Svitolina loses at Charleston Open in first match as a mom

Svitolina loses at Charleston Open in first match as a mom
Yulia Putintseva, of Kazakhstan, returns a shot against Elina Svitolina, of Ukraine, during action at the Charleston Open tennis tournament in Charleston, S.C., Monday. (AP)
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Updated 04 April 2023
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Svitolina loses at Charleston Open in first match as a mom

Svitolina loses at Charleston Open in first match as a mom
  • Svitolina — ranked as high as No. 3 in the past and currently No. 1,081 — could not quite pull out a victory

CHARLESTON, S.C.:Two-time Grand Slam semifinalist Elina Svitolina did not exactly ease her way back in her first match as a mother: Her return after more than a year away from the tennis tour was a back-and-forth three-setter lasting 2 hours, 46 minutes at the Charleston Open on Monday.

Svitolina — ranked as high as No. 3 in the past and currently No. 1,081 — could not quite pull out a victory, ceding the last two games and losing 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-4 to Yulia Putintseva on the main stadium's green clay on a cloudy, breezy day.

“Physically, it was not easy for me,” said Svitolina, a 28-year-old from Ukraine. “It showed, I think, that I'm not at my best, but I'm getting there.”

She felt goosebumps when the crowd roared to mark her entrance. There were her familiar big-cut forehands. Her customary visor. And the unmistakable competitiveness displayed by clenched fists and yells of “Let's go!”

“It’s very nice to have her back. She’s always been super nice and an inspiration for me, because she was a warrior on court, a fighter, and I love these kind of players. It’s even more inspirational seeing her come back as a mom,” said Paula Badosa, who is seeded 12th in Charleston. “I’m very happy for her and I hope soon she’s back where she belongs.”

Svitolina and her husband, fellow player Gael Monfils, became parents in October, when their daughter, Skai, was born. From the time of her previous match — at the Miami Open in March 2022, when she was ranked No. 20 — Svitolina knew she wanted to come back to tennis.

Just didn't know when.

She began the process Jan. 2, working alongside Monfils, who was coming back from an injury.

“Good company,” Svitolina said. “We really motivated each other to train really hard, every day.”

They're both adjusting to life as mom and dad with jobs that require plenty of travel. Monfils went to California and Florida for recent tournaments; now he is at home in Monaco with Skaï, FaceTiming with Svitolina as much as possible.

“She loves the phone. She holds the phone. It's not going to be easy to take the phone from her in the future,” Svitolina said with a laugh. “She's getting used to FaceTime.”

This is the longest she has been away from her baby since a week-long trip to Ukraine in February, when Svitolina visited her grandmother, uncle and other relatives and joined former pro Sergiy Stakhovsky in holding a tennis clinic for 300 kids amid the war that began a year earlier when Russia invaded.

Svitolina thought it was “sad” that the All England Club announced last week it would allow players from Russia and Belarus, which aided in the attack, to return to Wimbledon in June after being banned from the tournament in 2022 because of the invasion.

One of her proudest moments in tennis was earning a bronze medal for Ukraine at the Tokyo Olympics. Among her other accomplishments: Winning the season-ending WTA Finals in 2018 and reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon and the US Open the following year.

Now she'll head to smaller venues on the sport's lower levels — a tournament in Switzerland with $60,000 in total prize money; one in Portugal offering $100,000 — and try to figure out her schedule beyond that.

Does she still harbor hopes of a Grand Slam title one day?

“It’s the ultimate goal for me,” Svitolina said.

In other Day 1 matches, 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens was a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 winner against qualifier Louisa Chirico, 17-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova beat Jil Teichmann 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, Anna Kalinskaya defeated Anhelina Kalinina 7-6 (6), 6-4, qualifier Katherine Sebov got past Lauren Davis 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, and Anna Blinkova eliminated Anna Bondar 7-6 (7), 6-2 to set up a second-round matchup against top-seeded Jessica Pegula.


Swiatek beats Svitolina to book quarterfinal spot at Dubai Tennis Championships

Swiatek beats Svitolina to book quarterfinal spot at Dubai Tennis Championships
Iga Swiatek is through to the quarterfinals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships after beating Elina Svitolina. (WTA)
Updated 22 February 2024
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Swiatek beats Svitolina to book quarterfinal spot at Dubai Tennis Championships

Swiatek beats Svitolina to book quarterfinal spot at Dubai Tennis Championships
  • World No.1 joins Gauff, Zheng, Vondrousova, Rybakina, Paolini, Cirstea, and Kalinskaya in final eight — with none having won before in Dubai
  • Australian Open finalist Zheng defeated Potapova in straight sets in final match of the night to set up clash with Swiatek

DUBAI: World No.1 Iga Swiatek saw off No.15 seed and two-time former champion Elina Svitolina in the third round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Wednesday night, and in doing so guaranteed a new name will appear on the trophy at this year’s WTA 1000 tournament.

Taking her winning streak in the Middle East this month to six successive matches, Swiatek beat her Ukrainian opponent in straight sets 6-1, 6-4 to progress to the quarterfinals, where she now faces Zheng.

While Svitolina secured back-to-back titles here in 2017 and 2018, Swiatek, Zheng and the other six players remaining in the tournament — Coco Gauff, Sorana Cirstea, Marketa Vondrousova, Elena Rybakina, Jasmine Paolini, and Anna Kalinskaya — are all gunning for a maiden title.

Under the center court lights on Wednesday, last week’s Doha champion Swiatek won seven consecutive games from 1-1 in the first set to race into a one-set lead in a little under 30 minutes. The two players had met only twice previously, most recently at last year’s quarterfinals stage of Wimbledon. On that occasion, it was Svitolina who came out on top, but it never looked likely in Dubai, even if the three-time Grand Slam semifinalist showed added fight in a more balanced second set that featured five service breaks.

“I felt like she played better in the second set,” said Swiatek, who credited her own decision-making and placement as the key reasons for her victory. “It wasn’t that easy to just finish points and win points; I wanted to stay focused and proactive, and kind of make decisions, but not too risky. We were both good in the longer rallies, so I needed to really push in the right time to make pressure.”

Swiatek has now won 25 of her past 26 matches and is on a 13-match winning streak against top 20 players. Arriving fresh from completing a trio of titles in Qatar, she was asked whether the fact she has never won in the Emirates changes her approach or even provides added motivation to continue that winning streak and lift the title.

“For sure, when you’re going into the tournament and you have won it before, you feel more comfortable — you feel like you’re home,” she said. “On the other hand, it can give you more pressure. At the beginning of Doha I felt being double defending champion was pretty stressful, but when you start a tournament and you haven’t won it, you don’t really think about winning — you just think about the first match that you’re going to play and that’s all.”

That being the case, having advanced to the last eight in Dubai for the second year in a row, Swiatek’s thoughts can now turn to Australian Open finalist Zheng and their match on Thursday. The pair have faced each other five times, with Swiatek holding a flawless record against the Chinese right-hander. Yet Zheng’s progress to the final in Melbourne suggests a scintillating contest may await.

“She’s progressing, but I felt like I could still play good tennis against her,” said Swiatek about their last meeting, at the United Cup in Perth in January. “I don’t know about the Australian Open because I didn’t see any of her matches. When I lost, I just completely cut off any tennis from my life, so it’s hard for me to say. She’s at this moment in her career — everybody is when they’re 21, 22, 23 — when they’re improving a lot, so it’s normal.”

World No.7 Zheng booked her place in the last eight by defeating Anastasia Potapova in straight sets 6-3, 6-2. Zheng has now won 26 of her last 27 matches against players outside the top 20 with the sole loss in that time coming last week to Leylah Fernandez. 

“I think my opponent played well today on the court, and I just played my tennis and everything went well for me,” said the No.6 seed. “Today I played the right way. When I had to attack, I attacked; when I had to defend, I defended. I’m really happy to be in the quarters for the first time in Dubai.”

A two-time winner on tour, Zheng’s tie with Swiatek represents her third WTA 1000 quarterfinal. On the prospect of trying to get a first win over the four-time Grand Slam winner, she said: “(Iga’s) a very solid player, and always there in the match. If I’m going to beat her, I have to make it a game. She’s always tough to beat and you always have to be alert when you play against her.”


Green Falcons exit 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after loss to Lebanon

Green Falcons exit 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after loss to Lebanon
Updated 22 February 2024
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Green Falcons exit 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after loss to Lebanon

Green Falcons exit 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after loss to Lebanon
  • Hosts now cannot reach knockout stages of the West Asian Football Federation tournament with only a match against Guam left in Group A

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia have exited the 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after losing 3-2 to Lebanon at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah on Wednesday night, Arriyadiyah have reported.

The Green Falcons have no points from two defeats in Group A, having lost their opener 3-1 to Jordan.

The Jordanian team leads the group with a maximum of six points, on goal difference from Lebanon. Both teams have now progressed to the semifinals.

Guam, who Saudi Arabia play in a dead rubber fixture on Friday, sit bottom of the group with no points after two losses.

Lebanon took the lead after only three minutes through Christy Maalouf, and only three minutes later doubled their lead through an own goal from Saudi Arabia’s Nouf Saud.

Syntia Salha seemed to have put the match beyond the Green Falcons with a third for Lebanon from the penalty spot on 38 minutes.

The Kingdom’s players showed commendable spirit in the second half against strong opponents to pull back two goals, from Lana Abdulrazak (61) and Seba Tawfiq (81) but could not pull off what would have been a stunning comeback.


Al-Ain set to host Youth MMA Championship

Al-Ain set to host Youth MMA Championship
Updated 22 February 2024
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Al-Ain set to host Youth MMA Championship

Al-Ain set to host Youth MMA Championship
  • UAE University to hold competitions for male and female fighters across various age and weight divisions on Feb. 24

ABU DHABI: The UAE Jiu-Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts Federation has announced that the UAE University in Al-Ain will host the Youth MMA Championship on Feb. 24.

The competition is open to boys and girls in the Youth C category (born in 2011 and 2012), Youth B category (born in 2009 and 2010), and Youth A category (born in 2007 and 2008).

This event marks the first MMA competition of the federation’s new season calendar, with participants taking part in various weight classes and each fight consisting of three rounds lasting two minutes.

Mohammed bin Dalmouk Al-Dhaheri, a board member of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts Federation, said: “We are delighted to host the first MMA event of the new season at UAE University in Al-Ain on Saturday. This championship will allow athletes to start their season on a high note and test their skills against the best in the nation.

“Through competitions like these, the federation aims to discover talent with the potential to thrive, providing them with the ideal platform to showcase their skills, advance toward pursuing professional careers in the sport, and ultimately become integral members of the national team,” he said.

“Last year, we have seen several milestones for MMA in the UAE, especially as Abu Dhabi hosted the IMMAF Youth World Championship in August which garnered accolades from all across the world. Events like the Youth MMA Championship are essential in preparing athletes for major competitions and showcasing their capabilities to the world.”

Ghala Al-Hamamdi, who is competing in the Youth B division representing ADMA Academy, said: “I am thrilled for the new season and can’t wait to showcase my skills at the event. I have been training diligently over the past few weeks and am looking forward to what promises to be a stellar season. I am grateful to the federation for organizing such world-class events and am eager to participate each time.”

Carl Booth, a coach at ADMA Academy, said: “Our team members are fully prepared and excited for the championship and the new season. They performed well last season, and are confident and committed to surpassing their performance this season. The Youth MMA Championship provides the perfect platform for them to pursue their goals, and I wish the best of luck to the team and all participants.”


Messi the creator as Miami win in MLS opener

Messi the creator as Miami win in MLS opener
Updated 22 February 2024
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Messi the creator as Miami win in MLS opener

Messi the creator as Miami win in MLS opener
  • The Argentine World Cup winner, who played the entire game, put aside any concerns about his early season fitness with an excellent performance for the bookmakers’ title favorites
  • The former Argentina, Mexico and Barcelona coach said he was sure that Messi and Suarez would be able to recapture some of the magic they had shown during their seasons at the Camp Nou

FORT LAUDERDALE: Lionel Messi created both goals as Inter Miami made a winning start to the new Major League Soccer season with a 2-0 victory over Real Salt Lake on Wednesday.

The Argentine World Cup winner, who played the entire game, put aside any concerns about his early season fitness with an excellent performance for the bookmakers’ title favorites.

“He looked loose, fine and showed a lot of speed,” coach Gerardo Martino said of Messi, who missed the back end of last season for Miami with injuries and was also sidelined for part of the pre-season.

The other three members of Miami’s former Barcelona quartet, debutant Luis Suarez, midfielder Sergio Busquets and left-back Jordi Alba, all started in front of a capacity crowd.

Against a cautious Salt Lake side, Messi went close to opening the scoring in the 18th minute with a curling free-kick from 30 yards out which was headed off the line by Justen Glad.

He then brought huge cheers from the crowd when, on the edge of the box, his route was blocked by a player down on the floor, but he chipped the ball over him and let loose a shot which was blocked.

But Miami got in front when Spaniard Sergio Busquets found Messi and the eight-times Ballon d’Or winner cleverly slipped the ball through to Finnish forward Robert Taylor, whose low shot beat RSL keeper Zac MacMath.

The goalkeeper should have kept the effort out but it was a goal which forced the visitors to open up after the interval and their more aggressive approach caused Inter some problems.

Cristian Arango blasted a half-chance high over the bar for Salt Lake and then, after Busquets sloppily gave the ball away, Andres Gomez burst goalwards but the Colombian winger fired wide.

The Utah side should have made more of the space they found as Miami struggled in the early stages of the second half but paid the price for a lack of precision.

Sensing his team needed another goal or two to make sure of the points, Messi upped his work-rate and began to take control of the game.

Dropping deeper to collect the ball, he launched several attacks with his own swift bursts forward allied with his trademark close control.

The 36-year-old weaved down the inside left channel to find space for a cross to the back post to Julian Gressel but the German put his effort wide from the tight angle.

Then Messi burst again from deep and found Suarez who picked out Diego Gomez and the Paraguayan midfielder buried his shot low into the far corner to make it 2-0.

That trio almost combined again for a third with Messi slipping to Gomez who then served Suarez but the Uruguayan’s effort was saved by the outstretched leg of MacMath.

Martino was delighted to see two of the lesser heralded members of his cast on target.

“This is what should happen with a team. Normally Luis and Leo would be the ones most associated with the goal, but the fact that Robert and Diego have converted and (Messi and Suarez) have been the assistants is always a positive thing,” he said.

The former Argentina, Mexico and Barcelona coach said he was sure that Messi and Suarez would be able to recapture some of the magic they had shown during their seasons at the Camp Nou.

“They know each other so well but we have to find that partnership that worked already in Barcelona,” he said.

For Taylor, who enjoyed a rich spell of form immediately after Messi joined the club and was a key part of the team which won the Leagues Cup, it was a positive opening to the campaign.

“It’s the start we wanted, I mean, there’s still some things that we need to work on. Obviously, it’s the first game of the season, but the positive thing is the three points and we’ll build on this,” he said.

Inter Miami return to action on Sunday at Los Angeles Galaxy.


Verstappen dominates testing as Wolff says Horner probe ‘issue for all F1’

Verstappen dominates testing as Wolff says Horner probe ‘issue for all F1’
Updated 22 February 2024
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Verstappen dominates testing as Wolff says Horner probe ‘issue for all F1’

Verstappen dominates testing as Wolff says Horner probe ‘issue for all F1’
  • The Red Bull driver was more than a second faster than Lando Norris in a McLaren
  • Verstappen’s performance was a boost for a Red Bull team reeling from an investigation into team chief Christian Horner who has been accused of “inappropriate behavior” by a female member of staff

SAKHIR: Three-time world champion Max Verstappen gave his struggling rivals little hope for optimism ahead of the new Formula One season when he dominated the first day of winter testing on Wednesday.

The Red Bull driver was more than a second faster than Lando Norris in a McLaren with Carlos Sainz, about to start his final year as a Ferrari driver, in third spot at the Sakhir track where the season-opener takes place on March 2.

Sainz will lose his seat at Ferrari to seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton who is entering his last campaign behind the wheel of a Mercedes. Hamilton will be in action on Thursday.

Verstappen’s performance was a boost for a Red Bull team reeling from an investigation into team chief Christian Horner who has been accused of “inappropriate behavior” by a female member of staff.

“It feels good to be back in an F1 car again and I had fun out on track today. We covered a lot of laps and tried quite a few things with the car, which was important, so happy overall with how it went,” said Verstappen.

Horner faced questioning for eight hours at an internal hearing in London earlier in February after allegations emerged in the Dutch press of a complaint being made against the 50-year-old Englishman by a female employee.

Horner categorically denies the accusation while Formula One chiefs said they want the issue resolved at the “earliest opportunity.”

Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff described the investigation as “an issue for all of Formula One.”

“Red Bull has started as an independent investigation, if this is done in the right way with transparency and with rigour, I think that’s something that we need to look at — what the outcomes are and what it means for Formula One, and how we can learn from that,” Wolff told a news conference.

“We want to talk about racing cars and we want to talk about the sport rather than these kind of very critical topics, that are more just a team’s issue, it’s a phenomenon or it’s an issue for all of Formula One and in general for every individual that works out there.”

Horner is scheduled to appear at a press conference in Bahrain on Thursday.

At the launch of this season’s Red Bull car held last week, he insisted he had no intention of resigning.

“No. It’s business as usual,” he said. “There obviously is a process.

“Obviously, I fully deny any accusations that have been made against me but of course I’ll work with that process, which I hope is concluded in the near future.”

Testing times on the first day of three on Wednesday:

1. Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull) 1:31.344 sec (143 laps,

2. Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren) +1.140 (73),

3. Carlos Sainz (ESP/Ferrari) +1.240 (69),

4. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Racing Bulls) +1.255 (52),

5. Pierre Gasly (FRA/Alpine) +1.461 (61),

6. Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin) +1.663 (54),

7. Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari) +1.903 (64),

8. Fernando Alonso (ESP/Aston Martin) +2.041 (77),

9. Oscar Piastri (AUS/McLaren) +2.314 (57),

10. Zhou Guanyu (CHN/Sauber) +2.527 (63),

11. Logan Sargeant (USA/Williams) +2.538 (21),

12. George Russell (GBR/Mercedes) +2.765 (122),

13. Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/Racing Bulls) +2.792 (64),

14. Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Sauber) +3.087 (68),

15. Alex Albon (THA/Williams) +3.243 (40),

16. Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine) +3.333 (60),

17. Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas) +4.348 (66),

18. Nico Hulkenberg (GER/Haas) +4.562 (82)