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Dominic Thiem edges Novak Djokovic in thriller to advance to final of ATP Finals – CNN International

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The reigning US Open champion produced his best tennis during the match’s biggest points, saving break points and set points to qualify for Sunday’s final. 
Both players were evenly matched in the opening set until Thiem got the first break of the match late into the first set which eventually proved decisive. 
The pair played out a mammoth second set tie break, with both struggling to hit the winning shot, before Djokovic eventually managed to edge it.
In the decisive third set, once again they couldn’t be separated, and Thiem produced a remarkable comeback in the third set tie break, coming from 4-0 down to eventually win and advance to the final in London for the second year in a row.
“It was for sure a mental battle,” Thiem said afterward.
“I mean, I got so tight in the second set tie break, first of all because to play these legends is always going to be something special and playing for a final at the ATP Finals is also something very special. I thought after my first big title in New York, I’m going to be a little bit more calm but that was a mistake, I guess,” Thiem said.
“I was just as tight and just as nervous as before. And it was so much on the edge, that match, like every single match here where the best players in the world are facing off. So I’m just incredibly happy to be through and just try to get ready for tomorrow.”
Thiem celebrates winning the first set against Djokovic.

Not much to separate them

In a cagey opening set, each player held on to their services games until very late, with their powerful serves and excellent ground games proving too much for each other. 
The tension proved all too much for Thiem at one point as, after losing a game to give Djokovic the lead in the opening set, he tossed his racket off the court into the stands in apparent frustration. 
The decisive break came in the 11th game of the tight set, as Thiem eventually edged a Djokovic service game to make the score 6-5. He held on to his following service game to win the opening set and move within a set of a place in the final. 
Thiem throws a damaged racket to members of his team.Thiem throws a damaged racket to members of his team.
After the short break for the players to catch their breath and take on some nutrients, the second set began in a similar vein, with both players holding serve. 
Djokovic, looking stronger as the match progressed, failed to capitalize on any of the break points he crafted for himself, as the second set continued all level. 
And as he had done all match, Thiem stepped up during the biggest points of the game, saving two set points in his final service game to take the second set to a tie break. 
As was becoming clear, both players struggled to be separated in the tie break. Djokovic raced into a 4-2 lead before Thiem roared back, only for Djokovic to save two match points shortly after. 
The pair continued to prevent each other winning the second set, saving match points and set points, before Djokovic clinched the set-winning point as Thiem’s backhand return could only find the net.
In the all-important third set, it was more of the same. Both players held serve as they struggled to break down one another, needing a tie break to decide them once more. 
Djokovic serves during his match against Thiem.Djokovic serves during his match against Thiem.
Having raced into a 4-0 lead, Djokovic failed to stop Thiem recovering to level the tie break before the Austrian eventually took the lead.
Djokovic saved one match point but could not save the second as Thiem advanced to the final.
Thiem will face either Daniil Medvedev or Rafael Nadal in the final on Sunday. Medvedev and Nadal play later Saturday.

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Canadiens’ loss a tough pill to swallow, but progress under Ducharme continues – Sportsnet.ca

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Two things immediately come to mind in the aftermath of the Montreal Canadiens‘ most complete effort since their last one against the Vancouver Canucks.

First, Jake Allen saying, after a 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 27, that when Craig Berube took over from Mike Yeo and went on to coach the St. Louis Blues to the 2019 Stanley Cup, it took a good two weeks for him and his teammates to all get on the same page and on board with the plan the new coach was selling. The second is Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme, two days later—and just five after taking over for head coach Claude Julien—saying his team was ahead of schedule in adopting his strategies.

It would be easy to lose sight of the progress the Canadiens have made since after a 2-1 shootout loss to the Canucks. This was a game Carey Price and the Canadiens deserved, one they had stolen away by a mistake in the final minute that wasn’t even egregious and a breakaway move in the shootout Bo Horvat deserves full credit for, and that had to be tough to swallow.

But what the Canadiens should take out of it was that for a third consecutive game, after his struggles cost his goaltending coach Stephane Waite his job last week, Price was nearly perfect. What they should be able to build on was their efficiency on the power play, where Jeff Petry’s goal gave them a 1-0 lead.

Another takeaway was how they played on the penalty kill, stifling over a minute of 5-on-3 pressure from the Canucks towards the end of the first period. And what they should harness is the way they controlled the game over the first 59 minutes—hounding the Canucks on the forecheck and backcheck and giving them very little breathing room—because that is exactly how Ducharme wants them to play.

“I thought we deserved better,” said Phillip Danault. “If we play the same every game, we give ourselves a chance to win every game.”

You often hear stuff like that when a team plays well but loses, but just as important as this being accurate is the fact that Danault and the rest of the Canadiens feel that way.

There’s no time to be discouraged. Not with the schedule as jammed as it is, and certainly not with as much on the line as there is each night in the North-Division race.

The Canucks pulled to within three points of the Canadiens while the Edmonton Oilers jumped three ahead with a win over the Ottawa Senators. Both teams are giving up several games in hand to Montreal, but they’re forcing the Canadiens to make the best of that opportunity and forcing them to not wallow over a game they lost but should’ve won.

The Canadiens had their chances at a convincing win Monday. Tyler Toffoli, who has 15 goals this season, missed a hat trick of them. Brendan Gallagher’s four shots were stopped. And the NHL’s second star of last week, Thatcher Demko, matched Price save for save and made one more in the shootout.

But when Petry said, “I think the style of play was the way we want to play,” boy, was he ever right. And it’s been building since Ducharme took over, with the team having taken six of eight points available in the standings over its four games coming into Monday’s at Rogers Arena, with a power play that’s been humming along at over 40 per cent under new assistant coach and former Canucks player Alex Burrows, and with a penalty kill that has eliminated more than 80 per cent of the opposition’s chances.

Even in overtime, where the Canadiens have now failed to generate a goal in each of their seven attempts, there was improvement on this night.

“It wasn’t perfect,” said Ducharme, but he also rightfully pointed to a puck-possession strategy being implemented that could bear fruit soon. One that would’ve worked better if not for two loose plays in which the Canadiens turned over the puck while they were in full control of it.

It’s why when Price was asked what the team could do better there, he sarcastically laughed and said, “Score first, probably.”

Outside of that, and the missed chances to make this one a laugher, the Canadiens built on the good they established in a 7-1 win over the Jets last Saturday.

“We’re just eliminating plays,” said Price. “Trying to eliminate their speed. When you’re on top of your game and you’re working in unison, the system works.”

And when it broke down, there was Price. He turned three top-quality chances from Canucks sniper Brock Boeser aside and made other hard saves on Boeser’s teammates look easy.

An overaggressive play from the Canadiens in the neutral zone left Adam Gaudette some room with Demko on the bench and the Canucks skating 6-on-5. The Vancouver sniper wired a slap shot from inside the circle that clanked off the far post and went in to tie the game 1-1 with 41 seconds to play.

Ducharme called it “the perfect shot from where he shot it.”

“The percentage of that puck going in is not really high, but it did,” he added.

But the coach also said this about how Montreal played the game: “I don’t think we gave them much tonight…

“Without the puck, the way we’re coming back and applying pressure, forcing plays and creating turnovers, we’re doing a good job. So a lot of good things…

“We’ll be back on Wednesday and making sure we take what we’ve done in the last four-five games and we keep making it better.”

The Canadiens hadn’t played as well since a 5-3 win over the Canucks at the Bell Centre on Feb. 2.

In truth, they played better in this one, and did so against a Vancouver team that has been much better of late. And if they play as well against the Canucks in less 48 hours, they’ll walk away winners.

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Manitoba's Gunnlaugson moves into first place at Brier – TSN

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CALGARY — Only two unbeaten teams remain in the 18-team field at the Canadian men’s curling championship.

Pool leaders Kevin Koe of Wild Card Two and Jason Gunnlaugson of Manitoba remained perfect on Monday. But there were some unexpected team placements below them in the standings as the preliminary round reached the midway point.

New Brunswick’s James Grattan, Wild Card Three’s Wayne Middaugh and Nova Scotia’s Scott McDonald have all enjoyed solid starts while Canada’s Brad Gushue, Wild Card One’s Mike McEwen and Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs have work to do to make the cut.

It’s shaping up to be a rather interesting midweek stretch at the WinSport Arena.

Gunnlaugson moved into sole possession of first place in Pool A after an 8-5 victory over McEwen to improve to 3-0.

“It’s a good start but it’s a long, long week,” Gunnlaugson said.

Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher defeated Middaugh 5-3 and Grattan edged Jacobs 7-6 in an extra end. That left Alberta and New Brunswick even at 3-1 while Middaugh fell into fourth place at 2-1.

Bottcher, who has reached the Tim Hortons Brier final in each of the last three years, earned a critical steal in the eighth end when Middaugh was light on his draw.

“It’s early in the week but these wins count as much as the ones on Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” Bottcher said. “You need to win them while you can.

“We played a really good game there and it was nice to cap it off and pull out the W.”

In the other afternoon game, British Columbia’s Steve Laycock dumped Yukon’s Dustin Mikkelsen 9-2.

Gunnlaugson, who was 5-6 in his Brier main draw debut last year, has already knocked off two expected contenders in McEwen and Bottcher.

“It’s hard to put into words how valuable it is to have a guy like Jay on your team,” said Manitoba lead Connor Njegovan. “Everything is so planned out and when he’s hitting well, it’s very hard to stop us.”

Wild Card One and Northern Ontario were tied in fifth place at 2-2 while B.C. improved to 1-2. The Northwest Territories (0-3) and Yukon (0-4) remained winless.

In Pool B, Koe dumped Nunavut’s Peter Mackey 11-3 and Saskatchewan’s Matt Dunstone made a draw for a piece of the button in a 6-5 win over Gushue.

“A great team shot,” Dunstone said. “To do it at the Brier against Team Canada is a great moment for us. Hopefully we carry this momentum moving forward.”

Koe was 5-0 while Dunstone moved into a second-place tie at 3-1 with idle Ontario skip John Epping.

Nova Scotia’s Scott McDonald made a brilliant triple takeout in the 10th end of a 9-6 win over Quebec’s Michael Fournier that left both teams at 3-2.

“You live to make big shots to win games,” McDonald said. “We made a couple big ones today and we’re really happy to pull out the victory.”

Gushue, who has won the Brier in three of the last four years, was alone in sixth place at 2-2.

Greg Smith of Newfoundland and Labrador (1-4) earned his first victory with an 11-7 win over P.E.I.’s Eddie MacKenzie, who remained in last place with Nunavut at 0-4.

The preliminary round continues through Thursday night at the Markin MacPhail Centre on the grounds of Canada Olympic Park. The top four teams in each pool will advance to the two-day championship round.

The final is set for Sunday night. The winner will represent Canada at the world men’s curling championship next month at the same venue.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021.

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Alberta's Bottcher hands Wild Card Three's Middaugh his first loss at the Brier – TSN

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CALGARY — Only two unbeaten teams remain in the 18-team field at the Canadian men’s curling championship.

Pool leaders Kevin Koe of Wild Card Two and Jason Gunnlaugson of Manitoba remained perfect on Monday. But there were some unexpected team placements below them in the standings as the preliminary round reached the midway point.

New Brunswick’s James Grattan, Wild Card Three’s Wayne Middaugh and Nova Scotia’s Scott McDonald have all enjoyed solid starts while Canada’s Brad Gushue, Wild Card One’s Mike McEwen and Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs have work to do to make the cut.

It’s shaping up to be a rather interesting midweek stretch at the WinSport Arena.

Gunnlaugson moved into sole possession of first place in Pool A after an 8-5 victory over McEwen to improve to 3-0.

“It’s a good start but it’s a long, long week,” Gunnlaugson said.

Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher defeated Middaugh 5-3 and Grattan edged Jacobs 7-6 in an extra end. That left Alberta and New Brunswick even at 3-1 while Middaugh fell into fourth place at 2-1.

Bottcher, who has reached the Tim Hortons Brier final in each of the last three years, earned a critical steal in the eighth end when Middaugh was light on his draw.

“It’s early in the week but these wins count as much as the ones on Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” Bottcher said. “You need to win them while you can.

“We played a really good game there and it was nice to cap it off and pull out the W.”

In the other afternoon game, British Columbia’s Steve Laycock dumped Yukon’s Dustin Mikkelsen 9-2.

Gunnlaugson, who was 5-6 in his Brier main draw debut last year, has already knocked off two expected contenders in McEwen and Bottcher.

“It’s hard to put into words how valuable it is to have a guy like Jay on your team,” said Manitoba lead Connor Njegovan. “Everything is so planned out and when he’s hitting well, it’s very hard to stop us.”

Wild Card One and Northern Ontario were tied in fifth place at 2-2 while B.C. improved to 1-2. The Northwest Territories (0-3) and Yukon (0-4) remained winless.

In Pool B, Koe dumped Nunavut’s Peter Mackey 11-3 and Saskatchewan’s Matt Dunstone made a draw for a piece of the button in a 6-5 win over Gushue.

“A great team shot,” Dunstone said. “To do it at the Brier against Team Canada is a great moment for us. Hopefully we carry this momentum moving forward.”

Koe was 5-0 while Dunstone moved into a second-place tie at 3-1 with idle Ontario skip John Epping.

Nova Scotia’s Scott McDonald made a brilliant triple takeout in the 10th end of a 9-6 win over Quebec’s Michael Fournier that left both teams at 3-2.

“You live to make big shots to win games,” McDonald said. “We made a couple big ones today and we’re really happy to pull out the victory.”

Gushue, who has won the Brier in three of the last four years, was alone in sixth place at 2-2.

Greg Smith of Newfoundland and Labrador (1-4) earned his first victory with an 11-7 win over P.E.I.’s Eddie MacKenzie, who remained in last place with Nunavut at 0-4.

The preliminary round continues through Thursday night at the Markin MacPhail Centre on the grounds of Canada Olympic Park. The top four teams in each pool will advance to the two-day championship round.

The final is set for Sunday night. The winner will represent Canada at the world men’s curling championship next month at the same venue.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021.

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