Saudi siblings flying the flag for the Kingdom at Diriyah Tennis Cup

Saudi siblings flying the flag for the Kingdom at Diriyah Tennis Cup
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The Haqbanis - Ammar (pictured), Saud and Yara - have staked a claim for a place for Saudi Arabia in international tennis. (Supplied)
Saudi siblings flying the flag for the Kingdom at Diriyah Tennis Cup
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The Haqbanis - Ammar, Saud (pictured) and Yara - have staked a claim for a place for Saudi Arabia in international tennis. (Supplied)
Saudi siblings flying the flag for the Kingdom at Diriyah Tennis Cup
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The Haqbanis - Ammar, Saud and Yara (pictured) - have staked a claim for a place for Saudi Arabia in international tennis. (Supplied)
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Updated 12 December 2019

Saudi siblings flying the flag for the Kingdom at Diriyah Tennis Cup

Saudi siblings flying the flag for the Kingdom at Diriyah Tennis Cup
  • The Haqbanis - Ammar, Saud and Yara - have staked a claim for a place for Saudi Arabia in international tennis
  • Diriyah Tennis Cup features eight of the world’s top 20 players in men’s tennis

RIYADH: A Saudi former tennis player and his three children are carrying the hopes of the Kingdom’s promising future in tennis.

The Haqbanis - Ammar, Saud and Yara - have staked a claim for a place for Saudi Arabia in international tennis, having dominated across the age groups in the US where the family resides and where father Faleh works, as a diplomat.

Ammar, the oldest of the trio, was selected to participate in the inaugural edition of the $3 million Diriyah Tennis Cup, which takes place in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Diriyah on the outskirts of Riyadh as part of the month-long Diriyah Season.

Ammar, 21, will play an exhibition match on the official schedule of Diriyah Tennis Cup and he has no doubts over the massive role the Kingdom’s first ever international tennis tournament can play locally in the development of the game at a grassroots level.

“Diriyah Tennis Cup will have a significant impact on tennis in Saudi, especially for local tennis lovers and young talents who want to be professionals. Watching closely as these big names compete at Diriyah Arena will be a huge inspiration for them to work more and build their professional path in order to compete on the global stage in the future,” said the Riyadh-born athlete who moved to the United States at the age of one.

Having started his tennis career at five years old, Ammar participated in his first United States Tennis Association (USTA) competition three years later. He reached as high as seventh position on the USTA’s Mid-Atlantic section standings and 135th globally in the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) ranking.

Besides captaining the Saudi national team in Davis Cup since 2015, Ammar has dominated the GCC regional tournaments for seven years. He also won the Kingdom’s first ever gold medal in an international tennis competition.

Saud, the middle child, won his first tennis tournament at the age of seven before going on to clinch an impressive 73 gold medals in USTA competitions. He declined the chance to represent his birth country, the US, in favor of Saudi Arabia.

Despite being only 16, Saud is already playing for the senior national team and became the youngest Saudi player to compete in Davis Cup. His cabinet trophy has three Arab championship titles, two Asian titles and nine GCC titles across the different age groups.

While succeeding on the court, Saud believes the impact of tennis goes beyond the sporting aspect. “Tennis is a great one-man sport that sharpens the personality and teaches a lot of discipline and respect. It makes a real gentleman or respectful lady.” 

Yara, the youngest of the trio, started playing tennis aged three and has won 18 USTA medals in her career so far. The 14-year-old became the first female Saudi tennis player to sign for a Saudi club and the first to win an international match for the kingdom.

She made history recently when she entered the ITF ranking in another first for a female Saudi tennis player and she can’t wait to watch some of the world’s best professionals take to the court of Diriyah Arena. “I am so excited to come and watch such big names competing at Diriyah Tennis Cup in our country and in front of our people.”

Faleh was full of praise for the work done by the organizers of the Diriyah Tennis Cup, which he said was a “well-timed smart initiative” that would put Saudi tennis on the right track. “I am confident that it will be a great success.”

“Hosting a tennis cup with international standards and eight of the biggest names to compete in Saudi Arabia is a sign of even better things to come for tennis in the kingdom,” Faleh added.

A former tennis player himself, Faleh certainly has an eye for talent as his three children all started playing tennis at some point between the young ages of three and five. 

“Parents should observe their kids starting from the age of three to five years old. This is the best age to discover your kid’s talent and it should be nurtured and supported starting up until 15 years old. Otherwise, it will be lost,” the father said.

“I am sure there are a lot of local talents in Saudi who might be way better than my kids. Parents have a key role in exploring their kids’ talent and developing their skills to become of international caliber,” the Saudi diplomat added.

Staged at the outdoor hard-court Diriyah Arena, Diriyah Tennis Cup features eight of the world’s top 20 players in men’s tennis. 

Eight world class players are confirmed to step on court in Diriyah with the three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka and highly rated world No. 11 David Goffin of Belgium taking part.

Joining them are the big-serving American John Isner, who has over 10,000 aces on tour, and five-time ATP champion Lucas Pouille of France, who was an Australian Open semi-finalist this year. Current world No. 5 Daniil Medvedev wraps up the confirmed line-up, with the final two names to be announced soon.

Talented world number twelve Fabio Fogini, the first Italian to win an ATP Masters 1000 title this year in Monte Carlo is playing as well. 

Eight-time ATP Tour winner Gaël Monfils was recently revealed; the world number ten will bring his unique style of play to the cup. The German number 2 Jan-Lennard Struff, who is one of the rising stars in tennis with a career-high 35 singles wins in 2019 and a current ATP ranking of 35 has joined to complete the roster.


5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage
Updated 19 April 2021

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage
  • Second round of matches sees wins for Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr while Al-Ahli recover from mauling to claim first point

RIYADH: Two down and four to go. The group stage of the AFC Champions League is starting to take shape and already there are teams that have an awful lot to do if they are to maintain their presence in the tournament going into the knockout stage.

Some are looking good and the feeling around the Al-Nassr camp has improved massively after a 3-1 win over Al-Sadd, one of the favorites for the competition. Al-Hilal collected three points with a comfortable 2-0 win over Shabab Al-Ahli while Al-Ahli bounced back from their opening game mauling to take a 1-1 draw with Al-Duhail.

Here are five things we learned from the second round of matches.

1. Menezes gives Xavi a coaching lesson

Al-Sadd had not lost for 24 games heading into the clash with Al-Nassr. They won the Qatar Stars League without losing a game and with a goal difference of plus 63, which is incredible enough, but when the season is just 22 games long it really is something special. Yet Al-Nassr fully deserved to win.

Abderrazak Hamdallah scored the opening goal from the spot, but after Santi Cazorla equalized on the hour, the Saudi team’s players kept their nerve, their shape, and their discipline and hit the erratic Qatari team on the counter thanks to the intelligent movement and hard work of their forward line.

With the help of two well-timed substitutions, it was a strategy that bore fruit and two goals followed that put the hosts in with a great chance of the second round.

Al-Nassr coach Mano Menezes has not had much time to work with the players but on this performance, there should be more to come even if fans should not get carried away by being the first team to defeat Al-Sadd this year.

2. Al-Breik stars for clinical Al-Hilal

After a somewhat disappointing opening game, Al-Hilal stepped it up a level against Shabab Al-Ahli.

Star foreign players Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Carrillo grabbed the headlines with their very well-taken goals in the first half but Mohammed Al-Breik deserves plenty of credit. The Saudi international created both in a perfect example of how a right-back should get forward in the modern game.

The first was a delicious cross that was whipped in behind the Dubai team’s defense with Gomis on hand to sweep home from close range. The second came from deeper but found Carrillo in space just inside the area and the Peruvian international made no mistake with a fine swivel and shot. Both goals were easy on the eye and the defender played a huge part.

3. Al-Owais, Al-Somah give Al-Ahli hope

After seven straight defeats, a 1-1 draw will lift some of the gloom surrounding the Jeddah club. It was snatched in the final minutes against Al-Duhail who had largely dominated proceedings.

The Qataris struggled however to find a way past Mohammed Al-Owais. The goalkeeper dealt with everything that was thrown at him to keep the score line down to a minimum. Shot after shot came in and there he was tipping deflections over the bar and getting down well to push headers around the foot of the post.

It was due to such heroics that Omar Al-Somah’s last-gasp goal, which came after an overhead kick assist from defender Motaz Hawsawi, earned a much-needed point to break that dismal losing streak.

4. Strikers come to the fore

It may well be that none of the Saudi teams are firing on all cylinders at the moment, but it will be pleasing to fans that their star strikers have all scored already.

If Al-Hilal are going to go all the way and get a record fourth title, then they are going to need the goals of Gomis, and the French forward is looking hungry and dangerous.

Hamdallah was one of the stars of the 2020 tournament and while the Moroccan has not looked as lethal this year, to get on the scoresheet will be an immense relief for both player and coach. Al-Nassr need him if they are to get out of a difficult group.

And then there is Al-Somah. There has been a lot written about the Syrian striker this season but whatever has happened behind the scenes, three goals in two games speaks for itself. If one of the best strikers in Asia continues to score, then Al-Ahli have a chance.

5. Next comes the crunch

The next two games can make or break a team’s chances as they come against the same opposition. Al-Nassr are level on four points with Foolad of Iran. If the Riyadh giants can come out on top over these back-to-back clashes, then they really can start to think about the next stage.

Al-Hilal take on Tajikistan powerhouse Istiklol who are going to make things very tough. The new boys in the competition have also managed four points from the opening two games thanks to some solid defending. Al-Hilal have the firepower however and can take control of the group.

And as for Al-Ahli, there are twin games with Al-Shorta of Iraq. These will not be easy, even if Al-Shorta are regarded as the weakest team in the group, but they do offer a perfect chance to pick up a win and start challenging at the top of the table.


European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League

European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League
Updated 19 April 2021

European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League

European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League
  • Real Madrid president Florentino Perez would be the founding chairman of the Super League
  • UEFA has threatened to bar from any competition clubs who join the breakaway league

LONDON: A group of 12 elite English, Spanish and Italian clubs dramatically split European soccer on Sunday by announcing the formation of a largely-closed Super League. They are leaving the existing UEFA-run Champions League structure despite warnings they could be kicked out of their domestic competitions and face legal action.
The seismic move to shake up the world’s biggest sport is partly engineered by the American owners of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United who also run US franchises in closed leagues — a model they are trying to replicate in Europe.
The power-play came after the rebel clubs reneged on a promise on Friday to back the plan by UEFA — European football’s governing body — to expand the Champions League beginning in 2024. The deal was designed to appease their wishes for more games, seemingly because they couldn’t control the sale of rights to the existing competition.
The Super League plan was first leaked in January but re-emerged this weekend.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez would be the founding chairman of the SL, which said it “intended to commence as soon as practicable” as a 20-team competition playing in midweek like the current Champions League and Europa League.
“We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world,” Perez said in a statement. “Football is the only global sport in the world with more than four billion fans and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires.”
No evidence was presented that supporters want a Super League. Fan groups across Europe last week criticized even the current Champions League expansion plan as a “power grab.”
Only 12 clubs have signed up for now — with none from France or Germany — but the SL hopes for three more as permanent members. Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are the other founding members, along with Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan. Five slots would be left open to be determined each year based on the previous season’s results.
UEFA warned clubs that joining the “cynical project” based on self-interest would see them banned from playing in any other competition — domestic, European or global. It said their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams.
The statement was issued jointly with the leagues and national governing bodies from England, Spain and Italy.
England has the most clubs with the six including Chelsea and Manchester City, who are due to contest a Champions League semifinals this month. Also included is Tottenham, which is outside of the Premier League’s top four to qualify for the Champions League next season,
“By bringing together the world’s greatest clubs and players to play each other throughout the season, the Super League will open a new chapter for European football, ensuring world-class competition and facilities, and increased financial support for the wider football pyramid,” said Joel Glazer, co-owner of Manchester United and SL vice chairman.
Another vice chairman of the new competition would be Andrea Agenlli who on Sunday night quit his role as chairman of the European Club Association, which was working with UEFA on enlarging the Champions League to 36 teams. Agenlli also resigned as a member of the executive committee of UEFA — rupturing his previously-close friendship with the governing body’s president, Aleksander Ceferin.
The UEFA leader has been determined not to grant more control of the sale of television and commercial rights to the clubs.
“We have come together at this critical moment,” Agnelli said, “enabling European competition to be transformed, putting the game we love on a sustainable footing for the long-term future, substantially increasing solidarity, and giving fans and amateur players a regular flow of headline fixtures.”
The rebel clubs are all members of the ECA which has a working agreement with UEFA, signed in 2019, which commits all its members to take part in and respect the Champions League and other European competitions through the 2023-24 season.
While FIFA issued a statement in January warning that players in a Super League could be banned from the World Cup, the world governing body has not denied that its president, Gianni Infantino, has been involved in the breakaway talks with officials, including Real Madrid’s Perez.
“FIFA can only express its disapproval to a ‘closed European breakaway league’ outside of the international football structures,” the world body said in a statement on Sunday while not answering questions about any role by Infantino.
The Premier League said the Super League would “undermine the appeal of the whole game” by going against the principles of open competition. There was even an intervention by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who warned that a Super League would be “very damaging.”
The Super League confirmed on Sunday that each of the 15 founding members would get a share of at least 3.5 billion euros ($4.2 billion) in initial infrastructure grants.
The AP previously reported that this money would be split among four tiers of clubs, with the top six each getting 350 million euros ($420 million). The competition would begin with two groups of 10 teams, with the top three from each group advancing to the quarterfinals. The teams finishing fourth and fifth would be involved in a playoff to complete the last-eight lineup. The knockout phase would still feature two-legged quarterfinals and semifinals before a single fixture final.
The previously-reported Super League proposal hoped to generate 4 billion euros ($4.86 billion) annually from broadcasters.
In comparison, UEFA said the total commercial revenue was 3.25 billion euros ($3.9 billion) for each of the past three seasons from selling the rights to the Champions League, Europa League and UEFA Super Cup.
For the 2021-24 sales cycle, UEFA is expected to sell around $14 billion in broadcast and sponsor deals for its club competitions, which includes the new third-tier Europa Conference League.
Those sales were completed worldwide on the legal commitment of top clubs to play according to the UEFA-ECA accord. Any breach of the cooperation deal would likely lead to legal threats and suits.
“We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening,” UEFA said of the Super League. “Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.”


Quartararo wins Portuguese GP; Márquez 7th in 1st race back

Quartararo wins Portuguese GP; Márquez 7th in 1st race back
Updated 19 April 2021

Quartararo wins Portuguese GP; Márquez 7th in 1st race back

Quartararo wins Portuguese GP; Márquez 7th in 1st race back
  • Márquez had a lackluster race in his return after breaking his right arm at the Spanish GP last summer

PORTIMÃO, Portugal: Fabio Quartararo won the Portuguese Grand Prix from pole position on Sunday, with six-time MotoGP champion Marc Márquez finishing seventh in an emotional return after nine months.

Quartararo finished ahead of Francesco Bagnaia and defending MotoGP champion Joan Mir. The Frenchman moved into the championship lead with the victory at the Algarve circuit. Quartararo’s celebration after the race included an imitation of Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal celebration.

“It’s good to be back in this mindset, I feel like I’m full of confidence,” Quartararo said. “We did an amazing job. Yesterday we were first in all the sessions, and today we won. This is a great way to start the celebrations for my birthday in two days.”

Márquez had a lackluster race in his return after breaking his right arm at the Spanish GP last summer. He missed the rest of last season and the first two races this year.

“I’m relieved,” Márquez said. “Not only about finishing the race, but about being back on a motorcycle, about feeling like a rider again, even though I couldn’t ride the way I wanted to. But this weekend wasn’t about where I finished.”

The Spaniard jumped to fourth at the start and was as high as third during the first lap, but he made contact with another rider on the second lap and eventually dropped to ninth place. He kept a decent pace but could only make up a few positions, finishing just ahead of brother Álex Márquez.

Marc Márquez couldn’t hold back his emotions as he received a round of applause from the members of his team after the race.

“I’m the kind of person who likes to keep things inside and not express my emotions, but I broke down when I returned to the box,” Marc Márquez said. “It was tough.”

Quartararo lost ground early on but was back in front by the halfway point of the race in southern Portugal, holding on for his fifth MotoGP win. He was coming off a win in Qatar two weeks ago.

Jack Miller and Miguel Oliveira crashed early in the race, while Álex Rins fell later when he was near the front. Veteran Valentino Rossi also crashed to add to his struggles at the start of the season, while Johann Zarco — the championship leader coming into the Portuguese GP — went down with six laps to go while fighting at the top.

Zarco had finished second in the first two races of the season, both in Qatar. Maverick Viñales won the season-opener.

It was the third straight win for Yamaha this season.


UEFA says will ban clubs who take part in breakaway 'European Super League'

UEFA says will ban clubs who take part in breakaway 'European Super League'
Updated 19 April 2021

UEFA says will ban clubs who take part in breakaway 'European Super League'

UEFA says will ban clubs who take part in breakaway 'European Super League'

PARIS: UEFA and English, Spanish and Italian football authorities announced on Sunday that any clubs who take part in a so-called European Super League would be banned from all other domestic and continental competitions.
European football’s governing body said it had learned that some English, Spanish and Italian clubs might announce a breakaway competition.
“The clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams,” UEFA said in a statement.
Media reports on Sunday suggested that an announcement on plans to create a Super League could be made later in the day.
Sky Sports reported that Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea were among six Premier League teams set to be part of the plans.
“If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we — UEFA, the English FA, RFEF, FIGC, the Premier League, La Liga, Lega Serie A, but also FIFA and all our member associations — will remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever,” read the statement.
UEFA is planning to announce its reforms to the Champions League on Monday, with an expansion to 36 teams from 32 and two ‘wildcard’ slots expected to be among the plans.
There have been no reports that French or German clubs would be part of the Super League.
“We thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this,” UEFA added.
“We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced.
“This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. Enough is enough.”
The New York Times reported that at least 12 clubs have signed up for the competition, including Juventus and seven-time European champions AC Milan, who have not played in the Champions League since 2014.


Verstappen wins Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Hamilton second

Verstappen wins Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Hamilton second
Updated 19 April 2021

Verstappen wins Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Hamilton second

Verstappen wins Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Hamilton second
  • Red Bull driver Verstappen muscled past pole sitter Hamilton on the first corner
  • Lando Norris in a McLaren took third ahead of Charles Leclerc for Ferrari

IMOLA, Italy: Max Verstappen kept his cool to claim a chaotic rain-hit Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on Sunday as seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton recovered from a rare mistake to sneak in second.
Red Bull driver Verstappen muscled past pole sitter Hamilton on the first corner at Imola to set up his impressive first win of the season.
“I surprised myself. We worked really hard to make that better. In these tricky conditions we did a great job,” Verstappen said.
Lando Norris in a McLaren took third for the Briton’s second successive podium ahead of Charles Leclerc for Ferrari.
The outcome of a compelling second leg of the Formula One season confirmed Verstappen’s stature as a formidable obstacle to Hamilton’s quest for an unprecedented eighth drivers’ crown.
After winning the season-opener in Bahrain and putting in the fastest lap on Sunday Hamilton leads Verstappen by one point ahead of the Portuguese Grand Prix next time out.
A high-speed crash involving Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and George Russell in a Williams forced the race to be suspended as debris was cleared off the Imola circuit.
The pair collided at over 300kmh on lap 34, both drivers shaken as their wrecked cars were lifted off the track.
The red flags appeared a lap after an uncharacteristic slip-up from Hamilton saw the Mercedes world champion hurtle off the circuit into a gravel pit when placed second on a tracherous rain-hit track.
Half an hour after the suspension, a rolling re-start saw Verstappen set off in front of Leclerc and Norris. Hamilton, his car repaired, had work to do from ninth.
As Verstappen calmly reeled in his 11th career victory, but first in Italy, Hamilton weaved his way up to sit third, and then second after passing Norris with three laps remaining.
“First time I’ve made a mistake in a long time, but I’m grateful I could bring he car home,” said a relieved Hamilton.