Plenty of intrigue left in unique 2021 tennis calendar as Daniil Medvedev eyes top spot

Plenty of intrigue left in unique 2021 tennis calendar as Daniil Medvedev eyes top spot
Daniil Medvedev has a chance of becoming the first player outside the “Big Four” to be ranked No.1 on the ATP tour since Andy Roddick in 2003. (AFP)
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Updated 27 September 2021

Plenty of intrigue left in unique 2021 tennis calendar as Daniil Medvedev eyes top spot

Plenty of intrigue left in unique 2021 tennis calendar as Daniil Medvedev eyes top spot
  • Pandemic leaves the rest of the season a mash-up of events in locations stretching from Chicago to Turin

The tennis grand slam season may be over, but the calendar is far from finished, with several storylines to keep an eye on over the next couple of months.

Post-US Open action typically revolves around Asia, but since tournaments in China and Japan have been canceled due to the pandemic, the upcoming schedule on both the women’s and men’s tours is a unique and possibly confusing mash-up of big and small events taking place at any location prepared to host them.

If you are experiencing tennis withdrawal symptoms since the US Open and are not sure what to follow, here is a guide to help you through the next few weeks.

WTA Finals back on the calendar

The WTA Finals were canceled last year, but the tournament has found a new and temporary home in Guadalajara, Mexico, for this season and will return to its original host city of Shenzhen in China from 2022.

The top eight women in the race will qualify for the prestigious season finale, which will be a held in a later-than-usual slot on the schedule, from Nov. 10-17.

Three players — Ashleigh Barty, Aryna Sabalenka and Barbora Krejcikova — have already booked their tickets to Guadalajara, and the fight for the five remaining spots might go down to the wire, with just 1,000 points separating the players ranked between 7 and 24 in the race.

Tunisian Ons Jabeur is looking to become the first Arab in history to qualify for the WTA Finals. Ranked No.9 in the race, the 27-year-old will ignite her campaign to secure a place in Guadalajara when she takes to the court at the WTA 500 tournament in Chicago this week. She is also entered in Indian Wells and Moscow.

Others in the running for qualification spots include Karolina Pliskova, Maria Sakkari, Iga Swiatek, Naomi Osaka, Garbine Muguruza and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

ATP Finals set for Turin debut

After 12 successful years at London’s O2 Arena between 2009 and 2020, the ATP Finals will move to Turin, which will host the men’s season-closer from 2021 to 2025.

With the exception of last year when the event was held behind closed doors due to the pandemic, the ATP Finals witnessed near sellout crowds for every single session during its tenure in London, and it will be interesting to see whether Turin will be able to attract similar attention for the top-eight showpiece.

A trio of ATP Finals champions has already qualified for Turin, in the form of Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, with five places yet to be scooped up. Rafael Nadal is No.7 in the race but the Spaniard has ended his season prematurely to rehab his ailing foot.

Italian Matteo Berrettini is looking to qualify on home soil, while Casper Ruud, Hubert Hurkacz and Felix Auger-Aliassime are hoping to make their ATP Finals debut.

Tennis returns to Indian Wells

Arguably everyone’s favorite destination on the tennis calendar, Indian Wells is back on the schedule following a lengthy absence. The tournament was the first to get the axe in March last year when the world went into lockdown, and it was moved from its regular spring slot to Oct. 6-17 this season, much to the delight of both players and fans.

Notable absentees from the field include Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and defending champion Dominic Thiem.

With 1,000 points on the line in the California desert, Indian Wells might prove crucial in the race to Turin and Guadalajara.

Medvedev’s bid for the top ranking

It is a long shot, and will require Daniil Medvedev to win the majority of his matches until the end of the season, but the Russian has a chance of becoming the first player outside the “Big Four” to be ranked No.1 on the ATP tour since Andy Roddick in 2003.

Medvedev is currently just over 1,500 points behind Novak Djokovic in the rankings and the reigning US Open champion can unseat the Serb if he successfully defends his Paris Masters and ATP Finals titles, while also enjoying a strong run at Indian Wells.

The world No.2 has the option to add the St. Petersburg tournament to his schedule (starts Oct. 25) should he feel he has a legitimate chance of ending the season at the summit of the rankings.

Djokovic has around 500 points to defend for the rest of the season, and has more opportunities to add to his tally, compared with Medvedev.

Legends on the comeback trail

Four-time major champion Kim Clijsters kicked off her comeback attempt in Dubai in February 2020, shortly before the tour was suspended due to the pandemic. The Belgian had spent nearly eight years off tour before returning to competition last season, but ended up just playing three matches in total in 2020.

The 38-year-old will resume her comeback this week in Chicago, where she opens her campaign against Hsieh Su-Wei, with the winner of that clash taking on Ons Jabeur in round two.

Meanwhile, on the men’s side, former world No.1 Andy Murray continues his search for form and is edging closer to a place in the top 100, thanks to his recent quarterfinal run in Metz.

The Scot, who has undergone multiple hip surgeries, is playing in San Diego this week, where he faces Kei Nishikori in his opening round.

“I’ve not played this many tournaments in a while and my body feels good. I’m gaining confidence and seeing the points develop and how I want to play them again. The results are coming and my tennis is getting better,” Murray said after reaching his first quarterfinal in two years.

National duty beckons

Both the Billie Jean King Cup Finals (formerly Fed Cup) and the Davis Cup finals have been confirmed on the calendar, with the former taking place in Prague from Nov. 1-6 and the latter being staged across three cities — Madrid, Turin and Innsbruck — from Nov. 25 to Dec. 5.

The BJK Cup Finals will follow the single-venue format for the first time, as 12 teams, split among four round-robin groups, will gather in the Czech capital.

Considering how hectic and long this season has been, especially factoring in the Olympics, it is hard to imagine too many teams turning up to these events with full-strength squads.

Winter action in the Gulf

Before we bid farewell to 2021, tennis will come to the UAE in various forms over the next couple of months.

Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena will host a fun Tie Break Tens event on Oct. 22, featuring Gael Monfils and Dan Evans among others.

The Habtoor Tennis Challenge, a popular $100,000 women’s ITF tournament, is scheduled for Nov. 22-28 in Dubai, while the Mubadala World Tennis Championship returns to Abu Dhabi from Dec. 16-18.


Polish power meets Brazilian grit as Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira face off at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi

Polish power meets Brazilian grit as Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira face off at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi
Updated 27 October 2021

Polish power meets Brazilian grit as Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira face off at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi

Polish power meets Brazilian grit as Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira face off at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi
  • UFC returns to Abu Dhabi with a title double-header in front of an expected capacity crowd at Etihad Arena on Yas Island 
  • Blachowicz is coming off an upset victory over the formerly undefeated Israel Adesanya, while Teixeira is after a huge win over Thiago Santos having been hurt early on

LOS ANGELES: UFC is back in Abu Dhabi, and this time it’s with a double-header of title fights in front of a capacity crowd at Etihad Arena for the very first time.

The newly launched venue hosted UFC 257 in January, with Dustin Poirier win over Conor McGregor in the second part of their trilogy of fights topping the bill.

Only 2,000 people were in the audience that night. On Saturday night, 18,000 people are expected to see Jan Blachowicz of Poland defend his Light Heavyweight title defense against Glover Texiera of Brazil at UFC 267.

Blachowicz is coming off an upset victory over the formerly undefeated Israel Adesanya at UFC 259 in March, and the big-punching Pole had been in sensational form before that with knockouts in three of his previous four fights.

Adesanya, however, presented a unique striking challenge for the 38-year-old Blachowicz, who seemed hesitant to throw and was biting on Adesanya's faints. Although his striking prowess was not on full display that night, he exhibited an ability to adapt and find a path to victory.

Meanwhile, Teixeira is coming off a huge win over Thiago Santos having been hurt early on, which is becoming something of a habit for the Brazilian. Although the 41-year-old Texiera often gets hurt early and comes on later, Blachowiz is not someone you want to hit you clean. Texiera's grappling is amongst the best in the division, with his vicious ground and pound opening his opponents up for submissions.

Prior to that, the first of the night’s two title bouts pits Cory Sandhagen of the US against Petr Yan of Russia for the interim Bantamweight title, a fight that was put together at short notice after Aljamain Sterling was not medically cleared due to a neck injury sustained in his fight against the latter.

Both Yan and Sandhagen will be looking to make up for controversial losses in their last fights.

Yan was picking Sterling apart and looked to be breezing to a dominant decision victory until an illegal knee saw him disqualified in round four. He has looked phenomenal in his last three fights against Urijah Faber, Jose Aldo and Sterling, with none having an answer for his Muay Thai style.

While Yan has looked impressive, the argument can be made that Sandhagen has looked even better. Excluding a slip-up against Sterling  at UFC 250 last year, and a contentious split decision against TJ Dillashaw in July, Sandhagen has looked like a world-beater.

His spin kick in the TKO win over Marlon Moraes in Abu Dhabi last October was spectacular, only to be topped months later by his flying knee against Frankie Edgar.

The 29-year-old American lives and dies by his unorthodox and loose style of fighting. In his last fight against Dillashaw, Sandhagen showed susceptibility to opening his back up to his opponents when throwing his spinning attacks. Dillashaw was able to exploit this and control clinch positions for minutes on end.

Yan displayed a similar ability to gain control of the back against Sterling when he threw spinning strikes. Both fighters will face challenges they have not faced before, and the winner would, in the eyes of many, be the best Bantamweight in the world. Sandhagen is the one with most to lose, as a defeat against Yan would put him at 0-3 against the three highest-ranked Bantamweight fighters, while Yan would likely be placed into another number 1 contender fight due to the way he lost the belt.

In the biggest of the non-title fights, the Kiwi Dan Hooker, after his decision victory of the German Nasrat Haqparast at UFC 266 in September, is stepping in on one month's notice to face Islam Makhachev - the most avoided fighter in the promotion and the heir to Khabib Nurmagomedov.

In his last bout, Hooker exhibited wrestling and control on the ground, skills that will be tested to the limit against Makhachev in their Lightweight matchup. The 31-year-old’s knees are another tool that will be employed to prevent the eventual takedown.

Since his loss in his UFC debut, Makhachev has looked almost unbeatable, with his wrestling exuding strength, speed, and tenacity.

His grappling was put to test in his first main event against Thiago Moises, who presented a submission threat Makhachev hadn't faced up until that point. He passed the test with flying colors, dominating the Brazilians from start to finish to win with a fourth round submission.

This bout has major title implications for the winner, while the loser will likely have to take a high-risk, low-reward fight with Rafael Fiziev or Gregor Gillespie.

Alexander Volkov takes on Marcin Tybura in Heavyweight bout that was added late to the main card, and before that is one of the most anticipated fights of the night which sees the return of Khamzat Chimaev against the "Leech" Li Jingliang in the Welterweight division.

The Russian-born Swede is coming off a year’s layoff due to lingering effects of COVID-19 that ruled him out of multiple bouts with Leon Edwards.

Chimaev burst onto the scene last year, winning two fights within 10 days at Fight Island 1 in Abu Dhabi. In those bouts, the 27-year-old displayed powerful wrestling and smooth grappling that rendered his opponents powerless to his never-ending barrage of ground strikes and submission attempts.

In his most recent appearance in the Octagon, he flattened Gerald Meerschaert in only 10 seconds with a single right hand. Although Chimaev seemed open to fighting at both Welterweight and middleweight, declining main event bouts with Luke Rockhold show he is more interested in fighting at welterweight.

Up against him will be Jingliang, who knocked Santiago Ponzinibbio out in the first round last January. The Leech utilizes a unique striking style, employing an abundance of hooks from unorthodox angles, although  the 33-year-old from China showed a susceptibility to be controlled in his bout against Neil Magny in 2020.

This fight will come down to who controls where it takes place, with Chimaev being more comfortable on the ground while Jingliang preferring a striking affair. The winner of the bout is sure to see a steep challenge in their next fight, with fighters like Wonderboy, Belal Muhammad and Geoff Neal, without signed fights, waiting for their chance.

The main card opens with an intriguing matchup between ranked Light Heavyweights Magomed Ankalaev of Russia and Volkan Oezdemir of Switzerland.

The 22 -year-old Oezdemir’s defeat to Jiri Prochazka at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi has aged well, with  Czech fighter solidifying himself as the next man in line for a title shot.

Short bouts have become synonymous with Oezdemir fights, with the Swiss fighter's kill or be killed style leading to swift finishes. But in Ankaleav, he will up against man many believe to be the future champion of the division. Ankaleav has been perfect in his career outside of a last-second submission defeat to Paul Craig back in 2018.

Ankaleav possesses masterful striking and employs a variety of techniques. While his power and striking are impressive, Ankalaev has also displayed sound wrestling in his last victory against Nikita Krylov in February.

This bout has significant implications for the trajectory of both fighters' careers, as a win for Ankalaev puts him in the title picture, while a win for Oezdemir keeps him relevant at the peak of the division. A loss for either fighter increases their distance to the title substantially in the shark-infested waters of the light heavyweight division.


Bayern star Kimmich sparks vaccination debate in Germany

Bayern star Kimmich sparks vaccination debate in Germany
Updated 26 October 2021

Bayern star Kimmich sparks vaccination debate in Germany

Bayern star Kimmich sparks vaccination debate in Germany
  • On Saturday, Kimmich revealed he decided against being vaccinated, despite having founded the 'We Kick Corona" charity last year
  • Bayern president Herbert Hainer said he would be happy if Kimmich "still gets vaccinated, but there is no compulsory vaccination.

BERLIN: Joshua Kimmich will be under the spotlight for Bayern Munich at rivals Moenchengladbach on Wednesday amid a fiery debate in Germany since the footballer revealed he opted not to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
The 26-year-old is set to play for Bayern in a German Cup second-round tie, but off the pitch, his decision not to get vaccinated has even drawn comment from the government in Berlin.
On Saturday, Kimmich revealed he decided against being vaccinated, despite having founded the ‘We Kick Corona” charity last year.
“It’s not that I’m a denier of the coronavirus or an opponent of vaccination,” said Kimmich, who based his decision on “personal concerns.”
The footballer’s stance drew comment from Caretaker Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, who hopes the footballer will inform himself and “let all available information about the vaccines approved in the EU sink in.”
Siebert urged Kimmich to get vaccinated because the Bayern star is “someone who is looked up to by millions” as a role model.
Kimmich appears to be in the minority among Germany’s top flight footballers.
Christian Seifert, managing director of the German Football League (DFL), has said around 94 percent of Bundesliga players are vaccinated.
Of Germany’s population of 83 million, around 66 percent are fully vaccinated, but Europe’s biggest economy is currently in the fourth wave with 10,000 new cases of the coronavirus reported Tuesday.
Since testing positive for Covid-19 last week, Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann has been giving training and matchday instructions from home where he is quarantined.
Kimmich says he may get vaccinated in the future and team-mate Thomas Mueller hopes it will be sooner rather than later.
“As a friend, it’s an absolutely acceptable decision,” said Mueller.
“As a teammate, and if you also look a little at what might be better for everyone... my opinion is perhaps that the vaccination would be better.”
On Monday, Bayern president Herbert Hainer said he would be happy if Kimmich “still gets vaccinated, but there is no compulsory vaccination. One has to respect the decision.”
Kimmich has drawn plenty of criticism from medical experts.
“Joshua Kimmich is certainly a proven expert in matters of football, but not an expert in matters of vaccination and vaccines,” Thomas Mertens, chairman of Germany’s Standing Vaccination Commission (Stiko), told German media.
“It is the personal decision of Kimmich and it should have stayed that way.”
There is also some support.
In a statement, Carsten Ramelow, vice president of the footballers’ union VDV, said it must be “accepted if individual players have concerns about side effects of the vaccination and therefore hold a different opinion.”
The chair of the German Ethics Council also stressed the importance of respecting Kimmich’s “private decision.”
However, the council’s chairwoman Alena Buyx told Sky “I think it’s a pity. It would be great if he would have used his platform to get better advice in order to be a role model.”
Buyx is concerned skeptics could use his statements to “cast doubt over vaccinations.”


Football icon Mohamed Salah to be part of Egypt’s national curriculum

Football icon Mohamed Salah to be part of Egypt’s national curriculum
Updated 26 October 2021

Football icon Mohamed Salah to be part of Egypt’s national curriculum

Football icon Mohamed Salah to be part of Egypt’s national curriculum
  • Students will learn about his sporting success, philanthropy, family-oriented Muslim lifestyle
  • Textbook: ‘He is a role model to millions of Egyptians’

LONDON: The story of Egyptian footballing icon Mohamed Salah will be added to the Egyptian national curriculum to teach children what it takes to become a hero on and off the pitch.

Liverpool striker and Egyptian national Mohamad Salah, 29, is undeniably one of the world’s best footballers, and his life story will now be taught to Egyptian children in the hopes that it will spur students on to success in life.

His career, consistent goal-scoring at the top echelons of international football, and philanthropic activities will be taught in English-language textbooks to primary- and secondary-school students across Egypt.

The much-loved Egyptian has brought joy to the Arab country through his football prowess, earning him the nickname “the happiness maker.”

Salah often appears on-screen alongside his hijabi wife and young daughter, who is named Makka after the holy city in Saudi Arabia.

His quiet lifestyle — in which he is visibly Muslim, including praying on-pitch after goals — and massive donations to Egypt’s poor have earned him national and international admiration.

In his own birthplace, the poor farming community of Nagrig in the Nile Delta, Salah has poured money into charitable works.

He has funded a new girls’ school, a water treatment center, an ambulance center, and a charity for orphans and the vulnerable.

Primary-school children will mainly be taught of his footballing success, while secondary-school textbooks will focus now on his philanthropic activities and will pose questions prompting students to examine what it means to be a hero.

“Salah’s desire to help others is because he wants to give young people a chance to succeed,” the secondary-school book says. “He is a role model to millions of Egyptians who give him the nickname ‘the happiness maker’.”

Salah will now sit alongside other Egyptian heroes featured in textbooks, such as Nobel Prize-winning novelist Naguib Mahfouz and UK-based cardiologist Sir Magdi Yacoub.


Golf Saudi and Atlas Turf Arabia to provide advanced greens for courses across the Kingdom

Golf Saudi and Atlas Turf Arabia to provide advanced greens for courses across the Kingdom
Updated 26 October 2021

Golf Saudi and Atlas Turf Arabia to provide advanced greens for courses across the Kingdom

Golf Saudi and Atlas Turf Arabia to provide advanced greens for courses across the Kingdom
  • Joint venture will deliver Platinum TE Paspalum, with both Bermudagrass and Zoysia to follow in due course
  • Several of the leading golf and landscaping projects in Saudi Arabia have secured their grass supply from Atlas Turf Arabia and the turf farm will harvest the first order of turf in Q4 2021

RIYADH: Atlas Turf Arabia, in partnership with Golf Saudi, is set to develop and distribute some of the world’s most climatically-adapted turf species throughout Saudi Arabia, starting with Platinum TE Paspalum, with both Bermudagrass and Zoysia to follow in due course.

The joint venture, which was initially agreed in 2019 to develop the region’s first internationally licensed golf and sports turf farm in Saudi Arabia, has now received its foreign investment license from the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Investment, and commercial registration from the Ministry of Commerce.

“Atlas Turf Arabia will serve as a vital link in the supply chain framework in Saudi Arabia, fulfilling the objectives of Vision 2030, by providing access to turf grass solutions for Saudi-based organizations who require it,” said Majed-Al Sorour, CEO of Golf Saudi.

“Golf Saudi is committed to not only securing the very best turf solutions for its own needs but to also do so by the most socially and environmentally conscious means possible,” he said. “By owning and operating our very own state-of-the-art turf farm, via Atlas Turf Arabia, we are able to not only source product sustainably but also create new job opportunities for Saudi nationals to operate the site locally, which is a key objective of Golf Saudi’s Social Agenda.”

The Social Agenda is Golf Saudi’s initiative to create additional educational and employment opportunities within the Kingdom. By also offering sustainable turf solutions to projects outside of golf, including other sports federations and organizations, as well as infrastructure and landscaping projects, Atlas Turf Arabia will continue to add further employees to its overall headcount in the months and years ahead. Several of the leading golf and landscaping projects in Saudi Arabia have secured their grass supply from Atlas Turf Arabia and the turf farm will harvest the first order of turf in Q4 2021.

Atlas Turf Arabia will also work closely with GEO Foundation, the international non-profit that for the last 15 years has been entirely dedicated to accelerating sustainability and climate action across golf.

“The establishment of Atlas Turf Arabia and the opening of our first turf farm in Saudi Arabia is the culmination of our mission to provide high quality, sustainable solutions for turfgrass projects worldwide,” John Holmes, president of Atlas Turf International, said.

“We are incredibly proud to play our part in not only working with new customers and supplying unique projects across the Middle East, but to also creating a positive and long-lasting legacy through the creation of new jobs and training opportunities for Saudi citizens,” he added. 

“This is just the first step in Atlas Turf Arabia’s journey to create a regional team capable of achieving its long-term and sustainable vision for the future of turfgrasses, not just in golf but other unique projects too.”


Tunisia’s Olympic gold medal hero Ahmed Hafnaoui to race at FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi

Tunisia’s Olympic gold medal hero Ahmed Hafnaoui to race at FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi
Updated 26 October 2021

Tunisia’s Olympic gold medal hero Ahmed Hafnaoui to race at FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi

Tunisia’s Olympic gold medal hero Ahmed Hafnaoui to race at FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi
  • Teenager will take part in short-distance tournament at Etihad Arena from Dec. 16-21

ABU DHABI: Tunisian Olympic gold medalist Ahmed Hafnaoui will compete in the upcoming FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) in the UAE.

The tournament is set to take place at the Etihad Arena from Dec. 16 to 21, event organizer Abu Dhabi Sports Council has announced.

Hafnaoui, 18, won gold after an outstanding performance in the 400-meter freestyle at Tokyo 2020 with a record time of three minutes and 43 seconds.

The teenage swimmer will race against some of the sport’s elite at this year’s championships, with further athlete announcements due in November, before the full field is confirmed in December.

More than 1,000 athletes from 180 countries are expected to descend on the UAE capital to compete in 44 world championship title events over six days for a total $2.8 million prize pool.

Hafnaoui will be joined by fellow Arab representatives including Emirati swimmers Layla Al-Khatib, and Youssef Al-Matrooshi, who represented the UAE in the 100-meter freestyle at the Tokyo Games.