Azarenka advances, Muguruza out in 3rd round in Australia Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka walked onto Rod Laver Arena knowing that the No. 2- and No. 3-ranked players were already out of the tournament and that the draw appeared to be opening up in her favor.

She blinked at first, when Japanese qualifier Naomi Osaka broke her at love in the first game of their third-round match, but recovered quickly and responded with a 6-1, 6-1 win in 56 minutes.

The 14th-seeded Azarenka, back in form after two injury-interrupted seasons, has dropped just five games in three matches at Melbourne Park after warming up with a title at the Brisbane International.

Azarenka had 24 winners to only four for Osaka, who was making her Grand Slam main draw debut.

“She’s a little unpredictable and she surprised me with her game,” said Azarenka, who signed off with a now-customary “dab” and discussion on dancing and music.

She will next play No. 48-ranked Barbora Strycova, who upset third-seeded Garbine Muguruza 6-3, 6-2 in the previous match on center court.

There’s three Australian Open champions remaining in the women’s draw – six-time winner Serena Williams and 2008 winner Maria Sharapova are on the other half and could meet in the quarterfinals.

Muguruza’s rapid rise to the No. 3 ranking sharpened the focus on her run in Australia, attention which only increased after No. 2-ranked Simona Halep and No. 8 Venus Williams, a seven-time major winner, lost in the first round.

It didn’t help Muguruza, though, with her loss to Strycova extending a disappointing follow-up in majors since a breakthrough run to last year’s Wimbledon final. She lost in the second round at the U.S. Open and her third-round exit here was worse than her two previous trips to Melbourne Park, where she reached the fourth round.

“Clearly not my best, for sure. I think today is a very bad day, you know, at the office,” she said. “I just couldn’t find the court, my shots. Yeah. Didn’t really find my game.”

Muguruza misfired frequently on her groundstrokes, finishing with 32 unforced errors, and appeared to be lethargic at stages of the match. Her loss left No. 7 Angelique Kerber as the highest-ranked player in the bottom half of the women’s draw.

Strycova has only been past the third round once before in 38 Grand Slams, and that was when she reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 2014. Knowing her next rival was likely to be the growing favorite, Azarenka, Strycova decided to stay in the moment.

“I will enjoy myself first because I beat No. 3 in the world,” she said.

Johanna Konta, who beat Venus Williams, became the first British woman to reach the fourth round at the Australian Open since Joe Durie in 1987, giving the Brits and Aussies something to celebrate.

Konta, who was born in Sydney and became a British citizen in 2012, beat Denisa Allertova 6-2, 6-2 and will next play No. 21-seeded Ekaterina Makarova, a semifinalist here last year, who had a 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 9 Karolina Pliskova.

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.