US Open preview: Djokovic looking for slice of history as Alcaraz aims for repeat triumph

The US Open begins on Monday in New York with defending champions Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek searching for US Open repeats, and Novak Djokovic and Ons Jabeur in the hunt. (AFP/File Photos)
The US Open begins on Monday in New York with defending champions Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek searching for US Open repeats, and Novak Djokovic and Ons Jabeur in the hunt. (AFP/File Photos)
Short Url
Updated 27 August 2023
Follow

US Open preview: Djokovic looking for slice of history as Alcaraz aims for repeat triumph

US Open preview: Djokovic looking for slice of history as Alcaraz aims for repeat triumph
  • Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur hoping to banish Wimbledon heartache

NEW YORK: The final Grand Slam of the tennis season begins on Monday in New York with defending champions Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek searching for US Open repeats, while Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur is looking to go one further than her runner-up showing from last year.

Here are some of the main talking points to look out for in Queens this coming fortnight.

 Next chapter in Alcaraz-Djokovic rivalry?

There’s a 16-year age difference between them and they’ve only squared off in four previous meetings, yet it’s impossible to argue against the fact that the rivalry between world No. 1 Alcaraz and No. 2 Novak Djokovic is the most exciting thing in men’s tennis right now.

They’ve split their four previous clashes and even though they can only play each other in the final, as the top two seeds, everyone is already salivating at the thought of Alcaraz and Djokovic fighting for the US Open trophy in the championship match in two weeks’ time on Arthur Ashe stadium.

Alcaraz, already a two-time Grand Slam champion at the age of 20, is bidding to become the first man to successfully defend his US Open crown since Roger Federer won five in a row in New York between 2004 and 2008.

Djokovic is looking for another slice of history as he targets Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 majors won.

The Serb, who lost in five close sets to Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final last month, missed the US Open in 2022 due to his vaccination status and will be keen to make up for lost time at this event.

A three-time champion in New York, Djokovic’s last appearance at the event was a heartbreaking final defeat to Daniil Medvedev, who stopped him from completing a historic calendar-year Grand Slam.

“I don’t know how many more Slams I’ll have. I’ll still keep going. I don’t have an end in my mind at the moment. I also understand that things are different when you’re 36, so I have to be more appreciative, a bit more present, treating every Grand Slam as maybe your last one in terms of commitment and performance,” Djokovic told reporters at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Friday.

“I see this every Grand Slam that I play right now as really a golden opportunity to make more history. Of course, there’s a big significance to that.”

The No. 1 ranking has swapped hands six times so far this season and will likely switch again by the end of the US Open. Given he has no points to defend at the tournament while Alcaraz is defending 2,000 points for winning last year, all Djokovic has to do to dethrone the Spaniard is win his first round in New York.

Is it Coco’s time?

Since her opening-round loss at Wimbledon to Sofia Kenin last month, 19-year-old Coco Gauff has won 11 of 12 matches, dominating the North American hard-court swing by winning the WTA 500 tournament in DC, and a maiden WTA 1000 trophy in Cincinnati, where she claimed a statement victory over world No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the semifinals.

With a new team in her corner — comprised of Andre Agassi’s former coach Brad Gilbert and Spanish former top-70 player Pere Riba — and new-found confidence that is palpable the second you watch her hit a ball on court, Gauff arrives in New York as one of the favorites for the US Open title.

“I think I’m obviously a lot more confident and I think the mindset is different,” said Gauff on the eve of the US Open.

“Having like that first-round loss at Wimbledon shows that it wasn’t really as bad as it could happen, so I’m not going into this tournament worried if I lose early or not. I can’t really control that result.

“I think now I’m going in with a lot more confidence. I feel like no matter the score line in the match, I can be able to problem solve and troubleshoot my way out.

“I know I can win matches not playing my best game now. I think I wasn’t playing my best in every single match in DC and Cincinnati, it’s impossible. I do feel I’m much more confident in my B or C game.”

Already a Grand Slam finalist, at Roland Garros last year, Gauff is seeded No. 6 this fortnight and starts her campaign against recent Warsaw finalist Laura Siegemund. She is in the same quarter of the draw as Swiatek and the duo are on collision course for a highly anticipated potential last-eight clash.

Can Jabeur bounce back?

Tunisian fan favorite Ons Jabeur admits her Wimbledon final defeat to Marketa Vondrousova last month “still hurts” but she has taken her time to refresh mentally and has played just one tournament — Cincinnati, where she made the quarters — prior to the US Open.

A finalist in three of her past five Grand Slams, Jabeur will begin her quest for a maiden major title against Colombia’s Camila Osorio on Tuesday.

The No. 5 seed is in world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka’s quarter of the draw. Should they meet in the last eight, it would be a third consecutive tournament where Jabeur has taken on the Belarusian.

“I wasn’t ready to come back soon on tour because I felt like I needed time for myself,” said Jabeur of opting out of playing the WTA 1000 event in Canada post-Wimbledon.

“They say time heals. I’m still waiting a bit. The Wimbledon loss still hurts. It’s much better than a month ago, for sure. I’m 28 years old now (turns 29 on Monday), I’ve learned from the mistakes of playing, playing, playing tournaments all the time. I think I was really proud of myself to just take a step back, enjoy time with my family, and get ready for the next tournaments.”

Can Tiafoe end American men’s drought at the majors?

It’s been 20 years since ex-world No. 1 Andy Roddick won the US Open title and no American man has won a Grand Slam singles title since.

Frances Tiafoe put in a fantastic effort in New York last year, defeating Rafael Nadal and Andrey Rublev en route to a maiden major semifinal, before losing in five close sets to Alcaraz.

The 25-year-old has since cracked the top 10 for the first time and has high ambitions for this US Open. He will take on 17-year-old American Learner Tien during the day session on Arthur Ashe stadium on Monday.

After losing to Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets in the Wimbledon third round last month, Tiafoe says that he plans on approaching this US Open with a different mindset.

“I think sometimes you have such high expectations, you put so much pressure on yourself, you want to do well. You don’t perform and you’re like, ‘Whoa, what was that?’” said Tiafoe of his Wimbledon performance.  

“I think sometimes people make the moment bigger than what it needs to be. At the end of the day it’s a tennis match. We played many of them. Just go out and do what you do, enjoy the game. You’re going to hopefully get that shot many more times to be in that position.

“No need to be like, ‘This is the time right now or the world is going to end.’ I think that’s kind of what happened there. Totally different approach now. I’m just going to be me, have fun. Whatever the result is, it is. I can live with it at the end of the day, no matter what.”

A fifth Slam for Swiatek?

After successfully defending her French Open title in June, Swiatek now has another defense to attend to, this time in New York.

Since her quarter-final loss to Elina Svitolina at Wimbledon, the 22-year-old Pole has won her home tournament in Warsaw before suffering semifinal exits in Canada and Cincinnati.

As she bids for a fifth Grand Slam trophy, Swiatek explains her approach to arriving at the US Open as the reigning champion.

“Remembering this is a totally different chapter always helps. I also want to just take a lesson from last year. I learned a lot during the US Open. This was probably the most important tournament in terms of me believing in myself and progressing on hard courts,” she said.

“I’ll try to just focus on that, take everything step by step.”

Swiatek’s No. 1 ranking is once again under threat and she will need to go at least one round better than her closest rival Sabalenka if she wants to extend her tenure at the summit.


Racism in sport: a local or global issue?

Racism in sport: a local or global issue?
Updated 12 sec ago
Follow

Racism in sport: a local or global issue?

Racism in sport: a local or global issue?
  • Cricketer Azeem Rafiq’s upcoming book detailing his troubling experiences in the English game will provide lessons for some — and pose difficult questions for others

On Feb. 23, I participated in the inaugural gathering of the Cricket Research Network. This has been initiated by a group of British academics whose research specializations focus on cricket. Their focus is to bring together researchers, writers on cricket, journalists and others with an interest in the game. Their purpose is to provide a forum for disseminating research results to a wider audience than achieved currently on a fragmented basis. It is hoped that a more coordinated approach may lead to a greater voice and input into decision making by the game’s policymakers.

Although there were several papers on issues in other countries, the focus at this stage is on cricket in England and Wales. In that sense, it was fitting that the venue for the conference was Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, the home of the only non-English county cricket club, one fiercely proud of its heritage. This was well exemplified by the displays on view in the Museum where the sessions were held. Proceedings were well-mannered, the only hints of discord arising in relation to two of English and Welsh most emotional topics — The Hundred and structural racism in the game.

The latter had been given an adrenaline shot three days before the conference took place. This was in the form of a hearing of the Parliamentary Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport, which was continuing the work it began in 2021. At its first hearing, on Nov. 16, 2021, Azeem Rafiq testified about his experiences at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

Earlier, in March 2021, the England and Wales Cricket Board announced the setting up of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket to look at issues of diversity, inclusion and equity in cricket, at all levels and in all roles. Terms of reference were established in July 2021, followed by an online call for evidence in November 2021 that generated about 4,200 responses. A call for written evidence in March 2022 resulted in 150 responses. The findings, based on the evidence and underpinning research, were published in June 2023.

No punches were pulled by the commission, which concluded that “structural and institutional racism” exists within the game, women are treated as “subordinate” to men at all levels of the sport, Black cricket has been failed, and there is a prevalence of “elitism and class-based discrimination.” It was left to the ECB, under new leadership, to formulate how it would respond and draw up measures to address the ICEC’s recommendations.

A major part of the select committee hearing last week, also under new leadership, was to explore how much progress has been made since June 2023. In the first part of the hearing, three ICEC commissioners reported that the ECB had accepted all of their findings, most of their recommendations, along with displaying a commitment to tackle the issues. However, several press headlines focussed on the disappointment that the ICEC chair expressed about Lord Botham’s disparaging response to the report, given that he chairs a county cricket club.

In the second part of the hearing, the ECB’s chair revealed that he had spoken privately to Lord Botham to say that he did not agree with his views. It may safely be assumed that they would not be welcomed by the ECB’s leadership. They are faced with a herculean task to implement the ICEC’s recommendations. Failure to do so will pose questions about the board’s fitness for purpose and caliber of personnel. Finance is also an issue. In the last cycle up to 2024, sale of media rights accounted for 75 percent of the ECB’s income, about $260 million. In his testimony to the select committee, ECB’s chair said that in the new cycle to 2028, media rights have been sold that equate to around 90 percent of income.

This is a highly vulnerable, seemingly unavoidable, position. The need to attract additional funding into the game, partly in order to finance the ICEC’s recommendations, is encapsulated in the conundrum of The Hundred. It is now highly probable that private investment will be allowed into the competition using a model that is still to be finalized. Into this equation steps the returning Chair of YCCC, Colin Graves. He accepted an invitation to appear in front of the select committee for the third part of its hearing, alongside YCCC’s retiring chair. Cricket’s ability to polarize views seems to know no bounds, and Graves is a potent example. Even the committee chair remarked that he is “a gentleman who divides opinions.”

This potential was aptly demonstrated in response to a question asking why he had not picked up the phone to apologize to Rafiq. Graves’ response was that he “did not feel that was appropriate at the time.” Graves was executive chair of YCCC between 2012 and 2015, before becoming ECB chair between 2015 and 2020. It has always been difficult to understand why, during those years, he claims to have been unaware that racism might exist in cricket. He says that he “read about the complaints in the papers, just like everyone else.”

This has been and still is a sordid affair, which is not yet over. My sense, from listening and taking to people in the game, is that English and Welsh cricket is tired of the matter. They feel that the issue is being addressed, so leave us alone. Rafiq is branded as a controversial character. He is now exiled from the UK. Graves has returned to be in charge of YCCC. Where, one might ask, is the equity in this? Money, power and control appear to rule the roost.

In late April a book is due to be published under Rafiq’s name, chronicling his unsavory journey. It is likely to have lessons for others. One such lesson is that someone who has the bravery to stand up for their cause may, not for the first time, be downed by those with vested interest. It is for this reason, alone, that racism in sport is a global matter.


PSG coach Luis Enrique promises ‘much better team’ next season

PSG coach Luis Enrique promises ‘much better team’ next season
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

PSG coach Luis Enrique promises ‘much better team’ next season

PSG coach Luis Enrique promises ‘much better team’ next season
  • “If everything goes well I am convinced we will have a much better team than this year,” the Spaniard said
  • “I am convinced, as much in defense as in attack, in the midfield, tactically, physically”

POISSY, France: Paris Saint-Germain coach Luis Enrique on Thursday promised that the French giants will have a stronger team next season despite the impending departure of Kylian Mbappe when the superstar forward’s contract expires.
“If everything goes well I am convinced we will have a much better team than this year,” the Spaniard said after refusing to name specific targets when asked if AC Milan forward Rafael Leao was on the club’s shopping list.
“I am convinced, as much in defense as in attack, in the midfield, tactically, physically,” added the former Barcelona and Spain coach.
His comments came after he took Mbappe off with PSG trailing in last week’s 1-1 draw against Rennes.
Luis Enrique later said the Ligue 1 leaders needed to become accustomed to life without Mbappe, who recently informed PSG of his decision to leave at the end of the current campaign.
“Sooner or later, when it happens, we are going to have to get used to playing without Kylian,” he said after that game.
PSG are 11 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 before going to Mbappe’s former club Monaco on Friday, when they will be without captain Marquinhos due to a calf injury.
They then travel to Spain to face Real Sociedad in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie next Tuesday, defending a 2-0 lead from the first meeting.
“Obviously we are entering into a difficult period. The players really want to win things and this is the key point in the season, the best time,” Luis Enrique said.
“It is all or nothing, and that is a nice feeling.”


Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba banned for 4 years for doping

Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba banned for 4 years for doping
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba banned for 4 years for doping

Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba banned for 4 years for doping
  • World Cup winner tested positive for testosterone
  • Sentence could end Pogba’s career as the France international turns 31 next month

ROME: Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba was banned for the maximum four years by Italy’s anti-doping court on Thursday after the World Cup winner tested positive for testosterone.
Pogba’s positive test was announced in September, stemming from an exam that was carried out after Juventus’ game at Udinese on Aug. 20. Pogba did not play in the Serie A match but was on Juve’s bench.
Pogba opted not to make a plea bargain with Italy’s anti-doping agency and so the case was tried before the country’s anti-doping court. A person with direct knowledge of the case confirmed the verdict to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the sentence was not made public due to Italy’s privacy laws.
Pogba could appeal the decision to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The sentence could end Pogba’s career, as the France international turns 31 next month.
Four-year bans are standard under the World Anti-Doping Code but can be reduced in cases where an athlete can prove their doping was not intentional, if the positive test was a result of contamination or if they provide “substantial assistance” to help investigators.
Pogba rejoined Juventus from Manchester United in 2022 but struggled with injuries, playing in only six Serie A matches for Juventus last season and two this season. He was ruled out of France’s run to the World Cup final that year due to a knee injury.
Pogba helped France win the previous World Cup, scoring in the 4-2 win over Croatia in the final. He played in 178 matches for Juventus from 2012-16.


EA Sports announces inaugural Ramadan Tournament for MENA region gamers

EA Sports announces inaugural Ramadan Tournament for MENA region gamers
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

EA Sports announces inaugural Ramadan Tournament for MENA region gamers

EA Sports announces inaugural Ramadan Tournament for MENA region gamers
  • Participants will take part in 2 competitions, EA Sports FC 24, EA Sports FC Mobile

RIYADH: EA Sports has announced the launch of the first-ever Ramadan tournament, set to take place during the holy month from March 18 to 29.

The EA Sports FC Ramadan Tournament will be organized by Zawaya Gaming and powered by Pepsi with support from the Saudi eSports Federation.

The event will feature two parallel knockout tournaments: one for EA Sports FC 24 on PlayStation 5, and the other for EA Sports FC Mobile.

A total of 16 players will qualify to compete in the finals, with eight players being paired with athletes and creators for a two-versus-two tournament in the two competitions.

The console tournament will be open to participants from Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, while mobile participants will include competitors from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Jordan, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, and Indonesia.

The live finals will take place at the SEF Arena in Riyadh.


Jaguar’s Mitch Evans optimistic of form return at Sao Paulo E-Prix

Jaguar’s Mitch Evans optimistic of form return at Sao Paulo E-Prix
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

Jaguar’s Mitch Evans optimistic of form return at Sao Paulo E-Prix

Jaguar’s Mitch Evans optimistic of form return at Sao Paulo E-Prix
  • The New Zealand driver has been frustrated with his start to the Formula E season

DUBAI: Formula E driver Mitch Evans admits he has been frustrated with his performances this season but is optimistic he can bounce back, beginning with next month’s Sao Paulo E-Prix.

The Jaguar driver has yet to achieve a podium finish after ending fifth in the season opener in Mexico before matching the result in January’s Diriyah E-Prix. The New Zealander closed the Diriyah E-Prix doubleheader weekend with a disappointing 10th, leaving him fifth in the standings and 36 points behind leader and teammate Nick Cassidy.

“It is frustrating and am disappointed to how the season has started as I felt we had one of the quickest cars on average,” said the 29-year-old. “I have just not been able to convert it into a decent result. My best shot was in the first race in Diriyah but we didn’t execute the race properly.

“We still got some good points on the board but I walked away from Saudi that we left some good opportunities from my side of the garage. It’s still early days but it seems we still have the pace which is one of the main things.

“But I do need to ramp up big points and that is the focus. I’m still feeling very optimistic of having a good run in the next phase of the season.”

Evans is disappointed that he has not contributed more to the team’s points tally unlike teammate Cassidy who has enjoyed three podium finishes including his triumph in Diriyah’s round three.

He said: “What the most frustrating this is that we could be one-two in the championship and we’re not. Nick has done a great job in the first three races and has settled nicely into the team. He has transitioned into the team really well so Nick has driven really well in this Gen3 car and not overly surprised. We are leading the teams’ constructors which is good but I feel we could be one, two or three in the championship and that is the most frustrating.

“He’s had a great start and picked up a lot of good points total and he is going to be really competitive and quick. I just need to make some better results on the board.”