Ash Barty continued her fairy-tale run at the Australian Open, crushing Madison Keys to become the first local woman to reach the singles final in 42 years.

The two-time grand slam champion continued her impressive form at Melbourne Park with a 6-1 6-3 victory over Keys on Rod Laver Arena on Thursday.

Barty, the world number one, became the first Australian woman to reach the singles final at the tournament since Wendy Turnbull in 1980.

She can become the first to win the title since Chris O'Neil in 1978 when she faces either Danielle Collins or Iga Swiatek in Saturday's final, which she will undoubtedly start as favourite.

Barty has dropped just 21 games on her way to the decider and the reigning Wimbledon champion was again ruthless against Keys, who lost her fourth grand slam semi-final in five such appearances.

The 25-year-old Barty settled well and broke the Keys serve in the opening game.

A powerful forehand created the opportunity before she delivered a cross-court winner off that wing to convert following a Keys drop shot.

Barty only made two first serves in her opening two service games yet did not lose a point.

Spurred on by a hopeful and enthusiastic home crowd, Barty's variety and depth – plus nine unforced errors in five games from Keys – helped her race into a 4-1 lead.

Keys finally won a point against the Barty serve in the sixth game, the Australian forced to save a break point before sealing the opening set in 26 minutes courtesy of a forehand return winner down the line.

The first real signs of nerves from Barty came in the fifth game of the second set, but she dug out a tough hold for 3-2.

Keys had settled, but Barty grabbed the break she was after in the sixth game with back-to-back forehand winners.

Barty looked calm throughout and that did not change as she served out the match in style, booking a spot in the final with a forehand winner.

DATA SLAM: Brilliant Barty on verge of ending Aussie wait

Barty has already ended one long wait – an Australian reaching the women's singles final at Melbourne Park.

She is a win away from ending another by becoming the first Australian winner of the men's or women's singles title in 44 years.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Barty – 20/13
Keys – 8/24

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Barty – 5/0
Keys – 1/1

BREAK POINTS WON
Barty – 4/6
Keys – 0/2

Jared Bednar believes Taylor Hall's hit on Nathan MacKinnon is the type of challenge the NHL is looking to phase out.

The Colorado Avalanche had to play most of Wednesday's meeting with the Boston Bruins without five-time All-Star MacKinnon after Hall connected with his shoulder in the first period.

Hall's shot to the upper body resulted in MacKinnon's own stick snapping up into his face, causing bleeding from his nose as the Avs star lay on the ice.

MacKinnon left the ice and did not return, while Hall was given a five-minute major that was reduced to two minutes after a review.

Colorado went on to win 4-3 in overtime and sit top of the Central Division in the Western Conference with 30 victories this season, the highest total in the league.

Though coach Bednar thought the right decision had been made in regard to Hall's penalty, he claimed it is the type of dangerous hit that the league is hoping to force out of the game.

"I believe they probably made the right call with the two [minutes],'' Bednar told reporters.

"But it's the type of hit, whether it's really solid or just a glancing blow, it's the kind of hit the league is trying to get rid of.''

Bednar also confirmed that MacKinnon had come around after the blow and would be assessed ahead further on Thursday, with the Avalanche in action again on Friday against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Avalanche, who led through Kurtis MacDermid early on, were down 3-1 in the third period before Samuel Girard pulled one back. Gabriel Landeskog tied the game with 36.5 seconds remaining before Cale Makar sealed the comeback win in overtime. 

"Not fun seeing one of your best friends and obviously your top player on the ice bleeding like that,'' added Landeskog.

"We didn't want to give up. We wanted to keep going. We got the big two points, keeping this thing going at home.''

The Avs have now won 17 games straight at home, just six behind the league record set by the 2011-12 Detroit Red Wings.

"That's our biggest win of the year," Bednar said.

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo thinks the Cleveland Cavaliers deserve more respect after their impressive defeat of the reigning champions.

The Cavs moved to 30-19 for the season, with eight wins from their past nine games, thanks to a dominant 115-99 home victory over the Bucks.

Cleveland have already comfortably surpassed their win total from last season, when they claimed just 22 victories and were in the draft lottery for the third year running, and only one side in the Eastern Conference has won more than their 30 games in 2021-22.

After falling behind in the first quarter, they dominated the middle phase of Thursday's game, beginning the second half with a three-pointer triple in 48 seconds before marching into a 93-72 lead.

Giannis tallied 26 points, nine rebounds and three assists on his return from a knee problem but his efforts were not enough.

Last year's Finals MVP said there is little doubt the Cavs are now contenders not just for the playoffs, but for the title.

"This is not the Cleveland we knew over the past few years," said Giannis, who brought chicken wings to his post-game media conference.

"They have a good team, and we have to respect them more. They're a playoff team and are fighting for the title themselves."

Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of arguably their best win of the season: "It's who we are. We take on all challenges.

"We don't run from anybody. We don't back down. We give everybody our best shot."

Counterpart Mike Budenholzer had few complaints about the result, adding of the Cavs: "They played lights out tonight.

"I don't know what the right analogy is, but they played really well. They beat us pretty good.

"Live ball turnovers is when transition defense is the toughest, and we made a lot of them."

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo thinks the Cleveland Cavaliers deserve more respect after their impressive defeat of the reigning champions.

The Cavs moved to 30-19 for the season, with eight wins from their past nine games, thanks to a dominant 115-99 home victory over the Bucks.

Cleveland have already comfortably surpassed their win total from last season, when they claimed just 22 victories and were in the draft lottery for the third year running, and only one side in the Eastern Conference has won more than their 30 games in 2021-22.

After falling behind in the first quarter, they dominated the middle phase of Thursday's game, beginning the second half with a three-pointer triple in 48 seconds before marching into a 93-72 lead.

Giannis tallied 26 points, nine rebounds and three assists on his return from a knee problem but his efforts were not enough.

Last year's Finals MVP said there is little doubt the Cavs are now contenders not just for the playoffs, but for the title.

"This is not the Cleveland we knew over the past few years," said Giannis, who brought chicken wings to his post-game media conference.

"They have a good team, and we have to respect them more. They're a playoff team and are fighting for the title themselves."

Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of arguably their best win of the season: "It's who we are. We take on all challenges.

"We don't run from anybody. We don't back down. We give everybody our best shot."

Counterpart Mike Budenholzer had few complaints about the result, adding of the Cavs: "They played lights out tonight.

"I don't know what the right analogy is, but they played really well. They beat us pretty good.

"Live ball turnovers is when transition defense is the toughest, and we made a lot of them."

The San Francisco 49ers have been handed a twin boost ahead of Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams with Deebo Samuel and Jimmy Garoppolo taken off their injury report.

Samuel took a helmet to his knee late in the 49ers' win over the Green Bay Packers but was a full participant at practice on Wednesday.

Quarterback Garoppolo has been battling shoulder and thumb complaints, but he also did not appear on the injury report.

"I'm sure it's pretty good," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters on Wednesday.

"I hear about the thumb more than the shoulder, so that's off the injury report now, so I guess we're good."

Left tackle Trent Williams is in some doubt for the Rams game due to a right ankle issue sustained against the Packers.

"In Trent's mind, there's no way he is not playing," Shanahan said. "That's why he was so crushed last game because he believed he would and his body wouldn't let him.

"Hopefully we'll have some better luck this game. But I know he believes he's playing and so do I, so we'll see how that pans out as the week goes. If he can, he will."

Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis' dream run in the Australian Open men's doubles continued, reaching the final on Thursday.

Kyrgios and Kokkinakis stunned third seeds Horacio Zeballos and Marcel Granollers 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 in their semi-final on Rod Laver Arena.

The talented duo have beaten four seeded pairs on their way to the decider, where Australians Matt Ebden and Max Purcell await.

For the first time since 1980, it will be an all-Australian final in the men's doubles at the year's opening grand slam.

Dubbed the 'Special Ks', the pair took a tough first-set tie-break before being pulled back after leading the second set 4-1.

But Kyrgios and Kokkinakis sealed their win when the latter delivered a wonderful lob, sparking their celebrations in front of a strong Rod Laver Arena crowd.

Ebden and Purcell upset second seeds Joe Salisbury and Rajeev Ram 6-3 7-6 (11-9) in the other semi-final.

The Phoenix Suns recorded their eighth consecutive victory as they defeated the Utah Jazz 105-97 with Devin Booker producing another 40-point game on Wednesday.

Booker had 43 points, 12 rebounds and four assists after a first-quarter scoring blitz as the Suns opened up an early 39-18 lead.

Chris Paul (21 points) added some key points down the stretch as the Jazz rallied in the last quarter.

The 25-year-old shooting guard recorded his 16th career 40-point game, moving past Amar'e Stoudemire for most in Suns franchise history, sitting ahead of Tom Chambers and Walter Davis too.

The victory means the table-topping Suns improve to 38-9 overall and 8-0 on the road this calendar year.

 

Hornets break records in Pacers rout

The Charlotte Hornets set a franchise record for single game scoring and produced the highest points total this season as they downed the Indiana Pacers 158-126. The Hornets hit 24 three-pointers, with LaMelo Ball (29 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists) and Kelly Oubre Jr (39 points) starring.

The Cleveland Cavaliers underlined their credentials as contenders with a 115-99 win over the champions Milwaukee Bucks. The Cavs moved above the Bucks with their eighth win in their past nine games, with Kevin Love scoring 25 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 26 points and nine rebounds for the Bucks.

Ja Morant was exceptional with 41 points, five rebounds and eight assists as the Memphis Grizzlies won 118-110 over the San Antonio Spurs, while Nikola Jokic (26 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) led the Denver Nuggets past the depleted Brooklyn Nets 124-118. James Harden was out with hamstring tightness.

 

Bulls wayward but winners

The Chicago Bulls only managed seven three-pointers, shooting at 26.9 percent from beyond the arc yet they won 111-105 over the Toronto Raptors. The Bulls had lost six of seven but have steadied to win their past two, with DeMar DeRozan having 29 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash has provided injury updates on James Harden and Kevin Durant after reports that the latter would be out until after the All-Star Game.

Harden missed Wednesday's 124-118 loss to the Denver Nuggets with "hamstring tightness" while Durant has not played since spraining his MCL on January 15.

The Nets did not provide a timeframe on Durant's return although ESPN claimed it would be between four and six weeks.

ESPN also reporting this week that Durant would miss the All-Star Game scheduled for February 20 although Nash did not confirm that.

"We'll re-evaluate in the next week or so," Nash said at the post-game news conference. "We’ll see how his rehab goes and what the re-evaluations tell us."

Durant is currently averaging 29.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists through 36 games this season.

Harden has averaged 23.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 10.1 assists this season, but is also averaging 37 minutes per game with the absences of Durant and Kyrie Irving impacting his on-court time.

"I think we're all hopeful he'll play next game," Nash said about Harden with the Nets to play the Golden State Warriors on Saturday.

"It's day to day, so we'll see. It's likely, probable and we're all very hopeful that he'll be ready to go."

Cameron Thomas top scored with 25 points against the Nuggets, while Patty Mills impressed with 21 points, three rebounds and six assists.

The defeat leaves the Nets with a 29-19 record having lost three in a row, slipping to fourth in the east.

"Details. We're proud of the guys' effort, but details, we talked about them last night," Nash said.

"Part of that, is we had some guys play together who've not played many minutes together over the last few years so there's some cohesion that is lacking and some understanding and familiarity lacking.

"That's where we have to improve especially with guys out of the lineup."

Jamaica Reggae Boy interim head coach, Paul Hall, was in a bullish mood ahead of Thursday’s crucial World Cup qualifiers against Mexico at the National Stadium.

The match will be the second fixture but the first World Cup qualifier for Hall, who stepped in to replaced Theodore Whitmore in December of last year.  With the team adrift in sixth place and 7 points behind the qualifying positions, it seems safe to say only a win will do for the Reggae Boyz against a typically dangerous opponent.

Hall is aware of the challenge at hand but feels confident the team can find a way to pull off the crucial result.

"We got to make sure we stay focussed and motivated with the task at hand and if we can do that and get into the game and find our rhythm and be expressive with our play then we will be ok," Hall said.

“They won’t want to lose they are probably going to have the same attitude as ourselves, so I feel it will be a tight affair,” he added.

“We will respect the Mexicans and what they bring and I would ask my team to make sure that Mexico respects what we bring, with our energy, with our rhythm, and with our desire,” he added.

The Mexicans, who will be without key players Hirving Lozano and Raul Jiminez, are currently third in the standings, on 14, the same number of points as Panama.  In the reverse fixture, the Mexicans scored late to win 2-1.  The Jamaicans will play Panama three days later before hosting Costa Rica.  All teams are directly above them in the table.  

 

England's stand-in captain Moeen Ali has praised the side's three debutants in Wednesday's 20-run loss to West Indies with Phil Salt shining with a quickfire half-century.

West Indies took the game away from the tourists with a stunning 224-5 headlined by Rovman Powell's hundred where he combined with Nicholas Pooran for a 122-run third-wicket stand.

England, who were without skipper Eoin Morgan after he felt his thigh in the warm-up, fell short in reply at 204-9.

Tom Banton blazed 73 from 39 balls at the top of the order, while debutant Salt came in at six but managed 57 from 24 deliveries to keep England in the game.

Salt was one of five changes from the second T20I and one of three debutants, alongside allrounder George Garton and Harry Brook.

"We were done a little bit with Morgs going down and playing three debutants but they played really well," Ali said after the game.

"A fantastic partnership took the game away from us but proud of the way the boys batted at the end."

Sam Billings was unwell and Chris Jordan rested, while Saqib Mahmood and Liam Dawson dropped out with England offering opportunities throughout the five-game series.

England's Test squad returned home following their 4-0 Ashes defeat, rather than link up with the T20I squad, meaning Chris Woakes, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan and Mark Wood are absent for the series.

But Ali said the tour had offered some opportunities to explore their white-ball depth.

"We've got guys putting their hands up, Bants was outstanding today, great for his confidence going forward," Ali said.

"We are confident in our side and we said from the start it would be a brilliant series."

Garton took the early wicket of Brandon King but finished with 57-1 from his four overs, while Brook only managed 10 from 13 balls batting at seven.

Brazil head coach Tite is bullish that Philippe Coutinho can help replace the injured Neymar in his first appearance in national colours for more than 12 months.

Coutinho, who earlier this month joined Aston Villa on loan from Barcelona, is set to line up for Selecao in place of the suspended Lucas Paqueta in Thursday's World Cup qualifier away to Ecuador.

The 29-year-old has not played for Brazil since October 2020 having undergone knee surgery in January 2021.

Coutinho's return coincides with the absence of Neymar who is out for the upcoming qualifiers with an ankle injury.

"People always want Neymar, but at times things don't happen the way you want," Tite told reporters.

"We feel sorry that Neymar can't be here, but we have other options. I'm talking about Coutinho. He is a player that can play in that role and I believe in his quality.

"Coutinho is an important player and he's been recovering to his best level."

He added: "From a social and human standpoint, I know how much time he has invested and the challenges he has faced to recover from injury."

Ex-Liverpool forward Coutinho has started life at Villa brightly, netting the equalizing goal in the 2-2 draw with Manchester United on debut.

Brazil have already clinched their spot at Qatar 2022, but Tite wanted to push his players in the qualifiers against Ecuador and also Paraguay on Tuesday.

"I thought the emotions and feelings would be lighter but no, we have the same emotions and anxieties," Tite said.

"I want to test players in the upcoming qualifiers. I still have the same pressure."

Tite confirmed that he will field Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior against Ecuador along with Raphinha and Matheus Cunha.

Billy Horschel leads the way after the opening day of the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego with world number one Jon Rahm the best of the big names in the field.

Horschel leads by one stroke from Michael Thompson after the 35-year-old American carded a bogey-free nine-under-par 63 on the North Course at Torrey Pines.

World number 23 Thompson also went bogey free on Thursday, birdieing four of his first five holes to jump out of the blocks, before birdies on the 17th and 18th holes rounded out a strong day.

Stephan Jaeger and Kevin Tway are seven-under-par, with Rahm on six-under-par alongside three others players; Rickie Fowler, Doug Ghim and Francesco Molinari.

Rahm's round on the South Course included two bogeys and six birdies but he jumped up the leaderboard with an eagle on the 18th.

Sam Burns, Daniel Berger and Tony Finau are among a group of players tied at five-under while Justin Thomas started with a four-under-par 64 but had five birdies on his front nine before two bogeys in his final five holes.

Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Xander Schauffele and 2020 Masters champion Dustin Johnson are also four under.

A bleach-blonde Brooks Koepka had two bogeys and four birdies to be two under, alongside three-time major winner Jordan Spieth and 2020 US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau.

UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou will require surgery to repair MCL and ACL injuries, his manager has confirmed.

Ngannou retained his heavyweight title with a unanimous decision victory over Ciryl Gane in Anaheim on Saturday.

The 35-year-old got the better of his former training partner Gane for the first victory by decision of his 17-3-0 UFC career.

Ngannou then revealed he had actually torn his MCL and damaged his ACL while sparring in preparation for the fight.

His manager, Marquel Martin, told ESPN on Wednesday that Ngannou will spend some time resting back home in his native Cameroon and that the "plan" is to have surgery once he returns to the United States.

It is estimated Ngannou will be out for nine months recovering from the injuries.

"I continue to be amazed and inspired by Francis' heart and resilience," Martin said.

"Fighting on one leg to overcome all odds and remind the world he is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. I think we can all agree he deserves some time to go back home and be with his family and countrymen.

"Upon his return, we plan on getting surgery and starting the recovery process so we can get him back to 100 percent as soon as possible.

"In the meantime, we hope we can find a peaceful resolution in these contract talks [with the UFC]. We'd like to thank all the fans for their continued support and belief in Francis."

Paul Collingwood says the England players deserve "medals" rather than criticism for getting through a miserable Ashes series as they were "sitting ducks” in Australia.

The tourists were subjected to a 4-0 hammering as Pat Cummins' side exploited their batting frailties Down Under.

Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes and Jonny Bairstow were among the England players who travelled to Australia soon after missing out on T20 World Cup glory in the United Arab Emirates.

England were also devoid of match practice with the red ball before doing battle with Australia.

Collingwood, England's assistant coach, says the strains of having to contend with bio-secure bubbles and such a demanding schedule meant they never really stood a chance of regaining the urn.

He said: "Yes, we made mistakes, 100 per cent we made selection mistakes, we made toss mistakes, but the fact we actually turned up and agreed a five-match Ashes series, the guys should be given medals for that.

"It would've been much better if we'd done two matches and then three next year. That would've been a great compromise.

"But no, Australia were not bothered that they were going to receive an England team who were mentally fatigued, they just wanted to get the product out there. They just wanted the Ashes. We were sitting ducks."

He added: "Resilience is a major quality you need to have when you go to Australia, and if your resilience is removed – because of the conditions you've been in – that has an effect.

"These guys don't deserve criticism. They should be told 'well done' for even going. It's the equivalent of the England football team being asked to go to a World Cup, then from that bubble into the Euros. Would you expect a performance in that scenario? It's ludicrous."

Collingwood, who has stepped up for head coach duties for the ongoing T20I series against West Indies, is concerned about the long-term effects being restricted to bubble environments will have on players.

"You can't even explain what it's like until you experience it," he said.

"Take someone like Chris Woakes, the most loveable and down-to-earth guy. I have seen him in some serious mental states. We have seen Ben Stokes, someone we consider to be the most mentally tough cricketer in the world, hit by this.

"I just hope there are no ramifications moving forward, because when they come, they won't be obvious next week or the week after. These are things that might come out down the line. That's what scares me."

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