Al-Hilal return to domestic action in one last push for Saudi Pro League title

Special Al-Hilal return to domestic action in one last push for Saudi Pro League title
Al-Hilal are the reigning Saudi and Asian champions. (Twitter Photo)
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Updated 02 May 2022

Al-Hilal return to domestic action in one last push for Saudi Pro League title

Al-Hilal return to domestic action in one last push for Saudi Pro League title
  • The reigning champions go into Tuesday’s clash with Al-Feiha 11 points behind league leaders Al-Ittihad but with two games in hand
  • Al-Ittihad are 11 points clear at the top of the table thanks to a run during which they have won 14 of the last 16 league games

After three weeks of AFC Champions League action, Al-Hilal’s focus returns to domestic affairs this week, starting on Tuesday with an away game against Al-Feiha. It is a must-win match and it remains to be seen whether a busy April schedule against continental opposition will stand them in good stead in terms of domestic aspirations.

The defending champions, of both Asia and Saudi Arabia, finished top of Group A in the continental competition with some degree of comfort. Having secured a place in the second round with two games to spare, collecting 12 points from their first four games, the Riyadh club were able to take their foot of the gas in the final group games, in which they drew with Sharjah and then lost to Qatari side Al-Rayyan. We should not read too much into those results, though, as their thoughts were already turning to the attempt to catch Al-Ittihad at the top of the Saudi Pro League.

There can be no more slip-ups in the title chase. The Jeddah giants are 11 points clear at the top of the table thanks to a run during which they have won 14 of the last 16 league games. There are a couple of reasons for second-place Al-Hilal to still have hope, however.

The first is that they have seven games remaining, compared with the Tigers’ five. If they can win the two games in hand, the gap will be reduced to five points. In addition there is still a meeting to come between the two teams this month and if Al-Hilal can also win that clash, the two teams will be very close indeed — and Al-Ittihad’s only defeat during their recent winning run came against the defending champions.

If any team can do it, then, it is Al-Hilal and they should be match-fit and sharp after their recent efforts in Asia; it is just to be hoped that they are not too tired.

Those four Champions League victories took the club’s winning streak to 12 under Argentine coach Ramon Diaz, who was appointed in February, which equaled the club’s second-longest winning run.

“We need to make sure that we take the opportunities that come in the game,” said Diaz ahead of Tuesday’s match. “We know that they are strong defensively and this is going to be a difficult match.”

Indeed, Al-Feiha have the best defensive record in the league, conceding just 19 goals in 24 games. Their problem has been at the other end, as they have only managed to score the same amount.

Al-Hilal will be relying on star striker Odion Ighalo, who scored twice in Asia, to continue the goal-scoring form that has seen the Nigerian hit the net 19 times in the league this season, four more than anyone else.

Moussa Marega and Matheus Pereira, meanwhile, did not show their best form in the Champions League and if Al-Hilal are going to catch their Jeddah rivals, the Malian and Brazilian will need to step up as the games come thick and fast this month.

This became even more important after striker Saleh Al-Shehri picked up a serious injury during the Champions League group stage, which will keep him out of action for several months. In addition, midfielder Mohammed Kanno is suspended.

There are a few other things for coach Diaz to think about aside from the job of catching Al-Ittihad at the top of the table. Despite the 12-game winning streak, he was criticized by some fans for the last two results in the Champions League last month. If he wants to earn a new contract when the current one ends in June, he needs to end the season strongly. There is an option for the club to renew the deal with the boss for another season but, as yet, no decision has been made.

Al-Feiha, meanwhile, have a few worries of their own. Striker Malek Al-Abdalmoneim is injured, as is defender Mukhair Al-Rashidi. Coach Vuk Rasovic will also be without Ghanaian midfielder Samuel Owusu.

They are sitting in eighth place but are not completely safe from relegation as they are just five points clear of the drop zone. A win on Tuesday would pretty much remove all their worries, however.

The league clash is not only important at both ends of the table but is also a dress rehearsal for the King’s Cup final, which will take place at the end of the season. Last month Al-Hilal defeated Al-Shabab in the semi-finals, while Al-Feiha squeezed past Al-Ittihad. Whichever team wins the final will earn a place in next year’s Asian Champions League but, for now, Al-Hilal are hoping that their efforts in this year’s continental competition will have prepared them well for domestic success in the coming month.


Tsitsipas says Kyrgios has ‘evil side’ after fiery Wimbledon clash

Tsitsipas says Kyrgios has ‘evil side’ after fiery Wimbledon clash
Updated 03 July 2022

Tsitsipas says Kyrgios has ‘evil side’ after fiery Wimbledon clash

Tsitsipas says Kyrgios has ‘evil side’ after fiery Wimbledon clash

LONDON: Stefanos Tsitsipas said Nick Kyrgios has an “evil side” after a stormy clash at Wimbledon on Saturday in which the victorious Australian called for his Greek opponent to be kicked out of the tournament.
The bad-tempered match overshadowed the rest of the action on day six, which included the end of Iga Swiatek’s 37-match winning streak and a routine victory for Rafael Nadal.
The mercurial Kyrgios prevailed 6-7 (2/7), 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (9/7) in an incident-packed third-round match on Court One.
The contest descended into mayhem when a frustrated Tsitsipas hit the ball into the crowd after losing the second set.
Kyrgios told the umpire that Tsitsipas should be kicked out of Wimbledon, recalling the incident at the US Open in 2020 when Novak Djokovic was defaulted from the tournament after hitting a line judge with a ball.
“You can’t hit a ball into the crowd and hit someone and not get defaulted,” said the 27-year-old, who received an audible obscenity warning during the match.
He kept up his verbal jousting with the umpire, clearly unsettling Tsitsipas, who was warned over the incident and later handed a point penalty for hitting the ball in frustration toward the back of the court.
The bad feeling bubbled up again in post-match press conferences, with fourth seed Tsitsipas saying it felt like a “circus.”

Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas emotes after losing to Australia's Nick Kyrgios on July 2, 2022.  (REUTERS)


“He bullies the opponents,” said the Greek, who admitted trying to hit the ball at Kyrgios.
“He was probably a bully at school himself. I don’t like bullies.
“I don’t like people that put other people down. He has some good traits in his character, as well but... he also has a very evil side to him, which if it’s exposed, it can really do a lot of harm and bad to the people around him.”
Tsitsipas said he wished players could “come together and put a rule in place” to curb Kyrgios’s behavior.
“There is no other player that does this,” he said. “There is no other player that is so upset and frustrated all the time with something. It triggers it so easy and so fast.”
But Kyrgios laughed off Tsitsipas’s accusations, describing his opponent as “soft.”
“We’re not cut from the same cloth,” he said. “I go up against guys who are true competitors.”
He added: “I’m good in the locker room. I’ve got many friends, just to let you know. I’m actually one of the most liked. I’m set. He’s not liked. Let’s just put that there.”

Earlier, French veteran Alize Cornet took advantage of an error-strewn performance from Polish women’s world number one Swiatek to triumph 6-4, 6-2.
Swiatek never looked comfortable in the third-round tie, losing her serve five times and making 33 unforced errors.
The 21-year-old had not lost a match since her defeat to Jelena Ostapenko in February in Dubai, winning her past six tournaments, including the French Open.
“I know I didn’t play good tennis,” said the top seed, who lost the last six games of the match. “I was pretty confused about my tactics.
“As a solid player, she used that pretty well. For sure, it wasn’t a good performance from me.”
Second seed Nadal, chasing a rare calendar Grand Slam, beat Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 to set up a last-16 match against Dutch 21st seed Botic van de Zandschulp.
Australian 19th seed Alex De Minaur beat British wild card Liam Broady in straight sets and will play Chile’s Cristian Garin in the last 16.
Harmony Tan, who knocked Serena Williams out in the first round, demolished British wild card Katie Boulter 6-1, 6-1 in just 51 minutes to reach the fourth round.
Tan will next play 20th seed Amanda Anisimova, who came from behind to beat French Open finalist Coco Gauff 6-7 (4/7), 6-2, 6-1 in an all-American tie.
Simona Halep, the champion in 2019, eased through to the last 16 with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Magdalena Frech.
The Romanian will next play fourth seed Paula Badosa, who defeated two-time champion Petra Kvitova 6-4, 7-6 (7/4).


England’s Casey confirms he’s joining LIV Golf

England’s Casey confirms he’s joining LIV Golf
Updated 03 July 2022

England’s Casey confirms he’s joining LIV Golf

England’s Casey confirms he’s joining LIV Golf
  • Casey, ranked 26th in the world, is the 22nd of the world’s top 100 golfers to join the new LIV circuit 

LOS ANGELES: England’s Paul Casey confirmed Saturday he’s making the jump to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series, but the 44-year-old hopes to play the Open Championship before his debut on the breakaway circuit.
Casey, 44, is ranked 26th in the world, giving the LIV circuit 22 of the world’s top 100 players.
“I’m so excited,” Casey said in an interview during the live stream of Saturday’s final round of the LIV Golf Invitational in Portland, Oregon.
A lingering back injury forced Casey out of the US Open, and he noted that he hadn’t played a tournament since March.
Casey said he planned to make his LIV debut later this month at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey.
That will be the third of eight events in this inaugural LIV season.
First, however, Casey said he would “love to tee it off in the Open Championship in St. Andrews.
“I’ve already missed three majors so far this year ... and then you will see me at Bedminster.”
The R&A announced in June that players signed up to the LIV Golf series will be allowed to compete in the 150th Open Championship.
 


Sainz takes 1st career pole position for British Grand Prix

Sainz takes 1st career pole position for British Grand Prix
Updated 02 July 2022

Sainz takes 1st career pole position for British Grand Prix

Sainz takes 1st career pole position for British Grand Prix
  • Sainz set the fastest time late in the third qualifying session to edge Verstappen by just .072 seconds
  • First pole position, it's always special, and especially to do it in Silverstone in the wet,” Sainz said

SILVERSTONE, England: Carlos Sainz was fastest in the rain in Saturday qualifying for the British Grand Prix to earn his first career pole position in his 150th start.
He edged reigning Formula One champion Max Verstappen, who was booed by some in the crowd at the end of the session.
“Maybe some of them don’t like me, but that’s fine,” Verstappen said. “I don’t care.”
Sainz set the fastest time late in the third qualifying session to edge Verstappen by just .072 seconds. It was the seventh pole in 10 races for Ferrari this season, though Sainz teammate Charles Leclerc had earned the first six poles prior to Sainz’s surprise run.
“First pole position, it’s always special, and especially to do it in Silverstone in the wet,” Sainz said. “Kept it cool through the session and toward the end I decided to push.”
Sainz narrowly missed out on what would have been his first career win at the last race in Canada, when he finished just behind Verstappen.
Leclerc will start third, ahead of Sergio Pérez in the second Red Bull.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton qualified fifth for his home race as Mercedes seemed to have made progress with its problems of bouncing at high speed. His teammate George Russell was eighth.
As Verstappen spoke trackside following qualifying the boos were audible for the Dutchman. Verstappen and Hamilton collided in last year’s race, with Verstappen hitting the wall while Hamilton overcame a penalty to win.
The incident further heightened their often-bitter rivalry in a title race ultimately won by Verstappen, and turned some British fans against Verstappen. He was taken to a hospital for observation following the crash and complained that Hamilton showed poor sportsmanship by celebrating the victory as Verstappen was being medically evaluated.
The build-up to this year’s race has been dominated by former champion Nelson Piquet’s use of a racial slur and homophobic language to describe Hamilton in an interview which was filmed last year after the crash at Silverstone. The interview did not receive wide attention until this week, ahead of the return to the track.
Hamilton and other drivers condemned Piquet. Verstappen, who is dating Piquet’s daughter, Kelly, said Piquet had used “very offensive” language but added that the Brazilian was also “a really nice and relaxed guy” who was not a racist.
Leclerc said he felt his Ferrari was “competitive” but a mistake prevented him for challenging for pole position.
“I knew it was the lap where I had to put everything together and I didn’t as a driver, so I didn’t deserve to be on pole,” he said.


French player who beat Serena reaches 4th round at Wimbledon

French player who beat Serena reaches 4th round at Wimbledon
Updated 02 July 2022

French player who beat Serena reaches 4th round at Wimbledon

French player who beat Serena reaches 4th round at Wimbledon
  • The unseeded Frenchwoman is making her debut at the All England Club
  • Tan’s debut at Wimbledon came on Day 2 of the tournament on Centre Court

WIMBLEDON, England: Whether her opponents are tournament favorites or crowd favorites, Harmony Tan keeps knocking them out of Wimbledon.
First there was Serena Williams, a seven-time champion at the All England Club. Then came 32nd-seeded Sara Sorribes Tormo. On Saturday, it was British player Katie Boulter.
“I think I like grass,” said Tan, who won three straight matches at a tournament for the first time in her career. “I really like to play with some slice, volley, everything with my game.”
The unseeded Frenchwoman is making her debut at the All England Club. She has played at the French Open four times, reaching the second round once. She also played at this year’s Australian Open and again reached the second round. At the US Open, she lost in the first round in 2018 in her only appearance at Flushing Meadows.
On Saturday, Tan beat Boulter 6-1, 6-1 on No. 2 Court. She never faced a break point in the match and converted five of the 10 she earned.
Tan’s debut at Wimbledon came on Day 2 of the tournament on Center Court, the biggest stadium on the grounds. That’s where she eliminated Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, in three sets.
“It was really emotional for the first round against Serena, and after it was just play match for match,” Tan said on court. “Today was really good tennis. I don’t know why, but ... it depends (on) the day.”
Tan will next face either Coco Gauff or Amanda Anisimova. The two Americans will face each other in Saturday’s first match on Center Court.
French Open champion Iga Swiatek was scheduled to face Alize Cornet on No. 1 Court. Swiatek is the top-seeded player at Wimbledon and has won 37 straight matches.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova was scheduled to follow Gauff and Anisimova on Center Court. Then Rafael Nadal, another two-time champion at the All England Club, was to play Lorenzo Sonego in the main stadium after that.


Saudi Arabia’s Bukhari wins bronze at the Chuncheon Korea Open International Taekwondo Championships

Saudi Arabia’s Bukhari wins bronze at the Chuncheon Korea Open International Taekwondo Championships
Updated 02 July 2022

Saudi Arabia’s Bukhari wins bronze at the Chuncheon Korea Open International Taekwondo Championships

Saudi Arabia’s Bukhari wins bronze at the Chuncheon Korea Open International Taekwondo Championships
  • Medal is the first ever international podium finish in the sport by a female Saudi athlete

Abrar Bukhari has become the first Saudi female to win an international taekwondo medal after finishing third at the Chuncheon Korea Open International Taekwondo Championships.

Bukhari took bronze in the competition’s -40 kg category, two days after Saudi colleague Riyad Al-Dhafri also took bronze in the men’s -54 kg category.

Bukhari came to prominence three years ago after winning the bronze medal at the 2019 Arab Taekwondo Championship in Morocco, the first ever women’s medal for Saudi taekwondo.

The same year, Bukhari won a bronze medal at the 10th edition of the Asian Junior Taekwondo Championships in Jordan.

Her other achievements include bronze at the Fujairah Open Championship and the silver of the 2019 GCC Games in Kuwait.