Tag Archives: exploits

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Liverpool having better season than last year – Glen Johnson

No trophies and seventh in the league… but Johnson insists Liverpool have improved

By
Dominic King

PUBLISHED:

06:15 GMT, 9 April 2013

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UPDATED:

06:15 GMT, 9 April 2013

Glen Johnson insists Liverpool's season has been 'clearly better' than the last campaign which ended with them winning a trophy and qualifying for Europe.

Liverpool, whose hopes of top six finish were dented by a 0-0 draw with West Ham, never threatened to repeat their exploits of last year in knockout football when they reached both domestic cup finals, winning the League Cup against Cardiff.

Bar a huge turn of events, it is almost certain they will miss out on a place in the Europa League next year, too, as they are running out of games to overhaul Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton.

Luis Suarez

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard

Woe: Liverpool failed to break down a dogged West Ham defence at Anfield last weekend

Johnson, though, is adamant that Liverpool – who are set to surpass the points tally of 52 they accrued 12 months ago – have made far greater progress under Brendan Rodgers than the Barclays Premier League table would suggest.

'I wouldn't say it (has been) so close but so far,' said the England right-back. 'It is clearly a better season than last season. Brendan is looking to improve the squad and we have got a better squad than we did have. He will look to improve again in the summer.

'If we can nick the goals we need from games (like against West Ham), we will be right in amongst it (next season).'

When asked why he felt it was a 'clearly better season', Johnson replied: 'It's a few things. You look at the squad, the feeling that there is around the place, the football that we are playing – 8 times out of 10, we have been battering teams.

Past glories: Liverpool won the Carling Cup last season but will finish this campaign without a trophy

Past glories: Liverpool won the Carling Cup last season but will finish this campaign without a trophy

'That wasn't the case last season. We won a trophy last season and, of course, that was fantastic. Everyone wants to win. That's what we are in the game for. But in terms of getting Liverpool back where they belong, we want to be back in the top four.'

Johnson, who has been one of Liverpool's most consistent performers under Rodgers, believes it is vital for the club's critics to look at this season in isolation, as he is adamant there will be significant improvement when things are fully settled.

'Brendan was brought in to rebuild the squad and put Liverpool back into the places that it should be (as a club),' said Johnson. 'He wants to put us back in the top four but he wasn't asked to do that in his first season. This season has been a step closer to that.

Main man: Glen Johnson (centre) praised manager Brendan Rodgers for his impact at the club

Main man: Glen Johnson (centre) praised manager Brendan Rodgers for his impact at the club

'Everyone – players, staff, fans – would love us to be back in the top four but if we improve on last season then it is a step in the right direction. We are still pretty close to the top four. If we can start nicking games like West Ham, we are going to be right in amongst it.'

Meanwhile, Liverpool target Toby Alderweirled has stated that he would prefer a move to Anfield this summer. The Belgian defender is expected to leave Ajax and has been courted by a number of English clubs, including Newcastle and Everton.

'I do not want to play for an English club in mid-table,' said Alderweirled. 'Unlike Newcastle, Liverpool meets my criteria.'

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Lionel Messi proves he is human after being foiled by a Japanese moving robot

Man v Machine: Messi proves he is human after all… as he is foiled by a Japanese moving robot

By
Andy James

PUBLISHED:

11:25 GMT, 8 April 2013

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UPDATED:

02:48 GMT, 9 April 2013

This might be the only way for managers to stop Lionel Messi in his tracks – by signing a Japanese goalkeeping robot.

Messi has been branded a killing machine after rattling in 57 goals this season.

His exploits have left managers in La Liga and throughout Europe tearing their hair out as just how to halt the Argentine striker.

Scroll down for video

Man v machine: Messi prepares to step up against the robot

Man v machine: Messi prepares to step up against the robot goalkeeper

Not spot on: Messi steps up for his penalty (above) and sees his spot-kick saved (below)

Not spot on: Messi steps up for his penalty (above) and sees his spot-kick saved (below)

Messi pen:

But the Barcelona frontman, considered by many as the game's greatest ever player, struggled when the man took on the machine in a game show broadcast on Japanese TV.

Messi took three penalties against the moving piece of cardboard – but missed his first two spot-kicks.

He is human after all then.

VIDEO Messi goes head-to-head with a robot in a penalty shoot-out

Messi takes on robot in penalty shoot-out

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Mohamed Diame may leave West Ham, says Sam Allardyce

Allardyce admits he may have to let Diame leave West Ham if release clause is met

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UPDATED:

23:38 GMT, 8 December 2012

West Ham boss Sam Allardyce fears the club could struggle to hold on to in-form midfielder Mohamed Diame.

Diame, 25, has impressed at Upton Park since completing a free transfer from Wigan after running down his contract at the DW Stadium.

The Senegal international is reportedly attracting attention from a number of clubs and, although Allardyce refused to discuss a potential release clause in Diame's contract, Hammers co-chairman David Gold confirmed the fact on Twitter.

Wanted man: Mohamed Diame may leave West Ham if his release clause is met

Wanted man: Mohamed Diame may leave West Ham if his release clause is met

'Diame does have a release clause in his three-year contract. He joined us from Wigan on a free transfer,' he wrote.

Allardyce would not be drawn on the speculation regarding the finer details of Diame's agreement, but did admit a big offer would leave the club “powerless” to stop him leaving.

'I don't disclose players' contracts publicly – there's always a situation where you're powerless to keep a player because of the size of the price,' he said. 'You can't turn it down – the chairman says, “Look, we can't turn that down, Sam – we've got to move him on”.'

With the January transfer window approaching, Allardyce compared Diame's situation to that of Swansea's Michu, who has also been linked with a host of clubs after his goalscoring exploits for Michael Laudrup's Swans.

Concerned: Allardyce believes his hands could be tied

Concerned: Allardyce believes his hands could be tied

Game changer: Diame turned the match around when the Hammers hosted Chelsea

Game changer: Diame turned the match around when the Hammers hosted Chelsea

He said: 'I think there's always a chance that you lose football players when they start getting attention – because everybody is searching for better players.

'I'm listening to Mr Laudrup about how desperately they don't want Michu to go because January is nearly here and the rumours are starting again.

'All the agents are ringing you up and telling you that such a club is after this, and such a transfer is here and that club wants this player.'

Diame's summer arrival was relatively low key at Upton Park in comparison to the club-record fee West Ham splashed out on England winger Matt Jarvis and the loan signing of 35million Liverpool forward Andy Carroll.

But Allardyce revealed the Reds had also been looking to make a move for Diame – something which convinced the former Blackburn boss he was signing a good player.

Lavish: Diame was signed on a free transfer as West Ham loaned 35million man Andy Carroll to Upton Park

Lavish: Diame was signed on a free transfer as West Ham loaned 35million man Andy Carroll to Upton Park

'I spoke to (former Liverpool manager) Kenny (Dalglish) about it – for me it just sort of made me feel so much better than I'd already felt when I signed him,' he said.

'When you speak to Kenny and he says, “yes, we were going to take him,” it gives you that little bit more these days, signing players on.

'It's a huge task in terms of what you have to go through and that process and then when you've done it you've got somebody of Kenny's experience backing up what your judgement is.'

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Ian Holloway blasts Arsene Wenger over Wilfried Zaha – EXCLUSIVE

EXCLUSIVE: Why is Wenger talking about Zaha Palace boss Holloway with fierce
'hands off' warning

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UPDATED:

16:04 GMT, 28 November 2012

Ian Holloway has blasted Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger for acknowledging an interest in Wilfried Zaha and warned other January suitors off his prized asset.

Zaha has been centre of attention this November, a month in which he turned 20 and also made his England debut as a substitute against Sweden, and Wenger is one of a number of Barclays Premier League managers monitoring his exploits in the npower Championship.

When asked specifically about his interest in the 20million-rated winger on Tuesday morning, Wenger said: 'We are looking at every player who could strengthen our squad – but he is not more on the list than anyone else.'

On the run: Zaha is wanted by a host of top-flight clubs after impressing for Crystal Palace this term

On the run: Zaha is wanted by a host of top-flight clubs after impressing for Crystal Palace this term

Fury: Holloway is angry with the Arsenal manager for seemingly declaring his interest in Zaha

Fury: Holloway is angry with the Arsenal manager for seemingly declaring his interest in Zaha

While the Arsenal manager didn't mention his name, it was widely received at the time that he was declaring his interest in Zaha.

Crystal Palace manager Holloway, who was due to sit down with the Selhurst Park hierarchy today to discuss their own transfer window strategy, retorted: 'Why is he talking about my players I don't think that's right and proper, with the greatest respect.

'I don't think anybody who manages any other club should actually admit who he likes and what he should be doing. I think that's totally bad etiquette. He can say what he likes but about his players, not mine.'

Holloway, who is less than a month into his tenure with the south London club, expects Zaha to spend some of his current five-year deal representing Palace in the Premier League.

But should that dream not materialise, the former Blackpool manager has already proposed his next destination.

'I have told Wilf what I would do if I was him, and we have got such a strong contract they can go and whistle to be honest,' Holloway added, of clubs preparing to make bids.

'I have just walked in on this, it wasn't my party, but I have to have some sort of say in it.

'I think the boy is learning, and learning in our first team. He has been here since he was 12, and the chairman has a grip of what he wants to do.

'At the end of the day I just want the best for the boy and I can guarantee he will get that: I know where I want him to go if he doesn't play for us in the Premier League next year, and I have already told him.

Interested: Arsenal manager Wenger is poised to make a move for the Crystal Palace winger

Interested: Arsenal manager Wenger is poised to make a move for the Crystal Palace winger

'But at the minute he probably will not be available no matter what the price is in January.

'I have been delighted with my few weeks here and at the end of the day Wilfried is a big part of this season.'

Palace are well placed to return to the top-flight and their position would have been enhanced further when Zaha released the manacles imposed on him by fellow promotion chasers Hull on Tuesday night only to be denied what would have been his fifth league goal of the season, and a last-minute winner, by home goalkeeper David Stockdale.

Your country needs you: Zaha made his full debut against Sweden earlier this month

Your country needs you: Zaha made his full debut against Sweden earlier this month

A dozen minutes earlier, he had been clattered to the turf via a robust challenge from Hull's on-loan Manchester United midfielder Robbie Brady.

As displayed by the peerless Lionel Messi, however, to dust down and carry on is the best policy, according to Holloway.

'He gets kicked all over the place but that's what he has got to get used to. He's got to stop gesticulating and get up like Messi does, and in the meantime the more he does things like he did in those last couple of seconds of the match, the more people will be chasing if he becomes available,' Holloway said.

'What he has to learn to do – the more famous he becomes, the more people will talk about him – is to produce.

'I have got no doubts that he will. I just have to make sure that he looks right to those sitting in the stand. If he gesticulates to the referee then those people watching might be put off. You just have to get up like Messi, get on with it and do it again.'

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Chris Robshaw is safe says Stuart Lancaster

Robshaw is safe! Lancaster says he does not have a classic No 7

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UPDATED:

22:30 GMT, 19 November 2012

When the England team to face South Africa is named on Thursday there will be changes, but not at openside flanker.

While defeat to Australia has resurrected concerns about a dearth of specialist opensides in the country, Chris Robshaw will continue to lead the team from that position.

The Harlequins captain received staunch support from Stuart Lancaster on Monday, despite being unable to match the eye-catching exploits of Australia’s Michael Hooper at Twickenham.

Persisting: Stuart Lancaster says Chris Robshaw will not be dropped

Persisting: Stuart Lancaster says Chris Robshaw will not be dropped

But with another pedigree ‘groundhog’ flanker, Bath’s Springbok Francois Louw, heading for headquarters on the back of a man-of-the-match performance against Scotland, England’s head coach admitted there are very few players of that particular breed available to him.

‘There are not many in my opinion who play at seven in England in the same way as Mike Hooper or Richie McCaw do,’ said Lancaster. ‘It’s quite hard to magic someone up to play in that way in our competition. Andy Saull has been mentioned as one, but he has hardly played at all for Saracens this season due to injury.

‘There’s a natural instinct players have to become sevens. I know because it’s the position I used to play, though I was not quite big enough or tough enough for the highest level.’

In response to criticism of his captain’s display against the Wallabies, Lancaster added: ‘Chris has been named captain for the series and I’m more than happy with his contribution on and off the field. I don’t see that Chris’s performance would warrant being dropped.’

Openside: Robshaw has been leading the team from the No 7 position

Openside: Robshaw has been leading the team from the No 7 position

Asked if he would consider shifting the skipper (below) to blindside flanker, Lancaster said: ‘We are more likely to stick with them as they are.’

The name of Steffon Armitage is repeatedly mentioned in discussions on this thorny issue, given his status as a supreme, acclaimed, instinctive English openside.

Last night, the Toulon flanker received an award in Paris after being voted the best foreign player in France’s Top 14 league.

Yet, the RFU have an edict against selecting overseas-based players for England and Lancaster evidently harbours reservations about Armitage’s readiness for Test rugby.

‘It’s always going to be difficult for him and players in France to push their case,’ said the coach. ‘They’re going to have to play exceptionally well — far and above players in England.’

In particular reference to Armitage, he added: ‘He plays behind a dominant pack and Toulon are beating everyone on the front foot. To play for 80 minutes, in Test rugby, when you’re not on the front foot and have to keep running around at high levels of intensity, you have to be fit.’

Charge: Joe Launchbury runs with the ball during England training on Monday

Charge: Joe Launchbury runs with the ball during England training on Monday

Armitage won’t abandon his international aspirations, certainly not while he is in the form of his life. The 27-year-old made the last of his five Test appearances in February 2010, but he said: ‘I will keep hoping that I can get another chance with England. I hope there can be some negotiation between club and country further down the line.

‘I will do anything to play again for England. It is a big honour to put on the red rose. I knew what the risk was in coming to France, but I thought it would help my career.

‘Toulon have players like Joe van Niekerk and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe — so I knew it was going to be hard to secure a starting place but, maybe because of them, I am playing better.’

On the subject of his fitness, Armitage added: ‘If you want to keep your place at Toulon, you have to be at the top fitness-wise.

Heavy lifting: Toby Flood carries tackle pads during training

Heavy lifting: Toby Flood carries tackle pads during training

‘I play nearly 80 minutes week-in, week-out in the Top 14. I feel like I’m at the point where this is the fittest I have been in my whole career.’

While Robshaw will stay at No 7 against the Springboks, Northampton flanker Tom Wood is poised to return at blindside in place of Tom Johnson.

Joe Marler has suffered a knee strain —opening the door for Alex Corbisiero’s return at loosehead prop. There is also a possibility of Joe Launchbury usurping Tom Palmer at lock while Jonathan Joseph is likely to be recalled in midfield.

l Bath and England Under 21 fly-half Tom Heathcote has commited his international future to Scotland. The 20-year-old, who was born in Inverness, was courted by Andy Robinson last summer and could be pitched straight in against Tonga on Saturday.

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Alan Pardew hopes win can kick start Newcastle"s season

The season starts now: Pardew wants Toon to kick on after fluke win

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UPDATED:

19:38 GMT, 28 October 2012

Newcastle boss Alan Pardew hopes Papiss Cisse's fluke winner against West Brom at St James' Park can help kick-start the front man's disappointing Barclays Premier League season into life.

Cisse has failed to recreate last season's scoring exploits with just two League Cup and Europa League goals to his credit before he deflected Sammy Ameobi's shot past Ben Foster to open his league account for the new campaign.

The Senegalese knew next to nothing about his winner as fellow substitute Ameobi let fly with a hopeful effort from the edge of the box which struck the bottom of his back and took a wicked deflection past stranded Baggies keeper Ben Foster.

Leaving it late: Sammy Ameobi, celebrates with Papiss Cisse after the two combined for Newcastle's winner

Leaving it late: Sammy Ameobi, celebrates with Papiss Cisse after the two combined for Newcastle's winner

Pardew said: 'It's sometimes very difficult with strikers because Papiss has looked exactly the same in training and he certainly doesn't look short of confidence. He has been smashing them in from everywhere.

'But sometimes you have these runs where you don't get a goal, and that goal today will do him the world of good.'

Pardew admitted his side had been fortunate to snatch the three points against a Baggies side for whom the excellent Romelu Lukaku headed a 55th-minute equaliser after Demba Ba's 35th-minute opener for the hosts.

Strike it lucky: Sammy Ameobi takes a shot which deflects of team mate Cisse for his sides second goal

Strike it lucky: Sammy Ameobi takes a shot which deflects of team mate Cisse for his sides second goal

The home side also had to rely on keeper Tim Krul to pull off two superb saves to deny Lukaku in the first period.

Pardew conceded: 'We've had a tough week and we looked tired physically and emotionally today.

'We've won the game and we'll take that. We've not had many breaks this season. We perhaps deserved to win at Sunderland and today we've got a goal in a game we did not deserve to win but we have.

'We've got to look at how we approach Sunday games after the Thursdays because we are struggling. We will keep trying different things to get that Sunday performance, because the second half was a struggle.

Going ahead: Demba Ba celebrates scoring the first goal

Going ahead: Demba Ba celebrates scoring the first goal

'I am glad to see the back of West Brom. They were excellent. They have got a real assurance about them. Everyone wanted the ball and made it very difficult for us. They probably thought they should have won it but I think our honesty won it for us in the end.'

For Baggies boss Steve Clarke the manner of the defeat was a second consecutive crushing blow after losing a late lead to champions Manchester City to fall 2-1 at The Hawthorns last weekend.

Clarke said: 'I thought we were terrific today and it's disappointing when you come to a place like this and you're the best team and not only do you not get a point but you don't come away with anything.

Not enough: Romelu Lukaku thought his goal was enough to earn West Brom a point

Not enough: Romelu Lukaku thought his goal was enough to earn West Brom a point

'We've got a good squad of players and I think our performances have been really good.

'With a little bit of luck over the last couple of games we could have even more points, but we've been stuck on 14 which is cruel and is not fair.

'What hurts me most is the amount of effort and quality my players have put into their game for two weeks in a row, and they have come away with nothing.'

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Connor Wickham hoping England success can help Sunderland career

Wickham hoping to use England exploits as springboard for Sunderland success

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UPDATED:

08:59 GMT, 12 September 2012

Connor Wickham is ready use his best moment as an England player as a catalyst to banish the frustrations of a demoralising year.

The Sunderland striker's goal for the Under 21s on Monday night was not only good enough to beat Norway, it also ensured England finished top of Group 8 and means they will be seeded in the draw for next month's play-offs.

On a personal level, though, the strike was just as significant. Wickham has endured a miserable time since joining Sunderland for 8.1million 14 months ago, as a series of injuries and a loss of form led to last season being nothing other than a struggle.

Strike a light: Wickham scored the winner for England against Norway

Strike a light: Wickham scored the winner for England against Norway

Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill is now considering sending Wickham out on loan, given he has surplus of forwards, but whatever happens, the 19-year-old is hoping his first competitive goal in 11 months is a sign that his luck has changed.

'I'm delighted. All goals are important and it is always nice to score but to get the winner in such an important game and it was extra special that we have finished top,' said Wickham. 'It has felt like a fresh start coming away with England.

'Last season wasn’t great. I was struck by injury quite a lot. Hopeful this season I can stay fit and keep scoring goals. That is all I am focused on. I just want to play as many games as I can. It's been horrible (having to cope with injuries).

'It was my first season in the Premier League and I didn't get to show what I am about. Hopefully this season it will change. I'm feeling fitter and stronger. I just need to stay fit, healthy and be sensible off the pitch.'

Catalyst: Wickham hopes he can now push on at Sunderland

Catalyst: Wickham hopes he can now push on at Sunderland

Though England will be plucked from Pot A on Friday, they could still end up with a difficult two-legged assignment next month, with countries such as Serbia and Russia potentially blocking the route to Israel next summer.

But Wickham said: 'I don't think anyone is bothered about who we get. We just know there is enough talent in the changing room to beat anyone who we get drawn against. We think we can beat anyone who is put in front of us.'

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US Open 2012: Andy Murray success secret is a lady with large hands!

Murray set for Cilic test… but the secret of Andy's success A lady with large hands!

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UPDATED:

00:36 GMT, 5 September 2012

The world's leading athletes are used to having entourages around them which make their arrival at the big sporting venues appear like that of royalty, and Andy Murray is no different.

But when he first landed here ahead of the US Open, he took the unusual step of ditching everyone and spending several days as a relative hermit in the big city.

It was an unusual step from someone who has always been prepared to do the unpredictable, but this means of recharging himself after a strenuous and sometimes emotional summer appears to be paying off.

Eyes on the prize: Andy Murray will face Marin Cilic in the US Open quarter-finals

Eyes on the prize: Andy Murray will face Marin Cilic in the US Open quarter-finals

Yet again the 25-year-old Scot is into
the last eight of a Grand Slam, setting up a meeting with Croatia’s
Marin Cilic after quite brilliantly dismantling the game of the
increasingly feared Canadian Milos Raonic.

The world No 15’s supersonic serve
provides a mental test as well as one of reflexes and anticipation.
Murray was more than equal to it in winning 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. His progress
thus far suggests whatever he did to re-energise himself following his
exploits on grass is working.

‘When I got here I took three days off
and just spent some time on my own,’ he said of retreating into his
hotel adjacent to Central Park. ‘I hadn’t had any time on my own since
the Olympics and felt I needed some time away from the others because
otherwise it can get a bit sterile. I just did things like watch a lot
of football on television and got my own breakfast, lunch and dinner
from the local Whole Foods store. I had a massage in the hotel spa from
a big lady with large hands.

‘When I’m at home I’m always with Kim
(Sears, his girlfriend) or with friends so this was the first time in a
while I had a few days by myself and I just walked around doing my
thing. It was nice to relax and be on my own for a bit.’

Chillout: Murray sought some time away from Ivan Lendl

Chill out: Murray sought some time away from coach Ivan Lendl (above) and girlfriend Kim Sears (below) to relax in his own company in New York

Support: Murray's girlfriend Kim Sears

The man who occasionally sits alone on
Wimbledon Centre Court out of season to contemplate has learned a lot
from Ivan Lendl about how to manage himself in this way and conserve
energy during the three-week stay often required by a Grand Slam.

It is why you so rarely see Murray
hanging out socially at the tournament site any more. Lendl was always
keen on outside diversions and these days plays golf obsessively to take
his mind off professional duties.

For example, before the pair met up
for practice on the morning of the Raonic match, Lendl was adding more
silverware to his cabinet in nearby Conneticut.

Murray said: ‘He played the final of his club championship and won 9&7 so he was pretty happy with himself when he came in.

‘I think that’s his golfing done for a few days so he can concentrate on the quarter-final from now on.’

NUMBERS THAT SHOW ANDY GIVES
NO QUARTER…

8 – Murray has reached the quarter-finals of his last eight Grand Slams, a run that goes back to his 2010 third-round defeat at Flushing Meadows by Stanislas Wawrinka.

87.5 – His win percentage in those eight matches, losing only to David Ferrer in four sets at the French Open.

26 – The number of further consecutive quarter-finals Murray needs to make before he equals Roger Federer's record streak of 34 (and counting). That would take him to the year 2019.

6 – Sets lost by the British No 1 in those eight quarter-final matches.

146 – Total games won in those matches, compared to the 109 he has lost.

75.9 – Murray's win percentage at the US Open (won 22, lost 7). His only final appearance came in 2008, when he lost in straight sets to Federer.

33 – Total Grand Slam wins of his three great rivals (Federer 17, Nadal – 11, Djokovic 5) in the world top four. The Olympic champion is yet to break his Grand Slam duck.

The world No 4 will try and bamboozle
Cilic as he has done on previous occasions, most recently at Wimbledon
where the Croat put in a very limp performance.

For all his 140mph thunderbolts, Raonic was reduced to doleful smiles by the end as he failed to make any impression on Murray.

‘After the match he said, “Sorry, I
got lucky a few times”,’ revealed Raonic. ‘I said don’t be sorry, it was
simply amazing. I tried three different ways to beat him. I tried
playing at the back, I tried playing higher up the court, I tried coming
into the net. I didn’t have any solutions.’

Cilic is a similar build but a
different player, a superb mover for his height and more solid in the
rally than Raonic. He lacks a blockbuster serve. That partly explains
why he has never quite been able to deliver on the rich promise he
showed in his late teens.

Already it is hard not to look ahead
to a potential rematch of the recent Wimbledon battles with Roger
Federer, although the Swiss phenomenon has a difficult quarter-final
against Czech Tomas Berdych, who again looks threatening.

Murray v Cilic

Federer was gifted his last-eight place when Mardy Fish withdrew, but his comfortable ride should come to an abrupt stop now.

Defending champion Samantha Stosur,
who vanquished Laura Robson in the fourth round, came desperately close
to beating world No 1 Victoria Azarenka on Tuesday night in the best
match of the women’s event to date.

The world No 7, trying to rediscover
the form that saw her beat Serena Williams in last year’s final, nearly
pulled off a fine comeback but was outpointed 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 by the
shrieking Belarusian.

Azarenka just kept her nerve at the
end of the tiebreak to nick the last two points and win it 7-5. She was
awaiting the winner of Maria Sharapova versus Marion Bartoli, with the
French player jumping to a surprise 4-0 lead before another downpour
caused the day session to be abandoned.

Tricky opponent: Marin Cilic

Rock Bottom

Andy Murray’s defeat by Marin Cilic at the US Open in 2009 was one of
his unhappiest Grand Slam memories and the precursor to a low Davis Cup
experience.

Murray fell limply 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 in New York, complaining of
a sore wrist. He then risked the injury as Great Britain lost to Poland the following week,
recalling: ‘I couldn’t hit a topspin backhand for about eight weeks
after that.’

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Mario Baloteli smokes bong in St-Tropez nightclub

Party time for Balotelli as City star smokes hookah pipe and guzzles champagne

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UPDATED:

10:13 GMT, 9 July 2012

His Manchester City team-mates may have returned to pre-season training but Mario Balotelli is clearly in no mood to slow down his partying.

The Italy striker has yet to return to Carrington after being given extended leave following his country's exploits at Euro 2012 and was swigging champagne and smoking a bong in the exclusive VIP Room nightclub in St-Tropez.

The 21-year-old put his personal troubles to one side – his ex-girlfriend Raffaella Fico claims she is pregnant with his child – to enjoy a massage from a scantily clad blonde.

Party time: Mario Balotelli smokes a bong while holding a bottle of champagne as he receives a massage

Party time: Mario Balotelli smokes a bong while holding a bottle of champagne as he receives a massage

Balotelli hit out at Raffaella, 27, last week, demanding a paternity test after calling her behaviour 'disappointing'.

He said: 'A few days ago I learned from third parties that Raffaella was pregnant.

'So I decided to contact her and it was only after I had questioned her that she confirmed it was true.

Living the dream: Balotelli was clearly enjoying himself at the VIP Room nightclub in St-Tropez

Living the dream: Balotelli was clearly enjoying himself at the VIP Room nightclub in St-Tropez

'I am very disappointed as I don’t think it is right that I should learn this after four months.'

Balotelli, who split with Raffaella in April, also accused her of 'exploiting the story for publicity'. He said he had 'no intention' of getting back together with her.

Raffaella claimed she told Balotelli she was pregnant while he was in action for Italy and that he had replied: 'You have given me the best news in the world.'

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Papiss Cisse: Proud to wear Newcastle No 9 shirt

Fit to wear the shirt! Cisse proud to wear Newcastle's iconic No 9

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UPDATED:

17:52 GMT, 26 April 2012

Scoring sensation Papiss Cisse has admitted he is thriving on the pressure of trying to live up to the demands of wearing Newcastle's famous No 9 shirt

The 26-year-old Senegal international
has plundered 11 goals in just 10 appearances for the club since he
joined from Freiburg in a near-10million switch in January.

High life: Newcastle United's Papiss Cisse

High life: Newcastle United's Papiss Cisse

His contribution has proved key in a run of six successive victories which have propelled the Magpies into fourth place in the Barclays Premier League table and to within touching distance of Champions League qualification.

Cisse is well aware of the history of the shirt he has inherited, and in particular, the heroics performed in it by one of his predecessors, Alan Shearer.

He told Sky Sports' Barclays Premier League World programme: 'When I came, it was a big surprise that they had reserved the shirt for me. I just said, 'Wow!'.

'That's more pressure on me, but pressure in a good way, pressure which motivates me.

'He [Shearer] is a footballing legend here at Newcastle, and I come from nowhere and get to wear it…

Toon legend: Alan Shearer

Toon legend: Alan Shearer

'At the moment, I am growing into it and I hope, God willing, to continue wearing it.'

Cisse's exploits to date have won him a rapturous welcome from the Toon Army, and the rapidly developing love affair is mutual.

The striker said: 'I can tell you that scoring a goal in that stadium is something amazing.

'Even yesterday, I was remembering a goal that I scored in front of them. My eyes met with those in the crowd and I told myself, “Wow, this is something really extraordinary”.'

Cisse is one of several of Alan Pardew's players to have excelled in recent months, with France international Hatem Ben Arfa particularly impressive after recovering from his double leg fracture.

His efforts too have been appreciated as much in the dressing room as they have from the terraces.

Hot shot: Cisse has scored 11 goals in 10 games

Hot shot: Cisse has scored 11 goals in 10 games

Cisse said: 'The first time I saw him here, I thought, “There is something Messi-like about this guy”. The ball sticks to his feet.

'He can run with it – he can do anything with it. It's extraordinary. It's a pleasure to watch him play.'

The Magpies head for Wigan on Saturday knowing their hopes of a top-four finish remain in their own hands, although with tough games against Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton to come.

But as they have done all season, they will tackle each hurdle as it arrives and see where they end up at the end of the campaign.

Cisse said: 'We are going to take each match as it comes and take the points as we can, hoping to win every game and that other teams slip up.

'Hopefully, we can take the points.'