Egyptian WTA heroine Mayar Sherif ‘pushed to limits’ by win in Parma

Exclusive Egyptian WTA heroine Mayar Sherif ‘pushed to limits’ by win in Parma
ParmaLadiesOpen (Daniele Combi)
Short Url
Updated 19 October 2022

Egyptian WTA heroine Mayar Sherif ‘pushed to limits’ by win in Parma

Egyptian WTA heroine Mayar Sherif ‘pushed to limits’ by win in Parma
  • The 26-year-old could not hide her disbelief as after she became her nation's firts ever WTA title winner

PARMA: Moments after she made history by becoming Egypt’s first-ever WTA title winner with a heroic effort at the Parma Ladies Open, Mayar Sherif could not hide her disbelief as she tried to articulate how she felt about her latest achievement.

The 26-year-old from Cairo had to contest both the semi-finals and final on the same day after rain had washed out play on Friday.

Sherif ended up battling through four hours and 26 minutes on court on Saturday to overcome Romanian Ana Bogdan in the semis and Greek world No.7 Maria Sakkari in the final as she went on to secure a maiden WTA-level trophy.




ParmaLadiesOpen (Daniele Combi)

The victory was Sherif’s first against a top-50 opponent – she was 0-10 against top-50 players coming into the final – and it required an incredible amount of grit, as the Egyptian fought back from a break down on three occasions in the first set, and once in the second, en route to a 7-5, 6-3 success over former world No.3 Sakkari.

“I’m so tired, I can’t, I really can’t,” Sherif told Arab News with a chuckle after pulling off that historic triumph.

“I lost a (WTA) 250 final last year, so I stepped on court this time thinking, ‘I don’t want to lose again’; I really don’t like to lose finals. So I had this mentality of, ‘I really want to win this, I’ll do what I can and stretch my limits, I have nothing to lose’; and I was loose.

“I knew I was tired and that I had to go for it. Thank God really, it happened and we really cannot believe it.”

While Sherif had lost her sole previous WTA final in Cluj-Napoca last season, the Cairene is a big match player and has won all four finals she has reached at the $100k or 125-series level, which are just under the main tour level.

“I really hate losing finals and last year I lost two finals back-to-back, and I told Justo (my coach), ‘My next final, no matter what, I’m going to win this final’,” she confessed.

“Because that says a lot about what kind of a champion you are, and it says a lot about your character. So I hate losing finals, I have to go for it. Today I was so tired and I really cannot believe I pulled it off.”

Sherif’s brutal three-set win over Bogdan earlier in the day gave her the confidence to step things up against Sakkari, who had conceded just three games to the Egyptian in their previous clash in Doha last year.

“The last time I played Sakkari, she beat me soundly in two sets, so I stepped on court today, thinking I’m going after her. I knew she was struggling and I know she doesn’t play well in finals, so I went after her,” said Sherif.

Sherif, who will return to the top 50 and move up from 74 to No.48 in the world rankings on Monday, had been struggling since coming back from a foot injury she had picked up at Roland Garros in May and sidelined her for more than two months.

The Pepperdine graduate lost six of her nine matches upon her return to the tour in August and had zero expectations arriving in Parma last week.

“I’ve had a cold since the start of the tournament and my nose has been blocked since the first match,” Sherif revealed.

“I really came to Parma thinking I just want to pass the first round, I just wanted to win one match. But somehow things kept happening one match at a time. It was beyond any expectations, I came here from rock bottom. I had been losing and losing, I was searching for my match rhythm and this came out of nowhere.”

Sherif is no stranger to making history as she continues to write new chapters for Egyptian women’s tennis in the record books. She is the first WTA player from her country to crack the top 50, the first to win a match at a Grand Slam, and now the first to win a title on tour.

“I’m so happy that I broke many barriers today; I got my first top-10 win, I won a WTA 250 title, all this for me is huge,” she said.

“I struggled mentally, lately, so much, so much. My foot didn’t feel the same, physically I couldn’t get back in shape the way I was. I was trying in practice to really push myself every day. After all this effort, even though I wasn’t playing well or I was losing, it finally paid off.

“This gives me unreal motivation to keep going, to work on myself and improve my level. I still have huge margins, I’m not playing my best at all. So this gives me the motivation to improve and to physically get back to where I was, I’m really happy.”

Sherif’s ascent over the last couple of seasons has coincided with the meteoric rise of Tunisian world No.2 Ons Jabeur, whose string of unprecedented feats by an Arab tennis player have defied all odds.

Jabeur, who is the highest ranked African woman and highest ranked Arab-born player in history, has made it to back-to-back Grand Slam finals this season, at Wimbledon and the US Open, and has become a force to be reckoned with on tour.

“I’m not shocked at all by what Ons is doing,” said Sherif of Jabeur.

“She is a great champion and she broke so many barriers and I have no doubt she is mentally stronger than so many players inside the top 10 and the top 50.

“Here in Africa, we have this talent, which I feel not many other people possess. Being at this high level, Ons is ahead of so many people mentally, God bless her.

“I’m not surprised at all by what she’s doing. What she does really pushes me forward. I see her playing a Grand Slam final and I think, ‘It’s time for me to push myself even harder’.

“I win a 250 tournament and I’m already thinking of what’s coming next. She gives me this inner push; I have the motivation to follow her.”

Sherif will head to Cairo on Sunday for a three-week training block before getting back on court for the closing stages of the 2022 season.




Semifinal wta 250 Parma (Daniele Combi)

 


LaLiga scores deal to win new audiences in Middle East

LaLiga scores deal to win new audiences in Middle East
Updated 25 sec ago

LaLiga scores deal to win new audiences in Middle East

LaLiga scores deal to win new audiences in Middle East
  • Joint venture with Galaxy Racer expected to generate over $3bn with each party holding a 50 percent stake
  • Deal establishes esports organization Galaxy Racer as LaLiga’s local partner in the region as well as on the Indian subcontinent

DUBAI: LaLiga has signed a 15-year deal with the world’s largest esports organization to boost the Spanish football league’s presence in the Middle East and North Africa.

The deal establishes Galaxy Racer as LaLiga’s local partner in the region as well as on the Indian subcontinent. The deal is expected to generate more than $3.16 billion, with each party holding a 50 per cent stake.

LaLiga wants new ways to boost its audience in the two regions, which have more than 1.3 billion people under the age of 30. It will also grant broadcast and media rights in the 29 countries covered by the deal.

This agreement was signed by LaLiga President Javier Tebas and Galaxy Racer Chairman Paul Roy. It comes as Qatar hosts the first World Cup to be held in the Arab world. 

Oscar Mayo, LaLiga Executive Director, said: “Signing this agreement is testament of our deep commitment to supporting the transformation of the sports media scene, and building on the passion for football in MENA and the Indian Subcontinent.

“Galaxy Racer’s experience will be vital in building fan loyalty to position LaLiga as a top brand for football and lifestyle.”

Roy said: “The MENA region and Indian subcontinent are considered (among) the fastest growing territories in sport and by partnering with LaLiga, a global leader in football, we are confident in our ability to work together to radically transform the sport league’s brand presence in these regions, while also fostering the next generation of young sport fans.”

“Several projects, including a documentary series, competitions, merchandise (and) live events are already in the pipeline.”

The agreement in the UAE will see a team of around 20 people working to build the brand and find new business opportunities. There will also be a five-person Board of Directors that includes CEO Maite Ventura. Luis Cardenas, Commercial Director for LaLiga MENA, will be the CCO.

Ventura said: “Galaxy Racer’s extensive experience in the region will serve as an important source of support towards our international strategy. The Middle East is growing as a dedicated sports hub and the FIFA World Cup in Qatar now is the best example of the power of the sport.”

Additionally, Galaxy Racer will launch a roster of creators who will focus on LaLiga and curate events to promote the LaLiga brand throughout the whole year. The creators will exclusively represent LaLiga, touring the world to promote both themselves and LaLiga to fans.


Leading football figures, investors meet in Dubai to discuss future of sport

Leading football figures, investors meet in Dubai to discuss future of sport
Updated 15 min 28 sec ago

Leading football figures, investors meet in Dubai to discuss future of sport

Leading football figures, investors meet in Dubai to discuss future of sport
  • Global platform Investopia hosts 10 sessions within context of 2022 World Cup
  • Bernard Caiazzo: Sport has the power to change the world; the World Cup demonstrates this by uniting more than 4 billion people around the globe over four weeks

DUBAI: Global business leaders in sports, football leagues’ senior officials and policymakers on Thursday met to discuss the future of investments in sports at an event hosted by Investopia, the global investment platform, in partnership with World Corporate Summit.

The sessions took place within the context of FIFA World Cup 2022 currently taking place in Qatar, in the presence of Abdulla bin Touq Al-Marri, UAE minister of economy and chairman of Investopia, and Bernard Caiazzo, president of the Global Football Alliance and of WCS.

The event’s 10 sessions covered major topics in the sports business from “Harnessing the Media Power of Sports for Business” to “Creating Global Champions in Sport,” “Achieving Sustainable Development Through Sports,” “Unique Assets: Alternative Opportunities in Sports Finance,” “The Future Now: Innovation in Sport,” “The Intersection of Technology and Health in Sports” and “Building the Smart Stadiums of the Future.”

Mohamed Naser Al-Zaabi, CEO of Investopia, said: “Investopia, the global investment platform, engages with business leaders and decision makers at the global level, in all prominent business events, in order to achieve its vision of creating and leading global dialogues to discuss economic topics, and channel investments toward sectors of the new economies.”

Caiazzo, said: “Sport has the power to change the world. The World Cup demonstrates this by uniting more than 4 billion people around the globe over four weeks.” 

“Investopia: The Future of Sport will bring together decision-makers from the most prestigious professional clubs and leagues major investors and brands to discuss the future of the sector, which has evolved more in the past 10 years than in the previous 30 years, and is on track for tremendous growth over the coming decade,” he added.

Investopia global investment platform is one of the major strategic initiatives under the ‘Projects of the 50’ announced by the UAE government in September 2021 and aims to enhance the exchange of global investment flows in support of sectors of the new economy. 


Maguire mockery is ‘undeserved’ says England’s Phillips

Maguire mockery is ‘undeserved’ says England’s Phillips
Updated 08 December 2022

Maguire mockery is ‘undeserved’ says England’s Phillips

Maguire mockery is ‘undeserved’ says England’s Phillips
  • Manchester United defender Maguire has started just three games in the Premier League this season
  • Phillips said Thursday he believes much of the Maguire mockery is wrong

DOHA: England midfielder Kalvin Phillips has backed team-mate Harry Maguire as the much-maligned center-half prepares for the ultimate World Cup quarter-final test against France on Saturday.
Manchester United defender Maguire has started just three games in the Premier League this season due to a combination of injury and the arrival of Argentine Lisandro Martinez, but has been solid so far for England in Qatar, where he has started every game.
It marks a stark turnaround in fortunes for Maguire, who became the butt of many jokes on social media after a bad run of form last season.
Phillips said Thursday he believes much of the Maguire mockery is wrong.
“I know Harry Maguire has not played as much football this season as he probably would have liked this season and he does get a lot of stick, which I think is very undeserved,” Phillips told a news conference.
“I think he’s a top professional and a great footballer and all you have to do is watch England in major tournaments and when he plays for Manchester United, I think, he’s one of the best defenders and I think for England he’s been one of the top defenders for a long time and especially in tournament level,” he added.
Phillips feels Maguire, who is up against France’s record goalscorer Olivier Giroud on Saturday, is a player that England can rely on.
“He’s always been that player that when we’ve got set pieces or when we need to block or when anybody needs to make a challenge, he’s always the first one to do it.
“And he’s always the first one to get his head to the ball. Obviously, he’s scored some very important goals as well,” he said.
“I think a lot of people...because, he’s been obviously mocked quite a lot the past few years, I think he’s just the first one they go to if anything bad happened in the England team, he’d be the first one for anything to be said about.
“It’s very undeserved. And, like I said, I think if you look at the major tournaments he’s played in and how well he’s done then, you can’t really mock him because he’s been unbelievable,” Phillips added.
The Manchester City midfielder also had plenty of praise for his team-mate and Maguire’s central defensive partner John Stones.
“I believe that John is one of the best center-halves in the world right now.
“I’m not just saying that because he’s with England or he’s my friend or plays for Manchester City. I genuinely believe that — he is one of the best center halves in the game at this moment in time. He’s very composed on the ball, one of the best central defenders you could have distributing the ball.
“His partnership with Harry is an amazing partnership as well — they understand each other so well and feed off each other, help each other out. As of now, it’s probably the best center-half partnership in the World Cup“


Messi resumes World Cup quest as Argentina play Netherlands

Messi resumes World Cup quest as Argentina play Netherlands
Updated 08 December 2022

Messi resumes World Cup quest as Argentina play Netherlands

Messi resumes World Cup quest as Argentina play Netherlands
  • The quarterfinal match between Argentina and the Netherlands on Friday has all the ingredients of a classic
  • The seven-time world player of the year, Messi, is three wins away from achieving his ultimate dream

DOHA: Lionel Messi up against Virgil van Dijk. The youngest coach at the World Cup taking on the oldest. South America versus Europe. A back catalog of famous meetings.
The quarterfinal match between Argentina and the Netherlands on Friday has all the ingredients of a classic.
And the possibility of it being Messi’s final game on soccer’s biggest stage just adds to the anticipation.
The seven-time world player of the year is three wins away from achieving his ultimate dream but he has two people, in particular, blocking his path.
First, the not inconsiderable frame of Van Dijk, who has been one of the world’s best defenders over the past five years. If there’s anyone able to stop Messi on one of his trademark dribbles, it is the graceful Liverpool center back who combines pace with a great reading of the game.
And then there’s Louis van Gaal, the wily tactician who is 71, has recently undergone successful treatment for prostate cancer, and is now plotting to win the World Cup in perhaps the final job of his 26-year coaching career.
Van Gaal, who has long been one of the most charismatic characters in soccer, is approaching this task with a lot of fun — even on the eve of one of the biggest matches of his career.
On Thursday, he was told that Angel Di Maria, who plays for Argentina, thinks he is the worst coach he has ever played under following their time together at Manchester United in 2014-15.
Van Gaal said it was a pity Di Maria felt this way — “he is one of the few players to have said that,” he remarked, “as usually it is the other way round” — and added he once had a falling-out with Netherlands captain Memphis Depay, who was sitting next to him.
“Now we kiss each other,” Van Gaal said, leaning toward Depay with his arms out.
Van Gaal was also asked how he was planning to stop Messi — a question for which many coaches down the years have failed to come up with an answer.
“It’d be pretty stupid to reveal your own tactics,” he said, smiling. “But it’s not that difficult to come up with any answer. You could have come up with an answer yourself. You may want to block and close the passing lines. Am I right, Memphis?“
As for his Argentina counterpart, the 44-year-old Lionel Scaloni is a comparative novice after taking charge of his country in 2018 for his first senior coaching role. Still, he has already led Argentina to the Copa America title last year — the country’s first major trophy since 1993 — and has managed to steady his team after a shocking loss to Saudi Arabia in their opening group game.
While Van Gaal was predicting a tight match that will be settled by a “decisive moment,” Scaloni said it will be a “beautiful game because we are talking about two national teams willing to attack but who can also defend.”
It’s set to be a clash of styles between two of soccer’s historic powerhouses, with Argentina — a two-time champion — preferring to play a possession game and the Dutch — three times a beaten finalist — now typically playing on the counterattack under Van Gaal.
They have met in some high-profile World Cup games, none bigger than the 1978 final won by Argentina on home soil. There was also a last-16 match in 1998, won by the Netherlands thanks to a wonderful 90th-minute goal by Dennis Bergkamp, and then a penalty-shootout win by Argentina in the semifinals in 2014.
Messi played in that game and was kept relatively quiet by a team also coached by Van Gaal. Eight years later, Messi is still Argentina’s star player and put in his best performance in this World Cup in the 2-1 win over Australia in the round of 16.
“The tournament is starting tomorrow for us, for real,” Van Gaal said. “Although I don’t want to downplay the importance of the other countries we have beaten, Argentina and then potentially Brazil in the next round are different countries than those we played up to now.”
Scaloni was pressed on the fitness of midfielder Rodrigo De Paul, who might be a doubt according to some reports in the Argentine media, but gave little away.


Spain’s ‘tiki-taka’ under attack again after World Cup loss

Spain’s ‘tiki-taka’ under attack again after World Cup loss
Updated 08 December 2022

Spain’s ‘tiki-taka’ under attack again after World Cup loss

Spain’s ‘tiki-taka’ under attack again after World Cup loss
  • “A lot of possession and not enough shots,” the sports daily AS said on its front page
  • “Spain clearly dominates but can’t get the goal to advance,” the newspaper Sport said

DOHA: The Morocco players fell back on defense and patiently watched as Spain kept passing the ball around midfield during their round of 16 match at the World Cup.
Side to side, from one Spanish player to another. Pass after pass, Spain tried to find an opening through the Moroccan defense, but the Moroccans stayed committed, unwavering, patiently waiting with 11 men behind the ball in front of their goal.
The traditional “tiki-taka” ball-possession style allowed Spain to keep the ball during most of the match Tuesday, but not to get the goals they needed to keep their World Cup campaign alive, and the team lost 3-0 in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw in regulation and extra time to end their World Cup campaign.
It was the third time Spain failed to make it past the last 16 at the World Cup after winning their lone title in 2010, when Xavi and Andrés Iniesta were the leaders of the ball-possession style that amazed the soccer world.
Spain’s “tiki-taka” clearly hasn’t produced the results it once did, not on the international level or the club level with Barcelona, which was where it all started. Barcelona haven’t won a Champions League since 2015, and were eliminated in the group stage of the top European club competition the last two seasons after Lionel Messi left and signed with Paris Saint-Germain.
The recent failures have led to some to questions about whether it’s time for a philosophical overhaul of Spanish soccer, or if it’s just a matter of adjusting the style to modern days or finding the right players to make it work again.
It’s been a while since Spain lost Xavi and Iniesta, key elements that made the “tiki-taka” thrive, and they haven’t had a top-notch striker since Fernando Torres and David Villa, who were key to help transform ball possession into goals when La Roja won their back-to-back European Championships and the World Cup more than a decade ago. This year, Spain had only one true striker in their squad, Álvaro Morata, who is far from being considered a finisher like Torres and Villa.
It looked like Spain were going to make the “tiki-taka” work again in Qatar after youngsters Pedri and Gavi led the team to a resounding 7-0 opening win over Costa Rica, when La Roja completed a record 1,003 passes for a 90-minute game and finished with 75 percent of ball possession with 17 attempts against zero by Costa Rica.
But La Roja couldn’t win again after that, and they scored only two more goals in their next three matches. The team left the tournament with the most passes completed, with an average of 847 per game.
It didn’t take long for the criticism to start pouring in back home.
“A lot of possession and not enough shots,” the sports daily AS said on its front page.
“Spain clearly dominates but can’t get the goal to advance,” the newspaper Sport said.
Opponents have clearly found ways to keep the “tiki-taka” from working.
“We knew we were not going to have a lot of possession and we were not afraid of that,” Morocco coach Walid Regragui said after his team’s win over Spain. “I looked at the last 20 games and Spain generally speaking had 70 percent of possession in those games. So I accepted that.”
Spain had 68 percent of possession and completed 967 passes Tuesday, but made only one attempt on target, two fewer than Morocco with their strategy that relied solely on counterattacks.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Regragui said. “We would have to be extremely well organized. The defense and our midfielders and attackers worked very hard to make sure that they didn’t have those angles for the passes.”
The strategy worked to perfection.
One of the last times Spain tried to move away from the “tiki-taka” was with coach Julen Lopetegui before the 2018 World Cup. Spain still tried to control possession, but they were more direct when attacking. The team went to Russia with an impressive unbeaten streak, but Lopetegui was fired just days before the team’s debut after accepting a job with Real Madrid without telling Spanish soccer federation officials. Spain were eliminated in a penalty shootout against host Russia in the round of 16.
Since 2010, Spain have won only three of their last 11 World Cup matches, and the elimination in Qatar on Tuesday led the federation to replace coach Luis Enrique with Luis de la Fuente, Spain’s under-21 coach.
Luis Enrique had said his players executed his “idea of football to perfection” despite the elimination, and with De la Fuente in charge, an overhaul to Spanish soccer wasn’t expected.
More “tiki-taka” is likely coming for La Roja.