Sabalenka beats Pegula to reach WTA Finals semis, Ons Jabeur eliminated

Sabalenka beats Pegula to reach WTA Finals semis, Ons Jabeur eliminated
Aryna Sabalenka, above, will have the unenviable task of taking on No. 1 ranked Iga Swiatek in the semifinals of the 2022 WTA Finals. (AFP)
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Updated 05 November 2022

Sabalenka beats Pegula to reach WTA Finals semis, Ons Jabeur eliminated

Sabalenka beats Pegula to reach WTA Finals semis, Ons Jabeur eliminated
  • Sabalenka, who improved to 4-1 against Pegula, took charge early and took full advantage of four first-set double faults from Pegula

FORTH WORTH, TEXAS: Aryna Sabalenka beat Jessica Pegula 6-3, 7-5 on Friday and advanced to the semifinals of the WTA Finals as second-ranked Tunisian Ons Jabeur was eliminated.

Greece’s Maria Sakkari, ranked fifth, beat Jabeur 6-2, 6-3 on Friday night to finish unbeaten in round-robin play.

Her victory assured Sabalenka of second place in the Nancy Richey Group and a berth in the knockout stages.

Seventh-ranked Sabalenka had done her part with the victory over third-ranked Pegula.

With so much on the line, Sabalenka was dialed in from the start.

“I’m just happy that I was really focused from the beginning to the end and I was able to finish this match in two sets,” she said.

Sabalenka, who improved to 4-1 against Pegula, took charge early and took full advantage of four first-set double faults from Pegula.

The second set was a more tightly contested affair, Pegula quickly erasing an early break as Sabalenka suddenly found herself struggling on serve.

Despite seven double faults in the second set, Sabalenka managed to keep it close and broke for a 5-3 lead to pile the pressure back on Pegula.

Pegula, who secured her spot in the elite season-ending event with her triumph at Guadalajara in October, responded with a service break of her own and leveled the set at 5-5, Sabalenka digging deep to win the last two games and polish it off in two sets.

“It’s tough but that’s tennis,” Pegula said. “You have one good week, and then you’re right back at it the next. There’s a lot of really high highs and low lows.

“You end the year well and then I come here, lose all my matches,” added Pegula, who noted the number of her defeats this week in Fort Worth was the same as she’d endured in “like three months.”

Jabeur, a finalist at Wimbledon and the US Open this year, could have still sneaked into the semis with a straight-sets win over Sakkari.

But she didn’t get a look in as a “fearless” Sakkari wrapped up a victory in just 69 minutes.

As group winner, Sakkari guaranteed she won’t have to take on No. 1 ranked Iga Swiatek in the semifinals.

Instead she’ll face either Caroline Garcia or Daria Kasatkina, who clash on Saturday with second place in the Tracy Austin Group on the line.

“I think I just have to keep doing what I’ve been doing,” Sakkari said in an on-court interview. “I’m trusting myself. I’m just fearless on the court.”

Sabalenka will have the unenviable task of taking on Swiatek in the semifinals. The Polish star, whose eight titles this year include the French Open and US Open, has reigned at No. 1 for 30 weeks.

Swiatek has won the last four of their five career meetings, including a US Open semifinal in September.


Australian Open champions confirmed for Dubai Tennis Championships

Australian Open champions confirmed for Dubai Tennis Championships
Updated 15 sec ago

Australian Open champions confirmed for Dubai Tennis Championships

Australian Open champions confirmed for Dubai Tennis Championships
  • Novak Djokovic and Aryna Sabalenka, Grand Slam winners earlier this week in Melbourne will take part alongside women’s World No. 1 Swiatek
  • Nineteen of world’s top 20 women join a strong line-up between Feb. 19 and March 4

DUBAI: Australian Open champions Novak Djokovic and Aryna Sabalenka have been confirmed alongside women’s world No.1 Iga Swiatekfor for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships later this month.

The official entry lists show that while the men’s draw is headed by the indomitable Serb, a remarkable 19 of the top 20 women are now confirmed to compete at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium over the course of the championships’ two-week tennis extravaganza. The very best of the best are coming to compete from Feb. 19 to March 4.

As well as the reigning Australian Open champion in Sabalenka and the reigning US and French Open champion in Swiatek, Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina is among the women’s field that will compete between Feb. 19-25. Also on the official entry list is Arab icon Ons Jabeur, a two-time Grand Slam finalist in 2022, and Coco Gauff, the 2022 French Open finalist.

The field for the ATP Tour 500 event meanwhile includes 22-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic, as well as last year’s Dubai winner and World No. 5 Andrey Rublev, Canadian rising star Felix Auger-Aliassime, who is ranked No. 7 in the world, 2021 US Open winner Daniil Medvedev, and 2020 US Open finalist Alexander Zverev.

“Less than a week ago, Novak and Aryna were making history at the Australian Open, so it is fantastic to be able to confirm that tennis fans here in Dubai will get the chance to watch both inside the stadium,” said Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free.

“The official entry lists this year speak for themselves. To confirm all 10 of the world’s top 10 women is rare for a tournament outside the Grand Slams and a great demonstration of the popularity of our WTA event, which is marking its 23rd edition this month.”


Kingdom’s locally bred horses secure spots at Saudi Cup 2023

Kingdom’s locally bred horses secure spots at Saudi Cup 2023
Updated 02 February 2023

Kingdom’s locally bred horses secure spots at Saudi Cup 2023

Kingdom’s locally bred horses secure spots at Saudi Cup 2023
  • Neom Cup welcomes newcomer Castle for Prince Saud bin Salman
  • Asfan Al-Khalediah competes in the Manifa Cup for Arabian Horses

RIYADH: The Saudi Cup 2023 evening is gearing up to host several locally bred and trained horses that secured qualifying cards for the accompanying rounds of the world’s most expensive race event from Feb. 24-25.

The locally bred horses distinguished themselves in the Gulf Day races and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ Cup, organized by the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, last Friday and Saturday, on the dirt and turf tracks of the King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Janadriyah.

Raaed in the 1351 race, Castle in the Neom Cup

Raaed, son of Dark Angel, claimed his sixth victory by winning the Turf Sprint Qualifier 1351 out of a total of 26 entries.

During its racing career, the 6-year-old horse has achieved first-four positions at a rate of 87 percent.

Meanwhile, the Neom Cup is gearing up for the participation of newcomer Castle, Frankel’s son, owned by Prince Saud bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, after winning the Middle Distance Turf Qualifier on Friday in its second successful participation.

The 2,100-meter Neom Cup race will be held on a turf track in the accompanying rounds of The Saudi Cup 2023.

Asfan participates in the Manifa Cup, Pagan runs in the Riyadh Cup

The stable of the sons of Prince Khaled bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz competes in the Manifa Cup round for purebred Arabian horses with Asfan Al-Khalediah on the 2,100-meter turf track.

Asfan has prepared well for the race, starting from the Taif Racing Season at King Khalid Equestrian Square in which it won its first prestigious titles, including the tough King Faisal Cup-ranked race for Arabian horses.

Pagan, owned by Fihan bin Faisal Almindeel Sons, has booked its place in the Riyadh Pace Cup, another accompanying round of The Saudi Cup 2023, after winning the 1,200-meter Dirt Sprint Qualifier race.

The 5-year-old horse, son of Sir Prancealot, clocked a record time of 1 minute, 10.29 seconds in its 90-0 Parity Round appearance last season.

My Map reaches the Derby Cup, with Hamdani in the Obeya Cup

My Map presented itself as one of the most promising colts the Saudi field has acquired in recent times as it won the title in its previous races over progressive distances based on the choices of its trainer.

The 3-year-old colt, son of Liam’s Map, owned by Prince Sultan bin Mishal, won the 1,600-meter Saudi Derby Qualifier race on Friday.

Finally, Hamdani Khaled Al-Khalediah won the Al-Diriyah Cup for Arabian horses to reach the Obeya Round at The Saudi Cup 2023.

Hamdani faced fierce competition against Dergham Athbah in the Al-Diriyah Cup race which it won by a nose.

Hamdani’s superb performance in the Al-Diriyah Cup was expected based on its results over the past two years as one of the best Arabian horses in the Al-Khalediah stable.

His victory was the second achievement for Hamdani so far this season, after winning the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia Cup for Arabian horses two months ago.


Strong Carnival lineup could point the way to Dubai World Cup success

Strong Carnival lineup could point the way to Dubai World Cup success
Updated 02 February 2023

Strong Carnival lineup could point the way to Dubai World Cup success

Strong Carnival lineup could point the way to Dubai World Cup success
  • Horses from 8 countries will clash in 7 races at Meydan this weekend

Rain did its best but didn’t manage to stop play at Meydan last week, although it was undoubtedly a soggy affair.

This played to the strengths of the visiting Europeans, however, who managed two wins.

First came the Irish-trained Coachello in the Dubai Sprint, while Good Fortune now owns a slice of history, having become the first Denmark-trained horse to win at the Carnival. A big well done to his trainer, Soren Jensen, who managed the win with just his second-ever runner in the UAE.

On to this week, when there are horses from eight countries clashing across seven races. It’s a very strong card, featuring the G2 Maktoum Challenge Round 2, which should throw up some horses to take their chance in the $12-million Dubai World Cup in March.

The connections of Algiers have that race firmly on their agenda after the gelding’s impressive win in Round 1. He runs here due to not having received an invitation to The Saudi Cup, as yet, and Riyadh’s loss will be Dubai’s gain as he will be hard to beat, although Remorse and Salute The Soldier will be among those trying their best to do just that.

The Group 2 Singspiel Stakes looks a fascinating race, with four Godolphin horses locking horns, including Valiant Prince who beat several of these rivals in the Al-Rashidiya last time out. For the last two years this race has been won by Lord Glitters and his trainer, David O’Meara, has Shelir here.

A fast-finishing second in the Zabeel Mile last time out, the extra 200 meters this time should suit the 7-year-old, so he gets my vote. Another one to watch is Sifting Sands, one of three runners on the night for US trainer Doug O’Neill. Connections have been purring about him and he runs here with a view to switching to dirt later in the Carnival.

Twelve fillies clash in the Group 2 Cape Verdi, among them four for Godolphin who have Group race winners With The Moonlight and Wild Beauty on their side, while Soft Whisper beat several of these in the Ipi Tombe Stakes last time. I can’t choose between them, so maybe it goes to Spain who have Samedi Rien, a closing third to Soft Whisper, in the lineup for trainer Guillermo Arizkoretta. It’ll be tough for her, but these races are meant to be.

The Group 3 Al-Shindagha Sprint will give us a contender for the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen on World Cup night. There isn’t much between the 12 who line up, but Doug Watson has issued a positive bulletin about Mubakker, so he’s my pick. Bhupat Seemar’s Freedom Fighter is another interesting one if able to overcome his wide draw in 13.

Watson could have a good evening as he also runs Legend Of Dubai in the closing handicap. The 5-year-old is a two-time winner in the UK and runs here for the first time, but is well-regarded by his handler and could be hard to beat. Ouzo, trained in the UK by Jamie Osborne, is another who should run well, having finished a close third over course and distance three weeks ago.

It’s nice that Vazirabad, a three-time winner of the G2 Dubai Gold Cup, is being recognized with a race named after him and the 2,410-meter handicap, race two, is a competitive affair. There’s no standout pick, for me, but Final Dance is an eight-time winner on turf in Turkey and should love this extra distance. He’s better than he showed when only eighth behind Algiers last time, so perhaps he can cause an upset in this lower grade.

The evening starts with the Purebred Arabians’ version of Maktoum Challenge Round 2, a Group 1. Watch out for Hiab Al-Zaman, a Grade 1 winner in America, who makes his local debut here for trainer Fawzi Nass.


Canadian tennis star Bianca Andreescu relishing shot at Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open

Canadian tennis star Bianca Andreescu relishing shot at Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open
Updated 02 February 2023

Canadian tennis star Bianca Andreescu relishing shot at Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open

Canadian tennis star Bianca Andreescu relishing shot at Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open
  • New WTA-500 tournament takes place at Zayed Sports City from Feb. 5-12

Former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu is delighted to finally see the UAE capital added to the WTA calendar with the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open —a contest that would “mean a lot” to her if she became its first winner.

The 22-year-old Canadian is among the top stars set to compete at the inaugural WTA-500 level event from Feb. 5-12 at the International Tennis Centre in Zayed Sports City.

With the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open being the latest elite tennis event in the city following the 2021 WTA Women’s Tennis Open and the annual exhibition Mubadala World Tennis Championships, Andreescu is relishing the opportunity of returning to the Emirate after being impressed by what she saw during a day trip back in December 2020.

The 2019 US Open champion said: “Whenever there’s a chance that I can play a tournament, I will but specifically for this tournament it’s a WTA 500 and is being staged in a great location in Abu Dhabi.

“I’ve been there before and I always wanted to go back. During my pre-season in December 2020, I traveled to Abu Dhabi for one day and I visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque which was amazing.

“It’s really nice that tennis is spreading all around the world and Abu Dhabi is a really nice place. I’ve always thought about why WTA doesn’t have a tournament on its calendar but now it’s here with the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open. To be one of the first players to play in the tournament is always nice so I’m very excited to play there.”

The Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open has attracted a strong field including recent Australian Open finalist and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, Russian world No. 8 Daria Kasatkina, world No. 9 Belinda Bencic, Russian No. 11 Veronika Kudermetova as well as three-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza.

Andreescu, who comes into Abu Dhabi following the Hua Hin Championships in Thailand, is fully aware of the stern competition she faces if she wants to claim her fourth WTA title.

“It will be very tough but I am looking forward to it,” said Andreescu, who reached a career high of fourth in the world rankings in 2019. “All of these wonderful women on the tour give me motivation and inspiration to be where they are and where I was before. To be competing alongside them gives me that extra motivation as I do like to play my best tennis against top players. I think I can do well given it’s on hard court, which is a surface I love.”

She added: “I have had a few good matches at the start of the year and played in the Thailand Open this week so hopefully I can continue to do well and get some good matches under my belt and carry that on to the Abu Dhabi tournament. I think right now it is about gaining as many matches as I can since I’ve not played the amount of games that I would I have liked to have played.

“Maybe next week might be my chance. It’s the first edition (of the tournament) so winning it would mean a lot.”

Whether she makes history by becoming the inaugural champion of the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open or not, Andreescu insists the tournament will serve as an important platform for the rest of 2023 and has set her sights on adding to her Grand Slam triumphs.

“I would love to win another Grand Slam and another WTA 1000 event,” she said. “I know that it’s possible because I’ve done it before and hoping this year is my year. I don’t want to be too picky but the Australian Open would’ve been nice.

“But looking ahead I’ve always wanted to win the US Open and the next one after that would be Wimbledon. I don’t have the most experience on grass yet but last year I showed some dominance on it so hopefully I can do well in that this year.”


Saudi Cup sees Pogo and Garrus clash in 1351 Turf Sprint presented by stc

Saudi Cup sees Pogo and Garrus clash in 1351 Turf Sprint presented by stc
Updated 02 February 2023

Saudi Cup sees Pogo and Garrus clash in 1351 Turf Sprint presented by stc

Saudi Cup sees Pogo and Garrus clash in 1351 Turf Sprint presented by stc
  • British trainer oversaw arguably the two horses’ best seasons in 2022

If there is one trainer who knows how to get the best out of sprinters, it is Charlie Hills, and the British handler is hoping his two contenders in this year’s Group 3 1351 Turf Sprint presented by stc at The Saudi Cup meeting on Feb. 25 can show why he has become such an expert with horses over shorter distances.

Hills saddles Pogo and Garrus in the contest, both of whom enjoyed arguably the best seasons of their careers in 2022, and Hills reports the pair are in great form ahead of their seasonal debuts in Saudi Arabia.

“Both horses are in great form and I couldn’t be much happier with them,” he said. “The plan has always been to start both in the race in Saudi and I’m really looking forward to running them as they seem in really rude health.

“The facilities for the horses out there are fantastic and it’s one of those events that you want to be having runners at, so it’s great we’ve got two heading over with live chances.”

Pogo was one of the most improved horses in training on British shores last season having won three times at Group level, including the Group 2 Challenge Stakes at Newmarket, and his trainer is very happy with his charge.

Hills said: “He was absolutely brilliant last year and kept a really solid level of form the whole way through the campaign.

“I’ve always believed he was a really good horse as he’s always shown that at home and it’s great that he’s translated his work on the gallops to the track. He’s got a great constitution, takes his racing really well, and just didn’t stop improving.”

The 7-year-old took his form to a new level in 2022 and while Hills admits he did not do anything different with him, he feels a combination of increased maturity and confidence might have been the key.

“Some horses just take a bit longer to develop and he might be one of those,” Hills said. “He’s a real trier and there’s no doubt that last season showed he’s improved as he’s got older.”

Pogo finished fifth in this race 12 months ago and the 11-time Group 1-winning trainer hopes that with the horse in better shape this time around, he might be able to go a few places better.

He said: “The track and trip should really play to his strengths out there. He loves fast ground and hopefully this year’s race will be run a bit more to suit. We’ll probably ride him a touch more patiently this time and with any luck he’ll be bang there.”

Hills is also responsible for Garrus in this year’s 1351 Turf Sprint presented by stc, another horse who improved hand over fist in 2022, and like his stablemate, he is in great form ahead of his seasonal reappearance.

“The trip and track should really suit him,” Hills added. “We’ve been really pleased with his run-up to the race, and it looks a really good place to start him off this year.

“The prize money is so good out there and given it’s a race we think should play to his strengths, we’ve had it lined up for a while for him.”