Italian star Fabio Fognini praises Diriyah Tennis Cup as ‘great opportunity’ for Saudis

The 32-year-old, who recently moved up international tennis rankings to number 12, will be joining seven other leading players to battle it out for the inaugural edition of the $3 million Diriyah Tennis Cup. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 November 2019

Italian star Fabio Fognini praises Diriyah Tennis Cup as ‘great opportunity’ for Saudis

RIYADH: International tennis star Fabio Fognini praised Diriyah Tennis Cup as a “great opportunity” for Saudis to attend a world class event live.

The 32-year-old, who recently moved up international tennis rankings to number 12, will be joining seven other leading players to battle it out for the inaugural edition of the $3 million Diriyah Tennis Cup presented by Saudi Aramco.

It will be the first international tennis tournament to be staged in Saudi Arabia.

“I think it is a great opportunity for the people of Saudi Arabia to be able to attend such world-class events live, and I believe it is good for the country as well,” Fognini said.

Fognini, who won the ATP Masters 1000 title in Monte Carlo, believes the tournament will help tap into the growing interest in the game and drive up its popularity further.

“The Middle East is a region that has a lot of hunger for tennis and I believe we should be able to play in this region more often. It would help tennis develop and it would give players more opportunities,” he said.

The tournament takes place from December 12 to 14 in Diriyah, the UNESCO World Heritage site on the outskirts of the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

The cup will be staged at the purpose built 15,000-seater outdoor hard-court Diriyah Arena.

“It’s all different live; you hear the sounds of the game, which you miss on TV, and also the speed of the ball and the movement is completely different. [I think fans] will enjoy it!” said the 32-year-old.

Fognini will join a spectacular line-up of men’s tennis players next month for Diriyah Tennis Cup. Besides him will be three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka and the highly rated world No. 11 David Goffin of Belgium.

Big-serving American John Isner, with over 10,000 aces on tour, will also be present along with five-time ATP champion Lucas Pouille of France, who was an Australian Open semi-finalist this year.

Current world number five Daniil Medvedev wraps up the six confirmed names so far, with the final two names set to be announced in the coming weeks.

“It is a very competitive lineup. There are players with different styles. It will be interesting to see who will play better,” Fognini said of his competition in Diriyah.

The animated Italian, a popular character on the tour, is known for both his on-court antics and cheeky comments and has no intention in changing ahead of his debut in Saudi Arabia. “I am who I am, in the good and bad, I believe I show my emotions when I play, and this could me my weakness or my strength, but I think people also like to watch me play for that!”

Diriyah Tennis Cup is part of Diriyah Season, a month-long celebration of world-class sport and entertainment that kicks off with double-header of the futuristic Formula E race; followed by boxing world heavyweight title fight, dubbed Clash On The Dunes; then the Diriyah Tennis Cup; and elite Diriyah Equestrian Festival.


The NBA Finals: Why the Lakers will win the championship

Updated 01 October 2020

The NBA Finals: Why the Lakers will win the championship

LeBron James believed he could win every time he advanced to the NBA Finals.
A couple occasions, he realistically had little chance. His first and last appearances in Cleveland ended in sweeps, overmatched Cavaliers teams routed by San Antonio in 2007 and Golden State in 2018.
In his 10th NBA Finals, he sees his first opportunity with the Los Angeles Lakers the same way he viewed his trips in Cleveland and Miami.
“The game is won between the four lines, not won on paper,” James said. “At the end of the day, when I’ve lost in the finals, the better team won because they played well, they were more prepared and they did what they needed to do to win those four games.”
This time, that’s going to be his team.
With Anthony Davis alongside James, the Lakers are armed with the same type of firepower they had when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant led them to the first of three straight titles 20 years ago.
The two first-team selections to the All-NBA team have combined for 60 or more points 20 times in their first season together, and the Lakers have won 19.
They are now set up to win the Lakers’ first title in a decade.
“Now we want to make sure that we finish this thing off right,” Davis said.
James shows almost no drop-off at 35, tying his career high with four triple-doubles in these playoffs. He is averaging 26.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists, numbers no player has ever reached through his first 15 games of a postseason.
Davis has been just as dominant, right about at his career postseason average of 29.6 points that trails only Michael Jordan (33.4) and Allen Iverson (29.7) among players who have appeared in at least 25 games.
The Heat, with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler anchoring a strong defense, might be able to take one of them away. Nobody is stopping both.
The Lakers’ role players give them plenty of support, from playoff-tested veterans Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard and Danny Green, to newcomers such as Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso. Los Angeles is shooting 49.8% as a team, tops in the postseason.
The Lakers are also limiting teams to 106.5 points, third-lowest in the playoffs, and the Heat might be the least explosive squad they will have faced. Portland had Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Houston followed with NBA scoring leader James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and Denver boasted Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the top two players in total points in the playoffs.
Los Angeles knocked all three teams out in five games.
Once they did, thoughts turned to the proper way to cap off what’s been a challenging season for the Lakers. A preseason trip to China turned turbulent following Houston general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet supporting democratic protesters in Hong Kong. Bryant, a franchise icon, was killed in a helicopter crash in January. The coronavirus pandemic halted the season and forced players to be away from their families for months when it resumed.
Four more wins and the Lakers can go home to them.
“Every day since we been in the bubble it’s been like, man, this is a great opportunity. Take full advantage of it and stay in the moment,” Howard said. “You know, even after we won the Western Conference finals, I wanted to be like, all right, this is not the goal just to win the Western Conference finals. The goal is the win the championship.”
They will. Lakers in five.
___
Brian Mahoney is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at bmahoney(at)ap.org