Ping pong stars descend on Dubai for World Tour Grand Finals

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Have a go: Dubai residents can play on free-to-use tables in parks.

This weekend Dubai residents will get to experience a master class in table tennis when the world’s best players contest the GAC Group 2013 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals at Al Nasr Club from today (Thursday) until Sunday, January 12.

A total of 69 players from 18 countries including China, Germany, Belgium, Brazil and of course the UAE are in action, and up for grabs is a hefty $1 million (Dh3.67m), so expect some fast and furious competition. The semi-finals and finals both will take place on Sunday.

In the spotlight this weekend is the China National Team, known to be the most successful in the world with table tennis the most popular sport in their country, and its star players yesterday joined forces with Team UAE’s Majd Albalooshi and Abdulla Almuheisni at Safa Park to create some build-up ahead of the showpiece as well as promote the sport alongside Ping Pong Dubai, a non-profit initiative working at popularising the sport in the UAE.

The first stage of the initiative was to install free-to-use tables across Dubai Parks and in front of The Archive at Safa Park where many residents, both expats and locals, had a go with the bat and ball and showed off their skills under the watchful eyes of the professionals, who also staged exciting demos.

Chinese star and 2012 Olympic men’s gold medallist Jike Zhang – who was at the promotional event yesterday and will be competing this weekend alongside team-mates world No1 Long Ma, world No1 female player Shiwen Liu, London 2012 gold medallist Xiao Xia Li, and Olympic silver medalists Ning Ding and Wang Hao – said: “Table tennis can be enjoyed by anyone – no matter their age, ability or fitness level – and having tables in parks captures the spirit so it is wonderful to see this happening in Dubai. It is always pleasing to see table tennis being developed in other countries and witnessing people sharing in China’s passion for the sport.”

One very passionate player representing the small female contingent in Team UAE this weekend, Majd Albalooshi, is looking forward to sharing the world stage with such greats as the Chinese.

“Since I am competing against world champions it’s going to be difficult. I’ll try my best,” she said.

Action gets underway from 10:00, through to 19:00 each day.

What: GaC Group 2013 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals

When: Thursday, January 9 to Sunday, January 12

Where: Al Nasr Sports Club, Al Nasr Leisureland

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Sport360°’s hopes and wishes for the 2014 sporting year

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Will it ever happen? The sports world is desperate to see Mayweather (l) fight Pacquiao.

When we reflect on any given year, we are always able to conjure up great moments created in the sports arena. 

Unfortunately, sport also has the ability to frustrate, anger and disappoint. 

So on that basis – and as we embark on a New Year – Sport360° has drawn up a list of what we want to see happen across a number of sports over the next 12 months.

BOXING

Pacquiao v Mayweather

Yes, they should have both fought in 2009 but if it’s going to happen, it’ll be this year. Manny needs a big fight to re-affirm his legendary status while Mayweather, regardless of what he says, will always have the Pacquiao question hanging over him.

MOTORSPORT

The F1 season to go down to the final race

Sebastian Vettel won 68% of the races last season and turned F1 into a procession. With Abu Dhabi staging the last race of the year and double points on offer, let’s hope for a repeat of 2012’s incident-packed GP in the UAE capital.

REGIONAL

A UAE team have a strong run in the Asian Champions League

Continental success has eluded the UAE’s finest over recent seasons but with the Arabian Gulf League gradually growing in quality it should be time for one of either Al Ain, Al Ahli or Bani Yas (should they come through a qualifier) to have a deep run in the competition. After December’s draw, Al Ain looks the most likely this year.

GOLF

Woods and McIlroy to be fighting it out down the back nine of a major

It would be fantastic if the two most high-profile golfers in the world had their ‘Duel in the Sun’ moment. We’re pretty sure Nike would be happy, at least!

TENNIS

Someone other than the ‘Big Four’ winning a grand slam

Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray have won 34 of the last 35 grand slams. Much like F1, men’s tennis can be bit of a formality. The likes of David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet and Tomas Berdych have the games to win a grand slam, it’s just about finding that consistency.

FOOTBALL

Brazil v Argentina in the World Cup final

We’re not fussy, as there could be plenty of great teams strutting their stuff in Brazil this summer, but a final featuring the hosts against their sworn rivals, at the Maracana, with clubmates Neymar and Lionel Messi facing off would be legendary.

CRICKET

Longer Test series

As India’s recent tour of South Africa showed, when the world’s best play it needs at least three matches, if possible five, to be a true test of their strengths. These truncated two-Test series, which are becoming more common, leave fans, and players, wanting more.

RUGBY

Argentina to win a match in the Rugby Championship

They’ve come close but after six games the Pumas are still winless. To be truly accepted by the elite they need to get that one win on the board.

NBA

Adam Silver to shake up the issues with the NBA Draft

The draft lottery has descended the NBA into near-farce. In a strong year, up to 10 teams will actively lose on purpose to gain a high draft spot, reducing the overall quality and credibility of the league and the sport. The solution is unclear but Silver (above, left), who takes over from David Stern as Commissioner on February 1, is known as a lateral thinker with ingenious ideas.

GENERAL

Authorities to start taking match fixing seriously

Thankfully the likes of snooker, who convicted Stephen Lee (above) last year, cricket and tennis are waking up to the fact that fixing is causing long-term damage to their respective sports. Certain football authorities however don’t quite know how to tackle corruption. They talk the talk but you also get the nagging sense they just hope the problem will go away.

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Barshim targets gold after winning top honour

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The winners of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Creative Sports Awards

Qatari star high jumper Mutaz Barshim says he wants gold medals after being honoured at the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Creative Sports Award ceremony in Dubai yesterday.

Barshim, a bronze medallist at the London 2012 Olympics and silver medallist at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow last year, received the Arab Athlete award and both the 22-year-old and his coach, Stanislaw Szczyrba, say the target now is to achieve gold in his upcoming major events.

“This award came as a surprise to me but it’s a very pleasant surprise and a great honour,” said Barshim, who has a staggering personal best of 2.40m. “I overcame a lot of problems last year but I managed to achieve my goal which was to win a medal at the World Championships. 2014 is a new year with new challenges.

“My main two targets this year are the World Indoor Championships in March in Poland and the Asian Championships in the summer. I will do my best to avoid injuries and of course the target now is for the gold medal.”

Golden smile: Barshim is hoping to improve on the silver he won at the 2013 World Championships

His coach Szczyrba added: “Our target is to be the best in the world, not only the Arab world. This is a great award and a big honour but our target is to be like (Usain) Bolt and I promise you, he can do this. Our target is Olympic gold in Rio, I’ve said that when he was barely clearing 2.10m. Look at him now.”

Egyptian football giants Al Ahly won the Arab Team award after claiming a record eighth African Champions League. Accepting the award on behalf of the club was Ahly legend and current vice president Mahmoud El Khatib (Bibo), who scored over 100 goals for the Red Devils between 1972 and 1988.

“In the toughest circumstances for any club to ever go through, Al Ahly won the African Champions League after the loss of 72 lives of its loyal fans so this award really means a lot to us,” said El Khatib, making reference to the Port Said Stadium disaster.“Just like the African trophy was dedicated to the souls of our martyrs, this award as well is for them.”

Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, the president of the Asian Football Confederation, was given the Arab Sports Figure award and gave a speech on behalf of the winners, while rally driver Khalifa Al Metawai received the award for the Local Athlete who has Achieved International Success.

“It means a lot to me this award especially for the great name it bears. It gives me motivation to repeat the achievements I made in the past, once again in 2014,” said Al Metawai.

Three youngsters were voted winners of the Local Emerging Athletes award with Abdullah Al Marri taking first place for his success in endurance racing, Saif Al Falasi claiming second for his achievements in water sports while tennis player Fahad Al Janahi was third for winning gold in the Under-14 Asian Championship in Qatar.

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