Malaysia's SEA Games athletes on track

Sprints coach Nazmizan says 2017 SEA Games programme working well

BLUE RIBAND: Malaysia's Jonathan Nyepa (above) wins the men's 100m.

The Malaysians mean business.

Three months after a strong showing in the sprint events at the Singapore Open, their athletes claimed a 100m double on the first day of track and field action at the 18th Asean University Games (AUG) at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium yesterday.

Jonathan Nyepa, 20, grabbed the men's gold with a time of 10.52sec, while 23-year-old Zaidatul Husniah Zulkifli won the women's race in 11.94sec.

At the 78th Singapore Open Track and Field Championships in April, Malaysian athletes took seven podium spots out of a possible 18 in the three individual sprint events (100m, 200m and 400m) that also featured competitors from Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Macau, among others.

Malaysia's sprints coach Nazmizan Muhammad, once nicknamed "Raja Pecut" (Sprint King in Malay) after his 100m and 200m golden double at the 2003 SEA Games in Vietnam, said his country is eager to get it right ahead of a big year in 2017.

"All our athletes at the AUG are on our programme for next year's SEA Games on home soil," said the 35-year-old.

"We officially started the programme in September last year and athletes have to meet specific marks every six months, or else they will be out.

"We've seen a lot of our athletes improve their performances after being on our programme."

Kedah native Zaidatul, who will travel to the Rio Olympics next month on a wildcard slot, said: "We are eager to make sure our preparations for next year's SEA Games are done the best way possible.

"Malaysian track and field has not had the best of times for a long time, so we hope to achieve a historic performance in Kuala Lumpur next year."

On a wet track and in humid conditions yesterday, Singapore's two sprinters in the men's 100m final finished some way behind Nyepa.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) duo Timothee Yap (10.88sec) and Calvin Kang (10.91sec) finished fifth and seventh, respectively.

Both will have one more race tomorrow - as part of the men's 4x100m relay team - before Yap heads to Rio, like Zaidatul, also on a wildcard slot.

NOT BOTHERED

The 21-year old, whose personal best in the 100m is 10.62sec, said: "To be honest, I'm not very happy with the time today, which is one of my slowest of the season, but I'm not too bothered by it because the conditions today weren't ideal.

"Overall I'm satisfied I completed the race injury-free, and now I'll work towards Rio and hopefully I can get a personal best there.

"Right now, I feel good, I feel fresh. I think a personal best is a good possibility... Hopefully the competitors around me will push me to achieve it."

Kang, who ran at the 2012 London Olympics as a wildcard, has been playing the role of mentor to Yap.

"This time, they'll have a preliminary round, so that will give him a boost, to run, get his legs ready and accustomed," said the 26-year-old.

"And, given his form, he can make it into the next round, which is the heats.

"In the previous Olympics, it went straight to the heats and, first round, boom, you're out.

"So hopefully, with two runs, it will help him better his time."

Bellator MMA star Page hopes for more investment in fighters

After recent developments, British fighter hopes more will be invested in the pugilists

ON A ROLL: British MMA fighter Michael Page (above) is eyeing his 
11th consecutive win on Sunday morning (Singapore time).

Michael Page's career in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) may only be 10 fights old, but there are already many calls for him to get a title shot.

Having made his debut in 2012, the Englishman currently has a 10-0 record in Bellator MMA and will be looking to extend his unbeaten run at the O2 Arena in London on Sunday (Singapore time), when he takes on Brazilian veteran Evangelista Santos (21-17) at Bellator 158.

The world of MMA has been shaken up considerably this past week, after news of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's (UFC) US$4 billion ($5.37b) sale to WWE-IMG was followed by One Championship's announcement of an eight-figure investment by Heliconia Capital Management, a wholly owned subsidiary of Temasek Holdings.

Despite being a relatively young sport, having only really gained mainstream popularity in the past decade, MMA has taken huge strides since and Page believes the latest developments are a huge boost.

"Hearing the news about One Championship and that there may be new minds in UFC… Hopefully it's going to impact in a positive way," he told The New Paper in a phone interview yesterday.

"Maybe, they will be open to working with other shows and I think it could be a really amazing move for fighting.

"Having more competition only helps the sport which is why I'm excited about the prospect of Bellator growing as well."

Bellator MMA is an American company founded in 2008.

CHALLENGE

The UFC - also American-based - is the biggest MMA company in the world, with Asia's One Championship, headquartered in Singapore, aiming to challenge for the spot.

British knockout specialist Page is optimistic the amount of money being pumped in will help raise the level of MMA fighting, as he highlighted the disparity in pay between the big-name fighters and their less-famous counterparts.

For instance, at last Friday's UFC 200, which had a total disclosed payroll of US$7 million, Brock Lesnar earned US$2.5m for his victory over Mark Hunt, who pocketed just US$700,000.

None of the other fighters on the card earned more than US$600,000, with some like Travis Browne taking home just US$120,000.

"This (investment) is what we've been missing for a long time," said the 29-year-old.

"I think fighters are very underpaid and it's difficult to train the way we do.

"Having that support and sponsorship and that financial benefit is only going to help everyone want to get back into the gym.

"A few guys are paid very well, and then the other 90 per cent are not.

"I honestly believe if you invest in the athletes, it will only improve the skill involved in the sport."

His immediate focus will be the bout with Santos in front of his home crowd, which the self-professed showman believes will work in his favour.

TITLE SHOT

Should an 11th consecutive triumph come his way, then calls for a title shot for Page are likely to only intensify.

"I'm extremely confident… I'm a very dangerous person because people don't understand what I am," said the man nicknamed "Venom".

"I think when you also have the right team around you, and my coaching is second to none, that just fuels the confidence I have.

"A lot of people are screaming for me to get that title fight, and I've always said it's not just about being ready to fight the champion, but also about being confident in holding the title against up-and-coming fighters.

"Now I'm in that place where I'm ready for any style or experience, but I'm not in any rush.

"I'm just enjoying displaying my talent and skills to the world each time."

BELLATOR 158 @ O2 ARENA, LONDON, ENGLAND

Premiere: Sunday, July 17 @ 12pm on KIX (Singtel TV Ch 309 & Starhub Ch 518)

Repeat: Monday, July 18 @ 10pm on KIX (Singtel TV Ch 309 & Starhub Ch 518)


"Having that support and sponsorship and that financial benefit is only going to help everyone want to get back into the gym. A few guys are paid very well, and then the other 90 per cent are not."

- British MMA fighter Michael Page

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Women's tennis will survive post-Serena, says Chris Evert

Chris Evert believes the likes of Muguruza, Kerber and Keys can take up the mantle after Serena retires

THREE TO WATCH: The likes of Garbine Muguruza (above), Angelique Kerber and Madison Keys have impressed tennis legend Chris Evert.
THREE TO WATCH: The likes of Garbine Muguruza, Angelique Kerber (above) and Madison Keys have impressed tennis legend Chris Evert.
THREE TO WATCH: The likes of Garbine Muguruza, Angelique Kerber and Madison Keys (above) have impressed tennis legend Chris Evert.
"I like the way the younger generation, like Muguruza and Kerber, are... not as intimidated as before." - Chris Evert (above) on the challengers to Serena Williams’ throne

She turns 35 in September, but Serena Williams still seems an unstoppable Grand Slam force.

The American world No. 1 collected her 22nd Major when she captured a seventh Wimbledon singles title last Saturday, and popular opinion is she will overtake Margaret Court's all-time Grand Slam singles mark of 24 by the time she ends her remarkable career.

Chris Evert says the women's game will suffer for a while when Williams does hang up her racket, but insists the sport will quickly bounce back.

"I was in the same era as Bjorn Borg and he was a rock star of tennis, bigger than (Roger) Federer and (Rafael) Nadal," Evert said yesterday morning, in a tele-conference call from Florida.

"When he (Borg) retired, I thought to myself, 'what in heaven's name is going to happen to men's tennis? It's just going to go down the tube'.

"But sure enough, (John) McEnroe started playing well after that, as did Jimmy (Connors), (Ivan) Lendl and (Boris) Becker.

"For a year or two, Serena will definitely be missed, but life goes on. One player is not bigger than the sport."

Evert, an 18-time Grand Slam champion, believes that in Williams' absence, the likes of Garbine Muguruza, Angelique Kerber and Madison Keys will come to the fore, and even create enduring rivalries that have been missing during the great American's era.

Evert, who will return here for a third time in October as an ambassador for the WTA Finals Singapore, said: "Serena was so good that she never had a big rival who made it more interesting.

SUPER SERVE

"After watching closely the Australian and French Opens, as well as Wimbledon, I think the difference is really Serena's serve.

"Her serve is the greatest that we have ever seen in women's tennis and it really does win her some easy points."

The likes of Muguruza and Kerber, who beat the hot favourite in the French Open and Australian Open final, respectively, this year, are coming up quickly and, with age catching up, Williams will have to be at her best to continue winning Majors.

"I don't think you can count Serena out as long as she is healthy and motivated; she still can win Grand Slams in the next couple of years.

"But I like the way the younger generation, like Muguruza and Kerber, are starting to challenge her and are not as intimidated as they have been before.

"Once players get into a rally with Serena, they have a pretty good shot at winning, but they have to get past that serve, and she is really hard to break... no one really seems to match her serve yet.

"It's going to be tougher and tougher for her to win Slams, but I still think she can win two or three more."

Up next for Williams are the Olympic Games in Rio and the US Open in New York, and Evert insists it will take a "herculean" effort for her to win gold and also bag a seventh Major at home.

Evert said: "A lot will depend on how Serena is feeling at the time. Muguruza won the French Open and lost in the first round of Wimbledon.

"Even if she is hungry and can get back psyched up for both tournaments, it will (still) be almost superhuman of her to win both the Olympics and the US Open.

"But, if anyone can do it, she can do it."

With 22 Slams to her name, Williams now ties Steffi Graf's Open era record.

Following her Wimbledon win, tennis legend Billie Jean King hailed the powerful American as the greatest women's player of all time.

While Evert agreed with King's assessment, she said it would be difficult to compare players from different generations.

COMPARE

She said: "If you look at tennis and sports in general, every decade, every generation gets better and better. I dominated my generation and was the best of all time, as did Martina (Navratilova) and Steffi.

"Every generation becomes better because of better equipment like rackets and strings, as well as training and science.

"Serena is definitely the greatest of all time now, but in 20 years, maybe someone else will replace her as the greatest."

Hartmann a hitman for Geylang

Eagles' new striker is doing his best to match his target

POACHER: Geylang International coach Hasrin Jailani hails the difference his mid-season transfer signing, Mark Hartmann (far right), has made with his goals.

GROUP B

BALESTIER KHALSA 2

(Niko Tokic 9, Fadhil Noh 22)

GEYLANG INTERNATIONAL 2

(Mark Hartmann 55, 90)

He had set himself a target of scoring a goal a game for the remainder of the season.

Geylang International's mid-season transfer signing, Mark Hartmann, went one better last night when the Eagles took on Balestier Khalsa in The New Paper League Cup Group B clash at the Toa Payoh Stadium.

The Southampton-born Filipino bagged a brace against the Tigers in a 2-2 draw, giving the away fans something to cheer about.

What made the former Global FC striker's performance even more impressive was that the Eagles went into the interval trailing by two goals and were without seven players who were away with the Singapore training squad.

The 24-year-old stepped up, hitting the mark in the 55th and 90th minutes to ensure his team did not leave empty-handed.

Coach Hasrin Jailani was effusive in his praise for the team and Hartmann, in particular.

"We came back from two goals down so, obviously, I am very delighted," said the first-year coach.

"Our second half in particular was very good. Mark has been the difference for us in the last few games.

FINISHING TOUCH

"During the first half of the season, we were able to create chances but could not finish. Having someone like Mark who gives us the finishing touch is really something that we need."

The former Singapore international insisted there was still room for improvement.

"We need to work on our defending during set-pieces," he said.

"Today, the two goals that we conceded were from set-pieces and they were Balestier's only efforts on target, so this is something that we need to improve on."

Thanks to Fazli Ayob's accurate deliveries, Balestier exposed Geylang's frailties at set-piece defending as early as the ninth minute when Niko Tokic rose unopposed to nod home off a corner.

They struck again in the 22nd minute, this time it was Fadhil Noh who found himself on the end of a Fazli delivery, stabbing the ball into the back of the net.

Hartmann had already missed a gilt-edged chance to draw level a minute earlier after he fired straight at Naqiuddin Nodin.

The Philippine international spurned another glorious chance in the 36th minute, watching in agony as his looping effort went an inch too high.

The Bedok-based outfit went into the second half with renewed purpose and were thrown a lifeline when Hartmann was at the right place at the right time to head home Nor Azli Yusoff's cross to the back-post.

It was all Geylang from then on, but they failed to convert a catalogue of chances before Hartmann's moment of magic, seconds before referee Ahmad A'Qashah blew the final whistle.

SCREAMER

Hartmann collected the ball on the edge of the box before swivelling instinctively and curling a screamer into the top corner.

Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic preferred to look at the result as one point gained.

"We played well in the first half scoring two good goals," he said.

"But they scored early in the second half and put pressure on us from then on.

"We were not able to attack and then they equalised at the last minute. I am disappointed with the result but happy with the performance because we played well today."

TNP MAN OF THE MATCH: 
Mark Hartmann (Geylang Int'l)


STARTING LINE-UPS

BALESTIER KHALSA:

Naqiuddin Nodin, Fadli Kamis, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Nurullah Hussein, Ho Wai Loon (Ahmad Syahir 76), Fazli Ayob (Syafiq Zainal 80), Tan Danial Farhan, Gary Loo, Fadhil Noh (Smajovic Sadin 76), Jamil Ali, Niko Tokic.

GEYLANG INTERNATIONAL:

Hairul Syirhan, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Yuki Ichikawa, Shariff Samat, Noor Azli Yusoff, Ifwat Ismail (Shawal Anuar 46), Roberto Camarasa, Isa Halim, Umar Akhbar (B. Jeevakumaran 82), Indra Sahdan (Taufiq Ghani 66), Mark Hartmann.

OTHER GROUP B RESULT

Home United 0 Albirex Niigata 2

1966 World Cup 
final started it all

HAT-TRICK HERO: England's Geoff Hurst (far right) scoring the final goal to complete a historic hat-trick and seal the Three Lions' 4-2 extra-time win over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final.
HAT-TRICK HERO: England's Geoff Hurst (below) scoring the final goal to complete a historic hat-trick and seal the Three Lions' 4-2 extra-time win over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final.
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