Pliskova beats Osaka to win Pan Pacific Open

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TOKYO — Naomi Osaka’s dominant run came to end on Sunday in a 6-4, 6-4 loss to fourth-seeded Karolina Pliskova in the final of the Pan Pacific Open.

Playing in her first tournament since upsetting Serena Williams to win the U.S. Open on Sept. 8, third-seeded Osaka hadn’t dropped a set previous to Sunday’s final but was frustrated from the outset by the big-serving Czech player.

Pliskova came into Sunday’s final having won her last four dating to the Brisbane International in January 2017 – and kept that streak alive while putting an end to Osaka’s 10-match winning streak.

Pliskova needed three dramatic sets in each of her matches to reach her second final of the season.

“I was just happy it didn’t go to a third set,” Pliskova said. “Naomi was playing so good all tournament but I think she was a little bit tired today.”

Osaka started well with a pair of aces to win the opening game but Pliskova won her first break point of the match and took a 3-2 lead.

The 20-year-old local favorite was barely tested in her first three matches of the tournament but faced a much sterner challenge against Pliskova.

The frustration boiled over when Osaka double faulted in the ninth game of the second set to set up Pliskova’s second break. The 20-year-old tossed her racket to the ground before collecting her composure, but it was too late.

Pliskova broke Osaka for a second time to go up 5-4 and then hammered her sixth ace to secure her 11th career title.

It was the second time Osaka came up short in the tournament. Two years ago, Osaka lost in the final to Caroline Wozniacki, this year’s top-seeded player who was eliminated by Camila Giorgi in the second round.

Osaka has been in the spotlight both on and off the court since arriving back in Japan after her historic win in New York.

Despite being encouraged by the sold-out crowd at Tachikawa Arena, Osaka wasn’t able to stage a comeback. She finished with 26 unforced errors and admitted to being exhausted after the match.

“I’ve literally never felt more tired in my entire life,” Osaka said. “To play the final of the U.S. Open and then to come here, I think I did pretty well. So if there is anything I can take from this it is that I am proud of myself.”

French players get life bans for fixing

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LONDON — Two low-ranked French players were banned from the sport for life after being found guilty of match-fixing by a hearing officer.

Jules Okala, a 25-year-old with a career-best ATP ranking of No. 338, and Mick Lescure, a 29-year-old with a top ranking of No. 487, “admitted multiple charges,” the International Tennis Integrity Agency announced.

Neither player is allowed to compete at – or even attend – any sanctioned event again.

Okala was found guilty of seven match-fixing charges and fined $15,000 in addition to the permanent suspension. Lescure was found guilty of eight charges and fined $40,000 on top of the ban.

The punishments come after both players were involved in law enforcement investigations in France and Belgium, according to the sport’s integrity agency.

Ash Barty wins Australia’s top sports award for second time

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Ash Barty’s Australian Open singles title in January was enough to ensure the former top-ranked player won Australia’s most prestigious annual sports award — despite retiring from the game less than two months later.

Barty has been given The Don Award, named after its most accomplished and famous cricketer Don Bradman.

Barty shocked the tennis world in March when she announced her retirement at the age of 25. The three-time major winner was the No. 1-ranked female player at the time of her retirement decision.

The Sport Australia Hall of Fame’s Don Award is given to an athlete or a team “which has provided the most inspiration to the country through performance and example in the past year.”

Barty (2019, 2022) joins Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sally Pearson (2012, 2014) and Olympic champion pole vaulter Steve Hooker (2008, 2009) as a multiple winner of the award.

Barty said she had decided before the Australian Open started that it would be her last major tournament.

“This year was certainly my most enjoyable Australian Open . . . because it felt free,” Barty said in a television interview. “I played without consequence, I played like a little kid. In my eyes, there was no pressure. It was just about me trying to redeem myself, in a way, and playing how I’d always wanted to play – go out there and play like the kid that fell in love with sport.”

Barty said she has no plans to return to tennis.

“In my mind there was never going to be a perfect ending, but it was my perfect ending,” Barty said of her retirement. “It was never about finishing on a win or on a really high emotional feeling. It was just about collectively, I felt it was right.

“Now (that decision) has led to nine months of just an incredible life off the court. It’s been amazing.”

Barty married her long-time partner Garry Kissick in late July. She also golfs frequently and is reported to be playing off a handicap of low single figures.