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AFCON 2021 qualifiers: Kenya to face Egypt, Togo and Comoros ▷ Kenya News

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Osaka launches Australian Open title defence in style

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AFP

By AFP
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Naomi Osaka began her Australian Open title defence in emphatic fashion, breaking the net with a blockbuster serve as she dismantled unseeded Czech Marie Bouzkova on Monday.

The 22-year-old Japanese, the world’s second highest-paid female athlete after Serena Williams, powered through 6-2, 6-4 in 80 minutes.

The two-time Grand Slam champion, one of the prime threats to Williams’s bid to win a record-equalling 24th major, will play China’s Zheng Saisai in round two.

Third seed Osaka saw her victory march held up for a few minutes early in the second set after a fizzing serve clocked at 183 kilometres per hour (114 miles per hour) damaged a net tether at the 15,000-capacity Rod Laver Arena.

“Broke the net today,” Osaka tweeted afterwards to her more than 500,000 followers, along with a video of three maintenance personnel rushing onto court to repair the broken fixture.

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Osaka, who endured a turbulent 2019 after winning in Melbourne 12 months ago, was relieved to overcome the 59th-ranked Bouzkova safely.

“It was really tough for me trying to control my nerves,” she said. “It’s tough to play someone you’ve never played before in the first round of a Grand Slam. I hope I’m still standing here at the end of this week.”

Osaka has spoken openly about her struggles with negative headlines and the weight of expectation, but was in relaxed mood throughout.

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It was partly because her Haitian father Leonard Francois, who was her coach for back-to-back titles in the autumn in Japan and China, was in her player’s box for the first time at a Grand Slam.

“Before when he used to sit in my box I would just look at him and complain a lot,” the former number one Osaka told a press conference, calling her father “superstitious”.

“But I have matured over the past three or four years he hasn’t sat in my box.

“He was my coach during Tokyo and Beijing and was sitting in my box the entire time.

“He has a good winning streak by sitting in my box.”

The first Grand Slam of the year went ahead as scheduled on Monday after air pollution eased in Melbourne — although that gave way to rain.

Last week’s build-up to the Australian Open was plagued by choking haze from widespread bushfires, forcing organisers to temporarily delay qualifying matches.

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Serena off to flying start in Australian Open

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AFP

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Serena Williams blitzed the first set in 19 minutes as she launched her quest for a 24th Grand Slam title with a quickfire demolition of Anastasia Potapova at the Australian Open on Monday.

The 38-year-old American, wearing a lilac dress and matching trainers, and sporting heavily decorated fingernails, powered past the Russian teenager 6-0, 6-3 in 58 minutes.

The eighth seed plays Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia or Han Na-lae of South Korea in round two in an expectant Melbourne, where she can equal the all-time record of Grand Slam titles.

Williams comes into Melbourne in ominous form after breaking her three-year title drought with victory in Auckland — her first since becoming a mother to daughter Olympia.

Olympia was there to see her mother win the title last week, but Williams said after easing to victory over the 18-year-old Potapova: “It was really special for me (Olympia) and her — I hope for her.”

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But the American legend, speaking to an adoring crowd at the 15,000-capacity Rod Laver Arena, admitted that Olympia “just cares about Play-Doh”.

“I try to tell her I’m someone, you know,” she joked.

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“(But) I am just known about town as Olympia’s mum — I love that.”

Williams threatened to blow away Potapova — who was temperamental at times — in embarrassingly rapid fashion.

But the 90th-ranked Russian, overawed in the first set, fought back and broke Williams’ serve in the second, helped by some sloppiness from the American.

Williams double-faulted to go down a surprise 2-1, but there was never a hint of an upset as the American broke back before pulling away to an easy win.

There is huge pressure on Williams as she eyes the 24 Grand Slams won by Australia’s Margaret Court.

Since winning the title in Melbourne in 2017 she has lost four Slam finals, each time failing to even win a set.

Williams, the highest-earning female in sport, was pregnant with Olympia when she lifted the Melbourne crown three years ago.

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Kenya Cup heads to crucial stage

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AYUMBA AYODI

By AYUMBA AYODI
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Kenya Cup enters the third and critical phase on Saturday when teams revert to their respective pools following the end of match day 11 last Saturday.

Saturday witnessed the last round of six matches where teams from the opposing pools battled in a one-off, which was the second phase.

It’s visiting Nakuru, who weathered both a previous defeat by Kabras Sugar and a second half assault from Mwamba to beat Kulabu 18-13 in a thrilling Kenya Cup match at the Railway Club, Nairobi. Nakuru had lost to Kabras 38-0 in their previous outing.

That happened as leaders Kabras Sugar, defending champions Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) and Homeboyz refused to bulge from the top of the log after they claimed convincing victories.

Kabras Sugar thrashed touring Kenya Harlequin 34-3 at the Bullring to claim a bonus point from the victory and stay top with an improved tally of 50 points.

KCB mauled Kisumu 55-3 at Kisumu Polytechnic grounds to remain second with 49 points with Kabras Sugar and KCB having lost one match each so far.

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Homeboyz rolled a swift 36-11 victory against hosts Nondescripts at the Jamhuri Park to also stay third with 44 points.

Menengai Oilers failed to uphold their giant-killing instincts when they fell to Impala Saracens 37-29 in a tight clash at the Impala Sports Club. Oilers had stunned Mwamba 30-14 in their previous outing.

The victory saw the Sarries stay fourth with 35 points as hosts Blak Blad crushed visitors Western Bulls 44-0 in a bottom-of-the-table clash at Kenyatta University grounds.

Oilers stayed fifth with 30 points with Nakuru occupying the sixth and last semi-final playoff place with 29 points, while Mwamba are placed seventh with 25 points followed by Nondies 21 and Quins 17.

The only shift in the league came after Blak Blad hammered visiting Western Bulls 44-0 to move one position to 10th and a place from relegation with 13 points.

Western Bulls and Kisumu are 11th and 12th and in relegation zone with 13 and five points respectively.

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In Pool “A”, champions KCB, Western Bulls, Quins, Nakuru, Oilers and Homeboyz will face-off in return legs with Kabras Sugar, Nondies, Impala, Blak Blad, Mwamba and Kisumu taking on each other in Pool “B”.

The top two teams after the end of the third phase proceed to the semi-finals direct with the next four engaging in a playoff for a place in the semis.

Back at Railway Club, there was no end to Mwamba’s miseries after they failed to recover from last Saturday’s defeat to Oilers.

Mwamba camped in Nakuru’s half virtually for the better part of second half, but wasted a lot of opportunities. Nakuru failed to venture into Mwamba’s 22 metre zone the whole of the second half as the Great Rift side deployed an impregnable defence.

Nakuru scored all their points in the first half with centre Oscar Ouma and hooker Emmanuel Mboya landing a try each. Full back Collins Onyango made one conversion and kicked in two penalties to lock the duel.

Fly-half Brian Kivasia gave Mwamba the penalty in the first half with the burly eighth man David Machanje landing from rolling mauls but all was in vain.

“The absence of my prop Felix Omondi was really felt in the second half as my forwards had to dig in for the slim victory,” Nakuru coach Felix “Mwalimu” Oloo said, adding that they have now resolved what he terms “domestic issues” that had seen his side register poor results.

Mwamba coach Peter Kefa rued the mistakes that cost his side. “We lost a vital try-scoring chance and two penalties in the second half and it made the big difference,” said Kefa.

Kabras Sugar 34-3 Harlequins; Mwamba 13-18 Nakuru; Impala 37-29 Menengai Oilers; Nondescripts 11-37 Homeboyz; Blak Blad 44-0 Western Bulls; Kisumu 7-55 KCB.

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