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Vidal double leads Juve to 4-1 win over Lazio

Napoli also made it two victories from two games earlier in the day, overcoming Chievo 4-2 in Verona with two goals from in-form Slovakian Marek Hamsik and Gonzalo Higuain’s first Serie A strike.

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Two superb finishes from Vidal in the 14th and 26th minutes looked to have put the game beyond Lazio but German striker Miroslav Klose pulled a goal back to give the visitors some hope.

Mirko Vucinic extended Juve’s lead with a deft finish four minutes after the break before Brazilian midfielder Hernanes was sent off for a second booking following a handball.

Argentine Tevez provided a neat fourth from 20 metres with 10 minutes to go to finish off Vladimir Petkovic’s side.

“This is the Juve that (coach Antonio) Conte wants. We had the same aggression that has marked us out over the last two years,” said defender Leonardo Bonucci after providing two assists.

Alberto Paloschi twice levelled for Chievo in Verona after Hamsik, with a superb long-range strike, and then Jose Callejon, with a tap-in, had put the visitors ahead.

Rafa Benitez’s Napoli seized control in the second period and Hamsik’s close-range volley after a defensive mix-up gave them a deserved lead after 64 minutes.

Argentina international Higuain sealed the points six minutes later when he took Lorenzo Insigne’s through ball and squeezed home his first league goal since joining from Real Madrid in the close season.

“We let them back into the game twice but I knew that if we scored another that we would win,” said Hamsik after taking his tally to four goals in Serie A this season.

AC Milan and Fiorentina are in action on Sunday, the latter travelling to Genoa and the former hosting Cagliari.

AS Roma play their first home game of the season against Hellas Verona with the Curva Sud of the Olympic Stadium closed due to racist chanting from hardcore fans at the end of last season.

(Editing by Stephen Wood)

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Liverpool benefit from rivals’ cast-offs to win again

Sturridge, signed from Chelsea for 12 million pounds ($18.

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71 million) in January, was deemed surplus to requirements among Roman Abramovich’s squad of A-list players, but has scored the winner in both Liverpool’s Premier League clashes.

His goal against Aston Villa on Saturday was a combination of deft skill and sublime balance and followed on from his match-winning strike against Stoke City last weekend, a fizzing drive from distance.

Since leaving Stamford Bridge he has been employed in the central striking role that he has always craved, but was frequently made to forego at Stamford Bridge and has now scored 13 goals in his 18 appearances for the Merseyside club.

A player who visibly thrives on confidence and wears the full gamut of emotions on his sleeve, Sturridge says his transformation is a simple matter of being given a platform on which to perform.

“I am just playing my normal game – I have matured a little bit in terms of confidence and playing regularly,” he told Sky Sports on Saturday.

“This is how I have been as a kid, but I’ve now been given a chance to show what I can do in a first-team environment.”

Toure, a title winner with both Manchester City and Arsenal, was released on a free transfer when his deal at the Etihad Stadium came to an end.

Having spent a lot of last season kicking his heels on the bench, he has brought experience to a Liverpool backline shorn of leadership following the retirement of Jamie Carragher at the end of the last campaign.

His presence at the heart of the Liverpool defence was particularly noticeable against Villa where he stood up to the physical threat of powerhouse Christian Benteke and came out on top to help Liverpool keep their second clean sheet in a row.

“He (Toure) has been brilliant,” Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said.

“Obviously you know Jamie Carragher well and it was very important to get someone in of a similar ilk.

“We need that experience. He’s 32, he’s fit and he’s got that winning mentality and he’s been very influential in the changing room.”

RENEWED OPTIMISM

After Liverpool’s win against Stoke on the opening weekend, Rodgers spoke of a renewed sense of optimism within the dressing room.

On Saturday, he spoke about the team’s tactical discipline to subdue a Villa team that had scored three times against Arsenal last weekend and troubled Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

“It was a terrific win for us. I thought first half we had good control of the game and scored an excellent goal,” he said.

“I thought we were calm on the ball in the first half. We were fluid in our game, there was good movement.

“We had half an idea on controlling it, the balance of the team when we have the ball, because if you open up too much against these, they can really hurt you with their pace on the counter-attack.

“I thought our positioning was good, mentality was good and tactically we fell back into our shape very well in the first half. Second half, of course you expect a bit more pressure from them. But, all in all, although Simon (Mignolet) had to make a couple of good saves, it was about the three points today and we got the three.”

Next up for Liverpool is a League Cup clash with Notts County on Tuesday, before they host traditional rivals Manchester United at Anfield next Sunday in what is likely to be the first real test of their top-four credentials.

($1 = 0.6413 British pounds)

(Editing by Rex Gowar)

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Eight Chinese athletes fail tests ahead of National Games

“The number of positive cases has largely increased compared with that of last year, which sent us a warning,” anti-doping chief He Zhenwen told the Xinhua news agency.

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The 11th version of the inter-provincial National Games attracted 15,133 athletes from 46 teams competing in 362 events in 33 sports in Jinan, Shandong Province in 2009.

The quadrennial event, first held in 1959 in Beijing when Communist China was isolated from most of the rest of the sporting world, remains the major way the government appraises the work of provincial sports authorities.

Funding for the provinces is largely based on their success at the Games, which has encouraged cheating through doping and falsifying the age of athletes in the past.

“There always will be someone who risks doping for unfair advantage when the return is lucrative,” He added.

“History taught us that the National Games could well be the reason for cheating.”

China’s women’s 100 metres champion Wang Jing was banned for life after she tested positive for the performance-enhancing metabolites epitestosterone and testosterone after winning the 100m race at the 2009 Games in Jinan, Shandong province.

In 2005, Sun Yingjie, a former world championship bronze medalist, tested positive after finishing second in the 10,000m — a day after winning the Beijing Marathon.

Eleven athletes failed dope tests, while three field athletes and a swimmer pulled out after “abnormal” results in the 2001 edition.

This year’s Games will be held in Shenyang, the capital of the northern province of Liaoning – one of the country’s sporting powerhouses – from August 31-September 12.

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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Neymar makes case for starting place at Barca

The 21-year-old, who cost Barca 57 million euros, came on as a second-half substitute and nodded in at the back post as the champions came from behind to draw 1-1 at King’s Cup winners Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup first leg on Wednesday.

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Barca coach Gerardo Martino has tried to keep the pressure off the youngster, calling for patience from fans, and has only used him as a substitute in last Sunday’s La Liga opening 7-0 rout of Levante and against Atletico.

The Argentine brought Neymar on in the 59th minute at the Calderon with the side trailing against an abrasive and well-organised Atletico, and he shrugged off the animosity of the home crowd to head the equaliser.

“I score very few goals with my head so for this reason I value them more,” Neymar told reporters.

“I’m pleased with the goal because it helped my colleagues. The important thing is to help the team.”

Neymar arrived at the Nou Camp with a reputation as a flashy dribbler, and touted as a player who would help divert attention and defenders away from World Player of the Year Messi.

However, his first few performances have been relatively subdued as he has appeared keen to show himself to be a team player rather than a show pony.

By scoring an important goal in testing circumstances – Atletico had bettered Barca for best part of an hour – Neymar also displayed a predator’s eye for goal.

Messi was withdrawn at halftime in the Calderon, more as a precautionary measure because of bruising Martino said, and is to undergo further tests on Thursday.

He could be sidelined on Sunday (1900 GMT) or rested ahead of the Super Cup second leg next Wednesday.

FIRST OF MANY

While Neymar could be said to have helped Barca forget about Messi, it was Cesc Fabregas who actually replaced the Argentine, and the in-form former Arsenal captain, along with Neymar, helped turn the game.

“It’s good news he (Neymar) has scored. It will be the first of many,” Fabregas said.

Barca visit a Malaga side rebuilding under Bernd Schuster and who lost their opening fixture 1-0 at Valencia, while Atletico are at home to Rayo Vallecano on Sunday (1700).

Diego Simeone’s side were impressive 3-1 winners at Sevilla last Sunday and caused Barca plenty of problems in the Super Cup, taking the lead though Spain striker David Villa, who netted his first competitive goal for the club against his former team mates.

“David was really motivated and he scored a great goal,” Atletico midfielder Mario Suarez told reporters. “He had other chances too and I am sure he will score a lot more for us.”

Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid have to wait until Monday (1900) for their next outing, when they visit Granada and a ground where they slipped to a surprise 1-0 defeat under Jose Mourinho last season.

Real will be without midfielder Xabi Alonso, who has broken a bone in his foot, and all eyes will be on Ancelotti’s choice of goalkeeper.

Diego Lopez, made number one by Mourinho toward the end of last season, was preferred for their league opener at home to Real Betis last weekend, when they scraped a 2-1 victory, leaving fan favourite and captain Iker Casillas on the bench.

Ancelotti hinted that the first-choice keeping slot was still up for grabs, but if Lopez is chosen again it could be a major blow to Spain’s number one as the countdown to the World Cup finals in Brazil gathers pace.

(Reporting by Mark Elkington, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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Nadal cruises as upsets continue at U.S. Open

The world number two turned on a master class of power and precision as he brushed aside Croatia’s Ivan Dodig 6-4 6-3 6-3 to lead a trio of Spanish men into the fourth round.

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French Open runner-up David Ferrer also moved through, beating Mikhail Kukushkin 6-4 6-3 4-6 6-4, while a third Spaniard, Tommy Robredo, ended the Cinderella run of British qualifier Dan Evans, winning 7-6 (6) 6-1 4-6 7-5.

Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki and the 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova were among the high-profile casualties in a women’s draw packed with surprises.

Four of the eight women already through to the fourth round are unseeded and three of the eight are Italian.

Camila Giorgi, who had to come through the qualifiers to reach the main draw, sent Wozniacki packing with a 4-6 6-4 6-3 win on Arthur Ashe Stadium while Flavia Pennetta knocked out the former U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5 6-1. Roberta Vinci also won for Italy.

Nadal has been in great form in the past month, winning warm-up tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati. He has not dropped a single set in getting to the last 16 at Flushing Meadows and believes he is still improving.

“I played better today than in the previous matches. (That’s) always a positive thing,” he said.

FEDERER LOOMING

Nadal’s next opponent is Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber, who beat towering American John Isner 6-4 3-6 7-5 7-6 (5), with Roger Federer looming as a possible quarter-final opponent.

While Nadal cruised into the next round and most of the men’s results went as expected, a feisty Victoria Azarenka dropped her first set of the tournament before recovering to book her place in the last 16 of the women’s draw.

A finalist last year and one of the favourites to win the title this season, the world number two and reigning Australian Open champion overcame a shaky start to beat Alize Cornet of France 6-7(2) 6-3 6-2.

The Belarussian was given a tough workout from Cornet and allowed her frustrations to boil over when the umpire ordered a point she had won be replayed.

“That was the most ridiculous thing there is,” Azarenka said.

Former world number one Ana Ivanovic had to dig deep to avoid joining the exit queue. The Serbian was on the brink of defeat in her match against American Christina McHale before recovering to win 4-6 7-5 6-4. She plays Azarenka next.

“I know what to expect,” said Ivanovic. “I really want to play against the best and challenge myself, because I’m ready to take them on.”

BEATEN CHAMPIONS

Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon champion and seventh seed at Flushing Meadows, fell 6-3 6-0 to American wildcard Alison Riske.

The U.S. Open is the only grand slam where Kvitova has failed to at least make the quarter-finals and the Czech said she was unable to play near her best after contracting a virus.

“Unfortunately I was lying in the bed yesterday and I had a fever,” Kvitova said. “I tried to play, tried to fight. But my body wouldn’t let me fight.”

Riske burst into tears after her win. The 23-year-old, who still travels with a security blanket that was given to her on the day she was born, has had a long road to her first fourth round appearance at a grand slam.

She first tried to qualify for the U.S. Open in 2007 and had never won a main draw match until this year. Now she is through to the last 16, and facing a showdown with Daniela Hantuchova, who saved four match points in her 3-6 7-5 7-6 (4) win over Israeli qualifier Julia Glushko.

“The blankie story is out,” Riske said. “I’m used to it now. I can’t deny it now. It’s getting smaller by the week. It can fit in the palm of my hand.”

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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Clubs want to be part of winter World Cup talks

Soccer’s governing body FIFA will meet next month to discuss a proposal from president Sepp Blatter to shift the finals to the northern-hemisphere winter because of the searing heat in Qatar in the summer.

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The European Clubs Association (ECA), which has more than 200 members, said on Tuesday that it wanted to be consulted before any decision was made.

Another organisation, representing the European leagues, set out obstacles to the move as it also urged FIFA not to rush a decision.

“I personally believe there is no hurry and I don’t understand why FIFA would like to make an early decision at the next executive committee meeting in October,” ECA president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told a news conference.

“I think that nine years is more than enough to do this very sensibly and prudently, in the best interests of football.

“We have to be very sensible to find the best solution which will be accepted by all stakeholders in the football family, because it affects our business,” added the former West Germany, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan forward, who is also Bayern Munich chairman.

“If there is a change, the clubs, the leagues, the associations and the players have the right to be heard and to discuss the best solution with FIFA concerning a change for the World Cup.”

He said the clubs would discuss the matter with European soccer’s governing body UEFA before their executive committee meeting in Croatia next week.

BLATTER SURPRISE

Rummenigge said he was surprised by Blatter’s comment in an interview on Monday that it might have been a mistake to award the tournament to the tiny Gulf state.

“I don’t know why he did that because they already decided in favour of Qatar and that’s it,” he said.

“I don’t believe it was a mistake, it was a political decision in favour of Qatar to bring the World Cup to an Arabian country, and that’s it.

“We accept it and everyone accepts it and it’s not nice for the people in Qatar to always hear these kinds of comments.”

Earlier, the European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) said FIFA should consult widely before making any change to the regular schedule of playing the World Cup in June and July.

“Such an important decision cannot be rushed with artificial deadlines,” the EPFL said in a statement.

As well as disrupting club competitions, the EPFL said a date change would have an impact on player contracts and the transfer system which is based on a European season running from August to May.

It also noted a potentially damaging clash with the 2022 Winter Olympics, another major attraction for sponsors and broadcasters.

The EPFL called for a medical assessment of the impact of a summer World Cup on the health of players and fans before any decision was made.

English Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has argued that a winter World Cup could disrupt the European soccer calendar for up to three seasons because of the knock-on effects of having to stop and start a campaign.

(Additional reporting by Keith Weir in London; editing by Tony Jimenez and Clare Fallon)

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Juve set to dominate Serie A against ugly backdrop

The match also illustrated Serie A’s deep-rooted problems as it was marred by racist abuse from the stands while Lazio were missing captain Stefano Mauri as he began a six-month suspension related to a match-fixing scandal.

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Also suffering from dilapidated stadiums, financial problems and hooliganism, Serie A has lost prestige over the years with top players preferring to head to Spain, England and, increasingly, Germany and France.

Juventus coach Antonio Conte said last season that it would be years before an Italian team would win the Champions League again.

However, there have been some mildly encouraging signs during the summer, particularly the signing of Tevez by Juventus, his fellow Argentine Gonzalo Higuain by Napoli and prolific German Mario Gomez by Fiorentina. Those follow AC Milan’s acquisition of Mario Balotelli in January.

Italian teams also showed themselves to be remarkably restrained in the transfer market.

Napoli, who also signed Dries Martins (PSV Eindhoven) and Raul Albiol (Real Madrid), were the biggest spenders but only after selling Uruguay forward Edinson Cavani to Paris St Germain for 64 million euros ($85.61 million).

After qualifying twice for the Champions League in the last three seasons, Napoli, who host Bologna on Sunday (1845 GMT), are clearly determined to make another challenge for what would be only their third title.

However, with so many new players, and with Rafael Benitez having replaced Walter Mazzarri as coach, they remain an unknown quantity and may take time to find their feet.

Juventus, on the other hand, have kept the core of the team which has dominated over the last two seasons and have the benefit of playing in a stadium which they own, and is always full and noisy.

Juve, who finished nine points clear of Napoli last season, visit Sampdoria on Saturday for their opener (1845).

AC Milan, who are away to Hellas Verona on Saturday (1600), did well to finish third in a transitional season and could well provide a stiffer challenge, especially with Balotelli clearly settling in well after his move from Manchester City.

Neighbours Inter, who host Genoa (Sunday 1600), are a different kettle of fish and new coach Mazzarri will have a real task on his hands to lift them after last year’s dismal ninth-place finish.

Fiorentina, with Gomez spearheading the attack, are also optimistic after finishing fourth last season, although they may struggle to overcome the departure of the gifted Stevan Jovetic in midfield.

Livorno, Sassuolo and Hellas Verona are the newcomers while Chievo (Giuseppe Sannino), AS Roma (Rudi Garcia) and Genoa (Fabio Liverani) are the other teams to have changed coach alongside Napoli and Inter.

TWIN SCOURGES

Whatever happens on the field, Italian football looks set to struggle to rid itself of the scourges of racism and match-fixing.

Lazio fans systematically booed Juve’s trio of black players late in the Supercup final and the summer also saw AC Milan’s Kevin Constant walk off the pitch in protest at racist abuse during a friendly match, following the example of team mate Kevin-Prince Boateng in January.

Lazio were ordered to close the Curva Nord at the Stadio Olimpico, which hosts their hardcore fans, at the next home game under tougher regulations introduced under pressure from FIFA and UEFA.

Authorities also showed their teeth by suspending a player from amateur club Matera during a Coppa Italia match in July for 10 games after he racially insulted an opponent.

But it remains to be seen whether the new policy will have an effect in a country where racism is not confined to football.

Italy’s first black minister Cecile Kyenge, a target of racist slurs since her appointment in April, had bananas thrown at her when she was making a speech at a party rally last month.

Two weeks before that, Roberto Calderoli, a senior parliamentarian in the Northern League party, likened her to an orangutan during a speech.

The summer has seen further fallout from the Calcioscommesse match-fixing scandal, which centred on attempts to manipulate matches in the second and lower tiers in the 2010/11 season, but also affected some Serie A and Coppa Italia matches.

Mauri was banned for six months after a tribunal ruled he had failed to report match-fixing in two matches in 2011. He has appealed against the decision.

Torino’s Belgian goalkeeper Jean Francois Gillet was banned for three years and seven months in July as the Italian federation suspended 20 individuals in relation to two matches involving Bari in Serie B in 2008 and 2009.

($1 = 0.7476 euros)

(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Rex Gowar)

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English player considers challenge to FIFA transfer rules

English-born striker Joe Yoffe, 26, currently plying his trade in the Icelandic second division, is planning to challenge FIFA regulations that he says limits his freedom of movement and his ability to earn a living as a professional footballer.

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The Manchester-born player is facing an uncertain future as his contract runs out at the end of September and he will not be allowed to register for a new club until January.

Despite being able to sign for free as a Bosman player, clubs in some European countries cannot register him until their transfer windows open again in January – something Yoffe says limits his right to free movement of labour guaranteed under EU law.

Yoffe has played for lower league and semi-professional clubs in England, Spain, Canada, Australia and Ireland and says he is now considering a legal challenge to the transfer regulations to make it easier for players in his position to find new employers.

“It’s something I’ve thought seriously about and there’s a number of players in my position who should do the same,” Yoffe told Reuters, adding that he hoped legal action would not be necessary to enable him to sign for a new club

If he goes ahead with his challenge it could have the biggest impact on the transfer market since 1995 when Belgian journeyman Jean-Marc Bosman won a ruling from the European Court of Justice that banned transfer fees for players out of contract.

FIFA’s transfer rules also currently limit to two the number of clubs that players can represent in a calendar year, meaning that players such as Yoffe – who often sign for cash-strapped clubs on short-term contracts – face enforced spells on the sidelines as they wait to become eligible again.

VERY DIFFICULT

“Players at the top end of the game are so financially independent that it doesn’t really affect them,” Yoffe said in an interview at the windswept home ground of UMF Selfoss, an Icelandic second tier club based some 40 kilometers east of Reykjavik.

“But for those of us yet to reach that level, it’s very difficult.”

With 10 goals in as many games for Selfoss this season, he should be a hot property on the Scandinavian transfer market – had it not been for the existing rules.

“You come to the end of your contract and you can’t sign for three or four months for a new employer – there’s no other job out there where that would be the case,” he said.

Footballers in Scandinavian leagues, who play through their summer, often fall foul of these regulations and Magnus Erlingmark, general secretary of Swedish players’ union SFS, admitted it was difficult to safeguard the interest of all parties.

“We would like to reduce the limitations on working but then the clubs might also want to turn back the clock to the time before Bosman. It’s a difficult balance,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Erlingmark warned that decisions to change the regulations should not be made in haste, as relaxing the rules might lead to greater insecurity for players.

“It’s difficult when you can bring players in and out as one wishes – it might lead to even shorter contracts, so it needs to be looked at carefully,” he said.

“But in the widest possible sense, players who are out of contract should be allowed to sign for new clubs.”

MORE HEALTHY

The union boss declined to comment on whether international players’ union FIFPro might support Yoffe’s specific case, but said that it was something “worth looking at from an international perspective.”

Last month UEFA president Michel Platini bemoaned the treatment of players as commodities, describing the current transfer system as “robbery” and said that “something more healthy” was needed to replace it.

Despite the uncertainty of his situation, Yoffe said that he will continue playing professionally and that he hopes that his successful season at Selfoss will act as a springboard to a bigger Scandinavian club next year.

“The last couple of clubs I’ve been at have been a little bit cash-strapped, and it’s definitely made me consider whether to keep on playing the game at a professional level or to go into other employment,” he said.

“But there’s been enough good times to keep you going through the bad times. I want to be the best that I can, and you feel that you want to prove, not just to other people but to yourself too, that you can keep going and reach the level that you deserve.”

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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Li avenges U.S. Open loss to Robson, reaches last 16

Li needed just 81 minutes to avenge her third round loss to Robson at Flushing Meadows last year and is yet to drop a set in the tournament.

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“At least this year I’m in the second week,” said Li, whose next opponent will be either Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic or Japan’s Kurumi Nara.

As a former French Open champion and two-time Australian Open finalist, Li had too much experience and firepower for the British teenager, 12 years her junior.

The 31-year-old Li was rewarded for her aggressive approach, hitting 23 winners and banging down 11 aces on a windy day at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I was a little bit surprised because today I have a lot of aces. It was like, wow.” Li said.

Robson contributed to her own downfall by committing 30 unforced errors, 15 in each set, but was satisfied with her overall performance in the tournament.

“I’m disappointed about today for sure and I thought I could have played a lot better,” she said. “But I always knew it was going to be a tough match. All in all, I guess it was an average week.

“In my first two rounds I thought I played really well and I closed out the matches really well, which is something that has improved a lot over the last 12 months.”

Still just 19, Robson is making steady improvement each season and was the first British woman to be seeded at a grand slam in more than a quarter of a century.

“I think I’m going in the right direction. I feel like I’m improving and working on a more all‑around game,” she said.

“It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but I’m willing to do that.”

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Isco helps Real extend dominance of Bilbao

The comfortable victory in an unusual midday kickoff at the Bernabeu gave Carlo Ancelotti’s side a joint share of the lead in the standings with a perfect nine points from three games.

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It also suggested the Real players have not been distracted by the drawn-out saga over the possible arrival of Gareth Bale from Tottenham Hotspur.

Real have until Monday to wrap up the purchase of the Wales international, which could set a transfer record of around 100 million euros ($132 million), according to media reports in Britain and Spain.

After a subdued start at the giant, sun-drenched arena, Karim Benzema dinked a pass through to Isco in the 26th minute and the Spain playmaker, who joined from Malaga in the close season, drilled a shot past Bilbao goalkeeper Iago Herrerin.

Ronaldo powered home a header moments before halftime for his 202nd goal in 202 official games for Real and his 11th against Bilbao, putting him on a par with the club’s former strikers Raul and Hugo Sanchez.

Bilbao threatened a comeback on a couple of occasions before Isco picked up another assist from Benzema, again whistled by the home crowd after fluffing a number of chances, and the 21-year-old found the net with a sublime 72nd-minute strike.

Ibai Gomez made the scoreline slightly more respectable for the visitors, who have now conceded 22 goals in their last five league visits to the Bernabeu, when he clipped the ball past Diego Lopez in the 79th minute after neat work on the right from fellow substitute Oscar de Marcos.

“Things are going well for me,” Isco said in an interview with Spanish television broadcaster Canal Plus.

“We have only just started the season and three wins in three is the right path to follow to make it a good year for us,” he added.

“We want to keep improving little by little and aspire to win all the competitions we are taking part in.”

COMPLETE MATCH

Croatian Modric, who started alongside Germany’s Sami Khedira in central midfield, had an excellent game and the crowd chanted his name midway through the second half when he snuffed out a Bilbao attack.

Modric has not always convinced the Real faithful since joining from Spurs but former Real forward Emilio Butragueno, now a club director, said he had turned in a “very complete performance in every sense”.

“He is an intelligent player capable of adapting to different positions and functions,” Butragueno told Canal Plus.

Real are level at the top with Villarreal, who also have nine points from three matches after their 3-0 success at Osasuna on Saturday.

Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has rested Xavi and Alexis Sanchez for the Spanish champions’ game at Valencia later on Sunday (1900 GMT) but Lionel Messi is back in the squad after missing last weekend’s 1-0 win at Malaga with a bruised thigh.

Atletico Madrid visit fellow Champions League participants Real Sociedad at San Sebastian (1700). Barca, Atletico, Bilbao and Real were the only other teams apart from Villarreal to win their opening two games.

($1 = 0.7584 euros)

(Additional reporting by Emma Pinedo in Madrid, editing by Ed Osmond)

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