Italy’s Flavia Pennetta wins US Open, 1st Grand Slam title — then says she’s retiring

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NEW YORK — Talk about going out on top: Flavia Pennetta won the U.S. Open for her first Grand Slam title at age 33, and then announced during the trophy ceremony she has decided to retire.

Pennetta did not have to beat Serena Williams in the final. Instead, Pennetta needed to get past the woman who ended Williams’ Grand Slam bid, Roberta Vinci. And Pennetta was able to do just that, pulling away in a matchup of Italians who were opponents and doubles partners as kids.

In one of the unlikeliest major finals in women’s tennis history, the 26th-seeded Pennetta beat Vinci 7-6 (4), 6-2 at Flushing Meadows on Saturday – a month after deciding she was ready to hang up her racket, a decision she kept private.

“This is how I say goodbye to tennis,” Pennetta said as her fiance, tennis player Fabio Fognini, captured the scene with his phone’s camera. “I couldn’t think to finish in a better way.”

That announcement served as a perfectly out-of-nowhere conclusion to a surprise-filled tournament, the biggest shock being Vinci’s win against Williams in the semifinals Friday. That stopped Williams’ 33-match winning streak in majors and her attempt to become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in a single season.

Pennetta is the oldest woman in the Open era, which began in 1968, to become a Grand Slam champion for the first time. Vinci, who is 32, would have earned that distinction had she been able to follow her stunning upset of Williams in Friday’s semifinals with another victory.

This was the first major final for either participant, and the first time since WTA computer rankings were instituted in 1975 that both U.S. Open women’s finalists were ranked outside the top 20 (Vinci is 43rd).

They grew up 40 miles (65 kilometers) apart in coastal towns in Puglia, a region on the heel of Italy’s boot-shaped peninsula, and have been facing each other on court for two decades – with the stakes much lower, of course. They shared some laughter and tears in the locker room together Friday while watching a video of a TV interview they did back in 1999, when they won a junior doubles title at the French Open as teenagers.

And when Saturday’s match ended, after Pennetta flung her racket overhead, she went up to the net to find Vinci, not for a handshake but for a lengthy hug. Vinci patted her pal on the back repeatedly, while Pennetta cried. Then they sat on adjacent sideline chairs and chatted, just a couple of foes and friends, sharing a special moment.

Vinci pantomimed throwing a punch as a joke, and Pennetta wrapped an arm around her. Vinci charmed the crowd later, first saying she wanted the champion’s trophy, not the one for the runner-up, and then pretending to steal Pennetta’s $3.3 million check.

“We know each other since forever,” Pennetta said. “We spend so much time together, we could write a book about our lives.”

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

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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.