Simona Halep back in action at Sydney International

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SYDNEY — No. 1-ranked Simona Halep returns to competitive tennis this week at the Sydney International unsure if her back injury has fully healed.

It will be the first time Halep has played since the French Open champion ended her season in October due to a herniated disc in her back.

And while the injury didn’t require surgery, Halep, who has previously battled similar injuries during her junior years, has spent much of the past three months off the court.

“It was very scary because it was below the back, so it’s always dangerous. But I had treatment at home,” Halep said while sailing around Sydney Harbour on Sunday.

“I rested for about six weeks and I did nothing, just exercises for the back. I didn’t have pain while I was practicing this period, off-season. So now I feel confident and it’s OK. But I need to see during the official match.”

Halep got off to a strong start last year, reaching the Australian Open final (losing to Caroline Wozniacki) and claiming her first Grand Slam title in Paris (beating Sloane Stephens) before losing her final four matches of the season, including a first-round defeat at the U.S. Open.

She will start the season without a coach after Australian Darren Cahill said in November he wanted to spend more time with his family. Cahill, who has spent the past four years with Halep, is taking a 12-month break.

The 27-year-old Halep said she will not consider a new coach for at least the next few months.

“(He) was a very big part of my career and I want to thank him for that,” she said. “Together we won the Grand Slam that we always wished for. It’s going to be tough, I’m sure. … but he decided this and I fully understood because family comes first always.”

With a bye in the first round in Sydney, Halep will meet either Jelena Ostapenko or Ashleigh Barty in the second round before a possible quarterfinal against Karolina Pliskova.

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.