Nadal defies ‘tennis ball hair’ mishap to sweep into Beijing semis

Rafael Nadal of Spain hits a return during his men’s singles quarter-final against John Isner of the US at the China Open tennis tournament in Beijing on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 06 October 2017
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Nadal defies ‘tennis ball hair’ mishap to sweep into Beijing semis

BEIJING: Rafael Nadal got some fiber from a tennis ball lodged in his eye but that did not stop the world number one setting up a China Open semifinal on Saturday with “great guy” Grigor Dimitrov.
The Spaniard tamed the big-serving American John Isner 6-4, 7-6 (7/0) on Friday to set up the clash with the third-seeded Bulgarian.
Dimitrov booked his place in the last four on Beijing’s outside hard courts with a 7-6 (7/5), 4-6, 6-2 victory over another Spaniard, Roberto Bautista Agut.
Nadal, 31, the 16-time Grand Slam champion, revved up a gear to surge through the tie break in the second set, although there was concern at one point during the second set when he appeared to be suffering an eye problem.
“Just something came to my eye, that’s all,” said Nadal, who is chasing a sixth title this year.
“I think it was just a hair or something, a hair from the tennis ball. It was bothering me for a while.”
“Not important, (but) I am still feeling (it) a little bit by the way,” Nadal, who attempted to wash the suspected fiber out with water, added with a smile.
Nadal will face a familiar figure in Dimitrov — the pair practiced together at Nadal’s base in Mallorca before the US Open, where the Spaniard won the title for a third time this year.
They even went fishing together, but Nadal said they will have their game faces on for Saturday: “At the end of the day we are competitors.
“We go on court and we try our best and we want to win.
“Of course, he is a player that I really have like a good friend on the tour. He’s a great guy.”
Also into the semifinals is the Australian Nick Kyrgios, who was up 6-0 and 3-0 when Belgian qualifier Steve Darcis retired.
Kyrgios faces the number two seed Alexander Zverev of Germany or Russia’s Andrey Rublev.
Simona Halep took a step nearer overhauling Garbine Muguruza as world number one when the Romanian raced into the semifinals of the women’s draw.
The second-ranked Halep eased past Russia’s unseeded Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 6-1 in 69 minutes and will face Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko.
The pair met at the French Open earlier this year, with Ostapenko winning the duel.
The Spaniard Muguruza’s short stay at the top is under severe threat after she bowed out in the first round in the Chinese capital with a virus.
Halep is in red-hot form and closing in.
She claimed the scalp of former number one Maria Sharapova in the previous round — beating the Russian at the eighth attempt.
Petra Kvitova became the third woman into the semifinals when she defeated fellow Czech Barbora Strycova.


Juan Antonio Pizzi picks little-known striker in search of more Saudi Arabia firepower

Updated 25 April 2018
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Juan Antonio Pizzi picks little-known striker in search of more Saudi Arabia firepower

  • Haroun Kamara has only played seven times for his club side
  • Green Falcons to play Algeria and Greece next month

Al-Qadisiyah’s 20-year-old striker Haroun Kamara has been given an opportunity to stake an unlikely claim for a World Cup spot after being surprisingly named in Juan Antonio Pizzi’s squad for a three-week training camp in Spain.
Kamara, who was born in Jeddah to Guinean parents, has only made seven league appearances for lowly Al-Qadisiyah, scoring four goals and claiming two assists, but he has been given the chance to shine in friendlies against Algeria on May 9 and Greece six days later and book a seat on the plane to Russia.
The youngster follows in the footsteps of the likes of Somalian-British Mukhtar Ali and Egyptian Ahmed Al-Fiqi as the Saudi Football Federation look to harness the pool of players born in the Kingdom to expats and increase the depth of the Green Falcons’ squad.
Pizzi has turned to Kamara having struggled to find options in attack. Hazza Al-Hazza and Mujahid Al-Mania, who were both given their debuts over the past six months, have failed to convince upfront, while Mohannad Assiri has just one goal for his country in more than seven years. Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, who has 26 goals in 33 internationals, is favorite to lead the line, but Pizzi needs more options in attack.
In goal, Yasir Al-Mosaileem, Mohammed Al-Owais and Fawaz Al-Qarni retain their place in the squad, while Al-Nassr’s Waleed Abdullah, who featured in the last squad, made way for Al-Hilal’s Abdullah Al-Mayouf. Only three goalkeepers will be selected for the final 23-man squad.
In defense, Ali Al-Bulayhi is in line for a debut, having established himself as a key player at the heart of Al-Hilal defense, while Mohammed Al-Burayk’s performances at right-back for the Blues earned him a recall to the squad for the first time under Pizzi, replacing Hassan Muath.
The three Hawsawis — Osama, Omar and Motaz — retain their places as do full-backs Yasir Al-Shahrani, Mansour Al-Harbi and Saeed Al-Muwallad. The backline is edging closer to taking shape as Mohammed Jahfali, who was first brought into the squad in March’s friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium, looks to have done enough to convince Pizzi to hand him a second opportunity.
There were no real surprises in midfield as the team is boosted by the recovery of two high-profile names. Nawaf Al-Abed makes his long-awaited return to the national team set-up, having suffered an injury in November’s ill-fated Portugal camp under the now departed coach Edgardo Bauza. Al-Abed’s Al-Hilal teammate, Salman Al-Faraj, is also back in the squad after recovering from a three-month injury lay-off.
Spain-based trio Fahad Al-Muwallad, Yahya Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari miss out due to club commitments.

 

Saudi Arabia squad for games against Algeria (May 9) and Greece (May 15)

Goalkeepers: Yasir Al-Mosaileem, Mohammed Al-Owais, Fawaz Al-Qarni, Abdullah Al-Mayouf.
Defenders: Osama Hawsawi, Motaz Hawsawi, Omar Hawsawi, Mohammed Jahfal, Ali Al-Bulayhi, Mohammed Al-Burayk, Saeed Al-Muwallad, Yasir Al-Shahrani, Mansour Al-Harbi.
Midfielders: Abdulmalik Al-Khaibari, Abdllah Al-Khaibari, Ibrahim Ghaleb, Abdullah Otayf, Taisir Al-Jassim, Hussein Al-Moqahwi, Salman Al-Faraj, Nawaf Al-Abed, Mohammad Kanno, Mohammed Al-Kuwaikbi, Hattan Bahebri.
Forwards: Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, Mohannad Assiri, Haroun Kamara