World No. 3 Ons Jabeur 'cannot wait' to team up with Serena Williams in doubles

Exclusive World No. 3 Ons Jabeur 'cannot wait' to team up with Serena Williams in doubles
Ons Jabeur teams up with Serena Williams as the American legend Williams makes her first competitive appearance in nearly 12 months at Wimbledon. (AFP)
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Updated 20 June 2022

World No. 3 Ons Jabeur 'cannot wait' to team up with Serena Williams in doubles

World No. 3 Ons Jabeur 'cannot wait' to team up with Serena Williams in doubles
  • Jabeur won her third career title in Berlin after Belinda Bencic retired through injury
  • The Tunisian star says Venus likely to have played a role in Serena asking her to partner in her comeback

With a third career title under her belt and a new personal-high ranking of No. 3 in the world, Tunisian Ons Jabeur has lots to celebrate on the back of a stellar week in Berlin.

But she will have to hold off on any festivities as she quickly switches her focus to teaming up with Serena Williams in Eastbourne on Tuesday, in preparation for next week’s Wimbledon.

American legend Williams will make her first competitive appearance in nearly 12 months when she steps onto the lawns of Eastbourne, where she has chosen to only contest doubles, alongside Jabeur.

The 27-year-old is better acquainted with Serena’s older sister Venus, who sang her praises last year before the Tunisian defeated her en route to the Wimbledon quarterfinals.

Venus and Jabeur have practiced together on multiple occasions, and the seven-time major champion once described her as one of her “favorite people.”

Jabeur’s previous interactions with Serena have been friendly, but brief, which is why it came as a huge surprise when she received the call last month that the 23-time Grand Slam winner was keen to partner up with her in doubles at the grass-court event in Eastbourne this week.

“I usually speak with Venus more than Serena. I feel like there is a 50 percent chance that Venus had something to do with it,” Jabeur told Arab News in an interview on Sunday, after clinching the title in Berlin.

 

 

“It was great, you would say yes right away of course. It’s a pleasure that she chose me, it’s unbelievable. I was having dinner with Ellen Perez (her occasional doubles partner), and I was like, ‘Ellen I’m not playing doubles with you anymore, it got serious now. Now I’m not accepting to play doubles with anyone with less than 20 Grand Slams.’

“It’s great, I cannot wait to see her (Serena), and I cannot wait to speak with her, it’s such an honor and pleasure,” Jabeur said.

It is unclear exactly why Serena picked Jabeur to join her on her comeback tournament, but it could have something to do with the fact the crafty Tunisian has been in great form and is currently ranked No. 2 in the Race to the WTA Finals.

Jabeur has tallied up 30 victories so far this season, second only to the top-ranked Iga Swiatek, and is one of only three players on the WTA tour to win multiple singles titles in 2022.

“I don’t know honestly why she picked me but I’m glad that she did. Maybe Venus had something to do with it, maybe she was watching a bit of tennis and she saw some North African girl playing good lately so maybe that kind of helped. I hope she was watching the Madrid final as well,” she added.

Jabeur, who made history as the first Tunisian, Arab, or African to win a WTA 1000 title when she triumphed in Madrid last month, said: “Honestly I’m nervous but I’m going to try to focus on playing tennis and maybe not admiring Serena a lot because I’m such a big fun and it’s honestly a huge honor for me to share the court with her and to kind of be part of her comeback journey.”

Jabeur has already won two titles from four finals reached this season and the triumph in Berlin came at just the right moment after she had suffered a first-round exit at Roland Garros, where she was considered one of the top contenders for the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.

While her early defeat in Paris was clearly disappointing, Jabeur did not spend too much time dwelling on it.

“I think everything happened for a reason. The French Open was kind of tough for me, I had to fail and get up again maybe, that’s how I think sometimes, to come back stronger.

“I’m glad I took some time off to clear my head. It was the first time I felt that much pressure, so it was tough to handle a little bit but I’m learning from it, obviously, and I just focused on the grass season, to get ready and be here; that was the most important thing, to be prepared.

“I took a week off, that helped me recover mentally and we got back to practicing. It was a little bit tough at the beginning but I’m glad that I came back even stronger,” she added.

In her first grass-court tournament of the season, Jabeur knocked out some tough opposition, including French Open finalist Coco Gauff and Olympic champion Belinda Bencic, on her way to the trophy in Berlin.

Her early Roland Garros exit gave her the chance to spend more time on grass before competing on it and the work paid off right away.

 

 

She said: “I practiced on a terrible court in Paris, so it was great coming here to Berlin because the courts are good, so maybe that helped me play good.

“Physically I was ready, I was practicing a lot of fitness with Karim (Kamoun, her husband and fitness trainer), so that also helped me.

“The confidence and the good pressure of being the No. 1 seed also did help me a lot. And I practiced with a lot of great players here, such as Bianca Andreescu and Karolina Muchova, and I could see myself how I was playing on the practice court, how confident I was, and I think that really helped me bring my A-game.”

With a target on her back entering Paris last month on the heels of winning Madrid and making the final in Rome, Jabeur needed some time to adjust to her new position as a genuine contender at the majors. While winning slams has always been her goal, it is different when her opponents begin to see her as a favorite, and step on court against her ready to play freely as clear underdogs.

“Maybe yes it is a different kind of pressure. I always try to do that in front of everyone; I think everyone wants to play good in front of me, especially now being a top-10 player,” Jabeur, who became the first Arab player – man or woman – to crack that elite ranking bracket last October, added.

“For a while now, I think everybody wants to grab that top-10 win (against me); it’s an extra pressure but I feel like I’m getting used to this pressure. I’m the kind of person that likes a little bit of pressure because when I’m too loose I don’t play really good so to put pressure on myself and to make myself do things, it helps me a lot to play my best tennis.”

This time last year, Jabeur had just picked up a maiden WTA title, on the grass courts of Birmingham, and went on to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals for the first time in her career, and the second time at a major.

Ranked 24 in the world at the time, she beat three Grand Slam champions in a row, in the form of Venus Williams, Garbine Muguruza, and Swiatek, before falling to Aryna Sabalenka in the last-eight stage.

She said: “I feel like now I’m a different player. I am handling much better the pressure; putting more expectations on myself because now, if you tell me I’ll be happy with a quarterfinal at Wimbledon, I’ll tell you ‘no, I want to do better.’

“Also coming as a top-10 player is a much different position than being 20-something in the world. I think now I’ve played even more matches, so the confidence is higher for sure, and so many situations I can manage much better. Like if you’re being up, or serving for the set, or playing someone more aggressive, I think I can handle those matches much better than before.”

Jabeur acknowledges that “it sounds amazing” to hear the words “world No. 3” announced before her name but is trying not to get too wrapped up by this latest milestone.

 

 

“I don’t even have the time to digest all of these things, but I’m pretty happy. I honestly wasn’t looking at the ranking and I don’t like to look at the ranking, but I think it’s all part of the plan and I’m really glad,” she added.

She is within touching distance of second-ranked Anett Kontaveit, who is just 170 points ahead of her, but is still far off the ever-dominant Swiatek, who is on a 35-match winning streak and more than 4,000 points ahead of them both.

“My goal this season is to catch Iga maybe, I don’t know, let’s try it and maybe have a rivalry with Iga; that would be great. I have my eyes on the No. 2 spot for sure,” Jabeur said.

Having learned her lesson from Roland Garros, where she felt she was a bit burnt out after playing too many matches in the build-up, Jabeur purposefully did not compete on grass the week before Berlin and is looking to arrive at Wimbledon both mentally and physically fresh, buoyed by the fact her sports psychologist Melanie Maillard will be with her at the event.

Maillard and the rest of the team will not be the only ones supporting Jabeur in south-west London next week. Throughout her run in Berlin, the top seed celebrated her wins in front of scores of Tunisian fans – their football chants echoing around the stadium every step of the way.

“Allez, allez, forza ragazzi, wahda wahda lel finale,” (come on, come on, come on guys, step by step toward the final), has become a popular song following Jabeur from one arena to the other around the globe, and will no doubt be heard when she steps out for her opening match at Wimbledon.

“They’ve already invited themselves to Wimbledon, everybody is coordinating to come there,” she added, referring to the Tunisian fans who plan on making the trip from Berlin to London to support her.


Murray downs Wawrinka in Cincinnati battle of veterans

Murray downs Wawrinka in Cincinnati battle of veterans
Updated 15 sec ago

Murray downs Wawrinka in Cincinnati battle of veterans

Murray downs Wawrinka in Cincinnati battle of veterans
  • The third set featured another pair of early service breaks; but Murray brought an end to hostilities with a break for 6-5 followed by a labored concluding hold of serve

CINCINNATI: Andy Murray won his first hardcourt match of the summer on Monday, defeating Stan Wawrinka 7-6 (7/3), 5-7, 7-5 in the opening round of the ATP/WTA Cincinnati Masters.
The 35-year-old Scot was facing his 37-year-old Swiss rival for the 22nd time with both treble Grand Slam champions still coming back to full form after long-term injuries over the past few seasons.
Murray lost in the first round at Washington and last week in Montreal while Wawrinka’s last win came on grass two months ago at Queen’s Club, London; he has not won on cement since the Australian Open last year.
Murray needed four match points to advance at a tournament he has won twice, in 2008 and 2011. The veteran was competing here for the 17th time.
“We’re not young anymore,” Murray said. “Both of us gave our best right until the end.
“Matches like this are a lot tougher than when we were in our mid-20s.
“Both of us love this sport, we’ve had our issues with injuries the last few years.
“The sport has been a huge part of my life, I started playing when I was four.”
Compatriot Cameron Norrie joined Murray in the second round with his 7-6 (7/5), 4-6, 6-4 defeat of Dane Holger Rune.
The Scot began to well up as he described his love for the game.
“When I was out injured and not sure if I would be able to come back, I remembered the reasons why you play the game,” Murray said.
“It’s taken a lot of effort and struggles to get back (after two hip surgeries) and play at this level again.
“I want to make the most of it while I’m still able to.”
Murray claimed the opening set in the tiebreaker as he faced his longtime rival.
The Scot went down a break in the second set but got it back before finding himself at a set apiece after being broken in the final game.
The third set featured another pair of early service breaks; but Murray brought an end to hostilities with a break for 6-5 followed by a labored concluding hold of serve.
In the closing stages, Murray loudly chastised himself as his grip on the set threatened to slip away against the Swiss whose best showing here was a semifinal a decade ago.
The contest was punctuated repeatedly by visits from the trainer for both men.
Other winners on opening day included 2016 champion Marin Cilic, who defeated Spain’s Jaume Munar 6-3, 6-3, and American John Isner, the 2013 finalist against Rafael Nadal, who advanced past France’s Benjamin Bonzi 7-6 (13/11), 3-6, 7-6 (7/4).
In the WTA draw, Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina defeated Egyptian Mayar Sherif 6-3, 6-2.
The world number 25 set up a second-round clash with eighth seed Garbine Muguruza, title-winner here in 2017.
The 23-year-old Kazakh lifted her game in the second set to end with five aces and 13 winners against Sharif.
“I was slow at the beginning but I got my rhythm and served well,” Rybakina said. “But my serve always helps me.”
The newest Grand Slam champion said she is trying to look ahead in her career as she adjusts to her status.
“Wimbledon gave me confidence but now I’m focusing on my other tournaments and trying not to think of the past,” she said.
American Amanda Anisimova beat ninth seed Daria Kasatkina 6-4, 6-4.


Morata scores twice as Atlético debuts with win at Getafe

Morata scores twice as Atlético debuts with win at Getafe
Updated 47 min 53 sec ago

Morata scores twice as Atlético debuts with win at Getafe

Morata scores twice as Atlético debuts with win at Getafe
  • Morata scored twice on Monday as Atlético began its Spanish league campaign with a 3-0 win at Getafe

MADRID: The decision to keep Álvaro Morata is already paying off for Atlético Madrid.
Morata scored twice on Monday as Atlético began its Spanish league campaign with a 3-0 win at Getafe. Antoine Griezmann also scored coming off the bench, with João Félix setting up all three goals for the visitors.
There had been doubts about whether Atlético would keep Morata after his two-year loan with Juventus ended. Some teams, including Juventus and Manchester United, reportedly had shown interest.
But Morata impressed in the preseason — which included a hat trick against Juventus — and Atlético ultimately decided it was worth keeping the 29-year-old striker.
“I don’t need to send any messages,” Morata said. “I have to keep working for myself and for my team. It was important to start with a victory. I think it’s going to be a great year.”
It didn’t take long on Monday for Morata to show Atlético was right. He scored with a well-placed low shot from the top of the area after a nice one-touch pass by João Félix in the 15th minute, then picked up another superb assist from the Portugal youngster to hit the top of the net from inside the area in the 59th.
“He is doing well, he works hard,” Atlético coach Diego Simeone said. “Everyone at the club hopes he will stay with us.”
Griezmann came off the bench and sealed the victory with a shot from outside the area in the 75th.
Atlético finished third in the Spanish league last year, behind Barcelona and champions Real Madrid.
Madrid won 2-1 at promoted Almería on Sunday, while Barcelona drew 0-0 at home against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.


FIFA suspends India’s national soccer federation

FIFA suspends India’s national soccer federation
Updated 29 min 59 sec ago

FIFA suspends India’s national soccer federation

FIFA suspends India’s national soccer federation

ZURICH: FIFA suspended India’s national soccer federation late Monday “due to undue influence from third parties,” the sport’s governing body said.
The suspension of the All India Football Federation threatens the country’s hosting of the Under-17 Women’s World Cup scheduled for Oct. 11-30.
FIFA said the suspension was effective immediately and that the transgression “constitutes a serious violation of the FIFA Statutes.”
“The suspension will be lifted once an order to set up a committee of administrators to assume the powers of the AIFF executive committee has been repealed and the AIFF administration regains full control of the AIFF’s daily affairs,” FIFA said.
The Under-17 Women’s World Cup “cannot currently be held in India as planned,” FIFA said.
“FIFA is in constant constructive contact with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in India and is hopeful that a positive outcome to the case may still be achieved.”


All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms

All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms
Updated 15 August 2022

All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms

All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms
  • Usyk will defend his WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO belts against the former two-time unified champion Joshua, in one of the most anticipated rematches in boxing history
  • Riyadh hosted the epic ‘Clash on the Dunes’ in December 2019 when Joshua defeated Andy Ruiz Jr. on points and avenged his shock defeat a year earlier

JEDDAH: The sporting world’s attention is set to focus on Jeddah this week in anticipation of the “Rage on the Red Sea” boxing match between world heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk and challenger Anthony Joshua.

The event on Aug. 20 will also feature a first ever women’s boxing match in Saudi Arabia, and the appearance of Arab up-and-comer Ziyad Al-Maayouf.

Live from Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sports City Arena, Usyk will defend his WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO belts against the former two-time unified champion Joshua, in one of the most anticipated rematches in boxing history.

The winner will also take home the Ring Magazine title after Tyson Fury vacated it last week.

In the first meeting between these two titans of the heavyweight division, Ukrainian Usyk (19 wins, no losses and 13 knockouts) produced a masterclass performance on route to dethroning Joshua (24-2-22), defeating the Briton in his own backyard by unanimous decision at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, England last September, with over 60,000 fans in attendance and millions more watching around the world.

This time around, Joshua enters the ring as challenger rather than champion, although “AJ” has enacted revenge and immediately reclaimed titles before in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh hosted the epic “Clash on the Dunes” in December 2019 when Joshua defeated Andy Ruiz Jr. on points and avenged his shock defeat a year earlier.

Meanwhile, Usyk remains undefeated in his professional campaign. The former undisputed cruiserweight world champion has made the successful transition to heavyweight and is viewed by many as the world’s pound-for-pound best fighter.

Prince Khalid bin Abdulaziz, chairman of Skill Challenge Entertainment, said: “International boxing spectacles are always special, not least because of the activities and events (that are) part of the pre-fight build-up. History illustrates that the days leading up to massive fights live long in the memory of everyone involved, from fans to media, promotors to sponsors, the fighters themselves to their teams and families.

“They are a traditional yet integral component of local, regional, and international promotion and contribute to the acclaim these events receive and the legacy they leave behind. As such, we are delighted that the time has finally come for Jeddah to host Rage on the Red Sea fight week. Jeddah is ready to welcome the world once more while showcasing precisely (why) it has become the new home for Middle Eastern sport.”

Fight week in Jeddah officially gets underway on Monday with an exclusive media arrival event at Shangri-La Business Center, where international media, VIPs, and other invited guests will enjoy a series of press opportunities with fighters, promotors and key stakeholders.

On Tuesday, Aug. 16, the week’s proceedings continue with the traditional public workout. Hosted at Saudia City, fans will join media and VIPs as the undercard and main event fighters showcase their skills and offer a first-hand glimpse of their pre-fight preparations, sure to generate further buzz before the weekend’s action.

The pre-fight press conference will be held on Wednesday at Shangri-La Hotel from 2 p.m. local time. Stakeholders, sponsors, and the media will be in attendance as the fighters and their teams share their thoughts and answer questions.

On Friday, Aug. 19, the fighters will face off for the final time at the official weigh-in. Later that evening, the Shangri-La ballroom will host an invitation-only gala dinner for global partners and guests of the Ministry of Sports and SCEE, which holds the global rights to the event.


Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time

Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time
Updated 15 August 2022

Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time

Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time
  • Two-time British world champion faces Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk at Rage on the Red Sea in Jeddah on Saturday
  • 32-year-old Joshua previously won the heavyweight world title in Saudi Arabia in 2019

When Anthony Joshua steps into the ring to face Oleksandr Usyk in Jeddah on Saturday, Aug. 20, it will almost feel like he is fighting in front of a home crowd.

The British boxer, a two-time unified heavyweight world champion, will have a chance to regain the title he lost to his Ukrainian opponent last September when the two rivals meet in a rematch at Rage on the Red Sea.

The 32-year-old has made Jeddah his training base over the last month, and promoter Eddie Hearn hopes Joshua will leave Saudi Arabia a world champion yet again.

“This is our second fight in Saudi Arabia. The first one, ironically, was another rematch that Joshua had to try and win,” said Hearn of Joshua’s previous victory in 2019 against Andy Ruiz. “So, we’ve got good vibes about going back to the Kingdom. The aim for Saudi was always to try and do the undisputed Heavyweight World Championship. The biggest prize in the sport is the Heavyweight World Championship. So, when we did Joshua-Ruiz, the pandemic really slowed that development down. And when this fight came around, it was challenging principally, and everybody got in touch.

“We had a tremendous experience there last time. Joshua is very comfortable there, so much so that he’s been out there for weeks already. Normally, you’d come out a week before the fight, if you’re traveling, and he’s been there for four weeks. He loves it there. He’s feeling confident. And it’s a huge fight for boxing.”

Hearn said that the relative sanctuary of Jeddah has provided Joshua with an ideal preparation period away from the glare of media he would expect in his home country.

“Obviously, a lot of people know him in Saudi, but in England, he can’t breathe without someone taking a photo, someone bothering him,” said the British promoter. “He gives his time to everybody, and it can be quite draining. So, he loves the fact that he can be in Saudi. He loves it there, he feels comfortable there. And he can just chill with his friends in the hotel, he can go out, he can get coffee. His preparation’s been great. He’s got a new trainer for this fight in Robert Garcia. It’s a very tough fight. Usyk is pound for pound probably No. 1 in the sport.

“But Joshua is in a great place. He feels very comfortable in Saudi. And he’s ready.”

Boxing at the highest level may still be new to Saudi Arabia, but it is making big strides toward rivaling established hubs such as London and Las Vegas in terms of holding big-name bouts.

“I have incredible resources. Financially as well, they’re putting a lot behind the events,” Hearn said. “So, you’re going to get a first-class event in terms of arena, press conferences, hotels — everything is done to the highest possible standard, and we feel very comfortable. I couldn’t quite believe when I went back to Jeddah, six or seven weeks ago, the difference in the place that I saw four years ago.

“When you see a different place, you see so many changes, the vibrancy, the energy around the event. Joshua and Usyk were shooting the promo in the square, and people were excited. Prince Khalid [bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud], my good friend who really drives boxing in Saudi Arabia, has a vision for the sport and a love for the sport. And I know how much he cares for the sport. And that matters to me.”

Hearn sees that his aim to get his fighters the best possible fight deals aligns with Saudi’s own desire to promote the sport and, eventually, produce world-class boxers of its own.

“You must always try and get the fighters the best deal because it is a dangerous sport,” Hearn said. “But it’s more than that. There’s a real movement for boxing in Saudi Arabia, and we’re behind it, and I think next week you’re going to see not just a tremendous event but interest from the public there also. And as participation levels increase at a grassroots level, you’re going to start seeing fighters emerge. And when you see fighters emerge, that’s when everything will change there. Can you imagine how big it could be if a fighter went on and won an Olympic medal or won a world championship? It would be huge.”

Saturday night’s card in Jeddah will see the super lightweight Saudi-Egyptian fighter Ziyad Al-Maayouf take on Mexico’s Jose Alatorre.

“You need local fighters,” said Hearn. “It’s all very well coming to Saudi Arabia to say we are developing boxing in the region. But what are we developing? Boxing is so important on so many levels for young people. Fitness, mental health, physical health, discipline and respect. But you still want talent coming through. There’s no reason why over the years, if the coaching is good enough, we can’t see some good fighters emerge. It’s very important that you see those young fighters coming through.”

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic may have somewhat stalled the rise of boxing in Saudi Arabia, but Hearn believes the time is right to kick-start its growth again.

“The commercial interest, the participation interest, the interest from the public is getting bigger all the time,” he said. “When we filmed the promo in the square, you could see people were genuinely interested. The Ruiz fight did a lot for boxing in the Kingdom, but we lost a bit of momentum because of the pandemic. But interest is there, from a public perspective, from a commercial perspective, and it's a huge event in Saudi next Saturday.”

As a message to the fans, Hearn has promised a spectacular event on the Red Sea.

“Just enjoy. We’re desperate for Joshua to win,” he said. “He’s obviously a friend of ours, and we’ve been with him for his professional debut, but Usyk is, pound for pound, great. It’s going to be a tremendous fight, it’s going to be a tremendous atmosphere. It’s the World Heavyweight Championship. And we can’t wait to put on a huge event in Saudi Arabia next Saturday.”