Barty, Serena lead field at Australian Open warm-ups

Twenty-three-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams and Australian tennis player Ashleigh Barty will lead the field in the two WTA tournaments ahead of the Australian Open.

The Australian summer of tennis will kick off with two WTA 500 and two ATP 250 tournaments featuring the world’s best players. The Melbourne Summer Series at Melbourne Park will be played from January 31 to February 6, 2021.

Leading the women’s field is top-ranked Barty, who will make her first competitive appearance in 11 months, after opting not to travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last summer, the 24-year-old won the inaugural Adelaide International title and became the first local woman to reach an Australian Open semi-final since Wendy Turnbull in 1984.

The Queenslander will face fierce competition from a Grand Slam quality field, with 49 of the world’s top 50 players committed to compete. This includes Serena (USA), world No.2 Simona Halep (ROU), defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin (USA), and past AO champions Naomi Osaka (JPN), Victoria Azarenka (BLR) and Angelique Kerber (GER).

“There’s no doubt this will be a historic week of tennis and is the biggest-ever AO lead-in week we have seen in Australia. It’s an exciting prospect for fans both onsite and watching around the world,” said Tennis Australia Head of Major Events Cameron Pearson.

“While we know the circumstances are unique this year, it is a huge coup to secure such strong playing fields,” he added.

Each WTA tournament will feature a 64-draw, with the top-32 ranked players to be split across the two events and remaining players randomly drawn.

On the men’s side, the fields have already been divided into two ATP 250 tournaments.

World No.16 David Goffin (BEL) and [20] Karen Khachanov (RUS) lead the Great Ocean Road Open, with former top-10 players Kevin Anderson (RSA) and John Isner (USA) also competing alongside Australia’s Jordan Thompson.

Nick Kyrgios is set to light up Melbourne Park in the Murray River Open, joining former AO champion [18] Stan Wawrinka (SUI) and [19] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL), two players who have enjoyed great success in Melbourne. Exciting young gun [21] Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN) and Grand Slam champion Marin Cilic (CRO) have also entered.

The tournaments will be named to recognise key regions of Victoria as the Melbourne Summer Series and Australian Open promote the reinvigoration of the state following the challenges faced due to both bushfires and the pandemic.

Sanjeev Rajput wins 50m Rifle 3P T1 trials

Senior Men’s 3-Positions (3P) rifle shooter and double Olympian Sanjeev Rajput showed good form by shooting competitively for the first time since the coronavirus induced lockdown, to win the 50m Rifle 3P T1 trials at the Dr Karni Singh Shooting range.

Young Abhay Singh Sekhon of Punjab, was also in the splendid nick, winning both the Men’s and Junior Men’s Skeet T1 trials at the Shotgun ranges. In Women’s Skeet, Ganemat Sekhon outclassed a field of 13 to win while the Junior T1 Skeet trials, was bagged by Raiza Dhillon.

Sanjeev, who will have his eyes set on the Tokyo Olympics later this year having secured a quota, shot a high 1181 in qualifying to top the 19-man field. He was a clear two points ahead of second-placed youngster Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar, who will most probably be partnering him in Tokyo.

In the finals too, the senior pro was given a good fight by another youngster Swapnil Kusale, before decisively pulling away with a superb 10.6 for his first standing position shot, to Swapnil’s 9.7. He did not look back and finished tops with 459.9 to Swapnil’s 459.1. Akhil Sheoran finished third with 445.6.

In Men’s Skeet, it was Gurjoat Singh, the overnight leader, who topped the qualification round with a score of 121, while Abhay Sekhon came in behind him with a 120.

In the finals, however, Abhay shot 56 out of 60 to win. Madhya Pradesh’s Arjun Thakur came in second with 52 while Gurjoat finished outside the medals.

In the Junior Men’s Skeet, it was Rajveer Singh Gill with 53 who finished behind Abhay.

Ganemat Sekhon was a class apart in Women’s Skeet. She also like Rajput in 3P, topped qualifying with a 120, which was a huge six points ahead of second place.

In the finals too, her winning score of 55, was a clear four points ahead of second finishing Zahra Deesawala.

Raiza Dhillon shot 51 in the Junior Women’s Skeet T1 finals to get the better of Areeba Khan who shot 49.

Sports Minister Rijiju inaugurates 162-bed hostel at Karni Singh range

Sports Minister Shri Kiren Rijiju inaugurated a residential hostel in the premises of the Dr. Karni Singh shooting range, in New Delhi on Thursday.

The 162-bed hostel has an air conditioned dining area. The entire facility has been created at a cost of Rs 12.26 crore, stated a press release from the Sports Authority of India (SAI).

“Our athletes represent the country at the Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, they must have a standard of living where basic facilities are provided,” Rijiju said.

He added that going forward, there should be a separate girls’ hostel as well.

“Shooting being a priority sport, we have to take all the necessary steps for the shooters,” he said.

The 2018 Commonwealth Games gold-medallist Anish Bhanwala lauded the inauguration of the facility.

“We have always had a very good shooting range but we were lacking a hostel as a result of which we had to stay outside the premises. We can now train in the morning and afternoon session with the hostel being there,” he said.

World No 29 Yastremska provisionally suspended for doping, denies using drugs

Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska has been provisionally suspended after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) found a banned substance in an out-of-competition urine sample, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said on Thursday.

Yastremska, 20, provided the sample in November and a WADA lab in Montreal found the presence of mesterolone metabolite, an anabolic agent on its Prohibited List.

“Yastremska was charged with an Anti-Doping Rule Violation under Article 2.1 of the Programme (presence of a Prohibited Substance in a Player’s Sample) and was provisionally suspended with effect from Jan. 7,” the ITF said.

“Yastremska had (and retains) the right to apply to the Chair of the Independent Tribunal convened to hear her case why the Provisional Suspension should not be imposed, but has chosen not to exercise that right to date.”

Yastremska, ranked 29 in the world, denied having used performance enhancing drugs and believes the positive test was the result of a “contamination event”.

“I’m astonished and under shock, particularly given that two weeks prior to this test… I tested negative at the WTA event in Linz. After this last tournament of the year, I stopped practicing to rest prior to the start of the new season,” she said in a statement.

“Only a very low concentration of mesterolone metabolite was detected in my urine. Given that low concentration and given my negative test two weeks earlier, I have received scientific advice that the result is consistent with some form of contamination event.”

The ITF did not say when Yastremska’s hearing would take place, putting her participation in the Feb. 8-21 Australian Open in doubt.


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