December dates set for return of Mubadala World Tennis Championship

December dates set for return of Mubadala World Tennis Championship
The region’s Mubadala World Tennis Championship will return to Abu Dhabi’s sporting and entertainment calendar from Dec. 16-18. (Supplied)
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Updated 26 August 2022

December dates set for return of Mubadala World Tennis Championship

December dates set for return of Mubadala World Tennis Championship

The region’s Mubadala World Tennis Championship will return to Abu Dhabi’s sporting and entertainment calendar from Dec. 16-18.

Championship owners Flash Entertainment have confirmed the tournament dates, and  sports fans can secure the best available seats at the International Tennis Center in Zayed Sports City by visiting https://www.mubadalawtc.com to pre-register and be the first to know when tickets are released. Those who sign-up for pre-registration will also automatically enter a draw to win Mubadala signed merchandise.

An impressive player field will be announced in the coming months. Six of the world’s top male tennis players and two of the game’s top female players will go head-to-head during three days of top-class tennis action in the UAE capital.

“The Mubadala World Tennis Championship has grown in popularity over the years, evolving into one of the world’s most sought-after tennis events and earning a prestigious place in the international sports calendar,” said John Lickrish, CEO of Flash Entertainment. “The championship returns with the world’s best tennis players and passionate fans poised to descend upon Abu Dhabi for an exhilarating three-day tennis event.

“Each year, we strive to improve so that we can give every member of our audience — from tennis fans, families and international visitors — a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The 14th edition of the championship will once again feature the sport’s best male and female players and we are paying special attention this year to our off-court entertainment. We hope these enhancements will provide a truly unique experience for tennis aficionados, sports fans and families alike, so stay tuned for further details.

“The championship will feature engaging fan activations in addition to a variety of exciting and entertaining activities for sports enthusiasts. Top-seeded players will join ticket holders for meet-and-greet events, affording spectators a chance to interact with their sporting heroes.”

Homaid Al-Shimmari, deputy group CEO of Mubadala Investment Company, said: “We prioritize strategic partnerships that make a positive impact on local and global communities. We are proud to sponsor the 14th edition of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, the region’s premier tennis competition, which highlights our contributions to bringing world-class sports events to Abu Dhabi while promoting a healthy and active lifestyle. We look forward to seeing another exciting championship.”

Last year, Russian Andrey Rublev beat Andy Murray in the final in straight sets to win his first Mubadala title. Tunisia’s most successful female tennis player, Ons Jabeur, defeated Olympic Gold medalist Belinda Bencic to become the first Arab to compete in, and win, the championship. Jabeur then followed up her Abu Dhabi success by reaching this year’s Wimbledon final at SW19.


Inaugural Abu Dhabi Open kicks off incredible three-week WTA swing in the Arabian Gulf

Inaugural Abu Dhabi Open kicks off incredible three-week WTA swing in the Arabian Gulf
Updated 05 February 2023

Inaugural Abu Dhabi Open kicks off incredible three-week WTA swing in the Arabian Gulf

Inaugural Abu Dhabi Open kicks off incredible three-week WTA swing in the Arabian Gulf
  • No shortage of top talent throughout the Middle East swing beginning with Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI: Women’s professional tennis will take over the Gulf region this month with the world’s best players set to compete in tournaments in Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai over the course of the next three weeks.

From world No.1 Iga Swiatek, to Tunisian trailblazer Ons Jabeur, to the recently-crowned Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, there will be no shortage of top talent throughout this Middle East swing.

Here’s a look at some of the main storylines heading into this exciting three-week stretch.

Abu Dhabi enters the ring

While this isn’t the first time the UAE capital is hosting a WTA tournament, it’s the first time the emirate has been given a permanent slot on the women’s tennis calendar.

Abu Dhabi came to the rescue at the start of the 2021 season when the tour needed a place that could stage an event during the pandemic.

A one-year license was given to Abu Dhabi and the tournament was held behind closed doors.

Things are different this time around. The Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open is meant to be a regular fixture on the WTA calendar and its introduction this season (from February 5-12) has made way for a three-week Middle East swing set to take place in February every year.

Jabeur was meant to be the main star attraction this week in the UAE capital, given her popularity in the region as the highest-ranked Arab player in history. The Tunisian was forced to withdraw though due to a knee injury but her name is still on the entry lists for Doha and Dubai.

A stellar week of tennis is still guaranteed in Abu Dhabi with three top-10 players – Daria Kasatkina, Belinda Bencic and Elena Rybakina – headlining a strong field at the inaugural WTA 500 event at Zayed Sports City.

Popcorn first rounds in the capital

The stacked draw in Abu Dhabi has resulted in some incredible match-ups from the get-go.

In a showdown between two ex-world No.1s, Spanish wildcard Garbine Muguruza will take on Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova in the opening round. The winner of this clash will square off against reigning Wimbledon champion Rybakina.

Former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko will commence her campaign against 2022 Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins, while former world No.2 Paula Badosa kicks off her Abu Dhabi journey against Russian world No.19 Liudmila Samsonova.

Sabalenka on a streak

With an 11-0 win-loss record for the season, and two titles under her belt, including a maiden Grand Slam crown at the Australian Open, Sabalenka will have all eyes on her when she touches down in the Middle East to take part in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (begins February 19).

The Belarusian world No.2 has tasted success in the Gulf in the past, having lifted trophies in Abu Dhabi in 2021 and in Doha in 2020, but will be seeking a maiden triumph in Dubai.

Swiatek back to defend Doha title

The Qatar Open was where Swiatek began her incredible 37-match winning streak last year and the top-ranked Pole will make a return to the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex, searching for a first title of the season.

Swiatek’s banner 2022 saw her capture eight titles, including two Grand Slams, but her 2023 campaign has yet to gather steam as she lost with Poland in the United Cup semi-finals in Australia last month, before falling to Rybakina in the Australian Open fourth round.

Swiatek is also scheduled to compete in the WTA 1000 tournament in Dubai, where all members of the world’s top-10 – and 19 of the world’s top-20 – are down to take part.

Ostapenko searches for Dubai repeat

A stellar effort from Ostapenko saw her grab the title in Dubai last year with victory over Veronika Kudermetova in the final, a win that allowed the Latvian to return to the top-20 for the first time since October 2018.

Ostapenko defeated four fellow Grand Slam champions en route to the 2022 Dubai crown – Sofia Kenin, Swiatek, Petra Kvitova, and Simona Halep – and she came back from a set down in three of those encounters.

She will be looking to become the first back-to-back women’s champion in Dubai since Elina Svitolina pulled off a double in 2017 and 2018.

The fiery French Open winner has a positive start to her 2023, reaching the quarter-finals at the Australian Open last month.

Mirza all set for career finale

Indian tennis icon Sania Mirza will contest the last two tournaments of her professional career in Abu Dhabi, alongside Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and Dubai, alongside Madison Keys.

A former doubles world No.1, who peaked at 27 in the world in singles back in 2007, Mirza will bid farewell to the tour after a trailblazing 20-year professional career.

The 36-year-old initially intended to retire from tennis at the end of last season but an elbow injury ruled her out of the US Open and ended her 2022 prematurely.

A six-time major champion across doubles and mixed doubles, Mirza almost added a seventh Grand Slam trophy to her resume last month when she reached the mixed doubles final at the Australian Open alongside her compatriot Rohan Bopanna.

Mirza, who is a Dubai resident, will say her final goodbye at the DDF Tennis Championships, where thousands of her adoring fans will undoubtedly show up for her swan song.


Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup

Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup
Updated 04 February 2023

Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup

Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup
  • Afsha scored after coming on as a substitute in the 63rd
  • He lifted Al-Ahly into the semifinals for the third straight year

TANGIER, Morocco: Mohammed Afsha scored on a deflected shot in the 88th minute and sent Al-Ahly into the Club World Cup semifinals by beating the Seattle Sounders 1-0 on Saturday.
Afsha scored after coming on as a substitute in the 63rd. He lifted Al-Ahly into the semifinals for the third straight year, and brought an abrupt end to the first appearance by a team from the United States in the competition.
His initial shot from outside the penalty area hit the crossbar. Seattle were unable to clear the danger and Afsha’s second attempt deflected off defender Alex Roldan and bounded past goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
It was the only shot on target by the Egyptian club as both sides played a heavily defensive game where chances at goal were limited.
Al-Ahly will face Real Madrid in the semifinals next Wednesday in Rabat. Al-Ahly have not lost a match in any competition since Aug. 27 in the Egyptian Premier League.
Al-Ahly have finished third in each of the past two Club World Cups but have never made the final.
Seattle were the first club from Major League Soccer to take part in the Club World Cup after winning the CONCACAF Champions League last May. The Sounders carried hopes of advancing through their first match and playing at least three matches at the event.
But while Seattle were excellent defensively, they lacked quality chances on attack. Seattle finished with just one shot on goal, a speculative attempt from defensive midfielder Josh Atencio early in the second half.
“I thought we were good. I thought we were evenly matched. A couple of chances. But the deflection on the goal, it’s unfortunate,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said.
Seattle were playing their first competitive match in 3 ½ months while the rest of MLS was going through preseason preparations. The Sounders’ previous match was last October and the team gathered for MLS preseason camp in early January.
“They put everything into the game. They put everything into preseason,” Schmetzer said.


Ancer leading the charge to glory in PIF Saudi International

Mexico’s Abraham Ancer holds the lead at the PIF Saudi International for the third consecutive day
Mexico’s Abraham Ancer holds the lead at the PIF Saudi International for the third consecutive day
Updated 04 February 2023

Ancer leading the charge to glory in PIF Saudi International

Mexico’s Abraham Ancer holds the lead at the PIF Saudi International for the third consecutive day

JEDDAH: Mexico’s Abraham Ancer holds the lead at the PIF Saudi International for the third consecutive day after following up a 63 and 66 with a flawless third round 64, progressing to 17-under-par and two shots clear of Cameron Young, who sits third place at five shots back.

Ancer, bidding to be the first player to win the Saudi tournament wire to wire, looked unstoppable at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club as he posted another bogey-free round with six birdies spread equally across the front and back nine.

“Another very solid round. Happy with no dropped shots. That’s always my goal. On a golf course like this where it’s blowing pretty good, I’m really, really happy,” he said.

“My ball striking has definitely been on, and I’ve been rolling it really nice all week. Extremely happy. Not really focused on what everybody else is doing. Just trying to play the same game I’ve been playing the past three days,” he added.

Young has now posted three straight rounds of five-under-par 65’s, enough to take sole place of second, two shots back.

“I think I’ve played really solidly,” he said. “Obviously, Abe’s playing some really nice golf. So, I think tomorrow will be fun. If the wind is similar to today, it will probably take a 62, 63 or 64 because I don’t see Abraham shooting anything bad.”

Making his intentions clear, Young ended with “I’ll hit a lot of drivers and try to make a bunch of birdies.”

A fascinating two horse race is set for Sunday between a pair who have completely contrasting styles, which was so clearly evident on the par-five 18th today.

Ancer laid up to about 100 yards but nailed his approach to five feet and holed out, while Young airmailed the green with his second shot, using an iron, but was only able to make par.

Young is a further five shots ahead of third place, where American Matthew Wolff (63), Australian Lucas Herbert (67), and Thailand’s Sadom Kaewkanjana (68) all sit.

American Matthew Wolff made the most of moving day matching Ancer’s tournament low from round one of a 7-under-par 63, set up by a front nine six-under-par 29.

Following the round, the 23-year-old said: “It felt easy. It felt like I'm finally starting to hit my driver the way I'm looking to. It's such a weapon on this golf course when I'm hitting it where I want to. I'm having short clubs in and I can kind of attack these flags. I felt really good with every part of my game.”

He continued: “But I think it was the putting. I made quite a few putts out there today and didn't the first couple of days. I think that was definitely the difference. It seemed like it all came together nicely for me today.”

Jason Kokrak sits a further shot back alone in sixth, followed by Mito Pererira, Paul Casey, and Marc Leishman.


Klopp at a loss to explain ‘unacceptable’ Liverpool form

Klopp at a loss to explain ‘unacceptable’ Liverpool form
Updated 04 February 2023

Klopp at a loss to explain ‘unacceptable’ Liverpool form

Klopp at a loss to explain ‘unacceptable’ Liverpool form
  • The Reds have taken just one point from their last four Premier League games to all
  • "Conceding early goals is not unfamiliar to us but the way we conceded them today was not acceptable," said Klopp

WOLVERHAMPTON, United Kingdom: Jurgen Klopp branded the goals Liverpool conceded in a 3-0 defeat to Wolves as “horrible” with the German admitting to being at a loss to explain his side’s disastrous form.
The Reds have taken just one point from their last four Premier League games to all but end any hope of catching the top four for a place in next season’s Champions League.
Klopp’s men trailed 2-0 inside 12 minutes at Molineux as Joel Matip’s own goal and Craig Dawson’s strike on his debut put Wolves on course to climb out of the relegation zone.
Ruben Neves added a third 19 minutes from time after Liverpool had dominated the early stages of the second half without reward.
“Conceding early goals is not unfamiliar to us but the way we conceded them today was not acceptable,” said Klopp.
“When you see the whole game, throughout the game in moments we played an outstanding game without scoring and a good away game without scoring.
“The third goal I don’t count because it was the first time they passed the halfway line in the second half. The other two goals, going into a game with all the things we said during the week and before the game, then this is the start, is horrible.”
Already out of both domestic cups, Liverpool sit 10th in the Premier League.
The Champions League appears to be their last chance of salvaging their season with a last 16 tie against Real Madrid to come later this month in a repeat of last season’s final.
Klopp’s side came close to winning an unprecedented quadruple of trophies last season.
But he appears incapable of stopping the rot as for the third consecutive away league game, Liverpool conceded three times.
“We better change it. That’s true, 100 percent. I have no words for it really, I’m sorry,” he added.
“You do yourself no favors in these moments, giving easy balls away.
“We were passive in the (first) two goals, everything we wanted to do was be compact and active but we were compact and passive. I can’t explain it. I think why would you do that? But they did it anyway.”


Al-Hilal beat Wydad to reach FIFA Club World Cup semi-finals

Saudi Arabia's World Cup may not have been quite as exciting but the club tournament is going to be much better
Saudi Arabia's World Cup may not have been quite as exciting but the club tournament is going to be much better
Updated 04 February 2023

Al-Hilal beat Wydad to reach FIFA Club World Cup semi-finals

Saudi Arabia's World Cup may not have been quite as exciting but the club tournament is going to be much better
  • The 5-3 penalty shootout win after 1-1 draw means the Saudi giants will now face Brazil’s Flamengo on Tuesday

RABAT: The drums rang loud for Morocco's Wydad AC on a sunny and dramatic Saturday afternoon in Rabat at the FIFA Club World Cup, but they were ultimately silenced by Al-Hilal’s Musab Al-Juwayr.

The teenage midfielder scored the final kick to win a  penalty shootout 5-3 for the Saudi Arabian giants after the game had ended 1-1. The Asian champions go through at the expense of their African counterparts to the  semi-finals and a clash with Brazil’s Flamengo. It should be quite a match if this was anything to go by.

Two hours of action packed football ended 1-1 but there was much more to it than that. A header early in the second half from Wydad's Ayoub Emloud had fans in the North African country as excited as they were during the 2022 World Cup, when Morocco reached the semi-final and became the toast of Qatar.

Saudi Arabia's World Cup may not have been quite as exciting but the club tournament is going to be much better.

One of the few times the home crowd were silenced came in added time as Yahya Jabrane, captain of the African champions, was sent off for protesting at a penalty. Mohamed Kanno fired home the resultant spot kick to send the game into extra-time during which he was also dismissed by the referee.

It was then penalties and Al-Hilal scored all theirs, while Wydad missed one.

For a long time however, it look as if the 18-time Saudi champions were going home in a clash that kept the 45,000 capacity crowd at Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium entertained. The arena may be in Rabat but it certainly felt and, more importantly, sounded like a home match in Casablanca for the Moroccan powerhouse. The red wall behind the goals rarely stopped bouncing and singing to roar the team in white forward.

It seemed to work as Wydad started brightly in the opening exchanges and looked dangerous especially from set pieces with Yahya Jabrane firing over from a free-kick. 

Indeed, the pressure seemed to have paid off after 19 minutes when they thought they had taken the lead as Jalal Daoudi swept the ball home from close range. The veteran midfielder was, however, correctly adjudged to have been offside from the assistant referee.

Al-Hilal’s first real attempt on goal came after 23 minutes but Nasser Al-Dawsari sent a free-kick from a dangerous position well over the bar.

As the half progressed, Al-Hilal got into the game more though the home team continued to have better chances such as the attempt on the stroke of half-time. Wydad’s new Cameroonian forward Didier Lamkel Ze sent over a fine cross from the left but Ayoub El-Amloud was unable to get enough on it and the defender’s glancing header went wide.

Al-Hilal came close right after the restart. A Salem Al-Dawsari corner from the right fell to Ali Al-Buhali and his snap shot from close range was cleared off the line by Lamkel Ze.

In the 51st minute, Wydad’s eighth corner kick made the difference as El-Amloud rose at the far post to send a powerful header past Abdullah Al-Mayouf.

The Asian champions sprung into action but struggled to turn pressure into chances, though they came close with 20 minutes remaining when Odion Ighalo’s shot from close range was well-saved by Ahmed Reda Tagnaouti and Salem Al-Dawsari’s follow-up was blocked on the line by Amine Farhane.

Al-Hilal, who have never progressed past the semi-finals at this tournament, pushed forward in search of an equaliser and the chance came at the end of normal time as they were awarded a penalty thanks to a handball in the area. Wydad’s captain Jabrane was booked twice in quick succession and was sent off.

Amid the furore, Kanno kept his cool to slot the ball straight down the middle and suddenly the impetus had swung in favor of the Asian champions and Luciano Vietto almost won the game in the eighth minute of injury time as the Argentine’s free-kick was pushed away by the goalkeeper. 

The Riyadh giants could not get the winner before extra-time and when the game restarted they were soon reduced to 10 men themselves as Kanno was given a second yellow card for a foul.

And then it was five penalties each. After Moussa Marega scored the opener for Al-Hilal, Yahia Attiyat Allah’s shot hit both posts but did not go in and Wydad were in trouble. Vietto,  Saleh Al-Shehri and then Abdullah Al-Hamdan scored for the Riyadh club to leave substitute Al-Jawary to deliver the glory and a ticket to the last four.