Win sends Svitolina to career high 10th

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina hit a career high world ranking after her victory in Dubai helped her crack the WTA top 10 released on Monday.

The 22-year-old moved up three places to 10 after beating former world number one Caroline Wozniacki in Saturday’s final. Continue reading

Federer returns with easy win in Dubai

Roger Federer showed few signs of rust after a month off following his Australian Open heroics in sending Benoit Paire packing at the Dubai Tennis Championships on Monday.

Federer, chasing a record eighth title at the Dubai showpiece, outclassed the tetchy Frenchman 6-1, 6-3 in what was his first match since winning an 18th Grand Slam in January in Melbourne against Rafael Nadal.

The timeless Swiss, who had been unsure of his form and fitness following the layoff and a leg injury, is yet to lift an eighth title at any event having achieved seven in Dubai, Wimbledon, Basle, Cincinnati and at Halle.

“I’m happy with how I played, I was able to stay aggressive,” the 35-year-old said. “I couldn’t have had a better first-round start.

“There were some break points to be saved and I returned very well for a first round.

“The serve in the beginning was a bit off maybe, but I think also playing at night here for the first time it’s always just a different ball when you toss it up with the lights, so that’s going to get better as I progress in the tournament.”

Federer, who has a training base in the UAE, defeated Paire for the fourth time without a loss with the Frenchman jeered for tossing a racquet in the second set as he was crashing to defeat.

Paire also had his ankle strapped trailing 4-1 in the opening set and then lost serve as Federer took a 5-1 lead. The Swiss wrapped up the first set after less than 30 minutes with a service winner.

The second set was equally one way as Federer went through in well under an hour before attending an ATP presentation on court to honour the 500-level Dubai event’s quarter century.

“I missed playing here last year (knee surgery). I’ve played here for so many years, seen the tournament grow,” said Federer, who is competing in the event for the 13th time.

“Especially after Australia, fans and myself know how special it is for me to be back on the court. It was a nice welcome.”

Fourth seed Gael Monfils returned to Dubai for the first time since 2008 and advanced over Egyptian wildcard Mohamed Safwat, the number 199, 6-4, 6-3.

Spanish sixth seed Roberto Bautista Agut beat Russian hope Karen Khachanov 6-1, 7-6 (7/4) while 2014 semifinalist Philipp Kohlschreiber moved to within two victories of his 400th career win after he defeated eighth seed Gilles Muller of Luxembourg 6-4, 7-6 (7/1)

“To achieve my record would be great,” the 33-year-old German said. “It would put me in the semifinals.

“But I still have a few years to play on the tour so I’m pretty confident that I’m going to make 400-plus, hopefully.”

Spain’s Marcel Granollers put out Czech Jiri Vesely 6-3, 6-2 while Guillermo Garcia-Lopez defeated Serb Viktor Troicki 6-4, 6-3.

Mourinho demands United trophy charge

Jose Mourinho has challenged his Manchester United stars to use their dramatic League Cup final win against Southampton as a springboard to bigger prizes.

Mourinho lifted the first major trophy of his United reign on Sunday after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s late header clinched a 3-2 victory at Wembley.

The 54-year-old is the first United manager to win a major competition in his maiden season at Old Trafford and the 19th trophy of his glittering career made him only the third boss, after Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough, to enjoy four League Cup triumphs.

Now Mourinho wants his players to learn from the winning feeling as they chase FA Cup and Europa League titles this term, and ideally Premier League and Champions League glory next season.

“The reality is that we want more: my contract is long, I have two more years with this one, so hopefully I can win more,” Mourinho said.

“This season I know it’s difficult, but the reality is we have to try to fight for more.”

Belotti brace stuns Fiorentina

Italy striker Andrea Belotti made amends for missing a second-half penalty for Torino with a late brace that secured a share of the points in a 2-2 draw at Fiorentina in Serie A on Monday.

In a clash helpful to both sides’ chances of qualifying for Europe next season, Fiorentina raced to a two-goal lead before halftime after Riccardo Saponara, in the eighth minute and Nikola Kalinic, with a 38th minute header, beat Joe Hart in the Torino net.

Hart was otherwise heroic in a one-sided first half that saw the England ‘keeper save at the feet of Kalinic then Borja Valero in the opening minutes, then deny Cristian Tello later on as the hosts piled on the pressure.

Those stops proved crucial in a more balanced second half, in which Fiorentina added to their current woes by throwing away a two-goal lead for the second game in succession.

When Carlos Salcedo fouled Lucas Boye, Torino were handed a lifeline, only for Belotti to sky his spot kick just after the hour.

But the Italy front man was soon performing his trademark ‘rooster’ celebration – running away with his hand to his head imitating a rooter’s crown – after reducing arrears only three minutes later by firing a loose ball in the area past Ciprian Tatarusanu.

Five minutes from the end, Belotti was left unmarked at the back post to collect Daniele Baselli’s cross past the Fiorentina ‘keeper to claim his 19th goal of the campaign, pulling level with leader Edin Dzeko of Roma.

Fiorentina, who were whistled off the park by unhappy fans at the Artemio Franchi, remain in eighth place at six points behind AC Milan, who sit 19 points off leaders Juventus.

Torino are ninth, five points adrift of Fiorentina.

Juventus, aiming for a record sixth consecutive scudetto, boast a seven-point lead over second-placed Roma, who saw Radja Nainggolan hit a spectacular brace in a 3-1 win at Inter Milan on Sunday to keep the title race alive.

The win was all the more important after Napoli’s title bid was dented by a 2-0 defeat at home to Atalanta on Saturday which left Maurizio Sarri’s men in third place, 12 points off the pace.

Atalanta are fourth, one point ahead of Lazio and three ahead of Inter.

Mourinho hails United’s Wembley glory

Jose Mourinho was overcome with emotion after a thrilling 3-2 win against Southampton in the League Cup final gave the Manchester United manager the first major trophy of his reign.

Mourinho’s side were below par for long periods at Wembley but still ended up with the silverware thanks to the ageless Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Written off by many when he joined United on a free transfer, Ibrahimovic has now scored 26 times this term after striking twice, including the 87th minute winner, to kill off Southampton.

Ibrahimovic’s goals allowed Mourinho to celebrate the 19th major prize of his glittering career.

The 54-year-old is the first United manager to win major silverware in his maiden season at Old Trafford.

He is also only the third manager ever to win the League Cup four times, after lifting the trophy three times with Chelsea.

“I’m a bit emotional, yes. It’s not easy to win titles so many times, it’s not easy to cope with that pressure that I put myself under with my career,” Mourinho said.

“Winning is always special. The day I don’t get emotional when I win is the day to go home.

“It was a game that I was feeling the difficulty. I want to pay the homage Southampton deserve and the only thing I can say is we have the cup in our hands, but probably we should be now playing extra-time.”

Mourinho’s decision to sign Ibrahimovic has paid rich dividends and he was quick to salute the Swedish star, who also played for him at Inter Milan.

“I think Ibrahimovic won the game for us because he was outstanding,” Mourinho said.

“Our opponents were better than us for long periods of the game, they deserved to go to extra-time, they did not deserve to lose over 90 minutes.

“He made the difference and he gave us a cup.”

Southampton could feel hard done by after having a Manolo Gabbiadini goal harshly disallowed with the score 0-0 and hitting the post before Ibrahimovic’s winner.

Saints boss Claude Puel said introducing video technology to decide offside decisions would be a good move in the future.

“I would like the video for the future for this situation but at the moment we are without video. Sometimes there is a bad decision against us, it is important to accept this,” Puel said.

“Congratulations to Manchester United. They were too clinical. But we proved we can play very well with many chances and opportunities.”

Wenger relieved to beat Sutton

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said his team would have faced FA Cup humiliation against non-league Sutton United had they shown less application in their fifth-round victory.

Arsenal won 2-0 in Monday’s tie at Sutton’s 5 000-capacity Gander Green Lane ground, but they were given a real run for their money by a team ranked 105 places below them in the English league system.

Goals from Lucas Perez and Theo Walcott, his 100th in Arsenal’s colours, earned the visitors victory, but Sutton pushed them until the end, even hitting the bar through ex-Arsenal trainee Roarie Deacon.

Asked if it had merely been a case of ‘job done’, Wenger replied: “Yes, against a side that was astonishing.

“It is basically division five and they are 17th out of 24. I will never go down there (to manage) because it is too difficult!

“We had to keep our focus. I must give credit to the players who were professional and kept their focus.

“If we had come here in a relaxed mood, we would have gone out tonight because they produced quality.

“They kept going and we were never really in a position where we could afford to have a little breather in the game.”

Wenger made seven changes from last week’s 5-1 drubbing by Bayern Munich in the Champions League, which has left his long-term future at the club in doubt.

But the blending of several full internationals with a handful of fringe players betrayed his eagerness to avoid yet more negative headlines.

“We couldn’t afford to go out tonight. We can never afford it,” said Wenger, whose team will host another non-league side, Lincoln City, in the quarterfinals.

A bottle appeared to be thrown towards the dug-outs at the final whistle, as fans launched a mass pitch invasion, but Wenger played down the incident.

“I don’t know if it was at me or someone else or the referee, but there was a bottle thrown, yes,” he said.

WENGER MEMORIES

Sutton manager Paul Doswell condemned the unruly scenes.

“It disappointed me at the end,” he said. “They don’t support Sutton. Absolute idiots.”

Nevertheless, he said it had been “a dream” to watch his players play against Arsenal and professed himself “very, very proud” of their efforts.

Sutton had previously overcome Cheltenham Town, AFC Wimbledon and second-tier Leeds United, all of whom are ranked above them.

The club estimate the cup run has been worth £1 million to them, which will be used to renovate the Gander Green Lane clubhouse.

First and foremost, however, Doswell wants to make sure his side, currently ranked 18th in the fifth-tier National League, avoid sliding even further down the English football pyramid.

Asked what the cup run meant to Sutton, he told reporters: “A legacy for the club, that allows them to go and put right all the things they wanted to put right.

“We’ve got to get safe in the National League to have really had a good season. If we finish 18th, with what’s happened (in the cup)… It’s a remarkable thing that’s happened.

“Everything inside, all the toilets, everything you’d want your house to look like, we’re going to put our house in order. It won’t be spent on players.”

Arsenal have pledged to put £50 000 towards two community classrooms, which Doswell said was “an amazing gesture”.

Wenger, meanwhile, said Sutton’s humble ground had put him in mind of his formative football years at the tiny village club of Duttlenheim in northeastern France.

“I come from a club that is smaller than that, so it reminds me of my childhood,” said the Frenchman.

“The changing rooms for me were fantastic. The closer you are, the more united you are when you go out there.

“When you are too far from each other in the dressing room with everybody having a chair, it is not so good. I prefer that –- much more together.”

Dubai loss ends Kerber’s No 1 dream

Angelique Kerber lost the chance to return to the top of the WTA rankings, after losing 6-3, 7-6 (7/3) to Elina Svitolina on Friday in the Dubai Tennis Championships semifinals.

Had Kerber won the tournament, she would have retaken the world No 1 spot she held after winning the US Open in September, until Serena Williams wrestled it back in claiming Australian Open glory last month.

But Kerber, winner of two Grand Slams in 2016, fell victim to back problems during her match with Svitolina, who has now won her last three meetings with the 29-year-old German.

The top seed produced eight double-faults and left the court for medical treatment when a set and a break down.

Her return produced some momentarily inspiring tennis, with two bouts of light rain adding to complications.

It finally took a winning second-set tiebreaker from Svitolina to end the drama, sending the challenger into a Saturday title showdown against Caroline Wozniacki, who reached her second final in as many weeks, beating Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 6-4.

Denmark’s former world No 1, currently 15th, took just 90 minutes to beat her Latvian opponent and move into the title match at the Aviation club.

Wozniacki lost to Czech Karolina Pliskova in the Doha final last weekend.

“It’s been a pretty good couple of weeks for me, I’m very happy with how I have been playing. Very happy how I have managed to get through these two weeks,” Wozniacki said.

“It’s been very tiring mentally. The fact that I have just been staying in there and keep grinding, I’m kind of proud of that.

“She definitely was a tricky opponent. I knew going into it that she was going to be difficult. She mixes the pace up. She really tries to break your rhythm. I was really pleased with how I was playing. I tried to stay aggressive and tried to mix it up, as well.”