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Trial of WNBA star Brittney Griner begins in Russia – Al Jazeera English

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The trial of United States professional basketball player Brittney Griner, who was arrested in Russia in February after authorities found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage, has begun in Moscow.

Griner, a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) all star and two-time Olympic gold medallist, arrived at a courtroom on the outskirts of the Russian capital on Friday for the trial, in which she faces up to 10 years in prison.

Arriving at Khimki City Court in handcuffs, the 31-year-old athlete wore a T-shirt showing guitar icon Jimi Hendrix and was accompanied by three people. US embassy staff were in attendance at the proceedings. Cameras were not permitted in the court.

Two witnesses were questioned by the prosecution: an airport customs official, who spoke in open court, and an unidentified witness in a closed session. according to the state news agency RIA-Novosti. The trial was then adjourned, it said, when two other witnesses did not show up, and the next session was set for July 7.

Alexander Boykov, an attorney for Griner, told reporters outside court that “I wouldn’t want to talk on the specifics of the case and on the charges and to comment on our position on it because it’s too early for it.”

US Charge d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood told reporters at the trial that Griner told her she was “keeping the faith” and that she was doing “as well as can be expected”.

The US State Department has labelled Griner “wrongfully detained” and is negotiating for her release amid tanked relations with Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine. Griner’s arrest came just days before Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into the neighbouring country on February 24.

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On Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the case was politically motivated.

“I can only operate with known facts, and the facts indicate that the eminent athlete was detained with illegal drugs that contained narcotic substances. There are articles in Russian legislation that provide for punishment for such crimes,” he told reporters.

“Only the court can pass a verdict.”

Griner’s detention has prompted concerns that Moscow could use the athlete to seek the release of a high-profile Russian in US custody, with Senator Tim Kaine warning the forward for the Phoenix Mercury could be used as a “negotiating chip”.

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Some of Griner’s supporters have called on the US to offer such a swap.

High-profile figures across the sports world have also called for Griner’s release, with NBA players wearing T-shirts that say “We are BG” at some games.

WNBA players, who are paid considerably less than their male counterparts, are often offered lucrative contracts by the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League to play during the US off-season.

Some have now left the Russian league, amid Griner’s detention and Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.

US officials say Griner is one of two citizens wrongfully detained by Russia. Paul Whelan, a former US marine, has been held in Russia since 2018 after being convicted of spying. He has denied the allegation.

Russian news media have repeatedly raised speculation that she could be swapped for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence on conviction of conspiracy to kill US citizens and providing aid to a “terrorist” organisation.

Others have suggested that she could be traded in tandem with Whelan.

After Griner’s hearing, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted: “We – and I personally – have no higher priority than bringing her and other wrongfully detained Americans, including Paul Whelan, home.

“We won’t stop working until they are reunited with their loved ones.”

Blinken, when asked Sunday on CNN whether a joint swap of Griner and Whelan for Bout was being considered, sidestepped the question.

“As a general proposition … I have got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” he said. But he said he could not comment “in any detail on what we’re doing, except to say this is an absolute priority”.

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Series preview: Blue Jays look to turn things around vs. Orioles – Sportsnet.ca

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Another series, another key moment in the wild-card race for the Toronto Blue Jays. 

The slumping Blue Jays (61-52) host three games against the Baltimore Orioles (59-55) at Rogers Centre, one week after dropping a pair of games in Baltimore. 

The Blue Jays still hold the top wild-card spot in the American League, but are just 2.5 games ahead of the surprising Orioles, who are fourth in the race. The top three get playoff spots. 

With Yusei Kikuchi starting the series opener for Toronto, it’s a nervous time for Blue Jays fans. 

Here’s a look at the series. 

Probable pitchers 

Monday, 7:07 p.m. ET / 4:07 p.m. PT: Toronto LHP Yusei Kikuchi (4-6, 5.13 ERA) vs. Baltimore RHP Kyle Bradish (1-4, 6.42 ERA) 

Tuesday, 7:07 p.m. ET / 4:07 p.m. PT: Toronto RHP Alek Manoah (12-5, 2.56 ERA) vs. Baltimore RHP Dean Kremer (4-4, 3.69 ERA) 

Wednesday, 3:07 p.m. ET / 12:07 p.m. PT: Toronto RHP Ross Stripling (5-3, 3.16 ERA) vs. Baltimore RHP Austin Voth (3-1, 5.34 ERA) 

(All games on Sportsnet)

Latest on the Blue Jays 

The Blue Jays have not won any of their past four series after dropping two of three over the weekend against the visiting Cleveland Guardians. 

Losers of six of their past eight, Toronto has let its margin at the top of the wild-card standings slip. 

Shaky defence didn’t help Kevin Gausman on Sunday as the starter gave up five runs in 4.2 innings in a 7-2 loss. 

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s 22-game hit streak also came to an end as he went 0-for-4. 

The Blue Jays scored all of three runs in the series against the AL Central-leading Guardians. 

Latest on the Orioles 

The Orioles avoided being on the wrong end of history when Jorge Mateo doubled on the first pitch of the ninth inning on Sunday to break up Tampa Bay Rays starter Drew Rasmussen’s perfect game. 

However, the contest still went into the books as a 4-1 loss for the Orioles, giving the Rays a 2-1 win in an important series – Tampa is third in the wild-card race. 

Baltimore scored just three runs in the final two games in Tampa after collecting a season-high 19 hits and scoring 10 runs while opening the series with a victory. 

Still, the Orioles are 8-4 in August and hanging in the playoff race after dealing first baseman Trey Mancini and closer Jorge Lopez at the trade deadline. 

Injury report 

The Blue Jays are expected to get leadoff hitter and outfielder George Springer back for the opener after a stint on the injured list with a lingering elbow issue. 

Stripling also is slated to return Wednesday after being sidelined with a glute/hip strain. 

Meanwhile, Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle (15 home runs, 55 RBI) is listed as day-to-day with left wrist/hand soreness after he was hit by a pitch on Saturday. 

Season series 

The Orioles lead it 4-2 with 13 games still left after the series finale last week in Baltimore was rained out and pushed back to September as part of a doubleheader. 

One of the tougher losses during this cold spell for Toronto came last Tuesday when Rougned Odor hit a go-ahead homer off Yimi Garcia in the eighth inning of a 6-5 win – a game which resumed after a one hour and 18 minute rain delay. 

Odor, of course, is a man Toronto fans love to boo after he sucker punched Jose Bautista years ago. 

Up next 

The Blue Jays travel to the Bronx for four games against the AL East-leading New York Yankees before heading to Boston for three games against the Red Sox. 

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Eugenie Bouchard happy to feel the burn after successful return to tennis – Sportsnet.ca

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Her first match left her exhausted physically and mentally, but Eugenie Bouchard couldn’t be happier.

After a 17-month layoff recovering from right shoulder surgery the native of Westmount, Que., is back playing tennis at the Odlum Brown VanOpen.

“The goal of surgery and coming back is to be able to play exactly how I want to and how I was playing before,” the 28-year-old former world No. 5 said Monday.

“This is what we do as athletes. The point is not to practice all the time, the point is to play.”

Bouchard opened the tournament Sunday night, teaming up with fellow Canadian Kayla Cross to defeat Italy’s Lucia Bronzetti and Elisabetta Cocciaretto in a doubles match.

“I was exhausted,” Bouchard said with a smile. “I started feeing tight in my body, my muscles were getting sore.

“It’s just that mental focus. To play in a match is different than practice. It’s about getting those reps in over and over again. I’ll get the endurance from that and be able to get back to playing matches totally normal, but it’s one baby step.”

Bouchard plays her first single match Tuesday against Arianne Hartoro of the Netherlands, a player she knows nothing about. Bouchard knows there may be bumps along the road and accepts being an underdog.

“Expectations are really low, expectations are on the floor,” said the two-time Canadian Press female Athlete of the Year. “My actions and my personal standards are high but in terms of results, we don’t know what to expect.

“I’ve never had to come back from surgery before, I’ve never had such a big injury. For me, it’s really ground zero.”

The Odlum Brown VanOpen ends Sunday. The tournament, which returns after missing two years due to COVID-19, has attracted 135 players to the Hollyburn Country Club battling for a combined purse of over US$274,360.

The men’s tournament, which has a top prize of $21,600, has been an ATP Challenger Tour event for several years. For the first time this year the women’s competition is a WTA 125 tournament with a $15,000 top prize.

Bouchard, who received a wild-card entry into the tournament, last played March 2021 at the Monterrey Open where she hurt her shoulder in a first-round match against Zhu Lin.

Bouchard became the first Canadian to advance to the singles final at Grand Slam in 2014 when she lost in the final at Wimbledon to Petra Kvitova. She also reached the semifinals of the Australian Open and French Open that year.

Since then, Bouchard has battled multiple injuries, including suffering a concussion after a fall in the dressing room at the U.S. Open.

Dealing with the injuries and time away from the game has been a learning experience.

“I’ve learned a lot in life and been through some really hard moments,” she said. “It’s really tested my patience having to be out for so long. It’s not like when you retire and you’re at peace with stopping. This is like a forced step. It’s hard to accept mentally.

“It made me realize how much I love tennis. There are so many other great things in life beside tennis, but it’s what I want to do now and for the next few years.”

Vancouver resident Rebecca Marino, who is also playing in this year’s tournament, understands the challenges Bouchard faces.

Marino burst onto the WTA Tour and reached a career-high No. 38 in 2011 before quitting the sport in 2013 due to depression. She returned to tennis in 2017 then missed another 18 months with an injury.

“To come back, not having competed in a match, it’s really hard to replicate that match feel from practice to competition,” she said. “There’s a lot of nerves in your first event, there’s a lot of challenges.”

Bouchard played at the Odlum Brown event as a junior in 2012, the same summer she won the Wimbledon junior girls’ title.

Other tennis stars who have played at the event include Marino, Milos Raonic, Maria Sharapova, Andy Murray, Leylah Fernandez, Johanna Konta, Kevin Anderson, Vasek Pospisil, Marion Bartoli, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Bianca Andreescu, Taylor Fritz, Naomi Osaka and Karolina Pliskova.

Bouchard knows she’s at the start of a new journey, but isn’t sure where it will end.

“The goal of the surgery and coming back is to be able to play exactly how I want to and how I was playing before,” she said. “It (the first match) went well, and everything is great. Now the goal is to just accumulate matches and hopefully everything stays fine with my shoulder.

“The journey is as long as it needs to be. I love playing tennis. I’m just here to do what I can.”

BASELINES: Two seeds in the women’s singles draw were uprooted Monday. Heather Watson of Britain eliminated eighth-seeded Elisabetta Cocciaretto of Italy 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, while Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva of Andorra bounced seventh-seeded Misaki Doi of Japan 6-3, 6-2. … Rebecca Marino of Vancouver will play American Emma Navarro on Tuesday in her first singles match at Hollyburn Country Club. … Gabriel Diallo of Montreal is the first Canadian men’s player to advance to the second round of singles after he knocked off world No. 154-ranked Belgian Zizou Bergs 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (5). Diallo is ranked at 553rd in the world. … Vasek Pospisil of Vancouver will play his first singles match on Tuesday against Felipe Meligeni Alves of Brazil.

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Canada finishes preliminary round undefeated, top of group with win over Finland at world juniors – CBC Sports

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Ridly Greig was a little banged up after helping Canada to a big win at the world junior hockey championship on Monday.

Not only did the Ottawa Senators’ prospect score and contribute an assist in the 6-3 victory over Finland, he blocked some big shots when the Canadians ran into third-period penalty trouble.

“Whatever it takes to win, whatever it takes to do anything for the boys or kind of get some momentum, I’m going to do it,” Greig said. “Whether it’s stand in front of a slap shot, I’m going to do it.”

Special teams were the difference maker on Monday, with the Canadians going 2-for-2 on the power play while Finland was 1-for-5.

The Finns got their second stretch of five-on-three hockey with less than five minutes left on the clock when William Dufour joined Ethan Del Mastro in the penalty box.

Finland pulled goalie Leevi Merilainen just as Del Mastro’s penalty expired and with the extra man Roby Jarventie put a puck in off the glove of Canadian goalie Dylan Garand to make it 5-3.

Dufour sealed the score at 6-3 with an empty-net strike 18:13 into the third.

The Finns had a prime opportunity to eat into Canada’s lead with a minute-long two-man advantage midway through the final period.

Donovan Sebrango was sent to the box for high-sticking and less than a minute later, teammate Will Cuylee was tossed from the game for a knee-on-knee hit.

Canada weathered being down two men, then chewed through the four remaining minutes of the major penalty without conceding a goal.

WATCH | Bedard, McTavish lead Canada past Finland: 

Bedard and McTavish stay hot in Canada’s win over Finland

14 hours ago

Duration 1:06

Mason McTavish set up Connor Bedard for a first period goal in Canada’s 6-3 round robin win over Finland at the world juniors.

“I thought our penalty kill was elite today, so many guys blocking shots. And that’s a great sign for a team that’s trying to win something,” said Canada’s captain Mason McTavish, who had a goal and two assists in the win.

“Finland, they’re a great team. I think they were 3-0 coming into this, their power play is ridiculous. So the fact that our PK stood up there with one of the best power plays in the tournament is huge for us.”

Connor Bedard scored and contributed an assist for Canada (4-0-0), while Dufour, Brennan Othmann and Tyson Foerester also found the back of the net. Olen Zellweger tallied three assists.

Joakim Kemell scored and contributed an assist for Finland (3-1-0) and Samuel Helenius rounded out the scoring.

Canada’s Garand made 22 saves and Merilainen stopped 31 of 36 shots for the Finns.

Important result

The result was an important one for Canada, who finished the preliminary round atop Group A. They’ll face Group B’s Switzerland (1-3-0) in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.

Switzerland clinched its spot in the quarter-finals earlier on Monday with a 3-2 win over Austria (0-0-4).

Finland was disappointed with Monday’s result, said head coach Antti Pennanen.

“It was OK but it wasn’t enough. And we were angry after the game, that’s for sure,” he said.

A big goal early in the third whittled the Finns’ deficit to 5-2.

Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect Topi Niemela fired a shot from the point and Kemell tipped it in from the slot for his third goal of the tournament.

Canada called for a coach’s challenge, arguing that the puck had gone off the netting before falling back to the ice ahead of the goal.

“The guys on the ice are generally the ones who can tell you what’s going on,” said head coach Dave Cameron. “My players were 100 per cent sure it went in [to the net]. So you trust your players.”

After an extended video review, officials determined the goal was good. The Canadians did not receive a delay-of-game penalty because officials said the review was “inconclusive.”

The Canadians dominated the middle frame, outshooting the Finns 20-5 and taking a 5-1 lead.

McTavish gave his country its second power-play goal of the game 16:17 into the period after Finland’s Rubin Rafkin was called for interference.

WATCH | Johnson scores highlight-reel goal:

Kent Johnson scores beautiful lacrosse-style goal at World Juniors

3 days ago

Duration 1:16

The Port Moody, B.C. native and Columbus Blue Jackets prospect put Canada up 2-1 against Czechia just before the end of the 1st period in their preliminary round matchup.

Zellweger sent the Anaheim Ducks’ prospect a pass from inside the blue line and McTavish uncorked a one-timer that flew over Merilainen’s shoulder stick side.

Thirty-one seconds into the second, Canada went up 4-1 after the Finnish goalie bobbled a shot by Joshua Roy.

Greig slid in on one knee to put the rebound in the back of the net with his third goal of the tournament.

Canada went into the first intermission up 3-1 after a late Finland goal.

A knot of players battled for the puck behind the Canadian net and Finland’s Kalle Vasisanen came up with it. He sent a pass to Helenius at the high hash marks and the L.A. Kings’ prospect got a shot up and over Garland’s shoulder with 57 seconds left in the period.

17-year-old phenom

Bedard put away his third goal of the tournament in memorable fashion 17:19 into the first.

Canada was penned in its own zone for an extended period, but the 17-year-old phenom showed no signs of exhaustion when he collected a cross-ice pass from McTavish at the blue line and sped into the faceoff circle.

He then ripped a blistering shot past Merilainen, pinging the puck off the inside of the crossbar to make it 3-0.

A power-play strike boosted Canada’s lead to 2-0 midway through the opening frame after Helenius was called for slashing.

Greig’s shot ricocheted off Merilainen’s pad but Foerester was in position to poke the rebound in from the top of the crease as he slid past the net.

Finland got off to a strong start, outshooting the host nation 4-0 across the first five minutes of the game.

It was Canada that opened the scoring, though, 6:21 into the first.

Defenceman Zellweger fired a long bomb from inside the blue line and Othmann batted it in past Merilainen.

The play was reviewed for a potential high stick but the goal — Othmann’s second of the tournament — was determined to be good after officials reviewed the video.

Reigning champion Americans also undefeated

The preliminary round wrapped Monday night with Group B’s Sweden (3-1-0) registering a 4-2 victory over Germany (2-2-0).

Sweden will battle Latvia (1-2-1) in the quarter-finals on Wednesday while Germany will face Finland.

The reigning champion Americans (4-0-0) also went undefeated in round-robin action and will play Czechia (1-2-1), the country commonly known as the Czech Republic, in the quarter-finals.

The semifinals are scheduled for Friday and the medal games will go Saturday.

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