Wawrinka, Azarenka return to U.S. Open quarterfinals

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NEW YORK — Victoria Azarenka and Stan Wawrinka, both two-time Grand Slam champions, make trips to the U.S. Open quarterfinals an annual affair.

Their experience showed Monday against American opponents who don’t know how it feels to go that far at a major.

Azarenka, whose ranking is down to 20th after two injury-plagued seasons, is starting to look like the player who took Serena Williams to three sets in the final at Flushing Meadows in 2012 and ’13. On Monday, she won 6-3, 6-4 over 46th-ranked American Varvara Lepchenko, who had reached her first U.S. Open round of 16.

”My game was not really a problem. It was just being able to find your rhythm and find the way to apply that game on the certain moments in the tough situations,” Azarenka said. ”So I think that was more of – I wouldn’t say mental, but just more of a consistency.”

Wawrinka had a few more tense moments against another American who has never been past the fourth round at a major.

Donald Young had come from behind in his three previous matches, twice rallying from down two sets, but Wawrinka’s power and poise never gave him much of a chance to do it again no matter how loud the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd roared. The fifth-seeded Wawrinka won 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, taking control in the final two sets behind his bigger serve.

Young, currently ranked 68th, had upset Wawrinka in five sets in the second round of the 2011 U.S. Open. Wawrinka is a different player now, though, winning the 2014 Australian Open and this year’s French Open.

His signature backhand deserted him at times Monday and he smashed a racket after getting broken for the first time in the second set. But he faced just two break points in the final two sets, both coming when he was already up 5-1 in the third.

”I start the third set really right again,” Wawrinka said. ”I was physically there trying to play again more aggressive the way I start the match.”

Wawrinka next faces Andy Murray or Kevin Anderson. The most anticipated men’s match of the day closes out the night session with another Swiss-American showdown: Roger Federer against John Isner.

Azarenka introduced a new fashion statement to Ashe: gauze wrapped around both biceps. She joked in an on-court interview that after throwing around a football Sunday – she does it for fun and to help with her service motion – she wanted to look tough like an NFL player.

The real reason was ”really a little bit embarrassing,” Azarenka conceded. The skin on the inside of her arms had been chafing against her top.

”It’s so weird,” she said.

Azarenka will play second-seeded Simona Halep, who had never been to a U.S. Open quarterfinal herself but does know how it feels to play deep into a major, losing the 2014 French Open final.

Halep gritted out a three-set victory over Sabine Lisicki, the 2013 Wimbledon runner-up. She won 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-2 in 2 hours, 38 minutes on a hot afternoon, with both players limping around by the third set.

Halep had her left thigh wrapped after wasting two set points in the first. With Lisicki a point from forcing a second-set tiebreaker, the players staged an 18-shot rally. Halep was hobbling by the end but somehow chased down a ball in the corner and got it back, and with the whole court in front of her to hit a winner, Lisicki netted a backhand. Halep doubled over in pain and stretched her leg, yet still managed to go on to win the game to force a third set.

It was one of 10 times she broke the big-serving Lisicki, who had a whopping 72 unforced errors.

After a 10-minute break because of the heat, the 24th-seeded Lisicki was the one struggling to move in the third set as she started cramping.

Djokovic to start 2023 in Adelaide ahead of Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia – Novak Djokovic will open his 2023 campaign in Adelaide as he prepares for a shot at a 10th Australian Open crown a year after having his visa revoked on the eve of his title defense.

The 21-time major winner has been granted a visa by the Australian government and has been listed to play at the Adelaide International, which starts Jan. 1.

Serbia isn’t contesting the inaugural United Cup team competition, leaving Djokovic free to play regular warmup tournaments head of the Jan. 16-29 Australian Open.

He’ll be joined in the men’s draw at Adelaide by Russians Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada and Andy Murray.

Ons Jabeur, Aryna Sabalenka will headline the women’s draw.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles last month confirmed Djokovic had been granted a visa to compete in Australia in January. The 35-year-old Serbian had been facing a possible three-year ban after being deported last January over his stance against COVID-19 vaccination.

Djokovic has won the Australian Open a record nine times, including the last three times he played. Rafael Nadal won this year’s title in Djokovic’s absence.

Djokovic was not vaccinated against COVID-19 when he arrived in Melbourne ahead of the 2022 tournament, but Australia has since lifted strict rules for unvaccinated travelers.

Karolina Pliskova reuniting with Sascha Bajin

Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports
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Two-time Grand Slam finalist Karolina Pliskova is reuniting with coach Sascha Bajin ahead of the 2023 season.

Pliskova posted on her website and her Twitter account about the move, which comes about six months after she and Bajin stopped working together. The pair originally teamed up in November 2020.

While Bajin was her coach, Pliskova reached the final at Wimbledon in 2021 before losing to champion Ash Barty. Pliskova also was the runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open, where she defeated Serena Williams in the semifinals before being beat by Angelique Kerber for the trophy.

After splitting from Bajin in July, Pliskova was coached by Leos Friedl. Their results together included a quarterfinal run at the U.S. Open.

Bajin has worked as a coach or hitting partner with several top tennis players, including Grand Slam title winners Williams, Naomi Osaka, Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki.

“Thank you for having me back,” Bajin wrote on Twitter. “Let’s go get it.”

Pliskova is a 30-year-old from the Czech Republic who reached No. 1 in the WTA rankings in 2017 and finished this season at No. 31 after going 21-21 with no titles.

Her team also includes fitness specialist Jez Green and physiotherapist Martin Salvador.

Next year’s first Grand Slam tournament, the Australian Open, begins Jan. 16.