‘We called her Roger Federer’: How Ons Jabeur made her mark in Tunisia

Tunisian tennis coach Nabil Mlika, who trained a young Ons Jabeur for 10 years, teaches students at the Hammam Sousse tennis club in the Mediterranean port city of Sousse on May 13, 2022.  (AFP)
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Updated 21 May 2022

‘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

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.




Omar Laabidi, the adolescent sparring partner of Ons Jabeur, teaches students at the Hammam Sousse tennis club in the Mediterranean port city of Sousse on May 13, 2022.  (AFP)

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.”

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Costa Rica down Panama 3-0 at the CONCACAF W Championship

Updated 06 July 2022

Costa Rica down Panama 3-0 at the CONCACAF W Championship

  • The tournament serves as qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand

MONTERREY, Mexico: Rocky Rodriguez and Maria Paula Salas scored in the opening half and Costa Rica went on to win their opening group-stage match 3-0 over Panama on Tuesday night in the CONCACAF W Championship.

The tournament serves as qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Rodriguez, who plays for the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League, scored on a header in the sixth minute. Salas scored in the 24th.

Katherine Alvarado converted a penalty for Costa Rica in the 60th minute.

Costa Rica and Panama are in Group B with Canada and Trinidad & Tobago, who play in the late game.

Eight teams have been divided into two groups for the tournament. The top two finishers in each group earn spots in the 2023 World Cup. The third-place finishers will go on to a 10-team intercontinental playoff in February in New Zealand.

The winner of the tournament will also earn one of the region’s spots in the 2024 Olympics.

Costa Rica have been to the World Cup just once before, in 2015. Panama has never qualified for international soccer’s most prestigious event.

The US, Mexico, Jamaica and Haiti are in Group A.


Tiger Woods looking at British Open as historic occasion

Updated 06 July 2022

Tiger Woods looking at British Open as historic occasion

  • Woods won in 2000 by eight shots to complete the career Grand Slam at age 24
  • He won again in 2005 to complete a different kind of slam

NEW YORK: The British Open is scheduled for Royal Liverpool, Royal Troon and Royal Portrush over the next three years. The Old Course at St. Andrews typically is used every five years.

That adds to the perspective of Tiger Woods playing this year.

When he said Tuesday that “this is a pretty historic Open,” Woods just as well could have been talking about himself as the 150th anniversary of golf’s oldest championship.

“I’m lucky enough to be part of the past champions that have won there, and want to play there again, and I don’t know when they are ever going to go back while I’m still able to play at a high level,” Woods said at the J.P. McManus Pro-Am in Ireland. “I want to be able to give it at least one more run at a high level.”

Woods won in 2000 by eight shots to complete the career Grand Slam at age 24. He won again in 2005 to complete a different kind of slam. Each time Jack Nicklaus played a major for the last time, Woods won.

He is 46 and still walking gingerly at times from his right leg and ankle being pieced back together following his February 2021 car crash outside of Los Angeles.

Woods returned to play the Masters and PGA Championship, both times making the cut, though he withdrew after the third round at Southern Hills. He skipped the US Open, though not necessarily by choice.

“The plan was to play the US Open, but physically I was not able to do that,” Woods said at Adare Manor. “There’s no way physically I could have done that. I had some issues with my leg and it would have put this tournament in jeopardy, and so there’s no reason to do that.”

That he is even playing is remarkable considering the nature of his injuries, particularly the threat of having part of his leg amputated, which doctors were able to avoid.

He has no idea how much longer he can play, or at least compete. Woods is unlikely to tee it up after the British Open until December, either at his Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas or what has become his fifth major, the PNC Championship with son Charlie.

“If you asked me last year whether I would play golf again, all of my surgeons would have said, ‘No,’” Woods said. “Now if you say, ‘Play at a championship level,’ well, that window is definitely not as long as I would like it to be.”

OPEN RAILING

The grand celebration of the 150th anniversary of the British Open coincides with a dispute between ScotRail and ASLEF, the union for train drivers.

As a result, the R&A has contacted ticket holders to advise they travel to the Old Course by road or alternative public transport. Nearly 300,000 spectators are expect for the British Open next week.

ScotRail has limited service because of the dispute. It said trains between Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen to Leuchars — the closest station to St. Andrews — would run every hour on tournament days.

The R&A said it will increase capacity at park-and-ride facilities to cope with more cars. Travel time to the Old Course is likely to take a lot longer.

“Due to circumstances out of our control, we have no choice but to urge fans to not travel by rail to The Open and to use alternative means of transport to get to and from St. Andrews next week,” said Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, executive director of championship at the R&A. “There is a risk that fans who travel by train may find there are no services to get them home.”


Malacia becomes Ten Hag’s first signing at Man United

Updated 06 July 2022

Malacia becomes Ten Hag’s first signing at Man United

  • Ten Hag’s recruitment drive is starting to gather pace, with Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen reportedly agreeing to join United on a free transfer after his impressive loan spell at Brentford last season

LONDON: Manchester United completed their swoop for Feyenoord defender Tyrell Malacia on Tuesday as Erik ten Hag made his first signing since taking charge at Old Trafford.

United landed Malacia in a reported £12.95 million ($15.4 million) deal after making a late move for the Netherlands fullback, who had been close to joining French club Lyon.

The 22-year-old has agreed a four-year contract with the option of a further 12 months.

It is a landmark deal for Ten Hag, who had been linked with a host of potential signings before finally making Malacia the first acquisition of his United reign.

Ten Hag arrived at United in May after finishing his successful spell at Ajax, where he had plenty of opportunities to see Malacia’s quality with Dutch rivals Feyenoord.

Malacia, who made 136 appearances for Feyenoord, said: “It’s an incredible feeling to have joined Manchester United. This is a new chapter for me, a new league with new team-mates and a tremendous manager leading us.

“I know from playing against his teams in the Eredivisie, the qualities that he has and what he demands of his players.

“While I know that I am still young and will continue to develop, I can promise the United fans that I will leave everything on the pitch every time I pull on the red shirt.”

Malacia, who plays largely at leftback, is expected to be part of the United squad that leaves for the pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia on Friday.

“I’ll always be thankful to Feyenoord for all they have given to me and my family. None of this would be possible if it wasn’t for them,” Malacia said.

“Now I’m ready to focus on the future with United, and help my new club achieve success.”

Capped five times by the Netherlands, Malacia is likely to compete with England leftback Luke Shaw for a place in United’s starting lineup.

“Tyrell is an exciting, dynamic young footballer with excellent experience for his age, including five seasons in the Eredivisie, a European final and full international honors for the Netherlands,” United football director John Murtough said.

“We look forward to seeing him continue to develop under the guidance of Erik ten Hag and his coaching team in the years ahead.”

Ten Hag’s recruitment drive is starting to gather pace, with Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen reportedly agreeing to join United on a free transfer after his impressive loan spell at Brentford last season.

Barcelona midfielder Frenkie De Jong and Ajax defender Lisandro Martinez have also been linked with moves to Old Trafford.

As well as overhauling a squad that finished a disappointing sixth in the Premier League last season, Ten Hag must resolve the future of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo missed training for “family reasons” on Monday after reportedly asking for a transfer following United’s failure to qualify for the Champions League.

United are said to be determined to hold onto the Portugal striker, who finished as their top scorer last season.


Van Aert wins stage 4 in style and extends Tour overall lead

Updated 06 July 2022

Van Aert wins stage 4 in style and extends Tour overall lead

  • The 27-year-old Van Aert is considered one of the best multi-skilled riders in the world and is a former three-time cyclo-cross world champion and a one-day classics specialist

CALAIS, France: Belgian rider Wout van Aert won the hilly fourth stage of the Tour de France and extended his overall lead after attacking strongly on the day’s final climb on Tuesday.

The Belgian rider kept the leader’s yellow jersey for the Jumbo–Visma team after taking it for the first time on Saturday. He also extended his lead in the green jersey contest for best sprinter.

Van Aert shook up the peloton when he surged ahead up the last of the five climbs — a 900-meter ascent up Cote du Cap Blanc-Nez at a gradient of 7.5  percent — about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the end.

The 27-year-old Van Aert is considered one of the best multi-skilled riders in the world and is a former three-time cyclo-cross world champion and a one-day classics specialist.

The Jumbo-Visma rider flapped his hands like a bird’s wings as he sat up on his bike. He crossed the line eight seconds clear of countryman Jasper Philipsen of the Alpecin–Fenix team, with Jumbo-Visma teammate Christophe Laporte taking third place in a sprint finish.

Van Aert picked up a 10-second time bonus and is now 25 seconds ahead of Yves Lampaert in the overall standings and 32 seconds clear of two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar.

Pogacar’s rival Primoz Roglic, the 2020 Tour runner-up and Van Aert’s teammate, stayed seventh overall and remained nine seconds behind Pogacar, with both finishing in the main pack.

After a travel day, riders tackled a sunny 171.5-kilometer (106.3-mile) route from the coastal city of Dunkirk to Calais, where riders could see the English coastline when they arrived into the much-used port location. Van Aert completed it in 4 hours, 1 minute, 36 seconds.

Danish rider Magnus Cort, who thrilled crowds with his breakaway rides during three intense days in Denmark, was again in the early breakaway — this time alongside Anthony Perez.

Perez pulled ahead some 45 kilometers (28 miles) out and Cort was caught by the peloton shortly after. Cort picked up more points in the polka-dot jersey bid but much more difficult climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees are still to come.

Wednesday’s fifth stage is a flat stage for sprinters over 157 kilometers (97 miles) starting at Lille Metropole and going over some of the feared cobblestones that feature on the Paris-Roubaix one-day classic.

The race ends on July 24 in Paris.


Korda sisters set for sun-drenched showdown at the $1m Aramco Team Series Sotogrande

Updated 05 July 2022

Korda sisters set for sun-drenched showdown at the $1m Aramco Team Series Sotogrande

  • Nelly and Jessica Korda to compete at La Reserva Club, Aug. 18-20
  • First time the pair will have played in Spain; their second Aramco Team Series event

JEDDAH: American sisters Nelly and Jessica Korda are heading to Spain for the first time, with both confirmed for next month’s $1 million Aramco Team Series Sotogrande.

The siblings will tee off in front of their maiden Spanish crowd at La Reserva Club, Aug. 18-20, in what will be their second Aramco Team Series event presented by the Public Investment Fund.

Both Nelly and Jessica were part of history when they played in last year’s debut Aramco Team Series New York, the first-ever Ladies European Tour event to be played on US soil.

For older sister Jessica — a six-time LPGA-winner — that was just the start of a history-making week, as she captained her team to victory in the event’s unique four-ball format.

Former world No. 1 and US Olympic gold medalist Nelly was one shot shy of bagging the same tournament’s concurrent solo contest. 

Nelly Korda at the Aramco Team Series New York. (Supplied)

Now, both will return to battle it out against the biggest and best names on the Ladies European Tour under the Sotogrande sun this summer.

“I’m so excited to be heading to play in Spain for the first time,” said major-winner Nelly, currently ranked world No. 3.

“It’ll actually be my first ever time visiting Spain, so I’m really looking forward to getting there and seeing and experiencing what I’ve always imagined to be this amazing culture. The golf course at La Reserva looks incredible too so it should be a great week.

“Jess and I both played in the Aramco Team Series event in New York last year and loved the format. It’s something different having the separate team-individual formats going on at the same time which is fun,” she continued. “With the Solheim Cup taking place just round the corner from Sotogrande next year, this will also be the perfect opportunity for me and some of the other Americans in the field to get a bit of a lay of the land and a feel for playing in Spain, with the hope of being back there 12 months later. I’m excited to get out there and can’t wait to see what Sotogrande has in store for us.”

Jessica — who has finished in the top 10 in all five women’s majors — said: “New York’s Aramco Team Series was a great event. Having won the team side of it was a lot of fun. I am looking forward to getting a chance to play that same format again.

“I’ve never actually played in Spain — this will be my first time. Spain has had such a massive influence on golf, from big name players like Seve (Ballesteros), Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm to Carlota Ciganda and the many Spanish girls making an impact on both the LPGA and LET.

“The Spanish fans are known to have some fiery passion too, so I can’t wait to tee it up in front of them for what should be a pretty special atmosphere in Sotogrande.”

The pair will be joined by a host of big-name Spanish golfers, including Solheim Cup hero Ciganda, rising talent Ana Pelaez Trivino, Nuria Iturrioz and Carmen Alonso, as part of a field packed with global stars, more of whom will be announced in due course.

To secure tickets — which start at just €5 ($5.14) — or to find out more, visit aramcoteamseries.com or follow the event on social media @aramco_series.

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