Tagged in: California

Naomi Osaka cruises past Astra Sharma in first round of Miami Open

Naomi Osaka was greeted by some cheers when she walked onto the court, then got significantly louder ones when her work for the day was done.

Maybe the comforts of home helped.

Flashing the level of play that vaulted her to No. 1 in the world not too long ago, Osaka had little trouble in defeating Astra Sharma of Australia 6-3, 6-4 on Wednesday — the first full day of play at the Miami Open.

Osaka is Japanese-born, calls California home now, but spent much of her youth in South Florida, basically just a few miles north of where the Miami Open is now held.

“I kind of consider this like my home tournament,” Osaka said, before her words got drowned out by more cheers and applause from fans. “This is the tournament that I loved coming to once a year. I’m just really happy to be back out here.”

It was Osaka’s first match since a March 12 loss at Indian Wells, when she was rattled by a derogatory shout from a spectator. If any similar thoughts were expressed by the fans who were watching Wednesday in a largely empty stadium court built over the field where the NFL’s Miami Dolphins play football, they either were ignored or unnoticed.

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“Honestly, for me, I just didn’t want to let anything bother me today no matter what happened,” Osaka said. “The last match that I played was not the greatest memory for me.”

That’s when someone decided to yell from the stands: “We love you.”

Osaka surely appreciated that sentiment.

She revealed Wednesday that she started seeing a therapist after Indian Wells

“it only took like a year after French Open,” she quipped, referring to how she missed the clay-court Grand Slam event to focus on her mental health last year — and that she was bracing to hear heckling.

“I’m glad that I have people around me that told me to go in that direction,” Osaka said. “I was basically just remembering all the things that she told me to do, just to take deep breaths and reset myself when I need to.”

Osaka will face No. 13 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany — like Osaka, another former world No. 1 — in the second round Thursday. Kerber, like all 32 seeds in the 96-player singles field, had a bye out of the first round. Kerber is 4-1 head-to-head versus Osaka.

Osaka improved to 7-2 this year, not counting a walkover loss at Melbourne in early January when she withdrew from an Australian Open warmup event with an abdominal injury.

She’s ranked No. 77 in the world largely because she hasn’t entered many events in the last year, though among active players — if Ashleigh Barty is no longer considered one after her surprising retirement announcement — Osaka is the most recent to hold the No. 1 ranking. Barty supplanted her in the top spot on Sept. 9, 2019, and has held that ranking since.

Osaka has openly talked about struggling with depression and working on her mental health since winning the 2018 US Open over Serena Williams. She withdrew from last year’s French Open, left last year’s US Open in tears and was brought to tears again by the comment from a spectator at Indian Wells earlier this month.

“I just wanted to prove that I could come back out here and compete,” Osaka said.

Also Wednesday, 2018 Miami champion Sloane Stephens earned a second-round matchup versus fellow American Jessica Pegula by topping Hungary’s Panna Udvardy 6-4, 6-3. And Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania topped Hailey Baptiste of the U.S. 6-7 (6), 6-1, 6-1 to move into a second-round matchup versus women’s No. 1 seed Aryna Sabalenka.

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Novak Djokovic in BNP Paribas Open draw, but ‘it has not been determined if he will participate’

World No. 2 Novak Djokovic was announced in the draw for the BNP Paribas Open on Tuesday, despite his status to enter the United States still unclear due to being unvaccinated.

“Novak Djokovic is on the tournament entry list, and therefore is placed into the draw today,” the California tournament said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We are currently in communication with his team; however, it has not been determined if he will participate in the event by getting CDC approval to enter the country.”

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It’s the latest setback for Djokovic, the 20-time major champion, in what has become a tumultuous 2022.

He was deported from Australia in January after initially receiving a medical exemption to play in the Australian Open and then having his visa revoked by the Australian government.

He has since played in just one tournament — a quarterfinal appearance in Dubai — and it stays unclear how many events he will be able to play as a result of his unvaccinated status. He was recently ousted from the No. 1 ranking by Daniil Medvedev.

Djokovic told the BBC he would be willing to skip majors in the future if a vaccine was required.

“Yes, that is the price that I’m willing to pay,” he said in February.

Djokovic publicly stated his desire to play at the Masters 1000-level event in Indian Wells, California but said in Dubai last month he wasn’t sure if he would be able to enter the country. He has yet to provide a further update.

The men’s main draw gets underway on Thursday and seeded players receive a first-round bye. Djokovic is currently scheduled to play the winner of the opening-round match between Jordan Thompson and David Goffin in a second-round match on Saturday or Sunday.

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Brandon Moreno vs. Deiveson Figueiredo 3 preview

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Flyweight elites Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo will collide for the third time this weekend at UFC 270 inside Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

Though the record heading into their rubber match stands only slightly in favor of Moreno at 1-0-1, it’s impossible to deny that he has all the momentum. After all, the rematch saw the Mexican athlete put on a masterclass, a dominant showing in all areas of martial arts that seemingly sent Figueiredo packing to Bantamweight.

Instead, “Daico” stuck around, and when Alexandre Pantoja was unable to accept a title shot due to injury, Figueiredo was in prime position for a shot at retaking the belt.

Could this be his last fight at Flyweight one way or another? Perhaps, and Friday’s weigh-ins may be a spectacle to keep an eye on.

Moreno has been very good since he first joined the UFC roster, but his skills and confidence has exploded in the last 1.5 years.

The Flyweight king now possesses arguably the division’s sharpest jab, slick counter combinations, and his wrestling/grappling remain quite potent.

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Is there really any room for improvement based on the rematch?

In their second battle, Moreno immediately jabbed his adversary up, kept him swinging at air, and landed punishing shots from his back foot. He took him down, dropped him and choked him out.

The same tools Moreno found success with last time are likely to be available again here, as Figueiredo is 34 years old, deep into his professional career, and unlikely to full revamp his game in half a year. As such, it would be wise for Moreno to start quickly and keep momentum in his corner.

If Moreno starts the fight by blasting Figueiredo’s nose with stiff jabs and making him miss, it’ll really damage his opponent’s confidence, and the fight likely looks like a continuation of the rematch.

Figueiredo got beat up last time out, but that doesn’t mean the Brazilian sucks now. “Deus da Guerra” remains one of the division’s heaviest hitters, an all-offense fighter known for brutalizing opponents.

Seventeen finishes in 20 wins as a Flyweight is massive.

For as great as Moreno’s performance was in the rematch, Figueiredo’s was equally flat. The Brazilian never found his timing, tried to force exchanges, and ultimately didn’t look that upset when he lost. In short, it wasn’t his night, and “Daico” definitely has more to offer than he showed at UFC 263.

For Figueiredo, not chasing Moreno is the key. Due to the power in his hands, Figueiredo has grown accustomed to swinging big, and if he misses, most opponents pulled too far away to answer back.

Instead of hunting the knockout from the first bell, Figueiredo has to take his time and attack easier targets, notably the lead calf and torso.

If Figueiredo is cutting off the cage and looking to slow Moreno down with attritional damage, he’ll eventually get the brawl he wants.

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Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield has shoulder surgery, eyes return to ‘my true self’

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield says he is on track to getting “back to my true self” after undergoing surgery Wednesday to repair a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder.

Dr. Orr Limpisvasti, the orthopedic surgeon for the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, performed the surgery on Mayfield’s left shoulder in California.

“Surgery went great. Was a complete success,” Mayfield said in a video posted to social media. “Now it’s on to the road to recovery. It’s one of those steps to get back to my true self. … This is not the end of my story.”

The Browns stated the likely time period for Mayfield’s recovery is four to six months. He will start physical therapy on his shoulder next week and is expected to be cleared by training camp, if not sooner, a source told ESPN.

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Mayfield, who suffered the shoulder injury in Week 2 and played through it for the rest of the season, will start light throwing in April and should be able to participate in the off-season program on a limited basis, the team said.

After the Browns’ Week 17 game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mayfield admitted that he was “pretty damn beat up.”

With Cleveland already eliminated from playoff contention, Mayfield sat out the team’s season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 9.

Even though Mayfield concluded 27th in the league in QBR (35.3) this season, Cleveland general manager Andrew Berry declared last week that the Browns “fully expect” the 2018 No. 1 draft pick to be their starting quarterback in 2022 and “bounce back” from his injury-plagued season.

Mayfield will be entering the final year of his rookie contract, which will pay him close to $19 million in 2022 after the Browns exercised his fifth-year option last offseason.

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Vergil Ortiz on Golden Boy’s first card during coronavirus pandemic

Highly regarded welterweight Vergil Ortiz will face veteran Samuel Vargas on July 24 in Golden Boy’s first fight card since the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to boxing events across the world in mid-March.

The card will take place at the Fantasy Springs Casino Resort in Indio, California.

“We’re just excited, happy to be back with our fighters,” said Eric Gomez, president of Golden Boy Promotions. “Especially a guy like Vergil who was scheduled to fight before the shutdown. He was 10 days out from fighting, so I’m just happy he gets to fight again, and we’re back at it.”

For the time being, Golden Boy’s cards in California will be held without an audience.

Ortiz (15-0, 15 KOs) is considered one of boxing’s best young fighters. The 22-year-old native of Grand Prairie, Texas, has stopped everyone he has faced thus far as a professional. In 2019, Ortiz stopped Mauricio Herrera in three rounds, and then Antonio Orozco in six.

Ortiz and Vargas were initially organized to clash on March 28 at The Forum in Inglewood, California, before that card was canceled. “I’m very thankful and excited to be headlining the first Golden Boy event after the quarantine,” said Ortiz, who has been training with Robert Garcia in Riverside for the past few weeks.

“I’m happy that it’s still with the same opponent, so basically we’re picking up where we left off. It’s going to be a tough fight, and it’ll be a great way to kick off the year for me.”

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Ortiz is facing a seasoned veteran in Vargas (31-5-2, 14 KOs), who has faced Amir Khan, Luis Collazo, Danny Garcia and Errol Spence over the course of his career.

“I think that everything happens for a reason,” said Vargas, who has been in Las Vegas in recent weeks, preparing for this fight. “I think this time off benefited me. I’m ready to upset the world. I believe I can come out with the win. The world is a weird place right now. The show will be different. There will be no supporters, but I have no doubt I’m going to win.”

As Golden Boy officials started to put this card together, they found a rather limited pool of options to draw from, in terms of selecting boxers.

“There’s a lot of guys that just weren’t ready,” Gomez said. “They hadn’t been to the gym because [gyms] were closed, they didn’t train, do road work, sparring or anything. Now it’s a little better, but we’re not in the clear yet.”

The co-feature arranged for July 24 is a 10-round lightweight contest between Hector Tanajara (19-0, 5 KOs) and Mercito Gesta (32-3-3, 17 KOs). Other fights include an eight-round middleweight fight between Shane Mosley Jr. (15-3, 9 KOs) and Jeremy Ramos (11-8, 2 KOs), a women’s junior flyweight fight between Seniesa Estrada (18-0, 7 KOs) and Jacky Calvo (12-5-2, 1 KO), and a clash between prospects Hector Valdez and Evan Sanchez.

There’s no indication when spectators will be allowed back into any sporting events, and from Golden Boy’s perspective, the hope at this point is just to try to get the first few cards off the ground smoothly.

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California board passes rules for boxing return

The California State Athletic Commission passed emergency regulations Friday with an eye to restarting combat events in the summer months.

The commission met via video conference Friday morning and its guidelines were sent to the California Office of Administrative Law.

“When that process is finished, we’ll start,” said Andy Foster, the CSAC’s executive director.

Among the key parts of these regulations, according to Foster, is that, “the fighters will be tested between two and three weeks before their event for the COVID-19 virus. If they’re clear, we’ll accept them on the bout card and we’ll approve the fights if they meet the other criteria.

Foster acknowledged that weighing heavily on the committee’s minds was Jacare Souza, who was scratched from the UFC 249 card in Jacksonville, Florida, on the weekend of May 9 for testing positive for the coronavirus.

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“We learned from that event, and I want to be clear, that’s not to put down the UFC one bit, they had a great plan and everything,” he said. “We learned by watching that, just how contagious this virus could be. So we want to mitigate that risk.”

Everyone working corners will be required to wear a mask and surgical gloves at ringside, but there will be no limit on how many people can be in the facility on fight night.

It’s not clear who will have the first show in California, but Eric Gomez, the president of Golden Boy Promotions, told ESPN, “Our plan, right now, we would like to go July 4th, and we’re working towards that. We’re doing a lot of work behind the scenes to ensure that all the right guidelines and protocols are going to be followed, and that the commission is going to be satisfied with all our efforts.”

Boxing has been at a standstill throughout the world since mid-March. Foster says he has received abundant calls during the past couple of months from those in the business wondering when they could start programing shows.

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California cancels all combat sports through May

The California State Athletic Commission, as first reported by ESPN, has canceled all combat sports events in its state through the end of May.

Under main directions of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, the move was a proactive measure to help inhibit the spread of the covid-19 virus that has the world dealing with a global pandemic.

“The Commission didn’t take this decision lightly and understands the potential economic loss to promoters and the industry of combative sports. We had to weigh the best interest of our fighters and the community around us,” the CSAC statement said.

The UFC has already postponed at least three events, though company president Dana White has insisted on trying to move forward with UFC 249 on April 18. He has yet to name a location or a new main event now that UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is set to stay in place in his home country of Russia.

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The UFC had one date slated for California in May. UFC on ESPN+ 33 was slated for May 16 at Pechanga Arena with a main event featuring lightweights Dustin Poirier and Dan Hooker. That event, at minimum, will have to move locations or be reprogrammed for a later date.

In addition to the UFC, Bellator MMA had also been slated for two events in California in May. 

Bellator 242 was set to feature dual-division champion Ryan Bader defend his light heavyweight strap versus Vadim Nemkov on May 9 in San Jose. Former UFC contender Liz Carmouche was expected to make her promotion debut opposite Mandy Böhm in the Bellator 243 headliner on May 29, at the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula.

Bellator had already reported that it was cancelling its May events prior to the release from the California State Athletic Commission.

Most other fight promotions around the globe have canceled all events through at least April, if not May.

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