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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Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset

Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset
Updated 58 min 32 sec ago

Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset

Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset
  • The Palestinian flag -- which has been fluttering widely across Qatar during the finals -- was seen being held aloft by Moroccan players

DOHA: Morocco’s players unfurled a Palestinian flag during their on-pitch celebrations after the team’s stunning World Cup upset victory against Spain on Tuesday.
The Palestinian flag — which has been fluttering widely across Qatar during the finals — was seen being held aloft by Moroccan players following the dramatic penalty shoot-out win over the Spaniards.
FIFA regulations prohibit the display of banners, flags and fliers that are deemed to be “political, offensive and/or discriminatory nature.” In the past, football’s governing bodies have issued fines for displays of the Palestinian flag inside stadia.
Morocco’s players also displayed the Palestinian flag after the team’s win against Canada during the group stage last week.
World Cup host Qatar has no relations with Israel and remains a supporter of the decades-long Palestinian cause for statehood.
Israel has occupied the Palestinian territories of east Jerusalem and the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War fought with Arab nations.
About 250,000 Palestinians live in Qatar which has a population of around 2.9 million, most of them foreigners.


Ronaldo benched for Portugal’s last 16 tie with Switzerland

Ronaldo benched for Portugal’s last 16 tie with Switzerland
Updated 06 December 2022

Ronaldo benched for Portugal’s last 16 tie with Switzerland

Ronaldo benched for Portugal’s last 16 tie with Switzerland
  • Ronaldo, 37, is the only man to score at five World Cups
  • He angered Portugal coach Fernando Santos with his reaction to being substituted in the last group game

DOHA: Cristiano Ronaldo was left out of Portugal’s starting line-up for their World Cup last 16 clash against Switzerland on Tuesday, with Goncalo Ramos selected up front at his expense.
Ronaldo, 37, is the only man to score at five World Cups, but he angered Portugal coach Fernando Santos with his reaction to being substituted in the last group game.
Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix return for Portugal after they were rested in the 2-1 loss to South Korea, as does Bernardo Silva who made a brief appearance off the bench in that game.
Joao Cancelo drops out, with Diogo Dalot keeping his spot at right-back and Raphael Guerreiro restored at left-back.
Otavio starts in midfield after recovering from an injury in Portugal’s opening match.
Switzerland welcome back goalkeeper Yann Sommer from illness and Fabian Schaer retains his place in defense having filled in for Nico Elvedi in the 3-2 win over Serbia.
Edmilson Fernandes comes in for the absent Silvan Widmer at right-back.


Newcastle in Riyadh: Howe reveals Isak injury caution

Newcastle in Riyadh: Howe reveals Isak injury caution
Updated 06 December 2022

Newcastle in Riyadh: Howe reveals Isak injury caution

Newcastle in Riyadh: Howe reveals Isak injury caution
  • $70m Swedish forward will miss Thursday’s friendly against Al-Hilal, remains doubt for Premier League return
  • While the January transfer window is not expected to be a transformative one for United, Isak’s return will very much feel like a cliched new signing

RIYADH: Newcastle United’s record signing Alexander Isak is a major doubt for the club’s return to English Premier League action with head coach Eddie Howe confirming that the $70m Swede will not feature in Thursday’s Diriyah Season Cup clash with Al-Hilal.

Since arriving at St. James’ Park in a summer deal, 23-year-old Isak has played just three games, the last of which came in September. He scored two goals in that trio of Premier League encounters, one of which came against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.

And while it had been hoped the former Real Sociedad striker would feature on Thursday evening, those hopes have been dashed by Howe, who claims the player is facing a race against time to be fit for the visit to Leicester City on Dec. 26.

The Newcastle boss does, however, insist there has been no setback to Isak’s return-to-fitness plan.

Howe said: “He’s doing well. This was the plan. We didn’t expect him to train with the group when we first started training so he’s with the sports scientist team and physios.

“We are building him up in a controlled way and we expect him to be very close for Bournemouth or Leicester, we’re not sure if he’ll be fit or available for those games yet.”

On whether Isak would play against the Saudi Pro League champions this week, Howe added: “No, it’s a bit too early. I don’t expect him to feature in those games (against Al Hilal and a friendly against Rayo Vallecano on Dec. 17). We’ll try and get him back for Bournemouth or Leicester, but we’ll have to see how it goes.

“There’s been no setback. There was an initial setback when he re-injured his thigh and as a consequence of that we just want to make sure we get him fully fit.”

While the January transfer window is not expected to be a transformative one for United, Isak’s return will very much feel like a cliched new signing.

Howe said: “Very much so. He’s a player we’ve really liked and missed, and he’ll give us lots of qualities we feel the team needs. We’re really excited to try and get him back.”

Meanwhile, Newcastle United’s players were guests of honor at the Riyadh residence of Saudi Public Investment Fund head and Magpies’ non-executive chairman, Yasir Al-Rumayyan.

The 28-man playing squad, along with co-owners Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi, as well as Howe’s coaching staff were invited for an evening meal with Al-Rumayyan and his family on Monday evening, 24 hours after their arrival in the Kingdom.

After the event, PCP Capital Partners’ Ghodoussi took to social media to post an image of the squad together, united, and said: “A great evening with great people (followed by a red heart emoji) #nufc #NUFCinRiyadh.”

The players trained at Al-Hilal’s training complex on Tuesday morning, with Isak confined to the gym as part of his recovery.

The only absentees from the playing squad are the Magpies’ World Cup representatives Bruno Guimaraes, Kieran Trippier, Callum Wilson, Nick Pope, and Fabian Schar, while Dan Burn, absent from the original Saudia flight on Sunday, joined up with the squad on Tuesday following his recovery from an illness.

On his players’ return to Saudi Arabia, Howe added: “The first thing we did was to test the players and find out where they were physically compared to the tests we did during pre-season, and from those tests the players were in a good place, which you probably expect as it’s only been two weeks and a couple of days rest but you can still lose a bit of fitness even in that short space on time.

“Because it’s such a short window, the minute we start working, the players will quickly get back to the levels of a very good physical condition.”


Heroic Morocco make history to reach World Cup quarter-final

Heroic Morocco make history to reach World Cup quarter-final
Updated 06 December 2022

Heroic Morocco make history to reach World Cup quarter-final

Heroic Morocco make history to reach World Cup quarter-final
  • Penalty shootout win over Spain means Atlas Lions are first Arab nation to reach last eight
  • Achraf Hakimi scored the crucial spot kick to light the touch-paper in an already febrile Education City Stadium

Morocco are in dreamland and in the quarter-finals of the World Cup after a historic 3-0 penalty shootout victory over Spain on Tuesday after 120 minutes ended 0-0.

It is by some distance the greatest result in Morocco’s history, and the Arab world now has a team in the last eight for the first time ever. And now who knows how far they can go?

Achraf Hakimi scored the crucial spot kick to light the touch-paper in an already febrile Education City Stadium. 

With Senegal, the US, Australia, Japan and South Korea falling by the wayside earlier in the second round, Morocco were not just the last Arab hope but the only team left at Qatar 2022 not from the traditional power centers of Europe and South America. 

There was plenty of support for the team from all around the world and how they delivered against a genuine powerhouse.

Spain were still regarded as clear favorites despite collecting just four points from their group, three less than the Arab record notched up by the Atlas Lions, who finished top of Group F above Croatia, Belgium and Canada.

Such is the pedigree of a nation that lifted the trophy just 12 years ago, and it is that level that Morocco are aiming for. They are not far away as this victory proves.

Whatever the result at the end of the 90 or 120 minutes, Morocco are now a team to be reckoned with and not an opponent to be under-rated.

The same goes for their fans. Once again, it was a sea of red that produced waves of noise that crashed around Education City Stadium. As much as the team, the Moroccan fans have really made their presence felt at the World Cup. The support has been monumental from the start.

From offset, they roared their heroes into every tackle and every run. When Sofiane Boufal danced down the left midway through the first half, you could have closed your eyes and felt like you were in Rabat, Fez or Agadir.

Spain were dangerous, however, and capable of breaking free at any time.

Before the game, Morocco had conceded just one goal in seven under Walid Regragui and that was an own goal against Canada in the final group game. 

This was their toughest test by far and, if there was to be any chance of going through, the defense had to hold firm. With Spain enjoying the lion’s share of possession, the Moroccan players had to stay focused and they did, allowing just one shot in the first half.

Nasser Mazraoui has improved with every game, and the Bayern Munich star forced a good save out of the Spanish number one just after the half-hour. With Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi combining well down the right and the opposition looking smooth in the middle, it was a fascinating clash. 

Just before the break, Morocco had the chance of the half with Boufal enjoying a free header that was missed.

The second half continued in a similar fashion though as the minutes ticked by, Spain had more of the ball (80 percent after 90 minutes) but were still struggling to create chances with Morocco defending well and looking to hit on the counter.

Even with 20 minutes remaining, the shadow of a longer game was looming large, though both teams had chances. Spain almost snatched a goal in the final seconds of normal time.

Morocco had their best period of the match early in extra time. The game was on a knife-edge with the Arab team continuing to defend magnificently.

If extra time seemed inevitable, penalties did not. Both teams had chances to win in the final half hour with Spain hitting the post with virtually the last kick of the game.

The first kick of the shootout was converted by Abdelhamid Sabiri and when Pablo Sarabia hit the post, a whole nation started to believe. Ziyech made it 2-0, then Carlos Soler saw his kick saved and the roof was being raised.

Badr Benoun failed to convert but it didn’t matter when Sergio Busquets became the third Spaniard to miss. Up stepped Hakimi and the rest is history.


Eto’o sorry for fan ‘altercation’ but slams Algeria ‘provocation’

Eto’o sorry for fan ‘altercation’ but slams Algeria ‘provocation’
Updated 06 December 2022

Eto’o sorry for fan ‘altercation’ but slams Algeria ‘provocation’

Eto’o sorry for fan ‘altercation’ but slams Algeria ‘provocation’
  • Eto'o released a statement in which he admitted being involved in a "violent altercation"
  • He only addressed his apology to "the public" however and made no gesture to the fan

DOHA: Former Cameroon star Samuel Eto’o apologized Tuesday for kneeing an Algeria supporter in the face but insisted he was the target of “relentless provocation” by the North African state’s supporters since a controversial World Cup qualifier this year.
The 41-year-old Cameroon federation president and ambassador for the Qatar World Cup flew into a rage after being approached as he left Brazil’s 4-1 win over South Korea in Doha on Monday night.
A video widely shown on social media showed the four-time African player of the year breaking free from people seeking to restrain him and kneeing the face of a blogger named as Sadouni SM.
The man fell back after being struck but has not reported any serious injury.
Eto’o released a statement in which he admitted being involved in a “violent altercation.”
“I would like to apologize for losing my temper and reacting in a way that does not match my personality,” said the former Barcelona, Inter Milan and Chelsea striker.
Eto’o only addressed his apology to “the public” however and made no gesture to the fan.
Eto’o lashed out at Algeria’s supporters for their behavior since Cameroon beat Algeria on away goals in a World Cup qualifying playoff in March.
Algeria later complained to FIFA about the referee and initially demanded a replay.
“I pledge to continue to resist the relentless provocation and daily harassment of some Algerian supporters,” Eto’o said.
“I have been the target of insults and allegations of cheating without any evidence,” he added.
He said Cameroon fans at the World Cup had also been “harassed and pestered” by Algerians.
“The scenario of Algeria’s defeat was cruel but perfectly in line with the rules and ethics of our sport,” Eto’o insisted.
All of Algeria’s appeals have been rejected and Eto’s said that Algerian authorities must now act to halt “this unhealthy climate before a more serious tragedy occurs.”
The African football legend was surrounded as soon as he left the 974 Stadium where the round of 16 match was played.
Wearing a blue baseball cap, he is seen allowing selfies with some fans before he was approached by the Algerian.
Eto’o handed his mobile phone to a man before surging at the blogger to deliver the blow with his knee.
Sadouni SM said in a video posted online Tuesday that his camera and microphone had been “smashed” in the incident.
“He hit me,” the man adds, pointing to his chin.
“I did all that for Algeria,” Sadouni SM says in the video.
“I am at the police station now for the inquiry.
“This video must be shared. As Eto’o is a celebrity I am afraid they will cover up the inquiry, but I trust the Qatari police,” he added.
Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee has not commented on the incident. Eto’o toured Senegal, Cameroon and Ghana in August to promote the World Cup.
The former international has a history of fiery outbursts, receiving a three-match ban in 2010 for headbutting an opponent while playing for Inter.