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Maria cruises into last eight

DEFENDING champion Maria Sharapova saw off the challenge of Sloane Stephens to reach the quarter-finals at the French Open.

American Stephens is a rising star of the women's game and showed she is not afraid of the big names by beating Serena Williams in the last eight at the Australian Open in January.

The 20-year-old gave a good account of herself against Sharapova on Court Philippe Chatrier, but found the Russian just too tough, going down 6-4 6-3.

Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal found his form at the Open on his 27th birthday to brush aside Kei Nishikori and reach the quarter-finals in Paris.

Nadal certainly looked more like his old self in a 6-4 6-1 6-3 victory over 13th seed Nishikori, striking his forehand with a lot more ferocity and moving better around the court.


Mixed bag for Irish

BOXING: Joe Ward agonisingly crashed out of the European Championships following a freak injury during his bout against Polish light heavyweight Mateusz Tryc at the Palace of Sport in Minsk, Belarus.

The Moate BC (Westmeath) southpaw was completely in control of the last-16 bout when a clash of knees with just 20 seconds remaining in the third and final round TKO'd his ambitions of becoming the first Irish male boxer to win back-to-back European titles.

Ray Moylette, another gold medal winner at the 2011 European Championships, also exited yesterday on a unanimous decision to Turkish light-welter Huseyin Karslioglu.

Tipperary super heavyweight Con Sheehan was unlucky to lose to Georgia's Mikheil Bakhtidze, while Belfast flyweight Michael Conlan outclassed Narek Abgaryan of Armenia.


Gower stokes Ashes

CRICKET: Former England captain David Gower has stoked the fires ahead of this summer's Ashes by describing Australia as a country with no culture and their cricketers of having an "animal mentality".

Asked if England's long-standing rivalry with Australia was a clash of cultures, Gower said: "I'm tempted to say, how can you have a clash of cultures when you're playing against a country with no culture?"

GOLF: Irish amateur Kevin Phelan booked his place at the US Open by winning the qualifying event at the Ritz-Carlton in Bradenton, Florida. The 22-year-old carded rounds of 65 and 70 to finish nine under overall, one clear of John Hahn. "Patience really helped me today," he concluded.