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Nadal wins 21st Grand Slam title



Rafael Nadal took all-time ownership of the record for men’s Grand Slam singles titles as the Spaniard earned his record 21st major crown with an extraordinary 2-6, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 come-from-behind victory over Daniil Medvedev at the Australian Open men’s singles final at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday.

Nadal looked down and out after dropping the opening two sets, but steeled himself to snap a three-way tie with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer on 20 major singles titles, winning the match in five hours and 24 minutes.

Thirteen years since he denied Federer on Rod Laver Arena, the 35-year-old became just the fourth man in the open era to capture every major twice following a remarkable 2-6 6-7(5) 6-4 6-4 7-5 victory.

It was his first comeback from two sets down in a major final and first at any stage of a Grand Slam since the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2007.

“I know it’s a tough moment, Daniil. You’re an amazing champion. I’ve been in this position a couple of times trying to have the trophy with me,” Nadal said. “It has been one of the most emotional nights in my tennis career, and to share the court with you is just an honour.

“For me it’s just amazing. A month-and-a-half ago I didn’t know if I’d be back and today I’m back here with you holding this trophy.”

Nadal admitted serious conversations had been held within his team about whether he could ever compete at the highest level again following a chronic footy injury.

An unprecedented 21st major, his first since Roland-Garros in 2020, gave the Spaniard the outright lead over his great rivals Federer and Djokovic for the first time.

“What you did today I was amazed. During the match I tried to play tennis but after the match I asked him ‘Are you tired?’,” Medvedev said. “You raised your level after two sets for the 21st Grand Slam… you’re an amazing champion. Congrats. It was unbelievable.

“I’m going to try to be better next time.”

Three years ago, Medvedev played up to the role as the Flushing Meadows villain, but won over a new legion of fans when he surged back from a two-set deficit only to fall narrowly short to Nadal.

Medvedev was under no illusion he would have it easy winning over a crowd intent on seeing one of the greats stand triumphant for the first time since 2009 on the final Sunday at Melbourne Park.

He cared not for sentiment though and a 136km/h backhand winner down the line was a warning sign he was taking the early initiative.

Sweat-soaked in the heat of battle on a humid summer’s night, the Spaniard was desperate to stem the flow when he rushed the net only to push a forehand volley wide.

It handed the Russian a 5-2 lead and he landed the set in 42 minutes.

Where Nadal’s heavy, higher-kicking blows typically proved so effective at wearing down challengers, Medvedev represented the modern prototype, a 1.98m tormentor with seamless movement and exceptional baseline consistency.

He was a formidable prospect, particularly on hard courts, and the sixth seed was under the pump.

Despite landing little more than half his first deliveries and spending more than twice as long on serve, Nadal was hanging tough.

His first break point arrived via a punishing 40-shot rally, ended on a backhand drop-shot winner, and he brought the crowd to its feet two points later when he opened up a 3-1 lead.

A set point slid by in a 12-minute battle on serve and, having survived Felix Auger-Aliassime from match point down in in a four-hour-plus quarterfinal, Medvedev was emboldened.

Thirty minutes later, he held a two-set advantage.

It was a sizeable summit for Nadal from here.

Not since a round of 16 clash against Mikhail Youzhny at the All England Club 15 years ago had he recovered from two sets down in a major.

With the pair locked at 4-all in the fourth, a first sniff of a chance arose.

A bold attempt off a poor drop shot backfired badly on Medvedev when it caught the net cord.

It proved pivotal as Nadal capitalised and after three hours and 12 minutes, Rod Laver Arena erupted when the 35-year-old landed the third set.

Medvedev’s woes were only mounting.

As the match passed the four-hour mark, Nadal appeared physically fresher of the two and 14 minutes later, the contest was all square.

A forehand winner to break at two-all in the decider came as a telling blow to his opponent’s fading hopes.

Twice before Nadal had led a break in the deciding set of an Australian Open final only to lose with victory in sight – to Djokovic in 2012 and to Federer in 2017.

It was an ominous sign when he failed to serve out the match at the first time of asking.

But Medvedev was unable to carry the fleeting momentum any further.

After five hours and 28 minutes Nadal had completed one of his greatest triumphs against extraordinary odds.

That number, 21, had never seemed further but had a sounded pretty sweet as it rang around Rod Laver Arena.

“All the support I have received since I arrived here, you are just amazing,” Nadal said. “Without a doubt, probably one of the most emotional ones in my tennis career.

“Having the huge support I received in those three weeks will stay in my heart the rest of my life.”

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Kandy, Galle, Puttalam Schools win combined schools hockey titles



Kandy Schools ‘Blues’ and Galle Schools ‘Golds’ were declared as boys’ joint winners.

Kandy Schools ‘Blues’ and Galle Schools ‘Golds’ were declared as boys’ joint winners and Puttalam Schools were the girls’ winner at the 55th Sri Lanka Combined Schools Under 20 boys and girls Hockey Nationals held from 27th to 30th June at the Torrington Astro Turf .

The boys’ final, between Kandy and Galle ended in a one-all draw; both goals scored in the first half, Kushan Ratnasuriya scoring for Galle and the equalizer by Bhanuka Ranasinghe for Kandy.

In the play off for the third and fourth places, Colombo beat Matale 1-Nil.

In the Semi Finals – Galle beat Colombo 4/3 on penalties and Kandy beat Matale 4/3 also on penalties.

Tharusha Pallewatte from Kandy ‘Blues’ was adjudged the best player and Anushka Maduwantha from Galle ‘Golds’ was picked as the best Goal Keeper.

In the girls’ final, Puttalam Schools beat Kandy Schools by two goals to nil. Both goals were scored in the second half via Madushika Fernando and Dinuli Nihansa.

In the play-off for the third and fourth places, Matale beat Colombo ‘Reds’ 1-nil.

Puttalam Schools were the girls’ winners.

In the Semi Finals – Kandy beat Colombo, 3-nil and Puttalam beat Matale, 4-nil.

Nipuni Ishara Fernando was adjudged as the best player and Neeliya Kaushini was picked as the best Goal Keeper (both from Puttalam).

The finals & the closing ceremony was attended by Athula Jayawardhana, Director of Sports, Central Province Education Department, (Chief Guest), Deva Ellepola, Vice Patron /Mercantile Hockey Association (Guest of Honour), Shashikala Senadheera (President), Anuruddha Herath Bandara (Secretary), Chandrakanthi Karunanayake, ( Deputy President), Wasantha Kumara (Vice President), Indrawansa Herath (Vice President) – All from Sri Lanka Schools Hockey Association.

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More barriers ahead for hurdler Dharshana



by Reemus Fernando

In the Under 20 age category, athletes of only four countries in Asia have run the men’s 400 metres hurdles under 52 seconds, this year. One of them is a Sri Lankan. Dhanuka Dharshana, who is only 18 years old, has been the hurdler to beat during the last two years in his age category in Sri Lanka. In April, the athlete trained by reputed coach Anura Bandara turned the tables on his senior counterparts to emerge the national champion in the men’s 400 metres hurdles at the Centenary National Athletics Championships.

One of the first Sri Lankan juniors to qualify for the World Junior Athletics Championships to be held in Cali, Colombia in August, Dharshana is the most consistent performer in the men’s category among the Sri Lankan juniors to qualify for the event. However, like the few junior athletes who showed potential to excel in the future in the pet event of Olympic Medalist Duncan White during the last two decades, will Dharshana find track and field not so exciting to pursue after leaving school?

“It is incumbent upon us to motivate our athletes to remain in the sport. But how can you do so when they do not get the opportunity they deserve. Participation in World Junior Championship is something that young athletes cherish. It is a huge learning opportunity for the up-and-coming athletes and will motivate them to remain in the sport,” said Dharshana’s coach Bandara.

Like Dharshana many others who reached qualifying standards for the World Junior event remain uncertain about the prospect of competing in Cali due to the financial constraints the country is currently facing though Sri Lanka Athletics has sent the names of seven out of the nine athletes who reached qualifying standards for the World event for the Sports Ministry approval and financial assistance. The Ministry has given only the approval and their participation will heavily depend on Sri Lanka Athletics’ ability to find much-needed funds for the costly trip.

Dharshana’s pet event, the 400 metres hurdles is the discipline that has won the highest number of medals for Sri Lanka at the junior Asian level during the last decade though a vast majority of the athletes who won those medals did not pursue track and field after leaving school. The most prominent female hurdler to emerge during the last one and half decades also came from Dharshana’s school, Ambagamuwa Central and was trained by Anura Bandara. Yamani Dulanjali won the first Asian Youth Championship hurdles gold medal in 2015, held the Under 20 Junior National Championship 400 m hurdles record until this year. With impressive performances as a junior, she was expected to excel at the senior level as well. Hailing from a not-so-well-to-do family she instead took up a teaching job.

Kaushalya Madushani, another 400 metres hurdler, who won junior Asian international medals, joined Sri Lanka Army, the final refuge for many a future prospect, after leaving school. She was yet to reach her full potential when she died a couple of months ago; it is alleged she took her own life.

Maris Stella College hurdler, Uditha Chandrasena, was yet another bright prospect to have excelled in the 400 metres hurdles at the junior level. He too gave up athletics after leaving school.

Although Sri Lanka has seen the emergence of hurdlers in the calibre of Dhanuka Dharshana at the junior level there had been no system to nurture them and make them stick to track and field.

Dharshana, who too is hailing from an ordinary family, has received the support of Olympian and Asian Games Gold Medalist Sugath Thilakaratne, the most famous product of his coach, Anura Bandara. He has also received the support of the school’s PTIs Indika Prasad and Amali Abeytunga and another benefactor whom he identified only as Nayana. But pursuing track and field as a senior athlete is an uphill task which requires more funding.

Ambagamuwa Central, where Dharshana learnt his ABC of athletics, has reaped the benefits of Bandara’s coaching with the school winning podium places at junior competitions every year. And, every year Bandara faces a dilemma as his trainees leaving the school have not found the right platform to launch a career in athletics.

With the junior athletes’ participation at the forthcoming World Junior Championships remaining uncertain to date, the coaches like Bandara will find it even harder to persuade athletes to remain in track and field.

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Lyon set to become second most successful off-spinner in history



Lyon is currently among the top ten wicket takers in the world and if he takes seven wickets in Galle in the second Test starting on Friday, he will go onto become the second most successful off-spinner in the history of Test cricket.(Getty Images)

by Rex Clementine

Leg-spin legend Shane Warne retired from cricket in 2007 having achieved two key milestones; Australia had regained the Ashes and Warne had become the first man in history to take 700 wickets in Test match cricket. Since his retirement, Australia tried various spinners to fill his big shoes but with little success. Fellow leg-spinner Stuart MacGill was the natural successor to Warne, but he too threw in the towel 18 months after Warne’s retirement. Then Cricket Australia tried a host of finger spinners and some wrist spinners without much success. The wait ended in 2011 in Sri Lanka. For some reason, all good spin bowlers make their impact in our shores.

Australia arrived in Sri Lanka in 2011 with a new captain in Michael Clarke and their spin resources were untested. In fact, the team’s lead spinner was uncapped. His story was interesting. He had been a curator at Adelaide Oval and with his skill to bowl off-spin identified he was given a break in Sheffield Shield cricket. Seven months later, he was set to make his Test debut against the likes of Sangakkaras, Dilshans, Jayawardenes and Samaraweeras. That too in Galle, the Gabba of Sri Lankan cricket. There the legend of Nathan Lyon was born.

Lyon’s first ball in Test cricket was round the wicket to a left-hander. The ball pitched, turned and had bounce. The batsman was playing away from his body with an open face; the ball took the outside edge and was snapped up by Michael Clarke at slip. A wicket off first ball in Test cricket is just the dream stuff. It’s even more special when the batsman you have dismissed is Kumar Sangakkara, word’s number one ranked batsman at that point.

Lyon didn’t look back from thereon. He claimed a five wicket haul in the first innings as Australia secured a big win and went onto claim the series.

Ten years on, Lyon was quite handful again as he was the standout performer in the first Test in Galle. Sri Lanka’s spin was thin on experience and yet the hosts chose to prepare a track that would turn from day one and they ended up playing into Lyon’s hands as he finished with nine wickets.

Sri Lanka’s young spinners have much to learn from Lyon. He just figured out a length to bowl and kept pitching it there consistently and with batsmen taking too many risks with cross batted shots, it was just a matter of time before a wicket fell.

Lyon’s overall wicket tally is now 436 in 109 Tests and during the Galle game he went past several greats of the game like Kapil Dev (434), Rangana Herath (433) and Sir Richard Hadlee (431).

Lyon is currently among the top ten wicket takers in the world and if he takes seven wickets in Galle in the second Test starting on Friday, he will go onto become the second most successful off-spinner in the history of Test cricket. Muttiah Muralitharan leads the list with 800 and India’s Ravichandran Ashwin follows him as the second most successful offie with 442 wickets.

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