Federer plans a party not a wake as he prepares to lay his professional career to rest

Federer’s legendary, 24-year career will come to an end at the Laver Cup. (AFP)
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Updated 23 September 2022

Federer plans a party not a wake as he prepares to lay his professional career to rest

  • Swiss tennis legend teams up with long-time rival Rafael Nadal for a doubles match at the Laver Cup in London

As Roger Federer prepares to say farewell to competitive tennis on Friday, teaming up with his greatest rival, Rafael Nadal, for one last doubles match, his millions of adoring fans around the world are bracing themselves for what is sure to be an emotional weekend.

Federer’s legendary, 24-year career will come to an end at the Laver Cup, where the Swiss maestro is part of Team Europe along with the other members of the so-called tennis Big Four: Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

 

 

They will take on Team World at London’s O2 Arena, which witnessed numerous battles between the formidable European quartet during the years it served as host venue for the season-ending ATP Finals.

London is also where Federer claimed 11 percent of his career victories, lifted the Wimbledon trophy eight times, and clinched two of his six ATP Finals titles.

As such, it is one of many places around the globe that have played a significant part in Federer’s storied career, during which he gained unrivaled popularity that made it seem like he had home-court advantage wherever he competed.

As we reflect on that career, it is impossible to ignore Federer’s connection to the Middle East, especially Dubai, which for nearly 15 years was considered his second home.

He first competed at the Dubai Tennis Championships and the Qatar Open in Doha in 2002. After a visit to the UAE in 2004 he decided to buy an apartment there and use it as a second base for training at various points during the tennis season.

“On the way back from Bangkok, when I beat (Andy) Roddick in the finals there, I came through Dubai, met up with Tony Roche for a practice session, sort of an undercover operation,” Federer once said of that 2004 trip.

“I remember it was brutally hot, I think like 39 degrees every day. I had a good time practicing. It was peace and quiet and I kind of enjoyed it here. I think I came back one more time for a vacation and practiced some more. I was like, I think this works well for practice and leisure.

“The next thing I knew, I had an apartment. It all happened quite quickly. It was funny how it all worked out.”

Between 2002 and 2019, Federer competed in the Dubai Tennis Championships 14 times. He retires with a 53-6 win-loss record there, and lifted the trophy eight times. It is one of four tournaments he has won eight or more times, the others being the Halle Open (10), the Swiss Indoors (10) and Wimbledon (eight).

While Federer has played to sell-out crowds at stadiums the world over and enjoyed a tremendous amount of support from fans at each and every venue, his supporters in Dubai treated him like a local hero because essentially that is what he was. The annual tennis tournament there became one of the most-attended sporting events on the emirate’s busy calendar in large part because of him.

A video recently shared by the Tennis Channel showed a match in Dubai between Tomas Berdych and Borna Coric that was temporarily halted early in the first set because of a noisy commotion coming from outside the stadium. The reason? Federer had arrived and was being mobbed by screaming fans looking for autographs and photos taken with him.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Tennis (@tennischannel)

Federer’s last appearance at the Dubai tournament, in 2019, recorded its own slice of tennis history when he defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final to claim the 100th title of his career.

In some ways it was a “full-circle” moment as it came 17 years after Federer first competed in the emirate, a debut in which he was accused of tanking by the tournament director, who tried to withhold his prize money.

Reflecting on that 2002 controversy after his victory in 2019, Federer said: “Tanking second round? I played frustrated the last couple of games in the match against Rainer Schuettler because I was young and crazy. I was so fed up with my game. I just started to go for big shots.

“The tournament director wasn’t happy with what he saw. Anyway, he withheld everything but the tour said, ‘No chance you can do this. Roger tried, so it’s all good.’

“Then I came back the next year, wanted to prove a point. I ended up going for four in a row, so … that’s what happens sometimes. You have to learn it the hard way.”

It wasn’t long before Federer became a serial winner not only in Dubai but on all of the sport’s grandest stages.

Along the way he would stop off in the UAE for preseason training and would even practice there in the summer, sometimes, to build endurance and stamina in the extreme heat.

He was regularly spotted on the courts at Al-Qasr or Meydan. He frequented popular restaurants such as Tasha’s or Flamingo Room. He even invited young players to train with him from time to time. Soon, other players started to follow his lead and use Dubai as a training base.

“Maybe I set the trend a little bit,” Federer said in 2015. “I’m very happy I took that decision and I’m sure it’s helped me, in the process, to be mentally more sane as well on the tour. Knowing I have a place to come back to, I can leave my bags, I come home and feel like, maybe I’m not in Switzerland but it still feels a little bit like home. It’s been good for me.”

Federer’s most striking moment in Dubai did not come during competition. Instead, it took place in 2005 when he played tennis with Andre Agassi on a court laid out on the helipad of the seven-star Burj Al-Arab hotel, 690 feet above the ground. Video footage of the spectacle, which was organized to promote the Dubai Tennis Championships, is arguably among the most watched in all of sports. Organizers claim it has been viewed more than three billion times.

 

 

“I didn’t know at the time when we were doing this that it was going to have such an impact,” said Federer.

“I had an idea of how we could make it better by making sure we had a helicopter that was going to film it all around to really show what kind of a platform we were playing on, instead of maybe just having a picture taken from the hotel where you couldn’t really tell how high up we are. And I think that made one of the differences.

“And ever since, everybody talks about it and I hear stories of people saying, ‘Can we play tennis here at the tennis court?’ And they tell them, ‘We don’t have one.’ And they’re like, ‘No, no, I know you do.’ It’s just a myth now, which is fantastic.”

This weekend’s action in London at the Laver Cup is shaping up to be something very special. On Thursday, Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic shared a court during a doubles practice session in front of packed stands at the O2.

Federer and Nadal will take on Team World’s Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock in a doubles match on Friday. It is set to be Federer’s only game during the event and will mark the last time the 41-year-old plays a competitive professional game.

“It would be safe to say that everyone would like to be part of that (doubles match),” Team World captain John McEnroe said on Thursday.

“No one was running away from that one, believe me. I don’t think it gets a whole lot more exciting than that, to be part of sort of history. We had to flip some coins there.”

For Federer, ending his career at a team event such as a Laver Cup and partnering with his fiercest rival for his final match is the kind farewell party he was hoping for.

“I was in a very worried, scared place to face the music, the media, the fans and everything, being able to talk about it in a normal fashion without getting emotional, just because I know how much it means to me,” Federer said of his retirement.

“But I feel like I probably went through a lot of different stages — I don’t know if you can call it grieving — and then you get to, I really don’t want it to be a funeral. I want it to be really happy and powerful and party mode, rather than the other side.”

Judging by the photo Federer shared online on Thursday of the Big Four on a boat in tuxedos as they headed to the Laver Cup Gala, the party has already started.
 


San Siro demolition on table as Milan and Inter’s stadium dream put to public

Updated 4 sec ago

San Siro demolition on table as Milan and Inter’s stadium dream put to public

MILAN, Italy: A crucial step toward the demolition of the iconic San Siro begins on Wednesday when Milan hosts the first of a series of meetings with the public necessary for the new stadium proposed by the city’s two footballing giants.
AC Milan and Inter Milan both insist that they can no longer stay in the current, city-owned San Siro and have drawn up plans for a new 60,000-capacity ground flanked by sport and leisure facilities on the same site, which will be completely remodelled.
Should it go ahead the project is scheduled to be completed in 2030, with 1.3 billion euros ($1.24 billion) being jointly invested in the development by both clubs, who say they cannot afford to build separate new grounds and need the increased revenue this project would bring.
Over three years after presenting their initial project the public will now be able to scrutinize it and have their say at 10 meetings held over a month, after which a report will be presented to the city by the meetings’ independent organizers in mid-November.
The city can then decide whether to insist on further changes to a project which has had 50,000 square meters of development cut from it since it was first proposed, or proceed with approval.
The project is divided into two main sections: construction of the new stadium in the area immediately west of the San Siro currently occupied by car parking and a local park, which the clubs want finished by September 2027.
After that is built the current stadium, set to host the opening ceremony of the 2026 Winter Olympics, will then be demolished before the new facilities — including shopping, convention and sports centers, are built around a new public park.
It’s these facilities and the destruction of a symbolic stadium which have attracted the ire of some Milan residents and a sizeable portion of the city council, who are also angry at the granting of public land to private investors for a fraction of the rent the pair currently pay.
Other criticisms include the significant reduction in the number of seats — of which over 10,000 could be reserved for hospitality — way down not just on the San Siro’s capacity but also the number of fans currently packing the ground.
Both Inter and Milan have been regularly getting crowds of over 70,000 as a post-pandemic wave of enthusiasm among fans has led to supporters flocking back to stadiums in big numbers across Serie A.
Some pressure groups are pushing for the renovation of the current ground and dismiss Milan CEO Paolo Scaroni’s claims on Tuesday that it would be “impossible and dangerous to get 50,000 fans into a building site,” citing the redevelopment of the San Siro ahead of the 1990 World Cup which added a whole new tier to the stadium.
However, Milan mayor Giuseppe Sala has repeatedly asked critics what local authorities would be able to do with a massive, unused football stadium on the outskirts of the city should the project not be approved and the clubs decide to move in order to get the new ground built.
A source at Inter told AFP in the summer that any more bureaucratic bumps in the road would lead to the project being moved to the site of a former factory in Sesto San Giovanni, a town just outside Milan which is on the city’s metro network.
The teams abandoning the area wouldn’t just leave the city with a clubless football stadium, it would also have an impact on neighborhoods which have for a long time been some of the city’s most problematic.
Two stops down the ‘lilac’ metro line which takes fans to the San Siro is Piazzale Segesta, which flanks a troubled council housing estate — one of several in the area.
Laura Guardini, a former journalist at the daily Corriere Della Sera and volunteer at the local neighborhood association, says that of the 6,000 homes on the estate almost 1,000 are squatted in, often by people involved in drug dealing and other serious criminal activities.
She says that residents in the legally occupied apartments refuse holidays and sometimes even hospital treatment as once word is out that their flat is empty squatters “kick in the doors and take over.”
Silvia Cavagnari, who runs a local Italian language school for foreigners, says “the people in this area couldn’t care less about the stadium project, they have much bigger problems.”
And Laura Mariani, a teacher at the language school, hopes that Milan and Inter manage to get the project approved.
“I hope that the clubs do manage to build it,” she says. “Because if they leave it would be a disaster for this area.”

Pakistan’s Naseem Shah out of fifth England T20

Updated 28 September 2022

Pakistan’s Naseem Shah out of fifth England T20

  • Shah was taken to hospital with an infection and will miss the fifth Twenty20 international against England today
  • The 19-year-old’s availability for the rest of the seven-match series will be decided after assessing his medical reports

LAHORE: Pakistan’s highly rated teenage fast bowler Naseem Shah was taken to hospital with an infection and will miss the fifth Twenty20 international against England later Wednesday, said a cricket board spokesman.

The 19-year-old’s availability for the rest of the seven-match series will be decided after assessing his medical reports.

“Naseem was taken to hospital on Tuesday night with a viral infection and will not be available for Wednesday’s match,” a Pakistan Cricket Board spokesman said.

Naseem played the first match of the series and went for 41 runs in his four wicket-less overs.

The series is tied 2-2 after four matches in Karachi. The remaining three are in Lahore.

England are on their first tour of Pakistan for 17 years.


Racial slur, laser pens at players mar Brazil’s 5-1 win over Tunisia in friendly

Updated 28 September 2022

Racial slur, laser pens at players mar Brazil’s 5-1 win over Tunisia in friendly

  • The Selecao produced a dominant first-half display in their final outing before traveling to Qatar, with Raphinha netting twice and Neymar moving to within two of Pele’s record
  • The scene for a bad-tempered match was set when the vast numbers of Tunisia fans jeered the Brazilian national anthem before kickoff

PARIS: Richarlison was the target of a banana thrown from the crowd as Brazil thrashed Tunisia 5-1 in a friendly in Paris on Tuesday, while Neymar edged closer to Pele’s all-time scoring record for the five-time world champions.

The game at the Parc des Princes was also briefly paused in the first half as the crowd were twice implored not to point laser pens at Brazil players.

“Unfortunately... a banana was thrown on the pitch toward Richarlison, scorer of the second Brazilian goal,” the Brazilian football confederation (CBF) said on Twitter.

“The CBF reinforces its position to combat racism and repudiates any prejudiced act.”

The Selecao produced a dominant first-half display in their final outing before traveling to Qatar for the World Cup, with Raphinha netting twice and Neymar moving to within two of Pele’s record.

Richarlison also found the net, while Pedro scored as a second-half substitute before responding to more boos and missiles from the crowd by bowing in front of them in celebration.

“It’s a shame, it’s difficult to see images like that,” said Brazil captain Thiago Silva, whose team posed for a team photo before the match with a banner bearing an anti-racism message.

“Unfortunately it seems that we can’t change people’s mentality.

“I hope they will realize that this doesn’t work, it’s the past, we have to change. Unfortunately, people continue with this mentality.”

Tite’s Brazil will head into their World Cup Group G opener against Serbia on Nov. 24 on a 15-match unbeaten run, dating back to their Copa America final loss to Argentina last year.

The scene for a bad-tempered match was set when the vast numbers of Tunisia fans jeered the Brazilian national anthem before kickoff.

“I was puzzled, I was saying ‘No, it’s a lack of respect’. Football is a sport that promotes inclusion,” said Tite.

Brazil took the lead in the 12th minute, though, as Casemiro clipped the ball over the top and Barcelona winger Raphinha directed a wonderful looping header over Tunisia goalkeeper Aymen Dahmen and into the net.

Jalel Kadri’s men hit back six minutes later.

Defender Montassar Talbi met Anis Slimane’s outswinging free-kick to send a powerful header into the bottom corner past ‘keeper Alisson.

Incredibly, Brazil were back ahead just seconds after that setback, as Raphinha sent Richarlison in behind to drill a strike through the legs of Dahmen to score his third goal in two games after a double against Ghana.

The Tottenham forward celebrated in front of the Tunisian supporters, who responded by throwing a banana and plastic cups in his direction.

Fred kicked the banana off the pitch, before extra security guards took up residence on the side of the field.

Brazil almost extended their advantage as Paqueta followed a fine turn with a low shot which Dahmen tipped wide.

But from the resulting corner, Casemiro was hauled down in the box and Neymar stepped up to roll home his 75th international goal from the penalty spot, despite having lasers pointed at his face.

Brazil continued to cut through the visitors’ defense with ease and Raphinha scored again in the 40th minute by firing in off the post from the edge of the box.

Things went from bad to worse for Tunisia before halftime as Dylan Bronn brought down Neymar and was harshly sent off after a brief melee between the two teams.

Tunisia were much improved after the break but Brazil still scored again with 16 minutes remaining through Flamengo forward Pedro’s maiden goal for his country.

Earlier on Tuesday, World Cup hosts Qatar survived a late penalty miss by Alexis Sanchez to hold Chile to a 2-2 draw in Vienna.

Canada, who are preparing for their first World Cup since 1986, lost 2-0 to Uruguay in Bratislava as Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez scored his third international goal.

Sardar Azmoun scored as a substitute to earn Iran a 1-1 draw with African champions Senegal. Morocco drew 0-0 with Paraguay in Seville.


Spain snare Nations League semifinal spot from Portugal

Updated 28 September 2022

Spain snare Nations League semifinal spot from Portugal

  • Spain will join Italy, Croatia and the Netherlands in the semis in June 2023, although attention now switches to the fast-approaching World Cup

BRAGA, PORTUGAL: Alvaro Morata’s late strike snatched Spain a 1-0 Nations League victory over Portugal in Braga on Tuesday and sent them into the semifinals.

La Roja needed to win to finish top of League A Group 2, but struggled on another difficult night for the Euro 2020 semifinalists, until Morata’s 88th-minute breakthrough.

Spain have not been able to hit top form in the internationals leading up to the Qatar 2022 World Cup, but this hard-fought victory provides a welcome morale boost.

Portugal had the better of the game but Spain brightened in the final stages, with the introduction of several substitutes, including Nico Williams, who headed across goal for Morata to gleefully turn in at the back post.

“When we had to stand up, we did,” Morata told TVE. “If we had lost, it had to be giving everything we had on the pitch, and that’s what we did.

“I’ll remember the attitude of the team, we fought until the end. And Nico Williams, in his second game for the national team, was key and I put it over the line.”

Spain will join Italy, Croatia and the Netherlands in the semis in June 2023, although attention now switches to the fast-approaching World Cup.

Luis Enrique made wholesale changes to the side that suffered Spain’s first home defeat since 2018 against Switzerland on Saturday, retaining only four starters.

Morata was brought in to lead the line, while the Asturian coach rotated his entire midfield trio.

Spain still dominated possession, as their gameplan demands, but to little effect as Portugal created the more dangerous openings.

Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Unai Simon made a solid save to deny Ruben Neves and then a brilliant one to keep Liverpool striker Diogo Jota at bay.

With Portuguese confidence increasing, Bruno Fernandes lashed an effort narrowly off-target, celebrated prematurely by swathes of the stadium as the ball appeared to settle in the net.

Just as they did against Switzerland, Spain failed to get a single shot on target in the first half, and after Simon made another good save from Cristiano Ronaldo early in the second half, Luis Enrique took action.

The coach sent on Pedri, Gavi and Yeremy Pino to try and give La Roja more inspiration going forward, although it was the hosts who almost broke the deadlock when Dani Carvajal deflected a strike narrowly over his own crossbar.

The changes livened Luis Enrique’s team up and they began to turn the tide, building momentum as the game reached its denouement.

Carvajal launched a crossfield ball into the area, with Williams’ header leaving Morata with the simple task of firing into the empty net to put the runners-up of the last edition of the Nations League back into the final four.

An exasperated Ronaldo was denied by Simon at the death and Fernando Santos’s Portugal left ruing their missed chances and wishing they had killed off Spain when they had the chance.

“We had many chances and Spain few, we are sad, we would have liked to have been in the finals,” said Santos.

“Ronaldo had three or four chances that he would usually score, but he could not. That’s football.”

It was a disappointing end to a good run for Portugal, while Spain experienced the opposite sensation.

After defeat by Switzerland and frustrating draws with Portugal and the Czech Republic in June, Morata’s late winner provided relief for La Roja.

“This is a wonderful sport in which winning is the best antidote to any depression or sadness,” said Luis Enrique.

“Portugal are a top, top, top team. In the first half I insisted, maybe too much, on having the ball, and we did. It’s evident we’d prefer to play the passes in their half.

“(But) the first half was necessary to show that the ball was ours, and in the second we had the sensation that the goal would come. We’re in the final four again and it’s a great joy.”


Qatar tests out massive bus fleet ahead of World Cup

Updated 27 September 2022

Qatar tests out massive bus fleet ahead of World Cup

  • Thani Al Zarraa, who is overseeing transport preparations, said some 4,000 buses will be used during the monthlong tournament
  • The bus fleet will shuttle passengers between main transport hubs and the eight stadiums

DOHA: Qatar has tested out a massive fleet of buses ahead of next month’s World Cup, when an estimated 1.2 million soccer fans will descend on the small Gulf nation, an official said Tuesday.
Thani Al Zarraa, who is overseeing transport preparations, said some 4,000 buses will be used during the monthlong tournament, which begins Nov. 20. That includes 3,000 buses acquired for the World Cup on top of a pre-existing fleet of around 1,000, he said.
Of the new buses, around 700 will be electric, he told The Associated Press. Fans can also use Qatar’s Metro rail system.
The bus fleet will shuttle passengers between main transport hubs and the eight stadiums where the matches will be held. Authorities held tests over the weekend involving some 1,800 buses without passengers.
Transport will be free for holders of the Hayya card issued by the government, which is required for entry to stadiums. An accompanying app has a feature in which fans can plan their journeys.
All visitors to Qatar, even those not planning to attend the matches, will need a Hayya card to enter the country from Nov. 1 to Jan. 23. Cardholders will also be able to enter the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
This will be the first World Cup hosted by an Arab nation.