The Latest: Djokovic beats Seppi, reaches 4th round

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The latest from the Australian Open on Friday (all times local):

9: 40 p.m.

Defending champion Novak Djokovic, seeking a sixth Australian Open title, has advanced to the fourth round at Melbourne Park for the 10th consecutive year with a 6-1, 7-5, 7-6 (6) win over No. 28-seeded Andreas Seppi.At 6-4 down in the tiebreaker, Djokovic saved two sets points and then earned match point when Seppi netted a shot. He clinched it when Seppi missed a return.

The last time Djokovic failed to reach the round of 16 at a Grand Slam tournament was at the 2009 French Open

Djokovic won his first major here in 2008, and has since won Australian titles in 2011, ’12, ’13 and ’15.

He improved his record against Seppi to 12-0. Seppi has only won one set against Djokovic in nine matches on hard courts.

9:20 p.m.

Fernando Verdasco withdrew from the Australian Open doubles competition Friday, three days after beating 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal in the first round of the singles tournament and a day after his own exit in the second round.Verdasco beat Nadal in 4 hours, 41 minutes on Tuesday, then lost to Dudi Sela in four sets on Thursday.

On Wednesday, he and his doubles partner Robin Haase won their first-round match, and Verdasco said after his loss to Sela that the doubles encounter may have left him flat and tired for the singles.

On Friday, Vasek Pospisil of Canada and American Jack Sock won by a walkover when Verdasco’s foot injury left him unable to play.

8:25 p.m.

Defending and six-time champion Serena Williams is into the fourth round at the Australian Open after a 6-1, 6-1 win in 45 minutes over 18-year-old Russian Daria Kasatkina.

Williams won the first set of her Rod Laver Arena match in 22 minutes and was helped by four double-faults by Kasatkina.

Williams is spending her 153rd and 154th consecutive weeks at No. 1 during the two weeks of the Australian Open. That is the third-longest streak in WTA history after Steffi Graf’s 186 in a row and Martina Navratilova’s 156.

Williams next plays Margarita Gasparyan of Russia, who beat Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan 6-3, 6-4 earlier Friday.

6:40 p.m.

Roger Federer has won his 300th Grand Slam singles match, moving into the fourth round at Melbourne Park with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Grigor Dimitrov.

Federer is the first male player to reach 300 wins in majors – Jimmy Connors was next-best with 233 and Andre Agassi had 224.

Martina Navratilova, with 306, is the only player to have won more than 300 matches at majors. Chris Evert followed with 299 and defending Australian Open champion Serena Williams has 287.

Federer, a four-time Australian Open champion, beat Dimitrov in the quarterfinals at the Brisbane International two weeks ago, dropping a set to the Bulgarian player for the first time. Federer has now beaten Dimitrov in all five career meetings.

6:30 p.m.

Agnieszka Radwanska has reached the round of 16 at the Australian Open for the sixth straight year, beating Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig 6-4, 6-0.

Puig kept pace through the first eight games before the fourth-seeded Radwanska was finally able to break her and take the opening set. Puig didn’t win another game after that.

Radwanska said she wasn’t expecting such a tough challenge at the start of the match. She said Puig “was playing with amazing intensity, I was really in trouble in that first set.”

She also had her left ankle treated by a trainer, but shook off any injury concerns, saying, “pain is my second name.”

Radwanska next plays unseeded Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany, who edged 13th-seeded Italian Roberta Vinci 0-6, 6-4, 6-4.

5:10 p.m.

Lauren Davis was a little hungry after edging Maria Sharapova in a tight, second-set tiebreaker on Rod Laver Arena, so she decided to have a little snack in her courtside chair.

Some players go for a banana in those moments, but not Davis. She pulled out a jar of almond butter and ate a couple spoonfuls before starting the third set.

Davis said she needed an energy boost because she hadn’t had lunch before the match. She says, “I usually put the almond butter on the banana, but I thought that was a little too much this time.”

As for Sharapova, who won the third-round match 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-0, she sticks to energy bars and gels for her on-court snacking.

She says, “I don’t do bananas anymore.”

5 p.m.

Roberta Vinci has lost 6-0, 4-6, 6-4 in the third round of the Australian Open to Anna-Lena Friedsam in her first Grand Slam tournament since beating Serena Williams in the U.S. Open semifinals.

Williams’ loss to Vinci ended her bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam in 2015, just two wins short after claiming the titles at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon.

After producing one of the biggest upsets ever in women’s tennis, Vinci lost in the final to fellow Italian Flavia Pennetta.

Top-ranked Williams is still in contention in Melbourne, set to play her third-round match later Friday against Daria Kasatkina of Russia.

Friedsam had not advanced past the second round of six previous Grand Slams.

4:50 p.m.

Former finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has advanced to the fourth round at Melbourne Park with a 6-4, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (4) win over fellow Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

Tsonga and qualifier Herbert were two of the five French players into the third round from the 13 who started in the main men’s draw.

Tsonga, the 2008 runner-up to Novak Djokovic, reached the round of 16 for the seventh time.

4:10 p.m.

Roger Federer and Grigor Dimitrov experienced a rarity at Rod Laver Arena – a rain delay.

Dimitrov had just held serve to start the match when rain began falling and the match was briefly suspended while the roof was closed. It had been closed for Maria Sharapova’s earlier three-set win over American Lauren Davis, but it was re-opened for the start of the men’s match Friday.

Ball boys and girls used towels to wipe off the court while Federer and Dimitrov took shelter under shades usually used to protect players from the sun.

After about a 15-minute delay, play resumed.

The rain has prevented play Friday on outdoors courts. Seven doubles matches have been postponed.

3:35 p.m.

Maria Sharapova steadied herself and overcame a feisty opponent to beat American Lauren Davis 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-0 to reach the fourth round.

The five-time Grand Slam winner raced through the first set Friday in just 26 minutes, then struggled through a 77-minute second set before coming back in the third to earn her 600th career win.

Sharapova served 16 aces but made 42 unforced errors, compared to just 34 by her 103rd-ranked opponent.

The No. 5-seeded Sharapova faces Swiss teen Belinda Bencic in the next round and could meet top-ranked rival Serena Williams in the quarterfinals.

Sharapova hasn’t beaten Williams since 2004, losing their last 17 meetings, including last year’s Australian Open final.

3:15 p.m.

The rain is beginning to clear at Melbourne Park and tournament officials hope to get play on outside courts started.

Seven doubles matches have already been postponed until Saturday, and more could follow. Matches had been scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.

All but two of the 16 third-round men’s and women’s singles matches were scheduled Friday at the three stadiums which have roofs.

At Rod Laver Arena, the match between fifth-seeded Maria Sharapova and American Lauren Davis has gone to a deciding set after Sharapova won the first set 6-1 and Davis took the second-set tiebreaker 7-6 (5).

2:20 p.m.

Kei Nishikori has reached the fourth round for the fifth consecutive year with a 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

The Japanese player had a medical timeout at the end of the first set for a problem with his wrist, but didn’t look impeded as he closed out in the match in just under three hours.

He said after the match that after he got treatment, the wrist “got better.”

The seventh-seeded Nishikori saved eight of 11 break points, including three at 5-3 in the third set when he was serving for a two-sets-to-one lead.

1:05 p.m.

Belinda Bencic has become the first player to advance to the fourth round at Melbourne Park with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 win over Kateryna Bondarenko in the opening match Friday on Rod Laver Arena.

With the roof closed and play on outdoor courts delayed because of to steady rain, the 12th-seeded Bencic overcame a slow start to dominate the final two sets of the 1 hour, 50-minute match.

Bencic, the first Swiss woman to advance to the final 16 here since Martina Hingis and Patty Schnyder in 2007, will play either fifth-seeded Maria Sharapova or American Lauren Davis in the next round.

Tournament officials said play would not be possible on outdoor courts until at least 2:30 p.m., and the rain was still falling at Melbourne Park.

11:35 a.m.

Rain has delayed the start of play Friday on outdoor courts at the Australian Open.

Play began on time at the three covered stadiums, including a third-round match between 12th-seeded Belinda Bencic of Switzerland and Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine on the main Rod Laver Arena.

Over on Margaret Court Arena, seventh-seeded and 2014 U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori was playing Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain. At Hisense Arena, David Goffin played Dominic Thiem.

Defending champions Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams were set to play night matches Friday. The top-seeded Djokovic was scheduled to play Andreas Seppi while six-time champion Williams took on Daria Kasatkina of Russia.

Djokovic enters French Open with chance to top absent Nadal with record 23rd Slam title

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PARIS — For quite some time, Novak Djokovic made his long-term goal clear: He wanted to focus on accumulating Grand Slam titles in order to surpass the totals of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

With the French Open set to start without either Nadal (who is injured) or Federer (who is retired) for the first time since 1998, Djokovic finally gets the chance to lead the career standings alone with a men’s-record 23. If he winds up with the championship two weeks from now, Djokovic would break a tie with Nadal and have three more trophies than Federer finished with.

“It’s no secret that one of the main reasons I play today and compete in professional tennis is to try to break more records and make more history in tennis,” Djokovic said. “That’s extremely motivating and inspiring for me.”

His current collection of 22 majors – two at Roland Garros, in 2016 and 2021; three at the U.S. Open; seven at Wimbledon and 10 at the Australian Open, including this January – means he owns 16 more than the other 127 men in the bracket in Paris combined. Stan Wawrinka won three, while Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem have one apiece.

“Grand Slams are a different tournament, a different sport, in a way, because you’re playing best-of-five (sets), you are playing in the most important tournaments in the world,” said Djokovic, a 36-year-old from Serbia, “and the experience is on my side.”

It’s why when other players are asked who enters as the favorite in Nadal’s absence, they often mention two names: Alcaraz, who is ranked No. 1 and is 20-2 with a tour-high three titles on red clay in 2023, and Djokovic, who is just 5-3 this season on the surface used at the French Open.

Why point to Djokovic?

“Because Novak has won so many times,” said Casper Ruud, the runner-up to Nadal at Roland Garros and to Alcaraz at the U.S. Open last year. “This year’s clay season has been maybe not what he expected, but I’m sure he has good confidence in myself.”

Djokovic, for his part, pronounced the 20-year-old Alcaraz as “the biggest favorite,” citing “the last few months, and the kind of shape and the form that he’s having – and that I’m having.”

Djokovic is ranked No. 3 and could meet Alcaraz only in the semifinals.

The player with a chance to become the only man in tennis history with at least three titles from each major also mentioned several other contenders, including Ruud, Daniil Medvedev, Holger Rune, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Jannik Sinner.

Djokovic was in something of a contemplative mood on the eve of the event, explaining how much harder things are on his body at this age and that he views each Slam tournament he competes in nowadays “like a present” (leaving aside any discussion of majors he missed because he didn’t get vaccinated against COVID-19).

His most heartfelt comments came when he was asked about Nadal, the 14-time champion in Paris who has been sidelined since January with a hip injury.

After beginning with a joke that made reference to Nadal’s 8-2 edge head-to-head at Roland Garros – “Honestly, I don’t miss him being in the draw, you know” – Djokovic turned more serious.

He reflected on their intertwined paths and said he got emotional when hearing Nadal say 2024 probably will be his final year on tour.

“He’s my biggest rival. When he announced that he’s going to have his last season of his career, I felt part of me is leaving with him, too, if you know what I mean,” Djokovic said.

“I feel that he was one of the most, I would say, impactful people that I have ever had in my career, the growth of my career, and me as a player. Definitely a great motivational factor for me to keep playing and keep competing and keep pushing each other,” Djokovic continued. “Who’s going to achieve more? Who’s going to do better? It made me wonder. It made me think about my career and how long I’m going to play.”

And then he paused and smiled before delivering this line, perhaps for clarity’s sake, perhaps for the laughs he knew it would bring: “I’m not going to make any announcement today.”

Post-Serena, women’s tennis heads to French Open led by Big 3 of Swiatek, Sabalenka, Rybakina

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PARIS — All of those questions about who would step to the fore once Serena Williams walked away from the tennis tour – joining more recent No. 1 Ash Barty in retirement – seem to be getting answered with three names: Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina.

As the start of the French Open approaches, defending champion Swiatek is ranked No. 1, Sabalenka is No. 2 and Rybakina is No. 4. More to the point, perhaps, with a major trophy up for grabs on the red clay of Roland Garros: This group divvied up the past four Grand Slam titles, the prizes that help define greatness in their sport.

They are showing signs of forming a sort of “Big Three,” and while they’re not yet close, of course, to the level of dominance seen across decades from the so-called “Big Three” of the men’s game – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic each won more than 20 Slam championships – Swiatek, Sabalenka and Rybakina are beginning to be seen by some as setting up shop atop the WTA.

“They’ve kind of separated themselves a little bit from the rest of the pack,” said Jessica Pegula, a 29-year-old American who is ranked No. 3 and is a five-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, losing to Swiatek at that stage last year at the French Open and U.S. Open. “It just comes with the confidence of having a lot of big results and breaking through.”

Barbora Krejcikova, the 2021 French Open champion, put it simply: “They are the best three players that we have right now.”

Swiatek, a 21-year-old from Poland, is the reigning champion at Roland Garros and the U.S. Open; Sabalenka, a 25-year-old from Belarus, won the Australian Open this January by beating Rybakina in the final; Rybakina, a 23-year-old from Kazakhstan, won Wimbledon last July.

There’s more: At the two key U.S. hard-court tournaments this spring, Rybakina defeated Sabalenka in the final at Indian Wells, California, then was the runner-up in Miami. When the circuit moved to European clay, Swiatek got past Sabalenka in the final at Stuttgart, Germany, a result that was reversed when they met for the trophy again two weeks later in Madrid.

And at the last big clay tune-up for Roland Garros, Rybakina took the title in Rome after advancing when Swiatek stopped early in the third set of their quarterfinal with a right thigh injury (“Luckily, nothing serious happened,” Swiatek said).

“It’s good for tennis to see the top players consistently doing well. I think it’s pushing everybody to a next level and pushing everybody to do better and to play better. That’s how I was pushed by Iga last season,” Sabalenka said, referring to the way Swiatek compiled a 37-match winning streak that included six titles. “I think that’s something really important and good to see.”

These could be some riveting rivalries, in part because of the contrast in styles and personalities on display.

Swiatek and Rybakina are more reserved publicly. Sabalenka is never shy about letting her thoughts be known.

Swiatek is a master tactician who covers every inch of the court with defense that is as good as it gets. Sabalenka and Rybakina bring as much power as anyone around, starting with intimidating serves.

Rybakina is first on tour in aces this season with 278, a total more than 50 higher than any other woman. Sabalenka is third with 204. Swiatek rates second on tour (among women who have played at least five matches) by winning 48.6% of her return games in 2023.

“It’s nice to have somebody constantly kind of watching you. We played so many matches against each other that tactically we know (each other’s) game pretty well,” Swiatek said. “But we also have to kind of come up with some different solutions sometimes, which is pretty exciting, because I never had that yet in my career.”

And then, thinking about the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic matchups, she continued: “I think this is what the Big Three had to do, for sure, when they played like, I don’t know, 30 matches against each other or even more. So I’m happy to learn some new stuff. And also, for sure, we are all working really hard to kind of play better and better. It is an extra motivation, for sure.”

After defeating Swiatek 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in the Madrid final three weeks ago, Sabalenka expressed a sentiment that surely is shared by the other two members of this elite trio.

“Hopefully,” Sabalenka said, “we can keep doing what we are doing this season.”