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Modric named Balkan athlete of the year to end Djokovic’s reign



Croatia captain Luka Modric was named Balkan Athlete of the Year yesterday, becoming only the second soccer player to scoop the prize after Bulgaria’s former European Footballer of the Year Hristo Stoichkov in 1994.

Ballon d’Or winner Modric won the Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup with his Spanish club Real Madrid as well as being instrumental in helping Croatia reach the World Cup final in Russia. He was awarded the tournament’s Golden Ball Award.

The 33-year-old, who received 75 points in the 46th poll, organised by Bulgarian News Agency (BTA), beat Serbia’s world number one tennis player Novak Djokovic, who topped the annual poll five times in a row between 2011 and 2015.

Another tennis player, Romania’s Simona Halep, who finished the year as women’s world number one for the second consecutive season, came third in the poll, which is conducted by the state-run news agencies in nine Balkan countries.

Meanwhile, Naomi Osaka has expressed her gratitude to Andy Murray for letting her practise with him in Australia.

Murray is currently preparing for the Brisbane International, which gets underway on Sunday, with the former world No 1 seeking to get back on track following injury setbacks.

Osaka, who won the women’s US Open this year and is ranked at No 5 in the world, enjoyed practising with Murray.

She wrote on Instagram: “I don’t know why you let me hit with you but thank you lol”.

Murray has endured a difficult year, with ongoing hip problems meaning that he participated in just six tournaments in 2018.

The Brisbane International should provide the Scotsman with a tough test, especially as he could come up against Rafael Nadal.

Osaka is also taking part in the tournament and is the No 2 seed in the women’s draw. Both Murray and Osaka will be seeking to make a major impact at the Australian Open, which gets underway next month.

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