Croatia ease to 2-0 lead over France in Davis Cup final

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LILLE, France — Croatia is on the verge of its second Davis Cup crown after Borna Coric and Marin Cilic dispatched their France rivals in the opening singles of the final on Friday.

Croatia, which won its sole title in 2005, leads 2-0 and just needs one more point to depose the defending champions in northern France this weekend.

The Croatians clearly have the best players, who have not lost away from home since 2015. History also plays in their favor: Since Australia in 1939, no team has recovered from a 2-0 deficit in a final.

A glimmer of hope remains for the hosts, though, with Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. The French pair reached the final at the ATP Finals last week and is slightly favored against Mate Pavic and Ivan Dodig in Saturday’s doubles.

After Coric dismantled Jeremy Chardy 6-2, 7-5, 6-4, the seventh-ranked Cilic beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 on the indoor clay court at Pierre Mauroy Stadium.

France hoped the slow surface would be a problem for Cilic and Coric, who had to quickly adapt to clay after playing last week on a hard court at the ATP Finals in London. Cilic played in the elite event, while Coric practiced as a reserve.

But the Croats were unfazed and excelled in front of a hostile crowd.

Tsonga faced an onslaught from Cilic in the opening set and had no answers.

Cilic won his first three service games at love, broke for 4-2 after Tsonga made a couple of backhand errors, and held at love again to seal the opener.

The Frenchman, who was sidelined for seven months until September because of a knee injury, played too short when not hitting too long, and exposed himself to Cilic’s ferocious forehand attacks.

In a tight second set, Cilic coped with the pressure to save two break points in the eighth game, and Tsonga cracked with unforced errors. A backhand wide handed Cilic a 6-5 lead and the former U.S. Open champion wrapped up the set at love on serve.

He broke again for 3-2 in the third set after a Tsonga double fault, and held on.

Earlier, the 12th-ranked Coric was flawless.

Chardy was picked by captain Yannick Noah ahead of 2017 star Lucas Pouille to play in his first Davis Cup final. He was overwhelmed by Coric’s deep groundstrokes in the first set, dropping 14 consecutive points at one point to trail 4-0.

The Frenchman changed his strategy in the second set and tried to force Coric into longer rallies but failed to convert his rare chances. Despite vociferous support from the crowd which often showed no respect for Coric by applauding his first service errors, Chardy missed two break points in the fourth game.

Coric broke for 6-5 after hitting a superb lob that Chardy could not return, followed by a pin-point forehand return that pushed the Frenchman to commit a mistake.

In the last set, Coric earned another break in the third game. After getting his legs massaged by Croatia captain Zeljko Krajan, he briefly left the court after the seventh game for treatment but did not look hampered once he returned.

Croatia is trying to win its second Davis Cup title in its third final, while defending champion France is bidding for an 11th title.

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.