Reigning champion Mickelson withdraws from PGA Championship
The 51-year-old American becomes just the third PGA champion not to defend his title after Tiger Woods in 2008 and Ben Hogan in 1949, both of whom bowed out due to injury
Updated 14 May 2022
NEW YORK: Phil Mickelson said on Friday he will not defend his PGA Championship title after having stepped away from the game in February amid fallout from comments he made regarding a Saudi-backed golf league.
Mickelson had kept golf fans guessing about whether he would be at Southern Hills Country Club next week but the speculation ended with the PGA of America confirming he would not be in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The 51-year-old American becomes just the third PGA champion not to defend his title after Tiger Woods in 2008 and Ben Hogan in 1949, both of whom bowed out due to injury.
“We have just been informed that Phil Mickelson has withdrawn from the PGA Championship,” the PGA of America said. “Phil is the defending champion and currently eligible to be a PGA Life Member and we would have welcomed him to participate.
“We wish Phil and Amy the very best and look forward to his return to golf.”
Mickelson became golf’s oldest major champion at last year’s PGA Championship when, less than a month shy of turning 51, he held off Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen to triumph by two shots at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.
Last month Mickelson filed for a release from the PGA Tour to play in the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational event, to be held June 9-11 near London, and also registered for the PGA Championship and June 16-19 US Open.
The PGA Tour on Tuesday rejected requests from several players, including Mickelson, for clearance to play the LIV opener.
Pakistan’s Azhar Ali makes unbeaten double hundred in English county game
Azhar reached his double century in the final over of the day with a cover drive for four
Azhar arrived at Worcestershire’s headquarters after a successful Test series against Australia
Updated 21 May 2022
LONDON: Pakistan’s Azhar Ali made an unbeaten double century as he helped Worcestershire rewrite the record books in an English County Championship match against Leicestershire on Friday.
Azhar and former England Under-19 international Jack Haynes put on 281 for the third wicket — a record partnership against Leicestershire, surpassing the 278 by Cyril Walters and Harold Gibbons in 1934.
Their stand was the cornerstone of Worcestershire’s 456 for three, a lead of 308, at stumps on the second day of four at New Road.
Haynes was eventually dismissed for 127 but Azhar reached his double century in the final over of the day with a cover drive for four off Rehan Ahmed.
By that stage Azhar had faced 328 balls, with one six and 18 fours, and also shared in another century stand with Brett D’Oliveira (52 not out).
Azhar arrived at New Road, Worcestershire’s headquarters, after a successful Test series against Australia which included a marathon 185 spanning 11 hours at Rawalpindi.
The 37-year-old struggled at first with the change to English conditions and his opening six innings for Midlands county Worcestershire yielded 34 runs.
But the former Pakistan captain has found his form since hitting 92 against a Durham attack including new England skipper Ben Stokes.
Wimbledon on collision course with ATP, WTA over Russia, Belarus ban
Wimbledon stripped of ranking points over Russia, Belarus ban
Decision by ATP, WTA reduces Wimbledon to exhibition event
Updated 21 May 2022
The world’s most prestigious tennis tournament was on Friday set on a collision course with the sport’s global governing bodies after Wimbledon had its ranking points stripped by the ATP and WTA Tours over excluding players from Russia and Belarus.
The move by the men’s and women’s tours will reduce Wimbledon to an exhibition event but the AELTC, organizers of the Grand Slam, repeated their stance that the ban was the only viable option under British government guidance.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) also said it will not grant ranking points to Wimbledon this year for junior and wheelchair tennis events.
The AELTC decision to impose the suspension on Russian and Belarusian players at this year’s championships due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is the first time players have been excluded on grounds of nationality since the immediate post-World War Two era when German and Japanese players were banned.
The AELTC on Friday said they were considering their options and were in discussions with their Grand Slam colleagues.
“In addition, we remain unwilling to accept success or participation at Wimbledon being used to benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime,” the AELTC said in a statement.
“We therefore wish to state our deep disappointment at the decisions taken by the ATP, WTA and ITF in removing ranking points for The Championships.
“We believe these decisions to be disproportionate in the context of the exceptional and extreme circumstances of this situation and the position we found ourselves in, and damaging to all players who compete on Tour.”
The ATP and WTA have themselves banned Russia and Belarus from international team competitions following the invasion, which Moscow calls a ‘special operation’, but allowed players from the two countries to compete as neutrals.
“The ability for players of any nationality to enter tournaments based on merit, and without discrimination, is fundamental to our Tour,” the ATP said in a statement.
“The decision by Wimbledon to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing in the UK this summer undermines this principle and the integrity of the ATP Ranking system. It is also inconsistent with our Rankings agreement.
“Absent a change in circumstances, it is with great regret and reluctance that we see no option but to remove ATP Ranking points from Wimbledon for 2022.”
WTA chief Steve Simon said the tour believes athletes participating in an individual sport “should not be penalized or prevented from competing solely because of their nationalities or the decisions made by the governments of their countries.”
“The recent decisions made by the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to ban athletes from competing in the upcoming UK grass court events violate that fundamental principle,” Simon said.
“As a result of the AELTC’s position that it will not honor its obligation to use the WTA Rankings for entry into Wimbledon and proceed with a partial field not based on merit, the WTA has made the difficult decision to not award WTA ranking points for this year’s Wimbledon Championships.”
Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian competitors has been slammed by top players such as 21-times Grand Slam champion Rafa Nadal who labelled it unfair, while world number one Novak Djokovic said he did not support the decision.
“Our rules and agreements exist in order to protect the rights of players as a whole. Unilateral decisions of this nature, if unaddressed, set a damaging precedent for the rest of the Tour,” the ATP added.
“Discrimination by individual tournaments is simply not viable on a Tour that operates in more than 30 countries.
“We remain hopeful of further discussions with Wimbledon leading to an acceptable outcome for all concerned.
“More broadly, we believe this matter again highlights the need for a united governance structure across professional tennis so that decisions of this nature can be made in a joint manner.”
Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) also reciprocated the Wimbledon ban by excluding players from the two countries from its tune-up tour events.
However, the WTA said its tournaments at Nottingham, Birmingham, and Eastbourne would go ahead with ranking points on offer as “alternative and comparable playing and ranking point opportunities exist in the same weeks.”
The ATP had also said earlier this week that its events at Queen’s and Eastbourne will proceed as normal, offering full ATP ranking points.
While the LTA tournaments will continue to offer full ranking points, the British governing body is under review for sanctions from the ATP and WTA.
The ITF justified its decision not to award ranking points to Wimbledon this year for junior and wheelchair tennis events by saying it undermines the integrity of the competition.
“The ITF has determined that Wimbledon’s entry criteria banning Russians and Belarusians compromises the integrity of its international competition, in particular its ranking system, as there is a lack of alternative equivalent opportunities for players to compete for ranking points and prize money,” the ITF said.
PSG coach Pochettino in the dark over Mbappe future
Mbappe is expected to reveal in the coming days whether he will join Real Madrid or accept a lucrative offer to stay at PSG
"I don't know what his decision is. I think it's a personal matter for Kylian and for the club," Pochettino said
Updated 20 May 2022
PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino insisted Friday he has no idea where Kylian Mbappe will play his club football next season as the striker’s contract in the French capital comes to an end.
Mbappe is expected to reveal in the coming days whether he will join Real Madrid or accept a lucrative offer to stay at PSG, with an announcement potentially being made in the hours after the French champions play their final game of the Ligue 1 season at home to Metz on Saturday.
“I don’t know what his decision is. I think it’s a personal matter for Kylian and for the club,” Pochettino said at a press conference ahead of the Metz match.
“There are lots of rumors going around but the player is the one who will have to talk about this.
“If I knew what his decision was I wouldn’t be the one to talk about it.”
Mbappe, who joined PSG from Monaco in 2017, last week won the Ligue 1 Player of the Year prize and comes into the final weekend of the season as the division’s top scorer with 25 goals.
Rumours are swirling in France and in Spain about when he will confirm where his next contract will be.
“Mbappe, end of the suspense on Sunday,” claimed the headline in French sports daily L’Equipe on Friday.
Pochettino said he hoped the 23-year-old would remain at PSG even if uncertainty surrounds the coach’s own future despite the Argentine and his staff having a year left on their own deals.
“I hope Kylian is still here for many years to come but I also can’t lie. I don’t know what is going to happen,” he said.
“We have a year left on our contracts so we will potentially be here next season. I just hope tomorrow (Saturday) we can enjoy celebrating the club’s 10th league title.”
One player who is definitely expected to move on is Angel di Maria, with the 34-year-old Argentine winger’s own contract expiring and PSG understood to be happy for him to leave.
PSG have cantered to the Ligue 1 title, equalling Saint-Etienne’s French record for most league championships, but their season has been soured by defeat against Real Madrid in the Champions League last 16 in early March.
The Parisians were 1-0 up away to Madrid an hour into the second leg thanks to a Mbappe goal, and led 2-0 on aggregate, only to implode and go out to a Karim Benzema hat-trick.
“I hope the best is still to come. I think everyone at Paris Saint-Germain wants to win the Champions League. That has become an obsession for this club and I hope we can win it,” Pochettino added.
“That spell in the second half in Madrid saw us not get the result we wanted and created lots of questions and emotions that we have not been able to control in recent months.
“Despite that the players deserve to be congratulated because they have shown the ability to lift themselves and finish the season.”
ISLAMABAD: The cricket boards of New Zealand and Pakistan have reached an agreement according to which the former will compensate the latter for the Kiwis pulling out of a Pakistan tour at the last minute in 2021, cricket website ESPNcricinfo reported this week.
New Zealand Cricket (NZC) made headlines around the world in September 2021 when it decided to abandon its tour of Pakistan minutes before the first One Day International (ODI) between the two sides was scheduled to be played in Rawalpindi.
The NZC cited a "specific and credible" security threat for pulling its players out of the white-ball tour. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) expressed its displeasure at the NZC’s decision, demanding compensation for broadcasting, logistics and security expenses for the tour.
The English cricket team followed suit, abandoning its short tour of Pakistan after New Zealand’s decision. The withdrawals were seen as a setback to Pakistan’s efforts to resume international cricket at home after a deadly attack by militants on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2019 kept international cricket away from Pakistan’s shores for several years.
“New Zealand have come to an agreement to compensate Pakistan for pulling out of a bilateral series last year,” ESPNcricinfo said.
“It involves New Zealand Cricket paying an undisclosed amount to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), as well as agreeing to play extra games when the two sides meet in Pakistan next year,” it added.
New Zealand is scheduled to tour Pakistan to play two Tests and three ODIs in December/January 2022-23 as part of the Future Tours Programme and are expected to return to the country in April 2023 for 10 white-ball matches.
“ESPNcricnfo understands the issue has been resolved although neither board has made any official public pronouncement on the matter,” added ESPNcricinfo.
After New Zealand’s withdrawal from Pakistan, the PCB successfully hosted the West Indies in December for a cricket series and also managed to hold a season of the domestic Pakistan Super League featuring numerous international cricket stars.
In April this year, Pakistan hosted Australia for a historic all-format series for the first time in over two decades.
‘We called her Roger Federer’: How Ons Jabeur made her mark in Tunisia
Jabeur, who hopes to win a maiden Grand Slam title at the French Open which starts in Paris on Sunday, started playing on courts belonging to local hotels
She has gone on to rise to sixth place in the global Women’s Tennis Association’s women’s singles rankings — the first Arab woman ever to reach the world top 10
Updated 21 May 2022
HAMMAM SOUSSE, Tunisia: Fifteen years before Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur became the first Arab or African woman to win a top-flight tennis title, her adolescent sparring partner could see she was destined for glory even if he suffered a broken arm in the process.
Omar Laabidi remembers being repeatedly beaten by a 12-year-old Jabeur, who this month surged to victory at the Madrid Open at the age of 27 — the first WTA 1000 trophy of her career.
“We used to call her Roger Federer,” he said.
Laabidi was talking at the tennis club where it all began, in the North African country’s coastal town of Hammam Sousse.
“One time during a training match she hit a drop shot that I tried so hard to return that I broke my arm,” he said.
Jabeur, who hopes to win a maiden Grand Slam title at the French Open which starts in Paris on Sunday, started playing on courts belonging to local hotels.
But she soon joined the Hammam Sousse Club, which now bears a huge portrait of its most famous graduate.
It was there that Nabil Mlika first trained a talented girl “determined to stand out” against both female and male peers.
But Mlika, who trained a young Jabeur for 10 years, said there was a moment where she almost quit the sport.
“She had great ball control, to the point where other coaches tried to attract her to handball,” said the 55-year-old.
“Ons thought seriously about switching sport — but decided to stick to tennis.”
She has gone on to rise to sixth place in the global Women’s Tennis Association’s women’s singles rankings — the first Arab woman ever to reach the world top 10.
She also reached the final of the Italian Open in mid-May, eventually won by world No. 1 Iga Swiatek.
Jabeur, known to many Tunisians as “the minister for happiness,” was born in the southern coastal town of Ksar Hellal, one of four siblings.
She moved to the capital Tunis at the age of 12 to train at a prestigious state-backed sports club.
She has been married to her physical trainer and former fencer, Karim Kammoun, since 2015.
The right-hander is known for her stamina and for constantly changing the pace of the match.
“She hates playing at one pace. She’s always trying to create a spectacle by switching up the game with shots that surprise her opponents, especially with drop shots,” said Mlika.
“She’s really the queen of the drop shot.”
Jabeur made her first entry to the global scene in 2011, winning the girls’ singles finals at the French Open at the age of 16.
Laabidi also moved to Tunis around the same time as the adolescent Jabeur and joined the same academy, where they continued sparring.
“She was always fun and quickly got to know strangers,” he said.
“But she was always provocative and competitively debating on all subjects.”
Those who knew her as a teenager say she has changed little despite her growing fame.
“She still runs around gathering up all the balls during training, which she’s been doing since she started playing,” said Mlika.
Unsurprisingly, as her fame has spiralled since 2018, subscriptions have skyrocketed at her home club from 320 to more than 700 students today.
For Yousra Koubaa, the mother of eight-year-old student Yasmine, Jabeur is “an example of hope, one we’re always showing to our children.”
Mlika says he uses photos of a young Jabeur to inspire his students today.
“She was a spark of enthusiasm, always moving and wanting to show that she was the best,” he said.
“She always put me in a difficult position because I had to balance between taking the training up a level, or waiting for her peers to catch up with her level and her pace.”