Mario Balotelli eyes move to Arabian Gulf League Champions Sharjah FC

Mario Balotelli eyes move to Arabian Gulf League Champions Sharjah FC
Brescia's Italian forward Mario Balotelli could soon be moving to the UAE. (File/Isabella Bonotto/AFP)
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Updated 07 July 2020

Mario Balotelli eyes move to Arabian Gulf League Champions Sharjah FC

Mario Balotelli eyes move to Arabian Gulf League Champions Sharjah FC
  • Italian’s representative believes successful stint in UAE could boost player’s Euro hopes
  • Balotelli could start playing at Sharjah FC in time for the 2020-21 season

DUBAI: Mario Balotelli is inching closer towards a sensational move to Arabian Gulf League champions Sharjah Football Club in time for the start of the 2020-21 season, his international representative Morris Pagniello has revealed in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

“The negotiations began yesterday, and the club has expressed real interest,” Pagniello, a FIFA certified agent, said. “We were not discounting other options or clubs in the region, like Saudi Arabia or Qatar. But my first preference is Sharjah, because of the standard of living and club itself is one of the most elite in the Emirates. Lifestyle wise, and for his career, I think Sharjah will be the best option for him.”

Pagniello also revealed that Genova International School of Soccer (GISS) will partner with Sharjah Sports Council in an effort to bring some of Europe’s finest young coaches and talent spotters to these shores with a view to developing some of the best local talent around.

Rumors have swirled on social media for several days that the 29-year-old Balotelli, currently at Brescia, will be joining the team which has maintained a hold on the UAE league title in 2018-19 after the current campaign was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s actually something that came up three weeks ago when I was asked to see where we can place Mario,” Pagniello said. “One of the options was Boca Juniors in Argentina, I was pushing for that. But then I mentioned that we work with Sharjah Sports Council, having placed the first two Emirati players in La Liga, and Sharjah FC became our first preference, and our first official interaction with the club was yesterday morning.”

Balotelli’s signing would be a statement of intent for Sharjah, and Pagniello believes life in the Emirates could provide a perfect move for Balotelli.

“He’s had a lot of controversy in his career,” he said. “But this type of life, outside of Europe, and taking football from another perspective and leading up to the Euros, what’s important for him is to play games and score goals. I think this is the right country for him.”

Balotelli started his career at Lumezzane, where he played two first team matches before embarking on a whirlwind career that saw him play for: Inter Milan, where he won the treble under Jose Mourinho in 2009-10; Manchester City, where he, under Roberto Mancini, helped the club claim their first Premier League title; Liverpool, Milan, Nice, Marseille and most recently Brescia.

Though he has resumed training with the Italian club today, it is only a matter of time before he finds a new club, according to Pagniello, and Balotelli has not given up on making the Italian squad for the Euros taking place sent summer.

“Roberto Mancini is considering him, he is one of the best strikers in Italy still,” he said. “Give him the right ambience, where he plays, and he scores goals. I think he’ll be one of the biggest names ever to play here. It’ll be massive for football in the Emirates to have a name like this. And not just for the name, but for the quality.

Balotelli, who has been to Dubai on holiday previously, would arguably be the highest profile footballer to play in the Arabian Gulf League yet, and his representative is hoping that a two-year deal, at least, can be agreed with Sharjah soon.

Despite a nomadic career that has seen ups and downs across Europe, Balotelli, at 29-years-old, is entering the peak of his career according to Pagniello.

“Physically and mentally, I think he’s matured in the last three years,” he said. “He’s been in France, and been the top scorer at the clubs he’s been at, Nice and Marseille. And going back to Italy, I think he’s at his peak. Maybe not fame-wise, he’s not in the big clubs like Man City and Milan. But physically and mentally, he’s ripe.”

Pagniello’s other order of business is establishing the latest branch of the GISS in association with Sharjah Sports Council.

“Over a year-and-half ago we started talks with the Sports Council secretary-general Issa Hilal Al Hazami, to program the development of local Sharjah players and clubs,” Pagniello said. “So we’re looking at opening with Dibba and Khor Fakkan, establishing our academy bases.

“Working with the clubs, from the under-20s down, working with their coaches and also bringing in Spanish and Italian coaches. Sharjah FC have their own program now with Ajax, but we’re looking top collaborate with them for their player pathways, for their youth players to come to Europe.”

One of the GISS ambassadors is former Real Madrid and Spain legend Fernando Morientes, and GISS will be looking to bring that kind of quality and experience to the region in the coming years.

“The coaches will all be ex-players,” said Pagniello. “We are bringing academy coaches, ex-players, even if it was at second division or third division, they would have had to have played at a certain level that they can show the kids.”

Giovanni Tedesco, former captain of Genoa and Palermo, and until recently coaching in Malta, is already slated to be technical director for Dibba’s U20s team.

The coaches will be tasked with developing Sharjah’s young talent to a level where they can play for their respective club first teams, or to seek a career in Europe, something that only a handful of Emirati players have ever considered. Today, more opportunities are arising.

“I am one of the international scouts for La Liga club Leganes, and our major objective is to get players into their system,” Pagniello added. “I’m also the president of Racing Murcia (Third tier of Spanish football) and we have a first team and youth team which we will be using as pathway for these players. So they will go there, train, sign, study and play football.”

Pagniello and GISS will also hope that regional talent will be attracted to Sharjah, and to their particular project.

“It’s a unique program we’re doing and a real pathway,” he said. “A lot of clubs come here and use their logos and have coaches who have never even stepped into the club or actual country, with all due respect. Our thing is to bring players straight from a club, for example the Leganes academy or Inter Milan academy, so we have direct pathway and link, and real interest in developing players. It’s not just about marketing or making clubs richer or for publicity stunts. We’ve signed over 150 players in 10 years from our academy bases.”

Pagniello also sees potential for expanding Genova’s footprint in the region, once the Sharjah academy is up and running.

“Sharjah is our full-time base, and where sports in Sharjah is going, we want to be with them,” he said. “They’ve chosen us and we’ve chosen them, because they’re very ambitious about sports in general. We start from there but we are not excluding that we could end up in Saudi Arabia or Oman. Three years ago, the club sponsor of Leganes was Saudi company called MBUZZ, telecommunications company, so we knew there was a massive market there, and that would be the next market to tackle.”

Having Balotelli on board, as well as the opening of the GISS, could prove a boost not just for Emirati football, but for the whole region. The ball is in Sharjah’s court.

Why Saudis are falling in love with Formula racing

Why Saudis are falling in love with Formula racing
Updated 09 March 2021

Why Saudis are falling in love with Formula racing

Why Saudis are falling in love with Formula racing
  • The recent Formula E event at Diriyah and the Saudi Arabian F1 Grand Prix later this year are drawing an increasing number of male and female fans to motorsports

These are happy days if you happen to be a motorsport fan in Saudi Arabia.

For many years, the desert landscapes of the Kingdom have been a natural home for international rallies, including for the last two years, the world-famous Dakar.

More recently, Saudi Arabia has witnessed the revolutionary introduction of Formula circuit racing with the hosting of three Formula E weekends, starting in 2018 and culminating in the recent historic double header of night races at the Diriyah E-Prix. 

The event may have had a limited live audience, but the interest shown in it, especially around the Diriyah Gate Development, was a clear indication of just how popular racing has become in the country.

And it is about to get better. In December, Formula One racing will finally come to the country with the hosting of the first ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah.

While rallies are for the most part spectacular television spectacles, Formula racing is something that has to be witnessed live to be truly appreciated.

Competitiveness, risks, and entertainment are what the crowds want to see, and should fans be allowed back into circuits in the coming months, Saudi’s growing number of racing events will find a more than hungry audience.

Motorsport fandom in the Kingdom encompasses all aspects of cars.

There are long-time fans of competitive racing, and the more casual watchers. Some are car collectors and others curious about the technology behind the motors. And then there are real racers hoping to emulate world famous drivers.

“More than anything, I love to see the winning car,” Waleed Ibrahim, one of the organizers of the Formula E event, told Arab News. “The danger it goes through, it makes me feel excited and I cannot wait to attend Jeddah Formula One race.”

It’s no surprise that for the fanatics, having a Formula One Grand Prix in the Kingdom is as exciting as a World Cup would be for a football fan.

“Formula 1 is the greatest sporting event after football,” said Omar Allahim, a Saudi desert rally driver and coach. “It is the biggest and oldest race in the world of cars and coming to the Kingdom is considered as a historical leap in the development of Saudi sports.”

“As a teenager back in the old days I used to do a lot to afford attending the races in Bahrain,” he said.

The Saudi racing fans all speak of their common desires to hear the echo of loud formula engines, and enjoy watching the best drivers from around the world giving it their all.

Some embrace racing more than others.

Almohannad Alsharif, a huge motorsport enthusiast since he was a child, a supercar collector, and a racer himself, told Arab News: “My dad has always liked cars and driving fast, so I decided to dig deeper into them until I became a certified FIA international pro driver.”

“Although I offroad and enjoy driving luxury sedans, driving supercars on the track is my greatest passion,” he added. “Especially if they are involving manual transmission, traction off, rear-wheel drive, big engine, and are lightweight.”

Alsharif also has participated and won a number of national competitions.

“I’ve been racing since 2001 in the USA, and I’ve won multiple national championships, the latest was in late 2019,” he said.

Not surprisingly, he is also a big fan of Formula racing - having raced Formula 4 in Dubai in 2015 - and he described it as “the pinnacle of circuit racing”. He also believes that Jeddah Formula 1 Grand Prix “is a huge step for Saudi” and hopes to be a part of the races taking place before the showpiece event scheduled for December 5, 2021.

Formula racing may be relatively new to the Kingdom, but its breeding ground, karting, and the more established rallies are not.

Khaled Al-Zayed, a Saudi driver and member of the Royal Guard team has been racing since 2008.

“I have participated in 50 international race and 180 national races,” he’s said. “My love of motorsport led me to be skilled in both karting and rallies.”

Al-Zayed has three different international racing licenses, including for Group C, karting, and rally.

“Racing on the track makes me feel alive, and now that we have the Formula one race coming to Jeddah, it is a huge deal and it will help us to show the world how much fast cars mean to us,” he added.

Just over three years ago, women couldn’t even drive in Saudi Arabia, but the societal changes that have swept the country in recent times means they have increasingly embraced racing as a sport, with a chance to shine alongside male racers.

Mashael AlObaidan, a Saudi rally dirt bike racer, told Arab News that she has always been a huge fan of motorsports and watching movies of women riding motorbikes inspired her to do so herself.

“Adrenaline just rushes in my blood when I race, it is pure happiness,” she said. “To have Formula events in my country, it is a big achievement and I am really proud of it and I am also super proud of our female Formula champion Reema Juffali, and our male Saudi car drivers as well.”

“Saudi Arabia is doing a great job in a lot of sectors especially motorsports,” AlObaidan said. “We have the biggest races and that shows you where we are heading. It is a bright future for the sector and I love it.”

On-form Muguruza stakes claim for Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title

On-form Muguruza stakes claim for Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title
Updated 09 March 2021

On-form Muguruza stakes claim for Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title

On-form Muguruza stakes claim for Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title

Two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza held off a solid challenge from qualifier Irina-Camelia Begu on Monday to win 6-3 7-5 and move into the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Muguruza, who reached the Dubai semi-finals in 2015 and 2018, has earned more wins than any other player on the WTA Tour this year, and she arrived in Dubai after competing in the Doha final, where she fell to Petra Kivitova.

“It was definitely a challenge because it’s very different conditions (from Doha),” said Muguruza. “I fought as much as I could and I could close the match in two sets. I’m happy that I made it and feel like I’m getting into the tournament.”

Although she was unable to dominate her enterprising opponent, the number nine seed was not threatened until late in the second set, when Begu established a lead and served for the set at 5-3. Muguruza though fought back to claim the next four games and a place in the next round.

“It is never easy to begin a tournament so soon after competing in the final of another, but Garbine Muguruza impressed us with the way she adapted and dealt with a difficult opponent,” said Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “This is her seventh appearance here and it is a pleasure to welcome her back.”

Elena Rybakina, who reached the Dubai final last year before losing to Simona Halep, also overcame a second set fightback by Saisai Zheng, winning 6-0 6-4, and she was joined there by Madison Keys, who marked her Dubai debut by taking just 64 minutes to claim a 6-1 6-1 victory over qualifier En-Shuo Liang.

Rybakina enjoyed an incredible start to last season, reaching four finals in her first five tournaments and winning Hobart before her momentum was halted by the Covid-19 pandemic. She came desperately close to claiming the Dubai title, upsetting recently crowned Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and world number three Karolina Pliskova to reach the final, where in one of the most thrilling contests on the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium centre court she came within two points of victory in a nail-biting final set tiebreak.

After giving up just five points on serve in the opening set, Rybakina appeared to be coasting to a comfortable victory as she broke to lead 3-1 in the second. But her opponent then began to offer a solid challenge and Rybakina was relieved to close out the match in straight sets.

“Overall, I thought I played not a bad match,” said Rybakina. “I’m happy to come here again. It’s a pity there are not the crowds here like before, but I’ll try to do my best this week.”

Keys tested positive for Covid-19 in January and, instead of flying to compete at the Australian Open, she was forced to self-isolate at home. As a result, the only tournament she has competed in since playing at the French Open in September is last week’s Doha event, where she defeated 2019 Dubai champion Belinda Bencic before falling in the second round to Maria Sakkari.

There were no signs of rust as she swept past Liang, and although she faced seven break points, she fought off every one to secure a comfortable victory.

“I feel good about today,” said Keys. “I played a really clean first set, and in the second set I had some break points against me but I thought I handled them pretty well and kept the momentum. It’s been tough. I definitely feel a little bit behind compared to everyone else, but I know if I keep working at what I’ve been practising and try and implement that in matches then more matches will come.”

“There have been many extremely competitive performances today,” said tournament director Salah Tahlak. “No one is certain of victory, and that was demonstrated when former world number one and triple Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber was beaten by Caroline Garcia. It is impossible to predict who will finish as our 2021 champion on Saturday.”

Game on: Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdullah bin Musaad buys football club No. 5

Game on: Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdullah bin Musaad buys football club No. 5
Updated 09 March 2021

Game on: Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdullah bin Musaad buys football club No. 5

Game on: Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdullah bin Musaad buys football club No. 5
  • Chateauroux prop up French second division, but Prince Abdullah bin Musaad predicts successful future

JEDDAH: A Saudi prince who owns four professional football clubs has splashed out nearly €3 million on a fifth.
Prince Abdullah bin Musaad is buying the French club Chateauroux, adding to his portfolio of Sheffield United in England’s Premier League, Beerschot in Belgium, India’s Kerala United and Al-Hilal United in the UAE.
“We have been interested in Chateauroux for some time, and negotiations have taken a long time,” Prince Abdullah said.
The prince is buying the club through his company, United World. Chief executive Abdallah Al-Ghamdi “saw the last game and reached an agreement with club officials and the board of directors,” the prince said.
French media have estimated that the deal is worth about €2.8 million, a bargain basement price in global football. “I think the amount is higher but I do not want to divulge it,” the prince said.
Chateauroux are currently propping up the French second division after only four wins from 28 games, but the prince is undaunted.
“The club’s position in the second division table is now very difficult, but I am optimistic about its future,” he said.
“When we buy a club, we have several objectives. To raise the level of the club, the facilities and the level of the team. The most important thing is to do it over time.
“I’m happy that we own clubs from three of the four countries that reached the semifinals of the last World Cup — England, Belgium and France.”
The prince is particularly delighted to be involved with a French club.
“When I invested in England and Belgium, I was happy. But for France, I have a special feeling because it’s a country that reminds me of childhood,” he said. “My memories are numerous and my brother Abdulrahman was born there.”

‘China Crisis’ is priceless lesson and opportunity for Saudi football

Riyadh and Jeddah, rather than Shanghai and Guangzhou, will have an increased opportunity to become Asia’s go-to destinations for big-name foreign players. (AFP/File Photos)
Riyadh and Jeddah, rather than Shanghai and Guangzhou, will have an increased opportunity to become Asia’s go-to destinations for big-name foreign players. (AFP/File Photos)
Updated 08 March 2021

‘China Crisis’ is priceless lesson and opportunity for Saudi football

Riyadh and Jeddah, rather than Shanghai and Guangzhou, will have an increased opportunity to become Asia’s go-to destinations for big-name foreign players. (AFP/File Photos)
  • As champions Jiangsu FC and others cease operations, Kingdom set to become go-to Asian football hub

LONDON: A leading Chinese football agent has warned that the financial issues facing the Chinese Super League serve as both an opportunity and a warning for Saudi Arabia.

His views come in the wake of seismic events that have rocked Chinese football and look set to have a ripple effect on the rest of the continent.

A series of mishaps, among them being Chinese champions Jiangsu FC ceasing operations last week, have for a while at least, removed the Middle Kingdom as one of the premier transfer destinations in the world. Riyadh and Jeddah, rather than Shanghai and Guangzhou, will have an increased opportunity to become Asia’s go-to destinations for big-name foreign players, but caution is needed.

“For a number of years, we were getting lots of inquiries from China to contact European clubs, and getting lots of interest from European agents to get their players into China,” a leading Chinese agent, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arab News. “Outside the big leagues of Europe, China was the place to go, but that has changed. We are already seeing attention switching to West Asia.”

Around a decade ago, Chinese president Xi Jinping made it clear to the world and the Chinese Football Association, as well to conglomerates and state-owned enterprises, that the underachievement of the country in the world game had to end. Within months, clubs in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing were signing some of the biggest names in the sport.

In the short-term, China wanted to match the likes of Saudi Arabia and become an Asian powerhouse — The Green Falcons have been to five World Cups and won three Asian Cups, compared to one and none for China — but the longer-term ambition was a global one.

The transfer activity certainly reached world-beating levels during the winter transfer window of 2016-17, when China’s top tier spent more than any other. Oscar left Chelsea for Shanghai SIPG in December 2016 for around $80 million. In total, more than $470 million was spent, considerably more than the $300 million that left the bank accounts of English Premier League teams. Never had Asia seen such activity.

The sums spent helped bring the AFC Champions League to China for the first time ever, increased attendance to the number one spot in Asia and lifted the league’s profile to be one of the highest of any outside the traditional “Big Five” of Europe.

But ahead of the new season, headlines around the world are talking of a “China crisis.”

On March 1, Jiangsu FC ceased operating just three months after being crowned champions for the first time in their history. Owners Suning, who also control Inter Milan, have pulled the plug.

There are others. A year ago, Tianjin Tianhai went bankrupt, and at the moment, according to reports in the Chinese media, Tianjin Tigers are also close to folding. Over the past 12 months, 16 teams in the top three tiers in China have gone out of existence.

While Saudi Arabia has outperformed China in football, there are some similarities. The coronavirus pandemic meant that many Chinese clubs, already in debt, saw less revenue and were relying even more on cash injections from corporate owners who were also feeling the effects. Clubs in Saudi Arabia often struggle to be self-sustainable, and depend on owners putting hands in pockets.

The temptation to get out wallets may be hard to resist in the coming months. Already, the likes of Alex Teixeira, the Brazilian who helped Jiangsu to the title last season and is now a free agent, has been linked with moves to Saudi Arabia in the hope that clubs there can match the kind of salary he received in China. He would join stars such as Bafetimbi Gomis, Pity Martinez, Odion Ighalo and Andre Carillo, who bring talent and attention, but do not come cheap.

There have been examples of Saudi clubs overextending themselves. Al-Nassr have become embroiled in a dispute with players Maicon and Giuliano Victor de Paula, with FIFA getting involved and recently slapping the Riyadh club with a transfer ban that could last three windows. There have also been reports that Al-Ahli have been late in paying players this season.

“Now that China is not part of the conversation and won’t be for a while, Saudi Arabia will become the focus of more and more players and their agents, especially as there are some clubs and leagues in Europe that are struggling financially at the moment due to the pandemic situation,” the agent added.

“Teams may be able to sign some big talents, but China shows that you have to be careful. To see the champions go out of existence means that something is very wrong.”

Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur off to a winning start in Dubai

Ons Jabeur on her way to defeating Katerina Siniakova at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. (WTA Tour)
Ons Jabeur on her way to defeating Katerina Siniakova at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. (WTA Tour)
Updated 08 March 2021

Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur off to a winning start in Dubai

Ons Jabeur on her way to defeating Katerina Siniakova at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. (WTA Tour)
  • Teenage sensation Coco Gauff makes her mark at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

DUBAI: Ons Jabeur made a winning start at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Sunday with a comfortable 6-2 6-3 victory over Katerina Siniakova.

While the tournament is taking place without a live audiences, the win by the 26-year-old Tunisian, ranked 31 in the WTA rankings, will delight her growing fanbase in the Middle East.

Jabeur was joined in the second round by teenage sensation Coco Gauff, who defeated Ekaterina Alexandrova 7-6(3) 2-6 7-6(8) in a centre court thriller.

“I’m happy with the win today,” said Jabeur. “I’m playing good. I like the conditions here, so hopefully will continue this way. I put pressure on myself because I want to win so bad. I am trying to take it like easy, whatever happens. I’m just trying to take it one day at a time.”

Jabeur was untroubled by her opponent, who had reached the final of an ITF tournament in Dubai in December and contested the Australian Open doubles final last month. The Tunisian showed no sign of nerves as she deals with the expectations that come with her position as a leader of Arab women in sport.

“We have enjoyed some exciting contests on the first day of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, with many twists and turns,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “We congratulate today’s winners and look forward to seeing how they progress in the days ahead.”

Gauff’s battle with Alexandrova stretched to two hours 41 minutes. Gruff led the opening set 4-1 but was taken to a tiebreak, Alexandrova dominated the second set and the outcome of the third set went down to the final ball. Gauff led 5-1 but again her opponent battled back, fighting off four match points to hold for 4-5 and then break and level at 5-5.

The set then went to another tiebreak, during which Alexandrova held two match points before Gauff finally closed out the contest on her sixth match point.

“There were times where we both could have thrown in the towel and given up,” said Gauff, who would love nothing more than to celebrate her 17th birthday by taking part in Saturday’s final. “It was a match you’re just happy to get through. To get all the bad swings and the bad misses out of the way and hopefully for the rest of the tournament I can play a lot better.”

Svetlana Kuznetsova was involved in another match which swung one way and then the other. She had to dig deep to overcome Chinese number one Qiang Wang 6-4 1-6 7-5, taking two hours 21 minutes to earn a second-round clash with top seed and two-time Dubai champion Elina Svitolina.

Kuznetsova first played at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in 2003 when she won the doubles title, but she has lost no less than three singles finals and a remarkable four consecutive doubles finals.

Wang, who created headlines when she defeated Serena Williams in the 2020 Australian Open and is currently coached by former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, made a positive start, holding off six break points as she built a 3-0 lead, only for the former world number two to sweep the next five games and go on to take the opening set.

Wang then dominated the second set, and in a tense final set broke to lead 5-4 and serve for victory. Kuznetsova, though, held off the threat and claimed the next three games.

In other first round matches, Barbora Krejcikova upset 16th seed Maria Sakkari 6-2 7-6(4), Veronika Kudermetova defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-6(3) 6-2 and will next play 2019 Dubai champion and number six seed Belinda Bencic, and in a contest between two former finalists Alize Cornet defeated Daria Kasatkina 6-4 3-6 6-1 and will now face third seed Aryna Sabalenka. Anastasija Sevastova advanced when Bernarda Pera retired with Sevastova leading 6-0 5-3, and she will next play second seed and 2015 Dubai finalist Karolina Pliskova.

“We could not have wished for more exciting matches to get the tournament off to a fantastic start,” said tournament director Salah Tahlak. “The quality in so many of today’s matches was at times breathtaking, and there will no doubt be many more exciting battles in the days ahead.”

The WTA 1000 tournament continues until March 13 and will be followed between March 14 and 20 by the ATP event, headed by reigning US Open champion and world number four Dominic Thiem.