Rusty Nadal struggles in loss to Gasquet in exhibition match

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Rafael Nadal struggled with his timing and normally potent shot-making as he started his delayed preparations for the Australian Open with an error-filled 6-4, 7-5 loss to Richard Gasquet in the Kooyong Classic exhibition event Tuesday.

Nadal’s readiness for the first Grand Slam of the year had been in doubt after the top-ranked Spaniard pulled out of an exhibition in Abu Dhabi and a tournament in Brisbane to start the season, citing his lack of preparation following an injury layoff at the end of 2017.

Nadal didn’t appear to be hindered by the lingering right knee injury that forced him to withdraw from the ATP Finals in November, but his uneven performance will likely lead to other questions about his match form heading into the Australian Open next week.

“It was a long year last year, so I had to start the preparation (for this season) a little bit later than usual. But here I arrive in plenty of time and it’s a good day to start feeling again … of playing a match,” Nadal said in an on-court interview following the match.

“It’s still a good test for me and a good practice and that’s the most important thing.”

He downplayed any concerns about his knee, saying, “If I’m not feeling good, probably I will not be here. So that’s the good news.”

Nadal had particular trouble with his forehand on Tuesday, repeatedly misfiring into the net or spraying his shots several feet beyond the baseline.

After Gasquet broke Nadal twice to take a 3-0 lead in the second set, however, the Spaniard suddenly began hitting the lines and playing with his usual intensity, fighting back to level the match at 3-all.

His concentration then appeared to dip again as he made several more unforced errors to drop serve to go down 6-5. Gasquet, who has never beaten Nadal in 15 competitive matches on the ATP Tour, then served out the match.

The Australian Open has already been hit by the withdrawal of three-time major winner Andy Murray, who has been sidelined by a hip injury since Wimbledon last year and underwent surgery on Monday in Melbourne after pulling out of the tournament.

Japanese star Kei Nishikori has also withdrawn with a wrist injury and Serena Williams pulled out after saying she wasn’t ready to defend her title following the birth of her daughter in September.

Novak Djokovic is also working his way back into top shape after sitting out the second half of 2017 with an elbow injury. He also withdrew from the Abu Dhabi exhibition event and Qatar Open at the start of the season, but was a late entry to the Kooyong Classic. He plays his first match since Wimbledon against No. 5 Dominic Thiem on Wednesday.

Nadal, who enjoyed a resurgent 2017 after losing in last year’s Australian Open final to Roger Federer, said despite the rustiness at Kooyong, he still believes he’ll be ready to compete at Melbourne Park next week.

“My idea is just to keep practicing hard the next couple of days to be ready for the beginning of the Australian Open,” he said.

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.