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Meet the two relative unknowns who just broke through to the women’s French Open semis



Meet the two relative unknowns who just broke through to the women’s French Open semis. Tamara Zidansek was a three-time junior national snowboarding champion in Slovenia. She only picked up a tennis racket because her snowboarding club offered lessons in the summer.

By age 12, she made the decision to focus solely on tennis – essentially because she hated the cold weather.

Now, she’s two successes away from the 2021 French Open title.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova had played in six significant singles quarterfinals, and another five in doubles, but had never advanced to the semifinals.

Until Tuesday. A decade after showing up, in the French Open, the 29-year-old defeated her doubles partner, Elena Rybakina, 6-7 (2), 6-2, 9-7.

In a side of the draw that featured Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu at the tournament’s start, it will be the far-fetched pairing of Zidansek and Pavlyuchenkova – with a combined positioning of 117 – battling for a spot in the final in their first career meeting.

“It feels overwhelming,” Zidansek said Tuesday. “It’s hard to take it in like this fast, you know. But I’m just trying to focus on my game, on myself.”

For a player who has never won a WTA title and only at any point advanced to the semifinal round or beyond three times in a tournament of any level on the WTA Tour, it has been a miraculous run for Zidansek, 23, at Roland Garros. Ranked No. 85 in the world and having never advanced past the second round at a significant before showing up in Paris, Zidansek upset No. 6 seed Andreescu, the 2019 US Open champion, in her opening match, 6-7 (1), 7-6 (2), 9-7. It was the first top-10 victory of her career – and she hasn’t looked back.

Tuesday, she clutched win a nerve-filled battle of wills in the quarterfinals against Paula Badosa, a rising star who was coming off her first career title in Serbia. Playing for the first time in her career on Court Philippe Chatrier, Zidansek relied on her powerful forehand to close out the almost 2½-hour marathon, 7-5, 4-6, 8-6.

“Winning the first round was a big breakthrough for me,” Zidansek said. “I got a lot of confidence from that. That is to say, before the tournament I was feeling really good. I was playing good, especially on mud. Had some good matches.

“So, better believe it, when it started to click? I don’t know. I just kept going match by match. Every day is a chapter for itself, you know. I’m just gonna continue to do that and hope for the best.”

Making the semifinals of a Grand Slam is monumental for any player, but for Zidansek, it’s historic. She is the first player representing Slovenia to make it this far and said she is excited to join the country’s impressive list of global stars like NBA players Luka Doncic and Goran Dragic and Olympic ski champion Tina Maze.

“Considering that we have only 2 million people, I’m really happy to be a part of the athletes that [are] doing this good,” Zidansek said.

Tuesday’s victory will move her into the top 50 for the first time – something she said has been her goal since she first cracked the top 100 out of 2018. A trip to the final would put her right outside of the top 30, and on the off chance that she were able to pull off the almost unthinkable by hoisting the Suzanne Lenglen Cup, she would be approaching the top 20. The prize money for making the semifinals is almost half of what she has made as a professional tennis player – and the $1.7 million she would make if she somehow happened to win the title would more than double her career profit.

The increase in positioning and profit wouldn’t be as dramatic for Pavlyuchenkova, the tournament’s No. 31 seed, but a trip to the finals and potentially winning a Grand Slam title would be equally extraordinary.

Having been the top-ranked junior player and having won the girls’ titles at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2006, the expectations were high for Pavlyuchenkova when she turned professional. She reached the third round at Wimbledon in 2008 as the youngest part in the draw and recorded successes over Alize Cornet and Li Na along the way. She won her first title in 2010 at the Monterrey Open and reached a career-high positioning of No. 13 out of 2011.

She has since won 11 more titles, most recently in Strasbourg in 2018, but she has never quite reached the level many were expecting following her prosperity as a teenager. Pavlyuchenkova said she has frequently doubted at times on the off chance that she could compete with the top players.

“Indeed, even [in the] beginning of this year I had very tough draws and lost [in the] Australian Open to Naomi [Osaka],” Pavlyuchenkova said. “Was quite easy match [for Osaka], 6-2, 6-1. I felt like I have no opportunity. Doha, Dubai, as big tournaments against big players. … It generally sucks to lose, but in case you’re feeling, ‘Alright, it’s very close match and I almost had it,’ it’s tough but you feel [like], ‘OK, it’s fine, next time.’

“But [that] time I felt like I was really far [away]. Then it makes you think, as, are you really – I’m not there at this level? Like, what am I doing? So you question yourself a lot.”

Pavlyuchenkova started working with a sports psychologist – Zidansek does also – and she arrived in Paris coming off a semifinal appearance in Madrid and feeling increasingly confident in her mud court game. A 6-4, 2-6, 6-0, prevail upon Aryna Sabalenka, the No. 3 seed and the Madrid champion, in the third round put everyone on notice.

She defeated Victoria Azarenka, the two-time significant champion and former world No. 1, two days later to secure her spot in the quarterfinals. Like Zidansek, she needed extra games Tuesday to defeat Rybakina in a tiresome match that lasted over 2½ hours. Eventually, she said she felt as though everything finally was clicking for her.

“I think I have consistently had the game,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “I have consistently played good. It’s just my mental wasn’t there. I wasn’t fit enough and mentally maybe not strong enough, where I’m working on this aspect, working with a sports psychologist now quite recent, and already I feel like it’s starting to pay off.”

After a combined 11 losing trips to the quarterfinals in singles and doubles before snapping the streak, Pavlyuchenkova now will have another opportunity to make the final four. She and Rybakina will play on Wednesday with a doubles semifinal berth on the line.

Despite finally getting over the obstacle that had stood in her manner for so long and with one of the best opportunities of her career in front of her, Pavlyuchenkova said she wouldn’t think about the match against Zidansek until after her doubles match.

“I try to take it as another match that I won in this tournament, and I’m not going to change any routines,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “So tomorrow I’m just gonna go do my cooldown, treatment, and I’ve got a doubles [match] to play with Elena. We [are] gonna warm up together and play normal doubles, and nothing’s going to change for me.”

Nothing’s going to change for now, but it might over the next four days.


Sergio Ramos leaving Real Madrid after 16 years



Sergio Ramos leaving Real Madrid after 16 years. Sergio Ramos will leave Real Madrid after 16 seasons with the La Liga giants when his contract expires at the end of the month, the club announced on Wednesday.

Madrid have scheduled a farewell ceremony for their longtime captain in the presence of club president Florentino Perez on Thursday.

Ramos, 35, wanted another two-year deal to stay at Madrid, but sources told ESPN that Perez was not prepared to break his policy of handing only one-year contracts to players over 30.

Conversations between Perez and Ramos have been ongoing throughout the past year and continued into June. Nonetheless, neither party was prepared to compromise.

Despite reports to the contrary, sources told ESPN that Ramos didn’t demand a compensation ascend to stay at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Ramos, who made 671 appearances for Madrid, scoring 101 goals, has still not made a firm decision on his future and isn’t expected to announce his next destination at Thursday’s goodbye event.

ESPN revealed recently that Manchester City are the front-runners to land his signature, although there are other options on the table.

The Premier League champions are prepared to offer a two-year deal until the summer of 2023. From that point, depending on performances and Ramos’ own arrangements, the defender could either continue for a third season at City or take up an option to join Major League Soccer side New York City FC, who are also owned by the City Football Group.

Ramos is a direct petition from City coach Pep Guardiola. The former Barcelona boss qualities the experience he would add to his squad and the competition and direction he would provide for younger center-backs Ruben Dias and John Stones.

City also have Nathan Ake, but they’ve lost Eric Garcia to Barca on a free transfer and Aymeric Laporte could also leave this summer after losing his place in the side.

Ramos turned 35 in March, but sources have told ESPN that City manage data that suggests he’s still able to perform physically at the level of a player “aged between 28 and 30.”

ESPN first reported on Jan. 4 that City were monitoring Ramos’ situation. Guardiola’s insistence has been the way to them continuing to follow developments with Madrid.

Notwithstanding, the player’s camp aren’t precluding anything, with several clubs expressing interest in recent months.

Madrid signed Ramos in 2005 from Sevilla, paying his €27 million release clause.

He soon became a critical member of the side and in 16 years at the club has won five La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, four Club World Cups, three European Super Cups, two Copa del Reys and four Spanish Super Cups.

In that time, he has also won two European Championships with Spain and the World Cup, although injury problems in 2021 led to him missing out on Luis Enrique’s squad for Euro 2020.

Ramos made just 21 appearances for Madrid in all competitions last season as Los Blancos ended the campaign without a trophy, missing out on the league title to rivals Atletico Madrid on the final day of the season.

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Euro 2020: Bale sparkles as Wales defeat Turkey in Group A



Bale sparkles as Wales defeat Turkey in Group A. Ribs captain Gareth Bale set up Aaron Ramsey and Connor Roberts to score for a 2-0 victory over Turkey in their Group A match at Baku’s Olympic Stadium on Wednesday to take a big step towards fitting the bill for the European Championship knockout stages.

Ramsey failed to convert two possibilities from the get-go in the first half but scored just before halftime when he made a run through the center to chest down Bale’s perfect ball over the defense and slip it past the goalkeeper.

Ribs could have doubled the lead at the hour mark when Bale was tripped by Zeki Celik and awarded a penalty, but the Welsh skipper skied his effort after a stuttering run up.

Ribs scored right at the death in injury time when a corner was played short and Connor Roberts was on hand to divert a Bale pass past goalkeeper Ugurcan Cakir to seal the victory.

“I’m delighted with the success. We fought hard, we worked our socks off like we generally do,” Bale said after the game, adding that his contributions compensated for the penalty miss.

The surprise semi-finalists of Euro 2016 now have four points, after drawing with Switzerland in their opener. Their final game is against Italy next week. Turkey take on the Swiss.

Ramsey was twice picked out by Bale with superb defense-splitting passes but both times he failed to score, with Cakır denying him from a tight point in the sixth minute and then thundering a shot over the bar in the 24th.

There was nothing fortunate about the third time with Bale floating a superbly-timed cross in the 42nd minute for Ramsey who brought the ball down perfectly and slotted under Cakir.

With Turkish and Azeri Presidents Tayyip Erdogan and Ilham Aliyev in the stands, Turkey upped the pace after the break.

Captain Burat Yilmaz, who had missed a good possibility in the first half, ought to have scored 10 minutes after the restart when he was left completely unmarked in front of the Welsh goal but blazed a volley from three meters out well over the crossbar.

Ridges discovered space to counter attack and Ramsey’s low shot was blocked before Bale was brought down just inside the box to procure a spot kick at the top of the hour.

But the 31-year-old’s effort took off and wide to keep the Turks in the game, who then forced a good save from keeper Danny Ward when he punched a Merih Demiral header wide in the 87th.

With the Turks having run out of steam in stoppage time, Bale cut inside to feed Roberts for their second goal.

“We’re in a fantastic position now. In the event that you’d offered us 4 points at the start, we’d have bitten your hand off,” Bale said, paying tribute to Welsh fans who were intensely outnumbered by Turks in the stadium.

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Euro 2020: Finland sink to Russia defeat in first match since Eriksen collapse



Finland sink to Russia defeat in first match since Eriksen collapse. Finland lost 1-0 to Russia in Saint Petersburg in their second Euro 2020 Group B match on Wednesday, in their first match since Denmark’s Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest against them in their tournament opener.

Aleksey Miranchuk’s strike in first-half stoppage time was the difference between the two teams in Finland’s first match since their opening success over Denmark on Saturday, which was overshadowed by the incident which halted the game. Finland warmed up for Wednesday’s conflict wearing t-shirts with “Get well Christian” written across them.

Russia suffered a blow on 25 minutes when defender Mario Fernandes was taken off on a stretcher, but they almost went ahead when substitute Vyacheslav Karavaev looked set to tap-in, only to be denied by Finland defender Jere Uronen.

Both teams looked like they could not be separated going into the break but in first half stoppage time, the deadlock was broken. Miranchuk played a neat one-two with Artem Dzyuba inside the box, and then lifted a fine strike into the far corner.

Finland would have been 1-0 up after only three minutes with a superb header from Joel Pohjanpalo, but it was ruled out by VAR for offside. Ten minutes later, Russia missed an opportunity as Magomed Ozdoev’s attempt went wide.

Finland, who qualified for their first-historically speaking significant football tournament, made two late substitutions with Pyry Soiri coming on for Jukka Raitala and Lassi Lappalainen replacing Teemu Pukki, but could not make an attempt.

Belgium face Denmark on Thursday in Group B’s other game. Denmark manager Kasper Hjulmand has said Eriksen will watch the match from hospital.

Finland’s next Group B game is against Belgium on June 21 at St Petersberg, while Russia will face Denmark in Copenhagen around the same time.

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