Sharapova has it easy in Doha

Updated 13 February 2013

Sharapova has it easy in Doha

DOHA: Maria Sharapova easily reached the third round of the Qatar Open yesterday, dispatching French qualifier Caroline Garcia 6-3, 6-2.
The third-ranked Russian, who won the tournament in her two previous appearances, broke Garcia twice go up 3-0 in the first set. Garcia won the next two games but Sharapova then broke for a third time. The second set went with serve through the first five games until Sharapova broke to go up 4-2, and she clinched the victory when the Frenchwoman hit a forehand long.
Sharapova was joined in the third round by 11th-ranked Marion Bartoli, who downed former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone 7-6 (5), 6-3.

Benneteau wins

Frenchman Julien Benneteau joined compatriot Gilles Simon in the second round of the Rotterdam World Tennis yesterday as he beat lucky loser Tobias Kamke of Germany 6-3, 6-2.
Their progress — Simon eased through on Monday — offset the disappointment of their No. 1 Jo-Wilfrid Tsonga going out on Monday to unheralded Dutchman Igor Sijsling 7-6 (7/3), 4-6, 6-4.
The victory over Kamke, who was drafted in to the tournament proper when another Frenchman Michael Llodra pulled out through illness, sets Benneteau up nicely to reach the quarterfinals for the third time here.
He next faces Romanian Victor Hanescu.
Dutch players enjoyed mixed fortunes yesterday, with Thiemo de Bakker moving into the second round as Russian opponent Mikhail Youzhny was forced to retire in the third set with a hip problem.
De Bakker will await the winner from Wednesday’s match between top seed and holder Roger Federer and Grega Zemlja of Slovenia.
Latvian qualifier Ernests Gulbis admitted he had little to lose in his comprehensive defeat of Dutchman Robin Haase 6-2, 6-1, which took just 50 minutes with the winner breaking four times.
Gulbis, who reached a career-high ranking of 21st two years ago, now stands 132 and finished out of the ranking top 100 last season for the first time since 2006.
“I’m sorry Holland for beating a local,” joked the Latvian. “I played well and had almost perfect timing. I really didn’t give him any chances.
“I don’t have many expectations, my ranking is so low I barely got into qualifying anyway.”

Nadal renews attack on hard courts

In Sao Paulo, Former world No. 1 Rafa Nadal has renewed his attack on hard courts as he prepares for the second tournament on his comeback trail at the Brazil Open.
The 26-year-old Spaniard, who returned to competitive action at the Chile Open last week after a left knee condition sidelined him for seven months, said the number of tournaments played on hard surfaces would limit players’ careers.
He also criticized a move to speed up matches by strictly enforcing the 20-second rule between points at grand slams.
“Hard courts are aggressive on the knees, back and ankles,” the 11-times grand slam champion, told reporters in Sao Paulo.
“That is a theme among the players and doctors. To make a change like that (reduce the amount of hard court events) it won’t be possible in this generation but I think that the ATP has to work to think of how to lengthen tennis players’ careers.
“Can you imagine football players playing on cement?” Nadal has often been criticized for the length of time he takes between points but warnings for slow play have been few and far between.
ATP chiefs recently agreed that umpires would be expected to enforce the 20-seconds between points rule at grand slams, prompting criticism from leading players.
“Rule changes should be made to improve the sport,” he said.

“I don’t think the players in the dressing room are happy with the new rule and we’d like it to be modified and that the referee interpret when you can take longer rather than it be something mathematical.

Arabian Gulf League CEO shares bright vision for the future

Updated 15 min 29 sec ago

Arabian Gulf League CEO shares bright vision for the future

  • Waleed Al-Hosani has been Arabian Gulf League CEO for 18 months
  • Al-Hosani's vision for the league includes making attending matches more appealing to fans

DUBAI In an unassuming office 
block above an Audi showroom in Abu Dhabi, Waleed Al-Hosani is plotting the future of professional football in the UAE.
It is a task that requires creativity and the Pro League Committee (PLC) workspace is certainly conducive to that; a replica substitutes’ bench complete with leather chairs sits in the reception area, while a running track weaves its way among the desks and chairs.
The PLC office is bright and innovative, mirroring Al-Hosani, who for 18 months has been the organization’s CEO. In that time, the Emirati has already demonstrated significantly more foresight than his predecessors. Al-Hosani’s goal is to reinvigorate the Arabian Gulf League (AGL).
From the outside, it may appear that it does not need reinvigorating. UAE clubs have appeared in two of the past three AFC Champions League finals and the UAE has been ranked as the AFC’s best league for the past four years. Millions of dollars have been plowed into the AGL, with marquee players improving the standard of football and ensuring progress to the latter stages of continental tournaments.
Competitiveness is not, however, the criteria that concerns Al-Hosani.
Last season, the average attendance for AGL matches was just 2,500. The league commands some princely sums in TV rights and reportedly attracts an impressive viewership of up to eight million people. But empty stands are a source of both embarrassment and worry.
Tackling this fan apathy is the central tenet of the PLC’s new four-year plan, introduced at the start of the 2017-18 season.
“Poor attendances is the biggest issue we are facing in the Arabian Gulf League,” Al Hosani told Arab News.
“When the Pro League Committee first launched in 2007, the focus was on investing in the teams, getting better players from around the world and creating a big buzz in the media.
“Unfortunately they didn’t manage to balance this with community engagement. This has resulted in clubs becoming closed, not realizing the role they can play in the community and the responsibilities they have to preserve and develop their fanbase.”
This failure by the clubs strikes a personal chord with Al-Hosani. Raised within a stone’s throw from Al-Wahda FC in Abu Dhabi, the PLC chief spent his childhood immersed in the club.
“For many of us, Al-Wahda was our life,” he recalled. “Of course we played football there whenever we could. But beyond that they put on classes to helped us with maths and English, we went bowling — there were a lot of activities. It created loyalty between us and the club.
“Somewhere along the way, this was lost. You look around the AGL and that sort of environment doesn’t exist. I think I’m fortunate I had this experience in my childhood as I can now try to recreate that feeling for people again.”
Diverting money away from transfers and salaries and into infrastructure has been the PLC’s main aim this season. Each club now has a budget set aside for marketing and community activities, which must be designed with long-term benefits in mind.
“A lot of clubs want to use the money for 
prizes but you cannot buy loyalty. A few years ago, Al-Jazira did an amazing giveaway — if you attended matches you could win a Ferrari. It received a lot of attention and attendances exploded that season.
“It was a nice project but when it finished, the fans were gone. The people didn’t come for the club, they came for the prizes. We want to avoid that — we want to build a new, loyal generation of supporters.”
Al-Hosani is demanding that clubs focus their efforts on engagement with supporters. He wants to see community initiatives and liaison with schools and neighborhoods — in order to create a greater sense 
of belonging.
The matchday experience, too, is a target for improvement. It has been lacking for some time for UAE football fans, who have grown accustomed to broken Wi-Fi and closed food and beverage outlets. The rebuilding and refurbishment of a number of stadiums ahead of next year’s Asian Cup in the UAE will be a welcome boost for supporters.
“The improved stadiums will help many clubs,” Al-Hosani explained. “But it’s not enough — we want them to build fan zones, F&B structures — anything that improves the experience of going to an AGL match for fans.
“This change is not easy as most clubs have never thought about it, but that is why we are providing workshops and education so they can understand how to engage 
with the fans and increase the attendances.”Even the act of purchasing a ticket is now significantly easier. It seems remarkable that just a year ago, the majority of UAE football supporters could only buy a ticket when they arrived at the stadium. The introduction of a new central online ticketing system, in English and Arabic, 
has created a more efficient mechanism that also opens up the AGL 
to a wider audience.
Attracting expats and tourists to games has long been regarded as the Holy Grail for the AGL. Almost 90 percent of the country’s population are non-UAE nationals, but in the 11 years since the Pro League Committee was formed it has failed to unlock the secret of how to get them to matches. More accessible tickets is the first step, according to Al-Hosani, who has been encouraging clubs to recognize the importance of diversifying their fanbase. “Reaching out to expats is of course vitally important. I’m not sure why we are so late to do this but based on my experience when I was a fan of the league, I think the initiatives weren’t consistent. Maybe they did one campaign and then stopped for two years before doing another one. “We are working on future promotional activities. We will go to beaches, malls, public gardens — we will do kids’ activities, entertainment, competitions — we want people to know the AGL. The key is to be patient and persistent.”
A desire for quick wins has long been an issue for both the league and its clubs, who are notoriously trigger-happy with their managers. Al-Hosani and his PLC team are working hard to change that mentality and have already made admirable inroads. “As any change anywhere in the world, it’s difficult,” Al-Hosani said. “People are afraid of the unknown, this is natural. There will be resistance but there is a growing understanding that these changes will benefit UAE football in the 
long term.”