Alexander Zverev beats Borna Coric, Pablo Carreno Busta outlasts Kevin Anderson in Miami

alexander zverev

Fourth seed Alexander Zverev overcame a slow start on Thursday to wear down Borna Coric 6-4 6-4 and set up a Miami Open semi-final against Pablo Carreno Busta, who earlier defeated Kevin Anderson.

After a power failure delayed the start of the match by more than an hour, Zverev faced two break points in the second game but then settled down and took command.

One break in each set was enough for the German to clinch his first win in three career attempts against the Croat.

Zverev advances to a Friday semi-final against Spanish 16th seed Carreno Busta, who survived a match point to upset South African sixth seed Anderson 6-4 5-7 7-6(6).

The other semi-final pits Argentine fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro against American 14th seed John Isner.
Zverev did not use the power failure as an excuse for his slow start.

“I didn’t particularly care,” he said, adding that he spent the time watching an NBA game on a locker room television.
“I think I lost the first six points of the match. It wasn’t the best start. I’m just happy to get through.”

For Carreno Busta, who arrived on court in fine form having dropped only 12 games over his previous tee matches, the win was his first in five meetings against Anderson and avenged his fourth-round Indian Wells loss to the world number eight.
“It was an amazing match, no?” Carreno Busta said.

“He played some unbelievable points, passing shots.

“I lost to him, 7-6 in the third set (at Indian Wells). And today, well, at the beginning of the match I started playing really good, returning good, serving good, being very aggressive.”

Anderson saved a pair of match points in the second set and shifted momentum in his favour but Carreno Busta, seeded 16th at Crandon Park, regrouped in the decider where the two players stayed on serve until the tiebreak.

Carreno Busta was staring at defeat when 6-5 down in the tiebreak but was let off the hook when Anderson missed with a forehand.

From there the South African pushed a backhand volley wide and then mishit a second serve that handed the win to Carreno Busta after two hours, 42 minutes.

Anderson, whose year already includes an ATP Tour title at the New York Open and runner-up finishes in Acapulco and Pune, has now lost all 10 of his quarter-final matches at the Masters 1000 level – the highest-tiered tournaments after the four grand slams.

Catholic devotees nailed to crosses on Good Friday in Philippines

Seven Filipino Roman Catholic devotees, including a woman, were nailed to wooden crosses in a Good Friday reenactment of Jesus Christ’s suffering that was watched by thousands of spectators but frowned upon by church leaders.

Three devotees wearing crowns of twigs were nailed to crosses by villagers dressed as Roman centurions on a dusty hill in San Pedro Cutud village, and four others were nailed to crosses in nearby farming villages in San Fernando city north of Manila, tourism officer Ching Pangilinan said.

The spectacle reflects a unique brand of Catholicism that merges church traditions with folk superstitions. Many of the mostly impoverished penitents undergo the ritual to atone for sins, pray for the sick or for a better life, or give thanks for what they believe were God-given miracles.

Ruben Enaje gesticula después de haber sido clavado en una cruz por 32º año consecutivo durante una sangrienta representación de los sufrimientos de Jesucristo por el Viernes Santo, que fue vista por miles de espectadores el viernes 30 de marzo de 2018 en San Pedro Cutud, Filipinas. (AP Foto/Aaron Favila)

Ruben Enaje grimaces after gets nailed to the cross for the 32nd year in a row during a reenactment of Jesus Christ’s sufferings as part of Good Friday rituals in the village of San Pedro Cutud, Pampanga province, northern Philippines.  (AP)

The Lenten rituals are frowned upon by church leaders in the Philippines, Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation, especially if the events are used to boost tourism and business. The reenactments of the crucifixion, however, have persisted and become a tourist attraction in the largely unknown villages in Pampanga province, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the capital.

While the crucifixions have become a tradition for villagers, they still leave many foreign tourists bewildered.

“It’s terrible,” said Luke Henkel from Florida. “You wanna stop it.”

Filipino hooded penitents walk towards crosses during Good Friday rituals to atone for sins on Friday, March 30, 2018, in Pampanga province, northern Philippines. Thousands of Filipino Roman Catholic devotees and tourists descended Friday on a farming village north of Manila to witness the crucifixion of several men in a reenactment of Jesus Christ's sufferings, a gory annual tradition church leaders frown upon. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Filipino hooded penitents walk towards crosses during Good Friday rituals to atone for sins.  (AP)

Mayor Edwin Santiago of San Fernando, where San Pedro Cutud lies, said more than 400 police officers were deployed and first-aid stations set up to look after the huge crowds.

“We provide assistance because we can’t stop the influx of tourists,” Pangilinan said. “We don’t promote it as a festival but it’s rather a show of respect to a local tradition.”

Villagers used the crowd-drawing events to peddle food, water, fans, umbrellas and souvenirs and rent out parking slots and toilets. A leading cellphone company provided tents for shade with its name embossed on them.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas said it’s best for Catholics to mark Lent with prayers and acts of love and charity.

A bloodied Filipino penitent gets up after flagellation during Good Friday rituals to atone for sins on March 30, 2018, in Pampanga province, northern Philippines. Thousands of Filipino Roman Catholic devotees and tourists descended Friday on a farming village north of Manila to witness the crucifixion of several men in a reenactment of Jesus Christ's sufferings, a gory annual tradition church leaders frown upon. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Thousands of Filipino Roman Catholic devotees and tourists descended Friday on a farming village north of Manila to witness the crucifixion of several men in a reenactment of Jesus Christ’s sufferings, a gory annual tradition church leaders frown upon.  (AP)

“Instead of spilling your blood on the streets, why not walk into a Red Cross office and donate blood? Choose to share life. Share your blood,” Villegas said in remarks posted on a Catholic church website.

Friday’s reenactment of Christ’s crucifixion was the 32nd for Ruben Enaje, a 57-year-old sign painter who began his yearly rite after surviving a fall from a building. He plans to stop when he turns 60.

Maryjane Sazon, a 39-year-old beauty salon worker, said she joined the reenactments seven years ago in the hope of being cured of severe headaches and a nervous breakdown. Her act Friday was dedicated to her sick sister.

Filipino penitents line up as they flagellate during Good Friday rituals to atone for sins in San Fernando, Pampanga province, northern Philippines, Friday, March 30, 2018. The ritual is frowned upon by church leaders in this predominantly Roman Catholic country. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Filipino penitents line up as they flagellate during Good Friday rituals to atone for sins in San Fernando, Pampanga province, northern Philippines. The ritual is frowned upon by church leaders in this predominantly Roman Catholic country.  (AP)

Prior to the cross nailings, dozens of male penitents walked several kilometers (miles) along village streets while beating their bare backs with sharp bamboo sticks and pieces of wood. Some had their backs cut to keep them bloody.

Foreigners have been banned from taking part since an Australian comic was nailed to a cross under a false name a few years ago near Pampanga. Authorities also believe that a Japanese man was nailed to cross as part of a porn film in 1996.

China’s ‘Jack the Ripper’ sentenced to death for raping, murdering 11 women and girls

A man who has been dubbed China’s “Jack the Ripper” was sentenced to death Friday for raping and murdering 11 women and girls during a 14-year spree.

Gao Chengyong, 54, was convicted of multiple counts of homicide, rape, robbery and mutilation of corpses after he admitted to killing 11 people between 1988 and 2002.

Authorities said Gao targeted young women in the northwest Baiyin city in Gansu Province and Boatour city in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Sky News reported. He followed them home to rape and kill them.

The youngest victim was just eight years old.

Ending a 28-year search, Gao was arrested in August 2016 at his own grocery store following a DNA test stemming from an unrelated crime committed by one of his relatives, the state television’s English channel reported.

“The suspect has a sexual perversion and hates women,” police said in 2004 after linking the crimes together. “He’s reclusive and unsociable, but patient.”

Sloane Stephens to meet Jelena Ostapenko in Miami Open final

sloane stephens

The Miami Open women’s final will pit two reigning grand slam champions after Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko won their respective semi-finals in Florida on Thursday.

U.S. Open champion Stephens again ended former world number one Victoria Azarenka’s hopes of a fairytale comeback by beating her 3-6 6-2 6-1 in an afternoon encounter.

French Open champion Ostapenko beat unseeded American Danielle Collins in the nightcap, staving off a set point en route to a 7-6(1) 6-3 triumph.

American 13th seed Stephens has five career titles, while sixth seed Ostapenko has two heading into Saturday’s final.

“I’m feeling amazing now,” said Latvian Ostapenko, who wore down Collins with a series of powerful groundstrokes.

She hit 33 winners and ended the match in style with a running forehand winner down the line.

“I was fine until the end,” Ostapenko said. “I was just trying to play my game and I’m really happy with the way I finished.”

She said she had been working this year on her mental approach.

“Now I’m trying to be calm and I think it’s helping.”

Three-times champion Azarenka, playing as a wildcard in her second event after an eight-month absence because of a custody dispute involving her son, showed glimpses of the form that took her to the top of the rankings but ultimately ran out of gas against her 13th-seeded opponent.

Stephens, who also beat Azarenka in the second round at Indian Wells this month, took control of the match early in the second set and never looked back as she raced through the decider with ease.

“I just knew I had to keep fighting. In the first set I was down but I battled back so I knew if I did that in the second, I’d be right in there,” the 25-year-old American said in an on-court interview.

“I ended up winning a lot of games in a row and I just tried to keep the momentum going.”

Azarenka’s initial comeback after the birth of her child in December, 2016 was short-lived as she played two tournaments before a custody battle with her son’s father prevented her from travelling with her child.

The Belarusian may have played little competitive tennis in recent years but she enjoyed a respectable run in Miami, including victory over Czech world number six Karolina Pliskova in the quarter-finals.

The Latest: IS member says hostage killings ‘unfortunate’

The Latest on two detained notorious British IS group members (all times local):

6:45 p.m.

A British man accused of belonging to an Islamic State group cell that captured, tortured and killed western hostages in Syria says their killing was “regrettable” and could have been avoided.

Alexanda Amon Kotey tells The Associated Press in an interview Friday that many people within the Islamic State group would have disagreed with the execution of all the western hostages on the grounds that there is “probably more benefit” in them being political prisoners, than to kill them.

“I didn’t see the benefit in executing them,” he says.

The AP interviewed Kotey and another member of the IS cell dubbed “The Beatles” that are believed to have captured, tortured and killed hostages including American journalist James Foley and Western aid workers.

The men said the accusations against them were media “propaganda.”


6:35 p.m.

Two British members of the Islamic State group who allegedly belonged to a cell notorious for the beheading of hostages in northern Syria say that revoking their citizenship denies them a fair trial.

The two men are thought to be among four members of the IS cell dubbed “The Beatles” that are believed to have captured, tortured and killed hostages including American journalists and aid workers.

They spoke to The Associated Press in an interview from their captivity Friday in northern Syria, the first to a media outlet since their detention. El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Amon Kotey were captured in early January in eastern Syria by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

In the interview, they slammed the “audacity” of the British government for its “illegal” decision to strip their citizenship. They did not admit any involvement in hostage-takings or beheadings.

Dennis Rodman: I hope Kim Jong Un wears a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat after meeting Trump

Former NBA star asks President Trump to travel to country as peace envoy.

The only man in the world who is friends with both the dictator running North Korea and the president of the United States hopes the two will hit it off when they meet in May.

NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, who has made various trips to North Korea since 2013, took to Twitter on Friday to express his support for the upcoming summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“Hoping for this after my two friends and leaders meet next month. #Peace #Love #NotWar #Diplomacy,” Rodman tweeted.

Trump announced early in March plans to meet with Kim Jong Un over the country’s nuclear program. This week, the president said he believes that the North Koreans want to make peace.

“For years and through many administrations, everyone said that peace and the demilitarization of the Korean Peninsula was not even a small possibility,” Trump tweeted. “Now there is a good change that Kim Jong Un will do what is right for his people and for humanity. Look forward to our meeting!”

Rodman made his first trip to North Korea in February of 2013 for a “basketball diplomacy” trip.

The NBA star returned twice more in 2013 and again in January 2014 for a basketball game with the dictator to celebrate Kim birthday.

Rodman returned mostly recently to North Korea in June, saying he is “just trying to open doors.”

The Latest: Pope presides over Way of the Cross procession

The Latest on Vatican ceremonies for Good Friday (all times local):

9:30 p.m.

Pope Francis is at Rome’s Colosseum presiding over the torch-lit Way of the Cross procession re-enacting Christ’s crucifixion.

Dressed in his white coat to guard against the night-time chill, Francis listened intently as the Good Friday meditations were read out at each of the 14 stations of the cross, recalling the stages of Jesus’ condemnation and death.

This year, the meditations and prayers were composed by students, in keeping with Francis’ dedication of 2018 to addressing the hopes and concerns of young Catholics.

The meditations explored suffering, failure, hope and conflict. The cross was carried through the Colosseum by students, as well as a Syrian family and an Iraqi nun.

Francis is expected to deliver a prayer at the end of the procession.


5:50 p.m.

Pope Francis presided over solemn Good Friday services amid heightened security at Rome’s Colosseum for the Via Crucis procession and a new communications controversy at home.

Italian police, carabinieri and soldiers were on alert, with Holy Week coinciding with a spate of arrests of suspected Islamic extremists around Italy and warnings from law enforcement about the return of foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria.

At the start of the most solemn period of the Catholic Church calendar, Francis lay prostrate in front of the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica before the chant-filled Good Friday evening service got underway.

Later Friday, Francis travels to the Colosseum to preside over the Way of the Cross procession re-enacting Christ’s crucifixion — the seminal event in Christianity leading to Christ’s resurrection celebrated on Easter Sunday.

No ‘exotic tea’ or shisha: Russian Football Union’s guide on doping Russian Football Union is warning players against drinking “exotic tea” or smoking shisha pipes as it tries to avoid any doping cases ahead of its home World Cup.

In a guide to help players not to fail drug tests by accident, the RFU said on Friday players should be wary of accidentally consuming banned substances.

It recommends players always read the label on exercise supplements and check online whether they’re contaminated with banned products.

The RFU also advised players “not to consume exotic tea,” to avoid smoking shisha, and to be wary of possibly contaminated meat from China or South America, adding: “Be aware. Your career depends on it!”

It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted the tea warning. A 2012 study suggested green tea could make testosterone appear lower on drug tests, though that wouldn’t constitute an offense.

As for shisha, an Algerian player was banned after a 2015 positive test for cocaine he said he accidentally consumed via a friend’s pipe.

The Russian guide comes as FIFA investigates allegations that positive drug tests in Russian football in previous years were covered up. Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko said last month FIFA is investigating current Russia international Ruslan Kambolov.

Mutko said the case was “not linked to the national team.”

There is also a FIFA investigation into Ivan Knyazev, a former defender with the Russia Under-21 team, Mutko told the Tass state news agency at the time. Both players “have given evidence and we’ll see where it goes,” Mutko said.

Russia has been rocked by multiple doping tests across many sports in recent years, and of a state-sponsored cover-up. The government denies ever supporting drug cheats.

Cut Dele Alli some slack, says Mauricio Pochettino

dele alli

Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino says people should remember that midfielder Dele Alli is only 21-years-old and that while he has failed to reach the heights of last season he has a bright future ahead for club and country.

Alli has scored only six times in 29 Premier League appearances for Spurs this campaign and his place in England’s World Cup team is far from certain after playing 22 minutes of two friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy this month.

He scored 18 league goals last season.

But Pochettino said Alli, who was nursing a slight groin problem during the international window, would get all the support he needed to achieve his goals.

“I have full confidence in him and his talent and because I know him – he is a great kid and a very good person,” Pochettino told reporters.

“But he is young. He is 21. If you compare with normal people on the street who are 21, they are still living at home with their parents, they are still at university doing stupid things.

“We are going to help him because he is a talented player and a great kid. And he has done a lot for us and the club.”

Tottenham, currently fourth in the league, are hoping to extend their five-point advantage over fifth-placed Chelsea when the teams meet at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

IOC president Thomas Bach meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach met with Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on Friday and said the North Korean leader is committed to having his country participate in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and the Beijing Winter Games in 2022. Bach told an Associated Press Television crew that the two had a 30-minute formal meeting followed by 45 minutes of casual discussions while watching a football match Friday afternoon at Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium.

He called the talks productive and said Kim expressed his appreciation for the IOC’s role in helping North Korea compete at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea last month.

“We had a very fruitful meeting where it became clear that the supreme leader has a clear vision of the role that sport can play in a society with regard to education, with regard to health,” Bach said. He added that Kim told him the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang games and marching together with South Korean athletes were an “important contribution to a peaceful dialogue.”

Bach arrived in Pyongyang on Thursday to discuss development of sports in North Korea and the preparation of its athletes to qualify and participate in upcoming Olympics. He is the first foreign official to meet Kim since the North Korean leader returned earlier this week from a summit in Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

That was Kim’s first known trip abroad since he assumed power after the death of his father in late 2011. Kim is to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on April 27.

Bach, who also met with North Korea’s sports minister, said he received a commitment from the county’s National Olympic Committee to participate in Tokyo in 2020 and Beijing in 2022, along with competing in the respective youth Olympic Games.

“This commitment has been fully supported by the supreme leader Kim Jong Un in a meeting we had this afternoon,” he said. “He explained that sport is a pillar in his policy for the future development of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

Both the North and South hailed the Pyeongchang games as a significant step toward easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula that reached dangerously high levels last year as the North stepped up its missile tests and detonated its largest nuclear device to date.

Since the Olympics, the North has pushed forward with a flurry of diplomatic moves. After his summit with Moon, Kim is to meet U.S. President Donald Trump by May, though the date and location of that summit have not been announced. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he is exploring the possibility of a meeting with Kim as well.

The exact reasons behind Kim’s seeming change of tactics remain something of a mystery.

Hopes have been raised that the North Korean leader may be willing to discuss his nuclear weapons program and other measures to reduce the threat of war, possibly in exchange for security guarantees and an easing of the international sanctions that have severely pinched the already struggling North Korean economy.

Kim’s talks with Bach appear to have focused mostly on sports.

Raising the level of North Korean athletes has been high on Kim’s agenda since he became leader. Of the 22 North Korean athletes who competed in Pyeongchang, only two won places on merit and the other 20 were granted special spots by the IOC.

Bach, who is German, competed in the Olympics for West Germany when the Germanys were still divided and says that gives him a special feeling for the Koreas.

“It is the mission of the International Olympic Committee always to build bridges and by building these bridges through sport we can also make a contribution to the ongoing political talks,” he said, adding that he hopes the talks will lead “in the Olympic spirit to a peaceful future for the Korean Peninsula.”