Wimbledon semis run motivates Raonic

Reaching his first Grand Slam semi-final earlier this month at Wimbledon left seventh-ranked Milos Raonic disappointed in his effort and more motivated to capture his first major title.

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The 23-year-old Canadian begins his push to the US Open, what he calls “a very important Slam for me”, this week at the $US1.9 million ($A2.1 million) ATP and WTA Washington Open.

“I felt I could have done much better in that situation,” Raonic said of his 6-4 6-4 6-4 loss to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon semi-finals.

“It has been a lot of frustration, anger and disappointment with the semi-final. It has been transformed into a lot of motivation.

“I hate losing. The stinging stays with me.”

That pushes Raonic, the second seed at Washington behind fifth-ranked Czech Tomas Berdych, as the huge server looks forward to the US Open on his favourite hardcourt surface and coming off his best Slam efforts, his Wimbledon breakthrough and a French Open quarter-final run.

“I can play better than I did at Wimbledon,” Raonic said.

“That doesn’t put me very far away from being able to win the tournament (US Open).”

Raonic looks forward to testing how his game has evolved and how to better exploit his tremendous serve, which has him ranked second in ATP first serve points won on 82 per cent and third in aces with 567.

“I believe I have a better understanding of the damage I can do,” Raonic said.

“People don’t like to play me. I better understand how to use that to my advantage and get more wins from it.

“I have improved in a lot of areas, whether that be technically in shots or as an athlete.”

Raonic sees a major chance to make a jump into the top five for the first time in his career, although he admits French Open winner Rafael Nadal and Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic remain a class apart.

“The biggest barrier is the threshold that Novak and Rafa have on the 1-2 spots. The rest I think, specifically, are up for grabs.”

Final can be decided in a flash: McCaw

Crusaders flanker Richie McCaw knows from past experience, both sweet and bitter, that a crucial moment can decide Saturday’s Super Rugby final result against the Waratahs in Sydney.

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“When it comes down to one or two moments, the teams that are good enough to take those opportunities are the ones that win,” the All Blacks captain said.

“If you drop your guard for one or two moments, you’ll come second.”

He will be making his eighth Super final appearance, the first being in 2002 against the Brumbies when the Crusaders won the competition for the fourth time.

McCaw can recall some of the key moments in the finals he’s played.

In 2011, when they lost against the Reds in Queensland, it was when halfback Will Genia scored a try out of nowhere.

In 2008, the last time the Crusaders won a final, also against the Waratahs, it was when they thought they’d scored a try, but the referee pulled play back because of an earlier punch thrown by Brad Thorn.

McCaw said he could see the opposition lift after that.

“That was probably the moment that could have really cost us, but it didn’t.”

The Crusaders displayed their characteristic resilience on that occasion, partly honed by thorough pre-match preparation.

“Everyone says, ‘y’know, you’ve got to go through the process of the week like you always do’ and I think that’s true,” McCaw said.

“I think we’ve got to turn up on Saturday with all the detail of how we’re going to play sorted.”

McCaw admits that even with his years of international experience he still gets nervous ahead of big games.

“It’s a good sort of nervous though,” he said.

“These are the moments that you want to be involved in and the games you want to play in.

“You go through all the hard work for three or four, five months to give yourself a shot at this game.”

The Crusaders have gone five seasons without a title, and are desperate for there not to be a sixth come Sunday.

McCaw said this side were different from recent ones that had made it to the semi-finals then hadn’t performed.

“At least this year we’ve given ourselves a chance and now the big job is to perform when it really counts.

“That’s what champion teams do, and that’s what we’re really keen to do.”

$800 spent on doorknob in unused government room

Construction and fit-out costs for the high-tech theatrette totalled almost $235,000 while the annual cost of having it on stand-by is running at about $100,000.

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The government is leasing the premises, next to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s aid office in Canberra, until June 2016.

It is also paying $10,000 a month to hire audio visual equipment on top of a $30,000 bill for rented stage lights, according to documents obtained by AAP under Freedom of Information.

The heavily-redacted documents reveal the facility was ready for media briefings in October 2013, but it has never been used for that purpose.

It is understood the room was intended for Operation Sovereign Borders media briefings presented by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison until late last year.

Instead, the weekly briefings were held at commonwealth offices in Sydney.

The briefings ended in December, coinciding with reports of asylum-seeker boat turn-backs which the government refused to discuss.

In Canberra, Mr Morrison has mostly used Parliament House facilities for border protection-related press conferences.

In mid-July, he launched a national border targeting centre at the Customs Border Protection headquarters, located across the road from the briefing room.

He addressed reporters after the launch in a Customs room.

The unused media centre has large LED monitors, a projector, spotlights, two podiums with microphones, audio splitters and space to fit four television camera tripods and seating for 20 journalists.

Invoices show $800 was spent on a single door knob.

Mokbel ‘helped pay’ for Hodson murders

Former drug kingpin Tony Mokbel paid $50,000 to have a police informer killed on behalf of a Victorian detective, an inquest has been told.

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Terence Hodson and his wife, Christine, were found shot dead at their Kew home in May 2004, months before he was due to give evidence in a criminal trial against drug squad detective Paul Dale.

A man, known only as witness M, told the inquest into the Hodsons’ deaths that hitman Rodney Charles Collins had once boasted of getting rid of “brain tumours” for a police officer.

Witness M said he later understood that removing brain tumours meant shooting the Hodsons in the head.

Mokbel later told him he had put in $50,000 towards “Dale’s medical costs, if you know what I mean”, witness M told the Victorian Coroners Court on Tuesday.

He said Mokbel told him he had known the detective for a long time and was confident of extracting information about police investigations.

Mokbel then said “Skinny” – meaning gangland killer Carl Williams – had contributed the rest of the money for the hit, witness M said.

Witness M said the Hodsons’ names were never mentioned in the conversations, but he was left with a clear inference about who Mokbel and Collins had meant.

Detective Senior Sergeant Sol Solomon said witness M’s story had checked out, rejecting a suggestion from Mr Dale’s barrister, Geoffrey Steward, that it was fanciful.

“That’s more than plausible in relation to witness M. It happened,” Det Sen Sgt Solomon told the inquest.

Mr Steward accused Det Sen Sgt Solomon of being “completely blinkered” in relation to his client’s connection to the murder.

“Absolutely I disagree – 240 people were spoken to,” Det Sen Sgt Solomon replied.

“Paul Dale was spoken to on day one, gave us his alibi and we never went near him for three-and-a-half years.”

Mr Dale and Collins were charged with the Hodsons’ murder in 2009, but the charges were withdrawn the following year when Williams was murdered in prison.

Williams claimed Mr Dale paid him $150,000 to have Mr Hodson killed.

Both Collins and Mr Dale have denied involvement.

Det Sen Sgt Solomon said police did not believe that a criminal who had been implicated by Mr Hodson was responsible for his murder.

“I never got the impression that they harboured that amount of ill feeling towards him because of his informing,” he said.

“There was never any outward angst or hostility expressed.”

Det Sen Sgt Solomon said the crime was committed by someone with “supreme proficiency in the art of killing people”.

Mokbel is serving a 30-year jail sentence with a minimum 22 years for drug crimes.

Collins is serving two life sentences for the murder of Dorothy and Ramon Abbey, who were shot dead at their Melbourne home in 1987.

The inquest, before State Coroner Judge Ian Gray, continues.

Waratahs have seized their destiny – Cheika

The Waratahs host the Canterbury Crusaders in the Super Rugby title-decider on Saturday, bidding for a maiden trophy in their first final on home soil.

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The most consistent and entertaining team in the southern hemisphere competition, the Waratahs have come a long way since their ‘annus horribilis’ in 2012, when they managed just four wins and were jeered off the ground by their own supporters.

Cheika, who took over in the wake of that dismal season, doubled the Waratahs’ wins in his first year in charge and has been credited for turning a once-demoralised roster into an industrious and joy-filled team that prides itself on hard work.

The 47-year-old, who guided Irish team Leinster to their first Heineken Cup trophy in 2008-09, is reluctant to take credit for the team’s transformation but said his players had absorbed one lesson from his staff – the need to take responsibility for the club’s fortunes and failures.

“I don’t know if I turned the morale around,” Cheika said in a phone interview. “I think what we just did, we got in there and said ‘let’s take a bit of ownership as to what’s happening’.

“Everything goes a bit better if someone owns it. We’ve got some skin in it. Let’s take some sacrifices and take ownership.

“Because it’s not like a privately-owned team. There’s no owner standing there saying ‘come on, you’ve got to do this and that or whatever’.

“We as players and coaches have got to take ownership and take it personally and live it. I think that’s what we’ve tried to do.

“If you do that, you get more involved and it becomes more a part of you so you feel everything a little bit more and you get more attached and therefore you give more effort and it’s a bit of a circle in that way.”

Though having reached the 2005 and 2008 finals, both times beaten away by the Crusaders, the Waratahs did appear to suffer a ‘tragedy of the commons’ in the final years of coach Michael Foley, with a talent-laden playing roster seemingly unable to translate abundant resources into on-field success.

FUTURE SPECULATION

Slammed by local media for playing an unappetising brand of rugby, Sydney fans stopped turning up for games amid reports of dire financial troubles at the club.

Saturday’s clash may surpass an Australian record for a Super Rugby match and the fans have returned in droves this year as the Waratahs, powered by a sometimes breathtaking running game, stormed to the top of the standings at the end of the regular season.

Like fullback Israel Folau and his Wallabies team mate Kurtley Beale, hot properties in world rugby and wooed by Australia’s National Rugby League competition, Cheika’s future at the Waratahs is also a matter of speculation.

Reports have linked the former Randwick number eight with a role at French giants Toulon, though he has laughed them off.

Winning the title for long-suffering New South Wales fans might be the perfect send-off, but Cheika said his vision for the Waratahs extended far beyond Saturday’s final siren.

“I’m very circumspect about the word ‘dynasty’. There’s a bit of thinking about ruling over an empire with that type of thing,” he said.

“What’s important is that we’re leaving something for the next season’s team, something around our behaviour, our culture if you like. About our play, our identity, all those things.

“Last year’s team worked hard on leaving something good for this year’s team to build on.

“And (it’s the same) for next year’s team to build on. It’s about not just working for the short-term. A lot of guys come into the game wanting a professional contact (anywhere) but we want guys coming through wanting to play for the Waratahs.

“We can do that by keep pushing our identity and making it very clear for anyone that if you want to play here, this is what you’re going to get.”

(Editing by John O’Brien)

Panthers turn to rookie half Smith

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has turned to rookie NRL playmaker Will Smith to help solve the Panthers’ halves injury crisis and arrest their late season form slump.

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Former Newcastle under-20s player Smith will make his first grade debut at five-eighth in Friday’s round 21 clash with Canterbury at ANZ Stadium, after Peter Wallace was ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.

Wallace joins other halves options for Cleary Tyrone Peachey (pectoral muscle) and Isaac John (Achilles) as casualties for the remainder of the year.

However, winger Josh Mansour (ankle) is a welcome inclusion for Penrith.

Considered one of the fastest players at the Panthers, the 22-year-old Smith can cover fullback, centre and halfback or five-eighth, and signed a two-year deal with Penrith starting this year in a move from the Knights.

Smith’s first NRL assignment will be coming to terms with the Bulldogs’ NSW playmaker Josh Reynolds, who returns from suspension for the vital top four clash.

Captain Michael Ennis said Reynolds’s return was a welcome boost for the Dogs who, like Penrith, have lost their past two matches to slip from the competition lead.

“Josh is a wonderful guy to play with, he brings so much to the sides that he plays in,” Ennis said.

“He will be a real welcome bonus back into our side.”

Josh Morris hasn’t been named to return from his knee injury suffered in State of Origin I but is a chance to play.

North Queensland’s late-season resurgence has been boosted by the return of Australian prop Matt Scott from a cheekbone injury he suffered in Origin I.

Scott has been named alongside James Tamou, for Saturday’s match with Gold Coast in Townsville after his fellow representative bookend overcame a neck injury scare.

Winger Jorge Taufua has been named to return from a foot injury for top-of-the-table Manly’s clash with Brisbane at Brookvale Oval on Friday.

Paul Gallen is still two weeks away from a return from a biceps injury for Cronulla, who host Parramatta at home for Fui Fui Moi Moi’s 200th NRL game.

NSW centre Michael Jennings returns from a back injury sustained in Origin II for the Sydney Roosters match against St George Illawarra at Allianz Stadium.

Shaun Johnson (groin) and Feleti Mateo (calf) are back for the Warriors trip to Canberra on Sunday.

South Sydney are yet to name a replacement for captain John Sutton (knee) who will miss their home clash against Newcastle in Cairns.

Kurt Gidley will replace Jarrod Mullen (stomach muscle tear) at five-eighth for the Knights.

Chris Lawrence (ankle) hasn’t been named for Wests Tigers fixture against Melbourne at Campbelltown Stadium on Monday but could be a late inclusion.

Another Qld tiger handler bitten at work

A tiger has bitten a handler at a Queensland zoo for the second time in eight months, with the latest puncture incident occurring on International Tiger Day.

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Juma, the biggest tiger at Australia Zoo, bit Mark Turner, 42, on his left leg as the animal was being moved to a new area.

The 10-year-old, 130kg male Sumatran tiger, named after the Indonesian word for mountain summit, is described on the Sunshine Coast enclosure’s website as “a fitting name for an animal equally as powerful and stunning”.

However, the tiger born in captivity in NSW is also described as having a “very laid-back personality”, making him ideal for filming.

Mr Turner is in a stable condition but is reportedly undergoing surgery following the incident shortly before noon on Tuesday.

It is the second biting incident involving a tiger and a handler at Australia Zoo since November last year.

That’s when a 114kg Bengal tiger, Charlie, became “over-excited” and bit his handler Dave Styles on the neck and shoulder during a tiger show, keeping him away from work for several months.

Australia Zoo, owned by the family of the late crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, announced the incident on Twitter.

“Keeper has tooth puncture wound but is fine,” it said.

“First-aid protocol was followed, the same as Australia Zoo renders all staff, and the keeper is going to be fine.

“Juma the tiger is fine as well.”

A Queensland Ambulance Service spokesman said the tiger handler was taken to Nambour Hospital, on the Sunshine Coast, in a stable condition.

Nine News reported that he was undergoing emergency surgery.

Vickery happy with four-week AFL ban

Richmond’s Tyrone Vickery expressed relief after the AFL tribunal gave him a four-week ban for clocking Dean Cox.

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Vickery’s striking charge was referred directly to the tribunal, whose members retired for six minutes on Tuesday night before agreeing on the penalty.

Both AFL legal counsel Andrew Woods and player advocate Michael Tovey QC had agreed a ban of five weeks, reduced to four with a guilty plea, was correct.

The 24-year-old pleaded guilty at the start of proceedings, while the three-man tribunal panel were given a transcript of his public apology to the iconic West Coast ruckman on Sunday.

Vickery was given a penalty of 495 demerit points, meaning 95 carryover points will be hanging over his head when the Tigers play Sydney at ANZ Stadium on August 30.

The forward will miss matches against GWS, Essendon, Adelaide and St Kilda before being available for selection in the final round of the season.

Vickery, who knocked out Cox while the veteran was watching the ball at a boundary throw-in, was happy with the result.

“I got a fair trial and a fair hearing. That (four weeks) was the conclusion and we accept it,” Vickery said.

“Very happy to now have a conclusion to it. I’m able to train hard for the next four weeks and give myself a chance to potentially play in the last round.

“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to potentially play again this season.”

Vickery said he was glad the incident was over and pledged to “play hard and aggressive, but not overstep the mark which is what I owe – especially to my teammates”.

Speaking on radio station 3AW, 1988 Brownlow medallist Gerard Healy suggested Vickery could consider himself “a very lucky man”.

“For mine, five weeks was the minimum, six wouldn’t have surprised,” Healy said.

Vickery joins Brian Lake in copping a four-week suspension – the sternest punishment handed out by the tribunal this season.

But as opposed to Lake’s case, when the Hawthorn defender unsuccessfully argued he was trying to grab Petrie’s guernsey and not his throat, this time it was all very agreeable at the tribunal.

Tovey made the point no bones were broken and that the incident was on the lower scale of severe impact.

But both he and Woods agreed the blow was intentional, severe impact and high contact – and Vickery was not called on to testify.

Earlier on Tuesday, Sydney’s Jeremy Laidler accepted a reprimand and 70.31 points towards his future record for striking Hawthorn’s Jack Gunston during Saturday night’s MCG clash.

West Coast’s Luke Shuey and Mark LeCras both accepted $900 fines for engaging in misconduct when they remonstrated with Vickery.

Aust police abandon MH17 site attempt

Australian and Dutch police have been forced to abandon a third attempt to reach the MH17 crash site because of escalating tensions between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian militia.

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However, Prime Minister Tony Abbott is still hopeful they will soon be able to reach the Donetsk area toward Ukraine’s eastern border where the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet was downed on July 17.

The 200 strong unarmed police contingent was on Monday forced to turn around for the second day running due to shelling and gunfire.

Mr Abbott was briefed on Tuesday afternoon about talks to provide a safe corridor for investigators.

“We were optimistic,” the prime minister told Fairfax Radio.

But in the end, investigators didn’t get to set out on Tuesday.

“The team decided not to attempt to travel to the site as fighting had intensified in recent days and had led to the mission being aborted on both previous attempts,” the Australian Federal Police said in a statement.

“The mission will again attempt to enter the crash site when suitable arrangements are in place to provide an appropriately secure area.”

Mr Abbott on Tuesday attended a meeting of the national security committee of cabinet to discuss the “confused situation on the ground”.

He pointed to a commitment by the Ukraine government and pro-Russian separatists fighting on the eastern border to use “their best endeavours” to make the site safe enough for the Dutch-Australian team.

“And it’s high time those commitments were honoured,” Mr Abbott said.

Alexander Hug, the deputy head of a monitoring team from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, expressed the his team’s frustration and anger after the second turnaround.

“We are sick and tired of being interrupted by gunfights, despite the fact that we have agreed that there should be a ceasefire,” he said.

Dutch police chief Gerard Bouman believes the chances the police can recover all the remains and evidence is “not very good”.

Mr Abbott spoke with his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak on Tuesday afternoon and the leaders agreed on their “absolute determination and commitment” to gain access to the site to fulfil a “moral mission” to bring home the bodies of the dead.

The Ukrainian military has seized back a number of villages in the Donetsk region but a spokesman for Ukraine’s national security council has denied Ukrainian forces were fighting within the 20km radius around the crash site in the Donetsk region and blamed the shelling on pro-Russian forces.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Australia’s special envoy Angus Houston have met Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko to push for an exclusion zone and humanitarian corridor.

Ms Bishop also wants the Ukrainian parliament to this week ratify a deployment agreement she’s signed with her counterpart, Pavlo Klimkin, that would allow Australia to send in armed police or soldiers.

Ukraine and the 11 countries which lost 298 citizens – including up to 39 Australian residents – have also agreed to set up a joint team of prosecutors to examine possible criminal charges against those who downed the plane, which is believed to have been shot down by pro-Russian separatists using a surface-to-air missile launcher.

Europe’s judicial cooperation agency Eurojust will be involved in the process.

Dutch investigators are expected to release an initial report on the plane’s black box recorders this week.

US President Barack Obama and European leaders are considering toughening up sanctions against Russia, particularly in the areas of access to capital markets, defence, dual-use goods and technology.

Qantas sticks to flights over Iraq

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

Qantas is reassuring its passengers that it’s still safe to fly over Iraq, despite network partner Emirates’ deciding to reroute its fleet away from the conflict-torn nation.

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The Dubai-based airline says it’s made the decision over fears that militants Iraq may have surface to air missile capabilities.

Abby Dinham reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

“The tragedy of flight MH17 has changed everything.”

Those are the words of Emirates Chief executive Tim Clark.

The airline is expected to re-route its fleet out of Iraqi airspace within the next ten days.

But Qantas says it has no plans to change the routes of its planes, a decision that’s angered some in the security industry.

Roger Henning is founder of the private company, Homeland Security Asia-Pacific.

He disagrees with Qantas’ decision.

“Deciding the risk is out of bounds in eastern Europe, but OK in the Middle East it’s Russian roulette.”

Qantas’ Dubai to London flight enters Iraqi airspace.

An airline statement says there is no information to suggest that there’s a risk to commercial aircraft passing over Iraq, particularly at the altitudes its planes fly.

But Mr Henning suggests passengers should be vigilant about researching their airline’s flight paths.

“Anyone flying to Europe from Australia should think very carefully about getting on any airline that is openly flying over a warzone between Australia and London.”

Emirates is reportedly considering longer routes over Saudi Arabia and Egypt, instead of Iraq.

But some aviation experts say Iraqi airspace could be a better option.

Airspace author Geoff Thomas says avoiding conflict areas in the Middle East is a tough ask.

“If you don’t fly over Iraq you’ve got to fly over Syria, or got to fly over Lebanon, or you got to fly over Gaza. The other side you have to fly over Iran, you have to fly over Afghanistan, you have to fly over Pakistan, the whole area is what you would call a turbulent zone.”

Other major airlines including British Airways, Etihad, Lufthansa and Qatar Airways also continue to fly through Iraqi airspace.