Tomic loss ensures no Kyrgios showdown

A highly-anticipated first ATP match-up between Australians Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic has failed to eventuate with the latter bowing out of his opening round match at the Madrid Open.

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Tomic had his moments against American Ryan Harrison but went down 7-5 4-6 6-2 in 1 hour and 50 minutes.

Kyrgios had done his part the day before in a straight sets first round defeat of Marcos Baghdatis, advancing to play the winner of the Tomic-Harrison match.

But Tomic crumbled in the deciding set on Tuesday to ensure there’d be no all-Australian second round fixture.

It had loomed as an intriguing clash on Tomic’s non-preferred surface of clay after Kyrgios had given his sometime Davis Cup teammate short shrift for skipping Australia’s tie against the US.

After struggling on serve early, Tomic worked his way into the first set before Harrison stole a break just as it appeared headed for a tiebreak.

A rough call on game point to Tomic inflamed Harrison at 3-3 in the second set and while the Australian handed the break straight back he won the next two games to take the match into a decider.

It was largely the 47th-ranked American from there on in, Tomic surrendering meekly from 2-2 with two service breaks.

The loss marks the 39th-ranked Australian’s seventh in first round matches this year but Tomic has at least shown some improved form in the last few weeks, including a quarter-final appearance at Istanbul.

While Tomic fell it was a case of smooth sailing for top seed Andy Murray. The world No.1 though to the third round with a regulation 6-4 6-3 win over Romanian wildcard Marius Copil.

Murray was joined in the third round by fellow seeds David Goffin and Dominic Thiem.

Belgian, Goffin recorded a 7-6 (7-3) 6-0 win over Germany’s Florian Mayer, while Austrian, Thiem won through over American Jared Donaldson 6-3 6-4.

German veteran Tommy Haas bid farewell to Madrid with a 6-4 7-6 (9-7) loss to Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller.

Panthers’ Mansour ramps up NRL comeback

Injured Penrith star Josh Mansour has taken a major step in his NRL comeback from a knee reconstruction after commencing contact work at training.

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Six months after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament on Kangaroos duty during the Four Nations, Mansour also recently rejoined his teammates for field sessions last week.

In good news for suffering Panthers fans, the incumbent NSW State of Origin winger is now understood to be two weeks away from being cleared to return to action.

“He’s been with us for a couple of weeks now and just trying to build his confidence up around the team. He’s been itching to get on the field lately,” prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard said.

“It’s been tough for him, staying in doors not around our teammates. He’s looking really good at the moment. He’s still got a couple more weeks away from training but he’s flying.”

The pre-season title favourites, who have struggled without their left winger, currently sit in 15th spot with just two wins from nine games, ahead of Saturday’s home clash against the Warriors.

Mansour, who has shared some of his rehabilitation journey on social media, had previously pencilled in a return for round 12 but could be pushed back another week or two.

Teammate Leilani Latu said Mansour’s mere presence on the training paddock has already given the playing roster a lift following a disappointing start to the season.

“He’s a good character and is a massive team morale boost. Everywhere he comes with us, whether on a trip, in the gym or out on the field, he’s an awesome bloke to have,” Latu said.

“He loves putting up video of himself on social media, but it’s a credit to himself, he’s the ultimate professional, ultimate individual when it comes to performance.

“He hasn’t skipped anything, hasn’t taken any shortcuts with anything. He’s taken everything the physios have given him, and we’re just seeing the full benefits now of him coming back.”

Slater primed for opening State of Origin

Veteran fullback Billy Slater says his omission from the Australian Test team has been a blessing in disguise and has him primed for this month’s opening State of Origin clash.

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On the comeback trail following two rounds of shoulder surgery, Melbourne Storm’s Slater was overlooked for the Kangaroos’ Test win over New Zealand last week.

The 33-year-old said he played his best game of the year in the Storm’s last round win over St George Illawarra, and after sitting out last season injured is desperate to again don the Maroons jersey.

“I’m a Queenslander I haven’t played for Queensland for a couple of years and I’d love the opportunity to get back in that arena,” Slater said.

“It’s obviously a very strong side but there’s still a couple of rounds of footy to go and hopefully I can continue playing good football.”

After playing seven rounds Slater said the time off for representative round was just what he needed.

“My shoulder is going really well,” he said.

“It was disappointing not to play in the Test last week but I think that week off has certainly been good for me and I’ve got my body in a really good position.”

Slater said he’d been in regular contact with Queensland coach Kevin Walters but wouldn’t give any hints away about whether he or incumbent Darius Boyd would wear the Maroons No.1 jersey.

“He’s a good mate and a teammate – it’s not a rivalry between Darius and myself,” Slater said.

“Darius is a fantastic fullback and he’s probably playing the best that he’s played in his whole career and he’s a great asset for Queensland so wherever we are it will be what’s best for Queensland and the selectors and coach will come up with that.”

Maroons match-winning five-eighth Johnathan Thurston is in a race against time to be fit for the May 31 opener in Brisbane, sidelined for three to six weeks with a shoulder injury.

Slater said Queensland was spoilt for choice if they needed a replacement.

“Anthony Milford and Dale Cherry-Evans; Corey Norman’s another one who’s playing really well or we’ve got Michael Morgan there who been playing well off the bench so he would slot nicely into a No.6 jersey and do a fantastic job.

“There’s a number of players putting their hand up and Kevvie and the selectors have got some options there.”

Maxwell shows Kings XI the way in IPL win

Glenn Maxwell’s Kings XI Punjab side have kept their hopes of reaching the finals of the Indian Premier League alive with a 14-run win over the Kolkata Knight Riders.

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Maxwell’s was explosive late in the innings and made 44 runs off 25 balls in an innings that included four sixes and was crucial for his side as they racked up a total of 6-167 off their 20 overs.

Maxwell was aided by Wriddhiman Saha, who chipped in with 38 of his own as the duo added 71 runs for the fourth wicket.

From there the stage was set for Kolkata’s big-hitting openers Sunil Narine and Chris Lynn to ignite their run chase, and ignite it they did.

Narine smashed four boundaries in a quick 18 before he was bowled by Mohit Sharma.

Then it was over to Lynn and the 27-year-old Queenslander obliged with a sterling innings of 84 off 52 deliveries, which included three sixes and eight boundaries.

Just as it seemed Lynn might carry his bat through the innings, to a century and a Kolkata victory he was run out by a brilliant piece of fielding from Axar Patel.

The allrounder threw to the keepers’ end with accuracy and speed from deep mid-wicket as Lynn fell short of making his ground in an attempt to make two runs.

His wicket started a Kolkata slide as Kings XI tightened the screws and Kolkata only scored another 21 runs to fall 14 short in their chase.

Maxwell wasn’t exactly confident his side would make the finals but he had plenty of praise for what his team did in the field to slow down the Kolkata chase.

“They were absolutely outstanding. Axar Patel led by example,” maxwell said.

“The fielding hasn’t been there the last few games, but they pulled it out tonight. Rahul Tewatia came into the game.

“We probably left ourselves 10-15 runs short, but we backed our plans. The boys were calm the last four overs.

“We’re hanging in by the skin of our teeth and giving the fans something to cheer about.”

Kings XI, who are now three points behind fourth-placed Sunrisers Hyderabad next face the top of the table Mumbai Indians as they continue to try and keep their season alive.

Scott brings major focus to Players

A determined Adam Scott has promised to put his major championship game-face on and honour the Players Championship for its nickname as golf’s ‘fifth major’.

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The 36-year-old, who tasted victory at Florida’s famed TPC Sawgrass course in 2004, will tee up in the 2017 tournament with the same preparation he usually reserves for the majors.

The 2013 Masters winner tuned up his game at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina, where he finished in a tie 36th place.

Starting Thursday (Friday AEST) with Australian Jason Day as the defending champion, the Players Championship has earned the reputation as the fifth major for its high-calibre field and $US 1.8 million winner’s prize.

“I’m absolutely treating (the Players) like a major. I’m doing what I normally do for major championship preparation; playing the week before and trying to get tuned up,” Scott told AAP.

While the Queenslander has a respectable two top-10s and five top-25s from eight events, Scott admits he needs to kickstart his season after dropping to No.11 in the world rankings.

But after several positive practice rounds, Scott says that could come at TPC Sawgrass this week.

“I haven’t hit the ball well this year; the only week I hit it good was Augusta, so I’m looking to improve on that,” Scott said.

“But I have to say the last three days the swing has felt really good where I want it to be, I’m full of confidence this week.”

Scott says he’ll draw inspiration from his stellar record during 15 previous starts at TPC Sawgrass, including a victory, two top-10s and seven top-25s.

“I love this place; I’ve played a lot of good golf around here; not just from winning in 2004 but I’ve been playing late on the weekends quite a few times.”