Murray downs Wawrinka in Cincinnati battle of veterans

Andy Murray of Great Britain plays a backhand during his match against Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland during the Western & Southern Open at the Lindner Family Tennis Center on August 15, 2022 in Mason, Ohio. (AFP)
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Updated 16 August 2022

Murray downs Wawrinka in Cincinnati battle of veterans

  • The third set featured another pair of early service breaks; but Murray brought an end to hostilities with a break for 6-5 followed by a labored concluding hold of serve

CINCINNATI: Andy Murray won his first hardcourt match of the summer on Monday, defeating Stan Wawrinka 7-6 (7/3), 5-7, 7-5 in the opening round of the ATP/WTA Cincinnati Masters.
The 35-year-old Scot was facing his 37-year-old Swiss rival for the 22nd time with both treble Grand Slam champions still coming back to full form after long-term injuries over the past few seasons.
Murray lost in the first round at Washington and last week in Montreal while Wawrinka’s last win came on grass two months ago at Queen’s Club, London; he has not won on cement since the Australian Open last year.
Murray needed four match points to advance at a tournament he has won twice, in 2008 and 2011. The veteran was competing here for the 17th time.
“We’re not young anymore,” Murray said. “Both of us gave our best right until the end.
“Matches like this are a lot tougher than when we were in our mid-20s.
“Both of us love this sport, we’ve had our issues with injuries the last few years.
“The sport has been a huge part of my life, I started playing when I was four.”
Compatriot Cameron Norrie joined Murray in the second round with his 7-6 (7/5), 4-6, 6-4 defeat of Dane Holger Rune.
The Scot began to well up as he described his love for the game.
“When I was out injured and not sure if I would be able to come back, I remembered the reasons why you play the game,” Murray said.
“It’s taken a lot of effort and struggles to get back (after two hip surgeries) and play at this level again.
“I want to make the most of it while I’m still able to.”
Murray claimed the opening set in the tiebreaker as he faced his longtime rival.
The Scot went down a break in the second set but got it back before finding himself at a set apiece after being broken in the final game.
The third set featured another pair of early service breaks; but Murray brought an end to hostilities with a break for 6-5 followed by a labored concluding hold of serve.
In the closing stages, Murray loudly chastised himself as his grip on the set threatened to slip away against the Swiss whose best showing here was a semifinal a decade ago.
The contest was punctuated repeatedly by visits from the trainer for both men.
Other winners on opening day included 2016 champion Marin Cilic, who defeated Spain’s Jaume Munar 6-3, 6-3, and American John Isner, the 2013 finalist against Rafael Nadal, who advanced past France’s Benjamin Bonzi 7-6 (13/11), 3-6, 7-6 (7/4).
In the WTA draw, Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina defeated Egyptian Mayar Sherif 6-3, 6-2.
The world number 25 set up a second-round clash with eighth seed Garbine Muguruza, title-winner here in 2017.
The 23-year-old Kazakh lifted her game in the second set to end with five aces and 13 winners against Sharif.
“I was slow at the beginning but I got my rhythm and served well,” Rybakina said. “But my serve always helps me.”
The newest Grand Slam champion said she is trying to look ahead in her career as she adjusts to her status.
“Wimbledon gave me confidence but now I’m focusing on my other tournaments and trying not to think of the past,” she said.
American Amanda Anisimova beat ninth seed Daria Kasatkina 6-4, 6-4.

UAE Pro League review: Al-Ain and champions Shabab Al-Ahli maintain perfect starts

Updated 1 min 1 sec ago

UAE Pro League review: Al-Ain and champions Shabab Al-Ahli maintain perfect starts

  • Al-Wasl draw against Khor Fakkan sees them fall two points behind the top two

Holders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club and Al-Ain maintained 100-percent starts to the season after heavyweight clashes, while Al-Wasl blew up theirs in unfathomable fashion against nine men, throughout ADNOC Pro League’s engrossing Matchweek 4.

Thursday’s sell-out crowd witnessed Al-Ain’s 10 men secure an epic 3-2 victory at shell-shocked Sharjah, courtesy of substitute Jonatas’ fierce clincher. Shabab Al-Ahli, meanwhile, breezed past Al-Wahda 3-1 on Friday, with emergent UAE force Yahya Al-Ghassani impressing former employers.

Saturday’s utterly chaotic second half at Khor Fakkan saw Wasl shockingly drop two points off leading pace. Switzerland striker Haris Seferovic’s first-half brace had sparked a 3-0 lead for the visitors by 14 minutes, but their collapse to 3-3 was completed by resurgent hosts in the 91st minute despite red cards for Uzbekistan midfielder Abdulla Abdullayev and Masoud Sulaiman.

Italy striker Manolo Gabbiadini’s brace earned a 3-0 victory for relieved Al-Nasr at rock-bottom Hatta; Morocco hit man Walid Azaro’s hat-trick proved in vain during Ajman’s 5-3 loss to grateful Ittihad Kalba; and Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo had a hand in all three goals when Al-Bataeh were downed 3-1 by Frank de Boer’s momentum-building Al-Jazira.

Spain icon Andres Iniesta went close when Emirates Club played out a goalless stalemate at Baniyas.

Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action.

Player of the week: Al-Ghassani (Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club)

There was a poignancy to this breathtaking display from one of the Middle East’s finest.

Al-Ghassani’s first steps in senior professional football were taken with Wahda, after exiting the academy of the then-named Al-Ahli. But despite an undeniable talent, it never truly happened for the winger at Al-Nahyan Stadium from 2018 until January 2021’s move back home.

Only 12 top-flight starts, four goals and five assists were recorded.

Fast forward to the present and Al-Ghassani was a standout performer in last season’s title victory, plus scorer of a brace during August’s agonizing AFC Champions League play-off exit to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nasr.

A pair in coach Paulo Bento’s impressive UAE debut — a 4-1 thumping of Costa Rica with Paris Saint-Germain’s Keylor Navas between the sticks — augurs much for World Cup 2026 qualifying’s impending kick-off and winter’s Asian Cup.

Al-Ghassani’s punishing pace and flawless technique were showcased for Mu’nas Dabbur’s seventh-minute opener, a clipped assist shredding the visiting defense. A noteworthy maturity, too, for an entertainer approaching his prime at 25 years old.

In tandem with fellow outstanding UAE prospect Harib Abdalla on the opposite flank, Shabab Al-Ahli’s counter-punching approach — they ceded 59-percent possession — made perfect sense.

Wahda’s loss is, emphatically, Shabab Al-Ahli’s gain. It makes the former strong contenders to claim another result in Saturday’s glamour clash at Jazira.

Goal of the week: Gabbiadini (Al-Nasr)

A long-awaited breakout for a beleaguered club and a star addition.

Gabbiadini had suffered alongside his new teammates in a tortured start to this season, which featured three successive league losses. In that time, the summer addition from relegated Sampdoria accrued only one assist, amid opening defeat to Jazira.

The narrative shifted in the Hajar Mountains.

Gabbiadini’s sharp mind and acute skills were present before half-time, breaking the deadlock in this clash of great import.

Nasr’s quick free-kick caused a goal-mouth scramble. The ball eventually made its way toward the 13-times-capped attacker, who met it with a forceful back heel that flew through Hatta goalkeeper Salam Khairi from close range.

Such refinement attracted the Blue Wave to Gabbiadini, following the briefest of summer attachments with Cedric Bakambu prior to joining Galatasaray.

It could yet prove adroit business for a 12th-placed sleeping giant who must awaken from perpetual slumber. Sleepwalk back into bad habits and harsh punishment should await versus Al-Ain on Sunday, before another international break.

Coach of the week: Gerard Zaragoza (Khor Fakkan)

Zaragoza experienced the startling highs and lows of club management, in this unforgettable Khor Fakkan debut.

A promotion from assistant coach was bequeathed by Abdulaziz Al-Anbari’s mid-September exit. That occurred after fitful ADNOC Pro League form, plus landslide ADIB Cup elimination by Kalba.

This change at the helm — whatever its permanence — looked misguided when on-song Wasl raced into an early three-goal lead. A comeback appeared impossible against visitors, surely, posed to extend a perfect start to the season.

But the ex-Shabab Al-Ahli tactician had a different idea. Lourency and Mohammed Al-Junaibi — one of two 24th-minute substitutes as Zaragoza attempted to catalyze a comeback — exchanged goal contributions before the hour mark, moving Khor Fakkan within striking distance.

This wind was taken out of their sails by twin dismissals. Yet, Khor Fakkan and Zaragoza were not done.

Another replacement, Juninho, took advantage of uncharacteristic dallying from Morocco center-back Soufiane Bouftini in injury time to poke home the unlikeliest of levelers.

Cosmin conundrum continues at Sharjah

We’ve been here before.

Last season featured an unprecedented haul of four different cup trophies for Sharjah under Cosmin Olaroiu, but an underwhelming seventh-placed finish for a side that contained Miralem Pjanic, Kostas Manolas and Paco Alcacer.

This season has featured a gritty 3-1 AFC Champions League play-off victory in front of 80,898 partisan Tractor S.C. supporters and a creditable goalless group-stage opener at Qatar’s Al-Sadd. Yet in the topflight, they already sit six points off the pace in fifth after defeat at home to an Al-Ain team reduced to 10 men by Kouame Autonne’s 37th-minute dismissal.

This represents an intractable problem for Sharjah’s board.

Olaroiu’s reputation as a serial trophy hoarder is unmatched across Asia, but paltry league form is a growing concern.

Team Director Mickey Arthur joins Pakistan squad in India to bolster World Cup preparations

Updated 01 October 2023

Team Director Mickey Arthur joins Pakistan squad in India to bolster World Cup preparations

  • As head coach from 2016-2019, Arthur led Pakistan to their Champions Trophy title in 2017
  • Pakistan cricket team will face Australia on Oct. 3 for their second and last warm-up match 

ISLAMABAD: With only a few days left before the World Cup kicks off, Pakistan Team Director Mickey Arthur joined the men’s cricket team in India on Sunday, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said in a statement, as the green shirts aim to bolster their preparations for the showpiece tournament. 

Arthur, who was appointed by the PCB in April this year to the team director’s post, has been available to the squad in a limited capacity owing to his contract with Derbyshire. The South African was not present with the Pakistani team during their series against Sri Lanka in July and was also unavailable during Pakistan’s series against Afghanistan in August. In the Asia Cup held last month, Arthur joined the team for just one fixture.

“Team director Mickey Arthur has joined the national men’s side in Hyderabad, India,” the PCB said in a statement. 

Led by skipper Babar Azam, the Pakistan men’s cricket team arrived in India on Sept. 25 to take part in the 50-over World Cup which is scheduled to begin on Oct. 5. The South Asian country will begin its World Cup campaign against the Netherlands on Oct. 6 before taking on Sri Lanka on Oct. 10 and then India on Oct. 14. 

Arthur was Pakistan’s head coach from 2016 to 2019, during which the green shirts won the Champions Trophy title in 2017 and also climbed to the top of the T20I rankings.

Pakistan, however, were unable to impress in Test cricket with Arthur and a league-stage exit from the 2019 World Cup led to him being replaced as head coach by former Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq.

After losing to New Zealand in the opening warm-up fixture on Friday, Pakistan will take on Australia in their second and last World Cup warm-up match on Tuesday, Oct. 3. 

Al-Ahli and Ettifaq goalless despite ex-Liverpool legends

Updated 01 October 2023

Al-Ahli and Ettifaq goalless despite ex-Liverpool legends

RIYADH: While nine-man Liverpool were unlucky to lose to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday in the English Premier League, in the big game of the Roshn Saudi League, there were a number of ex-Liverpool legends in action as Al-Ahli drew 0–0 at home to Ettifaq. 

As the clash — not as dramatic as the one that took place in London — kicked-off, Ettifaq were in fifth with 16 points from seven games, a point and a place above Al-Ahli. In terms of positions, that’s where they stayed after the stalemate. A win would have taken Ettifaq just a point — or two in the case of Ahli — behind league leaders Al-Hilal after eight games of the season. As it is, both are within touching distance of pole position.

The fact that this was such an eagerly-awaited clash was  a measure of how far both have come since last season. The visitors Ettifaq may have finished seventh in May but were just nine points clear of the relegation zone and 22 behind third place. At the same time, Al-Ahli were in  the second tier and fighting for promotion, a struggle that was ultimately successful. Much has changed in the months since. Finishing in first is unlikely but both have ambitions of a top four spot.

So far this campaign the men from Dammam have been revitalised under head coach Steven Gerrard and they are now four games unbeaten in the league. His fellow former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is still playing in midfield alongside Gini Wijnaldum, also with the Reds as they became champions of Europe in 2019. 

On the opposite side in Jeddah was another Anfield legend in Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian now leads the line at Al-Ahli along with former Manchester City star Riyad Mahrez and Allan Saint-Maximin, who arrived in Jeddah from Newcastle United. There are few teams in the world that have such attacking talent at their disposal.

Despite that, there was not much action to speak of though Al-Ahli will feel that they did enough to get a goal or two.

Saint-Maximin set up Firmino for what seemed to be the opening goal after just 17 minutes. The flair-filled French star picked up possession just over the halfway line, advanced to the edge of the area to square the ball for the South American to sweep home. It was a fluid move but Saint-Maximin was adjudged by VAR to have been just offside during the build-up.

There is also talent at the other side of the pitch for the Jeddah giants. Just before the break, Edouard Mendy showed why Al-Ahli had splashed the cash to sign him from Chelsea. Ali Hazazi crossed from the right for Moussa Dembele to connect with a firm header. The French striker had already scored six league goals for Ettifaq this season so far but his effort was tipped over by the Senegalese shot stopper.

With 18 minutes remaining, the Liverpool connection almost put the visitors ahead. Henderson found Wijnaldum in the area and the Dutch midfielder shot over from close range. It was perhaps the best chance of the entire game as was shown as all Ettifaq players had heads in hands as it was not taken.

Both teams pushed for the winning goal but it was not to be and Ahli and Ettifaq had to settle for a point each.

Elsewhere, Al Fateh defeated Al-Wehda 5-1 to move into seventh above the visitors.

Klopp slams ‘crazy decisions’ after nine-man Liverpool’s Spurs loss

Updated 30 September 2023

Klopp slams ‘crazy decisions’ after nine-man Liverpool’s Spurs loss

  • Refereeing body PGMOL issued a statement less than an hour after the final whistle conceding Diaz’s first-half goal should have stood
  • Klopp was incensed by the decisions, with Jones dismissed after his crunching challenge into Yves Bissouma’s ankle

LONDON: Jurgen Klopp blasted the “crazy decisions” that led to nine-man Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat against Tottenham as referees’ chiefs admitted the Reds were denied a legitimate goal in Saturday’s dramatic clash.
Klopp’s side had Curtis Jones and Diogo Jota sent off in north London, while Liverpool forward Luis Diaz had a goal wrongly disallowed by VAR.
Refereeing body PGMOL issued a statement less than an hour after the final whistle conceding Diaz’s first-half goal should have stood.
“PGMOL acknowledge a significant human error occurred during the first half of Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool,” the statement read.
“The goal by Luis Diaz was disallowed for offside by the on-field team of match officials. This was a clear and obvious factual error and should have resulted in the goal being awarded through VAR intervention, however, the VAR failed to intervene.
“PGMOL will conduct a full review into the circumstances which led to the error.”
Liverpool paid the price for the controversial calls as Joel Matip’s last-gasp own-goal condemned them to a first Premier League loss this term.
Klopp was incensed by the decisions, with Jones dismissed after his crunching challenge into Yves Bissouma’s ankle.
It was initially ruled a booking by referee Simon Hooper, only for the official to upgrade it to a red card when he reviewed the foul on the pitchside monitor.
Liverpool thought they had taken the lead despite that blow when Diaz fired home from Mohamed Salah’s pass, but VAR ruled it out after a surprisingly quick check.
Son Heung-min put Tottenham ahead before Cody Gakpo’s equalizer for the visitors, then Jota was sent off for two fouls in quick succession on Destiny Udogie after the break.
“I was never more proud of the team than today. I never saw a game like this with the most unfair circumstances, crazy decisions,” Klopp said.
“The first red card, Curtis steps on the ball and goes over. Not a bad tackle.
“It looks different in slow motion. He steps full throttle on the ball and goes over the ball. That is unlucky.
“For Jota, first yellow was not a yellow. Then he gets a second and to defend with eight outfield players is tricky.”
On Diaz’s disallowed goal, Klopp raged at VAR, saying: “The offside goal. That is not offside when you see it, they drew their lines wrong.
“The ball is between Mo’s legs, they drew the line wrong and didn’t judge the moment when Mo passed the ball right. It is so tough to deal with it.”
Liverpool missed the chance to go top of the table after their defeat, but Klopp saluted the way his nine men kept in-form Tottenham at bay until the last moments of stoppage time.
“You want to build something you need players with mentality and I saw them today, they fought. Pretty special tonight,” he said.
“We scored an own goal, that is really tough to take but I am really proud.”

Bayern Munich ride their luck to draw at Leipzig 2-2 in Bundesliga, Bayer Leverkusen move top

Updated 30 September 2023

Bayern Munich ride their luck to draw at Leipzig 2-2 in Bundesliga, Bayer Leverkusen move top

  • Bayern needed goalkeeper Sven Ulreich to deny Benjamin Šeško what looked like was going to be a late winner for Leipzig in injury time
  • Bayer Leverkusen delivered a lesson in efficiency by making the most of their chances in a 3-0 win at Mainz

BERLIN: Harry Kane and Leroy Sané scored for Bayern Munich to fight back and draw at Leipzig 2-2 in the Bundesliga on Saturday, preserving the 11-time defending champion’s unbeaten start.
But Bayern needed goalkeeper Sven Ulreich to deny Benjamin Šeško what looked like was going to be a late winner for Leipzig in injury time.
Ulreich was the central figure as Bayern rode their luck at times.
The goalkeeper almost gifted Leipzig the opener when he had emerged from goal to stop Xavi Simons, then passed the ball straight to Emil Forsberg. The Leipzig midfielder’s shot drifted to the right and wide.
Loïs Openda scored with the next real chance for Leipzig in the 20th, and Castello Lukeba made it 2-0 six minutes later after Ulreich failed to gather a corner that Openda laid back for his teammate.
Ulreich had a let-off before the break after bringing down Openda who was through on goal in the penalty area – the Leipzig forward was flagged offside and VAR confirmed the call. The Bayern goalkeeper might have been shown a red card otherwise.
Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel sent on Mathys Tel and Raphaël Guerreiro for the second half and his team was given a way back when Benjamin Henrichs was penalized for handball through VAR after a free kick struck the back of his arm.
Kane duly scored from the spot in the 57th. Jamal Musiala set up Leroy Sané to equalize on a counterattack in the 70th.
Bayern were fortunate again when defender Dayot Upamecano did not see a second yellow card for a foul on Xavi in the 73rd.

Bayer Leverkusen delivered a lesson in efficiency by making the most of their chances in a 3-0 win at Mainz that lifted Xabi Alonso’s team back to the top earlier Saturday.
An own-goal from Sepp van den Berg gave Leverkusen an 18th-minute lead. The Mainz defender was trying to cut out Jeremie Frimpong’s cross but only deflected the ball past his own goalkeeper.
Alejandro Grimaldo made it 2-0 with a free kick in the 59th, six minutes before Jonas Hofmann sealed the win with what was just the visitors’ second effort on target. There had been another attempt off target before that.
Leverkusen are one of three remaining unbeaten teams along with Bayern and Borussia Dortmund.

Jan-Niklas Beste scored with a brilliant free kick just before the hour-mark for promoted Heidenheim to beat Union Berlin 1-0 and stretch the visitors’ losing streak to five games across all competitions.
It was Heidenheim’s second-ever Bundesliga win.
Deniz Undav scored twice for Stuttgart to win in Cologne 2-0, and Jonas Wind did likewise for Wolfsburg to beat Eintracht Frankfurt 2-0 at home. Frankfurt’s Mario Götze was sent off with yellow cards either side of the break.
Borussia Mönchengladbach defeated Bochum 3-1 away. The game started late because emergency exits in the visitors’ end were covered by banners and flags before kickoff.