Novak Djokovic moves step closer to first Cincinnati title

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MASON, Ohio — Novak Djokovic closed in on the one title that has eluded him, reaching the final of the Western & Southern Open on Saturday with a three-set victory over Marin Cilic.

His 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win moved him one victory away from the only ATP Masters 1000 title he’s never claimed. Djokovic is trying to become the first to win all nine events since the series started in 1990.

One big hurdle: a potential rematch with Roger Federer, who faced David Goffin in the other semifinal. Federer has won an unprecedented seven Cincinnati titles, beating Djokovic three times in championship matches.

“It’s been a roller-coaster week with matches and the interruptions with the rain and all that’s happened,” Djokovic said.

Djokovic completed his long recovery from elbow surgery by winning Wimbledon for the fourth time last month. He then set out to get his hard-court game in form for the U.S. Open.

Along the way, he dearly wants to get a title in Cincinnati, where he’s 0-5 in the finals.

Frustrated by his ragged play early in his semifinal win over Milos Raonic, Djokovic slammed his racket on the court, sending pieces of the frame into the air. The racket-busting became a turning point.

When he closed out the victory Saturday, he walked calmly to the net to congratulate Cilic and then raised both arms in triumph.

In the women’s bracket, Kiki Bertens advanced to her first Western & Southern Open final, wearing down No. 8 Petra Kvitova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 for a chance at her second title of the season.

Bertens is an unexpected finalist, winning only one match during three previous appearances in Cincinnati. Her only title this season was at Charleston.

Known as more of a clay court player, Bertens has reached a hard-court final for the first time, spending more time getting accustomed to the different style of play.

“I think also I’m less stressed,” she said. “So before the match, I’m less nervous than I used to be. Before I was like, `Oh, I play on center court and a lot of people are watching.’ But now I’m just more relaxed.”

Top-ranked Simona Halep played later Saturday against Aryna Sabalenka, trying to reach the finals for the third time. Halep has never won a Cincinnati title, losing the final match last year to Garbine Muguruza.

A week of rain delays and double-duty days wore on players, many of whom wound up playing twice in a day. Kvitova faded in her second straight three-set match, ending her best showing in Cincinnati. She’d made five previous appearances in semifinals this season, winning each tournament.

“My legs were pretty heavy,” Kvitova said. “I just couldn’t really jump at all. It was very, very tiring, the second set, and I just think that I couldn’t really find energy in the third one. I was really trying, but nothing.”

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.