Women’s tennis elite shaking off injuries, colds at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Before the sneezing and sniffling set in, the world’s No. 2-ranked women’s tennis player listed her goals for the year.

Top priority: “Just to stay healthy,” Simona Halep said without hesitating.

Almost as an afterthought, the rising 24-year-old Romanian who was a finalist at the 2014 French Open added that her biggest goal was “to win a Grand Slam.”As the 2016 Grand Slam season kicks off Monday at the Australian Open, Halep is hardly alone in her quest to stay off the injured list and win a major. Most of the top 10-ranked women’s players started the year with injuries or illness that forced them to retire or withdraw from tournaments in the first weeks of the season.

They include: No. 1 Serena Williams (Hopman Cup/left knee), No. 2 Halep (Brisbane/left ankle), No. 3 Garbine Muguruza (Brisbane/ left foot), No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska (Sydney/leg injury), No. 5 Maria Sharapova (Brisbane/ left forearm), and No. 6 Petra Kvitova (Sydney/ stomach virus).

“I think tennis is a sport that really beats your body,” Williams, a six-time Australian Open winner, said at her pre-tournament news conference on the weekend. “You start at such a young age, train for so many years. You’re so consistent with that training for hours and hours a day. Then you do physical training… a lot goes into tennis.”

The 21-time Grand Slam winner doesn’t like to dwell on weaknesses and did not want to discuss the inflammation in her left knee that forced her to withdraw from her season-opener at the Hopman Cup.

“It’s actually really fine. I don’t have any inflammation anymore,” Williams said. Asked if she might need surgery, she added, “I’m totally – I don’t think I would need surgery at all.”

Williams starts her tough road to another title on Monday with an opener against Camila Giorgi, the highest ranked of the unseeded players in the women’s draw. Williams may have to face former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round and No. 5-ranked Maria Sharapova in a quarterfinal match that would feature last year’s finalists.

Sharapova enters with her own injury concerns after withdrawing as defending champion from the Brisbane International because of soreness in her left forearm.

But the five-time Grand Slam winner says she is now “feeling really good,” despite the lack of a warm-up tournament.

“I might be rusty, make a few more unforced errors than I would like but I’m ready to go,” Sharapova said.

Halep and Muguruza are on the other half of the draw and start Tuesday, along with two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka – who is healthy, uninjured and confident after winning her first title since 2013 at the Brisbane International last week.

“I feel good. Feeling excited,” said Azarenka, whose dominant run in Brisbane puts her on the shortlist to win in Melbourne.

Halep was less exuberant but described herself as having been pain-free in the past few days.

“I’m much better. I’m OK. I can say I feel good now,” Halep said Sunday. “I played many days without pain. So I feel ready to start and hopefully to be healthy till the end.”

She spoke with a raspy voice, but said that was the least of her concerns.

“I’m a little bit sick, with a cold, yeah, with my nose. It’s nothing dangerous,” she said, attributing her sniffles to air-conditioning in Melbourne where the weather is famously variable and in the past week has shot up to 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit) and dropped to 13 (55).

As the English speaking media filed out and Romanian reporters stayed behind, she joked, “Now I can relax.” She sneezed and then reached for a tissue.

Tennis star Kyrgios to fight charge on mental health grounds

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CANBERRA, Australia – Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios will apply to have an assault charge dismissed on mental health grounds, his lawyer told an Australian court on Tuesday.

Lawyer Michael Kukulies-Smith appeared on behalf of Kyrgios in a court in the tennis star’s hometown of Canberra and asked for an adjournment so forensic mental health reports could be prepared.

Magistrate Glenn Theakston adjourned the case until Feb. 3, when Kyrgios’ lawyers are expected to apply to have the charge dismissed under a section of the local crimes law.

The 27-year-old Australian tennis star will appear in court in person on that date for the first time since he was charged by police by summons in July.

The law gives magistrates the power to dismiss a charge if they are satisfied an accused person is mentally impaired, and dealing with an allegation in that way would benefit the community and the defendant.

The common assault charge, which has a potential maximum sentence of two years in prison, relates to an incident in January 2021 that was reported to local police last December.

The charge reportedly relates to an incident involving his former girlfriend.

Kukulies-Smith told the court his client’s mental health history since 2015 made the application appropriate, citing a number of public statements made by Kyrgios.

In February, Kyrgios opened up about his performance at the 2019 Australian Open, saying what appeared to be a positive time in his life had been “one of my darkest periods.”

“I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family and friends,” he wrote on Instagram. “I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone. This was a result of not opening up and refusing to lean on my loved ones and simply just push myself little by little to be positive.”

Kyrgios made further references to his mental health struggles during his runs to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open.

After ending Daniil Medvedev’s U.S. Open title defense last month to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios expressed pride at lifting himself out of “some really tough situations, mentally” and “some really scary places” off the court.

Theakston questioned whether Kyrgios would need to appear in court for the February hearing, but Kukulies-Smith said his client wanted to attend.

Kyrgios was scheduled to play at the Japan Open later Tuesday against Tseng Chun-hsin of Taiwan.

Speaking in Tokyo before his matter returned to court, Kyrgios said it was “not difficult at all” to focus on tennis despite the pending charge.

“There’s only so much I can control and I’m taking all the steps and dealing with that off the court,” he told reporters. “I can only do what I can and I’m here in Tokyo and just trying to play some good tennis, continue that momentum and just try to do my job.”

Wimbledon champ Rybakova beats Keys in Ostrava opener

Agel Open Ostrava - Day One
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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic – Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakova came from a set down to defeat Madison Keys 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 in the first round of the Agel Open on Monday.

Rybakova had lost to Keys this year at the French Open and Cincinnati.

In other first-round matches in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava, Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia defeated Zhang Shuai of China 6-3, 6-3, and local hope Petra Kvitova overcame American Bernanda Pera 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

Fresh from her second title of the year in Seoul last month, Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia knocked out former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.