Matteo Berrettini targets a brighter 2023 after a stop-start year

Matteo Berrettini targets a brighter 2023 after a stop-start year
Matteo Berrettini is in Saudi Arabia this week competing in the Diriyah Tennis Cup. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 12 December 2022

Matteo Berrettini targets a brighter 2023 after a stop-start year

Matteo Berrettini targets a brighter 2023 after a stop-start year
  • ‘I’m ready to compete again,’ Italian star says, looking back on injury-plagued year

After a stop-start 2022 campaign that saw Matteo Berrettini miss two of the four tennis grand slams due to injuries and illness, the Italian is hoping he enjoys a healthier 2023 as he targets a return to the world’s top 10.

Berrettini, who is in Saudi Arabia this week competing in the Diriyah Tennis Cup, was ranked a career-high No.6 early this season after reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open.

A right-hand injury that required surgery ruled him out of the entire clay season before he made an impressive return to the tour, winning back-to-back grass-court titles in Stuttgart and London. Bad luck struck again, however, as he tested positive for COVID-19 on the eve of Wimbledon and the 26-year-old sat out the action, knowing he was considered one of the favorites for the title.

Last month, a foot problem he picked up in Naples stopped him from playing singles for Italy in the Davis Cup finals, where he took part in just one doubles match before wrapping up his season.

“Mentally, it was really tough,” Berrettini told Arab News, reflecting on his 2022 campaign.

“I was at my best ranking, I was playing good, I had a good run in Australia, clay season was coming and grass season was coming, which are the ones I love the most, and then that injury happened so it was tough to deal with that.

“At the same time I tried to take that time in order to come back stronger, with more energy. Because, obviously, the tour can be really tiring in some ways, so I was like, OK, I have to stop and get surgery, but I’m going to try to use this time to get better, to maybe do something I wouldn’t able to do when I’m on tour. Just invest some time to do stuff I never had the time to do and I helped myself like that.

“It worked out because when I came back I was feeling ready, I was feeling good. Obviously after I got COVID in Wimbledon everything went a little bit downhill, but it’s ups and downs and, hopefully, next year there are going to be more ups.”

Berrettini admits it is tough getting back to being fully focused on tennis, and not spending too much time worrying about his body and his physical problems.

He said that he is feeling better and is “ready to compete” with an eye on having another strong run in Australia next month.

The Rome native explains how he tries to bring an intensity to his practice sessions to mimic match conditions in order to regain that match toughness he was lacking while dealing with injuries. He believes a healthier body can help relieve some of the pressure he has been feeling at tournaments lately.

“In general, I would like to be healthier. I played I don’t know how many tournaments this year and I felt like each tournament I played I had to perform and get points, otherwise my ranking would drop even more and having that kind of pressure is not easy to deal with,” said Berrettini.  

“So being healthy would mean also to be less stressed about that, so that’s one of the goals for sure (in 2023). Obviously I’d like to come back to the top 10, because I think the tennis is there, I just have to be more consistent.”

A former Wimbledon finalist with a devastating serve and forehand combination, Berrettini has shown great consistency at the grand slams over the last few years. He has made at least the quarterfinals in each of his last five major appearances, losing to Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal in four of them.

The men’s game is going through a generational change right now and players such as Berrettini are no longer focused only on chasing Djokovic and Nadal at the biggest events. The current world No.1 is Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz and Berrettini senses a shift in mentality on tour now that a 19-year-old is at the helm.

“It feels unbelievable if you think about it, what he achieved in such a short time,” Berrettini said of Alcaraz.

“I remember playing him in Australia at the beginning of the year and I played him Rio as well, and I felt he is a great player but what he did is still impressive for his age. The physicality he already has and everything, also mentally it’s not easy to deal with everything that he dealt with, so it’s impressive.

“At the same time we know that tennis it’s really tough, but it’s not impossible, we all know we can play our best tennis, I have to say it was a weird year with Novak not playing most of the slams, it was kind of a little weird. But Carlos deserves the world No.1 and I think everybody now is like, OK, he did it, yeah maybe it changed (our mentality) a little bit, it’s like maybe we can do it as well.

“Before world No.1 was Novak and Rafa, Daniil (Medvedev) already did it, which was impressive, but now, even Casper (Ruud) had the chance to be No.1 after the US Open.”

Away from the court, Berrettini has had an eventful year, full of new experiences. He became one of the faces of the fashion label Boss, alongside TikTok star Khaby Lame and supermodel Hailey Bieber. He attended the Cannes Film Festival and has been followed by cameras all year as one of the protagonists of the Netflix tennis docu-series that will be released early next season.

“It’s been fun,” he said of being part of the Netflix project.

“At the beginning I was like, what is this? Obviously when you win it’s always easy to have people around you and stuff but then when you lose, it’s tougher, you want to be by yourself, you don’t want to be bothered. But I was like, if I’m going to do this, I want to do it the right way. And that’s what I tried to do. I think it’s going to be really interesting to show people behind-the-scenes the stuff you don’t usually see.”

Berrettini lost his Diriyah Tennis Cup opener on Thursday to Stan Wawrinka. The Italian kicks off his 2023 campaign by representing Italy in the United Cup mixed team event in Brisbane, Australia, starting Dec. 29.

World’s top riders praise FBMA International Show Jumping Cup in Abu Dhabi

World’s top riders praise FBMA International Show Jumping Cup in Abu Dhabi
Updated 03 February 2023

World’s top riders praise FBMA International Show Jumping Cup in Abu Dhabi

World’s top riders praise FBMA International Show Jumping Cup in Abu Dhabi
  • The 10th annual event saw more than 300 of the best riders from across the region and world take part over four days

ABU DHABI: UAE and international riders have praised the just-completed FBMA International Show Jumping Cup and believe the staging of the tournament every year is helping grow the women’s game and develop local talent.

The annual FBMA International Show Jumping Cup is held under the patronage of Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak.

The 10th prestigious event concluded on Sunday evening with more than 330 horses and more than 300 of the world’s best riders — from more than 34 countries including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt, the UK, the US and India — across 20 classes competing in six different categories.

Among the riders to compete in the four-day event, which is one of the most respected competitions on the international equestrian circuit, was Chloe Vranken of Belgium, who triumphed in the flagship Longines Grand Prix.

Vranken said: “I have been show jumping for 21 years, and I never got the opportunity to compete in a female-only class. I really like the idea of having only female classes, as it feels empowering and will encourage more women to take part in this sport and allows them to be more competitive since we are all competing equally.

“The FBMA International Cup is great by all means, and they are doing a great job organizing their events in these excellent venues. I believe this tournament will serve a great deal for the success of this sport in the country, as well as encouraging more people to get involved on the local scale.”

Another rider to take part was Omar Abdulaziz Al-Marzooqi, representing the UAE. He said: “The FBMA International Show Jumping Cup was great for me as I won two separate categories on two different days. I really enjoyed participating, especially because my father himself also loved being around horses, and ever since I was a four-year-old I was attached to horses as well. This sport requires a lot of patience and persistence, hence my enjoyment participating in these tournaments.”

For Swedish rider, Antonia Pettersson Haggstrom: “Participating here was extremely enjoyable for me, especially since it was my first time participating in a female-only class. I participated in a warm-up round on the third day and I won it. In the Grand Prix, I witnessed some great performances from the other girls’ and it was great to experience a very competitive class with just women.

“The event is up to par with other bigger contests I have competed in in Europe and abroad, and I was surprised with the skill level of the athletes, especially those from the region, and the Arab riders definitely have a bright future ahead.”

Saudi women’s football reaping benefits of game’s boom in the Kingdom

Saudi women’s football reaping benefits of game’s boom in the Kingdom
Updated 44 min 26 sec ago

Saudi women’s football reaping benefits of game’s boom in the Kingdom

Saudi women’s football reaping benefits of game’s boom in the Kingdom
  • The Green Falcons’ performances at Qatar 2022 and Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Al-Nassr should inspire as many female footballers as male ones

Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival at Al-Nassr will inspire a generation of Saudi children to take up the game, which it is hoped will lead to future success on the international stage for the Green Falcons.

After the exploits in Qatar at the end of 2022 and that famous victory over eventual champions Argentina, the sky is the limit and everyone in Saudi Arabia is now dreaming of a bigger and brighter future.

And everyone means everyone, including the female footballers of Saudi Arabia. In fact, especially the female footballers of Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation, under the leadership of president, and newly elected FIFA Congress member, Yasser Al-Misehal, have been bullish in their ambitions for the women’s game.

Over the past 12 months a national women’s team has been established, playing a number of international friendlies and tournaments in order to receive official FIFA recognition and ranking. This saw the team recently host and win their first international tournament on home soil.

At his opening press conference, Ronaldo made a point of highlighting his desire to be an inspiration, not just for young boys but also for female footballers in the country.

“I’m grateful that Al-Nassr gave me this opportunity to show and develop not only the football, but also for the generation, the young generation, the woman’s generation as well,” Ronaldo said.

“So for me, it’s a good chance to change (and) to help with my knowledge and my experience, to help to grow many, many important points. Also, many people probably didn’t know, but Al-Nassr they have a woman’s football (team) as well, and I want to give a different vision of the country, of the football, (and) the perspective of everybody.”



Hearing those words meant the world to Sarah Khalid, the young goalkeeper of Al-Nassr’s women’s team, who lead the league by one point with just two games remaining.

“(It) definitely means a lot hearing that coming from, let’s say, a football legend like Cristiano Ronaldo,” she told Arab News from Riyadh.

“His words were really inspirational to us, and let’s say it fuels us to move forward and achieve the league (this season).”

Also inspired was a national team colleague of Khalid’s, Talah Al-Ghamdi, who plays her club football for Al-Ittihad.

“Of course, Cristiano is a legend, so he always inspires me by his motivation, his determination and his hard work,” she told Arab News.

“So when I found that he talked about women’s football and he wants to support women’s football, I was very happy, very motivated, and getting motivated from a legend like him is a very good thing.”

Women’s football in the Kingdom has undertaken a rapid transformation in recent years with significant investment in grassroots development, as well as the national team and league structures.

The introduction this season of the first national league, with powerhouse clubs such as Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal getting on board, has been a welcome step forward for the game.

For Al-Ghamdi, getting to play for Al-Ittihad, a club that she and her family have supported their entire lives, is a dream come true.

“I was honored when I found out that I’ll play for Al-Ittihad, I was very happy,” she said.

“Playing for Ittihad is such an honor. I couldn’t describe my feelings when I found out, and of course my family, my dad is very happy. My dad is a big fan of Ittihad, so I grew up with Ittihad everywhere, like in every detail in my life.

“Honestly, I used to live two minutes away from Ittihad Club, so every trophy Ittihad won we used to go to the Ittihad club to celebrate and celebrate on the streets . . . so I have a lot of memories,” Al-Ghammdi said.

For Khalid, whose family are all Ettifaq fans, there is a special feeling that comes from being one of the modern pioneers of the women’s game in Saudi Arabia.

“It is very exciting to see the development of the women’s football in Saudi Arabia,” Khalid said.

“And for me, personally, I’m very honored and proud to be a part of that. I hope to inspire the younger generation to pursue this field to start playing and continue playing so the journey can continue and we accomplish more and more.”

That journey, Khalid and Al-Ghamdi hope, will one day involve playing in the Women’s World Cup. Both were fortunate enough, along with the rest of their national team, to be inside Lusail Stadium when the Green Falcons scored their historic victory over Argentina to open the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

While they are just starting on their international journey, and a long way from qualifying for the Women’s World Cup, which this year will be held in Australia and New Zealand, it didn’t stop them from dreaming about their own miracle.

“It was a very special day to witness,” Khalid recalled. “A historical win for Saudi Arabia against Argentina, and that definitely pushes us to chase our dream, which is playing in the Woman’s World Cup . . . and hopefully to win it one day.”

While the World Cup may be a distant dream, the Asian Cup may be just over the horizon with Saudi Arabia officially bidding to host the next edition of the tournament in 2026, which would come with automatic qualification.

While some may question whether that is too soon for a national team very much in its infancy, it follows the natural ambition of Saudi Arabia to turbo-charge its football development at every level.

“The future of women’s football in Saudi Arabia is bright and we are committed to growing the game here and throughout Asia,” Al-Misehal said when they launched their bid late last year.

“More and more young girls are playing football in this country and we want to inspire them further.

“Hosting the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2026 would be a great occasion for our players and would be made memorable by the passion of our fans.”

Monika Staab, the legendary German coach tasked with developing the national team, agreed.

“This is an opportunity to bring the tournament to life, inspire a generation, and turbo-charge the continued growth of women’s football,” she said.

“We see this as a chance to improve technical performance and show the world our homegrown talent.”

James, Davis lead Lakers rally past Pacers; two ejected as Cavs down Grizzlies

James, Davis lead Lakers rally past Pacers; two ejected as Cavs down Grizzlies
Updated 03 February 2023

James, Davis lead Lakers rally past Pacers; two ejected as Cavs down Grizzlies

James, Davis lead Lakers rally past Pacers; two ejected as Cavs down Grizzlies
  • RJ Barrett scored 30 points to lead the Knicks in a 106-104 victory over the Miami Heat

LOS ANGELES: LeBron James continued to close in on the NBA’s all-time scoring record as the Los Angeles Lakers pulled out a thrilling 112-111 victory over Indiana on Thursday.

James, who entered the game needing 89 points to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the league’s all-time leading scorer, put up 26 points.

He now needs 63 to surpass Abdul-Jabbar — who has held the record since before James was born.

The Lakers had trailed all night when James’s three-pointer gave them their first lead of the contest with 2:35 to play. Teammate Anthony Davis put them up 112-111 with 35.3 seconds remaining and followed up with a big block on Tyrese Haliburton as the Lakers escaped with the win.

It wasn’t the only drama on a night that saw Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell and Memphis’ Dillon Brooks ejected after brawling in the third quarter of the Cavaliers’ 128-113 home victory.

In Indianapolis, the Lakers looked headed for another disappointing defeat until a 21-10 run to open the fourth quarter.

Davis led the Lakers with 31 points and 14 rebounds.

Haliburton, back in action after a three-week injury absence, led the Pacers with 26 points and 12 assists.

But his drive to the basket with 16.5 seconds left was thwarted by Davis, who swatted the ball away.

“I just tried to stay on his body and make him shoot over the top,” Davis said. “I saw when he left the ground, he had to shoot it so I just timed it.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham wasn’t surprised, saying that when Davis is playing pain free he’s “one of the more elite defenders in our league.”

But there’s no doubt the spotlight now is on James. Averaging more than 30 points per game, James is likely to break Abdul-Jabbar’s mark sometime next week. The Lakers close out their road trip Saturday at New Orleans then host Oklahoma City on Tuesday and the Milwaukee Bucks next Thursday.

He said a 63-point game wasn’t out of the question, although he made no promises or predictions for Saturday.

Whenever the record does fall, James is acutely aware of the significance.

“I grew up being a historian of all sports,” James said, adding that while Abdul-Jabbar’s total of 38,387 points hasn’t been a number that stuck in his head “I know it’s been Kareem my whole life.

“It’s pretty cool,” he added of a record he likened in importance to the career home run record in baseball.

“I think it’s one of the greatest records in sports in general,” James said. “It’s one of those records you don’t ever think will be broken.”

Things turned ugly in Cleveland, where All-Star Cavs guard Mitchell was enraged when Grizzlies guard Brooks, sprawled on the court after missing a shot, flung a hand up and hit Mitchell in the groin.

Mitchell threw the ball at Brooks, shoved him and finally wrestled him to the floor before both players were restrained.

Mitchell, who was enduring a tough night in which he connected on two of 11 shots from the floor, was cheered as he departed for the locker room.

Darius Garland picked up the slack, scoring 32 points and handing out 11 assists for Cleveland, who pushed their lead to as many as 22 points in the fourth quarter.

Desmond Bane scored 25 points for Memphis and Ja Morant added 24, but the Grizzlies dropped their seventh decision in eight games.

In New York, RJ Barrett scored 30 points to lead the Knicks in a 106-104 victory over the Miami Heat.

Barrett, who was benched in the fourth quarter of the Knicks’ overtime loss to the Lakers on Tuesday, rebounded with a vengeance. He grabbed eight rebounds and handed off four assists and the Knicks secured the needed win when Tyler Herro’s three-point attempt as time expired failed to fall.

Julius Randle scored 19 of his 23 points in the first half for the Knicks, who moved a game behind the Heat for sixth place in the East — the last guaranteed playoff spot.

Fernandez set for Chelsea debut, Arsenal renew Premier League title charge

Fernandez set for Chelsea debut, Arsenal renew Premier League title charge
Updated 03 February 2023

Fernandez set for Chelsea debut, Arsenal renew Premier League title charge

Fernandez set for Chelsea debut, Arsenal renew Premier League title charge
  • Chelsea’s overall spend in their first season under new ownership fronted by LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly has now surpassed £500 million

MANCHESTER: The clock is ticking for Chelsea manager Graham Potter to turn unprecedented spending into results, starting against Fulham on Friday, as new Everton manager Sean Dyche prepares for a baptism of fire against Premier League leaders Arsenal.

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool travel to face struggling Wolves, desperate to pull themselves out of a slump that has left them playing catch-up, while Tottenham host champions Manchester City.

Here are some of the key talking points ahead of the weekend action in the English top flight.

British-record signing Enzo Fernandez could make his debut at Stamford Bridge in the west London derby after completing a €121 million ($132 million, £107 million) move from Benfica.

Mykhailo Mudryk is also in line for his first start since joining from Shakhtar Donetsk in a blockbuster January transfer window for the club for a fee that could rise to €100 million.

Chelsea’s overall spend in their first season under new ownership fronted by LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly has now surpassed £500 million but the Blues are languishing in 10th in the Premier League table, 10 points off the top four.

Potter admits he has a challenge on his hands to keep all his stars happy as he tries to turn Chelsea’s fortunes around.

“We have to create an environment where there’s healthy competition and they can push each other,” Potter said on Thursday. “There’s going to be frustration at times because only 11 can play.

“But we’ve got a lot of important games and we need to improve our results so it’s about playing, supporting the team and being ready to play.”

Marco Silva’s Fulham beat Chelsea for the first time since 2006 when the sides met last month at Craven Cottage and are above their illustrious neighbors in the table.

Another victory for the white half of west London would secure a first-ever league double over Chelsea in a single season.

The contrast in mood between Arsenal and Everton fans could hardly be starker ahead of their meeting at Goodison Park on Saturday.

Arsenal are on course for a first league title since 2003/04 with the luxury of a five-point lead over Manchester City and a game in hand.

The Gunners will be hoping their January business is enough to get them over the line despite missing out on their top two targets — Mudryk and Brighton’s Moises Caicedo.

Jorginho’s arrival from Chelsea this week adds depth and an old head to Mikel Arteta’s young squad while Leandro Trossard boosts his attacking options.

Everton were the only Premier League club not to make a January signing and former Burnley boss Sean Dyche knows he has a mountain to climb.

The Toffees’ 69-year stay in the English top flight is at severe risk and further protests from supporters against the club’s board are planned for after the match.

“There’s a big challenge ahead but one I’m ready for and want to take on,” Dyche told Everton TV. “We want to change the shape of this club going forward, remodel it in our style, but remodel it in a way we can win.”

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola showed his ruthless streak as Joao Cancelo was allowed to move on loan to Bayern Munich this week.

The Portuguese full-back was an important figure in City’s title wins over the past two seasons but his departure is further evidence that Guardiola is trying to spark a reaction from his squad.

He questioned whether his side had the hunger to hunt down Arsenal despite a dramatic comeback from 2-0 down to beat Tottenham 4-2 last month.

Now Guardiola has gambled, knowing that his daring call on Cancelo leaves him short on full-back options for the rest of the season.

City might be eight points behind the leaders before Sunday’s game against Spurs, who could be without manager Antonio Conte after he underwent surgery to remove his gallbladder, but they have title-winning nous and enviable strength in depth.

Fixtures (all times GMT)


Chelsea vs. Fulham (2000)


Everton vs. Arsenal (1230), Aston Villa vs. Leicester, Brentford vs. Southampton, Brighton vs. Bournemouth, Man Utd vs. Crystal Palace, Wolves vs. Liverpool (all 1500), Newcastle vs. West Ham (1730)


Nottingham Forest vs. Leeds (1400), Tottenham vs. Man City (1630)

Messi has doubts about playing 2026 World Cup at age 39

Messi has doubts about playing 2026 World Cup at age 39
Updated 03 February 2023

Messi has doubts about playing 2026 World Cup at age 39

Messi has doubts about playing 2026 World Cup at age 39
  • Messi told newspaper Olé in an interview published Thursday that he’d regularly said his age would make it difficult to play another World Cup

BUENOS AIRES: Lionel Messi may be in doubt as to whether he’ll be still playing for Argentina at the 2026 World Cup but he’s sure about one thing: He wants Lionel Scaloni to stay on as head coach until then, regardless.

The 35-year-old Messi led Argentina to the title in Qatar last December and wasn’t entirely sure if his fifth trip to the World Cup would be his last. The next edition will take place in Mexico, Canada and the US when Messi is 39.

Messi told newspaper Olé in an interview published Thursday that he’d regularly said his age would make it difficult to play another World Cup.

“I love playing soccer, I love what I do and while I am feeling well and feel I am fit and continue to enjoy it, I will do it. But it seems to be too much until the next World Cup,” he told the newspaper. “I have to see where my career goes, what I will do. It depends on many things.”

In the near future, he suggested he wants to play in next year’s Copa America in the US to help Argentina defend their title.

“I will stay a little longer, I have to enjoy this,” he said.

Scaloni is negotiating an extension of his contract with the Argentinian soccer federation and Messi thinks the coach should remain on the job.

“He is very important for the national team,” Messi said. “To continue with this process would be spectacular.”

Asked what it was like returning to his club Paris Saint Germain after Argentina beat France on penalties to win the World Cup, Messi said he didn’t have deep discussions about it with his teammate Kylian Mbappe, the French striker.

“One doesn’t want to speak and bring the topic of the final,” Messi said, recalling his own experience after losing the 2014 World Cup final to Germany in Brazil. “I was also on the other side, I lost a World Cup final and I didn’t want to talk about it.”

“Truth is there is no problem with Kylian, quite on the contrary,” Messi said.

Messi is set to play for Argentina in friendlies to be scheduled in Buenos Aires in March to celebrate the team’s third World Cup title with their fans.