Emma Raducanu’s unprecedented journey from an unknown to major champion

Emma Raducanu reacts after defeating Leylah Fernandez at the US Open tennis championships on Sept. 11, 2021, in New York. (AP)
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Emma Raducanu reacts after defeating Leylah Fernandez at the US Open tennis championships on Sept. 11, 2021, in New York. (AP)
Emma Raducanu reacts after defeating Leylah Fernandez at the US Open tennis championships on Sept. 11, 2021, in New York. (AP)
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Emma Raducanu reacts after defeating Leylah Fernandez at the US Open tennis championships on Sept. 11, 2021, in New York. (AP)
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Updated 12 September 2021

Emma Raducanu’s unprecedented journey from an unknown to major champion

Emma Raducanu’s unprecedented journey from an unknown to major champion
  • The 18-year-old won 10 matches in a row at Flushing Meadows and went on to beat Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez 6-4, 6-3 in the final

Emma Raducanu's unprecendent journey from an unknown to major champion

NEW YORK: British teenager Emma Raducanu arrived in New York last month with a ranking of 150th, just one Grand Slam appearance to her name and a flight booked to head out of town after the US Open’s preliminary rounds in case she failed to win her way into the main tournament.
And there she was in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday, holding a trophy to complete an unlikely — indeed, unprecedented — and surprisingly dominant journey from qualifier to major champion by beating Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez 6-4, 6-3 in the final.
“The future of women’s tennis, and just the depth of the game right now, is so great,” Raducanu said. “I think every single player here in the women’s draw definitely has a shot of winning any tournament.”
The 18-year-old Raducanu won 10 matches in a row at Flushing Meadows — three in qualifying, seven in the main draw — and is the first woman to win the US Open title without dropping a set since Serena Williams in 2014.
This was the first major final between two teens since Williams, 17, beat Martina Hingis, 18, at the 1999 US Open and the first between two unseeded women in the professional era, which began in 1968.
“I hope to be back here in the finals and this time with a trophy — the right one. With the right trophy,” Fernandez said as tears welled in her eyes during the trophy presentation.




Emma Raducanu reacts after defeating Leylah Fernandez at the US Open tennis championships on Sept. 11, 2021, in New York. (AP) 

Raducanu broke to go up 4-2 in the second set, held for 5-2 and twice was a point from winning the title in the next game. But under pressure from Fernandez, she let both of those opportunities slip away by putting groundstrokes into the net.
“That’s just the competitor that she is,” Raducanu said about Fernandez, whom she last faced in the Wimbledon juniors event three years ago.
Then at 5-3, while Raducanu was serving for the match, she slid on the court chasing a ball to her backhand side, bloodying her left knee. A trainer came out to put a white bandage on the cut and, during a delay of more than four minutes, Fernandez — a 19-year-old left-hander from Canada ranked 73rd — spoke to chair umpire Marijana Veljovic.
“I was just praying not for a double-fault,” Raducanu said about the resumption, “but we got through it. I think just staying in the moment, focusing on what I had to do, my process and the mindset just really helps in those tough times.”
When they resumed, Raducanu saved a pair of break points, then converted on her third chance to close it with a 108 mph ace. She dropped her racket, landed on her back and covered her face with both hands.
Raducanu is the first British woman to win a Grand Slam trophy since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977. Wade was in the Ashe stands on Saturday, applauding with everyone else. Raducanu also is the youngest player to claim a women’s major title since Maria Sharapova was 17 at Wimbledon in 2004.
Fernandez would have been, too, had she emerged to win. She was asked during a brief pre-match interview in the hallway that leads from the locker room to the court entrance what she expected Saturday’s greatest challenge to be.
“Honestly,” she responded, “I don’t know.”
Fair. Neither she nor Raducanu could have truly known what to expect in one of the unlikeliest final matchups in Grand Slam history.
Both walked out to loud ovations — Fernandez’s was slightly louder — and wearing their equipment bags with both straps over their shoulders, the way someone their age might do with a backpack for high school (Raducanu recently completed her exams) or college.
They both have played like veterans at the US Open, displaying the poise and shot-making of veterans. The final was entertaining and, for the most part, even, filled with lengthy points and lengthy games. The talent and affinity for the big stage both possess is unmistakable.
Took 28 minutes for merely four games, with a break and a hold apiece making it 2-all. Both blew chances at times. At others, both came up with the goods, producing on-the-run baseline excellence.
The second set’s initial four games unfolded in the same manner — 2-all after a break and a hold apiece.
One of the significant differences came at the start of points, because that is where Fernandez faltered more. She put only 58 percent of her first serves in, finished with five double-faults, helping Raducanu accumulate 18 break points, four of which were converted.
The crowd was so quiet right before and during points that one could hear the right-handed Raducanu’s slap of a leg while waiting to receive serves or her whisper of an exhale while swinging her racket.
And folks — thrilled to be back on-site after last year’s pandemic ban of all spectators — got so loud after points, especially celebrating along with the left-handed Fernandez’s physical trainer, who would leap out of his front-row corner seat and shake his fists when things went his player’s way.
Fernandez’s group — including Mom, but not Dad, who stayed home in Florida, where they moved after early success in the juniors several years ago — was in the guest box assigned to the higher-ranked player. That’s a status Fernandez was unaccustomed to in the tournament as she beat four straight seeded women, each in three sets: defending champion Naomi Osaka and 2016 champ Angelique Kerber, No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka and No. 5 Elina Svitolina.
So Fernandez came in having spent more than 12 1/2 hours on court through her six matches; Raducanu’s main-draw total was about 7 1/2 hours.
That seemed to be a factor, particularly over the second half of the 1-hour, 51-minute final.
From 4-all, Raducanu took over, taking eight of the last 11 games. When she broke to take the opener with a well-paced, well-placed forehand winner down the line, she stared at her entourage, then whipped her arms — and the fans reacted.
Raducanu’s only previous Grand Slam tournament came at Wimbledon, where she stopped playing during the fourth round because of trouble breathing. That was July, when Raducanu was ranked outside the top 300 and an unknown.
Look at her now.


Pakistan battling isolation as cricket host after New Zealand pull out

Pakistan battling isolation as cricket host after New Zealand pull out
Updated 18 September 2021

Pakistan battling isolation as cricket host after New Zealand pull out

Pakistan battling isolation as cricket host after New Zealand pull out
  • New Zealand would have been the highest profile team to play in Pakistan in more than a decade
  • Pakistan have only hosted South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe since the 2009 attacks

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan cricket began confronting its worst fear Saturday, with the national side staring at another era of isolation from hosting international matches after New Zealand abandoned its tour, citing a security threat.
The All Blacks called off their first Pakistan series in 18 years with Wellington’s backing on Friday just before the first one-day international was due to start in Rawalpindi.
The decision has left cricket-crazy Pakistan reeling, with the nation still recovering from the 2009 militant attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore that wounded six players.
Already struggling to convince foreign teams to tour, Pakistan were forced to play home matches at neutral venues — primarily in the UAE — following the assault.
The decision left a generation of cricket fans growing up having never attended a live game.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former international cricketing hero, and the Pakistan Cricket Board will now have to work overtime to avoid another period of exile.
“With the administration they now have in place at the PCB and how closely linked to the PM it is, there’ll be a real push to ensure they have to play as little as possible in a neutral venue,” cricket writer Osman Samiuddin told AFP.
Their first task will be to convince England, who decide Sunday whether to send their men’s and women’s teams for a scheduled tour to Pakistan next month.
Those tours are to be followed by a series against the West Indies in December and Australia’s first visit since 1998 in February next year.
“England are now likely not to tour. Australia... will also probably not come. So that will be a hit,” Samiuddin said.
“And for fans too, they’ve only just started getting used to going to big games again so for the prospect of that being taken away, it’s going to hurt.”
The newly elected chairman of the PCB Ramiz Raja admitted Saturday that Pakistani cricket was facing “a lot of pressure,” though not for the first time — and that the nation was resilient.
“Your pain and my pain is the same, it’s a shared pain. Whatever happened was not good for Pakistan cricket,” he said.
The PCB bled $200 million in losses during the country’s cricket exile.
Now, alongside the upcoming tours, its bids to host six international events — including the World Cup and Champion’s Trophy between 2024-31 — could also be in jeopardy.
Former players say keeping international cricket in Pakistan is the key priority.
“All cricketers are with the PCB and we have to find ways to avoid further isolation, for the sake of our next generations,” former captain Rashid Latif told AFP.
New Zealand would have been the highest profile team to play in Pakistan in more than a decade.
Pakistan have only hosted South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe since the 2009 attacks.
Ex-player Naushad Ali said his country needs to restore the confidence of the cricketing world.
“Pakistan will have to prove that New Zealand’s decision was wrong and I think only that will earn them sympathy,” said Ali.
“We should not give up our hosting rights and should lobby with other countries.”
But former captain Shahid Afridi believes they have sacrificed a lot over the years and deserve “a better deal.”
“We have done more than enough for them,” he said.
“We toured England and New Zealand (last year) despite fears of pandemic and we want them to reciprocate.”

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Salah strike helps Liverpool to top of the table with Palace win

Salah strike helps Liverpool to top of the table with Palace win
Updated 18 September 2021

Salah strike helps Liverpool to top of the table with Palace win

Salah strike helps Liverpool to top of the table with Palace win
  • Defending champions Manchester City drop two points at home to Southampton
  • Arsenal beat Burnley and continue climb up table

LONDON: Martin Odegaard scored his first goal since his permanent switch to Arsenal on Saturday to further ease the pressure on Mikel Arteta as Sadio Mane helped fire Liverpool to the top of the Premier League.
Defending champions Manchester City dropped two points at home to Southampton after a 0-0 stalemate while struggling Wolves lost their fourth match in five against 10-man Brentford.
Arsenal were rock bottom of the table before last week’s fixtures but wins against Norwich and now Burnley lifted them to the relative comfort of 12th spot before the late kick-off between Aston Villa and Everton.
Odegaard, who signed from Real Madrid last month after spending part of last season at the Emirates on loan, broke the deadlock in the 30th minute, curling home a free-kick to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at Turf Moor.
Arsenal breathed a sigh of relief when VAR overturned a penalty awarded to Burnley in the second half after Matej Vydra tumbled to the turf following a challenge by goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.
Liverpool forward Mane continued his eye-catching run against Crystal Palace, netting in his ninth league match in a row against the London side to send Jurgen Klopp’s men top of the table with a 3-0 win.
Mohamed Salah’s glancing header from Konstantinos Tsimikas’ corner was kept out by goalkeeper Vicente Guaita but Mane pounced to lash home his 100th goal for Liverpool in all competitions.
Salah doubled the Reds’ lead in the 78th minute before Naby Keita sealed the win with a sweetly struck volley.
Liverpool, champions in 2020, have made an impressive start to the season, scoring 12 goals in their opening five games and conceding just once.
Manchester City will rue their inability to beat Southampton at the Etihad after consecutive 5-0 home wins.
It could have been worse for them after referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot when Kyle Walker bundled into the back of Adam Armstrong in the area, showing the England international a red card.
But the incident was reviewed by VAR and Moss eventually decided to overturn both decisions.
The build-up to City’s match was dominated by a row over attendance levels at the Etihad, with manager Pep Guardiola urging fans to fill empty seats in comments that irritated some supporters.
But fans were frustrated by battling Southampton, who kept City’s attackers at bay despite relentless pressure.
The home side thought they had snatched victory in the dying minutes after goalkeeper Alex McCarthy saved a Phil Foden header and Raheem Sterling tucked in the rebound but the flag was raised.
Watford beat Norwich 3-1 to condemn the newly promoted Canaries to their fifth consecutive defeat.
Watford took the lead in the 17th minute through Emmanuel Dennis but Teemu Pukki equalized before half time. Ismaila Sarr put the visitors back in front in the 63rd minute and scored again with 10 minutes to go.
In the early kick-off, Ivan Toney scored a goal and created another as 10-man Brentford beat Wolves 2-0 to maintain their impressive start to their first Premier League campaign.
The 25-year-old striker won and converted a penalty before setting up Bryan Mbeumo as the Bees prevailed at Molineux despite Shandon Baptiste’s red card in the second half.
Tottenham host Chelsea on Sunday while Cristiano Ronaldo’s Manchester United travel to West Ham.


Saudi jockey saddles up for Endurance World Championship in Italy

Saudi jockey saddles up for Endurance World Championship in Italy
Updated 18 September 2021

Saudi jockey saddles up for Endurance World Championship in Italy

Saudi jockey saddles up for Endurance World Championship in Italy
  • Hamoud bin Saleh Al-Badi will ride Despe Du Fonpeyrol in competition on island of Sardinia

RIYADH: Saudi jockey Hamoud bin Saleh Al-Badi is set to take part in the Endurance World Championship for junior horses currently underway on the Italian island of Sardinia.

Al-Badi, who will be riding Despe Du Fonpeyrol, booked his place at the championships after winning a qualifier in France in July and has recently been on an extensive training camp to ready himself for the competition.

He said: “We have completed all preparations to participate in this global forum, and I feel proud to represent and raise the flag of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in this tournament. God willing, I can put in a performance worthy of the name of the Kingdom.

“I would also like to extend my thanks to Prince Abdullah bin Fahd, president of the Saudi Equestrian Federation, for his continuous support, and God willing, these efforts will bear fruit through high-level performances,” Al-Badi added.


Meet Mitt Queen Ann Najjar, the boxing coach athletes and celebrities want to work with

Meet Mitt Queen Ann Najjar, the boxing coach athletes and celebrities want to work with
Updated 18 September 2021

Meet Mitt Queen Ann Najjar, the boxing coach athletes and celebrities want to work with

Meet Mitt Queen Ann Najjar, the boxing coach athletes and celebrities want to work with
  • The first generation American of Iraqi parents shot to worldwide fame thanks to viral Instagram videos during the pandemic

Ann Najjar has fast hands.

So fast she can keep up with boxers twice her size. Boxers who, over the last few years, have lined up to work with her.

Najjar is the Mitt Queen, a coach at Bomber Squad Boxing Academy in her native San Diego. Thanks to an Instagram account (@mittqueen) that has almost 610,000 followers, she has become an online sensation.

She is in Dubai as the coach of Josh Bridges, who on Saturday night will fight on the undercard at the MTK Global boxing CoreSports Fight Night 3 at Sport Society, where the main event sees Hafthor Bjornsson, The Mountain from “Games of Thrones,” take on Devon Larratt in an all-Strongman battle.

Bridges is a CrossFit athlete and the 32-year-old Najjar has overseen every step of his boxing journey.

But becoming a boxing coach happened to her by accident after she joined her brother, an MMA fighter, for training sessions when she was 20.

It turned out she had a gift few others could match.

“When I did take my first MMA class because of my brother, all our classes in San Diego had mitts included, a lot of gyms don’t have that,” Najjar told Arab News. “And everyone always wanted to be my partner because I was good at holding the mitts, and in reality it’s not that easy to hold mitts. Eventually I became the one everybody wanted to partner up with, and then year and years went by and I just got better at it.”

Though she had been a trainer for almost a decade, it was only during the last two years that Najjar’s profile skyrocketed, thanks to a video on Instagram.

“When the pandemic first hit in the US, I decided to post my first video of me holding mitts and just messing around, because I knew everybody was on their phones at the time looking at Instagram,” she said. “And then my first video went viral, about 100,000 views, and I kept posting and posting and posting until one of my videos hit over 18 million views.”

Najjar is a first-generation American, born and raised in San Diego to parents from Baghdad. Her Instagram account proudly bears the Iraqi flag.

“The thing is, it’s not only me, but my fighters also are very quick, or very big, so seeing a female holding the mitts behind it is really what intrigued everyone to want to follow me and watch what I was doing because there’s not that many females who can hold for someone so quick or someone so huge, double my size,” she added.

Najjar, aka the Mitt Queen, has become a boxing coach for athletes and celebrities in her native San Diego. (RBO)

“In reality, I have to thank Instagram, because it’s what really got me out there and everyone saw what I was doing.”

Soon celebrities started seeking her out, as did leading athletes in other sports. Her profile grew organically, she said.

“Honestly, it was one word after the other and they or their managers would contact me through Instagram,” said Najjar. “And because boxing cardio is great for all athletes, a lot of them on their off season like to box. It helps them with their footwork in their sport.”

Is Najjar ever tempted to swap the mitts for gloves and get in the ring?

“Honestly for me, at the age I’m at, the answer is no,” she said. “In the past I did think about it, I did spar all the time, but the older I’m getting I’m realizing coaching is the way for me, I love to teach, to watch people grow from the beginning."

The pride she gets is from seeing her fighters succeed, and from their appreciation of the role she plays in their preparation.

“There are moments for me that I can’t believe are true, like when Ryan Garcia calls me to hold mitts for him. Anderson Silva called me to tell me he won his fight,” Najjar said. “These guys, I sat behind the TV set and watched them fight, and that now they are calling me is unreal to me.”

Najjar was holding a training session at Real Boxing Only gym in Dubai’s Al-Quoz, but she has also had time to enjoy the sights, which were more familiar than she expected.

“It’s like Las Vegas for me, I feel like I’m at home, to be honest,” she said. “I went to the sand dunes and that was wild, I was scared out of my mind. I was in that car holding on for dear life. But culture and everything is very Americanized. Seeing everything in English and Arabic, I’m like ok, I know what I’m doing here. I feel very comfortable here.”

On Saturday night, Najjar will be ringside at Sport Society cheering on Bridges when he takes on fellow American Jacob Heppner in a bout between two CrossFit athletes.

“What people don’t know is that Josh started with me from day one, when he threw his first punch and didn’t even know what a jab was,” she said. “To see all the pieces of the puzzle come together, that’s what I’m really excited about. And I want to prove to the world that, yes, I can start someone from day one, not knowing how to punch, and turn them into that fighter.”


Saudi Arabia to host world’s top handball teams at IHF 2021 Super Globe

Saudi Arabia to host world’s top handball teams at IHF 2021 Super Globe
Updated 18 September 2021

Saudi Arabia to host world’s top handball teams at IHF 2021 Super Globe

Saudi Arabia to host world’s top handball teams at IHF 2021 Super Globe
  • Tournament organized by Saudi Handball Federation will take place in Jeddah on Oct. 5-9

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Sports has announced that Jeddah will host the 2021 International Handball Federation Super Globe from Oct. 5 to 9.

It will be the second time in a row that the tournament, held in coordination with the Saudi Handball Federation and part of the Quality of Life Program, has been staged in the Kingdom.

Ten clubs from different countries will participate in the competition taking place at King Abdullah Sports City, with the Al-Noor and Al-Wehda teams representing the Kingdom.

They will be joined by Asian champions Al-Duhail of Qatar; European champions Aalborg of Denmark; Oceania champions the University of Sydney; San Francisco CalHeat, champions of North America and the Caribbean; Brazil’s Pineros, champions of South and Central America; African champions Zamalek of Egypt; reigning champions of the competition Barcelona; and German team Magdeburg, participating at the invitation of the IHF.

Saudi Minister of Sport and chairman of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, said: “We are happy once again to host the largest handball club championships, and with the participation of the continental champions for the second time in a row, which is an extension of the championships and events hosted by our country.”

Dammam hosted the previous edition of the tournament in 2019, after the Kingdom won the hosting rights for four consecutive editions from that year.