Dominic Thiem out of sync, out of French Open with 10th loss in row

Dominic Thiem out of sync, out of French Open with 10th loss in row
Bolivia's Hugo Dellien plays a backhand return during his men's singles match against Austria's Dominic Thiem at the Court Simonne-Mathieu on Day 1 of the Roland-Garros Open tennis tournament in Paris on May 22, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 23 May 2022

Dominic Thiem out of sync, out of French Open with 10th loss in row

Dominic Thiem out of sync, out of French Open with 10th loss in row
  • Thiem's quick departure was not the only noteworthy development on a cloudy, occasionally drizzly Day 1 at the year’s second major tennis tournament, which welcomed back pre-pandemic sights and sounds of full attendance and no masks in the stands

PARIS: It all used to come so easily for Dominic Thiem on a tennis court — his powerful forehand, his elegant backhand, his hit-which-shot-when calculations, all fine-tuned to the point of a title at the US Open and three other Grand Slam final appearances, including two at Roland Garros.

Nowadays, even though the pain from last year’s torn tendon in his right wrist is no longer there, the strokes and, most disconcertingly, the wherewithal, are not what they once were, to the extent that his first-round exit at the French Open on Sunday was his 10th consecutive loss.

The situation has become dire enough that Thiem, a 28-year-old Austrian once ranked No. 3 but now No. 194, acknowledged after being beaten 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 by Hugo Dellien that perhaps it’s time for him to head to the lower-level Challenger Tour to get a win and gain some confidence.

After lamenting his forehand, his backhand and a too-low first-serve percentage, Thiem got to the bigger issue: “Sometimes, I do really stupid decisions during the rally, drop shots or down-the-line (groundstrokes) at the wrong moment. (In) match match situations, I’m not playing well. ... Then, for example, there was one game today where I did four or five forehand return mistakes in a row, where I’m thinking, ‘What the heck is happening?’”

His quick departure was not the only noteworthy development on a cloudy, occasionally drizzly Day 1 at the year’s second major tennis tournament, which welcomed back pre-pandemic sights and sounds of full attendance and no masks in the stands.

Carlos Alcaraz, the 19-year-old from Spain who is seeded No. 6 and a popular pick to win his first Grand Slam trophy, advanced just as cleanly and quickly as expected against “lucky loser” Juan Ignacio Londero 6-4, 6-2, 6-0 in the day’s last match at Court Philippe Chatrier. Another teen, 18-year-old American Coco Gauff, also moved on, beating Canadian qualifier Rebecca Marino 7-5, 6-0.

Given Thiem’s troubles — sure, he was the runner-up to Rafael Nadal in Paris in 2018 and 2019, and to Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open in 2020, but his last victory came in May 2021 — there were other results that probably were more surprising.

Chiefly in that category would be No. 6 seed Ons Jabeur’s 3-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5 loss to 56th-ranked Magda Linette of Poland.

Jabeur, a Tunisian who is the first Arab woman to win a WTA title and first to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal, acknowledged: “I was expecting myself to go far in this tournament.”

As were others. That’s because Jabeur began the day with a tour-leading 17 wins on clay this season, including taking the title at the Madrid Open and reaching the final of the Italian Open.

Another top-10 women’s seed — and the 2016 champion at the place — was sent home when Garbiñe Muguruza was defeated 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 by 46th-ranked Kaia Kanepi of Estonia. Muguruza beat Serena Williams in the final at Roland Garros six years ago and Venus Williams in the final at Wimbledon in 2017, but she now has lost her opening match in Paris two straight years.

Avoiding that sort of result was the men’s No. 9 seed, Felix Auger-Aliassime, who took care of two missing items on his resume in one afternoon: He picked up a French Open victory for the first time in three tries and he won a match after dropping the opening two sets.

The 20-year-old Canadian came back to eliminate Juan Pablo Varillas, a qualifier from Peru making his Grand Slam debut, by a score of 2-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3.

Other winners included 2017 US Open champion and 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens, No. 23 Jil Teichmann and No. 26 Sorana Cirstea among the women; No. 3 Alexander Zverev, No. 18 Grigor Dimitrov, No. 23 John Isner and No. 26 Botic Van de Zandschulp among the men.

Dellien, a Bolivian ranked 87th, entered his contest against Thiem with a 2-7 career record in Grand Slam matches. But from the get-go, he was able to hold his own in lengthy baseline exchanges.

On the very first point, which lasted 24 strokes, Thiem landed a backhand passing shot in the net and shook his head. On the next, he tried a drop shot that floated wide. Not really close at all. Again, a head shake. On the sixth point, a forehand return sailed well long. That initial set ended with Thiem putting a forehand into the net, followed by a backhand into the net.

“Today, he wasn’t at his top level of the past, but I still needed to beat him,” Dellien said. “It’s an important step in my career.”


Al-Hilal’s winning DNA: 5 things learned as Riyadh giants claimed 2021-22 Saudi Pro League title

Al-Hilal’s winning DNA: 5 things learned as Riyadh giants claimed 2021-22 Saudi Pro League title
Updated 28 June 2022

Al-Hilal’s winning DNA: 5 things learned as Riyadh giants claimed 2021-22 Saudi Pro League title

Al-Hilal’s winning DNA: 5 things learned as Riyadh giants claimed 2021-22 Saudi Pro League title
  • Asian champions have completed remarkable turnaround since February to wipe away 16-point deficit on an Al-Ittihad team now left to rue season after looking certainties for championship

RIYADH: Al-Hilal are champions of Saudi Arabia once again, having at one point looked dead and buried as Jeddah rivals Al-Ittihad held a seemingly insurmountable 16-point lead over them.

But the Riyadh giants are not champions of Asia and the Kingdom for nothing and proved that they remain the country’s worthy champions.

The 2021-22 Saudi Professional League season ended on Monday night, and here are five things — and there could be many, many more — learned from the final action of the campaign.

1. Winning is in Al-Hilal’s DNA

Three successive title wins make it 18 in total. Love them or hate them – and there are plenty in both groups – there is no denying that Al-Hilal know how to win games, and titles.

Eleven victories out of the last 12 is an amazing run, especially when it came after a demanding season with FIFA Club World Cup and Asian Champions League commitments. They usually find a way to find a way.

The 2-1 victory over Al-Faisaly summed up what has been a dramatic campaign. There has been so much action in injury time this season, so many late winning goals and controversies, and Monday was no different.

Al-Hilal may win but they do not always make it easy. There was a goal in each half from Odion Ighalo, who was razor sharp and showed why he finished as the league’s leading goalscorer, but the men from Dammam grabbed a goal back and then there were plenty of nerves for Al-Hilal’s fans.

The game, and the season, ended after 100 minutes with the referee standing by the pitchside monitor looking at a possible penalty for Al-Faisaly. It was not given and that was that. It was a fitting way to end an amazing season.

2. Al-Ittihad will never forget this

This fact will be repeated for years to come; Al-Ittihad were 16 points clear of Al-Hilal in February and they ended up two points behind when it mattered.

Nobody could have predicted that Al-Hilal would take 33 points from the last 36 available but even so, the Tigers had it in the bag. Then they went and dropped 13 points from the last eight games and that is not the form of champions. The 0-0 draw with struggling Al-Batin in the final game of the season summed it all up.

They had so much attacking talent in Igor Coronado, Abderrazak Hamdallah, and Romarinho but they just could not make it happen and the game, similar to the season, petered out with disappointment. As well as the two recent defeats against the champions, coach Cosmin Contra will look back at that 4-4 draw with Al-Feiha in May, when the team threw away a 3-1 lead, as a turning point. It meant there were just five points from the final five games.

The wait for the title now stretches back to 2009. That hurts, as was demonstrated by the tears of goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe at the end, and this does too but, in football, there is always next season.

3. Al-Ahli make unthinkable history

A 0-0 draw at Al-Shabab resulted in Al-Ahli being relegated for the first time in their history. It is truly shocking that the three-time champions, the latest triumph coming just six years ago, and two-time Asian runners-up are now in the second tier.

Two years ago, they were third, then eighth, and now 15th – the drift has been coming. There were reports of dressing room unrest in the past, coaches coming and going, and then injuries at unfortunate times, and when you throw in a poor start with five points from the first seven games then maybe ultimate relegation should not come as such a big shock.

Had they won one of the four games they drew in the final five, things would have been different. This time even the reliable Omar Al-Somah could not save them despite a talented supporting cast that included Ezgjan Alioski, Carlos Eduardo, Abdulrahman Ghareeb, and many others.

For a club that has been drifting, it could be that relegation is the wake-up call they need, but maybe not. The next few weeks will be tough.

4. The relegation battle was quietly dramatic

Going into the final round of games there were seven teams who were genuinely threatened by relegation. It was an amazing position for the league to be in and there were so many twists and turns.

It was not quite the explosive last day that the neutrals had been hoping for as there were not that many goals, with only 14 scored over the eight games.

But there was quiet drama and tension. At any time, had Al-Ahli scored, they would have climbed out of the bottom three. If Al-Faisaly had managed one more, then they would have done the same. If Ettifaq had conceded just once against Al-Feiha then they would have gone down. Had Al-Ittihad scored then it would have meant the end for Al-Batin.

Rarely has there been so much at stake for so many teams going into the final seconds of the season. It has been a long season, more than 10 months, but it was alive right until the end.

5. Al-Nassr and Al-Shabab not far away

For much of the season, the two Riyadh teams were in touch at the top and it was only the amazing winning streaks, first from Al-Ittihad and then from Al-Hilal, that took them out of the hunt.

In the end though, Al-Nassr finished just four points behind the runners-up from Jeddah and six points behind the champions. With the club ready to appoint French coach Rudi Garcia, next season should be an interesting one, and there will be a lot of fans looking to see if the club can keep hold of Talisca, who scored 20 goals in his first season in Saudi Arabia. Recovering from injury, Pity Martinez has started to show the talents that made him a big-money signing back in 2020.

Al-Shabab know what it is like to lose big players after top scorer Odion Ighalo left for Al-Hilal at the end of January and a fourth-place finish seems about right as they lacked a little consistency. These third- and fourth-place teams need to keep their biggest talents and recruit well in the coming weeks. Then they should be ready for a title challenge next time around. This year, they were not far away.


Extra time given for bids to host soccer’s 2023 Asian Cup

Extra time given for bids to host soccer’s 2023 Asian Cup
Updated 59 min 7 sec ago

Extra time given for bids to host soccer’s 2023 Asian Cup

Extra time given for bids to host soccer’s 2023 Asian Cup
  • The AFC said it extended a deadline to July 15 from June 30
  • The four-yearly Asian Cup is typically played in January

KUALA LUMPUR: Countries wanting to replace China as host of soccer’s 2023 Asian Cup were given extra time to prepare a bid by the Asian Football Confederation on Tuesday.
The AFC said it extended a deadline to July 15 from June 30 for member federations to show interest.
South Korea has said it wants to host the 24-nation tournament which was due to kick off in June next year. The four-yearly Asian Cup is typically played in January.
China gave up last month the 2023 hosting rights it was awarded in 2019, making it the latest international sports event canceled in the pandemic amid the country’s “zero-COVID” policy.
The 2023 host is being chosen during a lengthy bidding process for the 2027 Asian Cup which shapes as a contest between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. India and Iran have also bid.
The AFC executive committee is set to pick the 2023 host this year, before member federations vote for the 2027 host early next year.


ROKiT hoping Marrakech E-Prix is springboard to title success in second half of Formula E season

ROKiT hoping Marrakech E-Prix is springboard to title success in second half of Formula E season
Updated 28 June 2022

ROKiT hoping Marrakech E-Prix is springboard to title success in second half of Formula E season

ROKiT hoping Marrakech E-Prix is springboard to title success in second half of Formula E season
  • Circuit International Automobile Moulay El-Hassan in Marrakech presents a unique challenge for all drivers
  • Semi-permanent track marks return of Formula E World Championship to Morocco

LONDON: The Circuit International Automobile Moulay El-Hassan in Marrakech presents a unique challenge for Formula E teams and drivers alike, and ROKiT Venturi team principal Jerome D’Ambrosio hopes it will act as a springboard for a successful FIA World Championship title drive come the end of the season.

The semi-permanent racing facility will mark the return of the Formula E World Championship to Morocco, and both ROKiT drivers are looking forward to testing their skills on the nearly-three kilometer track.

“After a month away from the track, the team is rested and ready for the big final push this season in which we will complete a total of seven races in only seven weeks,” D’Ambrosio said.

“Since Berlin, we have built a good momentum and this weekend, the goal is to maintain that form.

Marrakech is a circuit that we haven’t raced at since Season 6 but having raced there several times, it’s a circuit that we hold a lot of historic data from.

This will form the basis of our understanding and as always, the goal is to qualify well and score a good haul of points, consistency is the most important aspect of performance at this stage of the season and we will make sure to keep that in mind going into this weekend,” he added.

Title-hopeful Edoardo Mortara got the team's best finish at the circuit in 2020, crossing the line in fifth place. 

“After our podium in Jakarta, I’m really looking forward to taking to the track in Marrakech and capitalizing on the form we know we’re capable of,” he said. 

“Since Berlin, we have been able to establish some good momentum but this definitely doesn’t mean that we can relax.

“We need to take the same approach for this weekend as usual and we know that we have the potential to finish well – we just need to execute a clean race and see where we end up,” he added.

His teammate, Lucas di Grassi, said getting the balance of the car in the hot Moroccan weather will be key. 

“Since the beginning of the season we have shown that we have strong race pace but Marrakech will be very hot so the correct thermal management of the car, tyres and batteries will be critical to unlocking success during the race this weekend,” he said. 

“We’ve prepared really well so I feel confident that a podium finish is within our reach.

“My focus now is to perform at my best and win as many races as possible from now until the end of the season,” he added.


Hamilton calls for action after Piquet’s racist slur

Hamilton calls for action after Piquet’s racist slur
Updated 28 June 2022

Hamilton calls for action after Piquet’s racist slur

Hamilton calls for action after Piquet’s racist slur
  • Lewis Hamilton: ‘These archaic mindsets need to change and have no place in our sport’
  • Nelson Piquet’s daughter, Kelly, is Max Verstappen’s partner

LONDON: Lewis Hamilton said the “time has come for action” after being the subject of a racially offensive term used by three-time Formula One world champion Nelson Piquet.
Formula One and motorsport’s governing body the FIA condemned the 69-year-old Brazilian, who made the comments during a podcast.
“It’s more than language,” Hamilton tweeted. “These archaic mindsets need to change and have no place in our sport.
“I’ve been surrounded by these attitudes and targeted my whole life. There has been plenty of time to learn. Time has come for action.”
In a separate tweet, Hamilton posted in Portuguese: “Let’s focus on changing the mindset.”
Piquet, who won the world title in 1981, 1983 and 1987, was discussing an accident between Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on the first lap of last year’s British Grand Prix when he used the term.
His daughter, Kelly, is Verstappen’s partner.
“Discriminatory or racist language is unacceptable in any form and has no part in society,” Formula One said in a statement.
“Lewis is an incredible ambassador for our sport and deserves respect.
“His tireless efforts to increase diversity and inclusion are a lesson to many and something we are committed to at F1.”
In a statement, the FIA said: “The FIA strongly condemns any racist or discriminatory language and behavior, which have no place in sport or wider society.
“We express our solidarity with Lewis Hamilton and fully support his commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion in motor sport.”
Hamilton, the only black driver on the grid, has been an outspoken campaigner for greater diversity in the sport.
The seven-time world champion regularly displayed “black lives matter” on his apparel and took the knee before races in the 2020 season following the murder of George Floyd in the USA.
Hamilton has also campaigned for LGBTQ+ rights and on environmental issues.
“We condemn in the strongest terms any use of racist or discriminatory language of any kind,” Mercedes, Hamilton’s team, said in a statement.
“Lewis has spearheaded our sport’s efforts to combat racism, and he is a true champion of diversity on and off track.
“Together, we share a vision for a diverse and inclusive motorsport, and this incident underlines the fundamental importance of continuing to strive for a brighter future.”
Hamilton is back in action on home soil this weekend for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.


Tickets for NBA Abu Dhabi games 2022 featuring Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks on sale June 30

Tickets for NBA Abu Dhabi games 2022 featuring Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks on sale June 30
Lou Williams (#6) of the Atlanta Hawks shoots the ball during a game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 14, 2021. (Getty)
Updated 28 June 2022

Tickets for NBA Abu Dhabi games 2022 featuring Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks on sale June 30

Tickets for NBA Abu Dhabi games 2022 featuring Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks on sale June 30
  • 4-time NBA Champion, Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal named official NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 ambassador

LONDON/ABU DHABI: The National Basketball Association and Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi have announced that tickets for the NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 will go on general sale on Thursday, June 30.

The games will feature the Atlanta Hawks and the 2021 NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks playing two preseason games at Etihad Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, Oct. 6 and Saturday, Oct. 8, marking the league’s first games in the UAE and the Arabian Gulf.

Special ticket packages offering premium access, VIP experiences, hospitality, and local hotel accommodation will also be available for purchase at NBAEvents.com/AbuDhabi from June 30.

As part of the announcement, the league also named four-time NBA champion and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame star Shaquille O’Neal as the official NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 ambassador.

In this capacity, O’Neal, who was selected to the NBA 75th anniversary team in October as the league tipped off its landmark 75th anniversary season, will attend the games, participate in youth development programming, and interact with local fans during the week.

The NBA will also become the first North American sports league to launch social media channels in Arabic on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@NBAArabic), providing comprehensive in-language news and content for fans in the region and around the world beginning June 30.

The Hawks currently feature two-time NBA All-Star Trae Young, 2020-21 NBA rebounding leader Clint Capela, and 2018 NBA All-Rookie Second Team members John Collins and Bogdan Bogdanovic.

The Bucks meanwhile have two-time Kia NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, three-time NBA All-Star Khris Middleton, and four-time NBA All-Defensive Team member Jrue Holiday. The two teams met in the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals, with the Bucks going on to win their first NBA championship in 50 years.

The Abu Dhabi event will air live in the UAE and throughout the Middle East and North Africa on beIN SPORTS, The Sports Channel, and NBA League Pass, the league’s premium live-game subscription service. The games will reach fans in more than 200 countries and territories around the world on television, digital media, and social media.

They are part of a groundbreaking multiyear partnership between the NBA and DCT Abu Dhabi that earlier this year saw the launch of the first Jr. NBA Abu Dhabi League, a youth basketball league for 450 boys and girls aged between 11 and 14 from local schools in Abu Dhabi. The partnership also includes a variety of interactive fan events featuring appearances by current and former NBA players, a series of NBA FIT clinics promoting health and wellness, and an NBA 2K League exhibition event at Middle East Film and Comic Con.

The partnership will also see DCT Abu Dhabi, under the Visit Abu Dhabi banner, the tourism promotion initiative of the UAE’s capital city, serve as an official tourism destination partner of the NBA in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and China.

More than 220 male and female prospects from the Middle East – including five players from the UAE – have participated in Basketball Without Borders or NBA Academy, the league’s elite basketball development programs for top prospects from outside the US.

Since 2019, more than 500 boys and girls have also participated in the NBA Basketball School Dubai (UAE), a year-round, tuition-based basketball development program for six- to 18-year-olds.