LONDON — Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal headline the title chase at Wimbledon where eight-time champion Roger Federer, the world’s top two players and cherished ranking points will all be missing.
Djokovic is bidding for a seventh title at the All England Club to move level with US great Pete Sampras.
Nadal, fresh from a 14th French Open victory and a record-extending 22nd major, is halfway to the first men’s calendar Grand Slam in more than half a century.
The season’s third Slam tournament has already made political waves even before the first ball is served on Monday.
The decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine means there is no place for World No. 1 Daniil Medvedev or eighth-ranked Andrey Rublev.
Both the ATP and WTA, who control the men’s and women’s tours, retaliated by stripping ranking points from the tournament.
For the first time since his debut in 1999 — notwithstanding the Covid-cancelled 2020 edition — Federer will be a no-show as the 40-year-old recovers from knee surgery.
Also missing is Germany’s World No. 2 Alexander Zverev, who suffered serious ankle ligament damage in an horrific injury in his French Open semi-final against Nadal.
However, Medvedev and Zverev have never shone at Wimbledon with neither man making it past the fourth round.
Djokovic and Nadal, ranked three and four, are the top seeds meaning if they are to face each other for the 60th time, it can only be in the final.
‘I love Wimbledon’
Djokovic, the champion in 2011, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019 and 2021, could be playing in his final Slam of the year.
His refusal to be vaccinated is likely to rule him out of the US Open later this year.
A bruising quarter-final loss to Nadal at the French Open which saw him deposed as champion in Paris will also likely provide extra motivation.
Nadal won the last of his two Wimbledon titles in 2010 having captured his first with an epic triumph over Federer two years earlier.
The 36-year-old Spaniard arrives at Wimbledon with the Australian and French Opens secured.
He is halfway to becoming only the third man — and first since Rod Laver in 1969 — to complete a calendar Grand Slam.
Nadal has endured a bittersweet relationship with Wimbledon.
Two titles have been accompanied by three lost finals as well as injury-enforced absences in 2004, 2009, 2016 and 2021.
There remains a question mark over his durability for the two weeks at Wimbledon having played the entire French Open with his troublesome left foot anaesthetised.
Nadal has since undergone a course of radiofrequency stimulation, a treatment aimed at reducing nerve pain in his foot.
“I love Wimbledon,” said Nadal. “I had a lot of success there. A player like me, I am always ready to play Wimbledon.”
Should Djokovic or Nadal fall, then Italy’s Matteo Berrettini, runner-up to Djokovic in last year’s final, would be the most likely beneficiary.
World No. 11 Berrettini has won back-to-back grasscourt titles at Stuttgart and Queen’s.
“I don’t know if I’m the favourite as Novak and Rafa [Nadal] are always there; Rafa has already won two Slams and no-one expected him to win in Australia,” said 26-year-old Berrettini of his Wimbledon chances.
“I don’t feel like I’m the favourite but I know I can do it, I can’t pull the wool over people’s eyes.”
Of the remaining top 10, French Open runner-up Casper Ruud has lost in the first round on his two previous trips to Wimbledon.
Stefanos Tsitsipas has fallen at the first hurdle three times out of four while Spanish teen star Carlos Alcaraz only made his main draw debut in 2021, reaching the second round.
Felix Auger-Aliassime made the last-eight last year while 10th-ranked Hubert Hurkacz, the champion on grass in Halle last weekend, was a semi-finalist in 2021.
On the way, the Polish player defeated Federer in the quarter-finals which was the Swiss star’s last appearance on the tour.
Image: Section: SportsDisplay Lead for: SectionAgency: AFPImage Position: Right
AMMAN — Jordan is ready to host the FIBA U16 Women’s Asian Championship Division B which tips off at the Prince Hamzah Arena from June 24-30.
Jordan starts its matches in Group B playing Iran on Friday at 6pm, before facing Kazakhstan on Saturday and Lebanon on Sunday. Group A includes Syria, the Philippines, Indonesia and Samoa. The top team from each group will advance to Round 2 with the event’s top team promoted to Division A.
Teams competing in Division A are Australia, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand and the tournament qualifies the region’s four teams to the FIBA U17 Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022, that will take place in Hungary in July. The Championship has been held five times since 2009, with China winning the title three times and Japan and Australia once each.
Hosting the FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women in Jordan marks another milestone for the game, after it previously hosted the Women’s Asia Cup Divisions A and B. Jordan played at the U16 tournament once in 2013 finishing 11th. Jordan also took part in FIBA Asia U18 in 1996 finishing 8th, and hosted the event in 2014 finishing 11th.
Fans filled the Prince Hamzah Arena to capacity in November 2021 when Jordan hosted the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup 2021 finishing second in Division B. A major tournament with leading teams from the continent participating, the tournament marked the first time the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup 2021 Division A was held in an Arab country.
Although Jordan lost to Lebanon by a double score in the Division B final, it was the fact that Jordan made it to the final, after the national team was absent from Asian competitions since 1995, that was an achievement in itself.
Lebanon were promoted to Division A for the 2023 tournament, replacing India who finished last in Division A. Indonesia beat Kazakhstan for third place, as Syria beat Iran to finish fifth.
WNBA’s Washington Mystics pro player Natasha Cloud, boosted Jordan’s lineup, as most observers initially thought Jordan would finish in 5-6th positions. Advancing to the final and meeting Lebanon, playing in their 5th Women’s Asia Cup, was not contemplated. Missing the event were Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, Thailand and Singapore.
Jordan’s senior team was back to Asian competition after an absence of 26 years when the squad first took part in Shizuoka, Japan, in 1995. That historic participation was the Kingdom’s first ever Asian appearance for a women’s sports team. Jordan then won one match, beating Indonesia, and lost to Thailand, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Malaysia to finish 11th.
The FIBA Women’s Asia Cup is an international basketball tournament which takes place every two years for national teams from FIBA Asia region, with teams classified to two divisions. The Asia Cup was known as the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) Championship until 2001, and the FIBA Asia Women’s Championship until 2015. Japan are Division A titleholders and 5-time winners, South Korea 12-time winners, China 11-time winners.
Looking back at Arab teams at the event, the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup saw Syria play twice in Division B: in 1986 (finishing 9th overall) and 2021 (finishing 13th overall), Jordan twice: in 1995 (finishing 11th overall) and 2021 (finishing 10th overall); Lebanon playing four times: 2001 (finishing 13th overall), 2009 (finishing 8th overall), 2017 (finishing 11th overall), as well as 2021 (finishing 9th overall), and once in Division A in 2011 (finishing 5th out of 6 competing teams).Section: SportsJournalists: Aline BannayanImage Position: Full Width
SADO, Japan — Every day for the past 14 years, 72-year-old Masaoki Tsuchiya has set out before sunrise to search for a bird rescued from extinction in Japan.
Starting his car under star-dotted skies unpolluted by light, he works alone in the pre-dawn chill, marking sightings or absences in a planner, interrupted only by the crackle of a walkie-talkie.
The bird he is looking for is called “toki” in Japanese, and its presence on his home of Sado island is testament to a remarkable conservation programme.
In just under two decades, Japan’s population of wild toki has gone from zero to nearly 500, all on Sado, where the bird’s delicate pink plumage and distinctive curved beak now draw tourists.
It’s a rare conservation success story when one in eight bird species globally are threatened with extinction, and involved international diplomacy and an agricultural revolution on a small island off Japan’s west coast.
A cautionary tale
Tsuchiya, stocky and spry with an impish grin, doesn’t eat breakfast until he has made all his stops, and after years of practice he can spot chicks hidden in nests through the monocular attached to his rolled-down car window.
He points to virtually imperceptible marks on a road or a wall that help him remember where to park and start surveying.
“The number I see at this spot depends on the season,” he explains.
Some days dozens of the birds appear in one area, something unimaginable in 2003, when a toki called Kin or “gold” died in a cage on Sado at the record-breaking age of 36.
Her death meant not a single wild-born toki was left in Japan, despite the bird being so synonymous with the country that it is also known as the Japanese crested ibis.
“I knew the day was coming. She was very old and frail,” Tsuchiya said. “But it was still a real pity.”
Efforts to get Kin to mate with Sado’s last wild-born male toki Midori — meaning “green” — had long since failed, and she lived out her last years as a curiosity and a cautionary environmental tale.
Her death made national headlines and appeared to mark the end of a long and seemingly futile battle to protect the toki in Japan, where its feathers even inspire the word for peach pink: “toki-iro”.
But now so many roam the skies and rice paddies of Sado that local officials have gone from discouraging eager birdwatchers to training guides to help visitors spot the local icon, and the government is even studying reintroducing the bird elsewhere.
Wild toki once lived across Japan, as well as in Russia, Taiwan and South Korea.
They were considered a pest that damaged rice plants, but during Japan’s Edo era, from 1603 to 1867, hunting restrictions meant only high-ranking officials could actively pursue birds like toki.
That changed in the Meiji era and as guns became more available. Toki meat was believed to have health benefits, and its feathers were favoured for everything from dusters to decorative flourishes on hats.
“Over just 40 years, the toki basically disappeared,” said Tsuchiya on an observation deck where visitors now try to spot the bird.
By the early 1930s, only a few dozen toki remained in Japan, mostly on Sado and the nearby Noto peninsula, and the species won protected status.
A fresh threat then emerged during Japan’s post-war drive for growth: rising use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
Toki feed primarily in rice paddies that mimic marshy wetland habitats and they are undiscriminating diners, eating everything from insects to small crabs and frogs.
The chemicals affected the birds and their food, and by 1981 just five wild toki remained in Japan, all on Sado, where officials took them into protective captivity.
But by bizarre coincidence, the same year a population of seven wild toki was discovered in a remote area of China’s Shaanxi province, reviving hopes for the bird’s survival.
Sado’s captive birds failed to mate, but China’s programme had more success, and when then-Chinese president Jiang Zemin made a historic first state visit in 1998 he offered Japan the gift of a pair of toki.
You You and Yang Yang arrived the following year on first-class seats, producing their first chick months later in an event that led national television broadcasts.
Other birds arrived from China, and with time Sado had a large enough population to consider reintroducing the toki to the wild.
But first they had to tackle the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides on Sado.
“Back then people didn’t think about the environment when farming. Their priorities were selling products at a high price and harvesting as much as possible,” said Shinichiro Saito, a 60-year-old rice farmer.
Farmers were asked to cut chemical fertilisers and pesticides by half from the level allowed by local rules, but there was pushback.
Fewer chemicals meant smaller harvests, lost income, and more weeding.
And some farmers couldn’t see the point of other proposals like underground channels connecting rice fields to rivers to increase the flow of aquatic life.
Local officials used a carrot-and-stick approach, refusing to buy rice from farmers who rejected the new chemical limits and creating a new premium brand of “toki-friendly” rice for those who did.
But Saito, who was an early adopter, said the real difference came when the first birds were released in 2008.
“It was the toki that changed their minds,” he said, with a lop-sided grin.
Even farmers reluctant to adapt were “delighted” to see a bird with almost mythical status on Sado wandering through their fields.
“This is a true story. The toki was almost like an environmental ambassador, it helped create a good environment for itself.”
Tsuchiya’s daily rounds began with the 2008 release.
He has since witnessed triumphs including the first wild-born chick, and the first chick born to wild-born birds — moments he describes with the proud anxiety of a parent sending a child off to school for the first time.
He still runs his own business, though the toki feather tucked into his car’s folding mirror makes clear where his heart lies.
And the breeding programme has continued, supplemented by birds from China that help broaden the gene pool.
Around 20 birds are released twice a year after graduating from a three-month training programme that prepares them for life outside a cage.
“They learn how to fly, how to find food and to get used to being around humans,” explained Tomoki Tsuchiya, who works with Sado’s local government to make the island toki-friendly.
City officials even farm around the birds to acquaint them with the sound.
When the first toki were released on Sado, there were so many gaps in knowledge about the species that volunteers analysed their droppings to find out what the birds were eating.
There were missteps: officials prepared a remote mountain location for the release, believing the birds would prefer seclusion, but the toki instead flew down to fields that were frequented by farmers.
Tomoki Tsuchiya’s interest in toki was fostered by his father, Masaoki.
But it is a fascination shared by many on Sado, where the bird is rendered in cute mascot form on everything from T-shirts to milk cartons.
“How can I express it? The toki is so important for people on Sado,” the 42-year-old said.
“It’s like family.”
Even after training, a toki’s future is precarious: only about half survive predators like snakes and weasels, and the survival rate for newborn chicks is similar.
But enough have thrived that Japan may expand the Sado programme, and there have been successes elsewhere.
China’s wild population now numbers over 4,450, and a South Korean project released 40 toki for the first time in 2019.
For Saito, who speaks as toki squawk nearby, the bird’s resurrection is part of a bigger achievement on Sado — a new approach to farming and the environment.
“When this project started, what I dreamed of the most was seeing toki flying overhead while I farmed,” he said.
“An environment that is good for toki is an environment that is also safe for humans, and that’s something people on Sado can be proud of.”
Image: Section: FeaturesDisplay Lead for: SectionImage Position: Right
HONG KONG — Asian markets mostly rose on Thursday on bargain buying after the previous day's battering, though oil extended losses after US Federal Reserve (Fed) boss Jerome Powell admitted the economy could tip into recession as the bank hikes interest rates to fight runaway inflation.
Soaring prices and the battle by central banks to rein them in have sent a chill through global trading floors this year, while investors are also having to deal with the uncertainty wrought by the Ukraine war and patchy pandemic recovery.
Commentators have warned for some time that the world economy could be heading for another contraction owing to the sharp increase in borrowing costs and rampant inflation, which is at decades highs in several countries.
On Wednesday, the head of the most powerful central bank in the world told lawmakers it was "certainly a possibility".
While saying the economy was strong enough for rates to rise, he added that "frankly, the events of the last few months around the world have made it more difficult for us to achieve what we want, which is 2 per cent inflation and still a strong labour market."
He also warned: "Inflation has obviously surprised to the upside over the past year, and further surprises could be in store."
The Fed this month hiked rates by 75 basis points and is expected to do the same in July, with some observers predicting two more such moves after that.
After a day of swings, Wall Street ended in negative territory, though off big early lows.
Asia fluctuated in the morning but enjoyed a more positive afternoon, though optimism remains at a premium among investors, and analysts warned it was unlikely to improve anytime soon.
Hong Kong and Shanghai led gains thanks to a pick-up in tech firms after Chinese President Xi Jinping chaired a meeting on Wednesday that pushed for "healthy" development of the fintech sector, adding to optimism that a crackdown on the industry may be coming to an end.
Xi also reaffirmed the country´s 5.5 per cent growth target for this year despite months of lockdown-induced pain for the economy.
The comments suggest the government will unveil market-friendly measures to boost growth.
Tokyo, Sydney, Singapore, Mumbai, Bangkok and Wellington were higher, but Seoul, Taipei, Manila and Jakarta fell.
London, Paris and Frankfurt opened with losses.
"Having listened to Powell's lengthy Senate testimony... it is clear that inflation is the domestic issue at the top of the political agenda," said SPI Asset Management's Stephen Innes.
"Powell consistently bobbed and weaved his way through commenting on anything of fiscal nature but was focused on deploying the tools within the Fed's power to address their dual mandate" of reining in inflation and keeping unemployment in check.
"So we should still position for more rate hike fallout to occur."
Powell's comments came as other top economists added to the recession talk, with former New York Fed President Bill Dudley saying it was "inevitable within the next 12 to 18 months".
Deutsche Bank CEO Christian Sewing said there was a 50 per cent chance of a contraction next year.
Elon Musk, JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon and economist Nouriel Roubini are among several others to have made similar forecasts.
"We are still in an era where uncertainty is elevated and is expected to remain so for quite a while," said JoAnne Feeney, of Advisors Capital Management, on Bloomberg Television.
"It's risky right now in terms of the forward outlook for the global economy. Recession risk has clearly risen."
The prospect of a retreat in the global economy continued to drag oil prices down as traders fret over demand, with both main contracts down around 1 per cent, having tumbled on Wednesday. However, they were well off morning lows.
Brent and WTI have dropped around 15 per cent over the past week, even with sanctions on Russian crude exports and China's gradual reopening from lockdowns.
Adding to the selling was data Wednesday indicating a jump in US stockpiles.
"A slowdown in global growth is a risk to oil demand, which could help ease some of the tightness in the market," Warren Patterson, at ING Groep, said.
"Already, we have seen demand estimates revised lower."
Image: Section: BusinessDisplay Lead for: SectionAgency: AFPImage Position: Right