Australian Open: Thanasi Kokkinakis prevails over Ernests Gulbis in five-setter

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Star-in-the-making Thanasi Kokkinakis says he is ready to embrace the expectation that will come with his thrilling five-set upset over No.11 seed Ernests Gulbis.

As success-starved Australian tennis fans hailed the triumph as validation of his rising reputation, Kokkinakis said he was “excited” by the hype set to surround him heading into a winnable second round match-up against fellow Australian Sam Groth.

“I know it was a good win. There’s more to come,” the 18-year-old said after the match that lasted for four hours and seven minutes.

“I don’t want to win just one round. Obviously it was my best win yet, he said. I’m not putting a limit on myself. I beat a guy that made the semis of the French [Open]. He probably wasn’t in his best form tonight.

“He’s beaten some good players before and I’ve beaten him, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Reflecting on the biggest win off his career – his first five-set slog and just his second win at the Australian Open – an exhausted Kokkinakis said he felt “a lot better” than he did last year after he beat Igor Sijsling (then ranked No.73 in the world) in his Open debut to advance to the second round.

Kokkinakis saved four match points in the fourth set and then held his nerve in a tense climax to steal the show on opening night at Melbourne Park, winning 5-7, 6-0, 1-6, 7-6 (7-2), 8-6 on Monday night.

With attention centred on fellow Australian young gun Nick Kyrgios, world No.147 Kokkinakis thrived playing off-Broadway on show court three to produce a coming-of-age performance that the likes of Australian great Todd Woodbridge — had predicted just days ago that he was set to produce.

Kokkinakis, the other half of Australia’s talented “Special K” duo, collapsed to the ground in jubilation after winning the second of two match points and then relished a lap of honour with the fans.

His love affair with the pro-Australian crowd was in sharp contrast to that of his opponent, world No.13 Gulbis, who seemed to be distracted by the spectators at times — at one point telling them to “shut up”.

The umpire directed security to certain members of the crowd after the Latvian complained.

Gulbis, known for his combustible nature on the court, had several opportunities to address the crowd’s behaviour and its impact on the match in his post-match press conference, but avoided making a comment on each occasion.

“I lost, he won,” he said. “I had no problem with the crowd.”

Gulbis also refused to blame a persistent shoulder injury for his early exit, pointing more to the lack of matches during an interrupted preparation.

A full house had earlier lived every shot as Kokkinakis fought back from trailing two sets to one.

In a final set that lasted 84 minutes, Kokkinakis exposed weaknesses’ in his opponent’s technique and showed poise beyond his years, fending off break points at 4-4 and 6-6.

In saving one break point at 6-6, Kokkinakis correctly challenged a call of “out” that the replay showed had scraped the baseline by just millimetres.

“I showed I can match it,” Kokkinakis said. “A lot of matches last year I was winning a set against these good players but never able to finish the match through.

“So I’m really happy with how I stuck together, even though I thought for periods I wasn’t playing my best tennis. I was able to find a way to get the points and the games that I needed.

“The crowd was unbelievable all night. They got me through again.”

Kokkinakis said another key element to his game was “trusting his weapons” when the pressure was on in big points.

“On the match points… I just went with what I work on every day, what my favourite shots are, so I went for a few forehands which were maybe were a bit of luck,” he said.

“I like to think they were a bit of skill, too. Maybe they were a bit of both.”

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Newcastle Blessing of the Waters 2015: Ethan Talevski takes the honour

Newcastle Blessing of the Waters 2015: A wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths on Monday. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers
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A wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths on Monday. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

A wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths on Monday. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

A wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths on Monday. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

A wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths on Monday. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

A wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths on Monday. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

A wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths on Monday. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

A wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths on Monday. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

Ethan Talevski is held aloft after claiming the honours during a wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

Ethan Talevski is held aloft after claiming the honours during a wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

Ethan Talevski is held aloft after claiming the honours during a wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

TweetFacebookRAIN poured and wind blew, but itwas not enough to deter eight young men from making a splash in the Newcastle ocean bathson Monday afternoon.

Members of the Macedonian Orthodox Community gathered at the water’s edge under their umbrellas in trying conditions to watch the Blessing of the Waters ceremony.

The celebration is held annuallyto honour the Baptism of Jesus.

Participants take the plunge in the hope of retrievingablessed holy cross from the depths.

Onlookers watched as Priest Peco Petrovski threw the holy cross into the water.

Ethan Talevski, 12,was the lucky jumper who was first to find the cross and lifted it proudly onto the shoulders of his fellow jumpers.

‘‘I tried my hardest and hoped for the best’’, said a delighted Ethan.

‘‘It’s a wonderful feeling!’’

President of the community Chris Topevski said someone so young doesn’t often come out succesfully, making it an exciting achievement for Ethan’sfamily.

Mr Topevski said that even though there weren’t as many spectators as usual due to unfortunate weather, it was still a day everyone in the Macedonian community had been eagerly anticipating.

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UAE coach hints Japanese referee conspired against his side after loss to Iran in Asian Cup

United Arab Emirates coach Mahdi Ali has risked a hefty fine from the Asian Football Confederation after lashing out at Japanese referee Ryuji Sato in the wake of his side’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of Iran.
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The UAE dominated possession against Iran before being stung in the first minute of injury time when substitute Reza Ghoochannejhad buried a header to steal a stunning victory.

Ali ruffled plenty of feathers in his post-match press conference, insisting Reza was offside and then suggesting Sato, the man in charge, had a conflict of interest, with the winner of the match avoiding a quarter-final meeting with Japan.

He also said Sato and his linesmen had little idea what to do after the goal was scored and was bluffed into awarding the score after Iran began celebrations.

The result now means that Iran, a higher ranked side, avoids Japan, who need a point against Jordan to take on the UAE in the knockout stages later this week at ANZ Stadium in Sydney.

After inititally saying he wasn’t going to offer any comment on the officiating, Ali then went on to suggest the appointment of the officials were compromised and Sato had given defender Walid Abbas a second yellow card knowing he would be suspended for a potential Japan match.

“I’m just surprised how the game was given to a Japanese referee and maybe we play against Japan. He gave a yellow card to a player that will be suspended for the next game. It’s very strange. I think this question has to be transferred to the AFC to comment on this,” Ali said.

Ali suggested there was also an issue with the appointment of Australian referee Ben Williams for Uzbekistan’s match against Saudi Arabia.

The Uzbeks were at that point potential quarter-final opponents of the Socceroos. Williams dished out seven yellow cards.

Iranian coach Carlos Quieroz wouldn’t be drawn into the matter, having already copped a $3000 fine for comments earlier in the tournament about the performance of Williams in Iran’s 2-0 win over Bahrain.

“I have no comment about that. I don’t want to make anymore donations. The game was very competitive. As I said, no more donations,” he said.

Quieroz was far more effusive when asked about the effort of his side, which had far less ball and only three shots on target all night. The UAE stats sheet recorded just the one shot on target despite almost 70 per cent of possession.

“It was a good win against, in my opinion, at least the best team in west Asia. They play like a club team. My players played with a lot of concentration, a fantastic attitude,” he said.

“They sacrificed for the team at the end. It was a great football game, very emotional and skillful. Both teams deserve congratulations.”

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Asian Cup 2015: Socceroos potential semi-final won’t be moved to Sydney despite Hunter Stadium limitations

The expected sell-out event will stay in the Hunter. Picture: Simone De Peak●​Editorial: Asian Cup dream on doorstep
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A potential Asian Cup semi-final involving Australia appears certain to remain in Newcastle instead of Sydney despite Hunter Stadium’s already limited capacity being reduced by nearly a third for the tournament.

The Asian Football Confederationhas an exclusive tenancy deal with Stadium Australia for the duration of the tournament and would be free to move a high-profile semi-final involving the host nation to the 83,000 capacity venue.

The local organising committee in conjunction with the AFChave not looked into the possibility of moving a semi-final involving the Socceroos to Stadium Australia to accommodate up to 60,000 more fans in what would likely be a sell-out fixture.

After finishing second in their group to South Korea, Australia will play China in the quarter-final where they will have a chance to play either Japan, Iran or the UAE in a semi-final held at Newcastle, where capacity restrictions are in place.

In accordance with FIFA World Cup regulations, the AFC have so far prevented the local organising committeefrom selling tickets to the two non-seated hills behind the goals at Hunter Stadium, which reduces the capacity of the venue from 33,000 to approximately 23,000.

Should the two organising committees of the tournament move a potential Australia semi-final to ANZ Stadium, it would likely provide the local organising committeeabout $500,000 in additional gate takings as well as the opportunity to allow more fans to watch a historic match.

“Questions have been raised as to why the Hunter Stadium – the smallest stadium by capacity for the tournament – will host potentially the most high-profile match of the Asian Cup”: Picture: Marina Neil

However, the short turnaround of just five days between the quarter-final and the semi-final are proving a deterrent to moving what could be the biggest match of the competition, a potential clash between Australia and Japan, or Australia and Iran.

The local organising committeeclaims it would be a logistical nightmare to rearrange issues of ticket exchanges, broadcasting, travel arrangements, accommodation, staff and other requirements in just five days.

Questions have been raised as to why the Hunter Stadium – the smallest stadium by capacity for the tournament – will host potentially the most high-profile match of the Asian Cup. The state governments were invited to bid for games in packages, with NSW purchasing the rights for all semi-finals, the third v fourth play-off and the Asian Cup final. The Victorian government did not bid for anything further than a quarter-final due to hosting the Australian Open, which clashes with the latter stages of the Asian Cup. The Queensland government did not battle NSW for the rights to host the final four games of the tournament.

“We had an agreement with governments that we would have a rotating draw so teams travelled, that was fundamental to the funding agreement. We made a decision to take 4 games to Newcastle, and we had 11 at [NSW], as NSW paid the most money to have the games at this tournament,” Asian Cup 2015 chief executive, Michael Brown, said.

It was decided not to host more than seven games at ANZ Stadium due to venue congestion and the organisers confirmed they did not plan for Australia to finish second in their group and face playing a semi-final in Newcastle. However, if Australia does reach that stage, the local organising committeemight construct temporary seating on the hills behind both goals to increase the capacity for a match where demand will exceed supply.

“We’re looking at every option for the two grass areas at Newcastle we can put temporary seating on. We’re working with a couple of companies to work out costs, food, toilets, disabled seating, sight restrictions, and we have to work out if it’s going to be beneficial. We’ll be working through that, I’m not sure if we would have needed them if Australia doesn’t beat China,” Brown said.

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