Swiatek advances, Sabalenka crashes out on eventful day at Dubai Tennis Championships

Swiatek advances, Sabalenka crashes out on eventful day at Dubai Tennis Championships
World No. 1 Iga Swiatek is through to the Round of 16 of the 2024 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. (WTA)
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Updated 21 February 2024
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Swiatek advances, Sabalenka crashes out on eventful day at Dubai Tennis Championships

Swiatek advances, Sabalenka crashes out on eventful day at Dubai Tennis Championships
  • Swiatek advances, Sabalenka crashes out on eventful day at Dubai Tennis Championships
  • US Open champion Coco Gauff produces powerful display to beat Elisabetta Cocciaretto and make it 7 of the top 10 in the last 16

DUBAI: World No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 3 Coco Gauff are safely into the last 16 of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships after safely navigating potentially tricky challenges on Dubai Tennis Stadium’s center court on Monday evening.

Former Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina also progressed from the round of 32 after her opponent, two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka, was forced to retire before the third set due to injury.

With No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka sent tumbling earlier in the day, Swiatek would have been eager to avoid a similar fate against experienced American Sloane Stephens, the 2017 US Open champion. And the top seed delivered, coming through a tactical battle to see off Stephens 6-4, 6-4 and set up a clash with Elina Svitolina, the winner of this tournament in 2017 and 2018.

Gauff, meanwhile, faced a different challenge against Dubai debutant Elisabetta Cocciaretto, but looked confident to seal a straight sets victory 6-1, 7-5 in just over an hour and 40 minutes.

Swiatek did not have it all her own way against Stephens, who secured an early break of serve to take a 2-1 lead. An unforced error on break point on her own serve in the very next game restored parity but the experienced American atoned for her mistake straight away, taking on the Swiatek serve to record a double break with some aggressive tennis. The pair proceeded to trade breaks in games six through eight.

But Swiatek started to show why she is the world’s top-ranked player, holding serve and taking out Stephens’ serve for a fourth time to seal the first set.

With both players seemingly still trying to work each other out, the second set got off to a cagey start. Swiatek, fresh off victory in Doha last week, held serve to take the opening game. Yet Stephens refused to be outgunned by a player ranked 40 places above her in the opening exchanges and held firm to take the set to 4-4.

After holding serve in game nine, the 2023 Dubai finalist Swiatek turned up the power in Stephens’ next service game to take the victory and move into the last 16, where she will face 15th seed Svitolina.

After safely securing her passage through, the Polish ace is hoping to at least match her performance in Dubai last year.

“I knew after last year’s experience I could adjust (coming to Dubai straight from Qatar) and be able to do it. No doubt Sloane played really well, and it was a very interesting match,” said Swiatek.

“I was putting a lot of power in my shots, but she was coping really well, so I had to focus more on tactics and I’m happy that I got through. I’m just going to keep trying to play my best this week.”

Third seed Gauff joins Swiatek in the next round after producing a powerful performance to see off Italy’s Cocciaretto.

Gauff, a semifinalist here last year, raced into a two-game lead in Monday’s final match on center court. Cocciaretto broke back in game three, but Gauff, the reigning US Open champion powered through the next four games to take the opening set.

In the second set, Gauff broke her opponent’s serve in consecutive games to race into a 3-0 lead. But Cocciaretto was in no mood to be rolled over and hit back with three breaks of her own to level the set at 3-3 and then 4-4.

That seemed to be the wake-up call the US Open champion needed and she broke serve again to take a 5-4 lead. Despite an immediate response, Gauff stood firm to see out the next two games to seal victory.

“I was playing well and I was close to making it 4-0 (in the second set) and I just lost focus. She also started to be a bit more consistent and aggressive. It was a tough match but it’s in the past now and we just keep moving forward,” said a relieved Gauff.

Gauff’s opponent in the next round is Karolina Pliskova, a beaten finalist in Dubai in 2015, who recovered from losing a first set tie-break to register a 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 victory over American Ashlyn Krueger.

Elsewhere, No. 6 seed Qinwen Zheng survived a scare, battling back from a set down to beat Japanese qualifier Nao Hibino 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 to book her place in the last 16.


Taif to host first group race as King Faisal Cup is upgraded

Taif to host first group race as King Faisal Cup is upgraded
Updated 30 May 2024
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Taif to host first group race as King Faisal Cup is upgraded

Taif to host first group race as King Faisal Cup is upgraded
  • Competition becomes only G3 for 3-year-old purebred Arabians on dirt in the GCC region

RIYADH: Taif’s King Khalid Racecourse is to stage a group race for the first time this season after it was announced that September’s King Faisal Cup has been upgraded to Group 3 level by the International Federation of Arabian Horse Racing Authorities.

The $267,000 (SR1 million) contest, which was run as an international Listed race last season, will become the only Group 3 race on dirt for 3-year-old purebred Arabians in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) region.

It is a landmark for Saudi Arabia’s summer racecourse and demonstrates the continued growth and improvement of the purebred Arabian program, underlining the importance of racing in Saudi Arabian culture.

The Group 3 King Faisal Cup will be run on Friday, Sept. 20, at the racecourse in Taif, where it will be supported on the card by the Listed Abdullah Al-Faisal Cup, also for purebred Arabians.

The King Faisal Cup was won last year by the Saad Mutlaq-trained Nadem Al-Molwk Al-Khalediah, who was ridden to success by leading local jockey Adel Al-Faridi.

The racing season at King Khalid Racecourse begins on Thursday, July 4, with the campaign featuring 39 fixtures and culminating on Saturday, Sept. 28.

Ziad Al-Mogren, the CEO of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, said: “The upgrading of the King Faisal Cup marks an important milestone for racing in Taif, with it being the first-ever group race that will be contested at King Khalid Racecourse.

“We are proud to be raising the level of racing, both purebred Arabian and thoroughbred, throughout our Taif and Riyadh seasons, and this remains a key part of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia’s strategy.

“With the King Faisal Cup becoming the only Group 3 contest on dirt for 3-year-old Arabians in the region, it displays our ongoing commitment to develop and showcase world-class purebred Arabian racing, a tradition that is of huge significance to local Saudi Arabian culture.”


UFC’s Dana White announces main card for Abu Dhabi fight night

UFC’s Dana White announces main card for Abu Dhabi fight night
Updated 59 min 4 sec ago
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UFC’s Dana White announces main card for Abu Dhabi fight night

UFC’s Dana White announces main card for Abu Dhabi fight night
  • White reveals bouts featuring some of the sport’s biggest names, contenders competing in MMA
  • Sandhagen-Nurmagomedov showdown dubbed ‘No.1 contender fight’

ABU DHABI: The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s CEO Dana White confirmed on his social media platforms on Thursday the main card for the fight night on Aug. 3 which features Cory Sandhagen and Umar Nurmagomedov facing off in Abu Dhabi.
White also revealed a five-pack of intriguing bouts featuring some of the sport’s biggest names and contenders competing in mixed martial arts.
White dubbed the Sandhagen-Nurmagomedov battle a “No.1 contender fight.”
Sandhagen, 32, has been away from fighting since August 2023 after having sustained a tricep injury during his fight against Rob Font. The American MMA fighter won the bout against Font during five rounds in Tennessee.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Dana White (@danawhite)


Returning to the ring for the first time since his injury, Sandhagen is back in Abu Dhabi to cement his status as top contender in the bantamweight division.
The matchup is a rebooking of what was to be the main event in Nashville in August 2023 before a shoulder injury forced Nurmagomedov out of the original bout.
Russian Nurmagomedov, 35, has been called “the best prospect” by White and enters the challenge undefeated.
He has a great chance to catapult himself into the shark pit that is the elite at bantamweight with a win over Sandhagen.
MMA legend Nick Diaz returns to the welterweight division to face all-action fan favorite Vicente Luque. Diaz, a 40-year-old American, was last seen at UFC 266 when he faced Robbie Lawler, but the trip back down to 170 pounds is his first since he fought Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight title in March 2013.
Luque, a 32-year-old Brazilian-American, hopes to bounce back with a big win over a big name after he fell to Joaquin Buckley in Atlantic City in March.
Elsewhere on the main card, the bantamweight spotlight shines on “Chito” Vera as he takes on former flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo.
Vera, a 31-year-old Ecuadorian, is keen to bounce back after a disappointing result in his rematch with champ “Suga” Sean O’Malley at UFC 299.
Meanwhile, in the UFC’s women’s strawweight division, Mackenzie Dern and Loopy Godinez lock horns, with both fighters hoping to restart a run toward the top of the division.
In the main card opener, Tony Ferguson faces Michael Chiesa. Ferguson, a real legend of the sport, is hoping to finally see his hand raised for the first time since June 2019 at the conclusion of the welterweight contest.

 


Saudi national football team prepares for Asian qualifiers

Saudi national football team prepares for Asian qualifiers
Updated 30 May 2024
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Saudi national football team prepares for Asian qualifiers

Saudi national football team prepares for Asian qualifiers
  • Players participating in the King’s Cup final between Al-Nasser and Al-Hilal on Friday will join the national squad on Sunday
  • Green Falcons fly to Islamabad on Wednesday for their game against Pakistan on Thursday, and then host Jordan in Riyadh on June 11

RIYADH: The Saudi national football team gathered at their training camp in Riyadh on Thursday to begin preparations for the upcoming Asian qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup and the 2027 Asian Cup.
As the Green Falcons held their first training session on Thursday evening behind closed doors at Mahd Academy, members of the squad from Al-Nasser and Al-Hilal, who will meet in the final of the King’s Cup on Friday, were absent. They will join the national team’s preparations on Sunday after head coach Roberto Mancini gave them a day off on Saturday to recover.
The 31-player squad, announced by Mancini last week, will fly out on Wednesday for their game against Pakistan in Islamabad on June 6, and then host Jordan at Alwal park in Riyadh on June 11.
Saudi Arabia currently tops Group G of the Asian qualifiers, with 10 points from four games, ahead of Jordan (7 points) and Tajikistan (5). Pakistan are bottom of the group having lost all four games so far.


Cricket’s ability to mock itself

Cricket’s ability to mock itself
Updated 30 May 2024
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Cricket’s ability to mock itself

Cricket’s ability to mock itself
  • Shorter forms of cricket started as “a bit of a joke” but are now behemoths threatening longer-established formats

LONDON: In cricket, what started out as a “bit of a laugh” but turned out to be much more serious? This is not a trick question. It could refer to Test cricket’s origins. England v Australia, five-day matches, players switching allegiance between countries, a jibe by Australians to create the “ashes” of English cricket in an urn. Although this turned a bit of fun into a deadly serious contest over almost 150 years, it is not the answer.

Another possibility is the start of limited-overs cricket. The first so-called international limited-overs match was played between Australia and England on Jan. 5, 1971 in Melbourne. The first three days of a Test match had been rained off and the authorities faced a significant loss of income. They decided to abandon the match, replace it with a one-off, one-day match and add a seventh Test at the end of the series. This was much to the surprise and reluctance of the players, who were not consulted.

The English players seemed more concerned about receiving money for being asked to play extra matches. They were used to the benefits of limited-over cricket, which had started in the English and Welsh professional game in 1963 as a response to falling attendances and defensive play. Although commercially successful, with a sponsor in Gillette, no other Test-playing nation displayed any enthusiasm for the format. The decision by the Australian authorities to stage the match did not raise a laugh among the players, while the Australian Cricket Board was not laughing in the face of a serious need to generate income.

On what would have been day five of the Test match, the one-day game went ahead in a format of 40 overs, each of eight deliveries, the standard in Australia at the time. The teams were billed as an “England XI” and an “Australia XI.” Press reports referred to it as a “one-day Test match.” Any skepticism about the match by players and authorities was not shared by spectators, 46,000 of them turning up to watch.

This was a light-bulb moment for the Australian Cricket Board, whose head, Sir Donald Bradman, proclaimed: “You have seen history made.” Australia won the match, the England captain admitting that his players did not take the game seriously, although they were relieved to play some cricket after having spent so much time in the dressing room, as well as receiving an extra £50 for participating.

In this rather grumpy and fragile set of circumstances history was, indeed, created without many of the participants recognizing the significance of the event. Some years later, one Australian player recalled his surprise that a game they thought a “bit of a joke” became part of cricket’s history.

A revolution had been set in train. In 1973, the first women’s one-day world cup was staged, followed by the men’s in 1975. Kerry Packer’s breakaway World Series Cricket in 1977 in Australia shook cricket’s authorities into realizing the commercial opportunities offered by the format. At that time, Australia, England and the West Indies were dominant. India did not take the format, often referred to as “pyjama cricket” because of the use of colored kit, at all seriously.

This all changed in 1983 when not only did India take the format seriously but its team also won the one-day world cup, defeating England, Australia and the West Indies along the way, inspired by the captain, Kapil Dev. In two months, the appeal of limited-overs cricket was transformed, as the Indian public fell head-over-heels in love with it and its heroes. Triangular and quadrangular tournaments were spawned on the Indian subcontinent and Sharjah. A joke became a joyful and serious commercial activity.

Yet, this is still not the answer to the original question. At the turn of the 20th century, falling attendances in England and Wales, poor performances by the national team and the imminent banning of tobacco advertising in sport combined to create a new crisis. Based on focus groups and surveys, the England and Wales Cricket Board concluded that the population wanted a form of cricket with wider appeal in terms of both duration and form of delivery. Reduced-over formats, such as 15 eight-ball or 20 overs of six balls, had been used for decades in club cricket in mid-week evening cups. In 2002, the board proposed a new Twenty20 Cup competition for the professional game.

This was narrowly approved by the county cricket clubs and launched in May 2003 on a roof garden in central London with members of a quickly forgotten pop group appearing in a tacky photoshoot. They were accompanied by the captains of the two county teams that were to contest the first match. One of them admitted to cringing when he saw the result of the photoshoot. He also said that he found the first match, on June 13, 2003, a “bit of fun.” It was not taken too seriously, as the general view was that it would not last.

How wrong could they have been? Another piece of cricketing history had been made, without anyone understanding the significance of the event. Counties used increasingly garish methods to entertain their new breed of spectators, who responded positively, thus ensuring that the format lasted longer than many thought would be the case. Once again, India was slow to adopt the format, but when it did cricket was transformed, the subcontinent effectively hijacking the new format.

The impacts of this continue to reverberate and encroach on other formats, as well as driving the game’s global expansion. Matches in the imminent twenty-team T20 World Cup will take place in the US, and T20 cricket will be an Olympic sport in 2028. So, from being a “a bit of a laugh,” it has become the dominant format and a commercial behemoth of existential threat to longer-established formats, both of which started as a “bit of a joke.” Cricket has a way of making fools of those who joke.


Saudi boxer Ziyad Al-Maayouf: Pioneering a new era in the sport

Ziyad Al-Maayouf, a Saudi boxer with a vision as expansive as the desert horizon. AN photos by Abdulrahman Shulhub
Ziyad Al-Maayouf, a Saudi boxer with a vision as expansive as the desert horizon. AN photos by Abdulrahman Shulhub
Updated 30 May 2024
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Saudi boxer Ziyad Al-Maayouf: Pioneering a new era in the sport

Ziyad Al-Maayouf, a Saudi boxer with a vision as expansive as the desert horizon. AN photos by Abdulrahman Shulhub
  • In Ziyad Al-Maayouf, boxing has found not just a competitor, but a pioneer
  • “Hopefully very soon we’ll be bringing a belt back to Saudi.”

Riyadh: In the heart of the boxing world, where legends are made and dreams are realized, a new figure is emerging, one that embodies the fusion of tradition and innovation, heritage and progress. Ziyad Al-Maayouf, a Saudi boxer with a vision as expansive as the desert horizon, is not just stepping into the ring; he is stepping into history.

“I’m honestly just looking at it right now. And I’m looking forward to being ringside and just, you know, living the dreams of a Saudi boxer, first. But, you know, just someone who loves the sport, second,” Al-Maayouf said.

His ascent is not merely about personal glory; it is also about rewriting the narrative of boxing itself. “Hopefully very soon we’ll be bringing a belt back to Saudi,” he added, his determination palpable. “I’m not going to stop until I do that.”

For Al-Maayouf, every fight is a testament to the golden era of boxing he finds himself in. “Like I always say, this is what I would like to call the golden era of boxing,” he said, adding that the spirit of the age continues to “inspire young fighters like me to take risks, fight the best.

“The records don’t matter. You know, bring out the real fighter in you and bring out the good fights.”

As Al-Maayouf prepares for his next bout, he carries with him the hopes and dreams of a nation, the aspirations of a global audience, and the unwavering belief that in the squared circle, anything is possible. “We want to see the sport of boxing go back to the top five and maybe even the top one sport of the world.”

In Ziyad Al-Maayouf, boxing has found not just a competitor, but a pioneer — a man whose journey transcends borders, whose dreams inspire generations and whose fists carry the weight of history. As he steps into the ring, he does so not just as a fighter, but as a symbol of what boxing was, what it is, and what it can become.