Tennis star Ons Jabeur is ‘boosting sport in Arab and African countries’

Tennis star Ons Jabeur is ‘boosting sport in Arab and African countries’
Tunisian tennis superstar Ons Jabeur ‘is under a lot of pressure, but she is playing wonderfully, and her style suits grass,’ according to a sport analyst. (AFP)
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Updated 28 June 2022

Tennis star Ons Jabeur is ‘boosting sport in Arab and African countries’

Tennis star Ons Jabeur is ‘boosting sport in Arab and African countries’
  • Abundance of talent but development needed, says Emirati tennis pundit Khalid Al-Ali
  • Veteran commentator outlines his thoughts on Wimbledon title contenders this year

DUBAI: Only hours before Tunisian tennis superstar Ons Jabeur launched her Wimbledon 2022 campaign against Sweden’s Mirjam Bjorklund, she was confirmed as world number two, the highest ranking of her career.

It was also the highest ever for an African or Arab tennis player, female or male.

For Emirati tennis pundit Khalid Al-Ali, Jabeur and other female players from North Africa are helping to raise the profile and popularity of tennis like never before.

“You can split the Arab world in two, and the Maghreb countries, like Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, in addition to Egypt, are very advanced in tennis,” he said. “As well as Ons, there is the Egyptian player Mayar Sherif, who has ranked in the sixties. And that is also proof that women’s tennis is more advanced at this point in time than the men’s, where no one has reached these levels.”

As a tennis lover, Al-Ali enjoys, in particular at this time of the year, the established traditions that Wimbledon holds dear, and the intense rivalry on court for the men’s and women’s titles, which is this year tinged by a possible changing of the guard and politics.

“Wimbledon started in 1877, it has such rich heritage,” he said. “Traditions such as wearing all white, and having no advertising hoarding around the courts, have been maintained until now. There are changes this year, however. Players used to enter the courts from the side but this year there is a new tradition and the players will be making their entrance from the middle of the court.

“Also, it’s the first time that Wimbledon’s center court has been opened for practice before the start of the tournament. Traditionally, no one was allowed to step on (center) court before the first official match, so those are two new additions.”

But perhaps the biggest change this year is one of personnel.

“For the first time in 24 years, Roger Federer will miss the championship,” said Al-Ali. “So that differentiates this edition, as does the banning of Russian players. For that reason, the ATP has withdrawn all points that would have been awarded, as they see that as politics interfering with sports.

In Federer’s absence, eyes will, once again, inevitably turn to reigning champion Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, now ranked third and fourth in the world.

“Djokovic has won the last three tournaments, and logically, on grass he is the first seed,” Al-Ali said. “After that as always, Nadal, even when we don’t consider him a favorite, imposes himself on the tournament like we saw in Roland Garros. Before Roland Garros he had lost in Roma to Denis Shapovalov, the Canadian.

“And there were doubts that it would be his last tournament, as his body can’t take the injuries anymore. But he won it and now his confidence is high, and he hopes to achieve something that Novak almost managed but couldn’t. That is the Golden Grand Slam, winning all four (majors) in the same year. He’s already won in Australia and Roland Garros. He enters Wimbledon with his dream still alive.”

“Last year Djokovic won the Australian Open, then Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and headed to the US Open with high hopes of achieving something that only Rod Laver, the Australian player, had managed. He did it twice, once before professionalism, which did not count in the record books, but he came back to do it again after the Second World War.”

Djokovic lost the US Open final in straight sets to Daniil Medvedev. That setback and the unsavory episode at the Australian Open — when he was detained because he had not been vaccinated for COVID-19 — were big blows to his morale.

“But he has a great chance to hit back at Wimbledon,” Al-Ali said. “Also among the favorites will be (Stefanos) Tsitsipas, (Matteo) Berrettini, who won two grass tournaments this year, and who was the losing Wimbledon finalist last year against Djokovic. You can narrow it down to those players.”

“Andy Murray returns as a wild card as he has low ranking,” Al-Ali added. “Physically he might not be ready, but playing in front of his crowd could see (him) adapt.”

In the women’s competition, Wimbledon welcomes back the great Serena Williams, who, with 23 Grand Slam titles, still has hopes of equaling the women’s record of 24 held by Margaret Court.

“Serena Williams returns as a wild card after a long absence,” said Al-Ali. “She played a doubles (game) with Ons Jabeur at Eastbourne, where they reached the semifinal, but Ons had to withdraw through injury. It was a slight injury but she didn’t want to aggravate it ahead of Wimbledon.

“Williams looked heavier and was not the Serena we are used to. But she still has a shot or two that’s suited to grass, so she could possibly advance along with the favorites.

“Of course, (world number one) Iga Swiatek is among the favorites, and so is the Swiss player (Belinda) Bencic. And then there is the return of Petra Kvitova who won at Eastbourne, and has been Wimbledon champion twice.”

“In women’s tennis there are always surprises,” Al-Ali said.

Jabeur, though now the world number two is seeded third at Wimbledon, and the Emirati commentator has high hopes for her despite the heightened level of expectation.

“She reached the quarterfinals last year, which was her best performance in a Grand Slam,” said Al-Ali. “She is under a lot of pressure, but she is playing wonderfully, and her style suits grass. We might just see her in the final.”

Another run into the latter rounds, and her army of fans in the Arab world — not to mention her hero status — will continue to grow. For Al-Ali, it is hoped that her achievements, and those of other African Arabs, will one day spread to the rest of the Middle East.

“Geographical location always plays a role, whether in sports or any other field,” he said. “Proximity, costs, mentality, being close to the heart of this sport. It’s a sport that started in France and was then (organized by the) English. At its heart, there is a certain lifestyle, many sacrifices for the players, especially female players. But we see the Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians and Egyptians excel in this sport. And of course the size of the population is a factor. They have experienced this education earlier than in this region.”

In the UAE and the GCC, the popularity of tennis continues to grow, thanks to the increasing numbers of events taking place, he said.

“Thankfully, things are improving here. All the world’s best players come here to Dubai, so the popularity of the sport has increased,” said Al-Ali. “What Ons is doing is similar to what happened in China. China is a massive and great country, but tennis only became popular after Li Na won two Grand Slams, at Roland Garros and the Australian Open. After that, the country started to pay attention.”

“So we hope that with Ons Jabeur, and after the rise of the three Moroccans Karim Alami, Hicham Arazi and Younes El Aynaoui, more will come,” he added. “There is Abdullah Shelbayh from Jordan who is playing at junior level at Wimbledon, and has won the doubles there. He trains at Rafael Nadal’s academy, I have high hope for him.”

With the right backing and funding, Al-Ali is certain the future will see more Arab tennis players follow in Jabeur’s footsteps.

“We are always optimistic,” he said. “We have a beautiful academy in Fujairah, established by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, and I’m on the board of directors there. When Ons Jabeur was a junior she played in the tournament there after it entered the ITF ranks, and Alexander Zverev won at Fujairah as well.

“We are no strangers to organizing the best tournaments in this region, what we have to do now is introduce development programs, we don’t have any clear programs at the moment. Also there is a lack of equality in funding between sports. We have to make sure individual sports like tennis are backed just like football.”

Lukaku nets seconds into Inter return at Lecce

Lukaku nets seconds into Inter return at Lecce
Updated 20 sec ago

Lukaku nets seconds into Inter return at Lecce

Lukaku nets seconds into Inter return at Lecce
LECCE, Italy: Romelu Lukaku made a dream start to his return to Inter Milan on Saturday after scoring less than two minutes into the Serie A club’s season opener at Lecce.
Belgium forward Lukaku nodded home from close range with just 81 seconds gone to give Inter the lead at the Stadio Via del mare as they begin their bid to reclaim the Scudetto from local rivals AC Milan, 4-2 winners over Udinese earlier on Saturday.
The 29-year-old had the easiest task to open his account for the campaign after Matteo Darmian knocked Federico Dimarco’s cross straight into his path.
Lukaku reportedly took a pay cut to 8.5 million euros for the coming campaign to get out of Chelsea.
He performed poorly in England and enraged Chelsea fans by saying in an interview with Sky Sport Italia that he wanted to return to Inter, where he won the Serie A title in 2021 and scored 64 times in 95 games over two years.
That move came sooner than expected, with Inter paying an initial eight million euros plus a potential three million in bonuses for the loan.
Italian media report that Inter and Chelsea have a gentleman’s agreement that the loan could be extended for another season should the move work out.
After the deal was done his lawyer Sebastien Ledure said that “anything can happen” between now and the end of next season.

’Emotional’ Werner scores for Leipzig on Bundesliga return

’Emotional’ Werner scores for Leipzig on Bundesliga return
Updated 9 min 4 sec ago

’Emotional’ Werner scores for Leipzig on Bundesliga return

’Emotional’ Werner scores for Leipzig on Bundesliga return
  • Leipzig played the majority of the game with 10 men
  • Leipzig's record goal-scorer Timo Werner put his side ahead in the 36th minute

BERLIN: Former Chelsea striker Timo Werner found the back of the net on an emotional return to Leipzig, but it was not enough to secure their first win of the season as Cologne snatched a 2-2 draw on Saturday.
Leipzig played the majority of the game with 10 men, after Hungary midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai received a straight red card for an elbow to the throat of Cologne’s Florian Kainz just before half time.
Werner left Leipzig for London in 2020 before returning earlier this week in a £25 million ($30.2 million, 29.5 million euros) deal.
Leipzig’s record goal-scorer put his side ahead in the 36th minute, when goalkeeper Marvin Schwaebe let Werner’s long-distance strike dip under his body and trickle across the line.
Cologne equalized just four minutes later however, when striker Florian Dietz dinked in from close range to chalk up his first ever Bundesliga goal.
French forward Christopher Nkunku gave the home side the lead in the 56th minute, but Cologne were able to equalize with 20 minutes to go through a clumsy own goal from Leipzig’s Josko Gvardiol.
After the game, Werner — who was subbed off to warm applause in the 68th minute — said he was “very emotional” to return.
“It was something special for me, to return after two years.”
“Leipzig is always a part of me. I grew up here and I got my first Germany call up here.”
The 26-year-old, however, was less enamoured of the result which means Leipzig have drawn their opening two matches.
“When you see how we’ve lost points this season, it’s really bitter.
“Considering we were playing with a man down for so long, 2-2 is acceptable, but for our aims (this season), it’s far from satisfactory,” he said.
In Saturday’s late game, Schalke secured a last-minute 2-2 draw with Borussia Moenchengladbach when Marius Buelter converted a penalty in injury time.
Schalke opened the scoring in the 29th minute thanks to a stunning solo goal from Rodrigo Zalazar, who dribbled the ball from halfway before scoring via a long-range strike from the edge of the penalty box.
Jonas Hofmann — fresh off a midweek contract extension — skidded the ball over the line in the 27th minute, before France’s Marcus Thuram put Gladbach in front just six minutes later.
Gladbach winger Patrick Herrmann was adjudged to have handballed in the penalty area in injury time, giving Buelter the chance to convert from the spot.
Schalke striker Simon Terodde summed up his side’s emotional full-time celebrations.
“The people here — they’ve missed us,” he said.
“It’s beautiful that we could give them a point in the 93rd minute.”
Werder Bremen snatched a late point at home against Stuttgart through a 95th minute goal from Scottish winger Oliver Burke.
Bremen’s two-pronged attack of Niclas Fuellkrug and Marvin Ducksch again combined, putting the home side in the fourth minute.
Stuttgart equalized in the 38th minute through Wataru Endo and took the lead with just over ten to play through Silas Katompa Mvumpa, before Burke won a point for Bremen late.
Augsburg won 2-1 away at Bayer Leverkusen thanks to an 82nd minute goal from Andre Hahn, deepening the winless Leverkusen’s woes after their early German Cup exit.
In the German capital, under pressure Hertha Berlin drew 1-1 with Eintracht Frankfurt. Frankfurt had a late penalty overturned on VAR and Hertha held on to pick up their first point of the season.
In Sinsheim, Hoffenheim came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 against an impressive Bochum, thanks to goals from former Liverpool defender Ozan Kabak, Christoph Baumgartner and an 88th minute header from Munas Dabbur.
On Friday, Dortmund scored three goals in the last 15 minutes away at Freiburg to win 3-1.
On Sunday, Wolfsburg travel to Bayern Munich while Mainz are at home to Union Berlin.

Gabriel Jesus scores 2 in Arsenal’s 4-2 win over Leicester

Gabriel Jesus scores 2 in Arsenal’s 4-2 win over Leicester
Updated 44 min 37 sec ago

Gabriel Jesus scores 2 in Arsenal’s 4-2 win over Leicester

Gabriel Jesus scores 2 in Arsenal’s 4-2 win over Leicester
  • The Brazil striker marked his home debut for Arsenal with two goals and two assists
  • “He was really disappointed in the dressing room, because he said he could have scored four,” said Mikel Arteta

LONDON: Gabriel Jesus didn’t take long to make an impression at Emirates Stadium.
The Brazil striker marked his home debut for Arsenal with two goals and two assists in a 4-2 win against Leicester in the Premier League on Saturday.
But apparently it wasn’t enough for Jesus himself.
“He was really disappointed in the dressing room, because he said he could have scored four,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said. “I wouldn’t like to play against him as a defender. He’s so mobile, so intuitive, always sharp.”
The 25-year-old Jesus, who joined from Manchester City as Arsenal’s marquee summer signing so far, opened his account for the Gunners in the 23rd minute with a brilliant, curling finish. He got his second in the 35th from a header and had several chances to finish the game with a hat trick.
The two times Leicester found a foothold in the match, Arsenal struck back right away.
The visitors made it 2-1 from an own goal by William Saliba in the 53rd, but Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka restored the home side’s two-goal cushion two minutes later. Xhaka scored after Jesus poked a loose ball into his path when Leicester goalkeeper Danny Ward failed to hold on to a routine cross into the box and collided with defender Wesley Fofana.
Leicester attacking midfielder James Maddison made it 3-2 in the 74th when he sent a low shot through the legs of Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.
A nervous murmur went through the crowd, but the Arsenal team didn’t panic as they did in similar situations in recent seasons. Jesus drove forward just a minute later and squared the ball to forward Gabriel Martinelli, who fired a left-footed shot from just outside the area to beat Ward at the back post to make it 4-2.
“It was a bit of a mixed bag for us today,” Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said. “There were good moments. But in key moments of the game, we made mistakes.”
Leicester also had a penalty decision overturned just before halftime after the referee first pointed to the spot and then was asked to review a coming together of Ramsdale and Leicester forward Jamie Vardy in the box.
On a hot day when the mercury hit around 33 C (91 F), six goals and the pace of the game took a lot out of the players and water breaks were needed in each half. The result means that Arsenal have won both of their opening league games, with Leicester drawing their first match.
Jesus was the focus of Arsenal’s attack throughout the game, with teammates trying to get him the ball at every opportunity. For his first goal, he took one touch after receiving a pass from Xhaka, set himself and then bent a shot that took a slight deflection to sail in past Ward.
Jesus got a bit of help for his second from Vardy. The Leicester forward flicked the ball backward across the face of goal from a corner, and Jesus headed into an empty net at the back post.
The striker nearly scored a hat trick before halftime when he dominated Leicester defender Jonny Evans with his back to goal, spun around him into the box and fired a low shot saved by Ward. He had multiple chances in the second half as well.
The challenge for Arsenal when it comes to Jesus will be keeping him fit throughout the course of the season since he wasn’t used to playing in every match during his time at Manchester City.
“We have to manage that load,” Arteta said. “We have to be on top of that.”
But the manager said Jesus has already lifted the standards among the team in training and with the way he connects with his teammates.
Jesus says he’s enjoying being Arsenal’s No. 9, but he doesn’t harbor any bad feelings against his former club.
“I was not unhappy at City,” he said. “I just want to play. I understand the club, I understand the manager. But you know sometimes players want to play. And I’m the same. And here I come and I train every day.”
Unlike Arsenal, Leicester have been very quiet in the transfer market and will look to hold onto key players like Fofana and Maddison, who are attracting interest from other clubs. The team only announced their first signing of the transfer window on the eve of Saturday’s match. Alex Smithies, a 32-year-old backup goalkeeper who most recently played for Cardiff, signed with the Foxes on a two-year deal.
Rodgers hopes the transfer rumors involving some of his players doesn’t infect the team as a whole.
“I think it’s difficult for the young players,” he said. “But you could see the spirit in the team today. The players kept going right until the end.”

Man United bottom of Premier League after 4-0 thrashing by Brentford

Man United bottom of Premier League after 4-0 thrashing by Brentford
Updated 13 August 2022

Man United bottom of Premier League after 4-0 thrashing by Brentford

Man United bottom of Premier League after 4-0 thrashing by Brentford
  • The former Ajax boss' reign began with Brighton's first ever win at Old Trafford last weekend
  • The jubilant home support taunted Ten Hag with chants of "you're getting sacked in the morning"

LONDON: Erik ten Hag’s bad start as Manchester United manager descended into an embarrassment as a 4-0 thrashing by Brentford on Saturday left the Red Devils bottom of the Premier League.
The former Ajax boss’ reign began with Brighton’s first ever win at Old Trafford last weekend, but much worse was to come as the Bees punished a series of errors to score four times in the first 35 minutes.
Josh Dasilva’s strike slipped through David de Gea’s grasp to open the floodgates before Mathias Jensen pounced on United’s attempt to play out from the back to make it 2-0 inside 18 minutes.
Ben Mee then exposed the visitors’ frailty from set-pieces for his first Brentford goal and Bryan Mbuemo rounded off a stunning counter-attack 10 minutes before half-time to sink United to the bottom of the table for the first time in 30 years.
The jubilant home support taunted Ten Hag with chants of “you’re getting sacked in the morning.”
But the Dutch coach has inherited a rabble rather than being the root cause as United lost a seventh consecutive away league match for the first time since 1936.
That run included shipping four goals at Manchester City, Liverpool and Brighton last season.
The arrival of £57 million ($69 million) center-back Lisandro Martinez from Ajax has done little to shore up United’s leaky defense and questions will be asked of why Ten Hag has left Raphael Varane on the bench in favor of the Argentine and the out-of-sorts Harry Maguire.
Ten Hag did recall Cristiano Ronaldo to the starting line-up, but the wantaway five-time Ballon d’Or winner played a part in the opening goal.
Ronaldo went to ground too easily seeking a foul as he was surrounded by Brentford bodies. Dasilva’s shot should still have been a comfortable save for De Gea, but the ball squirmed underneath the Spaniard.
De Gea compounded that mistake eight minutes later with an attempted pass to Christian Eriksen, who was outmuscled by his former teammate Jensen, and the Dane coolly slotted home to double Brentford’s lead.
Martinez’s diminutive 5ft 9in (1.8m) frame was raised as a red flag for his ability to adapt to the physicality of the Premier League.
And the Argentine was beaten at the back post by Mee for the third goal after Ivan Toney headed a corner across goal.
Credit to Brentford in just their second season in the English top-flight for 75 years may get swept away in the waves of criticism coming United’s way.
But Thomas Frank’s men produced a stunning move to tear United open again for their fourth goal.
Toney was released down the left wing and picked out Mbuemo with a precise first-time pass for the Frenchman to race in behind Luke Shaw and finish low past De Gea.
Ten Hag made his feelings clear at the break with a triple substitution with Shaw, Martinez and Fred the scapegoats.
United did at least stop the bleeding after the break and should have had at least one consolation as Ronaldo looped a header over before Eriksen’s header lacked the power to beat David Raya.
The damage, though, was long since done for Ten Hag and worse could still be to come.
United host Liverpool, who beat their historic rivals 5-0 and 4-0 last season, in their next game on August 22.

Eddie Howe admits Newcastle lucky to earn ‘valuable’ point at Brighton

Eddie Howe admits Newcastle lucky to earn ‘valuable’ point at Brighton
Updated 51 min 52 sec ago

Eddie Howe admits Newcastle lucky to earn ‘valuable’ point at Brighton

Eddie Howe admits Newcastle lucky to earn ‘valuable’ point at Brighton
  • The Magpies were lucky to play out a 0-0 draw on the south coast of England
  • United chief admits he was pleased with the spirit shown by the dressing room to grind out result

BRIGHTON: Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe has admitted the Magpies rode their luck in their draw at Brighton — although he was pleased to get another Premier League point on the board.

The Magpies were lucky to play out a 0-0 draw on the south coast of England with Graham Potter’s Seagulls dominating Newcastle as both sides continued their unbeaten start to the Premier League season.

It was a far from vintage show by Howe’s players, but the United chief admits he was pleased with the spirit shown by the dressing room to grind out a positive, if arguably undeserved, share of the spoils.

“I am always disappointed not to win but very pleased with a point in the end, especially after the second-half,” he said.

“I thought it was a difficult second-half, Brighton played very well. We rode our luck at times but dug in and showed a great spirit and unity.

“We got a valuable point.”

Former Seagulls defender Dan Burn, as well as United keeper Nick Pope, were the stand out performers for the Magpies — and both had to be at their very best to keep Potter's men at bay.

And while Pope was brought in to produce the kind of saves he did at the Amex Stadium, Burn was not added to the group to play left back, which he did at Brighton.

“I thought Dan did great today,” said Howe.

“It was very difficult. Although it’s a small transition across the pitch, it’s a huge one at the same time. He hadn’t played left-back for a long time but I thought he did very well against his former team.

“He put in one crucial block that saved us at a key time in the game.

“Overall, very pleased with his performance and his attitude to doing that position.”

Pope made three or four top class saves to deny Brighton three points on the day and further his England ambitions with a flashy show.

"I just thought he was top class and he has been since he came to the club,” said Howe.

"He is a very relaxed figure, very confident in the dressing room. He’s got a real calmness about him.

"The save from Adam Lallana was top class. Not just that save, he made a number of really important ones for us. I think he showed his importance to us this season.”

In a rare moment of forward threat, Callum Wilson did see a goal disallowed for a high foot in the opening exchanges. It was a controversial call from Graham Scott — and one Howe questioned.

"I’d need to see it again. My initial reaction was I thought it was harsh and given too quickly,” he said.

"The decision could have been let go to see what VAR said but it wasn’t to be. We had a number of moments in that first-half. We had some really good attacks, threatened on the counter-attack and in transitions we were very strong.

"For large parts, the last action wasn’t decisive enough. Unfortunately none of those attacks came to much.”

Meanwhile, Howe has explained the reason why Scotland international winger Ryan Fraser was not in the Newcastle squad for the game.

He said: "He had a slight back spasm on Thursday and Friday. He was close to making the game.”

Matt Targett, another absentee, is expected to be fit for next week’s visit of Manchester City to St James’ Park, having missed this one with a dead leg.