Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko headline the Aramco Team Series Florida

Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko headline the Aramco Team Series Florida
2022 Aramco Team Series New York winner Lexi Thompson is looking for success in home town event (Golf Saudi)
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Updated 19 May 2023

Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko headline the Aramco Team Series Florida

Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko headline the Aramco Team Series Florida
  • Second event of the 2023 series runs from May 19-21 at Trump International Golf Club, West Palm Beach

FLORIDA: Two of the best players in the world of women’s golf are anticipating a week of strong competition and challenging conditions ahead of the Aramco Team Series presented by PIF at Trump International Golf Club, West Palm Beach, from May 19-21.

Home favorite Lexi Thompson is looking forward to adding to her success in the series after winning the Aramco Team Series in New York last year, and is confident about her chances ahead of the week.

“I’m overall just looking forward to the week,” she said. “The Aramco Team Series events are such great events to begin with, and I have a lot of support out there coming from Friday. 

“It’s definitely a bonus to be here in Florida and it would mean the world to me to win to defend the title,” she said. “I have a lot of family friends coming up to support me, so overall it’ll just be a blast of a week.”

Local knowledge will likely be a deciding factor come Sunday, as Thompson looks to add to her Aramco Team Series title in New York last year. On her home advantage, the major champion, Thompson, brings a confident approach to the tournament.

“I would say it’s a little bit of an advantage being on my home course, but you still have to go out there and hit the golf shots,” she said.

Thompson faces stellar competition throughout the week, as she will be joined by world No. 3 and two-time major champion Lydia Ko, who is among those returning to the Aramco Team Series following her successful debut in Singapore in March, where she finished in third place at Laguna National Golf Resort Club.

“I really enjoyed playing the ATS Singapore,” Ko said. “There’s not that many opportunities where you get to play in the team format, and even though we are counting those individual scores, it’s nice to have that team atmosphere.”

Ko, who is making her first appearance at Trump International Golf Club, West Palm Beach, added: “The golf course is nice, it’s tricky. I had zero idea what the golf course was like before seeing the course for the first time yesterday, but there’s some longer holes and some shorter holes. It’s a really good golf course, the greens are quite small so I think when you’re on the green you’ve got a pretty good chance of having a birdie opportunity, but it’s also just as easy to not be on it. 

“I think ball-striking ability is probably going to be a big key and then the greens are in really good shape. The greens are really rolling very nicely,” she said.

The Aramco Team Series on the Ladies European Tour is contested across five global destinations throughout the year. After starting the season in Singapore, the series moves this week to Florida, then on to London and Hong Kong before concluding in Riyadh in October. The Aramco Team Series Florida consists of 36 teams comprising of one amateur and three professionals who compete for a $1 million prize fund. Aside from the team event, there is a three-day individual stroke play competition contested among the professionals, which contributes to both Race to Costa del Sol and Rolex World Ranking points.

On the team format of the Aramco Team Series, Ko and Thompson gave a player’s insight on this side of the event.

Thompson said: “The format for this event, I think, is very unique too, so it’s a lot of fun. It’s not so cutthroat like an individual event, even though there is an individual aspect to it. So I think it’s different, and I think it’s great for fans to be able to come out and watch us.” 

Ko added: “It’s just great to be in that different atmosphere, and even though you root for other players when you normally play, I think there is an extra little excitement when they hit good shots.”

The combined team scores over the first two rounds of the Aramco Team Series contribute to the team result, which means teams have to get off to a good start to be in contention for team honors.

Meet Kash Shaikh, man bringing ‘baseball diplomacy’ to Middle East, South Asia

Meet Kash Shaikh, man bringing ‘baseball diplomacy’ to Middle East, South Asia
Updated 31 May 2023

Meet Kash Shaikh, man bringing ‘baseball diplomacy’ to Middle East, South Asia

Meet Kash Shaikh, man bringing ‘baseball diplomacy’ to Middle East, South Asia
  • Houston, Texas native is chairman, CEO of Baseball United, 1st pro baseball league focused on Middle East, Indian subcontinent
  • Kash Shaikh: ‘It’s a fascinating thing. I run my businesses, including Baseball United, our team, our culture, we run it like a sports team’

DUBAI: For Kash Shaikh, it is all about “bringing people together.”

It, in this case, is the monumental task of bringing professional baseball to the Middle East and South Asia. He described it as “baseball diplomacy.”

Chairman and chief executive officer of Baseball United, the first-ever professional baseball league focused on the Middle East and Indian subcontinent, Shaikh told Arab News: “For us, me, and everyone on our leadership team, we’re all lifelong baseball fans.

“We’ve been connected to the game, either as executives or players or fans, for really our whole life. We have a collective 500 years of baseball experience within our leadership team.

“About a year-and-a-half ago, we all came together with this idea, this vision to grow the game of baseball. And as we were thinking through the potential opportunities with the game, what we realised pretty quickly was that the biggest opportunity for growth was international. And the best place for that growth would be the Middle East and South Asia, for a few reasons.”

He referred to his target region as “the epicenter of bat and ball sports,” with more than 1 billion cricket fans.

Shaikh said: “It’s also a region that’s fully embracing sport and investing in sport. Dubai, and the UAE is a big example, so too is Saudi Arabia, Qatar, obviously, and other countries throughout the region.

“And it’s a region where this is a completely white-space opportunity from a business and a brand-building standpoint. There are no professional baseball leagues in the region, we’re the first, and there’s not much professional baseball and baseball infrastructure at all within the region.

“There are passionate people who love the game though. There are kids who have tools and talent, there are coaches who want to teach, there are federations speckled across the region that have been working really hard for decades, but just haven’t got the resources, the funding, and the support that are necessary to grow. We call those nations, the forgotten nations of baseball,” he added.

There are currently 141 members of the World Baseball Softball Confederation, the sport’s governing body. Most of those beyond the top 30 were considered among the so-called forgotten nations. “That’s our constituency,” he said.

“The fan base is there, people don’t realise there’s actually over 50 million avid baseball fans within the region close, to 60 million avid baseball fans in that region. That’s more avid baseball fans than we have in the United States right now. So, it’s a huge, huge opportunity.”

When it came to picking a base of operation for the new project, Shaikh opted for a location he had become familiar with over the years.

“Dubai is amazing. The leadership is amazing. The government vision is inspiring. When the UAE and Dubai get behind sport, it really step-changes the engagement across the region.

“We’ve seen what has happened with golf in the region. We’ve seen what’s happened with MMA, we’ve seen what’s happened with F1. And actually, there are more avid baseball fans than there are avid golf fans, MMA fans, or F1 fans in the region.

“Everything about Dubai, the infrastructure, the leadership, the innovation, the beauty of the city, was what drew us to the city,” he added.

Shaikh was born in Houston, Texas to a father from Mumbai and a mother from Islamabad. After attending The University of Texas at Austin — where he founded the first ever South Asian fraternity in the US — he worked for American multi-national corporation Procter and Gamble for 10 years, and had a stint with GoPro, before going on to start several successful businesses of his own.

His career allowed him to spend long stretches of time in the Middle East region.

Getting Baseball United off the ground has been far from easy, but Shaikh pointed out that he had the right partners to make it a success.

He said: “I’m grateful for the partners we have on the ground. We’ve got a great, great relationship with the Sports Council, we’ve got a great relationship with Dubai Sports City. And we wouldn’t be able to do this without them.”

Already two franchises have been established, the first being the Mumbai Cobras and the second — following recent talks with the Pakistan Federation Baseball — the Karachi Monarchs. Once the last two of the initial group of four are named, eyes will turn to Dubai in November.

“We’re starting in November, with our first four franchises playing a Showcase event in Dubai. Nov. 5 through 12, we’re calling Baseball Week in Dubai. And we’ll have a series of different events that are going to be exciting for fans and for people within the region that we’re going to announce soon. That week will culminate on Nov. 10 through 12, with the Showcase.”

The action, involving four matches, will take place at the 25,000-capacity Dubai International Stadium, one of cricket’s homes in the UAE.

“If we can get 5,000 people in the stands, we’re going to be doing great. We’ll probably be setting records for leagues,” he added.

The next big landmark date after that for Baseball United will be November 2024, when an eight-franchise league will be launched in Dubai.

Shaikh noted that 800 players, from 30 countries, currently on Baseball United’s database had been vetted and scouted, with 200 already notified that they had made the list to potentially to play in the Showcase in November, as well as in 2024’s Season 1.

He said: “We have some of the best players from Finland, some of the best players from the Dominican Republic, we have some of the best players from the Far East, coming to play in the league. We have some really exciting former Major League Baseball players too, and that’s going to be cool when announced. So, we have those as the core.”

The next step in terms of rosters will be to introduce local talent, whether from existing national teams, or through grass-roots projects and training programs in the region — starting with India and Pakistan and then expanding into the Middle East.

“We’re going to be in Saudi Arabia (in June) meeting with the federation there, so I’m really excited,” Shaikh added.

An array of baseball stars past and present have in recent months backed Baseball United, not just through endorsements, but by investing their own money in the project. Among them are Felix Hernandez, Adrian Beltre, Mariano Rivera, and Barry Larkin, as well as Elvis Andrus, still an active player with the Chicago White Sox.

“There’s no way we could have done this without our Major League Baseball legends who’ve come on board. They’ve added credibility, they’ve driven excitement. And they have also ensured that the culture of the organization is focused on not just building a business and making money, but helping people, inspiring people, building community, and changing culture, all those things that I’ve been passionate about.

“They’re calling me all the time asking what’s up, what’s next?”

Shaikh was a big sports fan growing up in Texas and played basketball through college, and he has carried his experiences into his career, in particular the new venture.

He said: “It’s a fascinating thing. I run my businesses, including Baseball United, our team, our culture, we run it like a sports team.

“We have a culture that’s about camaraderie and accountability and discipline. I feel really blessed because I played team sports my whole life, I’m passionate about it.”

Djokovic back in action at French Open after Kosovo controversy

Djokovic back in action at French Open after Kosovo controversy
Updated 31 May 2023

Djokovic back in action at French Open after Kosovo controversy

Djokovic back in action at French Open after Kosovo controversy
  • Djokovic scrawled the message "Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence" on a camera following his first-round match
  • "It was a message that is very activist, that is very political," Amelie Oudea-Castera told broadcaster France 2

PARIS: Novak Djokovic will take to Court Philippe Chatrier in Wednesday’s French Open night session under fire for his recent comments about clashes in Kosovo, after world number one Carlos Alcaraz also plays in the second round.
Djokovic, who is chasing a men’s record 23rd Grand Slam singles title at Roland Garros, scrawled the message “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence” on a camera following his first-round match.
The 36-year-old faces Hungarian Marton Fucsovics for a place in the last 32 but the focus has been on his political views, with the French sports minister on Wednesday condemning the two-time Roland Garros champion.
“It was a message that is very activist, that is very political,” Amelie Oudea-Castera told broadcaster France 2.
“You shouldn’t get involved, especially in the current circumstances, and it shouldn’t happen again.”
She added that tournament director Amelie Mauresmo had spoken to Djokovic and his entourage.
Thirty peacekeepers from a NATO-led force in Kosovo were injured in clashes with ethnic Serb demonstrators on Monday during protests about the installation of ethnic Albanian mayors in northern Kosovo.
“Kosovo is our cradle, our stronghold, center of the most important things for our country... There are many reasons why I wrote that on the camera,” Djokovic told Serb media after writing his message.
Djokovic will be hoping for less drama on the court against an opponent he has beaten four times in as many meetings.
He has not failed to reach the third round of a Grand Slam tournament since the 2017 Australian Open.
In Wednesday’s early action, Stefanos Tsitsipas cruised into the third round with a straight-sets win over Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena.
The Greek fifth seed, the runner-up to Djokovic in 2021, claimed a 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 win on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
Tsitsipas will next face either Argentinian Diego Schwartzman or Portugal’s Nuno Borges for a place in the second week.
Elina Svitolina battled back from a break and a set down to beat Storm Hunter, just 12 hours after her husband Gael Monfils’ late-night escape act.
Ukrainian Svitolina, playing at a Grand Slam event for the first time since the 2022 Australian Open, downed qualifier Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1.
Home favorite Monfils claimed his first win in nine months in a five-set first-round thriller against Sebastian Baez which finished after midnight in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
“Yes, I watched him, but not live. I was screaming in my room so if someone heard me, it was me cheering for Gael,” said Svitolina, who was being supported on Court Simonne Mathieu by Monfils.
American third seed Jessica Pegula booked her spot in the last 32 when opponent Camila Giorgi retired injured after losing the first set 6-2.
Former champion Jelena Ostapenko crashed out, though, losing 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 to the United States’ Peyton Stearns.
Later, Alcaraz continues his bid for a second major title against Japan’s Taro Daniel, while world number two Aryna Sabalenka plays Iryna Shymanovich in an all-Belarusian women’s tie.

Dubai to host 6th edition of Vice President’s Jiu-Jitsu Cup

Dubai to host 6th edition of Vice President’s Jiu-Jitsu Cup
Updated 31 May 2023

Dubai to host 6th edition of Vice President’s Jiu-Jitsu Cup

Dubai to host 6th edition of Vice President’s Jiu-Jitsu Cup
  • Competitions across several age categories will take place June 3-4 at Shabab Al-Ahli Club

DUBAI: The sixth edition of the Vice President’s Jiu-Jitsu Cup is set to kick off on Saturday at the Shabab Al-Ahli Club in Dubai, with club and academy athletes from throughout the UAE taking to the mat.

The event, organized by the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation, will take place on June 3 to 4 and will feature competitions across categories including under-14s, 16s, and 18s, and adults.

The championship, which was initially introduced in 2018, will feature an open belt format.

With prize money of more than 1 million Emirati dirhams ($272,000), the tournament is among the three local competitions that allow clubs and academies from throughout the country to vie for the coveted title. The other two are the Jiu-Jitsu President’s Cup and the Mother of the Nation Jiu-Jitsu Cup.

Mohammed Salem Al-Dhaheri, deputy chairman of the UAEJJF, said: “The Vice President’s Cup serves as a launching pad for new jiu-jitsu talents in the UAE, propelling them toward excellence and the opportunity to represent the national team.

“The local championships organized by the UAEJJF are on a par with the highest standards of major international championships in terms of technical and organizational aspects.

“Clubs and academies are eager to have their athletes participate in these competitions, as they provide a unique environment for them to test their skills,” he added.

Al-Dhaheri praised the efforts of participating academies and clubs in helping to strengthen the global leadership of the UAE in the self-defense martial art and solidifying its position as the world capital for the sport.

Title-hungry Nuggets face odds-defying Heat in NBA Finals

Title-hungry Nuggets face odds-defying Heat in NBA Finals
Updated 31 May 2023

Title-hungry Nuggets face odds-defying Heat in NBA Finals

Title-hungry Nuggets face odds-defying Heat in NBA Finals
  • The best-of-seven championship series begins Thursday at Denver
  • Nuggets coach Michael Malone: Our goal is to win a championship, so we have much more work to do

DENVER: A Denver Nuggets squad looking to prove their championship quality and an upstart Miami Heat lineup that made defying the odds a trademark are on an NBA Finals collision course.

Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic of Serbia leads the Western Conference top seed Nuggets against sharpshooter Jimmy Butler and the Heat, who needed a play-in victory just to grab an eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

The best-of-seven championship series begins Thursday at Denver. It’s the Nuggets’ first trip to the NBA Finals since making their league debut in 1976.

Denver have won hard-earned respect after 46 seasons of futility, this year as a playoff top seed for the first time.

“Our goal is to win a championship, so we have much more work to do,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

“Seems like for years now, some dusty old cowtown in the Rocky Mountains, the little respect that we get. You can sit there and complain about it or you can just embrace who we are and what we have.

“Until we win a championship, people are going to keep saying that about us. So that’s what drives us. Getting to the finals doesn’t do it. It’s winning a championship.”

Jokic, a 6-foot-11 (2.11m) center, averaged 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and a career-high 9.8 assists a game this season and shot a career-best 63.2 percent from the floor.

Miami center Bam Adebayo says the key to slowing Jokic is “making him take tough shots” but added, “The biggest thing for us is try to limit his assists. Sounds easier said than done. Biggest thing for us is watching film and figuring that out.”

The Nuggets have talent and depth around Jokic, led by guard Jamal Murray, who missed the entire 2021-22 season due to a torn left knee ligament. He’s averaging 27.7 points in the playoffs.

“I’m so happy for Jamal. He’s a special player,” Jokic said. “He has been our best player since round one, really stepping up. Even if he doesn’t make shots, his energy is always good. He’s still fighting.”

Denver forward Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and Bruce Brown and guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope each average 10-15 points in the playoffs in supporting roles that have made the Nuggets formidable.

“When we’re just playing the right way, everything opens up,” Murray said. “Everybody eats when we’re all playing for each other and we’ve been doing that for a while. We’re just in a great rhythm of playing unselfish basketball.”

And there’s more to come.

“We’ve got four more wins to go,” Murray said. “First Nuggets team to go all the way. We just want to make the most of the opportunity.”

To do that, the Nuggets must defeat a giant-killer Heat team that became only the second eighth seed to reach the NBA Finals after the 1999 New York Knicks.

Miami, who lost two regular-season games against Denver, lost a play-in game to Atlanta then beat Chicago to grab the last East playoff spot.

The Heat stunned NBA wins-leader Milwaukee, beat New York and edged Boston in seven games in the East final after letting the Celtics pull level from an 0-3 hole.

“We have some incredible competitors in that locker room. They love the challenge,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

“Things don’t always go your way. The inevitable setbacks happen and it’s how you deal with that collectively. It can sap your spirit. It can take a team down for whatever reason. With this group, it has steeled us and made us closer and made us tougher.”

Butler has averaged 28.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists a game in the playoffs but “Jimmy Buckets” says he isn’t finished.

“Nobody is satisfied,” he said. “We haven’t done anything. We don’t play just to win the Eastern Conference. We play to win the whole thing.”

And being a huge underdog in the finals is just how Adebayo wants it.

“When you go through what we went through this whole season, people writing us off, to be four games from a championship just speaks volume to, one, we never quit, and two, everybody rallied together,” he said.

Bolt desperate for impactful role in track and field

Bolt desperate for impactful role in track and field
Updated 31 May 2023

Bolt desperate for impactful role in track and field

Bolt desperate for impactful role in track and field
  • The Jamaican athletics star said that he was aware his personality was a vital ingredient in the success of track and field during his era
  • Bolt thought that next year’s Paris Olympics could be a special moment for the sport

MEXICO CITY: Usain Bolt said he is desperate to play a role in reviving the sport that made him a global superstar but has experienced something of a decline since his retirement six years ago.

The Jamaican, who dominated men’s sprinting for nearly a decade after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said he had found plenty to do to keep himself busy but was really keen to remain involved in sport.

“I spend my time doing a lot of family things, when it comes to track and field, not as much as I would want to but I still try and stay in touch with what is going on,” the 36-year-old told Reuters.

“I’m still waiting on a position from (World Athletics), I’ve reached out to them and let them know I would love to make a bigger impact in sports, as long as they want me to.

“We’ve been in talks but we’ll have to wait and see what comes around.”

Bolt added that he was aware his personality was a vital ingredient in the success of track and field during his era but thought he could see signs that athletes like US sprinter Noah Lyles might be starting to fill the charisma gap.

“It’s going to be a process. After me, it kind of went down because of who I was as a person, and how big my personality was,” added the eight-times Olympic gold medallist.

“But I think over time it will be better. I think young athletes are coming up and I see a few personalities that are needed in sport, hopefully in the upcoming years it will change.

“Hopefully I can play a part and help the sport to grow.”

There was disappointment at the crowds for last year’s World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, but Bolt thought that next year’s Paris Olympics could be a special moment for the sport.

“Sometimes it’s all about where it is, America is not the biggest track and field place,” he said.

“I think Paris will be big, because it’s accessible and I know Paris always has a good team and good athletes over the years. So I look forward to that.”

After a decade of Bolt-inspired global dominance, Jamaica’s men have failed to win a single track gold medal at the last two World Championships.

At this year’s championships in Budapest, however, Bolt sees some promise of success in young sprinters Oblique Seville and Ackeem Blake.

“Last year, Seville came fourth (in the 100m) so I was very impressed. Also now there’s a young kid, Ackeem Blake, who is also stepping up. So I think that’s a good start,” the 11-times world champion said.

“Hopefully these two will motivate other youngsters to want to step up, and want to train harder and dedicate themselves.”

Jamaica are still dominant in the women’s sprints and Bolt said he would be keeping a close eye on compatriot Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce at the World Championships in August.

Fraser-Pryce, also 36, will be seeking a record-extending sixth world 100m title in Hungary, 14 years after making her debut in the global showpiece of track and field.

“I follow Shelly a lot because we came through the same era so to see her continue sprinting and coming back from having a child, that’s impressive,” said Bolt.