Ons Jabeur explains how her mental toughness made her tennis’s leading Arab superstar at Wimbledon

Ons Jabeur explains how her mental toughness made her tennis’s leading Arab superstar at Wimbledon
Tunisian,Ons Jabeur, now faces Belarusian No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka on Centre Court with the prize of a first ever personal Grand Slam semi-final up for grabs. (AFP)
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Updated 06 July 2021

Ons Jabeur explains how her mental toughness made her tennis’s leading Arab superstar at Wimbledon

Ons Jabeur explains how her mental toughness made her tennis’s leading Arab superstar at Wimbledon
  • The Tunisian now faces Belarusian No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka on Centre Court with the prize of a first ever personal Grand Slam semi-final up for grabs

LONDON: If Ons Jabeur had closed her eyes for a few moments after her victory over No.7 seed Iga Swiatek that earned her a maiden ticket to the Wimbledon quarter-finals, the Tunisian would have probably thought she was on the pitch at Esperance’s Olympique de Radès stadium and not on the No.2 Court at the All England Club where her fans were chanting Arabic football songs from back home to celebrate her historic achievement on Monday.

After taking out a Grand Slam champion for a third consecutive round, Jabeur became the first Arab player to reach the last-eight stage at Wimbledon since Egypt’s Ismail El Shafei in 1974, and the first Arab woman to ever achieve that feat.

As chants from the Tunisian fans echoed around the stands, Jabeur urged them to sing louder and was even tempted to join them.

“They were actually singing a football song. I felt the need to sing with them also. I felt so happy that I wanted to hear more. I was doing like this [waving her arms] to hear them,” she said with a smile.

“It gives me a lot of confidence. I appreciate it a lot. I hope they come even more for the next match.”

The next match will take place on Centre Court on Tuesday against Belarusian No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka and is expected to be a titanic battle and a contrast of game styles.

Should she win, Jabeur would become the first Arab player in Open Era history (since 1968) to reach a Grand Slam semi-final.

The stakes could not be higher for the 26-year-old trailblazer but lucky for her, she got a surprise boost ahead of her quarter-final when she was stopped by Roger Federer in the Wimbledon hallways for a quick congratulatory greeting from the Swiss legend.

“I think now I’m good in my tennis career,” she told the press laughing, implying she was set for life now that her efforts were acknowledged by the 20-time major champion.

“He was very nice. He took the time to say congrats. That inspires me a lot and gives me the hunger to win more.”

Jabeur’s development from a 16-year-old junior winning the Roland Garros girls’ singles title back in 2011, to now standing as the match-wins leader on tour in 2021 and perched at No.8 in the year’s WTA Race to Shenzhen has been a long and winding process.

Growing up, she practiced with boys because there weren’t any girls at her level in Tunisia to train with.

She picked up a unique playing style that mixes finesse with power and aggression, and her creativity on the court was limitless.

But with so much talent on display from a young age, and with the ability to hit every shot in the book, Jabeur struggled during her transition from the juniors to the women’s tour, as she searched for the right formula to combine her strengths and utilize her versatility in an intelligent way.

“Early in my career, after the juniors, when I didn’t see the results that I wanted, when I was seeing the juniors that I played with breaking the top 50, top 40, it was very difficult for me,” reflected Jabeur on Monday as she sat at Wimbledon’s main interview room as the No.21 seed.

“I stayed patient. I finally found what I have to do and be able to stay with a clear head, which helped me a lot to be one of the good athletes right now.”

Finding the right team was key for her development and she mostly travels with her Tunisian coach Issam Jellali and her husband and fitness trainer Karim Kamoun.

Jellali is a tennis geek at heart and is loving every second of his time on tour.

He has immense knowledge of everyone’s game on the circuit and he emanates positivity, which has proven pivotal in Jabeur’s rise.

Kamoun helped his wife with her fitness and is constantly looking for new ways to motivate her.

When rain wreaked havoc with the schedule in Birmingham ahead of Wimbledon, Jabeur won three matches in one day (two singles and one doubles) en route to the title.

It’s fair to say the efforts of the popular couple are paying dividends.

Mentally, Jabeur has come on in leaps and bounds.

Aided by her psychologist Melanie Maillard, she has become one of the grittiest players on tour.

Her performances at Wimbledon are testament to that.

She’s been clutch at key moments, saving 26/33 break points she has faced through four matches (saved 12/15 against Swiatek).

After squandering 24 out of 29 break point opportunities against Muguruza in the third round, Jabeur was a perfect 7/7 on break points on the Swiatek serve on Monday.

One of the many things Jabeur has improved over the course of the past couple of years is her serve, which has become a key component of her arsenal on court.




Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur beat Poland's Iga Swiatek in the women’s singles fourth round match on the 7th day of the 2021 Wimbledon Championships. (AFP)

She is in fourth place on the aces leaderboard on the women’s tour in 2021 and she has used her serve to great effect during her run at Wimbledon.

Jabeur has won 76 percent of her first-serve points so far this fortnight, which sees her tied with world No.1 Ashleigh Barty in fourth place for that stats category among the entire women’s field.

The Tunisian has held serve in 84 percent of her service games – the second highest success rate among the eight remaining quarter-finalists.

“I always believed that I could have a good serve. It wasn’t consistent at some time. You have some coaches that could doubt you and tell you that I’m short and I would never serve good. I guess I proved them wrong,” she says with a grin.

Renowned for her vicious drop shots that infuriate her opponents, Jabeur is equally deadly when she rips her forehand, and against Swiatek, she opted for fewer drop shots and instead mixed up the pace with slices from the back of the court while unleashing forehand missiles when possible.

Of the 118 winners she has struck, 48 have come courtesy of her forehand. Jabeur is very comfortable at the net and has won 44/62 (71%) of her net points through her first four matches at SW19.

“I try to have the whole package of having the drop shot, the slices, being aggressive at the same time,” she proudly stated on Monday.

The way Jabeur rebounded from dropping the opening set against Swiatek after blowing a 5-3 lead was remarkable.

The No.21 seed walked off court with a 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 victory and drew high praise from Swiatek after the contest.

“She’s just playing really intelligent tennis. When she’s in and when she gets the ball right, she can play anything. So it was pretty tough,” conceded Swiatek.

“She just has all the skills to play on grass, and that’s great. She can close the net and she’s pretty confident at it. I think she just has a flow, as well. She’s using all the skills that she has. It’s working out well for her.”

Jabeur’s next rival, Sabalenka, is a huge-hitter, who can overwhelm the very best of opposition with her raw power.

They are 1-1 head-to-head in previous meetings against one another.

The Tunisian will be playing her second major quarter-final while Sabalenka will be contesting her first.

“My goal is to break this quarter-final barrier and be able to go to the semi, and why not the final? I’m enjoying my time here in Wimbledon, enjoying the grass a lot,” said Jabeur. She certainly is having a ball. Hopefully the football chants make their way to Centre Court on Tuesday.


Howay the lads: A new era begins for Newcastle

Howay the lads: A new era begins for Newcastle
Updated 17 October 2021

Howay the lads: A new era begins for Newcastle

Howay the lads: A new era begins for Newcastle
  • Football club set to play first match since $410 million takeover by Saudi-led consortium

LONDON: After decades in the football wilderness, a new era of hope begins on Sunday for the long-suffering fans of Newcastle United football club.

Tens of thousands of “Toon” devotees will pack the club’s famous old St. James’ Park stadium for the team’s first match since this month’s $410 million takeover led by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund.

Sunday’s challenge could hardly be tougher. The visitors are Tottenham Hotspur — and a win would take them into the Premier League’s top 5, while Newcastle languish third from bottom with just three points all season.

HIGHLIGHT

Tens of thousands of ‘Toon’ devotees will pack the club’s famous old St. James’ Park stadium for the team’s first match since this month’s $410 million takeover led by the Public Investment Fund.

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce is looking forward to it. “The most important thing for the fans is to see their team win a game and I know they’ll be right behind the players in an atmosphere which I doubt we’ll have witnessed at St. James’ Park in a long time,” he said.

Although most observers expect Bruce’s 1,000th match in charge to be his last, as the new owners rebuild Newcastle, new club director Amanda Staveley — a prime mover behind the takeover — gave him her backing for now.

“Change does not always happen overnight,” she said. “It demands time, and that we follow a carefully considered plan and strategy. Steve has been very professional in our dealings with him and he and his coaching team will take the team on Sunday.”

Newcastle fans, meanwhile, will be hoping Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s judgment is correct.

“In the long term, of course, we have to say that they are going to be a superpower,” Klopp said.


Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal win big to seal all-Saudi AFC Champions League semifinal

It was a double success on Saturday for Saudi football clubs after Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal reached the AFC Champions League semifinals. (AFP)
It was a double success on Saturday for Saudi football clubs after Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal reached the AFC Champions League semifinals. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2021

Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal win big to seal all-Saudi AFC Champions League semifinal

It was a double success on Saturday for Saudi football clubs after Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal reached the AFC Champions League semifinals. (AFP)
  • Results now mean there will be an all-Saudi showdown in Western half of the draw on Oct. 19.

RIYADH: It was a double success on Saturday for Saudi football clubs after Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal reached the AFC Champions League semifinals with impressive victories.

Al-Nassr thrashed UAE’s Al-Wahda FSCC 5-1 at the King Saud University Stadium in their quarterfinal, while Al-Hilal cruised to victory with a 3-0 win over Iran's Persepolis.

Al-Nassr were relentless from the first minute and the Emirati club had no answers to a brace from Jaloliddin Masharipov and goals apiece for Abderazak Hamdallah, Abdulfattah Asiri and Sami Al-Najei.

Saudi national team stalwart Salem Al-Dawsari opened the scoring for Al-Hilal in Tehran and two strikes from superstar striker Bafetimbi Gomis made sure there would be an all-Saudi showdown in the Western half of the draw on Oct. 19.


Azarenka books spot in Indian Wells final against Badosa

Azarenka books spot in Indian Wells final against Badosa
Updated 17 October 2021

Azarenka books spot in Indian Wells final against Badosa

Azarenka books spot in Indian Wells final against Badosa
  • Azarenka clinched victory on her first match point when Ostapenko slammed a forehand into the net

INDIAN WELLS: Victoria Azarenka, who is hoping to become the first three-time WTA winner in Indian Wells, punched her ticket to Sunday’s final by rallying to beat former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Two-time Australian Open winner Azarenka continued her solid play in the California desert as she goes for her first title of 2021 and 22nd of her career.

The 32-year-old arrived in the semifinals without dropping a set and after losing the first one to Ostapenko she settled in and found her form.

Azarenka will face Spaniard Paula Badosa, who defeated Ons Jabeur in straight sets 6-3, 6-3.

Azarenka is seeking to win the tournament for the third time after victories in 2012 and 2016.

She is the only former champion left in either the women’s or men’s field, and with another victory can separate herself from the list of women who have won the trophy twice — which includes Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

Azarenka clinched victory on her first match point when Ostapenko slammed a forehand into the net.

This was the second career meeting between the two but the first on hardcourt, so it took Azarenka time to feel her opponent out and figure out her weaknesses.

“She was playing really incredible in the first set, not giving me much,” said Azarenka.

“I was just trying to find an opportunity — actually create an opportunity — for me to get back into the match and take a little bit more control. I really had to fight for every ball.”

Ostapenko controlled most of the first set, breaking Azarenka in the second game to go up 2-0. She then held serve to jump out to a 3-0 lead using her powerful ground strokes to move the Belarusian around the court.

Azarenka went down again 2-0 in the second set but then caught fire while holding serve in the third game.

That started a run of five straight games to take a 5-2 lead. Ostapenko held serve once more but Azarenka served out the set to level the match.

Azarenka raised her level another notch in a hard-fought third set, winning the final three games to get to the final where she will face Badosa for the first time.

Meanwhile, Badosa has reached the final in her first appearance in Indian Wells, cooling off Jabeur, who has been one of the hottest players on the Tour with 48 wins in 2021.


Manchester United lose at Leicester, City roll on as five-star Liverpool go top

Manchester United succumbed to a first away league defeat for 30 games by losing 4-2 at Leicester as Liverpool stormed to the top of the Premier League with a 5-0 demolition of Watford on Saturday. (AP/Action Images via Reuters)
Manchester United succumbed to a first away league defeat for 30 games by losing 4-2 at Leicester as Liverpool stormed to the top of the Premier League with a 5-0 demolition of Watford on Saturday. (AP/Action Images via Reuters)
Updated 16 October 2021

Manchester United lose at Leicester, City roll on as five-star Liverpool go top

Manchester United succumbed to a first away league defeat for 30 games by losing 4-2 at Leicester as Liverpool stormed to the top of the Premier League with a 5-0 demolition of Watford on Saturday. (AP/Action Images via Reuters)
  • Mohamed Salah again took most of the plaudits for another stunning solo goal

LONDON: Manchester United succumbed to a first away league defeat for 30 games by losing 4-2 at Leicester as Liverpool stormed to the top of the Premier League with a 5-0 demolition of Watford on Saturday.
Manchester City moved into second with a 2-0 win over Burnley, while Chelsea can move back to the top of the table when they travel to Brentford later in the day.
But the focus will fall on United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after his side failed to win for the third consecutive Premier League game.
United led at the King Power thanks to Mason Greenwood’s spectacular strike, but were quickly pegged back by Youri Tielemans’ dinked finish beyond David de Gea.
A flurry of four goals in the final 12 minutes then condemned Solskjaer’s men to a first defeat on the road since January 2020.
Caglar Soyuncu put Leicester in front before Marcus Rashford equalized on his first appearance of the season after shoulder surgery.
Straight from kick-off, United’s leaky defense was breached once more as Jamie Vardy smashed home and Patson Daka’s first Leicester goal in stoppage time sealed a much-needed win for Brendan Rodgers’ men.
Roberto Firmino scored his first hat-trick since 2018 as Liverpool ran riot at Vicarage Road in Claudio Ranieri’s first match as Watford boss.
But it was Mohamed Salah who again took most of the plaudits for another stunning solo goal to take his tally for the season to 10 in as many games.
“In this moment it is clear that there is no one better than him,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp of the Egyptian.
Salah helped open the floodgates with a defense-splitting pass that teed up Sadio Mane to score his 100th Premier League goal.
Firmino would have been unavailable due to a late return from international duty but for an injury that forced him to withdraw from the Brazil squad.
He tapped home his first goal from James Milner’s cross before half-time and took advantage of another open goal after Ben Foster parried Craig Cathcart’s attempted clearance.
Salah left four Manchester City defenders trailing to score in a thrilling 2-2 draw before the international break and pulled off a similar feat before curling into the far corner.
Firmino then completed the rout in stoppage time.
City did not need to hit top gear to see off Burnley at the Etihad and remain one point behind Liverpool at the top of the table.
Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne were on target either side of half-time for Pep Guardiola’s men.
Wolves produced a miraculous comeback from 2-0 down with 10 minutes remaining to win 3-2 at Aston Villa.
Danny Ings and John McGinn had put the hosts in a commanding position at Villa Park.
But Romain Saiss, Conor Coady and Ruben Neves handed Bruno Lage’s men a dramatic three points.
Southampton got their first league win of the season thanks to Armando Broja’s goal to beat Leeds 1-0.
Norwich remain winless and bottom of the table after a 0-0 draw with Brighton.


360VUZ to bring football action to fans’ mobile phones

360VUZ has partnered with the Saudi Professional League to bring top tier football action to fans’ mobile phones. (Supplied/360VUZ)
360VUZ has partnered with the Saudi Professional League to bring top tier football action to fans’ mobile phones. (Supplied/360VUZ)
Updated 16 October 2021

360VUZ to bring football action to fans’ mobile phones

360VUZ has partnered with the Saudi Professional League to bring top tier football action to fans’ mobile phones. (Supplied/360VUZ)
  • Under agreement with Saudi Professional League a new dedicated channel will allow users to navigate easily on the app and watch the top tier Saudi clubs in action

RIYADH: 360VUZ, the immersive virtual mobile app has partnered with the Saudi Professional League to offer a fuller experience to football fans, enabling them to watch highlights of the SPL games, behind the scenes videos and exclusive interviews with players all in 360 degrees.

The new partnership will play a major role in engaging 360VUZ users with the Saudi league, making it one of the first major leagues in the world to bring an immersive football content to screens.

Khaled Zaatarah, founder and Chief Executive Officer of 360VUZ, said: “We are happy to team up with Saudi Professional League to show spectacular videos of the league on our platform. In 360VUZ we strive to offer an immersive experience with vital content for all our users just through using their phones.”

360VUZ will offer a dedicated channel for SPL, which will allow the users to navigate easily on the app and watch the top tier Saudi clubs in action. The app includes KBW Ventures — founded by Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz, President of Saudi Sports For All Federation — as one of its investors.

“Seeing 360VUZ ink this partnership with the Saudi Professional League is really exciting for me as an investor,” Prince Khaled said. “During their initial pitch, I could see how well their immersive experience would work for Saudi sports enthusiasts, and now with SPL the app can bring these moments to fans both in and outside of the Kingdom.”

Abdul Aziz Al Afaleq, Chairman of the Board at Saudi Pro League, said: “We are keen on adopting the latest trends and technologies around the world, and featuring our league on 360VUZ app makes us the first league to present exclusive and immersive video content to our fans.”

“This partnership aims at enhancing our connection with the league’s fans by offering a one-of-a-kind experience to watch the league’s stars and the latest highlights of our matches,” he said.