Ons Jabeur looks to make more resolutions come true after starting 2022 in style

Ons Jabeur looks to make more resolutions come true after starting 2022 in style
Ons Jabeur kicked off 2022 brimming with confidence and hungry for further success. (AFP)
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Updated 12 January 2022

Ons Jabeur looks to make more resolutions come true after starting 2022 in style

Ons Jabeur looks to make more resolutions come true after starting 2022 in style
  • Tunisian world No. 10 has already defeated 2-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, aims to follow up historic 2021 with further success, beginning at Australian Open

RIYADH: On New Year’s Eve, Ons Jabeur was having a conversation with her coach and told him one of her resolutions for 2022 would be to try and claim a first victory over two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.

Jabeur had lost all three of her previous meetings to the Czech left-hander and was 0-6 in sets against her. Should the opportunity arise over the course of this new season, she hoped she would be able to finally snap that losing streak.

The opportunity came along sooner than she expected, as Jabeur faced off with Kvitova in just her second match of the year. A mere 12 days after making that new-year resolution, the Tunisian got to fulfill it, defeating the 31-year-old with a mature and convincing 6-4, 6-4 performance to reach the quarterfinals of the Sydney Tennis Classic on Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters after her victory, world No. 10 Jabeur said: “Finally, after so many losses against her; it was a great match. I fought really hard. It’s not easy to return those powerful shots, but yeah, I have been prepared and I wanted really to win. So, I went for it.”

Jabeur is coming off a historic 2021 campaign, in which she became the first ever Arab tennis player to break the top 10, and peak at No. 7 in the world rankings. She won her first Women’s Tennis Association title, reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, the semifinals at Indian Wells, and came agonizingly close to qualifying for the WTA Finals in Guadalajara, missing out by just one spot.

Despite dealing with an elbow issue that troubled her during the closing stages of the season and contracting COVID-19 after taking part in an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi last month, Jabeur has kicked off 2022 brimming with confidence and hungry for further success.

“I want to continue to win and improve my game. Trying to get back as healthy as I can and play – I’m not saying injury-free, but to be able to compete 100 percent. My goal is really to continue in the top 10 and why not enter the top five? My goal is to win more titles,” the 27-year-old told Arab News ahead of her participation in next week’s Australian Open.

“I feel different, I feel more confident on tour. I try not to set a lot of pressure on myself. I’m just trying to enjoy it here. You know how it could be sometimes with a lot of pressure and hopefully this year I’ll try my best to qualify for the WTA Finals.”

Pressure is something Jabeur has had to deal with from a very young age, ever since she lifted the Roland-Garros junior title in 2011. Expectations were high and it took her years to translate her teen promise into success on the women’s tour. But through that long and winding journey, she got tougher, both mentally and physically, and has finally showed the world what she is capable of on a tennis court.

Her mental strength was on full display in her clash with Kvitova on Wednesday, where she had to fight back from a break down twice in the opening set, and once in the second, before overcoming the powerful Czech.

“I think as a person, I always believed in mental conditioning as a priority for me even when I was 13, 12, I don’t know, 10, I always believed that and I always had a mental coach with me because for me, I always say if you’re mentally ready, you can beat anything,” Jabeur added.

“If you’re not ready physically, if your tennis is not good, and mentally you’re strong you can beat it. And then if you’re physically ready and your mental is not ready then it’s really tough to overcome anything.

“So that’s why I always have that part ready and able to improve in that side. I had difficult times; I’m trying really to understand myself more to be able to improve that part. I’m trying to be more patient in my life, so I can be patient on court.

“So many things are connected and in general, I’m just trying to be a better person so I can be the person that I want on court.”

This time last year, Jabeur’s patience was truly tested as she was one of the players that had to go through a hard quarantine of 14 days in her hotel room in Melbourne, after someone had tested positive for COVID-19 on the charter flight she took to Australia.

Being locked in a room for two weeks right before a Grand Slam was far from ideal, but Jabeur prefers to look back at the experience in a positive way.

She said: “I always try to take the positive from every bad situation. I think staying in the room, I was actually training every day really hard; I was even more fit when I came out after two weeks.

“It’s never easy to deal with it at the time but now looking back, it was questionable for me whether I’m going to play good later or not. I had to really be able to make up for those two weeks.”

Travelling to Australia this year, Jabeur repeatedly checked the rules to make sure she would not face any trouble when she arrived. She admitted that her elbow was still not 100 percent, but she has looked sharp so far in her first two matches in Sydney.

She feels an added responsibility to live up to her top-10 billing and does not want to end up as a statistic for a lower-ranked player keen to pick up a first top-10 victory.

With big goals on her mind for 2022, Jabeur is in the process of making a new addition to her coaching staff, which currently includes her tennis coach Issam Jellali and husband and fitness coach Karim Kamoun. While she was not ready to announce who she planned on hiring just yet, Jabeur discussed what she was looking for in the person who will join her camp.

“Just someone with experience as an ex-player, someone who can help me with more their views, if maybe they won a Grand Slam, maybe they were No. 1 before, so I’m trying to look for that expertise. Nothing confirmed yet. But let’s see, maybe in a month,” she added.

The drama surrounding Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic and his entry into Australia as an unvaccinated player with a medical exemption has been one of the most talked about topics worldwide, and the locker room is no exception.

Jabeur was not surprised the world No. 1 did everything in his power to try to compete in the Australian Open, especially considering he was targeting a record 21st Grand Slam trophy.

She said: “I feel like some players they blame him for coming, some players they don’t. I feel like we should respect his choice that he didn’t want to get vaccinated. If they didn’t want him to come, why did you give the exemption and everything? So, I feel like it’s tough what’s happening to him or to anybody; it’s a very, very tough situation. So, I don’t know. I have no idea.

“I hope it’s not political as people are saying. I feel like he’s going for a historical run this season, especially at the Australian Open, and he saw an opportunity to get an exemption so he took it, and you cannot blame him for that really.

“But I kind of feel for the Czech player, Renata Voracova, who got deported. It is really unfair that you deport her and for example he comes and plays. And I think the WTA or ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) should speak about this because it’s really, really not fair,” Jabeur added.


Dainese becomes first Italian stage winner in 2022 Giro

Dainese becomes first Italian stage winner in 2022 Giro
Updated 15 sec ago

Dainese becomes first Italian stage winner in 2022 Giro

Dainese becomes first Italian stage winner in 2022 Giro
  • Spaniard Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek) retained the leader’s pink jersey after a 203-kilometer stage which was relatively comfortable other than the heat and wind

REGGIO EMILIA, ITALY: Alberto Dainese (DSM) became the first Italian winner in this year’s Giro d’Italia when he edged the sprint to take stage 11 in Reggio Emilia on Wednesday.

Dainese, 24, who had never previously won a stage in the Giro, beat the Colombian Fernando Gaviria in the dash for the finish. Another Italian Simone Consonni took third.

On the podium, the Italian was treated to the traditional giant bottle of prosecco, like his predecessors.

But significantly, the magnum had been uncorked as a precaution against a repeat of the accident that befell Biniam Girmay on Tuesday when he was injured in the left eye by the cork and subsequently ruled out of the race.

The Spaniard Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek) retained the leader’s pink jersey after a 203-kilometer stage which was relatively comfortable other than the heat and wind.

Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz, however, pocketed three bonus seconds in an intermediate sprint to climb two places into second, equal in time with the Portuguese Joao Almeida, 12 seconds behind Lopez.

“I saw Carapaz gained some time in an intermediate sprint but I’m not as fast as him. There was nothing I could do,” said Lopez who has been leading since the fourth stage.

“Anyway, I’m very happy to keep the pink jersey for at least one more day.”

Eritrean Girmay, who on Tuesday became the first black African to win a stage at the Giro, pulled out before the start following Tuesday’s cork accident.

Intermarche’s team doctor Piet Daneels said tests showed “hemorrhage in the anterior chamber of the left eye.”

With temperatures hitting 30 degrees, the peloton largely stuck together apart from one wishful breakaway by Luca Rastelli and Filippo Tagliani which was reeled in just after halfway.

Belgian Dries De Bondt embarked on a solo raid 58 kilometers from the finish, which ended just 1,300 meters from the line.

In the sprint, French rider Arnaud Demare, who already has two stage wins to his name in this Giro, attacked from deep.

He was hunted down by Gaviria before Dainese, taking full advantage of the slipstream, came through to take the third victory of his career.

Last year, he finished second in a Vuelta stage, behind Dutchman Fabio Jakobsen.

The peloton faces its longest day in the saddle on Thursday with a mountainous 12th stage of 204 kilometers which crosses the Apennines from Parma to Genoa.


Newcastle’s pre-season plans scrambled following US tournament cancelation

Newcastle’s pre-season plans scrambled following US tournament cancelation
Updated 19 May 2022

Newcastle’s pre-season plans scrambled following US tournament cancelation

Newcastle’s pre-season plans scrambled following US tournament cancelation
  • The cancelation leaves United and Howe with a real summer conundrum, especially just a few days before the end of the Premier League season

NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United have expressed their disappointment after their pre-season plans were torn to shreds by US organizers.

The Magpies were due to travel to the States to take part in the inaugural Ohio Cup in Cincinnati and Columbus, starting in July.

However, Newcastle were informed this week by organizers that the tournament, which was also set to feature Wolverhampton Wanderers, Valencia and Villarreal, would no longer go ahead.

No definitive reason has been given for the call-off, although it is understood the cancelation is categorically nothing to do with Newcastle United or their Premier League counterparts Wolves.

And Arab News has learnt the club themselves are angry at the development and timing of it, having had plans for the camp in the pipeline for quite some time.

The cancelation leaves United and Howe with a real summer conundrum, especially just a few days before the end of the Premier League season.

Despite having a number of late summer games already scheduled, against high-quality opposition, the front end of their off-season looks light.

And club officials, with the help of Howe and his team, now face a race against time to get a warm weather summer camp plus friendlies arranged. The first game of the summer is likely to take place in about eight weeks.

The prospect of the club going ahead with a trip to America is not being ruled out, but appears, at this stage, the least likely of all of the options on the table.

A trip a little closer to home is much more likely this summer, with United now working through a list of back-up alternatives.

The issue facing trip planners, and why the late nature of the cancelation is so upsetting to the club, is that many of those back-up options have likely already been booked up by other clubs from across the continent.

While a trip to the Middle East, where United spent two spells earlier this year, is possible again in 2022, it’s unlikely that will happen in pre-season due to the high temperatures in the region.

Meanwhile, Howe was in a less-than-sentimental mood on Monday evening as he gave a run-out to just one United player who is likely to leave this summer.

Dwight Gayle was the only player to get minutes in the 2-0 win over Arsenal, albeit  totalling just three. The likes of Matt Ritchie, and others, who are likely to be shown the summer exit door, did not get the farewell some may have expected.

Discussing the situation and emotional exits at St. James’ Park on Monday night, Howe said: “It’s a difficult one for me to answer, I can only speak for myself really. It was just great to see the families of the players come on because players work incredibly hard and are away from their families a lot.

“It’s great to see the kids, wives, families, mums and dads come onto the pitch and be part of the experience. Brilliant moment to come together because it’s not often I get to see them be together as one. They’ve all played their part in this as well. Let’s not forget how much time the players spend away, they need good role models and good people around, so that was a really touching moment. The photo at the end in front of the Gallowgate End was a great thing.”


Eintracht Frankfurt beat Rangers in shootout to win Europa League

Eintracht Frankfurt beat Rangers in shootout to win Europa League
Updated 19 May 2022

Eintracht Frankfurt beat Rangers in shootout to win Europa League

Eintracht Frankfurt beat Rangers in shootout to win Europa League
  • Rafael Borre was the hero of the night, after already canceling out Joe Aribo’s opener for Rangers as Frankfurt won their first European trophy since 1980 and booked their place in next season’s Champions League

SEVILLE, Spain: Eintracht Frankfurt defeated Rangers 5-4 on penalties to win the Europa League on Wednesday after the final in Seville finished 1-1 at the end of extra time.

Aaron Ramsey missed for Rangers in the shootout after coming on as a substitute with only three minutes left of extra time, before Rafael Borre struck the winning shot to complete Frankfurt’s remarkable triumph.

Borre was the hero of the night, after already canceling out Joe Aribo’s opener for Rangers as Frankfurt won their first European trophy since 1980 and booked their place in next season’s Champions League.

“We are all heroes. Without the fans we wouldn’t have made it,” said Frankfurt goalkeeper Kevin Trapp.

Both clubs were looking to win a second European title in their history, Rangers after clinching the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1972 and Frankfurt after they lifted the UEFA Cup 42 years ago.

But Rangers came up just short at the end of an incredible run to the final. Only 10 years ago this week, Rangers fell into administration before being liquidated and relegated to Scotland’s bottom tier.

Frankfurt had already beaten Real Betis, Barcelona and West Ham en route to the final and they were probably deserving winners, shading a compelling contest that always seemed to lack real technical quality.

With a capacity of just under 43,000, Sevilla’s Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan was never going to be big enough to house all the traveling fans, with Rangers bringing over an estimated 100,000 while around 60,000 followed Frankfurt to Spain.

The vast majority enjoyed the day in good spirits but security concerns were not unfounded, with skirmishes breaking out in the city center during the day on Wednesday while five German fans were arrested late on Tuesday night after police said 200 Frankfurt fans launched an attack on Rangers supporters.

It was a scruffy opening 15 minutes as Joe Aribo almost got away after a neat pirouette by Scott Wright before John Lundstram scraped his studs down the dipping head of Sebastian Rode, leaving the Frankfurt captain with a bloody shirt that had to be changed and a head that had to be strapped.

The German team gradually took control, faster to the ball and slicker in their passing, suffocating Rangers, who were reduced to speculative punts forward to try to escape the press.

Frankfurt’s Ansgar Knauff went close, the penalty box opening up for the winger at the end of a winding run forward, only for Allan McGregor to tip wide.

Rangers had their moments and improved before the break as Lundstram’s header had to be pushed over and Ryan Jack drove too high.

Frankfurt seemed rejuvenated for the start of the second half but it was Rangers who took the lead just before the hour, capitalizing on two dreadful Frankfurt errors, each compounding the other.

First, Djibril Sow misjudged a header in midfield, sending it back behind his own defense for the lively Aribo to latch onto, and then as Frankfurt’s Tutu chased, he slipped, gifting an free run to the Rangers striker, who calmly slotted home.

Lindstrom might have equalized almost immediately but his finish was blocked and then Daichi Kamada looped onto the roof of the net when Rangers had failed to clear.

The pressure was mounting and in the 69th minute, it told, as Filip Kostic was given too much space out wide to cross and then in the middle, Connor Goldson and Calvin Bassey both hesitated to clear. Borre nipped between them and prodded in.

There were precious few opportunities in the final minutes but the contest became stretched in extra-time, with Borre almost capitalizing on a Bassey stumble.

Rangers were the better team in the second period and their golden chance came in the 118th minute as the sprinting Ryan Kent arrived at the back post but somehow hit keeper Trapp from five yards.

To penalties, and the Rangers fans roared when the coin toss put the shoot-out at their end. James Tavernier, Steven Davis and Scott Arfield all scored for Rangers as did Frankfurt’s Christopher Lenz, Ajdin Hrustic and Kamada, whose shot squeezed in off the post.

But Ramsey fired too straight, hitting Trapp’s left foot and after Kostic and Kemar Roofe converted, it was up to Borre to finish it. He made no mistake.


Dustin Johnson looking to get back on track at PGA Championship

Dustin Johnson looking to get back on track at PGA Championship
Updated 19 May 2022

Dustin Johnson looking to get back on track at PGA Championship

Dustin Johnson looking to get back on track at PGA Championship
  • Johnson has gone 27 starts over 15 months since winning the Saudi International

OKLAHOMA, US: Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth are examples of how quickly the landscape can change.

Look back one year, and Johnson was the No. 1 player in the world who had been runner-up in the previous two PGA Championships and among the favorites every time he played.

Going into this PGA Championship, which starts Thursday at Southern Hills, he is No. 12. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s his lowest ranking in seven years, and the questions have changed. Instead of when he will add another major, it’s about when he will win again.

Johnson has gone 27 starts over 15 months since winning the Saudi International.

“The thing for me has just been driving,” Johnson said. He thought back to the Masters, where his driver was behaving so badly he switched to a 3-wood. That’s not a bad option for most players, just not Johnson.

“I’ve never done that in my life — 3-wood is the last club in my bag that I’d want to hit,” he said. “I’ve always felt most comfortable with a driver.”

That would be a good club for him at Southern Hills after its acclaimed restoration project. Unlike the last time the PGA was here in 2007 and players were hitting mostly irons off the tee. Now that it’s at 7,556 yards for a par 70, the driver could go a long way.

“Obviously, this is a really good place to drive it straight for me,” Johnson said.

He arrived on Monday, taking those long strides up the hill toward the clubhouse, when Johnson was asked if it was his first time in Oklahoma.

“Yep,” he said. “And after this week, it will be my ... .” He finished the sentence with a smile. At age 38, and with no major on the horizon here for the next eight years, well, he’d like to make the most of his time in the Sooner State.

A year ago, Spieth was No. 28 in the world, a month away from ending a long victory drought but still far away from his game being back to the form that made him a major force in golf at age 21.

Now the 28-year-old from Texas is No. 8 and coming off a particularly good stretch that followed an irritating missed cut at the Masters. Spieth won in Hilton Head the following week and then finished one shot behind in Dallas last week.

The PGA Championship is all that’s keeping him from the career Grand Slam, which is one of the key talking points this week. Spieth brought up the missing leg of the Grand Slam as the “elephant in the room.”

But for the state of golf, it’s starting to feel like a herd of pachyderms.

Where’s Phil Mickelson, the defending PGA champion? And what will he do next when he emerges from this self-imposed exile over his comments on the Saudi-funded golf series that seemingly offended both sides?

Tiger Woods still commands all the attention. The gallery was enormous for him playing nine holes on Monday and again on Wednesday in his final tuneup for his return to Southern Hills. Those around him felt it was a victory that he made it through 72 holes at the Masters in his first competitive tournament since his car crash.

“I’ve gotten stronger since then,” Woods said. “It’s still going to be sore, and walking is a challenge. I can hit golf balls, but the challenge is walking. It’s going to be that way for the foreseeable future, for sure.”

Not to be overlooked is the Saudi-funded series Greg Norman is orchestrating, set to start in three weeks outside London with still no idea who will be playing, with the PGA Tour denying releases required to play outside the country.

Rory McIlroy said earlier in the week, “It’s going to shape the future of professional golf one way or another, so I think we’re just going to have to see how it all shakes out.”

Spieth could only smile when after a series of questions about the career Grand Slam and his game and Southern Hills, he was asked about Mickelson and the Saudi league.

“Since everyone was lobbing me questions, you just went and threw two bombs,” he said with a wry smile. He didn’t looked bothered, and odds are he wasn’t.

“I’m excited to come here this week and just keep my head down, and none of those distractions weigh on me whatsoever,” he said.

And then there’s Johnson, who doesn’t seem to get distracted by much of anything. He was courted heavily by the Saudi group at the start of the year before declaring he wanted to play against the best on the PGA Tour. He also had no small matter of a wedding to Paulina Gretzky just two weeks after the Masters.

Which was the greater distraction?

“Neither,” he said. “Paulina did an unbelievable job with the wedding. I really didn’t have to do much. I helped for about half an hour with the seating chart. That was about it. That was my whole contribution.”

On Thursday, it’s all about major championship golf. And even with the Masters only five weeks removed, it couldn’t get here soon enough.


Saudi gold medals for Al-Issa, Al-Yassin at GCC Games in Kuwait

Saudi gold medals for Al-Issa, Al-Yassin at GCC Games in Kuwait
Updated 18 May 2022

Saudi gold medals for Al-Issa, Al-Yassin at GCC Games in Kuwait

Saudi gold medals for Al-Issa, Al-Yassin at GCC Games in Kuwait
  • Bronze for Muzna Al-Nassar in women’s 5000 meters and Raghad Abuarish in women’s high jump

Saudi swimmer Ali Al-Issa has claimed a gold medal in the 100 meter backstroke competition on the third day of the GCC Games in Kuwait.

Al-Issa’s win was achieved with a time of 59.79 seconds.

There was more gold medal success for the Saudi contingent as Ahmed Al-Yassin won the decathlon competition with 7,270 points, while his Saudi colleague Saeed Mabrouk took silver with 7,017 points.

Elsewhere, there was plenty of success for Saudi athletes, while some experienced names just missed out on medals.

Al-Issa’s swimming team colleague Youssef Buarish — who took part in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo — could only finish fifth in the final of the 100 meter butterfly race with a time of 56.25 seconds.

In the athletics competition, runner Muzna Al-Nassar repeated her bronze medal performance from Day 2 after finishing third in the 5000 meter race with a time of 20 minutes, 33 seconds.

In the women’s high jump, Raghad Abuarish also claimed bronze after clearing a height of 1.45 meters.

Saudi runner Fahad Al-Subaie won the silver medal in the men’s 200 meter race with a time of 20.92 seconds, while his teammate Mahmoud Hafez finished third — and claimed bronze — with a time of 21.13 seconds.

Yousef Asiri achieved a bronze medal in the men’s 5000 meter race with a time of 14 minutes, 14 seconds.

Also in the athletics competitions, Ahmed Al-Taruti took the bronze in the men’s high jump with a distance of 2.1 meters.

Mohammed Al-Sharida, Fahd Al-Mutairi and Faisal Al-Dajani claimed a set of bronze medals after finishing third in the men’s team shooting competition.