Simona Halep batters Karolina Pliskova to reach Australian Open semifinals

World number one Simona Halep overcame a nervous start against Karolina Pliskova before taking a 6-3, 6-2 victory in 1 hour and 11 minutes on Rod Laver Arena. (AFP)
Updated 24 January 2018
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Simona Halep batters Karolina Pliskova to reach Australian Open semifinals

MELBOURNE: World number one Simona Halep overcame a nervous start to batter sixth seed Karolina Pliskova into submission in their Australian Open quarter-final on Wednesday.
The Romanian reeled off nine games in a row and 12 of the last 14 games to recover from 0-3 en route to a 6-3, 6-2 victory 1hr 11min on Rod Laver Arena.
“It’s really nice to be in the semis,” said Halep after moving into the last four at Melbourne Park for the first time, where she will face 2016 champion Angelique Kerber.
Halep had taken three sets to beat Pliskova in their previous meeting, a semifinal at Roland Garros last year, and started shakily, struggling to time her serve or groundstrokes.
But once she saved a break point at 0-3 to get on the scoreboard, her confidence grew against an opponent who has never gone beyond the last eight in Melbourne.
“For sure it wasn’t my best start but I knew I had to restart after three games to stop missing and move better,” said Halep, whose relentless chasing and powerful groundstrokes overwhelmed her taller, tattooed opponent.
“I started to open the court and play my style, and I served well today. Everything went pretty much my way,” added Halep who showed no fitness concerns after carrying a painful ankle throughout the tournament.
She moved smoothly and freely throughout and will be glad to have got off court so quickly. The Romanian had confessed to be “aching everywhere” after being taken to 15-13 in the third set of a marathon third-round match against Lauren Davis.
Pliskova was the top-rated server on the WTA Tour in 2017 but it took her until the sixth game of the second set to record her first ace.
A second followed on the next point but the match was already gone and Halep moved into her an enticing clash against former number one Kerber.
Kerber, seeded 21, is in form and will return to the world’s top 10 on the back of a 14-match winning streak in Australia.
Earlier, the German enjoyed a similarly dominant romp past last year’s US Open finalist Madison Keys 6-1, 6-2.
“For sure Kerber is going to be different,” said Halep.
“She’s moving pretty well and returning the ball very strong and many in the court.
“I have to be ready in my legs and be calm. I have to dominate the match and try to finish the point. Just try to play my best.”


London clash between Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad a chance to showcase Saudi football to the world, says SAFF

Updated 16 August 2018
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London clash between Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad a chance to showcase Saudi football to the world, says SAFF

  • Super Cup final in UK capital can boost Saudi football's image around the world, claims SAFF official
  • SAFF defends number of foreign players allowed to play in Saudi Pro League claiming they help raise the standard.

LONDON: Saturday’s Super Cup final between Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad in London will not just be a great experience for the players, but also a chance to showcase the best of Saudi Arabian football on an international stage ahead of what should be a season to remember.
That is according to Luai Al-Subaiey, the General Secretary of the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF)ahead of the cup clash at Loftus Road, the home of Queen’s Park Rangers. The match is the traditional season curtain-raiser that features the champions and the winners of the King’s Cup. And with holding fixtures overseas a growing trend in modern football, Al-Subaiey told Arab News the decision to play the match in London was a no-brainer.
“Club teams from one country playing in another country is commonplace,” Al-Subaiey said.
“Teams from the English, German, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese leagues played in the US this summer. The Spanish Super Cup was played in Morocco last week.
“We do it because it is good for our players to gather more international experience, to learn what it’s like to play in large overseas stadia, and of course, there is a large Saudi Arabian and Middle Eastern population living and working in London, (roughly) 300,000 people there.”
Al-Subaiey and Co. are confident that a great game in London this Saturday will be a springboard to a great season to come, especially with leading clubs in the country active in the international transfer market.
With eight overseas players allowed in Saudi Arabian teams in the upcoming Saudi Pro League season, there have been concerns that opportunities for local talent could be reduced. Al-Subaiey, however, believes that importing quality players can only be a good thing.
“Foreign players in the Saudi League will help improve the quality of football,” he said.
“But it also needs to be managed and balanced with the need to nourish domestic talent and provide our homegrown players with a pathway to the top.”
International stars such as Omar Abdulrahman have a part to play in the development of the Saudi Pro League and its ambition to be one of the leading leagues in the world. The United Arab Emirates playmaker joined Al-Hilal earlier in August in a season-long loan deal worth a reported $15 million — the second highest in football history.
As well as Abdulrahman, Al-Hilal have signed Peruvian international Andre Carrillo, who scored at the World Cup this summer, as well as former Barcelona defender Alberto Botia. Al-Nassr have bought Nigerian international Ahmed Musa from Leicester City and Nordin Amrabat from Watford.
“Has Wayne Rooney added something to DC United and the MLS? Has Omar Abdulrahman added to Al-Hilal? Of course, additions like these improve the quality of football,” Al-Subaiey said. “For the fans, these players bring excitement, and for the clubs and their league, these players bring a higher profile and greater attention — but there is something deeper too.”
For the official, what the best players bring is attitude and the utmost professionalism.
“Central to high performance sport is the right mindset. People like Rooney and Abdulrahman bring a great work ethic and possess great skills — but they also possess a professional mindset. And the young players who will work with them will see this, experience this — and learn from this.”
If all goes according to plan Saudi Arabia will qualify for the 2022 World Cup and perhaps even
progress to the second round for the first time since 1994. In Russia the Green Falcons started off with a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of the hosts in the opening game in Moscow. The team tightened up before losing narrowly to Uruguay, and then going on to beat Egypt 2-1 in the final game.
“We were absolutely delighted to be at the World Cup,” Al-Subaiey said.
“As you can tell with teams like Italy, Holland and the USA not qualifying and teams like Germany and Argentina not progressing (far in the tournament), the standard of play in international football is very high.
“Our particular group was quite challenging, and our initial game against host Russia, one of the biggest surprises of the World Group, was a difficult first match. Our final game, our win against Egypt, was a World Cup high point for our team. It was a match our young players and our national program can build on.”