Hewitt set to end tennis career in his 20th Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — In one of his final media conferences as a player, Lleyton Hewitt told everyone on Saturday what they already knew – that’s he’s never lacked for motivation during a career which spanned three decades.

And also no surprise that the motivation part is what he’ll miss most when he concludes his injury-hit career at the Australian Open, his 20th appearance in his national championship and one which he’s never managed to win.

“That’s what’s pushed me the last few years: I don’t struggle for self-motivation, to get up early and do the hard work that no one sees,” Hewitt told a news conference also attended by his wife, Bec, and their three children.

“There’s no crowds or cameras around there. It’s just you in the gym or on the practice court. That’s one of the things I will miss, not having to go out there and push yourself day in and day out.”

Hewitt always pushed himself on court, and early in his career it sometimes got him into trouble with officials and opposing players. But the 34-year-old Hewitt has mellowed in his later years – he’s become a mentor to some of the younger Australian players, does a credible job as a television commentator and recently became Australia’s Davis Cup captain.

He’ll lead Australia into a World Group match against the United States in Melbourne in March, the first time the two-time Grand Slam winner (2001 U.S. Open, 2002 Wimbledon), hasn’t taken a racket on to the court in the team competition. When he did, he did his country proud – Hewitt had a 54-18 record in the Davis Cup, including 40-14 in singles, and holds Australian records for most singles wins, overall wins, matches played and years played in the Davis Cup.

He won his first tournament title in his hometown of Adelaide, South Australia, in 1998 at age 16 and went on to capture 29 more titles, including the two majors. Hip and foot injuries hobbled him over the past several years and he hasn’t been past the fourth round at a major since the 2013 U.S. Open.

At the Australian Open, where he’ll play his first-round match against fellow wild-card entry and countryman James Duckworth on Tuesday, he hasn’t made it past the second round since 2012. He lost the 2005 final to Marat Safin, the only time he’s made it past the fourth round.

Hewitt said he’s gained his most inspiration from 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, saying “I think it’s very hard to ever have a better ambassador than Roger for our sport.”

Federer, who lost to Hewitt seven of their first nine meetings but now holds an 18-9 career edge, returned the favor.

“I learned a lot from him,” Federer said during the Brisbane International last week. “How feisty he was, how tough he was. It’s definitely one of the reasons I’m the player I am today.”

Federer said then that he hoped to avoid Hewitt at the Australian Open, and he likely got his wish. As they’re on opposite sides of the draw, they could only meet in the final, an unlikely scenario for Hewitt, who became the youngest No. 1 at the age of 20 but is now ranked 306th.

“I’ve played Lleyton enough, I don’t need to play him again,” Federer said. “I’d rather see him giving his absolute best from now till the end of his career. I’ve been a big fan of him throughout.”

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.