5 burning questions to be answered at the 2022 Australian Open

5 burning questions to be answered at the 2022 Australian Open
Djokovic’s absence means world No.2 Daniil Medvedev is the highest-ranked player in the tournament draw. (AFP)
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Updated 17 January 2022

5 burning questions to be answered at the 2022 Australian Open

5 burning questions to be answered at the 2022 Australian Open
  • Novak Djokovic’s controversial deportation has overshadowed what will be yet another intriguing tournament in Melbourne

Novak Djokovic has been deported, the world’s top tennis players are in position and the Australian Open officially kicks off its main draw action on Monday. Here are some burning questions we could get answered in the upcoming fortnight in Melbourne.  

1. Will we have a new men’s world No.1 by the end of the Australian Open?

Djokovic’s absence means world No.2 Daniil Medvedev is the highest-ranked player in the tournament draw and the in-form Russian will be seen as the main contender for the title at Melbourne Park.

Medvedev, a finalist at the Australian Open to Djokovic 11 months ago and a maiden major champion at the US Open last September, is bidding to become the first man in the open era to win a second grand slam title on his next grand slam appearance.

The 25-year-old is also looking to become only the sixth man in the open era to win the Australian Open after winning the US Open in the previous season.

But, more importantly, should Medvedev manage to lift the trophy on Rod Laver Arena in two weeks’ time, he will replace Djokovic as the new world No.1 and become the first player outside the “Big Four” (Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray) to reach the summit of the rankings since Andy Roddick last occupied the top spot in February 2004.

World No.3 and German reigning ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev also has a shot at dethroning Djokovic if he clinches the Australian Open crown.

2. Can Nadal break the men’s all-time grand slam record?

Nadal is the only former champion in the men’s singles draw at this Australian Open and the Spaniard has a golden chance to claim an all-time men’s record 21st grand slam title this fortnight, with Djokovic and Federer — the two players he shares the record with — both missing the tournament.

The sixth-seeded Nadal, who opens his campaign against American Marcos Giron on Monday, is contesting his first major since his semifinal exit at Roland Garros last June.

The Mallorcan has been dealing with a foot injury that forced him to miss Wimbledon and the US Open and is coming off a bout of COVID-19 but has made a reassuring return to the tour by winning the Melbourne Summer Set ATP 250 tournament in the build-up to this Australian Open.

The question remains whether his body will allow him to compete in a best-of-five format over the next two weeks.

“One day we’re going to see it. I can’t tell you a clear or accurate answer because I didn’t play best-of-five since Roland Garros,” Nadal said on Saturday.

“I just want to go day by day. Of course, I’m going to keep trying my best to improve. But every day I spend on court, I think it’s positive. Every match that I am able to win, it’s very important for my confidence, it’s important for my physical performance, and you never know what can happen later.”

3. Can Osaka defend a title for the first time?

World No.14 Naomi Osaka lifted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup in both 2019 and 2021, and has won 22 of her last 23 matches in Melbourne.

The four-time major champion and seven-time titlist overall has never successfully defended a title and will be looking to change that at the Australian Open.

The Japanese former world No.1 returned to the tour a couple of weeks ago after a four-month absence and reached the quarterfinals of the Melbourne Summer Set tournament in her first event back. She retired ahead of her semifinal with an abdominal injury but is not too concerned ahead of her Australian Open first round against Colombian Camila Osorio on Monday.

“I heal quite fast. I’m as good as I can be in this current moment,” she said on Saturday.

4. Can Muguruza keep up her momentum from last season?

Two-time major winner Garbine Muguruza finished 2021 with a bang, clinching the WTA Finals in Guadalajara to move back up to No.3 in the world rankings.

The Spanish former world No.1 lost the Australian Open final to Sofia Kenin two years ago and has some unfinished business at Melbourne Park.

Muguruza had a long 2021 season that ended mid-November in Mexico,  which could serve her well when it comes to maintaining form and momentum.

“I think I really focused on getting the necessary rest because you’re not losing your tennis. I think you prioritize getting back the energy, refresh the mindset and everything,” the 28-year-old said.

5. Will Barty keep her No.1 streak going?

Reigning Wimbledon champion Ash Barty will kick off her 104th consecutive week at No.1 entering this Australian Open, the fifth-longest streak in WTA history.

Two players could potentially unseat Barty at the top of the rankings: No.2 Aryna Sabalenka and No.4 Barbora Krejcikova.

Sabalenka needs to reach at least the final to have a chance of gaining the summit, but also needs Barty to lose before the title decider.

Meanwhile, Krejcikova will need to reach the final to have a chance of clinching the top spot.

If Barty reaches the third round or Sabalenka makes it to the final, then Krejcikova would move to No.1 only by winning the title. If Barty advances to the semis, Krejcikova cannot overtake the Australian.


UAE wins at AJP Tour Fujairah International Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship

UAE wins at AJP Tour Fujairah International Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship
Updated 15 sec ago

UAE wins at AJP Tour Fujairah International Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship

UAE wins at AJP Tour Fujairah International Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship
  • Commando Group takes the top sport with AFNT and Sharjah Self-Defense Sports Club in second and third
  • Emirati Zayed Al-Kathiri grabs the gold medal in the black belt contest

FUJAIRAH: The AJP Tour Fujairah International Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship came to a stunning conclusion on Sunday with the UAE taking home the most medals courtesy of excellent performances across the amateur and professional divisions.

Zayed Al-Kathiri, the star of Baniyas Club and the national team, won the gold medal in the 62-kilogram category at the championship, his first official competition in the black belt division. He defeated Brazilian Bruno Borges in a match that stoked the passion of the spectators.

The UAE took the lead in the national rankings, beating Brazil in second and Colombia in third.

The championship, held under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Sharqi, crown prince of Fujairah, saw heated contests with plenty of fervor and superb skills on display. The dramatic final day concluded as Commando Group Academy took the title, surpassing AFNT in second, with Sharjah Self-Defense Sports Club in third.

Brig. Ahmed Hamdan Al-Zeyoudi, chairman of the UAE Taekwondo Federation, Mohammed Salem Al-Dhaheri, vice president of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation, and Youssef Abdullah Al-Batran, UAEJJF board member, were among the guests who attended the competition on the second day.

“I express sincere gratitude and appreciation to Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Sharqi, the crown prince of Fujairah, for his patronage (of) the championship,” said Al-Batran.

“His highness always provides full support and care for combat sports, especially jiu-jitsu, to ensure its prosperity, and contributes to consolidating the country’s position as the global capital for the sport.”

“The Fujairah International Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship is becoming more and more significant and offers the perfect environment for developing future world champions in various international forums and championships. The strongest evidence of this is the fact that it was able to draw in more than 800 male and female participants from 50 different nations across the globe,” he added.

Al-Kathiri was ecstatic about his win.

“I am overjoyed with this first black belt accomplishment. Competitions in this category are different from others as the participants are very strong and experienced. I approached most of my fights today with optimism, careful analysis of my opponents’ styles, and a total dedication to the technical staff’s instructions, all of which contributed to this success.”

Obaid Salem Al-Nuaimi of the Al-Jazira Club, who took gold in the 56-kilogram professional division, added: “The path to success was not simple considering the presence of a group of the strongest opponents.”


Arsenal sign Gabriel Jesus from Man City

Arsenal sign Gabriel Jesus from Man City
Updated 55 min 6 sec ago

Arsenal sign Gabriel Jesus from Man City

Arsenal sign Gabriel Jesus from Man City
  • Jesus was expected to fall down the pecking order at City had he stayed for the final year of his contract

LONDON: Arsenal have completed the signing of Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus for a fee of around £45 million ($54 million), the London club announced on Monday.
Jesus, who scored 95 goals in 236 appearances for City, has signed a “long-term contract” with Arsenal after deciding to leave the Premier League champions in search of more regular first-team action.
The Brazil international is reunited with Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, who was Pep Guardiola’s assistant at City before he took charge at the Emirates Stadium.
“I’m very excited. The club has done a tremendous job to recruit a player of this stature,” Arteta said.
“This is a position that’s been on our radar for a long time now and we have managed to get a player that we all wanted, so I’m really happy.”
Jesus was expected to fall down the pecking order at City had he stayed for the final year of his contract as the champions have bolstered their striking options with the signings of Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez.
Admitting Arteta’s presence at the Emirates was influential in his decision to join the Gunners, Jesus said: “We spoke a couple of times about the club, the players, the project and the future.
“I believe 100 percent in Mikel. I had a very good time with him before, he’s a very good guy and a very good coach as well.
“He helped me a lot. We would always stick together after the training sessions and do some finishing or something.
“He’s a very intelligent guy and was an amazing player, so if he knows something he can teach me or the young players.”
Arsenal have let senior strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette leave the club for free in the past six months.
Despite handing Eddie Nketiah a new five-year deal, Jesus is expected to lead the line for Arteta’s men as the Gunners aim to end a six-year absence from the Champions League.
The 25-year-old won four Premier League titles among eight major honors during his time with City after joining them in January 2017.
Arsenal have already strengthened Arteta’s squad with the signings of Portuguese midfielder Fabio Vieira, Brazilian teenage forward Marquinhos and American goalkeeper Matt Turner.
According to reports, they have also had a bid for Leeds winger Raphinha turned down, but are expected to return with an improved offer for the Brazilian international.
kca-smg-jwp/jc


Newcastle’s Sven Botman idolizes Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk

Newcastle’s Sven Botman idolizes Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk
Updated 04 July 2022

Newcastle’s Sven Botman idolizes Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk

Newcastle’s Sven Botman idolizes Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk
  • Magpies’ new defender, 22, hopes to reach Premier League elite level
  • Left-footer in team’s summer preparations for season opener on Aug. 6

NEWCASTLE: Sven Botman has laughed off comparisons with compatriot Virgil van Dijk but hopes to one day reach the Liverpool star’s level — and do it with Newcastle United.

Last week Botman became the Magpies’ most expensive ever defender eclipsing the eight-figure sums paid for the likes of Dan Burn, Jonathan Woodgate and Fabricio Coloccini.

And the Netherlands’ youth international hopes to hit the ground running when he begins training with the rest of the Magpies’ first-team squad on Wednesday, after an extended summer break due to his national exertions.

While some look to the development of Van Dijk with Southampton and then the Reds, as a comparison upon which to gauge 22-year-old Botman, the central defender admits he has a long way to go to even be considered in the same conversation as one of the Premier League’s elite.

“I am far from his level,” said Botman, when asked about Van Dijk, regarded by many to be the best defender in world football.

“That is my goal, as Virgil is a great defender. Being in the Premier League, it can help me get faster to his level but I need a lot of time and a lot of matches. And I think Newcastle is the right environment for me to develop myself and to become a defender like him.”

Botman, a near $39 million purchase from Lille, is the third signing of the summer for head coach Eddie Howe, in what has already proven to be a busy transfer window.

The Magpies previously turned Matt Targett’s loan deal from Aston Villa into a permanent one before signing England international goalkeeper Nick Pope from Burnley.

Botman improves a department already blessed with plenty of experience and talent, but how will he complement those around him?

He explained: “I am a tall guy and I am strong in duels. I like to play one (versus one) against a striker but I also like to help the team with the build up from the back. I am left-footed but can also play with the right.

“I need to improve a lot but I am on the right path and I think here at Newcastle is the best step for me to improve myself.

“Newcastle at the moment is a club with a lot of passion. You see players working hard, but at the end Newcastle wants to reach the top end of the league and into Europe. We need to mix that with good football.

“I think in the upcoming five years, things are looking bright.”

It’s much-publicized that United weren’t Botman’s only option this summer.

Serie A champions and seven-times European Cup winners AC Milan were also deep in negotiations to sign the player from under the noses of Newcastle.

“I had some talks with some clubs,” the former Ajax defender admitted.

“I just like the Premier League so much and Newcastle has this project, where the future’s looking brighter. I hope to see myself grow with the club.

“I am delighted. I am thankful to all of the people who worked on this deal. It has been a long trip, but finally we are here.”

While European places and silverware continue to evade United, one of their unique selling points is the club’s fanatical supporters.

More than 30,000 people, bearing in mind the strict eligibility criteria, tried to snap up just 1,000 released season tickets for St James’ Park this season. And home and away sell outs are a weekly occurrence at United.

“I know that they have crazy, super fans,” he said.

“They always play with their heart, and if you watch them it is always played with passion.

“It’s like 52,000 people and I hear it is always sold out, the fans are crazy, so I can’t wait to play.

“I can only say good things about the fans. I get a lot of messages, sorry I can’t read them all.

“When I have seen matches in Newcastle, the whole vibe, the environment in the stadium is incredible. I can’t wait to play there.”

Head coach Howe now turns his attention to signing at least another two forward players to add goals, creativity and speed to the United frontline.

But focusing on getting his number one transfer target through the door, he said: “I’m delighted Sven is joining us. He is technically very good, physically very good and has a great attitude.

“At 22, he already has solid experience at the top level but he is at a great age to grow with this team. I am looking forward to getting to work with him and seeing him with his new teammates.”

Meanwhile, as the Newcastle players returned to pre-season training on Friday, the club announced confirmation of their full pre-season plans.

The club will kick off their summer preparation with a behind-closed-doors encounter with non-league neighbors Gateshead on Saturday. They will then travel to Austria, to a base on the outskirts of Salzburg, to take part in a nine-day training camp, which will see them face 1860 Munich and Mainz during their stay.

The first game of the trip will be on Friday, July 15 against Munich, then Mainz on Monday, July 18. The Magpies will venture out to Portugal to take on Benfica on Tuesday, July 26, although a game the previous weekend is still a possibility.

They will close out their summer games with a double-header at St James’ Park on Friday and Saturday, July 29 and 30. Atalanta then Athletic Bilbao will be the opposition on Tyneside.

Newcastle’s first game of the Premier League season takes place at home on Saturday, Aug. 6 against Nottingham Forest.


Nick Kyrgios eyes Wimbledon quarters as Rafael Nadal picks up the pace

Nick Kyrgios eyes Wimbledon quarters as Rafael Nadal picks up the pace
Updated 04 July 2022

Nick Kyrgios eyes Wimbledon quarters as Rafael Nadal picks up the pace

Nick Kyrgios eyes Wimbledon quarters as Rafael Nadal picks up the pace
  • Australian toppled Stefanos Tsitispas in a heated four-set thriller on Saturday
  • Nick Kyrgios, ranked 40th in the world, thrives on his bad-boy image

LONDON: Nick Kyrgios is back in action at Wimbledon on Monday after his dramatic victory against Stefanos Tsitispas as he closes in on a mouthwatering semifinal with Rafael Nadal.
The maverick Australian toppled Tsitispas in a heated four-set thriller on Saturday, during which he called for the fourth seed to be kicked out of the tournament for hitting a ball into the crowd.
Kyrgios called the umpire a “disgrace” as tempers frayed and the bad feeling spilled over into the post-match press conferences.
The defeated Greek player said his opponent has an “evil side” and described him as a “bully,” comments that Kyrgios laughed off.
Nick Kyrgios, 40th in the world, thrives on his bad-boy image and Saturday’s outbursts were not even his first of the tournament.
But it will be a different challenge against American Brandon Nakashima, a player he has never faced before, and he may struggle to re-create the big-match intensity on Center Court.
Kyrgios, who has only reached the quarter-finals of two Grand Slams, believes he has the firepower to win Wimbledon.
“Round by round, if I keep doing my things, I feel good. I’m all right,” said the 27-year-old, who had vocal support from the crowd on Saturday despite his antics.
Nadal, chasing the third leg of a calendar Grand Slam, found his rhythm in his third-round match against Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego and now faces Dutch 21st seed Botic van de Zandschulp.
The 22-time Grand Slam champion, twice a winner at the All England Club, swept into the last 16 in straight sets after needing four sets to progress in his opening two matches.
“My best match, without a doubt, since the tournament started,” said Nadal, the only top-10 player left in his side of the draw.
“I made improvements today. Very happy for that.
“I made a lot of things much better than the previous days, the determination, the way that I manage to play more aggressive, going to the net plenty of times.”


French amateur football tournament celebrates diversity, fights racism

French amateur football tournament celebrates diversity, fights racism
Updated 04 July 2022

French amateur football tournament celebrates diversity, fights racism

French amateur football tournament celebrates diversity, fights racism
  • Event grew out of local tournaments in France's suburbs where former immigrants have lived for generations
  • Competition challenges French ideals of a colorblind republic that doesn’t identify people by ethnic background

CRETEIL, France: An amateur football tournament in France aimed at celebrating ethnic diversity is attracting talent scouts, sponsors and increasing public attention, by uniting young players from low-income neighborhoods with high-profile names in the sport.

The National Neighborhoods Cup is intended to shine a positive spotlight on working-class areas with large immigrant populations that some politicians and commentators scapegoat as breeding grounds for crime, riots and extremism.

Players with Congolese heritage beat a team with Malian roots 5-4 on Saturday in the one-month tournament’s final match, held at the home stadium of a third-division French team in the Paris suburb of Creteil. The final was broadcast live on Prime Video.

The event competition grew out of local tournaments modeled after the African Cup of Nations that have been held in recent years in suburbs and towns across France where former immigrants with African backgrounds have lived for years or generations. This tournament, however was broader, and international in scope.

Along with teams from former French colonies in Africa, the participants included teams from European nations like Portugal and Italy. Players from France’s former colonies in Asia also competed.

The tournament, which was launched in 2019, challenges the French ideal of a colorblind republic that doesn’t count or identify people by race or ethnic background. The ideal was intended to provide equal opportunity by treating everyone as simply French; in practice, people in places like Creteil experience discrimination and ethnic tensions daily.

HIGHLIGHT

The France team — like its World Cup-winning national team — is made up of white, Black, Arab and multiracial players that reflects the country’s diversity.

“We are Afro-descendants, we are claiming our roots and we are proud,” said tournament founder Moussa Sow, who works at the Red Cross and grew up in a Creteil neighborhood with a tough reputation. “It’s not because we carry this heritage that we are going to erase our French identity.”

The France team — like its World Cup-winning national team — is made up of white, Black, Arab and multiracial players that reflects the country’s diversity.

“We have players who have two or three nationalities. It is a strength for us, a richness,” Sow told The Associated Press.

Sow witnessed firsthand the growing tensions among young people divided into rival groups according to which quarter of Creteil they were from, and wanted to gather inhabitants around the love of football and a celebration of cultural heritage.

Mohamed Diamé, who made 31 appearances for Senegal and played for West Ham and Newcastle in the English Premier League, former Mali and Paris Saint-Germain defender Sammy Traoré and Senegal manager Aliou Cisse all took part. In February, Cisse became a national hero after guiding Senegal to long-awaited victory in the African Cup of Nations.

Traore and Diame both made it to the top level in football and both grew up in Creteil, providing an example to young people that success is within their reach, too.

“I started my first training here when I was 7. I considered people from this neighborhood as brothers,” Diamé told the AP. “This feels like a pro tournament. We have a group chat, we support each other, we are determined.”

The amateur cup has grown since Sow started in 2019. Colorful placards of multinationals and local companies sponsoring the event were seen around the field. Young people and families can grab a merguez sandwich — a spicy sausage of North African origin long popular around France’s football stadiums — or other snacks and sing along to popular French songs, played by a DJ near the field.

“I am happy and proud, despite the anxious climate in France, to see people of different generations gathering,” Sow said.

Even though the tournament is strictly amateur, the technical level among players was good. At last weekend’s semifinals, high-quality cross-field passes and clever dribbles were cheered by the crowd. Some scouts were on the sidelines, sensing an opportunity to recruit talented young players.

Suburbs and satellite towns around big cities, known in French as “les banlieues,” are fertile ground for football talents in Europe. Academies in France — notably Lyon, Monaco, Nantes and Rennes — are ranked among the best in Europe along with Spain for developing young players such as Real Madrid great Karim Benzema and World Cup star Kylian Mbappe.

But these same areas have also carried and been scarred by a rough reputation.

At the end of May, some far-right politicians blamed young people from the suburbs for violence outside the Champions League final at Stade de France in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. They were widely accused of vandalism, disruption of public safety and fraud.

Sow stressed that despite many people being suspicious of young people from the suburbs, where poverty and minority populations are concentrated in France, the tournament in Creteil has gone well. Defeats have been accepted with grace, and fans who have run onto the field after wins have been joyous rather than violent.

The mayor of Creteil supports the events, and a newly elected parliament member for the district, Clemence Guette of the left-wing parliamentary coalition NUPES, came to the semifinals. Guetté called it a “unifying” event that promoted “beautiful values” that sport generates.

Diame, who made around 240 Premier League appearances, has never let that take him away from his roots.

“No matter if you are Black, white, or Asian, everyone is welcome,” he told the AP. “Children, parents, grandparents, uncles or aunts. Everyone is here to enjoy a pure moment of pleasure.”