Halep eyes first Grand Slam after rise to No. 1

Simona Halep of Romania hugs a floral bouquet in the shape of the No. 1 after beating Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in their women’s singles semifinal in the China Open tennis tournament at the Diamond Court in Beijing Saturday. (AP)
Updated 07 October 2017
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Halep eyes first Grand Slam after rise to No. 1

BEIJING: Emotional Simona Halep called it the best day of her life and targeted a maiden Grand Slam as she surged to No. 1 in the world for the first time on Saturday.
The tearful Romanian said she had fulfilled a dream courtesy of her defeat of Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-4 and will play France’s on-form Caroline Garcia in Sunday’s China Open final.
In the men’s draw, world No. 1 Rafael Nadal beat Grigor Dimitrov to set up a tasty final showdown with temperamental Australian Nick Kyrgios, who pulled off a stunning 6-3, 7-5 win over starlet Alexander Zverev.
Halep’s ousting of Spaniard Garbine Muguruza at the top of the women’s game will be officially confirmed on Monday when the latest rankings are released.
The 26-year-old will be the fifth woman to hold the top spot this year, but the first Romanian in the history of the WTA.
She smiled broadly, then cried and was presented with a flower arrangement in the figure “1” — which she hugged tightly — to celebrate the landmark moment.
“My dream is true now, in that moment you cannot believe 100 percent that it’s happening, so I was in tears a little bit,” she said.
“Maybe first time on court (to cry) nice tears... It’s the best moment in my life and I want just to keep it.
“Now tomorrow already I have just to restart everything, to start again to play the same and to work harder.
“And I have a few more dreams in my career.”
Asked by AFP what those were, she smiled: “I tell you one, only one: to win a Grand Slam, which you know.”
Halep saw off former No. 1 Maria Sharapova earlier this week on Beijing’s outside hard courts and her defeat of Ostapenko had a whiff of revenge — the 20-year-old won their duel in the French Open final earlier this year, depriving Halep of a first Grand Slam.
Halep will though face a tough test in the final against Garcia, who is chasing successive titles after winning the Wuhan Open last weekend.
The unseeded Garcia defeated Czech 12th seed Petra Kvitova, the two-time Wimbledon champion, 6-3, 7-5.
Halep’s ascension to the top brings Muguruza’s four-week reign as number one to an end, while the others who held the honor in 2017 are Angelique Kerber, Serena Williams and Karolina Pliskova.
The outstanding Williams is temporarily out of tennis after having her first child.
The Spaniard Nadal, 31, was taken to three sets by third seed Dimitrov before running away with the decider, winning their last-four clash 6-3, 4-6, 6-1.
Nadal is chasing a sixth title this season but to do so he must beat the enigmatic Kyrgios, who is becoming a crowd favorite in Beijing.
A year ago the 22-year-old was suspended by tennis authorities for his behavior in a defeat in Shanghai during which he appeared to give up and argued with the crowd.
Kyrgios says he wants to show how far he has come and the 19th-ranked Australian did just that as he bustled past Zverev, the world No. 4 from Germany, in an entertaining and high-quality semifinal.
Kyrgios’s exuberance won favor with the crowd in the Chinese capital and after winning one thrilling rally he turned to the spectators and gestured with flailing arms for them to keep roaring him on.
In contrast, Zverev smashed his racquet on the floor, earning a warning from the umpire, when Kyrgios grabbed the decisive break in the second set.


Saudi Arabia out to make up for wasted opportunities against Egypt in World Cup dead rubber

Updated 39 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia out to make up for wasted opportunities against Egypt in World Cup dead rubber

VOLGOGRAD: Fahad Al-Muwallad has promised to make up for wasted opportunities when he and his Saudi Arabia teammates face Middle East neighbors Egypt in their final match of the World Cup on Monday.
Al-Muwallad, the pacy forward heralded as the Green Falcons’ most dangerous goal-threat, was left on the bench for much of his team’s embarrassing opening day defeat to Russia. By the time he was introduced in the 64th minute, Saudi Arabia were already 2-0 down and would go on to concede three more without response. In their second match, the 1-0 defeat to Uruguay, the diminutive winger was recalled to the starting line-up and employed as a center forward, but struggled against a dominant defense that included the twin towers of Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez. 
“The first match was very difficult,” said Al-Muwallad, who spent the past six months on loan at Levante from Al-Ittihad.
“We were surprised, taken aback and confused. We wanted to win. Our match against Uruguay then became a decisive match because we needed to get the three points, but were unable to do so. Against Egypt, we have another difficult match and hope to get the three points.”
The poor results prompted much scrutiny at the highest levels of Saudi Arabian football with Turki Al-Alsheikh, the head of the country’s General Sports Authority, simultaneously taking responsibility and blaming the players.
Al-Muwallad, when asked if the administrative issues had affected their preparations for their final Group A match, instead focused on his team’s chance to make amends.
“Everyone has done their best,” he said.
“The managers of the team gave us a great deal of support, Saudi Arabia supported us. Perhaps we wasted a few opportunities, but we have a chance to make up for what happened since the beginning. We have a bright future ahead of us as players. We want to win the three points and we want to make the Saudi fans happy and hope that we will be able to do so.”
While the Green Falcons are without a World Cup win for 12 consecutive games, a streak running back to 1994, Egypt have never won at the tournament. Yet it is the Pharaohs that have the better record against their neighbors from across the Red Sea. After six FIFA-recognized meetings, Egypt lead the head-to-head series with four wins and a draw. With English Premier League top goalscorer Mohamed Salah in their ranks, Hector Cuper’s side will enter the match at Volgograd Arena as favorites. 
“Of course our match against Egypt will be a very difficult match,” Al-Muwallad said. “Every squad and team dreams of winning a World Cup game. We want those three points, regardless of the opponent and while we respect them, I think they recognize that the Saudi team a is a team to be reckoned with. We will enjoy the match.”
Juan Antonio Pizzi, the Saudi Arabia coach, said he has no specific plan to combat the threat of Salah, much like he employed no particular man-marking plan against Uruguay’s Luis Suarez. His Green Falcons, however, are well aware of the Liverpool forward’s threat.
“When you face an opposition that has high individual qualities, you have to show this to your players and prepare them so they know what to do to stave them off,” said Pizzi. “Salah has huge qualities and it is no coincidence that he has had such a wonderful career — especially this past year in England — so we will take precautions and try to contain him — although not only him — and stave off any sort of attacking play that they might try to develop.”
With midfielder Taiseer Al-Jassem pulling his hamstring against Uruguay and Omar Hawsawi and Mohammed Al-Burayk also struggling to be fit, Pizzi will likely need to shuffle his pack. Yet while the Argentine conceded he is already thinking about next January’s Asian Cup, he said he does not intend to use the dead rubber as a chance to give younger players experience. 
“We will field the best team possible,” Pizzi said. “Of course, we have 23 players in the squad, but we will choose the team that will provide us our very best opportunity in a match that is very important for us. We will give our very best and play our best possible line-up. 
“Regarding strategies and tactics, we know how Egypt play. I have a very good relationship with Hector Cuper and have known him for a very long time. So we will try to impose our way of playing and try to prevail with a win.”