History made on opening day of Saudi Arabia’s 1st pro tennis event

Arthur Fils of France is the top seed at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah. (ATP Tour)
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Updated 29 November 2023
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History made on opening day of Saudi Arabia’s 1st pro tennis event

  • Arthur Fils, Flavio Cobolli, Luca Van Assche, Hamad Medjedovic come out on top at start of Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM

JEDDAH: Top seed Arthur Fils became the first ATP Tour winner on Saudi Arabian soil on Tuesday at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM.

Flavio Cobolli, Luca Van Assche, and Hamad Medjedovic followed suit with wins in the first day’s play at King Abdullah Sports City.

Fils and Luca Nardi made history in the opening session as the first ATP Tour players to play in Saudi Arabia.

The 19-year-old Fils, the top-ranked player in the finals, prevailed 2-4, 4-3(6), 4-2, 1-4, 4-2 in a stern five-set test to make a winning start in the Green Group.

After the match, Fils said: “It was a tough match. The first time in my life I’m playing first to four games. Things can change very quickly. I was leading two sets to one, had break points, and I was feeling very good. Then I lost a deuce point, and everything changed, but I’m really happy to win today.”

On Wednesday the Frenchman will face the other winner in the Green Group, Cobolli. The Italian stunned 2022 semi-finalist Dominic Stricker for a winning start on his debut at the Next Gen ATP Finals in four sets; 4-2, 3-4(7), 4-1, 4-2.

Switzerland’s Stricker is the only player at this year’s event to have competed at the innovative tournament before and has previous experience playing in Saudi Arabia at last year’s Diriyah Tennis Cup.

But Cobolli was not fazed, starting fast as he adjusted to the newly implemented no warm-up rule, part of a range of innovations being incorporated.

Cobolli said: “I warmed up for a lot of time today, so I was really hot on the court. I started the match really well. The courts are so fast, but I was faster (than Stricker). I played a really good match and I’m really happy.”

Van Assche joined fellow Frenchman Fils as a first-day winner in a physical four-set win over Jordan’s Abdullah Shelbayh. After splitting the first two sets that were filled with punishing, extended baseline exchanges, the tournament’s second seed broke clear of Shelbayh in the third and ultimately closed out the match 4-3, 3-4(5), 4-1, 4-1.

Shelbayh thrilled enthusiastic local Jeddah fans with his creative angles, net approaches, and regular drop shots but Van Assche’s slight edge in the backcourt was telling.

Van Assche said: “It was a tough match today against a very tough opponent. I know Abdullah very well, he’s an amazing player. He was almost at home with the crowd cheering for him. It was a good match for me and really tough from the beginning to the end.”

The final match of the day saw Serbian Medjedovic win a five-set thriller — 4-2, 4-3(3), 3-4(3), 3-4(5), 4-3(4) — against the American Alex Michelsen.


EA Sports announces inaugural Ramadan Tournament for MENA region gamers

Updated 9 sec ago
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EA Sports announces inaugural Ramadan Tournament for MENA region gamers

  • Participants will take part in 2 competitions, EA Sports FC 24, EA Sports FC Mobile

RIYADH: EA Sports has announced the launch of the first-ever Ramadan tournament, set to take place during the holy month from March 18 to 29.

The EA Sports FC Ramadan Tournament will be organized by Zawaya Gaming and powered by Pepsi with support from the Saudi eSports Federation.

The event will feature two parallel knockout tournaments: one for EA Sports FC 24 on PlayStation 5, and the other for EA Sports FC Mobile.

A total of 16 players will qualify to compete in the finals, with eight players being paired with athletes and creators for a two-versus-two tournament in the two competitions.

The console tournament will be open to participants from Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, while mobile participants will include competitors from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Jordan, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, and Indonesia.

The live finals will take place at the SEF Arena in Riyadh.


Jaguar’s Mitch Evans optimistic of form return at Sao Paulo E-Prix

Updated 36 min 31 sec ago
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Jaguar’s Mitch Evans optimistic of form return at Sao Paulo E-Prix

  • The New Zealand driver has been frustrated with his start to the Formula E season

DUBAI: Formula E driver Mitch Evans admits he has been frustrated with his performances this season but is optimistic he can bounce back, beginning with next month’s Sao Paulo E-Prix.

The Jaguar driver has yet to achieve a podium finish after ending fifth in the season opener in Mexico before matching the result in January’s Diriyah E-Prix. The New Zealander closed the Diriyah E-Prix doubleheader weekend with a disappointing 10th, leaving him fifth in the standings and 36 points behind leader and teammate Nick Cassidy.

“It is frustrating and am disappointed to how the season has started as I felt we had one of the quickest cars on average,” said the 29-year-old. “I have just not been able to convert it into a decent result. My best shot was in the first race in Diriyah but we didn’t execute the race properly.

“We still got some good points on the board but I walked away from Saudi that we left some good opportunities from my side of the garage. It’s still early days but it seems we still have the pace which is one of the main things.

“But I do need to ramp up big points and that is the focus. I’m still feeling very optimistic of having a good run in the next phase of the season.”

Evans is disappointed that he has not contributed more to the team’s points tally unlike teammate Cassidy who has enjoyed three podium finishes including his triumph in Diriyah’s round three.

He said: “What the most frustrating this is that we could be one-two in the championship and we’re not. Nick has done a great job in the first three races and has settled nicely into the team. He has transitioned into the team really well so Nick has driven really well in this Gen3 car and not overly surprised. We are leading the teams’ constructors which is good but I feel we could be one, two or three in the championship and that is the most frustrating.

“He’s had a great start and picked up a lot of good points total and he is going to be really competitive and quick. I just need to make some better results on the board.”


LeBron James leads epic Lakers fightback to beat Clippers 116-112

Updated 54 min 39 sec ago
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LeBron James leads epic Lakers fightback to beat Clippers 116-112

  • The 39-year-old NBA icon reeled off 34 points — 19 of them in the fourth quarter — to help the Lakers claim a pulsating victory over their in-form city rivals at the Crypto.com Arena
  • Nikola Jokic bagged his fourth straight triple-double as the Denver Nuggets overpowered the Sacramento Kings 117-96

LOS ANGELES: LeBron James staged the biggest fourth quarter comeback of his two-decade career on Wednesday as the Los Angeles Lakers rallied from a 21-point deficit to defeat the Los Angeles Clippers 116-112.

The 39-year-old NBA icon reeled off 34 points — 19 of them in the fourth quarter — to help the Lakers claim a pulsating victory over their in-form city rivals at the Crypto.com Arena.

It was another storybook performance from the evergreen James, who along with the Lakers had looked to be heading for an emphatic defeat after the Clippers jumped into a 98-77 lead early in the final frame.

But an inspired James helped the Lakers outscore the Clippers 39-16 in the fourth quarter to see them home.

“The game is not ever over until it’s double zeroes (on the play clock),” James told an on-court interviewer after the win.

James was backed by 20 points and 12 rebounds from Anthony Davis, while D’Angelo Russell added 18 and Rui Hachimura 13.

Kawhi Leonard topped the Clippers scoring with 26 points.

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue took responsibility for the loss.

“When you’re up 21 points you can’t lose a game like that,” Lue said. “I don’t think that’s ever happened since I’ve been coaching — to lose a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter.”

In other games on Wednesday, Nikola Jokic bagged his fourth straight triple-double as the Denver Nuggets overpowered the Sacramento Kings 117-96.

Two-time former NBA Most Valuable Player Jokic finished with 14 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists to bag his 19th triple of the season.

The Serbian star had gone into the game facing an intriguing duel with Sacramento’s Domantas Sabonis, who himself has been in blistering form since the All-Star break with three consecutive triple-doubles.

But Sabonis was effectively bottled up by Denver as the Nuggets staged a superb second quarter rally to turn the game around after trailing by 15 points.

Sacramento, missing injured playmaker De’Aaron Fox, had swept into a 47-32 lead to raise hopes of a morale-boosting road victory.

Denver roared back with a 21-4 run to regain control with Jamal Murray, who finished with 32 points, outstanding as the Nuggets opened up a 65-55 half-time lead at the break.

Denver outscored Sacramento 35-17 in the third quarter before coasting to victory by a 21-point margin.

The win leaves reigning NBA champions Denver third in the Western Conference with a 40-19 record, while Sacramento slipped to 33-25 in eighth place.

Elsewhere, Anthony Edwards shrugged off a lingering ankle injury to score 34 points as the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Timberwolves overcame stubborn resistance from the struggling Memphis Grizzlies to grind out a 110-101 victory.

Memphis (20-38) had surged into an early 14-point lead in the first quarter and also led by double digits in the third before Minnesota hit back to claim their 42nd win of the season.

Edwards led the Wolves scoring with 34 points while four other Minnesota players reached double figures.

In Toronto, Luka Doncic celebrated his 25th birthday with a 30-point triple double as the Dallas Mavericks bounced back from Tuesday’s shattering buzzer-beater defeat to Cleveland with a 136-125 win over the Raptors.

A high-scoring first half saw Toronto sneak into a 67-66 lead at the break before Doncic sparked a 40-point third quarter to take the visitors out of reach.

Doncic scored 15 of his 30 points in the third quarter, finishing the game with 16 assists and 11 rebounds to complete his triple.

“Just a normal game, a triple double,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said of Doncic’s gem. “He was really good. Luka is our leader and he was really good tonight.”

Cleveland were unable to back up Tuesday’s win over Dallas in their road game against Chicago, the Bulls winning 132-123 in double overtime.

Donovan Mitchell could have won it for Cleveland as time expired in the first period of overtime, only to see his 20-foot jump shot miss.


First La Liga Futures competition in Saudi Arabia kicks off March 1

Updated 29 February 2024
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First La Liga Futures competition in Saudi Arabia kicks off March 1

  • The U-14 tournament, hosted at Mahd Sports Academy in Riyadh, will feature 8 La Liga and 4 international teams

MADRID: La Liga FC Futures U-14, a flagship tournament featuring the youth academies of top-tier Spanish clubs, and being held in Saudi Arabia for the first time, kicks off on March 1.

The matches, to be played at Mahd Sports Academy in Riyadh, has been organized in collaboration with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Sports. For the first time, the players making up the competing sides will be in the under-14 category and will play 11-a-side matches.

The tournament will feature 12 clubs, eight EA Sports La Liga teams, plus AS Roma (Italy), SL Benfica (Portugal), Olympique de Marseille (France) and Mahd Academy (Saudi Arabia).

La Liga’s leadership chose Saudi Arabia as the host because of the country’s emergence as a hub for sporting and cultural activities in recent years. The most popular sport in the Kingdom is football, with the highest level of participation among those under the age of 30.

For the past 15 years, La Liga matches have been followed by millions of football fans across the Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia now has six official supporter clubs.

The 12 teams will be divided into three groups: Mahd Academy, FC Barcelona, AS Roma and Cadiz CF (Group A); Atletico de Madrid, Olympique de Marseille, Sevilla FC and Villarreal CF (Group B); and Real Betis, Valencia CF, SL Benfica and CA Osasuna (Group C).

Matches will kick off on March 1 at 9:30 a.m. (Saudi Arabia time) and March 2 at 10 a.m., with the quarterfinals being played on Saturday at 5 p.m. The semifinals will kick off at 10 a.m. on Sunday, with the final at 5 p.m.


Medvedev and Hurkacz book quarterfinal spots at Dubai Tennis Championship

Updated 29 February 2024
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Medvedev and Hurkacz book quarterfinal spots at Dubai Tennis Championship

  • Reigning champion Medvedev recovers from losing opening set to beat Sonego in tight encounter on center court
  • Hurkacz and Korda through to quarterfinals in straight sets, Qatar Open finalist Mensik forced to retire

DUBAI: Reigning champion Daniil Medvedev overcame a spirited Lorenzo Sonego on Wednesday to secure a spot in the quarterfinals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory.

The world No. 4 looked shaky during the opening exchanges, winning just 53 percent (10/19) of points behind his first delivery as Sonego took full advantage and deservedly won the first set. Medvedev, to his credit, recovered quickly and served with far more aggression in the second and third sets, firing off both wings and hitting pinpoint serves.

The decisive moment came during a tense fifth game in the final set as the No. 1 seed broke Sonego’s serve with a running forehand winner and safely saw out the match thereafter. Medvedev will face Alejandro Davidovich Fokina after Qatar Open finalist Jakub Mensik was forced to retire through injury early in the second set of their clash.

Hubert Hurkacz will join Medvedev in the last eight after a battling 7-6, 6-4 victory over Australian Christopher O’Connell. The world No. 8 will make his fourth quarterfinal appearance in Dubai when he takes to the court to face Ugo Humbert, the French No. 1, on Thursday evening.

One man who will not be competing in the quarterfinals is Karan Khachanov after the No. 4 seed was sent crashing out of the tournament following Jiri Lehecka’s stunning comeback victory (6-7, 7-6, 6-4).

Lehecka, the world’s No. 36, fell to his knees in elation after securing a spot in the last eight at the expense of in-form Khachanov, who had come into the match on the back of five straight wins. The 27-year-old won his sixth career title in Doha last week and looked on course to continue that momentum after clinching the first set against Lehecka.

Lehecka had other ideas, though, saving five points during a tense second set, coming back from 0-3 in the tiebreak that later followed, and from 2-4 in the third set to secure a second top-20 win of the season — after a mammoth three-hour clash on court one.

Meanwhile. Sebastian Korda continues to enjoy his maiden Dubai tournament, needing just 43 minutes to breeze past Botic van de Zandschulp and set up a quarterfinal meeting against 2022 winner Andrey Rublev.

Korda dropped just one game in an emphatic straight sets victory (6-1, 6-0) over the Dutch No. 2.