Medvedev starts with win as Diriyah Tennis Cup returns after 3-year absence

Medvedev starts with win as Diriyah Tennis Cup returns after 3-year absence
Defending Diriyah Tennis Cup champion Daniil Medvedev has never lost in Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
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Updated 09 December 2022

Medvedev starts with win as Diriyah Tennis Cup returns after 3-year absence

Medvedev starts with win as Diriyah Tennis Cup returns after 3-year absence
  • Tournament is part of Diriyah Season and is taking part for the first time since 2019

Defending Diriyah Tennis Cup champion Daniil Medvedev kicked off his defense off the trophy with a superb quarterfinal win over German star Alexander Zverev as 12 of the world’s leading players returned to the Kingdom for the tournament’s first edition since 2019.

The three-day competition with the Super Tie-break format kicked off on Thursday in the setting of At-Turaif, the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Diriyah, and will conclude with the final on Dec. 10.

Medvedev, who has never lost in Saudi Arabia, raced to a 6-0 first set win despite a minor injury scare to his calf. The world No. 7 then proceeded to see out a competitive second set 6-4 against Zverev, who was making his eagerly awaited comeback from a seven-month injury lay-off.

“I felt I played better in the second set than the first one, but Sascha was really getting better as well,” said Medvedev.

“My injury was not so bad in the end. I was sliding unintentionally. My knee hit my calf, felt like a foul in football. It was painful to walk, but funnily I was much better to run. I love the crowd and how they cheered for me and look forward to tomorrow. We still have some weeks before the Australian Open to prepare more but I’m here and I want to win.”

Briton Cameron Norrie defeated Wimbledon finalist Nick Kyrgios in target sets in the first round, before overcoming Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals.

Norrie, a 2022 Wimbledon semifinalist, was sharp and efficient in his 6-4, 6-4 win over world No.4 Tsitsipas — forcing the Greek star into uncharacteristic unforced errors in front of a lively crowd under the Diriyah Arena lights.

“The crowd really helped me through it,” said Norrie. “Playing in a stadium like this also helps a great deal in my preparation for the season. It has been a very good day and the crowd really got into tonight chanting our names. We’re trying to inspire some of the younger Saudi players and I saw some kids and that’s a reason I’m playing here — to inspire a new generation.”

Stan Wawrinka, the only competitor in his thirties in this week’s field, proved once again that he is still of the highest caliber by defeating Andrey Rublev, the eighth-ranked player in the world, 6-7, 6-2, 10-6 (tie break).

“It’s my second time here, I enjoy being here. There are many things going on,” Wawrinka, who visited Saudi in 2019, told Arab News.

“Now we don’t have too much time because we have to be ready in focus for tournaments because that’s why we are here — to try to do our best 27 days or longer on site. But I enjoy being here. And as I said, hopefully, I will have more time in the next few days or maybe next year to visit even more.

“I’m glad I won today, and I believe I’ll be able to get for the grade level; we played a great game, and I’m excited to be back here tomorrow in the semifinals,” he added.

After defeating Dominic Stricker 7-6, 7-5, American Taylor Fritz, who is ranked in ninth in the world, completed the lineup for tomorrow’s semifinals.

Earlier in the day, there were four Round One matches with a fast-moving best-of-three Super Tie-break format. There were wins for Wawrinka, Norrie, Hubert Hurkacz and Alexander Zverev. The event’s top four seeded players — Tsitsipas, Medvedev, Rublev and Fritz — had all received a bye.

In addition to the singles competition, there is also a doubles competition at the Diriyah Tennis Cup this year.

Over the course of the three-day tournament, Saudi tennis fans will have the chance to take in these thrilling matches and special interactions with some of the top tennis players in the world.

First Round Results:

Stan Wawrinka beat Matteo Berrettini (5-10, 10-4, 10-6)

Alexander Zverev beat Dominic Thiem (10-8, 10-7)

Cameron Norrie beat Nick Kyrgios (10-6, 10-6)

Hubert Hurkacz beat Dominic Stricker (10-7, 10-5)

The Diriyah Tennis Cup continues on Friday with the semifinals and a new doubles competition for Thursday’s losers:

Singles Semifinals

Daniil Medvedev vs. Stan Wawrinka

Cameron Norrie vs. Taylor Fritz

Doubles Semifinals

Alexander Zverev & Dominic Thiem vs. Andrey Rublev & Matteo Berrettini

Nick Kyrgios & Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. Dominic Stricker & Hubert Hurkacz

The semifinals take place on Friday, Dec. 9.


Saudi Arabia’s hosting of 2027 AFC Asian Cup is an idea whose time has finally come

Saudi Arabia’s hosting of 2027 AFC Asian Cup is an idea whose time has finally come
Saudi Arabia has been named as host of the 2027 AFC Asian Cup.
Updated 23 sec ago

Saudi Arabia’s hosting of 2027 AFC Asian Cup is an idea whose time has finally come

Saudi Arabia’s hosting of 2027 AFC Asian Cup is an idea whose time has finally come
  • Wit thriving domestic league, successful national teams and clubs, Kingdom will finally host continent’s biggest international competition

Saudi Arabia has been named as host of the 2027 AFC Asian Cup, and incredibly, will hold the continent’s biggest international for the first time.

Less than a month after Cristiano Ronaldo arrived to play for Al-Nassr, and two since the Saudi national team’s fine performances at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the news cements the country’s status as a major hub of the world’s most popular game on the largest continent.

It was always likely that Saudi would get the official nod as the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) conducted its congress in Bahrain’s capital of Manama.

Five countries initially threw hats into the ring. Iran and Uzbekistan withdrew and then, after China — still in lockdown and pursuing a zero-COVID-19 policy — relinquished hosting rights from the 2023 tournament, Qatar stepped in as a substitute.

That meant India was the only remaining rival and when New Delhi bowed out in December, it cleared the way for Saudi Arabia to host the tournament for the first time in its history.

It is an idea whose time has finally come.

The pandemic played a wider part, too. With the disruption caused to competitions, both of the club and country variety, during the outbreak, Saudi Arabia proved to be a competent, flexible and reliable host whether the games were World Cup qualifiers or AFC Champions Leagues matches.

The work done, often at short notice, was appreciated by the AFC. After the confederation got its fingers burnt by the situation in China, it is not a surprise that cities such as Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam are seen as safe choices as well as places that deserved a first chance to host Asia’s biggest sporting event.

There is more to it than that, however. The reputation of Saudi Arabian football is higher now than it has maybe ever been. The national team is still basking in the warmth of the global sensation produced with November’s World Cup win over eventual champions Argentina. It was a stunning victory. With a little more luck then Herve Renard’s men could easily have found themselves in the last 16 especially if Salem Al-Dawsari’s penalty had been converted against Poland.

The performances showed that there is talent in the country with the likes of Saud Abdulhamid linked to big moves in Italy and elsewhere.

The Saudi Professional League has long been one of the strongest in Asia but in recent years has grown in strength, depth and stature. There is regularly more than one representative in the latter stages of the Asian Champions League. Al-Hilal are the defending champions — and have won two of the last three — and now have a record number of four continental titles as well as international stars such as Odion Ighalo and Moussa Marega. On Saturday, the Blues kick off a third FIFA Club World Cup campaign in the space of three years.

While there is a growing core of talent in the country, as the World Cup exploits and last June’s U23 Asian Championships triumph have shown, the league is home to some of the best foreign players and coaches in Asian football.

Al-Ittihad have former Tottenham Hotspur boss Nuno Santo in charge and a whole host of talented foreign players including Moroccan marksman Abderrazzak Hamdallah, Egyptian rock Ahmed Hegazi and talented Brazilians such as Igor Coronado and Romarinho.

Al-Shabab tore up the group stage of the Champions League and even second tier Al-Ahli have Pitso Mosimane in charge, the man who has won three African Champions League crowns with Mamelodi Sundowns in his native South Africa and twice with Egyptian giants Al-Ahly. At the moment, the SPL is the most exciting and high-profile domestic competition on the continent.

And that was the case before Ronaldo signed with Al-Nassr. The Portuguese star is one of the best players in the history of the game with five Ballon d’Or awards and the same number of UEFA Champions League titles. It is not just about the talent of the former Real Madrid, Manchester United and Juventus legend, but the fact that he among the most recognizable people on the planet. His presence has just increased the spotlight shining on Saudi Arabian football.

It all means that the Asian Cup announcement is not only a natural decision, as Saudi Arabian football is in a great place at the moment on the pitch, but also confirms what is happening off the field. The tournament will be the biggest football event ever to take place in the country but there is a sense that there is more to come. The waiting is over and now, preparations can begin.


President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation elected as FIFA Council member

President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation elected as FIFA Council member
President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, Yasser Al-Misehal.
Updated 35 min 8 sec ago

President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation elected as FIFA Council member

President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation elected as FIFA Council member
  • Yasser Al-Misehal joins the FIFA team on the day Saudi Arabia are confirmed as hosts of 2027 AFC Asian Cup

Riyadh: Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) President Yasser Al-Misehal has been elected as a Member of the FIFA Council at the 33rd AFC Congress 2023 held in Manama, Bahrain today. 

This marks a new milestone for football in the Kingdom as Al-Mishal becomes only the second Saudi elected Member to the prestigious FIFA Council, which is the main governing body of the FIFA organization.

The announcement was made on the same day that Saudi Arabia was confirmed as the host of the 2027 AFC Asian Cup.

The term will run for four years and this election expected to bring with it new opportunities to the football sphere not only in Saudi Arabia but the Middle East and Asia.


Trio of Arab clubs looking to carry feel-good factor of Qatar 2022 into FIFA Club World Cup

Trio of Arab clubs looking to carry feel-good factor of Qatar 2022 into FIFA Club World Cup
Updated 01 February 2023

Trio of Arab clubs looking to carry feel-good factor of Qatar 2022 into FIFA Club World Cup

Trio of Arab clubs looking to carry feel-good factor of Qatar 2022 into FIFA Club World Cup
  • Wydad of host nation Morocco, Saudi’s Al-Hilal and Egyptian giants Al-Ahly will look to emulate the fine performances of Arab nations in football’s premier event

As Morocco looks to launch the FIFA Club World Cup on Wednesday night, it will be almost impossible for Arab fans not to cast their minds back to that golden month of football that was the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

That the intercontinental club tournament is taking place in the very nation that gave us the first Arab or African team to reach the semifinal of World Cup just six weeks ago seems a little too good to be true.

The trio of Arab clubs in Morocco — home club Wydad AC, Saudi’s Al-Hilal and Egypt’s Al-Ahly — will now hope to carry Qatar 2022’s feel-good factor into the next two weeks.

As always for the African and Asian representatives at the Club World Cup, it won’t be easy. Standing in their way are European champions Real Madrid, Copa Libertadores winners Flamengo of Brazil, CONCACAF’s Seattle Sounders FC from the US and Oceana’s Auckland City of New Zealand.

But thanks to the heroes of the Arab national teams in Doha, these obstacles are no longer ones to be dreaded, more one to be attacked.

For a start, African champions Wydad will have high hopes of emulating their national heroes in front of their own fans.

Keep an eye out for Ayman El-Hassouni, one of the team’s most influential stars and its attacking mastermind.

The 27-year-old is having an excellent season, forming a strong midfield partnership with Yahya Gebran and contributing six goals in 14 matches.

Wydad will kick off their Club World Cup campaign against Al-Hilal on Saturday, guaranteeing at least one Arab team in the semifinals.

Ramon Diaz’s Saudi and Asian champions have a big act to follow.

It’s been less than two months since the Saudi national team was shining at the World Cup with a historic 2-1 victory over eventual champions Argentina.

On an unforgettable night at Lusail Stadium in Doha, it was star player Salem Al-Dawsari who scored the historic winner to secure a place in the hearts of Arab football fans.

The 31-year-old — with three goals from 11 matches this season — will once again carry the bulk of his team’s hopes at the Club World Cup, particularly as fellow Saudi internationals Salman Al-Faraj and Yasser Al-Shahrani are still out due to serious injuries picked up in Qatar.

However, this is a Hilal team that is becoming very familiar with the Cub World Cup, with another seven players participating in it for the third time. Abdullah Al-Mayouf, Andre Carrillo, Ali Al-Bulayhi, Mohammed Kanno, Jang Hyun-soo, Mohammed Jahfali and Gustavo Cuellar all took part in the 2019 and 2021 editions.

However, to surpass their previous finish of fourth place, improvement is needed at both ends of the field. The team has been inconsistent in front of goal while conceding 12 goals in 15 league matches this season; not a disaster by any means, but more than what Diaz expected from his title-challenging team.

But it’s Al-Ahly who kick off proceedings on Wednesday night when they take on Auckland City at Tangier Stadium.

Egypt may have missed the party in Qatar, but the Cairo giants, in their eighth participation, have a storied history in this tournament. Indeed they are the only team from the country to have ever played in it, and have finished a creditable third on three occasions, in 2006, 2020 and 2021.

Expect attacking midfielder Ahmed Abdel Kader to play an influential role for Al-Ahly in Morocco. The 23-year-old is considered one of the pillars of the squad over the last two seasons, having scored 11 and assisted seven goals in 60 matches. Coach Marcel Kohler will look for him to be the inspiration in attack, particularly with his ability to deal with defensive blocs and his partnership with left-back Ali Maaloul.

The three Arab clubs, with their three leading stars, have a chance to write their names in history. And if any inspiration is needed, all they have to do is look back at Qatar 2022.


Saudi Arabia confirmed as host of 2027 AFC Asian Cup

Saudi Arabia confirmed as host of 2027 AFC Asian Cup
The announcement was made at the 33rd AFC Congress in Manama.
Updated 47 min 49 sec ago

Saudi Arabia confirmed as host of 2027 AFC Asian Cup

Saudi Arabia confirmed as host of 2027 AFC Asian Cup
  • The announcement was made at the 33rd AFC Congress in Manama

Saudi Arabia has been confirmed as the host of the 2027 AFC Asian Cup at the 33rd Asian Football Federation Congress in Manama on Wednesday afternoon.

It will be the first time that the tournament will be held in the Kingdom, with the Green Falcons having won the competitions three times previously (1984, 1988, 1996).

Four other nations had initially bid to host the tournament, including Iran, Uzbekistan, China and Qatar.  

Iran and Uzbekistan were the first to withdraw, with Qatar following as it filled in the vacancy left by China for the 2023 edition.

When India withdrew in December, Saudi Arabia were left unopposed to win the vote.

Developing...


Saudi’s Final Championship of the Racecourses kicks off on Friday with prize money of $240k

Saudi’s Final Championship of the Racecourses kicks off on Friday with prize money of $240k
Updated 01 February 2023

Saudi’s Final Championship of the Racecourses kicks off on Friday with prize money of $240k

Saudi’s Final Championship of the Racecourses kicks off on Friday with prize money of $240k
  • The weekend’s races will feature 22 rounds with over $667k to be won

RIYADH: King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Janadriyah is gearing up for the launch of The Final Championship of the Racecourses which will be held during the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia’s 92nd and 93rd festivals of the ongoing season on Friday and Saturday.

The JCSA has since last year added two extra rounds to The Final Championship, dedicated to Arabian horses and locally bred fillies.

The weekend will feature 22 rounds — including eight main races — with prize money exceeding $667,000 (SR2.5 million).

The three races of The Final Championship of the Racecourses will equally split a total prize of $240,000 (SR900,000).

Friday’s race card

Friday evening’s main races will begin with the 14th renewal of the late Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Albasam Award in the seventh round, in recognition of his achievements in horseracing.

The round will be held on a 1,600-meter track dedicated to 3-year-old locally bred horses with a prize pool of $35,000 (SR130,000).

Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Albasam assumed the management of the JCSA between 1970 and 1988, succeeding the late manager Ali Alkhargi, the club’s first manager since its inception in 1965.

This race will be followed by the Al-Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University Cup, over a distance of 2,000 meters, which is dedicated to locally produced fillies and horses from the age of 4 and up, and its prize is $40,000 (SR150,000).

The Final Championship of the Racecourses round kicks off with a race dedicated to locally bred 4-year-old fillies on a 1,800-meter track with a prize pool of $80,000 (SR300,000).

The 10th round of racing on Friday will see The Final Championship Open round, dedicated to Arabian horses aged 4 and over, also on a 1,800-meter track with a prize pool of $80,000 (SR300,000).

The third, and last race of The Final Championship of the Racecourses — an Open round for all grades dedicated to 4-year-old locally bred horses — concludes Friday’s action on a 2,000-meter track with a prize of $80,000 (SR300,000).

Saturday’s race card

The exciting racing continues on Saturday evening, with the Apprentice Jockeys Hands & Heels Race Series on a 1,200-meter track, dedicated to local bred 4-year-old horses, classified 0 to 70 degrees, with prize money of $22,652 (SR85,000).

The Open Race of the Ministry of Media Cup, dedicated to locally bred horses aged 4 and up, will be held in the ninth round on a 1,400-meter track with a prize pool of $23,000 (SR150,000).

Additionally, the Broadcasting & TV Corporation Cup will be held during the 10th round of the festival on Saturday and is dedicated to 3-year-old horses of local and imported breeds which compete at a distance of 1,600 meters with prize money of $40,000 (SR150,000).

Finally, the 93rd Jockey Club Festival will end with the Al-Madinah Al-Monawarah Region Governorate Cup, dedicated to locally bred horses aged 4 and up, on a 2,400-meter track with prize money of $40,000 (SR150,000).