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Nick Kyrgios Holds His Temper, and Australia Holds Its Breath

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Nick Kyrgios was not willing to be hunted.

During the opening points of his Australian Open match against the wily veteran Gilles Simon — known for his ability to lure opponents into deadly traps with deceiving softballs and sudden bursts — Kyrgios did not take the bait.

Instead, on a hazy Thursday night, the mercurial Australian played the start of this second-round match in a way that belied his reputation. He was controlled, contained, comfortable, and mature.

The result, early on: perfection. It was Simon who made the errors, Simon who became the prey.

Kyrgios, 24, tall, rangy and slope-shouldered, took the first set in a mere 27 minutes, 6-2.

At that moment, as Melbourne Arena trembled with cheers, it was hard not to jump ahead and wonder about how this tournament and this year could unfold for Nick Kyrgios.

Is he the wayward soul who has played large chunks of matches by simply going through the motions, essentially quitting?

Or is Kyrgios the game competitor who, in 2014, at age 19, announced himself to the tennis world by beating Nadal on his way to the Wimbledon quarterfinals?

He has beaten not only Nadal, but also Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Few can say that. But his ranking of 26 remains mired in the broad no-man’s land that exists just outside the top 10. Despite constant talk that he was capable of stepping to the fore and upending the Big 3 hierarchy in men’s tennis, his last trip as far as a quarterfinal in a major was in 2015.

It’s hard to watch Kyrgios — with his wide smile, his style, his penchant for pulling off trick shots, his fierce serve and searing forehand, his oh-so obvious talent — and not fall for him.

And it is hard, at the same time, not to be left wanting and disappointed.

Kyrgios seemed utterly in control for a very long swath against the 35-year-old Simon.

But then the finish line drew near. Just a few games from the clean sweep of a three-set win, Kyrgios’s lesser self emerged. Soon, he was missing easy shots. Suddenly, he radiated tightness.

He had already chirped at the umpire when admonished for delaying play, and mockingly mimicked Nadal’s time wasting tic of tugging on his shorts and tussling with his hair. The message was clear, and brought to mind the pleadings of a child: Nadal gets away with it — why can’t I?

Now, Kyrgios looked and sounded equally petulant as he began heaping a barrage of barbs at friends and advisers near the court, as if they were to blame for his shoddy play down the stretch.

The general look among the faces in the overwhelmingly Australian crowd became one of stricken, nervous worry. They want to believe in Kyrgios the way they believe in the women’s top seed, another of their own, Ashleigh Barty. The difference is they can count on Barty. They know what to expect: unwavering effort, quiet humility. They don’t know what they’ll get with Kyrgios. They had seen him self destruct plenty of times before.

“He’s on the edge now, of something not good happening,” said one of the commentators on Australian TV. The commentator was John McEnroe, who of course is as expert as any at diagnosing the fraying emotions of a player on the verge of losing control.

Sure enough, the wheels wobbled all the way off. Simon rose up and snatched the third set. What seemed like a sure thing was now a fight.

The match marched forward, and as the games went on in the fourth set, Kyrgios’s mood only got worse. He would describe himself after the match as being close to going to entering a “dark place.”

But something interesting happened along the way. Watching closely, you could see him change. He stopped looking up at the stands, put an end to the salty barbs. His sloping posture straightened. His face grew focused, serious, intent. He began playing with just enough control to be dangerous again.

He dug deep, centered himself, and found his footing.

Soon enough he edged ahead, the front-runner once more, just in time.

Match point.

The crowd roared, insisting he end it. He tossed the ball toward the pitch-dark sky, struck it with as much force and clarity as any ball he had struck all night.

Ace.

Game, set, match, Kyrgios: 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.

Nothing is ever certain when he takes the court. Maybe he will flame out in the next round. Maybe he will keep going, perhaps all the way to the last weekend. Nadal potentially awaits in the fourth round. What a contrast. The ultimate professional versus the ultimate question mark. There does not appear to be much love between them. It would be one of the most anticipated matches of the tournament.

The potential of that was enough on this raucous evening to savor the moment, to fall for the full range of the quixotic and talented Kyrgios as he found his way to a spirit-lifting win.



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Kobe Bryant’s Public Memorial Service Is Today

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LOS ANGELES — For the bulk of his career with the Lakers, Kobe Bryant turned Staples Center into his stage, fashioning basketball into performance art. He soared and scowled, endearing himself to fans who celebrated his competitive drive. It is not often that an athlete becomes synonymous with an arena, but Staples Center seemed to belong to Bryant in a singular way.

“He helped build this arena,” said Lee Zeidman, the president of Staples Center since it opened in 1999.

In the wake of Bryant’s death last month, there was some discussion among family members, including his wife, Vanessa, and city officials about the site of a public memorial service, Zeidman said. An outdoor venue like the Rose Bowl, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum or Dodger Stadium would have been able to accommodate the most people.

“A lot of people were weighing in,” Zeidman said in an interview last week. “But for the men and women who work at Staples Center, we felt that this was the place to do it. He put five championship banners on the walls here. Both of his numbers are retired here. And we’re very proud and humbled that Vanessa chose to do it here.”

But Bryant had a unique relationship with Staples Center as the arena’s most magnetic draw for 17 consecutive years — and he formed ties to many who still work there.

Andy Bernstein, the longtime photographer for the Lakers who collaborated with Bryant on Bryant’s 2018 book, “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play,” was invited to attend Monday’s event as a guest. But Bernstein declined so he could work at the event in his usual role, as a photographer. It was what Bryant would have wanted him to do, he said.

“Part of the ‘Mamba mentality’ was strength,” Bernstein said in a telephone interview. “The strength to overcome. The strength to get through stuff. I think about Kobe and what he would be saying in this moment. He would be saying, ‘You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.’”

Entering the weekend, Zeidman said the list of invited guests, speakers and performers was still “very fluid.” The Lakers and the Bryant family were coordinating the program, Zeidman said, and few details had been disclosed. Zeidman said he was not privy to many of them.

“There’s been virtually no information outside of instructions to save all of our dressing rooms,” he said.

A number of celebrities and athletes are expected to be on hand, including members of the Lakers and the Clippers, and former N.B.A. stars like Shaquille O’Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the league’s career leading scorer. Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors and Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks are among the current players who have said they will attend, along with Luke Walton, a Lakers teammate of Bryant’s who now coaches the Sacramento Kings.

Sabrina Ionescu, a guard for the University of Oregon women’s basketball team, told the Pac-12 Network that she was among those who had been invited to speak. Ionescu had grown close to Bryant, a vocal advocate for women’s sports in recent years, and to Gianna, who had dreamed of playing in the W.N.B.A.

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Coronavirus Spreads to Soccer’s Schedule, Closing Stadiums and Stranding Teams

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In China, officials struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus have delayed the start of the soccer season for months, and at least one top-division team has been marooned in the Middle East for weeks, unable to return from a preseason training camp.

In South Korea, fans attending matches earlier this month were checked for fever before being allowed inside stadiums, and masks were ubiquitous in the stands in Japan recently — until Tuesday, when officials announced that there will be no league play until at least mid-March.

But the effects of the coronavirus on the global soccer calendar have crossed borders, too. Asia’s soccer confederation announced three weeks ago that the matches in its biggest club championship involving Chinese teams would not be played for several months, and Vietnam has banned the hosting of sporting events of any kind this month, forcing even more games to be rescheduled.

Now the disruption has spread to Europe.

In Italy, where the number of confirmed coronavirus cases neared 300 on Tuesday, at least one game — the second leg of a knockout tie on Thursday between Internazionale of Milan and Ludogorets of Bulgaria in the Europa League — is to be played behind closed doors as the authorities continue to restrict public gatherings in the northern region of Lombardy.

The decision on Tuesday to play the game without spectators came after the Italian authorities postponed four league games last weekend.

Inter Milan, a top contender for the Italian league title, said the decision was a result of several days of talks with health officials in Lombardy and European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, over how to stage the game, which could not be canceled because of the lack of alternate dates.

The game against Ludogorets is believed to be the first time a European soccer match has had to be played behind closed doors because of a health crisis. Usually such conditions are imposed on teams as a punishment for fan violence or racist episodes.

Inter, which is owned by a Chinese company, had already been taking steps to minimize the risks to its staff members from the virus. Nonessential employees have been told to work from home, and the club has purchased stocks of face masks and hand sanitizer for the team’s headquarters.

The decision to go ahead with Thursday’s match at Milan’s cavernous San Siro stadium was confirmed on Tuesday. Inter, which has an even bigger game on Sunday, when it is scheduled to visit first-place Juventus, was one of the four Italian clubs that postponed a match in the country’s top league last weekend.

Other European countries are now contemplating similar possibilities. On Tuesday, the French club Olympique Lyonnais said in a statement that it had “taken note” of the French authorities’ decision to let its match against Juventus in the Champions League proceed “in its initial configuration” on Wednesday night. Up to 3,000 fans of Juventus, a team based in the northern Italian city of Turin, are expected for the game, which is sold out.

Asked about the match, Olivier Véran, France’s health minister, told RTL radio that the authorities were being vigilant but that there were currently “no scientific and medical arguments” justifying the cancellation of large events in France.

“Should we stop Fashion Week?” Véran said. “Should we stop games? Should we close universities? The answer is no.”

He added, “We are not closing the borders because we do not know how to, but because it would make no sense at this stage.”

Health officials and governments in Asia, where sports schedules have been most affected since the virus first started to spread, are facing a far different reality.

When Afshin Ghotbi, the Iranian-American coach of the Chinese team Shijiazhuang Ever Bright, was thrown into the air by his soccer players in early November after clinching promotion to the Chinese Super League, he had no inkling that almost four months later, he and his squad would still be waiting for the new season to begin.

Shijiazhuang Ever Bright, whose home city of 11 million is about 165 miles southwest of Beijing, should have kicked off its new campaign last weekend. But instead of taking on Chinese superclubs like Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai SIPG in front of 40,000 fans, Ghotbi’s team is playing preseason games in empty stadiums in Abu Dhabi, its base for five weeks and counting.

Team officials said that they did not expect to play competitive soccer until at least May or even be allowed to return to China before mid-March.

“It is a challenge for the players,” Ghotbi said. “They are away from their families and psychologically they feel very helpless.”

Ghotbi, a former head coach of Iran’s national team, has experience in global events disrupting sports schedules. He was in charge of the Japanese club Shimizu S-Pulse in 2011 when an earthquake and tsunami caused the Japanese league’s season to be delayed for six weeks.

“Back then, we also tried to use the football team as a source of inspiration and hope,” Ghotbi said. “And we are trying to do the same now through banners in the stadiums we play and through social media, though it is different as we are outside China.”

To keep his players sharp physically and mentally, he and his coaches have created a points system for intrateam activities, among other distractions. “Even changing the hotel can make a difference,” he said.

Similar challenges are now being faced across East Asia. South Korea, where the number of confirmed coronavirus cases neared 1,000 on Tuesday, postponed the start of its domestic season indefinitely on Monday. The next day, Japan’s J. League announced a delay of three weeks.

Individual qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup and the 2020 Olympics have already been moved; in one extreme example, the China women’s soccer team was quarantined inside an Australian hotel, forced to exercise and train in hallways, before it was allowed to play a series of Olympic qualifying games.



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Shannon Sharpe is excited to see Zion vs LeBron faceoff tonight | NBA | UNDISPUTED

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Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe look ahead to New Orleans Pelicans vs Los Angeles Lakers tonight. Hear why Skip and Shannon are excited for the matchup between LeBron James and Zion Williamson.

#Undisputed #NBA #LeBron #ZionWilliamson #Lakers #Pelicans

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Shannon Sharpe is excited to see Zion vs LeBron faceoff tonight | NBA | UNDISPUTED

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