Ons Jabeur, one of the top 10 Arab sportswomen to watch in 2023

A number of athletes in the Mena region are looking to raise the bar in new year

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Ons Jabeur (Tunisia) – Tennis

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After a historic year that saw her reach back-to-back Grand Slam finals at Wimbledon and the US Open and become the highest-ranked African woman in tennis history at No 2, Ons Jabeur is aiming even higher this season.

The Tunisian trailblazer has declared she has set the No 1 ranking as a target for 2023 and considering she has zero points to defend at three of the four Grand Slams this year, Jabeur has a legitimate chance of catching up to current No 1 Iga Swiatek.

Winning a major is also high up on Jabeur’s priority list, after placing runner-up twice in 2022. The 28-year-old begins her 2023 campaign in Adelaide this week before heading to Melbourne for the Australian Open, which she missed last year through injury.

A firm believer in vocalising her goals and drawing strength from doing so, it’s fair to expect great things from Jabeur once again this season.

Ines Laklalech (Morocco) – Golf

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When Ines Laklalech quit golf for three years while studying in London, she probably never imagined she would become the first Moroccan, Arab or North African to win a title on the Ladies European Tour a little over two years later.

The 25-year-old from Casablanca enjoyed a stunning 2022 as a rookie on the LET, winning the Lacoste Ladies Open de France in Deauville in September – just six months after turning pro – and scoring four more top-10 finishes.

Last month, she finished 19 under par after an eight-round qualifying event to become the first North African to secure playing privileges on the LPGA tour for 2023.

Keep an eye on Laklalech this year as she competes on the most high-profile tour in women’s golf.

Hania El Hammamy (Egypt) – Squash

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She just bagged her second platinum title of the season last month in Hong Kong and at No 3 in the world rankings seems determined to close the gap on Nouran Gohar and Nour El Sherbini, the Egyptian duo occupying the top two spots at the moment.

Hania El Hammamy beat Gohar and El Sherbini in each of her title runs in Hong Kong and the Egyptian Open in recent weeks and is up to No 2 in the CIB Road to Egypt race.

The 22-year-old had a tremendous 2022 overall, having won the prestigious British Open as well as the Gouna International, which saw El Hammamy come back from two-games-to-love down to defeat Gohar in a 90-minute final that was considered one of the best matches of the year.

She closed out the year by joining forces with Gohar, El Sherbini and Nour El Tayeb to claim the WSF Women’s World Team Championship for Egypt.

The fierce battle between the world’s top three will likely continue to dominate the rest of the 2022/23 season and it will be interesting to see how far El Hammamy can push her rivals.

Nouf Al Anzi (UAE) – Football

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UAE national football team captain Nouf Al Anzi became the first ever Emirati woman to play for a club in Spain when she signed for CD Leganes – a team in Madrid’s ‘Preferente’ league – last October.

Two minutes into her debut with the team, she scored an incredible ‘golazo’ as they say in Spain.

“I knew that this is the step that would level me as well as the national team up; because it’s like putting the UAE on the international map. And then being the first to be in Spain as well. It was always my dream and I’m very thrilled that it happened,” the 26-year-old told The National in a recent interview.

Leganes team captain Maria Lazaro told Marca Al Anzi’s arrival has been “a breath of fresh air” as the squad seek promotion to second division.

An Emirati woman playing football in Spain? That’s definitely something to get behind!

Mayar Sherif (Egypt) – Tennis

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The highest-ranked Egyptian woman in history, and only the second ever Arab to crack the top-50 on the women’s tennis tour, Mayar Sherif continues to make strides with every passing season on the WTA.

The 26-year-old from Cairo peaked at No 44 in the rankings last July before claiming a maiden WTA title in Parma in October, shocking world No 7 Maria Sakkari in the final. Victory made Sherif the first Egyptian to ever win a tournament at the WTA level.

She also lifted three 125-level trophies in 2022 and ended her campaign with a 10-match winning streak.

With fellow North African Jabeur providing ample inspiration for her, Sherif has high hopes for 2023.

Dunya Abutaleb (Saudi Arabia) – Taekwondo

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History-maker Dunya Abutaleb became the first ever Saudi Arabian woman to win a medal at a World Taekwondo Championships by claiming bronze in the flyweight (-49kg) event in Guadalajara last November.

A few months earlier, the 26-year-old took bronze at the Asian Taekwondo Championships – another unprecedented feat by a woman from Saudi Arabia.

“After this, they opened clubs and made chances for women,” Abutaleb told worldtaekwondo.org after her success at Worlds in Mexico. “I am famous in Saudi; they all know me now.”

A lawyer, who quit her job to focus on making it to the Paris 2024 Olympics, Abutaleb is one to watch at the Grands Prix this season as she builds towards the Games.

Hana Goda (Egypt) – Table Tennis

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The word ‘prodigy’ can be thrown around a lot in sport but when it comes to 15-year-old Hana Goda, there couldn’t be a more accurate term to describe her.

The first African to be ranked No 1 in the ITTF U-15 girls’ cadet category when she was just 12 years old, Goda has been making history each step of the way ever since.

At 13, she became the youngest finalist in the history of the African Table Tennis Championships (at the senior level), at 14 she was ranked No 4 in the world youth rankings (players aged 19 and under), and now at 15, she is up to No 3 in the world youth rankings and No 40 among the seniors.

Last May, a 14-year-old Goda became the youngest champion to win a continental title when she struck gold in Nigeria at the ITTF-Africa Cup, the second most important continental event in table tennis behind only the African Senior Championships.

She seems unstoppable and has another big year ahead of her.

Fatma Al Nabhani (Oman) – Padel

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After enjoying a long career as a professional tennis player, Oman’s Fatma Al Nabhani has now switched her focus to padel and wasted no time scooping silverware with her national team at multiple Gulf Championships in 2022.

The 31-year-old also picked up two titles on the FIP tour and is the highest-ranked Arab woman in the International Padel Federation rankings, currently at No 151.

With a strong volley game and a deep-rooted passion for racquet sports that runs in the family, Al Nabhani is proving to be the ideal leader for the up-and-coming generation of Omani padel players.

As more and more padel tournaments come to the region, Al Nabhani will definitely be one to watch.

Menna Tarek (Egypt) – Football

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People often compare her to Mohamed Salah and it’s not just because they have similar hairstyles; Menna Tarek is the real deal.

The prodigious forward made her national team debut for Egypt when she was just 14 years old back in 2014 and has been a regular ever since.

Now 23, Tarek joined Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab at the start of this 2022/23 campaign and is the topscorer for her side with seven goals so far.

The Saudi Women’s Premier League launched this season as the Kingdom’s first nationwide competition for women’s football and Tarek is one of several Egyptians recruited by the eight clubs taking part.

Women’s football in the region is growing at a rapid pace and Tarek, who previously played for Turkey’s Fatih Vatan as well as El Gouna and Wadi Degla in Egypt, will no doubt shine in the upcoming period.

Bassant Hemida (Egypt) – Athletics

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The fastest woman in Egypt shot to rockstar status back home when she claimed an unprecedented double gold in the 100m and 200m at the Mediterranean Games in Algeria last year.

Bassant Hemida set two new national records across both sprint events in 2022 and also ran sub-11 seconds in the 100m for the first time.

The 26-year-old, who is an ambassador for the United Nations’ initiative in Egypt called ‘Shabab Balad’, has already qualified for the 2023 World Championships that will be held in Budapest in August.

Can she become the first Egyptian woman to make a sprint final at Worlds?

Updated: January 02, 2023, 11:55 PM