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Donald named European Ryder Cup captain

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PARIS:

Luke Donald was named on Monday as captain of Europe’s 2023 Ryder Cup team, replacing Henrik Stenson who was stripped of the honour last month after joining the controversial Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series.

Donald, a 44-year-old Englishman, represented Europe in four Ryder Cups as a player. He was part of the winning team each time, including the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ in 2012.

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He was also a vice-captain in the last two editions of the biennial contest, under Thomas Bjorn in 2018 and Padraig Harrington last year.

“I am incredibly proud to be named European Ryder Cup captain for 2023,” said the former world number one.

“It is truly one of the greatest honours that can be bestowed upon a golfer, to lead a team of your peers and be an ambassador for an entire continent.

“I feel extremely privileged to have been given that responsibility and it is a responsibility I do not take lightly.”

The USA hold the Ryder Cup following their comfortable 19-9 victory at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin last year.

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The 2023 competition will be held in Guidonia, just outside Rome, in 2023, the first time the cup will have been contested in Italy.

“Some of my best experiences in golf have been in the Ryder Cup and I would not swap those for anything,” said Donald.

“It is an event like no other and I cannot wait to create more special memories in Italy next year.

“I love everything the Ryder Cup embodies, from the camaraderie and companionship of being part of a team, to the history of the contest, but most of all playing for something bigger than yourself.

“Rome will be a fantastic host city. It is a city rich in history and hopefully we can create some of our own in 14 months’ time.”

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Stenson, 46, was sacked as captain after signing with the breakaway LIV circuit, which has drawn criticism from human rights activists concerned about Saudi Arabia’s record.

The circuit has additionally provoked the wrath of the established DP World Tour and US PGA Tours as it lures players with massive purses and reportedly, in some cases, with signing bonuses worth tens of millions.

Stenson bounced back from the disappointment of losing the captaincy by winning his first tournament on the breakaway tour on Sunday.



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Swiatek sails through as Gauff survives

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TORONTO:

Coco Gauff overcame 13 double-faults on Wednesday as she battled past Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and into the third round of the WTA Toronto Masters, where top-ranked Iga Swiatek sailed through.

Gauff, the US teenager who fell to Swiatek in the French Open final this year, held on to beat Rybakina 6-4, 6-7 (8/10), 7-6 (7/3).

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Gauff lost out on four chances to close out a straight-sets victory as a quartet of match points came and went.

Kazakhstan’s Rybakina, aided by Gauff’s service struggles, had looked as if she might pull off another marathon victory. She had needed three hours to get past Marie Bouzkova in the first round.

But Gauff finally prevailed, 70 minutes after her first opportunities, claiming victory on her fifth match point.

Both players were appearing for the first time in Francophone Montreal after making Canadian debuts a year ago in Toronto.

World number 11 Gauff lost serve three times against Rybakina but broke on four occasions.

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Meanwhile, Swiatek glided through untroubled in her second-round match, defeating Australian Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1, 6-2 in 55 minutes.

The top-seeded Pole with six titles this season faced nine break points, saving six.

“From the first practice I played here I felt really good,” Swiatek said.

“Even though there was jet lag and I was coming from clay I felt like I was in a good place. It’s this whole tournament and city that is giving me that, I really like being here.”

Swiatek was playing her second tournament since losing to Alize Cornet in the third round at Wimbledon last month, a defeat which ended her 37-match win streak.

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“I’m pretty happy I could actually just play my game. It was the first match so it’s never easy,” she said.

“But I feel like I found my rhythm; it was a pretty solid performance.”

Defending champion Camila Giorgi made it to the third round with a 6-3, 7-5 defeat of Belgian Elise Mertens.

Spanish fourth seed Paula Badosa lasted for just 13 games before retiring as she trailed 7-5, 1-0 against Kazakh Yulia Putintseva.

Simona Halep beat Zhang Shuai of China 6-4, 6-2.

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Barcelona sell off assets to make signings

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MADRID:

Barcelona’s attempts to establish themselves once again as a force in La Liga and the Champions League this season have seen the heavily-indebted Catalans gamble with their future to enable a striking summer spending spree.

A year after being forced to let Lionel Messi go as eye-watering reported debts of 1.35 billion euros crippled the club, Barcelona have spent 153 million euros on transfer fees alone to strengthen their squad, with Robert Lewandowski the most notable new arrival.

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“This is a really exciting season. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to make all the fans happy,” coach Xavi Hernandez said before last weekend’s 6-0 friendly win over Mexican side Pumas UNAM.

“That means winning trophies. That is our main objective.”

After three years of struggles, on and off the field, the summer has seen hope return to the Camp Nou, with president Joan Laporta talking of an exciting “new era” when the club unveiled Lewandowski as a Barcelona player.

“Euphoria” was the headline on the cover of local daily Sport the same day.

Even partisan Madrid-based sports daily Marca admitted that Barca were “frightening” in the wake of their drubbing of Pumas UNAM last weekend, when Lewandowski scored his first goal since his arrival from Bayern Munich.

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Yet how Barcelona have gone about raising the funds to sign Lewandowski, as well as centre-backs Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen, AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, and Leeds United’s Brazilian winger Raphinha has raised eyebrows.

Faced with severe limits on spending in order to comply with La Liga’s financial controls, Barcelona knew they needed to raise money quickly to be able to invest in any signings and, crucially, to register any new players.

They quickly set about selling off assets to bring in money by activating a series of what have been called economic “levers”.

The club sold 25 percent of their domestic television rights for the next quarter of a century to US investment firm Sixth Street for some 400 million euros.

Barcelona sold 24.5 percent of Barca Studios, which manages the club’s digital business and audiovisual productions, to Socios.com for 100 million euros on August 1, and then another 25 percent to US investment firm GDA Luma for 100 million euros more.

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In the space of a few weeks, 600 million euros had been brought in to fill the coffers.

The aim was to clean up the club’s finances, make it possible to increase the salary limit set by La Liga and allow the new signings to all be registered for the start of the season.

On top of that, Barca signed the biggest sponsorship deal in their history with Spotify, bringing in a reported 435 million euros for the music streaming giant to feature on the club’s shirts and to have naming rights to the Camp Nou.

And so Barcelona look well placed to become serious title contenders again as they prepare to host Rayo Vallecano this weekend.



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Serena’s intimidating aura still intact

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TORONTO:

Serena Williams may be in the home stretch of her career, but the 23-time Grand Slam champion’s aura remains, Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic said Wednesday.

“You can feel her presence everywhere. She has that aura …whether you like it or not you are intimidated, you are scared,” said Bencic, who nevertheless managed to quell her emotions and beat Williams 6-2, 6-4 in the former world number one’s final match at the WTA Toronto Masters.

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“I’m star-struck every time I see her, it’s so difficult to play her,” Bencic said. “I feel like I’m paralysed a little bit, just, like, watching her.”

Williams, who turns 41 next month, had beaten Spain’s Nuria Parrizas Diaz on Monday for her first singles victory since the 2021 French Open, 14 months ago.

She revealed in an essay in Vogue magazine and an Instagram post on Tuesday that “the countdown has begun” to her retirement from the sport.

She is expected to compete next week in Cincinnati and at the US Open later this month before turning her attention to new business pursuits and her family life.

“It was a really special match, the occasion was really big,” said Bencic, who won Olympic gold in Tokyo last year.

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“It was more than just about tennis, it was really all about Serena and her career.”

Bencic claimed her second career victory over Williams.

She was an 18-year-old on the rise when she stunned the American in the semi-finals at Toronto seven years ago.

“It definitely felt very special to be able to be on court with her today again,” Bencic said. “I never imagined ever playing against her — and beating her twice now in Toronto.”

Wednesday’s victory, however, was bittersweet.

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“Today is a little bit more sad in a way,” Bencic said. “I don’t really want her to retire.”



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