Both Murrays out of the AEGON Championship doubles

Jamie Murray and regular partner John Peers of Australia have been knocked out of the Aegon Championships at Queen’s Club at the first hurdle, losing out to Spain’s Feliciano Lopez and Belarus’ Max Mirnyi.

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Murray, older brother to Andy, is a doubles specialist and has dedicated his whole year to playing alongside Peers, but hasn’t quite met the heights he promised to when he won the Brisbane International at the start of 2015. The pair did reach the final of the Barcelona Open in April, with three consecutive quarter-final appearances in the BMW Open, Madrid Masters and Rome Masters. However, Jamie squandered the chance to play Andy and partner Dominic Inglot in the second round with a 6-4 5-7 3-10 loss.

As it happened, Andy is now also out of the doubles competition, losing in straight sets to top seeds Alexander Peya (Austria) and Bruno Soares (Brazil), despite fighting back to gain a set point in the second. He can now focus on the singles competition, having defeated Lu Yen-hsun of Chinese Taipei in the first round. Murray moves on to Fernando Verdasco, a Spaniard of who has an 8-1 winning record and last faced him on grass during his victorious Wimbledon campaign in 2013.

James Ward gave a gusty performance in his first round match against Milos Raonic, taking the first set. However, having come back from an injury, the Canadian started to find his feet and dominated the rest of the match. Brydan Klein, formerly of Australian, was the other British entry in the competition but lost at the final qualifying hurdle.

Elsewhere, Naomi Broady and Johanna Konta were the most successful Brits in a short-lived Aegon Classic, both wildcards reaching the second round before being defeated. Heather Watson lost her first round match to Serbian qualifier Aleksandra Krunic, but still has a doubles campaign against Broady’s conqueror, Simona Halep of Romania. Jocelyn Rae/Anna Smith are also yet to begin their doubles tournament. Fellow Brit Katie Swan, who has received a wildcard into the Wimbledon qualifying competition, lost her first match along with Sara Askew, Emily Webley-Smith, Naomi Cavaday and Harriet Dart.

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Handball: University of Leeds will struggle to survive this season

The women’s University of Leeds handball side mathematically have a chance to remain in the Super 8 for the 2015-16 season, but they’re not going to do it this weekend against top side Olympia.

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Leeds have only won one match all season, unsurprisingly at home to the team just above them, Ruislip Eagles. In contrast, 2014 winners Olympia have lost just one match, being pipped 16-17 by London Angels last month. With 3 points for a win and even a point for a loss in the top division of English handball, and two games in hand over their rivals, last season’s sixth placed side (when it was the Super 7) Leeds have what it takes to beat mid-table Deva and London Angels in the week to come – they just need a bit of luck.

Elsewhere this weekend, it’s 7 vs 6 as Ruislip aim to create some more ground between them and Leeds by taking on Thames. Their opponents come fresh from their first win in six (possibly no surprises that it was University of Leeds) and will return to the form mid-season that saw them beat Olympia and draw with two sides either side of that. Deva face NEM Hawks but have too much to do to secure a European place. It’s also a London derby with London Angels hosting the Great Danes.

In the penultimate weekend of the men’s Super 8, it’s a league of two halves with the leading two sides, Warrington and London GD, facing off against Manchester and Coventry Sharks respectively.

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Speedway: Coventry Bees fight off a Pirates onslaught in the Elite League

Coventry Bees moved joint top of the Elite League table after 4 meetings after overturning Poole away from home last night.

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Facing the Pirates for the second time in a week, Coventry made up their 41-48 defeat at home on Friday by coming out 50-41 winners. In turn, it ended a 3-match losing run in which Poole claimed the Elite League playoff victory over two legs. On this occasion, they raced into a 10 point lead but managed to fend off a fightback from their opponents on this occasion.

Coventry boss Gary Havelock said: “When I talk about team spirit, these are the type of occasions where it comes into play – tight, hard away matches when there are crashes, and there’s no doubt that team spirit won us this meeting.

“Kevin Doolan popping out of the start in Heat 1 and winning it with Hans (Andersen) for a 5-1 just set us up, and that makes the home team think ‘we’re in for a tough night tonight.’ We laid a marker down straightaway, and the boys were just sensational, every one of them.”

Grand Prix rider Chris Harris was the top-scoring British rider of the night with 10+1, just behind Coventry teammate Hans Andersen of Denmark. Coventry’s next opponents are the Belle Vue Aces, who have just managed one win in four this season, that being against bottom side Leicester.

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Formula 1: Not the ideal situation for any of the British drivers

It was a tough time for all three British drivers in Malaysia last weekend, for a range of different reasons.

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Prior to the start of the 2015 Formula 1, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Will Stevens may have been forgiven for thinking the year would pan out slightly differently. Although currently top of the standings, world champion Hamilton was expecting another dominant Mercedes show battling rival Nico Rosberg, rather than having to fend off the resurgent Ferrari and, particularly, Sebastian Vettel. Button rode out a frustrating 2014 to sign a new contract, teaming up with Fernando Alonso in the new Honda partnership that should have been extremely promising, but in reality has led to McLaren struggling to even make Q2, never mind finishing a race at all.

New full-time racer Will Stevens has had it tougher than most. The Manor Marussia driver took part in the season-closer in Abu Dhabi for Caterham last year, which is significantly longer than he has spent in a car this year. His new team failed to do any running in Australia and, although he posteed decent times in practice last week, he suffered “complex fuel problems” and had to watch as team-mate Roberto Mehri took part in his stead.

Manor’s sporting director Graeme Lowdon has had to fend off conspiracy theories since Stevens’ no-show, with some believing they are unable to run two cars at once: “I can guarantee you if that car could have moved, it would have raced,” Lowdon told racing website Autosport. “The systems and the people were perfectly happy with the results of everything in [practice] one, two and three from that point of view, and if you look at the run plans we weren’t going round and round and round in one, two and three because we had very specific tasks in ticking things off.
“Quali we had very clear run planning for both cars, and we would have definitely raced with two cars.”

In Stevens’ mind, Manor are only going in one direction. “There were some positive signs at Sepang with the running I was able to achieve, so I’m looking forward to building on that here in China. It’s been good to have the data from Roberto’s race there for the team to work with and I’m hoping that we can start to get into a good rhythm from this weekend. It’s always good to tackle a circuit I’ve never raced at before and this one has some nice challenges for both car and driver, so it will be good to experience those and to start getting to grips with the car a little more.”

At the other end of the grid, Lewis Hamilton is likely to be pushing his already stellar performance at previous Shanghai meetings and is the favourite for pole and outright victory once again. Just ahead of Vettel in the standings, he has won 3 times in China, as well as securing 4 poles, 2 fastest laps and 6 podiums in all, whilst leading more laps than any other driver. “Shanghai is one of my favourite locations – simply because of the fans. I don’t know how, but from the moment we land at the airport they know we’re there. It really is amazing to see the support we get. The circuit itself is a different challenge to Albert Park and Sepang – but it’s one I really enjoy and it suits my driving style quite well.”

However, Hamilton may be hampered by the statistic that shows that, since the inaugural race in 2004, no other driver has ever won consecutive Chinese Grands Prix, so the 2014 winner may end up conceding victory to one of the drivers around him. Despite progress in Sepang and being the man who has led in the most Shanghai races (6), Button doesn’t feel that it will be him. “China’s two long straights – each preceded by slow- to medium-speed corners – will place extra emphasis on the power-unit. And there is a feeling that the expected cooler weather will make it harder to generate tyre temperature – which could mean that any progress we make doesn’t necessarily translate to a laptime benefit.”

The weekend starts this Friday with first practice early in the morning, UK time.

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Shooting: World Cup season starts for Rifle and Pistol, with Jonathan Hammond

Olympian Jonathan Hammond is the sole British representative at this week’s pistol and rifle World Cup in Changwon.
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Hammond’s last appearance in the Korean city was in 2011, taking 13th place in the 50m Rifle Prone event. This time last year, the action was in Maribor, Slovenia, where he upped his level to take 11th place, a result he repeated at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. However, it was generally a poor year up until that point.

A two-time Olympian, Hammond led his country in London 2012 and posted a competitive score of 593 in qualification. However, since becoming a junior World Champion in Barcelona 1998, 34-year old Hammond has failed to really kick on and his best major result was fourth place in the European Championships in Granada 2007, and only 29th on the World Championship stage.

Although Hammond is partial to the 50m Rifle 3 Positions event, he is sticking to Prone this week and will be hoping to kick off qualification for Rio 2016 in style. Elimination for the competition begins at 12pm local time on Saturday 11th, with qualification the following day.

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Tennis: Aljaz Bedene in the main draw for Trophee Hassan II

British number two Aljaž Bedene has reached his first main draw since switching from representing Slovenia after advancing through the qualifying stages of the Trophee Hassan II in Casablanca.
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Agree with his decision to abandon his home country and establish himself as British tennis’ other Top 100 player alongside Andy Murray or not, Bedene has taken to his new nation with aplomb. Seeded first in the qualifying competition, his first win as a Brit came against France’s Maxime Chazal in straight sets and the pattern would continue throughout the weekend. He would go on to defeat Michael Linzer of Austria in the same way, before this morning finishing the job of qualifying with another dominant win, this time over Argentina’s Pedro Cachin, stopping him 6-2 6-2.

Although currently unclear who Bedene will go on to face in the first round proper of the Moroccan tournament, he has the chance of meeting eighth seed Diego Schwartzman or wildcard Nicolas Almegro of Spain. Whatever the first opponent, he will not be slated to face top seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez until at least the semis, although a quarter-final match against Martin Klizan of Slovakia is a possibility.

Elsewhere, Heather Watson will be hoping to put her Miami Open disappointment behind her by taking on Croatia’s Donna Vekic in the first round of the Katowice Open, taking place from 3pm today. In the doubles, top pairing Jocelyn Rae and Anna Smith take up one of the slots in the main draw of the Katowice Open, but face a tough start to the week against top seeds Klaudia Jans-Ignacik (Poland) and Kristina Mladenovic (France). Unfortunately, the week is already over for Alexander Ward, who bowed out of the US Men’s Clay Court Championships in the first qualifying round with a straight sets loss to Argentinian Facundo Bagnis.

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Premier League Darts 2015: Tickets on sale now!

Tickets are now on general sale for the 2015 edition of Premier League Darts, which begins on February 5th.

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Although the final line-up won’t be confirmed until the end of the season, when the Order of Merit determines who the top four players of 2014 were, the PDC have already confirmed that 16-time World Champion Phil Taylor will be present, joined by current champion Raymond van Barneveld and world number one Michael van Gerwen.

As for the others – it’s all up in the air. In 2014, the top four qualified through the rankings, with a further four given wildcards by the PDC and another two by Sky Sports, the host broadcaster. On current form, this will see Adrian Lewis and Peter Wright join the other three. Wildcards could potentially go to anybody, but it would be hard to overlook Gary Anderson for his fifth straight year having reached the playoffs earlier this year. James Wade may also return after a year out, whilst more left-field options could be Lakeside champion and PDC débutante Stephen Bunting and in-form youngster Michael Smith.

Wes Newton has now finished ninth in both of his appearances and there must someone better out there that could take his place. Robert Thornton may hold on to his place with three Players Championship victories this year and currently ninth in the Order of Merit. His stock is also championed by his part in the historic occasion of scoring a nine-darter in the same match as Wade in last week’s World Grand Prix in Dublin. Dave Chisnall has a decent chance of holding on to his spot despite not reaching a single final in 2014 so far.

There are relatively few tournaments left to affect a change in the Order of Merit. Four Players Championships and the finals in November aside, the calendar now just holds the European Championship (the draw for which was completed yesterday), the Masters and the Grand Slam of Darts, the latter seeing four new entrants announced this week. After all this, the 2015 World Championship begins and the Premier League is soon upon us.

The competition runs from February 5th to the final on May 21st, which also includes the Youth World Championship final. Tickets range from £20 (tiered seating) to £40 in front row tables. Booking fees may apply at all arenas and the event in Dublin has a minimum ticket price of €25.

Venues/Dates
Feb 5 – First Direct Arena, Leeds
Feb 12 – BIC, Bournemouth
Feb 19 – Echo Arena, Liverpool
Feb 26 – Odyssey Arena, Belfast
Mar 5 – Westpoint Arena, Exeter
Mar 12 – Capital FM Arena, Nottingham
Mar 19 – SSE Hydro, Glasgow
Mar 26 – 3Arena, Dublin
Apr 2 – Phones4U Arena, Manchester (Judgement Night)
Apr 9 – Motorpoint Arena, Sheffield
Apr 16 – GE Oil & Gas Arena, Aberdeen
Apr 23 – Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff
Apr 30 – NIA, Birmingham
May 7 – Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle
May 14 – The Brighton Centre, Brighton
May 21 – The O2, London (play-offs)

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