Indian tennis superstar Sania Mirza wants to inspire young athletes at Dubai academy

Indian tennis superstar Sania Mirza wants to inspire young athletes at Dubai academy
Sania Mirza has spent the past year setting up her tennis academy in the UAE, where she hopes to encourage a new generation of young athletes. (Supplied)
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Updated 19 October 2022

Indian tennis superstar Sania Mirza wants to inspire young athletes at Dubai academy

Indian tennis superstar Sania Mirza wants to inspire young athletes at Dubai academy
  • Winner of six Grand Slam titles announced her retirement this year, but says she is ‘unsure’ about her plans

KARACHI: When Sania Mirza became the first Indian to win a Women’s Tennis Association event in 2005, the victory marked the beginning of her contributions to several firsts for tennis in the country.

Now, after an illustrious career that has turned Mirza into a symbol of confidence and resilience, the 35-year-old is carving out plans for a future beyond the court, where she hopes to inspire and nurture young talents in the sport she loves.

“For me, playing tennis was not about wanting to be famous one day or getting a lot of wealth; it was my love for it that overtook everything else,” Mirza told Arab News in an exclusive interview.

“If I’m able to inspire even one girl to pick up a tennis racket, it would mean a lot.”

India’s most accomplished woman tennis player said that she has spent the past year setting up her tennis academy in Dubai, after establishing several facilities in her home country.

In the UAE, two chapters are currently up and running, with the newest location, opened earlier this month, located in the Oud Metha area, where many people from the subcontinent reside.

“Dubai is my second home, it has been for a long time,” she said, speaking from her UAE house.

“Our dream is to try to encourage young boys and girls to not just pick up cricket, but to pick up tennis and actually be good at it. Who knows, maybe we’ll have a champion from Dubai someday.”

As her conversation with Arab News briefly touched on the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Mirza said that the British monarch’s passing felt like “an end of a couple of eras.”

“It is definitely sad and I think it was personal on different levels for all of us, for many different reasons. I love royalty, so for me it was heartbreaking.”

Mirza’s own headline-making announcement occurred earlier this year in January, when she revealed that planned to retire from competition at the end of the 2022 season.

But the plan might change after injury forced her to pull out of the US Open last month.

“I still haven’t recovered from my injury, so I am unsure about my plans at the moment,” she said. “Once I recuperate and begin training and playing, I will plan my next move.”

Mirza, who first picked up the racket when she was six, has won six Grand Slam titles, including three mixed doubles trophies.

When her singles career was cut short by wrist injuries, she reinvented herself as a doubles player and went on to become the first Indian to reach the top of the WTA doubles rankings in April 2015.

But the accomplishments that catapulted her to international fame were not without their challenges, Mirza said.

“I was the first to be able to win so many titles, but what people don’t realize is that it was difficult to be the first one because there is no path to follow; you’re learning from your own mistakes,” she said.

“The amount of work that goes into becoming a professional athlete and staying one for over two decades is hard. What everybody sees is only a few hours we’re on the court, which is actually the easiest part.”

After the athlete took maternity leave in 2018 to give birth to her first child with Pakistani cricket player Shoaib Malik, she faced scrutiny when she decided to return to the court.

“People are constantly judging my abilities as a mother. I should not have to choose between being a good mother and being a tennis player. Why can’t I be both? Why am I being questioned if I’m able to give my family time, but a man is not being questioned for the same thing?”

Before she became pregnant, Mirza said that people had assumed the couple could not have children.

“It didn’t occur to them that I am a professional athlete and that maybe my career was more important to me than having a child at that time,” she said.

Believing that she had a “bigger purpose” than merely winning competitions, her experience compelled her to be more outspoken about the issue, a subject that has also made headlines for other champions, such as US tennis player Serena Williams.

“I’ve been put in this position where I can reach out to a lot more people and I feel it’s my responsibility to speak about such issues,” Mirza said.

The tennis superstar was also vocal about ageism in sports and said her decision to retire is due to her many injuries.

“The only thing that should matter is if you’re able to win. For me, age is just a number. I’m retiring because I feel like my body is giving up on me.”

With plans to encourage a new generation of young athletes and expand her tennis academy in the UAE, the woman who grew up in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad told Arab News that a biopic might be in the works, though there is “nothing concrete yet.”

Mirza said that any biopic must not only show the truth and struggles, but also “inspire kids.”

“I want to highlight that everything comes with a price, and every effort to be successful at anything requires sacrifice and commitment. But once you get there, it is special.”


Brazil soccer legend Pele has respiratory infection, but remains stable

Brazil soccer legend Pele has respiratory infection, but remains stable
Updated 58 min 41 sec ago

Brazil soccer legend Pele has respiratory infection, but remains stable

Brazil soccer legend Pele has respiratory infection, but remains stable
  • The medical team diagnosed a respiratory infection, which is being treated with antibiotics
  • The 82-year-old will remain hospitalized for the next few days to continue treatment

RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazilian soccer legend Pele was diagnosed with a respiratory infection but remains in a stable condition, a medical report showed on Friday.
“The medical team diagnosed a respiratory infection, which is being treated with antibiotics. The response has been adequate, and the patient, who remains in a common room, is stable, with general improvement in health status,” said the report from hospital Albert Einstein.
The 82-year-old will remain hospitalized for the next few days to continue treatment, his medical staff added.
Pele was admitted to the hospital in Sao Paulo on Tuesday to reevaluate his treatment for cancer after he had a tumor removed from his colon in September 2021.
On Thursday, the former forward posted a photo on Instagram thanking his supporters for the positive messages he has received.


England bond over cards ahead of Senegal World Cup clash

England bond over cards ahead of Senegal World Cup clash
Updated 03 December 2022

England bond over cards ahead of Senegal World Cup clash

England bond over cards ahead of Senegal World Cup clash
  • Werewolf, a game of roleplay and deduction, has become a popular pastime for the squad between games “
  • It’s about being the best liar,” said midfielder Declan Rice

DOHA: For a nation that has frequently flattered to deceive at soccer’s major tournaments, a card game that relies on the art of deception is strengthening the bond among England’s players ahead of their match against Senegal in the World Cup round of 16.
Werewolf, a game of roleplay and deduction, has become a popular pastime for the squad between games.
“It’s about being the best liar,” said midfielder Declan Rice. “The villagers have got to snuff out the wolves and the wolves have got to lie and tell everyone why they are not a wolf. There is a lot of teamwork, ganging up.”
Whatever England are doing at their base in Qatar, it’s working so far.
They play Senegal on Sunday after topping Group B and tying Spain as leading scorers in the tournament so far with nine goals.
No other team picked up more than the seven points England recorded on their way to the knockout round and they are only one of three still undefeated.
Yet the message from coach Gareth Southgate and captain Harry Kane this week has been about maintaining focus and standards.
Belgium and Germany were high-profile departures from the group stage, while defending champion France, along with Argentina, Spain, Brazil and Portugal have all been on the wrong end of upsets.
And to think England’s 0-0 draw with the United States was considered enough of a shock that it prompted loud jeers from Three Lions fans after that match last week.
“I think it’s always difficult when you see big teams or big players in teams that don’t have the success that you want or don’t live up to the expectation of a nation or where they see themselves,” said defender John Stones. “We don’t ever want to fall into that category. I think that is great motivation for us as a reminder — you never want to take anything for granted or who you are playing against.”
England may be considered a major soccer nation, but their only tournament success came when they hosted and won the World Cup in 1966.
The years since have been pitted with disappointment and underachievement.
There has been an upturn under Southgate, who led the team to the semifinals of the World Cup in Russia in 2018 and to the final of last year’s European Championship, which they lost on penalties to Italy.
The bond he has developed among the players is seen as a key factor in England’s improvement.
Southgate is also meticulous about his planning, from psychological help to deal the pressure of taking penalties to even the most minor details.
At a team meeting this week, players were reminded about leaving their socks out the “right way” for the kitmen to collect after training.
“We get on each other for things like that because we have created those standards,” said Stones. “If you start getting sloppy with the little things, the bigger things start to get sloppy very easily. Any one percent or two percent of things that we can do to get better … obviously those are small things, but they matter to us.”
So there should be no danger of England taking Senegal lightly.
The African Cup of Nations winner finished second in Group A behind the Netherlands. That was despite suffering the pre-tournament disappointment of star striker Sadio Mane being ruled out.
“They’re knockout games now: if you win, you get to stay here; if you lose, you go home,” said Senegal coach Aliou Cissé. “There’s no need to overthink things, every team is at the same level.
“Our squad is experienced today, they’ve gone through a lot together and they know how to prepare for this type of game now, in competitions like this one,” he added.


Argentina, Netherlands eye quarters as World Cup last 16 kicks off

Argentina, Netherlands eye quarters as World Cup last 16 kicks off
Updated 03 December 2022

Argentina, Netherlands eye quarters as World Cup last 16 kicks off

Argentina, Netherlands eye quarters as World Cup last 16 kicks off
  • Business end of the tournament kicks off with 16 teams dreaming of plotting a path to the final in Doha on December 18

DOHA: Australia take on Lionel Messi’s Argentina in a David v Goliath World Cup showdown while the United States look to ambush the Netherlands as the World Cup knockout rounds get under way on Saturday.
After a group stage full of twists and turns, the business end of the tournament kicks off with 16 teams dreaming of plotting a path to the final in Doha on December 18.
The USA and the Netherlands open the second round at the Khalifa Stadium on Saturday, with the Americans aiming to advance to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2002.
Coach Gregg Berhalter’s USA squad booked their spot in the last 16 with a 1-0 win over Iran to secure second place in Group B behind England.
While the Dutch possess the greater historical pedigree, reaching three previous World Cup finals, the USA head into the knockout rounds brimming with confidence.
“It’s a great opportunity, but it’s not something that we’re going into it thinking it’s an honor,” Berhalter said.
“We deserve to be in the position we’re in.”
The US face a Dutch team who finished first in Group A ahead of Senegal, Ecuador and Qatar without really showing their best form.
The Netherlands’ veteran coach Louis van Gaal is wary of the threat posed by the energetic Americans, describing Berhalter’s team as one of the best in the tournament.
“They have an excellent team, I would say even one of the best teams,” said Van Gaal.
“It’ll be a tough match but it’s nothing we can’t overcome. We also have a good team.”
In Saturday’s other knockout game, South American giants Argentina face an Australia side who confounded all expectations by getting out of a Group D that included defending champions France, Denmark and Tunisia.
However Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni is not ready to take anything for granted having already seen his team suffer a shock loss to Saudi Arabia earlier in the tournament.
“Whether or not they are inferior to us remains to be seen,” Scaloni said. “Forget who is theoretically favorites and let’s play football.”
Australia coach Graham Arnold meanwhile said he expects the Socceroos to raise their game once more against the star-studded Argentines.
“Playing against that type of talent, and that name I think resonates right across the world — it’s a football nation and it is inspiring to play against them,” Arnold said.
The conclusion of the group phase on Friday marked the departure of four more teams from the 32-nation tournament.
South Korea battled their way into the last 16 after a last-gasp winner in a 2-1 win over Portugal which in turn eliminated Uruguay, 2-0 victors over Ghana.
Tottenham forward Son Heung-min produced a brilliant assist for Hwang Hee-chan to score the goal that secured a 2-1 victory.
The Korean players then watched the final minutes of Uruguay’s match on a mobile phone as they waited for their place in the last 16 to be confirmed.
Uruguay, leading 2-0 against the Africans, needed one more goal to go through but fell agonizingly short despite piling on the pressure, crashing out by virtue of goals scored.
Uruguay’s campaign ended in disarray with veteran Luis Suarez in tears on the substitutes bench while striker Edinson Cavani angrily knocked over a pitchside VAR monitor as he left the field — an apparent protest at several decisions which went against the team.
Switzerland edged a bad-tempered encounter with Serbia to progress, winning 3-2 to earn a meeting with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka was at the center of a melee between players form both sides after a clash with Serbian defender Nikola Milenkovic.
Brazil won Group G despite dropping nine players from their starting lineup and losing 1-0 to Cameroon with Vincent Aboubakar heading in a stoppage-time winner to claim a memorable win that could not prevent the African side being eliminated.


Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 

Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 
Updated 03 December 2022

Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 

Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 
  • Saudi Arabia is one of the newest places on the Formula 1 calendar

JEDDAH: The Saudi Motorsport Company, the promoter of Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2023, offered access on Friday to early ticket packages for the third race of STC Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix — the second round of the F1 world championship — to be staged on the Jeddah Corniche circuit from March 17-19, 2023.

As of Friday, local and international audiences can pre-book tickets for 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on www.saudiarabiangp.com.

Early booking ticket holders will enjoy a discount of up to 10 percent for the premium hospitality category, and a 30 percent discount for the main stands and general admission category. This offer will be valid until the first week of January 2023 with a limited number of seats.

Saudi Arabia is one of the newest places on the Formula 1 calendar, as it hosted its first race in December 2021, and its second one after only four months in March 2022. 

In the first race, the competition intensified between Red Bull driver Max Verstappen and Mercedes driver and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, ending in a hard-fought victory for the Mercedes driver and both equal on points one round before the end of the season.

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2022 had Verstappen winning after a fierce competition with Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, who took the lead for most of the race until Verstappen managed to overtake him three laps before the finish line.


Saudi Dakar Rally 2023 route unveiled

Saudi Dakar Rally 2023 route unveiled
Updated 03 December 2022

Saudi Dakar Rally 2023 route unveiled

Saudi Dakar Rally 2023 route unveiled

JEDDAH: The details of the fourth edition of Saudi Dakar Rally in 2023 were announced by the Dakar Rally Organizing Committee in a virtual press conference on Thursday.

Present during the press conference were Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, chairman of the board of directors of the Saudi Federation of Motors and Motorcycles as well as of the Saudi Motorsports Company; Jan Luminaire, CEO of Amaury Sport Organization; and David Castera, director of the Dakar Rally.

During the conference the route of the new edition of the rally — held for the fourth consecutive year in Saudi Arabia — was revealed. It will take place from Dec. 31 to Jan. 15, with 453 vehicles across various categories of the race, including 89 vehicles in the Dakar Classic race, with a distance of more than 8,500 km.

This is the longest for the special stages subject to timing since 2014, and is expected to attract drivers from more than 68 countries.

The rally track for this year consists of a preliminary stage and 14 regular stages. Drivers will begin the rally with an introductory trip from the sea camp in the northwestern mountain regions before heading to the far southeast, passing through AlUla, Hail, Dawadmi, Haradh, the Empty Quarter, Shaybah, Hofuf and Dammam.

The Saudi Dakar Rally last January witnessed the participation of a group of the most prominent global drivers, attracting more than 1,000 racers representing 70 countries from around the world. The 2022 edition of the event ran for 14 days across 12 stages and six categories.

Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal stressed that hosting Dakar Rally for the fourth time in a row confirms the Kingdom’s ability to host the most important international events, and contributes to consolidating its deserved position on the global sports map.

He said that due to the Kingdom’s capabilities and potential, Saudi Arabia has become a distinguished destination for fans of the sport, based on the nature of the rally as one of the largest and most important events on the motor sport agenda, leading to a spotlight on the diversity and geographical distinction of the Kingdom, which makes the rally stronger.

He added: “We have begun preparations with all concerned authorities to ensure the provision of all the required factors and elements, and to ensure success in organizing in a way that reflects our ambitions and underlines the transformation march of the Kingdom.”

The stages of the race will be as follows:

- Preliminary stage (Saturday, Dec. 31): Al-Bahr Camp — Al-Bahr Camp, for a distance of 11 km.

- First Stage (Sunday, Jan. 1): Camp Al-Bahr — Al-Bahr Camp, a circular stage for a distance of 603 km (Special stage: 368 km).

- Second Stage (Monday, Jan. 2): Al-Bahr Camp — AlUla, 590 km (Special Stage: 431 km).

- Third stage (Tuesday, Jan. 3): AlUla - Hail, 669 km (Special stage: 447 km).

- Fourth Stage (Wednesday, Jan. 4): Hail — Hail, circular stage for a distance of 573 km (Special stage: 425 km).

- Fifth Stage (Thursday, Jan. 5): Hail — Hail, circular stage for a distance of 646 km (Special stage: 375 km).

- Sixth stage (Friday, Jan. 6): Hail — Dawadmi, 877 km (Special stage: 466 km).

- Seven Stage (Saturday, Jan. 7): Dawadmi — Dawadmi, a circular stage for a distance of 641 km (Special stage: 473 km).

- Eighth Stage (Sunday, Jan. 8): Dawadmi — Riyadh, 722 km (Special Stage: 407 km).

- Rest Day (Monday, Jan. 9): Riyadh.

- Ninth Stage (Tuesday, Jan. 10): Riyadh — Haradh, 710 km (Special Stage: 439 km).

- 10th Stage (Wednesday, Jan. 11): Haradh — Shaybah, 623 km (Special Stage: 114 km).

- 11th Stage (Thursday, Jan. 12): Shaybah — Al-Ardah, marathon stage 426 km (Special stage: 275 km).

- 12th Stage (Friday, Jan. 13): Al-Ardah — Shaybah, marathon stage 375 km (Special stage: 185 km).

- 13th Stage (Saturday, Jan. 14): Shaybah — Hofuf, 669 km (Special Stage: 154 km).

- 14th Stage (Sunday, Jan. 15): Hofuf — Dammam, 414 km (Special Stage: 136 km).