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Tennis: Osaka wants to inspire new generation, says Serena remains the queen

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Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka said she felt comfortable being a role model for the next generation after her fourth Grand Slam victory solidified her position at the forefront of a new era for tennis.

But the Japanese star, a four-time major-winner at the age of just 23, insisted America’s Serena Williams, 39 — who has 23 Slam crowns — remains the face of the women’s game.

Osaka beat America’s Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-3 in the Australian Open final on Saturday to win her fourth Slam from the last eight in which she has played, and extend her year-plus winning streak to 21 matches.

She joins Monica Seles and Roger Federer in winning her first four major finals, and will move up to second in the world rankings.

Her sweeping triumph was viewed as heralding a shift in women’s tennis with Australia’s Fed Cup captain Alicia Molik declaring it a “changing of the guard”, while the New Yorker said Osaka was the “most thrilling athlete of her generation”.

Osaka brushed aside Williams in the semis, after also beating her in the stormy 2018 US Open final to win her first major.

But when asked if she was now taking over from Williams as the game’s leading light, Osaka replied: “No, not at all,” adding that she simply wanted to remain true to herself.

“I have learned on-and-off the court it’s okay to not be sure about yourself,” she said.

“I’m more at peace with where I am, and I’m honestly just happy to be playing a Grand Slam in a pandemic.”

Growing as a person

After winning her second Australian Open title, Osaka spent a lengthy time signing autographs for fans in a gesture that received widespread applause on social media.

Having once grappled with fame as a shy youngster, a content Osaka said she was still “growing as a person” but hoped to provide inspiration to young players.

“In the past I felt it as a very strong responsibility, and I was also very scared and nervous of it,” she said.

“It’s a really big honour that there are little kids that like me, that come to my matches and cheer for me.

“But at the same time, I don’t weigh it too heavily on myself.”

A more mature Osaka, who says she gained greater perspective during tennis’s coronavirus shutdown, said she now appreciated the difficulty of winning a Grand Slam.

“I feel like I know how much hard work you have to put into this, because the first time that I have won both these trophies I think, in a way, I was just a kid,” she said, referring to her wins at the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing.”

Her win prompted celebrations in Japan, where she will play the Tokyo Olympics this year, while Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi tweeted his congratulations from the International Space Station.

“There are many Japanese fans who are very excited now that Naomi has won the Australian Open,” Japan’s 58th-ranked Yoshihito Nishioka told AFP ahead of next week’s ATP Singapore Open.

“I’m sure they will be following the progress of Japanese players in more tennis tournaments around the world.”

But Osaka said her biggest goal wasn’t Grand Slam titles, an Olympic medal or returning to world number one.

“I feel like the biggest thing that I want to achieve is… hopefully I play long enough to play a girl that said that I was once her favourite player,” she said.

“For me, I think that’s the coolest thing that could ever happen to me… Unfortunately I didn’t get to play Li Na, but, I just think that that’s how the sport moves forward.”

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Mourinho Compares Victor Osimhen to one of the African legend, Didier Drogba

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Victor Osimhen

AS Roma manager, Jose Mourinho, has compared Super Eagles of Nigeria and Napoli of Italy hitman, Victor Osimhen, to Chelsea and Ivory Coast legend, Didier Drogba.

NEWSBREAK reports that the  Nigerian striker netted a world-class goal as his side, Napoli, marched towards the Serie A title on Sunday. Osimhen’s classic goal came against Mourinho’s Roma at the Diego Maradona stadium where Napoli won 2-1.

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Speaking after the match, Mourinho, a former Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid manager, said: “He (Osimhen) is of the same level as Drogba, but Didier didn’t dive.

“If Victor changes, then OK. I’d buy him if I was at a club with a lot of money. However, if he does go to England one day, he needs to change, because in Italy they put up with this sort of behaviour, whereas in the Premier League, they’d come down hard on him.”

He added: “I told him that he scored a wonderful goal and needs to stop diving so much. His goal was fantastic, he did the same thing when we met earlier this season, so he’s a fantastic player. But he mustn’t dive.”

Osimhen, 24, is currently the highest goal scorer in the Italian league Serie A with 14 goals scored in 16 matches.

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Kelechi Iheanacho’s record goal helps Leicester qualify for last 16 FA Cup

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Leicester city needed the goal from Nigerian footballer Kelechi Iheanacho to avoid a shock elimination from the FA Cup with a 1-0 win at Walsall on Saturday.

The Nigerian has scored more goals in the competition than any other player since making his debut in 2016.

Iheanacho’s 17th goal in 23 FA Cup appearances had some fortune as his strike from the edge of the box took a deflection for the only goal 23 minutes from time.

Leicester, Leeds and Man United join Manchester City as the first four sides to book their place in the last 16 of the competition.

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French footballer gets 30-year ban for punching referee

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An amateur footballer in France, described as a “fanatic”, was on Friday banned from playing for 30 years for punching a referee.

“The penalty is appropriate. These fanatics must not be able to set foot on a football pitch again. They have no place there,” said Benoit Laine, president of the Loiret football district in central France.

The 25-year-old player, who was not named by officials, was angry at being sent off while featuring for Entente Sportive Gatinaise in a local cup game on January 8.

He punched the referee so hard that the official was signed off work for two days.

The team was also kicked out of the tournament for the next two seasons.

AFP

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