Ons Jabeur becomes first Arab woman to win WTA title with Birmingham triumph

Tunisia's Ons Jabeur celebrates with the trophy after winning her final match against Russia's Daria Kasatkina. (Action Images via Reuters)
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Tunisia's Ons Jabeur celebrates with the trophy after winning her final match against Russia's Daria Kasatkina. (Action Images via Reuters)
Tunisia's Ons Jabeur celebrates winning her final match against Russia's Daria Kasatkina. (Action Images via Reuters)
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Tunisia's Ons Jabeur celebrates winning her final match against Russia's Daria Kasatkina. (Action Images via Reuters)
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Updated 20 June 2021

Ons Jabeur becomes first Arab woman to win WTA title with Birmingham triumph

Tunisia's Ons Jabeur celebrates winning her final match against Russia's Daria Kasatkina. (Action Images via Reuters)
  • Jabeur, ranked 24 in the world, has been in fine form this season
  • Kasatkina had beaten Jabeur twice in three-set affairs

BIRMINGHAM, UK: Ons Jabeur became the first Arab woman to win a WTA title on Sunday when the Tunisian beat Daria Kasatkina of Russia 7-5, 6-4 in an engrossing hour and a half tussle in Birmingham.
Jabeur, the second seed, gained a measure of revenge as she secured her first title at the expense of Kasatkina, one of two women to have beaten her in her previous finals appearances.
“I knew I had to go for it, I had to win this title to at least breathe and give an example,” said Jabeur.
“There’s not a lot of Tunisian or Arabic players playing, so I hope this could inspire them, and I want to see more Arab (players) and Tunisians playing with me on tour.”
Jabeur, ranked 24 in the world, has been in fine form this season where she ranks alongside former world number one Ashleigh Barty in terms of matches (28) won.
The 26-year-old held her nerve despite Kasatkina breaking back when Jabeur served for the first set at 5-4.
Jabeur, though, broke world number 35 Kasatkina immediately and this time she made no mistake in serving to win the set.
Kasatkina had beaten Jabeur twice in three-set affairs.
However, her opponent did not give her a sniff of a chance of a repeat of forcing her into a decider as she raced into a 4-0 lead in the second set.
Kasatkina, winner of two titles this season, fought her way back to 4-3 down but the Tunisian remained focused, sealing the title on her first match point when the Russian netted.
Jabeur revealed the pain of her defeat to Kasatkina in a final in Moscow in 2018 where she pleaded with her to be more generous the next time they met.
“Last time we played was in Moscow, she (Kasatkina) won, and I was crying, it was a great battle,” said Jabeur.
“I told her, ‘Can you please share some titles with me, at least, let me win my first WTA?’”


An umpire’s word is final, except when technology is around

Although the Laws of Cricket accord absolute determination to umpires, they are human and have made errors along the way. (Action Images via Reuters/File Photo)
Although the Laws of Cricket accord absolute determination to umpires, they are human and have made errors along the way. (Action Images via Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 3 min 42 sec ago

An umpire’s word is final, except when technology is around

Although the Laws of Cricket accord absolute determination to umpires, they are human and have made errors along the way. (Action Images via Reuters/File Photo)
  • Television technology and off-field umpires may have changed decision making at elite level, but club cricket still takes the word of only one man

LONDON: As a boy, when I was learning how to play and understand cricket, it was drummed into me by my seniors that the umpire’s decision was final. I witnessed and suffered what appeared to be poor or biased decisions by umpires who made me question the veracity of this mantra.

In the league in which I cut my teeth, neutral umpires were appointed, but it seemed that some of them carried baggage about certain clubs and individuals from prior encounters. One incident which has stuck with me occurred in a match between my local town club and a fierce local rival. Whilst I was batting, the opponents appealed for a catch by the wicket keeper. As I was sure that I hit the ball, I “walked,” not waiting for the umpire’s decision.

On my way back to the pavilion, I was met by my captain, who, pointing behind, said, in strong terms, go back, the umpire has not given you out. I was in a quandary. Do I disobey my captain, independently overrule the umpire, or face the wrath of the opposition? I chose the latter and faced sustained verbal abuse. The umpire who gave me not out, whispered words to the effect, don’t let these people get the better of you. I never knew if he had made an error or had favoured me instead of the opposition. What it did confirm to me is that an umpire has authority.

The incident caused me to access the first codified Laws of Cricket, drawn up in 1744. These specify that the umpire is allowed a certain amount of discretion, making it clear that the umpire is the “sole judge” and that “his determination shall be absolute.” While not saying the umpire’s word is final, it is as close as one can get. 

Although the Laws accorded absolute determination to umpires, they are human and have made errors along the way. The acceptance of such errors or perceived injustices, have varied from sanguine acceptance to visible shakes of the head, to bat throwing, to verbal confrontations and challenges to the fabric of the game. 

One such event occurred in August 2006. The umpires alleged that the Pakistani team had illegally attempted to alter the condition of the ball. This can occur by gouging the surface or lifting the seam. Within their discretion under Law 42.3, the umpires awarded the opposition team, England, five runs and the choice of a replacement ball. The Pakistani team staged a protest and remained in their dressing room. After much toing and froing, it was agreed that the match could not be re-started and the Pakistan captain thereby forfeited the match.

On Sept. 28, 2006, the report of the match referee effectively dismissed the allegations of ball tampering in saying that there was insufficient evidence that the fielding side had changed the condition of the ball beyond normal wear and tear. This was a clear and historic case when the match referee overruled the decision of umpires, effectively ruining the career of one of them. The Pakistani captain was found guilty only of bringing cricket into disrepute and given a four match One-Day International ban.

Two decades before, unsavoury clashes in Pakistan between home umpires and England’s captain of the time in 1987 caused a furore. Ironically, Imran Khan, then Pakistan’s captain, tired of criticism and accusations of home umpiring, had arranged in 1986 for two Indian umpires to stand in a test against the West Indies. The experiment was continued for the Pakistan-India series in 1988-89, when two English umpires were invited to stand.

It was clear that cricket had a problem and, in 1992, the International Cricket Council (ICC) appointed one neutral umpire per test on an experimental basis, with full adoption two years later. Progression to two neutrals was made in 2002. Alongside this change, the role of match referee evolved, designed to ensure that the ICC’s Code of Conduct was upheld and proper facilities provided. The first appointment was made in 1991-1992.

Advances in television technology, especially the slow-motion replay, had also begun to further expose erroneous umpiring decisions. An electronic back up was required to support umpires. This arrived in 1992 in the form of an off-field third umpire — also known as the TV umpire — who could be consulted by the on-field umpires on certain decisions: A run-out, stumping and boundaries.   

Such arrangements continued until 2009 when, after two years of trials, England’s Test series against the West Indies allowed both teams the opportunity to challenge the decisions made by the on-field umpires. A second opinion could be requested from the third umpire, who had access to repeated television replays.

Prior to this, it was against the spirit of cricket to dispute an umpire's decision by word, action or gesture. From 2009, in international cricket, the shake of the head, the curse or verbal confrontation could be delayed or eliminated by a review of the original decision. Since then, there have been further technological advances with more tracking technology at the disposal of the off-field umpires that serve to make further inroads into the authority of the on-field umpires. These and their impact will be explored in a subsequent column.

In club cricket around the world, no such technological interventions exist. The game is the same as it always was. Opportunities for dispute continue to exist. In many matches, players act as umpires, dispensing duties with as much impartiality as they can muster, knowing that their decision is absolute and that abuse of this power could lead to anarchy. It is tempting to conclude that, currently, an umpire at this level has more absolute on-field authority than those at the elite level.


Tokyo logs record 5,042 cases as infections surge amid Games

Tokyo logs record 5,042 cases as infections surge amid Games
Updated 05 August 2021

Tokyo logs record 5,042 cases as infections surge amid Games

Tokyo logs record 5,042 cases as infections surge amid Games
  • Tokyo has been under a state of emergency since mid-July
  • Suga says there is no evidence linking the increase in cases to the July 23-Aug. 8 Games

TOKYO: Tokyo reported 5,042 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, its most since the pandemic began as infections surge in the Japanese capital hosting the Olympics.
Tokyo has been under a state of emergency since mid-July, and four other areas of the country have since been added. But the measures, basically shorter opening hours and a ban on alcohol for restaurants and bars are increasingly ignored by the public, which has become tired of restrictions.
“We need to tackle the situation now that we have a stronger sense of urgency," Prime Minister Yosihide Suga told reporters, referring to Tokyo exceeding 5,000 new daily cases for the first time. “The infections are expanding at a pace we have never experienced before."
Suga, who has been criticized for insisting on hosting the Olympics despite the coronavirus's surge, says there is no evidence linking the increase in cases to the July 23-Aug. 8 Games. He urged people to firmly stick to the emergency requests and stay at home during summer vacation.
The new cases brought Tokyo's reported total to 236,138. The entire country registered more than 14,000 new cases on Wednesday, for a 970,460 total.
Alarmed by the pace of the spread, some experts have called for the state of emergency to be expanded nationwide.
Instead, Suga on Thursday announced a milder version of the emergency measures in eight prefectures, including Fukushima in the east and Kumamoto in the south, beginning Monday. The less-stringent measures allow prefectural heads to target specific towns but do not allow them to order business closures.
Suga also pledged to “prevent the further spread of the virus by firmly carrying out vaccinations.”
Experts say people are not cooperating because many feel less of a sense of urgency about the pandemic while the Olympics are going ahead and the government's repeats of the same requests for people to stay at home.
Experts on a Tokyo metropolitan government panel cautioned that infections propelled by the more contagious delta variant have become “explosive” and could exceed 10,000 cases a day in two weeks.
Measures targeting business owners begin with requests and increase to orders, and violators can be fined, though this rarely happens. Those who comply can receive compensation, but thousands of eateries still stay open after the requested 8 p.m. closing time. Measures for the general public are only voluntary requests, including staying at home, wearing a mask outside and avoiding nonessential trips.
Japan has managed to keep its cases and deaths lower than much of the world, but testing is still insufficient and Tokyo’s positivity rate stands at 20%, indicating widespread infections. Japan has 8.9 new confirmed cases per 100,000, compared to 8.5 in Vietnam and 28.4 in the United States.
In Tokyo, nearly 17,000 patients with mild symptoms are currently isolating at home — more than a tenfold increase from a month ago — and more than 10,000 others are waiting for beds in hospitals or special hotels.
As hospital beds fill, Suga's government introduced a new policy this week in which coronavirus patients with moderate symptoms will isolate at home instead of in hospitals, an attempt to save hospital beds almost exclusively for seriously ill patients.
Opposition lawmakers criticized Suga for not increasing hospital capacity sufficiently despite warnings about the delta variant. Coronavirus treatment in Japan is limited to public and university hospitals that have adequate facilities and expertise.
Dr. Masataka Inokuchi, the vice chair of the Tokyo Medical Association, said he hopes to establish a system that allows patients to isolate safely at home. “This system, however, will collapse if the number of patients at home keeps rising,” he said.


Abdel Rahman Al-Masatfa claims Olympic karate bronze for Jordan after semifinal loss to Turkey’s Eray Samdan

Abdel Rahman Al-Masatfa claims Olympic karate bronze for Jordan after semifinal loss to Turkey’s Eray Samdan
Updated 05 August 2021

Abdel Rahman Al-Masatfa claims Olympic karate bronze for Jordan after semifinal loss to Turkey’s Eray Samdan

Abdel Rahman Al-Masatfa claims Olympic karate bronze for Jordan after semifinal loss to Turkey’s Eray Samdan
  • After four straight wins, the 25-year-old from Amman lost 2-0, but still won a place on the podium
  • Al-Masatfa and Assadilov were guaranteed their third place prizes without the bronze medal match that other Olympic disciplines require

Jordan’s Abdel Rahman Al-Masatfa has claimed an Olympic bronze medal after losing the semifinal of the karate kumite 67-kg competition against Eray Samdan of Turkey at the Nippon Budokan arena in Tokyo.

The 2-0 win meant Samdan progressed to the final against Frenchman Steven da Costa, who had beaten Darkhan Assadilov 5-3 in the earlier semifinal.

Da Costa went on to win gold by beating Samdan 5-0 in the final.

Al-Masafta did not hit the heights he had reached on Thursday morning when he won four matches in a row, including against da Costa. With 20 seconds left, the Jordanian found himself 2-0 down against Samdan, and needing a three-point ippon if he was to produce a late turnaround.

He will now contend himself with claiming a bronze for Jordan.

While the winners of the semifinals met in the gold medal match, the two losers — Al-Masatfa and Assadilov — were guaranteed their third place prizes without the bronze medal match that other Olympic disciplines require.

The 25-year-old Al-Masatfa had started Thursday’s participation in Pool B with an 8-3 win over Kalvis Kalnins of Latvia, before defeating da Costa 7-4.

After his bout against Angelo Crescenzo was cancelled due to the Italian pulling out of the competition, Al-Masatfa continued his winning run by beating Hamoon Derafshipour of the Refugee Olympic Team 3-0.

The Jordanian rounded up his Pool B matches with a 4-1 win over Andres Eduardo Madera Delgado of Venezuela to secure his semi-final spot.


UAE record goalscorer Ali Mabkhout extends contract at champions Al Jazira until 2026

UAE record goalscorer Ali Mabkhout extends contract at champions Al Jazira until 2026
Updated 05 August 2021

UAE record goalscorer Ali Mabkhout extends contract at champions Al Jazira until 2026

UAE record goalscorer Ali Mabkhout extends contract at champions Al Jazira until 2026
  • Mabkhout has appeared in 289 domestic matches, scoring 199 goals along the way, and won three league championships with the Abu Dhabi club

ABU DHABI: Ali Mabkhout, the Al Jazira FC and UAE national team all-time top scorer, has signed a new contract with the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) champions until at least 2026.

The 30-year-old has been a constant presence in the club’s recent history, and is a graduate of its youth academy. During his 17 years at the “Pride of Abu Dhabi,” Mabkhout has appeared in 289 domestic matches, scoring an astonishing 199 goals along the way.

“Al Jazira has always been my second home and my big football family,” said Mabkhout. “It is the club that gave me everything I could have wished for as a professional footballer. I want to thank everyone at the club for their continuous trust and support in me over the past years. Thanks to our esteemed leadership, the club has a clear vision and a great squad for great success in the upcoming years.

“I am very grateful to the ‘Pride of Abu Dhabi’s’ loyal fans for showing me unconditional support every single day,” he added. “I am very thankful for the opportunity to play for them for many years to come. They are one of the biggest reasons I train my hardest every day to live up to their high expectations on the pitch. My focus now lies on working with the rest of team to build on the great achievements of last year and fight for all titles next season.”

Having scored 171 goals in 234 AGL matches, the striker now sits just four goals away from becoming the all-time top scorer of the UAE’s top-flight league.

Lat season, Al Jazira’s vice-captain led the club to its third AGL title by playing every single minute of the campaign. Mabkhout’s exceptional turnout was topped by being crowned the league’s top scorer, with 25 goals in 26 matches, as well as leading the assists standings with 10, alongside fellow midfielder Khalfan Al-Mubarak.

“Mabkhout is one of the symbols of Al Jazira and Emirati football,” Mohammed Saif Al-Suwaidi, chair of Al-Jazira’s sporting committee, said. “We cannot measure the sheer importance of his technical ability to our team. He is also one of the best players to embody Al Jazira’s values and principles in the best way possible both on and off the pitch. Therefore, it was our top priority to renew his contract during this transfer window and to keep him at his second home for years to come.

“Many young players consider Ali an inspiration because of his efforts, commitment, spirit and high professionalism which he has showcased since the start of his footballing career,” he added. “All these qualities made him compete against some of the best and most famous international players in our league and enabled him to top them both on an individual and team basis. We are all happy and proud of everything he does and will continue to do for Al Jazira and the national team. We have high hopes in his ability to achieve even greater individual and team success in the future.”

During his tenure at the club, Mabkhout cemented himself as one of Asia’s most prolific strikers, winning the AGL on three occasions (2010-11, 2016-17, 2020-21), UAE President’s Cup three times (2010-11, 2011-12, 2015-16) and the Arabian Gulf Cup once. On the world stage, he has represented Al Jazira 12 times in the AFC Asian Champions League, scoring 13 goals along the way. He also featured in the 2017 Club World Cup, which saw Al Jazira secure fourth place.

“Ali is an influential member of the Al Jazira family, he has been proudly with us every step of the way of his distinguished career and has written his name in the history books of our club,” Al Jazira CEO Ali Youssef Al Hammadi said. “There was only one decision we always had in mind when it came to his future, and that was to pen down a long-term deal. Ali is respected and loved across the country and the wider global football community, and we take great pride that he actively gives back to our local community.”

The player’s collection of individual accolades with the Abu Dhabi club includes winning the AGL golden boot twice (2016-17, 2020-21) and being crowned player of the season in the title-winning 2016-17 season.

Mabkhout’s renewal follows a string of contract extensions by the club over the past few months to secure the services of its stars for the upcoming seasons, which include Ali Khaseif, Miloš Kosanović, Thulani Serrero, Khalifa Al Hammadi, in addition to Dutch head coach Marcel Keizer.


Egypt’s gold medal quest in men’s handball at Tokyo 2020 ended by France in semifinal

Egypt’s gold medal quest in men’s handball at Tokyo 2020 ended by France in semifinal
Updated 05 August 2021

Egypt’s gold medal quest in men’s handball at Tokyo 2020 ended by France in semifinal

Egypt’s gold medal quest in men’s handball at Tokyo 2020 ended by France in semifinal
  • Egyptians will face loser of 2nd semifinal between Norway, Russian Olympic Committee in Saturday’s bronze medal match

RIYADH: Egypt’s excellent run in the men’s handball contest at Tokyo 2020 on Thursday came to an end in the semifinals with a 27-23 loss to France at Yoyogi National Stadium.

The North African team once again put on a performance full of desire, but some careless finishing proved costly against a strong French outfit that now advances to Saturday’s final — its fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal match — against the winner of the other semifinal between Norway and the Russian Olympic Committee.

Egypt will face the loser of that match in the bronze medal game on the same day.

The teams could not be separated at the break, the first half finishing 13-13, with the Egyptians well placed to advance if they could have maintained the form they had shown throughout the tournament.

The second half, however, was disappointing for Egypt with only 10 goals scored, and the lack of scoring power dogged them through a period in which France took a lead they would not relinquish.

With five minutes left to play, the Egyptians were 24-21 down and fast running out of time to save the match.

French keeper Vincent Gerard pulled off a number of priceless saves which could have cut the deficit, while the visibly tiring Egyptian attackers missed several presentable chances as the clock ticked down.

Despite obvious disappointment at the final whistle, Egypt’s players will now turn their attentions toward salvaging a bronze medal from what has been an outstanding competition for them.