Testing times for Australian Open amid COVID-19 pandemic

Testing times for Australian Open amid COVID-19 pandemic
Russia's Daniil Medvedev hits a return against Australia's Nick Kyrgios during their men's singles match on day four of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Thursday. (AFP)
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Updated 20 January 2022

Testing times for Australian Open amid COVID-19 pandemic

Testing times for Australian Open amid COVID-19 pandemic
  • Olympic champion Alexander Zverev attracted wide attention after his second-round match when he said “we are not getting tested”
  • Australian Open organizers clarified the process on Day 4 of the tournament, saying daily rapid antigen tests were being provided

MELBOURNE, Australia: The safety protocols for COVID-19 have been a touchy subject at the Australian Open, particularly after nine-time champion Novak Djokovic was deported for failing to meet the country’s strict vaccination requirements.
So Olympic champion Alexander Zverev attracted wide attention after his second-round match when he said “we are not getting tested” and, therefore, there’re more COVID-19 cases around than there was in the more locked-down environment of last year.
Australian Open organizers clarified the process on Day 4 of the tournament, saying daily rapid antigen tests were being provided, testing clinics were open both onsite and at the player hotel, and there was mandatory symptomatic testing.
Masks also must be worn at all times at Melbourne Park except when playing, exercising or eating and drinking. Tournament organizers said everyone who traveled into Australia for the year's first major had to undergo a mandatory PCR test on arrival and another between Days 5 and 7.
Because of a surge in the omicron variant and more pressure on the public health system, PCR testing has become more difficult to access in Melbourne and rapid antigen tests have also been in short supply.
Except at the Australian Open. Players, their entourages, officials and media are required to show evidence of regular negative tests to access Melbourne Park.
“They are very strict,” fourth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas said. "Well, it’s the responsibility of each and every athlete to test themselves regularly to see whether or not they are positive, which has been the case for me.
“I have been trying to get a few antigen tests and rapid tests to see whether or not I’m positive, which is a responsibility that I have, it’s something that I have to do in order to see if I’m 100%.”
Former major champions including Garbiñe Muguruza and Andy Murray are among those who said they were testing themselves regularly, and treating it like an honesty system.
Australian player Maddison Inglis said she was doing precautionary testing because “I want to keep myself and my team safe and everyone around me.”
Andy Murray has reached the Australian Open final five times in 14 trips to Melbourne Park but never won the title.
Two days after posting his first win in five years at the season-opening tennis Grand Slam tournament, the former No. 1 exited after losing to 120th-ranked Taro Daniel 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in the second round.
His win over 21st-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round was his first at the Australian Open since 2017.
Injuries and illness kept him out in 2018 (hip), 2020 (pelvis) and 2021 (COVID-19), and he lost a five-setter in the first round in 2019, which many thought might have been his last in Australia.
So, was the loss to Daniel his last, or will the three-time major champion be back in 2023?
The 34-year-old Scot said “yeah” when asked if he would return, but only with certain provisos.
“Not if I do what I did tonight too often this season,” he said. "This is a really important year for me for a number of reasons, and I want to perform well in the big events. For me, tonight is not good enough in that respect.
“Making second round of Slams is not something I find particularly motivating. I want to be doing better than that."
Murray engaged in a Twitter admiration exchange with Australian Open women's champion Naomi Osaka this week.
Murray started with a post that asked: “Anyone hit the ball cleaner from the baseline than (at) Naomi Osaka?"
Osaka, another former No. 1, responded: “Anyone put their heart on their sleeve and fight harder than (at)Andy Murray?"
Osaka recalled after her second-round win how delighted she was to read Murray’s praise and how the pair had a practice session in Brisbane, Australia, three years ago.
“Yeah, definitely means a lot," she said. "For me it was a really cool moment.”
Sam Stosur warned everyone before her 20th Australian Open campaign that there would be tears when her singles career came to an end.
Tears welled in her eyes as the 2011 U.S. Open champion sat in the court-side chair, soaking in the crowd support after her 6-2, 6-2 loss to 10th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round.
“I just wanted to run for everything as hard as I could. I’ve done more than I ever thought possible," Stosur said in an on-court ceremony after the match. “I dreamed of winning a Grand Slam and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
A video tribute played as an emotional Stosur stood mid-court, holding a bouquet of flowers.
“It was emotional for me," Pavlyuchenkova told the crowd. "She is such a wonderful human being and an amazing tennis player.”
While her singles career is over — she also made a run to the French Open final in 2010 and three other semifinals at Roland Garros — the 37-year-old Stosur will continue playing doubles for the remainder of 2022.

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali launches new Theeba Motorsport team

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali launches new Theeba Motorsport team
Updated 18 May 2022

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali launches new Theeba Motorsport team

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali launches new Theeba Motorsport team
  • Team’s mission will be to improve Saudi participation in auto events, with ultimate aim of taking part in Le Mans 24 Hours

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s first female racing driver Reema Juffali on Wednesday announced that she has launched a new team, Theeba Motorsport, which is set to enter motor racing’s GT3 world stage in 2022.

The team’s mission will be to improve Saudi participation and representation in the motorsport industry.

Juffali, said: “After a very successful debut weekend in the International GT Open with SPS Automotive, I’m very proud to announce the formation of Theeba Motorsport and to unveil our plans for the 2022 season.”

Since becoming the first female Saudi racing driver, Juffali has forged a reputation as a role model and will continue to make waves in the next chapter of her career as she seeks to spark further change in the Kingdom.

In 2019, she made history by becoming the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in an international race in her home country and, alongside driving, will take her first steps into team management this year.

Theeba Motorsport will provide a platform for Saudis to learn about and take part in motorsport through a variety of engineering, mechanical and commercial internship and apprenticeship programs.

The team hopes to one day compete at the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours race under a Saudi Arabian license.

“As a team, we have a purpose that extends far beyond the race track, and it is our ambition to improve Saudi Arabian representation and access to motorsport,” Juffali said.

“While we want to create a place in racing for the Kingdom, we also want to create opportunities and will provide a space for Saudi people to get involved in a series of hands-on internship and apprenticeship programs. This will, hopefully, culminate in a majority Saudi team one day racing at the Le Mans 24 Hours.”

Theeba Motorsport will take its first competitive steps in 2022 by contesting the International GT Open Championship — one of Europe’s highest tiers of GT3 racing.

Following a winning debut at Estoril with SPS Automotive, Juffali will compete in all remaining races in the Mercedes-AMG GT3 EVO, and will be partnered by long-time friend, driver coach and GT ace Adam Christodoulou.

“We will take our first steps in the International GT Open in 2022 — a series that I believe will offer a competitive platform to race in while also offering the chance to develop and learn,” said Juffali.

“This is only the first step and a starting point in what will be a long journey to find Saudi Arabia’s place in the motor racing world and I’m extremely excited to see what the future holds.”

After its Estoril season-opener, the International GT Open will visit six other circuits in 2022, staring at Paul Ricard on May 20-22, and moving on to Spa, the Hungaroring, Red Bull Ring, Monza and Barcelona in 12 races from that will run until October.

Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target

Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target
Updated 18 May 2022

Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target

Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target
  • There were rumors that Al-Shabab had a bid for the Uruguayan turned down, while others claim James Rodriguez is angling for a move to the Kingdom

It is no surprise that the Birmingham Mail is getting excited as it reports that local giants Aston Villa are one of three clubs, along with Seville and Inter Milan, in the running to sign Luis Suarez, after Atletico Madrid announced that the Uruguayan star is leaving at the end of the current season.

The newspaper also mentions that a bid from Saudi Arabia, thought to be from Al-Shabab, has been turned down. It has had a few journalists in the Arab world and plenty of people on social media intrigued and excited.

As former teammate at Anfield Steven Gerrard is now in charge of Aston Villa, there is hope that the 1982 European champions are in with a chance to snatch his signature. But the former Liverpool and Barcelona star is now 35 and not quite the force of nature as in years gone by. He is, however, the kind of foreign star that Saudi Arabian clubs should be targeting.

There are plenty of top-class foreign players in the Saudi Professional League. The likes of Odion Ighala, Moussa Marega, Matheus Pereira, Pity Martinez, Talisca, Abderazzak Hamdallah, Omar Al-Somah, Ever Banega, Vincent Aboubakar and Leandre Tawamba, to name just a few, would be welcome in any league in Asia. These are some serious stars and there have been others over the years. After all, the mighty Brazilian legend Rivelino played for Al-Hilal in the 1970s.

Suarez would be a major attraction. There would be major interest around the world if he came to play in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam or elsewhere. The star would bring a certain notoriety too — few could forget his biting of opponents at the domestic and international stages and his famous handball to deny Ghana a place in the semi-final of the 2010 World Cup — and that would also provide a few more narratives for local journalists, commentators and fans to get their teeth stuck into.

The man himself is going to have plenty of offers but this could be a good time to tempt such stars to the country. The likes of Suarez have done pretty much all they want to do in Europe. Now his immediate focus is surely staying fit and ready for the World Cup in Qatar in November where the South Americans have been drawn with Portugal, Ghana and South Korea. What better place to prepare for such a tournament than Saudi Arabia?

The league is in the same region and has the same climate. It has fewer games than Europe and the pace of the games is a little slower but it is also more competitive and has a greater strength in depth than the Qatar Stars League. A year or two in the Middle East before a return to South America could be an ideal way to end a fine career as well as get the forward at peak readiness for the World Cup.

This season, Suarez has not been quite as integral to the plans of Diego Simeone. Of his 34 appearances in the league, 14 have come off the bench. He is no longer an automatic starter but has still managed 11 goals and is still capable of turning a game on its head in an instant. Just look at qualification for the 2022 World Cup. Uruguay finished third, 11 points behind Argentina and a massive 17 behind Brazil in first who also scored 40 goals, 18 more than La Celeste. Suarez scored more than a third of Uruguay’s total, with his eight goals equalling Neymar’s tally and outscoring Lionel Messi by one. Only Bolivia’s Marcelo Mareno managed more.

Suarez can do more than a job at the highest level. The same could be said about James Rodriguez, though there is no World Cup for the Colombian superstar. The former Real Madrid man joined Al-Rayyan in Qatar from Everton in September. The former powerhouse struggled in the league and finished in eighth, though Rodriguez recorded four goals and six assists in his 12 appearances, not a bad return at all.

There has been disquiet however at his non-appearance in the Asian Champions League group stage in April. The club says he has been injured but a number of outlets in South America say that the 30-year-old is angling for a move to Saudi Arabia with the likes of Al-Nassr interested — the Riyadh club have already shown their ambition this year in having a bid for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang turned down by Arsenal as the Gabonese goalgetter went to Barcelona instead.

There are other players who are coming out of contract and, before being tempted home, could add a little more star glamor to the SPL with the World Cup on the doorstep once again a selling point. Gareth Bale’s troubled time at Real Madrid, albeit one in which he won four European Champions League and three Spanish titles, is coming to an end. There is no way the Welshman is staying in Spain. It could be that the 32-year-old will retire from football completely but that is unlikely if Wales win their World Cup play-off in June to book a place in Qatar. Then there will be another season at least. The likes of Juan Mata and Edison Cavani, soon to be released  by Manchester United, have also been linked with a move to Saudi Arabian teams.

Relying on veteran stars from European leagues should not be a major strategy for Saudi clubs but there are players out there who could do a job on and off the pitch.

UAE President’s Cup final postponed until next season

UAE President’s Cup final postponed until next season
Updated 18 May 2022

UAE President’s Cup final postponed until next season

UAE President’s Cup final postponed until next season
  • Country mourns the passing of President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan

The UAE Football Association has confirmed that the President’s Cup final between Al-Wahda and Sharjah will be postponed until next season as the country observes a period of mourning after the passing of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, state news agency WAM has reported.

The venue and date of the rescheduled match will be announced at a later time.

Meanwhile, the UAE Pro League has announced that its final round has been rescheduled for May 25 to 26.

Newcastle fans’ show of passion inspires Eddie Howe and his players

Newcastle fans’ show of passion inspires Eddie Howe and his players
Updated 18 May 2022

Newcastle fans’ show of passion inspires Eddie Howe and his players

Newcastle fans’ show of passion inspires Eddie Howe and his players
  • On Monday night, St. James’ Park was awash with color, energy and noise, and the Magpies responded with a comprehensive 2-0 win over Arsenal

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has backed Newcastle United fans to become the club’s main weapon in their battle to climb the Premier League ranks.

The Magpies looked set to finish the season in and around the top-flight bottom three, but have dragged themselves out of trouble and now have an outside chance of sneaking into the top half on the final day of the season.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround from the rudderless club that started the campaign with Mike Ashley at the helm, Steve Bruce in the dugout, no wins in 14 games and fans becoming ever more disillusioned with their own club.

Fast forward seven months from the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia buyout and things couldn’t be more different.

St. James’ Park on Monday night, for the 2-0 victory over Arsenal, was the epitome of that. Awash with color, energy and noise, the famous old ground truly was an assault on the senses with the biggest ever display by fan-funded Wor Flags on show, owners showing their love for the club on the pitch and fans and players responding on a white-hot Tyneside evening.

Howe said: “That’s a huge weapon for us. We have to use as much as we can.

“We have to inspire our crowd, we have to have the supporters come to the ground desperate to see us play and desperate to know what’s going to happen in the match and almost guarantee a team that’s going all out to win the game by playing the way we want too.

“You saw that from the team (on Monday), we were very front foot but not just for fragmented sections of the game but near enough the whole match. An amazing physical effort from the players but a very high delivery of our tactical game plan as well. You have to compliment the group on that.”

For fans, the feeling is that Howe’s first six months at Newcastle could not have really gone any better. He was brought in primarily to save the club from the drop to the Championship, but has managed to do so while developing the side into a much more defensively sound and attractive attacking unit. As a result, Howe was nominated for the Premier League manager of the year, although he’s likely, and probably deservedly, set to be pipped at the post by Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp.

On progress, Howe said: “Of course it could have gone better in certain games and certain moments. When you look back as a whole, you’d have said this will be the outcome and this is how you’ll achieve safety in the division, certainly I would have been surprised if you told me that would happen.

“The group have risen in confidence levels through positive results and the feel of the stadium, they’ve responded to that. It’s been great to see and be part of.

“The group is very close. The dynamic is very good, the players not in the 25-man squad, the players that didn’t play regularly, have been incredibly supportive to the guys that have. There’s been healthy competition in the squad and a very good dynamic, which has certainly helped.”

Meanwhile, Howe has provided a fitness update of three Newcastle United first-team players ahead of their final game of the Premier League season on Sunday, at Burnley’s Turf Moor.

Fabian Schar was forced off midway through the second half of the Arsenal win due to a concussion, while Javier Manquillo and Chris Wood were absent from the squad altogether.

“Fabian, I think, is OK. He was taken off due to protocols,” said Howe. “He wanted to stay on but I think it was the right decision.”

“Manquillo has chicken pox, so that’s why he missed out. Chris Wood had a hip problem, which we hope isn’t too serious.”

Will Champions League football keep Harry Kane at Tottenham for another season?

Will Champions League football keep Harry Kane at Tottenham for another season?
Updated 18 May 2022

Will Champions League football keep Harry Kane at Tottenham for another season?

Will Champions League football keep Harry Kane at Tottenham for another season?
  • Erling Haaland’s relocation to the Etihad means a move to Manchester City is off the table and the England forward could decide that the best option may be to stay put

At the start of last week it seemed like Harry Kane could once again be looking for a new club if he wished to play in next season’s Champions League.

Fast forward to the weekend, and wins over Arsenal in the North London Derby and Burnley at Turf Moore means he could well achieve that ambition with Tottenham.

But is that the extent of his ambitions?

On Thursday, Kane led Tottenham to a 3-1 win over Arsenal, scoring two goals to close the gap on the rivals. But their fate was still out of their hands. But that win over Burnley, thanks to a Kane penalty, and Arsenal’s 2-0 loss at Newcastle, means Tottenham are now clear favorites to play among Europe’s finest next season.

Along the way, Kane has become only the third player to score 15 goals or more in eight consecutive seasons in the Premier League, alongside Sergio Aguero and Alan Shearer. He is also the record goalscorer in the North London derby with 13 goals. 

With Antonio Conte slowly turning the club’s fortune’s around, their seems to be plenty of reasons to keep Kane happy at his boyhood club.

But there remains the lingering feeling that having been denied a dream move to Manchester City last year, he might still leave decide the Tottenham Hotspur stadium this summer if another big offer came along.

But with Pep Guardiola’s team signing the generational talent of Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund, it seems that Kane has now missed the chance of a lifetime to join Manchester City for a second time.

The first opportunity came last summer when City were ready to pay $150 million, but Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy held firm.

Kane’s clear desire to leave led to criticism among the club’s fans and not surprisingly he had a faltering start to this season, before normal service was resumed. His partnership with Son Heung-min has once again been deadly, he has scored 16 and assisted seven in the league, and is playing with a smile on his face.

But is this enough for a player desperate for tangible success?

Kane has two years left on his contract with Tottenham. He will turn 29 in July, and while he remains in superb form and shape, the peak years of his career will arguably be behind him should he see out that contract.

Now it seems Kane has two options, either wait for a another year and force Spurs to sell him for free, or push this summer to move to any other club. This would include the possibility of a move abroad.

Few top clubs, Manchester City excluded now, would not want to have Kane on their books.

Manchester United, Chelsea and even Liverpool would welcome his addition, as would Europe’s leading clubs, including a Kylian Mbappe-less Paris Saint-Germain.

In Spain, the two giants have expressed interest in the player, but with Karim Benzene shining at Real Madrid and Barcelona struggling with finances, ​​neither move looks imminent.

Kane, in all likelihood, will stay in the Premier League.

Jurgen Klopp’s team seems to be full of formidable strikers, even if Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are themselves in the middle of contract negotiations, and a move to Anfield would seem the least likely of the lot.

It would also be difficult for Kane to consider a move to Chelsea, one of Tottenham’s traditional and hated rivals, and a move to Stamford Bridge would be considered a betrayal greater than the one to the Etihad would have been.

This leaves the possibility of a move to Manchester United, to join Eric ten Hag’s expected revolution and all the risks that come with it. Above all, there would be no Champions League football for another season.

I personally think that Kane is better off staying at Tottenham for another season, especially as Conte’s project gathers pace and Champions League football seems almost assured now.

The big question remain: what is Kane’s priority?

Is it merely Champions League football, a chance at winning trophies or one last big contract as his career enters its last third?

The next few weeks should reveal all.