party and jumping with joy," O'Hair said. "If I don't win the 10 million bucks, I should have played better. A win is a win. Let's face it, I've got to win this golf tournament to win the $10 million. If I do my job, that's all I can do."

It all starts with Woods, who appears to be on his game.

Three straight birdies to close out the front nine put Woods atop the leaderboard, and he really put on a show over the final hour before fans that crammed behind the ropes on both sides of the fairway.

He turned a sure bogey into an amazing par on the 13th. From a suspect lie in the bunker, 190 yards up the hill toward the green, his shot came perfectly and landed just over the back, although it sank to the bottom of the Bermuda rough and he could only chip to 20 feet. Woods saved par with a putt that curled in the right side on the final turn.


Tour Championship Leaderboard
1. Woods (-5)
T-2. O'Hair (-4)
T-2. Harrington (-4)
4. Els (-3)
T-5. Kelly (-2)
T-5. Perry (-2)


• Scores

Then came the eagle chance on the 15th and the birdie chance at the 16th, both misses. Woods made a tough par on the 17th with a downhill putt from 8 feet, then closed out his unpredictable back nine with a bogey on the par-3 18th. He had to hit a flop shot from left of the green and came up a yard short, the ball staying in the rough.

"Today's round probably could have been one or two better, for sure," Woods said. "But overall, I'm very pleased with my scoring the first two days."

Harrington missed his share of putts -- from 6 feet on the 14th leading to bogey, and a 5-foot birdie chance he missed on the 17th. He was pleased to still be in the hunt for the Tour Championship, even as the FedEx Cup looks out of reach.

"I'm in good position as regards to the tournament, probably not the best position as regards to the FedEx Cup," Harrington said. "It's a little bit out of my control. But I'm looking forward to the weekend. I left a few shots out there toward the end, but overall, I knew there was another 36 holes to play. And I've got to make things happen at some stage."

Woods and Harrington will be paired Saturday for the ninth time this year, five of those over the last two months. Harrington enjoys the company, even though Woods has gotten the best of him.

"You know you're going to be in contention, and you know you're going to have a chance of winning the tournament the more you play with Tiger," Harrington said.

Tour Championship Leaderboard
1. Woods (-5)
T-2. O'Hair (-4)
T-2. Harrington (-4)
4. Els (-3)
T-5. Kelly (-2)
T-5. Perry (-2)

Golf : Perry seizes lead from Tiger with a 64




ATLANTA -- Kenny Perry already has had a week to remember at the Tour Championship.

He was honored with the Payne Stewart Award, which he called the greatest accomplishment of his career. He was so overcome by the stifling heat in the opening round at East Lake that he thought he might throw up after five holes and was lucky to shoot a 72.


Harig: Cup Crazy
Sunday at the Tour Championship looks to be a roller coaster of a finish. With Kenny Perry leading the way through 54 holes, the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are within earshot of that $10 million bonus. Bob Harig
• Playoff scenarios for all 30 players

How about this to top it off?

A two-shot lead going into Sunday, a final pairing with Tiger Woods, his entire family in town, and a chance to capture the Tour Championship, and maybe even the $10 million bonus for winning the FedEx Cup.


"It might be magical," Perry said Saturday. "We'll see."

His round Saturday was magical enough. Perry birdied the opening four holes -- all on putts inside 8 feet -- to quickly catch up to Woods, then kept bogeys off his card on the back nine for a 6-under 64.

"Four birdies in a row puts you in a good mood is all I can say," said Perry, who was at 8-under 202. "That set the tone for the day."

Woods had a 12-foot birdie putt on the first hole that slid by the cup, and that set the tone for his day. He missed a half-dozen chances from 15 feet or under, yet his only significant birdies came on putts of 20 and 55 feet. The other was a two-putt on a par 5. He wound up with a 69, his eighth consecutive round in the 60s during the FedEx Cup playoffs, yet this one cost him the lead.


[+] EnlargeKevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Tiger Woods had his chances, but on the front nine, he missed three birdie putts inside 12 feet.
"I got fooled a few times there," Woods said, confused by the slope and grain on the greens.

Perry has 14 career victories, yet only two of them has come with Woods in the field. Even with a two-shot lead, he is approaching Sunday as though he has nothing to lose. He even playfully challenged the world's No. 1 player.


"Here I am at 49, I'm still trying to beat him," Perry said. "I have fun with it. He'd better bring his 'A' game is all I've got to say."

For Perry to win the FedEx Cup, he would need a victory Sunday and for Woods to finish in a three-way tie for third or worse. That remains a possibility, given the players stacked up behind them.

Phil Mickelson continued to ooze confidence with his putter and shot a 4-under 66, suddenly believing he can make any putt whether it's from 4 feet or 40 feet. He was at 4-under 206 along with Sean O'Hair (70), who was tied with Woods until pulling a tee shot into the water on the 17th to make double bogey.

Padraig Harrington, playing with Woods for the ninth time this year, stopping making birdies to offset his mistakes and shot a 71, leaving him at 207 with Steve Marino (67).


Steve Stricker, the No. 2 seed in the FedEx Cup standings behind Woods, got back into the picture, no matter how blurry, with a 66 and was six shots out of the lead.

"I needed to make a move today to have any sort of chance for tomorrow," Stricker said. "At least I gave myself an opportunity. I'm going to need another one of those rounds, or maybe even lower."


All of them would like the kind of day Perry enjoyed.


Sobel: Follow The Leader
So what do the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have to do Sunday to win the Tour Championship and possibly bring home a whopping $11.35 million? Jason Sobel

His start was flawless in the morning, under cloudy skies and the threat of rain that forced officials to move up the tee times. After pounding a driver, he hit sand wedge to 4 feet. Then came perhaps his best shot of the round, a 5-iron with that familiar draw that settled just outside 6 feet of the cup. Perry made birdie on the next two holes from short range, and quickly found himself tied for the lead.

It was Woods' turn to catch up, but he never did.

He missed three birdie putts inside 12 feet on the front nine, and cost himself two other chances from the bunker -- a fairway bunker on No. 7 that led to bogey, and a greenside bunker on the par-5 ninth that led to par.

"It was amazing how I had about four or five putts today that the grain was going up the hill, and I didn't know which one to play. Do I play the grain or do I play the slope?" Woods said. "Just one of those days where I happened to be in some interesting little spots, even thought I had pretty makeable putts."

Perry didn't have that problem, and even the one time he was threatened with a bogey, he holed his par putt from about 10 feet.


Now, he is one more good round away from one the biggest wins of his career that couldn't come at a better time. His mother is dying of cancer -- Perry nearly missed the British Open when she took a turn for the worse -- and his father's health is fading. That's one reason Perry put his son, Justin, on the bag over the last month.


Tour Championship Leaderboard
1. Perry (-8)
2. Woods (-6)
T-3. Mickelson (-4)
T-3. O'Hair (-4)
T-5. Marino (-3)
T-5. Harrington (-3)


• Scores

His daughter took a break from SMU to join him this week, and his older daughter and son-in-law are coming for the final round.

"I'll have the whole gang here," Perry said. "I hope mom and dad will be watching. Hopefully, I can lift her spirits."

All Woods is trying to do is lift the trophy, although he would like both trophies -- the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup -- that have been stationed on the first tee all week.

There's a chance Perry can hoist one (Tour Championship) and Woods the other.

"I'd much rather just win the tournament, and the FedEx Cup will take care of itself," Woods said. "As of right now, I'm two back and have an opportunity to win the tournament. And that's what I'm going to focus on tomorrow."
Tour Championship Leaderboard

1. Perry (-8)
2. Woods (-6)
T-3. Mickelson (-4)
T-3. O'Hair (-4)
T-5. Marino (-3)
T-5. Harrington (-3)




Galacticos shine on
















Kaka came off the bench to score with a sublime curling shot and Karim Benzema netted twice in 11 second-half minutes to give Real Madrid a 3-0 home win over promoted Tenerife in the Spanish Primera Liga.

After a closely-fought first half with few clear chances, France striker Benzema rose early in the second period to nod in Xabi Alonso's cross and then outmuscled defender Manuel Martinez and bent a precise shot into the far corner.

Tenerife had several openings before Brazilian playmaker Kaka, who replaced Esteban Granero at the break, beat goalkeeper Sergio Aragoneses with a stunning late strike from the edge of the penalty area.

Real have a perfect 15 points from five matches, three ahead of champions Barcelona who play at Malaga later on Saturday, and with their new 'Galactico' signings having weighed in heavily so far.

Sevilla are third, also on 12 points, after they won 4-0 at fourth-placed Athletic Bilbao.

Brazilian Renato put Sevilla ahead in the fifth minute from a free kick, striker Alvaro Negredo doubled the lead 16 minutes later after smart work from winger Diego Capel and Frederic Kanoute netted a third in first-half added time.

Athletic defender Fernando Amorebieta was dismissed for a second yellow card just after the break and winger Jesus Navas wrapped things up with a fourth in the 75th minute.

Atletico Madrid, who have just two points from their first four games, play at Valencia in the late match with coach Abel Resino under increasing pressure to turn their troubled season around.

Virginia Tech Puts Damper on Miami’s Title Plans


BLACKSBURG, Va. — The Atlantic Coast Conference will not reclaim some of its national stature until one of its teams can break through to the championship game of the Bowl Championship Series and challenge the Southeastern Conference, Pacific-10, Big 12, or Big Ten. The A.C.C. has had its share of bowl wins and players who have gone on to the N.F.L., but it needs a powerhouse with talent and swagger.

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Virginia Tech’s Dorian Porch sacking Miami’s Jacory Harris, who completed 9 of 25 passes for 150 yards.

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No. 15 T.C.U. Edges Clemson to Stay Unbeaten (September 27, 2009)
East Roundup: Rutgers Wins at Maryland With Help of Five Turnovers (September 27, 2009)
National Roundup: Oregon Pummels No. 6 California (September 27, 2009)

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Miami looked to be that candidate. Until Saturday.

The No. 9 Hurricanes had impressive victories over nationally ranked Florida State and Georgia Tech. Instead of improving its standing going into next week’s game with Oklahoma, Miami slipped in a big way.

No. 11 Virginia Tech seized momentum early with a blitzing defense and bashed the Hurricanes, 31-7, in a drenching rain before a capacity crowd of 66,233 in Lane Stadium.

It was a startling end to a week in which Miami’s return to national prominence was trumpeted from coast to coast. The Hurricanes, who have won five national championships, appeared to be back on stage, good news for the A.C.C., which has not had a team in the national championship game since Florida State lost to Oklahoma on Jan. 3, 2001.

“We came out here and kind of reversed the media and all the Miami talk and kind of used it for fuel to keep the fire going for 60 minutes,” Virginia Tech defensive back Rashad Carmichael said. “We feel like the A.C.C. has to come through us, being back-to-back champs.

“We wanted to show the world Tech never left. Miami might be back, but we never left.”

It has not been a good week for undefeated teams in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll. On Thursday night, No. 4 Mississippi lost to unranked South Carolina, 16-10, and on Saturday, No. 6 California was clobbered by unranked Oregon, 42-3.

“We’ve got to take this loss in the right way,” Miami offensive tackle Jason Fox said. “It was tough, we had all the highest expectations to come up here and win and now that we didn’t, we have to look at this game and learn from it. This is our third game, hype doesn’t matter, we still have to win games.”

After losing to No. 3 Alabama, 34-24, in the first game of the season, the Hokies have won three straight and appear to be on their way to their third consecutive A.C.C. championship. They have recovered from the season-ending injury to the star tailback Darren Evans and have discovered a new standout in the red-shirt freshman tailback Ryan Williams, who gained 150 yards on 34 carries.

Meanwhile, Miami (2-1) has to find a running game to take the pressure off its passing game, which was quiet for the first time this season. Quarterback Jacory Harris was sacked three times and completed just 9 of 25 passes and threw an interception.

Harris came into the game having completed 69 percent of his passes, but the Hokies took him off his game on the first series with an eight-man blitz on a second-and-11 play from the Miami 31-yard line.

Dorian Porcher hit Harris from behind and he fumbled. Porcher recovered at the Miami 11 and the Hokies scored in three plays.

On its next chance, Miami tried to run with the ball against a Virginia Tech defense that was ranked No. 107 against the run, having allowed 200 yards per game. That was also unsuccessful for the Hurricanes. Miami rushed for 59 yards and had 209 total yards when it had been averaging 465.

Harris tried to fake-snap the Tech defense into showing where the blitzes were coming from in the first half, but the Hokies stayed in place. They bluffed blitzes in the first three games of the season because teams were starting to expect it, but Saturday they cut loose.

“We may have given pressure away once,” linebacker Cody Grimm said. “Today, that might have totaled our amount of blitzes in the first three games.”

Down at halftime, 21-0, the Hurricanes still tried to make a game of it. After a 39-yard kickoff return by Graig Cooper put Miami at the Virginia Tech 46-yard line to start the third quarter, the Hurricanes scored in five plays and trailed, 21-7.

The Hurricanes forced a punt and started moving the ball again, reaching the Hokies’ 33. Then, abruptly, their momentum was gone with two dropped passes. Miami was not heard from after that.

“We talked about what this program is about; we have a lot of pride in this program,” Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said. “You didn’t hear a lot about Virginia Tech this week. You heard a lot about Miami this week and rightfully so. But I am proud of our guys.”

Yankees Beat Red Sox and Can Clinch A.L. East on Sunday


The two Cs in C. C. Sabathia’s name stand for Carsten Charles, but the Yankees cannot be faulted for thinking they mean something else. Consistency is a Sabathia hallmark, and it is why the Yankees are supremely confident heading into the playoffs. They have not lost in his last 11 starts, including his brilliant performance Saturday at Yankee Stadium, when he silenced the Boston Red Sox over seven innings in a tidy 3-0 victory.

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Johnny Damon capitalized on a botched eighth-inning rundown by blooping a two-run single.


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Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a die-hard Yankees fan, threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.
If it were earlier in the season, Manager Joe Girardi said he would have considered sending out Sabathia to pitch the eighth. But with a playoff berth secured, and a division championship and home-field advantage practically guaranteed, the Yankees saw no reason to ride their ace any longer.

“We want to make sure he’s real strong going into October,” Girardi said.

He was talking specifically about the division series opener, which Girardi confirmed that Sabathia would start. As if there were a doubt, Sabathia struck out eight and allowed one hit, a fifth-inning single by Mike Lowell, while bailing out a Yankees offense that had one hit — Johnny Damon’s two-run single in the eighth — in 15 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Phil Hughes pitched a spotless eighth before giving way to Mariano Rivera, who struck out Lowell with two on and two outs in the ninth to record his 43rd save in 45 chances. Rivera preserved Sabathia’s major-league-leading 19th victory and put the Yankees in position to clinch the American League East title with a win in Sunday’s series finale.

“The responsibility that I feel is giving the team a chance to win every time out,” said Sabathia, who has failed to complete seven innings only once during this streak. “That’s what I try to do.”

For the Yankees, completing the series sweep would tie the season series with Boston at nine victories apiece, an impressive feat given the Yankees lost the first eight meetings between the teams. Of the Yankees’ eight victories in their last nine games against Boston, Sabathia was the winning pitcher in three of them. Since July 28, the last time the Yankees lost a Sabathia start, he is 9-0 with a 2.04 earned run average.

“He’s been everything that we would ask for and more,” Girardi said. “He is an ace.”

Sabathia felt a similar responsibility at this time the last two seasons, when his teams barreled into the postseason. In 2007, the Indians did not clinch their division title until the final week, so Sabathia could not afford to rest. In 2008, he willed the Milwaukee Brewers to a playoff berth, making three straight starts on short rest that he said “took a toll on me mentally more than it did physically.”

This season, Sabathia is no less responsible for the Yankees’ success, but there is no reason now to test his limits. The Yankees gave him extra days off before his last three starts, and two leading into Saturday’s.

Sabathia set down the first 11 hitters, benefiting from a superb third-inning catch by Melky Cabrera at the center-field fence to rob Jed Lowrie, before walking his old Cleveland batterymate, Victor Martinez, with two outs in the fourth. That went nowhere, as did Boston’s rally in the fifth, when Lowell broke up Sabathia’s no-hit bid with a grounder up the middle. Sabathia struck out David Ortiz, Rocco Baldelli and Lowrie, all swinging, all on sliders.

“His command,” Boston Manager Terry Francona said, “is pretty amazing.”

Francona’s own starter, Daisuke Matsuzaka, issued five walks and allowed six hits in his third start since returning from a three-month stay on the disabled list, and he always seemed to be pitching with runners on base. But the way Matsuzaka handled the Yankees’ patient lineup — seven innings, one run, 115 pitches — gave the Red Sox a sense of comfort heading into the playoffs.

In both the fourth and fifth innings, the first two Yankees reached base, but each time Matsuzaka escaped by preying on hidden aggressiveness by Yankees hitters. In the fourth, he retired Robinson Cano, Cabrera and Jose Molina on a combined six pitches. In the fifth, after walking Mark Teixeira to load the bases with no outs, Matsuzaka avoided damage as only one ball — a squibber by Alex Rodriguez — was hit in fair territory.

Leading off the sixth, Cano ripped a liner off the top of the left-field fence that caromed into the stands for his career-high 24th homer. It snapped a scoreless tie, and was good enough to earn him the coveted plastic wrestling champion’s belt that the Yankees give to the star of each win. Eventually, that is. Sabathia had it first, but he presented it to Cano, who was delighted.

“Every time I hear he’s pitching,” Cano said, “I always want to go out there and fight.”

INSIDE PITCH

Jorge Posada (stiff neck) was a late scratch from the lineup. ...The Yankees are pushing back A. J. Burnett’s next start to Tuesday so that he can be with his father, who is scheduled to have heart surgery on Monday. ... Jon Lester of the Red Sox had a red bruise on the side of his right knee after being drilled with a line drive Friday night, but he continued to say that the injury should not prevent him from pitching next week.

Jack Curry contributed reporting.

Last chance saloon for New Zealand


Match factsSunday, September 27, 2009Start time 9.30 am (730 GMT)
With one loss and two games to go, New Zealand have no uncertainty left - they just must win © AFP
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Series/Tournaments: ICC Champions Trophy
Teams: New Zealand Sri Lanka
Outplayed in their first match, New Zealand have a mountain to climb to stay alive in the tournament. Their competitors in Group B - England, Sri Lanka and South Africa - have two points each while New Zealand are yet to get on board. Sri Lanka, who already have one win, against South Africa, but lost to England, can't breathe too easy even if they win. In that sense, the manner in which results have unfolded has meant that this tournament has virtual quarterfinals, even if the organisers did not design it thus.
Sri Lanka will be confident of achieving a win after the way they beat New Zealand at home recently. The loss to England was disappointing for the way their top order collapsed, but Kumar Sangakkara took positives from the way a couple batsmen played and Ajantha Mendis bowled on an unresponsive track for spin.
New Zealand are in a trickier position than Sri Lanka: lose and they're out. One of their serious problems has been that their batsmen have failed to adapt to different conditions. Daniel Vettori admitted after the game that it wasn't easy to come out of six weeks in Sri Lanka and prepare for seam-friendly tracks in South Africa. Barring Ross Taylor, none of the other batsmen have come up with anything sizeable. The Johannesburg pitch on view so far has been made for the grafters, not the banner-grabbing heroes. Quality players do adapt to different conditions, changing their game, making subtle adjustments, cutting out certain shots. The time has come for New Zealand's struggling but talented line-up to do just that.
"That's the most difficult thing," said Vettori. "If you talk about it [the batting] for long enough, it can induce fear. The key words we have been trying to emphasise is to play with no fear. There will be no excuses. We will have to play well to beat them."
If New Zealand win, then Group B turns into a cracker. Given their recent form they don't stand much of a chance but, as this tournament has shown, it's the underdog that starts games as favourites. Just ask England.
Form guide(last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand - LLLWL
Sri Lanka - LWWWL
Team newsTo play two spinners would be a bit of a gamble, and the alternative approach would be to play the extra fast bowler. The big debate is whether Sri Lanka should drop Muttiah Muralitharan for Thilan Thushara. Murali went for 60 against England, and his form hasn't been too promising lately. Mendis didn't get a wicket last game but his three against South Africa should work for him, as well as New Zealand's inexperience playing him.
Sri Lanka: (probable) 1 Sanath Jayasuriya, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (capt/wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Thilina Kandamby, 7 Angelo Mathews, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Thilan Thushara/Muttiah Muralitharan, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Ajantha Mendis.
Vettori's got a bit of a job on his hands - getting the right combination on the park. There's the pitch to consider and Johannesburg's strips have played for the quicks. There's the dew factor to consider too. New Zealand didn't play a second spinner against South Africa and may not here either. James Franklin has replaced Jacob Oram in the squad and presents a good case for selection given his county form for Gloucestershire. He would replace Gareth Hopkins.
New Zealand: (probable) 1 Jesse Ryder, 2 Brendon McCullum (wk), 3 Martin Guptill, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Grant Elliott, 6 Neil Broom, 7 James Franklin, 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Kyle Mills, 10 Daryl Tuffey, 11 Shane Bond.
Watch out for...James Franklin hasn't played an ODI since the 2007 World Cup but now finds himself primed for a return. Franklin was called up as a replacement for the injured Oram while playing for Gloucestershire against Kent in Bristol. His form has been promising: in seven Friends Provident Trophy matches this season, Franklin has taken 11 wickets at 21.90 and scored 224 runs at a strike-rate of 82.05. New Zealand could do with his batting and left-arm medium pace.
One of the bright spots for Sri Lanka has been the form of Thilina Kandamby, who has done well in ODIs this year after being recalled after a four-year gap. He has propped up their fragile middle order, and his substantial efforts have all been fluent and cool innings. Equally skilled at rescuing and biffing the ball, Kandamby is the new-age Arjuna Rangatunga.
Stats and trivia
New Zealand have played Sri Lanka twice in the Champions Trophy, in the inaugural edition in 1998 and then in 2006. Sri Lanka won both matches while chasing.
Vettori is New Zealand's most experienced player in Champions Trophy matches. In 11 games he has taken ten wickets at 36.60 and scored 195 runs at 39.00.

Australia survive West Indies scare


On paper it looked like being a mismatch. On paper, it appears Australia had an easy 50-run victory. In reality there were several nervous periods for Ricky Ponting's men throughout a game they were expected to win comfortably. In the end, the target of 276, set up by strong batting from Ponting and Mitchell Johnson, was too big for a second-string West Indies outfit. But not by much.
Ponting will demand more discipline from his bowlers against India and Pakistan after they lacked incision against a starless West Indies top order. West Indies showed plenty of fight, first through the middle overs with the ball and then through Andre Fletcher and Travis Dowlin with the bat. They were 124 for 1 during the 25th over and on a pitch that had dried out and lost some of the demons from earlier in the day, an upset could have been on the cards.
Fletcher worked hard and showed uncharacteristic restraint to post his second half-century in one-day internationals. He was scratchy early but worked his way into the game, using his sheer strength to thump four fours and a six, before the chasm in experience - the 11 West Indies players entered the game with a combined 117 ODI caps compared to Australia's 927 - began to show.
An outrageously poor piece of running cost Fletcher his wicket when he pushed Brett Lee to mid-off, took off slowly and rather than diving to try and make his ground, jumped in the air outside his crease as he wrongly anticipated Johnson's throw missing. The Australians saw Fletcher's carefree - or careless - attitude to crease management on his ODI debut last year, when he was run out strolling aimlessly out of his ground, and he clearly hasn't learnt his lesson.
That was followed by an unfathomable decision to promote the wicketkeeper Chadwick Walton, fresh from his golden duck on debut against Pakistan, to No. 4 with Dale Richards injured and unable to bat. Walton improved - he made a second-ball duck to James Hopes this time - but his horrid attempted slog that was edged back onto the stumps when so fresh to the crease reeked of inexperience and panic.
These things can happen with young players but West Indies needed everything to go their way to beat Australia and they quickly moved from a position of potential to a state of vulnerability. Dowlin (55), though trying admirably, just couldn't score his runs quickly enough and was caught top-edging Lee.
Nor was there fast scoring from the captain Floyd Reifer, who at 37 appears to have reflexes just a fraction too slow for international cricket. Reifer's only experience against any Australian side came in 1990, when he played against a touring Australian youth team that featured the likes of Damien Fleming and Michael Bevan, and the current selector Jamie Cox.
Against the speed of Lee and Johnson, he was unable to do much but defend and made 28 from 56 balls. He couldn't follow the earlier lead of Fletcher and Dowlin, who rotated the strike so well that until Fletcher's run-out they had managed 24 singles from the previous 33 balls.
Two consecutive sixes from Darren Sammy off Johnson gave Australia another fright when the equation came in to 66 required from 50 balls, but when Sammy was caught on the boundary their momentum disappeared. It was a shame that West Indies' chase petered out like that, for they had provided a much greater contest than anyone anticipated. But the longer the format the more likely the best team will win; were it a Twenty20 contest anything could have happened.
Australia began the match as almost unbackable favourites, fresh from a 6-1 win over England, and facing a team that is the cricket equivalent of an office full of temp workers. Less than a week after playing in Durham at the end of a four-month tour, this was effectively Australia's warm-up match for their next games against India and Pakistan.
Things didn't begin well for Australia when they were sent in and Shane Watson was bowled by a cracking late inswinging yorker from Kemar Roach with the first ball of the match. A spicy Wanderers pitch added some heat to what could have been a lifeless encounter and Roach, Sammy and Gavin Tonge enjoyed hitting the cracks.
Andre Fletcher guided West Indies' chase with 54 © AFP
Several balls jagged sharply back or found extra bounce from a good length and one steep riser from Sammy surprised Ponting so much that he dropped the bat when the ball rapped him on the hands. It was more of a concern for Tim Paine (33), who stayed with Ponting for an 85-run second-wicket stand but was much less fluent than his captain.
Ponting latched onto anything wide from the seamers and twice Roach went for 17 off an over, straying to leg too often. The West Indies fast men needed to do more early damage in the wickets column given the uncomfortable bounce, and it was left to the spinner Nikita Miller to peg things back.
Australia had reached 148 for 3 in the 31st over when Miller turned one past Ponting, who was stumped by Walton, and Miller then spun one through Cameron White's defences to clip the off stump. A superb 10 overs from Miller earned him 2 for 24 without conceding a boundary, but when the fast men returned the danger for Australia eased.
The key for Australia was Johnson's late unbeaten 73. His fierce, clean hitting brought back memories of his highly entertaining 96 in the Test against South Africa at the same venue this year, when he sent several Paul Harris deliveries into the stands. This time, he had the benefit of gaps in the outfield as Australia took the batting Powerplay from the start of the 45th over and added an incredible 69 in those five overs.
Johnson cleared the boundary three times and finished with his highest ODI score as he and Lee posted a 70-run stand. It was enough to give Australia 275, thought not without their murmurs of worry. They experienced further palpitations during West Indies' innings before getting across the line. A sharper effort will be required against India and Pakistan.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Vick turns tide against dogfighting




Maybe it was one of the times John Goodwin found a more receptive audience while lobbying politicians for stricter sentencing against dogfighting.
Maybe it was one of the times a law enforcement training session was packed with police.
Maybe it was while he was riding along on what is an increasing number of raids on dogfighting operations.
Vick has given Goodwin and the Humane Society a more prominent platform.
(Steve Helber/AP Photo)
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Whenever it was, there was a moment over the past two years that Goodwin, the anti-dog fighting expert at the Humane Society of the United States, realized that of all the unexpected things, a silver lining had formed in the ugly clouds of the Michael Vick(notes) scandal.
“People campaigned against dogfighting ever since the first dogfight ever happened,” Goodwin said. “But never had there been a spotlight put on this issue like when Michael Vick was involved in it.
“What we’ve all learned is certain high-profile events change the trajectory of issues and this was that moment for dogfighting.”
Vick returns to the NFL on Sunday as a backup quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s nearly two and a half years removed from his arrest and subsequent imprisonment for funding and operating Bad Newz Kennels, a major dogfighting operation in rural Virginia.
Goodwin will be watching his return. He once led animal cruelty protests of Vick outside court proceedings. Now they are on the same team, the Humane Society enlisting Vick as a spokesman.
Goodwin isn’t going to call Vick a friend; he isn’t going to forget the violence that occurred under his watch. Yet the two have become strange partners – each using the other for their own selfish purposes. Vick needs the public relations help. The Humane Society needs the star power and credibility Vick has brought to speaking engagements to children in Chicago, Atlanta and Philadelphia.
“People always ask if he’s sincere,” Goodwin said. “He certainly comes across as sincere but I believe in the long run his actions will either prove or disprove his sincerity on this.
“I do think the young people who’ve come and heard him speak really believed him. That is what’s most important. That’s why we entered into this relationship. After we weighed everything out it became a no-brainer that giving Michael Vick a platform to speak out against dogfighting would be quite powerful.”
While Goodwin is pleased that he has someone capable of reaching certain groups, particularly inner-city children, the speeches Vick is giving for the Humane Society are a drop in the bucket to the impact he unwittingly had on the issue.
The brutality that surrounds the sport was once, for most Americans, out of mind. This was an underground, backwoods activity. Now it is common knowledge. A million speeches couldn’t duplicate the media coverage and public discourse on the issue.
“I think there is a heightened sympathy for the animals because people who may have been against dogfighting from the start, now realize that it’s actually more horrible than they imagined,” Goodwin said.
“People didn’t think about the fact that dogs that performed poorly might be electrocuted. Now a lot of people know that.”
It’s also silenced nearly everyone who doesn’t consider it such a big deal.
“You’ve also got people who may have been antagonistic and they’ve seen the public outcry over this and no one wants to face that,” Goodwin said.
Vick is on the verge of playing in his first regular season game since 2006.
(The Star-Ledger/US Presswire)
The result has been 27 new laws passed at both the federal and state levels to increase punishments against dogfighting since Vick’s arrest. The crime is now a felony in all 50 states (it was 48 pre-Vick). Police, now sensing that this is a crime the public won’t stand for, have increased their enforcement of the law, stepping up raids and following tips.
And presumably, people that may have just looked the other way or even partaken in dogfighting have had second thoughts due to the publicity about ramifications of their involvement.
Make no mistake, Goodwin wishes it never happened. The murdered and mistreated dogs are his chief concern. Yet it did happen and the moment he heard about it he sought to “gather the facts and then see what could be done to turn this into a net plus for the dogs, who are the victims of dogfighting.”
In more than two years later, that net plus has been realized.
The fight against dogfighting continues, Goodwin is busier than ever, but at least something good has come from the bad news of Michael Vick’s kennels.