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RUTHLESS NADAL MAKES QUICK WORK OF MONFILS The Spaniard needs just over two hours to defeat inconsistent Frenchman as the top seed joins Federer and Murray into the fourth round ................................................ Agence France-Presse in Melbourne

Leighton Asia HKCC’s Danny Atamu has unwanted company during his team’s win yesterday at Hong Kong Football Club. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

Valley, HKCC set up crunch clash Both teams emerge from yesterday’s fixtures equal on points ahead of next week’s showdown ................................................ Alvin Sallay WhichWay Valley and Leighton Asia HKCC will meet in a motherof-all-battles encounter this week, one which should decide the Paul Y Premiership title, after Super Saturday ended with both teams drawn level at the top of the League standings. Yesterday’s Super Saturday, the third of the season, started with Valley ahead of Hong Kong Cricket Club by one point in the standings. It ended with the latter drawing level on 44 points after a bonus-point victory over Hong Kong Scottish while Valley did just enough to ward off hosts Newedge Club, 22-12. Both results pointed to a titanic clash when the teams meet for the third and last time this season.

“It could be a winner-take-all scenario,” conceded Valley coach Dean Herewini. “It has been close between both of us this season and everything will depend on who steps up on the day. I was pleased with the way we played today.” Valley certainly stepped up yesterday as they retained the Broony Quaich playing good percentage rugby to nullify the threat posed by Hong Kong Football Club’s big pack. Once Reece Hamon put Valley on the scoreboard with a well-taken dropgoal in the sixth minute, the message was clear from Valley – play inside their opponent’s half and punish their mistakes. And an error-ridden Club obliged. While passes were flung astray and dropped, Club also tended to give away penalties at the breakdown and Matt Rosslee


stepped up to the mark in the absence of regular goal-kicker Ben Rimene to knock them over. Valley led 9-0 at the break and Rosslee added a third penalty soon after to stretch the lead to 12-0 before blindside flanker Thomas Lamboley scored Valley’s only try of the match, which was duly converted. Rosslee added another penalty to make it 22-0 before Club woke up. Down to 14 men with centre Lloyd Jones sin-binned, the hosts upped their game and scored a

It has been close between us and everything will depend on who steps up DEAN HEREWINI, VALLEY COACH

couple of tries through flanker Matt Lamont and centre Jake Phelps but the comeback was a tad too late. “I was happy with the last 10 minutes, but it is a pity the game goes for 80,” said Football Club’s rugby director Kevin West. “You can’t give them any sort of lead and expect to come back. We were the architects of our own downfall, but you have to give Valley credit for the pressure they put us under led to us making mistakes.” A six-try romp over Hong Kong Scottish earned HKCC parity at the top of the standings. A brace from Tom McQueen and tries by Angus Cameron, Pale Tauti, Jack Nielsen and Jamie Robinson lifted the title contenders to a comfortable win. Adrian Griffiths scored a consolation try for Hong Kong Scottish. In the opening game, Kowloon ended with 13 men on the park and hanging on to a 25-22 win over Borrelli Walsh Tigers.

Rafael Nadal put on an awesome performance to reach the Australian Open last 16 yesterday, with Roger Federer and Andy Murray also hitting top gear as the title race began to narrow. With Victoria Azarenka a class apart in her third-round win, Nadal stormed past France’s Gael Monfils 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 to underline his challenge to Novak Djokovic’s three-year Melbourne reign. Federer was typically fluent in his 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 win against Teymuraz Gabashvili and Murray, continuing his recovery from back surgery, was a convincing victor over Feliciano Lopez. With sharply cooling temperatures bringing an abrupt end to four days of 40-degree-Celsius heat, there was a business-like feel as the contenders set about reaching week two. Federer said his grand slam struggles last year, when he fell early at Wimbledon and the US Open, were past him as he dismantled Russia’s Gabashvili, the world No 79. “It was a tough year last year and it took some time to figure out what I needed to do to feel better and to get my confidence back because that’s what I thought it was mostly,” said Federer, seeded six. “For the last four to five months I feel that I’m back to normal again and at least I feel I’ve done the work to catch up and haven’t had any setbacks, so it’s very positive.” Murray gave a brief scare when he clutched his back in the first set, but he then moved unhindered to win 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, 6-2 and headed into the round of 16 without dropping a set. “Today was a big step up for me. Feliciano is a top-30 player. He’s a tricky opponent to play,” Murray said.

In the evening session, Nadal was superior in all departments to the entertaining, but inconsistent Monfils, winning in just over two hours. Nadal will next face Japanese No 1Kei Nishikori, who reeled off the last 10 games against Donald Young to end American interest in the men’s competition. Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov weathered Milos Raonic’s powerful serve to reach his first grand slam last 16, where he will face Roberto Bautista Agut, the Spaniard who ousted Benoit Paire. France’s Stephane Robert became the first “lucky loser” to reach the fourth round when he beat Slovakia’s Martin Klizan. His prize is a match with Murray. In an all-French clash, 2008 finalist JoWilfried Tson-

21 Winners Rafael Nadal hit against Gael Monfils, who had 33 winners and 57 unforced errors

ga ended the injury-defying run of Gilles Simon, who hobbled out of last week’s Kooyong Classic, to set up a clash with Federer. In the women’s draw, Azarenka destroyed hapless Austrian Yvonne Meusburger for the loss of just one game, winning 6-1, 6-0 to set up a rematch of last year’s semi-final with Sloane Stephens. American Stephens beat Elina Svitolina to progress and she said last year’s controversy, when Azarenka was accused of using a medical timeout to calm her nerves, would have no bearing. “That has nothing to do with this year. I don’t even remember half the stuff that happened. It’s okay,” said the 20-year-old. Former champion Maria Sharapova, returning from a shoulder injury, faced down a challenge for a second successive match before beating France’s Alize Cornet 6-1, 7-6 (8-6). Sharapova will next play Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova, who beat Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro. Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic won against Kurumi Nara to set up a meeting with Romanian Simona Halep. But former world number one Caroline Wozniacki took a tumble when she was shocked by the unheralded Garbine Muzuruga, 20. Next up for the emerging Spanish star is Polish fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska, who came from a set down to eliminate Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Spain’s Rafael Nadal was too strong for Gael Monfils. Photo: AFP


Maxing out in the spirit of adventure Vlad Ixel knows life as an ultra distance runner is hard as he pays his own way to travel to races ................................................ Jeanette Wang

Draymond Green tries to stop the Thunder’s Kevin Durant. Photo: AP

Durant’s career-high 54 points sink Warriors ................................................ Associated Press in Oklahoma City Kevin Durant drained three three-pointers in 75 seconds. And when the crowd wanted even more, the NBA’s leading scorer responded. Durant scored a career-high 54 points in an incredibly efficient performance, helping the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Golden State Warriors 127-121. The 2.05m forward had 11 points during one two-minute stretch in the fourth quarter, powering the Thunder to a 17point lead. With the crowd of 18,203 chanting “MVP! MVP!” he made two foul shots with 2:45 remaining to establish a new career-best scoring total. “When you’ve got it going, I look at the bench and see how my teammates are reacting, and that just gives me an extra push,” Durant said. “Then, I hear the fans.” Durant made 19 of 28 field goals and 11 of 13 free throws in his third straight game with at least 36 points. “As a leader, my main objective is to serve my teammates, help them out,” he said. “Some nights, I’ve got to put it up, I’ve got to score. Some nights, I’ve got to do other things. Tonight, they found me and I was able to hit a few shots. I just tried to do as best as I can to lead the team.” It was

the kind of performance that gets fans fired up about postseason awards. “It’s premature,” Durant said. “It’s way too early in the season. I try not to think about that type of stuff. Of course, as a player, you’d love to win an MVP, but I can’t take my focus off the team. Every day, I’ve just got to keep chipping away, keep enjoying the process, and we’ll see what happens.” Serge Ibaka had 21 points and eight rebounds, Reggie Jackson scored 14 points and Kendrick Perkins added 12 rebounds for the Thunder (30-10), who won for the third time in four games. Oklahoma City shot 58 per cent from the field and scored a season-high points total. Stephen Curry had 37 points and 11 assists, and Klay Thompson added 26 points for the Warriors (25-16), who shot 52 per cent, but simply could not match Durant. “We battled him for the most part, and he got hot in the fourth and knocked down some big shots for them,” Warriors centre Andrew Bogut said. “There’s a reason why he’s a perennial AllStar and future Hall of Famer, and possibly MVP this year.” Durant gave his teammates credit. “It’s the small things that go into a game to help us win and everybody did them tonight,” he said.

If you are Tiger Woods, Roger Federer or Kobe Bryant – the world’s highest-paid athletes in 2013 – life is a bed of roses. But if your sporting career is trail running, life is more like a bed in a 10-person dorm costing about HK$300 for four nights. The Pak Tam Chung Holiday Camp at Sai Kung was home this weekend for Vlad Ixel, a 26-yearold Australian elite runner competing in yesterday’s Vibram Hong Kong 100 Ultra Trail Race. After 10 hours, 11minutes and 53 seconds, Ixel finished the 100km course in third place – good for a plastic trophy and a pat on the back. Despite finishing in the top three, there was not a cent of prize money to earn “It’s difficult to be a professional trail run-

ner,” says Pascal Blanc, 48, a top French trail runner. “I prefer to have little money and run more. It’s better for my spirit.” Ixel would agree. A year and a half ago, he was drinking six beers and smoking a pack a day. He was a promising tennis player growing up, but at 17 he quit the sport and things went downhill. Then, a couple of weeks before his 25th birthday in June 2012, he quit drinking and smoking and became vegan. And he signed up to run his first marathon. “I was so unhealthy and so unhappy, and had nothing to look forward to in life,” says Ixel. “I had enough of that.” After a couple of decent results, he decided that road marathons were “way too easy”, and signed up for the Atacama Crossing, a six-stage, self-supported 250km race in the Atacama Desert in Chile, held in March last

year. He came second in 26:54:13. In September, he won The Most Beautiful Thing 100km Ultra Trail in Kota Kinabalu and followed up with another victory at The North Face 100 Singapore three weeks later. In spite of his growing résumé, Ixel was one of the few elite local and international runners at the Hong Kong 100 with no sponsors. With a weekly mileage of about 200km, he goes through eight pairs of shoes in four months. He pays his own way to races and puts up in hostels.

From 5pm to midnight, he works as a waiter and bartender; in the morning, he runs. “Pretty much all the money I earn goes towards travelling for races,” says Ixel. “I’m just happy to be able to travel and do all these races all over the world. “Fortunately, I’m only 26. For me, 2014 is about gaining more experience. Obviously, it would be nice to have a sponsor and to work less.” With the recent formation of the Ultra-Trail World Tour, a circuit of 10 iconic trail races across

Pretty much all the money I earn goes towards travelling for races VLAD IXEL

five continents – Hong Kong 100 was the first of the series – elite trail runners could have more opportunities for sponsorship. Vajin Armstrong, 33, a New Zealander who bagged a stack of podium finishes at ultra trails all over the world last year, had his travel for the Hong Kong 100 paid for. “There was no way that I could afford to come to this race if not for the [new tour],” he says. David Mackey, 44, a top American trail runner, says the US market is growing. “We’re starting to see a lot of runners, especially those in their 20s, try to scrape by and make a living.” Ixel will be doing just that this year. In three weeks, he will run The North Face 100 Thailand, then he will return to Hong Kong for the TransLantau 100 in March. In the summer, he will spend five months training and racing in Europe. “I have a credit card with a A$10,000 limit,” Ixel says. “I plan to max it out then worry about it when I return home.”

SHORT SPORT O’Sullivan hits record form to thrash Walden World champion Ronnie O’Sullivan took less than an hour to book his place in the semifinals of the Masters tournament with a record-breaking 6-0 rout of Ricky Walden. O’Sullivan, 38, needed just 59 minutes to brush aside Walden at London’s Alexandra Palace as he chases a fifth title in the prestigious event. Remarkably, after Walden had led in the opener with a break of 38, O’Sullivan’s frame-winning response of 79 started a run of 556 points without reply. “That’s snooker. I’ve had it numerous times, when you just sit there as

a passenger,” said O’Sullivan. “It can be embarrassing but at some point you just go ‘well, this guy’s on fire’, and it’s good to watch sometimes.” O’Sullivan’s run of unanswered points was a record for any professional tournament and a shell-shocked Walden said: “That’s the first time I’ve ever felt absolutely helpless on a snooker table. I scored about 35 points in the first frame then never saw another ball, really.” Englishman O’Sullivan will play Stephen Maguire in the semi-finals after the Scot upset the form book to beat Australia’s Neil Robertson 6-2. The other semi-final is between Shaun Murphy and Mark Selby. AFP

Japan teen Takanashi Dhoni refuses to take wins 16th ski jump title New Zealand lightly

Leinster crush Ospreys to reach quarter-finals

Japanese teenager Sara Takanashi won her seventh women’s ski jump World Cup tournament of the season yesterday, continuing her dominance ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Despite falling on the landing of her jump of 104 metres, Takanashi received 110.8 points for her 16th career victory. The 17-year-old sensation will be the overwhelming favourite to become the sport’s first female Olympic champion next month when women’s ski jumping makes its debut. AP

Leinster thrashed Ospreys 36-3 to book their place in the European Cup quarter-finals while Northampton kept their faint hopes alive with a 13-3 win over Castres. Leinster looked like they were in for a battle royale with their Celtic League rivals until Welsh lock Ian Evans was sent off for stamping on 20 minutes. “It was pretty good, we had to stick to our guns,” forward Cian Healey said. “It was a slow game, trying to piece things together was tough, but we stuck to what [coach Matt O’Connor] told us.” AFP

World champions India put their top spot in the global one-day international cricket rankings on the line in a five-match series starting in Napier today against a New Zealand side who are fired up by new-found self-belief. But, despite the huge difference in rankings between the two sides, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni declares he is not taking New Zealand lightly. “Especially at home, they’ll know the conditions better than us and for some who have not played here it will be a challenge,” said the skipper. AFP

20140119 Sunday Morning Post - Vlad Ixel  
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