5 talking points from thrilling 2021 US Open

5 talking points from thrilling 2021 US Open
Emma Raducanu came out of nowhere to reign supreme in New York without dropping a set. (AFP)
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Updated 14 September 2021

5 talking points from thrilling 2021 US Open

5 talking points from thrilling 2021 US Open
  • Stunning emergence of Emma Raducanu and Novak Djokovic’s rare display of vulnerability made it a tournament to remember in New York

The 2021 US Open will be remembered as one of the most eventful, unpredictable and thrilling tennis majors in which fans witnessed an 18-year-old qualifier lift the women’s trophy and the men’s world No.1 fall just one match short of completing the calendar year Grand Slam.

Here is what we learned from an unforgettable fortnight of tennis in New York.

1. Raducanu, Fernandez explode on to the scene

The first-ever qualifier to win a Grand Slam, the youngest major champion since Maria Sharapova triumphed at Wimbledon in 2004, and the first British woman to be crowned a Grand Slam winner since Virginia Wade in 1977 — Emma Raducanu came out of nowhere to reign supreme in New York without dropping a set.

The 18-year-old did it on only her second major appearance (no woman has ever done that) and jumped from 150 to 23 in the world rankings as a result.

Considering her lack of Grand Slam experience entering the event, the British teen’s run in New York is almost impossible to explain beyond the basic facts that she is really good at tennis and has shown incredible mastery of her nerves and the occasion, especially in the final against Leylah Fernandez.

“What she did in New York was very special, a huge boost for British tennis,” former world No.1 Andy Murray told the BBC.

Raducanu’s impact extends well beyond her home country. Born in Toronto to a Romanian father and Chinese mother before moving to the UK as a two-year-old, she will no doubt inspire millions around the world.

Her victory lap over the past two days included appearances on the biggest morning talk shows in the US, followed by her Met Gala debut, where she sat at the Chanel table with powerhouses such as Kristen Stewart and Pharrell Williams.

Fernandez’ New York exploits also thrust her into the spotlight. The Arthur Ashe stadium crowd fell in love with the 19-year-old Canadian, who knocked out three top-five seeds (Naomi Osaka, Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka) en route to the final.

Raducanu and Fernandez gave fans the first all-teen major final since 1999. With tennis eager to attract younger followers and reach a wider audience, the pair will certainly help the sport achieve that.

2. Djokovic loses the Grand Slam but wins over the crowd

As the New York crowd rallied behind Novak Djokovic in his quest for a historic calendar year Grand Slam, the world No.1 was overcome by emotion and started to cry during a changeover late in the third set of his final against Daniil Medvedev.

For years, Djokovic has been talked about in superhuman terms. This season he swept the opening three majors for the first time in his career and was going for four in a row. He looked unstoppable and the Grand Slam seemed inevitable — except it wasn’t.

The Serb was under intense pressure as he edged closer to becoming the first man since 1969 to win all four slams in the same year, and at the last hurdle was halted in straight sets by the second-seeded Medvedev.

The moment Djokovic felt most vulnerable is when he became most relatable. Thousands of fans in the stands tried to spur him on, but he was mentally and physically spent, and his opponent was not going to fold, despite some late nerves.

Djokovic walked away as the loser of a tennis match but he won over the notorious New York crowd that had not been kind to him in the past.

“I felt something I never felt in my life here in New York. The crowd made me very special. They pleasantly surprised me. I did not expect anything, but the amount of support and energy and love I got from the crowd was something that I’ll remember forever,” he said after the final.

“That’s the reason on the changeover I just teared up. The emotion, the energy was so strong. It’s as strong as winning 21 Grand Slams. That’s how I felt, honestly. I felt very, very special. They touched my heart, honestly.”

This was a tough pill to swallow for Djokovic but he still heads into next year’s Australian Open as the clear favorite to break the men’s all-time record he currently shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal of 20 majors won.

3. Medvedev finally cracks the major code

After losing badly to Djokovic in the Australian Open final last February, Medvedev redeemed himself by executing a perfect strategy on Sunday to clinch his maiden Grand Slam title.

The Russian has been considered the biggest threat to the Big Three’s reign at the majors for the past couple of years and has finally delivered on that promise.

At 25, Medvedev is the youngest men’s Grand Slam winner since Andy Murray’s US Open success in 2012 and he is well-positioned to possibly usurp Djokovic and become the ATP’s next world No.1.

He is charismatic and has a lethal game that blends aggression with defense in rare fashion. Expect more from the tall Russian moving forward.

4. Plenty of young ATP talent to keep an eye on

They may not have reached the finals like their WTA counterparts, but the young guns on the ATP tour also enjoyed a statement US Open.

Between Carlos Alcaraz’s march to the quarterfinals, Holger Rune’s brave showing in his opener against Djokovic, and Jenson Brooksby’s fourth-round outing, the 20-and-under crew on the men’s side has sent out a signal of intent. Let’s see if they can match what Raducanu and Fernandez have achieved in upcoming majors.

5. Wise call from Osaka

Four-time major champion Naomi Osaka served for the match in her third-round clash with Fernandez but could not close. After the contest, she admitted to journalists that she was not feeling joy from winning on the court and needed time away from the game to think about what she really wants.

It was a bold and wise decision from Osaka, who is one of the biggest sports stars to open up important conversations about mental health in recent months. When the world No.5 will return to the tour is unclear, but it takes a lot of courage to publicly express her feelings that way, and allow herself the time and space to figure things out.


How the Indian Premier League has come to shape the cricket calendar

How the Indian Premier League has come to shape the cricket calendar
Updated 42 sec ago

How the Indian Premier League has come to shape the cricket calendar

How the Indian Premier League has come to shape the cricket calendar
  • The turbulence in cricket, as shown by cancelled test between England and India, shows no sign of abating, as players and structures buckle under the pressure of playing through the pandemic

Resumption of the Indian Premier League (IPL) took place last Sunday in the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, having been suspended on May 4 in India.

Almost half of its scheduled matches had been completed when Covid-19 tests on a number of players and support staff proved positive. This, coupled with rising cases amongst the general population, led the authorities to bow to the inevitable.

Now in its 14th year, the tournament is the biggest revenue generator in cricket’s history and has propelled India to a pre-eminent position in the game’s geo-politics. It is against this backdrop that the cancelled Test match between England and India at Manchester on Sept. 2 needs to be assessed.

It is clear that the repercussions are manifold, but that the outcomes from this stunning occurrence are much less clear. The result of the match and the series is not yet known. No official reason for the cancellation has been agreed. Reports suggest that Covid-impacted cancellation is not covered by insurance for this match.

Lancashire County Cricket Club, the host of the match, has suffered financially and psychologically, not for any fault of its own and is unable to carry the losses without support. According to various reports, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is set to lose upwards of £20m, much of it in broadcasting revenues. Spectators will receive ticket refunds, but their travel and related costs will be lost.

Perhaps the writing was on the wall back in May, once the IPL was suspended. At that time, it was clear that another window was sought into which it could be rescheduled. The opportunities were limited.

The Indian team would be in England between June 3 and September 7. It is rumoured that one option being explored by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in mid-May was to ask the ECB to consider starting the five-match series one week earlier in the last week of June. This would provide a larger buffer between the end of final Test at Manchester and the start of the IPL, when bubble to bubble transfer was envisaged. There is no record of a formal approach having been made, although rumours abound that the ECB was not keen.

Apart from its tragic effect and consequences, Covid-19 has introduced uncertainty into all of our lives, not just those of professional cricketers. It was with some apprehension that many of us in England entered the new era created by the relaxation of social controls on July 19. Capacity crowds flocked to the Test matches and, as the Indian coach said, when he and other members of his party were criticised for attending the launch of his book in London, “England was open”. Subsequently, he tested Covid-positive, being followed in this respect by other members of the backroom team.

Crucially, it was a positive test for the assistant physio on the day before the Manchester Test was due to start that acted as a trigger point. Despite all of them testing negative, the Indian players appeared to be spooked. A number of them were travelling with young families and were fearful that the virus might spread amongst them. Training was cancelled the day before the match, an ominous sign. The ECB’s CEO admitted to through-the-night discussions with his Indian counterparts, but it seemed that the Indian players were adamant.

Once it was announced that the match was not going to take place, it was termed a forfeiture on news lines, but this was quickly retracted, being replaced by cancellation. The tone of public statement by the ECB was that this was regrettable, had nothing to do with the imminency of the IPL and could be explained by mental health issues that had built up to bursting point after almost four months of touring.

Recognition of mental health issues has increased in cricket, particularly during the bio-bubble existence under which the game has operated in an increasingly packed global schedule. Nevertheless, surprise was expressed in some quarters as there was no obvious sign of such problems when the India team joyously celebrated its victory at the Oval four days earlier.

By general consensus, India played the better cricket and deserved to be 2-1 up in the series, but who could predict how the final Test would play out? The ECB is keen for the match to be rescheduled, the BCCI not so keen, at least not as one that completes the series.

Discussions are on-going in attempts to find a solution that would fit into India’s schedule when they tour England in early July 2022 to play two white-ball cricket series.

Whatever the outcome, it is unlikely to please everyone. Some find it a bit rich that India had a 20-strong squad in England, enough to field a team in Manchester. By all accounts, the players chose not to play, preferring to keep themselves free and fit to fly to the UAE for the quarantine period prior to the recommencement of the IPL.

England has good reason to feel aggrieved, yet its own record is not unblemished, having cancelled its tour of South Africa in late 2020. The ECB does not seem to want to fall out with the BCCI. Indeed, both boards have been at pains to say what good relations they enjoy.

If they cannot agree a solution, the International Cricket Council will be in the unenviable position of having to rule on the outcome of the series.

The turbulence in cricket shows no sign of abating, as its players and structures buckle under the pressure of playing through the pandemic.

Last Monday, citing mental and physical well-being issues, the ECB cancelled England’s four-day tour in mid-October to Pakistan, leaving the latter enraged. By coincidence, this allows English players who were on the tour and in the IPL to participate in its play-off stage. The IPL’s influence seems to be all conquering.


Japan-Saudi Arabia eSports match to be held at Tokyo Game Show

Japan-Saudi Arabia eSports match to be held at Tokyo Game Show
Updated 13 min 41 sec ago

Japan-Saudi Arabia eSports match to be held at Tokyo Game Show

Japan-Saudi Arabia eSports match to be held at Tokyo Game Show
  • A second round of the contest will take place in Saudi Arabia in 2022

TOKYO: A Japan-Saudi Arabia eSports competition will be held over two days next month during the Tokyo Game Show 2021, Asia’s largest gaming fair, the Japan eSports Union has announced.

The Japan-Saudi Arabia eSports match, taking place on Oct. 2 to 3, was announced in August 2018 by the JESU at the invitation of Prince Faisal bin Bandar Al-Saud, president of the Saudi Arabia Federation of International eSports and the Arab eSports Federation.

Among the games that will be contested between Team Japan and Team Saudi Arabia are Football, Gran Turismo, Tekken and Street Fighter.

The competition will be held on home and away match basis, featuring a Japan Round and Saudi Arabia Round. The Saudi Arabia Round was originally scheduled to be held in July this year but is being rescheduled for 2022.

The event is part of the “Japan-Saudi Vision 2030 2.0,” for which the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has developed a strategic economic partnership between the Kingdom and Japan.

This story originally appeared in Arab News Japan.


Indian Premier League: Delhi Capitals beat coronavirus-hit Sunrisers Hyderabad by 8 wickets

Indian Premier League: Delhi Capitals beat coronavirus-hit Sunrisers Hyderabad by 8 wickets
Updated 39 min 49 sec ago

Indian Premier League: Delhi Capitals beat coronavirus-hit Sunrisers Hyderabad by 8 wickets

Indian Premier League: Delhi Capitals beat coronavirus-hit Sunrisers Hyderabad by 8 wickets
  • Hyderabad fast bowler Thangarasu Natarajan tested positive for COVID-19 and was put in isolation hours before the game
DUBAI: Delhi Capitals notched their seventh win in the Indian Premier League with a thumping eight-wicket victory over virus-hit Sunrisers Hyderabad on Wednesday.
Hyderabad fast bowler Thangarasu Natarajan tested positive for COVID-19 and was put in isolation hours before the game. The team was also without all-rounder Vijay Shankar, who also went into isolation after being identified as a close contact of Natarajan.
Without two key players, Hyderabad was limited to 134-9 by Delhi’s seamers and spinners.
Shreyas Iyer (47 not out) and captain Rishabh Pant (35 not out) led the run-chase with a clinical unbroken 67-run stand as Delhi went atop the leaderboard with 14 points by reaching 139-2 in 17.5 overs.
“Our bowlers did a pretty good job to restrict them,” Pant said. “We have one of the quickest bowlers in the world (and) pretty happy as the skipper.”
Shreyas raised the victory by hammering West Indies fast bowler Jason Holder to long-on boundary for six to hand Hyderabad its seventh loss in the tournament.
Shikhar Dhawan, who was left out by India for next month’s Twenty20 World Cup, continued his rich form in this season’s IPL by scoring 42 off 37 balls before Shreyas and Pant combined in a 42-ball stand and led the chase.
Earlier, Hyderabad struggled to put up partnerships after it won the toss and opted to bat. David Warner fell to Anrich Nortje (2-12) in the first over without scoring as the South African paceman didn’t allow the top order to score freely off his four overs.
Captain Kane Williamson (18) couldn’t capitalize on two dropped catches before finally holing out in the deep halfway into the innings off left-arm spinner Axar Patel (2-21).
Kagiso Rabada (3-37), who earlier had removed Wriddhiman Saha inside the batting powerplay, restricted Hyderabad to a below-par total with the wickets of Manish Pandey (17) and Abdul Samad (28).
“Didn’t get off to the start we would have liked,” Williamson said. “They put us under pressure and that is what you expect … for us, it is focusing on our cricket and trying to improve.”

Al-Shabab looking to break seven-year SPL jinx against champions Al-Hilal

Al-Shabab looking to break seven-year SPL jinx against champions Al-Hilal
Updated 23 September 2021

Al-Shabab looking to break seven-year SPL jinx against champions Al-Hilal

Al-Shabab looking to break seven-year SPL jinx against champions Al-Hilal
  • Club’s Brazilian coach Pericles Chamusca feeling the heat after inconsistent start to season

Al-Shabab will be looking to break one of Saudi Arabian football’s longest jinxes when they attempt to beat league champions Al-Hilal for the first time in seven years at King Fahd International Stadium on Thursday night.

The club’s last league win over Al-Hilal in the Saudi Pro League was way back on Oct. 17, 2014 — a 1-0 triumph thanks to a stoppage-time goal by South Korean player Park Chu-young.

The results since then highlight Al-Hilal’s dominance, with nine wins from the 13 league matches between the two clubs, with the other four ending in draws.

Al-Shabab go into the match sitting in 11th place in the SPL with five points from one win, two draws and two losses, while Al-Hilal are in second spot with 10 points from four matches, having had their match against Al-Fayha postponed.

Brazilian coach Pericles Chamusca took over at Al-Shabab at the start of the season but he is already feeling the heat after the inconsistent start, especially as the club finished second last season. A match against the champions might not be the fairest way to judge his team, but many predict that he could follow compatriot Mano Menezes — sacked by Al-Nassr earlier this week — out of the door if there is no immediate improvement.

There is some good news for Al-Shabab, however, with the return to fitness of several players. Chamusca will be able to call on Argentine playmaker Ever Banega, Nigerian striker Odion Ighalo, Senegalese defensive midfielder Alfred N’Diaye and Saudi keeper Fawaz Al-Qarni for the match against Al-Hilal.

Al-Hilal, meanwhile, will welcome back Salman Al-Faraj after his recent injury.


DP World Tour Championship place up for grabs for ‘lucky’ Dubai amateur golfers

DP World Tour Championship place up for grabs for ‘lucky’ Dubai amateur golfers
Updated 23 September 2021

DP World Tour Championship place up for grabs for ‘lucky’ Dubai amateur golfers

DP World Tour Championship place up for grabs for ‘lucky’ Dubai amateur golfers
  • Winner of The Luckiest Ball on Earth competition will join professionals at Jumeirah Golf Estates on Nov. 16

DUBAI: The Luckiest Ball on Earth series is set to tee off with golfers throughout the UAE vying for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play alongside some of the game’s biggest names in the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai Pro-Am.

The annual competition, which has proven a big hit with the UAE’s amateur golfers since the initiative was launched in 2011, is open to all players who hold an official club handicap recognized by the Emirates Golf Federation (maximum 28 for men and juniors, and 36 for women).

Qualifying tournaments will be held at 20 UAE golf clubs from Sept. 24 to Oct. 22, with the triumphant players booking their spot in the grand final at Jumeirah Golf Estates on Oct. 29.

Prizes worth more than 300,000 UAE dirhams ($82,000) are up for grabs including premium hospitality tickets and merchandise for the DP World Tour Championship. The overall male, female, and junior winner will receive a coveted place in the DP World Tour Championship Pro-Am taking place on Nov. 16.

Tom Phillips, European Tour head of Middle East, said: “We are thrilled to announce the return of the Luckiest Ball on Earth competition, offering UAE golfers a unique opportunity to mix with some of the world’s best players.

“We are extremely grateful for the ongoing support of the Emirates Golf Federation and the 20 qualifying clubs, which makes this wonderful local golf initiative possible. We urge golfers across the region to get down to their local qualifier, you never know when it might be your day.”

The DP World Tour Championship will see the top 50 players on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai compete for a prize fund of $9 million. This year’s tournament will take place from Nov. 18 to 21 on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates.