Partnership with Golf Saudi, Aramco has pushed women’s game forward, says LET CEO Alexandra Armas

Partnership with Golf Saudi, Aramco has pushed women’s game forward, says LET CEO Alexandra Armas
The Aramco Team Series brings five new events to the European Ladies Tour in 2022. (LET)
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Updated 27 April 2022

Partnership with Golf Saudi, Aramco has pushed women’s game forward, says LET CEO Alexandra Armas

Partnership with Golf Saudi, Aramco has pushed women’s game forward, says LET CEO Alexandra Armas
  • Ladies European Tour returns from the pandemic stronger than it went in, with the Aramco Team Series events bringing four new $1m prize-fund tournaments

The Ladies European Tour remains open to embracing new and unique approaches to elite-level tournament golf as a means of elevating the women’s game, says Tour CEO Alexandra Armas.

This year’s season calendar is the most lucrative in LET history, with 34 events across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and as far afield as the US and Australia, where back-to-back events got underway last week in New South Wales.

Following on from the pandemic, 2022 has heralded an exciting new dawn for the tour, which for the first time since 2019 is enjoying a crowded season of events without any potential cancelations, and the return of live crowds.

In many aspects, the Ladies European Tour returned from the pandemic stronger than it went in.

Last season’s introduction of the Aramco Team Series events brought four new $1 million prize-fund tournaments to the calendar, taking the tour to London, Sotogrande in Spain, New York and Jeddah for three days of team competition intertwined with individual scoring.

Its format brought something entirely new and different to the game. Each ATS event sees up to 36 team captains pick a teammate, then be assigned a randomly selected third teammate and an amateur golfer, who plays with a handicap. Together, they then compete over Thursday and Friday as a fourball, with the two lowest scores per hole recorded and the lowest total score winning.

The team events were played for the first time on any professional tour circuit — with the unique twist that the amateur golfer had the opportunity to sink the putts contributing to the team prize money.

Many of the game’s biggest stars played last year, including world No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul, Georgia Hall, Charley Hull, Anna Nordqvist, the Korda sisters and Lexi Thompson.

The concept of a combined team and individual tournament came from Armas, and was backed by Golf Saudi and its sponsor Aramco.

Now, following a successful debut year, the Aramco Team Series events return for 2022, but this time with the addition of the Aramco Team Series — Bangkok, to be played in Thailand on May 12-14. 

The events return with a revived format — two days of team competition, then a closing day individual-only battle — and, importantly, the chance for players to earn further prize money, with a share of another $1 million added to the year’s kitty.

“It’s exciting growth,” said Armas, now in her third year as head of the LET.

“Coming out of the pandemic we were looking for partners that would not just allow us to push the tour forward, but also offer a strategic commitment to our players. The partnership with Golf Saudi and Aramco has helped us to achieve that.

“Now the addition of the Aramco Team Series — Bangkok has truly helped us to elevate the tour by driving up the prize funds. The players enjoy playing in the team format and the organization around each of the series’ events, from the quality of the courses to the build, facilities and the hospitality around them is elevating the standards across the board. To many of our members, these events feel like majors — and they look forward to playing in them almost as much.”

Armas said: “In devising the concept for the Aramco Team Series events, we wanted to innovate and do something different. The LET is looking at ways of engaging with our fanbase to get them hooked on watching golf more regularly. New creative ideas and different ways of doing things can help with that.”

The series encompasses everything Armas seeks to achieve across the tour. While attracting the biggest names in golf, it also mixes things up — from its format and NFL-style draft, to players walking onto the tee to their choice of music. Events last year also had live on-course DJs and ice-cream stops, examples of other non-traditional approaches designed to change and retune the tone.

“The Aramco Team Series events appeal to established golf fans and the next generation coming into the game,” said Armas.

“Each of the ATS events last year brought about some truly thrilling golf and epic climaxes, with three of them going to playoffs. Our refined format for this year will only heighten that experience for both players and fans, and I’m excited to get 2022’s series underway in Thailand.”

As key backers of the series, Golf Saudi is also thrilled to see the event grow in stature for 2022.

Deputy Chairman and CEO Majed Al-Sorour said: “The format of the Aramco Team Series was a prospect that we were desperate to be involved in from the get-go — and for a debut event, it could really not have gone any better last year. The players loved it and it allowed us to grow the women’s game, including by taking the Ladies European Tour to the US for the first time in its history with the Aramco Team Series — New York.

“To be expanding the series into a new territory with our Thailand event for 2022 is a massively exciting next step. We can’t wait to be part of it and to see the role all five events continue to have in advancing women’s golf.”

The Aramco Team Series — Bangkok kicks off 2022’s run of tournaments on May 12-14, at the Thai Country Club. The Aramco Team Series — London takes place at Centurion Club on June 16-18, the Aramco Team Series – Sotogrande takes place at La Reserva Club De Sotogrande on Aug. 18-20, the Aramco Team Series — New York will be played at a venue soon to be announced, on Oct. 13-15, and the Aramco Team Series — Jeddah will return to Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, on Nov. 9-11.


Serena says goodbye to Canada after defeat by Bencic

Serena says goodbye to Canada after defeat by Bencic
Updated 11 August 2022

Serena says goodbye to Canada after defeat by Bencic

Serena says goodbye to Canada after defeat by Bencic
  • Williams didn’t specify an actual retirement date but is expected to compete next week in Cincinnati before traveling to the US Open, which starts on Aug. 29

TORONTO: Serena Williams, who said this week she will soon call time on her storied tennis career, departed the WTA Toronto Masters for the last time Wednesday with a 6-2, 6-4 loss to Belinda Bencic.

The second-round defeat by Switzerland’s reigning Olympic gold medallist was hardly unexpected, with the 40-year-old Williams competing in only her third match of 2022.

Bencic fired eight aces and broke Williams twice in the first set and once in the second, advancing on her first match point after 78 minutes.

But as Bencic herself said in the post-match interview on court: “Tonight is about her.”

Williams’s farewell on-court interview was threaded with emotion.

“I love playing here, I’ve always loved playing here,” she said, choking up as fans who cheered her throughout the match called out their appreciation.

“I wish I could have played better tonight, but Belinda was playing so well.”

Williams, who turns 41 next month, had beaten Spain’s Nuria Parrizas Diaz on Monday for her first singles victory since the 2021 French Open, 14 months ago.

But it sent shockwaves through the sport when she revealed in an essay in Vogue magazine and an Instagram post on Tuesday that “the countdown has begun” to her retirement from the sport.

Williams didn’t specify an actual retirement date but is expected to compete next week in Cincinnati before traveling to the US Open, which starts on Aug. 29.

She has lifted the US Open title six times, including her first Grand Slam triumph at the age of 17 in 1999.

“It’s been a pretty interesting 24 hours,” said Williams, who remains one shy of the all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles won by Margaret Court.

“Like I said in my article, I’m terrible at goodbyes,” she said, her voice breaking.

“But, goodbye,” she said, then adding with a laugh “Toronto.”

“I’ve always had an amazing time here on and off the court,” Williams said. “I’ve had some really good matches and some really cool wins.

“It’s been a joy playing here all of those years.”

Williams’s match was preceded by a video tribute played for fans. Before she left the court she was presented with jerseys from the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs — and with a child’s version of the same for daughter Olympia.

In explaining that she was “evolving away” from tennis in the Vogue article, Williams said she wanted to focus on family life and new business ventures.

Her appearance highlighted a day that saw US teenager Coco Gauff — who says Williams was “the reason why I play tennis” — overcome 13 double-faults to battle past Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and into the third round.

Gauff beat Rybakina 6-4, 6-7 (8/10), 7-6 (7/3) while world No. 1 Iga Swiatek — who beat Gauff in the French Open final this year — sailed past Australian Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1, 6-2 in 55 minutes.

Gauff lost out on four chances to close out a straight-sets victory as a quartet of match points came and went.

Kazakhstan’s Rybakina, aided by Gauff’s service struggles, had looked as if she might pull off another marathon victory after squeezing past Marie Bouzkova in the first round only for Gauff to finally prevail.

Swiatek, in contrast, needed just 55 minutes to advance. The top-seeded Pole, with six titles this season, saved six of the nine break points she faced.

“From the first practice I played here I felt really good,” Swiatek said.

Defending champion Camila Giorgi made it to the third round with a 6-3, 7-5 defeat of Belgian Elize Mertens. Spanish fourth seed Paula Badosa lasted for just 13 games before retiring as she trailed 7-5, 1-0 against Kazakh Yulia Putintseva.


Kyrgios stuns top-ranked Medvedev at Montreal Masters, Alcaraz ousted

Kyrgios stuns top-ranked Medvedev at Montreal Masters, Alcaraz ousted
Updated 11 August 2022

Kyrgios stuns top-ranked Medvedev at Montreal Masters, Alcaraz ousted

Kyrgios stuns top-ranked Medvedev at Montreal Masters, Alcaraz ousted
  • Both players were coming off weekend title wins, Kyrgios at the Washington 500 on Sunday and Medvedev at Los Cabos, Mexico, on Saturday

MONTREAL: Nick Kyrgios broke twice in the final set as he rallied to topple world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev in the second round of the ATP Montreal Masters on Wednesday.

Australia’s Wimbledon finalist beat Medvedev 6-7 (2/7), 6-4, 6-2 to produce his second career upset of a reigning No. 1 after ambushing Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2014.

Kyrgios produced his usual on-court antics, complaining about a high bounce, hitting a ball into the stands to draw a warning and bickering with his player box in moments of tension.

But after gathering his formidable resources, the 27-year-old ranked 37th finished off the match in exactly two hours.

“This is our fourth meeting and we know each other well,” Kyrgios said. “I don’t go in looking at the rankings, just the guy in front of me.

“I had a clean objective today — play a lot of serve and volley and execute better.

“Hopefully I can keep this rolling and keep on winning. Medvedev is a machine — he’s No. 1 for a reason.”

Both players were coming off weekend title wins, Kyrgios at the Washington 500 on Sunday and Medvedev at Los Cabos, Mexico, on Saturday.

Kyrgios has won 14 of his last 15 matches to improve to 29-7 for 2022.

Medvedev lost for the 11th time in 2022, but by reaching the final at Los Cabos — where he lifted his first trophy of the season — he is assured of taking the No.1 ranking into his US Open title defense later this month.

He was barred from Wimbledon as the tournament excluded Russian and Belarussian players over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Second-seeded Carlos Alcaraz, who like Medvedev enjoyed a first-round bye, fared no better in his opening match.

American Tommy Paul spoiled the Spaniard’s Canadian debut with a 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (9/7), 6-3 victory.

The unseeded American converted his fifth match point to seal the second-round victory in three hours and 20 minutes.

Alcaraz came into the event with two prestige Masters 1000 titles from Miami and Madrid and holding a 42-7 record this season.

But the 34th-ranked Paul claimed victory on a volley winner after holding off the Spaniard’s charge from 5-2 down in the third set. The American stayed in the match as he rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the second set to start his comeback surge.

“It was nice to finish this match at the net,” said Paul, who fired 36 winners to Alcaraz’s 33. “I did a lot of things well today.

“I played a good level of tennis, comfortable tennis. I’m happy to get through and now have to recover for tomorrow.”

Fourth seed Casper Ruud backed up his defeat earlier this season of Alex Molcan, beating the Slovakian 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 in just under two hours.

The Norwegian with three trophies so far in 2022 had to work to win the opening set after dropping serve as he tried to close it out leading 5-4.

It eventually took a tiebreaker for Ruud to prevail. He sealed his third-round place in straight sets for his 36th win of the season.

“It’s always a tough fight against him,” Ruud said.

“He’s very fast and can give everyone problems,” he added of the player coached by Novak Djokovic’s former mentor Marian Vajda.

Elsewhere, Italian Jannik Sinner needed three sets to get past Adrian Mannarino 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 while Alex de Minaur lined up an all-Aussie Thursday match against Kyrgios by defeating Grigor Dimitrov 7-6 (7/4), 7-5.


Rivals jostle for AC Milan’s Serie A crown

Rivals jostle for AC Milan’s Serie A crown
Updated 11 August 2022

Rivals jostle for AC Milan’s Serie A crown

Rivals jostle for AC Milan’s Serie A crown
  • Inter Milan, Juventus, Roma and Lazio have all made interesting moves, meaning that the race is likely to be as open as last year’s, which went down to the wire

MILAN: AC Milan have their Serie A rivals snapping at their heels ahead of their title defense, with the big boys bolstering their squads over an eventful summer which has left the league with no clear Scudetto favorite.

Stefano Pioli’s side kick off the new season against Udinese at the San Siro on Saturday as teams gear up for a 15-match sprint between now and the World Cup in Qatar.

Inter Milan, Juventus, Roma and Lazio have all made interesting moves, meaning that the race is likely to be as open as last year’s, which went down to the wire.

Milan have lost Franck Kessie to Barcelona but brought in free-agent striker Divock Origi and spent €35 million ($36 million) on promising but unproven forward Charles De Ketelaere.

Inter, meanwhile, started the summer with a bang by bringing back Romelu Lukaku on loan from Chelsea but were beaten to the punch by Roma and Juve respectively for key targets Paulo Dybala and last season’s best defender, Gleison Bremer.

The loss of Bremer to their biggest rivals was a blow for Inter, the inability to strike a deal with Paris Saint-Germain for the sale of Milan Skriniar holding up the purchase of the Brazilian from Torino and allowing Juve to bring in a sound replacement for Matthijs de Ligt and Giorgio Chiellini.

It dented the enthusiasm among fans who had thought Simone Inzaghi’s team would strengthen to the point of being hot favorites to retake the title but are newly worried about the financial stability of the club’s Chinese owners Suning.

Juve have also brought in star names Paul Pogba — now out until September with a knee injury — and Angel Di Maria, and are going after Leandro Paredes, Filip Kostic and mercurial attacker Memphis Depay.

However, Sunday’s 4-0 friendly thrashing at the hands of Atletico Madrid was exacerbated by old boy Alvaro Morata’s hat trick and has caused murmurings about the future of coach Massimiliano Allegri, who needs a big campaign after finishing 16 points behind Milan last time out.

There has been some worry among Milan fans over the low-key nature of their team’s transfer moves, as well as the fact that the club didn’t renew the contracts of directors Paolo Maldini and Frederic Massara — the architects of Milan’s recent revival — until the last minute.

Supporters are waiting for the American investment fund RedBird’s purchase of the club to go through, with the closing of the €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion) deal with current owners Elliott due to be completed in late August or early September.

Meanwhile, both Milan clubs are still sweating over the fate of their new San Siro stadium development, with a public debate expected in September decisive to the project’s fate amid significant hostility from some local residents.

A source at Inter confirmed to AFP last month that should the debate go against construction and the project be blocked, the two teams would move it to a former industrial site in working-class Milan suburb Sesto San Giovanni, where the recently re-elected mayor has repeatedly said there will be no bureaucratic hurdles put in the way of a new ground.

Fixtures

Saturday

AC Milan vs Udinese, Sampdoria vs Atalanta (both 1730), Lecce vs Inter, Monza vs Torino (both 1945)

Sunday

Fiorentina vs Cremonese, Lazio vs Bologna (both 1730), Salernitana vs Roma, Spezia vs Empoli (both 1945)

Monday

Verona vs Napoli (1730), Juventus vs Sassuolo (1945)


Michael Jordan's ‘Last Dance’ jersey to be auctioned in September

Michael Jordan's ‘Last Dance’ jersey to be auctioned in September
Updated 11 August 2022

Michael Jordan's ‘Last Dance’ jersey to be auctioned in September

Michael Jordan's ‘Last Dance’ jersey to be auctioned in September
  • Though the estimate by Sotheby’s is lower than the record set in May for the most expensive sports memorabilia ever sold — $9.3 million for soccer star Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” jersey — it would be the highest price ever for one of Jordan’s artifact

NEW YORK: A jersey worn by basketball legend Michael Jordan during Game 1 of the 1998 NBA Finals, his last title victory, is set to be auctioned off in September for an estimated $3-5 million, Sotheby’s announced Wednesday.

The iconic red Chicago Bulls jersey, with Jordan’s No. 23 on the back, is only the second worn by the star during his six championships to be sold at auction.

Most of Jordan’s NBA Finals jerseys remain in private hands, according to Sotheby’s, although he has donated one to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Jordan, now 59, spent the bulk of his basketball career with the Bulls, with whom he won all six of his titles, but came out of retirement in 2001 to play two seasons with the Washington Wizards.

His final season with the Bulls was detailed in the ESPN/Netflix documentary “The Last Dance” released in 2020.

“The 1997-1998 season is perhaps one of the most popular among Jordan fans, as Michael was reaching the height of his abilities while simultaneously pursuing what he understood would be his last chance at an NBA Championship with the Chicago Bulls,” said Brahm Wachter, head of streetwear and modern collectables at Sotheby’s, in a press release.

The jersey will first be publicly displayed in Monterey, California before being shipped to New York, where fans will also have the chance to view it during the online auction which runs from Sept. 6-14.

Though the estimate by Sotheby’s is lower than the record set in May for the most expensive sports memorabilia ever sold — $9.3 million for soccer star Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” jersey — it would be the highest price ever for one of Jordan’s artifacts.

The New York auction house, owned since 2019 by French-Israeli telecom magnate Patrick Drahi, previously sold a pair of Jordan’s sneakers for nearly $1.5 million.

The retired basketball star currently owns the Charlotte Hornets, located in his childhood home of North Carolina, and reportedly still earns millions in royalties each year from sales of Nike’s Air Jordan brand of sneakers.


Brazil soccer body rejects World Cup qualifier against Argentina

Brazil soccer body rejects World Cup qualifier against Argentina
Updated 11 August 2022

Brazil soccer body rejects World Cup qualifier against Argentina

Brazil soccer body rejects World Cup qualifier against Argentina
  • Brazil coach Tite does not want to play the match due to risks of injuries, suspensions and a potential boycott by the Argentinians, according to Brazilian confederation president Ednaldo Rodrigues

SAO PAULO: Brazil insisted that they won’t play the suspended World Cup qualifying match against Argentina next month, arguing Wednesday that the risks are too high ahead of the tournament in Qatar.

The qualifier nearly one year ago in Sao Paulo was stopped by local health officials after six minutes due to COVID-19 protocols regarding four Argentinian players.

FIFA fined the soccer bodies of both countries and demanded the match be played. Brazil’s confederation and Argentina’s federation took the case to the Court for Arbitration of Sport, which is expected to rule later in August. The game would be in September but FIFA has not set a date.

Brazil coach Tite does not want to play the match due to risks of injuries, suspensions and a potential boycott by the Argentinians, according to Brazilian confederation president Ednaldo Rodrigues.

Brazilian media has reported the Selecao would rather play two friendlies in Europe.

“We will reach out to FIFA so this match is not played. I will make every effort to answer to the request of our coaching staff,” Rodrigues said in a statement. “Our priority is to win the World Cup in Qatar. If that match is not recommended by the coaching staff of the Selecao, we will work for it not to be played.”

Brazil and Argentina qualified regardless of that suspended encounter’s result.

In Qatar, Brazil are in Group G with Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon. Argentina are in Group C with Mexico, Poland and Saudi Arabia.