Stephens provides boost for US in Fed Cup final at Belarus

Associated Press
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MINSK, Belarus — Sloane Stephens is back on the United States team for the Fed Cup final, and Victoria Azarenka is missing for Belarus.

That alone gives the early advantage to the Americans.

Stephens, who won the U.S. Open this year for her first major title, missed the opening two rounds of the international team competition because of a foot injury. But she is back and will be playing alongside CoCo Vandeweghe, Shelby Rogers and Alison Riske in the best-of-five series this weekend in Minsk.

“I’m happy to be back playing and happy the team made the finals,” the 13th-ranked Stephens said Wednesday. “It’s awesome I can be on this team.”

The United States is looking to win the Fed Cup for the first time in 17 years, while Belarus is playing in the final for the first time.

Stephens hasn’t played in the Fed Cup since the 2016 quarterfinals, but she said it’s been “no problem at all” slipping back onto the squad.

“Obviously, I’ve known these girls since I was 12-13 years old, so we’re all really good friends,” Stephens said. “It’s easy to be with girls you like, girls you have fun with and girls you’ve been around for a really long time.”

Stephens didn’t play from the 2016 Olympics through Wimbledon in 2017 and underwent foot surgery during that period. She arrived in Minsk after not winning any of the four matches she’s played since her surprise U.S. Open victory. She retired with a knee injury from her last match against Barbora Strycova in China last week.

Vandeweghe, in her first week at a career-high No. 10 ranking, won two Fed Cup singles points against Germany in the quarterfinals, and two singles and the doubles points against the Czech Republic in the semifinals.

But the U.S. Open semifinalist said she knows very little about this weekend’s competition, having never played Aryna Sabalenka, Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Vera Lapko or Lidziya Marozava.

“I feel like I’m coming in with wool over my eyes a little bit,” Vandeweghe said.

Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, is not playing in the final because of an ongoing custody dispute with the father of her infant son.

If U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi wins the title, she would be the first female to do so since Billie Jean King led the Americans to the last of their record 17 titles in 2000.

“It would be a great honor to be named as another female (champion) captain alongside Billie Jean,” said Rinaldi, who is in her first year as captain. “I spoke to Billie Jean before I came over. She had some very inspiring words for me.”

Tennis star Kyrgios to contest Australian assault charge

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CANBERRA, Australia – Tennis star Nick Kyrgios was due to appear in an Australian court Friday to apply to have an assault charge stemming from events two years ago dismissed on mental health grounds.

His lawyer Michael Kukulies-Smith appeared in a court in Kyrgios’ hometown of Canberra in October and asked for an adjournment so forensic mental health reports could be prepared.

Magistrate Glenn Theakston adjourned the case until Friday, when lawyers for the 27-year-old Australian are expected to apply to have the charge dismissed under a section of the local crimes law.

Kyrgios, a Wimbledon finalist last year, is set to appear in court in person for the first time since he was charged by police by summons in July last year.

His hearing was listed to start at 2:15 p.m. local time (0315 GMT).

The law gives magistrates the power to dismiss a charge if they are satisfied an accused person is mentally impaired, and if dealing with an allegation in such a way would benefit the community and the defendant.

The common assault charge, which has a potential maximum sentence of two years in prison, relates to an incident in January 2021 that was reported to local police in December that year.

The charge reportedly relates to an incident involving his former girlfriend.

Kukulies-Smith told the court his client’s mental health history since 2015 made the application appropriate, citing a number of public statements made by Kyrgios.

In February last year, Kyrgios opened up about his performance at the 2019 Australian Open, saying what appeared to be a positive time in his life had been “one of my darkest periods.”

“I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family and friends,” he wrote on Instagram. “I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone. This was a result of not opening up and refusing to lean on my loved ones and simply just push myself little by little to be positive.”

Kyrgios made further references to his mental health struggles during his runs to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open.

After ending Daniil Medvedev’s U.S. Open title defense in September last year to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios expressed pride at lifting himself out of “some really tough situations, mentally” and “some really scary places” off the court.

Theakston questioned whether Kyrgios would need to appear in court for Friday’s hearing, but Kukulies-Smith said his client wanted to attend.

Kyrgios had a career setback last month when he withdrew from the Australian Open because of an injured left knee that required arthroscopic surgery.

He was the runner-up to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon last year in singles and teamed with good friend Thanasi Kokkinakis to claim the men’s doubles championship at the 2022 Australian Open.

Kyrgios was considered the host country’s strongest chance to win a title at Melbourne Park last month before he had to pull out of the tournament. Djokovic went on to win the Australian Open singles championship for the 10th time.

Australian Open director: Novak Djokovic’s hamstring had 3-cm tear

Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said Novak Djokovic played at the Grand Slam event with a muscle tear of 3 centimeters – a little more than an inch – in his left hamstring along the way to winning the championship.

“He gets a bad rap, but at the end of the day, I don’t think anyone can question his athleticism. This guy, I did see, he had a 3-centimeter tear in his hammy,” Tiley said in an interview.

“The doctors are … going to tell you the truth,” Tiley said. “I think there was a lot of speculation of whether it was true or not. It’s hard to believe that someone can do what they do with those types of injuries. But he’s remarkable.”

Djokovic won the trophy at Melbourne Park by beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets for a record-extending 10th title there and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam trophy overall. Rafael Nadal is the only other man who has won that many majors.

The triumph also allowed Djokovic to return to No. 1 in the ATP rankings.

The 35-year-old from Serbia hurt his hamstring during a tune-up tournament in Adelaide ahead of the Australian Open. He wore a heavy bandage on his left thigh and was visited by trainers during matches in Week 1 in Melbourne.

He said he took “a lot” of painkiller pills and did various treatments to help the leg.

“Let me put it like this: I don’t say 100%, but 97% of the players, when you get results of the MRI, you go straight to the referee’s office and pull out of the tournament,” Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic, said after the final. “But not him. … His brain is working different.”