Australian Open: First week memories
Australian Open: First week memories
Monday, Jan. 15
Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens and CoCo. Vandeweghe — all semifinalists at least at the 2017 US Open — led a string of seeds sent tumbling out. Men’s eighth seed Jack Sock soon joined them in a calamitous day for American players with only three of the 15 in action progressing. With Venus departing, it became the first time since 1997 that no Williams sister made the second round, with Serena not playing after giving birth to her first child.
Tuesday, Jan. 16
Consummate media performer Roger Federer urges his fellow professionals to act themselves and not like “robots” with the press to keep tennis interesting for the sporting public. With some of the greats of the modern game in their twilight years, he understands the need for more players to step up, and open up. “I would like to see more players just being really themselves in front of the press, being more relaxed about it, not worrying so much about making mistakes. You’d rather see that than robots left, right and center,” he said. The Swiss great said he always tried to “give it a little bit something extra” during his interviews to keep everyone happy.
Wednesday, Jan. 17
The ear-busting grunting and screeching of rising Belarusian star Aryna Sabalenka grates on the center court crowd in her match against Aussie favorite Ashleigh Barty, with fans mocking the 19-year-old, earning a rebuke from the umpire. Long a divisive issue in tennis, Twitter lit up the following day with many calling for more to be done stamp out the racket. The women’s governing body, the WTA, said grunting “is a natural part of the game,” although it did acknowledge fan concerns. “Excessive grunting is being addressed through a commitment to an ongoing educational outreach,” it added, whatever that means.
Thursday, Jan. 18
Melbourne’s notoriously fickle weather dished up a day of 40 degrees Celsius and it played havoc. Novak Djokovic and Gael Monfils copped some of the worst of the scorching conditions in an afternoon match. The Serb called it “brutal” on court while Monfils complained he was suffering heatstroke. Caroline Garcia said her feet were on fire, but ice queen Maria Sharapova said she “loved summertime.” No matches were called off with the weather not considered severe enough to enforce the tournament heat policy.
Friday, Jan. 19
Fifteen-year-old sensation Marta Kostyuk was the youngest woman into the Australian Open third round since “Swiss Miss” Martina Hingis in 1996, but her fairytale unraveled against fourth seed Elina Svitolina. She lost 6-2, 6-2 and was seen sobbing on her mum’s shoulder. Despite the loss, she relished the “free” tennis lesson from her fellow Ukrainian. “I had the chances, but because I thought, like, she is incredible, she’s a god, I cannot do anything against her, that’s the problem.” Kindly Svitolina predicted Kostyuk had a big future ahead.
Saturday, Jan. 20
World No. 1 Simona Halep said she was “almost dead” after one of the longest Australian Open women’s matches ever. “I never played a third set so long. I’m almost dead,” said the Romanian after finally edging across the finish line 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 against Lauren Davis in 3hr 44min. “My muscles are gone. I don’t feel my ankle any more.” The longest match at Melbourne Park was in 2011 when Francesca Schiavone of Italy beat Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 1-6, 16-14 in 4 hours 44 minutes.
Saudi Arabia hopeful ahead of opening Asian Games clash against Iran
- Young Falcons hopeful of a semifinal spot.
- Under-23 players keen on making a name for themselves in Indonesia.
JAKARTA: There is a widely held belief that to succeed in sport, you must start early.
Officials from the Saudi Arabia National Olympic Committee will be hoping it rings true this month as the Kingdom’s Under-23 football team prepares to prematurely kick-off its Asian Games campaign this afternoon in Jakarta, three days before the continent’s largest multi-sport competition officially begins.
Similar to the Olympics, the football tournament starts before the opening ceremony and finishes on the competition’s final day, Sept. 2. The fledgling Young Falcons face Iran today at the 28,000-capacity Wibawa Mukti Stadium in the Indonesian capital.
The Saudi NOC have brought a delegation of 169 athletes, including eight females, and will compete across 22 disciplines, including athletics, shooting, taekwondo and volleyball. The three-week Asian Games operate both as a continental precursor and, at times, a qualifying tournament for 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The Young Falcons made their football debut at the Asian Games in South Korea four years ago, reaching the quarterfinals in Incheon, before losing to Iraq. Their regional neighbors were inspired by legendary striker Younes Mahmoud, who had been included as one of Iraq’s three over-age players and scored twice in a 3-0 win.
Yet the impact of Mahmoud in Korea has not influenced the team’s selection. With the Saudi Pro League starting next week, coach Saad Al-Shehri has opted to forego athletes older than 23, instead selecting a squad consisting primarily of Al-Ahli development players and a smattering of Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad and Al-Ettifaq-based youths.
“We haven’t brought any overage players because we are playing here as preparation for the U23 Asian Cup, which will offer qualification for Tokyo 2020,” said Faisal Almarashdi, a spokesman for the team.
“We have brought to Indonesia only players who are 21 or under as they will all be eligible for Tokyo. Many have already played at the Under-20 World Cup under coach Saad, so there was never any discussion to use the three allocated over-age slots.”
Abdullah Otayf is the model example of how Asian Games experience can help a young career. Four years ago, the deep-lying midfielder was part of the squad that traveled to Korea. This summer he was an integral part of the Green Falcons side that played at the World Cup in Russia.
With national team coach Juan Antonio Pizzi following the competition from afar, there will be chances to catch the eye for the likes of striker Haroune Camara and midfielders Abdullah Yahya Magrshi and Ali Hassan Al-Asmari ahead of January’s Asian Cup. Both midfielders have already made their full debuts for Ahli and featured in the Jeddah club’s Champions League campaign last season, while Al-Qadisiyah’s Camara was included in Pizzi’s provisional World Cup squad before being cut from the final 23.
“These Asian Games are very important for the young players involved,” Almarashdi added.
“They are the future of the senior team so if they play well here and at the U23 Asian Cup then, we hope, they will go to Tokyo 2020. From then on the pathway to the senior team is already very clear.”
Much like the seniors, the U23 side is both short and slight, with only two of the 10 midfielders and forwards standing above 5 foot 8 (172m). Today’s opponents Iran are not only taller and more physical, they also have, in Croatian coach Zlatko Kranjčar, a manager who knows West Asian football after short spells in Qatar and the UAE. In their most recent preparation match, Iran lost 3-2 to China.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, beat the UAE last week in Malaysia following a pair of friendlies against local sides. Today’s match will kick-off at 4 p.m. local time, midday in Saudi Arabia.