Nadal pain-free in first-round win at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — If Rafael Nadal gave the Australian Open a throwback feel last year with his straight-out-of-the-mid-2000s final against Roger Federer, he’s completed the retro effect this year with a return to his sartorial roots – a sleeveless T-shirt.

Matching the muscle-exposing Nike tank top with neon pink shorts, wristbands and headband, Nadal also found his championship form again in a 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 rout of 37-year-old Victor Estrella Burgos in the first round at Melbourne Park.

The top-ranked Spaniard, who made a splash as a teenager with his trademark sleeveless shirts and knee-length pirate pants, came into this year’s Australian Open with questions about his health and readiness to compete following a taxing season that saw him capture two Grand Slams and return to No. 1.

Nadal had been forced him to withdraw from the ATP Finals in November due to a lingering right knee injury, and when the pain persisted, he also pulled out of a season-opening exhibition event in Abu Dhabi and his first tournament in Brisbane.

With only a few exhibition matches last week to test his form, Nadal had doubts he’d be ready to go in time for the first major of the year. But a dominant performance against Estrella Burgos – he had 28 winners and saved five of six break points he faced – left him feeling positive about his start in Melbourne.

“If I don’t feel myself ready, I will not be here. So I am happy to be here, happy that I’m on court again,” he said.

With several top seeds falling on the women’s side, including 2017 Australian Open finalist Venus Williams and U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, the men’s draw was largely spared similar upsets.

Third-seeded Grigor Dimitrov advanced with a routine 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 win over qualifier Dennis Novak, while No. 6 Marin Cilic topped Vasek Pospisil 6-2, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (5) and local favorite Nick Kyrgios looked sharp in a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Rogerio Dutra Silva.

“Obviously I know I’m hitting the ball well,” Kyrgios said. “But to go out there in front of the crowd again, just trying to play well, I was a bit nervous going out there. (I’m) happy to get through.”

No. 10 Pablo Carreno Busta, No. 23 Gilles Muller, No. 24 Diego Schwartzman, No. 28 Damir Dzumhur, No. 30 Andrei Rublev and No. 31 Pablo Cuevas also advanced.

No. 8 Jack Sock, No. 11 Kevin Anderson and No. 16 John Isner were among the losers.

For Sock, who lost to Yuichi Sugita 6-1, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-3, it was a disappointing result given the impressive way he finished last season with a maiden Masters win in Paris and a first-time appearance at the ATP Finals. He came to the Australian Open sporting a career-high ranking of No. 8 and his highest-ever seed at a major.

The American said, however, that he felt the same as Nadal after a lengthy 2017 – physically spent and lacking enough of an off-season to recover fully.

“It’s just a weird feeling because you’re just on the highest of highs after making it (to the ATP Finals),” he said. “And then it’s back to reality and the grind of it.”

Like Nadal and other top players, he said he’s going to be smarter about his schedule now that he’s among the elite on the tour.

His goal for 2018? “Win a match would be a good start,” he deadpanned.

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.