Tennis: Venus at number one? Could happen at WTA Finals

There is a possibility that Venus Williams, 37, will return to the top of the rankings for the first time since 2002. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2017
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Tennis: Venus at number one? Could happen at WTA Finals

SINGAPORE: A supremely unpredictable women’s tennis season will culminate in fitting style at the elite WTA Finals, where seven out of eight players can win the trophy and also be crowned year-end world number one.
Simona Halep, who became 2017’s fifth number one earlier this month, leads a field which also throws up the beguiling possibility of Venus Williams, 37, returning to the top of the rankings for the first time since 2002.
Women’s tennis has been on a rollercoaster ride this year, with four different major-winners and no player able to dominate in the absence of Serena Williams, who took a break to give birth to her first child.
Halep said the result was that every match would be “like a final” in Singapore, where action gets underway at the Indoor Stadium on Sunday.
Garbine Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina, Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Ostapenko can also become world number one at the tournament, while Caroline Garcia becomes the first Frenchwoman to reach the Finals.
“We have the top eight players in the world, and everyone is playing crazy tennis. I just want to go there and to try to win every match I can,” said Romania’s Halep.
Wimbledon champion Muguruza was deposed as world number one by Halep but she said she would have to be at her very best if she wants to win the year-end trophy and rankings crown on October 29.
“It is important, I’m not going to lie, but I know I have to play well,” Muguruza told reporters, when asked about returning to the top of the rankings.
“I know there are so many girls, players, that have the chance. I’m happy that I got it in the past, and now I’m not that nervous or obsessed. I think it’s different. (But) I’m going to fight for that.”
Halep faces debutantes Svitolina and Garcia in the Red Group round robin, along with the veteran Wozniacki, while Muguruza is in White Group with Williams, Pliskova and French Open champion Ostapenko.
Garcia may be the lowest-ranked player, but she is on an 11-match winning streak after her back-to-back victories in Wuhan and Beijing.
Williams, the only player in the field to have lifted the Billie Jean King Trophy — in Doha in 2008 — said the WTA Tour’s strength in depth had made for an outstanding season.
“Just the depth in the game. The competition is so much greater. It’s a beautiful change, in fact,” she said.
Williams, resurgent after her battle with Sjogren syndrome, an autoimmune disorder, has had a remarkable year, reaching two Grand Slam finals and qualifying for the WTA Finals for the first time since 2009.
The Czech Republic’s Pliskova, another of this year’s world number ones, said it was impossible to tell who will finish on top next weekend.
“It’s very tough to get there, but on the other hand, we are all so close to everyone now on the ranking,” she said.
“So this tournament is really going to decide who is going to finish the year world number one. I think everybody has a good chance,” added Pliskova.


Saudi Arabia’s Young Falcons through to Asian Games knockout stages despite 3-0 defeat to North Korea

Updated 20 August 2018
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Saudi Arabia’s Young Falcons through to Asian Games knockout stages despite 3-0 defeat to North Korea

  • Young Falcons have wings clipped but still fly into second round after heavy defeat.
  • Saudi Arabia qualify as one of the best third-placed teams.

JAKARTA: From flying high to almost flying home, Saudi Arabia’s Young Falcons came within a goal of going from group leaders to bottom of the table after losing 3-0 to North Korea in their final Group F match at the Asian Games. They ultimately squeaked through as one of the best third-placed teams.
Arriving full of confidence and with one foot already in the knockout stages, coach Saad Al-Shehri rested seven of the 11 players who started the win against Myanmar on Friday. That meant a much-changed back five, with Al-Ittihad’s Amin Al-Bukhari in goal and Al-Ahli duo Mohammed Al-Zubaidi and Mohammed Al-Bassas, both making their Asian Games debuts alongside ever-presents Abdullah Tarmin and Awn Al-Saluli.
The rejig, however, backfired as, inside two minutes and with their first effort on goal, North Korea were ahead. A corner from Kwang-myong Jo was met by the head of Yong-il Kim who directed it past Al-Bukhari with ease while his defenders looked on in confusion; the marking as tight as a wizard’s sleeve.
The Young Falcons had arrived at the Wibawa Mukti Stadium top of Group F and virtually assured of a place in the Round of 16, yet the strike shifted everything. Suddenly, a three-goal Myanmar win against Iran would put the Saudi Arabia’s place in the knockout stages in serious jeopardy. 
The players seemed to understand the consequences of conceding that early goal as nerves took hold. Al-Bukhari, the debutant goalkeeper, allowed a pass to run under his foot, scrambling back desperately to avoid further embarrassment, while loose balls were hoofed clear in panic. Al-Shehri crouched on the sideline, as motionless as his midfield.
North Korea, well-beaten by the Iranians three days earlier, looked more dynamic and determined, pressing intensely and holding back nothing in their tackles. Saudi Arabia, in contrast, were meek. In the 25th minute, they fell further behind. Woeful defending allowed Korea a free shot at goal from close range and Al-Bukhari’s parried save was turned into the net by striker Yu-song Kim.
Al-Shehri refrained from making changes at half-time, yet his side did not improve. Just six minutes after the restart, and again from a corner, Korea notched their third. At 1.94m, Ittihad’s Awn Al-Saluli was the tallest outfield player by some distance, yet he was slow to react when Yu-song Kim squeezed in front of him to header home his second goal of the afternoon.
The rushed introduction of Nawaf Al-Habasi and Haroune Camara gave the Young Falcons more of a physical presence and Abdulrahman Ghareeb saw his shot tipped around the post, but it was Korea who came closest to the game’s fourth. Al-Zubaidi was dispossessed while playing out from the back and raced back to make a last-ditch tackle, winning the ball cleanly. Tajikstani referee Nasrullo Kabirov, however, deemed it a foul and produced a red card only to change his mind after speaking with his fourth official.
With news filtering through that Myanmar were beating Iran 2-0 and chasing a third, Saudi pushed forward seeking a lifeline. It was not to arrive, but neither was Myanmar’s, allowing the Young Falcons, wings clipped, to stumble through to the knock-out stages.