Sharapova dumped out of Australian Open by Williams

Serena Williams continued her dominance over Maria Sharapova with an emphatic victory in their Australian Open quarter-final match.

Williams defeated Sharapova 6-4, 6-1 to record her 18th successive win against the Russian.

Sharapova matched the defending champion for much of the first set, but eventually succumbed to her opponent’s power to lose in just over 90 minutes.

She commented: “She’s at a different level. She makes you work. That’s inspiring.”

The American, who now faces Agnieszka Radwanska in the last four, added: “It was super intense. She’s an incredibly intense and focused player who was world number one.”

“When you’re playing someone so great you have to come out with a lot of fire and intensity.”

Radwanska easily progressed to the last four after seeing off Carla Suarez Navarro 6-1, 6-3 in one hour and 22 minutes.

Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will meet in the men’s semi-finals after securing straight-set wins in their last eight ties.

Djokovic defeated Japan’s Kei Nishikori 6-3 6-2 6-4, while Federer beat Tomas Berdych 7-6, 6-2 6-4.

Five-time champion Djokovic produced a polished performance against Nishikori, which was in stark contrast to his error-strewn effort against Gilles Simon in the previous round.

After making 100 unforced errors against Simon, the Serbian took a day off to recharge his batteries and reaped the rewards against the Japanese player.

He said: “I know Kei very well. I lost to him in the US Open. He plays very aggressive tennis and I just needed to weather the storm.”

“I didn’t hit a tennis ball yesterday. It happens sometimes – it’s good to rest your mind and rest your body. Sometimes less is more. It’s a reset button. I played a lot of tennis in the last few weeks.”

Federer was in control for much of the contest against Berdych, serving well against an opponent who has often been a thorn in his side.

“Tomas has caused me a lot of problems over the years, but it’s been a pleasure playing against him,” said Federer.

“He’s the type of player who makes you better.”

Panthers to face Broncos at Super Bowl 50

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton secured his date with destiny at Super Bowl 50 with a dominant display for the Panthers, as they swept past Arizona Cardinals 49-15 in Sunday’s NFC championship game.

Cam Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for two others to set up a meeting with Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos on February 7th.

While Newton inevitably made the headlines, the Panthers’ defense played a big part too, forcing the Cardinals’ quarterback Carson Palmer into four interceptions and two fumbles to provide the platform for the victory.

Newton commented: “We won as a team. We came out here and fought our tails off and we did what a lot of people said we couldn’t do.”

“We wanted to be efficient, we wanted to start fast, wanted to keep the pressure on and wanted to finish, most of all.”

“It’s not over yet. We’ll be ready to go in two weeks.”

Corey Brown, Ted Ginn Jr and Greg Olsen all made big catches as Newton completed 19 of 28 passes for 335 yards. He also added 47 yards on 10 rushes, with his ‘Superman’ leap for a touchdown during the second quarter a stand-out moment.

The victory was particularly sweet for Ginn Jr, after he was released by the Cardinals at the end of last season. His 78-yard sprint to prevent Patrick Peterson scoring was testament to Panthers’ never-say-die attitude.

“When you’re in a dogfight, every play counts,” he said. “When you’re on the track, you hear somebody say, ‘move’, that means somebody’s coming. I always try my hardest and don’t stop on a play. I think with me running (Peterson) down, it helped turn the game around.”

Panthers will be appearing in their second Super Bowl, having previously lost 32-29 against New England Patriots in 2003.

Lying in wait for the Panthers will be the Denver Broncos, after Manning reminded everyone why he’s a five-time MVP winner against New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

Manning found Owen Daniels twice during the first-half for a pair of touchdowns and with their famed defense in belligerent mood once again, the Broncos held off a late rally by the Patriots to seal a 20-18 victory.

Tom Brady’s four-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski with 12 seconds left set up a nervy finish, but he failed to complete a two-point pass attempt to force overtime to hand the Broncos a record-equalling eighth Super Bowl.

Manning said: “There’s no question this is a sweet day – this was a sweet victory. To me this victory is a great example of what this entire season has been like. It hasn’t been easy – it’s been a lot of different people stepping up doing their parts at different times.”

The 39-year-old completed 17 out of 32 passes, for 176 yards and two touchdowns to set up the February clash against Newton and the Panthers.

Broncos’ run to the Super Bowl has been built on firm foundations, with their defense giving up 4530 yards during the regular season to top the NFL rankings, but Panthers’ strong offensive showing against the Cardinals shows they are a force to reckoned with too.

Panthers’ average of 31.3 points per game topped the regular season rankings and despite the Broncos winning three of their previous four matches, Newton’s quest to be this year’s MVP could well be capped by victory in the Super Bowl.

NBA returns to London as Raptors down Magic in overtime

The Toronto Raptors beat Orlando Magic 106-103 after overtime in front of a packed house at London’s O2 Arena on Thursday.

The victory, inspired by 24 points by Kyle Lowry, was Raptors’ fourth straight NBA win.

The Canadian team led by over ten points on three occasions, but Magic refused to lie down before eventually falling to their sixth defeat in their last seven games.

Raptors previously lost a double-header against the New Jersey Nets (now Brooklyn) in London in 2011, including one game which ended with triple overtime.

DeMar DeRozan, who added 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Raptors, had played in the 2011 games and Thursday’s game brought up a few bad memories.

“I thought, how ironic,” he said. “But it was a great game. The last time we played here it was a great game, both teams wanted to win, the crowd was into it, and it was the same tonight. We put on a great show. I’m glad we got a win out of it though.”

The game was the sixth NBA regular season match in the last six years to be held in London and attracted stars from across the world of sport and entertainment, including footballers Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack and Olivier Giroud.

Current NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and former Commissioner David Stern were also amongst a sell-out 18,689 crowd.

Silver said the atmosphere felt like a ‘European All-Star Game’ and hinted it was something the NBA was considering for the future.

“We would love to figure out a way to do it,” he said. “Logistically it’s very difficult to travel to Europe and travel home from Europe.

“No question it’s something we would like to figure out a way to do at some point, I think it would be fantastic experience for everyone.”

The clash between Toronto and Orlando formed part of NBA’s Global Games – a series designed to globalize the sport of basketball.

Pre-season games in Italy, Spain, China and Brazil have been followed by regular season matches in Mexico and the UK, with top NBA outfits Boston Celtics, L.A. Clippers and Sacramento Kings amongst the teams who have taken part.

Interest in the NBA in the UK continues to grow, with BT Sport’s multi-year expansion of their television partnership with the league bringing the sport to a new audience.

The broadcaster is showing up to seven live games per week throughout the regular season, along with the first and second rounds of the play-offs, plus every game of the conference finals and NBA Finals in June.

Curry’s magic weekend – return drives Warriors to 35th win [Video]

Stephen Curry inspired Golden State Warriors to their 35th victory of the NBA season with a dominant display against Sacramento Kings on Saturday.

Curry bagged 38 points and 11 assists in a 128-116 win over the Kings at Sleep Train Arena, keeping them on course to beat the 1995/96 Chicago Bulls regular-season record of 72 victories. At 35-2, the Warriors now have the best ever start to an NBA season.

If Curry was hindered by his leg injury which has seen him wear shin pads for extra protection, it didn’t show during a performance which at times strayed into Harlem Globetrotters territory.

After seeing Curry dazzle the Kings with a series of ridiculous plays and his usual array of long-distance shots, Warriors’ coach Luke Walton said: “I’m glad he’s on our team – he’s pretty impressive.”

There was a third quarter effort where Curry dribbled and lost the ball twice before regaining control to score – but the coup de grace came in the fourth quarter with Curry’s confidence matched by his unbelievable talent.

A quick series of passing left Curry wide open for a three-pointer, which saw Curry turn around to talk to the Kings’ bench before beginning to run back up the court, all before the shot found its way into the basket.

The game was the second time Curry took to the court wearing shin pads after introducing them in Friday’s 128-108 victory at Portland Timbers.

He originally suffered a lower-leg injury at the end of December, before picking up the shin injury against the Denver Nuggets on 2nd January.

After aggravating it again during Tuesday night’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers following a collision with Roy Hibbert, Curry decided to take preventive action.

Despite the game being held 80 miles north east of Golden State’s home in Oakland, Warriors’ fans made up a significant portion of the sell-out 17,317 crowd and they were pleased with what they saw.

The victory gave Golden State a clean sweep of their four-game season series against the Kings and they have now beaten Sacramento 12 straight times.

Curry and the Warriors are back in action on Monday night at home to Miami Heat.

Football’s rules revamped to include pre-match red cards and backward kick-offs

A number of tweaks to football’s laws have been approved by the International Football Association Board, which are set to be enforced ahead of the Euro 2016 tournament in France this summer.

Former Premier League referee David Elleray was at the centre of the biggest revamp of the sport’s regulations in 135 years, with making the rules clearer and more concise the objective.

One of the biggest alterations is allowing kick-offs to go in any direction, instead of the ball having to be touched in a forward direction.

Players can also be sent off before a game starts if there is disciplinary merit ahead of the match.

The example of a pre-match confrontation between Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane in the tunnel ahead of an Arsenal-Manchester United clash in 2005 was used as an example for amending the rules.

If a man or men were dismissed before the first whistle, the side/s would still start the game with eleven players, but the number of substitutes would subsequently be reduced.

The final major change will see injured players being treated on the pitch if they are subject to a challenge that has been punished by a yellow or red card.

At the moment, the ailing player is taken to the sidelines to receive treatment, effectively punishing the team whom the offence was perpetrated against – the change is in the interest of fairness.

Other minor changes include allowing a fourth official, rather than just the referee, to check a player’s footwear after they change boots and club logos being permitted on corner flags.

Elleray said that the rule changes also included allowing referees to use common sense and that the decisions were made in an attempt to stamp out inconsistency.

“We are trying to help situations which tend to occur very often and are a bit crazy,” he said.

“We have tried to use much clearer language. We tried to avoid a lot of unnecessary repetition and we tried to make it up-to-date.

“Because the laws have evolved piecemeal and no one has done a comprehensive review there have been inconsistencies.”

The previous 22,000-word document stating the games rules has been dramatically reduced to 12,000 words over the last 18 months.

The new laws are expected to be ratified by the International Football Association Board at their meeting in March.

The offside law has also been improved to eliminate inconsistency, by ensuring that the free-kick given for offside offences are always where the infraction occurs. Previously the rules were ambiguous, stating in one place that the free-kick should be given on the spot the offence was committed, and in another place stating that the free-kick should be given when the player was first in the offiside position.

Super Bowl 50 gears up for special half-time show with Beyonce

The Super Bowl half-time show has a history of delivering superstar performances and this year’s extravaganza should be no different.

Pop icon Beyonce will join Coldplay at Super Bowl 50 on February 7, 2016, and as she features on the band’s latest album, A Head Full of Dreams, it’s highly likely they will perform together at the event.

Beyonce previously headlined half-time at Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, with her former bandmates from Destiny’s Child appearing to perform some of their older hits together.

Singers Bruno Mars and Rihanna have also been linked to this year’s show.

With stellar names queuing up to get involved in the half-time show, the event is an advertiser’s dream, with millions spent each year.

The average cost of a 30-second commercial has risen from $37,500 at Super Bowl I to around $4.5 million at Super Bowl XLIX in 2015.

An estimated average of 114.4 million people watched last year’s game between New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks on NBC, beating the previous record of 112.2 million, with viewing peaking at 120.8 million during the fourth quarter.

Approximately 118.5 million watched Katy Perry’s half-time show, with Budweiser’s ‘Lost Dog’ spot, featuring a cute puppy finding his way home and getting some help from his powerful friends the Clydesdales, the top ranking advertisement shown.

A host of top companies have confirmed they will advertise at Super Bowl 50, with the likes of Wix, Snickers and Kia amongst those who always deliver something special.

Wix’s creative ad last year, starring football legends Terrell Owens, Emmitt Smith and Brett Favre, could well be topped with this year’s effort which features beloved pandas Po and MeiMei from the Kung Fu Panda series.

Controversy is never far away from the half-time show, with artists always guaranteed to produce some spectacular and often bizarre performances.

From Michael Jackson’s 1993 appearance where he brought 3,500 youngsters onstage with him, to Prince’s epic 2007 show, where he used his guitar as an extension of his private parts, the half-time show rarely fails to deliver something special.

Whatever happens this year, it may struggle to top the shock factor of Super Bowl 38 featuring Janet Jackson’s nipple-revealing performance.

The Federal Communications Commission received over 200,000 complaints from parents incensed at what was seen to be a violation of one of America’s most family-friendly events, with the fall-out from the incident finding its way to the Supreme Court almost a decade later.

IAAF bans four officials over Shobukhova doping case

Two top Russian athletics officials and the son of former president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) were banned from football for life on Thursday for covering up an elite Russian athlete’s positive dope test.

Ex-IAAF consultant Papa Massata Diack, son of former IAAF boss Lamine, and Russian officials Alexei Melnikov and Valentin Balakhnichev were charged with multiple breaches of anti-doping rules relating to Russian athlete Liliya Shobukhova.

Ex-IAAF anti-doping director Gabriel Dolle has been banned for five years, while Diack, Melnikov and Balakhnichev also face the prospect of hefty fines in addition to their expulsion from the sport.

The bans follow last year’s World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) independent commission report that alleged state-sponsored doping in Russia which resulted in the country being banned from athletics until reforms were implemented.

Balakhnichev says the decision to ban him was politicized and is aimed at discrediting the entire Russian sport.

“Some forces have decided to increase pressure on the Russian sport by taking such a radical decision,” he said.

“The arguments given by the opposite side are far-fetched and inconsistent.”

Balakhnichev is considering appealing the verdict with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland.

His lawyer, Artem Patsev, claimed the decision against his client is based on suggestion rather than facts.

“Not a single fact was given in this decision and at the meeting of the ethics commission – no doubt, this decision is politicized,” said Patsev.

The scandal first came to light in February 2014, when Russian sports agent Andrey Baranov revealed to an IAAF official that Shobukhova had given $490,000 to senior Russian officials in exchange for covering up violations in her athlete biological passport.

Baranov’s revelation to Sean Wallace-Jones potentially compromised his own personal safety, but when he subsequently told ethics commission head, Michael Beloff QC, that some IAAF officials were involved in extorting money there was no turning back.

As Beloff started to investigate, Shobukhova stopped paying bribes and was subsequently banned in Spring 2014.

In December that year a German TV documentary revealed widespread doping in Russian athletics, while French newspaper L’Equipe exposed the extortion of Shobukhova.

All the officials denied any wrongdoing, while many in the sport questioned Baranov and Shobhukhova’s motives in coming forward.

Baranov insists his client deserves great credit for her actions: “Shobukhova was a product of a system which was exposed by WADA where athletes were encouraged to dope or were frozen out,” he said.

“Liliya was also brave to speak out. Not many people know what she did or what she went through.”

Baranov also admitted he still fears the repercussions from speaking out: “Of course I’m worried, but what are you going to do?” he added. “It had to be done for the future.”

Former British athlete David Bedford is a staunch anti-doping campaigner. He praised the Russian duo.

“As horrible and sordid as this case is, our sport is in a better position now knowing this happened than if it had been pushed under the carpet,” said Bedford. “As a sport we have to give credit to Baranov, Shobukhova, and Wallace-Jones who bought this to the ethics commission.”

Athletics will now brace itself for the second part of the WADA report to be published next Thursday. The report, produced by former WADA president Dick Pound, is expected to be even more explosive than the first.

Meanwhile, IAAF representatives are due to land in Russia next week to review progress on reforms made by the All-Russia Athletics Federation (ARAF) and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA).

Headbutts allowed: Introducing Lethwei – the world’s most brutal combat sport

This brutal sport is thought to be over 1000 years old, but it is only recently that Myanmar’s national form of kickboxing, Lethwei, has gained an international audience.

South East Asia is renowned for Muay Thai, but Myanmar’s equivalent is seen as more confronting and violent.

Fighters do not wear gloves and instead have their hands wrapped, while head-butts and other jarring blows are permitted in this unforgiving contest.

Each round last three minutes, with the aim to knock your opponent out. If both combatants are still standing after round five, the bout is adjudged as a draw.

Ancient carvings on the temples of Bagan suggest that this combat sport has been taking place for over a millennium, while it is commonplace for boys as young as 10 years old to participate in Lethwei.

Myanmar’s recent political past had the nation under a veil, but its new form of quasi-democracy has opened the country to a world of tourism.

Lethwei’s popularity has grown with foreign fighters as a result, with battle-hardened men from Japan, the United States, the Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico and Costa Rica taking to the ring in recent years.

The current open-weight champion is the homegrown Tun Tun Min, who has proven himself as an unrelenting force – even when faced with fighters from overseas.

The Myanmar fighter recently took on American Cyrus ‘Black Dynamite’ Washington in a championship bout in Yangon, taking just 71 seconds to knock his opponent out with a thunderous blow.

It was the third time Tun Tun Min had faced the Thailand-based Washington, with the Myanmarese claiming his second victory.

He confirms the growing international appeal of Lethwei by recalling recent competitors he has faced.

“I fought nine fights in this year and no opponents were from Myanmar – all are from other countries,” Tun Tun Min stated at the end of 2015.

Saw Gaw Mu Doe is Tun Tun Min’s next opponent, with the pair to meet at the Theinphyu Indoor Stadium in Yangon later this month.

Washington has expressed on his Instagram page that he is now considering stepping away from Lethwei after defeat.

However, with the sheer brutality of the sport and mass tourism on the rise, the influx of foreigners eager to prove themselves in Myanmar shows no sign of slowing up.

Videos:

This one starts a bit slowly but the second half of it has a lot of brutal action and the quality is good:

This is also relatively good quality:

Here are other options with some hard-hitting coverage:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yz0MTp9ggEY

This is one of children (!)

Real Madrid sack Rafa Benitez, appoint Zidane as manager

Real Madrid has fired manager Rafael Benitez following a string of disappointing results with reserve team boss Zinedine Zidane taking over as head coach at the Santiago Bernabéu with immediate effect.

Real Madrid chairman Florentino Perez announced on Monday evening that Rafa Benitez has been sacked as manager of the Spanish club following weeks of speculation and a string of uninspired results, and simultaneously unveiled Zinedine Zidane as the new head coach.

Benitez had been under pressure following three defeats in five games from November to December, results that have seen Real slip behind in the Spanish title race, four points behind leaders Atletico Madrid and two behind Barcelona, who thrashed Los Blancos 4-0 in their own back yard at the end of last month.

A frustrating draw at Valencia on Monday night was the last straw for the Real hierarchy, who have moved to install former player Zidane, who became the world’s most expensive player when he moved to the Spanish capital in 2001, as Benitez’ replacement.

“This is the best club in the world and the best fan base in the world,” Zidane told a packed news conference upon his unveiling on Monday evening.

“I want to ensure that by the end of the season, the club will have a trophy. I will be working hard with all the players and I think that it will go well. Tomorrow is when the work starts. I will put all my heart into this club. Thank you everyone.”

Former Liverpool and Chelsea manager Benitez, who was appointed as Carlo Ancelotti’s successor in June, began the season with an unbeaten 14-game run and comfortably guided his side through to the last 16 of the Champions League as winners of Group A.

But with inconsistent results over the winter period, Real thrown out of the Copa del Rey last month for fielding an ineligible player and Benitez’ relationship with influential squad members on the wane, Perez and the board have decided to act.

Despite speculation mounting over his future in the Spanish capital, Benitez was given a vote of confidence from the club in November. But he has ultimately failed to win over fans with his team selections and style of play despite Real Madrid leading the way in the La Liga goalscoring charts.

Zinedine Zidane’s first match as manager of Real Madrid will come against seventh placed Deportivo de La Coruña this coming Saturday.

Butler breaks Jordan’s record; Curry injured again

Jimmy Butler broke the Chicago Bulls’ – Jordan’s – record for most points in a half with 40 points in the second half to inspire his team to a 115-113 win against Toronto Raptors on Sunday.

Butler broke Michael Jordan’s franchise record of 39 set against the Milwaukee Bucks in 1989.

After scoring just two points in the first half, Butler turned on the style in the second as Chicago came from 15 points down to defeat their conference rivals.

Butler, who needed stitches at half-time after being elbowed by DeMarre Carroll during the second quarter, hit only two three-pointers on his way to breaking Jordan’s record.

“Do not compare me to him – I don’t want to be compared to him, I just want to be me,” said Butler.

“I’m just happy we won, to tell the truth. I don’t want to be compared to Jordan because you see what he’s done for this game.

“I had no idea about the record until somebody told me after the game. I guess somebody will beat it one of these days coming soon.”

The victory, Chicago’s fourth in a row, moved them to 20-12 while Toronto slipped to 21-14.

Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry left Saturday night’s game against Denver Nuggets before half-time after re-injuring his left shin.

Curry confirmed after the game he suffered the injury as a result of kick from Nuggets player Jameer Nelson.

“I was hit right in the same spot, playing defense,” said Curry. It’s funny – I guess whenever you hurt something, you try to play through a little bit of discomfort and try to get out there, something happens. Just got to deal with it.”

The injury left Warriors with just six available players, but it didn’t stop them moving to 31-2 for the season as they sealed a 111-108 overtime victory.

Curry praised his teammates’ character: “Chips stacked against them, short bench, guys playing 40-plus minutes, found a way to scrap and claw, get stops down the stretch, fight through the fatigue factor, make a couple plays on the offensive plays as well – gutsy win,” he said.

Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried spent Saturday night in hospital after taking an elbow to the back of the neck during the game. He was later discharged and played in Sunday’s home game against Portland Trail Blazers. Faried finished with 13 points and nine rebounds as Nuggets fell 112-106.

It was a good weekend for the teams chasing the Warriors at the top of the Western Conference, with San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and L.A. Clippers all recording victories.

Cleveland Cavaliers still lead the Eastern Conference after a comfortable win against Orlando Magic. Chicago are second ahead of Miami Heat, while Toronto complete the top four.