Marshall to start from bench
Rugby league convert Benji Marshall is to make his Super Rugby debut off the bench in the Auckland Blues’ season-opening New Zealand derby against the Highlanders in Dunedin today. Marshall, who turns 29 next week, controversially ditched Australia’s National Rugby League last year to try his hand at the 15-man code with a view to winning a berth in the All Blacks squad for next year’s World Cup. Marshall is to cover the halves and fullback positions from the bench, with Chris Noakes named flyhalf after coming back from neck surgery in the offseason. The Blues, Super Rugby champions in 1996-1997 and 2003, will hope to improve on their forgettable year last year after finishing 10th in the 15-team competition and missing the playoffs.
Ferrer advances in Rio
Second-seeded David Ferrer overcame a tough first set to advance to the Rio Open quarter-finals with a 7-6 (7/2), 6-1 win over Argentina’s Federico Delbonis on Wednesday. Ferrer joins fellow Spaniard Tommy Robredo in the final eight after the No. 4 seed downed Dusan Lajovic of Serbia 6-2, 6-1 in the outdoor clay tournament. Ferrer is next to face Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci, who came back to claim an upset 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 7 seed Juan Monaco from Argentina. Robredo is to play another Spaniard, Pablo Andujar, who advanced when Martin Klizan of Slovakia withdrew with an injury. In women’s matches at the joint WTA-ATP event, No. 5 Kurumi Nara of Japan beat Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei 6-3, 6-2 to reach the second round. Top-seeded Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic beat Spain’s Silvia Soler-Espinosa 6-4, 6-1 to reach the quarter-finals. Third-seeded Paula Ormaechea of Argentina defeated Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens 7-5, 7-5 to also land in the quarter-finals. Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany is also into the second round, while Poland’s Katarzyna Piter and Nastassja Burnett of Italy won to advance to the quarter-finals.
Gasquet, Tsonga go through
Top-seeded Richard Gasquet and defending champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga both reached the Open 13 quarter-finals with straight-sets wins on Wednesday. After the second-seeded Tsonga beat Nikolay Davydenko 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (10/8), his countryman Gasquet followed up with a 6-3, 6-3 win against Slovenia’s Blaz Kavcic. Gasquet did not face a single break-point and took his opponent’s serve three times. In the remaining first-round matches on Wednesday, there were wins for seventh-seeded Julien Benneteau of France, No. 8 Nicolas Mahut of France, Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut, Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff, Frenchman Michael Llodra and Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania.
Johnson stuns Haas
US qualifier Steve Johnson, ranked 142nd in the world, stunned top seed Tommy Haas on Wednesday to reach the quarter-finals of the ATP Delray Beach Open. Johnson, a two-time US collegiate champion, dominated a third-set tiebreaker to beat world No. 12 Haas 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7/2) for his second career victory over a top-20 player. Spaniard Feliciano Lopez advanced with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over France’s Adrian Mannarino. Another quarter-final was set as South African fourth seed Kevin Anderson and unseeded Australian Marinko Matosevic advanced against ailing opponents Ivo Karlovic and Lleyton Hewitt respectively.