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Young and old share a dream: To fetch tennis balls at U.S. Open

A few dozen will be chosen from the competitive tryouts at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center to join veteran ballpersons from previous years, and spend three weeks in August and September working at the tennis championship.

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Those who are hired find out in early July.

For some, the job is a chance to get behind the scenes at the Open, rub shoulders with pro players or list the job experience on a college application.

Some teens trying out admitted that their parents want them to make money over the summer vacation. And a couple giggled that they wanted the free T-shirt from Ralph Lauren, which sponsors the tryouts.

None of those reasons mattered to Arthur Leinbach, a retired Pennsylvania state trooper whose gray-streaked hair set him apart from the mostly teenage crowd.

“I’m 50 and it’s on my bucket list,” said Leinbach, who made the trip to the tennis centre in New York City’s Queens borough from his home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

“Just because you’re old doesn’t mean you can’t stay active and compete with someone half your age – or less than half your age.”

Ballpersons must be at least 14 years old. The pay starts at minimum wage.

They need to be quick, with a strong arm to throw a ball the length of a tennis court, said Tina Taps, manager of the ballpersons program for the United States Tennis Association.

“We’re really looking for athletes who can adapt quickly,” she said.

Confidence helps, too. Some 33,000 people can fill the stands at each session of the tennis championship, and millions watch on television.

“It would be so cool to be on the tennis court with famous tennis players,” said Stephanie Seoane, 16, of Queens, adding that to be near her favourite player, Rafael Nadal, “would be like a dream come true.”

Also trying out was 44-year-old Laura Ortiz, a U.S. Army veteran wearing a prosthetic leg. She was injured in a hit-and-run car accident in 2008.

“Who doesn’t want to do this?” she said.

Altogether, about 275 ballpersons work day and night sessions at the Open, which starts Aug. 25, organizers said.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Jan Paschal)

Aussie Wimbledon field biggest in 13 years

Australia will field its largest singles contingent at Wimbledon in 13 years after three men secured main draw spots through qualifying.

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Former top-ranked junior Luke Saville and big-serving Sam Groth will make their main draw debuts at the grass court grand slam, starting on Monday, with James Duckworth earning a second successive start.

All three won matches in the third and final round of qualifying at Roehampton on Thursday but Ashleigh Barty and Alex Bolt missed chances to join them.

The addition of Saville, Groth and Duckworth takes to 11 the number of Australians lining up at the All England Club next week.

It is the nation’s largest representation since 2001, when Pat Rafter – one of 12 Australians in the field – lost an epic final to Goran Ivanisevic.

Saville, Groth and Duckworth join Lleyton Hewitt, Bernard Tomic, Marinko Matosevic, Matt Ebden and Nick Kyrgios in the field.

It’s the first time Australia has had eight men in the main draw since 2000 but Hewitt is the highest-ranked player at No.46.

Samantha Stosur, Casey Dellacqua and Jarmila Gajdosova will line up in the women’s singles.

South Australian Saville, 20, scored a gutsy 2-6 6-3 5-7 7-6 (9-7) 8-6 win over Swiss Yann Marti to secure only his second grand slam start after earning a wildcard berth at last year’s Australian Open.

The former Wimbledon and Australian Open junior champion, ranked 233rd in the world, defeated top seed Thomaz Bellucci in the first round of qualifying.

“I’ve been playing great tennis all week and I really like the grass,” Saville said.

“It’s been a great year for me so far … I won three Futures at the start of the year and that really turned my season around after a pretty poor 2013.

“Now to qualify for my first grand slam, it’s an unbelievable feeling.”

Groth defeated Simone Bolelli 6-2 4-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 to clinch a deserved start, having just missed out on a wildcard when he lost to Kyrgios in the final of last week’s Challenger event in Nottingham.

The 26-year-old, who dropped serve for the first time in 18 sets of tennis in Thursday’s win, recently moved to a career-high ranking of 125.

“This is a tournament I’ve wanted to play ever since I was a young kid,” Groth said.

“For me it’s an unbelievable feeling to qualify.”

Duckworth beat Austrian Martin Fischer 6-4 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 to ensure a seventh successive main draw grand slam appearance.

The 22-year-old has been in impressive form, pushing second seed Tomas Berdych all the way in a second-round loss at Queen’s Club.

“I feel like I can definitely do some damage here,” Duckworth said after qualifying.

Bolt, 21, fell short of a grand slam debut in a 3-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 6-4 loss to Russian Konstantin Kravchuk.

Barty missed a chance to boost Australia’s female contingent to four, falling 6-7 (7-5) 6-3 6-4 to Estonian Anett Kontaveit.

The men’s and women’s singles draws will be determined on Friday.

Steele bolts into one-shot lead at Travelers

Americans Chad Campbell, Joe Durant, Jeff Maggert, Scott Langley and Eric Axley carded 64s while 2010 winner and reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson opened with a 67.

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Steele, who won his only PGA Tour title at the 2011 Texas Open, made a sizzling start as he holed out from 129 yards to eagle the par-four first.

He then birdied the second, seventh and eighth, where he drained a 27-footer, to reach the turn in five-under 30 before picking up further shots at the 11th, 12th and 13th.

“The thoughts crept in,” Steele, 31, told reporters about the opportunity to shoot a 59 with three more birdies required over his last five holes. “If they don’t creep in, do I shoot 59, do I shoot 65?

“It definitely was in the back of my mind, so probably amped me up a little bit more, so made everything a little bit tougher.”

Steele was delighted, though, to reap reward on Thursday after playing some good golf over the past few months without getting the scores he felt he deserved, including missed cuts in his previous two tournaments.

“I haven’t been getting a lot out of it,” said the Californian, who has recorded just two top-10s in 18 starts on the 2013-14 PGA Tour, his best finish a tie for sixth at the Phoenix Open in February.

“I felt like I was really playing well at Byron Nelson and at Memorial and missed both cuts. I was just getting a little sloppy, a little lazy behind the ball, not seeing the shot, not getting into it the right way.”

American world number five Matt Kuchar opened with a 66 while compatriot Ken Duke, who won last year’s Travelers Championship in a playoff with Chris Stroud, returned a 65.

Australian Oliver Goss, one of four players in the field making their professional debuts this week, carded a 70. Erik Compton, a double heart-transplant recipient who tied for second at the U.S. Open four days ago, posted a 74.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)

Explainer: What the UNESCO reef decision means

Australia has been given seven months to prove it is protecting the Great Barrier Reef or risk having the reef listed as in danger, which could be of great embarrassment to both the federal and state government.

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The United Nations’ World Heritage Committee met in Doha to discuss the conservation states of World Heritage Listed sites around the world, including the Great Barrier Reef.

Delegates praised Australia for improvements in the reef’s water quality but said they had several concerns about the site.

Abbott Point coal development a major concern

The Committee raised several points of concern including coastal development, climate change and ships being grounded in the area.

The reef is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, but is under pressure not only from climate change and the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, but agricultural runoff and development linked to mining.

One major concern raised was the plan to expand the Abbott Point coal developement. The expansion would involve dumping three million cubic tonnes of dredged material in the marine park area.

The report said, it “regrets the State Party’s approval for dumping 3 million cubic million cubic metre of dredge material inside the property prior to having undertaken a comprehensive assessment of alternative and potentially less impacting development and disposal options.”

Claims by Australia that the dredging would be offset by an 150 per cent increase in overall improvement were called into question due to the lack of concrete proposal.

UNESCO has asked Australia to submit an updated report on what it was doing to protect the natural wonder.

Deferral was a ‘tick of approval’

Queensland’s state Environment Minister, Andrew Powell, said the deferral was a ‘tick of appoval’.

“I welcome this decision by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, which gives Queensland a big tick and it gives the work we are doing a big tick,” state Environment Minister Andrew Powell said.

   

“Our strong plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef is already producing positive results, creating a brighter future that Queenslanders and tourists from around the world can enjoy.

   

“This decision is also a win for logic and science rather than rhetoric and scaremongering.”

Mr Powell said the Queensland government was working on coastal development projects, including the one at Abbott Point.

   

“We have significantly scaled back the development at Abbot Point and imposed more than 140 conditions on the project,” he said.

   

“We have delivered our Ports Strategy, limiting development to existing port areas for a decade, and we have outlined our plans to enshrine that commitment in legislation.”

   

But Green groups said the government was on its final warning, and had “clearly not lived up to the standards expected by the international community”.

   

“The World Heritage Committee has resisted intense pressure from the Australian and Queensland governments to water down its decision on the reef,” said WWF-Australia reef campaigner Richard Leck, who is in Doha for the committee’s annual meeting.

   

“Instead, the committee has put Australia firmly on notice to take stronger action to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

   

“This is a victory for the millions around the world who say our reef is not a dump.”

$US5b irregularities at China fund, banks

Irregularities amounting to more than $US5 billion ($A5.

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41 billion) have been found at China’s sovereign wealth fund and two large state-owned banks, according to the state auditor, offering a glimpse into the opaque management of government-controlled firms.

China Investment Corporation (CIC), Bank of China and Agricultural Development Bank of China violated regulations in areas including asset selling, loan issuance and fraudulent invoicing, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

“The audit found CIC breached rules on overseas investment and risk control, domestic subsidiaries operation and financial management,” the NAO said in a statement.

The fund’s “financial management was relatively weak”, it said in the document, published late Wednesday.

CIC was established in 2007 to pursue higher returns from part of the country’s foreign exchange reserves, the world’s largest, and had assets of more than $US575 billion at the end of 2012.

One of its subsidiaries sold stakes in a securities firm in 2011 at their original purchase price, losing 1.26 billion yuan ($A215 million) on their market value at the time, the NAO said in the statement.

Another CIC subsidiary made unauthorised investments in property developments totalling more than 8.2 billion yuan by March 2013, the NAO said.

In 2012, CIC paid out nearly $US9 million ($A9.74 million) in commissions to brokers without evidence of any actual business being carried out or proper approval, it said.

CIC on Thursday vowed to address the problems.

“The senior management of CIC pays intense attention to the auditing and has… drafted a rectification plan,” it said in a statement emailed to AFP. “(We) will rectify (the problems) one by one.”

The NAO said in two other statements on Wednesday that Bank of China (BOC) and Agricultural Development Bank of China (ADBC) both breached regulations in granting loans and balance management.

BOC issued illicit bankers’ acceptance bills and letters of credit worth more than 3.2 billion yuan from 2009, NAO said.

ADBC issued loans of more than 6.7 billion yuan inappropriately between 2006 and the audit, which took place in May-August last year, it said. For BOC, the figure was 6.4 billion yuan from 2004.

CIC and ADBC also paid out dozens of millions of yuan in expenses claims on the basis of fake invoices, according to the NAO.

China’s state-owned companies generally operate in a secretive manner and reports on their losses have been rare.

Deals they strike are often influenced by political decisions and corruption is reported from time to time, in many cases with people with links to powerful officials buying up state-owned companies’ assets well below market rates.

Assange reveals extradition fears

Julian Assange believes there is a “significant risk” of being extradited to the United States if he leaves the Ecuador embassy in London.

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Speaking inside the embassy on Thursday on the second anniversary of his dramatic arrival, the WikiLeaks founder made it clear he will remain inside the building until the impasse over his future is broken.

He is wanted for questioning in Sweden over sex allegations by two women but fears being sent to the US if he leaves London.

He told a handful of journalists that threats had been made against his children and his mother since he has been living in the embassy.

A group of supporters held a vigil outside the embassy to mark the anniversary.

Mr Assange claimed the bill for mounting a round the clock police guard was STG6.5 million ($A11.9 million).

Assange said the work of WikiLeaks was continuing, even though he can not leave the building, adding that money was still being donated to the whistleblowing publisher despite a banking blockade.

He estimated that the ban on collecting money, imposed by leading credit card companies, had cost WikiLeaks tens of millions of pounds.

He spoke by videolink to Ecuador’s foreign minister Ricardo Patino in Quito, who assured him that Ecuador would continue to “protect” him after it granted Assange political asylum.

He said security at the London embassy had been increased, adding: “We will protect Julian Assange for as long as necessary, and as long as Julian wants.”

Patino met UK Foreign Secretary William Hague during a visit to London last year and agreed to set up a working group to try to break the deadlock.

He revealed the group had not yet met because no agreement could be reached on the “specific objectives”.

The process had “stalled”, while the legal situation had reached an “impasse”, he said.

The minister said the delay in dealing with Assange’s future was having an impact on his quality of life and his health.

“Imagine the anguish of his family.”

Assange fears that if he goes to Sweden he will be taken to the United States, where a long-running investigation is continuing into WikiLeaks and its involvement with former solder Chelsea Manning, who has been jailed for 35 years over the leaking of secret intelligence.

WikiLeaks has said a fresh challenge will be made next week to the Swedish authorities after “new information” was received.

Assange has offered to be interviewed by Swedish investigators inside the London embassy, but they have declined to travel to the UK to question him about the allegations.

“I am advised by my lawyers that there remains a serious risk of being extradited to the United States, given the ongoing criminal investigation by the department of justice. No person would willingly subject themselves to such risks.”

Boston bombings suspect wants trial moved

The prime suspect in the Boston Marathon attacks has asked a US court to move his trial to Washington DC claiming he will not be tried fairly in the northeastern city.

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The April 15, 2013 attacks, which killed three people and injured 264 others, were allegedly planned and carried out by ethnic Chechen brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Tamerlan was shot dead by police on April 19, 2013, after killing an officer.

Dzhokhar is due to stand trial in Boston in November, accused of 30 federal charges and could face the death penalty if convicted.

But in a 10-page court document filed late on Wednesday, his lawyers asked that his trial be moved to Washington DC to assure him the fairest possible trial.

A survey revealed “an overwhelming presumption of guilt” in Boston, “prejudgment as to the penalty that should be imposed” and “an extraordinarily high number” of potential jurors who attended the 2013 marathon or who know someone who did, it said.

“Our preliminary review of the information collected leads us to conclude that prejudice must be presumed in the District of Massachusetts,” the document said.

“Accordingly, we seek a change of venue.”

The lawyers presented findings from surveys in Boston, the western district of Massachusetts, Manhattan and Washington DC, presenting the federal capital as the “least prejudicial”.

They pointed out that publicity, local impact and “galvanising community reaction” changed the venue in the trial of the Oklahoma City bombing, arguing that in this case, the community impact was even greater.

Last month, lawyers for Tsarnaev also asked that capital punishment be ruled out for their client, a request prosecutors opposed in a separate document.

Federal death penalty cases are relatively rare in the United States and are often reserved for the most heinous and notorious crimes.

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed in 2001, following the 1995 bombing of a federal office building that killed 168 people and injured more than 600.

He was tried in Denver.

Commission unlocks Marist mysteries

A mysterious memo about “Frater Bart”, an email from a lawyer suggesting a pedophile brother be kept under wraps after doing time and a sudden journey to Canada.

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All three surfaced at a royal commission hearing into how the Marist Brothers Australia handled child sex abuse allegations against two men who over decades molested children at schools in the ACT, Queensland and NSW.

Below the surface is the devastation of victims.

The commission sitting in Canberra this week heard first from survivors. There were the victims of Gregory Sutton, jailed for 12 years in 1996 after pleading guilty to 67 charges of sexually assaulting 15 different children, and those who as children fell foul of predator John Chute, known as Brother Kosta, who was sentenced to six years’ jail in 2008.

The mysterious memo was revealed when Brother Alexis Turton – who has been vice-provincial and provincial, and until 2012 head of the order’s professional standards office – entered the witness box.

The confidential memo for the attention of church lawyers detailed Sutton’s history with the order back to 1974 – when he was grooming and molesting boys at a north Queensland primary school – up to August 18, 1989, when Turton sent him to a Canadian therapy centre.

The memo was detailed and contained the kind of information only the heads of the order would know.

Observers know this because the order did not keep file notes about the predatory brothers or, it seems, tell principals of schools to which they were sent about their history.

Only the top brass held all the information.

But back to the August 20, 1989, memo.

The date is important because it was two days after Turton put “Frater Bart” – aka Greg Sutton – on a flight to Canada and the Southdown clinic.

It was also seven days after Turton learned “Bart” had confessed to the father of an ex-student, who took their own life, that he had interfered with his son in 1975 when the boy was 11.

The sting in the memo was in the second last paragraph. It said that, five days before “Bart” was sent off to get himself cured, “Alexis” was told authorities were investigating parent complaints the brother had sexually molested two girls.

“Police were investigating and regarded it extremely seriously,” the memo said.

This could imply Turton put Sutton on the plane to avoid police – an interpretation apparently supported by Sutton’s statements to his Canadian counsellors shortly after his arrival, when he was still having difficulty accepting he needed therapy.

But Turton, 74, rejects this and insists he didn’t know about the police investigation until after Sutton left.

“I am totally mystified by this document. I can’t make any other assessment of it”, he told commission counsel Simeon Beckett.

Turton could not recall the memo, had no idea why Sutton was called “Bart” and couldn’t recall having conversations with Tony Carroll from the legal firm for which the memo was written.

For two days, the senior religious leader had been telling the commission he often consulted legal experts. At one stage he told how he would need to consult them on what type of “inappropriate” sexual behaviour was criminal.

And Keith Turton – who gave his life to God and the Marists at 17 and became Brother Alexis Turton – was visibly shocked when Beckett asked him sharply: “Is that your honest evidence today, sir?

The commission counsel withdrew the question when a church lawyer objected.

Turton and others who joined the order – some at 15 – appeared naive in their evidence about handling sex abuse matters.

But however they dealt with it, for the Marist Brothers the consequences of not informing police risks the possibility of being charged with concealing a crime.

An email from another lawyer in 2009, present at the hearing, sheds more light.

This time the advice was about insurance indemnity against claims arising out of abuse by Brother Kosta Chute.

Chute had said in psychiatric reports he never got adequate help when he sought it.

When the lawyer visited him in jail noted he had joined the order very young.

“Trouble is, fundamentally he has high honesty and integrity levels and all of my `suggestions’ about not dumping on others excessively go out the Window (sic) pretty quickly once there is a conversation under way,” the lawyer reported.

“The reality is he came in at a very young age, was assaulted, and back there then his conduct was probably not regarded as being at the serious level – naive touching only involving a good man with a fair bit of self discernment not a classic predator.

“We would need to keep him well away from the legal arena upon release”.

This was the second child sexual abuse commission hearing for Turton.

In January, he agreed when commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan put to him that all things considered there was a “significant problem” in the Marist Brothers order.

Islamic leaders mull response to Jerusalem reference

Federal Attorney-General George Brandis last night refused to be drawn into debate over his controversial East Jerusalem comments which have prompted a furious reaction from Middle Eastern diplomats.

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The anger at a perceived policy shift was sparked by Mr Brandis’ comments to a Senate estimates committee this month, where he said the term “occupied” East Jerusalem was “freighted with pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful”.

Speaking to the ABC last night, Mr Brandis declined to comment on the fallout to his comments, which he attributed to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

“I represent the Foreign Minister in the Senate,” he said.

“I was asked some questions in Senate estimates, to avoid confusion, the morning after I answered those questions, and in consultation with the Foreign Minister, I read into the record a statement authorised by her, it is perfectly obvious from that statement, there was never any policy change. Australia always and continues to support the two-state solution.”

When asked by the ABC’s Sarah Ferguson if he regarded East Jerusalem as occupied or disputed, Mr Brandis replied:

“I’m not going to indulge your desire for me to play word games. I have nothing to add to what I said in the Senate Estimates committee and I have nothing to add to what the Foreign Minister said today, both of which are entirely consistent with each other.”

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull today further clarified the government’s stance.

“I do not want to downplay the importance of language, but I do want to emphasise that Australia’s policy in support of a two-state solution is absolutely where it always has been. So there has been no change of policy. Julie Bishop made that very clear to ambassadors from Islamic countries who called on her yesterday,” he told ABC early on Friday.

“He [Brandis] said the government preferred to use disputed rather occupied, but really the policy remains the same and there has been no change in policy. That is a critically important matter and that is what we’re seeking to reassure everybody about following the Attorney’s remarks in the Senate.”

Ms Bishop met with ambassadors from Islamic nations yesterday, where she repeated that there had been no change in policy.

Further reaction to the comments are expected shortly, following a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Saudi Arabia.

The Guardian reports Foreign Ministers from 57 Islamic nations are considering a statement of condemnation over Australia’s move to refer to East Jerusalem as “disputed” rather than “occupied”.

 

 

Loco-motion songwriter Gerry Goffin dies

Songwriter Gerry Goffin, co-author of hits ranging from dance classic The Loco-Motion to Whitney Houston’s Saving All My Love For You, has died aged 75, his ex-wife Carole King says.

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The Loco-Motion was a hit for Australian singer Kylie Minogue, reaching number 3 on the US charts in 1988, after reaching number 1 for two other acts in 1974 and 1962.

Goffin, who wrote some of his biggest hits during his 10-year marriage to singing icon King, died of natural causes at his Los Angeles home, industry journal Variety reported.

“Gerry Goffin was my first love,” said King, who married him in 1959, in a statement issued by her publicist.

“He had a profound impact on my life and the rest of the world. Gerry was a good man and a dynamic force, whose words and creative influence will resonate for generations to come,” she added.

Goffin’s hits written with King include Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and (You Make me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, as well as Some Kind of Wonderful for the Drifters, The Loco-Motion for Little Eva and Pleasant Valley Sunday for The Monkees.

He had seven number ones on the Billboard singles chart including Saving All My Love For You for Houston in 1986, as well as dozens of top-40 records.

“His words expressed what so many people were feeling but didn’t know how to say,” said King, who had two daughters with Goffin.

“If you want to join his loved ones in honouring him, look at the names of the songwriters under the titles of songs. Among the titles associated with me, you’ll often find Gerry’s name next to mine,” she added.

Goffin was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, according to Variety.