The Weekend Roundup
Missed all the sports action last week? We got you. Every week we bring you the essential news and results to make sure you haven’t missed out.
The Australian Open heats up as stars seal their place in the quarter finals.
Australia might be home to Margaret Court whose record 24 grand slams wins Serena Williams is looking to equal, but at the Rod Laver Arena this Monday the home crowd were right behind he American Superstar. Defending champion and world number one Simona Halep, was never going to make it simple though. The Romanian began strong, breaking Williams’ first service game of the match. But Williams immediately broke back, after which Halep lamely conceded the set 6-1.
In need of a gear change Halep showed the metal of a true champion in the second set matching Williams power to break serve calming for a 6-4 win. Going into the third the match began to feel more like a final than a fourth rounder with quality oozing from both ends of the court. Williams powerful first serve began to waver in the sixth game of the decider as she struggled with her shot placement. Able to capitalise on the weaker second serves, Halep’s persistent play saw the competitors claiming alternate points returning to deuce five times before Williams was able to see out her advantage. This was tennis at its finest.
The herculean effort exerted by Halep in challenging for Williams’ service game proved too much. Momentum had gone against her. Despite serving cleanly she was broken in the next game. Williams again demonstrated her pedigree, not just relying on power but mixing up her shots - the cream of the crop being a fizzing forehand block which drew her level at 40-40. As she served out the match to win 6-4, the GOAT looked back to her best. Osaka and Kerber both thwarted Serena’s title hopes in 2018, can anyone stop her this year?
Williams takes on Karolina Pliskova in her quarter final match. The world number 7 beat Garbine Muguruza - who is struggling to maintain consistent form - in straight sets. Victory against the Czech would see her meet the the tournament’s highest remaining seed, Naomi Osaka or Svitolina in the semi-final. On the other side of the draw, Petra Kvitova takes on Australian youngster Ashleigh Barty. The remaining quarter-final sees unseeded Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova -who knocked out Sloane Stevens last round - take on Danielle Collins (also unseeded) whose 6-0,6-2 win stunned world number 2 Angelique Kerber in her prior match. Thus far, the Australian Open has been a tournament of upsets, only time will tell if it continues in this vain.
Catch all the remaining matches on Eurosport.
It’s a table of two halves and Sarries to lose in the Tyrrells Premier 15s.
With just three rounds before the play-offs, the top three teams are now at least ten points adrift of fourth place, with league leaders Saracens now 7 points head of second, 10 above third and twenty beyond fourth.
However in that crucial fourth spot it’s still all to play for between Wasps and fifth placed Gloucester-Hartpury, despite the former’s bonus point win this weekend. The west country team did however put in a spirited performance against Saracens. After taking the early lead, Gloucester-Hartpury fell behind just before half-time courtesy to a Bryony Cleall try. Nevertheless, the 34-28 final scoreline secured them two points of there own, keeping them in contention for that fourth place play off sport.
Elsewhere Jess Breach again showed why is she one of England’s brightest stars bagging herself a hat-trick against the struggling Richmond FC. Although Quins are at least within touching distance of Saracens’, with Wasps and Gloucester-Hartpury still to face their journey to the top spot is significantly trickier than their rivals.
Australia won the Quad Series, but England stole the limelight with superb comeback in London on Sunday evening.
Saturday evening’s defeat to South Africa was one to forget for the Roses, exceptional defending from Geva Mentor and Layla Guscoth, was let down by dithering and sometimes static play from the opposite end of the court. Housby and Harten, who found their grove in the second half of the game against New Zealand, did not click, often out of time with each other they ran for the same space. Equally, feeds from Pitman and Clarke were occasionally hopeful rather than penetrating. The shooting circle was too often entirely empty. Although England led at points in the fourth quarter, egged on by vocal support, South Africa eventually closed out with a deserved three point win.
But they regrouped. After Layla Guscoth’s impressive performance in defence she was shifted to the WD position where Jade Clarke had struggled the day before. Meanwhile, Nat Haythornthwaite, who watched Saturday’s defeat from the bench, came in for Chelsea Pitman in WA to iron out those misplaced feeds into the D.
After losing the first quarter 9-14, Neville then made the games’ more dynamic change taking off commonwealth games winning goalscorer Helen Housby, for Rachel Dunn. At 36, Dunn has a wealth of international experience but was not included in the Gold Coast squad. Her introduction however, was crucial, expertly gaining space right under the post she netted 24 out of 25 shots. Dunn rightly earned player of the match, but Fran Williams, who game on in the fourth quarter at GD, also performed well providing vital interceptions to maintain the Roses’ lead.
The 52-29 victory was two shy of the necessary margin to secure the title, but it will bolster English confidence ahead of the World Cup.