Matthews: I’m not where I need to be, but top 10 is good

Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) said that he is not where he would like to be in terms of form, despite finishing eighth at Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday. Matthews looked in trouble on the lower slopes of the Mur de Huy, but clawed his way back up the group to make it into the top 10 – distancing climbers such as Romain Bardet and five-time winner Alejandro Valverde in the process.

It was clear that the effort had taken a lot out of Matthews, and after taking some time to catch his breath, he said that he had still been feeling the impact of a tough Amstel Gold Race at the weekend.

“In the end, I have to be happy with that. I want to win every race that I start, but sometimes you have to be realistic,” Matthews told Cyclingnews as he rode back towards the team’s bus. “I was feeling really tired from Amstel at the start. I tried to see what I could do in the race. The team tried to support me the best that they could, and it was up to me on the last two climbs to do what I do. I’m still not where I need to be but I think that a top 10 finish here with what has been going on with me is a pretty good result.”

It was a difficult start to the season for Matthews after he crashed out of Paris-Nice on the opening stage, suffering a concussion. It was just his second day of racing, following his debut at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. He told former teammate Damien Howson, who had come over to pat him on the back after the race, that it had been difficult to build back up to racing again.

Originally, doctors thought that Matthews might be out for months due to his concussion, but he was back to racing again before the end of March at Milan-San Remo. With little training in his legs, it was a rough return but there have been some good performances along the way.

“I had a week completely off the bike after the first stage of Paris-Nice after my concussion. I only had three days of training on the road before San Remo that was difficult,” he explained. “Since then, I have had two nice victories in Catalunya and a handful of decent results in the Classics, but my original plan from the doctors was three months off the bike after my crash in Paris-Nice.

“I thought a top 10 was possible but you never really know on the day. The way the races have been raced at the moment, starting really hard from a long way out, it makes it super difficult if you’re not in your top shape. It puts you a little bit behind the eight ball straight away in the final, and from there it is quite mental to try and get to the finish the best way that you can.”

Matthews will remain in the Ardennes for Liege-Bastogne-Liege, a race that he finished fourth in 2017. He will be joined by teammate Tom Dumoulin, who has been training at altitude ahead of the Giro d’Italia next month.

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Murray ‘cautiously optimistic’ of summer return

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Andy Murray is “cautiously optimistic” about returning to action “at some point this summer”, says mother Judy.

The British three-time Grand Slam winner, 31, said in March that he was pain-free after hip surgery but his chances of playing singles at Wimbledon this year were “less than 50%”.

Murray said the operation meant it was possible he would not be able to play professionally again.

“It is still early days so we will have to wait and see,” Judy Murray said.

She told the BBC: “He was told not to do impact work, which basically means running around the garden hitting a ball, for three months but he’s been hitting against a wall from a static position.”

Murray broke down in tears at the Australian Open in January, saying in his pre-tournament news conference that he planned to retire after this year’s Wimbledon because of pain in his hip.

However, he said the first Grand Slam of 2019 could prove to be the last tournament of his career.

After a gutsy first-round five-set defeat by Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut, Murray appeared to soften his stance by telling the Melbourne crowd he hoped to see them again next year.

In his post-match news conference, he said he was considering the resurfacing operation primarily to improve his quality of life.

Murray had the hip resurfacing operation – which keeps more of the damaged bone than a hip replacement, smoothing the ball down and covering it with a metal cap – in London on 28 January.

American doubles player Bob Bryan had the same surgery last year and returned to action, alongside twin brother Mike, five months later. No tennis player has competed in singles after having the operation.

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‘Still a chance of Wimbledon?’ – analysis

BBC Scotland tennis reporter Kheredine Idessane

There’s no disguising the sense of quiet optimism emanating from the Murray camp at the moment.

The social media “thumbs up” from Andy Murray himself to his hip replacement; pictures of him enjoying a round of golf; his mum Judy now saying there’s every chance he could be back on tour at some point this summer. Admittedly, that gives him plenty of wriggle room, as the summer tennis season drags well past September’s US Open.

He won’t be at the French at the end of May but is there a chance he could feature at some point on the grass in June? Queen’s Club and Wimbledon would be the obvious targets, even if only on the doubles court.

However, if a pain-free, rested, rejuvenated Murray starts serious on-court weight-bearing work at some point next month, there is a possibility he will play singles at the All England Club in July.

He only gave himself a 50% chance of that a few weeks ago but it’s certainly no less than that now. Quite a turnaround when you think that, in January, he was tearfully contemplating retirement.

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Barcelona Open: Rafael Nadal battles from set down to reach last 16

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal avoided successive shock losses on clay as he began his Barcelona Open title defence with a 6-7 (7-9) 6-4 6-2 win over Leonardo Mayer.

The top seed, 32, lost to Fabio Fognini on Saturday in the Monte Carlo Masters semi-finals, and on Wednesday struggled at times against Argentine Mayer.

The 11-time French Open champion will now play fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in the last 16.

Ferrer, 37, recorded a 6-3 6-1 win over 15th seed Lucas Pouille.

Also through is Argentine Guido Pella who beat sixth seedKaren Khachanov 6-2 7-6 (7-4).

Another seed to fall in the last 32 was French 11th seed Gilles Simon, beaten 6-3 6-3 by USA’s Mackenzie McDonald.

There was no such hiccup for Russian seventh seed Daniil Medvedev who defeated Albert Ramos Vinolas 6-3 2-6 6-1.

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McIlroy’s Irish Open snub ‘a sign of times’ – McGinley

(L-R): Shane Lowry, Paul McGinley and Rory McIlroy

Paul McGinley says Rory McIlroy’s decision not to compete in this year’s Irish Open is “a sign of the times”.

The 2014 European Ryder Cup captain is the host for this year’s event at Lahinch and admits he is disappointed by the 29-year-old’s absence.

While the world number four will be missing, Ian Poulter is the latest player to commit to the 4-7 July event.

“It was (a disappointment) but this is something we’re going to see more of going forward,” said McGinley.

“The challenges the players have on the world schedule are huge. The amount of money they play for around the world is huge and the focus is very much going to be on major championships and I think it’s just a sign of the times.

“He (McIlroy) is not the only one, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Tiger Woods as well – look at his schedule right through his career – they don’t play a huge amount and they define everything around the major championships.”

McIlroy is skipping his national open to focus on his preparations for The Open at Royal Portrush a fortnight later.

A number of high-profile players will however travel to the west of Ireland for this year’s Irish Open, including major winners Louis Oosthuizen, Danny Willett and Padraig Harrington.

But McGinley says the tournament can no longer expect to attract all of the biggest names, adding: “The days of old when Seve, Faldo, Langer, Woosie and all the top players played in an Irish Open, those days are gone.

“Any tournament around the world, even on the PGA Tour, outside the majors, the WGC events and the Players (Championship), if you have two or three or four of the big names and then you fit around the guys who are top 50 in the world around that and then the rest of the tour well that’s a very good field.

“That’s what we’re on course to do and hopefully we’re going to get there, we’re pretty close to it at the moment.”

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