Stephens recovers to advance to Sydney quarters

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SYDNEY — Defending champion Angelique Kerber moved into the Sydney International quarterfinals after beating Camila Giorgi 7-6 (3), 6-2 on Tuesday.

The second-ranked Kerber was under serious pressure in the first set before holding firm in the tiebreaker, then went down an early break before winning the last six games.

After a first-round bye, the Wimbledon champion is on a 5-0 roll to start the season after winning all of her singles matches at the Hopman Cup last week.

“It’s always tricky to play against her, because she’s hitting the balls really hard, especially in the first set,” Kerber said. “I played Perth last week, but now you have the tournament feeling again.”

Sloane Stephens dropped three service games in the first set and was only two points from defeat in the second before finding a way to hold off Ekaterina Alexandrova 0-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3) for her first win of the season.

Alexandrova had a chance to serve for the match at 5-3 in the second set and led 4-2 in the third but fourth-seeded Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, rallied to survive the round.

“I was, like, `It’s not going to get any worse than this … I might as well just play,”‘ Stephens said of her first set.

“I know at some point that I’d be able to win a game, I would hope, so just try and do that.”

Stephens will next play Yulia Putintseva.

Ash Barty ousted 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-3 to advance to a second-round meeting with No. 1-ranked Simona Halep.

On another rain-interrupted day in Sydney, Aliaksandra Sasnovich ousted No. 8-seeded Daria Kasatkina 6-1, 6-4, 2015 Sydney champion Petra Kvitova had a 6-1, 7-5 win over Aryna Sabalenka, Hsieh Su-wei beat Danielle Collins 7-6 (4), 6-3, and Priscilla Hon defeated Tatjana Maria 6-3, 7-6 (4).

No. 7 Kiki Bertens advanced to the quarterfinals when Garbine Muguruza withdrew from the tournament because of illness.

In the men’s draw, eighth-seeded Andreas Seppi advanced 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 over Jeremy Chardy, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez beat Denis Kudla 7-5, 6-4, and Andrey Rublev ousted No. 6-seeded Lucas Pouille 6-2, 6-3.

Seventh-seeded Marton Fucsovics beat James Duckworth 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 and John Millman rallied to hold off Frances Tiafoe 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-5.

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.