How Ons Jabeur helped bring WTA tennis to Tunisia

How Ons Jabeur helped bring WTA tennis to Tunisia
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Tunisia's Ons Jabeur hits a return to Poland's Iga Swiatek during their 2022 US Open Tennis tournament women's singles final match in New York. (AFP)
How Ons Jabeur helped bring WTA tennis to Tunisia
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Tunisia's Ons Jabeur hits a return to France's Caroline Garcia during their 2022 US Open Tennis tournament women's singles semi-final match in New York. (AFP)
How Ons Jabeur helped bring WTA tennis to Tunisia
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Tunisian tennis player Ons Jabeur signs an autograph upon her return to the capital Tunis from Wimbeldon. (AFP)
How Ons Jabeur helped bring WTA tennis to Tunisia
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Ons Jabeur poses with her second place Wimbledon trophy during a ceremony honoring her at the Municipal Theatre in Tunis. (AFP)
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Updated 03 October 2022

How Ons Jabeur helped bring WTA tennis to Tunisia

How Ons Jabeur helped bring WTA tennis to Tunisia
  • A chance conversation with IMG’s Vickie Gunnarsson in Abu Dhabi last December paved the way for the establishment of Jasmin Open

Although she refuses to take credit for it, Ons Jabeur has played a crucial role in bringing a WTA tournament to her home country of Tunisia for the very first time, and the popular world No.2 will be the main attraction when the event kicks off in Monastir on Monday.

The Jasmin Open is just the second tournament on the WTA calendar taking place in North Africa and it came to life thanks to a conversation Jabeur had with IMG’s Vickie Gunnarsson at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC) in Abu Dhabi last December.

Gunnarsson, the director of IMG tennis events and tournament director of the MWTC, got to witness Jabeur’s talent and charm up close when the Tunisian was brought in as a late replacement for a Covid-stricken Emma Raducanu at the exhibition event in Abu Dhabi 10 months ago.

Jabeur dazzled the crowd with her unique and playful game style and connected with the kids during the clinics and autograph sessions she took part in away from the match court.

The interest in tennis in Tunisia, North Africa and the Arab world has shot through the roof over the past couple of seasons thanks to Jabeur’s history-making feats that saw her reach back-to-back finals at Wimbledon and the US Open this summer and become the highest-ranked Arab player and African woman in history.

Egypt’s Mayar Sherif has also played a part as she cracked the top 50 earlier this season and became the first from her country to lift a WTA trophy just last Saturday in Parma.

IMG, one of the key players in the global tennis industry, recognize the potential for the sport in North Africa and Gunnarsson floated the idea of staging a WTA tournament in Tunisia to Jabeur while chatting on the sidelines of the MWTC last year.

“It’s the WTA sanction we had in Rio de Janeiro, which has moved a little bit; ended up in China, and now we had to find a new home for it,” Gunnarsson told Arab News of the origin story of the Jasmin Open.

“It was actually after Ons Jabeur came to Abu Dhabi last year and I chatted with her. I asked her, ‘You’re Tunisian and tennis seems to be booming there and you’re a great role model, do you think Tunisia would be interested in hosting a WTA 250 event? It was a wild chance, right?

“She said, ‘Actually yes, tennis is huge in Tunisia now and it’s growing, so let’s give it a shot’. So she introduced me to Salma (Mouelhi-Guizani), the president of the Tunisian Tennis Federation, and we started talking and Salma was like, ‘Yes, we want to do this’.”

 

 

IMG have leased the tournament to the Tunisian federation for three years but are supporting the hosts by sending a team to Monastir – a coastal city south of Tunis – to help them put it all together.

“We want it to be a success. They have an option to continue after three years and we want them to as well. Hopefully the tournament is successful here and we can continue, that’s the goal really,” added Gunnarsson.

The venue is the Magic Life Skanes hotel, a beachfront resort providing courts and facilities to host the tournament as well as accommodation, all in one site. A new 2,500 capacity center court was constructed just for the event and two more courts were transformed into show courts.

“Here it’s an incredible time for tennis,” said Gunnarsson during a video call from Tunisia.

“We had a press conference with Ons two weeks leading up to the event in Tunis and the place was packed, for a 250 tournament; everybody was there for Ons and to follow what’s going to happen. It’s a big deal for them, they’ve never had this big of an event.”

Jabeur, who does her preseason training blocks at the same venue in Monastir every year, is proud to see her homeland stage a WTA tournament and says it’s a “dream come true”.

“Honestly I’m surprised with how amazing the organization is here, given how little time they had to prepare for it. I know people working at the hotel and everyone managing the hotel and the federation really want this to be successful,” Jabeur told Arab News on Sunday.

“I’m very proud that they’re organizing this in Tunisia. I’ve been asking the players if they need anything; it feels like I’m the one hosting the tournament for some reason, I think it’s an Arab thing. I’m very happy with the way the tournament is going. I’m very excited to play here.”

Is she knocking on her fellow players’ doors offering room service?

“Literally I was going to do that. I was asking if they have the almond milk and everything. I was teasing the players, saying, ‘Look at this beach view, you don’t have this in Ostrava’,” laughed Jabeur, referring to the WTA tournament taking place simultaneously in Ostrava, Czech Republic this week.

 

While she is aware of her role in boosting tennis as a whole in Tunisia and the Arab and African region, Jabeur believes all she did to help the Jasmin Open get off the ground was “connect the right people at the right time”.

“I don’t want to take credit for an amazing thing that the federation did with Vickie, with the hotel, to build the center court at such short notice, with all the authorization. I feel like I didn’t do anything about this, I just connected people at the right time,” said the 28-year-old star.  

Jabeur has taken the opportunity to show her fellow players all that Tunisia has to offer, inviting them over for vacations in hopes to boost her nation’s tourism.

Monastir hosts lower-level ITF tournaments 52 weeks a year, following a model initially adopted by Egypt, where the Red Sea resort town of Sharm El Sheikh had been doing that for years. The idea is to raise the hotel’s occupancy by having tennis players around all season, while also providing young up-and-comers from the region the opportunity to contest smaller tournaments to move up the rankings without spending too much money on travel.

“It gives a solid platform from the grassroots. It’s very smart and it’s taken them a few years to be ready to have these big tournaments; Egypt should also be ready for a big one I think, especially now with Mayar Sherif. So I think that’s super exciting,” explained Gunnarsson.

“I think on the men’s side they would be up for it too, for sure I think men’s tennis is also very popular here, especially on the grassroots level. The women are the most successful currently at the top but I’m sure there will be men coming up as well.”

 

 

On the back of Sherif’s recent success, there has been interest from Cairo to host a WTA tournament and the Egyptian is keen to see tennis develop more and more in her nation.

“My whole life I believed that Egypt has incredible talent, we have unbelievable potential; we just lack the system,” said Sherif.

“At the moment, we have a lot of $15k tournaments, we have a lot of ITFs, so many tournament weeks, and that encourages young players to come up. What’s missing is a proper system.

“Myself, as Mayar, I believe my tennis career is only the start of my journey. I really wish to help young girls come up and make it in the sport, because I believe it’s very, very possible.

“Ons, and myself, we have given them that belief, they don’t have an excuse not to believe anymore. So to stage a WTA 250 tournament in the region, for them to watch us live and to see how we’re not too far, that’s huge, and hopefully this will impact the next generations.”

 

 

Gunnarsson believes success on the tennis court can only go so far and recognizes that the special qualities Jabeur possesses are the real driver behind her popularity and influence.

“I think she is an incredible role model. I think a lot of people can identify with her, she’s very personable, a really good person, and she’s funny, she’s got humor, it’s like she has the responses ready when people tease her or ask her questions,” said Gunnarsson.

“I think also the Minister of Happiness thing (Jabeur’s nickname); people here in Tunisia really embrace that. It’s been tough times for a long time now… they needed that person to represent happiness to them and that’s what she’s become, especially in Tunisia.

“I can see Ons here, the impact that she has, and I think tennis alone won’t do it, but I think she has the character also. She’s super charming and people just love that. They were joking the other day when Tunisia played a football game, they were saying they should put Ons on the pitch. Everybody is talking about Ons.

“Mayar seems to be a charismatic person as well, so I think she has tremendous potential to be something similar to Ons. It helps when the tennis and personality go hand in hand.”

 

 

Jabeur will return to Abu Dhabi again this December for the MWTC, where she will face 2021 US Open champion Raducanu in an exhibition clash.

“I think it’s going to be significant. It’s the best line-up,” said Gunnarsson of the Abu Dhabi showpiece.

“I think Ons drives so much interest from the Arab world, and that’s who we want to inspire in the first place. When the tournament was set up initially 13 years ago to grow the interest for sports in the region and get more people moving and active and stuff, especially Arabs.

“So Ons works perfectly for the goals of the tournaments, she fulfills all those objectives and she is a huge role model, so we’re very excited about that.”

For Jabeur, she hopes this tournament in Tunisia is just the start and hopes to see more big events pop up in the region.

“Hopefully we can have like a small tour of several tournaments here in Africa one day,” she added.

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Sancho could return from Man Utd exile to face Reading

Sancho could return from Man Utd exile to face Reading
Updated 13 sec ago

Sancho could return from Man Utd exile to face Reading

Sancho could return from Man Utd exile to face Reading
LONDON: Erik ten Hag is set to end Jadon Sancho’s Manchester United exile as the England forward eyes his first appearance in 14 weeks against Reading in the FA Cup fourth round.
Sancho has struggled to reach peak form since moving from Borussia Dortmund and Ten Hag claimed he was not mentally or physically ready to feature for United earlier this season.
The 22-year-old was sent to do an individual fitness program in the Netherlands rather than travel to the squad’s training camp in Spain during the World Cup last year.
But Sancho resumed group training last Tuesday having returned to Carrington earlier in January and could be involved when second tier Reading visit Old Trafford on Saturday.
“He is training with the team and we will see,” Ten Hag told reporters on Friday.
“So, he’s improving, he’s making steps and we will make the decision after training.”
Sancho last played for United in October’s 1-1 draw at Chelsea and was left out of England’s World Cup squad.
He has failed to justify the hype that saw him hailed as one of Europe’s brightest young stars when he moved to United in 2021.
“I said he’s on the way back, he’s making steps. He’s back in team training and now we have to see when he’s ready to go back into the games,” Ten Hag said.
United have flourished in Sancho’s absence, climbing into the Premier League’s top four and advancing in both domestic cup competitions.
Chasing the club’s first major trophy since 2017, United won 3-0 at Nottingham Forest in the League Cup semifinal first leg on Wednesday.
That result means Ten Hag could rest key players in next week’s second leg, but the Dutchman will also be tempted to rotate against a Reading side managed by former United midfielder Paul Ince.
“Football is never decided on paper, we have to be ready for every game, every opponent will be tough and especially in the cup,” Ten Hag said.
“That is, for them, a perfect chance. We have to be aware of that. We have to be on the front foot, fully focused and full of energy.
“I think tomorrow we will have a strong selection for this game.”

Jaguar TCS chief: Formula E is a ‘startup' with unrivaled line-up of teams and manufacturers

Jaguar TCS chief: Formula E is a ‘startup' with unrivaled line-up of teams and manufacturers
Updated 27 January 2023

Jaguar TCS chief: Formula E is a ‘startup' with unrivaled line-up of teams and manufacturers

Jaguar TCS chief: Formula E is a ‘startup' with unrivaled line-up of teams and manufacturers
  • Team Principal James Barclay talks exclusively to Arab News about the early stages of Season 9, strength of the championship and ‘formidable’ Diriyah track

For a “startup,” Formula E is not doing badly at all.

Friday and Saturday will see the second and third rounds of Season 9 at the Diriyah E-Prix night-time double-header, and James Barclay, team principal of Jaguar TCS Racing, believes few other sports can match the pace, metaphorical and literal, the sport has set since its inception.

“I think the first thing to say is Formula E is only 8 years old,” he said. “That’s the amazing thing. It’s still a startup by definition, which is exciting to think about. We’ve come a long way in eight years. It’s one of the fastest forms of motorsport in terms of growth in the world, which is incredibly exciting to see. We have an incredible lineup of teams and manufacturers, which in single-seater racing is unrivaled.”

The first race of the season in Mexico City saw the launch of Formula E’s Gen3 car — the all-electric series’ fastest and most efficient vehicle yet.

“I think the first race has been something we’ve been anticipating for a while, so it’s nice to have done it,” Barclays said.

“It’s fine when you’re developing and testing, but there’s nothing like competition to really start to see where things are at. We’ve had mixed fortunes but also a lot of positives to take out of it. Other than one other manufacturer, Porsche, we had more cars in the top 10,” he added, attributing the achievement to Jaguar’s efficiency.

This season, the Jaguar line-up is made up of Mitch Evans from New Zealand and Sam Bird of Britain. The team performed solidly in Mexico City and are now sixth in the standing with four points.

Barclay says that whether it’s getting to grips with new tires or other emerging factors, teams will need some time to adjust in the coming weeks.

“I think what we’ll see in the first four or five races this year is potentially a real swing of performance and form,” he said. “There are some very competitive teams and drivers, which are out of position, us included. Those teams who got it right last week, do they know the reasons why they got it right? And will they get it right this week?

“We need to let that play out over the first four or five races.”

Teams, including Barclay’s own Jaguar, are keeping their cards close to their chests in the early rounds of the season.

“Because it’s a brand-new car, people are still getting used to overtaking with it,” he said. “You didn’t want to take too many risks in the first race of the season because you want to get a full race under your belt; you want to get the mileage. So, you saw people being a little bit cautious and maybe not having the big moves that we’ve seen in Formula E in the past. That will come.”

Friday night will see the first of the two Diriyah races taking place under the floodlights, and the Jaguar boss is happy to be back in Riyadh.

“It’s fantastic to be back here,” Barclay said. “What we love about this race is, firstly, the location in the historic part of Diriyah. It’s a really challenging circuit. It’s a formidable track. The drivers enjoy it, which is always a positive sign.

“Sector one and sector two are incredibly technical and fast. You have to be very accurate. A small mistake has a big penalty. It’s like threading the eye of the needle, basically. There’s no room for error. And it’s been a roller coaster down that first section.

“Add to that the fact that this is the night race, our only night race to Canada. And I think that adds something really special to it.”

Barclay says the relevance of Formula E continues to rise as the world shifts toward electrical mobility.

“Regulation is driving that,” he said. “If you look at the majority of car manufacturers, they make clear statements, so for us, we made a statement that from 2025, Jaguar would become an all-electric model luxury car company.”

Daimler and Volkswagen have also made similar announcements.

“In summary, most manufacturers here made a clear statement toward becoming all-electric car companies at different points in time. In our case, this will happen very soon, but all within the next 10 years, which is incredibly exciting,” Barclay said.

Barclay calls Formula One “the pinnacle” of internal combustion engine racing and says Formula E plays a similar role in electric racing.

“What starts to happen in the future, beyond 2030, when in many markets, you can’t sell ICE engines, no one knows,” he said. “But the reality is, I think Formula E is incredibly well placed if you look at the main automotive market, and the shift toward electric mobility, or the uptake of electric cars. So we see Formula E being a positive space going forward in terms of what’s at the core of a championship.”

Beyond the environmental aspects, Formula E currently has a structure that other motorsports cannot match.

“We don’t have any driver that brings budget to racing Formula E. Everyone has a full professional employed by the team,” Barclay said. “I can’t think of any other category where that happens. It doesn’t happen in Formula One. It doesn’t happen in IndyCar. It doesn’t happen in NASCAR. Basically, I think it’s the most perfect professional driver lineup in the world and one that has so much strength in depth.”

Add to that an expanding calendar that last year saw a new race in Jakarta and this year has added Sao Paolo, Cape Town and Hyderabad, and the popularity of Formula E could be about to rise even further.

“I come back to that point: We’re a startup sport,” said Barclay. “I think what is incredible is if you look at the short space of time, we just came back from Mexico City where we had just under 60,000 people. The stadium was absolutely full, sold out, all tickets in the grandstand, in hospitality sold. In Jakarta, we had 60,000 people last year.

“So genuinely, wherever we are, we’re sold out.”


WWE Superstars gear up for colossal Royal Rumble showdown

WWE Superstars gear up for colossal Royal Rumble showdown
Updated 27 January 2023

WWE Superstars gear up for colossal Royal Rumble showdown

WWE Superstars gear up for colossal Royal Rumble showdown

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA: This weekend sees colossal battles inside the WWE ring as Royal Rumble makes its entrance for 2023 with championships on the line and more than 60 WWE superstars set to face off on Sunday, Jan 28 January.

In the main event encounters, this year’s Royal Rumble will raise the stakes higher than ever, with the winner of both the male and female headline matches guaranteed a World Championship match at WrestleMania 39 in Hollywood in April.

In the 30-man Royal Rumble contest, superstars from across eras, including Drew McIntyre, Cody Rhodes, Rey Mysterio, Sheamus, and current United States champion Austin Theory, will battle it out for the ultimate spot as the last wrestler standing.

(WWE)

Meanwhile, the 30-woman Royal Rumble match will see superstars, including Liv Morgan and Rhea Ripley, enter the ring for a chance to earn a title matchup on The Grandest Stage of Them All.

In the championship matches, undisputed WWE Universal Champion, Roman Reigns will face off with Kevin Owens following their high-profile bouts to start off the year, with Reigns aiming to maintain his ongoing dominance over the WWE universe.

Raw Women’s Champion Bianca Belair will also have her eyes set on retaining her title, as she stands toe-to-toe with Alexa Bliss in the title showdown on Saturday evening.

WWE fans in the Middle East can catch the encounters at Royal Rumble from 4 a.m. KSA on Sunday, live on Shahid.


Newcastle’s Howe on January transfers

Newcastle’s Howe on January transfers
Updated 27 January 2023

Newcastle’s Howe on January transfers

Newcastle’s Howe on January transfers
  • United have suffered just one defeat all season under Howe and remain in contention in all three domestic competitions

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe admits improving his Newcastle United starting XI could prove difficult to do in the January transfer window.
Although, that does not mean he will not try to at least steady up his Magpies squad, with the club set to be fighting it out on three fronts heading into 2023.
The last two transfer windows have proved transformative for Newcastle and Howe: From the likes of Bruno Guimaraes dragging the Magpies away from the relegation zone 12 months ago, to the summer rebuild which has seen a shift into the Champions League places.
United have suffered just one defeat all season under Howe and remain in contention in all three domestic competitions, making them one of the country’s form teams. And adjusting and adding to the side with the right level of quality does come with its own pitfalls, of which Howe is only too aware.
“I’m always watching players with the view to signing them,” admitted the head coach ahead of Sunday’s return to league action at Leicester City.
“I’d like to think I’m an honest guy, but I don’t know whether we can get the right player. Improving our starting XI is very difficult without spending vast sums of money that we don’t have. Improving the squad is maybe a different thing, but do we want to improve the squad or do we want to improve the team.
“There are lots of different things, for example, injuries change things, and we always need to be careful with what we can do within Financial Fair Play regulations.”
More than $200 million has been spent by the Magpies’ majority owners, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, in the last two transfer windows. Howe does not expect next month to see anywhere near that level of expenditure.
He said: “We’re in a very different position to where we were last year.
“We knew we needed to act (last January) and we knew we needed some good numbers through the door to try and lift the group. Now, we’re in a different position. And also, we are in a different position with Financial Fair Play than we were last year where we didn’t have a legacy of transfer fees, so we had a gap there we could attack.
“Not avoiding your question, but we’re not sure what we want the window to look like because we’re not sure what is going to happen.”
One player heavily linked with a move to United next year is France international Marcus Thuram, fresh from his defeat in the World Cup final.
The player is a close friend of Newcastle star Allan Saint-Maximin, with the French winger admitting recently that he’d spoken to Thuram about a possible switch.
The Borussia Monchengladbach man is out of contract in the summer and is thought to be available for a knockdown fee in January. Bayern Munich are said to be interested, however.
Recently, Saint-Maximin said: “Yeah, I will be honest, I have chatted with him. For me, he’s a great player. I’ve known this guy a long time. I played football with him when I was very young. I know all his family. He has great parents. He’s an incredible guy.”
And when asked about his player’s words, Howe joked: “Well done, Maxi! He’s a top player. But yeah, no more than that. He’s one that I watched in the World Cup, for sure, but no more than that.”


Knicks edge Celtics in overtime thriller, Doncic hurt in Mavs win

Knicks edge Celtics in overtime thriller, Doncic hurt in Mavs win
Updated 27 January 2023

Knicks edge Celtics in overtime thriller, Doncic hurt in Mavs win

Knicks edge Celtics in overtime thriller, Doncic hurt in Mavs win
  • Detroit Pistons, owners of the worst record in the Eastern Conference, sprung a surprise in Brooklyn, where Kyrie Irving’s 40 points weren’t enough for the Nets in a 130-122 defeat

LOS ANGELES: Julius Randle scored 37 points to lead the New York Knicks to a 120-117 overtime victory over the NBA-leading Boston Celtics on Thursday as the Dallas Mavericks held off Phoenix despite an injury to star guard Luka Doncic.

Randle added nine rebounds and Jalen Brunson scored 29 points with four rebounds, seven assists and a crucial block as time expired as the Knicks thwarted Boston’s comeback bid.

They handed the Celtics a third straight defeat on the heels of their nine-game winning streak.

Boston’s Jayson Tatum celebrated his selection as an All-Star starter with 35 points and 14 rebounds. Jaylen Brown scored 22 points with nine rebounds.

But Boston’s star duo also combined for six key turnovers, and Brown missed two free throws with 7.6 seconds remaining to hurt Boston’s cause.

“I’m a better basketball player than I played today,” a dejected Brown said. “Those two missed free throws kind of embodied the whole game for me — didn’t get it going, didn’t give my team enough energy to win.”

Randle, meanwhile, drained a pair of clutch free throws with 21.2 seconds left and RJ Barrett added another two foul shots before Brunson swatted away a potential game-tying three-pointer by Malcolm Brogdon as time ticked off in overtime.

“We’ve been in these games before,” Randle told broadcaster TNT after the Knicks squandered a late 12-point lead but managed to hang on.

“All year we’ve been in up and down games. We’ve lost those games at the end, we’ve won them at the end, so there’s a sense of being comfortable in those positions and knowing how to execute whether you’re up or down.”

Tatum scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, but he missed a potential game-winner and when teammate Robert Williams grabbed the rebound Boston’s Jericho Sims blocked his put-back attempt.

In Phoenix, Doncic — who came into the night leading the league in scoring — limped out with a sprained left ankle less than four minutes into the contest.

X-rays were negative, but he didn’t return, with Spencer Dinwiddie stepping up to fill the void with 36 points and nine assists.

The Mavs led the entire second half, but two driving layups from Chris Paul pulled the Suns within 96-95 with 19.7 seconds remaining.

Dwight Powell came up with a key rebound off teammate Reggie Bullock’s missed free throw and then made two free throws of his own as the Mavs put it away.

“No one ever panicked and we found a way to win a game,” said Mavs coach Jason Kidd, who did not have an immediate update on the severity of Doncic’s injury after the game.

The Detroit Pistons, owners of the worst record in the Eastern Conference, sprung a surprise in Brooklyn, where Kyrie Irving’s 40 points weren’t enough for the Nets in a 130-122 defeat.

Saddiq Bey scored 25 points to lead eight Pistons players in double figures — despite the absence of star guard Cade Cunningham, backup point guard Cory Joseph and center Marvin Bagley.

Alec Burks scored 20 points for the Pistons, who ended a four-game losing streak as they rebounded from an embarrassing loss to Milwaukee on Monday in which they gave up 150 points.

“We just knew we had to start off better than that and just play better throughout the four quarters,” Bey said. “I think we were very eager just to nip that one in the bud and just keep going.”

The Pistons capitalized on their size advantage against the short-handed Nets, who were again without star Kevin Durant and saw Ben Simmons depart early with a sore left knee.

In Charlotte, the Hornets celebrated LaMelo Ball’s return from a three-game injury absence with a 111-96 come-from-behind victory over the Chicago Bulls.

In Los Angeles, Paul George scored 35 points and Kawhi Leonard added 27 for the Clippers in a 138-100 wire-to-wire rout of the San Antonio Spurs.