Isner prevails in Mahut epic

American finally edges past Frenchman in marathon match

Isner prevails in Mahut epic

John Isner eventually got the better of Nicolas Mahut to bring to an end the longest-ever professional tennis match, the American prevailing 70-68 in the final set to move into the second round at Wimbledon.

The contest lasted an astonishing 11 hours and five minutes, the final set alone taking up eight hours and 11 minutes.

Back on Court 18, the players resumed at 59-59 on Thursday and the match remained on serve with both continuing to perform clinically on their own delivery.

Indeed, both men amassed more than one hundred aces during the course of the match, 23rd seed Isner Booming down 112 and French rival Mahut producing 103.

But Isner eventually made a decisive move in the 138th game of the final set as he forced a break point at 30-40.

Backhand winner

Despite getting in a big first serve, Mahut could not put his opponent away as he came to the net and the big American sealed victory as he ripped a backhand pass down the line.

Both players were presented with trophies to commemorate the match at its conclusion with Tim Henman and Ann Jones amongst those present to pass on their congratulations after a clash that will always have a place in the annals at SW19.

Isner now faces Thiemo De Bakker lies in the second round, the Dutchman having won an epic of his own in the first round - beating Santiago Giraldo 16-14 in the final set of his first encounter.

The American said of his gallant opponent after the match: "The guy's an absolute warrior. It stinks someone had to lose.


"To share this with him was an absolute honour. Maybe we'll meet again somewhere down the road and it won't be 70-68."

Mahut was gracious in defeat, admitting that despite the gruelling nature of the contest it had been a tussle savoured by both men.

"At this moment I'm just really thankful. It was amazing today," Mahut stated.

"John deserved to win. He served unbelievable, he's a champion. It was really an honour to play the greatest match ever at the greatest place for tennis. It was very long but I think we both enjoyed it."


Four British soldiers drown in Afghanistan canal

Four British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan after their vehicle drove off the road into a deep canal at night.

It is understood that all four men were drowned when their 18 ton Ridgback armoured vehicle plunged into the Nar-e-Bughra canal while travelling to an incident at a nearby checkpoint.

Colleagues believed to be travelling in a second vehicle were unable to rescue the men from the deep and fast flowing canal that provides irrigation for much of central Helmand.

The accident happened at 11pm on Wednesday night and it is likely that the driver of the Ridgback was travelling using night vision aids rather than headlights in an area that is under threat of IEDs (improvised explosive devices).

The track next to the canal is unmarked and has no crash barriers. It is also the first time soldiers have been killed in the Ridgback which has proven very resilient against IEDs.

Three of the soldiers were from the 1 Bn Mercian Regiment along with a soldier from the 1 Bn the Yorkshire Regiment who was attached to the Mercians.

The soldiers, part of a Police Advisory Team, were killed in what the Ministry of Defence called a “vehicle incident” near the town of Gereshk.

The deaths bring the total British fatalities for this month to 18, the worst since last August. The most killed in a month came last July when 22 died when the Panther’s Claw operation was underway.

The total number of British dead in Afghanistan now stands at 307 since 2001.

Lt Col James Carr-Smith, the British military spokesman in Helmand,: said: “It is with great sadness I must inform you that four soldiers were killed last night in northern Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand Province. They were part of a team that was travelling to assist in an incident at a nearby check point when they were killed in a vehicle incident. They will be sorely missed and their actions will not be forgotten. We will remember them.”

Next of kin have been informed and have asked for a 24 hour period of grace before further details are released.


McChrystal row reflects Washington nerves

President Barack Obama followed by Gen David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert GatesDespite the change of personnel, there should be no great problem keeping US policy in Afghanistan on track

BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson, who knows both Gen Stanley McChrystal and the man who will take over his duties, Gen David Petraeus, looks at what Gen McChrystal's sacking reveals about the Obama administration.

US President Barack Obama is lucky to have a general as good as David Petraeus to put into the job vacated by Stanley McChrystal. It means there should be no great problem keeping US policy in Afghanistan on track.

A stronger, more self-confident president would have given Gen McChrystal a public roasting, then told him in as many words to get on with the job and keep his mouth shut in future

The BBC's John SimpsonMore comment and analysis from around the web

The trouble is that policy was starting to be questioned even before Gen McChrystal's mild indiscretion brought his career to an abrupt end.

And the manner of President Obama's reaction to a few remarks quoted in Rolling Stone magazine is already being interpreted as showing the president's weakness, rather than his strength.

A stronger, more self-confident president would have given Gen McChrystal a public roasting, then told him in as many words to get on with the job and keep his mouth shut in future.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (L) talks with US Special Representative Richard Holbrooke (2nd L), US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry (2nd R) and US General Stanley McChrystal (L) at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on 22 June2010The Afghan government will miss McChrystal, who understood the importance of popular support

Even though Gen Petraeus is a remarkably safe pair of hands, Gen McChrystal will be sadly missed in Afghanistan.

The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai will miss him, because he understood the importance of winning the support of the Afghan people in fighting the Taliban - who, he said in an interview with the BBC some months ago, do not like the Taliban or want to have them back in power.

"It's not a popular movement, and so what we need to do is correct some of the ways we operated in the past," he went on. In particular, he has done everything he could to prevent the troops under his command from killing Afghan civilians.

His allies, particularly the British, will miss him too. Gen McChrystal is an anglophile with a Special Forces background. That tends to bring with it a closeness with and respect for the British special forces.

He was a particular favourite with the SAS, and not long ago was the guest of honour at a big dinner at their headquarters in Hereford.

Of course, it was unwise of him and his press advisers, who were experienced and able, to forget over a period of a fortnight that they had a journalist in their midst.

But the general's transgressions were pretty mild. Only a government as nervous as President Obama's about seeming weak and indecisive would have reacted so fiercely.


The problem is that the reasons for Gen McChrystal's irritation with Washington have not gone away.

There is a clear lack of decision about the way the war should be fought, and about whether and how there should be negotiations with the Taliban.

Gen Petraeus has views which are no less clear-cut than Gen McChrystal's, but he knows how to dress them up diplomatically

The BBC's John Simpson

On Monday, this indecision cost the job of the most senior British diplomat in charge of Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles. He is now on "extended leave" for disagreeing with the latest views in Washington about how to deal with the Taliban.

The politicians and soldiers involved in directing US policy are fighting among themselves, and the battle can be vicious.

Gen McChrystal, one of the ablest commanders America has produced during the last few decades, has fallen victim to this in-fighting as much as to his own bluntness and lack of diplomacy.

He wanted a much more clear-cut approach, free from the lack of decision and the squabbling that has caused such problems in Washington.

He suffered last year as President Obama put off a decision for month after month before agreeing to follow Gen McChrystal's (and Gen Petraeus's) advice about the way forward in Afghanistan. And he was too straightforward to keep his feelings entirely hidden.


Gen Petraeus, his superior officer and mentor who will now take on his job, will not make the same mistakes. Gen Petraeus has views which are no less clear-cut than Gen McChrystal's, but he knows how to dress them up diplomatically.

(He is, incidentally, no less of an anglophile and an admirer of the SAS than Gen McChrystal.)

As a man with an interest in the classics, Gen Petraeus has always followed the Latin injunction Fortiter in re, suaviter in modo (be tough in your aims, but smooth in the way you put them into practice).

Fighting a war with a nervous would-be micro-manager back in the White House and a swarm of potential critics will require all the toughness and smoothness at his disposal.

But we can be sure Gen Petraeus will be too canny to let his hair down within the earshot of any journalist.


Mining shares weaken as threat of Australia's supertax still looms

Markets become aware that change of Australian prime minister does not necessarily mean change in plans to tax miners' profits

A BHP Billiton reclaimer in Perth
A BHP Billiton iron ore facility in Western Australia. Photograph: Tim Wimborne/Reuters

Mining groups face a long period of uncertainty over the introduction of a controversial supertax in Australia following a change of leadership in the country, City analysts are warning.

Welsh-born Julia Gillard became Australian prime minister on Wednesday after Kevin Rudd stood down before a leadership ballot had been held. Rudd had backed a plan to slap a 40% tax on mining groups' profits, but large companies such as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto said such a move had threatened $20bn worth of investment in the country. The tax would be imposed in addition to corporation tax and other royalty rates, and the miners claimed it would see their total tax rate rise from 40%-50% to 50%-57%.

Initially, mining shares rose on hopes the tax might be withdrawn by the new regime, but such a climbdown would cause financial problems for the government, which is trying to move its budget back into surplus by 2013. Indeed, Gillard said she agreed with the idea that mining companies should pay more tax, although she promised to review the situation and conduct negotiations. BHP welcomed the prospect of talks but Rio maintained any new tax should not apply to existing projects and should be set at an internationally competitive rate.

Analysts at UBS said they still believed the supertax would be introduced by the ruling Labor party, although it was likely to be watered down. But analyst Olivia Ker added: "Given the proposed new negotiation, the resolution of details may now be further in the future, opening up a longer period of uncertainty for the miners. We currently estimate a 18% impact to Rio, 15% impact to BHP, and 7% for Xstrata from the tax. We consider this the worst case scenario and see potential upside from here."

Ahead of Rudd's resignation, there was speculation that Labor could easily lose the forthcoming election in October, and the conservative opposition has already said it would not proceed with the tax.

Mining shares moved lower in London, with worries about global demand in the wake of poor US housing figures and cautious comments about the pace of economic recovery from the US Federal Reserve adding to the uncertainties over the Australian tax.

The miners most affected by the Australian situation all fell sharply. At the close Rio Tinto had lost 108p to £32.82, Xstrata was down 32.7p at 985.3p and BHP Billiton was 31p lower at £19.20. Other miners were hit by worries of a global slowdown in demand for commodities, with Kazakhmys losing 59p to £11.10 and ENRC down 44p at 967p.


Sarkozy meets Thierry Henry over World Cup fiasco

PARIS — Football star Thierry Henry met Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee palace on Thursday as the president demanded answers over the French team's humiliating exit from the World Cup.

Henry flew in from South Africa and was taken in a limousine provided by the French presidency to meet with Sarkozy, who has drawn criticism for making football an affair of state after calling for heads to roll over the debacle.

No details were released from their meeting but the shamed players' homecoming turned into a morbid spectacle as television channels broadcast live pictures of their team plane landing and cars whisking them away.

France reacted with a mix of humiliation and anger to the team's elimination from the tournament which came after two defeats, one draw, a players' strike and foul-mouthed squabbles in the dressing room.

Sarkozy, a big football fan, on Wednesday called a meeting of government ministers on the matter and asked them "to make sure that those responsible meet the consequences of this disaster," a presidential statement said.

"He also asked ministers to see that no financial benefits are paid to any of the France team."

Sarkozy's opponents criticised him for interfering but press reports said that Henry, France's all-time top goal-scorer, had himself requested the meeting.

"That the president is taking charge of football is not a normal situation but we are not facing a normal situation," said deputy Thierry Mariani, a member of Sarkozy's UMP party.

"Football is part of our country's image. Restoring our image is the head of state's duty," he said.

A group of non-governmental organisations including Oxfam said Sarkozy had scrapped a meeting with them to discuss this weekend's Group of 20 summit, in order to make time for Henry.

The Elysee presidential palace insisted in a statement that the meeting had been shifted "not because of the president's meeting with Thierry Henry... but because of constraints linked to the preparation of the G8 and G20 summits."

Government spokesman Luc Chatel savaged the team on Wednesday, saying they lacked "respect, team spirit, pride and enough dignity to wear the shirt of any club." He singled out France's unpopular coach Raymond Domenech.

Many fans have written off the team, known as Les Bleus, as spoiled millionaires led by an incompetent coach and unworthy of the blue jersey worn by the 1998 world champions.

Tens of thousands of French fans across the country booed the team during Tuesday's broadcast of their limp 2-1 defeat to hosts South Africa, even cheering ironically when South Africa scored.

Florent Malouda -- the only Frenchman to have found the back of the net in the tournament -- promised that the players would work better with Domenech's replacement, Laurent Blanc.

"Me, I'll stay on," he was quoted as saying by the newspaper Le Parisien.

"We have a responsibility to rebuild what we have destroyed."


Spain train hits summer solstice partiers, 12 dead

CASTELLDEFELS, Spain — The last thing they heard was the piercing whistle of an oncoming train.

Moments later, dozens of mostly Latin American immigrants who crossed the tracks instead of using an underground passageway to reach a beach party in this seaside resort were dead or injured, their body parts strewn among the rails.

The express train that barreled through the station in northeastern Spain plowed into a group of young men and women that included Ecuadoreans, Chileans, Colombians and Bolivians — leaving 12 people dead, injuring 14 and turning a night of summer solstice celebration into carnage.

Spain's deadliest train accident since 2003 took place during a nationwide ritual on the longest day of the year called Noche de San Juan, or the night of St. John, when the blazing Spanish sun sets at 9:30 p.m.

The crowd got off a commuter train in the beach resort of Castelldefels, a 20-minute train ride outside of Barcelona, shortly before midnight Wednesday. Many jammed an underpass leading to the beach, but about 30 others climbed down from the platform and tried to scurry across the tracks, witnesses said.

Seconds later, a long-distance train that does not stop at the station crashed into the youths at high speed as its drivers sounded the whistle.

Marcelo Cardona, who was on the commuter train, said everyone aboard had been looking forward to dancing around a bonfire on the Mediterranean shore.

"The euphoria of getting off the train immediately became screams. There were people screaming, 'My daughter! My sister!'" said Cardona, a 34-year-old Bolivian. He said he saw "mutilated people, blood everywhere, blood on the platform."

Most of the victims were Latin American immigrants, said Andres Cuantero, head of a team of psychologists sent to counsel grieving relatives. Ecuador's consul for Barcelona, Freddy Arellano Ruiz, told reporters there were victims from his country, and from Bolivia, Chile and Colombia.

As the investigation got under way Thursday, the chairman of the state railway company RENFE, Teofilo Serrano, said he was "almost certain" the long-distance train was not exceeding the speed limit as it traveled through the station. He said he did not know how fast it was going.

The Spanish news agency Europa Press quoted unnamed RENFE officials as saying the train was doing 139 kilometers per hour (87 mph) and the driver tested negative for alcohol and was in shock. RENFE refused to confirm or deny the report.

The Noche de San Juan celebration takes place across Spain but with particular zeal in the Catalonia region where Barcelona is the regional capital. People light bonfires in town squares and on beaches, dance around them, drink beer, barbecue food and set off fireworks.

Felipe Elmaji, a 29-year-old Moroccan traveling with Cardona, said he heard a "thump, thump of the train hitting people."

Cardona's sister Candy recalled the train's whistle as it tried to warn people to get out of the way. "It was horrible. I can't get that sound out of my head," she said.

Cardona said the underpass was jammed with the overflowing crowd from the train. Mayor Joan Sau blamed recklessness for the deaths.

"If the underpass had been used, we would probably not be talking about this tragedy right now," she said.

But Ruiz said some in the group may have been confused after getting off the commuter train because they did not see signs indicating how to reach the underground passageway. They came across an overpass, but it was blocked off, Ruiz said.

Catalan regional Interior Minister Joan Saura said the identification of the mutilated bodies "will not be easy and it will not be fast."

Except for one woman in her 40s, all of the injured were 19 or younger and two are minors, said Marta Joves, spokeswoman for the Catalonia government's civil protection department. Of the 14 injured, one is in extremely critical condition, two are in critical condition and four have been treated and released, she said.

The Catalan regional president, Jose Montilla, said declared a day of mourning as he visited the accident scene Thursday. Flags flew at half-mast at the town hall in Castelldefels and rail crews hosed down the bloodied train tracks. Spanish King Juan Carlos also canceled the annual celebration held in honor of his Saint's day.

Enrique Sosa, a chef who works near the train station, said he rushed to the scene and helped wash off a 16-year-old boy covered in other people's blood.

"He was shaking," said Sosa, a 37-year-old Uruguayan.

Sosa then lent the boy his cell phone so he could call home.

Spain's worst previous train accident came in 2003, when 19 people died in a collision between passenger and freight trains in the southeastern town of Chinchilla.

Woolls reported from Madrid, and Alan Clendenning contributed to this story from Madrid.


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