Hockey returns to Arena Riga on Aug. 25 for the first time this season when Dinamo Riga hosts the annual pre-season LDZ Cup. This year, the hosts will be joined by Russian clubs Lokomotiv and Atlant, and Finnish club Espoo Blues. It will be one of the first times that Lokomotiv will take to the ice following one of the biggest modern-day tragedies involving a sports team, when the entire Yaroslavl-based club team was killed when their plane crashed, en-route for Minsk for their opening game of the 2011/2012 Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) season. The LDZ Cup was one of the last events that Lokomotiv took part in last year, just days before the tragedy struck. The event will also mark a return to Arena Riga for one of Latvia’s favorite players, Mikelis Redlihs. The Latvian star readily agreed to move to Yaroslavl this year to become one of the players to help rebuild the new Lokomotiv team following the tragedy. Redlihs was Dinamo Riga’s stand-out player last season, achieving 44 points in 54 regular season matches. On the first day of competition, Dinamo Riga takes on Espoo Blues at 19:30. At 15:30, Jaroslav play Atlant. On the second day, Lokomotiv and Espoo Blues play in the first game whilst Dinamo Riga takes on Atlant. Teams take a rest on Aug. 27 and then on the 28th, the Espoo Blues take on Atlant before Dinamo Riga play Lokomotiv. The final day’s play, on the 29th, will be determined following the results of the first three days.
Early signs have been promising for Latvia and Estonia during their qualifying campaigns for the 2013 European Basketball Championship, set to take place in Slovenia. Estonia in particular have been something of a surprise package, winning two of their first three games to be holding on to third place in Group A, following wins over the Slovak Republic at home and Israel on the road. Latvia has played two games, losing a tough game to Bosnia and Herzegovina on the road by three points, before defeating the Netherlands at home, ending what was close to a two-year drought since the Latvians last won an official game. In order to qualify for the tournament finals, Estonia and Latvia must finish qualifying as one of the top two teams in their group, or be one of the four best finishing third-placed teams. Lithuania has already qualified automatically for the finals.
Whilst Latvian Ernests Gulbis watches his ATP tennis ranking slide in one direction, Estonia’s Jurgen Zopp is watching his go in the other direction. The 24-year-old Zopp hit a career-best ranking of 75 on Aug. 13, whilst 23-year-old Gulbis sunk to 153, his lowest ranking since November 2006. Gulbis has now sunk 86 positions in less than a month, spurring the right-hander into action. Beginning on Aug. 17, Gulbis began the qualifying process for the Winston Salem Open. Upon qualifying for the main draw, the Latvian has now advanced as far as the third round when The Baltic Times went to print, knocking over world no. 44 Calos Berlocq of Argentina in the first round and world no. 35, Kevin Anderson of South Africa, in the second round. Despite his current slump, Gulbis will play in the U.S. Open beginning on Aug. 27, alongside Jurgen Zopp, and potentially a third Balt, Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis, who is currently navigating the qualifying draw. Another Latvian, Anastasija Sevastova, will attempt to qualify for the women’s draw. Despite recently reaching a career-best 15th in the world, Estonian Kaia Kanepi will skip the U.S. Open due on ongoing heel problems.