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Holder Murray could meet Djokovic in U.S. Open semis

Scotsman Murray, who beat Serb Djokovic in an epic five-set final to claim last year’s title at Flushing Meadows, was elated to be back at a venue where he has enjoyed considerable success.

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“This is a huge tournament for me,” Murray, 26, said after the official draw ceremony was completed at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

“I came here for the first time when I was 15. I got to my first grand slam final here, my first grand slam win here and I won the juniors here when I was 17 so I love coming back.”

Murray will take on Frenchman Michael Llodra in the opening round while Djokovic launches his title bid against Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis.

Seventh seed Federer has been placed outside the top three for the first time in more than a decade at a grand slam and is drawn to meet in-form Nadal in the quarter-finals.

However, the Spaniard could face a tricky opponent in the previous round where he is scheduled to meet big-serving American John Isner, who Nadal beat in the final of the Western and Southern Open last week.

In other likely quarter-finals, fourth-seeded Spaniard David Ferrer is set to meet Frenchman Richard Gasquet, Djokovic could face sixth seed Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina and Murray is on course to play fifth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych.

In the women’s singles draw, world number one and defending champion Serena Williams is set to come up against Germany’s Angelique Kerber in the last eight but she has two other intriguing opponents potentially lying in wait.

Top seed Williams is scheduled to face fellow American Sloane Stephens in the fourth round, the player who stunningly beat her in this year’s Australian Open quarter-finals.

POTENTIAL HURDLE

Should Serena overcome that potential hurdle, she could then meet her older sister Venus, who has the chance to advance through Kerber’s section of the draw.

However, Serena has no plans to look too far ahead as she sets her sights on winning a 17th grand slam singles title.

“I take every match really seriously,” Serena said while sitting next to Murray after the draw ceremony. “I don’t look too far in the draw. I just look at each match.

“Every match is going to be a very, very tough competition for me and I will just stay focused on one at a time.”

Like Murray, Serena is delighted to be back at Flushing Meadows where she won her first grand slam singles title at the 1999 U.S. Open.

“It’s so important for me,” the 31-year-old smiled. “I told my Dad, ‘I want to win the U.S. Open when I grow up. I want to be able to win this title.’

“The first time I ever won a grand slam was here in Arthur Ashe Stadium so it just has so many great memories. The U.S. Open means everything to me.”

Second seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarussia, who beat Serena in Sunday’s Cincinnati Open final, has been drawn to meet seventh seed Czech Petra Kvitova in the last eight.

The other potential quarter-finals could see third seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland against fifth seed Li Na of China while fourth-seeded Italian Sara Errani is scheduled to play sixth seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.

In the opening round, Serena faces an experienced opponent in Italian Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 French Open champion, while Azarenka comes up against Germany’s Dinah Pfizenmaier.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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Sad Euskaltel try to savour final Vuelta

“So it’s a pity we’re quitting now.

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Like Euskaltel’s 29 riders and 24 staff, Aizkorbe will be out of a job in 2014 because the team are set to fold at the end of the season after 17 years in the sport.

Spain will be left with just one team at WorldTour level and the Basque Country, considered Spain’s cycling heartland, will be bereft of its longstanding flagship squad.

“We’re not quite running around the other teams here with curriculum vitaes sticking out of our back pockets,” team manager Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano said. “But almost.”

Nine months ago Euskaltel-Euskadi’s orange-clad riders looked like one of the most financially secure teams in cycling with Euskaltel, a Basque telecommunications company, looking set to back the team for a further four years.

But after Euskaltel’s co-sponsors failed to provide expected funding, the telecommunications company announced this year it was pulling out of cycling, making the 2013 Vuelta the team’s last Grand Tour after nearly two decades in the sport.

“I’m trying to live through this one like it was just another race,” Samuel Sanchez, the 2008 Olympic champion and team’s best known rider, told Reuters as he signed autographs outside the bus.

“We’re riders for Euskaltel-Euskadi until December 31st and we have to be professional right up until the last day.

“But what’s clear is this team has been a reference point in the history of cycling and it is going to be remembered as one of the most important the sport has ever had.”

Euskaltel-Euskadi have never won a Grand Tour and with their top rider in the Vuelta, Mikel Nieve, in 35th place and four minutes 24 seconds behind the leader, their prospects of changing that are not good.

The team have always been one of the most popular, with thousands of Basque fans crossing the border each July during the Tour and creating an “orange tide” of support for the squad in the Pyrenees in the high mountain stages, where they took memorable victories with Roberto Laiseka in 2001 and Sanchez in 2010.

Now Sanchez, who has never raced with another squad since he turned pro 14 years ago, has no idea where he will be next season.

“I’ve always defended the orange colours and I’d like to have retired with them too,” the 35 year old said. “But if I’m worried about the future, what we have to do is worry about the Vuelta for now.

“We can’t let the situation affect us, that’s why we’re paid to race.”

Stage nine of the Vuelta on Sunday runs from Antequera to Valdepenas de Jaen. The race finishes in Madrid on September 15.

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Williams shows no signs of fading, matches Federer

Initially frustrated by a swirling wind at Arthur Ashe Stadium and shaken by Azarenka’s second set comeback from 4-1 down, Williams regained the momentum in the third set with her power and range of strokes propelling her to a 17th grand slam title.

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Williams will be 32 later this month but she seems far from even contemplating life after tennis.

“I feel great. I have never felt better. I feel really fit,” she said. “I can play a tournament like this, singles, doubles, with tough, tough schedules. For the most part, I felt really good.

“I haven’t felt like this in a number of years. I’m excited about the possibilities. I don’t know what can happen. I just keep playing and do the best that I can.”

Certainly Azarenka, who put up a brave fight throughout and looks easily the most likely to take over Williams’ mantle whenever she does retire, had no doubts about the qualities of her opponent.

“She’s a champion, and she knows how to repeat that. She knows what it takes to get there,” said the Belarussian.

“I think it’s incredible what she’s achieving. She’s playing definitely her best tennis right now. It is just really exciting for me to be able to compete against that type of player who can be the greatest of all time.”

The 17th slam victory puts Williams on a par with Roger Federer among contemporary players of both genders and brings her within one title of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, the fourth most successful women of all-time.

“It’s an honour to be even with Roger,” said Williams, “He’s been such a great champion throughout the years, and he’s just an unbelievable competitor and he’s still playing, and he can probably still win more. …

“He’s just been so incredibly consistent, so we have had really different careers,” Williams said.

“Then to be compared with Chrissy and Martina – not yet, because I’m still not quite there yet. I can’t necessarily compare myself to them, because, you know, numbers‑wise they’re still greater.”

$50 MILLION (31.96 million pounds)

But while she is willing to contemplate history, she is less fond of thinking about what all her success has brought her.

Williams picked up $3.6 million in prize money for her win combined with her bonus from securing the U.S. Open Series of events, which took her past the $50 million mark in career prize money.

“I don’t play tennis for the money. I honestly love to play. I love grand slams,” she said.

“When I grew up playing tennis in Compton, I just never thought about any of this. I didn’t even know all this came with everything.

“I think my dad got me into tennis because of the money, but me being naive and silly, I never thought about it.”

Winning was always the aim, she said.

“I wanted to do what (sister) Venus does. I want to win and I want to do more and I want to do more,” Williams said.

“To this day I have never ever picked up a check in my life. I remember back in the day before wiring they used to mail it because I just would forget it.

“Someone told me today I passed 50 (million), but half of that goes to my Uncle Sam. I love him. I’m always giving him half my money,” she said with a smile.

What Williams does appreciate though is her ability to have been a winner at Arthur Ashe Stadium from the age of 17 to 31.

“I have won this tournament over three decades, ’90s, the 2000s, and this one. You can only do that when you’re younger and older, so I’m happy that I have had this opportunity.”

(Editing by Gene Cherry)

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Djokovic refocuses attention on U.S. Open

The world number one addressed the U.

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N. General Assembly on Friday as part of the declaration for an International Day of Sport for Development and Peace next year.

“The speech at U.N. yesterday was also something quite incredible for me,” he told reporters at Flushing Meadows on Saturday.

“I was blown away by these wonderful opportunities that I got personally to speak at the U.N. in the name of the global family of athletes.”

Djokovic’s focus immediately returned to tennis on Saturday when he returned to Flushing Meadows for the annual Arthur Ashe kids’ day.

After practising on the centre court, the Serbian was besieged by autograph hunters then the media as he retreated to the conference room.

Djokovic has played in each of the last three U.S. Open finals, winning the title in 2011, and remains among the favourites this year despite mixed results this season.

He won his third successive Australian Open in January and made the final at Wimbledon, losing to Andy Murray, who also beat him in last year’s U.S. Open final.

His build-up to the U.S. Open has been solid without being spectacular as he reached the semi-finals in Montreal then the quarter-finals in Cincinnati.

“I thought I played quite decent in these two weeks,” he said.

“Just that both matches that I lost were 7-6 and 7-5 in the third set, and in important moments, I wasn’t finding that maybe extra strength to be calm and to play the right shots.

“That’s what happens, you know. You go through these periods. But my confidence is still there.”

At 26 and with six grand slam titles already under his belt, Djokovic is at the peak of his powers and showing no signs of slowing down or waning interest.

“I feel that I’m in my prime in my tennis career and I really want to keep on playing tennis at this level hopefully for years to come,” said Djokovic, who plays Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis in the first round.

“As long as I have the desire, as long as my body holds on, as long as, you know, there is this love, flame of love for this sport inside of me.”

(Reporting by Julian Linden; editing by Gene Cherry)

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Turkish hurdler Yanit handed doping suspension

The decision comes just three weeks after the federation banned 31 athletes for doping offences and with a September 7 International Olympic Committee (IOC) vote looming on whether Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo will host the 2020 Olympics.

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In May, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) said Yanit faced a ban following “multiple positive findings in both in-competition and out-of-competition tests”.

The Turkish federation said it made its decision to ban the 27-year-old athlete at a disciplinary board meeting on Tuesday.

“Today’s news demonstrates that the new, more aggressive anti-doping policies being implemented by our National Federations and the Turkish Anti-Doping Agency (TADA)…are rooting out drugs in Turkish sport,” Turkey’s Olympic chief Ugur Erdener said in a statement.

Erdener, an International Olympic Committee member and also one of the bid leaders for Istanbul’s 2020 Olympic bid, said testing in Turkey would continue to be beefed up.

“While any evidence of cheating is a major disappointment for any country, the Turkish National Olympic Committee nevertheless welcomes the action taken by the Turkish Athletics Federation today,” he said.

“The top-down approach is sending a clear message to cheats and would-be cheats in Turkey: you have nowhere left to hide.”

Asli Cakir Alptekein, last year’s women’s 1,500 metres Olympic champion, who had already served a two-year doping ban, was provisionally suspended in May after abnormalities were detected in her “biological passport”.

Turkey is not the only Olympic hopeful dealing with doping. Spain approved a new anti-doping law in June to bring it in line with international norms and dispel the impression the nation is soft on doping.

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