Pliskova gives Czech Republic 1-0 lead in Fed Cup final

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STRASBOURG, France — Defending champion Czech Republic took a 1-0 lead over France in the Fed Cup final on Saturday after sixth-ranked Karolina Pliskova won a marathon third set against Kristina Mladenovic.

Pliskova recovered from a second-set blip to beat Mladenovic 6-3, 4-6, 16-14 after the French player came close to achieving a stunning comeback on the indoor hardcourt at Rhenus Sport arena.

Pliskova used her deep groundstrokes to take control of the match at first, but showed her nerves midway through the second set, allowing Mladenovic back into the match with a series of mistakes.

Mladenovic then rallied from 5-2 down in the decider and saved two match points with two big serves, including an ace, to level at 9-9. The Frenchwoman cracked on her serve in the 30th game when she was broken at love.

Mladenovic got off to a nervous start and was broken on her first service game of the match after hitting a double-fault. Pliskova, on the other hand, looked comfortable and quickly found her range with big forehand winners and deep returns.

Positioned well inside the court, the U.S. Open runner-up dictated from the baseline, but Mladenovic gradually found her rhythm and put her opponent under pressure in the sixth game with a series of good returns. Mladenovic converted her third chance when Pliskova double-faulted.

The change in momentum did not last long, though, as Pliskova capitalized on her opponent’s poor second serve to break in the next game. Mladenovic saved one set point at 5-3 but another double fault gifted Pliskova the opener.

The trend continued early in the second set as the Czech displayed her vast array of shots to keep Mladenovic at bay.

But Pliskova put herself into trouble when she double-faulted four times in the seventh game to drop her serve and bring Mladenovic back in the match.

Once again the big-hitting Mladenovic failed to hold when it mattered, and Pliskova broke back before being undone by her mistakes in the next game. This time, Mladenovic did not let her nerves get the better of her, firing a deep forehand winner on her first set point to level.

Pliskova broke in the sixth game of the decider, but failed to hold when she served for the match at 5-3. With the set at 9-9, Mladenovic received medical treatment at the changeover and returned on court with her left thigh bandaged. She did not seem hampered in her moves afterward, getting involved in long rallies although she tried to shorten points at the net.

Pliskova finally won – taking the 30th game with ease – in a match that lasted 3 hours, 48 minutes.

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.