Next Gen ATP Finals head to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia will host the men’s tennis tour’s Next Gen ATP Finals in Jedda through 2027 under an agreement announced Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, the latest foray into sports by the Kingdom. (AP)
Saudi Arabia will host the men’s tennis tour’s Next Gen ATP Finals in Jedda through 2027 under an agreement announced Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, the latest foray into sports by the Kingdom. (AP)
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Updated 24 August 2023
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Next Gen ATP Finals head to Saudi Arabia

Next Gen ATP Finals head to Saudi Arabia
  • Jeddah’s successful bid makes history as the first official professional tennis event to take place in Saudi Arabia

LONDON: The Next Gen Finals are the latest major sporting event to head to Saudi Arabia with the ATP announcing on Thursday that Jeddah will be the host city until 2027.

This year’s end-of-season tournament will take place over five days at the King Abdullah Sports City on indoor hard court from November 28 to December 2, with a record $2 million prize money on offer.

The finals have been held for the last five years in Milan.

Jeddah’s successful bid makes history as the first official professional tennis event to take place in Saudi Arabia.

“The ATP Tour is truly global and exploring new markets is central to growing the game,” said ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi.

“Bringing the Next Gen ATP Finals to Jeddah is our chance to inspire new fans, in a region with a vast young population, and unite audiences around tennis.

“Our congratulations go to Jeddah and the Saudi Tennis Federation (STF), we look forward to building on the event’s incredible success together,” he added.

The Next Gen Finals, first launched in 2017, brings together the world’s best 21-and-under players.

Nine of the current top 10 players in the ATP rankings have competed at the event, including past champions Stefanos Tsitsipas, Jannik Sinner and current world number one Carlos Alcaraz.

Tennis is at a major inflection point in Saudi Arabia. 

Recreational clinics are at full capacity across the country, reflecting STF’s commitment to raisin gawareness and fostering interest among Saudi’s young, sport-enthusiastic population. 

Ambitious participation targets, an increase the number of international tennis competitions, and establishing tennis as the marquee gender-equal sport in Saudi Arabia, have all been set as objectives in line with Vision 2030, that aspires to turn the Kingdom into a major sports, entertainment and tourism hub.

Arij Mutabagani, president of the Saudi Tennis Federation, said: “We are extremely proud that ATP has selected Jeddah to host such an important tennis event. The Next Gen ATP Finals embodies the philosophy of our Federation, which is to inspire young talent to reach the sport’s highest levels. We’re excited to collaborate to promote the ATP Tour’s most promising rising stars, and showcase new sporting innovations, in our special city of Jeddah.”

* With AFP


Al-Hazm stun Al-Nassr to rescue draw in 8-goal thriller

Al-Hazm stun Al-Nassr to rescue draw in 8-goal thriller
Updated 55 min 51 sec ago
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Al-Hazm stun Al-Nassr to rescue draw in 8-goal thriller

Al-Hazm stun Al-Nassr to rescue draw in 8-goal thriller
  • Al-Nassr took the lead on four occasions, thanks to a hat-trick from Anderson Talisca and a late penalty from Sadio Mane, only for Al-Hazm to respond each time
  • SAFF’s Ethics and Discipline Committee suspended Cristiano Ronaldo for the game after he was found making an offensive gesture following his team’s victory over Al-Shabab

Cristiano Ronaldo was a mere bystander on Thursday, along with 19,000 fans, as Al-Nassr were somehow held to a 4-4 draw by relegation strugglers Al-Hazm.

The Riyadh giants stay second in the Roshn Saudi League but are now six points behind leaders Al-Hilal who have a game in hand.

It was an incredible game as star-studded Al-Nassr took the lead on four occasions, thanks to a hat-trick from Anderson Talisca and a late penalty from Sadio Mane. Yet somehow, the visitors, who arrived in the capital bottom of the table, came back four times to earn a much-needed point.

It added to what had already been a roller-coaster week for Ronaldo, who watched from the stands first in delight, then frustration, then delight again, before disbelief.

In the early hours of Thursday, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s Ethics and Discipline Committee suspended the Portuguese star for one game after he was found making an offensive gesture following his team’s victory over Al-Shabab in the Saudi Pro League on Sunday.

The home fans chanted the player’s name before the game started and then they did the same again with seven minutes on the clock, in honor of his shirt number. He acknowledged the support with his fist in the air.

Toze netted for the visitors midway through the first half but the Portuguese forward’s emphatic strike was ruled out for offside.

Al-Nassr took the lead after 31 minutes. Sami Al-Najei was brought down in the area by Paulo Ricardo and after VAR had taken a look, Talisca made no mistake in finding the bottom corner.

Al-Nassr continued to push forward in an attempt to give themselves a cushion and immediately after the restart Al-Najei netted but the goal was ruled out for offside.

The Yellows were left to rue that decision after 55 minutes as Ahmad Al-Mhemaid headed home at the far post after Al-Nassr had failed to clear a corner.

Just after the hour, Talisca put Al-Nassr back in front, but the lead lasted only four minutes, Toze sprinting free of the defense to slot home for 2-2, despite some offside doubts.

Both teams were struggling at the back and it was no surprise when Talisca completed his hat-trick after 71 minutes, heading home an Alex Telles cross in majestic fashion.

There was more terrible defending with six minutes of regulation time remaining as Al-Hazm equalized again. The ball was allowed to bounce in the area, despite the presence of multiple yellow shirts, and there was Faiz Selemani on hand to stroke home to make it 3-3.

It looked as if Al-Nassr had thrown it away, and Ronaldo was not the only one with his head in his hands.

But then, in the 91st minute, the hosts were thrown a victory lifeline as Al-Hazm goalkeeper Aymen Dahmen punched Meshari Al-Nemer after missing the ball. Sadio Mane stepped up to score what was surely the winning goal from the penalty spot.

But it proved not to be. With 100 minutes played, Al-Nassr failed to deal with another ball into the box and there was Ricardo to fire home from close range.

There was general disbelief in the stadium as the final whistle sounded. Ronaldo was shaking his head, Talisca was on his haunches, the atmosphere desolate.

Surely, amid the silence, the sound of Al-Hilal fans celebrating could have been heard. The leaders can go nine points clear if they defeat Al-Ittihad on Friday.


Bayern focused on hunting down Leverkusen

Bayern focused on hunting down Leverkusen
Updated 29 February 2024
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Bayern focused on hunting down Leverkusen

Bayern focused on hunting down Leverkusen
  • New Bayern sporting director Max Eberl told reporters his side, who have won the past 11 Bundesliga titles were “now playing the role of the hunter”
  • Bayern play away at Freiburg on Friday, the same day Eberl officially starts work

BERLIN: Eight points behind leaders Leverkusen, Bayern Munich have cast themselves in the unfamiliar role of “hunters” with one third of the season remaining.
Bayern have 11 matches to close the gap on Xabi Alonso’s unbeaten side who are pushing for a first-ever Bundesliga crown.
New Bayern sporting director Max Eberl told reporters his side, who have won the past 11 Bundesliga titles were “now playing the role of the hunter.”
Bayern play away at Freiburg on Friday, the same day Eberl officially starts work.
Since Leverkusen’s dominant 3-0 home win over Bayern earlier in February, Alonso’s side have played before Thomas Tuchel’s side each weekend, throwing down the gauntlet to the under-pressure Bavarians.
With Leverkusen however now in action mostly on Sundays due to midweek Europa League commitments, Bayern can up the pressure on Alonso’s men by playing first most weekends.
After three straight losses equalled their worst run since 2015, Bayern beat RB Leipzig last week, albeit needing a stoppage-time strike from Harry Kane.
Tuchel said Thursday the “last-minute win gave us self-confidence and a positive atmosphere, which is what you need to play good and successful football.
“We stopped the negative series. It gave us energy and I think we did well.”
With Bayern on the verge of a last 16 exit in the Champions League, Tuchel had one eye fixed on Tuesday’s home clash with Lazio, with the Italian side holding a 1-0 advantage.
The Bayern coach said the Lazio clash was “a completely different game” but told reporters “the best preparation for the coming match is always a successful match before.”
Colorful Freiburg coach Christian Streich said Thursday “Bayern will want to win at all costs — we’ll do everything we can to make it difficult for them.”
An eight-point lead at this point of the season has never been chased down in the history of the Bundesliga.
Bayern however will be hoping that their winning history, along with five-time runners-up Leverkusen’s reputation for finishing second will give them an advantage in the final stretch.
Before that match, Tuchel had said “we are the last ones who will stop believing.”
Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke knows only too well what Bayern’s relentless pressure can do to a club.
Tuchel’s Bayern won the title on the final day of last season after Dortmund drew 2-2 at home against a Mainz side with nothing to play for.
“It’s not over” Watzke told AFP and other journalists on Tuesday.
“Don’t be sure that Bayern Munich is dead. Bayern is dead after the last match of the season and never before.”
Bayer Leverkusen have had several players hit career-best form this season under Xabi Alonso — but few have risen as far as forward Nathan Tella.
An Arsenal junior who spent most of his time in the lower divisions, the 24-year-old arrived in summer from Southampton, having impressed in a loan spell at Burnley.
The lightning-quick Tella has only improved since arriving in Germany — an achievement recognized by a Nigeria call-up.
He played a crucial role up front in Leverkusen’s 3-0 defeat of Bayern Munich which put the unbeaten side on course for a debut Bundesliga title.
Speaking with the Bundesliga website on Thursday, Tella credits Alonso for keeping the side focused.
“He doesn’t get too carried away. He doesn’t think too far in the future, only the next game and how to improve.
“If we won a game 3-0, he will look at why we didn’t win 4-0.
“We strive to be the best as a team — he brings that out of us.”
Bayer Leverkusen have 61 points with one third of the season remaining.
Last year, Bayern Munich won the title with 71.
Only five points separate Hoffenheim in seventh and Bochum in 15th in the Bundesliga’s mid-table traffic jam.
Freiburg’s Vincenzo Grifo has converted his past 13 penalties in a row in the Bundesliga.


PSL 2024: Rutherford blitz ensures Quetta snatch last-ball win over Karachi

PSL 2024: Rutherford blitz ensures Quetta snatch last-ball win over Karachi
Updated 29 February 2024
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PSL 2024: Rutherford blitz ensures Quetta snatch last-ball win over Karachi

PSL 2024: Rutherford blitz ensures Quetta snatch last-ball win over Karachi
  • Sherfane Rutherford scores 58 runs from 31 balls to hand Quetta the victory
  • Quetta spinner Abrar Ahmed returns figures of 3/31 to put Karachi Kings at bay

ISLAMABAD: West Indian batter Sherfane Rutherford handed Quetta Gladiators their fourth victory of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2024 tournament on Thursday, smashing a fiery half-century as the Gladiators edged out Karachi Kings, the home side, in a last-ball thriller.

Batting first, the Kings were considerably troubled by the Gladiators’ bowling line-up. Spinner Abrar Ahmed returned figures of 3/31 while Usman Tariq and Akeal Hosein finished with figures of 2/16 and 2/34 respectively.

James Vince top-scored for the Kings, scoring 37 runs from 25 balls while all-rounder Anwar Ali contributed with an impressive 25 runs from 14 balls. The Kings finished with a score of 165-8 from their 20 overs.

“#PurpleForce breathe.. we have won the thrilling encounter,” the Gladiators wrote on social media platform X after securing the win.

The Gladiators had a strong start to their batting, with opener Jason Roy scoring 53 runs from 31 balls while left-handed Saud Shakeel scored 24 runs from 20 balls. Middle order batters Khawaja Nafay, former skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed and Gladiators skipper Rilee Rossouw fell in quick succession, all failing to score in the double digits.

However, an 80-run stand between Rutherford and Hosein proved to be fatal for the Kings, who lost to Quetta by five wickets in the end.

Rutherford scored 58 runs from 31 balls, smashing six sixes and a four at a strike rate of 187.10. Hosein, on the other hand, scored 22 runs from 17 balls.

For the Kings, Hasan Ali and Zahid Mahmood were the best bowlers, returning figures of 2/39 and 2/17 respectively.

The Gladiators remain at number two on the PSL points table, with four wins from their five matches so far. The Kings remain at the number five spot with only two wins from their five matches in this year’s PSL.


Al-Shabab crowned inaugural Saudi Women’s U-17 football champs after defeating Al-Hilal in final

Al-Shabab crowned inaugural Saudi Women’s U-17 football champs after defeating Al-Hilal in final
Updated 29 February 2024
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Al-Shabab crowned inaugural Saudi Women’s U-17 football champs after defeating Al-Hilal in final

Al-Shabab crowned inaugural Saudi Women’s U-17 football champs after defeating Al-Hilal in final
  • Their success in the knockout phase follows a group stage in which they were unbeaten, racking up 9 wins and a draw while scoring 116 goals and conceding just 2
  • Event serves as showcase for talent and potential of young female players and the rapid development of women’s football in the Kingdom, officials say

JEDDAH: Deem Saud scored the decisive goal as Al-Shabab defeated Al-Hilal 1-0 in the final of the inaugural Saudi Arabian Football Federation Women’s U-17 tournament.
The road to the final, which was played on Wednesday at Noon Academy in Jeddah, began in November with the group stages of the tournament, in which 18 teams from the Women’s Premier League, the First Division and SAFF regional training centers were split into four groups.
Al-Shabab were unbeaten in Group 1, topping the table with 28 points from nine wins and a draw, scoring 116 goals along the way and conceding just two.
In the knockout phase, they defeated Jeddah 2-1 in the quarter-finals, and Eastern Flames 2-0 in the semis.
Adwa Al-Arifi, the assistant minister for sport affairs at the Ministry of Sport, Lamia Bahian, the vice president of SAFF, and Aalia Al-Rasheed, the head of the women’s football department at SAFF, watched the final.
Officials said the competition offered a showcase for the talent and potential of young female players in the Kingdom, illustrating the rapid recent development of women’s football across the country. The players and clubs were praised for their skill, team spirit and passion for the sport.
SAFF congratulated Al-Shabab for their success, commended all of the clubs that took part, and thanked the players, coaches and fans for their enthusiastic support, which they said had helped make the championship a great success.


Six things to watch at LIV Golf Jeddah

Six things to watch at LIV Golf Jeddah
Updated 29 February 2024
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Six things to watch at LIV Golf Jeddah

Six things to watch at LIV Golf Jeddah
  • With Brooks Koepka eyeing a ‘three-peat,’ John Rahm makes first appearance in Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH: It is not an exaggeration to say that all eyes in the world of golf will be on LIV Golf Jeddah in Saudi Arabia this week.

The Public Investment Fund-backed league has done more than enough in the recent past to become one of the strongest tours in the world, but enticing Anthony Kim to return to professional golf is probably the coolest thing it has done so far.

It remains to be seen what sort of form the 38-year-old American will be in after his 12-year hiatus from the sport. He might take some time to get back into the groove but be prepared for the internet to go nuts if he has a good opening round on Friday.

Kim is the mystery man of golf, an almost mythical figure. His talent and his skills were unreal when he played regularly on the PGA Tour, winning three titles before he turned 25, but then he said goodbye to the game at the age of just 26.

Some have described his return to professional golf as being like “the resurfacing of the Loch Ness Monster,” others as a sighting of the golfing world’s “Yeti.”

Kim’s return to competition will certainly be one of the biggest storylines to follow during LIV Golf Jeddah this weekend, but here are six others that could ramp up the excitement at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club.

Jon Rahm’s first time in Saudi Arabia

World No. 3 Jon Rahm is the biggest signing in LIV Golf history and the mercurial Spaniard, a two-time major champion, including victory at last year’s Masters, is set to make his first appearance in Saudi Arabia this week.

Given the wind and length of the course at Royal Greens, and the peculiarities associated with a desert course, the venue should play right into Rahm’s hands. A phenomenal striker of the ball, he has spent the past decade based in Arizona and so is used to such conditions. He is also a two-time DP World Tour Championship winner in the neighboring UAE, on a similar style of course.

Koepka’s ‘three-peat’ attempt

Brooks Koepka, a five-time major champion, faced tough challenges to the last putt in Jeddah in 2022 and 2023, but emerged victorious from playoffs both times. He beat teammate Peter Uihlein in the inaugural season of LIV Golf, then got better of Talor Gooch last October.

The 33-year-old resident of West Palm Beach, who was the only LIV Golf player on last year’s Ryder Cup team, will be going for an unprecedented “three-peat” this week. Should he succeed, which is very much within the realms of possibility, it will set a hard-to-beat record in the relatively short history of LIV Golf so far.

The Crushers aim to bounce back

The 2023 Team Championship winners, the Bryson DeChambeau-led Crushers GC, have a point to prove in Saudi Arabia. They were cruising toward a team victory last year at Royal Greens, and DeChambeau looked like a lock for his third individual title of the season, when the unthinkable happened. The Crushers juggernaut came to a grinding halt during Sunday’s final round, they dropped to fourth place and DeChambeau slipped up to finish tied for 16th.

They will be keen to prove that the final round last year was nothing more than an aberration.

Niemann’s time to shine

Chile’s Joaquin Niemann is the LIV man in the news, having recently received a special invitation to play at this year’s Masters. It is just reward for all the chasing he has been doing lately, including victory in the Australian Open in December, fourth place in the Hero Dubai Desert Classic in January, and third in the International Series Oman last week. He also won LIV Golf Mayakoba this month, the season opener, which unfortunately did not earn him any world ranking points.

Niemann’s world-class talent is unquestionable and he is clearly fired up at the moment, which makes him a dangerous contender this week.

Saudi specialist DJ back in form

Koepka might be the flavor of the moment at Royal Greens thanks to his back-to-back LIV Golf wins there, but the original boss of the course is his close friend Dustin Johnson, two-time winner of the Saudi International there in 2019 and 2021, with a second place sandwiched between the victories. Even at the LIV Golf events in the past two years, his record is a respectable tie for fifth and a solo sixth place.

Now that the former world No. 1 has finally gotten over his short title drought with a win in Las Vegas this month, be prepared to perhaps see some fireworks once again from the big American.

The change of schedule

In 2022, Koepka won the tournament with a 12-under-par total, and finished on 14-under when he successfully defended his title last year.

A major change to the tournament this year, however, is that it is being played in the first week of March, when the conditions will much cooler compared with the October scheduling of previous years. Royal Greens will therefore feel like a different course, with changed wind directions and slightly softer greens. Expect the scores to be lower, therefore, unless the Red Sea has different ideas and starts blowing high winds towards the course.