Ronaldinho, the Magician, Announces His Retirement

Britain Football Soccer - England XI v Rest of the World XI - Soccer Aid 2016 - Old Trafford - 5/6/16 Rest of the World XI's Ronaldinho Action Images via Reuters / Ed Sykes
Britain Football Soccer - England XI v Rest of the World XI - Soccer Aid 2016 - Old Trafford - 5/6/16 Rest of the World XI's Ronaldinho Action Images via Reuters / Ed Sykes
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Ronaldinho, the Magician, Announces His Retirement

Britain Football Soccer - England XI v Rest of the World XI - Soccer Aid 2016 - Old Trafford - 5/6/16 Rest of the World XI's Ronaldinho Action Images via Reuters / Ed Sykes
Britain Football Soccer - England XI v Rest of the World XI - Soccer Aid 2016 - Old Trafford - 5/6/16 Rest of the World XI's Ronaldinho Action Images via Reuters / Ed Sykes

Former Brazil and Barcelona midfielder Ronaldinho, who won the World Cup, Champions League, Copa Libertadores and World Player of the Year award, is retiring from the game at the age of 37, his brother and agent Assis said on Tuesday.

Ronaldinho has not played a competitive match since 2015 but had avoided calling a definitive halt to his career until now.

“He’s stopped. It’s over,” Assis told the Rio de Janeiro newspaper O Globo. “We’re going to do something pretty big, something cool, after the World Cup in Russia, probably in August.”

The events, most likely farewell matches, will take place in Brazil, Europe and Asia, and could include a match with the national team, Assis said.

Ronaldinho, who will be 38 in March, began his career at Gremio and played for seven other clubs, including Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan, Queretaro and Brazilian sides Flamengo, Atletico Mineiro and Fluminense.

"God has been good to me, he allowed me to live football," Ronaldinho told So Foot magazine in July.

"I loved what I did... and I had the satisfaction of enjoying myself while giving pleasure to others."

Born in 1980 in Porto Alegre -- the happy port -- in the south of Brazil, Ronaldo de Assis Moreira started life dribbling around dogs in his working-class local neighborhood, Vila Nova.

His professional career began in 1998 for Gremio, a few days before his 18th birthday.

Back then he picked up the Gaucho nickname -- given to people from the south -- to distinguish him from O Fenomeno (the phenomenon) Ronaldo as the three-time world player of the year was himself nicknamed Ronaldinho early in his career.

It took Ronaldinho Gaucho only a year to earn his first call-up for Brazil and during the Copa America in June 1999 he exploded onto the international scene.

"Look what he's doing, look what he's doing!" enthused TV Globo commentator Galvao Bueno during a match against Venezuela after Ronaldinho performed a rainbow flick.

Big European teams weren't slow to come calling and it was something of a surprise to see Ronaldinho snapped up by Paris Saint-Germain in 2001.



African Players in Europe: Ghana’s Sulemana Stars for Doomed Saints

Football - Premier League - Southampton v Liverpool - St Mary's Stadium, Southampton, Britain - May 28, 2023, Southampton's Kamaldeen Sulemana celebrates scoring their second goal. (Reuters)
Football - Premier League - Southampton v Liverpool - St Mary's Stadium, Southampton, Britain - May 28, 2023, Southampton's Kamaldeen Sulemana celebrates scoring their second goal. (Reuters)
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African Players in Europe: Ghana’s Sulemana Stars for Doomed Saints

Football - Premier League - Southampton v Liverpool - St Mary's Stadium, Southampton, Britain - May 28, 2023, Southampton's Kamaldeen Sulemana celebrates scoring their second goal. (Reuters)
Football - Premier League - Southampton v Liverpool - St Mary's Stadium, Southampton, Britain - May 28, 2023, Southampton's Kamaldeen Sulemana celebrates scoring their second goal. (Reuters)

Ghana international Kamaldeen Sulemana scored a stunning goal for relegated Southampton as they bowed out of the Premier League after a thrilling 4-4 draw with Liverpool at the weekend.

The 21-year-old forward ran from inside his own half at Saint Mary's Stadium before firing into the bottom corner from outside the area.

Sulemana twice came off the bench at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, helping Ghana beat South Korea but unable to prevent them losing to Uruguay and being eliminated after the first round.

Here, AFP Sport highlights African headline-makers in the major European leagues:

ENGLAND

Kamaldeen Sulemana (Southampton)

Sulemana scored his first two goals for the Saints in a thriller against Liverpool. Signed in January from Rennes, his impact came far too late to save the club from relegation. He gave a glimpse of what could be a promising future against the Reds. After slotting past Caoimhin Kelleher to open his account for the club, he scored a spectacular second goal.

Taiwo Awoniyi (Nottingham Forest)

Awoniyi continued his sparkling end-of-season form as the Nigerian struck for the sixth time in four games in a 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace. Awoniyi became the first Forest player since Stan Collymore to score in four consecutive Premier League games as his hot streak kept Steve Cooper's men up.

GERMANY

Sebastien Haller (Borussia Dortmund)

Borussia striker Sebastien Haller had a day to forget as his side drew 2-2 at home to Mainz, gifting Bayern Munich an 11th straight Bundesliga title. Haller, who had scored five goals in his previous three games, stepped up to take a penalty early in the first half with his side one goal down. He hit a tame effort at Mainz goalie Finn Dahmen, and the visitors doubled their lead soon after. Haller scored in injury time but had his goal chalked off for offside as Dortmund threw away a chance of breaking Bayern's decade-long title stranglehold.

Ilhas Bebou (Hoffenheim)

Hoffenheim striker Bebou scored a second-half goal as his side drew 1-1 at Stuttgart, snuffing out any chance of being drawn into a relegation battle. Hoffenheim came into the final round facing a slim mathematical chance of being demoted to the second division for the first time in their history. Bebou headed his side in front with 15 minutes remaining, his seventh goal in 19 league appearances this season.

ITALY

Victor Osimhen (Napoli)

The star Nigerian forward took his chart-topping Serie A goal tally to 25 -- four more than closest rival Lautaro Martinez of Inter -- by scoring twice for champions Napoli in a 2-2 draw at 11th-placed Bologna. There has been constant speculation that Osimhen will make a close-season move to the Premier League.

SPAIN

Amath Ndiaye (Real Mallorca)

A tough task for mid-table Mallorca at La Liga champions Barcelona became even more difficult when Senegalese winger Ndiaye was red-carded after only 14 minutes. The visitors were already one goal behind and went on to lose 3-0 with Guinea-Bissau-born Ansu Fati scoring twice.


Racist Abuse of Players Is Getting Worse, Says Stephens

Sloane Stephens of the US celebrates winning her first round match of the French Open tennis tournament against Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in two sets, 6-0, 6-4, at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Monday, May 29, 2023. (AP)
Sloane Stephens of the US celebrates winning her first round match of the French Open tennis tournament against Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in two sets, 6-0, 6-4, at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Monday, May 29, 2023. (AP)
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Racist Abuse of Players Is Getting Worse, Says Stephens

Sloane Stephens of the US celebrates winning her first round match of the French Open tennis tournament against Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in two sets, 6-0, 6-4, at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Monday, May 29, 2023. (AP)
Sloane Stephens of the US celebrates winning her first round match of the French Open tennis tournament against Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in two sets, 6-0, 6-4, at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Monday, May 29, 2023. (AP)

Racism behavior directed at athletes is getting worse and even software designed to protect them from it has little impact, world number 30 Sloane Stephens said on Monday.

The American, speaking after her straight-sets victory over Karolina Pliskova in the French Open first round, said she had had to endure it her whole tennis career.

"Yes, it's obviously been a problem my entire career," said Stephens, who is Black. "It has never stopped. If anything, it's only gotten worse."

She did not go into specific details but said even software such as the one available for players at the French Open, which that is designed to block racist comments, could not stop it.

"I did hear about the software. I have not used it," Stephens said.

"I have a lot of obviously key words banned on Instagram and all of these things, but that doesn't stop someone from just typing in an asterisk or typing it in a different way, which obviously software most of the time doesn't catch."

Professional athletes in all sports are regularly confronted with racist comments and behavior with Real Madrid soccer player Vinicius Jr. the most notable recent case.

He was on the receiving end of racist chants at Valencia's Mestalla stadium last week and his complaints about Spain and LaLiga not doing enough to fight racism sparked a worldwide wave of support and a national debate in Spain.

Tottenham Hotspur were working this month with the Metropolitan Police to investigate an allegation of racial abuse towards South Korean striker Son Heung-min.

Stephens said the racism had reached a worrying level.

"I mean, obviously when there is FBI investigations going on with what people are saying to you online, it's very serious," she said.

She did not say whether she was referring to a specific case.

"Obviously it's been something that I have dealt with my whole career. I think that, like I said, it's only continued to get worse, and people online have the free rein to say and do whatever they want behind fake pages, which is obviously very troublesome."

"It's something I have had to deal with my whole career and something I will continue to deal with, I'm sure. That's that."


PSG Keeper Rico Remains in Intensive Care After Riding Accident 

Paris St Germain Spanish goalkeeper Sergio Rico smiles as he warms up before the UEFA Champions League 1st round day 3 group H football match between SL Benfica and Paris Saint-Germain, at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on October 5, 2022. (AFP)
Paris St Germain Spanish goalkeeper Sergio Rico smiles as he warms up before the UEFA Champions League 1st round day 3 group H football match between SL Benfica and Paris Saint-Germain, at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on October 5, 2022. (AFP)
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PSG Keeper Rico Remains in Intensive Care After Riding Accident 

Paris St Germain Spanish goalkeeper Sergio Rico smiles as he warms up before the UEFA Champions League 1st round day 3 group H football match between SL Benfica and Paris Saint-Germain, at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on October 5, 2022. (AFP)
Paris St Germain Spanish goalkeeper Sergio Rico smiles as he warms up before the UEFA Champions League 1st round day 3 group H football match between SL Benfica and Paris Saint-Germain, at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on October 5, 2022. (AFP)

Paris St Germain goalkeeper Sergio Rico remained in intensive care on Monday after being involved in a riding accident while participating in an annual pilgrimage in southern Spain.

Rico suffered "a serious mishap due to a mule cart and a horse that hit him", his family said in a statement late on Sunday. Spanish paper Marca reported that Rico had been riding a horse himself.

The Spaniard was given permission by PSG to take part in the pilgrimage.

"Sergio is in good hands, fighting to recover while receiving the best care from the medical team at the Virgen del Rocio Hospital. We must exercise caution, especially during the next 48 hours," his family said.

"We are now awaiting medical results, which we hope will be positive, so that we can inform you of his improvement as soon as possible," they added.

Every spring, hundreds of thousands of devotees converge on a shrine to pay homage to the Virgin of the Rocio.

Rico, 29, joined PSG in 2020 after a season-long loan at the capital club. He started his career with Spanish club Sevilla.


Manchester United Boss Ten Hag Calls for More Investment 

Manchester United's Dutch manager Erik ten Hag speaks to his players at the end of the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Fulham at Old Trafford in Manchester, northwest England, on May 28, 2023. (AFP)
Manchester United's Dutch manager Erik ten Hag speaks to his players at the end of the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Fulham at Old Trafford in Manchester, northwest England, on May 28, 2023. (AFP)
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Manchester United Boss Ten Hag Calls for More Investment 

Manchester United's Dutch manager Erik ten Hag speaks to his players at the end of the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Fulham at Old Trafford in Manchester, northwest England, on May 28, 2023. (AFP)
Manchester United's Dutch manager Erik ten Hag speaks to his players at the end of the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Fulham at Old Trafford in Manchester, northwest England, on May 28, 2023. (AFP)

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has called for more investment in the club so they can challenge for trophies after the team finished third in the Premier League this season.

United sealed the third place, finishing the season with 75 points, after they came from behind to defeat Fulham 2-1 in the last game of the league season on Sunday.

The Old Trafford club, which won the League Cup in February, has the chance to add to their silverware when they face Manchester City in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

"We are in the right direction, but we are not where we have to be, there's still a long way to go, there's potential in this team and individual players," Ten Hag told reporters on Sunday.

"We showed during the season we made progress, that's a compliment to the players and the coaches, we worked really hard, but we have to make an investment.

"The club knows if you want to play top four, compete for trophies in this tough league then you have to invest otherwise you don't have a chance because other clubs will do."

United last won the league title in 2012-13 under Alex Ferguson.


Alonso Feels He’s Far from Catching F1 Leader Verstappen Despite His Own Remarkable Form 

Second-placed Aston Martin's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso holds up his trophy on the podium after the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix at the Monaco street circuit in Monaco, on May 28, 2023. (AFP) 
Second-placed Aston Martin's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso holds up his trophy on the podium after the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix at the Monaco street circuit in Monaco, on May 28, 2023. (AFP) 
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Alonso Feels He’s Far from Catching F1 Leader Verstappen Despite His Own Remarkable Form 

Second-placed Aston Martin's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso holds up his trophy on the podium after the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix at the Monaco street circuit in Monaco, on May 28, 2023. (AFP) 
Second-placed Aston Martin's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso holds up his trophy on the podium after the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix at the Monaco street circuit in Monaco, on May 28, 2023. (AFP) 

Fernando Alonso has five podiums in six races in a remarkable season for Aston Martin, yet still feels he's no closer to catching Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

The two-time Formula One champions now head to a race with special significance for both of them.

Next weekend's Spanish Grand Prix is where Verstappen won his first race as an 18-year-old in his Red Bull debut in 2016.

It's also where Alonso last won a race in 2013, so it would be the perfect place for the 41-year-old Spaniard to end his winless run.

"Yeah, but I will not put any pressure on my team or myself," Alonso said after finishing second behind Verstappen at Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix. "I will not get into Barcelona thinking that I will win, and (then) disappoint anyone. We have to have (our) feet on the ground."

Verstappen's win seven years ago in Spain was a performance of stunning audacity. It showcased a raw ability that has since carried him to two world championships, the second secured with a record-breaking 15 F1 wins last year.

Yet the 2016 win in Spain also came in exceptional circumstances, after both Mercedes crashed into each other and out of the race amid a feuding rivalry between then-teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

Alonso believes only a similar mishap can stop Red Bull's unrelenting run this season stretching to seven straight wins. Verstappen has won four races while teammate Sergio Perez has the other two victories, although Perez scored no points in Monaco after starting last following a mistake in qualifying.

"We will need weekends where Red Bull has some issues like Sergio had here with zero points. And if Max has one or two of those, we will be a little bit closer in the championship," Alonso said. "But on pure pace, I think we don’t have the chance yet."

Even though Alonso almost took the pole in Monaco, with Verstappen edging him by just .084 seconds, that didn't raise his hopes.

"(Saturday) was very close in qualifying, but in the race we saw Red Bull again very dominant," Alonso said. "So we have to accept that next weekend will be maybe (like) any other race this year, where Red Bull is untouchable."

The mutual respect between Alonso and Verstappen is considerable, with the normally reserved Verstappen even joking he might try to help Alonso win a race.

"I’ll think about it. I’d like to see Fernando win," Verstappen said Saturday. "I love watching his style."

Perhaps because it reminds him of his own: single-minded, dynamic, lightning-quick, nerveless in difficult conditions.

By winning in Monaco, Verstappen broke Red Bull's record for most wins with his 39th — one more than Sebastian Vettel managed on his way to four straight F1 titles from 2010-13.

Verstappen is only two behind the late Ayrton Senna's total of 41 wins and is well placed to equal Senna's three world titles. Verstappen leads Perez this season by 39 points and Alonso by 51.

Alonso finished as the F1 runner-up in 2010 to Vettel by four points and by three points to Vettel in 2012. But Verstappen seems on another level even to Vettel.

"Now there is Red Bull and Max dominating every race and even with great results, you’re just stepping behind them, every race," Alonso said. "But we will not give up."

Alonso motivates himself by looking at the podium after each Red Bull win.

"I will always take a picture (of first place) at the end, after the celebration," he said. "I will love to receive the trophy from there."

Verstappen was asked at which track he could next be vulnerable.

"It’s difficult to say," he replied ominously.


Verstappen Wins Monaco GP to Extend F1 Championship Lead; Alonso 2nd Ahead of Ocon

Winner Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen (C) holds up his trophy, flanked by second-placed Aston Martin's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (L), third-placed Alpine's French driver Esteban Ocon (R), Prince Albert II of Monaco (2nd R) and Princess Charlene of Monaco (2nd L) on the podium after the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix at the Monaco street circuit in Monaco, on May 28, 2023. (AFP)
Winner Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen (C) holds up his trophy, flanked by second-placed Aston Martin's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (L), third-placed Alpine's French driver Esteban Ocon (R), Prince Albert II of Monaco (2nd R) and Princess Charlene of Monaco (2nd L) on the podium after the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix at the Monaco street circuit in Monaco, on May 28, 2023. (AFP)
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Verstappen Wins Monaco GP to Extend F1 Championship Lead; Alonso 2nd Ahead of Ocon

Winner Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen (C) holds up his trophy, flanked by second-placed Aston Martin's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (L), third-placed Alpine's French driver Esteban Ocon (R), Prince Albert II of Monaco (2nd R) and Princess Charlene of Monaco (2nd L) on the podium after the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix at the Monaco street circuit in Monaco, on May 28, 2023. (AFP)
Winner Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen (C) holds up his trophy, flanked by second-placed Aston Martin's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (L), third-placed Alpine's French driver Esteban Ocon (R), Prince Albert II of Monaco (2nd R) and Princess Charlene of Monaco (2nd L) on the podium after the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix at the Monaco street circuit in Monaco, on May 28, 2023. (AFP)

Formula One champion Max Verstappen's lights-to-flag victory win at the Monaco Grand gave the Red Bull driver his fourth victory of the season and extended his championship lead on Sunday.

Spanish veteran Fernando Alonso was a season's best second for Aston Martin as he collected a fifth podium in six races, while Frenchman Esteban Ocon secured third place and a rare podium for Alpine.

For most of the race, Verstappen coasted on a dry and narrow track where overtaking is the hardest in F1.

But an incident-free race in Monaco is rare and heavy rain played havoc with about 20 of the 78 laps left. Some drivers had pitted for the wrong medium tires shortly before the downpour and slid around.

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz Jr. glided sideways into the barriers and was lucky not to damage his Ferrari. Kevin Magnussen lost control of his Haas and Lance Stroll retired after damaging his Aston Martin.

Red Bull had wisely put Verstappen on the versatile and more suited to the wet conditions intermediates on Lap 56 and they carried him to his second win in Monaco. The first was in 2021.

Lewis Hamilton finished fourth for Mercedes and picked up a point for fastest lap. His teammate George Russell was fifth, having earlier almost slammed into Sergio Perez's Red Bull as visibility worsened. A serious crash was somehow avoided in a hectic few minutes before the rain eased off.

On Saturday, Verstappen just edged out Alonso to deny the 41-year Spaniard his first pole for 11 years.

Perez, who won the race last year, started from last after a clumsy crash in qualifying and finished 16th.

Verstappen’s 39 F1 wins have all been with Red Bull since his first on debut for the team at the Spanish GP in 2016 when he became the youngest F1 winner at 18 years old.

He set a team record for wins as he passed former Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel’s previous tally of 38 victories for the team when he won four straight titles from 2010-13.


Ukraine’s Kostyuk Booed at French Open after No Handshake with Belarus’ Sabalenka Because of War

Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine serves to Aryna Sabalenka of Russia in their Women's Singles first round match during the French Open Grand Slam tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 28 May 2023. (EPA)
Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine serves to Aryna Sabalenka of Russia in their Women's Singles first round match during the French Open Grand Slam tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 28 May 2023. (EPA)
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Ukraine’s Kostyuk Booed at French Open after No Handshake with Belarus’ Sabalenka Because of War

Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine serves to Aryna Sabalenka of Russia in their Women's Singles first round match during the French Open Grand Slam tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 28 May 2023. (EPA)
Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine serves to Aryna Sabalenka of Russia in their Women's Singles first round match during the French Open Grand Slam tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 28 May 2023. (EPA)

Unable to sleep the night before her first-round match at the French Open against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, the Grand Slam tournament's No. 2 seed, Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine checked her phone at 5 a.m. Sunday and saw disturbing news back home in Kyiv.

At least one person was killed when the capital of Kostyuk's country was subjected to the largest drone attack by Russia since the start of its war, launched with an invasion assisted by Belarus in February 2022.

"It’s something I cannot describe, probably. I try to put my emotions aside any time I go out on court. I think I’m better than before, and I don’t think it affects me as much on a daily basis, but yeah, it’s just — I don’t know," Kostyuk said, shaking her head. "There is not much to say, really. It’s just part of my life."

That, then, is why Kostyuk has decided she will not exchange the usual post-match pleasantries with opponents from Russia or Belarus. And that is why she avoided a handshake — avoided any eye contact, even — after losing to Australian Open champion Sabalenka 6-3, 6-2 on Day 1 at Roland Garros.

What surprised the 20-year-old, 39th-ranked Kostyuk on Sunday was the reaction she received from the spectators in Court Philippe Chatrier: They loudly booed and derisively whistled at her as she walked directly over to acknowledge the chair umpire instead of congratulating the winner after the lopsided result. The negative response grew louder as she gathered her belongings and walked off the court toward the locker room.

"I have to say," Kostyuk said, "I didn’t expect it. ... People should be, honestly, embarrassed."

Kostyuk is based now in Monaco, and her mother and sister are there, too, but her father and grandfather are still in Kyiv. Perhaps the fans on hand at the clay-court event's main stadium were unaware of the backstory and figured Kostyuk simply failed to follow usual tennis etiquette.

Initially, Sabalenka — who had approached the net as if anticipating some sort of exchange with Kostyuk — thought all of that noise was directed at her.

"At first, I thought they were booing me," Sabalenka said. "I was a little confused, and I was, like, 'OK, what should I do?"

Sabalenka tried to ask the chair umpire what was going on. She looked up at her entourage in the stands, too. Then she realized that while she is aware Kostyuk and other Ukrainian tennis players have been declining to greet foes from Russia or Belarus after a match, the spectators might not have known — and so responded in a way Sabalenka didn't think was deserved.

"They saw it," she surmised, "as disrespect (for) me."

Sabalenka called the whole experience "emotionally tough" — because of mundane, tennis-related reasons, such as the nerves that come with any first-round match, but more significantly because of the unusual circumstances involving the war.

"You’re playing against (a) Ukrainian and you never know what’s going to happen. You never know how people will — will they support you or not?" explained Sabalenka, who went down an early break and trailed 3-2 before reeling off six consecutive games with powerful first-strike hitting. "I was worried, like, people will be against me, and I don’t like to play when people (are) so much against me."

A journalist from Ukraine asked Sabalenka what her message to the world is with regard to the war, particularly in this context: She can overtake Iga Swiatek at No. 1 in the rankings based on results over the next two weeks and, therefore, serves as a role model.

"Nobody in this world, Russian athletes or Belarusian athletes, support the war. Nobody. How can we support the war? Nobody — normal people — will never support it. Why (do) we have to go loud and say that things? This is like: ‘One plus one (is) two.’ Of course we don’t support war," Sabalenka said. "If it could affect anyhow the war, if it could like stop it, we would do it. But unfortunately, it’s not in our hands."

When a portion of those comments was read to Kostyuk by a reporter, she responded in calm, measured tones that she doesn't get why Sabalenka does not come out and say that "she personally doesn't support this war."

Kostyuk also rejected the notion that players from Russia or Belarus could be in a tough spot upon returning to those countries if they were to speak out about what is happening in Ukraine.

"I don’t know why it’s a difficult situation," Kostyuk said with a chuckle.

"I don’t know what other players are afraid of," she said. "I go back to Ukraine, where I can die any second from drones or missiles or whatever it is."


Disgusted by Racism Targeting Soccer’s Vinicius, His Brazilian Hometown Rallies to Defend Him

Football - Brasileiro Championship - Flamengo v Cruzeiro - Estadio Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - May 27, 2023 A Flamengo fan displays an image of Vinicius Junior in support against racism before the match. (Reuters)
Football - Brasileiro Championship - Flamengo v Cruzeiro - Estadio Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - May 27, 2023 A Flamengo fan displays an image of Vinicius Junior in support against racism before the match. (Reuters)
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Disgusted by Racism Targeting Soccer’s Vinicius, His Brazilian Hometown Rallies to Defend Him

Football - Brasileiro Championship - Flamengo v Cruzeiro - Estadio Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - May 27, 2023 A Flamengo fan displays an image of Vinicius Junior in support against racism before the match. (Reuters)
Football - Brasileiro Championship - Flamengo v Cruzeiro - Estadio Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - May 27, 2023 A Flamengo fan displays an image of Vinicius Junior in support against racism before the match. (Reuters)

The chants of “monkey!” at the Spanish soccer stadium echoed across the Atlantic, reaching the ears of people on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.

That’s where Vinicius Junior, who is Black, grew up and launched his football career. Now, despite his global fame and millions, he was again the target of crude European racism.

His city in multiracial Brazil was sickened, and has rallied to his defense.

In Sao Goncalo, rapper Deivisson Oliveira was eating breakfast when the TV news showed the abuse aimed at his hometown hero.

“I needed to cry out,” said Oliveira, 30, who raps under the name MC Menor do CPX.

Oliveira typed lyrics on his phone with his 6-month-old son at his feet. Powerful verses surged through his thumbs: “From the favela to the world: Strength, Vinicius Junior!”

Racism in the Spanish league has intensified this season, especially after Vinicius started celebrating goals by dancing. On at least nine occasions, people have made monkey sounds at Vinicius, chanted the slur “monkey!” and hurled other racist slurs. Vinicius has repeatedly demanded action from Spanish soccer authorities.

Vinicius’ 2017 move to Real Madrid was the culmination of years of effort. One of the most popular clubs in global soccer paid 45 million euros (about $50 million) — at the time the most ever for a Brazilian teenager — even before his professional debut with Rio-based Flamengo. Relentless racism wasn’t part of Vinicius’ dream when he was growing up in Sao Goncalo.

Sao Goncalo is the second-most populous city in Rio’s metropolitan region, and one of the poorest in the state of Rio de Janeiro, according to the national statistics institute. At night in some areas, motorists turn on their hazard lights to signal to drug-trafficking gangs that the driver is local. It is also where the 2020 police killing of a 14-year-old sparked Black Lives Matter protests across Rio.

Racism has once again fanned outrage.

Rio’s imposing, illuminated Christ the Redeemer statue was made dark one night in solidarity. The city’s enormous bayside Ferris wheel this week exhibits a clenched Black fist and the scrolling words: “EVERYONE AGAINST RACISM.”

“My total repudiation of the episode of racism suffered by our ace and the pride of all of us in Sao Goncalo,” the city’s mayor, Nelson Ruas dos Santos, wrote on Twitter the morning after the incident.

Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes was less diplomatic when responding to a defense issued by the Spanish soccer league’s president.

“Go to hell, son of a...” Paes wrote.

On Thursday, Spanish league president Javier Tebas held a news conference claiming that the league has been acting alone against racism, and that it could end it in six months if granted more power by the government.

At the same time in Rio, representatives of more than 150 activist groups and nonprofits delivered a letter to Spain’s consulate, demanding an investigation into the league and its president. They organized a protest that evening.

“Vinicius has been a warrior, he’s being a warrior, for enduring this since he arrived in Spain and always taking a stand,” activist Valda Neves said. “This time, he’s not alone.”

On Saturday, players from Vinicius’ former club, Flamengo, took the field at the Maracana Stadium before a Brazilian championship match against Cruzeiro wearing jerseys bearing the player’s name and sat on the pitch before kick off in an anti-racism protest.

In the stands, thousands of supporters made a tifo that read “everyone with Vini Jr.”

The first Black Brazilian players to sign for European clubs in the 1960s met some racism in the largely white society, but rarely spoke out. At the time when Brazil still considered itself a “racial democracy,” and did not take on the racism that many faced.

In the late 1980s, the federal government made racial discrimination a crime and created a foundation to promote Afro-Brazilian culture. At the time, many Brazilian players who might identify as Black today did not recognize themselves as such. Incidents of racism in Europe prompted little blowback in Brazil.

In the decades since, Brazil’s Black activists have gained prominence and promoted awareness of structural racism. The federal government instituted policies aimed at addressing it, including affirmative-action admissions for public universities and jobs. There has been heightened consciousness throughout society.

In 2014, a fan hurled a banana at defender Dani Alves during a Spanish league match; he picked it up and ate it in a show of defiance, triggering a coordinated social media campaign with other Brazilian players, including star forward Neymar, who did the same.

Vinicius’ own educational nonprofit this week launched a program to train public school teachers to raise awareness about racism and instruct kids in fighting discrimination. A teacher at a Sao Goncalo school that will host the project, Mariana Alves, hopes it will provide kids much-needed support and preparation. She spoke in a classroom with soccer-ball beanbag chairs strewn about, and enormous photos of Vinicius on the walls.

Most of the school’s students are Black or biracial, and many have experienced racism, Alves said in an interview. This week, her 10-year-old students have been asking if she saw what happened to Vinicius because they don’t fully understand.

“He has money, he has all this status, and not even that stopped him from going through this situation of racism,” said Alves, who is Black and from Sao Goncalo. “So the students wonder ... ‘Will I go through that, too? Is that going to happen to me?’”

As a boy, Vinicius started training at a nearby feeder school for Flamengo, Brazil’s most popular club, before signing with its youth team.

Sao Goncalo kids there were a blur Wednesday afternoon as they ran non-stop drills, leaving them without time or breath to discuss their idol’s troubles on another continent.

Still, they knew.

One of them, Ryan Gonçalves Negri, said he has talked about it with his friends outside the soccer school, and that Vinicius should transfer out of the Spanish league “urgently.”

“I would never want to play there,” Negri, 13, said. “It’s not for Brazilians who know how to score goals and celebrate.”

While the kids practiced, the rapper Oliveira and his producer Éverton Ramos, known as DJ Cabide, stepped onto the turf and made their way to the corner. They set up a speaker beneath a banner of Vinicius as a brash teenager with his tongue extended, then started recording a clip for their protest song’s music video.

“I’m no one, but my voice can reach where I can’t go, where I can’t imagine going,” Oliveira said. “My voice will get there, you understand?”


Djokovic Owes Growth of His Career to ‘Biggest Rival’ Nadal

Serbia's Novak Djokovic returns the ball to Denmark's Holger Rune during their quarter final match at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Wednesday, May 17, 2023. (AP)
Serbia's Novak Djokovic returns the ball to Denmark's Holger Rune during their quarter final match at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Wednesday, May 17, 2023. (AP)
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Djokovic Owes Growth of His Career to ‘Biggest Rival’ Nadal

Serbia's Novak Djokovic returns the ball to Denmark's Holger Rune during their quarter final match at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Wednesday, May 17, 2023. (AP)
Serbia's Novak Djokovic returns the ball to Denmark's Holger Rune during their quarter final match at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Wednesday, May 17, 2023. (AP)

Novak Djokovic joked that he was a relieved man after Rafa Nadal withdrew from the French Open due to injury but deep down the Serbian has nothing but respect for his eternal rival, saying a part of him would leave if the Spaniard retires in 2024.

Nadal failed to regain full fitness from a hip injury he suffered at the Australian Open in January and the 14-times Roland Garros winner said 2024 could be the last year of his professional career.

Both players are tied on a record 22 Grand Slam titles, but Djokovic can inch ahead at Roland Garros where he had managed to beat Nadal only twice in 10 meetings.

"Honestly, I don't miss him being in the draw. I don't like seeing him in the draw of Roland Garros," Djokovic told reporters with a laugh.

"I have had not so much success against him in our head-to-head record in Roland Garros. I've managed to beat him twice, but I had to leave my heart and my guts out on the court to achieve that.

"A lot of people retired him already 10 years ago, but he kept going, which is something I respect and admire. I know how hard it is to maintain that level and keep going even after having a tough injury."

Djokovic said Nadal's announcement came as a shock and the 36-year-old praised his rival for bringing out the best in him over the years they dominated the sport.

"I have to say that he's my biggest rival. When he announced that he's going to have his last season of (his) career, I felt part of me is leaving with him too," he added.

"I feel that he was one of the most impactful people that I have ever had in my career, the growth of my career and me as a player.

"Definitely a great motivational factor for me to keep playing and keep competing and keep pushing each other - who's going achieve more, who's going to do better."

If Nadal does call it quits, Djokovic will be the last of the "Big Three" remaining on tour after Roger Federer retired last year, but the Serbian has no plans on hanging up his racket yet.

"It made me wonder, it made me think about my career and how long I'm going to play," Djokovic said.

"So far I'm not going to make any announcement today, but just reflecting on it, I also felt a little bit emotional about what he was saying.


Ruud Banking on French Open Experience for Deep Run after ‘Up and Down’ Season

Casper Ruud of Norway celebrates after beating J.J. Wolf of the United States after their second round match, at the Geneva Open tennis tournament in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (AP)
Casper Ruud of Norway celebrates after beating J.J. Wolf of the United States after their second round match, at the Geneva Open tennis tournament in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (AP)
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Ruud Banking on French Open Experience for Deep Run after ‘Up and Down’ Season

Casper Ruud of Norway celebrates after beating J.J. Wolf of the United States after their second round match, at the Geneva Open tennis tournament in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (AP)
Casper Ruud of Norway celebrates after beating J.J. Wolf of the United States after their second round match, at the Geneva Open tennis tournament in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (AP)

World number four Casper Ruud admitted his preparation going into the French Open has not been ideal but is counting on his experience from his final run last year and the ability to endure five setters to go deep at Roland Garros.

Ruud reached his first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros last year, but the Norwegian was swept aside by Rafa Nadal in straight sets as the Spaniard won his 14th crown on the Parisian clay.

Ruud has played in six claycourt tournaments in the build-up to the French Open and won the title in Estoril, but he struggled in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid before a semi-final run in Rome and a quarter-final exit in Geneva.

"It's been going up and down, a little bit similar to what happened last year," Ruud told reporters.

"But I'm coming here with good confidence, it's best-of-five sets on clay. I have proven to myself and others from last year that I can do well and win many matches.

"It's nice being back here, live through the memories that I have from last year and the belief that I can do well here obviously grows when you have done it at least once before. I'm hoping for a good run now in these two weeks."

Ruud plays Sweden's Elias Ymer in an all-Scandinavian, first-round clash and the 24-year-old Norwegian said their friendship will be put aside when they face off after the Swede came through qualifiers without dropping a set.

"He's one of the few guys that I sometimes go out to dinner with, him and his brother (Mikael). I actually feel like a good friend off court. So it's going to be fun," Ruud said.

"He's a couple years older than me, so I really looked up to him when I was younger... He deserves to be here in the main draw and I'm going to treat him like any other opponent, a tough one."