Top-seeded Kerber toils in win vs. Cibulkova at WTA Finals

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SINGAPORE — Top-seeded Angelique Kerber struggled to defeat seventh-seeded Dominika Cibulkova 7-6 (5), 2-6, 6-3 on the opening day of the WTA Finals in Singapore on Sunday.

Kerber, who secured the top ranking last month, battled Cibulkova for 2 hours, 17 minutes before the Slovakian finally succumbed.

“It was a really good match from both of us, especially the first set,” Kerber said. “It’s a good start to the tournament like this, where you knew you had to play your best to win.”

Earlier on Sunday, third-seeded Simona Halep won the first match of the round-robin portion of the tournament by taking a 6-2, 6-4 decision over sixth-seeded American Madison Keys.

In Red Group action, Kerber and Halep stand at 1-0, while Keys and Cibulkova are at 0-1.

On Tuesday, Kerber will play Halep, while Cibulkova and Keys, both making their WTA Finals debut, will play each other.

Kerber posted 29 winners and 32 unforced errors to 36 winners and 34 unforced errors for Cibulkova.

Cibulkova dropped serve in the opening game of the match, which initially allowed Kerber to establish a 4-2 lead in the first set.

Kerber didn’t hold on to the advantage, surrendering her own serve on a second double-fault in the eighth game.

That sent the first set to a tiebreaker where the German eventually prevailed.

“At the beginning I was too excited, but after a few games I started to play my game,” Cibulkova said. “It was a really tough one, really close, and in these kind of games it’s about the small details.”

Cibulkova dominated the second set, racing to 4-0 lead.

In the third, Cibulkova was temporarily in charge with a 2-0 lead, but lost five of the next six games to end up on the losing side of the result.

It’s been a stellar season for Kerber, who won her first two Grand Slam titles at the Australian and US Opens, and also brought home the Olympic silver medal from Rio.

Kerber’s never journeyed beyond the round-robin stage of the WTA Finals in three previous appearances in 2012, 2013 and 2015.

In the opening match, Keys played erratic tennis throughout the 69-minute contest, losing serve on four of 10 break points faced.

“I definitely think there were some nerves,” Keys said. “I think one of her strengths is making you feel like you have to go for more and take the risks. I think sometimes she makes me uncomfortable and I back away from playing my game.”

Keys held serve in the opening game of the match, but then saw Halep win the next five games for a 5-1 lead in the first set.

Halep lost an initial 4-2 lead in the second set, but from 4-4 won the final two games.

The Romanian reached the final here in 2014 and now holds a 5-1 head-to-head record against Keys.

“I think I played exactly what I had to play against her,” Halep said. “I was focused. Everything went as I wanted, so I’m happy.”

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.