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No more ‘Big Four’ for faltering Federer

Roger Federer insists he can defy his advancing years but increasingly regular defeats have pushed him out of the “Big Four” and tell their own story of decline.

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Just 12 months ago the Swiss great, now aged 32, was back at the top of the world rankings after winning his seventh Wimbledon crown.

But this year has been sobering for the 17-time grand slam champion, who saw his incredible record of 36 consecutive grand slam quarter-finals ended abruptly in the second round at Wimbledon, before an early exit at the US Open.

Thursday’s third round defeat at the Shanghai Masters for the world No.7 — at the hands of flamboyant Frenchman Gael Monfils — was in some ways notable for its lack of shock value.

Expectations have waned. There is no longer the confidence that Federer, who has amassed 77 titles and nearly $US80 million ($A84.84 million) in prize money, will dig deep and produce the magic when he needs it most.

The player himself remains sanguine about his drop down the rankings, as the “Big Four” shrinks to a “Big Three” of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray — yet he insists he can turn his form around.

Following his defeat to Monfils, ranked 42nd in the world, Federer, with just one title to his name this year, spoke about his hopes for a strong end to the season.

He refused to punish himself even though he is in serious danger of missing out on next month’s eight-man, end-of-season World Tour Finals, which he has won a record six times.

“It’s pretty simple — you just keep on working hard, make sure that you get back on winning ways, then you become confident again, sort of get there,” he said.

“It’s just important not to worry too much, to be honest,” he added. “It’s important to keep on doing what I’m doing. Obviously, I might get tougher draws as we move along with my ranking not being in the top four any more. But that’s OK.”

Djokovic, while acknowledging that the Swiss has not played his best tennis over the past year, is wary of writing him off.

“He’s Federer. He’s the top grand slam winner in history. Whenever he plays, wherever he plays, he’s always in the spotlight, he’s always the man to beat,” said the Serb.

“This is fact, and it’s going to stay that way as long as he’s going to play tennis.”

And former Australian great Rod Laver, speaking in Shanghai before Federer’s defeat, predicted the Swiss could yet add to his bulging grand slam collection, most likely at the Australian Open or Wimbledon.

But Federer, who has struggled with back problems this year, has won just one of his past five matches against Nadal in an increasingly lopsided rivalry, and has endured high-profile defeats at the hands of both Djokovic and Murray.

The man who has spent a record total of 302 weeks at world No.1 has perhaps missed the chance to go out in a blaze of glory in the manner of Pete Sampras after his US Open win in 2002.

But the father of twins, who has cut down on the number of tournaments he plays, still apparently loves the game enough to stick around on tour.

Federer may be content to follow the example of fellow 32-year-old Lleyton Hewitt, who continues to play years after he fell from the pinnacle of the game.

Regardless of the swirling debate over his future, it is clear that for Federer, talk of long-term decline is premature.

“My mindset now is, OK, next year is going to be a great year again where I’m not going to have that many points to defend, especially at some very key moments where I consider myself a favourite,” he said before his opener in Shanghai.

“For that reason I’m really looking forward to 2014 already.”

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Rinehart lawyer denies cunning trust plan

Gina Rinehart’s lawyer has dismissed claims that the billionaire had a “cunning plan” in her dealings with the family trust.

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John Hancock and Bianca Rinehart allege their mother acted “deceitfully” and with “gross dishonesty” in her dealings with the family’s $5 billion trust fund, set up in 1988 by her father, Lang Hancock, to benefit her children.

They allege that in 2006, Ms Rinehart changed the constitution of the family company, Hancock Prospecting Pty Limited, in such a way as to prevent her being removed as trustee.

But Ms Rinehart’s barrister Noel Hutley SC, denied the deed was changed in a way to benefit his client.

He dismissed claims that the mining magnate had tweaked the deed in her favour in a “cunning plan, worthy of Baldrick”, in a sarcastic reference to British comedy series Blackadder.

“There is absolutely no substance in any of the allegations advanced,” he told the NSW Supreme Court in Sydney on Friday.

The amended deed, Mr Hutley argued, was an “exemplary example of total fairness” and reflected “complete even handedness”.

Under the terms of the amended deed, the barrister explained, if Ms Rinehart wanted to “get out and retire and turn her mind to philanthropy, or the like” her children would effectively take control of the company.

He also noted that it was “passing strange” that Bianca Rinehart “seemed to be content” to sit on the company board for years under the same articles of the deed she is now complaining about.

Earlier on Friday, Judge Paul Brereton rejected a proposed replacement trustee suggested by Ms Rinehart’s daughter Ginia Rinehart, who is siding with her mother in the dispute, on the basis that there was not enough time to vet the candidate.

The decision came a day after Judge Brereton rejected Bianca Rinehart’s nomination to become trustee of the trust.

John Hancock and Bianca Rinehart are now expected to nominate Adelaide businessman Bruce Carter to be a replacement trustee.

If Mr Carter is not accepted, Mr Hancock will ask to be considered for the role, his barrister Christopher Withers said on Friday.

The case continues in the Supreme Court on Monday.

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Don’t expect too much from jet-lagged Brazil, says Scolari

“Since many were tired after 30-hour flight, we practised one day in an indoor pool and spent another day doing a light workout,” Scolari told reporters in Seoul on Friday.

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“We don’t expect anything. Our players won’t have the best conditions tomorrow.”

Scolari, who led Brazil to World Cup glory in South Korea in 2002, said that his prized striker Neymar would be fit to play in the friendly clash.

Despite the concerns about tiredness, the Confederations Cup winners are favourites to overcome the Koreans, who struggled through their World Cup qualifying campaign before booking a place in Brazil.

Scolari, though, was cautious about the challenge the Koreans would pose now under former skipper Hong Myung-bo, who was appointed head coach in June.

“South Korea has been playing quite well,” the former Portugal, Palmeiras and Chelsea coach said.

“It is advancing to the World Cup for the eighth time now. The record shows it is a strong team.”

South Korea suffered a 2-1 home loss to Croatia last month after thrashing Haiti 4-1 and have slipped to 58th in the FIFA rankings. Their lowest position was 62nd in 1996.

Midfielder Ramires echoed his coach’s sentiments about the effects the long trip to Seoul had taken on the squad and the challenge the twice Asian champions posed.

“My condition is to be honest not so good due to the 12-hour time difference but we have prepared a lot for this game. We will make it a good game,” the Chelsea player said.

“One of the important reasons we came to Korea earlier than usual is to get over the jet lag.”

Brazil thrashed Australia 6-0 in a friendly match in September as they continue preparations ahead of hosting the World Cup next year.

But Ramires said he expected a tougher challenge from the Socceroos’ Asian Football Confederation rivals, who look unlikely to match the achievements of the 2002 team who finished fourth at their home World Cup.

“I heard 80 percent of the players on the Korean team are currently playing abroad, which means the game tomorrow will be difficult,” he warned.

Ramires’s team mate at club and international level, David Luiz, also talked up the challenge of the Koreans, highlighting two players to watch out for but admitting he knew little about the others in the squad.

“I think South Korea is one of the strongest teams in the world. I know that nine of them are playing in Europe and that Kim Bo-kyung, who is playing in England as a midfielder, is an outstanding player,” the shaggy-haired defender said.

“I also remember Son Heung-min of Leverkusen. Other than two, however, there is no player I know by name.”

Brazil will head to China after Saturday’s match to face Zambia in Beijing on Tuesday.

(Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore, editing by Ed Osmond)

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AEC will rob me of win: Palmer

Clive Palmer believes the Australian Electoral Commission will “rig” the Fairfax recount and deliver victory to his LNP opponent.

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Mr Palmer says he’s odds on to lose the contest with the LNP’s Ted O’Brien, despite finishing ahead in two previous counts.

“I think in the end Ted O’Brien will win because the AEC will put him there,” Mr Palmer told AAP on Friday.

“I’ve said that while I’ve been leading all along because the system is very corrupt.

“I’ve got great confidence in the AEC to rig the result.”

Mr Palmer originally finished with 36 more votes than Mr O’Brien. His lead was whittled down to a mere seven votes after a full redistribution of preferences.

The AEC is now conducting a full recount which isn’t likely to wind-up for at least another week.

While almost 55,000 of the 80,000 votes have been viewed, close to 30,000 have been challenged.

Of those, more than 15,000 have been referred to the AEC in Brisbane for a decision.

Mr Palmer said the situation was ridiculous.

“Both times I’ve won and now they are sending the ballots down to Brisbane to have a different AEC officer to do a different determination on them which is quite amazing,” he said.

However, the mining magnate concedes the Palmer United Party is responsible for the majority of challenges which have questioned the validly of ballot papers.

Mr Palmer is also frustrated by the AEC’s decision to conduct a West Australian senate recount which has put his candidate, Zhenya “Dio” Wang, at risk of losing his spot in the upper house.

He said it was “disturbing” the Electoral Commissioner had overruled a local officer’s refusal of a recount, and ordered all of WA’s 1.25 million above-the-line ballots to be recounted.

The AEC’s Phil Diak didn’t comment on Mr Palmer’s claim that the commission was rigging the Fairfax result.

However, he said the decision to send thousands of ballots to Brisbane was in accordance with Commonwealth electoral law.

Mr Diak said the number of votes referred to the Australian Electoral Commission officer in Brisbane was high due to the amount of challenges, with most coming from PUP scrutineers.

The recount of the WA senate result was also in accordance with the electoral act, he said.

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Bangladesh move to 7-380 v NZ

Young left-hander Mominul Haque scored an impressive 181 as Bangladesh made light of New Zealand’s bowling attack on the third day of the first Test in Chittagong on Friday.

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The 22-year-old anchored the innings to notch up his maiden Test century as the hosts, replying to New Zealand’s 469, cruised to 7-380 by stumps at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury stadium.

Skipper Mushfiqur Rahim (67) added 92 for the fifth wicket with Mominul to lift Bangladesh to 4-301, before both batsmen fell in the space of six deliveries after tea.

Debutant left-arm seamer Corey Anderson, who had conceded just 10 runs in his first 10 overs, was rewarded for his accuracy when he trapped Mominul leg-before.

Rahim fell in Doug Bracewell’s next over, caught by a diving Ross Taylor in the slips, as the hosts slipped to 6-301.

Nasir Hossain (46) and Sohag Gazi (28 not out) frustrated the Black Caps further with a 70-run stand for the seventh wicket on a slow pitch that offered no assistance to the bowlers.

The hosts, who have lost eight and drawn one of their nine Tests against New Zealand, trail by 89 runs with three wickets in hand.

Anderson was the lone New Zealand bowler to emerge with credit in unhelpful conditions, returning with figures of 2-23 from 14 overs.

Fellow newcomer Ish Sodhi went for 1-89 in 22 overs of leg-spin, while left-arm slow bowler Bruce Martin conceded 83 runs in 21 unsuccessful overs.

Mominul, nicknamed Sourav by team-mates for a batting style that reminds them of former India captain Sourav Ganguly, hit 27 boundaries.

He fell just 19 runs short of becoming only the second Bangladesh batsmen after Rahim to score a Test double-century. The skipper Rahim hit 200 against Sri Lanka in Galle in March this year.

Mominul, who came in to bat in his fourth Test match with Bangladesh struggling at 2-8 on Thursday evening, launched a spectacular counter-attack to keep the Black Caps at bay.

Mominul put on 126 for the third wicket with debutant Marshall Ayub, who defended dourly at the other end while making 25.

The pair, resuming at 2-103, took the score to 134 when Ayub was caught behind to hand Anderson his first Test wicket.

Former captain Shakib Al Hasan scored 19 in a fourth-wicket stand of 46 with Mominul when he was caught behind off Kane Williamson in the first over after lunch.

The second Test will be played in Dhaka from October 21 to 25, followed by three one-day internationals and one Twenty20 match.