Tagged in: United states

United States men’s basketball downs Cuba in World Cup qualifier

There were some cheers for “The Star-Spangled Banner” before USA Basketball’s match in Cuba on Independence Day.

And then the Americans celebrated the holiday with a big victory.

Xavier Munford scored 24 points and the U.S. defeated Cuba 87-64 on Monday night to close the first round of qualifying for next year’s Basketball World Cup — improving to 31-1 all time versus the island nation.

“It’s emotional to play on the Fourth of July,” said Jim Boylen, who coached the U.S. in all three of the two-game windows in the opening qualifying round. “It’s emotional to be here with this group of guys, with USA across our chests. It’s a big day. Our country is 246 years old today and we’re just thankful for this moment together.”

Munford was 10 for 12 from the floor for the Americans, who got 13 points from Justin Jackson, 12 from John Jenkins — all from 3-point range — and 10 apiece from Will Davis and Langston Galloway.

“It’s July 4th. No better feeling than to get a win tonight,” Munford said.

Jordan Bell concluded with eight rebounds and six assists for the Americans, whose spot in the second round of qualifying was previously secured. They’ll take a 5-1 record into the second round, well on their way to clinching a spot in the World Cup and moving a big step closer toward getting USA Basketball qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

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Yoel Cubilla led Cuba (0-6) with 15 points.

The Americans will start the second round of World Cup qualifying on Aug. 25, with the expectation that the first matchup will be versus Uruguay in Las Vegas.

The U.S. will also play Aug. 29, probably on the road and likely against Colombia, though FIBA has yet to confirm that as the matchup.

The two road wins on this trip — the Americans beat Puerto Rico on Friday — puts the U.S. in a prime position to qualify for the World Cup. The roster was primarily composed of G League players, as is always the case for the Americans in World Cup qualifying, and Boylen said this group came together quickly.

“We came together 11 days ago and our team was focused, our guys were great, we worked on the basics, we got better every day and I thought we played the right way,” he said. “The ball moved, we grew together, and we cared for each other.”

The U.S. will be grouped with Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Colombia in the second round. Also grouped from the Americas region will be Venezuela, Argentina, Panama, Canada, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.

Both of those groups will send three teams to the World Cup; the best fourth-place team from either of those groups will also go, with the Americas region sending seven teams to the tournament that will be played in the summer of 2023 in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia.

Cuba led 16-14 after the first quarter Monday night. But the Americans scored 14 points in the first 2:19 of the second quarter to take command.

“We lost the first quarter, but I thought the second quarter, we responded,” Boylen said.

A 3-pointer by Jackson opened the second quarter and put the U.S. ahead for good. The lead was 49-32 early in the third — ending what was a 35-16 run by the U.S. — and the Americans remained ahead the rest of the way. “The Cuba team was great,” Munford said.

“They came out with a great effort. They made us work for it. They had strong guys. We played well tonight. We executed, took care of the ball, ran our offense and played USA style of basketball.”

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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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U.S. beats Spain to set up Billie Jean King Cup semifinal vs. Russia

The United States won both singles matches versus Spain to reach the semifinals of the Billie Jean King Cup on Wednesday.

The Americans faced a must-win situation after losing to Slovakia 2-1 in Group C on Tuesday, and Sloane Stephens and Danielle Collins both earned straight-set victories to render the final doubles meaningless.

The U.S., the most successful team in the competition formerly known as the Fed Cup with 18 titles, will face Russia in the semis. The Russians eliminated defending champion France earlier in the day.

Stephens beat Nuria Parrizas-Diaz 6-4, 6-4, earning her seventh break of the match in the final game and converting her first match point with a backhand winner.

“I came out really confident, I knew that I’m ready,” said Stephens, the 2107 U.S. Open champion.

Collins secured the second point by easing past Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-1, 6-0 in just under one hour to seal the victory and eliminate Spain. “I think in this format, every game, every set counts,” Collins said.

“For me, I was just on a roll. I think it’s quite hard putting to words when you have a performance like that.”

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After sweeping Canada 3-0 the previous day, Russia needed only one win from the best-of-three match versus France to advance from Group A.

It could rely on its top player, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, to deliver it.

The 12th-ranked Pavlyuchenkova rallied to beat Alize Cornet 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 to earn Russia the semifinal spot.

“I’m so happy and so proud of myself,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “It was an incredible match. It was very good tennis but the more important was the amazing fighting spirit from both of us.”

After dropping the first set, the Russian broke Cornet in the opening games of the following two sets to improve her record against her 59th-ranked opponent to 7-1, hitting 34 winners on the way.

After the 2019 champion was upset by outsider Canada 2-1 in its opener on Monday, France needed to beat Russia 3-0 to advance.

Last year’s edition was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 12 teams in the finals are divided into four groups of three teams in a new format of the competition. Only the group winners advance to Friday’s semifinals.

Earlier, Clara Burel kept France alive, winning the opening singles.

The 77th-ranked Burel upset Ekaterina Alexandrova, ranked 32nd, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 for her first victory over a top-50 player in her singles debut in the competition.

The Russian hit 34 winners but also produced 44 unforced errors before double-faulting on Burel’s fourth match point.

“It’s very special. It was the first match for my country and I was very happy to be able to win today,” the 20-year old Burel said. The Russians also won the doubles for a 2-1 overall win.

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Leylah Fernandez, one day after turning 19, tops Elina Svitolina, advances to US Open semifinals

With no players from the United States left to pull for in the US Open, the fans are adopting a neighbor from the North to treat as one of their own: Leylah Fernandez, an unseeded Canadian teenager with an exciting game and enthusiasm to match.

A day after turning 19, Fernandez reached her first Grand Slam semifinal — and became the youngest player to get that far in the women’s bracket at Flushing Meadows since Maria Sharapova in 2005 — by adding a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) triumph versus No. 5 Elina Svitolina on Tuesday to earlier wins over past US Open champions Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber.

“I obviously have no idea what I’m feeling right now,” said Fernandez, a left-hander with quick baseline reflexes who is ranked 73rd and participating in only the seventh major tournament of her nascent career. “I was so nervous. I was trying to do what my coach told me to do.”

That coach is her father, who isn’t in New York; he stayed home and is offering tips in daily phone conversations. That helps, certainly, as does the loud backing she has been receiving from the spectators, who rose and cheered wildly each time Fernandez raised a fist high above her head or wind-milled both arms after winning a key point in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

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“Thanks to you, I was able to push through today,” she told the crowd after edging Svitolina, the Tokyo Olympics bronze medalist whose two Grand Slam semifinal runs include the 2019 US Open.

Not requiring any encouragement to get out of his seat was Fernandez’s fitness coach, who would leap and shout, pointing fingers or waving clenched fists.

Svitolina’s husband, two-time major semifinalist Gael Monfils, offered similar support from Ashe’s other guest box.

It was touch-and-go down the stretch — even after Fernandez grabbed the opening set, and even after she led 5-2 in the third. One way in which she held a clear advantage: Of points that lasted more than eight shots, Fernandez won 26, Svitolina 16.

Five times, Fernandez was two points from winning but failed to collect the next point. Finally, at 5-all in the tiebreaker, she moved to match point when she smacked a down-the-line passing shot that got past Svitolina with the help of a bounce off the net tape.

Fernandez put up both palms, as if to say, “Sorry about that bit of luck,” while Svitolina put a hand to her mouth in dismay.

Svitolina’s backhand contributed to her undoing late, and when a return from that side landed long, it was over. Fernandez dropped to her knees at the baseline and covered her face; Svitolina walked around the net to approach Fernandez for a hug.

Next on this magical ride for Fernandez will come yet another test versus a player who is ranked higher and has more experience on the sport’s biggest stages: Aryna Sabalenka.

Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed, matched her best result in a Grand Slam tournament by reaching the semifinals via a 6-1, 6-4 triumph over French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, who was seeded No. 8. Sabalenka acknowledged having confidence problems in the biggest tournaments earlier in her career, saying she has worked with a psychologist to deal with those fears.

It seems to be working, as Sabalenka made her initial Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon and will try to go a step further in New York.

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