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Heather Watson reached her first quarter-final in 18 months with a three-set win over South Korea's Han Na-lae at the Thailand Open.

The British number six triumphed 6-3 5-7 6-4 in a match lasting two hours 33 minutes.

Watson, 30, will face Chinese seventh seed Wang Xinyu in Hua Hin on Friday.

Victory over Han means Watson - currently 160th in WTA rankings - will return to the top 150.

She led by a set and a double break before Han fought back to force a deciding set.

Watson broke again in the third set, but threw her racquet in frustration when Han again levelled at 4-4, before wrapping up the win with a drop shot on her second match point.

Watson lost in the semi-finals of the Birmingham Classic in June 2021, the last time she reached at least the last eight of a WTA Tour event.

The ITTF Group Chief Executive Officer Steve Dainton recently concluded a productive visit to Japan, including discussions with the Japan Table Tennis Association (JTTA), key local stakeholders, and business representatives.

Joining Dainton was ITTF Executive Vice President Masahiro Maehara and World Table Tennis Japan General Manager Ai Fukuhara, who attended the All Japan National Championships 2023, where Hina Hayata and Shunsuke Togami emerged victorious.

“It was a fruitful visit, and I would like to thank the Japan Table Tennis Association for all their support, as well as congratulate them on their successful national championships. Japan would make a perfect host for a World Table Tennis event, and I am optimistic we will see one soon. We are committed to further growing table tennis together in Japan as we know there are many opportunities from both the perspectives of sport and commercial development” – Steve Dainton

The delegations held discussions with several local municipalities in the country to explore the possibility of hosting international table tennis events in the future. The meetings were aimed at identifying potential venues and discussing necessary preparations to ensure the successful hosting of these events.

Dainton also engaged in productive talks with various businesses and equipment companies to explore new opportunities for collaboration. The goal is to drive innovation and raise the profile of table tennis in Japan, building on its popularity from the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, where the sport reached a maximum audience of over 21 million and a TV reach of 54.4% of the population.

With Japan’s unwavering commitment to the growth of table tennis, the future of the sport holds immense promise. and the ITTF Group CEO left the country eager to see what the next chapter holds.

Ireland prop Tadhg Furlong has been ruled out of Saturday's Six Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff and replaced by Finlay Bealham.

Leinster tighthead Furlong has been suffering with ankle and calf injuries in recent weeks.

Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey retains his place in Andy Farrell's side, with Bundee Aki named on the bench.

Farrell's two other changes see captain Johnny Sexton coming in at fly-half and James Lowe starting on the wing.

Jack Crowley and Jimmy O'Brien drop out of the team that beat Australia in November.

Furlong not being available meant an unexpected change to the Ireland pack that had played in the autumn series wins over South Africa, Fiji and and the Wallabies.

McCloskey is continuing to fill the void left by the experienced Robbie Henshaw, out with a wrist injury, and is joined in midfield by Garry Ringrose. It will be a first appearance in the championship for the Ulster centre since his Test debut seven years ago.

Captain Sexton, who pulled out of the win over Australia in Dublin minutes before kick-off with a thigh injury, is fit to lead the side after training on Wednesday without a face mask for the first time since having cheekbone surgery last month.

Leinster wing Lowe makes his return after having to sit out the November series because of a calf injury. He takes his place in an expected backline that includes Jamison Gibson-Park, Hugo Keenan at full-back and Mack Hansen on the other wing.

Bealham 'deserves it' - Farrell

"Finlay deserves it," said Farrell, who confirmed the roof in the Principality Stadium will be closed for the game.

"He's playing very well, last time out he scored a hat-trick [of tries for Connacht against Newcastle Falcons in the Challenge Cup]."

Bealham will pack down in the front row with fellow prop Andrew Porter, with hooker Dan Sheehan between them.

Tadhg Beirne and James Ryan are the lock pairing, while Caelan Doris is at number eight, and Josh van der Flier and Peter O'Mahony on either flank.

Tom O'Toole will provide front-row cover from an Ireland bench that, as well as Aki, includes experienced scrum-half Conor Murray and Ulster captain Iain Henderson, with Ross Byrne the covering fly-half.

Ireland have not won a Six Nations match at Cardiff's Principality Stadium since 2013.

Former Former Ireland head coach Warren Gatland, meanwhile, has been forced into a late change to his Wales side for what will be the first game of his second spell in charge of the country.

Thirty-four-year-old full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who was set to make his first international start for 19 months, suffered a back spasm in training and is replaced in the team by Liam Williams.

As his captain did on Wednesday, Farrell also dismissed Gatland's notion that this was a "free shot" for Wales as they were heavy underdogs against the number-one-ranked Irish.

"There's no free shot in test rugby. Maybe I'll buy him a free shot after the game," Farrell said.

Ireland: Keenan; Hansen, Ringrose, McCloskey, Lowe; Sexton, Gibson-Park; Porter, Sheehan, Bealham; Beirne, Ryan; O'Mahony, Van der Flier, Doris.

Replacements: Herring, Healy, O'Toole, Henderson, Conan, Murray, Byrne, Aki.

Wales: Halfpenny; Adams, North, Hawkins, Dyer; Biggar, T Williams; G Thomas, Owens (capt), Francis, Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Morgan, Tipuric, Faletau.

Replacements: Baldwin, Carre, Lewis, Jenkins, Reffell, Webb, O Williams, Cuthbert.

Liam Williams will start at full-back for Wales in Saturday's Six Nations opener against Ireland in Cardiff after injury ruled out Leigh Halfpenny.

Scarlets' Halfpenny was due to make his first Wales start in 19 months but he has suffered a back spasm in training.

Cardiff's Williams, who was included in the original matchday squad, will wear the number 15 jersey.

Wales assistant coach Jonathan Humphreys said Williams is "good to go".

It is the third time in recent months that 34-year-old Halfpenny has been a late withdrawal from the Wales team.

He was named by Wayne Pivac to face both New Zealand and Australia last autumn - having made his Test return against Georgia as a replacement - only to pull out of both games shortly before kick-off.

However, head coach Warren Gatland was braced for this twist having revealed Halfpenny sat out training sessions this week with a hip complaint.

"Unfortunately, Leigh had a back spasm this morning (Thursday) and Liam will be playing," said Humphreys.

"It's more disappointing for [Leigh] as a person. He's had a couple of these recently.

"He's an unbelievable professional and an unbelievable person. He's got to pick himself up again. You feel for him that he's got to pull out at this late stage again."

Williams may not offer the same kicking option as Halfpenny but the veteran of 81 caps is a vastly experienced replacement.

He has not played for Wales since starting all three Tests on the summer tour to South Africa having missed the autumn series with a collarbone injury suffered on his Cardiff debut in September.

He remained a concern for the Six Nations after concussion on his return - against Halfpenny in a game against Scarlets - followed by a hand injury.

Humphreys said: "Liam is a great replacement to have and is good to go."

Wales have confirmed the Principality Stadium roof will be closed for the fixture.

Ireland: Keenan; Hansen, Ringrose, McCloskey, Lowe; Sexton, Gibson-Park; Porter, Sheehan, Bealham; Beirne, Ryan; O'Mahony, Van der Flier, Doris.

Replacements: Herring, Healy, O'Toole, Henderson, Conan, Murray, Byrne, Aki.

Wales: L Williams; Adams, North, Hawkins, Dyer; Biggar, T Williams; G Thomas, Owens (capt), Francis, Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Morgan, Tipuric, Faletau.

Replacements: Baldwin, Carre, Lewis, Jenkins, Reffell, Webb, O Williams, Cuthbert.

Wing Ollie Hassell-Collins will make his England debut in Saturday's Six Nations opener against Scotland at Twickenham.

Manu Tuilagi is left out of the 23-man matchday squad and Joe Marchant starts at outside centre in Steve Borthwick's first game as head coach.

Captain Owen Farrell will start at 12 and partner fly-half Marcus Smith.

Flanker Ben Curry will earn a second England cap 17 months after his first, stepping in for injured brother Tom.

Borthwick said Twickenham fans - some of whom booed England when they lost to South Africa in November - would witness "the start of the next chapter of English rugby".

He said: "The players are determined to play with the commitment, fight and desire that is at the very heart of representing England, the sort of passion that our tremendous supporters rightly expect."

Jack van Poortvliet is England's starting scrum-half, pushing the more experienced Ben Youngs, who has 121 England caps, to the bench.

Wing Max Malins returns to the back three, where Freddie Steward starts at full-back.

In the front row, hooker Jamie George will start - he has completed his return to play after concussion - as Luke Cowan-Dickie is injured.

Ollie Chessum partners Maro Itoje in the second row and Curry is joined by Lewis Ludlam in the back row, with Alex Dombrandt at number eight.

On the bench, hooker Jack Walker may make his debut, veteran prop Dan Cole could earn his 96th cap and Anthony Watson may return to the back three following injury.

New era, new wing

Hassell-Collins - called up to England training squads under previous head coach Eddie Jones - has performed consistently for London Irish this season.

Borthwick suggested he was looking to the future on the wing when he left Jonny May and Jack Nowell out of his Six Nations squad last month.

Hassell-Collins, 24, offers speed, solidity under the high ball and in defence and is sure to be tested in an intense Calcutta Cup atmosphere.

Tuilagi, 31, has been an England regular since his debut in 2011 but has been hampered by injuries throughout his career.

He is overlooked despite being fit as Borthwick turns to Marchant with Henry Slade, Elliot Daly and Dan Kelly injured.

Tuilagi's power may be missed, but Marchant will bring pace and dynamism alongside Harlequins team-mate Smith.

Farrell was expected to start at fly-half before Slade's injury meant he had to step out to 12 and make way for Smith.

England seek a revival under Borthwick before the World Cup begins in September. They won five of 12 Tests in 2022 and only two of five matches in last year's Six Nations.

Scotland are the Calcutta Cup holders, having won 20-17 at Murrayfield last year, and claimed a first win at Twickenham since 1983 on their most recent visit in 2021.

England: Steward; Malins, Marchant, Farrell (capt), Hassell-Collins; Smith, Van Poortvliet; Genge, George, Sinckler, Itoje, Chessum, Ludlam, B Curry, Dombrandt.

Replacements: Walker, M Vunipola, Cole, Isiekwe, Earl, Youngs, Lawrence, Watson.

Scotland: Hogg; Steyn, Jones, Tuipulotu, Van der Merwe; Russell, White; Schoeman, Turner, Nel; R Gray, Gilchrist; Ritchie (capt), Crosbie, M Fagerson.

Replacements: Brown, Bhatti, Berghan, J Gray, Dempsey, Horne, Kinghorn, Harris.

Analysis - 'dynamism over power'

BBC rugby union correspondent Chris Jones

A new regime and a new approach.

For years England coaches have picked Tuilagi - when fit - come what may, but Borthwick has gone instead for the pace and athleticism of Marchant.

It points to a preference for dynamism and mobility over power, with the selection of Curry and Ludlam on the flanks supporting this.

Hassell-Collins has waited for his chance on the wing, with Borthwick hailing his form over a number of seasons for London Irish as he rewards a number of players for their Premiership performances.

The NHL All-Star Game is an oasis. It's a moment for players to hang with peers, friends and family. To sink a golf putt with a hockey stick or topple into a dunk tank, it's a time to let their personalities shine through, or at least as much personality as their decades of hockey culture programming will allow them to show without the shock collar going off. There's a reason they call it an All-Star break. It's a break from all that stress and strain of watching the scoreboard.

But breaks are breaks because eventually one must get back to the grind. The rest of the NHL season provides challenges, obstacles, missions and emotional journeys for our 44 representatives.

Here are the 2023 NHL All-Star tiers, taking into account how their season has been, where it might be headed and the roles they'll play in shaping that future. Enjoy!

Dustin Johnson withdraws from Saudi event after tweaking back

Published in Golf
Thursday, 02 February 2023 00:10

Dustin Johnson’s season debut ended before it began Thursday at the Saudi International, where he withdrew hours before the opening round because of a back injury.

The winner in Saudi Arabia in 2019 and 2021, Johnson pulled out of the event after “tweaking his back,” according to a brief statement released by Asian Tour officials. The Saudi International is sponsored by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, the same organization that bankrolls the LIV Golf League.

Johnson, 38, reportedly aggravated the back injury during a practice round at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, leading him to also skip the Wednesday pro-am.

The former world No. 1 was the dominant force on LIV last year, racking up $36 million in prize money and bonuses.

After the Saudi withdrawal, Johnson is next scheduled to compete at the 2023 LIV opener, Feb. 24-26, at Mayakoba in Mexico.

Varane retires from France international football

Published in Soccer
Thursday, 02 February 2023 07:17

Raphael Varane has announced his retirement from international football after France's failure to retain the World Cup in Qatar.

Varane, who made 93 appearances for France, was part of the side that won the tournament in 2018 but was unable to help Les Bleus defend their crown last year. He also helped Didier Deschamps's side win the UEFA Nations League in 2021.

"Representing our beautiful country for a decade has been one of the greatest honours of my life," Varane said in a statement. "Every time I wore that special blue jersey I felt an immense sense of pride, the duty to give everything, to play with my heart and to win every time we took the field.

"I've been thinking about it for several months and I decided that it was the right time for me to retire from international football."

The Manchester United defender has been key member of the French national team ever since making his international debut in 2013.

Varane started every game at the 2018 World Cup as France lifted the trophy for the first time since 1998. However, he struggled in Euro 2020 as France were knocked out at the round of 16 stage, losing a penalty shootout against Switzerland.

Varane's decision comes just weeks after France's World Cup-winning goalkeeper and captain, Hugo Lloris, announced his retirement from international football aged 36.

The defender added that it was time for a "talented group of young players" to take on the mantle.

"Raphael called me a few days ago to explain that he wanted to end his international career. He's an intelligent boy who knows how to take the time to think about it and weigh up the pros and cons before deciding," France coach Deschamps said.

"Raphael believes he has reached the end of his adventure with the French team. I've been in a similar situation to him, I understand his arguments and respect his decision.

"As our paths separate, I wanted to salute his honesty, his unfailing commitment to the blue jersey. Raphael has played a central role on and off the field for the past decade."

Information from Reuters was used in this report.

Greenwood criminal proceedings discontinued

Published in Soccer
Thursday, 02 February 2023 07:17

Criminal proceedings against Manchester United striker Mason Greenwood have been "discontinued."

The 21-year-old footballer was due to face trial in November over allegations of attempted rape, assault and controlling and coercive behaviour.

However, a statement issued by Greater Manchester Police on Tuesday said the case has now been dropped. Greenwood has not played for United since being suspended by the club in January 2022.

"Given the significant media coverage of this case, it is only fair that we share the news that the 21-year-old man, who had been arrested and charged in connection with an investigation opened in January 2022, no longer faces criminal proceedings in relation to this," Chief Superintendent Michaela Kerr, GMP's Head of Public Protection, said.

"The investigation team has remained in regular contact with the legal team, providing any updates of note, and so understand the rationale for the discontinuation of proceedings at this stage, and that this decision has not been taken lightly.

"Despite the media and public's interest in this case, we have decided not to comment on it in any further detail.

"I would, however, like to use this opportunity to reiterate GMP's commitment to investigating allegations of violence against women and girls and supporting those affected, regardless of their circumstances, throughout what can be a hard and upsetting time for them."

Neither Greenwood nor his representatives have commented at any stage on the allegations against him.

United did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"A decision has been made to discontinue prosecution in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors," the Crown Prosecution Service added in a statement.

A CPS spokesperson said: "A combination of the withdrawal of key witnesses and new material that came to light meant there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction."

The CPS added that it encouraged "any potential victims to come forward and report to police."

Information from Reuters contributed to that report.

Mbappe a doubt for PSG's UCL tie vs. Bayern

Published in Soccer
Thursday, 02 February 2023 07:17

Paris Saint-Germain have confirmed that Kylian Mbappe will be out for around three weeks because of the injury he suffered against Montpellier on Wednesday, making him a doubt for the Champions League round-of-16 first-leg game against Bayern Munich.

Mbappe picked up a knee and thigh injury on a tackle by Montpellier midfielder Leo Leroy and had to be substituted in the 21st minute of PSG's 3-1 win.

- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

Scans on Thursday morning showed the extent of Mbappe's injury and ruled him out of high-profile clashes against Marseille in the French Cup (Wednesday) and Monaco in Ligue 1 (Feb. 11).

PSG will face Bayern at the Parc des Princes on Feb. 14.

The Ligue 1 leaders also gave an update on the condition of Sergio Ramos, also injured in the same game. He is to undergo further tests after leaving the field with a groin injury.


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