It may raise a few eyebrows that a proud, rugby-mad Scotsman like Jamie Gillan would admit his role model growing up was one of England's greatest ever players.

"Jonny Wilkinson was my favourite rugby player. When YouTube first appeared, as a kid, I think I watched every YouTube highlights video of Jonny Wilkinson," Gillan said of the hero of England's 2003 Rugby World Cup triumph. 

"I've probably watched them about 100 times each. I loved how he played. He played with a lot of heart and was an awesome kicker as well. 

"I also liked watching [former Scotland fly-half] Chris Paterson kick conversions. I like him and Jonny Wilkinson. I looked up to Jonny Wilkinson the most, I liked watching how he played."

It is that sort of forensic-like analysis and willingness to learn that helped Gillan on a path from aspiring rugby union international to a career in the NFL as a punter with the Cleveland Browns.

Growing up in Inverness, Gillan spent four years playing for the youth teams of Highland RFC before relocating to Merchiston Castle boarding school in Edinburgh where he went to chase his dream of playing for Scotland.

But the course of Gillan's personal journey would change at the age of 16. His father Colin, a navigator with the Royal Air Force, was posted to Maryland.

"It was a really big decision that me and my family made. I was doing really well in Merchiston. I got really good results in my GCSEs and had just come off winning the Scottish schools cup for youth 16s," Gillan said of the life-altering moment. 

"We had a really great team, I didn't want to leave! I was rugby mad and we had such a stellar team, I really enjoyed playing. 

"My goal was to play professional rugby and pull on the Scotland jersey one day, but with my parents moving across the Atlantic and the fact my Dad didn't want to be that far away from us, I decided to move out.

"Coming to school in America was way different, having to do the different tests and classes. There were some subjects I had dropped when I was 14 years old, but I had to do them again over here which made it more difficult." 

Fast forward six years and Gillan is about to make his NFL debut against the Tennessee Titans for an ambitious Browns side that boasts superstar talent in the form of Odell Beckham Jr, Baker Mayfield and Jarvis Landry.

But American football was not necessarily at the forefront of Gillan's mind from the second he touched down Stateside.

It was only when Gillan sought out the coach of his high-school team – the man credited with coining his 'Scottish Hammer' nickname – with the intention of honing his kicking skills and staying fit to play rugby that things accelerated.

His hammer of a left boot caught the eyes of scouts and scholarship offers soon arrived for Gillan, who rocked up at the University of Arkansas Pine-Bluff.

College life provided another culture shock. The gruelling demands of mixing a full training schedule with studies and sleep deprivation was an experience he credits with preparing him for the NFL.

"Going into college life was even crazier because you're doing classes per semester, so you've only got two months to finish these classes and with the NCAA rules you have to take a certain number of classes," he reflected.

"A lot of people don't realise but playing college sports is ridiculously hard, in terms of your timetable and the amount of sleep you're getting. You're up at 5am running until you're throwing up. We've got five classes, have to squeeze in some food and lift right after that for an hour and a half, then punting for two hours, then dinner, then study hall/team meetings before getting into bed around 11.30/12pm. 

"We're doing that Monday-Friday during the season. During the offseason you're doing it for about two months and in the summer, you stay doing the same thing on top of doing the work. It's a hard schedule but it moulds you well if you stick to it and take it and run with it. I ended up doing okay and playing in the NFL so…"

Gillan went undrafted in April's draft, not uncommon for punters, but was picked up by the Browns in free agency and was in direct competition with Super Bowl winner Britton Colquitt for a place on the roster.

Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer had a tough decision on his hands, but the raw potential of Gillan – whose rugby-style tackling adds another dimension – saw him earn the nod.

Priefer admitted "it would have been very difficult to let a guy like Jamie out the building" but Gillan – who learned of the news while in the Flying Monkey Pub with his father – would have had no regrets regardless of the outcome.

"I was out with my dad enjoying myself a little bit. It was like D-Day, everyone was finding out if they were cut or put on the practice squad or traded or making the team," he said. 

"I didn't have a whole lot of emotions to be honest. I think my dad was more emotional and nervous than I was because I knew what I had done in the past four months. 

"I know what I have done in the pre-season. I've worked really hard and regardless of what happens, I can sit back and be happy with what I've done. I didn't know if I was going to get cut, traded or make the team so I was just enjoying the experience. 

"I didn't want to be in my room or hanging out and not really doing much. Me and my dad were like let's go out and enjoy ourselves and see what happens. So, we did and then I got the phone call from the GM saying that I made the team, so I was extremely happy."  

Gillan insists he has not felt overawed by sharing a locker room with his more globally recognised team-mates, who he says have welcomed him with open arms.

That's not to say there hasn't been any playful hazing.

"Yeah there is a little bit," he said. "We had to get up and sing in front of the team, so that was fun. 

"I sung Evil Scotsman by Billy Connelly in front of the whole team and they thought that was really funny, so you know little stuff like that makes it fun.

"I get a bit of a rookie banter, people just having a little laugh you know but at the end of the day everybody has been supportive and fantastic."


Watch Jamie Gillan in action as the Cleveland Browns host the Tennessee Titans on Sunday 8th September on Sky Sports Action at 17:00 and Sky Sports Main Event at 18:00. You can also catch-up on the action on Tuesday with the NFL This Week highlights show available on BBC Two and iPlayer.

The Antonio Brown Era in Oakland is over before it even began, after the Raiders decided to release the wideout on Saturday.

Elite players rarely stay on the market for long and Brown's agent has made it clear his client is looking to explore his options.

ESPN's Adam Schefter quoted Brown's representative, Drew Rosenhaus, as saying: "Now that Antonio is a free agent, we are focused on the future and I will immediately work on signing him to a new team. Antonio is looking forward to a new beginning."

There is surely no way 30 teams - excluding the Pittsburgh Steelers, who traded Brown to Oakland following a fallout, and Raiders - could pass on a chance to land one of the NFL's best, right?

Here are three teams that should consider signing Antonio Brown.

 

New England Patriots

New England are bound to pop up in plenty of people's heads. The Patriots have an elite coach in Bill Belichick, a tight-knit system and certainly are no strangers to taking risks. While last year's gamble that brought Josh Gordon over from the Cleveland Browns did not quite work out in 2018, the wideout made valuable contributions en route to the Patriots' latest Super Bowl win. Better yet, he will have a chance to redeem himself this year. The jury is still out on whether they made the right choice, so why not give it another go?

Brown, 31, is still at the peak of his career and has eclipsed 1,200 receiving yards in six consecutive seasons. He would certainly improve a receiving corps that already features Gordon, Demaryius Thomas and Julian Edelman.

If Brown wants to play for a winner, joining a team that's won three of the last five Super Bowls might not be a bad idea.

 

Dallas Cowboys

America's team already has plenty of drama surrounding it, so why not add more? Surely Jerry Jones has at least considered bringing Brown aboard.

Dallas has a dynamic running back in Ezekiel Elliott, a dangerous dual threat quarterback under center in Dak Prescott and received great production from Amari Cooper after acquiring the wideout in a midseason trade last year.

With Brown in the fold, the Cowboys would have an abundance of elite options. If there's one statement move Dallas could make to show it's dedicated to winning now, it's this.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

Bengals owner Mike Brown has been changing Cincinnati's culture by taking chances on wayward players over the years. If Adam 'Pacman' Jones and Vontaze Burfict could carve out roles, Brown might be able to do the same.

But that is not the only reason this move could make sense.

A.J .Green has been at the heart of Cincinnati's offense for years but he is expected to miss the start of 2019 due to an ankle injury he suffered in practice this offseason. If Green misses the first half of the campaign, pairing him with Brown would allow him to ease back into things while demanding a little less attention every play.

Tyler Boyd had a breakout season in 2018 and John Ross has the breakaway speed to be a major downfield threat moving forward. Then there's tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Joe Mixon.

An explosive player like Brown that can open up the field might be just what Cincinnati needs to rebound from last year's 6-10 finish.

It was only a matter of time before Australia paceman Mitchell Starc left his mark on the Ashes series.

Starc played no part in the tourists' win at Edgbaston, a draw at Lord's or England's astonishing triumph at Headingley.

The left-arm quick was unleashed for the pivotal fourth Test at Old Trafford, but was expensive with his radar off on day three as Australia looked to strengthen their grip on the match.

Starc's time came when he was tossed the second new ball under grey skies in Manchester on the penultimate day.

England were in desperate need of something special when they resumed on 200-5 in reply to 497-8 declared, knowing a defeat would put them 2-1 down and unable to regain the urn.

Much rested on the shoulders on Ben Stokes, match-winner at Headingley with an astonishing unbeaten century, and Jonny Bairstow when they marched out at the start of the day.

Starc ensured neither man remained at the crease for long, roaring in from the Brian Statham End like a man on a mission with a point to prove.

Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins were outstanding on the third day as Starc sprayed it around.

It was a different story when the 29-year-old steamed in from the same end with a new missile in hand, generating late swing to clean Bairstow up with a sharp delivery.

He then claimed the huge scalp of Stokes, who nicked one that nipped away off the seam into the safe hands of Steve Smith.

Starc sent Stuart Broad's off stump cartwheeling from the other end after lunch before Cummins bowled Jos Buttler to dismiss England for 301.

The lethal Starc finished with figures of 3-80 as he demonstrated Australia's embarrassment of riches in the bowling department.

A first-innings lead of 196 has Tim Paine's side scenting victory and Starc is surely not finished yet as they strive to keep the urn.

Rafael Nadal will unquestionably go down as one of the greatest tennis players of all time, and another of the sport's legends was honoured at the US Open before his semi-final.

The man known as Rocket Rod received recognition for a feat no player has been able to replicate, before taking in Nadal's straight-sets win over Matteo Berrettini.

Nadal set up a final with Daniil Medvedev, who defeated Grigor Dimitrov, but the winner of their clash will have to go some way to match the celebrations that marked the end of the men's doubles showpiece.

Omnisport's man on the ground, Nicholas McGee, provides the details in our daily diary from New York.

 

GOOD WEATHER FOR DUCKS

Very little play was possible on the outside courts as heavy rain persisted throughout day 12.

Those dressed for warmer weather may have needed to make an emergency purchase to stay dry.

Thankfully the US Open shop has plenty of options for those needing to wrap up.

It is said rain is good weather for ducks and there are plenty of the rubber variety on offer for those looking to make the bizarre move of adding tennis memorabilia to their bathroom.

FARAH AND CABAL GO BACK TO BACK

Robert Farah and Juan Sebastian Cabal secured back-to-back grand slam titles at Arthur Ashe Stadium as the Colombian men's doubles team overcame Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos 6-4 7-5.

The crowd was filled with fans wearing Colombia national football team jerseys, who greeted the pair claiming match point with a huge roar.

Farah is expecting wilder celebrations when they return to their homeland, telling a post-match media conference: "The way Colombia received us when we came back from Wimbledon was really breathtaking. I don't even want to think about how crazy it's gonna be now that we come back from the US Open.

"I think that back-to-back is quite an achievement, and we just have to say, thank you, Colombia, for all that support and the good vibes they always give us. We are very happy to represent our country in the way that we are doing it."

ROCKET ROD HONOURED

Rod Laver has been in attendance throughout the tournament at Flushing Meadows, and on Friday the 50th anniversary of his second Grand Slam was celebrated.

Laver is the only man in history to win the calendar Grand Slam twice, his second coming at the 1969 US Open.

To honour that incredible achievement, Laver was presented with a replica of the US Open trophy and then with a plaque from representatives of all four major tournaments as the Arthur Ashe crowd came to its feet to show its appreciation for Rocket Rod.

As players walk out of the the tunnel and into Arthur Ashe Stadium, they are greeted by a plaque adorned with four famous words uttered by Billie Jean King - "Pressure is a privilege".

Of all the greats to have graced the sport of tennis, no player has embraced that motto more than Serena Williams.

At her most dangerous with her back against the wall, Williams' major-trophy laden career has been defined by the American's ability to thrive when the match situation appears most dire, to ratchet up the intensity and summon her very best when it is most needed.

However, standing between her and a record-tying 24th grand slam title in the US Open final is a teenager who may be her heir apparent in that regard.

Bianca Andreescu only has eight major match wins to her name, six of them coming in this year's event at Flushing Meadows. She was not even born when Williams appeared in her first slam final.

The contrast between the two finalists could not be more stark. Yet, when it comes to on-court intensity, there is a strong argument that Andreescu is already the 37-year-old's equal.

If she continues to produce turnarounds akin to her second-set comeback in the semi-final with Belinda Bencic, the Canadian will soon have a similar reputation for excelling in the moments the vast majority shrink under.

Aptly described as a "warrior and a street fighter" by her coach Sylvain Bruneau on Friday, at the age of 19 Andreescu is a wonderfully entertaining player to watch.

She is blessed with great power and brings tremendous variety to her game, but it is what she does after and in-between points that makes so mesmeric.

Andreescu lives and breathes for every point. In each game she seems to fight with her own internal sense of frustation and it is a surprise when a point she wins is not greeted by a vociferous "Yes! C'mon!" or by her barking at her support team.

Comfort is not a word that naturally comes to mind when watching Andreescu. However, she seems most at ease when in need of a fightback, so being break-point down is viewed more as an opportunity rather than a problem.

Trailing 5-2 in the second against Bencic, having won the first on a tie-break, there was never any thought of her easing off and saving energy for a decider. Andreescu attacked, Bencic got tight and any confidence the Swiss had built up ebbed away as she lost five straight games and handed the match to the main-draw debutant.

"I think when I'm down, I play my best tennis. Whenever my back is against the wall, I think I'm just extra focused in those moments," Andreescu told a news conference.

"I remember I told myself at 5-2 that I didn't want to go in three sets. So I think just that switched my mindset. I was just really, really focused.

"It's [fearlessness] just inside of me somehow. I think it's just my passion for the game, as well. I don't like to lose, so I just try my best every match. I expect a lot from myself, so I think that pressure also helps me do my best in matches."

Andreescu's belief has grown throughout a stunning year. Having failed to qualify for the US Open last year, her 2019 has encompassed a final in Auckland and titles at Indian Wells and the Rogers Cup, where an ailing Williams retired four games into the final.

The desire to win at Flushing Meadows, however, has been there for a long time.

"When I was 16, after I won the Orange Bowl title, I remember I wrote myself a cheque of this tournament, winning the tournament obviously," said Andreescu. "Ever since that moment, I just kept visualising that.

"If that can happen on Saturday, then that would be pretty cool."

She will be able to cash a cheque for $3.85million should she prevail on Saturday. To do so, Andreescu will need to overcome the greatest player of all time, with Williams chasing history in front of her home crowd at the world's biggest tennis stadium.

A monumental challenge, but one Andreescu will unquestionably show no fear in facing.

Josh Hazlewood did the damage but a magnificent spell from Pat Cummins set up Australia's final-session momentum swing at Old Trafford on day three.

Rory Burns and Joe Root frustrated the tourists after no play was possible before lunch on Friday due to rain.

Hazlewood removed nightwatchman Craig Overton in the second over when play finally got under way, but Burns and Root dug in to prevent any further damage from being done before tea.

Steve Smith's double-century on Thursday enabled Australia to post a mammoth 497-8, making them strong favourites to take a 2-1 lead - and retain the urn.

Burns and Root were in no mood to roll over a fortnight after England were humiliatingly dismissed for only 67 in their first innings at Headingley, before going on to pull off a stunning victory.

Try as they might, the elusive breakthrough simply would not come for the Australia bowlers, but persistence paid off after tea on a gloomy evening.

Hazlewood removed Burns (81), Root (71) and the vulnerable Jason Roy (22) as England lost three wickets for 30 runs before closing on 200-5.

Yet it was Cummins who was the standout bowler in batting friendly-conditions and a 10-over spell either side of tea in particular showed why he is the top-ranked Test bowler in the world.

The paceman was relentless as he pounded in time and again without reward on a cold day in Manchester, where the recalled Mitchell Starc failed to make an impact.

He rapped Burns on the gloves and peppered the left-hander with rapid short deliveries, beating the bat and drawing edges on a slow, dry pitch.

Cummins, blighted by injuries earlier in his career, continued to steam in with an exhibition of control, hostility and skill, leaving Root writhing in agony after hitting him on the knee.

A brilliant 10 consecutive overs from the Brian Statham End kept Burns and Root on their toes before he was finally replaced by Hazlewood.

Hazlewood's burst left England in the mire, but it was Cummins who softened them up.

Although arguably the greatest player of all time, it's fair to say Diego Maradona isn't necessarily synonymous with coaching.

Nevertheless, El Pibe de Oro is back in the dugout having been confirmed as Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata's new head coach on Thursday, his first job in Argentina since leaving the national team in 2010.

Maradona, 58, was a remarkable talent as a player for Argentinos Juniors, Boca Juniors, Barcelona and, perhaps most famously, Argentina and Napoli.

The 1986 World Cup winner is similarly infamous for his off-field antics and controversies, having suffered from drug addiction, been criticised for his political views and generally never been shy about expressing himself.

While some of his behaviour down the years may not be what one would expect of your average head coach, Maradona often takes his teams on something of a ride…

Deportivo Mandiyu de Corrientes – 1994

Having been suspended by FIFA for failing a drug test during the 1994 World Cup, Maradona quickly turned his hand to coaching, securing a role at Mandiyu de Corrientes.

He had to watch his first match from the stands due to not having passed a coaching course or owning a license, though he remained typically animated. He only presided over 11 more fixtures, winning once, or 8.3 per cent of his games in total.

Racing Club – 1995

After allegedly being sacked in the Mandiyu dressing room, Maradona was not out of work for long before he joined Racing. In Avellaneda, El Diego had significantly greater talent at his disposal, including future Argentina internationals Ignacio Gonzalez and Claudio Lopez, and during this time they beat Boca at La Bombonera for the first time in 20 years.

However, Maradona was not present on that occasion, as he only actually presided over five of the 11 matches of his tenure. Officially, he won 18.2 per cent of his 11 Racing games before the club's presidential elections ushered in a new era and he left.

Argentina – 2008-10

After being away from coaching for 13 years, Maradona somehow landed the top job in Argentinian football; the national team. A reportedly strained relationship with Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria is said to have contributed to Alfio Basile's downfall and Maradona subsequently led them to the 2010 World Cup, but only by the skin of their teeth and not without a 6-1 humiliation by Bolivia.

They made it to the quarter-finals in South Africa, but Germany exposed them in a 4-0 demolition and Maradona departed. But his 75 per cent win record in 24 matches remains Maradona's best as a coach.

Al Wasl – 2011-12

"I do not want the club to be a graveyard for white elephants," was Maradona's opening gambit at Al Wasl, as he pledged to bring exciting young players to the UAE. That proved more difficult than expected, claiming in November 2011 many players weren't being paid on time.

A colourful season saw Maradona feud with two coaches, march into the stands to "protect my wife" from fans and flirt with the UAE national team job. He won 40 per cent of his 35 matches, but was hastily sacked after the club's entire board resigned at the end of a trophyless campaign.

Al-Fujairah – 2017-18

Following a five-year absence, Maradona was back in management in May 2017, again in UAE. His appointment at Al-Fujairah came as a particular shock given their second-tier status.

Maradona's spell was rather less controversial than at Al-Wasl and on the pitch things went better, losing just once in 23 matches. However, a haul of 11 draws proved costly, as Maradona left by mutual consent after failing to guide the club to automatic promotion.

Dorados de Sinaloa – 2018-19

Another eye-catching move followed for Maradona, as he headed to Mexico's Ascenso MX, the country's second division. "Some people said Maradona's useless," he raged after 4-1 debut win and he went on to lead Dorados to the Apertura and Clausura finals.

They suffered defeat to Atletico San Luis in both ties, with Maradona appearing to aim a punch at an opposing fan in post-match fracas after the Apertura defeat. Of his 41 games at the helm, Maradona claimed 20 wins (48.8 per cent) and suffered only 11 defeats.

He quit in June to focus on his health, but he is back with Superliga strugglers Gimnasia, signing a one-year deal.

Serena Williams will play her 10th US Open final on Saturday - 20 years on from her first.

The 37-year-old is set to step out at Arthur Ashe Stadium in pursuit of her 24th grand slam title and yet more history.

Williams is now established as one of the greatest athletes of all time, but how did she and the women's tennis world look in September 1999?

We take a step back in time.


SERENA'S EARLY STRIDES

Williams entered the 1999 US Open as a 17-year-old, but she had already played four WTA Tour finals and was the seventh seed.

Victory over Steffi Graf in the Indian Wells title match had shown just what she could do on the big stage, and she had a whole host of victories over top-10 players to her name by the time she arrived at Flushing Meadows for what was her seventh major.

Williams defeated world number one Martina Hingis three times in 1999, with the third and final victory securing her landmark title in New York.

An incredible run had seen her already beat Conchita Martinez, Monica Seles and defending champion Lindsay Davenport.


THE WILLIAMS DYNASTY

The Williams name was well known on the tour by the time Serena started to really make waves, as sister Venus, two years her senior, had reached the US Open final in the 1997 season.

That was a first tour-level final of any sort for Venus and she was thrashed by Hingis. But Venus won the Miami Open in consecutive years - beating Serena in the 1999 final - and triumphed at the Internazionali d'Italia before heading to the US Open.

Venus was made to wait until Wimbledon in 2000 to taste grand slam victory, however, losing to Hingis in the 1999 Flushing Meadows semis as Serena celebrated a first triumph.

Yet the dominant Williams doubles team had already been established, with victory at the French Open and another in New York.


SEIZING THE POWER

Just as is common in 2019, the major titles were evenly distributed on the WTA Tour in 1999. Hingis won in Melbourne, Graf triumphed at the French Open and then Davenport came out on top at Wimbledon.

Davenport had been the title holder at the US Open, too, until Serena triumphed.

But the arrival of the Williams sisters signalled the end of dominant times for Hingis, Graf and Davenport. The latter claimed her final grand slam title at the 2000 Australian Open, but Hingis did not win a singles major again after Serena's breakthrough. Graf retired just weeks before the 1999 US Open.

Hingis still topped the rankings at the end of 1999, but Venus was third and Serena fourth. And this was still months before Bianca Andreescu, Saturday's opponent for Serena in New York, was even born.

'Think different'.

In 1997, Apple pushed that slogan in an advertising campaign launched well before it became a mobile communications behemoth.

Having only been born a year earlier, nearly 5,900 miles away from Silicon Valley, Daniil Medvedev may not be familiar with that part of tech history.

Medvedev, though, has become the living embodiment of the philosophy.

The Russian world number five was heading into a US Open semi-final on Friday, taking on Grigor Dimitrov for a place in the final. There has been very little normal about Moscow-born Medvedev's route through to this point, everything about it has been different.

Boasting the biggest stadium in tennis and home to some extremely passionate locals, Flushing Meadows is a place capable of producing the kind of atmosphere players dream about playing in.

However, it is also a venue where nightmare experiences are possible, with many players taking exception to behaviour in the stands when the late-night New York crowd gets a little too invested in proceedings.

Medvedev is not like those players, though, and has instead thrived in the face of a sustained level of heckling many would have buckled under.

Amid a disagreement with an umpire in his third-round match with Feliciano Lopez, Medvedev was seen to aim a middle-finger gesture at the crowd. It was shown on the Louis Armstrong Stadium big screen and vociferous booing followed as Medvedev was cast in the role of villain.

He was still able to close out the victory but took part in a post-mach interview that was the antithesis of what is expected in the often-sterile on-court Q&A. The jeers were relentless and, in a situation where many would have pleaded with the fans to stop or cut the interview short, Medvedev soaked up the boos and thanked the crowd for them, praising spectators for giving him energy "to win the next five matches".

Medvedev's response was the same in the fourth round against Dominik Koepfer. Never has such a negative reception been so gleefully welcomed. The rocky relationship between Medvedev and the crowd proved mutually beneficial, as it provided fans with a hate-figure and Medvedev extra motivation to rile them up as he slogged his way through the draw.

Everybody loves to have a villain to hate. However, villains are more convincing when they have the game to back it up. It was the unique way in which he backed it up that turned the fans in Medvedev's favour.

Facing Stan Wawrinka in the quarter-finals, Medvedev developed a problem with his left thigh. It was clear that movement was a huge issue. It would have been the end for most players, and Medvedev later conceded he thought it would spell the end for him.

However, he masterfully ensured it did not finish him off. Restricting his most intense movement for his own service games, Medvedev changed up his tactics superbly, relying heavily on drop shots and exquisitely placed lobs to work a 34-year-old Wawrinka around the court at will.

Even though the Swiss won the third set, the revised plan bore fruit as Wawrinka faltered badly in the fourth, though Medvedev was not happy to win in such a fashion.

"After the match, it was tough for me to express many emotions because I felt the way I won was quite ugly," Medvedev said. "Because that's what I had to do."

It may have felt ugly from his perspective, but, from up in the stands, the speed and the effectiveness with which he altered his approach was a joy to behold, and he received a deserved standing ovation at the end of his last-eight triumph.

Asked if he and the crowd are friends again, Medvedev replied: "Hopefully. It's not for me to decide. What I got I deserved. Usually I'm not like this, as I was in the third-round match. I'm not proud of it. I'm working to be better."

Medvedev's is a redemption story nearing a fascinating conclusion that will come in the final if he defeats Dimitrov.

It may never be exactly clear why Medvedev felt the need to turn the spectators against him. On and off the court, he is an incredibly difficult player to read, even for his coach Gilles Cervara, who summed up his protege using another term adopted by Apple.

"It's like to coach a genius," said Cervara. "Sometimes a genius, you don't understand them. It's like this. They are different."

The eyes of the MMA world will be locked on Khabib Nurmagomedov when he makes an eagerly awaited return at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

It has been 11 months since Nurmagomedov last fought in Las Vegas, where his excellent victory over Conor McGregor was marred by an ugly post-fight melee.

But Nurmagomedov remains one of UFC's greatest attractions and the battle for supremacy in the lightweight division is on when he goes head-to-head with interim champion Dustin Poirier.

Ahead of the bout, we take a look at some of the key questions for what promises to be a blockbuster main event.


What happened at UFC 229?

Oh boy…where do you start with this one? The build-up to this was fight was, let's dilute this a little, ugly. Back in April 2018, McGregor was involved in an attack on a bus carrying Nurmagomedov and other fighters. McGregor would eventually be forced to undertake community service and an anger management programme over the incident. So, naturally the scene was set for a red-hot build-up that had many barbs that crossed the line. After Nurmagomedov submitted McGregor in the fourth round the bad blood spilled over, with the Russian launching himself over the cage to fight members of his rival's team, leading to a mass brawl. It was all rather unpleasant, unsavoury and unnecessary, and in truth not a great look for UFC.

What's Khabib been up to since?

The fallout from the ruckus landed McGregor and Nurmagomedov hefty fines and sizeable suspensions, with the latter having been banned for nine months. But it has been a busy year nonetheless. There has been parenting advice from Vladimir Putin, an airport opening with Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a meeting with Vladimir Vasilyev, the head of the Republic of Dagestan. There was also time to call out boxing legend Floyd Mayweather Jr – who has also fought McGregor – and take in trips to watch AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain.

Will he fight McGregor again?

In the world of combat sports you should definitely never say never. Nurmagomedov said this year that McGregor does not deserve a rematch and the Irishman's lack of activity in the octagon raises legitimate questions about whether we will see him in UFC again. But money talks and if the stars align and the finances are right then it is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility these great rivals will dance again.

What's Khabib's record like?

In a word: formidable. Nurmagomedov has had 27 fights and earned 27 victories. In a world of the finest margins it is a phenomenally dominant record.

What is his style?

Nurmagomedov is one of the best wrestlers in UFC and no one has been able to defend against his extraordinary grappling and takedown skills. But there are several more strings to his bow, as McGregor found out to his detriment when caught with an awesome overhead right in their bout. Trying to find a weakness in his game is tough.

Who is his opponent Poirier?

Hardcore fight fans will need no introduction to Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert Poirier. The American has notable victories over big hitters like Eddie Alvarez, Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje and Max Holloway on his resume – a second win against the latter seeing him named interim lightweight champion in April. 'The Diamond' collected aluminium cans and picked pecans prior to getting into the fight game, landing in MMA having first looked into the possibility of boxing. Poirier is a talented grappler and also has decent stand-up. He is sure to be a tricky customer.

What's been said in the build-up?

There has been no repeat of the ill-tempered baiting prior to the McGregor dust-up, but Nurmagomedov insists the respect he has for his opponent ends on fight night, saying: "Generally, I only have respect for him. That will stop as soon as I enter the octagon. That's where we'll have to fight. If you get into the octagon and you see your opponent, then that's it. You have to compete." Few are tipping Poirier for the upset, but the man himself is full of confidence: "I'm mentally ready for 25 minutes of bleeding and sweating and being uncomfortable. The fans can expect me to put Khabib in positions you haven't see him in. And to hurt him."

Who will win the fight?

At 30, Poirier is a seasoned campaigner and you do not compete for a decade in UFC unless you are highly talented. But Nurmagomedov is as fearsome a fighter as the MMA world has ever seen and will be chomping at the bit to make up for lost time.

Jofra Archer flattened Steve Smith at Lord's but Australia's masterful talisman delivered what could be a knockout blow to England's hopes of regaining the Ashes after being dropped by the paceman at Old Trafford.

Smith was ruled out of England's astonishing series-levelling win at Headingley with concussion after he was struck by an Archer bouncer in the second Test.

It was Archer who was rattled on day two of the fourth Test in Manchester, though, after failing to grab a caught-and-bowled chance offered by Smith on 65.

Jack Leach also let the batsman off the hook after he had reached an 11th Ashes century, the spinner paying the price for overstepping when he looped up a delivery which Smith edged to Ben Stokes at slip.

Smith had 118 to his name at that point but he was nowhere near finished yet, striding back to make a magnificent 211 before the tourists declared on 497-8. They reduced England to 23-1 by stumps.

If ever proof was needed that fortune favours the brave, it was provided by Smith less than three weeks after being hit on the neck by a searing short ball.

The former captain has had boos ringing in his ears since arriving in England ahead of the Cricket World Cup for his part in the Newlands ball-tampering scandal, which landed him a one-year ban and cost him the captaincy.

Yet a packed Old Trafford crowd rose in appreciation for what they had witnessed when he brought up a third double hundred against England.

Smith saluted all corners of the ground when given another standing ovation following his dismissal to Joe Root, having struck two sixes and 24 fours in the 319 balls he faced.

The irrepressible Smith started the second day looking even more fidgety than his usual hectic self at the crease but was soon toying with England after riding his luck.

He mixed unconventional strokes with glorious drives on both sides of the wicket in another incredible display of skill and application, with Tim Paine also punishing England for two drops by making 58 in a sixth-wicket stand of 145.

Only the great Don Bradman has more Ashes hundreds than Smith, while Jack Hobbs (12) is the solitary Englishman to better the ex-skipper's tally in Tests between the two old rivals.

The domineering right-hander averages 147.25 in his four visits to the crease in his first Test series since serving his suspension.

Smith showed you cannot keep a good man down and the bad news for England is there could be more runs to come, with Australia in a great position to retain the urn.

Few would disagree that men's tennis is due a makeover and perhaps we are closer than ever to glimpsing its new face.

The same names are reeled off at every grand slam when talk turns to the 'next generation', and Kei Nishikori ran us through them on the first day of this US Open.

The Japanese put himself forward as a possible contender, then added: "You see [Dominic] Thiem playing finals, and I think a couple of guys are getting closer.

"Of course, Sascha [Alexander Zverev] is a great player and a couple of young guys: Felix [Auger-Aliassime], [Denis] Shapovalov, [Nick] Kyrgios, those guys who are coming up, too. Oh, yes, and [Daniil] Medvedev."

Four times a year, the debate turns to which '#NextGen' star – Nishikori is now 29 – might be able to end the slam dominance of the 'Big Three'.

Andy Murray had made it a 'Big Four' and Stan Wawrinka won three majors in three years, but the latter's Flushing Meadows triumph in 2016 was the last time one of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, three of the greatest players in history, did not win a grand slam.

There is certainly no shame in coming up short when those three represent the competition.

Federer has made his home in Melbourne and at Wimbledon, Nadal is close to untouchable on clay, and Djokovic, on his day and when fit, has the full package.

Opportunities for the rest are scarce. Thiem has been able to beat Nadal on the red dirt but not at Roland Garros, losing consecutive finals. The US Open has seen a varied cast of recent finalists, yet Djokovic has played in three of the past four deciders and won two of them.

This is the golden era of men's tennis, and yet...

Whisper it quietly, but might there be an argument that it has become a little dull seeing the same three names top the honours boards four times a year?

Can we have too much of a good thing? Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are certainly a good thing. They have done wonders for tennis with their efforts both individually and collectively.

But sport is arguably at its best when it is unpredictable, when fans come along for the ride not knowing which way it will twist or turn.

Look at the NFL or the NBA, where regular-season records count for nothing when the top seeds – like the New Orleans Saints or the Milwaukee Bucks – fall short in the playoffs. Look at the Champions League, where Manchester City, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain, try as they might, cannot turn domestic dominance into European success. Look a little closer to home at the WTA Tour.

For while men's tennis is a closed shop, the women's equivalent is anything but. Since Serena Williams completed her second 'Serena Slam' in 2015, there have been 10 different champions across 16 major tournaments.

Serena can dismantle any opponent when on top form and has at times done so this year, but the competition is healthy, the results are often unexpected.

So this year's men's US Open has been similarly refreshing.

We can all remember classic Djokovic-Federer clashes – as recently as the Wimbledon final – but Grigor Dimitrov downed the great Swiss in a New York epic, while Matteo Berrettini described his own quarter-final against Gael Monfils as "one of the best matches I've ever seen".

Seeing new faces compete at the business end of the tournament has been uplifting, with unusually early exits for Federer and Djokovic presenting opportunities for others to forge legacies.

And now, one could argue, we must have a new winner. Only Nadal, with a patchy recent hard-court record, remains of the superhuman trio. He is the favourite but surely he is beatable.

Because how quickly would a thrilling fortnight be forgotten if, come the start of next year, Nadal and Djokovic each held two slam titles? Conversely, a triumphant Medvedev, Dimitrov or Berrettini would renew hope within the locker room.

The 'Big Three' might not have long left at the top – particularly in 38-year-old Federer's case – but the 'next generation' need not wait that long to get over the hump. This looks like a fine opportunity.

US Open spectators had their appetite for world class tennis satiated once again on Wednesday, as Matteo Berrettini and Gael Monfils delivered a thriller at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Berrettini needed nearly four hours to see off Monfils in five sets to reach his first grand slam semi-final.

The secret to his success at Flushing Meadows may be in the meals he is eating at his favourite New York restaurant, which was soon on his mind after his marathon victory.

Omnisport's man on the ground, Nicholas McGee, provides the details in our daily diary from New York.


GIOVANNI A GOOD LUCK CHARM FOR BERRETTINI

Berrettini had a new face in his box during his victory over Monfils, Giovanni Bartocci, the owner of Via Della Pace, an Italian restaurant in Manhattan's East Village that the 23-year-old has frequented during his time in New York.

Bartocci will likely be invited back after witnessing Berrettini's performance in defeating his French opponent, with the Italian set to face Rafael Nadal in the last four.

Asked in his media conference about his friendship with Bartocci, Berrettini replied: "The owner, yeah, Giovanni. Actually, he's from Rome, my city. So, you know, is not tough to get friend with a guy from the same city.

"I knew him last year. He's such a nice guy. He's always cheering for Italians. I mean, I'm the only one left, so now he's cheering for me."

On his favourite dish at the restaurant. he added: "Pasta for sure. But I like pasta in bianco. I don't know if you know it. It's like just oil and parmesan. Simple but really good."


A SUSHI CELEBRATION FOR MURRAY

Shifting to culinary delights from a different region, sushi was on the menu for Jamie Murray after his and Neal Skupski's win over Jack Sock and Jackson Withrow in the men's doubles.

The Scot snacked on the Japanese fare as he spoke to reporters following that three-set triumph.

It clearly provided the boost he needed as Murray went on to also claim victory in the mixed doubles alongside Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the pair progressing to the final by defeating Rajeev Ram and Samantha Stosur.


SCHWARTZMAN WINS SPORTSMANSHIP AWARD

Diego Schwartzman received no reward for an admirable performance against Nadal, as he was defeated in three sets by the highest remaining seed and now tournament favourite.

He can take some solace, however, in that his conduct on and off the court has been recognised.

Before speaking to reporters following his elimination, Schwartzman was presented with the US Open sportsmanship award for 2019.

A well-deserved honour for a player who should have won plenty of new fans with his displays at Flushing Meadows.

In the NFL's 100th season, one of two founding franchises will be hoping to hold off the league's most successful team in the NFC North.

The Chicago Bears, who began life as the Decatur Staleys, will kick off the century campaign on Thursday at home against a Green Bay Packers team turning over a new leaf after rookie head coach Matt LaFleur was hired to revive the 13-time champions following a 6-9-1 campaign in 2018.

Chicago's decision to turn to a first-time offensive-minded head coach paid off last year as Matt Nagy led the team to their first division title since 2010 and Coach of the Year honours for him.

The Packers, meanwhile, have the best quarterback in the division — and arguably the NFL — executing LeFleur's plays and a defense with top-10 potential on the other side, so the expectations are high in Green Bay.

"I think there's an incredible amount of talent here," LaFleur said at his introductory news conference back in January. "Obviously when you have a quarterback of the calibre of Aaron Rodgers, we're going to have high expectations. We are going to be process-driven in the pursuit of bringing a Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay."

 

Player to watch

Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings running back

Do not tell those with a keen interest in who wins Thursday at Soldier Field, but there is another NFC North team with aspirations of a deep playoff run. The Vikings had the number one-ranked defense when they made the NFC championship game two seasons ago, and quarterback Kirk Cousins was supposed to be the final piece of the jigsaw when he arrived in 2018.

Instead, Minnesota went 8-7-1 last year and missed the playoffs, though there is reason for optimism anew in 2019, particularly if Cook can finally stay healthy. A second-round pick in 2017, he has missed 17 of 32 games due to knee and hamstring injuries but has flashed potential in averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He also ripped off an 85-yard touchdown run this preseason to suggest he could finally breakout.

Crucially, the Vikings' troublesome offensive line should be better after they drafted center Garrett Bradbury in the first round and acquired guard Josh Kline in free agency. Even more important, Super Bowl-winning coach Gary Kubiak is on board as an offensive adviser and Cook should thrive in his zone-blocking scheme.

"Most great players that I've been around in this business are workers and when you come out here every day, you see why he's a great player, really works hard," Kubiak told reporters of Cook in August.

Impact rookie

David Montgomery, Chicago Bears running back

Chicago had no first- or second-round picks in the 2019 draft, but they were not prepared to stand pat and moved up in the third round to land Iowa State back Montgomery.

"We didn't have a first-round pick, we didn't have a second-round pick … and when he was sitting there, to us, he was a first-round talent," Nagy recently told Yahoo Sports.

Montgomery led college football in broken tackles last season and is expected to slot in as the Bears' primary back after Jordan Howard's departure, with the electric Tarik Cohen and bruising Mike Davis also in the mix.

The consensus in Chicago is that Montgomery is a better fit for Nagy's offense than Howard due to his versatility and ability to contribute in the passing game. At a position where rookies can often shine, Montgomery could really wow right away in the Windy City.

Coach on the hot seat

Matt Patricia, Detroit Lions

A fine coordinator who impressed with the New England Patriots failing to deliver as a head coach? We have been here before. The evidence so far is that Patricia will not buck the trend after a 6-10 debut season.

Patricia has the comfort of being the handpicked selection of general manager Bob Quinn — himself a former Patriots staffer — but seven losses in their final 10 games of 2018 could not have gone unnoticed by the Lions hierarchy.

The Lions do look strong on both sides of the trenches, but if quarterback Matthew Stafford, who threw for just 3,777 yards in 2018, disappoints again, Detroit may consider ripping it up and starting over (again) in 2020.

A first winless preseason since 1989 has only given Patricia's naysayers more fuel. Though Lions fans will remember the team went 4-0 in the 2008 preseason, only to go 0-16 in the regular season.

Key matchup

Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers, December 15

Thursday's opening clash between these two in Chicago could set the tone, but the Packers beat the Bears at Lambeau in week one last year only for Nagy's team to win the division.

We will have a better idea of these two teams by Week 15, when they will meet for the 200th time.

That is Green Bay's final home game of the season and the Packers will want to record a fourth successive victory over the Bears at Lambeau given they finish the season with tricky road games against the Vikings and Lions.

Interestingly, the Bears have a 10-day break between hosting the Dallas Cowboys and visiting the Packers. With contests against the Chiefs and Vikings to round out the season, Week 15 could be crucial to their postseason aspirations too.

Predicted finish

Number one ranked defenses typically tend to fall back to the pack the next year — the Vikings went from the top in 2017 to ninth in 2018, for example — and as well as losing key personnel in the secondary like Adrian Amos (now a Packer) and Bryce Callahan — their defensive coordinator Vic Fangio departed to become Denver Broncos head coach.

Even if quarterback Mitchell Trubisky takes a significant step forward in his third season, the Bears may struggle to duplicate their 2018 record, especially with the Packers primed for a comeback. Rodgers will be determined to prove it was ex-head coach Mike McCarthy and not him who was holding the Packers back, while an exciting young defense should improve if Jaire Alexander and Kenny Clark move themselves into the elite category.

The jury is still out on Cousins with the Vikings, though it would be no surprise to see them get a wild card in a stacked division. The Lions may struggle to keep up if only because of how strong the other three are.

1. Packers

2. Bears

3. Vikings

4. Lions

The 2018 season gave us a number of record-breaking performances, and there is even more to come in 2019.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees reached the biggest milestone of the season when he surpassed Peyton Manning's mark of 71,940 yards as he became the NFL's all-time leading passer.

Brees also set records for career completions (6,586) and single-season completion percentage (74.4).

But it was young star Patrick Mahomes who ran away with MVP honours after the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback became only the second NFL player in history to pass for more than 50 touchdowns and 5,000 yards in a season.

Other players who had an impressive statistical season included Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who set a rookie record for touchdown passes (27), and Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri – who moved past Morten Andersen (2,544 career points) to become the NFL's all-time scoring leader.

But there is more to come for the NFL's historic 100th season in 2019.

 

NFL milestones that could be reached this season

— Tom Brady (70,514) needs 1,325 passing yards to eclipse Brett Favre for the third most all-time. 

— Philip Rivers (374) requires 26 passing touchdowns to reach 400 in his career.

— Cam Newton (4,808) needs 121 rushing yards to pass Randall Cunningham for the second-most rushing yards ever by a quarterback. Michael Vick holds the record at 6,109.

— Russell Wilson (196) requires four passing touchdowns to reach 200 in his career.

— Adrian Peterson (106) needs one rushing touchdown to pass Jim Brown for the fifth most in NFL history. He (13,318) requires 345 rushing yards to surpass Jerome Bettis for the seventh-most all-time.

— J.J. Watt (92) requires eight sacks to reach 100 in his NFL career.

— Ben Roethlisberger (363) needs 37 passing touchdowns for 400 in his career.

— Larry Fitzgerald (116) requires one touchdown catch to leapfrog Antonio Gates for the sixth-most all-time. He needs 23 receptions to pass Tony Gonzalez for the second-most all-time.

— Antonio Brown's next touchdown catch will be his 75th in his career.

— Cordarrelle Patterson (six) needs two kick-off returns for touchdown to tie the NFL record.

— Von Miller (98) requires two sacks to reach 100 in his NFL career.

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