'Child angel dolls are not passengers'

Thai air safety body responds to lucky Thai doll superstition

LUCKY CHARM? The 'child angel' dolls are believed to bring their owners good luck. 


The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) warned passengers yesterday that lucky "child angel" dolls cannot be considered real people and must be properly stowed before take-off and landing, AFP reported.

The unusual clarification came in response to the latest superstitious craze sweeping the kingdom, where Thais are pampering lifelike dolls believed to contain a child's spirit, hoping it will bring them good luck.

Known in Thai as "luuk thep" (child angels), the dolls, which can cost up to US$600 (S$860), were popularised by celebrities who claimed that dressing up and feeding the dolls had brought them professional success.

LEAKED

This week, multiple local media outlets ran reports based around a leaked memo from the airline Thai Smile, suggesting that the company planned to begin offering airline tickets - including in-flight drinks and snacks - to the dolls.

The memo defined the "child angels" as "a doll that is alive", adding that the figures should be placed in window seats, so that other passengers would not be disturbed, and that seat belts should be worn during take-off and landing, according to reports.

But the CAAT said in its statement that the dolls were "non-human beings that cannot be considered passengers".

It added: "Carry-on baggage must be stored inside overhead lockers or underneath the seat."

Thai Smile has not denied the leaked memo, nor has it made a formal statement.

Superstition runs deep in Thailand and many believe in ghosts and good and malevolent spirits, and that various offerings will ward off bad luck.

The doll mania began about a year ago and some believers take the dolls with them to Buddhist ceremonies and to everyday places such as restaurants and the cinema.

On Tuesday, officers in Bangkok confiscated more than 100 dolls and arrested three vendors for allegedly failing to pay import taxes.

14 dead from cold wave in Thailand

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Can Fab Fed upset Super Serb Djokovic?

At 34, Federer says he's still having fun, but another Slam will do just fine, if Djokovic allows it!

CLASH OF THE TITANS: Djokovic (left) has so far not been at his best, but against Federer (right), he's sure to raise his game.

He's 34 and he's still at the top of world tennis.

Swiss legend Roger Federer's last Major win was at Wimbledon in 2012 and, since then, his semi-final opponent today, Novak Djokovic, has accumulated five of his 10 Grand Slam titles, plus another five finals appearances.

"It's part of the reason why I'm still playing. I feel like I'm competitive at the top. I can beat all the guys on Tour," said the Swiss, after trouncing Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals.

"It's nice now that in the last three Slams I've been as consistent as I have been. I'm playing good tennis, fun tennis for me anyway.

"So I'm very pleased. It would mean a lot to me, no doubt about it."

So the question lingers on: Does the ageing Federer still has it in him to master Djokovic?

Defending champion Djokovic and No. 3 seed Federer will square off in a modern tennis classic when they take to Centre Court in the first men's semi-final at the Australian Open today.

At stake is a shot at history.

Both are bidding to equal Australian Roy Emerson's record of six titles, set in the pre-Open era and their head-to-head count is tied at 22 wins apiece.

Federer, who lost five of his eight matches against Djokovic last year, is in arguably the better form, dropping just one set in five matches en route to his mouth-watering clash with the Serb.

Federer will be the sentimental favourite with the Australian crowd, who revere the Swiss for his past exploits on Rod Laver Arena where he has won four Australian crowns.

World No. 1 Djokovic has dropped a set more than the Swiss, but has never lost in the semi-finals of the Australian Open.

Djokovic came back strongly after making 100 unforced errors against Frenchman Gilles Simon in the fourth round to down No. 7 seed Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in the quarter-finals.

The tally of 44 matches between Djokovic and Federer is the second highest in the Open era, beaten only by the 47 between Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, and the Serb credits his two biggest rivals for his dominance of recent years.

"These two guys made me the player I am today. These rivalries have allowed me to grow... And understand what it takes to be on the level that they are on," he said.

"Roger always makes you play your best. My best is what is going to be necessary to win against him.

"We have played so many times against each other.

"There's a lot of tension. There's a lot at stake. I'm expecting a great fight."

So is the tennis world.

- Wire Services.

Ivanisevic and Navratilova hit back at corruption talk in tennis

Ivanisevic and Navratilova hit 
back against corruption talk

WHERE'S THE EVIDENCE? Former tennis great Goran Ivanisevic insists that irregular betting patterns do not necessarily mean match-fixing.

Former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic says players are being hounded like "serial killers" and demanded proof of the match-fixing allegations that have rocked the sport at the Australian Open.

Tennis officials have been forced onto the back foot at the season-opening Grand Slam, after media reports alleged the anti-corruption watchdog had failed to properly police the game.

A review of the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) was announced earlier yesterday by the sport's power brokers in an effort to head off criticism that could see it being dragged down the same path as athletics and football.

Ivanisevic said statistics and numbers were not enough to 
prove guilt.

"There is no evidence. We are talking about algorithms and mathematics and some computer spits your name out like a serial killer and everyone is chasing you," he said yesterday.

"You need proof. Show me that somebody did something wrong, then I will believe you."

Reports by the BBC and Buzzfeed News in part involved using an algorithm to cross-check thousands of tennis matches with those that produced irregular betting patterns.

The reports did not identify players, but said the matches had been red-flagged to tennis anti-corruption officials, who then failed to act.

Ivanisevic, however, said irregular betting patterns on matches only resulted in players being placed on a "maybe list".

"Maybe I am going to have a date with Angelina Jolie," the Croat added. "Maybe not. How can you say maybe?

SERIOUS

"It's a serious thing, worse than taking drugs, worse than killing somebody. Don't give me a maybe, don't give me the mathematics, give me proof."

Tennis great Martina Navratilova, who won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, said the reports were "baloney".

"There's no specifics," she said. "If any of us would have been approached, it would have been 'are you kidding me? I have a match to play, go away'.

"We are talking about players losing at a Grand Slam on purpose? That's not going to happen.

"That's not going to happen at the highest level."

In an announcement at the Australian Open yesterday, the ATP, WTA, ITF and the heads of all four Grand Slams said the review was aimed at shaking up TIU and called for governments worldwide to make match-fixing a criminal offence.

The main priority of the review, headed by Adam Lewis QC, a London-based leading expert on sports law, is to look at TIU's structure, including how to make it more transparent and better resourced.

Tennis authorities pledged to make the review's outcomes public and to "implement and fund all the actions recommended".

The sport has poured 
US$14 million ($20m) into its anti-corruption body, which was set up in 2008 and has secured 18 convictions, including six life bans, mainly involving obscure and low-ranking players.

The corruption issue has marred the Australian Open, with some players revealing previous match-fixing approaches, including world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

On Sunday, two players were questioned by TIU after a report of an unusual betting pattern involving a mixed doubles match in the first round. - Wire Services.

Murray to meet reformed Raonic in semi-final

World No. 3 to meet Raonic in semis, 
as British players shine in Melbourne

GREAT, BRITAIN: Andy Murray (above) is joined by fellow Brits Johanna Konta (women's singles) and his brother Jamie (men's doubles) in the semi-final stage of the Australian Open.
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Vettel tops tyre tests in France

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel
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Kerber: Graf gives me belief to beat Azarenka

She has belief, thanks to Steffi

INSPIRED BY GRAF: Kerber credits her fellow German for giving her the belief to win big matcches.
Steffi Graf

Belief is what she has lots of - a belief that she can win big matches.

And that is what propelled Angelique Kerber into the semi-finals of the Australian Open for the first time - by beating no less than two-time champion Victoria Azarenka.

That same belief also gave German Kerber a spot in the last four of a Grand Slam at the US Open in 2012.

And who gave her that belief?

She credits fellow German Steffi Graf (inset), one of the game's greatest players.

The 28-year-old Kerber had a stellar 2015, winning four tournaments, second only to Serena Williams' five, and she said Graf's words of wisdom had been instrumental.

"Steffi is a champion. She taught me to believe in myself. She was and still is my idol," Kerber said of Graf, who won 22 Grand Slam titles - an Open-era record that Williams is gunning to match in Melbourne.

"She won everything, she's a great person, as well.

"I was able to practise with her for a few days just before Indian Wells last year.

"But she taught me actually that I'm on a good way and to try to believe in myself.

"I was trying to do it in the last few months.

"I was going out there today with a lot of confidence and trying to believe really in myself and just going for my shots, trying to play good tennis.

"I'm happy about my game, how I'm playing today."

The seventh-seeded Kerber blasted past the dangerous Azarenka in her first win against the Belarusian.

It was a huge upset for the German, whose six defeats by the 14th seed included this month's Brisbane International final and an epic three-hour marathon at last year's US Open.

Her reward is a clash with Johanna Konta, the first British woman to qualify for a Grand Slam semi-final for 33 years.

"I will just be trying to focus on doing the same stuff I'm doing before every match, focusing on my game," Kerber said of today's semi-final.

"I'll be going out there to win the match, to be aggressive, take my first chances I can get."

"I can't describe it. I was 0-6 (in their head-to-head) before I came on court. I said, 'Just go for it and beat her'."

"I'm so happy to beat her for the first time," Kerber added. "It's amazing to be in the semi-final."

Azarenka said her loss could be put down to "a bad day at the office" but it was also due to two periods of extreme hitting by the German.

Kerber raced out to a 4-0 lead in the first set and then while facing three set-points at 2-5 in the second, began to swing for the fences and reeled off winner after winner that left the Belarusian looking bereft as to what to do.

Despite being disappointed, the defeat would be put behind her by today.

"It's going to be forgotten tomorrow. I have improved so much from last year," Azarenka said.

"Taking these three weeks I have to keep working hard. I've shown good signs. I've shown good quality, way more consistent, physically much better.

"But there is work that has to be done."

From her performance against Kerber, lots of it! - Wire Services.


MEN'S RESULTS

Singles quarter-finals:

  • Andy Murray (x2) bt David Ferrer (x8) 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2, 6-3
  • Milos Raonic (x13) bt Gael Monfils (x23) 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4

WOMEN'S RESULTS

Singles quarter-finals:

  • Angelique Kerber (x7) bt Victoria Azarenka (x14) 6-3, 7-5
  • Johanna Konta bt Zhang Shuai 6-4, 6-1

Doubles semi-finals:

  • Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza (x1) bt Julia Goerges/Karolina Pliskova (x13) 6-1, 6-0
  • Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka (x7) bt Xu Yifan/Zheng Saisai (x15) 
3-6, 6-3, 6-1

FOR THE RECORD

  • Angelique Kerber has never gone beyond the fourth round at Melbourne Park.
  • She is the first German into the last four at the Australian Open since Anke Huber in 1998.

FOR THE RECORD

  • Johanna Konta 
exited at the qualifying stage in her last visit to Melbourne Park.
  • She is the first British woman to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since 1983.

Radwanska upbeat despite dismal record against Serena

What chance Radwanska?

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Dirk at the death

Mavericks veteran Nowitzki sinks one of his trademark jumpers to beat Lakers

LATE BOOST: Dirk Nowitzki (below) scores eight of his 13 points in the fourth quarter.
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Griffin never learns

Blake Griffin
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