Top-seeded Isner beaten in second round of ASB Classic

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Top-seeded John Isner was eliminated in the second round of the ATP Tour’s ASB Classic on Wednesday, losing 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) to fellow American Taylor Fritz.

On a good day for young Americans, Tennys Sandgren of the United States beat third-seeded Marco Checchinato of Italy 6-3, 6-3.

Isner’s defeat was another blow to a tournament already deprived of star power by the withdrawals of Gael Monfils, Roberto Bautista Agut and Tomas Berdych and the first-round losses of Hyeon Chung and Denis Shapovalov.

Fritz had lost to Isner in their two previous meetings but prevailed Wednesday in the face of Isner’s barrage of 26 aces. The 21-year-old Fritz, ranked 50th, managed to beat his 10th-ranked compatriot for the first time by winning a handful of key points in both tiebreaks.

“It feels great,” Fritz said. “John’s beaten me twice before and it was close.

“I really wanted to get the win on him and I knew I could. We had a lot of close points and it just feels really good to get through that.”

Fritz achieved the rare feat of breaking Isner’s serve in the fifth game of the first set. He earned three break points and Isner saved the first two with aces but Fritz converted the third for a 3-2 lead. Isner broke back immediately and held for the rest of the set to set up the tiebreak.

Fritz immediately grabbed a mini break and took a 3-0 lead. Isner battled back with two aces but couldn’t disrupt Fritz’s serve – he served 12 aces of his own – and the younger American took the set in 53 minutes.

The second set went to a tiebreak without a service break, Fritz saving the only break point of the set in the third game. Fritz again took the early advantage, gaining a mini break on the third point and serving for a 4-1 lead.

This time Isner broke back for 4-4 but Fritz took a point against serve again at 6-4, sweeping a backhand winner across court as Isner advanced on the net.

Fritz won more tiebreaks in 2018 than any other player and he put that ability to good use Wednesday to claim his fourth win over a top-20 player.

“I like to think that one of the strengths of my game is playing under pressure and playing the big moments well,” Fritz said. “More often than not in the matches I lose that’s where I get let down.

“So I’m happy to start every year and today as well playing well under pressure and handling those big moments well.”

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.