Djokovic-Nadal next installment in top rivalry

Djokovic and Nadal, who have been dominant over the last 15 slams, will be meeting for the 37th time in the championship showdown, surpassing McEnroe and Lendl for the most clashes since tennis turned professional 45 years ago.


A high intensity, high energy, ball-slugging battle should be in the offing between the Spaniard and the Serb, who have staged thrilling five-setters this year in the French Open semi-finals and last year for the Australian Open title.

Asked if he enjoyed playing against Djokovic, Nadal answered with refreshing honesty.

“I prefer to play against another one,” he said with a smile. “But is what it is.

“Talking about a final, I want to play against a player that I have more chances to win. But I played against him a lot of times. Always we played very exciting matches.”

Nadal beat Djokovic 9-7 in the fifth set of their semi-final on his way to winning his eighth French Open and 12th career grand slam title.

Djokovic won their six-hour war in the 2012 Australian Open final and has since added a third Australian title in a row to take his grand slam haul to six.

The rivalry between Roger Federer and Nadal had been the foremost grudge game in the sport in recent years, but with the Swiss grand slam king fading from dominance, Djokovic-Nadal has risen to hottest in tennis.

Nadal leads the series 21-15 and has won five of the last six, but his overall edge was largely built in the first half of the rivalry when he won 14 of their first 18 matches.

The Spaniard, who missed the U.S. Open last year after being sidelined for seven months by a knee injury, has come back with a brilliant 2013 campaign.

After skipping the season’s first slam, the Australian Open won by Djokovic, Nadal has registered nine tournament victories and been perfect this season on hard courts, posting a 21-0 mark on the surface within a tour-best match record of 59-3.

“It’s always the biggest challenge that you can have in our sport now,” Djokovic said about facing Nadal. “He’s the ultimate competitor out there. He fights for every ball and he’s playing probably the best tennis that he ever played on hard courts.

“He hasn’t lost a match on hard court this year and we all knew that over the course of last six, seven, eight years, hard court hasn’t been his favourite surface.

“He lost three matches this year. With no doubt, he’s the best player in the moment this year, no question about it.”


Their Flushing Meadows finals clash will be a rubber match of sorts for Djokovic and Nadal.

The second-seeded Nadal won his only U.S. Open in 2010 against Djokovic. The top-seeded Serb won his only U.S. title the next year against the Spaniard. Monday’s winner will be the year’s only two-time slam champion of 2013.

The showdown will mark the 12th time in the past 15 grand slams dating back to the 2010 French Open that either Djokovic or Nadal will claim the slam title, with Nadal having won six and Djokovic five during the stretch.

The marquee match-up features players with 18 grand slam titles between them, the most in a U.S. Open final since Pete Sampras (13) beat Andre Agassi (7) for the 2002 crown.

Nadal, 27, expects a big battle.

“If both of us are playing at very good level, the match becomes great because we play long rallies, we bring our game to the limit, and becomes a very difficult match for both of us.”

“When you are involved in these kind of matches, you feel special,” the Spaniard said. “Is true we already play a lot of important matches for our career, so that makes that confrontation special.”

The 26-year-old Djokovic, competing in his third major final of the season and fourth successive U.S. Open final, was not cowed by Nadal’s recent run of success.

“He’s very confident, but you know, I know how to play him. Hard court is my most successful surface. I have played him already here twice in the finals. I know what I need to do.”

(Editing by Gene Cherry)

Nadal crowns brilliant year with U.S. Open title

The Spaniard earned his second grand slam crown this season following his French Open triumph, sealing the win when Djokovic dumped a forehand into the net, sending Nadal down onto his back before rolling face down and sobbing in joy.


The triumph improved Nadal’s career total to 13 grand slam wins, moving him one ahead of Australian Roy Emerson and into third on the all-time list behind Roger Federer (17) and Pete Sampras (14).

Nadal, who won the 2010 U.S. Open in a final against Djokovic and then lost their finals rematch in 2011, improved his hard court record to a spotless 22-0 this year and his overall match record to a sensational 60-3.

“Playing against Novak is a very special feeling,” the 27-year-old said at the trophy ceremony. “Probably no one brings my game to the level that Novak does.”

The match was a Tour-record setting 37th meeting between the two rivals, eclipsing the 36 clashes between John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl. Nadal improved his lead in their series to 22-15.

The left-hander from Mallorca, who missed last year’s tournament at Flushing Meadows because of a knee injury, collected prize money of $2.6 million.

Nadal also pocketed an extra $1 million for having topped the standings in the U.S. Open run-up series of events, matching the $3.6 million haul of women’s winner Serena Williams.

“He was too good,” said Australian Open champion Djokovic. “He definitely deserved to win this match and this trophy.

“Obviously it’s disappointing to lose a match like this. But it’s an honour and privilege to be fighting for this trophy.”

The duo have staged some of the most memorable matches in recent seasons, with Djokovic winning a six-hour tilt in the 2012 Australian Open final, and Nadal claiming a classic semi-finals win at Roland Garros by 9-7 in the fifth set.


The quality of tennis rose throughout the match, translating into long rallies, brilliant defence and booming winners that had the centre court on their feet roaring their appreciation.

Among the host of celebrities and public figures watching the game, Queen Sofia of Spain was on hand to cheer on Nadal.

Nadal rewarded his fans with a meticulous opening set, winning with relative ease with a pair of service breaks.

The Spaniard, dashing around the court with speed and ease, handled the windy conditions easily, making just four unforced errors to 14 by Djokovic in the first set.

Djokovic turned up the intensity and outslugged Nadal to win the second set.

The top-seeded Serb claimed a rare service break off Nadal in the sixth game, taking a 4-2 lead by winning an exhausting 54-stroke rally when he handcuffed Nadal with a backhand to his feet.

Djokovic raised both arms above his head and shook them in triumph to cheers from the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd.

The Spaniard had held serve in 81 of 82 games on his way to the final.

But that feeling of exultation for Djokovic was short-lived as Nadal broke right back to bring the set back on serve at 4-3.

Djokovic again showed his determination by seizing the advantage in the next game, breaking Nadal with a backhand crosscourt winner and then ending the set on serve in the next game with a backhand winner down the line.


Djokovic made it three breaks in a row against the formidable Nadal in the opening game of the third set, setting the Spaniard down at love.

Nadal levelled the set in the sixth game, foiling the Serb’s serve to make it 3-3.

The match might have turned three games later.

Facing triple break point at 0-40, the Spaniard fought back ferociously, scrambling for every ball to thwart Djokovic, snuffing out the third break point with his first ace of the match on a 125-mph bullet and held after the second deuce.

That seemed to take some of the fight out of the Serb, who was broken in the next game when Nadal blasted a forehand winner up the line to move one set from victory.

“It’s all my fault,” said Djokovic. “I made some unforced errors in the crucial moments with forehands and dropped the serve twice when I should not have.

“Then he started playing much, much better after that, and I obviously could not recover.”

Sensing victory, Nadal was not to be denied.

The Spaniard broke the 26-year-old Serb with a booming forehand to take a 2-0 lead, and with Djokovic wilting against Nadal’s powerful groundstrokes the world number two broke him again to make it 5-1 before serving out the victory.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford/Frank Pingue)

Czech coach Bilek quits after World Cup loss to Italy

The Czechs have endured a stuttering qualifying campaign under Bilek, beating only Malta and Armenia as they struggled to find the net for a majority of their Group B games.


“I have not met the goal we have set for ourselves and… I offer my resignation,” Bilek said in a statement.

Bilek was never popular with fans due to a string of unconvincing results and conservative tactics but he did gain some success when he guided the Czechs to the Euro 2012 quarter-finals in Poland and Ukraine.

The former midfielder, who scored 11 goals in 35 internationals and played at the 1990 World Cup, took over four years ago after the side failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup finals.

Despite some initial problems, Bilek ensured the Czechs kept up their record of qualifying for every European Championship since the Czech Republic and Slovakia split in 1993.

In Tuesday’s match against Italy in Turin, it looked as if the Czechs might pull off an upset and keep their World Cup hopes alive after they took a 1-0 lead into the second half.

However, two goals within three minutes secured qualification for the hosts and left the Czechs four points adrift of Bulgaria, who occupy second place in the group.

Sitting on nine points from eight matches, the Czechs must win their last two games away to Malta and Bulgaria to have any chance of a securing a playoff spot for finishing second.

The Czech FA indicated that it would select one of Bilek’s assistants to lead the side for the two remaining qualifiers before a permanent coach would be installed.

(Reporting by Michael Kahn; Editing by John O’Brien)

IOC still to get back Armstrong’s Sydney Olympic medal

The American lost his seven Tour de France titles last year and in January admitted to years of performance-enhancing substance use in the most spectacular drugs case in recent years.


Following his public confession, the IOC ordered the return of the bronze medal he won in the time-trial at the Sydney 2000 Games and declared the race results void.

IOC Vice President Thomas Bach, who also heads the IOC’s juridical commission, said the former rider had not challenged the decision to strip him of his medal.

“We still do not have the medal back,” Bach told an IOC session in the Argentine capital. “We will continue to work with the United States Olympic Committee to get this medal back as requested in our decision.

“This (the IOC’s January) decision has been communicated to Mr Armstrong and the USOC. This decision has not been appealed neither by Mr Armstrong, nor by the USOC and what we are lacking, sadly, is getting back the medal. Legally the case for the IOC is closed.”

The once-revered athlete is battling to hang on to what remains of his reputation and his earnings and is fighting several lawsuits, including one from the U.S. Justice Department.

In February, the Justice Department said it was joining a fraud suit filed in 2010 by Floyd Landis, a former Armstrong team mate. Landis filed the suit under a federal law that allows whistle-blowers to report fraud in exchange for a reward.

The U.S. Postal Service paid $40 million from 1998 to 2004 to have Armstrong and his team mates from Tailwind Sports wear its logo during record-breaking wins. At least $17.9 million of these fees went to Armstrong, according to the government.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)

Azarenka’s love affair with New York continues

The Belarusian is so smitten with Flushing Meadows that she now thinks of them as an old lover.


“I would say it’s my husband,” she said on Thursday after her 6-3 6-1 win over Canada’s Aleksandra Wozniak.

“Because we have been together for a long time (we) got really comfortable with each other. Yeah, it’s my husband.”

Azarenka’s affection for hardcourts, the sport’s most physically demanding surface, appears mutual.

Her greatest successes have all come on hardcourts. She has won each of the past two Australian Opens and reached the final of the U.S. Open last year.

“Yeah, (I’m a) hardcourt lover,” she joked.

Azarenka’s popstar boyfriend Redfoo need not worry. He is always in her mid when she goes to play, providing the soundtrack she listens to on her headphones when she walks on court.

Azarenka had few real problems in her second round match with Wozniak.

The blustery winds at the Louis Armstrong Stadium made serving difficult and she was broken three times but the world number two was always in control, cruising to victory in a little over an hour.

“It was a good match. It was very good and solid beginning of the first set, and a good second set,” she said.

“Towards the end I felt like I let her play a little bit and she really went for her shots, so I had to adjust a little bit better.”

Azarenka expects a tougher match from her next opponent in the third round, Alize Cornet of France, after the 26th seed beat Croatia’s Ajla Tomljanovic 6-2 6-2.

“Alize is a great player with a lot of experience. She’s been top 20 before,” Azarenka said.

“She’s a young player. She’s the same age, highly motivated. Yeah, it’s going to be a great match.”

(Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Frank Pingue/Ian Ransom)

Chaser apologises for controversial skit

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says The Chaser team should hang their heads in shame over a sketch about terminally ill children.


The controversial skit has appeared on video sharing website Youtube.

The segment, titled ‘Making a Realistic Wish Foundation’, ended with actor Chris Taylor saying there was no point in making expensive wishes come true as “they’re going to die anyway”.

Mr Rudd said the satirical program was guilty of extremely poor taste, and it was not fair to target sick kids.

“I actually don’t mind The Chaser taking the mickey out of me or any other politician at any time or any place, that’s fine, that’s fair game,” Mr Rudd told reporters.

“But having a go at kids with a terminal illness is really beyond the pale, absolutely beyond the pale,” said the Prime Minister.

“These guys collectively should get up and hang their heads in shame, it’s just wrong.”

The ABC and The Chaser apologise

The ABC and The Chaser’s War on Everything have apologised for the black comedy sketch, following community outrage.

ABC TV viewers flooded the broadcaster’s website with complaints after the satirical program aired a skit which depicted dying children making deathbed wishes.

Executive producer Julian Morrow and ABC TV director Kim Dalton have apologised for upsetting people.

They say they didn’t intend to hurt those who’ve been affected by the terminal illness of a child and the segment will be edited out of repeat screenings.

The Make a Wish Foundation says it’s offensive to imply that sick children are materialistic and make unrealistic wishes.

Viewers rage about skit

There’s also been backlash from the Australian Workers’ Union and Ron Delezio father of young car crash survivor Sophie Delezio who’s previously been the subject of a Chaser skit.

“This isn’t the first time they’ve done this,” Mr Delezio told Fairfax Radio Network.

“Who do I have to go to, whether it is the prime minister or whoever, to put a stop to this show?”

“What on earth were the people involved with the show thinking,” the parent of a terminally-ill seven-year-old boy logged on the ABC website.

Another complainant said: “It is a sad indictment on our society that this is entertainment and even sadder (there) are the people that pay them to do it.”

World shares dive after Lehman collapse

Global stock markets went into a dizzying overnight as the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers sparked fears that more bad news is on the horizon for the finance sector and the economy.


The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled below 11,000 with a slide of 4.42 percent to 10,917.51, its largest one-day point loss since the reopening after the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

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The Nasdaq composite plummeted 3.60 percent to 2,179.91 and the broad-market Standard & Poor's 500 index skidded 4.71 percent to 1,192.70.

Investors were in near-panic mode because of the uncertainty about the knock-on effect of the collapse at Lehman, a former Wall Street titan with broad connections to other financial firms.

Merrill Lynch firesale, fears for AIG

The emergency sale of Wall Street rival Merrill Lynch to Bank of America and worries about a possible collapse at insurance giant American International Group added to jitters.

“Lehman Brothers' decision to file bankruptcy and worries that the credit crisis could claim American International Group as the latest casualty are fueling the fears on the Street,” analysts at Charles Schwab & Co. said in a note to clients.

“Merrill's purchase has traders fretting that hidden problems abound and more firms could be looking at a fate similar to Lehman's.”

Meanwhile central banks, led by the US Federal Reserve, rushed to inject tens of billions of dollars into the money markets to head off any rush on liquidity as investors pulled money out of stocks and looked for safety.

Europe, Asian stocks down

Despite the moves, London's FTSE 100 index slumped 3.92 percent to 5,204.20. In Paris, the CAC 40 tumbled 3.78 percent to 4,168.97 and in Frankfurt the DAX shed 2.74 percent at 6,064.16 points.

The Euro Stoxx 50 index of leading eurozone companies lost 3.67 percent.

Asia tumbled first on the news Monday, followed by the Middle East, Russia and then Europe before the shockwave hit the North and South American markets.

“The collapse of Lehman Brothers has sent a major jolt through global financial markets as it is by far the biggest victim of the credit crisis that started in August 2007 and had been considered too big to fail,” said Global Insight economist Howard Archer.

“There is obviously widespread concern about other banks' exposure to Lehman Brothers, not only in the US but also in Europe. Lehman's collapse also increases concerns that other banks could fail.”

Interest rates

The US dollar came under pressure as analysts said the US central bank's Federal Open Market Committee, set to meet Tuesday on interest rates, might be forced to cut rates in a further reassurance to markets. The Fed has kept its base rate at 2.0 percent since April.

John Ryding at RDQ Economics said a rate cut might not solve the crisis but that some are concerned “about the damage to the markets that could be done if the Fed disappoints expectations.”

In New York, Lehman shares, delisted from the New York Stock Exchange, plunged 94 percent to 21 cents.

American International Group, one of the world's biggest insurance companies, slid 60.8 percent on fears it may too face a death spiral from a cash crunch and possible credit downgrade.

Merrill Lynch, Lehman's white-shoe rival on Wall Street, managed to get a lifeline over the weekend with a deal to sell itself for 50 billion dollars to Bank of America. Merrill shares rose 0.06 percent but Bank of America fell 21 percent.

Bank stocks savaged

In Europe, the banks bore the brunt of the losses as the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy undercut any notion of business as usual, dealers said.

In London, HBOS plunged 36 percent at one stage but managed to finish with a loss of 17.55 percent, reflecting concerns about a bank that had to raise fresh cash earlier this year after massive losses on its US subprime exposure.

Royal Bank of Scotland, similarly in the firing line, lost 10 percent and Barclays was down 9.84 percent.

In Canada, the S&P/TSX index slid 4.04 percent percent while the Brazilian Bovespa index, South America's largest, sank 7.59 percent.

In Asia, where Tokyo and Hong Kong were among several markets closed for a public holiday, shares fell sharply, with Sydney down 1.8 percent and Singapore off 3.27 percent.

Russia threatens action over US missile shield

Russia has vowed to take military action against the US if America goes ahead with plans to build missile defence installations on its old Cold War turf in eastern Europe.


The threat from Moscow came just hours after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed a deal with the Czech Republic to construct a radar tracking station on its soil.

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“If a US strategic anti-missile shield is deployed near our borders, we will be forced to react not in a diplomatic fashion but with military resources,” a Russian foreign office statement said.

“There is no doubt that the grouping of elements of the strategic US arsenal faced towards Russian territory” could lead Moscow to “take adequate measures to face the threats to its national security,” it added.

The US's plans for a tracking station in the Czech Republic is part of an extended shield that Washington says is necessary to ward off potential attacks by so-called “rogue” states such as Iran.

Interceptor missiles

Washington also wants a radar system twinned with interceptor missiles in neighbouring Poland, although negotiations with Warsaw have becomed bogged down with Polish demands for additional security guarantees.

Former Soviet state Lithuania has offered itself as an alternative site should the Polish talks stall.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday clashed with US President George W. Bush over missile defence at their first face-to-face meeting during the G8 summit in Japan.

“There are topics on which we are making progress, such as Iran and North Korea, there are topics on which we diverge, such as the missile shield and European matters, but there are possibilities for agreement,” Mr Medvedev said.

Analysts say Moscow fears not only a potential long-term threat to its own nuclear deterrent and the security of its airspace but that it is also wary given NATO's prospective enlargement to include the former Soviet states of Ukraine and Georgia.

NATO endorsed the US missile defence plan at its April summit in Bucharest.

Shared radar base plan

The US has suggested Russian inspectors could visit the anti-missile sites, as long as Prague and Warsaw agreed.

While still president in February, Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Moscow would point its missiles towards Ukraine, Poland and the Czech Republic if NATO enlargement or the proposed US missile shield got

under way.

In July 2007, Moscow announced its intention to deploy missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave between Poland and Lithuania, if Washington did not accept a Russian remplacement to the anti-missile project.

Russia had at the time suggested the solution of sharing a radar base in Azerbaijan with the US. It reiterated this proposal for a joint Russia-NATO anti-missile shield on Tuesday.

“Our proposals to create a collective anti-missile defence system on the principle of equal security for all remain on the table,” said a “highly-placed official from the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs,” as cited by Interfax news agency.

Aus troops out of Iraq next year: Rudd

Mr Rudd, who made no secret of his plans to bring the 550-strong battle group home if elected, said some soldiers would need to remain behind to provide security at the Australian embassy in Baghdad.


“The combat force in Iraq, we would have home by around about the middle of next year,” he told a Melbourne radio station. “We've not begun our discussions with the United States on that.

“We'll have a meeting with the United States ambassador before too long to set up the appropriate processes for discussing that.”

Staunch US ally

Kevin Rudd's Labor party defeated staunch US ally and friend of George W Bush, John Howard, in a landslide at the weekend's federal elections.

Australia has some 1,500 troops involved in Iraqi operations, although most are outside the country. Only the 550 combat troops deployed in the south of the war-torn nation are subject to Rudd's withdrawal plan.

Iraq was a key point of difference between Rudd's centre-left Labor Party and Howard's conservative coalition during the election, but in his victory speech Rudd moved to allay US concerns about the troop withdrawal, describing the US as a great ally.

US ambassador Robert McCallum has said Washington will work with Australia's new leader on the plan to withdraw combat troops from Iraq.

Security forces

“It's a situation where Australia is determining how it is going to reposition forces and how it is going to deploy its resources in a new and different way, and we are looking forward to working with Mr Rudd in achieving that,” McCallum said earlier in the week.

“There are going to be Australian troops left in Iraq as security forces that relate to the Australian embassy in Baghdad, there are naval forces and air forces that are offshore that relate to security issues.”

Howard was Bush's last major partner in the “coalition of the willing” that once included former prime ministers Tony Blair of Britain; Jose Maria Aznar of Spain; Silvio Berlusconi of Italy; and former Polish president Aleksander


Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, has announced that the number of British troops in Iraq will be cut by more than half early next year.

Most Americans believe Obama will win

A majority of Americans believe that Democratic candidate Barack Obama will win the presidential election against Republican hopeful John McCain in November, the latest Fox News poll shows.


While 51 per cent pf those questioned said Mr Obama, who is vying to become the first African-American president, will win the election, only 27 per cent are betting on a McCain victory.

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Voters registered as Democrats are more confident about their candidate's chances than their Republican peers: 71 per cent of Democrats see Mr Obama winning on November 4 while 51 per cent of Republicans believe Mr McCain will win.

One in four Republicans think Mr Obama, a senator from Illinois, will succeed US President George W. Bush.

A month ago, 47 per cent of Americans believed that Mr Obama, 46, would win the election compared to 32 per cent for Mr McCain, a 71-year-old Arizona senator.

Even though many Americans are predicting an Obama victory, the race remains tight. In a head-to-head matchup, Mr Obama leads Mr McCain 41 to 40 per cent among registered voters, the poll showed.

Running mate questions

If Libertarian candidate Bob Barr and independent hopeful Ralph Nader are added, Mr Obama leads Mr McCain by 40 to 37 per cent.

If Mr Obama chooses former Democratic nomination rival Hillary Clinton as his running mate and Mr McCain picks former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a former Republican candidate, the Democratic ticket leads 48 to 39 per cent.

The survey was conducted between July 22-23 among 900 voters. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.

A separate poll by the Pew Research Center found that two-thirds of Hispanic voters support Mr Obama for the White House, while less than one quarter back Mr McCain.

The findings marked a positive turn for Mr Obama's fortunes with Latinos: he lost the Hispanic vote in the Democratic primaries to Ms Clinton by nearly two-to-one, Pew pointed out.

“The presumptive Democratic nominee's strong showing in this survey represents a sharp reversal in his fortunes from the primaries,” Pew said.

That led to speculation that “Hispanics were disinclined to vote for a black candidate,” the Washington-based think tank said.

The poll, which showed 23 per cent of Latinos support Mr McCain, was conducted nationwide among 2,015 Latinos by the Pew Hispanic Center from June 9 to July 13.

Battleground states

A separate survey by Quinnipiac University Polling Institute showed Mr McCain had whittled away at Mr Obama's lead in the key battleground states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and overtaken Mr Obama in voter support in Colorado.

“It's been a good month for McCain. His movement in these key states, not large except for Minnesota, jibes with the tightening we are seeing in the national polls,” Peter Brown, assistant director of the polling institute, said in a statement.

“The good news for McCain is that he has improved his standing in Colorado and Michigan, two states that are critical to each man's strategy,” Mr Brown added.

Mr McCain led Mr Obama by 46 per cent to 44 per cent in Colorado, the survey conducted last week of some 1,400 people in the mountainous state showed. The margin of error was 2.6 per cent.

In June, Mr Obama led Mr McCain by 49 per cent to 44 per cent in Colorado, traditionally a Republican state.

In Michigan, Mr Obama also saw a couple of percentage points shaved off his voter-support tally, which fell from 48 per cent in June to 46 per cent this month.

Mr McCain held steady at 42 per cent. The margin of error in that state's poll was 2.4 per cent.

And in Minnesota, Mr McCain surged ahead — from 37 per cent in June to 44 per cent — while Mr Obama fell back from 54 per cent to 46 per cent, Quinnipiac said. Minnesota's margin of error was 2.8 per cent.