Saudi star Yara Alhogbani dreams of thriving tennis community in Kingdom

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Updated 04 February 2024
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Saudi star Yara Alhogbani dreams of thriving tennis community in Kingdom

Saudi star Yara Alhogbani dreams of thriving tennis community in Kingdom
  • 19-year-old spoke to Arab News about her career, game’s development in Saudi Arabia, rubbing shoulders with idol Ons Jabeur

ABU DHABI: The last couple of months have admittedly been “surreal” for Saudi tennis player Yara Alhogbani.

The 19-year-old got to witness live tennis matches between Ons Jabeur and Aryna Sabalenka, and Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz, at home in Riyadh, for the very first time. She interacted with the stars and was given the opportunity to hit and talk with them.

She also met Rafael Nadal, who was announced as an ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation and has committed to helping the Kingdom develop young talent in the sport and is planning on opening an academy in Saudi.

The Next Gen ATP Finals were held in Jeddah in December, marking the first time a sanctioned tennis tournament had been staged in Saudi Arabia, and it is believed the WTA Finals – the prestigious season finale of the women’s tour – will find a new home in Riyadh, with an official announcement expected soon.

Alhogbani told Arab News: “That would definitely change lives. There are people that have dreamed of that for a long time. I think maybe 200,000 people were in the queue online to get tickets to even see an exhibition, so imagine the WTA Finals.

“Especially for females, not only in tennis but I think in sports in general, that would definitely change lives and open a lot of people’s eyes and encourage more sport and a healthy lifestyle.”

Alhogbani noted that recent developments in tennis in Saudi Arabia were already having a major impact on children in the Kingdom and she was thrilled to see how engaged the top stars were when they took part in clinics and shared their knowledge.

She said: “I think having Ons, a big idol of mine, I’m sure to all of us in the Middle East, being there against Sabalenka, that was something I never imagined could happen a while back.

“And seeing that there were a lot of people there, it was sold out; and I didn’t expect that. So, having more of these kinds of matches, tournaments, it’s going to help grow the sport and it would really be nice to have a lot of those WTA tournaments there. They have no idea what kind of impact they can make on us.

“I got to speak with Ons, she’s so kind-hearted, so down-to-earth, such a great role model that we have.

“And then obviously Novak Djokovic. Before, I was a little intimidated by him, and then I met him, and he was just so awesome. And he cared so much, which is also what made me love him even more, he cared so much about and was so curious about tennis in Saudi.

“He was asking so many questions, and I just felt super noticed and appreciated, which felt nice, especially by him. I’m sure a lot more kids signed up for tennis after that,” she added.

Alhogbani will be having another pinch-me-moment this weekend in Abu Dhabi, where she has been awarded a wildcard to contest the qualifying rounds of a WTA 500 tournament. It will be the teenager’s first experience at this level, and she is hoping to make the most of it.

“This is definitely a dream come true. I think on the way back yesterday from practice, I was on the shuttle bus, and I was sort of crying from happiness.

“So yeah, it feels surreal, almost, I wouldn’t say a dream, it’s like a fever dream, because you don’t really dream about your actual dreams.

“I’m super happy to have the opportunity to represent my country, females from my country, especially in tennis. I’ve dreamed of this for such a long time. And this is also something that I’ve been striving to be. So, having this opportunity is a big deal for me,” she said.

In her junior career, Alhogbani won one singles title and two in doubles before ageing out and transitioning to the professional tour. She is still finding her footing at the senior level and has yet to devise a concrete plan for the rest of the season.

 

 

In Abu Dhabi, she is accompanied by her brother Ammar, who has served as her coach on the trips they have taken together to tournaments.

They made history as Saudi Arabia’s first ever mixed doubles team at the Asian Games in Hangzhou last fall.

“I don’t really have a set coach. I’m usually just traveling with my brother. We’re doing it together.

“We travel for some futures, and we ask the tournament director if we cannot play at the same time. And he’ll (Ammar) sit and wait with me for my match and when my match is done, he’ll go warm up for his and then I’ll go and support him.

“It’s nice to have my brother because I can yell at him, he can yell at me and it’s fine. And it’s just definitely emotional support. I have six brothers and Ammar is the closest to me. We have a good connection, and we help each other a lot on the court,” she added.

Alhogbani’s Asian Games did not go as planned, as she lost easily in the opening round of the singles. But she is hoping to do better in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, where she takes on world No. 55 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain.

“Last time, I was at the Asian Games. I had a bit of a, I wouldn’t say, I don’t know how to describe it. I wouldn’t say a mental breakdown, but I think the pressure got to me. It was the first time in history that we had a Saudi female tennis player playing there and I just felt the pressure.

“So, I didn’t have a good match there, I didn’t have a good run and I felt super defeated. And I promised myself after that match that next time I have the opportunity like that to represent, I would give it my all and feel like I have nothing to lose. Because, honestly, I really don’t,” Alhogbani said.

Irrespective of the result, she is soaking up every moment of her time in the UAE capital, where she gets to rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in the women’s game. Besides her admiration for Tunisian player Jabeur, Alhogbani pointed out that she was also a huge fan of four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, of Japan.

“I think I saw her this morning at breakfast, and I was just like, ‘oh my God,’ like I couldn’t even finish my breakfast. I literally love her so much,” she added.

Alhogbani admitted that the difference in level between the pros and juniors was “shocking” to her, but she was hoping to gain match confidence as she contested more events on a consistent basis.

She has several goals but perhaps her biggest dream was to make a real positive impact on the tennis community in Saudi Arabia.

She said: “Aside from my own personal goals of wanting to, you know I think everyone says, I want to be world No. 1, and obviously that was a dream of mine as a little kid. But I think just truly what I want now is to be an established player on the tour. That’s my goal.

“But off the court, I want to have more of a tennis community all over Saudi, not just where people have to travel from different cities to come to maybe the capital to get that.

“You know, Rafa (Nadal) is having an academy. It’d be nice if we had academies all throughout Saudi, had a tennis community.

“And it’s different to have an academy and to have a community. In a tennis community you push each other, you help each other, you learn a lot.

“Especially from my own experience, I’m in Saudi and I’m playing and I’m practicing with great coaches and my brother and it’s great, but it’s just like, you really need that community, and it really helps you.

“So, I want to see more tennis going on, and a lot of tennis communities throughout Saudi. And then just have that accessible to everyone and not be super exclusive. With this, I’m sure we’ll have players on the tour soon if we have access to these things,” Alhogbani added.

Decoder

Who is Yara Alhogbani?

Yara Alhogbani is a promising Saudi tennis player who competed in last year's Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. Although she lost easily in the opening round of the singles, she is hoping to do better in the 9-day Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open, which opened Feb. 3. She will take on world No. 55 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain. In an interview with Arab News, she said she has several goals but her biggest dream is to make a real positive impact on the tennis community in Saudi Arabia.


3rd annual Rally Jameel gets underway in Hail, with 110 women taking part

3rd annual Rally Jameel gets underway in Hail, with 110 women taking part
Updated 05 March 2024
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3rd annual Rally Jameel gets underway in Hail, with 110 women taking part

3rd annual Rally Jameel gets underway in Hail, with 110 women taking part
  • 55 teams of racers, each comprising a driver and co-driver, from 36 nations will tackle 5 stages over the course of 5 days, covering a total distance of 1,600 km

 

HAIL: The third annual Rally Jameel began in Hail on Monday, with 110 leading female racers from Saudi Arabia, the region and the rest of the world competing in an event that will pass through Hail, AlUla, Umluj, Yanbu and King Abdullah Economic City during five days of racing.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Saad, the governor of Hail Region, flagged off the competitors at the start of opening stage, which began at Al-Maghwah Amusement Park, to officially get the world-class navigational rally underway.

Fifty-five teams of racers, each comprising a driver and co-driver, from 36 nations will tackle five stages covering a total distance of 1,600 kilometers before crossing the finish line at KAEC on Friday.

Munir Khoja, the managing director of marketing communications at Abdul Latif Jameel Motors, told Arab News at the event on Monday: “We are all ready for the challenge. Since its inception in 2022, the importance of Rally Jameel has grown with its participation.

“It was the first motor sports event for women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the region. Since then it has been present in the motor-sporting calendar ever since and gained international interest and official attention after the rise in popularity of rallying, locally, regionally and internationally.

“Today we have over 100 participants from 36 nationalities, exceeding our expectations. More importantly, it is an inspiring testament to our efforts aimed at supporting Saudi Arabia’s vision to empower women.”

After passing mandatory vehicle checks on Monday morning, several of the leading competitors spoke to the media before the start of the race.

“I am so excited to repeat this experience with the rest of the female drivers,” Saudi driver Maha Al-Hamali, who has competed in the event before, told Arab News. “We really appreciate the support of Jameel Motor Sports and I am focusing on enjoying this rally and aiming to win it this time.”

Her co-driver, Eleanor Coker from the US, added: “We have done everything we could. We did our homework and reflected on our experience. We feel we are prepared and confident to win but you never know; there are amazing female drivers from all over the world taking part part but we will go ahead and enjoy it.”

Fawzia Bakhshab, who is taking part in the rally for the first time, said she expects it to be a tough challenge, especially as she and her co-driver are taking on some of the best in the world.

“I think we feel ready and are looking forward to finishing among the top positions,” she said.

Her co–driver, Calheine Taye Perry from Germany, said she was confident that they have the driving and navigation skills to challenge for the title.

Rally Jameel is supported by the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission and the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, in keeping with the commitment of authorities in the Kingdom to fostering and encouraging participation in sport among women.


Ronaldo back in action for Al-Nassr but cannot prevent defeat by Al-Ain in Asian Champions League

Ronaldo back in action for Al-Nassr but cannot prevent defeat by Al-Ain in Asian Champions League
Updated 04 March 2024
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Ronaldo back in action for Al-Nassr but cannot prevent defeat by Al-Ain in Asian Champions League

Ronaldo back in action for Al-Nassr but cannot prevent defeat by Al-Ain in Asian Champions League
  • The 1-0 defeat in the first leg of the quarter-finals leaves the Saudi side with a lot to do in the home leg next Monday
  • Rahimi cut in from the left, latched onto Alejandro Romero’s beautiful pass into the area, and skipped past Ospina to shoot into an empty net

AL-AIN: Cristiano Ronaldo was back in the Al-Nassr lineup on Monday, after serving a one-game Saudi Pro League suspension for gesturing toward opposing fans during a recent game, but could not prevent his team falling to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Al-Ain in the first leg of their Asian Champions League quarter-final.

It means they have much work to do at home next Monday if they are to progress to the semi-finals, where they would face one of their domestic rivals: Al-Hilal or Al-Ittihad.

Monday’s game was a far-from-vintage performance from Al-Nassr, who lacked fluidity and rhythm and struggled to create clear chances, despite having more possession than the 2003 champions. A late red card for Aymeric Laporte did not help matters.

Al-Nassr, who are looking for their first Champions League title, started brightly, however, with Sadio Mane testing goalkeeper Khalid Eisa in the second minute. Four minutes later, fans had a glimpse of Ronaldo’s ability but the Portuguese star’s spectacular overhead kick bounced wide.

Midway through the half, Al-Ain, led by Hernan Crespo, very nearly took the lead when the lively Soufiane Rahimi turned outside the area to unleash a first-time shot that was creeping into the far corner until David Ospina got down well to turn it away for a corner.

There was nothing the former Arsenal goalkeeper could do in the 28th minute, however, when Al-Ain got the ball in the net and the 22,000 fans in the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on their feet. The goalkeeper delivered a long kick to the right wing where Rahimi was waiting to send a low cross into the six-yard box for Kaku to convert from close range. Fortunately for Al-Nassr, the video assistant referee ruled that Rahimi had strayed just offside.

He made amends for this just before the break when he cut in from the left, latched onto Alejandro Romero’s beautiful pass into the area, and skipped past Ospina to shoot into an empty net.

Ronaldo replied almost immediately with a stinging half-volley from the right of the area, which brought a great save from the goalkeeper. Early in the second half, he had another good chance but could not quite get hold of a right-sided cross from Ayman Yahya and his shot bounced over. Soon after, Yahya attempted a low shot that was saved by Eisa.

Al-Nassr grew increasingly frustrated and their night almost got worse when, with 20 minutes remaining, Rahimi broke free to put the ball in the net. But for the second time, he was ruled to have strayed offside and the goal was disallowed.

With 12 minutes remaining, Al-Nassr had one of their better chances of the night when Mane headed the ball back across goal from the far post, but Sami Al-Najei fired his low shot wide.

Then Ronaldo came even closer. A low cross from the left found its way to him just outside the six-yard box and everyone expected the net to bulge. Instead, Eisa, who was going the wrong way, stuck out a hand to make a top-class save.

Things then started to get scrappy and bad-tempered, which suited Al-Ain a lot more than their visitors, but there was always a sense that there would be at least one more big chance before the end, especially when the referee added 11 minutes of stoppage time.

Unfortunately for Al-Nassr, the most notable event of this added time was the red card for Laporte. The former Manchester City defender bundled over Bandar Al-Ahbabi as they jostled for position in the area and, after checking the pitch-side monitor, the referee ruled it was violent conduct.

This summed up a miserable evening for Al-Nassr, who almost equalized late on through an attempted lob by Ronaldo from the halfway line. They will be be without Laporte for the second leg in Riyadh next Monday and improvement is needed if they are going to keep their Asian dreams alive.


Shadab leads Islamabad to 29-run Pakistan Super League win over Peshawar

Shadab leads Islamabad to 29-run Pakistan Super League win over Peshawar
Updated 05 March 2024
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Shadab leads Islamabad to 29-run Pakistan Super League win over Peshawar

Shadab leads Islamabad to 29-run Pakistan Super League win over Peshawar
  • Shadab Khan scored 80 runs from 51 balls and then dismissed three Peshawar batsman
  • Peshawar faltered at 167 in their 197-run chase, despite an 87-run knock by Aamir Jamal

ISLAMABAD: Islamabad United defeated Peshawar Zalmi by 29 runs in their Pakistan Super League (PSL) 9th edition match at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium on Monday.

Peshawar won the toss and sent Islamabad in to bat in the game. Shadab Khan top-scored with 80 runs from 51 deliveries as Islamabad dominated the game.

Salman Ali Agha 37 runs and Azam Khan 29 runs to take their side to 196 at a loss of four wickets. In the second innings, Peshawar batting was rattled by Khan and the Babar Azam-led side was restricted to 167 runs.

"Dominant at home," PSL commented on X after the match. "Islamabad United get valuable two points on the board with a 29-run triumph!"

 

 

Saim Ayub returned two Islamabad batsmen to pavilion for 15 runs, while Luke Wood and Salman Irshad took one wicket each.

Peshawar did not begin their 197-run chase well, losing their skipper for a duck. Aamir Jamal put up a brilliant resistance as he scored 87 runs from 49 deliveries, but that was not enough.

Paul Walter hit 33 and Tom Kohler-Cadmore scored 12 as Peshawar ended the innings at 167 at a loss of nine wickets.

Shadab Khan dismissed three for 41 runs, while Hunain Shah and Rumman Raees took two wickets each.

Both Islamabad and Peshawar now have three wins from their seven matches played this season.


Saudis victorious at GCC Golf Championship in Doha

Saudis victorious at GCC Golf Championship in Doha
Updated 04 March 2024
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Saudis victorious at GCC Golf Championship in Doha

Saudis victorious at GCC Golf Championship in Doha
  • Khalid Attiya took top prize in individual competition while the team event saw Kingdom’s golfers awarded gold
  • Prince Khalid bin Saud: Our team’s prowess and dedication were evident throughout the championship, culminating in a well-deserved victory

DOHA: Saudi golfers have emerged triumphant at the Gulf Cooperation Council Golf Championship, claiming gold in both the team and individual categories.

The 26th edition of the tournament for adults — held alongside the 15th edition for youth — was hosted at the Doha Club in the Qatari capital and saw five teams from the GCC take part.

The individual gold medal went to Khalid Attiya, who clinched victory after a showdown with Qatari contender Saleh Al-Kaabi on the tournament’s final day.

The Saudi’s four rounds yielded 297 strokes, for an impressive nine-under winning total.

Meanwhile, the Saudi team maintained a commanding lead throughout the championship to secure the top position in the adults category.

Noah Alireza, CEO of Golf Saudi, praised the Saudi team’s achievement, highlighting their consistent excellence throughout the championship.

“At Golf Saudi, our unwavering dedication is to foster players’ success,” Alireza said, highlighting the significance of the the championship as a platform for players to hone their skills against the best of the GCC.

Prince Khalid bin Saud, a prominent player, commended the Saudi team’s performance, attributing their success to the invaluable support of the Saudi Golf Federation.

“Our team’s prowess and dedication were evident throughout the championship, culminating in a well-deserved victory,” he said.

Following his victory, Attiya expressed his gratitude for the unwavering support of the Saudi Golf Federation, which enabled him and the team to emerge victorious.

“The Saudi team’s strong presence and performance were instrumental in securing our place atop the podium,” he said.


Saudi Ministry of Education Integrates rugby into physical education curriculum

Saudi Ministry of Education Integrates rugby into physical education curriculum
Updated 04 March 2024
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Saudi Ministry of Education Integrates rugby into physical education curriculum

Saudi Ministry of Education Integrates rugby into physical education curriculum
  • Initially starting in Riyadh, training programs will be offered to 25 girls’ schools and 25 boys’ schools before expanding to the rest of the Kingdom
  • Initiative underscores the Ministry of Education’s commitment to diversifying sports education and promoting physical activity among the youth

RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Education has announced today the inclusion of rugby as an elective sport within its physical education and student activities curriculum.

The School Rugby Initiative aims to introduce rugby as an optional learning unit in PE programs across the nation.

As part of this initiative, ongoing training courses will be offered to 25 girls’ schools and 25 boys’ schools across various educational stages. Initially launching in the Riyadh educational region, the program is part of a planned expansion to other regions of the Kingdom in the coming years.

The initiative was officially launched with a presentation by the technical director of the Saudi Arabian Rugby Federation, Sami Mohammed Samara, to 46 physical education teachers from public schools in Riyadh, culminating in a symbolic gesture of tossing rugby balls from ministry representatives to the teachers, marking the kickoff of this groundbreaking initiative.

Recognizing rugby sevens as an Olympic sport, the inclusion of rugby in the curriculum is poised to expand and accelerate the pathway for young players to excel in the sport. This strategic move aims to cultivate a strong foundation for rugby in the Kingdom, enabling aspiring athletes to represent Saudi Arabia in elite sporting events, including the Olympics.

Ali Musbah Al-Dajani, president of the Saudi Rugby Federation, and Dr. Anwar bin Abdullah Abu Abbad, head of student activities, both expressed their enthusiasm and support for the initiative, highlighting its potential to enrich the physical education landscape and foster a new generation of rugby enthusiasts in Saudi Arabia.

This initiative underscores the Ministry of Education’s commitment to diversifying sports education and promoting physical activity among the youth, aligning with broader educational and developmental goals within the Kingdom.