In-form Sabalenka to face Kudermetova in Abu Dhabi final

In-form Sabalenka to face Kudermetova in Abu Dhabi final
Aryna Sabalenka aims to cap her winning streak with a victory in the final against Veronica Kudermetova. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 January 2021

In-form Sabalenka to face Kudermetova in Abu Dhabi final

In-form Sabalenka to face Kudermetova in Abu Dhabi final
  • Sabalenka needed just 61 minutes to wrap up her 6-3, 6-2 success over the ninth-seeded Maria Sakkari

ABU DHABI: World No. 10 Aryna Sabalenka says she’ll do everything she can to keep her winning streak alive after she posted a 14th consecutive victory in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday to reach her third final in as many tournaments.

Sabalenka needed just 61 minutes to wrap up her 6-3, 6-2 success over the ninth-seeded Maria Sakkari and will take on Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova in the title decider in the UAE capital on Wednesday.

The 22-year-old from Belarus, who ended her 2020 season by picking up back-to-back titles in Ostrava and Linz, completed an Arabian Gulf hat trick against Sakkari, having also defeated the Greek in Dubai and Doha 11 months ago.

The longest winning streak in WTA history was Martina Navratilova’s 74-match run in 1984.

“It’s an unbelievable number. Of course I’d like to go this far and I’ll do everything I can to keep winning, so we’ll see,” said Sabalenka of Navratilova’s record.

“I think I’m putting my focus on the right space, I’m just focusing on the right things and this helps me to, first of all, not think about all these wins and secondly to keep winning.

“I think I need to keep focusing on my game, on my movement on the court and try to do everything I can in the moment and I think that works really well with me.”

Contesting the biggest semifinal of her career, Kudermetova survived a 60-minute first set battle on her way to a 7-6 (10/8), 6-4 win over Ukrainian teenager Marta Kostyuk.

“I have a little bit more experience than Marta, she is really young, she’s 18. Today I think it was the key because I have a little bit more experience than her,” said the 23-year-old Kudermetova, who idolizes Khabib Nurmagomedov and Maria Sharapova.

The world No.  46 is through to her maiden WTA final and takes a 5-3 win-loss record against top-10 opposition into her clash with Sabalenka.

“From my side, I don’t have expectations from tomorrow because Aryna is a top-10 player, she plays unbelievably, she’s playing really well here,” Kudermetova said, looking ahead to the final.

“I think she has a bit more pressure than me because she’s supposed to win tomorrow, she already won two tournaments in a row. I think tomorrow I’ll play freely; I’ll try to play relaxed and try to enjoy my final.”

Sabalenka swept the opening three games and was untroubled until Sakkari stopped her from serving out the first set at 5-1. The Greek narrowed the gap but Sabalenka’s firepower delivered in game nine as she secured a one-set lead in just under 30 minutes.

Sakkari enjoyed a better start to the second set but Sabalenka would not relent, and the Belarusian soon earned a double-break advantage en route to victory.

“She played lights-out tennis, she gave me zero chances,” said the 22nd-ranked Sakkari.

The fourth-seeded Sabalenka fired 22 winners against a mere eight unforced errors and will be targeting a ninth career title when she faces Kudermetova in Wednesday’s final.


Saudi showjumpers ride high at Jeddah event

Saudi showjumpers ride high at Jeddah event
With SR130,000 ($34,600) in cash prizes, the three-day competition, held without spectators due to the coronavirus restrictions, has been organized by the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation (SAEF) in partnership with the Ministry of National Guard and the Diriyah Gate Development Authority. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 2 min 56 sec ago

Saudi showjumpers ride high at Jeddah event

Saudi showjumpers ride high at Jeddah event
  • Elite riders saddle up for $34,600 National Guard Ministry cup at Jeddah Trio Ranch

JEDDAH: The Saudi National Guard Ministry’s showjumping cup competition kicked off on Thursday at the Jeddah Trio Ranch, with Abdullah Al-Sharbatly and Dalma Malhas leading a top-class equestrian lineup.

With SR130,000 ($34,600) in cash prizes, the three-day competition, held without spectators due to the coronavirus restrictions, has been organized by the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation (SAEF) in partnership with the Ministry of National Guard and the Diriyah Gate Development Authority.
The competition consists of nine rounds, with three rounds each day. About 130 horses were registered in the competition. The fences were set at 1.15m for the small grade where about 80 riders competed on the first day.
Almost 40 equestrians took part in the 1.20m-1.25m medium grade. Another 20 competitors battled in the 1.30m-1.35m grade on the first day of competition.
“We have seven competitions under the names of seven ministries. After good international and Olympic results, support has doubled for equestrian sports, particularly showjumping,” a member of the SAEF technical committee, Ali Al-Sahli, told Arab News.
One rider, Naif Al-Sudairi, said that equestrianism in Saudi Arabia is making rapid advances on many levels.
“With Saudi Vision 2030, we now have more tournaments in all regions of the country, and the competition has heated up,” he told Arab News. “This can motivate the riders to improve and show our best in the run-up to international competitions.”
He added that he is looking forward to representing Saudi Arabia in the global equestrian events.

First day
In the small round on the first day of the competition, Khaled Al-Hady came first with 20 points. His horse, Doberlina Van de Kapel, came second with 18 points. Mohammed Hassan Al-Hadi was ranked third with 16 points, while Princess Al-Anoud Al-Saud secured fourth place with 14 points, and Waleed Al-Ghamdi was fifth with 12 points. Faisal Al-Ouda and Abdul Aziz Al-Hamazani came sixth and seventh, respectively.
In the medium class, Mohammed Al-Malki topped the ranking with 30 points followed by Khalid Al-Mobty, who collected 28 points. Badr Al-Fard came third with 26 points, and Abdullah Al-Sheikh was fourth with 24 points. Ahmed Bakarman came fifth with 22 points.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The competition consists of nine rounds, with three rounds each day.

• The fences were set at 1.15m for the small grade where about 80 riders competed on the first day.

• Almost 40 equestrians took part in the 1.20m-1.25m medium grade.

• Another 20 competitors battled in the 1.30m-1.35m grade on the first day of competition.

Malhas, who secured an individual bronze at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, after completing the round in 38 seconds without a single penalty, came ninth with 14 points. She is also the first Saudi female equestrian to take part in the individual hurdles at the 2018 World Equestrian Championship held in the US city of Tryon.


In the big round, Al-Sharbatly, who won the individual silver medal at the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games, came first with 40 points, followed by Abed Sanosy with 38 points. Fahad Al-Ghamdi was third with 36 points, while Badr Al-Fard was fourth with 34 points, and Talal Al-Juaid came fifth with 32 points. Sultan Al-Qarza’e and Khaled Al-Mobty came sixth and seventh, respectively.

Riders’ journey
Muneer Al-Ayoubi, who has been riding for over 20 years, told Arab News that showjumping requires understanding between rider and horse.
“I have been participating in showjumping (activities) for more than two years. It is the most difficult type of horse-riding activities,” he said. “Unlike horse racing and endurance riding, contestants have to keep training their horses. The rider and the horse should appear as if they were one soul.”
Arwa Mutabagani, owner and managing director of Jeddah Trio Ranch, said that they have riders of different levels from all over Saudi Arabia.
Speaking about the preparation to host the competition, Mutabagani said: “The horses arrive a couple of days before the competition, so we have to be ready. On-site, we have 150 horses participating, so we have different locations to host all these numbers. We made the warm-up arena ready for the riders to prepare their horses for the show.”
An Italian equestrian expert was brought in to handle the timing and ensure there are no complaints, she said. Mutabagani said that she is training a number of female riders to become champions. Family support is essential in this type of sport, she added.
“To reach a top position, dedication, family and team support, and sacrifices are all elements that should go together. You also have to have a good instructor, a good horse, and you have to have the right competition that can help you move to higher levels,” she said.
She mentioned her daughter, Dalma Malhas, as an example, saying: “When she was competing, she was young and spent weekends at the shows and not with her peers. So, you have to sacrifice being a normal teenager to reach the top.”
Meanwhile, Mohrah Faisal, a female equestrian who took part in the small round, said that she is grateful to SAEF for supporting female riders. “We did not have such an opportunity in the past. Now I hope I can represent the Kingdom at the Olympics.”
She said that her family believed in her passion for equestrianism once they saw her succeeding in many local competitions.
Wafa Hasson, another Saudi female rider, said she competed in the UAE two years ago after SAEF gave women riders the green light, which helped them improve.
Female riders are still looking for opportunities to learn. “I want to go as far as I can. I don’t really have a limit, I just want to see what I can achieve and I will do my best to achieve it.”
Ghalia Al-Musa, another participant, said that she has been riding for 13 years, and her mother is still her biggest supporter.
“SAEF allowed female riders to compete along with male riders in 2019, and it was good news for all female riders. In the same year, SAEF selected the best female riders to represent Saudi Arabia in the Arab Women Sports Tournament in Sharjah, UAE. We came second as a team and I came fourth as an individual,” she told Arab News.
Al-Musa also hopes to represent Saudi Arabia in international events, including the Olympics.
Heavy rain in Jeddah on Friday forced the organizing committee of the National Guard showjumping cup to combine the second and third day of competition on Saturday (10 a.m. to 11 p.m.) when the competition will come  to an end.