Learning how to be a tennis player is a very different business to just playing tennis. US Open champion Emma Raducanu has already aced the latter. But the former requires a little more revision.
It is no easy lesson. Knowing how to manage the non-stop travel lifestyle, slotting in the right training plan and figuring out the perfect playing schedule formula are logistical considerations that can take years to balance. But getting that balance right is key to a healthy career – and essential to solving the physical limitations that have held Raducanu back so far this season.
Being forced to retire from her first-round match against Bianca Andreescu at the Italian Open, due to a stiff lower back, was a wake up call for the 19-year-old on just how difficult knowing her body at this level can be.
She admitted she may have pushed it too far by playing through the back issue, which was a hangover from the Madrid Open. That she could not recover in the seven-day layoff she had between the tournaments is a concern. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but Raducanu admitted she had been doubting her physical condition as early as Monday. With it being a first-round match, and after banking time on the clay in Prague, Stuttgart and Madrid, she could have afforded to drop Rome from her schedule to be on the safe side – especially as it follows a number of annoying ailments.
As it stands though, the latest problem has now put a spanner in the works for her Roland Garros preparations. Though Telegraph Sport understands she does not believe the injury is serious enough to require a scan, she is going to take the advice of physiotherapists when she lands back in London this week.
The casual observer may surmise that Raducanu is not made of strong enough mettle. But it is exactly her never-say-die attitude that may be partly to blame for her troubles. She is an eager rookie, keen to measure herself against the best in the world. Knowing when not to take to the court though is as important as perfecting a drop shot or nailing your serve in tennis.
Raducanu knows better than anyone that she is playing catch up. Most players build themselves up to the transition from junior to pro, dipping their toe into the tour in their early teens more regularly, but her more abrupt arrival delivered a shock to the system akin to graduating from 5k Park Runs to a full-blown marathon overnight. She was also struck down by coronavirus in December, meaning her hard work in the weight room during the off-season was undone. Those factors have a big role to play in her injury struggles, likely caused by a general fitness deficit.
“I definitely feel like the matches are taking a lot more out of me than they probably should,” she said on Tuesday. “I had a match in Stuttgart, my first round, and the next day I felt like I was in bits. It became like a running joke.” Though she can see the lighter side, and does not appear excessively perturbed by the road bumps she is experiencing, the pattern is one she wants to break.
Seasoned veterans on tour have observed that taking a hiatus from competition, maybe only of a few weeks, to strengthen in the gym could be just the ticket for Raducanu. Doing that in the middle of the season is not ideal, especially as it could mean sacrificing Paris, but it might be the most sensible option considering the calendar runs non-stop from January to November. Becoming “more robust”, as Anne Keothavong put it, is something that cannot happen in the couple of days between matches or tournaments, when recovery is the name of the game.
Raducanu is seated firmly in the driving seat of her own career, as she opted not to replace Torben Beltz with a full-time coach, but she should seek the advice of those with experience around her on this. While her coaching team has changed, her physios, Will Herbert and Tom Cornish (who was out in Rome with her this week) should guide her and instill a level of caution.
No one expects her to have all the answers yet. But Raducanu is sharp, and Tuesday should serve as a lightbulb moment about the importance of playing the long game even at this early stage in her career.
Al Horford, Marcus Smart won’t be available for Celtics in Eastern Conference Finals Game 1; Heat will be without Kyle Lowry
The Boston Celtics say Al Horford and Marcus Smart are both out for Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat, who will also have Kyle Lowry (hamstring) out of action, on Tuesday night in Miami.
Horford is in the league’s health and safety protocols, the team announced. And Boston is prepared for the likely scenario of him remaining in the protocols through Game 2 on Thursday, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Smart won’t play due to a midfoot sprain suffered in Boston’s Game 7 win against the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.
Smart, the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, had been listed as questionable for the series opener, with coach Ime Udoka saying Monday that the veteran guard’s foot was “tender and sore” and that he was set to receive round-the-clock treatment for it before testing it ahead of Tuesday’s game.
Horford’s absence, meanwhile, comes as a surprise — and it’s a significant one. He had a big series against the Bucks, including 30 points in a Game 4 win. And he contested 159 shots as the closest defender in the series, the highest mark for any player in a series since Second Spectrum began tracking the stat in 2013-14.
This marks the third time Horford has been placed in the league’s health and safety protocols. He tested positive for COVID-19 during the preseason, and then was placed in the protocols again in December.
Boston will have Robert Williams III available. The center has blossomed into a huge part of Boston’s team this season, playing 61 games while averaging 10 points and 9.6 rebounds — all career-highs. But he missed the end of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs after undergoing surgery on his left knee, and then missed time against Milwaukee with a bone bruise in the same knee. He was available for Game 7 against the Bucks but did not play.
Sources told Wojnarowski that Williams had a couple good days of practice and should be able to play significant minutes in Game 1 on Tuesday night.
News of the absences of both Smart and Horford had an immediate sports betting impact. The Game 1 point spread moved from Heat -2.5 to Heat -4 at Caesars Sportsbook.
Charles Barkley picks Mavericks over Warriors for interesting reason
Barkley’s interesting reason for picking Mavs over Warriors originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
Charles Barkley made his pick during “Inside the NBA” on Sunday after watching the Mavericks’ shocking Game 7 upset over the Phoenix Suns — and he thinks Dallas is well on its way to another playoff stunner.
But his reason why might surprise you.
“I think the Mavs are going to be better at small ball because of Luka [Dončić]. Nobody can handle that dude one-on-one,” Barkley said. “And if [Jalen] Brunson and [Spencer] Dinwiddie keep playing like they’re playing, this team is going to be tough to beat.
“So I’m going with the upset. I’m going with the Mavs.”
It’s true that the No. 3-seeded Warriors will have their work cut out for them with the No. 4-seeded Mavericks, but Barkley’s assumption that Dallas will prevail when it comes to small ball is questionable at best.
Golden State has been known for its small-ball efficiency not only this postseason but in past years as well, first with the original “Death Lineup” that featured Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala — a blend of smaller players who were still versatile enough to hold their own against larger opponents.
That strategy was reborn this season as the Warriors’ high-scoring, small-ball lineup of the Splash Brothers, Green, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole decimated the Denver Nuggets during the opening playoff round.
The Dubs were forced to go big in the semifinal round, however, in order to power past the Memphis Grizzlies and advance, with Kevon Looney stepping up in a huge way to bully and bash his way to a game-saving 22 rebounds against the Ja Morant-less lineup in Game 6.
And while it remains to be seen how Golden State’s new small-ball lineup will fare against the Mavericks — if the five see the court together at all — Barkley would be smart to remember the Warriors’ reputation when it comes to big things coming in small packages.
As far as “nobody” being able to handle Dončić, the Warriors are up for the challenge no matter who’s on the floor.
Liverpool beat Southampton to take title race to final day
Jurgen Klopp rated Liverpool’s chances of winning the Premier League as “not likely but possible” after the under-strength quadruple chasers took the title race to the final day of the season with a 2-1 win against Southampton on Tuesday.
After Liverpool defeated Chelsea on penalties in a gruelling FA Cup final just three days earlier, Klopp took a gamble with nine changes at St Mary’s.
Despite effectively fielding a reserve team and trailing to Nathan Redmond’s early strike, Liverpool hit back through goals from Takumi Minamino and Joel Matip.
The Reds are just one point behind leaders Manchester City, with both teams having one game left.
A title race for the ages will go City’s way if they win against Aston Villa at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
Klopp insisted at the weekend that he does not expect City to drop points against Villa.
But Liverpool would be crowned champions for the second time in three seasons if they beat Wolves at Anfield and City fail to win.
“Of course it is unlikely because City play at home against Aston Villa, who play only on Thursday. It is possible, not likely but possible. That is enough,” Klopp said.
“It is our last home game of the season, the atmosphere will be outstanding, and we will try to use it.
“Of course it could happen. Football is a tricky game sometimes. The only chance we had tonight was to win. We did our job. We never give up.”
Klopp’s side will be expected to do their part of the equation against Wolves, especially now their refreshed key players can return to the team.
Sadio Mane, Luis Diaz, Andrew Robertson, Thiago Alcantara and Trent Alexander-Arnold were among those left out against Southampton, while Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk were sidelined with injuries suffered at Wembley.
“I never had a group like this. They push each other constantly. In the end, it is absolutely outstanding and tonight is really special,” Klopp said.
“We would have had much more problems today if we’d played the guys who played 120 minutes on Saturday.
“If it hadn’t worked out, it would have been 100 per cent my responsibility. Now it worked out and the boys should be really proud of that.”
– History bid –
City boss Pep Guardiola said he planned to watch the game on television and if he tuned in, it would have made for frustrating viewing as Southampton squandered the lead.
But it was Riyad Mahrez’s missed penalty in the final minutes of City’s 2-2 draw at West Ham on Sunday which had given Liverpool renewed hope of catching the leaders.
And the Reds, hoping to become the first English club to win all four major trophies in one season, will settle their bid for historyin the last two games of their incredible, marathon campaign.
First, Liverpool will try to avoid a repeat of 2019, when they beat Wolves on the last day but were still pipped to the title by City.
Then they head to Paris to face Real Madrid in the Champions League final on May 28.
Liverpool were hit on the break when Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side took the lead after 13 minutes.
Redmond sprinted away down the left flank, cutting inside to the edge of the area and unleashed a fierce strike that took a deflection off James Milner as it flashed into the far corner.
With their title hopes in jeopardy, Liverpool showed the desire and character that inspired Klopp to label them “mentality monsters”.
Japan forward Minamino made the most of a rare Premier League start with a brilliant equaliser in the 27th minute.
Joe Gomez fizzed a pass into Jota and his perfectly weighted lay-off reached Minamino, who beat Alex McCarthy at the near post with a ferocious rising drive.
Liverpool’s relentless pressure was rewarded in the 67th minute.
Matip and Kyle Walker-Peters challenged for Tsimikas’s corner and the ball looped in over McCarthy, forcing City to keep the champagne on ice for now.
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