Tuesday, July 31, 2012

LONDON 2012: Day 4: Olympics Heroes of the Day - Alaa El Din El Sayed, Nasser Al Attiyah, Chad Le Clos

Alaa El Din El Sayed: 21-year-old Egyptian silver medalist in foil fencing. He beat the world champion en route to the final where he narrowly lost 15-13 after suffering an elbow injury in the first period. It's Egypt's first medal of the 2012 Games, highest Olympic medal in eight years and first in fencing in 100 years.

Nasser Al Attiyah: Qatari bronze medalist in skeet shooting who held his cool in a nail-biting shoot-off with Russian Valeriy Shomin to win it 6-5. It was Qatar's third medal in their Olympic history and their first in shooting.

Chad Le Clos: 20-year-old South African who won the 200m butterfly gold taking down the biggest scalp in the history of swimming - Michael Phelps... What a day!

Special mention to Phelps who became the most decorated Olympian ever after winning a record 19th medal on Tuesday. His 18th was the silver in the 200m fly and his 19th was the 4x200m freestyle relay.

Monday, July 30, 2012

LONDON 2012: Day 3: Olympics Hero of the Day - Ruta Meilutyte

15 year old Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte wins the gold in the 100m breaststroke. Becomes first ever Lithuanian to win gold in the pool. She fought off Rebecca Soni with nerves of steel! UNREAL! She is also the youngest gold medalist (15-133) in any Olympic swimming event since Beth Botsford in 1996 (15-062).

Honorable mention to: Qatar's Nasser Al Attiyah. He won the Dakar Rally last year but is also a five-time Olympian in shooting. The versatile Qatari placed fourth in the Skeet qualification today shooting 72 of 75 targets. Still 2 more qualification rounds to go tomorrow so he's not a shoo-in for the final but great stuff from him so far. Rally and shooting... who does that?!?! Respect!!

LONDON 2012: Jaziri and Jabeur go down fighting

Arab tennis received a double blow on Monday when both Malek Jaziri and Ons Jabeur crashed out of the Olympics but they can both find pride in how they fought hard against much higher-ranked opponents.

Who would've though that Jabeur would go down 5-7 in the third against Germany's Sabine Lisicki, or that Jaziri would save six set points against the No10 seed? Well not many people out there, especially with some tweets I've seen today wondering where the country Tunisia was...

It's safe to say they're putting Tunisia on the map with their exploits on the lawns of Wimbledon.

Jabeur may have lost 6-4, 0-6, 5-7 to No15 seed Lisicki, but the 17-year-old Tunisian has sent out a strong signal of her true potential and I can honestly say I can see her as a top-20 WTA player next year.

Ranked 297 and playing her first ever match main draw match at Wimbledon, Jabeur handled the rain delays, the big Lisicki serve, and the unfamiliar grass surface like a pro.

She even held her own after getting bageled in the second set and went up a break in the third set against Lisicki - a semi-finalist in Wimbledon last year and a quarter-finalist in 2009 and 2012 - but ultimately experience had the upper hand and Jabeur will have to wait for her real breakthrough moment on the senior stage.

Jaziri also had a mountain to climb in his second round clash against No10 seed John Isner, who won the contest 7-6, 6-2. The 6'9" American is yet to drop his serve at the London Olympics so it was imperative that Jaziri be prepared to snag that first-set tiebreak.

What really impressed me is how the 28-year-old Tunisian saved all six break points he faced in the first set, especially those on set points when serving at 4-5 and 5-6. His forehand was fierce on some of those breakpoints also displaying the same kind of fearlessness Jabeur has shown.

The second set was a bit of a no contest but there's best-of-three on grass for you. The format is suiting Isner quite well and commentators are already talking medals for the American!

Jaziri ended up with the same fate as Jabeur, but even though the upsets were not meant to be today, I believe they've shown what they're made of  and that they're no pushovers.

They're still a chance the Tunisian pair get into the mixed doubles draw, which comes out Tuesday. Their Olympic dream may not be over yet!

LONDON 2012: Jaziri and Jabeur add Arab flavor to Wimbledon on day three

Tunisian duo Malek Jaziri and Ons Jabeur both feature in Monday's line-up at Wimbledon as the Olympic tennis tournament enters its third day of action.

Jabeur's opening round against No15 seed Sabine Lisicki was pushed many times on Sunday due to the rain and was eventually postponed to the following day as the 17-year-old Tunisian was serving on game point to lead 5-3 in the first set.

When she first drew Lisicki, a former Wimbledon semi-finalist who has one of the women's game biggest serves, I was initially worried about Jabeur before I remembered how fearless she is. When I asked her how she felt about the draw, this is what she said:

"It's a good draw , first experience in the Olympics , it will be good I hope. I will try my best and give more then a 100%."

Their match is rescheduled to Monday, second match from an 11:30 (UK time) start on Court 12, following Angelique Kerber and Petra Cetkovska's match.

Meanwhile Jaziri will get the Court 1 treatment as he takes on No10 seed John Isner of the United States (third match from noon start) for a place in the third round.

The 28-year-old has risen to the world's top-70 and after making his Wimbledon debut a few weeks ago, where he won his first round match, he returns to the All England Club with another win in the opening round against Yen-Hsun Lu.

Jaziri may not be the most experienced on grass (he has one grass Futures title), and Isner has won the title in Newport twice on the surface - one of them only three weeks ago - but  the 6'9" American has not been very successful at Wimbledon, winning only two out of six matches in four trips to the Championships.

Still Olympic tennis with its best-of-three matches are a different story and Jaziri needs to make sure he makes no mistakes on his own serve because breaking the big-serving Isner is going to be a mighty challenge.

Regardless of results, the fact that two Tunisians are present in the Olympics tennis draw, in both men's and women's singles deserves its own celebration.

11 years may separate Jabeur and Jaziri but their breakthroughs have beautifully coincided as he made his first Grand Slam main draw only a couple of months after she won the Roland Garros Junior title last year.

It's a coincidence that has spurred massive interest in tennis across Tunisia, who have only had the now-retired Selima Sfar to look up to in the past.

Jabeur is thrilled to have a fellow Tunisian making his way up the tennis ladder. She says: "It's a good thing because Malek can push me with him to the top and maybe I can help him too."

LONDON 2012: Day 2: Olympics Hero of the Day - Oksana Chusovitina

37-year-old German Oksana Chusovitina (born in Uzbekistan) is staggeringly competing in her SIXTH Olympics in ARTISTIC GYMNASTICS - a discipline dominated by 16 and 17 year olds. She was competing for the German team today (they placed 9th just outside the qualification cut-off for the final) but she individually placed 4th on the Vault and will be contesting the final on August 5.

Honorable mention to 15-year-old swimmer Ruta Meilutyte from Lithuania. She was competing in youth events just a year ago, now she's in her first Olympics and she swam the fastest time in the 100m breaststroke heats. She cried in disbelief after her race. In the semifinals at night, she set a European record by swimming an even faster time and qualifies to the final with a 1:05.21.
Special mention to today's Gold medal-winning skeet shooter Kim Rhode who became the first American (5th in the world) to win an individual medal in 5 consecutive Olympics

LONDON 2012: Day 1: Olympics Hero of the Day - Ye Shiwen

Ye Shiwen, 16 year old Chinese girl who won the gold in the 400m Individual Medley AND broke the world record.

Honorable mention to Tunisian fencer Ines Boubakri who fought her way to the quarter-finals before falling to three-time gold medalist (and the most successful Olympic fencer in history) Valentina Vezzali of Italy.

Egypt's table tennis trio Dina Meshref, Omar Assar and El Sayed Lashin did us proud by moving to the second round, while Tunisian Malek Jaziri won his first round in tennis at Wimbledon.

Not to mention the explosive start from Ryan Lochte who won the 400m IM. No podium for Michael Phelps!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

OLYMPICS: The London 2012 opening ceremony through the tennis players' eyes

The athletes tweeted their tails off before, during and after the Olympics opening ceremony. Here are some of my favorite photos shared by our beloved tennis players.

Armada duo Feliciano Lopez and Marcel Granollers (original here)
Pico and Nole share the love

"I'm at the Olympics Games Opening Ceremony in London!" tweeted Anastasia Rodionova, in case there was any confusion. 
 Nice shot from Spain's Anabel Medina

David Ferrer tweeted this of Team Spain. He asked for our opinion. What do we think guys?? Pretty fly I say...

Argentina's Gisela Dulko (Mrs. Fernando Gago) is all smiles with Serbia's flag-bearer Novak Djokovic

Germany's Angelique Kerber is pretty in pink :)

Can a mixed doubles team be any sweeter? Team Argentina - Gisela and Juan Martin 

 Doubles gold medalist Stanislas Wawrinka finally gets his moment

Verdasco seems vertically-challenged all of a sudden

They may have been at each others' throats before the Olympics but Team India sure look chummy here

Milos Raonic and his coach, former player Galo Blanco

San Antonio Spurs' Manu Ginobili with del Po and Pico - Argentina's finest!

This what Djokovic had to say about the opening ceremony:  "I’ll never forget the last night's spectacle! The excitement, adrenaline, the atmosphere - everything was just perfect! A great, positive energy was felt among athletes, as well as among the massive audience. I haven’t felt anything like that in a long time and I'm still under the strong impression. It really gave us a special motivation boost for the start of the games. Andrija Zlatic won the first medal for our country! Let’s go Serbia!!! Idemo!"

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tunisian teen Ons Jabeur hits new career-high ranking

17-year-old Tunisian Ons Jabeur has reached a new career-high ranking of 300 this week after making the semi-finals in Stuttgart going all the way from qualifying.

The talented teen, who won the Roland Garros junior title last year and currently trains at the Justine Henin Tennis Academy in Belgium, has been making huge leaps in the WTA rankings having started the year outside the top-1000 and it's amazing how she made the top-300 within seven months.

I've seen her beat two-time Grand Slam semi-finalist Jie Zheng earlier this year in the qualies in Dubai, where she later took Arantxa Rus to three sets and Jabeur is definitely one to look out for in the near future.
She's aggressive, and doesn't get intimidated on court, and she's shown signs of mental strength (she had a lapse in while serving for the match against Zheng allowing the Chinese to get back in the second set but still pulled off the win in the tiebreak).

She's made the semis in Stuttgart, Casablanca and La Marsa as well as the final in Tunis and she'll make her Olympics debut this month in London where she will be competing in singles, with the possibility of playing mixed doubles with fellow Tunisian Malek Jaziri.

“I am so happy , I can’t describe my happiness. I am really so excited to play at the Olympics,” Jabeur told me when she found out she had earned a wildcard for the Games. “I would love to play mixed doubles with Malek. I hope we can arrange that and represent Tunisia together."

When we talked in Dubai last February after her win over Zheng, she was ranked 1169 which she laughingly described as "zebala" which is Arabic for "garbage".

It's safe to say she is well past her "garbage-ranking" days and has gone up over 800 spots within five months. She told me in an email: "My goal is to reach top 250 at the end of 2012. So I'm following the right way. I hope to continue this way or hopefully better."

The way things have been going for her lately, I believe she'll go even higher than that. I can't wait to see how her season unfolds, because I truly believe she's the most exciting thing that happened to Arab women's tennis in like FOREVER!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

WIMBLEDON: The highs and lows of the 2012 Championships - Federer, Nadal, Sue Barker, Troicki and more...

Player of the tournament 
Roger Federer’s genius in navigating a Grand Slam draw was on full display throughout the fortnight. He phenomenally handled his third round match against Julien Benneateau, who led the Swiss by two sets before Federer came back to win in five, coming through a daunting fourth-set tiebreak 8-6. He also knows how to peak at the right time and after ousting Djokovic in the semis, the King of Grass was in complete magician form against Murray in the final, hitting inconceivable shots that saw him amass 62 winners, twice as much as he hit against Djokovic.

Biggest surprise 

Rafael Nadal had made the final on his last five trips to Wimbledon, winning the title twice in 2008 and 2010, so when he lost to Czech Republic’s Lukas Rosol, ranked 100 in the world, only a few weeks after capturing a record-breaking seventh Roland Garros crown, millions of eyebrows were collectively raised in shock. Hats off to Rosol whose impeccable serving allowed Nadal only 4 break point opportunities in the entire five-set encounter.

When former player and current BBC presenter Sue Barker finished her emotional interview with Murray after his final defeat, her first words to Federer were basically a continued consolation session for the defeated Scot. Instead of congratulating Federer for a historic 17th Major, record-equaling seventh Wimbledon and his return to the No1 spot, she felt Murray needed more attention first. She may have been addressing a home crowd and touched by Murray’s tears but still she should know better than that.

Wimbledon officials were troubled by one main factor during the Championships and that was whether to close or not to close the the $125 million Centre Court roof. A decision that caused much controversy on each rainy day at the All England Club and was met by lots of scepticism from players, pundits and spectators. Officials were constantly faced with the dilemma of trying to keep Wimbledon an outdoor tournament while still getting matches played and broadcasted when the rain is trying to mess with the schedule. Closing it for Murray’s match against Baghdatis was met with consent while closing it for Nadal’s match against Rosol was criticised. Keeping it open for Wozniacki’s first round was scrutinised while Piers Morgan tweeted “The world’s most expensive non-used roof” before organisers finally closed the roof for the men’s singles final.

Unsung hero 
Angelique Kerber may not be the most well-known of the new generation of German ladies taking on the WTA but the world No7 had an incredible fortnight at Wimbledon before she lost to Agnieszka Radwanska in the semis. She took out four-time Major champion Kim Clijsters and withstood 10 aces and 57 winners from countrywoman and Sharapova-conqueror Sabine Lisicki to prove that her semi-final showing at last year’s US Open was no fluke. Expect more good things from Angie!

Best match
Serena Williams v Petra Kvitova 
That quarter-final between the defending champion and the eventual champion was a thrilling contest even though Williams won in straights. Both players were hitting big, setting up points with massive serves and decent approaches and hanging on in points any other player in the WTA would have totally abandoned much earlier. Williams deserved to win but Kvitova left Wimbledon with her head held high.

Funny moment 

When Viktor Troicki was getting thumped by his friend and fellow Serb Novak Djokovic in the quarters, a fan in the crowd decided to offer him some advice by yelling “go to his backhand” right before Troicki served. The world No31 jokingly offered his racquet to the fan implying he should play Djokovic himself, before he hit a service winner to the Djokovic backhand. The crowd roared as Troicki laughed and gave a thumbs-up to the mystery fan.
Also a shoutout must go out to the spectator who yelled "new balls please" when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was hit in his private parts by a shot from Andy Murray in their semi-final

VIDEO: Roger Federer reflects on his Wimbledon journey