Chinese Grand Prix Could Deliver Drama to F1 and Slow Verstappen’s Victory March 

Ferrari's Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr drives during the sprint qualifying session ahead of the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit in Shanghai on April 19, 2024. (AFP)
Ferrari's Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr drives during the sprint qualifying session ahead of the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit in Shanghai on April 19, 2024. (AFP)
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Chinese Grand Prix Could Deliver Drama to F1 and Slow Verstappen’s Victory March 

Ferrari's Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr drives during the sprint qualifying session ahead of the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit in Shanghai on April 19, 2024. (AFP)
Ferrari's Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr drives during the sprint qualifying session ahead of the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit in Shanghai on April 19, 2024. (AFP)

The Chinese Grand Prix could deliver some much-needed drama to Formula One, meaning Red Bull's Max Verstappen can't be penciled in as the almost-certain winner on Sunday.

The three-time world champion has won 22 of the last 26 GPs and three of the first four this season. Only brake failure in Australia kept him from possibly sweeping the first four races.

"It's got the probability of throwing up quite a few variables and, perhaps, some unexpected results," Red Bull principal Christian Horner said Friday. "I think it's going to be all action."

Here's why.

The track is a slight unknown. This is the first F1 race in China in five years, scratched from the calendar by the COVID-19 pandemic. The last was won in 2019 by Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton.

It's also the season's first with a Saturday sprint race, which means Friday's practice session was the only one of the weekend.

But the biggest unknown is the state of the racing surface, which has had a thin "seal coating" applied — described as liquid asphalt. Drivers have repeatedly said it looks like it's been painted. And tire supplier Pirelli said it wasn't fully aware of the changes heading into the race.

Though hard to draw any firm conclusion, Friday's practice kicked up some unusual names at the top.

Lance Stroll of Aston Martin had the quickest time (1 minute, 36.302 seconds), followed by Oscar Piastri of McClaren. Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez were Nos. 3-4 followed by two Haas drivers — Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen.

China’s first F1 driver Zhou Guanyu was 11th in practice in a Sauber.

Charles Leclerc hinted on Thursday about Ferrari closing the gap on Red Bull.

They didn't in Friday’s practice. Leclerc and teammate Carlos Sainz were 13th and 14th.

"Everything we expected in terms of uncertainty is happening and hopefully this will mean that we have an entertaining event here in China with some action and some opportunities," McLaren team principal Andrea Stella said.

He said there was reduced tire grip in the practice session, and tires showed heavy wear from the unfamiliar surface.

Drivers spoke two weeks ago at the Japanese GP about their disquiet over the sprint in China. The track is located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of central Shanghai, visible on the distant horizon through a hazy smog on Friday.

Horner accepted the concern but noted the Shanghai circuit is a known quantity, hosting races since 2004.

"We have a lot of historic data from this circuit," he said. "It’s not like turning up at a brand new venue and having to learn all over again."

SPRINT QUALIFYING Lando Norris of McLaren won the pole for Saturday’s sprint race, running in a rainy session with drivers struggling to control their cars.

Norris’ qualifying lap in the third session was 1 minute, 57.940 seconds. The times in the rain on Friday were about 20 seconds slower than when qualifying began under dry conditions.

Norris will start from the pole with Hamilton alongside. Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin will start on the second row with Verstappen. Row 3 has Sainz and Perez.

Asked what the race conditions would be on Saturday, Norris replied: "No clue."

"It was getting wetter and wetter," Norris said. "I was aquaplaning quite a bit."

The F1 sprints are about one-third the length of the regular GP. The top eight drivers earn points — eight for first place, seven for second, six for third, and so on.

Qualifying was slowed by off-and-on rain that got more persistent as the session went on. Leclerc went off and hit a retaining wall and appeared to damage a front wing during one of his laps.

Many of the cars struggled for grip including Verstappen, who went off the track on one of his laps.

The sprint will be followed later Saturday with qualifying for Sunday's race.

DRIVERS' SHUFFLE Horner was asked Friday if Red Bull was close to confirming its driver lineup for next season. Verstappen, of course, is on a long-term contract. The question is over Perez, whose contract expires after this season.

Reports persist that Ferrari's Sainz is a possibility. His seat at Ferrari will be taken next year by Hamilton who is leaving Merdeces. Sainz is also reportedly in talks with Audi, which will take over Sauber for the 2026 season,

"We’re in a situation where we’re very happy with our two drivers," Horner said. "We don't need to make a final decision about the lineup until pretty much later in the year."



Giroud Scores in His Last AC Milan Match on a Night of Farewells at San Siro

AC Milan's French forward #09 Olivier Giroud (C) makes a heart sign as he celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Italian Serie A football match between AC Milan and Salernitana at San Siro Stadium, in Milan on May 25, 2024. as the last match by coach. (AFP)
AC Milan's French forward #09 Olivier Giroud (C) makes a heart sign as he celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Italian Serie A football match between AC Milan and Salernitana at San Siro Stadium, in Milan on May 25, 2024. as the last match by coach. (AFP)
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Giroud Scores in His Last AC Milan Match on a Night of Farewells at San Siro

AC Milan's French forward #09 Olivier Giroud (C) makes a heart sign as he celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Italian Serie A football match between AC Milan and Salernitana at San Siro Stadium, in Milan on May 25, 2024. as the last match by coach. (AFP)
AC Milan's French forward #09 Olivier Giroud (C) makes a heart sign as he celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Italian Serie A football match between AC Milan and Salernitana at San Siro Stadium, in Milan on May 25, 2024. as the last match by coach. (AFP)

Olivier Giroud scored in his final match for AC Milan as the Rossoneri drew with bottom club Salernitana 3-3 on a Saturday night of farewells at San Siro.

The 37-year-old Giroud, who helped Milan to the Serie A title in 2022, is leaving after three years and will join Los Angeles FC.

Giroud was given a standing ovation when he was substituted off six minutes from time, hugging all of his teammates and coach Stefano Pioli as the crowd sang his name.

Milan’s last match of the season was also Pioli’s final match in charge, bringing to an end a five-year stint that included the Champions League semifinal last year as well as the Serie A title.

There were emotional scenes before the match as Pioli was encircled by his players. He had tears in his eyes as he embraced each of them individually as they applauded, while the whole stadium gave him a standing ovation.

Rafael Leão immediately went over to celebrate with Pioli after scoring the opening goal in the 22nd minute following a howler by Salernitana goalkeeper Vincenzo Fiorillo, who dropped the ball at his feet. They were joined by the rest of the Milan team.

Five minutes later it was Giroud’s turn as he acrobatically struck home a corner for his 15th league goal of the season. The France forward has 49 goals for Milan in his three seasons.

Simy pulled one back for Salernitana in the 64th but Davide Calabria restored Milan’s two-goal advantage 13 minutes later.

However, goals from Junior Sambia and Simy in the last three minutes rescued a draw for already-relegated Salernitana in its last top-flight match.

It was also Milan defender Simon Kjær's last match for the club. Pioli, Giroud and Kjær were all celebrated in a special ceremony after the match, and all three struggled to hold back tears.

RECORD-EQUALLING

Alex Sandro made his 327th and final appearance for Juventus as the Brazilian equaled Pavel Nedved’s record for the most matches by a foreign player for the Bianconeri.

Alex Sandro headed in Juve’s second in a 2-0 win over Monza. Federico Chiesa claimed the opener two minutes earlier.

Nicolò Fagioli hit the crossbar in the 16th minute on his first start for Juventus since returning from a seven-month ban for betting violations.

Monza forward Alessio Zerbin was sent off in the final minute following a second yellow card.


Madrid Draws with Betis with Likely Starters for Champions League Final and Kroos Says Farewell

Real Madrid's German midfielder #08 Toni Kroos is thrown in the air by teammates during the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid CF and Real Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on May 25, 2024. (AFP)
Real Madrid's German midfielder #08 Toni Kroos is thrown in the air by teammates during the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid CF and Real Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on May 25, 2024. (AFP)
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Madrid Draws with Betis with Likely Starters for Champions League Final and Kroos Says Farewell

Real Madrid's German midfielder #08 Toni Kroos is thrown in the air by teammates during the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid CF and Real Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on May 25, 2024. (AFP)
Real Madrid's German midfielder #08 Toni Kroos is thrown in the air by teammates during the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid CF and Real Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on May 25, 2024. (AFP)

Real Madrid drew with Real Betis 0-0 on Saturday in its last warmup game before facing Borussia Dortmund in the Champions league final.

Madrid wrapped up the Spanish league title three weeks ago, and since then coach Carlo Ancelotti has rotated his lineups to rest his starters. But the Italian likely had his top-choice players back in his starting 11 against Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu.

There were only two changes from the Champions League semifinals victory over Bayern Munich.

The versatile Eduardo Camavinga was in the spot of injured holding midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni, who will miss the final due to a foot injury.

The other tweak was goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois starting over Andriy Lunin, the backup who played most of the season before the Belgian recovered recently from an ACL injury.

Ancelotti, however, would not confirm that this will be his starting team for the final in London on June 1.

“I have a week to think about it, we may still have some doubts,” Ancelotti said. “We will enjoy preparing for the final and arrive at our best form on Saturday and try to win it.”

KROOS HONORED

Toni Kroos played his last home game for Madrid. The 34-year-old midfielder announced this week he will retire after playing for Germany at this summer’s European Championship.

Kroos' teammates donned his No. 8 shirt to hold an honor guard for him before kickoff. When he was substituted late, his teammates and coach took turns hugging him. Kroos then embraced his three young children.

He can add to his 22 titles, including four Champions League crowns, with Madrid next weekend.

“I couldn’t have asked for more,” Kroos said. “These have been 10 unforgettable years. Now the best way for me to finish would be winning another title.”

DOVBYK EYES TOP SCORER

Ukraine striker Artem Dovbyk is set to finish the Spanish league as its top scorer after his main challenger fell one goal short of his mark.

Dovbyk, who is expected to play in Euro 2024, leads the league in the final round with 24 goals.

Villarreal striker Alexander Sorloth has 23 and had a chance to equal Dovbyk when it visited Osasuna. But the Norway striker appeared to suffer a leg injury early and had to be substituted without scoring.

Dovbyk was two goals behind Sorloth in the goals race until he bagged a hat trick to fuel a 7-0 rout of Granada on Friday.

Dovbyk's last outside threat is Robert Lewandowski, who has 18 before Barcelona visits Sevilla on Sunday in Xavi Hernández's last game in charge.

Dovbyk joined Girona last summer from Ukrainian club SC Dnipro-1 and helped transform the small club into a European sensation. The Catalan club partly owned by Manchester City's Adu Dhabi ownership qualified for the Champions League for the first time with a third-place finish.

Villarreal drew at Osasuna 1-1 after Sorloth's replacement, José Luis Morales, scored a second-half equalizer.

Osasuna striker Ante Budimir, who is on Croatia's Euro 2024 squad, netted his first goal since recovering from fractured ribs to give the hosts a first-half lead. He finished the league with 17 goals.

Villarreal will likely conclude the campaign with the league’s top assist-maker. Midfielder Álex Baena, who could be on Spain’s Euros 2024 squad, made it 14 assists by setting up Morales. Villarreal said that tied a club record set by Juan Riquelme.

The game also featured the farewell of coach Jagoba Arrasate after his six years at Osasuna. Arrasate announced in March that he turned down the offer of a contract extension, saying he needed a fresh start.

NICO SHINES

Nico Williams capped his superb season by scoring to give fifth-placed Athletic Bilbao a 1-0 win at Rayo Vallecano. Williams helped Athletic win the Copa del Rey and is a sure bet to play for Spain at Euro 2024.

Fourth-placed Atletico Madrid got goals from Samuel Lino and Reinildo Mandava to defeat sixth-placed Real Sociedad 2-0.

The final round had no drama with the title, European berths and relegation spots all decided beforehand.

Madrid, Barcelona, Girona and Atletico will play in the Champions League next season, while Athletic and Sociedad are Europa League bound. Betis will play the Conference League.

FINALLY A REASON TO CHEER

Almeria, which was relegated a month before the season ended, was at least able to escape last place and give its fans something to cheer about after crushing Cadiz 6-1. Luis Suárez and Sergio Arribas both notched braces in the rout.

Almeria pushed Granada to the bottom. Cadiz will join them in the second division next season.


Manchester United Stun Manchester City 2-1 to Win FA Cup

Manchester United's Kobbie Mainoo celebrates after scoring against Manchester City in the FA Cup final © JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
Manchester United's Kobbie Mainoo celebrates after scoring against Manchester City in the FA Cup final © JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
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Manchester United Stun Manchester City 2-1 to Win FA Cup

Manchester United's Kobbie Mainoo celebrates after scoring against Manchester City in the FA Cup final © JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
Manchester United's Kobbie Mainoo celebrates after scoring against Manchester City in the FA Cup final © JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

Manchester United stunned Manchester City 2-1 in the FA Cup final at Wembley on Saturday, ending City's dreams of a second straight league and cup double.

Alejandro Garnacho put United ahead in the 30th minute and Kobbie Mainoo doubled their lead nine minutes later after a well-worked team move, with Jeremy Doku pulling one back late on.

While Ten Hag was receiving his medal from the future king of England, Prince William, the Dutchman then got his hands on his second trophy in as many seasons to end a troubled campaign on a high.

“I’m not satisfied with it, we have to do better, and if they don’t want me anymore then I go somewhere else to win trophies because that is what I did my whole career,” a defiant Ten Hag said. “We are constructing a team and when I took over it was a mess at Manchester United.”

First-half goals from Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo set up the win. City piled the pressure on after the break and eventually pulled a late goal back through substitute Jeremy Doku.

United’s owners were watching on from the executive seats at Wembley and have a decision to make.

“We are all very proud of the players and the staff who work tirelessly to support them,” new co-owner Jim Ratcliffe said.


Mauricio Pochettino Paid the Price of Rocking Todd Boehly’s Boat at Chelsea

Mauricio Pochettino has left Chelsea by mutual consent after one season in charge. Photograph: Dave Shopland/REX/Shutterstock
Mauricio Pochettino has left Chelsea by mutual consent after one season in charge. Photograph: Dave Shopland/REX/Shutterstock
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Mauricio Pochettino Paid the Price of Rocking Todd Boehly’s Boat at Chelsea

Mauricio Pochettino has left Chelsea by mutual consent after one season in charge. Photograph: Dave Shopland/REX/Shutterstock
Mauricio Pochettino has left Chelsea by mutual consent after one season in charge. Photograph: Dave Shopland/REX/Shutterstock

It would have been different if Mauricio Pochettino had been willing to trust Chelsea’s great restructuring is going to work. In the end, the problem for the Argentinian was that he joined a club who do not want a manager who has all the power. It is clear by now that anyone who hopes to last under Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital has to collaborate with the board on everything, be open-minded about constructive criticism and remember not to rock the boat too much when it comes to recruitment.
Unfortunately that was never going to be Pochettino – just as it was never going to be Thomas Tuchel, who lasted seven games before being fired. Pochettino is 52. He is a big, magnetic character and an experienced coach who believes his way is best. He was never going to listen to suggestions that he could ease Chelsea’s injury problems by reviewing and altering his training methods.
Inevitably there will be talk of an amicable split. Tuchel left under a cloud after the collapse of his relationship with Boehly and Clearlake, a private equity fund managed by Behdad Eghbali and José E. Feliciano. Pochettino was better at managing upwards. He is a more amiable figure than Tuchel. That, though, does not mean he did not have strong views about the way to run the club. Pochettino was not afraid of flexing his muscles when he spoke to the media during the second half of the season. He was not shy of making it clear that he wanted more control over signings.
Yet Chelsea, who have spent over £1bn on players since Boehly and Clearlake bought the club from Roman Abramovich two years ago, were not willing to alter their approach to suit the man who carried them to sixth place. Eghbali, whose voice carries most weight, was unsure about Pochettino from the start.
Would anything change his mind? Losing the Carabao Cup final to Liverpool’s kids did not help, nor did the failure to challenge for Champions League qualification. Ultimately, Pochettino could never quite solidify his position. It is hard not to conclude that his great mistake was failing to realise that this was not a club conditioned to serve a manager; if power is being doled out, then it is heading only in the direction of the co-sporting directors, Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley, who is said to be close to Eghbali.
It is Stewart and Winstanley who have implemented Chelsea’s youth-first policy. That Pochettino, who was popular with the players, made it work by making sense of an immature squad has not really registered. It is instructive that the team’s late surge to sixth place was merely seen as evidence that criticism of Stewart and Winstanley was misguided.
Chelsea are determined to modernise. Joe Shields is a popular figure in the recruitment team and Sam Jewell is the latest addition from Brighton. They are scouring the globe and are close to completing a deal for the Palmeiras sensation, Estêvão Willian, for just over €60m. Estêvão, 17, is seen as a future Ballon d’Or winner by good judges. Chelsea’s plan is ambitious. It can look crazy. If it works, though, they could end up with one of the best teams in the world.
So the head coach has to swear allegiance to the recruitment team. Do not rock the boat. Do not make the mistake of thinking that Pochettino going for a “very nice dinner” with Boehly last Friday meant anything. Pochettino wanted experienced signings last year and this summer. He disagrees with plans to sell two of his most important players, Trevoh Chalobah and Conor Gallagher, because of profit and sustainability concerns. He was not really into Chelsea bringing in Brentford’s set-piece coach, Bernardo Cueva.
Admittedly it can be argued that Pochettino is behind the times given how much having a set-piece coach has helped Arsenal. Chelsea want a young, progressive manager who will be comfortable with their structure. They do not want fireworks. Expect them to steer clear of a combustible character such as Roberto De Zerbi. There is strong interest in Ipswich’s impressive 38-year-old manager, Kieran McKenna.
But Chelsea want to be consistent challengers for the title. Young coaches are in vogue, but history suggests that the successful clubs build around the person on the touchline. Arsenal, for instance, cater to Mikel Arteta’s needs. Bayer Leverkusen’s unbeaten season is not down to their structure; it is because of Xabi Alonso. Sometimes an inspiring, demanding, obsessive, slightly unhinged character is required. Liverpool had that in Jürgen Klopp. Players need to believe. They need a talismanic figure to carry them over the line – particularly when Pep Guardiola is in charge of the team at the top.
Chelsea have a way to go to reach those heights. The worry is that they have created more instability for themselves; perhaps even that they are becoming unmanageable. Graham Potter was gone after less than seven months, Pochettino after less than a year. At this rate, potential hires will wonder if this is the impossible job. McKenna, and others, will need to consider if this is worth the hassle. The rewards are potentially magnificent. There is a chance to take this talented young side and create something special. Alternatively, the payoff could be huge if you aren’t willing to say yes to football’s great disruptors.

- The Guardian Sport


Adam Wharton’s England Call-up is a Credit to Palace’s Progression

Adam Wharton has been included in England’s 33-man provisional squad for Euro 2024. Photograph: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images
Adam Wharton has been included in England’s 33-man provisional squad for Euro 2024. Photograph: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images
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Adam Wharton’s England Call-up is a Credit to Palace’s Progression

Adam Wharton has been included in England’s 33-man provisional squad for Euro 2024. Photograph: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images
Adam Wharton has been included in England’s 33-man provisional squad for Euro 2024. Photograph: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

Adam Wharton could hardly have picked a more difficult Premier League debut at the start of February. With Crystal Palace trailing 1-0 against their arch-rivals Brighton, a knee injury to the captain, Marc Guéhi, forced Roy Hodgson to throw in the 19‑year‑old, who had signed 48 hours earlier from Blackburn.

Brighton doubled their lead within five minutes and seven seconds after Palace kicked off again a moment arrived that must have been replayed in Wharton’s mind countless times. Receiving the ball midway in his own half, he turned and attempted to pass to Tyrick Mitchell but was surprised by Pascal Gross and ended up losing possession.

What a difference a few months make. Wharton is one of four Palace players in Gareth Southgate’s 33- man provisional England squad for Euro 2024, and the midfielder – who turned 20 four days after the 4-1 defeat by Brighton – has become the heartbeat of a team transformed by the new manager, Oliver Glasner.

Palace won five of their final six matches, scoring 20 goals, and Southgate’s assistant, Steve Holland, was at Selhurst Park last Sunday to witness the 5-0 rout of Aston Villa in their final game. Whereas the England call-ups for Henderson, Eberechi Eze and Guéhi caused few ripples, the selection of Wharton is something of a surprise. He made his debut for England Under-21s as a substitute against Luxembourg in March and this tournament had been regarded as coming slightly too early despite his impressive form.

A dearth of experience in central midfield caused by the problems with Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips this season mean England have been forced to search for alternatives. Kobbie Mainoo – who Southgate watched being outplayed by Wharton in Palace’s 4-0 thrashing of Manchester United this month – is expected to be part of the final squad after featuring in friendlies against Brazil and Belgium in March.

It could come down to a straight fight between Wharton and Liverpool’s Curtis Jones, who has yet to win a senior cap but was in the team of the tournament when England Under-21s were crowned European champions last year.

“We need to see some of the younger guys. They’ve had good seasons and we can learn more about them,” said Southgate, a former Palace captain, when asked on Tuesday about his midfield options. “They are the best players at this moment to fulfil the roles that we are talking about.”

Much of the credit for Wharton’s rapid progression must go to Glasner, the Austrian who has implemented an exciting system that relies heavily on Wharton’s metronomic passing ability from deep positions. Not since 1991 when Graham Taylor selected Nigel Martyn, Geoff Thomas, John Salako and Ian Wright for an end‑of‑season tour to Australia and New Zealand have four Palace players been in the same England squad. Mitchell can consider himself unfortunate not to have made it five this time after being capped twice in 2022 and excelling as a left wing‑back since Glasner’s arrival.
Steve Coppell’s Palace had finished third in the old First Division in 1991 but sold Wright to the champions, Arsenal, a few months later and slipped to 10th, before relegation the following season. This time around the chairman, Steve Parish, will be delighted to see the praise being lavished on the club’s excellent recruitment record, all four players having been signed for relatively modest fees.

Henderson, who cost an initial £15m from Manchester United in August, has a strong case to be included in the final 26-man squad by the deadline on 7 June after playing well since being handed his opportunity at Palace because of an injury to another England goalkeeper, Sam Johnstone. Guéhi, the defender who has returned from three months out just in time and proved his versatility by playing in midfield against Villa, will fancy his chances of forcing his way into England’s starting lineup having won nine caps under Southgate and been part of the Under-17 World Cup-winning side along with Phil Foden in 2017.

As for Eze, who ended the season in sparkling form and won his first senior caps last year, making the cut would be particularly poignant. Three years ago, the attacking midfielder discovered he was part of Southgate’s provisional squad for the postponed Euro 2020 immediately after injuring an achilles during a Palace training session and being ruled out for several months. Now he and England’s other Eagles have their opportunity to take flight.

- The Guardian


Leclerc Takes Pole Position for Monaco GP, Ends Verstappen's Bid for F1 Record

25 May 2024, Monaco, Monte-Carlo: Monaco's Formula 1 driver Charles Leclerc of Ferrari competes during the Practice 3 ahead of the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix. Photo: Beata Zawrzel/ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
25 May 2024, Monaco, Monte-Carlo: Monaco's Formula 1 driver Charles Leclerc of Ferrari competes during the Practice 3 ahead of the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix. Photo: Beata Zawrzel/ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
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Leclerc Takes Pole Position for Monaco GP, Ends Verstappen's Bid for F1 Record

25 May 2024, Monaco, Monte-Carlo: Monaco's Formula 1 driver Charles Leclerc of Ferrari competes during the Practice 3 ahead of the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix. Photo: Beata Zawrzel/ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
25 May 2024, Monaco, Monte-Carlo: Monaco's Formula 1 driver Charles Leclerc of Ferrari competes during the Practice 3 ahead of the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix. Photo: Beata Zawrzel/ZUMA Press Wire/dpa

Charles Leclerc took pole position for Ferrari at the Monaco Grand Prix and ended Formula 1 champion Max Verstappen's bid for a record-extending ninth straight pole on Saturday, The Associated Press reported.
Verstappen, who shares the F1 record with the late Ayrton Senna, starts Sunday's race from sixth place for Red Bull on arguably the most difficult track for overtaking in the series.
Leclerc secured his third pole in four years at Monaco, where he grew up overlooking the start-finish line, and took his career total to 24 poles.
He finished .154 seconds ahead of McLaren's Oscar Piastri and .248 clear of Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren's Lando Norris qualified fourth ahead of Mercedes driver George Russell.
“Really, really happy about the lap,” Leclerc said. “I know more often than not that qualifying is not everything in the race.”
Leclerc took pole in 2021, but could not start due to a gearbox problem. He led from pole in 2022 until Ferrari made an incorrect call to change his tires.
Verstappen won the race from pole last year but will be hard pushed to win his sixth race of the season.
But Leclerc is well set to end his run of nearly two years without a win, dating to July 2022 at the Austrian GP.
“I just need a good launch (from the start),” said Leclerc, who has won five F1 races in his career.
Traffic forced a couple of drivers to swerve around other cars struggling for space on Monaco's tight and sinewy 3.3-kilometer (two-mile) street circuit.
Spanish veteran Fernando Alonso narrowly avoided a piece of debris just before heading into the tunnel section during Q1, the first part of qualifying.
Alonso failed to make it into Q2 and so did Red Bull's Sergio Perez, who muttered an expletive on race radio. He is out of contract at the end of the season and Red Bull has yet to confirm he will get a seat for 2025.
Norris only just squeezed into Q2, but then found his rhythm.


Clark Nabs First WNBA Win as Late Threes Help Lift Fever

Fever guard Caitlin Clark, left, passes around Sparks guard Layshia Clarendon during the first half of Indiana's 78-73 win Friday at Crypto.com Arena. Clark finished with 11 points in the win. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)
Fever guard Caitlin Clark, left, passes around Sparks guard Layshia Clarendon during the first half of Indiana's 78-73 win Friday at Crypto.com Arena. Clark finished with 11 points in the win. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)
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Clark Nabs First WNBA Win as Late Threes Help Lift Fever

Fever guard Caitlin Clark, left, passes around Sparks guard Layshia Clarendon during the first half of Indiana's 78-73 win Friday at Crypto.com Arena. Clark finished with 11 points in the win. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)
Fever guard Caitlin Clark, left, passes around Sparks guard Layshia Clarendon during the first half of Indiana's 78-73 win Friday at Crypto.com Arena. Clark finished with 11 points in the win. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Women's basketball sensation Caitlin Clark drilled a dagger three-pointer to help the Indiana Fever notch their first win of her debut WNBA season Friday, 78-73 over the Los Angeles Sparks.

Clark, whose record-setting exploits in collegiate basketball brought unprecedented attention to the women's game, has struggled since Indiana made her the number one pick in the NBA draft.

She endured another tough shooting night on Friday, but finished with her first WNBA double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds -- and provided the kind of fireworks her fans have come to expect.

After Rickea Jackson had cut the Sparks' deficit to three with a big three-pointer with 2:27 to play, Clark answered with her first three-pointer of the night, AFP reported.

Los Angeles had pulled within two when Clark hit another three-pointer with 40.5 seconds remaining that put Indiana up 76-71 and effectively snuffed out the Sparks' challenge.

She had eight assists and four steals to help Indiana erase an 11-point halftime deficit.

Clark and the Fever had opened the season with five straight defeats.

Even so, her drawing power remained undeniable and the crowd of 19,103 at Crypto.com Arena was a record for the Sparks.

Kelsey Mitchell scored 18 points to lead Indiana with Aliyah Boston and Temi Fagbenle adding 17 points apiece.

The Sparks lineup also boasted some of the WNBA's newest stars in second draft pick Cameron Brink and fourth-pick Jackson.

Center Dearica Hamby led the Sparks with 18 points and 12 rebounds while Brink added 15 points and nine rebounds and Jackson scored 16 points off the bench.


Back-to-back-to-back: Guardians Become 1st Team in the Majors this Season to Hit 3 Straight Homers

 Last in the majors in home runs last season, the Cleveland Guardians are showing their power resurgence (The AP)
 Last in the majors in home runs last season, the Cleveland Guardians are showing their power resurgence (The AP)
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Back-to-back-to-back: Guardians Become 1st Team in the Majors this Season to Hit 3 Straight Homers

 Last in the majors in home runs last season, the Cleveland Guardians are showing their power resurgence (The AP)
 Last in the majors in home runs last season, the Cleveland Guardians are showing their power resurgence (The AP)

Last in the majors in home runs last season, the Cleveland Guardians are showing their power resurgence.

José Ramírez started a run of three straight homers in the fourth inning of Friday night's game against the Los Angeles Angels as the Guardians became the first team in the majors this season to go back-to-back-to-back.

On the next pitch, Josh Naylor chased Patrick Sandoval with a drive into the bleachers in right-center for his 13th of the season, which is tied for seventh.

Jose Suarez came in for Sandoval. But two pitches in, David Fry drove a fastball into the Guardians’ bullpen in left field.

The homer onslaught came with two outs and extended the Guardians' lead to 9-2.

“It's a unique emotion. It's very fun for the team and I'm glad we got to share in that,” Ramírez said through an interpreter after Cleveland won 10-4 to extend its winning streak to seven.

The three homers came in the span of four pitches, The AP reported.

With four homers on the night, Cleveland has 58 on the season, tied for ninth in MLB. They had 124 all of last season.

“Val (hitting coach Chris Valaika) and the hitting group challenged our guys starting over the winter on impacting the ball more, taking your shots and knowing what pitches you can drive,” manager Stephen Vogt said. “It's OK to swing and miss early in the count. Our guys have responded and taken pride in that. And fortunately we're hitting some homers.”

After Andrés Giménez got aboard with a base hit, Ramírez followed with a two-run shot to center for his second homer of the game. It was the 24th multihomer game of Ramírez's career and first since last July.

The homer was Ramírez's 14th of the season, tied for fifth in the majors. With four RBIs in the first four innings, he moved past Atlanta's Marcell Ozuna for the MLB lead with 49.

“It's a combination of having a good plan, being able to execute and getting the results. That's what's working for me right now,” Ramírez said.

It's the first time Cleveland has had three straight homers since June 18, 2019, at Texas.

“It's pretty cool. Everyone in the dugout was fired up,” Fry said. “Let's have another good at-bat and luckily I snuck it inside the bullpen.”

Coincidentally, the Angels were also the last team to allow a team to go deep three straight times. The Texas Rangers had three straight solo shots against the Halos on Sept. 25, 2023.


Crusaders Beat Blues to Keep Playoff Hopes Alive in Super Rugby

Kurtley Beale, right, of the Western Force runs at the defence during the Super Rugby Pacific match between the Queensland Reds and the Western Force at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia, Saturday, May 25, 2024. (Darren England/AAP Image via AP)ASSOCIATED PRESS
Kurtley Beale, right, of the Western Force runs at the defence during the Super Rugby Pacific match between the Queensland Reds and the Western Force at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia, Saturday, May 25, 2024. (Darren England/AAP Image via AP)ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Crusaders Beat Blues to Keep Playoff Hopes Alive in Super Rugby

Kurtley Beale, right, of the Western Force runs at the defence during the Super Rugby Pacific match between the Queensland Reds and the Western Force at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia, Saturday, May 25, 2024. (Darren England/AAP Image via AP)ASSOCIATED PRESS
Kurtley Beale, right, of the Western Force runs at the defence during the Super Rugby Pacific match between the Queensland Reds and the Western Force at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia, Saturday, May 25, 2024. (Darren England/AAP Image via AP)ASSOCIATED PRESS

The defending champion Crusaders kept their playoff chances alive with the upset of the season Saturday, beating the Auckland-based Blues 29-27 in Super Rugby Pacific.

The Crusaders came into the match with only two wins from 12 games, in 11th place on the 12-team table. The Blues had lost only once and were trying to return to the top with one round left in the regular season.

But after a woeful campaign by the 12-time champion Crusaders — the worst in their history — they finally produced a performance reminiscent of the past. The win could lift them as high as ninth, within reach of the top-eight playoff zone, ahead of their last regular-season match against Moana Pasifika, The AP reported.

“I think (a performance like this) has been there but we haven’t capitalized on opportunities,” said captain Codie Taylor, who spent much of a physical match bloodied from a head gash.

“It was a massive week for us. We knew what we were up against with the Blues, a real class side. You could see they deserve to be where they are. But there was a lot of chat about the boys who have been before us and what this meant to them, and it was good to get a result.”

The match was close but for a period between the 22nd and 35th minutes when Blues prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi scored two tries to give his team a 15-7 lead.

But the Crusaders scored a vital try through winger Chay Fihaki right on halftime and cut the deficit at the break to three points.

That set up a thrilling second half in which the Crusaders captured the lead for the first time in more than 40 minutes after a try by scrumhalf Noah Hotham. That gave them a 26-22 advantage which became 29-22 after a penalty from Fihaki in the 67th.

The Blues rallied with a try by winger A.J. Lam but flyhalf Harry Plummer missed the sideline conversion and the Crusaders clung to their two-point margin to the joy of a capacity crowd.

“It was pretty tough, a hard one for us,” Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu said. “We were confident going into the second half, especially with momentum. Throughout the whole game there was a lot of ill-discipline and that was disappointing for us.”

The loss sends a playoff warning to the Blues, who looked formidable while building an 11-1 record. While they looked solid in the first half, they lost their shape and patience in the second. They were best when they stacked together phases but, as tension built, they played more individually and the Crusaders capitalized.

In Brisbane, the Queensland Reds consolidated their fifth-place position with a 59-13 win over the Western Force. In Auckland, Moana Pasifika beat the New South Wales Waratahs 27-12 in their last home match of the season.

It was an emotional occasion for Moana Pasifika, who will farewell three stalwarts when the regular season ends next weekend. Former Wallabies Sekope Kepu and Christian Leali’ifano and foundation captain Solomone Funaki all are retiring, and were joined on the field by their families before the match.

The emotion was heightened because Kepu scored a try, his first for Moana Pasifika and sixth in 162 matches in Super Rugby.

Moana Pasifika also showed off a rising star, fullback Kyren Taumoefolau, who scored their first try and had a hand in their second, the first of a double by Folau Inisi.

After leading 14-0 at halftime, Inisi scored his second try from the restart and Kepu’s try made the lead 27-0.

The Waratahs rallied with tries from Langi Gleeson and Izaia Perese.


It's Not Just Rafael Nadal: Retirement is in the Tennis Air as French Open Starts

FILED - 19 January 2022, Australia, Melbourne: Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal cheers after defeating Germany's Yannick Hanfmann during their men's singles tennish match at the Australian Open. Photo: Frank Molter/dpa
FILED - 19 January 2022, Australia, Melbourne: Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal cheers after defeating Germany's Yannick Hanfmann during their men's singles tennish match at the Australian Open. Photo: Frank Molter/dpa
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It's Not Just Rafael Nadal: Retirement is in the Tennis Air as French Open Starts

FILED - 19 January 2022, Australia, Melbourne: Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal cheers after defeating Germany's Yannick Hanfmann during their men's singles tennish match at the Australian Open. Photo: Frank Molter/dpa
FILED - 19 January 2022, Australia, Melbourne: Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal cheers after defeating Germany's Yannick Hanfmann during their men's singles tennish match at the Australian Open. Photo: Frank Molter/dpa

It’s not just Rafael Nadal who has folks wondering how many more tennis matches remain in his career.
With the French Open set to start Sunday, plenty of accomplished players are getting ready to bid adieu to the sport soon, including three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray, major finalist Danielle Collins and French fan favorite Alizé Cornet, The Associated Press reported.
“It’s not your ‘forever’ career,” said Collins, a 30-year-old from Florida who was the runner-up at the 2022 Australian Open. “There’s nobody playing until you’re 50.”
The list goes on, too: Dominic Thiem, the 2020 US Open champion and a two-time runner-up at Roland Garros, has said this will be his final season, as did Diego Schwartzman, another former member of the top 10 who once reached the French Open semifinals. Both lost in qualifying on Wednesday in Paris.
“All of these people had a great run. They’re not retiring because they were in a car accident or because the back gave out. So there is that,” said Martina Navratilova, an 18-time major champ who now works for Tennis Channel. “I think it's just a coincidence that all these great players are retiring at the same time.”
Roger Federer and Serena Williams both announced they were done in 2022, after turning 40 — Federer finished up with a Laver Cup doubles match alongside rival and friend Nadal, who turns 38 on June 3 and has indicated this is likely his last season; Williams was feted at one last US Open.
The current group also chose different ways and times to let everyone know their plans.
Nadal, a 14-time title winner at the French Open but limited by injuries the past two seasons, and Murray, who has an artificial hip and originally intended to retire several years ago, both were more vague and left a bit of wiggle room.
“I’m likely not going to play past this summer,” Murray, who turned 37 last week, said in February, leading fans to believe he wants to bow out at Wimbledon, which the Briton won in 2013 and 2016.
Cornet, a 34-year-old from France, put the word out there that the French Open will be it for her, allowing the home crowd to bid her a proper adieu. This will be the 20th consecutive year she has played at Roland Garros, where her Grand Slam debut came in 2005.
“This is where I wanted to say farewell to professional tennis,” Cornet said. “I am glad to have reached that point in my life where I can say goodbye in front of my fans and my family.”
There are also those who hold out hope of a return for some.
As Sebastian Korda, a 23-year-old American seeded 27th in Paris, said when asked about Thiem's upcoming departure: “Maybe he changes mind at the end of the year and keeps going.”
That's certainly always a possibility in any walk of life — and tennis is a sport with a rich history of comebacks. Navratilova, for example. initially retired in 1994, but later came back and wound up competing until 2006.
Collins, for one, says she is ready to move on. The 30-year-old from Florida caught the sport by surprise in January by saying 2024 would be her last season right after a loss to No. 1 Iga Swiatek at the Australian Open.
“This lifestyle is not always an easy one. I know it seems very glamorous and really ritzy-glitzy, but it really isn't like that. I don't think it's always a sustainable lifestyle with just how much traveling we're doing,” Collins said this month. “It's hard to balance your day-to-day life with your work life when you are traveling up to 30-plus weeks out of the year ... That takes a toll on people.”
She's been playing as well as ever, claiming consecutive titles at Miami and Charleston during a stretch in which she went 19-1.
That's led to questions about whether she would reconsider quitting. She insists that's not an option, in part because her choice to stop is health-related: Collins had surgery in 2021 for endometriosis, which involves abnormal tissue growth from the uterus that can cause severe pain and infertility. She's now eager to start a family.
“People want to see me playing longer. I think people feel bad about my health stuff ... Everybody has different ways of ending their professional journey. For me, I want to go out playing my best tennis, because I certainly wouldn't want to go out playing my worst tennis,” Collins said. “It's important for me to feel like, ‘OK, I got everything I could out of myself as an athlete,' and end on a positive note, rather than being, like: 'Oh, God. What happened?’”