Bertens defeats Halep to win Western & Southern Open

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MASON, Ohio — Kiki Bertens served a 109 mph ace , flipped her racket away, fell to her knees and raised both arms. Moments later, she covered her face for a joyous cry, wiping the tears away with her sweat-soaked blue wristband.

One point away from another loss, she had pulled off her biggest win.

Top-ranked Simona Halep let a match point slip away during the second-set tiebreaker, and Bertens rallied for a 2-6, 7-6 (6), 6-2 victory and the Western & Southern Open title on Sunday that left her as stunned as everyone else.

“I cannot find words for this moment,” she said.

Playing her first hard-court final, the Dutch clay-court specialist ended Halep’s streak of nine straight wins, including the title at Montreal a week earlier. She’d never beaten a top-ranked player, but wore down Halep at the end of her two draining weeks.

During the week in Cincinnati, Halep had one match suspended overnight by rain and wound up playing twice in one day to reach the semifinals. She controlled the first set on Sunday and had a chance to close it out, leading 6-5 in the tiebreaker.

When that slipped away, she never recovered, playing her worst in the final set – 13 unforced errors that gave Bertens a chance to pull away.

“I am a little bit tired,” she said.

Halep will be ranked No. 1 through the U.S. Open. She fell to 0-3 in Cincinnati finals, finishing as the runner-up in 2015 and each of the last two years.

Bertens has worked on her hard-court game and her confidence on the surface. In three previous appearances in Cincinnati, she won a total of one match. She became the first unseeded player to win in Cincinnati since Vera Zvonareva in 2006.

In the men’s bracket, Novak Djokovic was looking for a breakthrough win against nemesis Roger Federer. Djokovic was 0-5 in Cincinnati, the only ATP Masters 1000 event he hasn’t won. He’d become the first to claim all nine.

Federer has won the tournament an unmatched seven times, going 7 for 7 in the finals. He’s beaten Djokovic three times for the Rookwood pottery trophy.

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.