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

On-form Muguruza stakes claim for Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title
Garbine Muguruza on her way to a win over qualifier Irina-Camelia Begu in Dubai. (WTA Tour)
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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.”


Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi, Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah head for world rally title showdown in Abu Dhabi

Yazeed Al-Rajhi won on his last visit to the UAE. (Supplied/Total Communications)
Yazeed Al-Rajhi won on his last visit to the UAE. (Supplied/Total Communications)
Updated 28 October 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi, Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah head for world rally title showdown in Abu Dhabi

Yazeed Al-Rajhi won on his last visit to the UAE. (Supplied/Total Communications)
  • Al-Attiyah leads the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies championship standings from Al-Rajhi, with Argentinian Lucio Alvarez and Russian Denis Krotov also in the hunt

ABU DHABI: The battle for the drivers’ title in the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies reaches a critical point in the 2021 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, with the top four contenders heading for a showdown in the penultimate round of the series.

Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, on 61 points, leads the championship standings from Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi (44 points), with Argentinian Lucio Alvarez (42 points) and Russian Denis Krotov (37.5 points) also in the hunt and contesting the 30th anniversary event in the UAE from Nov. 6-11.

Partnered by Mathieu Baumel in a Toyota Hilux, Al-Attiyah knows that a third Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge career victory following his win in last month’s Rally of Morocco could be enough to clinch the crown.

Al-Rajhi and Irish co-driver Michael Orr, in a Toyota Hilux Overdrive, have other ideas, and will take confidence from the fact that their last visit to the UAE in February produced victory in the Dubai International Baja.

A World Cup first round win in Kazakhstan, meanwhile, underlined the credentials of Alvarez and Spanish navigator Armand Monleón in another Toyota Hilux, and a big performance among the Al-Dhafra dunes could boost their title hopes, with the final event to follow in Saudi next month.

Driving a MINI John Cooper Works Rally, Krotov certainly cannot be discounted, particularly as he is co-driven by compatriot Konstantin Zhiltsov, who has twice guided Vladimir Vasilyev to wins in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

As the cars, buggies, bikes and quads sweep across the Al-Dhafra dunes, Abu Dhabi Aviation helicopters will provide potentially life-saving aerial search and rescue support for the medical crews on permanent standby to be taken to the aid of competitors in trouble.

Nader Ahmed Al-Hammadi, chairman of Abu Dhabi Aviation, said: “Abu Dhabi Aviation seeks to secure elements of strength and safety for the success of this year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge by providing air support for the global event (with) three advanced helicopters (Bell 412 and 212) used for logistical support and air ambulance purposes, in addition to search and rescue operations.

“This makes the participation of the Abu Dhabi Aviation’s aircraft vital in giving contestants and observers a sense of safety,” he added. “Our presence is considered a key element of the rally’s success given the harsh environmental conditions represented by the desert, especially (as) the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is the longest desert rally in the Middle East,”

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, president of the EMSO and FIA vice president for sport, said: “We’re indebted to Abu Dhabi Aviation for the vital role they play, year after year, in ensuring the safety of competitors in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. This is a major factor behind the event’s long running success.”

Taking place under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the ruler’s representative in Al-Dhafra region, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is also the final round of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship for bikes.

The rally is supported by the ruler’s representative, the UAE Armed Forces, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Abu Dhabi Police, ADNOC, Yas Island, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi Municipality, Al-Dhafra Region Municipality, Al-Ain Water and Tadweer.


The evolution of the international cricket coach in the modern game

The evolution of the international cricket coach in the modern game
Updated 28 October 2021

The evolution of the international cricket coach in the modern game

The evolution of the international cricket coach in the modern game
  • For long captains were in charge of tactics and they remain important today, but the importance of the coach has skyrocketed in recent decades

In soccer, managers and coaches are a high-profile part of the game. This is less the case in cricket. Traditionally, an overseas touring party had a manager appointed to oversee the logistics of the tour and to be its public face. An assistant manager sometimes doubled up as a coach, with the team captain also taking on coaching responsibilities.

In both Australia and England coaches were not selected on a long-term basis until 1986. India had started earlier down this route in 1971, although a feeling of “Indian-ness” had been instilled in the 1960s by the princely captain Tiger Pataudi.

Less international cricket was played at that time and players had more opportunities to work on technical errors that might have entered their game. In the professional (and amateur) domestic game, captains, or their delegates, ran matters, both on and off the field.

However, first-class cricket was entering a new era as commercial sponsorship placed greater emphasis on winning. One aspect of this was increased attention given to diet, fitness and nutrition, although this may have been difficult for the bon viveurs on the professional circuit to embrace enthusiastically. The management of all these developing trends became too much for one person, the captain, to cope with and the role of coach/team manager emerged at both domestic and international levels.

In the latter arena, countries tended to have a panel of selectors, whose chair was a powerful figure. This dynamic has changed with the arrival of a full-time manager/head coach. In England, the power was removed completely when, in April 2021, responsibility for selection was given to the head coach, although the views of the captain are brokered. It is too early to know if this power concentration is for the best.

Over the past four decades a group of elite head coaches has emerged in international cricket. Generally, but not exclusively, they had represented their country at cricket and graduated to become the coach of their national team through a learning stage of coaching regional teams both at home and abroad. As their reputation grew, they attracted the attention of boards of other countries looking to improve their national team’s performance.

England appointed its first overseas coach in 1999, India its first in 2000, but it took until 2011 for Australia to appoint one. A South African famously coached India to World Cup victory in 2011, and an Australian coached England to 2019 World Cup victory.

Each of these coaches has had a different approach to their roles. One approach is to be hands-off, giving space to the players, especially the captain, so that they can express themselves in a relaxed environment. The coach manages emotions, knowing when to be formal or informal with the players, providing a sounding board for concerns that an individual player may wish to discuss privately.

Another approach is to be more technical and theoretical, driven by the statistics and analysis of performance, seeking improvements in technique through practice. The amount of data available to coaching staff is now substantial and is used to inform strategy and game plans.

It can lead to overcomplicating simple aspects of the game and runs the risk of players stopping to think for themselves and communicating with each other. Some elite players have been known to be dismissive of the data-driven approach.

A third approach is that of being a hard taskmaster. Several who tried being this have mellowed with experience. Recently, the Australian head coach has been subject to leaked complaints about his micromanagement, draining intensity and unpredictable mood swings. This has led to a resetting of the relationship between him and the players.

Essentially, cricket is an individualistic team sport. A coach must set a strategy and game plans that act as a driving force for the team and which can be executed by both the captain and the players. In setting out to achieve this, the relationship between the head coach and the captain must be, at the very least, in tandem. The manager/coach is seeking to blend private individuals and team players, givers and takers, established performers and newcomers, trying to create an environment in which, ideally, they can all flourish and improve both as players and individuals, helping each one to maximise their potential.

High skills are required to coach an international team across three formats – 20 overs, 50 overs and Test cricket. It has become standard practice to have specialist batting, bowling and fielding coaches in order for the head coach to concentrate on keeping the team focused, functioning and united, taking pressure off the captain. The coach can fine-tune.

A good example of this occurred in respect of an Australian bowler on his first tour to England. In the opening Test match his performance was below par. The coach took him to the nets, placed two cones either side of the pitch at a certain distance from the stumps and told him to bowl until he could consistently land the ball between the two cones, since that was the length to bowl in England. In the next match the bowler claimed eight wickets out of 10 and a stellar career followed.

The demand for top-class coaches is increasing, especially with the expansion of the IPL, women’s and emerging nations cricket. In the 2021 IPL, where the relationship between the coach and the franchise owners is an added dimension, only one head coach was Indian. Out of the 16 head coaches in the T20 World Cup this year, seven are nationals and, remarkably, of the other nine, six are South Africans.

A coach’s task is all-consuming, carrying a relatively short span per contract, requiring cricketing credibility, high-quality person-management skills and the ability to create a nurturing environment for the team. At the top end of the scale, their value is reflected in salaries around the $1 million mark. Cricket coaches now play a vital and significant role in contributing to a team’s success or failure in the professional game.


Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse set for world’s most valuable racing weekend with showpiece Saudi Cup worth $20 million

Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse set for world’s most valuable racing weekend with showpiece Saudi Cup worth $20 million
Updated 28 October 2021

Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse set for world’s most valuable racing weekend with showpiece Saudi Cup worth $20 million

Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse set for world’s most valuable racing weekend with showpiece Saudi Cup worth $20 million
  • Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Al-Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, highlights rapid progression of the sport as newly promoted Group 1 Saudi Cup headlines $35.1 million two-day meeting in February

The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia has announced that total prize money for the two-day Saudi Cup meeting on Friday, Feb. 25 and Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, will increase to $35.1 million, making it the most valuable fixture in global racing.

The Saudi Cup, which will be run as a Group 1 event for the first time, remains the world’s most valuable horse race at $20 million, while five thoroughbred races on the Saturday card have been awarded Group 3 status.

Prize money for both the Group 3 Neom Turf Cup and Group 3 1351 Turf Sprint has increased by $500,000 to $1.5 million. The Obaiya Arabian Classic, a $1 million contest for purebred Arabian horses, was this week promoted to a Group 2 race by the IFAHR.

At a series of press events held via video link from King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Al-Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, spoke of the rapid progression of racing in the region.

“We could never have imagined the immediate impact the Saudi Cup would have on the international racing landscape, or indeed on our domestic racing product,” Prince Bandar said.

“In 2020 we launched our first ever international meeting and less than three years later we enter our first racing season as a Part II racing nation, having been promoted by the IFHA earlier this month. We are now looking forward to hosting the world’s most valuable race, the Saudi Cup, as a Group 1 for the first time, as well as five Group 3 races on the undercard.

“None of this would have been possible without the buy-in and support of the international racing community and, on behalf of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, I would like to thank everyone within the industry for the way they have embraced the Saudi Cup,” he said.

“As the Saudi Cup makes advances, so does our domestic racing offering,” Prince Bandar added. “We continue to focus not only the international aspects of this sport but also understand that building strong foundations upon which a sustainable industry can be built is a vital element to securing the future of this incredible and unique sport for generations to come, both in Saudi Arabia and overseas.”

The highlight on the opening day of the meeting, the STC International Jockeys Challenge, won last year by Ireland’s Shane Foley, will incorporate a turf contest into its four-race format, while a new international turf race, the Listed Al Mneefah Cup, worth $1 million for purebred Arabians, is also being added.

“Despite the global challenges, the 2021 Saudi Cup was a huge success, attracting a truly international field,” said Tom Ryan, the JCSA’s director of strategy and international racing. “We had a brilliant winner in Mishriff who is the perfect example of the high-class horse the race can attract, and his victory showed how well-placed the race is in the calendar.

“Following his subsequent two Group 1 wins, he has proved to be one of the best horses in the world,” he added. “We then had Saudi Cup fourth Knicks Go land the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga in August, while 11th-placed Max Player was also successful at Saratoga last month in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.”

Ryan said that one of the things the JCSA is most proud of is the versatility of the racing surface at King Abdulaziz Racetrack, with the 2021 Saudi Cup proving conclusively that turf horses can perform on the dirt track and that their form on dirt translates back to turf.

“Mishriff had only run once on dirt before in last year’s Saudi Derby, while this year’s Saudi Derby winner, Pink Kamehameha, had previously only raced on turf in his native Japan,” he said. “We hope this shows owners and trainers all over the world that they can come to Saudi and compete in both our dirt and turf races.”


UAE golfers get shot at big time in Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship with place at Masters, Open up for grabs

UAE golfers get shot at big time in Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship with place at Masters, Open up for grabs
Updated 28 October 2021

UAE golfers get shot at big time in Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship with place at Masters, Open up for grabs

UAE golfers get shot at big time in Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship with place at Masters, Open up for grabs
  • Local players will hope course knowledge of Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club can secure passage to 2 Majors in 2022

DUBAI: Five leading UAE-based amateur golfers have a chance of claiming a once-in-a-lifetime place at both the Masters and the 150th Open championship, at St. Andrews next year, as they line up for a winner-takes-all four days at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship on Nov. 3-6, 2021 at the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club.

The AAC was created in 2009 by the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation, the Masters Tournament and The R&A to further develop amateur golf across Asia, and the 2021 championship will mark the first edition held in the UAE, one of the APGC’s 42 member countries.

To mark the latest golfing first for the UAE, five of the country’s leading amateurs have been invited to take their place alongside Asia’s finest in the four-round shootout.

The UAE’s No. 1 Ahmad Skaik has secured a spot along with compatriots Khalid Yousuf, Khalifa Al-Masaood and Rashid Al-Emadi. Arkesh Bhatia, another big name on the UAE scene, will be representing India.

“The Dubai Creek championship course is a world-class venue befitting of this prestigious tournament, and the event offers a wonderful opportunity to the top-ranked amateur golfers from across Asia, including some of our top UAE talent,” said Sheikh Fahim bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, chairman of the Emirates Golf Foundation, the sport’s governing body in the country.

“The course provides players with a true test, the home players know it well, so we are set for an intriguing four days of golf and a potentially life-changing opportunity that is sure to bring the best out of the leading UAE players on home soil.”

The UAE players will be hoping that course knowledge will give them an advantage as the AAC champion will receive an invitation to compete in the Masters Tournament at Augusta in April 2022 and The Open, two of the four Majors on the global golfing calendar, with the runner-up gaining a place in final qualifying for The Open.

Winning the four-day event will be tough ask, however, as the field includes China’s defending champion Yuxin Lin, who is aiming for an unprecedented third AAC title, and in-form Japanese world No. 1 amateur Keita Nakajima, who has secured two victories in his last three starts.

Over the AAC’s 12-year history, the championship has served as a springboard for some of the world’s top players today, including current Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, Australia’s Cameron Smith, Korean Kim Si-woo, Thailand’s Jazz Janewattanond and Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan, who won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics this year.


Maria Fassi off to a flyer with nine-under 63 on opening day of Dubai Moonlight Classic 

Maria Fassi off to a flyer with nine-under 63 on opening day of Dubai Moonlight Classic 
Updated 28 October 2021

Maria Fassi off to a flyer with nine-under 63 on opening day of Dubai Moonlight Classic 

Maria Fassi off to a flyer with nine-under 63 on opening day of Dubai Moonlight Classic 
  • The 23-year-old from Mexico carded eight birdies, an eagle and two bogeys in a career-high round to lead Lee-Anne Pace by one stroke

DUBAI: Mexican sensation Maria Fassi carded a course-record equalling nine-under par 63 to hold a one-stroke lead over South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace after the first round of the Dubai Moonlight Classic presented by EGA at Emirates Golf Club.    

Rising star Fassi, 23, starting on the 17th hole in the day-to-night competition, carded eight birdies, an eagle and two bogeys in a thrilling career-high round. The round, her personal best as a professional, included a run of three straight birdies on holes four to six, another trio of consecutive birdies on holes 13 to 15, and a chip-in eagle on hole 16.

Pace led the field for most of her blemish-free round of 64, which featured an opening birdie on hole four that was quickly followed with twin birdies on 8 and 9, an eagle on 10, and further birdies on holes 14,16 and 18. Pace was only usurped at the leaderboard summit by Fassi’s closing eagle, while her playing partner, Germany’s Olivia Cowan, carded a bogey-free seven-under par 65 to sit one stroke ahead of Sweden’s Jessica Karlsson.

“It was pretty flawless today out there,” Fassi said. “It was my first time playing in the dark but it was awesome. I enjoyed it a lot and the course was great. Shooting 63 is a personal best; it’s awesome to tie the course record on the Faldo course, it’s a pretty big deal in my opinion. Now I’ve tied it, I want to beat the course record, but the reality is I just have to keep doing what I did today.”

Pace was happy with her performance and admitted some aspects of night golf were a real positive: “I’ve never played under floodlights before and I struggled in the Pro-Am, but it was a lot easier today — I’m glad I played the Pro-Am now. I like the tournament format, the night golf, it’s nice to sleep in in the morning.”

Welshwoman Lydia Hall and England’s Alice Hewson finished with five-under par rounds of 67, with Hall satisfied with the flat stick after carding 29 putts.

“It was a solid round tee to green. I only missed three greens today and that’s what cost me my two bogeys, but it was a good start to the tournament,” Hall said. “I always start a bit apprehensive as we’re not used to playing in the dark, but it’s a good start. I shot 29 putts today and that’s been my goal all year, to stay under 30, and it seems to be working.”

Two-time Major winner Ariya Jutanugarn, making her Dubai debut and first ever professional round under the floodlights, carded a four-under 68 to stay in touch with the leaders. Jutanugarn is in a chasing pack that includes England’s Bronte Law and Spaniard Carmen Alonso, the trio one ahead of Ariya’s sister Moriya in tied 10th. 

Dame Laura Davies and Solheim Cup-winning captain Catriona Matthew had to settle for one under par rounds of 71.

“I played really well to be honest, it’s a shame I bogeyed the last (17th),” Davies said. “I drove really well, hit a few ropey irons a little bit left, but they were hitting the greens so two putting for par. It was quite an easy one-under par, could have been two or three, but I gave one back at the last.”

Davies also spoke of her delight at the progress Dubai is making in encouraging junior female golfers after participating in a special Emirates Golf Federation clinic with local youngsters. “It’s lovely seeing Dubai grow in the golf world. I did a junior clinic this morning and you wouldn’t have seen that 15 years ago, young girls from the area and all around the UAE coming for a bit of coaching. It’s lovely how Dubai is growing, but also how the game is growing,” Davies said.

One Dubai-based youngster making the headlines earlier this week was Chiara Noja, the 15-year-old who turned pro on the eve of the tournament. After a promising start, Noja finished on one over par after three bogeys in her last six holes.

“I made it a little bit difficult for myself at times, shot some birdies but also a couple of unnecessary bogeys,” Noja said. “I had some really good shots and was two under at one point, but lost it a little bit. I still had a great time. To be honest, this is the most relaxed I’ve been in a long time. I went out there, tried to focus on the game and not really think about the pressure of being a pro. The course was incredible, and the greens were great. I loved it.”