Fernando Alonso still confident of ‘magical’ Dakar Rally stage win in Saudi Arabia despite setbacks

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Fernando Alonso speaks to the press after completing Stage 2 of the Dakar Rally on Monday in Saudi Arabia. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 08 January 2020

Fernando Alonso still confident of ‘magical’ Dakar Rally stage win in Saudi Arabia despite setbacks

  • Confidence was raised when he and co-driver Marc Coma finished fifth in Stage 3
  • Alonso’s pace suggests he might well have challenged nearer the top of the classification

NEOM: Former Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso is confident he can still claim what he said would be a “magical” maiden stage win at the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia, he said on Tuesday.

The Spaniard’s chances of challenging for the outright victory took a dent when he lost more than two hours to suspension and wheel repairs during Stage 2.

But confidence was raised when he and co-driver Marc Coma finished fifth in Stage 3, only six minutes behind winner Carlos Saint, something Alonso called “very positive,” according to a report from website motorsport.com.

“We had a stage without setbacks, with good visibility — even going back (toward Neom), every car that we were catching had a flat tire or was lost,” Alonso told the website.

“We had a track without cars and without dust. The only setback was in the last part, that we got lost for a bit in a river, we could not find the way.

“(Otherwise) it was a good day that left a good taste.

“Monday was a surprise. The result was negative and losing those hours was not expected, but the sensations were good yesterday and today also, I feel comfortable with the car.

“Seven months ago I had never climbed onto a dune with a car, now to be able to be again among the first four-five for the second consecutive day is a positive note.

“But I always want a little more and hopefully I can take advantage of the good starting position tomorrow or in the next few days to try something else and be among the first three or hopefully win a stage, which would be magical,” he added.

Without the delay on Monday, Alonso’s pace suggests he might well have challenged nearer the top of the classification, but the former Renault, McLaren and Ferrari driver is remaining upbeat.

“We’ve only been here for three days and there’s going to be a lot more drama than we’ve experienced.

“It happened to me yesterday, (Tuesday) we saw (Khalid) Al-Qassimi’s Peugeot that was in pieces, and many more things will happen to many people.

“Let’s hope that the minimum possible will happen to us and that we will reach stage 12 and get the whole experience.

“But if I can find a good pace and visibility on some stage, I hope to make the top three or even get a dream stage win. It seems impossible, but I have more confidence after these two stages,” he added.


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.