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Bianca Andreescu retires from Miami Open final with ankle injury

Bianca Andreescu has suffered another injury, ending her best tournament since capturing the U.S. Open title in September 2019.

The Canadian retired with a right ankle injury after falling behind 6-3, 4-0 against top-ranked Ash Barty of Australia in the final of the Miami Open on Saturday.

The eighth-seeded Andreescu, from Mississauga, Ont., tumbled to the court in the third game of the second set and struggled with her movement after the fall. She was wearing tape on the right ankle for the entire final of the WTA 1000 event — one level below a Grand Slam.

Andreescu called a medical timeout to receive treatment from the trainer after Barty finished the game with a break to go up 3-0.

WATCH | Andreescu retires from Miami Open final with injury:

Australian Ashleigh Barty claimed the WTA Miami Open title Saturday 6-3, 4-0 after Canada’s Bianca Andreescu was forced to retire in the 2nd set having fallen awkwardly earlier in the match with what appeared to be a right ankle injury. 6:03

She returned for one more game, but wasn’t moving well.

“Definitely not the way I wanted to end the tournament,” Andreescu said. “But I’m super grateful nonetheless. I got to the final of one of my first tournaments in a while now, and I could not be more happy.”

Afterward, she put her hand to her face as she tried to hold back tears before going to the net to greet Barty and end the match.

Andreescu returned from a 16-month layoff in February at the Australian Open, losing in the second round of the Grand Slam. She suffered a knee injury late in 2019 and opted not to try to make a comeback earlier in the pandemic in 2020.

The 20-year-old Canadian followed up her first tournament back by reaching the semifinals of an event in Melbourne for players eliminated early from the Australian Open, but a leg injury suffered there kept her out until Miami.


Andreescu did not specifically address the nature of the injury when she made her speech during the trophy presentations.

“I just want to say for me getting back on my feet wasn’t easy, but I continued to believe in myself and I never gave up,” she said. “To everyone out there going through a tough time like me now, I just want to say keep your head up and continue to believe in yourself.”

However in a post-match interview, Andreescu expressed her frustration. 

“It seems that I’m kind of the only one that keeps getting asked questions about injuries, which is super annoying,” the former world No. 4 told reporters.

Andreescu focussed on future

“I don’t want, like, for me to have a reputation of that, because it’s not only me that’s getting injured. But, yeah, I mean, it’s happened quite a bit, but I don’t want to define myself through those. It sucks.

“Even if it’s something small, sometimes I’ll be extra cautious, but I’d rather be that than push through it and get it worse, because I have been through both, and today I’m glad that I stopped. It’s hard for me to say that, but I’m glad that I stopped.”

Looking ahead toward the rest of the season, Andreescu remained confident.

“My body seemed to be good up until today,” said Andreescu, who will climb up three spots to number six in the rankings on Monday.

“No one wants to end a tournament retiring, especially in the finals. But things happen, and I want to look ahead in my career. I’m only 20.” 

After winning four three-set matches in a row to reach the Miami final, Andreescu struggled to find any rhythm against Barty in their first career meeting.

Barty was far better with first serve, winning 77.8 per cent of her points as compared to 45.2 for Andreescu.

“I hope you recover well and this doesn’t hinder your season too much,” Barty told Andreescu during the trophy ceremony. “I’m sure we’ll have many more good and hopefully healthy matches in the future.”

Andreescu has exited early in both appearances in Miami with injuries — her only two losses in North America since the start of 2019.


Canada’s Bianca Andreescu, right, reacts as her ankle is taped by a trainer during the final of the Miami Open at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Barty, the 2019 French Open champ, won her 10th career title and earned $ 300,110 US of the $ 3.26-million total purse. Andreescu pocketed $ 165,000.

Barty overpowered Andreescu early to jump in front 3-0 before the Canadian found some rhythm and broke back to cut the deficit to 3-2.

But on Andreescu’s next service game, the Australian responded. Two winners after Andreescu fought off two break points put Barty up 4-2 for the decisive break. The world No. 1 then won every point on the ensuing serve game to take charge of the first set.

Andreescu is scheduled to take most of April off. Before the match, her agent, Jonathan Dasnieres de Veigy, said Andreescu is scheduled to return for WTA 1000 clay-court events in Madrid (April 29-May 8) and Rome (May 10-16) before playing in the French Open (May 23-June 5).

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Bianca Andreescu brings ‘fighting spirit’ into Miami Open final against Barty

Bianca Andreescu admits she sometimes surprises herself with her ability to chase down tough shots.

“Sometimes I literally feel like I’m an octopus out there, running side to side,” the Canadian tennis star said early Friday morning. “I feel like I have eight legs. It’s insane, sometimes I don’t even know how I get to some shots. It’s that fighting spirit that I’ve always had in me, never giving up.”

That competitive drive has been front and centre this week with Andreescu back in the spotlight in a hurry following 16 months off.

The 20-year-old Andreescu, in her third tournament back after the layoff, has won four three-set matches in a row to reach the final of the Miami Open. She will play top-ranked Ash Barty of Australia on Saturday in the championship of the WTA 1000 event — the level directly below Grand Slams in women’s tennis.

In her return after a knee injury and a decision to stay off the courts later in the pandemic, the 2019 U.S. Open champion was well off top form and exited in the second round of the Australian Open in February. A trip to the semifinals of a smaller event in Australia followed, but Andreescu injured her leg there and didn’t play again until starting in Miami last week.

Now, the native of Mississauga, Ont., is producing a run that has similarities to her journey to the title at the Rogers Cup in Toronto in 2019. Andreescu won four three-setters in a row at her hometown event, too.

A day off Friday was a nice break for Andreescu after 12 hours 12 minutes of court time in five matches over seven days in Miami. The third-set semifinal tiebreaker against Greece’s Maria Sakkari ended at 1:35 a.m. ET and Andreescu didn’t wrap up her press conference until close to 3 a.m.

“I found a way somehow and I’m super proud of myself with how I dealt with everything,” she said. “It was very up and down, but I did it.”

WATCH | Andreescu to play in Miami Open final: 

Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., defeats Greece’s Maria Sakkari 7-6 (7), 3-6, 7-6 (4). The Canadian will face world No. 1 Ash Barty in the Miami Open final. 3:11

Andreescu, who will move up three spots to No. 6 in the rankings next week, will face Barty for the first time on Saturday.

The champion at Miami and the French Open in 2019, Barty also is coming off a long break. After the pandemic hit last March, she did not play for the rest of 2020.

Barty won a tournament in Australia before the Grand Slam and now has a shot to win back-to-back titles in Miami (the event wasn’t held last year).

Both Barty, 24, and Andreescu won their first and only Grand Slam to date in 2019.

“It’s going to be great. Definitely have wanted to play her,” Andreescu said. “I have my chance on Saturday. I know it’s going to be really tough. She’s playing great tennis. I hope I can be on my A game.”

Barty says she doesn’t watch a ton of tennis when she’s not playing, but is well aware of what Andreescu brings to the table.

“Bianca has shown in big tournaments that she’s got the ability to beat the very best,” Barty said. “I know from the little that I have seen that she’s got a way of moving around the court that is extremely physical.

“She’s got great hands and got options off both sides. She’s got a chisel off both sides. She has the ability to flip the ball up or hit through the court. That’s what makes her game exceptionally challenging. She’s got so many different assets and so many different things she can go to to ultimately let the competitor in her figure it out.”


Andreescu is one of many Canadian athletes or teams to be competing in Florida this spring. She has played her best tennis in North America, going 33-1 since the start of 2019.

Andreescu says it helps having familiar faces watching her. Her parents and her dog, Coco, have received plenty of television time in the stands this week.

“My parents are putting her up and making her dance to the music, which is super cute,” Andreescu said. “It’s nice to have that during these tense moments because I’ll throw a little smirk in there and things will be better.”

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Raonic becomes latest Canadian upset by Hurkacz at Miami Open

Canada’s Milos Raonic is out of the Miami Open after losing a close match in the round of 16.

The 12th-seeded Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., lost 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) to No. 26 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland on Tuesday.

It was the second upset in a row against a Canadian for Hurkacz, who knocked off No. 6 seed Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., on Monday, and his third against a North American opponent after downing American Denis Kudla in the second round.

“Just the way it worked out this week so far,” Hurkacz said. “Very happy with my performances.

“Obviously pumped to play another match here in Miami. Just trying my best.”

WATCH | Raonic upset by Poland’s Hurkacz at Miami Open round of 16:

Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont. loses to Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) in the round of 16 at Miami Open. 3:06

Raonic fell one win short of making the quarterfinals at the ATP Masters 1000 event for the fourth time.

Hurkacz will face the winner of a match later Monday between No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece and No. 24 seed Lorenzo Sonego of Italy.

Hurkacz got a mini-break on the first point of the third-set tiebreak and never trailed. Raonic fought off three match points before Hurkacz finished him off.

Raonic saved 10-of-11 break points he faced in the match, while converting on one-of-two.

Raonic’s big weapon — his serve — wasn’t as effective as his opponent’s. The Canadian won 75 per cent of his points when he got his first serve in, while Hurkacz was good for 81 per cent.

Hurkacz had 14 aces, two more than Raonic.

“I think I served very well and that helped me to stay in the game and be competitive against Milos … He’s a very dangerous player,” Hurkacz said.

“I’m pretty happy with my serve today, and I felt I was returning pretty good. In the middle of the first set he was serving bombs and I was just trying to hold my serve to be there.”

In a women’s doubles quarterfinal Tuesday, Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski and Giuliana Olmos of Mexico beat Americans Coco Gauff and Caty McNally 6-4, 7-6 (4).

In women’s singles, eighth-seeded Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., will face unseeded Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain in a quarterfinal Wednesday night.

Korda upsets Schwartzman

20-year-old Sebastian Korda of the United States stunned fifth-seeded Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 for the biggest win of his career to date. And it’ll make for an interesting Thursday for the Korda family: he’ll be in the Miami quarterfinals that day while his sisters, Jessica and Nelly, will be playing in the first round of the first women’s golf major of the year, the ANA Inspiration.

Korda, whose father Petr Korda reached No. 2 in the world during his stellar career, put on a show to delight the evening crowd. He was broken at 5-4 in the third to give Schwartzman hope, then responded by breaking the Argentine right back and finally serving out the match.

WATCH | Korda advances to quarters after upsetting Schwartzman:

Sebastian Korda, ranked 87th in the world, earns his 1st victory over top-10 player by beating Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 4-6, 7-5. 1:14

Barty unfazed by humidity

The heat and humidity this time of year in South Florida remind Ash Barty of what conditions can be like in her native Australia. She loves it.

The world’s top-ranked player didn’t wilt in the conditions Tuesday at the Miami Open, winning the final nine points to finish off No. 7 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3 in a quarter-final matchup — her third three-set win in four matches in this tournament.

The temperature reached the mid-80s Fahrenheit (upper 20s Celsius) on Tuesday and the humidity made it feel even hotter, especially so without any shade on the court. Barty and Sabalenka got a 10-minute heat break before starting the third set, though the defending Miami champion from when the event was last held two years ago looked like she didn’t need much downtime.


Ashleigh Barty of Australia returns a shot during her quarter-finals win over Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus at the Miami Open on Tuesday. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Barty faced seven break points in the match and saved them all. She’ll meet No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina in Thursday’s semifinals; Svitolina eased past Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 6-2 on Tuesday night to make the final four in Miami for the first time.

Barty is now 18-3 in her last 21 three-setters, 10-1 in her last 11 quarter-final matches and 12-3 in her last 15 meetings against fellow top-10 players.

Meanwhile, Roberto Bautista Agut didn’t take the easiest route to the Miami quarter-finals.

The No. 7 seed from Spain fought off a match point before ousting former Miami champion and No. 18 seed John Isner of the U.S. 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7) — his second three-set win in as many matches so far in the tournament.

Bautista Agut will face top-seeded Daniil Medvedev of Russia in the quarter-finals.


Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain defeated John Isner of the United States on Tuesday to advance to the quarter-finals of the Miami Open. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Medvedev reached the quarters with a straight-set win over Tiafoe, achieving 11 aces and showing no signs of wear, two days after cramping in the heat during a third-round win.

Bautista Agut lost the first point of the third-set tiebreaker on his serve, giving the big-hitting Isner the early edge. Isner lost the mini-break by putting a forehand into the net five points later, then gave himself match point after a 138 mph ace for a 6-5 edge.

Bautista Agut wasn’t fazed, won three of the last four points and escaped.

“He makes always difficult matches playing against him,” Bautista Agut said. “He has a very big serve and a lot of power from baseline with the forehand. It makes it always difficult, no?”

It was Isner’s earliest Miami exit since 2017, when he lost in the third round. He won the tournament in 2018 and lost the final in 2019 to Roger Federer in straight sets.

Another American man bowed out when No. 32 seed Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan downed 22nd-seeded Taylor Fritz 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4. Bublik will face No. 21 seed Jannik Sinner of Italy in the quarter-finals; Sinner advanced with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland.

“The serve was going well today,” Bublik said.

All eight of the men’s round-of-16 matches were set to be played Tuesday. Isner and Fritz were two of the four U.S. men to reach that round.

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Andreescu rallies past Muguruza en route to Miami Open quarter-finals

Bianca Andreescu is feeling closer to her old self as she moves on to the quarterfinals at the Miami Open.

The eighth-seeded Canadian, from Mississauga, Ont., clinched her spot at the WTA Tour 1000 event with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over the 12th-seeded Garbine Muguruza of Spain on Monday night.

This is Andreescu’s third tournament back after a 16-plus-month absence and she’s trying to recapture the form of her breakthrough 2019 season when she won three tournaments, including the U.S. Open.

“I feel like this [match] was a step closer to feeling as good as I was in 2019,” she said after beating Muguruza Monday. “And I want to just keep rolling like that and feeling really good out there and clutching tough moments.”

With her mom, dad and dog Coco watching from her box, Andreescu broke the former world No. 1 in the first game of the third set and rolled from there, beating a player who already has a title and two runner-up showings this year.

WATCH | Andreescu fights back to overcome Muguruza in Miami:

Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., defeats Spain’s Garbine Muguruza 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. Andreescu will face Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain in the quarter-finals. 2:52

It’s always satisfying to win in three sets, especially after dropping an opener, Andreescu said.

“Even when I’m down, I know I can find a way — most of the time, not all of the time — most of the time I can find a way to come back and do really, really well,” she said. “And I keep proving that to myself.”

The Canadian, who saved six of eight break points, will face unseeded Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.

Andreescu broke the hard-hitting Muguruza twice in the second set after not having one break-point opportunity against her aggressive opponent in the first.

The second break, putting Andreescu up 5-3, came immediately after Muguruza got back on serve with her own break. A volley by the Canadian touched the tape and went over before an unforced error by Muguruza finished the game, prompting a trademark “Come on” from Andreescu.

Muguruza notched the only break of the first set to take a 5-3 lead and then recorded four straight points on serve to take the opener.

“I knew she was going to come out really, really strong. And that’s what she did,” Andreescu said. “I had to re-adapt, which I did in the second set, I regrouped and I kept fighting. I changed my game plan a little bit and it worked.”

The 27-year-old Muguruza captured the 2016 French Open and 2017 Wimbledon titles.

Andreescu notched a 6-1, 6-0 win in their only other meeting in 2019 at Indian Wells, Calif. That quarterfinal win helped send the Canadian to her first career WTA Tour title.

Andreescu returned from her 16-plus-month layoff following a knee injury in February at the Australian Open, losing in the second round of the Grand Slam.

The 20-year-old Canadian followed that up by reaching the semifinals of an event in Melbourne for players eliminated early from the Australian Open, but a leg injury suffered there kept her out until Miami.

Since returning from her extended absence, Andreescu’s been working to play without expectations.

“I feel like this tournament, I’m just going with the flow and having fun out there,” she said. “And it’s really showing and I want to continue that because that’s when I play my best tennis.”

Earlier Monday, Canada’s Milos Raonic advanced to the men’s round of 16.

Raonic advances with win over Humbert

The 12th-seeded Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., reached the fourth round of the ATP Masters 1000 event for the fifth time in 10 appearances with a 6-4, 7-5 win over No. 20 seed Ugo Humbert of France.

A potential all-Canadian fourth-round matchup between Raonic and sixth-seed Denis Shapovalov was dashed when Shapovalov was upset 6-3, 7-6 (6) by No. 26 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland later Monday.

Raonic converted his first match-point chance to win the contest in one hour 39 minutes.

WATCH | Raonic defeats Humbert in round of 16:

Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., defeated Ugo Humbert of France Monday 6-4, 7-6 to advance to the round of sixteen at the Miami Open. 2:24

The hard-serving Canadian had 12 aces to Humbert’s nine, and won 77 per cent of his first-serve points.

Raonic saved all three break points he faced, while breaking Humbert twice in five opportunities.

Raonic is now 2-0 against Humbert after winning a third-set tiebreak last year in Paris.

Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., struggled to make the most of his chances against Hurkacz, who saved all three break points he faced. Hurkacz had just one break-point opportunity, but cashed in on it to take a 5-3 lead en route to taking the first set.

WATCH | Shapovalov falls to Hurkacz:

Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., argued with the chair umpire and bounced his racket in frustration while losing to Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz 6-3, 7-6 (6) in the third round of the Miami Open. 3:15

Shapovalov is now 1-3 against Hurkacz.

Raonic will face the Pole for the first time in their fourth-round contest on Tuesday.

Barty, Osaka advance

Ash Barty is tough to beat under any circumstances, especially when she’s on the ropes. She proved that again Monday.

The world’s top-ranked player has reached the Miami Open quarter-finals, getting there by holding off 14th-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-1, 1-6, 6-2. It was Barty’s 17th win in her last 20 three-set matches, two of those victories for the Australian coming so far in this tournament.

No. 2 women’s seed Naomi Osaka of Japan ran her winning streak to 23 matches and moved into the quarters by topping No. 16 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, 6-3, 6-3. Osaka hadn’t played since Friday after getting a walkover in what was to be her third-round match, and said the downtime was a bit of a challenge.

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Milos Raonic wins in straight sets at Miami Open

Canada’s Milos Raonic cruised to a 6-2, 6-1 win over Australia’s Jordan Thompson in second-round action on Saturday at the Miami Open.

Raonic, the 12th seed in Miami, fired 14 aces and won 96 per cent of first serve points to advance to the third round of the ATP Masters 1000 event.

Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., didn’t face break point and converted three of the seven break opportunities he had against Thompson.

It was the first meeting between the Canadian veteran and the 60th-ranked Australian.

WATCH | Raonic advances to 3rd round at Miami Open: 

Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., easily defeated Australian Jordan Thompson 6-2, 6-1 serving up 14 aces Saturday in second round action at the ATP Miami Open. 2:49

Raonic, who had a first-round bye, will next face either France’s Ugo Humbert or Portugal’s Joao Sousa.

Raonic has reached the Miami quarter-finals three times, most recently in 2018.

Later Saturday, sixth-seed Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., is scheduled to face Ilya Avashka of Belarus.

Fellow Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal booked his spot in the third round with a 6-4, 6-4 win over France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert on Friday. Auger-Aliassime will face American veteran John Isner on Sunday.

On the women’s side, eighth seed Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., will face American Amanda Anisimova on Sunday; Andreescu advanced to the third round with a 7-6 (5), 6-2 win over Tereza Martincova on Friday.

Halep withdraws due to shoulder injury

Third seed Simona Halep has withdrawn from the Miami Open singles and doubles events due to a right shoulder injury, the Romanian said on Saturday.

Halep, who received a bye into the second round where she beat France’s Caroline Garcia in three sets, was set to play Latvian Anastasija Sevastova, who will now receive a walkover and advance to the last-16.

Halep, the reigning Wimbledon champion, said she began to feel pain after practice sessions at her first tournament since a quarter-final exit at the Australian Open last month.

“I’m very sorry I have to pull out of singles and doubles at the Miami Open, but my injury doesn’t let me play here as I expected,” Halep, who had partnered with Angelique Kerber in the doubles, said.

“I’m sad that I can’t continue, I wanted to come here to give my best and play many matches but unfortunately I can’t. Hopefully next year I will be back healthy and better.”

Halep’s withdrawal is a blow for the March 22-April 4 tournament, which has already seen Serena Williams pull out to recover from oral surgery, while Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem have all skipped the ATP 1000 event.

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Canadian teen Leylah Annie Fernandez wins Monterrey Open, captures 1st WTA title

Canadian teenager Leylah Annie Fernandez has captured her first career WTA Tour title.

The 18-year-old Fernandez, from Laval, Que., beat Swiss qualifier Viktorija Golubic 6-1, 6-4 in the Monterrey Open final on Sunday.

Fernandez said she tried to focus as much as she could on executing her coach’s game plan, while not trying to think about the magnitude of Sunday’s match.

“I didn’t think it was a final or anything. I just tried to think of it as another match,” Fernandez said after claiming the WTA 250 event.

WATCH | Fernandez wins Monterrey Open in straight sets:

Leylah Annie Fernandez of Laval, Que., defeats Switzerland’s Viktorija Golubic 6-1, 6-4 in the final of Monterrey Open. The 18-year-old did not drop a set for the entire tournament. 5:22

Fernandez needed 89 minutes to defeat Golubic in a match that featured two players who hadn’t lost a set all tournament long.

The Canadian cruised to win the first five games of the opening set, facing little trouble from her opponent.

Golubic finally won her first game 31 minutes into the contest, but Fernandez easily took the set.

Fernandez broke Golubic to take a 5-4 lead in the second set before serving out the match.

“I played an incredible first set,” Fernandez said. “The second set she started picking up her game, making less mistakes and being a little more offensive. I just tried to match that as much as I could. I’m happy in those key moments near the end I was able to stick to my game plan and the balls just went in for me and I’m happy for it.”

Fernandez lost her only other tournament final appearance, falling to Great Britain’s Heather Watson in last year’s Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco.

Fernandez said she used the emotions she felt from last year’s loss as fuel for Sunday’s win.

“It definitely helped today,” Fernandez said.

The Canadian won’t be able to celebrate her victory for long, however.

Fernandez is expected to be in Florida for the Miami Open where she is scheduled to play in a qualifying match against Romanian Mihaela Buzarnescu on Monday afternoon.

“We’re just taking this one hour at a time,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez will rise to a career-high 69th in the world in the WTA rankings after Sunday’s victory.

Golubic, who made her second final appearance this season, is projected to rise to 81st from 102nd.

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Canadian men open Olympic soccer qualifier with win over El Salvador

Sparked by Tajon Buchanan’s two early goals, Canada opened play at the CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship with an impressive 2-0 win over El Salvador on Friday.

While there were a few shaky moments at the back, the Canadian under-24 side looked good against a physical El Salvador side. Canada moved the ball quickly and showed teeth in attack.

The performance was all the more commendable given eight of Canada’s starters are with MLS clubs and so just starting their pre-season.

“I’m happy with the results,” said Canada coach Mauro Biello. “It was tough for the boys in terms of the fitness of this group. But I’m very proud of the way they fought, the way they were able to hurt the other team in moments, and closed out the game.

“What I said to them is we’re going to grow throughout this tournament. It’s normal. Some players had met for the first time.”

WATCH | Canada shuts out El Salvador:

Tajon Buchanan made an impressive international debut, scoring twice as Canada opened play at the CONCACAF men’s Olympic qualifying championship in Guadalajara, Mexico with a 2-0 win over El Salvador. 3:14

The eight-country tournament will decide which two teams represent the region, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, at the Tokyo Olympics. The qualifier was originally scheduled for last March but was postponed due to the pandemic.

The Canadian men last made it to the Olympics in 1984 in Los Angeles where they lost to Brazil in a penalty shootout in the quarter-finals.

Canada continues Group B play against Haiti on Monday and Honduras next Wednesday. Group A opened play Thursday with the U.S. defeating Costa Rica 1-0 and Mexico beating the Dominican Republic 4-1.

The top two in each group advance to the semifinals with the winners booking their tickets to Tokyo.

Buchanan, who is entering his third season with the New England Revolution, made his presence felt early. A live wire blessed with pace and a deep bag of tricks, he turned heads in MLS last year when he led all Canadians with 23 regular-season appearances — some at fullback.

“Everybody will see the two goals but coaches will look at the work that he does,” said Biello. “The way he tracked back in the 90th minute, for me, was quite impressive.

“He’s a player that’s just growing. He had a good season last year in New England, came into camp with the men’s [senior] team in January [and] showed his qualities. And now today he was focused to show what he could do and he was able to get those two great goals. And again the work that he puts in for the team is excellent.”

WATCH | Canada’s path to Tokyo:

Signa Butler is joined by John Molinaro of CPL.ca and Joshua Kloke of The Athletic to talk about Canada’s roster challenges, strengths and what they need to do to grab one of two spots for Tokyo 6:43

The 22-year-old winger from Brampton, Ont., opened the scoring in the 17th minute, capping a rapid-fire attack that saw Ballou Tabla find Buchanan in space near the edge of the El Salvador penalty box. The speedy Buchanan beat defender Kevin Menjivar and slotted his left-footed shot from a tight angle through goalkeeper Mario Gonzalez’s legs.

Buchanan scored again four minutes later, this time with a rocket of a shot through traffic. A Canadian free kick landed at the feet of Derek Cornelius in the El Salvador penalty box and the Canada captain calmly laid the ball back to Buchanan, who hammered it home with his right foot from just outside the box.

Buchanan, named Canada Soccer’s Youth International Player of the Year in 2020, celebrated with an equally impressive double-somersault. A kneeling Cornelius then mimed giving him a shoeshine.

Buchanan is the 12th Canadian to score twice in a CONCACAF men’s Olympic qualifier — and the first since Tosaint Ricketts in 2008.

Buchanan played provider in the 51st minute, beating a defender down the flank and the bending a perfect ball to Tabla in front of goal. But Gonzalez got his body in front of the shot.

It was 30 degrees Celsius at kickoff at the 55,000-capacity Jalisco Stadium, which was empty due to the pandemic. The Canadians also had to deal with the altitude (1,550 metres).

Honduras blanked Haiti in the earlier game. Haiti started with 10 men and an outfield player in goal because part of its delegation arrived in Guadalajara late, impacting the timing of COVID-19 testing. The team got reinforcements during the match, including a goalkeeper, after tests came back negative.

Adding to Haiti’s woes, defender Djimy Alexis was sent off in stoppage time for a second yellow card.

Biello’s starting 11 included five players who had seen action with the senior side: goalkeeper James Pantemis, defenders Zachary Brault-Guillard, Marcus Godinho and Cornelius and forwards Charles-Andreas Brym and Tabla.

The 23-year-old Cornelius has the most senior caps at 13. Pantemis and Buchanan are uncapped but have both spent time with the senior team.

Pantemis has a good game, equal to everything thrown at him. Biello called his team’s defensive efforts “a hell of a shift.”

8 MLS players in starting XI

Canada’s starting 11 featured the eight MLS players — three each from Montreal and Vancouver and one apiece from Minnesota and New England. Of the other three, one was from the USL and two from Europe.

There were six yellow cards in the game, three apiece.

Only players born in 1997 or later are eligible for Olympic qualifying (the same age limit was kept despite the qualifying tournament’s one-year delay). Countries that make it to the Olympics are allowed up to three overage players.

Canada made two late changes to its roster Friday morning.

Citing medical reasons, Canada replaced defender Thomas Meilleur-Giguere (Pacific FC, CPL) and forward Kris Twardek (Jagiellonia, Poland) with Cavalry FC defender/winger Mo Farsi and York United FC defender Diyaeddine Abzi.

While Canada Soccer did not specify the medical issues, Meilleur-Giguere said he had torn his medial collateral ligament the day before the match.

“Life is so unfair sometimes, worked so hard for that moment and boom,” he wrote in a social media post.

The departures leave Canada short at centre back, a problem that was exacerbated when Callum Montgomery left the game with an injury.

Farsi, named Best Canadian U-21 Player of the Year in the CPL in 2020, came off the bench in the 85th minute.

Mexico, which has won the last two CONCACAF qualifiers, and Honduras represented the region at the last two Olympics. Honduras was fourth at the 2016 Rio Games while Mexico defeated Brazil 2-1 to win gold in 2012 in London.

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CBC | Soccer News

Felix Auger-Aliassime advances to 2nd round at Mexican Open

Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime is moving on at the Mexican Open.

The No. 7 seed from Montreal downed American Tennys Sandgren in straight sets on Monday in the first round of the ATP-500 level tournament in Acapulco.

Auger-Aliassime took the match 6-3, 7-6(8) — needing one hours 42 minutes to topple his 58th-ranked opponent.

The Canadian evened their head-to-head record, with Sandgren winning their only other meeting at the 2020 ATP Masters 1000 in Cincinnati.

WATCH | Auger-Aliassime advances at Mexico Open with straight sets win:

Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime defeats American Tennys Sandgren 6-3, 7-6(8) in the opening round of Mexican Open. 2:44

Auger-Aliassime will face either Croatia’s Marin Cilic or Sebastian Kordo of the United States in the second round.

Canadian Milos Raonic, seeded No. 4, hits the court Tuesday for first-round action at the Mexican Open against American Tommy Paul, who is currently ranked 51st in the world.

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Why AstraZeneca vaccine approval in Canada may open more doors

Health Canada’s approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India’s version to prevent COVID-19 in adults follows similar green lights from regulators in the United Kingdom, Europe Union, Mexico and India.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, called ChAdOx1, was approved for use in Canada on Friday following clinical trials in the United Kingdom and Brazil that showed a 62.1 per cent efficacy in reducing symptomatic cases of COVID-19 cases among those given the vaccine. Experts have said any vaccine with an efficacy rate of over 50 per cent could help stop outbreaks.

Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, said the key number across all of the clinical trials for those who received AstraZeneca’s product was zero — no deaths, no hospitalizations for serious COVID-19 and no deaths because of an adverse effect of the vaccine.

“I think Canada is hungry for vaccines,” Sharma said in a briefing. “We’re putting more on the buffet table to be used.”

Specifically, 64 of 5,258 in the vaccination group got COVID-19 with symptoms compared with people in the control group given injections (154 of 5,210 got COVID-19 with symptoms).

Dr. Susy Hota, medical director of infection prevention and control at Toronto’s University Health Network, called it a positive move to have AstraZeneca’s vaccines added to Canada’s options.

“Even though the final efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine appears lower than what we have with the mRNA vaccines, it’s still reasonably good,” Hota said.

“What we need to be focusing on is trying to get as many people as possible vaccinated so we can prevent the harms from this.”

Canada has an agreement with AstraZeneca to buy 20 million doses as well as between 1.9 million and 3.2 million doses through the global vaccine-sharing initiative known as COVAX.

WATCH | AstraZeneca vaccine safety: 

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Matthew Oughton breaks down how effective the latest vaccine approved by Health Canada will be in the fight against COVID-19. 3:45

Canada will also receive 2 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, the government announced Friday. 

Here’s a look at some common questions about the vaccine, how it works, in whom and how it could be rolled out.

What’s different about this shot?

The Oxford-AstraZeneca is cheaper and easier to handle than the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which need to be stored at ultracold temperatures to protect the fragile genetic material.

AstraZeneca says its vaccine can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions (2 to 8 C) for at least six months. (Moderna’s product can be stored at refrigeration temperatures for 30 days after thawing.)

The ease of handling could make it easier to administer AstraZeneca’s vaccine in rural and remote areas of Canada and the world.

“There are definitely some advantages to having multiple vaccine candidates available to get to as many Canadians as possible,” Hota said.

Sharma said while the product monograph notes that evidence for people over age 65 is limited, real-world data from countries already using AstraZeneca’s vaccine suggest it is safe and effective among older age groups.

“We have real-world evidence from Scotland and the U.K. for people that have been dosed that would have been over 80 and that has shown significant drop in hospitalizations to the tune of  84 per cent,” Sharma said.

Data from clinical trials is more limited compared with in real-world settings that reflect people from different age groups, medical conditions and other factors. 

How does it work?

Vaccines work by training our immune system to recognize an invader.

The first two vaccines to protect against COVID-19 that were approved for use in Canada deliver RNA that encodes the spike protein on the surface of the pandemic coronavirus.

In contrast, the AstraZeneca vaccine packs the genetic information for the spike protein in the shell of a virus that causes the common cold in chimpanzees. Vaccine makers altered the adenovirus so it can’t grow in humans.

Viral vector vaccines mimic viral infection more closely than some other kinds of vaccines. One disadvantage of viral vectors is that if a person has immunity toward a particular vector, the vaccine won’t work as well. But people are unlikely to have been exposed to a chimpanzee adenovirus.

How and where could it be used?

Virologist Eric Arts at Western University in London, Ont., said vaccines from Oxford-AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, which is also under review by Health Canada, and Russian Sputnik-V vaccines all have some similarities.

“I do like the fact that AstraZeneca has decided to continue trials, to work with the Russians on the Sputnik-V vaccine combination,” said Arts, who holds the Canada Research Chair in HIV pathogenesis and viral control.

“The reason why I’m encouraged by it is I think there might be greater opportunity to administer those vaccines in low- to middle-income countries. We need that. I think our high-income countries have somewhat ignored the situation that is more significant globally.”

Researchers reported on Feb. 2 in the journal Lancet that in a Phase 3 clinical trial involving about 20,000 people in Russia, the two-dose Sputnik-V vaccine was about 91 per cent effective and appears to prevent inoculated individuals from becoming severely ill with COVID-19.

There were 16 COVID-19 cases in the vaccine group (0.1 per cent or 16/14,964) and 62 cases (1.3 per cent or [62/4,902 ) in the control group.

No serious adverse events were associated with vaccination. Most adverse events were mild, such as flu-like symptoms, pain at injection site and weakness or low energy.

An analysis of results from 2,000 adults older than 60 years suggested the vaccine was similarly effective and well tolerated in this age group.

Arts and other scientists acknowledged the speed and lack of transparency of the Russian vaccination program. But British scientists Ian Jones and Polly Roy wrote in an accompanying commentary that the results are clear and add another vaccine option to reduce the incidence of COVID-19.

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Toronto FC set to join Raptors, Jays down south to open season

Toronto FC will open the 2021 regular season in Florida due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Tampa has been mentioned as a possible home. The MLS club also has ties to Orlando, having held training camp there in the past.

“We are preparing to open the MLS regular season in Florida, just finalizing our location,” team president Bill Manning said in a text to The Canadian Press.

“Reality is we are preparing to open in Florida as it seems unrealistic we’ll be able to host at home in April. If the government opens things up for us we would immediately pivot back to BMO [Field] but for now we’re preparing to start down south.”

The regular season is scheduled to kick off April 17.

TFC won’t be the only Toronto team in Florida. The Raptors are set to play the entire NBA season in Tampa while the Blue Jays announced this week they will play their first two homestands of the season in their spring-training home of Dunedin, just west of Tampa.

The Jays will review the situation after that, with a return to Buffalo, N.Y. (where they played most of their home games in 2020) a possible next step if coming back to Toronto remains out of the question.

TFC opened camp under the bubble Wednesday at its north Toronto training centre. The league granted TFC permission to start early to prepare for the Canadian Championship final against Hamilton’s Forge FC, a matchup whose date has yet to be announced.

The winner will advance to play Mexico’s Club Leon on April 7 in the first leg of a round-of-16 series in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League, CONCACAF’s flagship club competition.

TFC played just four games at BMO Field last year, finishing out the season in East Hartford, Conn. Pandemic-related border restrictions also forced Vancouver and Montreal to move, to Portland and Harrison, N.J, respectively.

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