Djokovic offers a healthy choice ahead of Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic doesn’t really need to offer sweeteners to attract a crowd at the Australian Open.

Still, in what has become something of a tradition, he handed out some delicacies at his news conference on Sunday. He doled out chocolates at his first meeting with media at previous Australian Open tournaments and it’s worked – no man has won more titles here than Djokovic in the Open era.

Ahead of his title defense, and a bid for a record-equaling sixth Australian title (Roy Emerson won six in the 1960s before the Open era started), the No. 1-ranked Djokovic only slightly tweaked his recipe for success. The treats this time where “healthy, energy balls,” he told the assembled crowd. “They’re nice, still sweet – you’ll like them.”

It goes with his strict diet, one of the factors in his improved ability to handle the weather conditions in Melbourne which can range from extreme heat to cold and windy on the same day.

“It’s what I have on a daily basis,” he explained of the chocolate-looking balls, explaining the contents as “different super foods – and nuts and plant-based milk with cocoa and so forth. Pretty healthy stuff.”

Whatever the ingredients, it must be working.

Djokovic struggled earlier in his career with the heat at Melbourne Park, where he won his first major in 2008. He can handle all kinds of weather and court surfaces now, evidenced by his 2015 season when he lost only one match at Grand Slams – the French Open final.

That “was the best season and best year of my life undoubtedly. I enjoyed every moment spent on the court,” Djokovic said. “I’ll try to obviously carry that confidence and high level of performance that I’ve had, especially toward the end of the year, into the new season.

“The opening week of the year in Doha went extremely well for me. I haven’t dropped a set. I’ve been preparing well, taking some time to really work on certain things, get a good foundation.”

After losing a lopsided final to Djokovic in Doha, 14-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal described the Serbian player’s level as close to perfection. Roger Federer, who has won 17 majors but hasn’t added to his tally since 2012, agreed Djokovic was the clear favorite at Melbourne Park after winning four of the last five titles.

The defending champions will feature in back-to-back matches on Rod Laver Arena on Monday afternoon, with Serena Williams opening her title defense against Camila Giorgi of Italy and Djokovic on next against Chung Hyeon of South Korea.

Federer, who is on the top half of the draw with Djokovic, will feature in the first night match on the center court against Nikoloz Basilashvili. Maria Sharapova, the 2015 finalist, Genie Bouchard, Sloane Stephens and former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki are in action in the women’s draw, which starts on Rod Laver Arena with sixth-seeded Petra Kvitova against qualifer Kumkhum Luksika of Thailand.

The bottom half of both singles draws will start Tuesday, when No. 2-ranked Andy Murray will launch another bid for a drought-breaking title in Australia and 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka will play. Murray has ended long streaks for British men by winning titles at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon before capturing the Davis Cup. He has played in four finals at Melbourne Park, and lost them all. And even if he gets there again, he may not play if his wife, Kim Sears, goes into labor in London with their first child. The baby is due in February. The men’s final is scheduled for Jan. 31.

Djokovic, who beat his long-time friend in the finals here in 2011, ’13 and ’15, said while it was too early to be speculating about the final, he respected Murray’s position.

“Considering his situation … of course I support and I agree with his decision. I would do the same,” he said. “I just became a father almost 15 months ago. I understand the position that he’s in.

“He’s one of the favorites to win this trophy … but yet again, he understands that there are some other priorities in life. I’m glad he’s thinking that way.”

Novak 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.