Djokovic returns: 6 things to look out for at the men’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Felix Auger-Aliassime (L), World No. 1 Novak Djokovic (C) and Andy Murray (R) will all be out to claim the crown in Dubai. (Reuters/File Photos)
Felix Auger-Aliassime (L), World No. 1 Novak Djokovic (C) and Andy Murray (R) will all be out to claim the crown in Dubai. (Reuters/File Photos)
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Updated 19 February 2022

Djokovic returns: 6 things to look out for at the men’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Felix Auger-Aliassime (L), World No. 1 Novak Djokovic (C) and Andy Murray (R) will all be out to claim the crown in Dubai. (Reuters/File Photos)
  • The 30th edition of the tournament kicks off on Monday with all eyes on the world No.1

DUBAI: The 30th edition of the men’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships kicks off on Monday with all eyes firmly fixed on top seed Novak Djokovic.

Here are some of the main storylines to look out for this week.

Djokovic set for season debut

World No.1 Novak Djokovic will commence his 2022 season in Dubai after missing the action Down Under due to the cancellation of his visa and eventual deportation from Australia last month.

The Serb told the BBC in an interview earlier this week he has not been vaccinated against COVID-19 and is willing to forgo participation in future tournaments if there is a vaccine mandate at such events.

He will face no such issues in Dubai, however, given the UAE is open to unvaccinated visitors.

Djokovic will be competing for the first time since the Davis Cup Finals last December, and he begins his quest for a sixth Dubai title against Italian wildcard Lorenzo Musetti.

Should he move past the 57th-ranked teenager, Djokovic would face the winner of the clash between Karen Khachanov and Alex de Minaur before a potential quarterfinal against 2018 champion and No.8 seed Roberto Bautista Agut.

Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov are possible semifinal opponents for Djokovic, with the likes of defending champion Aslan Karatsev, Andrey Rublev, Jannik Sinner and wildcard former Wimbledon winner Andy Murray all landing on the opposite side of the draw.

No.1 ranking on the line

Besides being dealt a tricky path in his first tournament of the season, Djokovic also has his No.1 ranking to think about.

Russian Daniil Medvedev will dethrone Djokovic at the top of the rankings on Feb. 28 if he clinches the title in Acapulco at the Mexican Open next week.

Djokovic begins his record 361st week as world No.1 on Monday, but his current streak of 86 consecutive weeks at the summit could come to an end based on his results in Dubai and Medvedev’s progress in Acapulco.

Even if Medvedev does not win the title in Mexico, there are other scenarios where the Russian can replace Djokovic at the top.

It all adds an extra layer of excitement to the Dubai tournament, and could perhaps place some added pressure on Djokovic in his first event back.

Wildcards forced to change practice plans

Musetti, Tunisian Malek Jaziri and former world No.1 Murray are three wildcard recipients in Dubai this year.

During the draw ceremony, Musetti and Jaziri shared a laugh when they found out that the players they were scheduled to practice with on Saturday afternoon ended up being their first-round opponents.

“He’s supposed to practice with Novak and I’m supposed to practice with (Filip) Krajinovic. So maybe we’ll practice together now,” joked Jaziri, who is a former semifinalist in Dubai.

Musetti will face Djokovic in a rematch of their 2021 Roland Garros fourth round, which saw the Italian teenager lead the world No.1 by two sets to love before retiring late in the fifth set.

“I’m always not the lucky one but I think it will be a nice experience playing on Center Court with a full crowd. I really enjoy it and I’ll try to take my revenge for Roland Garros from last year,” said Musetti.

“Of course I was playing my best tennis, it was completely on another surface but of course I learned a lot from that match. I learned I could be at that level. Let’s hope I will be at that level again on Monday or Tuesday night, whenever I’m playing, on the Center Court. I’ll enjoy myself and I’ll try to take out the first seed.”

Mouth-watering openers

Just as was the case during the WTA week in Dubai, the men’s tournament is stacked and features four of the world’s top 10 and eight of the world’s top 16.

Some of the first round clashes to look out for — besides Djokovic’s showdown with Musetti — include former top 10 player Khachanov taking on world No.32 De Minaur, Hungarian Marton Fucsovics tackling No.6 seed Denis Shapovalov, Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina facing off with No.4 seed Jannik Sinner, third-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime squaring off with Nikoloz Basilashvili, and No.5 seed Hubert Hurkacz opening against tricky Kazakhstani Alexander Bublik.

Tough task for late arrivals

A host of players have made it deep in tournaments this week and will have little time to adapt to new conditions in Dubai.

Auger-Aliassime and No.2 seed Andrey Rublev are still in Marseille, where they have reached the semifinals of the Open 13, and will have to acclimate to playing outdoors in the Dubai heat after competing indoors these past few days in France.

Over in Doha, Bautista Agut and Basilashvili are contesting the final of the Qatar Open on Saturday, while Khachanov exited the tournament on Friday in the semis.

The Russian, who is a Dubai resident, was already spotted in the Emirates on Saturday, enjoying some sun by the pool with his wife and son.

Another opportunity for Murray

After reaching the final in his second tournament of the season in Sydney last month, Murray has not been able to win back-to-back matches at any of his past three events.

The 34-year-old Scot has fond memories in Dubai, where he won the title in 2017, nine years after upsetting Roger Federer on his tournament debut.

Murray begins his campaign against a qualifier, with Sinner or Davidovich Fokina lying ahead as possible second round opponents.


Rybakina says struggled under Sabalenka ‘pressure’ in final loss

Rybakina says struggled under Sabalenka ‘pressure’ in final loss
Updated 28 January 2023

Rybakina says struggled under Sabalenka ‘pressure’ in final loss

Rybakina says struggled under Sabalenka ‘pressure’ in final loss
  • Rybakina powered down nine aces and 31 winners over two hours and 28 minutes of punch and counter-punch
  • Sabalenka was unstoppable on Rod Laver Arena

MELBOURNE: Elena Rybakina said she struggled with the “pressure” and aggression from Aryna Sabalenka in falling to defeat in the Australian Open final on Saturday.
The Russian-born Kazakh gave as good as she got over three pulsating sets at Melbourne Park before losing 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the face of some ferocious hitting from fifth seed Sabalenka.
Rybakina, who has one of the most potent serves in women’s tennis and some of the fiercest groundstrokes, powered down nine aces and 31 winners over two hours and 28 minutes of punch and counter-punch.
But Sabalenka was unstoppable on Rod Laver Arena, the Belarusian juggernaut hitting back with 17 aces of her own and 51 winners, finally getting over the line on her fourth match point.
“I would say that not many girls can put me really under that sort of pressure,” Rybakina, 23, told reporters.
“She has a great serve and she plays really aggressive. Her ball is coming very heavy.
“I just knew that I had to serve well. It’s also pressure in the end, as soon as I have an opportunity, take it.
“Today I had some opportunities and didn’t take. The match didn’t go my way.”
Wimbledon champion Rybakina has now failed to beat Sabalenka in all of their four meetings and admitted she needs to improve if she is to break her duck.
“With Aryna now, the score is 0-4,” Rybakina said. “I would say the most challenging for me now is to play against Aryna again and get a win.
“Against a powerful player like her, I need to play more to improve.”
Rybakina will have the consolation of breaking into the top 10 for the first time, after reaching her second Grand Slam final in seven months.
She was awarded no ranking points for her Wimbledon win because of the ban on Russian and Belarusian players there.
“I don’t think tomorrow I’m going to feel different just because of the ranking now,” said Rybakina, who is projected to rise to 10th from her current 25th on Monday when the new rankings are published.
“But, I mean, for sure it’s going to be different in the smaller tournaments. I’m going to be seeded and maybe in some tournaments I’m not going to play first round, so of course there is some benefits.”


‘Action-packed’ Diriyah double-header opens Formula E 9th season

‘Action-packed’ Diriyah double-header opens Formula E 9th season
Updated 28 January 2023

‘Action-packed’ Diriyah double-header opens Formula E 9th season

‘Action-packed’ Diriyah double-header opens Formula E 9th season

DIRIYAH: Formula E is back for its ninth season and after a two-week break following an opener in Mexico City, the Diriyah E-Prix kicked off on Friday in the Saudi capital with two days of racing on the Diriyah Street Course.

TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team driver Pascal Wehrlein won round two of ABB FIA Formula E.

British racer Jake Dennis for team Avalanche Andretti said that the big difference between the Gen3 car from the Gen2 is in the grip and power of the vehicles. “But I think we did a really good debut night race here. You know, it was a lot of overtaking for everyone. It seemed like the race was action-packed the whole time. So I think we can be really happy with, you know, the good show and the pre-race build looks pretty cool as well with the fireworks and the drone display. So yeah, very happy for everyone involved to put on a good show today,” he said.

“Yeah, those Gen3 cars are massively different. They have more power, we have different tires. Also, the energy management is completely different. So, we have a lot to learn still. We are still figuring out how this animal works. But overall, I think we were making good progress. Especially I did a big step from yesterday to today. finishing fifth today for me, is quite a good result,” said Rene Rast, a German driver with McLaren.

 This season, laps have replaced the previous 45-minute timed races and pit stops are also back with the “attack charge” to be trialed at select races. (Arab News)

Portuguese driver Antonio Felix da Costa of Porsche described it as “awesome” to be back in Saudi Arabia. “It’s impressive to see the evolution of this place or the area, where everything’s being built around and how we are always welcome,” he said, adding that the Kingdom always gives a warm welcome to the Formula E. “The track is one of the most fun tracks of the year. And it’s a big challenge. But it’s a lot of fun.”

He added that every track is different, but that the Diriyah course has a lot of character. “You know, there’s a sector, too, it’s kind of high speed, you know, a good sequence of corners which is a good challenge for us and makes it fun,” he said.

This season, laps have replaced the previous 45-minute timed races and pit stops are also back with the “attack charge” to be trialed at select races.


LeBron James jersey sells for whopping $3.7 million

LeBron James jersey sells for whopping $3.7 million
Updated 28 January 2023

LeBron James jersey sells for whopping $3.7 million

LeBron James jersey sells for whopping $3.7 million
  • Sotheby’s in New York sold the jersey, which James wore while playing for  Miami Heat in their 2013 NBA Finals Game 7 victory against San Antonio Spurs

NEW YORK: A game-worn jersey of basketball superstar LeBron James sold for $3.7 million at auction Friday, five times more than the previous record for one of his shirts.

The sale comes with interest even higher than usual in the 38-year-old LA Lakers icon as he nears the NBA’s all-time scoring record.

Sotheby’s in New York sold the jersey, which James wore while playing for the Miami Heat in their 2013 NBA Finals Game 7 victory against the San Antonio Spurs.

It smashed the previous record of $630,000 for a James All-Star jersey worn in 2020.

Game-worn sports memorabilia is big business.

Michael Jordan’s 1998 NBA Finals jersey, which sold for $10.1 million in September 2022, is currently the most valuable such item.

Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” jersey sold for $9.3 million at Sotheby’s in London last year.

James needs just 178 points to eclipse Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s tally of 38,387 points, one of the most coveted and longstanding records in basketball.

Sotheby’s also sold a dress worn by the late Princess Diana for $604,800 Friday.


Inspired Szoboszlai leads Leipzig to victory over Stuttgart

Inspired Szoboszlai leads Leipzig to victory over Stuttgart
Updated 28 January 2023

Inspired Szoboszlai leads Leipzig to victory over Stuttgart

Inspired Szoboszlai leads Leipzig to victory over Stuttgart
  • Szoboszlai showed off his technical skills with the second goal in the 49th

LEIPZIG, Germany: Two sweetly hit shots from Dominik Szoboszlai lifted Leipzig to a 2-1 win over Stuttgart to close within a point of Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich on Friday.

Szoboszlai had not scored in the league since September before the Hungarian midfielder gave his team the lead with a swerving, dipping free kick in the 25th minute that goalkeeper Florian Muller could only push into his own net.

Szoboszlai showed off his technical skills with the second goal in the 49th, using one touch to control a header from teammate Andre Silva on the edge of the penalty area before letting the ball drop and striking a half-volley that left Muller no chance.

Embroiled in a fight to avoid relegation, Stuttgart had plenty of chances to exploit defensive errors from Leipzig but couldn’t convert enough of them.

Shortly before Szoboszlai’s second goal, Stuttgart’s Niklas Nartey could have leveled the score when he was one-on-one with Leipzig goalkeeper Janis Blaswich, but his shot bobbled wide of the far post instead. Stuttgart finally scored when Chris Führich powered a penalty past Blaswich in the 68th after a handball by defender Joško Gvardiol. That ensured a tense finish for Leipzig but the hosts largely kept Stuttgart at bay in the closing stages.

Bayern has drawn both of its opening games of 2023, including one against Leipzig last week, as it adapts to life without goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who has a broken leg. Bayern can restore a four-point lead if it beats fourth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday.


Manchester City knock out Arsenal 1-0 in FA Cup

Manchester City knock out Arsenal 1-0 in FA Cup
Updated 28 January 2023

Manchester City knock out Arsenal 1-0 in FA Cup

Manchester City knock out Arsenal 1-0 in FA Cup
  • England’s two best teams have a league showdown at Emirates Stadium on Feb. 15

MANCHESTER, England: Manchester City issued a statement of intent by knocking out Arsenal 1-0 in the FA Cup on Friday.

Nathan Ake’s 64th-minute goal settled the fourth-round match at Etihad Stadium and the result may yet reverberate through the rest of the season.

Arsenal lead City by five points at the top of the English Premier League, but their seven-game unbeaten run was ended by City, who have three straight wins in all competitions.

England’s two best teams have a league showdown at Emirates Stadium on Feb. 15. For now, City manager Pep Guardiola has gained an edge on his former assistant, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta.

“I know how difficult it is to beat Arsenal. They lost one game in the Premier League, so I know how difficult it is,” Guardiola said.

Defender Ake was the unlikely match-winner after curling a low shot past goalkeeper Matt Turner.

Arsenal had chances while enjoying the better of the first half. Takehiro Tomiyasu and Leandro Trossard forced saves from City goalkeeper Stefan Ortega, and Eddie Nketiah fired narrowly wide from close range.

The visitors were made to pay when City improved after the break and Ake produced the decisive strike.

“(I’m) really disappointed,” Arteta said. “We could have got much more out of the game. In the big moments in big matches you have to make the difference.”

While a place in the fifth round of the cup was at stake, it was impossible to ignore the wider context of a match between the teams who are the front-runners in the league race.

Arsenal have been in outstanding form, picking up 50 points after 19 games and playing with a confidence not seen since Arsene Wenger’s title-winning teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

As if to underline the fact that the cup is neither team’s priority, Guardiola and Arteta left key players out of their lineups.

Guardiola benched Ederson, Kyle Walker, Joao Cancelo and Bernardo Silva.

Arteta left out Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, William Saliba, Martin Odegaard, Gabriel Martinelli and Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Arsenal’s new signing, Trossard, was given his first start since joining from Brighton last week.

Despite the changes, Arsenal created the better chances in the first half but could not make them count.

City began to control the game after the break without creating many clear-cut openings until Ake broke the deadlock.

Substitute Alvarez’s strike from outside the box beat Turner, but came back off the post. Jack Grealish picked up the rebound and laid off to Ake, who hit a first-time effort low into the corner.

Elimination gives Arsenal one less distraction in its bid for the title and Arteta hopes to strengthen his squad before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.

The London club has been linked with a $74 million move for Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo, but Arteta would not answer specific questions about the player.

“We have been pretty active in the market. We have some necessities,” he said. “If something else is available, the club is willing to try to do it when it is reasonable and hopefully he’s a player that can improve our squad.”