Kvitova, Cibulkova showdown in Wuhan

FAVORITE: Petra Kvitova hits a return during her semifinal match against Simona Halep at the WTA Wuhan Open tennis tournament in Wuhan on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 30 September 2016

Kvitova, Cibulkova showdown in Wuhan

WUHAN, China: Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova dropped just three games to dismiss Simona Halep in two sets in the semifinals at the Wuhan Open Friday.
The Czech displayed the tennis that once saw her two match wins from ascending to world No.1 as she beat Halep 6-1, 6-2 to reach her second final at the $2.6 million hard court event in China.
The Romanian fourth seed denied Kvitova her first match point with an unusual backhand volley, taking the second set to 5-2, but was unable to swing the momentum of the game in her favor.
“I tried, but (it) was too late to change something at 6-1, 5-1. It’s a bit too late with someone that is playing this way,” Halep told reporters after the match.
Despite the loss, by reaching the Wuhan semifinals Halep has booked her spot in the year-ending eight-player WTA Finals for the third consecutive year.
Kvitova’s return to form in China comes after a choppy year that began with her splitting from coach of seven years David Kotyza and has seen her slip to 16 in the world rankings — her lowest spot since 2011.
She made a series of early round exits this season, failing to get beyond the fourth round at any of the Grand Slams, until a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics appeared to turn the tide for the 26-year-old.
Kvitova will meet Dominika Cibulkova in the finals on Saturday, after the Slovak rallied from one set down to beat double Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Rain delays meant that Cibulkova has spent more than six hours on court in the last two days, playing both a fourth round and quarter final match on Thursday — and claiming the scalp of US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova en route.
Her strong run at Wuhan marks an impressive return for the 27-year-old who missed four months of the season in 2015 after having surgery on her left foot.
A left calf injury also forced her to withdraw from the Rio Olympics.
Meanwhile, 31-year-old Kuznetsova — who reached world No.2 in 2007 — is enjoying a late-career resurgence and reaching the semifinals at Wuhan will likely see her reach her highest ranking in six years when next week’s leaderboard is released.
“I lost little bit my way when I got broken in second set because I felt like I was on top of the game after I won first set,” Kuznetsova told reporters after the match.

Top seed Thiem drops in Chengdu

Top seed Dominic Thiem of Austria was upset in less than an hour by Albert Ramos-Vinolas at the ATP Chengdu Open Friday, as the Spaniard sailed to a 6-1, 6-4 victory.
Ramos-Vinolas got off to a commanding start in the first set and never looked back, winning 84 percent of his first serve points and scoring his first ATP head-to-head win over the world No. 10.
Third seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria meanwhile bounced back from a first-set loss to prevail in a two-hour, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 clash with Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, aided by 8 aces to Schwartzman’s two.
Rising Russian star Karen Khachanov took 73 minutes to fell fourth-seed Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-4, conceding only six of his first-serve points and dropping 10 aces against the Spaniard.
The 20-year-old, 1.98m (6’6“) Russian advances to his first ATP World Tour semifinal, where he will face sixth-seed Viktor Troicki, who notched a 6-3, 7-6(4) victory over Kevin Anderson of South Africa.

Berdych breaks down Vesely

Top seed Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic overcame his countryman and eighth seed Jiri Vesely 7-6(1), 3-6, 6-2 at the Shenzhen Open Friday, bouncing back from a second-set loss to secure a spot in the semifinals.
The 31-year-old Berdych, ranked 9th in the world, will face Thomaz Bellucci on Saturday after the Brazilian bulldozed over fourth seed Bernard Tomic 6-2, 6-2, winning 93 percent of first serve points and slamming 14 aces to Tomic’s three.
Winning the hour-long quarterfinal contest gave the Brazilian a 2-1 edge in their head-to-head record in ATP competition, with Tomic winning their last clash three years ago in the US.
Third seed Richard Gasquet of France meanwhile squeezed past German qualifier Mischa Zverev 7-6(4), 7-6(2) to win a place in the semifinals against Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia.
While knocking down only three aces to Zverev’s 10, he won 77 percent of his first serve points in the two-hour clash.
On Saturday he will face Tipsarevic, against whom he has a 2-0 head-to-head record in ATP competition.
The 32-year-old Serbian, once the world’s No.8 player, seriously injured his foot two years ago and is now ranked 224th on the ATP list.

Saudi national football team visits Al-Aqsa mosque

Updated 24 min 19 sec ago

Saudi national football team visits Al-Aqsa mosque

DUBAI: The Saudi national football team visited the Al-Aqsa mosque a day after they received a rousing welcome from the Palestinian government and supporters.

Photos circulating on social media showed the Saudi players and officials surrounded by fans at the mosque compound while on their way to pray.

Saudi Arabia will be playing an important World Cup qualifying match against Palestine on Tuesday.

Prior to Tuesday’s game, the Saudi team will have two training sessions, a closed technical meeting, and a joint press conference with the Palestinian team.