Federer returns with solid Monte Carlo win

Roger Federer has eased through his first match in more than two months as the Swiss showed full recovery from February 3 knee surgery with an opening win at the Monte Carlo Masters.

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The third seed and four-time finalist rolled past Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-3 6-4 in 75 minutes on Tuesday, with his only niggle coming as he lost serve while trying to close it out leading a set and 5-2.

The mistake hardly mattered, with Federer finishing up two games later to reach the third round.

Federer has never won the Monte Carlo title, losing his most recent final to French Open champion Stan Wawrinka.

He has been out of action for two-and-a-half months and will be likely be composing his spring clay schedule ad hoc with an eye on peaking for a run at a second title at Roland Garros starting in six weeks.

“I think I got what I needed. So we’ll see how I feel tomorrow, tonight, the next day. At this point I’m pretty confident I’ll feel fine,” Federer said.

“Every week that goes by, you feel more confident, more solid.

“I’ve been going full out for three weeks now maybe. I felt really good.”

Second seed Andy Murray lost serve four times as his drop-shot strategy failed to do major damage in a narrow 6-2 4-6 6-3 second-round win over French qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

“I’ve definitely been a little bit flat since the Davis Cup (last November),” Murray said.

“I don’t know why. In a lot of my matches, it’s been some good stuff mixed in with some pretty bad stuff. I’m not playing my best.”

Murray has been unsuccessful this season in reaching a peak, and was certainly distracted by the February birth of his daughter.

His American hardcourt tour ended with little success and he is now facing the defence of clay title-winning points from 2015 trophies in Munich and Madrid – his only two honours on the surface.

In first round results, 11th seed David Goffin advanced over Feliciano Lopez 7-5 6-0 while Damir Dzumhur pounded Dutchman Robin Haase 6-2 6-0.

Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas spent almost three and a half hours to defeat Daniel Gimeno-Traver of Spain 7-6 (7-2) 6-7 (2-7) 7-6 (7-4).

German Philipp Kohlschreiber defeated Croatian teenager Borna Coric 6-4 6-4 and Spaniard Fernando Verdasco won the first eight games in a rout of Federico Delbonis 6-0 6-3.

Womb cancer rate fuelled by obesity

Obesity is fuelling a massive jump in the number of women suffering womb cancer.

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The number diagnosed with the disease has almost doubled in 20 years, while population rates of womb cancer have also seen a rise, Cancer Research UK warned.

From 1993 to 1995, around 19 women in every 100,000 developed womb cancer in the UK, rising to 29 women in every 100,000 by 2011-13 (the most recent figures available).

About 9000 women are now diagnosed with womb cancer every year in the UK – up from about 4800 new cases a year 20 years ago.

The disease kills about 2000 women every year.

Professor Jonathan Ledermann, director of the Cancer Research UK and UCL Cancer Trials Centre, said: “It’s worrying that womb cancer cases are going up so sharply. We don’t know all the reasons why. But we do know that about a third of cases are linked to being overweight so it’s no surprise to see the increases in womb cancer cases echo rising obesity levels.

“The good news is that thanks to research and improved treatments, survival has improved.

“In the 1970s, almost six in 10 women diagnosed with the disease survived for at least 10 years. Now almost eight in 10 women survive.

In January, Cancer Research UK warned that almost 700,000 more people could develop cancer in the next 20 years due to being overweight or obese.

Ten types of cancer are linked to obesity, which can also lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and a range of other health problems.

The 10 types are of the womb, bowel, breast, gallbladder, liver, kidney, pancreas, oesophagus, and aggressive forms of ovarian and prostate cancer.

Current trends suggest almost three in four adults will be overweight or obese by 2035.

Cancer Research UK said it was not completely clear how being overweight fuels cancer, but it is thought extra fat spurs on hormones and growth factors that encourage cells to divide.

Other – but less significant – risk factors for womb cancer include increasing age, a lack of exercise, genetic make-up and taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Symptoms of womb cancer include abnormal vaginal bleeding (particularly in post-menopausal women), blood in the urine and abdominal pain. If the disease is caught early, most women can be treated with a hysterectomy.

IMF not buying ‘jobs and growth’ mantra

The International Monetary Fund has sent Scott Morrison a warning as he puts together his first budget.

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The IMF has cut Australia’s economic growth forecast for this year and is predicting unemployment still remaining close to six per cent in 2017.

That runs contrary to the Turnbull government’s mantra of delivering policies that will drive jobs and growth.

In its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF expects commodity-exporting advanced economies like Australia to continue to adjust to reduced income from falling prices and resource-related investment.

It expects Australian growth to remain below its potential at 2.5 per cent in 2016, down from a previous forecast of 2.9 per cent made six months ago.

However, it does predict growth rising above three per cent over the following two years, supported in part by a more competitive currency.

The Washington-based institution has also made across-the-board cuts to its global growth forecasts.

“Global recovery continues, but at an ever-slowing and increasingly fragile pace,” IMF economic counsellor Maurice Obstfeld says in the report.

Despite a cloudier economic picture, financial markets in advanced economies have partially reversed the “swoon” of the first few weeks of 2016.

But significant downside risks remain that could trigger renewed turbulence, impairing confidence and demand “in a self-confirming negative feed loop”, he says.

KEY POINTS

* World growth trimmed to 3.2 per cent in 2016, 3.5 per cent in 2017.

* Advanced economies suffer growth cuts, notably Japan turning negative in 2017.

* China forecast to grow at 6.5 per cent in 2016, easing to 6.2 per cent in 2017.

* India avoids the mass downgrade, remaining at 7.5 per cent this year and next.

Loch Ness hunt finds monster film double

A high-tech marine drone scouring the depths of Scotland’s Loch Ness for one of nature’s most elusive beasts has found a “monster” – but not the one it was looking for.

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Rather than the fabled Loch Ness Monster itself, the probe has discovered a nine-metre replica used in the 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which sank nearly 50 years ago after its buoyant humps were removed.

Undeterred, the enthusiastic monster-hunters steering the drone are continuing their two-week search for any evidence that might prove the existence of “Nessie”.

The survey by Norwegian company Kongsberg Maritime has been the most detailed to date of the Loch’s icy depths, with the drone able to map vast areas down to 450m.

Along with the movie replica, it has also found a shipwreck on the Loch floor.

Far from being disappointed by the findings, Steve Feltham who has been hunting the monster for 25 years, says the maps will help him in his quest.

“We now have a more detailed map of the rock bottom than ever before, which will show us the location of every lump and bump,” he said.

“We can send back cameras to look at anything of interest, which could turn out to be the carcass of the animal,” he added.

“It’s shown there’s a hell of a lot more to investigate.”

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The first written record of a monster relates to the Irish monk St Columba, who is said to have banished a “water beast” to the depths of the River Ness in the sixth century.

The most famous picture of Nessie, known as the “surgeon’s photo”, was taken in 1934 and showed a head on a long neck emerging from the water.

It was revealed 60 years later to have been a hoax that used a sea monster model attached to a toy submarine.

HTC phone hopes to rival iPhone, Galaxy

HTC has unveiled its latest flagship smartphone, the HTC 10, which it hopes will rival the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S7 thanks to a new camera and the inclusion of high resolution audio features.

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The HTC 10 – the successor to the firm’s M9 that was released in 2015 – had been heavily rumoured online for some time, with the Taiwanese firm claiming it has been working on the phone “behind closed doors for 12 months”.

The new device comes with a 12-megapixel rear camera that includes optical image stabilisation (OIS) technology designed to take better photos even when the hand holding it is shaking. It can also record video in 4K resolution.

These are similar specifications to one of its perceived rivals, the iPhone 6s Plus, which launched in September.

The HTC 10 also has a larger aperture in the lens on the front-facing camera, which HTC says lets in more light and will take better “selfies”. The battery can also last for up to two days, the firm claims.

The HTC 10 arrives as the Taiwanese firm continues to struggle in the smartphone market – both its high profile launches last year, the M9 and A9, failed to sell as well as the company had hoped, leading to 15% staff cuts in August.

However, the firm’s other ventures, most notably the HTC Vive headset, have been met with early acclaim and positive sales.

The HTC 10 also supports high-resolution audio, which is clearer than standard sound, and the new phone will come with a set of high resolution audio earphones in the box, while the phone will also be capable of up-scaling a user’s existing songs into high resolution.

HTC says it has also worked with Google to “reboot” the Android operating system that runs on the device. The number of native apps has been reduced, while more have been integrated together to make the phone faster, creating what HTC is calling the “best of Google and HTC”.

Longer-lasting food gives scientists hope

Scientists in the UK have hailed the results of trials to prolong the life of fresh produce as “world-changing”, saying it could help tackle global hunger.

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Raw fruit and vegetables saw their shelf life increase by up to one day in a study which involved produce being sprayed with an electrically-charged solution that kills bacteria responsible for spoilage.

Testing carried out in cold storage revealed that use of the novel system, developed at the University of the West of England in Bristol, had no effect on the taste or appearance of the produce.

Darren Reynolds, professor of health and environment at the university, said the technology could be implemented commercially within a year if the food industry is convinced of its benefits.

He believes the approach could reduce waste, save millions of pounds and even play a role in helping resolve world hunger.

Tomatoes and cucumbers responded particularly well to treatment with the solution, which is produced by passing salty water through an electro-chemical cell.

The activated solution, which is inexpensive to make and can be created on demand, kills bacteria commonly found on the surface of fresh produce but is harmless to human skin.

The recent trials, which involved treating produce post-harvest, also saw carrots, peppers, potatoes and tropical fruit doused in the activated liquid.

Prof Reynolds, who pioneered the technology, said: “For some types of produce, we could make a significant impact.

“We could demonstrate scientifically it would impact on the quality of food in terms of how long it can be stored. It showed we could increase the shelf life by about a day.

“Ultimately, it will make the whole production, distribution and sale process more efficient. That’s where I have to head to – a more sustainable world where we are wasting a lot less.”

Federal Labor releases steel plan

Federal Labor will seek to maximise the use of Australian-produced steel in government-funded projects.

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The pledge is part of a six-point steel plan the opposition will take to an election.

“A Labor government led by myself will do everything we can to make sure that we keep making steel in Australia,” leader Bill Shorten told reporters during a visit to Bluescope Steel in the NSW Illawarra on Thursday.

The plan stops short of mandating the use of Australian steel on taxpayer-funded projects.

Other measures include maintaining quality standards, halving the threshold for companies to submit an Australian industry participation plan for projects, and strengthening anti-dumping provisions.

A Labor government would also set up a national steel supplier advocate.

“What we need is an advocate for the steel industry to make sure Australian steel is getting the best story told about it possible,” Mr Shorten said.

Industry Minister Christopher Pyne responded quickly to that part of Labor’s plan.

“I’m Australia’s Steel Advocate – that’s the job of the industry minister. Labor wants to downgrade that role to a public servant,” he tweeted.

Mr Shorten’s visit follows a decision last week by mining and steelmaking group Arrium to call in administrators.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has refused to say whether the issue of cheap Chinese steel will be on the agenda when he meets officials in Beijing during a two-day visit.

Greens industry spokesman Adam Bandt said the plan was “too weak”.

He welcomed moves to reduce the dumping of foreign-produced steel in Australia, but said Labor should add a seventh point: don’t sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“If Labor is serious about saving the Australian steel industry, it will commit to not signing Australia up to the TPP,” he said.

The Greens would also like to see government projects use at least 90 per cent local steel.

The Australian Workers’ Union welcomed Labor’s direction, but said more detail and hard targets are needed to ensure the industry’s future.

Price, Stricker named captains for 2017 Presidents Cup

Price, a three-times major champion who played on five Presidents Cup teams, is seeking his first win as captain after losing in the previous two editions, including in 2015 when his International team lost by one point in South Korea.

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“The close shave we had last year will motivate a lot,” Price, 59, told reporters, predicting he would have “eight or nine” of the same players on his 2017 team.

Stricker, meanwhile, will take over the United States leadership for the first time, after working as an assistant for previous captain Jay Haas last year.

The United States are 9-1-1 in the Ryder Cup-style competition with their only loss coming at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia in 1998.

The International team has traditionally been built around a core of world class Australian and South African players such as Greg Norman, Adam Scott, Jason Day and Ernie Els.

But they have struggled mostly to come up with 12-man teams that match the depth of the United States.

The current world rankings suggest the International team again will have a strong core, with six players inside the top 20, including Australians Jason Day and Adam Scott, South African Louis Oosthuizen, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and South Africans Branden Grace and Charl Schwartzel.

Stricker, 49, who played on five Presidents Cup teams, is certainly expecting a strong challenge.

“It’s going to be tough … Even though we won (in 2015), it came down to the last match,” he said, adding that he would lead quietly but, hopefully, efficiently as well.

“I’m not one of those vocal kind of leaders probably. I’ve learned a lot over the years playing for different captains and I’ve seen things that work and things that haven’t worked.”

(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Frank Pingue)

Women ‘like candy’, says Thai PM

Thailand’s blunt-speaking prime minister has some advice for his country’s young women: Don’t dress too revealingly, or you will be shunned like a piece of toffee without its wrapper.

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Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha offered the observation to reporters on Tuesday as Thais prepared to kick off their traditional New Year celebration, known as Songkran.

The holiday comes at the hottest time of the year and is best known for the enthusiastic splashing of water upon friends and strangers alike, a practice that sometimes takes on a sexual edge, including the molestation of women.

Thailand’s military government already had announced that it would try to discourage lewd behavior and dress as inappropriate for the country’s culture.

“During Songkran, I ask that women wear proper clothes, Thai style, so they would look good and civilised,” said Prayuth, who has two daughters.

He said that in his opinion, women “are like toffee or candy,” which people would not like to eat if already unwrapped.

Prayuth went on to qualify his own advice, saying that some nicely wrapped candy will stay on the shelf for years no matter what.

The prime minister, a former army commander, is best known for blasting his political opponents, but has controversially commented before about what he thinks is appropriate attire for women.

Shortly after two young British tourists were murdered on a beach on the resort island of Koh Tao – the woman was also raped – Prayuth wondered aloud whether tourists wearing bikinis were courting danger.

“This has always been a problem … they think our country is beautiful and safe and they can do whatever they want, wear bikinis wherever they like,” he said in September 2014, after the deaths of David Miller and Hannah Witheridge.

I’m asking if they wear bikinis in Thailand, will they be safe? Only if they are not beautiful.”

He apologised shortly afterwards, saying he only meant to warn tourists to be careful.

Prayuth’s latest remarks drew criticism from Usa Lertsrisantat, director of the Foundation for Women, who said he should use his influential position to speak in a more helpful way.

“He should be sending a message to people who do not respect women’s rights as well,” she said. “He warns women not to wear revealing clothes, and he should warn men to respect women’s rights, too. Women are not toffees or candies, we are human beings.”

“When something bad happens, you can’t just say that it happened because of how women dress,” she said.

Turnbull in China advocates for open markets and the rule of law

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has urged China to stay the course on its “long journey” toward open markets and the rule of law.

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Addressing a lunch of almost 2,000 Australian and Chinese businesspeople in Shanghai, Mr Turnbull said the structural changes occurring in China’s economy were driving parallel changes in Australia’s economy.

China’s transition to a more consumption rather than production-driven economy presented extraordinary opportunities for Australia, some of which were already being delivered thanks to the free-trade agreement that came into force in December.

That had caused Australia’s own economy to shift, from a focus on mining investment to services – services China’s growing middle class needed and wanted.

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But more hard work was needed to expand business links as both economies transitioned.

“I am here to help Australian exporters open doors which had been locked,” Mr Turnbull said.

“China’s own long journey towards open markets and rule of law will be worth the challenges along the way.

“Freedom, enterprise, open markets, embrace of the global community in all its diversity – those are the qualities that have delivered progress, rising living standards and growth.”

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Turnbull unveiled new measures to attract Chinese travellers to Australia, with 2017 having been declared the year of Australian/Chinese travel.

Australia will trial 10-year validity visas, streamlined visas for Chinese students and visa applications in Mandarin to entice travellers Down Under.

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Tourism Australia and Air China have signed a $6 million advertising and data sharing agreement.

Mr Turnbull said China was Australia’s most important tourism market, worth more than $8 billion and delivering more than one million tourists last year.

He also unveiled a plan to expand AFL in China, with a game to be played in Shanghai during the 2017 season.

Mr Turnbull said it was the first time an AFL game would be played outside Australasia for premiership points.

Port Adelaide will be one of the teams involved.