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Nadal to face Thiem in Barcelona Open semifinals

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BARCELONA, Spain — Rafael Nadal will meet Dominic Thiem in the semifinals of the Barcelona Open after the defending champion brushed off a challenge from German Jan-Lennard Struff to win 7-5, 7-5 on Friday.

The top-seeded Nadal broke Struff’s serve in the final game of each set to stay on course for a record-extending 12th title on the outdoor clay courts at Barcelona.

He next faces the third-seeded Thiem, who beat Guido Pella 7-5, 6-2.

“I am getting better and better as the tournament goes on,” Nadal said. “These are two consecutive weeks that I will at least have reached semifinals on clay.”

Nadal lost in the semifinals in Monte Carlo last week and then needed three sets to get past Leonard Mayer in his opening match in Barcelona. He saw off David Ferrer in straight sets on Thursday.

Struff, who beat last year’s runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas in the previous round, fought back from an early break to make a match of it.

Nadal avoided the first-set tiebreaker by pushing Struff into a 0-40 hole on his final service game. He closed out the set when Struff could only stab his passing shot off the court.

Nadal then finished the match by chasing down a ball and landing a backhand return just inside the opposing corner, improving his record in Barcelona to 61-3.

Nadal is 8-3 against Thiem, including a win in 2017 final in Barcelona. But the Austrian is the only player to have beaten him on clay in each of the past two seasons.

Nadal said that Thiem “is a candidate to win any tournament on clay.”

While Nadal has won 57 clay-court titles, eight of Thiem’s 12 titles have come on the surface.

Kei Nishikori, who won here in 2014 and 2015, also advanced to the final four after beating Roberto Carballes 6-4, 7-5.

The fourth-seeded Nishikori will play Daniil Medvedev, after the Russian hit five aces in defeating Nicolas Jarry 6-3, 6-4.

Assessing Man City And Liverpool’s Remaining Fixtures

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Manchester City has, in truth, eased their way back to the top of the Premier League this evening after a clinical if not dominant derby display was enough to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford.

David De Gea was beaten at his near post twice as goals from Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane earned Pep Guardiola’s side all three points from their game in hand over Premier League title rivals Liverpool.

So now we all know where we stand, with just over three weeks of a pulsating season left. If Liverpool is going to win their first Premier League title at the 27th time of asking, they’re going to need something to go wrong at some point 35 miles east.

Brian Gendo@brian_gendo

Liverpool final 3 fixtures – Huddersfield (H), Newcastle (A), Wolves (H)

Man City final 3 fixtures – Burnley (A), Leicester (H), Brighton (A)

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In reality, the Reds will have to win all three of their remaining games, starting with Friday night’s fixture with Huddersfield at Anfield.

Liverpool’s continued participation in the Champions League knockout stages always had the potential to work against them from the moment City were dumped from the competition by Spurs last week and Friday could, but shouldn’t, shine a small light on such complications.

Jurgen Klopp will have a decision to make. Rest some of his more integral stars, against a relegated side with zero to play for, with next Wednesday’s semi-final first leg with Barcelona on the horizon or gamble on playing his first team and having enough in the tank to go again in four days?

Oh, how these two games with the Catalans could shape the whole season for Klopp and company.

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Less than 72 hours after the Nou Camp fixture, Liverpool will turn out at St James’s Park in a potentially tricky Saturday evening encounter with Newcastle United under the lights. They’ll certainly be hoping for a favor or two from former boss Rafa Benitez, but one would have to suspect that should Liverpool be still in the Champions League tie, at least one eye will be on making a European final.

They will welcome the Catalonians for the second leg at Anfield another 72 hours later before wrapping up their season at home to Wolves.

The complication of Barcelona is key. Without those two games, one could reasonably expect Liverpool to come away with nine points from their final three games of the domestic calendar. Barring a freak result at Anfield leaving either side way out in front, that showdown on Merseyside on May 7th will dictate what might happen in the North-East three days prior.

Despite playing two of their final three league games away from home, City seems to have a far more straight forward path to negotiate. They also have the quite obvious advantage of being a point to the good heading into them.

Burnley may prove their most difficult fixture, who after a terrible start to the season have produced some spirited performances of late with the threat of relegation long since shaken from their back.

Leicester City at home should be a formality against a Brendan Rodgers side who for most of this season have shipped goals for fun away from the Kingpower Stadium, recent results at Burnley and Huddersfield aside.

Last up, City will travel to Brighton and the intricacies of the Premier League fixture web will play a role if we go down to the final day.

Chris Hughton

Brighton still remain perilously close to the trap door, hovering one place above the relegation zone, three points ahead of a Cardiff City side who still have a fighting chance of survival.

A crucial game for Cardiff, Brighton and indeed City will be the Bluebirds trip to Fulham this Saturday. Anything less than a win would surely condemn Neil Warnock’s side to the drop, leaving Brighton breathing a lot easier should they get anything from their evening game with Newcastle at home.

Safe or not safe, the bottom line is Pep Guardiola’s side should really sweep the floor with Chris Hughton’s men with the title on the line.

Tonight’s victory at Old Trafford may well have hammered the final nail into Liverpool’s Premier League dreams.

Ronnie O’Sullivan knocked out in the first round of World Snooker Championship by amateur

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World number one Ronnie O’Sullivan crashed out of the World Championship in the first round after suffering a stunning defeat to amateur James Cahill.

In arguably the biggest shock in the tournament’s history, Cahill held his nerve to beat five-time champion O’Sullivan 10-8 at the Crucible.

O’Sullivan was a prohibitive favorite before the match after a season which saw him win five titles and compile his 1,000th career century on his way to victory in the Tour Championship.

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Amateur James Cahill beats five-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan…

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The 23-year-old from Blackpool will face Scotland’s Stephen Maguire in the second round.

A delighted Cahill told the BBC: “I believe I can beat anyone on the day.”

Asked how he managed to hold his nerve to pot the final few balls to clinch victory over O’Sullivan, he replied: “I don’t really know. I thought I was going to fall over at one point.

“I thought I’d be nervous when I went out there today but I wasn’t. I was a bit tense in parts but I think I have shown quite a bit of bottle.

“It was nice to qualify and it was nice to beat Ronnie.”

Fognini beats Lajovic to win Monte Carlo Masters

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MONACO    –    Fabio Fognini won the biggest title of his career after beating Dusan Lajovic 6-3, 6-4 Sunday in the Monte Carlo Masters final.

The 13th-seeded Italian’s first title of the year was his ninth overall but first at Masters level. It came the day after he stunned defending champion Rafael Nadal in straight sets, becoming the first player to beat Nadal here since Novak Djokovic in the 2015 semifinals. “It has been an incredible week, I will keep working,” Fognini said. “I started the season badly so this is unbelievable.”

After going out in the third round of the Australian Open, Fognini had won only one match and lost six times before this tournament. Playing here may have given him a boost, however, since he grew up in nearby San Remo — just over the Italian border and a short drive or train ride away along the glittering Mediterranean coast.

The 48th-ranked Lajovic’s run to his first career final was unexpected. But the unseeded Serb rarely threatened in humid, overcast and slightly windy conditions.

Fognini needed a medical timeout to receive treatment to his right foot and right thigh after the fifth game of the second set. But it did not impede him as he served out the match, clinching victory on his second match point when Lajovic hit a forehand wide.

The players hugged warmly at the net. The 31-year-old Fognini is only the fourth man to win the clay-court event since Nadal’s first of a record 11 wins in 2005. Djokovic, twice, and Stan Wawrinka also won. The last Italian before Fognini was Nicola Pietrangeli in 1968. The 85-year-old Pietrangeli, a two-time French Open winner, stood and applauded as Fognini dropped to his knees to kiss the surface.

The match started evenly enough, but Fognini broke for a 4-2 lead when Lajovic made an unforced error on forehand. Fognini then held his serve with a typically flamboyant one-handed, cross-court backhand to take control.

Serving for the set, Fognini saved a break point with a forehand winner down the line and then clinched it with an equally good backhand. Fognini broke for a 3-2 lead in the second set when Lajovic hit a forehand wide. After Fognini’s medical timeout, Lajovic missed an easy smash at 30-30 in the next game. With that miss, his slim hopes faded.

Terence Crawford defeats Amir Khan by TKO after an incidental low blow

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This was not the ending either fighter really wanted … or was it? The WBO welterweight championship fight between Terence Crawford and Amir Khan ended abruptly in the sixth round after Khan couldn’t continue from a low blow.

It happened 47 seconds into the sixth round as Crawford, who had repeatedly pounded Khan’s body with hooks to the ribs, launched another hook that landed just below the belt-line, hitting Khan in the groin.

Khan doubled over and immediately backed off and went to his corner. He was clearly in discomfort and spent several seconds trying to adjust his cup. As referee David Fields looked on and tried to get Khan to resume action, Khan’s corner informed him he couldn’t continue. “The coach stopped the fight,” Fields said referring to Khan’s trainer Virgil Hunter.

“It’s obvious he was in a lot of pain,” Hunter said. “Sometimes you can continue and sometimes you can’t continue, it depends on how hard you were hit in the testicles. I asked him if he could continue and he said, ‘No.’”

Crawford (35-0, 26 KOs) retained his WBO welterweight championship with a technical knockout, but it wasn’t very satisfying for the crowd of 14,091 at Madison Square Garden and the promoters of the fight.

“I think he could have continued,” said Bob Arum of Top Rank. “He had five minutes to recover. But he was looking for a place to fall. I think the next round or two would have ended the fight. He was taking a beating.”

Crawford wasn’t happy either.

“I could tell I was breaking him down,” he said. “I was just a matter of time. I just took my time. I was disappointed the corner stopped the fight in that manner, but Virgil is a great coach and he was looking out for his fighter. I know he didn’t want to go out like that.”

Crawford, of Omaha, Neb., was defending his title for the third time, which was the total number of his fights in the 147-pound division after winning all four major belts at 140. Khan, who moved up to welterweight earlier in his career and fancied himself the bigger man. He also thought his boxing skills would keep him in the fight.

But his chin has been long suspect and it didn’t take long for Crawford to test it. He dropped the Englishman in the first round with a right-hand. Khan (33-5, 20 K0s) got up on wobbly legs and barely managed to survive the round after Crawford staggered him with another right.

Khan stayed on his toes as the second round began, but the fleet-footed Crawford stayed in his face, waiting for another opening. The champ stayed patient, stalking his wounded prey, a reprieve that allowed Khan to clear his head a bit. Crawford was so patient in the second, he might have lost the round as Khan fired a couple of quick combinations to score points.

Crawford turned to a southpaw stance in the third round, flicking out his right jab to keep Khan from establishing any offense. But it wasn’t a decisive round for either fighter. The champion began to let his hands go in the fourth, focusing on Khan’s body. Crawford ripped several hard hooks to the ribs, keeping Khan on the defensive.

Crawford continued to be the aggressor in the fifth, rocking Khan with a hard left to the head and a wicked uppercut. But Khan weathered each attack and kept pressing forward, landing a few shots of his own.

The low blow came early in the sixth and unexpectedly stopped the fight.

Talk immediately turned to a possible bout between Crawford and the unbeaten Errol Spence Jr.

“We’re prepared to do the fight under the most reasonable terms,” Arum said.

In the undercard bouts: Brooklyn’s Teofimo Lopez improved to 13-0 with 11 knockouts, stopping Edis Tatli (31-3, 10 KOs) of Finland in the fifth-round of their lightweight bout. Shakur Stevenson of Newark remained unbeaten (11-0, 6 KOs) with a unanimous decision over Christopher Diaz (24-2, 16 KOs) of Puerto Rico, and Felix Verdejo (25-1, 16 KOs) of Puerto Rico earned an easy decision over Bryan Vasquez (37-4, 20 KOs) of Costa Rica.

Van Dijk and Sterling lead PFA Player of the Year nominations

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Premier League title rivals Liverpool and Manchester City dominate the six-man shortlist for the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year award, with Virgil Van Dijk and Raheem Sterling the front-runners.

Centre-back Van Dijk joins Reds team-mate Sadio Mane on the list, while England forward Sterling is included alongside fellow City players Sergio Aguero and Bernardo Silva.

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard completes the nominees for the 2018-19 campaign, with the winner scheduled to be announced on Sunday, April 28th at the PFA’s annual awards ceremony in London.

City duo Sterling and Silva, both 24, also make the shortlist for the Young Player of the Year award. They are joined in that category by Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold, West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, Bournemouth winger David Brooks, and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford.

For the women’s award, Manchester City trio Steph Houghton, Nikita Parris, and Keira Walsh have been shortlisted, in addition to Chelsea duo Erin Cuthbert and Ji So-Yun and Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema.

Dutch forward Miedema, the Women’s Super League top scorer with 27 goals, Walsh and Cuthbert are also nominated for the Young Player of the Year award, along with City forward Georgia Stanway, West Ham striker Alisha Lehmann and Bristol City goalkeeper Sophie Baggaley.

Van Dijk, signed from Southampton for £75million in January 2018, has been an ever-present rock at the heart of the Premier League’s tightest defense this campaign. He has helped Liverpool keep 18 clean sheets and concede only 20 times, while also chipping in with three goals.

Senegal international Mane — included ahead of last year’s winner Mohamed Salah – has also enjoyed a stellar season for Jurgen Klopp’s side, hitting 18 league goals as the Anfield club attempt to end a 29-year wait to be champions.

Sterling is currently the bookmakers’ second favorite for the award behind 27-year-old Van Dijk and has been key for Pep Guardiola’s defending champions, having contributed 17 goals and nine assists going into the weekend.

Aguero and Silva have also been integral parts of the division’s best attack this term.

Argentinian Aguero, City’s record goalscorer, has registered 19 of the club’s 86 goals and provided seven assists, while Portuguese Silva, who has become increasingly influential at the Etihad Stadium, has managed six goals and seven assists.

Creative forward Hazard, the only candidate to have previously won the award (2015), has been directly involved in more top-flight goals than any other player this term, scoring 16 and setting up 12 for Maurizio Sarri’s Blues.

There is guaranteed to be a new name on the Young Player of the Year award.

Alexander-Arnold has contributed to Liverpool’s defensive solidity and also provided seven assists from right-back, while the fine form of Hammers midfielder Rice led to his England debut following his change of allegiance from the Republic of Ireland.

Wales international Brooks has scored seven times and assisted five goals during an impressive debut season in the top flight after swapping Sheffield United for the south coast. Rashford, meanwhile, has managed 10 goals and six assists for Manchester United.

Man City return to top of Premier League with victory over Tottenham

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Pep Guardiola must have been sick of the sight of Mauricio Pochettino.

This was the third time in the last 11 days that Manchester City and Tottenham have gone toe to toe, with the north London side coming out on top on the previous two occasions.
True, City may have won 4-3 in Wednesday’s pulsating Champions League clash but it wasn’t enough to stop Spurs advancing to the semifinals on away goals.
In the finale of the City-Spurs trilogy, Guardiola’s side went at least some way to exorcize the demons of Wednesday’s nightmare, which saw Raheem Sterling have a last-minute goal — a tie-winning goal — disallowed by VAR.
Though that result is likely to haunt City for quite some time, they can at least take comfort in Saturday’s crucial, hard-fought 1-0 victory over Tottenham which saw them return to the top of the Premier League.
Much was made about City’s mentality in the build-up to this game and how the team would react to Wednesday’s soul-crushing result which seemed to drain the life out of the Etihad.
It's the first Premier League goal Phil Foden has scored for City.

In his pre-match press conference, Guardiola pointed out that his superstars were still only human but implored them to use that disappointment to fire them to victory as they chase a consecutive Premier League crown in a nail-biting title race.
But the players — with the fans roaring them on from the first whistle — showed no signs of a Champions League hangover and took the lead inside five minutes.
Bernardo Silva’s deft ball into the box found Sergio Aguero, who showed impressive awareness and poise to cushion his header for Phil Foden to nod into an empty net.
It was the teenager’s first league goal for the club, becoming the first player born in the 2000s to score for City in the Premier League and it would prove to be the crucial winner.
On a sour note, Kevin De Bruyne — so impressive in City’s recent quadruple-chasing run of games — was the first casualty of the grueling set of fixtures as he limped off after half an hour with yet another injury.
Although Spurs mustered two good first-half chances — the first saved by Ederson and the second blocked wonderfully by Aymeric Laporte — they faded badly in the second and never troubled the hosts.
All in all, it was an impressive display of mental strength from City to navigate the first of two difficult Premier League clashes, the second coming in Wednesday’s derby against local rivals Manchester United.
With Liverpool leading by two points prior to kick off having played a game more, victory ensures City lead the title race again — for now at least.
Jurgen Klopp’s side faces relegation-threatened Cardiff City on Sunday and could once again return to the top of the Premier League with a win.