Inexperienced U.S. faces weakened Czechs in Fed Cup final

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PRAGUE — United States captain Kathy Rinaldi has had a winning formula since taking over the Fed Cup team, and she’s not expected to change anything in this year’s final against the Czech Republic.

Under her charge since 2017, the U.S. has won five straight matches, including last year’s final against Belarus.

“Being a captain for last year and this year, every match you go into it you never underestimate any team,” Rinaldi said Wednesday ahead of the weekend final on an indoor hard court at the O2 Arena in Prague.

“These are the two teams with most history in Fed Cup, the best record, so it’s very exciting. We’re honored and humble to be here. For me as a captain to be in the second final is absolutely incredible.”

On the way to the final, the Americans defeated the Netherlands 3-1 and France 3-2. But they have to rely on a different team in Prague.

After four of the top five U.S. women in the WTA singles rankings – the Williams sisters, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys – decided to skip the final, three players on the team have yet to play a Fed Cup match.

The 18-time champions have Danielle Collins as the highest-ranked player at No. 36, along with 52nd-ranked Sofia Kenin and 63rd-ranked Alison Riske. Nicole Melichar is ranked 15th in doubles.

“In sports, any given Sunday, anything can happen,” said Melichar, who was born in the second largest Czech city of Brno but has been living in the United States her whole life. “We have a great team, we’re going to go out and we’re going to fight.”

The Czechs have more reasons to worry about their sixth final in eight years.

After No. 8 Karolina Pliskova was ruled out of the final with calf muscle and wrist injuries on Saturday, Czech Republic captain Petr Pala had some more bad news to announce on Wednesday about Petra Kvitova.

“Petra had a fever,” Pala said. “After an agreement with the doctors we decided she wouldn’t be training (today).”

However, Pala added: “Nothing suggests she wouldn’t be available for the weekend.”

Missing Kvitova would be a blow for the Czech hopes. She contributed to all five previous titles, reaching fourth place among players with the most Fed Cup trophies.

Kvitova returned to the team this year after recovering from injuries she suffered during a knife attack at her home in December 2016 and won all her four singles matches on the way to the 3-1 victory over Switzerland in the first round and a 4-1 win over Germany in the semifinals.

Kvitova won five WTA tournaments in the first half of the year but lost all her group matches at the WTA Finals in Singapore last month.

The Czechs have the No. 1 doubles pair of Katerina Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova, and also 33rd-ranked Barbora Strycova available.

Siniakova, ranked 31st, is expected to play both singles and doubles.

“I just try to work this week to be ready,” she said.

The Czechs have never beaten the Americans in the Fed Cup. Their last victory came in 1985 as Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia won five titles.

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.