Halep beats Venus Williams and will face Serena next

Simona Halep

Australian Open 2019
Venue: Melbourne Park Dates: 14-27 January
Coverage: Daily live commentaries on the BBC Sport website, listen to Tennis Breakfast daily from 07:00 GMT on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and watch highlights on BBC TV and online.

Top seed Simona Halep set up a highly-anticipated Australian Open last-16 match with Serena Williams by beating the American’s older sister Venus.

The 27-year-old Romanian eased to a 6-2 6-3 victory, winning in straight sets for the first time at this year’s tournament.

Seven-time champion Serena Williams reached the last 16 by thrashing Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska.

“It’s going to be a bigger challenge but I’m ready to face it,” said Halep.

Halep says she has “nothing to lose” against the 23-time Grand Slam champion, who is aiming to match Australian Margaret Court’s all-time record of major triumphs.

Williams has won eight of their nine previous matches, with their last meeting coming at the 2016 US Open.

But since then Halep has won her first Grand Slam title, having triumphed at last year’s French Open.

More to follow.

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‘Don’t cry’ – Williams comforts teenager after beating her

Serena Williams and Dayana Yastremska

Australian Open 2019
Venue: Melbourne Park Dates: 14-27 January
Coverage: Daily live commentaries on the BBC Sport website, listen to Tennis Breakfast daily from 07:00 GMT on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and watch highlights on BBC TV and online from 19 January.

Seven-time champion Serena Williams comforted opponent Dayana Yastremska after powering past the teenager into the Australian Open fourth round.

Williams beat the 18-year-old Ukrainian 6-2 6-1 in one hour and seven minutes and did not drop a service game.

“You’re gonna make it, don’t cry”, Williams, 37, told a tearful Yastremska following her victory.

The American will face Romanian world number one Simona Halep or sister Venus Williams in the next round.

“I thought she did really amazing,” Williams said when asked about the future of Yastremska, who was not even born when the American won the first of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles in 1999.

“She came out swinging and to be so young, she came out ready to go. When I was young I played against so many people and everyone I faced was intimidating and not easy. You just go out and swing and do the best you can.”

Williams in the driving seat

Williams is favourite to win a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title in Melbourne and her performance in the third round showed why.

She put youngster Yastremska under immediate pressure, breaking in the first game and winning four games in a row.

The occasion seemed to have got the better of the Ukrainian – a promising talent who could only provide brief glimpses of her ability and could not hide inconsistencies with her serve.

But Williams was ruthless and looks firmly on course to win a record-extending eighth Australian Open title.

With defending champion Caroline Wozniacki exiting on Friday and rivals Naomi Osaka – the fourth seed – and Elina Svitolina – the sixth seed – being forced to fight back to scrape their way into the fourth round, it is so far falling into place for Williams.

Her toughest test yet will be in the next round where a mouth-watering tie with either Halep or her elder sister awaits.

Williams joked that sister Venus “still intimidates me now” but that she is enjoying being back in Melbourne after missing last year’s competition four months after she gave birth.

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Patrick Bevin crashes as Caleb Ewan disqualified handing Tour Down Under stage five to Jasper Philipsen

Race leader Patrick Bevin crashed inside the final 10 kilometres of stage five of the Tour Down Under that was won by Jasper Philipsen following Caleb Ewan’s disqualification.

UAE-Team Emirates’ Jasper Philipsen won a dramatic stage five of the Town Down Under as Caleb Ewan was disqualified for three headbutts and race leader Patrick Bevin dramatically kept hold of the ochre jersey.

In an eventful day in the tussle at the top of the general classification, Bevin and second-placed Impey both claimed five bonus seconds each in the intermediate sprints.

But Bevin crashed with nine kilometres to go, sporting rips to his jersey and cuts to his back and right arm; he was seen holding said arm and his right ribs after he crossed the finish line with the peloton after a heroic but pained effort to rejoin.

At the end of the stage in Strathalbyn, Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) was the fastest, beating 20-year-old Philipsen and stage three winner Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).

But 25 minutes after the stage’s conclusion, race commissaires reviewed the final kilometre of the race and decided to disqualify Ewan after overhead camera footage showed that he clearly head butted Philipsen three times in the final few hundred metres.

It meant that neo-pro Philipsen was awarded the victory, his first since joining the WorldTour ranks in the off-season from Hagens-Berman Axeon.

Bevin (CCC Team) goes into tomorrow’s final stage that finishes atop Willunga Hill maintaining his seven second advantage to Impey (Mitchelton-Scott).

He went to hospital after the stage and will be hoping he is fit enough to hold off the expected challenge of third-place Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) who is 16 seconds adrift, Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and other stronger climbers tomorrow.

How it happened

As soon as the neutral zone finished and the 149.5km stage began, three riders jumped off the front to create a break: Jason Lea and Ayden Toovey of UniSa-Australia and AGR2 La Mondiale’s Clement Chevrier.

They were only allowed to ride clear for 40km, though, as stage four winner Impey eyed the bonus seconds at the first intermediate sprint. His Mitchelton-Scott helped bring the trio back, and he duly won the sprint, with Bevin in second place, to go six seconds behind the race leader.

>>> Fabio Aru: ‘2018 was one of the darkest moments of my career’

The peloton remained intact for the second intermediate sprint and this time the positions were reserved between Impey and Bevin, ensuring that the latter regained his seven second advantage on the general classification.

Their mid-stage battle over without any change to the standings, a new breakaway was allowed to form. Toovey returned to the head of the race, joining Matthieu Ladagnous (Groupama-FDJ). They lasted an hour and the peloton was back together with 34km left to race.

Crosswinds made the finale interesting for a number of riders who dropped back, unable to keep pace with Bora-Hansgrohe’s and Team Sky’s fast pace.

At nine kilometres to go, race leader Bevin came down in a crash at the back of the peloton. The New Zealander got straight up but appeared to be limping as he got back onto his bike.

He struggled to catch back onto the peloton but they slowed down in an effort to help him regroup; he settled back into the peloton with 1.5km to go. Meanwhile, Deceuninck-Quick-Step and Lotto-Soudal were in charge at the front, readying their sprinters.

Two right turns followed the kilometre-to-go inflatable, and Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) had the perfect lead-out from teammate Fabio Sabatini. But he failed to press on and Ewan, riding fourth wheel behind Sagan, sprinted off to the right and passed the three in front of him.

The Australian was too fast for his challengers and despite a late charge from Philipsen on his left crossed the line in first place comfortably. Viviani would have been nightly disappointed to have squandered a great chance to add to his stage one victory.

Shortly afterwards, though, Ewan’s win was stripped from him for his headbutts and it was Philipsen who was able to celebrate his maiden WorldTour victory, although its circumstances would not have been how he imagined such a feat.


Stage five: Glenelg > Strathalbyn (149.5km)

1. Jasper Philipsen (Bel) UAE-Team Emirates
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
3. Danny van Poppel (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma
4. Jens Debusschere (Bel) Katusha-Alpecin
5. Elia Viviani (Ita) Deceuninck-Quick Step
6. Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain-Merida
7. Cees Bol (Ned) Team Sunweb
8. Ryan Gibbons (RSA) Dimension-Data
9. Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky.
10. Davide Ballerini (Ita) Astana, all at same time

General classification after stage five

1. Patrick Bevin (NWZ) CCC Team, in 17-00-25
2. Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott, at 7 secs
3. Luis Leon Sanchez (Esp) Astana, at 16 secs
4. Ryan Gibbons (RSA) Dimension-Data
5. Jan Polanc (Slv) UAE-Team Emirates
6. Ruben Guerreiro (Por) (Katusha-Alpecin)
7. George Bennett (NWZ) Jumbo-Visma
8. Chris Hamilton (Aus) Team Sunweb
9. Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky
10. Michael Woods (Can) EF-Education First, all at 26 secs

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US Open champion Osaka fights back to reach last 16

Naomi Osaka

Australian Open 2019
Venue: Melbourne Park Dates: 14-27 January
Coverage: Daily live commentaries on the BBC Sport website, listen to Tennis Breakfast daily from 07:00 GMT on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and watch highlights on BBC TV and online from 19 January.

US Open champion Naomi Osaka came back from within two games of an Australian Open third-round exit to beat Taiwanese Hsieh Su-wei 5-7 6-4 6-1.

The Japanese fourth seed lost the first set and was a break down in the second.

But she broke back twice at the end of the second and won seven games in a row to take the advantage in the deciding set.

The 21-year-old will face China’s 21st seed Wang Qiang or Latvian 13th seed Anastasija Sevastova in the next round.

More to follow.

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Phil Mickelson stays three ahead at Desert Classic after 68 in California

Phil Mickelson in round two action at the Nicklaus Tournament Course

Phil Mickelson followed his career-best 60 with a four-under 68 to remain three shots clear nearing the end of day two at the Desert Classic in California.

The 48-year-old, who led overnight after his 10 birdies and an eagle at La Quinta, had a double bogey in round two at the Nicklaus Tournament Course.

But he birdied four of the final five holes for a 16-under halfway total.

Also at the Nicklaus course, world number one Justin Rose shot a second successive 68 and is eight shots back.

Russell Knox had seven birdies in a 65 at La Quinta to reach five under but fellow Scot Martin Laird is one further back after finishing with two double bogeys to return a 75 after his opening 65.

On Saturday, Mickelson and Rose will play the third venue of the event, the Stadium Course, which also hosts Sunday’s final round.

Mickelson began his round at the 10th and birdied his second and third holes.

The double bogey came at his ninth hole but he finished in style with a superbly controlled pitch spinning back to five feet at the last for his sixth birdie of the day.

Asked to compare his second round with his 60, the American said: “I actually felt better striking it but I didn’t putt very well relative to yesterday where I was making everything.”

During his round, the left-hander was about to take a drop using the long-standing method from shoulder height, but a rules official was on hand to remind him that – as from 1 January – it should be done from the knee, and no penalty resulted.

The last time Mickelson held the lead at the halfway stage of a tournament was at the 2016 Open when he went on to finish runner-up to Henrik Stenson.

“This has been a fun, if not surprising, start for me and it’s fun to get in the mix,” he added.

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Thwaites joins Vitus Pro Cycling

Scott Thwaites will drop down to Continental level and return to racing in Britain, signing for Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother after his contract at Dimension Data was not renewed.

Thwaites’ career was thrown into jeopardy in March last year when he suffered several fractured vertebrae in a training crash. After a lengthy rehabilitation process, he returned to racing in July but soon explained that his outlook on his career had changed and he was considering doing something away from the sport.

Having known for some time that he would not be getting a new contract at Dimension Data, Thwaites entered the new year without a team, but on Friday it was announced that he will ride for the British set-up Vitus, formerly known as Team Raleigh.

The team is run by Cherie Pridham, who helped Thwaites in the nascent phase of his career when he was on the Merlin development team. 

“I’m delighted to welcome Scott to Vitus Pro Cycling Team, powered by Brother UK. Strength-in-depth is the defining characteristic of our 2019 squad, and Scott embodies the unwavering standards demanded of a top professional,” Pridham said.

“It was a pleasure to work with Scott when he was still an emerging talent with obvious potential, and now he has completed nine years as a professional, it’s very satisfying to be working with him again. A rider strong enough to finish two Grand Tours and nine Classics can only be a significant addition to our squad.”

Thwaites joins multiple Olympic champion Ed Clancy in adding top-level experience to Vitus. The 28-year-old rode for Endura Racing from 2010 and stayed after the merger with NetApp in what became the current Bora-Hansgrohe team, before signing for Dimension Data in 2017. As well as riding the Tour de France in 2017 and the Vuelta a España in 2016, he produced some string performances in the Spring Classics, including top 10’s at Strade Bianche, Dwars door Vlaanderen, and Hadzame Classic, as well as podiums at Le Samyn and Nokere Koerse. 

Thwaites will make his debut for the team when they line out at their first race of the 2019 season at the Eddie Soens Memorial on March 9.

The Cyclingnews podcast is brought to you in association with Sportful, Pinarello and Floyd’s of Leadville.

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Bahrain-Merida neo-pro Stevie Williams forced out with pre-season knee injury

The Welshman is uncertain when he’ll make his race debut

Before he has managed to turn a wheel in anger, Welshman Stevie Williams has been forced to delay the start of his season after being struck down by injury.

Along with Harry Tanfield (Katusha-Alpecin), Williams is one of two British neo-pros at WorldTour level in 2019, having signed a two year deal with Bahrain-Merida, but a persistent knee issue has blighted his winter.

Now, while the majority of his new team are at a training camp on the Costa Daurada, near Barcelona, he is at home in Aberystwyth getting treatment.

“It’s been about seven or eight weeks now, that doesn’t seem a long time but when you haven’t ridden bike for that long it is,” 22 year-old Williams told Cycling Weekly.

“When you’re new to a professional team the first thing you want to do is get out on your bike and work as hard as you can to make the first season as good as possible, but ultimately I cannot do that at the moment.

“The hardest part is keeping my head in a good place and trust in the right people and having faith that this will get better. We’ve been making little improvements with bike position, so we have to wait and see now.”

Though clearly chomping at the bit, Williams appears remarkably sanguine about his plight, and his team are not putting pressure on him to return to training.

Stevie Williams in the leader’s jersey at the 2018 Baby Giro (Picture: Bahrain-Merida/ Elisa Haumesser)

“The pain came back when he started training, it’s trying to nail down the cause, but taking a break, changing equipment and shoes,” team performance director David Bailey told us.

“He’s done everything right, he stopped training and only recently with support from different expertise, we think we’ve got it. It’s hard for him to hear now, but these things are often what makes a rider, though it is not the ideal transition.

“It’s difficult to say, but I certainly see him back in training fully within the month.”

Having begun in the sport slightly later than many, Williams’s rise to the professional ranks has been a fast one.

After injury forced him to give up on running and, more importantly football – “I wasn’t going to be the next Ronaldo” he jokes – he took to riding with his local club, Ystwyth Cycling Club, racing for the first time in 2012 aged 15.

“In a 3/4 race I jumped off the front in the crit with about 10 or 15 minutes to go and won it solo, and I thought, ‘yeah, this is fun.’ Ever since I have just loved racing.

Having spotted his talent early on Welsh Cycling have supported him throughout his career as he progressed to the domestic pro ranks with JLT Condor then Dutch Continental team SEG Racing Academy.

“I was on the Welsh cycling talent programme for the last four years and I think that was really beneficial for me. To have that infrastructure down in South Wales and do the track and do road stuff and be taken to junior national races, that really helped.

“For sure joining JLT then joining SEG was definitely a game changer. Once I’d raced in the UK for a couple of years I thought this is great racing and it’s really hard, but the natural style of rider I am, skinny and really light, I knew I wanted to get abroad and do some of under-23 stage races in the mountains. Luckily I was given that opportunity and made it count.”

Though still finding his feet in his first year with SEG, he still managed second place at the hilly 2017 Flèche Ardennaise, while steadily increasing his racing exposure, going from 39 race days in 2017 to 61 days last season, when he achieved his biggest successes.

In 2018 Williams won two mountainous stages and the overall at the Ronde de I’Isard as well as a stage and fifth place at the Baby Giro.

“I do think Isard and the Baby Giro were game changers, but also Liège Bastogne Liège [Under 23 – where he finished ninth] at the start of the year. I wanted to go there and win it of course but the break stayed away, but a one day shows a lot about a rider, what sort of decisions you make and how you race it, but that was an important day for me.”

Now, rewarded with a place on one of the world’s best teams, Williams knows where his priorities lie.

“To get back on the bike as soon as possible!” he laughs. “Also to get as much experience as possible from these riders I have looked up to for a number of years, to understand the different level and put in my mind what is my best attribute in cycling.

“But I am a cyclist and I would not do this if I didn’t want to win races, so if there any opportunities to go for then I will be trying to grab them with both hands.”

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Britain’s Scott Thwaites joins Continental level Vitus Pro Cycling after leaving Dimension Data

The 28-year-old has considered retiring from the sport after suffering a nasty spinal injury

Brit Scott Thwaites has announced he will be stepping down to Continental level after parting ways with Dimension Data.

The 28-year-old has joined British team Vitus Pro Cycling after spending two years at WorldTour level.

Thwaites, from Steeton in West Yorkshire, recently revealed he had considered retirement after a serious spinal fracture derailed his 2018 season.

But instead he will return to the British racing circuit, where he will try to capitalise on his previous Grand Tour and Monument experience.

>>> Brit Scott Thwaites has announced he will be stepping down to Continental level after leaving Dimension Data

Vitus team boss Cherie Pridham said: “I’m delighted to welcome Scott to Vitus Pro Cycling.

“Strength-in-depth is the defining characteristic of our 2019 squad, and Scott embodies the unwavering standards demanded of a top professional.”

Thwaites has first started racing for Pridham back in 2006, before he went onto to ride at the highest level in 2017 and 2018.

During his time at the top tier, Thwaites rode the Tour de France alongside compatriot and team-mate Mark Cavendish, and was beginning to make waves in the Classics.

In 2017, Thwaites finished 10th at Strade Bianche, and 16th at the Tour of Flanders.

But a crash in March 2018, that left him with several fractured vertebrae, took him out of racing for four months.

He was able to return to the peloton with Dimension Data, but in December he revealed he was considering his opportunities outside cycling.

Thwaites has instead opted to return to the domestic circuit, where he previously honed his skills with the Endura Racing team between 2010 and 2012.

Pridham added: “It was a pleasure to work with Scott when he was still an emerging talent with obvious potential, and now he has completed nine years as a professional, it’s very satisfying to be working with him again.

“A rider strong enough to finish two Grand Tours and nine Classics can only be a significant addition to our squad.”

>>> British women’s circuit racing to be held as national series for the first time

Vitus Pro Cycling said they expect Thwaites to be an inspiration to younger riders on the team.

He joins a powerful line up of talent, including youngsters Liam Davies and Tim Torrie, as well as Commonwealth Games medallist Chris Latham and British Cycling Academy graduates Joe Holt and Ali Slater.

Multiple Olympic gold medallist Ed Clancy will also be joining Vitus for 2019 after the collapse of the long-standing JLT – Condor outfit.

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Fabio Aru: ‘2018 was one of the darkest moments of my career’

Aru says he’s hoping to put 2018 behind him as he targets Giro d’Italia success in 2019

Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) aims to hit restart in the 2019 season after his “darkest moments” yet cycling in 2018.

The Sardinian abandoned the Giro d’Italia with mysterious problems, crashed and cursed his sponsors in the Vuelta a España, and pulled himself out of the running for Italy’s World Championships team.

“I want to cancel 2018, one of the darkest moments of my career,” Aru told La Gazzetta dello Sport when he reflected on his plan to race the 2019 Giro d’Italia this May.

One year ago, Aru built for the Giro as well. He never found his form and struggled throughout the race to show that spark that allowed him to place second overall to Alberto Contador in the 2015 Giro or win the 2015 Vuelta a España.

He rode steady throughout the 2018 Vuelta, but a crash stood out in the three weeks. He created a media storm when he stood from his fall and began cursing his team-sponsored Colnago bike.

A new season programme, coaches and trip to the US give him a fresh approach to 2019. He will need it because the Giro d’Italia, May 11 to June 2, includes top contenders – from Tom Dumoulin to Vincenzo Nibali – and plenty of time trial kilometres mixed with mountains.

“Mamma mia it’s a beautiful start list… but that’s the way it has been for years now,” he said.

Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, the Welsh winner of the Tour de France last year, is rumoured to start as well. Team-mate Chris Froome won the 2018 Giro, the first Brit to do so.

“I have never hidden that this race is in my heart, you feel unique emotions,” Aru continued.

“The programme is set until the Giro. For the Tour, we’ll see. It is important to start [the season], and immediately.”

He said that his struggles to absorb pasta and carbohydrates well led to some of his problems. He now limits their intake and avoids dairy products.

UAE Team Emirates also shook up the team. New directors Allan Peiper and Neil Stephens arrived and coaches from the University of Colorado now follow the team.

After Aru races in Mallorca, Algarve and Catalonia, he will train at altitude in Colorado, in the US, for his final push towards the Giro.

“We are followed by coaches from the University of Boulder, our head coach Iñigo San Millan has lived there for years. And, coincidentally, I had my first race in the pros, as an stagiaire: it was the Tour of Colorado 2012, I finished second in a stage,” Aru said.

“I’m getting along very well with the new staff and coaches. I like that the human aspect, serenity, is taken into consideration, even before preparation and performance.

“Too many times we talk about numbers, we think too much about the tests and watts, but to reach these numbers you have to feel good and be calm. And now I feel good.”

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