Egypt’s Mayar Sherif ‘honored’ to be at Australian Open as she raises her nation’s sporting profile

Egypt’s Mayar Sherif ‘honored’ to be at Australian Open as she raises her nation’s sporting profile
Mayar Sherif of Egypt plays a forehand return to Heather Watson of Britain during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 18 January 2022

Egypt’s Mayar Sherif ‘honored’ to be at Australian Open as she raises her nation’s sporting profile

Egypt’s Mayar Sherif ‘honored’ to be at Australian Open as she raises her nation’s sporting profile
  • Cairo 25-year-old climbs world rankings after becoming first Egyptian woman to reach a WTA final

Last year, on a midsummer day in Cluj-Napoca in northern Romania, tennis player Mayar Sherif made history by becoming the first Egyptian woman to reach a WTA final.

On the same day, thousands of miles to the east in Tokyo, Feryal Abdelaziz became the first Egyptian woman to win Olympic gold when she emerged victorious in the karate competition.

Women’s sport in Egypt is enjoying an unprecedented high, and Sherif, who kicks off her Australian Open campaign on Tuesday against Heather Watson, is honored to be playing her part in the movement.

“I feel the pressure and the responsibility. I feel like I want to reach much higher than where I am right now, but I still need to work and learn to so many things,” the 25-year-old Cairo player told Arab News ahead of her Melbourne opener.

“But I’m striving for more. I’m not satisfied, I’m not feeling like, ‘Oh, this is so good, this is so amazing.’ No, I’m always looking forward and always looking for more,” she said.

That unrelenting drive to improve is what makes Sherif one of the standout Arab athletes at the moment, and explains why she became the first Egyptian woman to be ranked in the top 100.

Sherif, ranked 62 in the world, is now able to gain direct entry into most of the biggest tournaments on tour — unfamiliar territory for the rising star.

Her trip to Australia so far has resulted in two opening round defeats. However, her loss to world No.37 Liudmila Samsonova in Adelaide last week was a tight affair that saw Sherif challenge her higher-ranked Russian opponent.

“It’s not easy, of course; there are expectations. But I want to go forward and move up the rankings,” Sherif said, explaining her hopes for the 2022 season.

“But I have to think on my goals, on what I have to do. It’s a good opportunity to be directly into the main draws, which will give me experience. Maybe it’s not going to pay off now, but it’s going to pay off soon, I hope. It’s going to come.”

Against Samsonova, Sherif fired 14 aces and displayed a smooth rhythm on her serve throughout the match, getting broken just once in the final game of the contest.

“I’ve been working on improving the style of my serve for the past two years, and more recently we were working almost every day on the serve, to have the kind of consistencythat I had in the match against Samsonova,” said Sherif.

“The work has paid off. The last couple of years I wasn’t so consistent on my serve. We kept changing little things. The style of my serve was disastrous, so we were changing one thing after the other and now, thankfully, it’s almost complete.”

Adjusting to the WTA will take time and Sherif said that stepping up to the top tier of the women’s competition will require greater attention to detail.

“The little things matter. Like against Samsonova, I had many break points in the first set. I had a set point, but in the important moments I didn’t play well. These are the little things that matter. If you have a chance, you have to take it because if you miss the chance, it might not come back,” she said.

“At ITFs, you can miss one or two balls and still win the game. Here, you miss a couple of balls, it’s not going to work. You have to be consistent all the match, not giving anything away.”

Transitioning to the WTA tour is not just about improving her level to compete with the game’s best, but also about making friends on the circuit and getting comfortable with her new surroundings.  

“I’m getting to know more people. Last week I played doubles with (Tereza) Martincova. We literally met up five minutes before our first match. We were like, ‘Which side will you play? The backhand side? Great, let’s do it.’ And it turned out well,” said Sherif, who made it to the doubles final of the Melbourne 250 event alongside Martincova.  

“Of course, a chance like this, I wouldn’t have had it if my ranking wasn’t high enough to get me into these WTA tournaments. I’m playing doubles for the first time at the Australian Open, people are starting to call me up to see if we should play together, so naturally I’m making friends, I’m knowing more people. And Justo (Gonzalez), my coach, talks to everyone, everywhere, so he’s making friends for me.”

Sherif is not daunted by the prospect of facing tougher opposition now that she is rising through the rankings and has a clear vision of what she hopes to accomplish this year.

“I want to step on court and compete; I want to feel the competition, it doesn’t matter, win or lose, I want to get experience. I want to be there,” she said.

“Consistency throughout the year is very important, and that’s something I didn’t do a very good job at last year. And the start of this year, I’m starting a little slow, that’s something I need to work on, to start the season more fit, more competitive, I would say.”

She added: “And I want to go throughout the year with the same rhythm. Because last year, the first six months, I didn’t compete at all, I got COVID-19 in the middle of that period, but still I could have done better. So, hopefully, I try to compete all year round and get points from everywhere I play.”

Sherif said that she is willing to step down to some of the smaller tournaments, such as the $100,000 or $125,000 events on the ITF circuit, because she believes these will help her gain match toughness.

“I enjoy playing $100k or $125k series to get rhythm and confidence before moving up to the WTA 250s. Just because my ranking is 60-something doesn’t means I won’t play these $100ks or even $60ks,” she said.

“Competition is always good, to feel those victories, to get the feel for those important moments, and ultimately, those were the kind of matches that got me into competition mode last year.”

Sherif spent most of her offseason training in Alicante, but had two weeks in Cairo, where she hosted an event that brought together all of her sponsors and backers, and some key figures in the Egyptian sports industry, to thank them for their support.

“It’s amazing, because every time I go to Cairo, people want to meet me, they want to congratulate and tell me they’re proud of me. I always get these kind of comments when I’m there, and that gives you a feeling of, not on a tennis level, but on a personal level, that I really did something big for my country,” she said.

“It’s beyond ranking and winning or losing tournaments. So that is always amazing.”


Mixed results for Saudi Arabia’s futsal teams at GCC Games

Mixed results for Saudi Arabia’s futsal teams at GCC Games
Updated 31 sec ago

Mixed results for Saudi Arabia’s futsal teams at GCC Games

Mixed results for Saudi Arabia’s futsal teams at GCC Games
  • Women’s team defeated hosts Kuwait 2-1, while men lost 3-2 to same opponents

RIYADH: There were mixed results for the Saudi Arabian women’s and men’s national futsal teams as they both took on hosts Kuwait on day three of the GCC Games.

The Saudi women recorded their first win of the tournament by beating the Kuwaitis 2-1 thanks to goals from star player Al-Bandari Mubarak, and Reem Abdullah.

The players were visibly delighted with the performance as they put their opening day 4-1 defeat to Bahrain firmly behind them.

The men’s team did not fare as well despite a positive start to their match.

Goals by Osama Abdullah and Nasser Al-Harthi gave the Saudis a 2-1 half-time lead, but Kuwait came back strongly in the second half to claim a 3-2 win.

The Saudi men’s team now has a win and a loss from two matches having kicked off their campaign on Monday with a 3-1 victory over Bahrain thanks to goals from Mohsen Fakihi, Fahad Al-Rudaini, and Moaz Asiri.


Saudi Arabian Football Federation appoints Nasser Larguet as new technical director to oversee ambitious grassroots project

Saudi Arabian Football Federation appoints Nasser Larguet as new technical director to oversee ambitious grassroots project
Updated 34 min 4 sec ago

Saudi Arabian Football Federation appoints Nasser Larguet as new technical director to oversee ambitious grassroots project

Saudi Arabian Football Federation appoints Nasser Larguet as new technical director to oversee ambitious grassroots project
  • Ex-Marseille and Morocco national team technical director set to lead strategic transformation program addressing youth development, training national coaches and activating international partnerships to develop Saudi football

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation announced the appointment of Nasser Larguet as technical director, who will be taking on the responsibilities previously held by Ioan Lupesco.

The Moroccan joins SAFF after spending the past three years at French club Olympique de Marseille, where he contributed as a director to the development of one of the world’s most successful youth academies.

Prior to that, Larguet led the Moroccan national team as a technical director from 2014 to 2019, achieving the first World Cup qualification in 20 years for the North African nation. During his career, he held multiple positions within renowned French youth academies, including Cannes, Rouen, Caen, Strasbourg and Le Havre.

In September 2021, SAFF announced a seven-pillar strategy that aims to position Saudi Arabia among the elite football nations by the time World Cup 2034 arrives. Larguet will be playing a central role in the execution of this strategy as he will oversee a high-performance pathway with a comprehensive plan for every Saudi footballer, starting from the age of 6 through to turning professional. This is to be obtained through optimizing the existing regional centers and developing new grade-A centers across different regions in the Kingdom.

Commenting on the appointment, Yasser Al-Misehal, SAFF president, said: “The Saudi football landscape is currently witnessing a massive transformation, as our set ambition is to become genuine contenders on the global stage.

“The hiring of Larguet builds on our success so far and represents an important milestone in the path we are forging. His vast experience in youth development will provide us with the necessary guidance to develop our infrastructure and upgrade our processes to untap the great potential of Saudi youth.”

The Saudi national team is set to take part in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, in what will be the Green Falcons’ sixth World Cup participation. This follows consistent improvement shown by the Saudi national men’s team over the past few years, moving up the FIFA ranking from 70 in 2019 to 49 this month.

“The transformation is already showing results, as we have opened a total of 22 regional centers across the country, which will support us in scouting and developing Saudi talent. Our national teams are also enjoying unprecedented success at every level, as the U23 Olympic team were present at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for the first time after 24 years, and our men’s team just delivered the best Saudi World Cup qualification campaign ever,” said Al-Misehal.

“We have also established our women’s team, and they are already starting to show a lot of promise. We are moving forward with a strong foundation, but we expect Nasser’s experience and know-how to help us further accelerate our progress,” he added.

The new technical director will lead the efforts to construct a new uniform coaching curriculum tailored to Saudi strengths, which will be adopted in developing and training Saudi national coaches. These coaches will in turn play a key part in driving the success of the Saudi youth structure program. In his new role, Larguet will also be leveraging his network to establish and activate international partnerships that can support Saudi football development.


Curry, Warriors outgun Doncic, Mavs in West finals series opener

Curry, Warriors outgun Doncic, Mavs in West finals series opener
Updated 19 May 2022

Curry, Warriors outgun Doncic, Mavs in West finals series opener

Curry, Warriors outgun Doncic, Mavs in West finals series opener
  • Dallas had rained in buckets against Phoenix in Arizona on Sunday, but the scoring dried up against the six-time NBA champions
  • Warriors coach Steve Kerr was able to withdraw his starters with five minutes left in the game, earning valuable rest for what could be a long series

SAN FRANCSCO: Stephen Curry scored 21 points as the Golden State Warriors bottled up Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks to win their Western Conference finals series opener 112-87 on Wednesday.

Three days after Doncic destroyed the Phoenix Suns with a virtuoso performance, the Slovenian star found the going harder against a ruthless Golden State at San Francisco’s Chase Center.

Dallas had rained in buckets against Phoenix in Arizona on Sunday, but the scoring dried up against the six-time NBA champions.

The Warriors started slowly but pulled clear decisively in the second half after leading 54-45 at half-time.

With Doncic appearing to be nursing a sore shoulder, the Warriors outscored the visitors 34-24 in the third quarter to lead by 19 points heading into the final period.

An 8-0 start to the fourth quarter left the Warriors cruising 27 points clear at 96-69 to effectively put the game out of reach.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr was able to withdraw his starters with five minutes left in the game, earning valuable rest for what could be a long series.

Curry led the scoring with 21 points, 12 rebounds and four assists, while Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins had 19 points apiece.

“We did what we were supposed to do — we won the first game, but there’s a lot of work left,” Curry said.

“We had a specific game plan coming in and for the most part we executed it. It’s going to take that same effort three more times to beat this team.

“They’re a really good team. You’ve got to stay locked in. Hopefully we’ll come out on Friday (in game two) and get it done again.”

Klay Thompson failed to score a point in the first two quarters but got into the groove in the second half with 15 points. Seven Warriors players finished in double figures.

Doncic led the Mavericks’ scoring with 20 points, but cut a disconsolate figure after a defeat where Dallas trailed for almost the entirety of the game.

Dallas somehow had only trailed by nine points at halftime after a wayward shooting performance in the first two quarters.

The Mavs made just 14 of 44 attempts from the field in the first half, and only seven of 29 three-point attempts.

Yet they were able to remain within sight of the Warriors, who shot 22 of 39 but made only five of 18 attempts from beyond the arc.

Thompson made only four attempts from the field in the first half — and missed them all — while Curry was also off target from long range, converting only one of six three-point attempts.

The Mavericks pulled to within two points at 35-33 midway through the second quarter, but a brisk 11-2 run, with Curry setting up three-pointers for Poole and Wiggins, saw the Warriors pull clear once more to lay the foundations of victory.

Game two of the series takes place in San Francisco on Friday.

The winner of the Western Conference finals will play the winner of the Eastern Conference, either Boston or Miami, in the NBA Finals.


Teen machines: Alcaraz looks to join elite Grand Slam club at French Open

Teen machines: Alcaraz looks to join elite Grand Slam club at French Open
Updated 19 May 2022

Teen machines: Alcaraz looks to join elite Grand Slam club at French Open

Teen machines: Alcaraz looks to join elite Grand Slam club at French Open
  • Nadal was the last teenage man to win a Slam — a feat which eluded his great rivals Djokovic and Federer

PARIS: At just 19, Carlos Alcaraz is bidding to become only the eighth teenager to win a Grand Slam men’s singles title at the French Open which gets underway at Roland Garros on Sunday.

AFP Sport looks at the seven men to have won majors while still in their teens:

• In 1974, Sweden’s reluctant superstar Borg won the first of his six French Opens having just passed his 18th birthday when he defeated Manuel Orantes 2-6, 6-7, 6-0, 6-1, 6-1. Borg would win 11 majors, including five in a row at Wimbledon from 1976-1980 before retiring — for the first time — at 26. Borg was the first male tennis player to earn a million dollars in a season in 1979. “It’s tough when you’re No. 1. You don’t have any private life, you can’t even walk anywhere. I think that was one reason why I lost my motivation to play tennis,” said Borg when he quit.

• At 17, Sweden’s Wilander defeated Guillermo Vilas of Argentina 1-6, 7-6, 6-0, 6-4 in a marathon four hours and 42 minutes French Open final in 1982 despite being unseeded. Wilander was widely hailed for his sportsmanship in his defeat of Jose Luis Clerc in the semifinals when he requested a replay of match point after a forehand from his opponent was called long. Wilander would eventually become a world No. 1, ending his career with seven Grand Slam titles.

• Becker burst on the scene with his maiden Wimbledon triumph in 1985 at the age of 17. His 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 win over Kevin Curren made him the tournament’s youngest men’s champion and its first unseeded victor. The German served and volleyed and dived right and left, enchanting the Center Court crowd. Becker would win six majors but he fell from grace last month when he was jailed in the UK after a bankruptcy trial.

• Sweden’s Edberg was 19 when he won his first Slam at the 1985 Australian Open, beating Wilander 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 having seen off Ivan Lendl in a marathon semifinal 6-7, 7-5, 6-1, 4-6, 9-7. The elegant serve-and-volleyer won a second Australian Open in 1987 and also captured four more Slams at Wimbledon in 1988 and 1990 and at the US Open in 1991 and 1992.

• Chang became the youngest male player in history to win a Grand Slam tournament when he claimed the 1989 French Open at 17 years and three months. Chang defeated Edberg 6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 having also knocked out world No. 1 Lendl in a 4-hour and 37-minute last 16 tie in which he was cramping and forced to serve underarm. He was the first American champion in Paris since Tony Trabert in 1955. The diminutive Chang was also runner-up at the 1996 Australian and US Opens.

• Just a month past his 19th birthday, ‘Pistol Pete’ won the first of his 14 Slams at the 1990 US Open, beating American compatriot Andre Agassi 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in the New York final having seen off Lendl and John McEnroe in the previous two rounds. Sampras ended his career with 64 titles, with a majors haul made up of seven at Wimbledon, two at the Australian Open and five US Open triumphs. His last major was in New York in 2002, bringing the curtain down with another victory against Agassi.

• At 19, Nadal defeated Mariano Puerta in the 2005 French Open final, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 7-5. It was his first major title and the first of a record 13 Roland Garros triumphs. The Spaniard, who now has 21 majors, won on his Paris debut, the first man to do so since Wilander in 1982. He was also the youngest champion since Chang in 1989. Interestingly, 2005 also saw the French Open debut of Novak Djokovic who made the second round where he retired against Guillermo Coria. Nadal was the last teenage man to win a Slam — a feat which eluded his great rivals Djokovic and Federer.


Dainese becomes first Italian stage winner in 2022 Giro

Dainese becomes first Italian stage winner in 2022 Giro
Updated 19 May 2022

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.