Sports shorts: Australian Open draw, England bat first, Man Utd fears for Rashford
Ten things from the world of sport on Thursday 16 January
1. Draw for Australian Open announced...
The draw for the first round of the Australian Open has been made, with teenager Cori Gauff set to face Venus Williams once again. The 15-year-old announced her arrival on the world stage by beating the 39-year-old in the first round of Wimbledon last year. Britain's Johanna Konta, seeded 12, will play Tunisia's Ons Jabeur. In the men’s draw British number one Dan Evans, the 30th seed, faces American Mackenzie McDonald. Top seed and defending champion Novak Djokovic faces world number 37 Jan-Lennard Struff.
2. ...but anger grows over air quality
The row over playing conditions in Melbourne rumbles on, with British player Liam Broady describing an email from organisers defending the decision to allow play despite poor air quality as a “slap in the face”. Smoke from the Australian bushfires affected several competitors during the qualifying tournament and 26-year-old Broady wrote: “The more I think about the conditions we played in a few days ago, the more it boils my blood. Citizens of Melbourne were warned to keep their animals indoors the day I played qualifying, and yet we were expected to go outside for high-intensity physical competition?”
3. England bat first in Port Elizabeth
England won the toss an elected to bat as the third Test against South Africa got underway at Port Elizabeth. Captain Joe Root did not hesitate to send in his young openers Zak Crawley and Dominic Sibley on a bone dry pitch with very little pace. Earlier England confirmed that Mark Wood would play in his first Test for almost a year after Jofra Archer was ruled out with a recurrence of an elbow injury. South Africa handed a debut to 30-year-old all rounder Dane Paterson.
4. Man Utd sweat on Rashford
Manchester United progressed to the fourth round of the FA Cup, beating Wolves 1-0 on Wednesday night thanks to a goal from Juan Mata. But there may be a price to pay. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer admitted that bringing on Marcus Rashford had “backfired” after the England striker suffered a back injury and had to be replaced after only 15 minutes. He is now likely to miss United’s grudge match against league leaders Liverpool on Sunday. Rashford, who has been in fine form recently, said he was “gutted” to come off.
5. McGregor ready for UFC return
Conor McGregor returns to the octagon this weekend to fight Donald Cerrone at UFC246. The 31-year-old seemed confident ahead of his first fight since losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov 15 months ago. He promised to “remind everyone” of how he “made” UFC but insisted there was no bad blood with Cerrone. “McGregor seems far more at ease with himself and perhaps doesn't feel the need to stoke the fires when there isn't any controversy to dig his teeth into,” says the Daily Mail. “He was repeatedly asked about what caused this marked change in him, and while insisting he's the same person, McGregor did concede that he's learned a few valuable lessons and re-evaluated himself over the last year or so.”
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6. Harry breaks cover for rugby league draw
The draw for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup takes place today. Prince Harry will oversee proceedings at Buckingham Palace in his first public engagement since announcing that he and his wife, Meghan Markle, wanted to step back from public duties. The pulicity means that “the eyes of the world will be on proceedings in a way no-one could have anticipated at the turn of the year”, says the BBC. “Certainly by the end of this week, many more people beyond the sport's fanbase will be aware of the fact that England is hosting the tournament next year.”
7. Mark Williams out of Masters
There was yet another shock at snooker’s Masters tournament as Stuart Bingham beat former champion and world number two Mark Williams at Alexandra Palace. He will face Kyren Wilson in the quarter finals. It means none of the world’s top five players will feature in the quarter finals. Judd Trump, Mark Selby and Neil Robertson all lost in the opening round and Ronnie O’Sullivan withdrew from the event.
8. Sheffield Wednesday launch 10-year season ticket
Sheffield Wednesday have launched a “10-year season ticket” which will guarantee the holder a seat at Hillsborough for a decade once they reach the Premier League. Costing between £4,550 and £6,400 the tickets will remain valid until at least 2035. The BBC says: “The club have pledged that even if they go up to the Premier League between now and 2025, the ticket will remain valid until 2035. If they win their next promotion to the Premier League after 2025, then the ticket will remain valid for a decade from the date they go up, at no extra cost. So, for instance, if Wednesday ended their top-flight exile in 2028, the ticket would remain valid until 2038.”
9. Scholes’ daughter in Netball Superleague
Alicia Scholes, the daughter of former Manchester United and England star Paul, has been named in the Manchester Thunder squad for the 2020 Netball Superleague season. The 18-year-old has been promoted from the under-21 side and will try and help the side defend the title they won last year. Scholes can play centre and wing attack and has already represented England at under-21 level. Former England netball coach Tracey Neville is the sister of Paul Scholes’ old Manchester United team-mates Phil and Gary Neville.
10. Blow for Team GB ahead of Tokyo Olympics
Team GB’s preparation for the Tokyo Olympics have been dealt a blow after Chelsea Warr, a key part of Britain’s medal success at the last two Games, announced she was stepping down as performance director of UK Sport. “Warr, an Australian who was one of the architects behind Team GB’s success at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games, has decided to take up a chief executive job at the Queensland Academy of Sport and will leave in a fortnight. She will take gardening leave for six months before starting her new role in the autumn,” reports The Guardian.