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The Star Online: Sports

Janka wins WCup GS 10 days after heart surgery

Posted: 05 Mar 2011 05:10 AM PST

KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia (AP): Olympic champion Carlo Janka of Switzerland won a men's World Cup giant slalom race on Saturday, 10 days after having surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat.

The defending overall champion was second after the opening leg and finished in a combined time of 2 minutes, 27.05 seconds for his first victory of the season.

"This is the perfect comeback for me," said Janka, who was diagnosed with a heart rhythm problem in December. The 24-year-old Swiss originally planned to have surgery after the season but then chose to have it done during a break from racing.

"My health is getting better and better," Janka said. "That's the most important for the future."

Janka won six races last year to become the first Swiss overall champion since Paul Accola in 1992, but has had a disappointing season so far. Five days before the operation, he lost his GS world title to Ted Ligety of the United States.

French teenager Alexis Penturault had a blistering second run to jump from 16th to second, trailing Janka by 0.02. It was the first podium finish for Pinturault, who turns 20 later this month.

Ligety, who had won here for the past three seasons, was 0.12 back in third to boost his chances of retaining the World Cup discipline title.

The American has 383 points and - with just one more race - can only be overtaken by Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal on 306 or France's Cyprien Richard on 303.

Svindal took a diappointing 22nd after two runs in which he never looked comfortable. Richard was 0.36 behind Ligety in fourth.

Philipp Schoerghofer of Austria, a bronze medalist at the world championships last month, held a commanding lead after the first leg but caught a bump and skied out early in his final run.

Ligety's teammate, Bode Miller, skipped the event and planned to return next week to World Cup skiing for speed races in Kvitfjell, Norway, the U.S. ski team said.

Overall World Cup leader Ivica Kostelic hurt his left arm when he hooked a gate at the bottom of the course in his first run and seemed to hold back in his second to take 18th place.

The Croat further extended his lead over main rival Didier Cuche to 1,307-725. The Swiss skier sat out the event after undergoing surgery on a broken thumb following the world championships. Svindal is third with 722 points.

A slalom at the 50th Pokal Vitranc event in Kranjska Gora is scheduled for Sunday.

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Nadal, Federer have near stranglehold on majors

Posted: 05 Mar 2011 04:54 AM PST

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP): Call them the two-headed monster of men's tennis.

In the past six years, any player attempting to win a Grand Slam tournament usually has found Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer barring the way. No two players in the Open era have dominated as they have in winning 21 of 24 Grand Slams dating back to the top-ranked Spaniard's first win at the French Open in 2005.

While their rivalry atop the men's game has captivated fans and produced indelible moments, it also has made it nearly impossible for other players to earn that career-defining win.

Just ask Andy Roddick or Andy Murray. And now the monster might have sprouted a third head with Novak Djokovic winning his second Australian Open.

"There is respect, but there is frustration also," said Gilles Simon, a former No. 6-ranked player who has never beaten Federer or Nadal in a Grand Slam. His latest setback came in a five-set loss to Federer in the second round of this year's Australian Open.

"They stopped me every time I was playing my best tennis," Simon said. "I lost three times to Nadal in slams, one time to Roger.

Of course, it's so boring. You know when you play against them you just have a little chance."

Simon is just one of the top players who has failed to get past Nadal and the second-ranked Federer in a Grand Slam.

Former No. 3 Nikolay Davydenko has never beaten Federer in five meetings at the majors and has yet to face Nadal. Seventh-ranked Tomas Berdych also has struggled against the duo in majors, beating Federer once in five matchups and losing twice to Nadal.

Then there is Roddick. The American has lost all but two of his 20 meetings with Federer - and neither of the victories came in a Grand Slam.

The challenge, many of the players said, is that winning a Grand Slam title has meant beating both of them - and often in five sets. Berdych got close to winning his first Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2010, when he beat Federer in the quarterfinals and Djokovic in the semis before falling to Nadal in the final.

"If you want to win a Grand Slam, you have to beat at least three of the top guys," Berdych said. "In Wimbledon, I beat Roger, I beat Novak, but in the final was still one more waiting. ... So even if you want to do well on Grand Slam, still you need to beat at least three great players. That's how it is. And it doesn't matter who it is."

Others said Federer and Nadal also have an edge, since they bring unbridled confidence into the Slams due to their past success and often face weaker competition in the earlier rounds. They also have played plenty of five-setters, giving them an edge over young, up-and-comers who may depend on one big weapon such as a serve, which may bring them wins in lesser tournaments but not in Grand Slams.

Take Federer. He had a run of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals snapped only last year when he lost in the quarterfinals of the French Open. He also has come from two sets down on six occasions, including his first-round win at Wimbledon last year and his fourth-round victory over Tommy Haas of Germany at the 2009 French Open.

"You have to win five matches to be there 23 times and you play good players.

Sometimes he was close to losing 2 sets to love for the opponent," Simon said, almost in awe.

"But at the end, they always win the match. I don't know how I can explain it. I think it's easier for them when it's five sets," he said. "You can play one amazing set against them and you win and you are one set closer to win the match. But it's not about luck or playing one hour of your best tennis. You have to play four hours of your best tennis to win. I saw that against Roger this year. I was playing very good and couldn't play better than that. I had an impression I could win the match but finally I lost."

Simon and others admit fans like to see consistency at the top and that Federer, Nadal and even Djokovic are fun to watch.

But he said after several years with no change in the top three, he believes fans and players are getting restless and want to see some fresh faces challenging for the Grand Slams.

He also said this dominance of the top three ends up relegating the rest of the top 10 to an afterthought with many tennis fans.

"They kill the top 10," he said. "No one cares anymore because we know the other top 10 players don't manage to defeat them, defeat them enough in the slams for it be really interesting."

Federer insisted there are "many players out there" who could win a major, adding that several have gone "deep into tournaments" and are "definitely good enough to win big ones."

He also believes that too much attention is paid to the Grand Slams at the expense of the other tournaments.

"If you talk about (Andy) Murray, Novak, myself and Rafa, we have been at very top for so long now. It always seems there are no new faces, there is nobody else," he said before the Dubai Championships in February.

"But if you look really into the game, you see how many there really are," the Swiss said. "It's just that people sometimes talk about the Grand Slams a bit too much."

Federer said that bar is too high, especially for younger players moving up through the ranks.

"The problem is that media and experts are too driven by just only judging the Grand Slam results," he said. "There, you can't expect a 17-year-old to come through and knock out four or five top-10 guys to win the tournament. That is a hard thing to do with the mental and physical strain in today's game."

ATP international chief Brad Drewett said the tour shows no signs of losing fan interest with TV ratings on the rise and sellout crowds at many matches.

"Roger and Rafa's dominance at the top of the game is being challenged by the likes of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Robin Soderling, Tomas Berdych and many more. The depth and diversity of talent on tour is at an all-time high," he said. "ATP players come from 100 countries and our top-10 players come from eight different countries, making the sport a truly global property."

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