Center Court crowd relish Arab stars Ons Jabeur, Mayar Sherif at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Analysis Center Court crowd relish Arab stars Ons Jabeur, Mayar Sherif at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
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Ons Jabeur in action at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. (DDFTC)
Analysis Center Court crowd relish Arab stars Ons Jabeur, Mayar Sherif at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
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Mayar Sherif in action at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. (DDFTC)
Analysis Center Court crowd relish Arab stars Ons Jabeur, Mayar Sherif at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
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Mayar Sherif in action at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. (DDFTC)
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Updated 15 February 2022

Center Court crowd relish Arab stars Ons Jabeur, Mayar Sherif at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Center Court crowd relish Arab stars Ons Jabeur, Mayar Sherif at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
  • Tunisian, Egyptian role models revealed their mutual admiration after a day of contrasting fortunes

It was a special day to be an Arab sports fan on Tuesday as Egyptian Mayar Sherif and Tunisian Ons Jabeur played back-to-back matches on Center Court at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, showcasing the kind of grit and fighting spirit one has come to expect from the two pioneering women on the WTA tour.

While the pair came out with mixed results, Sherif falling to former world number three Elina Svitolina in straight sets before eighth-seeded Jabeur battled past Vera Zvonareva in three, the significance of the occasion was not lost on the buoyant Arab crowd in attendance, who witnessed a rare double-header featuring two talented women from the region competing on UAE soil.

“Mayar is a great player. I met her and her team. It’s so nice to see her here. Hopefully she will get better,” said Jabeur, who last year became the first Arab tennis player in history to be ranked inside the world’s top 10.

“I know it’s not easy to start those tournaments. I’ve been there. I played those tournaments; it was very tough to win the first rounds. I am 100 percent sure she is going to get there.”


Jabeur, 27, has helped pave the way for players like Sherif, who is following in the Tunisian’s footsteps and breaking new ground for Egyptian women in the sport.

World No. 65 Sherif is the first woman from Egypt to be ranked in the top 100 and made her Dubai debut this week courtesy of a wildcard.

The 25-year-old from Cairo has seen Jabeur make history time and time again and is thrilled to be sharing a locker room with the affable Tunisian.

“Of course Ons is a dear friend; I’ve known her since I was 14 years old. She knows my family well, I know her well. She is a lovely personality, so anytime I want to ask her about anything, she gives me advice or offers me whatever I am seeking,” Sherif told Arabic media on Tuesday.

“Even when I told her I’d love to play doubles with her one time, she agreed right away and said she’s looking forward to it.

“It’s a very nice feeling to have this kind of support from someone else on tour, especially from an Arab player. It gives you lots of hope as well, so it’s a great feeling that Ons is around all the time.”

Jabeur was contesting her first match in over a month, having missed the Australian Open with a back injury. The world No. 10 felt rusty during her two-hour 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 win over Zvonareva on Tuesday, and admits staying healthy is her top priority heading into her second-round clash with American Jessica Pegula on Wednesday.

For Sherif, facing two-time Dubai champion Svitolina was a tough initiation, but the Egyptian is ready to confront such challenges in order to take the next steps in her career.

“I came here knowing that every player in the draw is a very tough player, from the top seed all the way to the qualifying rounds. So drawing Svitolina in the first round was not a shock for me — I knew I was going to face someone very good,” said Sherif.

The Center Court stands were full of Egyptian and Tunisian flags on Tuesday, with lots of young kids making their way from school straight to the stadium to catch a glimpse of Sherif or Jabeur.

“It’s very heartwarming to see young Egyptians that come tell me they did a school project about me, or someone sends me a portrait they drew of me as a gift. These things really move me because you know that people are following you and see you as an image that they’re looking up to,” said Sherif.

“They see me as a role model. Of course it’s a bit of pressure on my shoulders but it also gives me lots of motivation to do better and better so people can follow in my footsteps. Seeing kids asking me for photos and telling me they’re proud of me — I carry all that in my heart.”

Unlike Jabeur, who turned pro as a teenager as soon as she wrapped up her junior career, Sherif took the college tennis route, attending Pepperdine University, US, where she reached the semifinals of the NCAA Championship.

Several former college players have made waves on the professional tour, most recently UVA graduate Danielle Collins, who reached the Australian Open final last month.

It is yet another encouraging sign for Sherif, who is thrilled to see her decision to delay her pro career while she developed her game and character during her college tennis years now paying off.

“You hear from many people that going to college would kill your game, going to college would kill your chance of being a professional. But seeing now this happening more often than before, now the players see us that are playing college, and that’s the vision, is that when they finish college, that’s what they want to do,” said Sherif.

“Especially players that were playing while I was there, I see them trying. I think they see us there and they’re, like, ‘if they can do it, why not us too?’

“I think it gives a lot of motivation for the players who are competing at a high competition in college. I’m so proud to be a part of that, to be honest.”

Jabeur’s journey in Dubai continues as Sherif shifts her focus to next week’s Qatar Open in Doha, where once again the two North African women will have an opportunity to inspire an entire Arab population.


Cheers: Morocco last Arab team left standing in World Cup

Cheers: Morocco last Arab team left standing in World Cup
Updated 02 December 2022

Cheers: Morocco last Arab team left standing in World Cup

Cheers: Morocco last Arab team left standing in World Cup
  • Morocco beat Canada 2-1 to finish top of their group in a stadium thronged with their supporters

DOHA/RABAT: Moroccan fans celebrated on Thursday as their country became the only Arab nation to reach the knockout rounds of the first World Cup held in an Arab country, dancing and cheering in the stadium in Qatar and on the streets back home.

Morocco beat Canada 2-1 to finish top of their group in a stadium thronged with their supporters. In earlier matches they had tied with Croatia and scored a surprise win over Belgium, the second-ranked team in the world.

“This team can go all the way in this World Cup!” shouted a young woman draped in a Moroccan flag, leaning from the window of a packed car in Rabat as people rushed toward a central district to join street celebrations.

In Qatar, where the home team along with Saudi Arabia and Tunisia have already been knocked out, Morocco now carries the mantle for an Arab world that has cheered victories by Arab teams against some of the tournament favorites.

Hundreds of fans crowded outside the stadium, some pushing and shoving and others trying to climb a fence to get in even after the game had begun, a Reuters journalist there said. Many lacked tickets but hoped to see the game.

“Fans crowded here because they can’t enter the stadium. Almost all these fans have no ticket and they love Morocco and want to get in,” said one, Abdulmajid Mohammed, from Saudi Arabia.

The crowding also left some fans who said they had tickets unable to enter. “We have tickets but they closed all the doors and are not letting people in,” said Mohammad Abdelhadi from Libya, who said his group’s tickets each cost more than $200.

FIFA and Qatar’s World Cup organizers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the crowding outside the stadium.

The deafening support has been a 12th man for the side.

“They proved on the pitch that they are lions... honestly as a Saudi we lost yesterday but we made up for that loss with Morocco’s win,” said Talal Ahmed Obeid, watching at a fan zone in Casablanca.

While Morocco is a proud member of the Arab League, the country has also in recent decades embraced its African identity and Berber lineage, enshrining Amazigh as an official language.

“We hope to fly the flag of African football high,” said Morocco coach Walid Regragui on Wednesday.

Mohamed Tahiri, a lawyer out celebrating in Rabat among crowds waving flags and honking car horns despite the rainy weather, said Morocco was the only team left for Arabs to identify with.

“This is a day of celebration not only for us Moroccans but for all Arabs and for all the Amazigh North Africans too,” he said.

People had already been out looking for cafes with televisions to watch the game hours before kickoff.

“My generation is experiencing this for the first time,” said Oufae Abidar, 38, a company employee. She was a toddler when Morocco last reached the knockout phase in 1986. Morocco’s last World Cup appearance, four years ago, ended in the group stage.

Back in Doha, Omani national Saeed Al Maskari, 30, said he would be supporting Morocco now. “We are in the Asian part (of the Arab region) and they are in the African part. But we speak one language,” he said. 


Marathon world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge to run in Boston

Marathon world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge to run in Boston
Updated 02 December 2022

Marathon world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge to run in Boston

Marathon world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge to run in Boston
  • Kipchoge won Berlin in September in 2 hours, 1 minute, 9 seconds — the fastest time in a marathon competition in history

BOSTON: World record holder and two-time Olympic gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge will make his Boston Marathon debut in 2023 along with reigning women’s world champion Gotytom Gebreslase and six former Boston winners returning 10 years after two bombs exploded at the finish line.

Two-time winner Lelisa Desisa will return in the men’s division, 10 years after he won the 2013 race that was interrupted by the attacks that came about two hours after the winners crossed. He also won in 2015.

“There is no one in athletics who will be more focused than me this spring in racing, as I look to once again win the Boston Marathon,” Desisa said. “Ten years since my first victory — I understand what this anniversary means and I would love nothing more than to put my name into the history of the race again. I stand with the people of Boston, and I will be running the race of my life for you all.”

Reigning champion Evans Chebet of Kenya will also lead a field of 30,000 from Hopkinton to Boston’s Back bay on April 17 for the 117th edition of the race. Des Linden, the 2018 Boston winner, is also in the race, along with Edna Kiplagat (2017) and Atsede Baysa (2016).

“History and heritage are two cornerstones of the Boston Marathon,” Boston Athletic Association President and CEO Jack Fleming said. “The world will be watching Boston with great anticipation to see how the competition plays out.”

Kipchoge won Berlin in September in 2 hours, 1 minute, 9 seconds — the fastest time in a marathon competition in history. He also completed the distance in an exhibition in 1:59:40 in 2019 in an exhibition engineered to break 2 hours.


Germany’s soul-searching begins after another World Cup flop

Germany’s soul-searching begins after another World Cup flop
Updated 02 December 2022

Germany’s soul-searching begins after another World Cup flop

Germany’s soul-searching begins after another World Cup flop
  • Germany’s fate was effectively decided when they lost their first game 2-1 to Japan, then followed up with a 1-1 draw with Spain

AL-KHOR, Qatar: Another World Cup, another flop.

Former football power Germany is facing another round of soul-searching after going out of the sport’s most important tournament at the first stage for the second time in a row.

Germany’s players spoke afterward of good performances and missed chances — as they’ve done before.

But no one had any real answers to the team’s problems.

“There are 25 experts standing together here. You can all advise each other and then agree on a few details,” Thomas Muller said after Germany’s 4-2 win over Costa Rica on Thursday.

Germany’s fate was effectively decided when they lost their first game 2-1 to Japan, then followed up with a 1-1 draw with Spain.

It left Germany at the bottom of Group E and dependent on a favor from Spain. It never came as Japan defeated Spain in their final game to top the group. Spain progressed ahead of Germany on goal difference.

“I never look at another team, it’s up to us,” Germany coach Hansi Flick said of relying on Spain. “I think ultimately the sum of everything contributed to us being eliminated. We had enough chances, whether in the first half or the first 60 minutes of the game against Japan, or even at the end against Spain, when we had another huge opportunity. You really have to take those chances.”

What Flick failed to mention is that Spain also missed a host of chances to put their game against Germany out of reach before Niclas Füllkrug’s late equalizer.

That goal proved to be the highlight for Germany though it proved to be of little worth in yet another disappointing big-stage performance.

“We haven’t been able to live up to expectations at the tournaments in recent years, because as a team, I would say we don’t really have specialists running around everywhere. We have a lot of players who are very talented. Yes,” Muller said before trailing off and leaving those at the emedia conference to finish his thoughts.

Germany, the 2014 World Cup champion, also crashed out during the group phase at the 2018 tournament in Russia. At last year’s coronavirus-postponed European Championship, Germany was knocked out in the second round.

“I think really, we can’t say where we are,” Germany captain Manuel Neuer said of the team’s place in world football.

Prior to the 2018 World Cup, Germany had reached at least the semifinal stage of every major competition it entered since the 2006 World Cup, which it hosted.

“I joined the team in 2016. Germany was always in the semifinal before that,” midfielder Joshua Kimmich said. “Then I come in and we’re out (of the World Cup) in the first stage and last year in the second round (of the European Championship), it’s hard to take.”


Redemption for Japan coach Hajjime Moriyasu 29 years later in Qatar

Redemption for Japan coach Hajjime Moriyasu 29 years later in Qatar
Updated 02 December 2022

Redemption for Japan coach Hajjime Moriyasu 29 years later in Qatar

Redemption for Japan coach Hajjime Moriyasu 29 years later in Qatar
  • This time the 54-year-old Moriyasu got his Hollywood ending by winning Group E

AL-RAYYAN, Qatar: The “Agony of Doha” came 29 years ago, and Hajjime Moriyasu experienced it first-hand as a midfielder on Japan’s national football team.

He’s now the coach, and he’s made amends.

Japan won their World Cup group on Thursday after beating 2010 champion Spain 2-1 at the Khalifa International Stadium. Last week, the team defeated 2014 champion Germany by the same score at the same venue.

As time was winding down against Spain, Moriyasu was thinking about that game in Qatar against Iraq in 1993 that cost the team a spot in the next year’s tournament.

“About one minute before the end,” Moriyasu said after the win over Spain, “I remembered the tragedy in Doha.”

Leading 2-1 in the team’s final qualifier and knowing one goal for the opposition would spell the end, Japan conceded in stoppage time. Their World Cup hopes were dashed, and so was Moriyasu’s chances of playing at the biggest football tournament in the world.

This time it was different. This time the defense held it together. This time the 54-year-old Moriyasu got his Hollywood ending by winning Group E.

“I could feel that the times have changed,” Moriyasu said, praising his team’s aggressive defending. “They are playing a new kind of football, that’s how I felt.”

Japan’s resistance on the field was typified by 34-year-old captain Maya Yoshida. The veteran central defender reacted fastest when a loose ball in the 90th minute bounced in the goalmouth, up in front of a gaping empty net, after goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda blocked a shot by Jordi Alba.

Yoshida twisted his body to beat Marco Asensio to the ball and clear the danger. When Spain forward Dani Olmo took control seconds later, Gonda blocked his shot with a smothering dive.

On the offensive side, Japan scored in the 48th and 51st minutes. Against Germany, the goals came in the 75th and 83rd.

“In 10 minutes we were dismantled,” Spain coach Luis Enrique said.

Up next is Croatia, a team that reached the final four years ago in Russia. Another victory on Monday would put Japan in the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time.

“We,” the coach said, “are gifting this win to the people of Japan.”


Fury sees Chisora trilogy as catalyst for Muhammad Ali-style world tour

Fury sees Chisora trilogy as catalyst for Muhammad Ali-style world tour
Updated 02 December 2022

Fury sees Chisora trilogy as catalyst for Muhammad Ali-style world tour

Fury sees Chisora trilogy as catalyst for Muhammad Ali-style world tour
  • Veteran promoter Bob Arum, now working alongside Warren, helped take Ali for world-title fights well outside of his native US in the mid-1970s
  • It is eight years since WBC champion Fury, unbeaten as a professional, convincingly defeated Chisora for a second time

LONDON: Tyson Fury wants to emulate Muhammad Ali by embarking on a world tour following his all-British world heavyweight title fight with Derek Chisora in London on Saturday.

For Fury, it is a matter of making up for lost time, following a mental health breakdown and the impact of COVID-19.

“I have only had two years of activity in the last seven years, which is not great,” he said.

“After I beat Chisora and after I beat Oleksandr Usyk next year, I am going to try and go on a massive campaign all over the world.”

It is eight years since WBC champion Fury, unbeaten as a professional, convincingly defeated Chisora for a second time.

Rather than a trilogy bout with Chisora, many fans would rather Fury was involved in a unification fight with Usyk at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this weekend or an alternative all-British clash with former world champion Anthony Joshua.

Usyk holds the IBF, WBA and WBO versions of the heavyweight title, having taken them off Joshua in September last year.

But the Ukrainian, after defeating Joshua again, in Jeddah in July, said he would not be ready to face Fury in December.

Usyk appeared injured and mentally drained following months away from his family as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Fury’s only fight so far this year was a six-round stoppage of Dillian Whyte at Wembley in April, with Fury then announcing his retirement.

But, having reversed that decision, it appears his management wanted a ‘warm-up’ bout ahead of a lucrative clash against Usyk in the Middle East next year.

Fury called out Joshua, but the longstanding bitterness between his promoter Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn, who represents Joshua, made negotiations awkward and talks broke down.

Even so, a capacity crowd of 60,000 is still expected on Saturday, such is the appeal of Fury.

And the self-proclaimed ‘Gypsy King’ is ready to travel widely, should all go to plan against Chisora.

“Like go to Antarctica, they have nothing else on there,” said the 34-year-old Fury.

“Fire out places like one a month, a Tyson Fury roadshow, where were you for that?“

Veteran promoter Bob Arum, now working alongside Warren, helped take Ali for world-title fights well outside of his native US in the mid-1970s.

These included two of the most celebrated wins by ‘The Greatest’ — the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ with George Foreman in Zaire and the ‘Thrilla in Manilla’, when Ali defeated arch-rival Joe Frazier.

“We did that for Ali,” recalled Arum. “We did him in Japan, Malaysia, we did him in Indonesia. That is what a true champion does because they are a world champion.”

Fury added: “I am champion of the whole world...It would be lovely to give these fans the opportunity to see a world champion.

“I know it sounds like a pipedream, a fairy-tale story, but just to get these fights in, to give some random heavyweight — like Apollo did in the Rocky movie — the chance.”

At 38, Chisora, with 12 defeats from 45 bouts, appears to have little more than a puncher’s chance.

“I don’t care what is said,” insisted Chisora. “For me to give up, just because a newspaper says so, I can’t do that.”

Unlike many of Fury’s bouts, the build-up to this fight has been notable for for a lack of ‘trash-talking’, with Chisora saying: “Tyson phoned me up and said ‘I want to give you an opportunity’.

“So for me to sit here and talk about a man who is putting food on my kids’ table? I cannot do that.”