Argentina beats Croatia 3-2 to win its 1st Davis Cup title

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ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) Argentina won its first Davis Cup title on Sunday when Federico Delbonis swept past Ivo Karlovic in straight sets to complete a stunning 3-2 comeback win over Croatia.

Delbonis dropped to the ground after his 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory. His teammates fell into each other’s arms and celebrated in front of thousands of Argentine fans in the packed Arena Zagreb.

This was the first Davis Cup title for Argentina in the fifth final it has played since 1981. Croatia won in 2005.

Going into the reverse singles Sunday, the Croats were leading 2-1 in the best-of-five-series after winning the doubles on Saturday.

Juan Martin Del Potro then rallied from two sets down to beat Marin Cilic 6-7 (4), 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3 as Argentina drew level at 2-2.

With the victory, Argentina became only the third team to come back from 2-1 down in the final since the World Group Davis Cup format was introduced in 1981.

Delbonis went up a break in the first two sets and added two more in the third when Karlovic sent a forehand wide for the victory.

The 41st-ranked Argentine passed the big-serving Croat veteran at ease throughout the 2:09-hour match.

“This is fabulous,” Delbonis said. “We somewhat felt we could do it despite trailing after the doubles.”

The comeback started with Del Potro’s heroics that included a finger injury in the fifth set against Cilic.

“I was calm, I hoped all the time that I could win and I did it,” said Del Potro, displaying a bandage on his little finger on his non-racket left hand.

He said the injury happened in the fifth set while he was trying to catch a ball.

“I’m very happy to hand my team a chance of a victory,” Del Potro said.

The action-packed match at Arena Zagreb that lasted nearly five hours saw plenty of drama created by two players with similar styles.

“It is very difficult to lose such an important match,” Cilic said. “I feel a lot of disappointment.”

Cilic had a furious start to race to a 3-0 lead including a break in Del Potro’s first service game. The Croat capitalized on the first of three break points with a cracking forehand winner.

Del Potro fought back in the seventh game with Cilic under pressure at deuce. Two ground strokes, first a forehand long then a looping backhand, saw Del Potro break at the sixth attempt.

In the tiebreaker, Cilic raced to a 5-0 lead to seal the game with a slice backhand down the line that Del Potro could not control.

Under pressure after losing his fourth straight tiebreaker during the finals, Del Potro started the second set slowly and dropped his serve in the fifth game with a double fault and another in the seventh at love.

At that point, Cilic seemed to be cruising toward victory with some spectacular ground strokes that the tired-looking Argentine watched in disbelief.

But then Del Potro, who has recovered after two injury-hit years, showed the form he displayed in beating now top-ranked Andy Murray as Argentina knocked out holder Britain in the semifinals.

He broke Cilic in the 12th and 10th games in the third and fourth sets respectively to send the match into the decider.

“After losing the third set, I was still confident I could win as he looked tired,” Cilic said. “I started pushing a bit too hard, handing him a chance for a comeback.”

Trailing 15-40 in the eighth game of the final set, Cilic sent a forehand beyond the baseline to give Del Potro the decisive break. He served out the match to keep Argentina alive.

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.