Saudi Arabia to host major snooker event for first time

Saudi Arabia announced it will host a World Snooker Tour event for the first time in 2020 in Riyadh, as part of the 2020/21 World Snooker Tour calendar. (File/Reuters)
Updated 09 December 2019

Saudi Arabia to host major snooker event for first time

  • Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters will be held in Riyadh from October 4-10
  • The tournament will include all 128 Tour players

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has agreed a deal with World Snooker to host a ranking event for the first time after signing a 10-year deal with the sport’s governing body.
The Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters will be held in Riyadh from October 4-10 with total prize money of £2.5 million ($3.29 million) as part of the 2020-21 World Snooker Tour calendar.
Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority chairman Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki said: “This partnership adds further to our hosting of a diverse range of international sports in Saudi Arabia.
“Having held motorsport and boxing events in recent months, and with tennis and equestrian events to follow, we are thrilled to add the Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters, which will see world-class snooker played in Saudi Arabia for the first time in 2020.”

He added that the GSA aims to provide opportunities for audiences in the Kingdom and the region to “see the world’s best,” with hopes to inspire and encourage more participation in the sport.
The tournament will include all 128 Tour players and the world’s top 32 will enter at the third-round stage, with four local players competing in the first round.
Prince Abdulaziz also said that as part of the agreement, they will work with one of the world’s leading sporting events company to host programs in schools and universities to encourage youth to play snooker. 
World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn said on Sunday that snooker has grown to such an extent that they are able to create “exceptional tournaments at this level,” adding that the calendar for the coming year is jam-packed.
“This is a giant leap forward for our sport. We have enjoyed tremendous global expansion over the past decade, particularly in Asia and Europe and we are thrilled to stage a new and momentous tournament in the Middle East,” 
Hearn added: “For the fans in Saudi Arabia, it is a wonderful opportunity to see the best players in the world competing for a huge title. We look forward to working with our partners on delivering a huge event.”
Jason Ferguson, chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association said that one of their biggest ambitions is to bring snooker to every corner of the planet.
“This is a step of huge significance. It gives us a firm footprint in the Middle East and we believe this will be the beginning of a boom for our sport in the region.”
Meanwhile, Carlo Boutagy, CEO of CBX, the official event promoter said the agreement between GSA and World Snooker is a great opportunity to bolster the popularity and awareness of snooker at a grass roots level in the Kingdom. 
In cooperation with Matchroom, a sport event promotions company founded by Hearn, CBX will work with schools and clubs throughout the Kingdom to develop snooker as a sport. 
“This competition provides the perfect motivational platform for aspiring snooker players throughout the Kingdom,” said Boutagy.
Saudi Arabia has been hosting major international sporting events as part of its Vision 2030, which aims to transform the Kingdom into a major tourist destination and economic hub.
Last month, the Kingdom launched the Diriyah Season, a month of sports which kicked off with the Formula E and the Diriyah Tennis Cup, featuring eight of the best men’s players on the planet.
It also included the Diriyah Equestrian Festival, an elite competition with Tokyo Olympics 2020 qualifying points on the line and the Clash of the Dunes, which saw Britain’s Anthony Joshua win the world boxing heavyweight titles against Andy Ruiz on Saturday.

No fans, no problem as Serena wins on return

Updated 12 August 2020

No fans, no problem as Serena wins on return

  • The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion looked to be flirting with an early exit in the second set

LOS ANGELES: Serena Williams shrugged off the absence of fans to make a winning return from her six-month coronavirus layoff on Tuesday, defeating lowly ranked Bernarda Pera in three sets at the WTA Top Seed Open tournament in Kentucky.

Williams, who before Tuesday had not played a competitive game since a Fed Cup appearance in February, came from behind to defeat American world No. 60 Pera 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in two hours and 15 minutes at the Top Seed Tennis Club in Lexington.

The former world No. 1’s first round victory played out to an empty arena. This week’s tournament — the first WTA event in the US since the COVID-19 pandemic — is taking place without spectators.

Williams, 38, later revealed that the sedate surroundings had suited her game.

“It was a really calm atmosphere, it was really chill,” Williams said.

“I can’t say I disliked it. I didn’t mind it at all. I’ve been through so many things in my career and this was totally different. I think I won today because I was calm for once in my career.

“Kind of reminds me of junior days. Something nostalgic about that. I kind of enjoyed it.”

The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion looked to be flirting with an early exit in the second set, but recovered from 0-40 down at 4-4 before holding and eventually winning the set.

“I just knew I could do better,” Williams said. “It was an interesting game. I just had to get used to her game a little bit. She played really well.”

Williams will now play either sister Venus or Victoria Azarenka in the second round.

Pera had seized an early advantage in the first set, breaking Williams to take a 3-2 lead before holding for the remainder of the set to win 6-4.

Williams was soon in trouble on her service game in the second set, falling 0-40 in the opening game before battling back to hold.

Williams moved into a 3-1 lead with a break of Pera’s serve in the fourth game, but her Croatia-born opponent hit back immediately with a break of her own before holding to level at 3-3.

With the next two games going to serve, Williams looked to be in trouble after falling 0-40 down in the ninth game. But she dug deep to hold for a 5-4 lead and then broke for the set when Pera sent a forehand return wide.

The momentum spilled into the deciding set, and another misdirected forehand from Pera handed Williams a break to move into a 3-1 lead.

Another break took her into a 5-1 lead and she closed out the win by holding to love, wrapping up victory with a cross-court forehand that left Pera stranded.

This week’s WTA tournament is the first to be staged in the United States since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the tennis season earlier this year.