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Stars ditch Muirhead, Starc returns

Written By Unknown on Jumat, 24 Januari 2014 | 16.42

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MELBOURNE Stars have been put in the unusual position of having no choice but to dump James Muirhead from their squad just days after he was called up to Australia's Twenty20 side.

The young leg-spinner's rapid ascent stepped up a notch this week when he was named in the 14-man squad for three T20 clashes against England.

But despite his national honours, Muirhead was brought crashing to earth on Friday, albeit due to a technicality.

The 20-year-old was only in the Stars squad as an injury replacement for South Australia paceman Daniel Worrall, so when Worrall was declared fit to play this week the Melbourne franchise had no choice but to bring him back into the team at the expense of Muirhead.

The club took to Twitter to explain the situation to outraged fans who were hoping to get a last glimpse of the spinner before he linked up with the national side.

The Stars' final regular-season match is against Perth Scorchers on Monday.

Meanwhile, gun paceman Mitchell Starc is set to make his long-awaited comeback from injury after being called into Sydney Sixers' squad for the Big Bash semi-finals.

The Sixers will be without batsman Jordan Silk, who took out the Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year gong at the recent Allan Border Medal evening, as well as giant English paceman Chris Tremlett for the remainder of the season, but will be boosted by Starc's return.

All-rounder Sean Abbott moves back into the squad for Saturday's derby against Sydney Thunder, while the man who originally replaced Starc at the start of the season, Josh Lalor, holds onto his spot as an injury replacement for Silk.

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Stan the Man has clicked: Sampras

Pete Sampras says Stan Wawrinka's game has clicked. Source: Mark Kolbe / Getty Images

PETE Sampras believes Stanislas Wawrinka's game has clicked.

Making a rare appearance at a grand slam, the retired winner of 14 majors, said yesterday Wawrinka's persistence had paid off with a berth in tomorrow's Australian Open final.

Swiss world No. 8 Wawrinka reached his maiden title decider in his 36th grand slam appearance.

"He's been knocking on the door for a couple years now," Sampras said.



"He has had some tough losses over the last couple years. He's figured it out a little bit.

"He's been in this situation a few times. He's stepping through that door.

"It seems like he's probably more confident, more sure of himself. He hits the ball great. It's just a matter of his belief. It seems like he's got that."

Despite the fashion for top players hiring former champions as coaches, Sampras said he had no desire to join the ranks of Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl.

"No, no, no. It's not for me," Sampras said.

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"I've been asked by a couple guys. But the travel, to go on the road, do all that they're doing is not something that I'm interested in."

Sampras was supportive of friend Roger Federer's recent decision to work with Edberg.

And the American former world No. 1 was full of admiration for 32-year-old Federer's longevity.

"As I hit 30, 31, the grind of the tour, the travel, the international jet-lag, all that just wore on me. It tired me. It affected my motivation," Sampras said.

"That's why I've been so impressed with Roger, that he keeps going. Seems like he wants to play for another four or five years. I don't know how he does it."

Pete Sampras at the Australian Open. Source: Getty Images

While he prepared to watch last night's clash between Federer and Rafael Nadal, Sampras spoke of facing his great rival, Andre Agassi, at an exhibition in London in March.

Agassi apologised to Sampras after some banter between the two during a 2010 charity match turned sour. The two have played each other since.

"We're good, we battled many years, we're certainly very different in every way," Sampras said with a wry smile.

"I respect Andre. He was my toughest opponent. We're going to compete in London, have some fun, compete for the people there.

"Our relationship's fine. It's not like there's any bad blood. We've had a few awkward moments here and there, but it is what it is."

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Coach to Li Na: Do you want it?

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It's the question Li Na's coach is asking her after she earned a third shot at the Australian Open title.

Carlos Rodriguez, who has helped drag Li from the verge of retirement in the middle of last season to the brink of a second grand slam title, says she "deserves" to put her name on the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup tonight.

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But he acknowledges that, based on hard work and performance, opponent Dominika Cibulkova is equally worthy.

"Like I said to Li Na: 'How high, how big, how strong is your desire to get that crown? Maybe you can do it but it depends on you, no more on me,'" Rodriguez said.

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Desire is one thing, holding your nerve under the expectations of a homeland comprising 1.3 billion people is something else entirely.

China's world No. 4 felt the jitters of a grand slam final debutante when she lost to Kim Clijsters in 2011.

Last year, against Victoria Azarenka, she fell over twice, rolling her ankle and banging her head on the court.

Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova poses with her national flag in Melbourne. Source: AFP

Tonight she goes into the title decider as the favourite for the first time and Rodriguez believes the 2011 French Open champion is stronger for those previous appearances.

"I think that she's been running behind that for quite some years ... she's always almost there," he said.

Li Na Source: News Limited

"If you compare with Roland Garros in 2011, today she knows why she is here in the final.

"She understands what she did to achieve those goals. That's something that has not happened before and maybe because of that she can play better tennis or good tennis on Saturday and be the champion."

Li overwhelmed semi-final opponent Eugenie Bouchard, taking a 5-0 lead in the first set.

But Rodriguez was just as impressed with her ability to respond when Bouchard put her under pressure in the second.

That, he said, was a big difference between Li the dual runner-up and Li the 2014 title contender.

"She's more stable," Rodriguez said.

"You still have this amazing beginning of matches but she doesn't fall that deep down.

"She'll support much better the pressure and have less worries. Her adaptability is much better and endurance, emotional endurance, to support the stress."

Li has also made technical changes since teaming up with Rodriguez in July 2012 and particularly after last season.

She has altered her grip, plays with more spin and comes to the net more.

Li, 31, said it was not easy to make such significant changes so late in her career but she was not afraid to do so.

"Beginning was tough because I have to forget old thing maybe I used for 20 years," she said.

"You're on the tour so many years, everybody knows what exactly you play on the court. If I didn't change I can keep in the top 10, top 20, but I cannot be the best in the world.

"So I really want to push myself to change a little bit, to see.

"First time Carlos is telling me, 'you should come in more on the volley,' I was like, 'what this guy talking about?' I was thinking, 'huh, why? I will stay baseline for maybe 100 years, never try to come to the net.'

"I try. I was feeling well. Is not bad. Now is much better than in the beginning."

Learning new things, tasting success and enjoying tennis again mean thoughts of retirement are gone for Li.

It is just as well given that the phrase "third time lucky" means nothing to her.

"In China six and eight is lucky," Li grinned.

"I try to find the lucky way ... if I lose, I just continue until six or eight."

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'Tex' has scan on injured knee

Written By Unknown on Kamis, 23 Januari 2014 | 16.41

Taylor Walker has had a scare with his knee. Picture: Sarah Reed Source: Sarah Reed / News Limited

ADELAIDE insists star forward Taylor Walker's comeback from injury remains on target despite the goalkicker undergoing a scan to his reconstructed knee on Thursday.

The Crows say the scan was simply "precautionary" after Walker, who recently increased his training workload, reported swelling following Monday's session.

"That's not uncommon with these sort of knee injuries but it was decided to have a scan to check," Crows football manager Phil Harper told his club's website.


"The knee is structurally sound and we are confident that there will be no setback to his rehabilitation program."

The Crows hope Walker return early in the season but did recruit former Cat James Podsiadly as cover.

Earlier this week Adelaide forwards coach Mark Bickley said Podsiadly could potentially play every game if required .

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LIVE: Wawrinka v Berdych

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TONIGHT'S main event sees perennial underdogs <a href="/sport/tennis/stanislas-wawrinka-and-tomas-berdych-do-battle-for-validation-in-australian-open-semifinal/story-fnibcgxs-1226807777567">Tomas Berdych and Stanislas Warwinka do battle</a> for a shot at grand slam glory.

We'll have live updates throughout the evening so stay tuned and let us know what you think.

Earlier, Dominika Cibulkova shocked Agnieszka Radwanska and will face Li Na in the women's final.

The Slovakian powered her way to a straight-sets win after Li ended the dream run of Canadian teen Eugenie Bouchard to reach her second Australian Open final in a row.





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Li Na, Cibulkova advance to final

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LI Na spoke of fortune and the two-time runner-up has the chance to make it third time lucky when she contests tomorrow's Australian Open final.

The No. 4 seed stormed into the title decider with a convincing 6-2, 6-4 win over Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard.

She will face Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova, who took just 70 minutes to blast fifth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska off the court 6-1, 6-2 in yesterday's other semi-final.

Li, who fought off match point to overcome Czech Lucie Safarova in the third round, said she felt that victory gave her a "second life in this tournament".

"In China, we say if you have a tough time, you pass that, it means you be so lucky," Li said.

"Or maybe they give me back from last year, I don't know."

Li was determined not to repeat her two tumbles during last year's final against Victoria Azarenka, when she twisted her ankle and hit her head on the court.

"Last year in the final I think I play well but I only can say unlucky because falling down twice," said the Chinese star, who also lost the 2011 final to Kim Clijsters.

"At least I try enjoy and staying healthy."

The 2011 French Open champion will also call on her big-match experience when she faces Cibulkova, who is playing her first grand slam final.

Li Na fires a return back at Canadian rising star Eurgenie Bouchard. Picture: AFP Source: AFP

"First time come to the final, I didn't have any experience, I just feel so exciting," Li said.

"I got more experience. So right now final is special, final is final, but still just one match. I still have to hit the ball to try to do my best."

The way Cibulkova swept aside Radwanska showed she is dangerous, despite Li going into their match with a 4-0 win-loss record.

"I'm playing finals, so that's something beautiful. It's like a dream," beamed the compact Cibulkova, who hails from a small country of just 5.4 million people.

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"They are all like cheering for me. Yeah, it's big."

As big as the occasion is, Cibulkova was conscious she needs to keep a level head.

"She been in the finals of grand slam many times, she already won a grand slam, so she know how it is," added the No. 20 seed.

"You need to be 100 per cent sure you can do it. Yes, I am.

"If I think of it like that, it's finals, it's a big pressure."

Bouchard was broken to love three times in the first set as Li took a 5-0 lead.

Li handed Bouchard a break back with a double fault but the damage was done and she sealed the set with one of the many deep forehand winners that were proving her weapon of choice.

The first two games of the second set were an arm wrestle, both won by Bouchard, but Li drew level again at 2-2.

The pair then traded breaks but Li made the decisive move in the seventh game and won the match with a brilliant crosscourt backhand.

Li's coach, Carlos Rodriguez, was pleased with her composure.

"Li Na played good but she cannot continue to play like she played the first five games, it's unbelievable," he said.

"I'm happy because at least she didn't lose her mind in the very, very difficult moments."

After knocking out Azarenka the previous day, Radwanska appeared to fall into the same trap as Ana Ivanovic following her fourth-round upset of top seed Serena Williams, coming into the match flat.

"I feel like in slow motion today," Radwanska said.

Cibulkova dominated the first set with her frenetic pace, her powerful forehand and clever retrievals while Radwanska failed to take her chances in the fourth game.

Cibulkova saved three break points and raced to a 4-0 lead in the second set, converting her first of three match points when Radwanska netted a forehand.

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Victory ponders $1m Milligan offer

Written By Unknown on Senin, 20 Januari 2014 | 16.42

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MELBOURNE Victory's joy at signing Socceroo Tom Rogic on loan could be short lived, with the A-League club facing a battle to keep in-demand skipper Mark Milligan.

A $1 million plus offer for the Soceeroos midfielder has come from UAE club Baniyas, which tried to sign him last May, with Victory confirming on Monday on its website it was considering the offer.

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It's understood Milligan, who will miss at least another three weeks after knee arthroscopy, is seriously considering the lucrative offer, where he would stand to earn in excess of $1m-a-year.

"Melbourne Victory can confirm it has recently received an offer from an overseas club for captain Mark Milligan," a short statement of the Victory's website read.

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"The club is currently considering its position and will provide more information over the coming days, should the situation develop further."

It follows the sale of midfielder Mitch Michols with Victory finally confirming that an offer - believed to be $400,000 - from Japan J. League side Cerezo Osaka has been accepted.

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Muirhead 'freaked out' but ready

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IT'S your classic Boy's Own story, but with an even sweeter parental twist.

James Muirhead was about to drive to dinner on Sunday night with his father, Matt, when his phone rang with an "unknown number".

Muirhead, 20, moved to reject the call until his father urged him to answer what became the voice of Cricket Australia's selection chairman, John Inverarity.

Small talk aside, Muirhead put his phone on speaker so Matt could hear the words that "freaked me out" - 'you're in the Australian Twenty20 squad'.

It capped an extraordinary rise for the Altona leg-spinner who has played just two first-class matches and four Big Bash League matches, but has three impressive - and feisty - tour game showings against England to his credit this summer.

Spinner James Muirhead impressed for the PM's XI against England this month. Source: Getty Images

But with Inverarity restating his desire to find a future Test wrist spinner, Muirhead's ability to impart a lot of spin won the day.

"He's impressed this season when he's played against England … he puts a lot on the ball, and his leg break turns," Inverarity said.

Muirhead said "not in his wildest dreams" had he contemplated the call-up for the three-match series after only recently getting a call-up to the Melbourne Stars' list.

Before that, he'd spent a gameless BBL season with the Renegades last summer and managed just two matches for the Adelaide Strikers in 2011-12.

But when he landed a perfect leg-break in his first Stars over to bewilder Michael Neser and have him stumped on January 9, his world literally turned.

"To play international cricket at age 20, I wasn't expecting it. But I feel like I'm up for it and I can't wait to hopefully get a crack," he said.

James Muirhead at Stars training. Source: News Limited

That spirit has been a key in Muirhead's rise. He takes a backward step for nobody, as evidenced by the venom the English players directed at him in Alice Springs in December after he rankled a few of the tourists during their tour match in Sydney a month earlier.

But he's also a student of the game, even under fire.

"Alice Springs was a good experience. I got to meet a few of the (England) boys like Matty Prior and have a bit of a chat with him. He was just saying keep calm and you're doing really good. He was just saying you had to find a way to deal with these pressures.

"I'm still learning my game and learning how to bowl leg spin, so every challenge I get put forward to me, I'm just taking it with both hands."

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Muirhead, whose previous attack-at-all-costs attitude has been tempered by a few sessions with leg-spin maestro Shane Warne, said his father had been lost for words after Inverarity hung up.

"We were shocked. It was just me and my dad in the car and we've gone through a lot together," said Muirhead, who played 12 years of juniors and two in the seniors with Altona before switching to Premier Cricket team St Kilda.

"We've gone through junior cricket - he coached me when I was five years old and he's been along this journey with me the whole time and it was good he was in the car with me and got to hear it - he's really proud of me.

"He just shook my hand and said, 'We knew this was coming'. I didn't believe it was coming so soon, but I always had faith in myself that I'm going to get there one day - it's just the type of attitude I have."

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Murray avoids scare to advance

Andy Murray in action at Melbourne Park. Picture: Getty Source: Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

ROMANTICS fell back to earth and realists reigned when Andy Murray overcame a fright from lucky loser Stephane Robert.

Murray had to contend with some late resistance from the Frenchman to win 6-1, 6-2, 6-7 (6-8), 6-2 and book his fifth straight Australian Open quarter-finals berth.

Heart-warming as it would have been to see Robert topple the world No. 4 after the 33-year-old only scraped into the main draw when Philipp Kohlschreiber pulled out injured, Murray had no regard for fairytales.

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Continuing his return from back surgery, which cut short his 2013 season, Murray dropped a set for the first time in the tournament and squandered four match points, but he made it through.

Murray went up a double break to lead 5-1 in the first set.

The Wimbledon champion was barely losing a point and sealed it with a deep forehand winner after just 25 minutes.

The second set was similar to the first with Murray grabbing an early double break and taking a 4-0 lead.

He stumbled in his last service game, taking four set points to close it out.

The third set was a tighter affair with Robert finding his touch, while Murray became frustrated and began berating himself.

Andy Murray and lucky loser Stephane Robert cross paths at a change of ends. Picture: Getty Source: Getty Images

The fifth game produced some entertaining rallies before Murray held serve and Robert made him work hard for the break in the next game.

The three-times Australian Open runner-up finally converted his seventh break point with a smooth backhand down the line.

With Murray serving for the match, Robert set up break point in a brilliant rally where Murray managed somehow to return a great drop shot and an equally clever lob before missing a pass in reply the Frenchman's smash.

Murray saved that break point but then dropped two match points, the first with a double fault, and Robert pounced, breaking him to level the score at five games all.

In the tiebreak, Murray fought back from 3-0 down to lead 6-4 but he could not put the match away on two more opportunities and Robert surged to 7-6 with some impressive shot making.

The Frenchman won the tiebreak on a challenge as Murray smashed his racquet on the ground in rage.

Murray broke his opponent to lead the fourth set 3-1 and, after Robert had saved another match point, the Scot converted his sixth.

There was some consolation for Robert, whose ranking of 119 is projected to rise to around the No. 74 mark on the back of his performance at Melbourne Park.

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