Tommy Paul seeks Grand Slam success at French Open

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Tommy Paul paid close attention as his friends and countrymen Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka produced headline-worthy performances at the Australian Open.

Now Paul aims to make his own Grand Slam breakthrough when he heads to his first French Open main draw in two weeks, thanks to winning the U.S. Tennis Association men’s wild-card challenge.

“I’ve known Frances since I was 9. Known Reilly since I was 10. Known Fritz since I was 13. I love seeing them do well,” Paul said in a telephone interview. “I know how hard every single one of them works. All of them deserve it.”

At Melbourne in January, Tiafoe made his first major quarterfinal before losing to Rafael Nadal. Fritz got to the third round there for the first time before bowing out against Roger Federer. Opelka earned his first Grand Slam match win by upsetting No. 9 seed John Isner.

“Obviously, it’s a little bit of a motivator for me, because I see them doing that well in the tournaments and working so hard in practice – and I’m working just as hard as them,” said Paul, who grew up in North Carolina and now is based at the USTA national campus in Florida. “And I want to be exactly where they were during the Australian Open.”

Each member of that American quartet is 21; Paul turns 22 on Friday. They went through the junior ranks together and now give the country a crop of young talent pushing its way up the ranks in the pros.

“It’s a group that kind of came up together. Did really, really well at the junior level,” said Martin Blackman, the general manager of USTA player development. “They push each other, because … they all believe they can do similar things, I think. That positive peer pressure is a really healthy dynamic.”

Lauren Davis, a 25-year-old from Ohio, clinched the USTA women’s wild-card berth Sunday to secure a seventh French Open appearance. Davis is a former top-30 player whose ranking dropped to No. 264 last year after she sat out the clay-court circuit, citing fatigue.

Paul was the French Open junior champion in 2015, beating Fritz in the final to become only the second U.S. player since John McEnroe in 1977 to win the boys’ title there. Fritz defeated Paul in that year’s U.S. Open junior final.

At Roland Garros, where play begins May 26, Paul will be contesting his third main draw at a major tournament, after a pair of U.S. Open appearances.

Unlike many Americans over the years, he has an affinity for the slow surface used in Paris. That’s because he learned to play tennis on green clay.

“It was all we practiced on, all I played on, growing up. All I really knew,” Paul said. “I feel like it’s more like a crafty surface. You can mix in drop shots and you have to play a lot more different balls. A lot more factors into the game.”

Despite missing months at a time last season with an injured right elbow, and again this season because of a problematic left knee, he reached a career-high 136th in the ATP rankings last week.

“I’ve just been really impressed by how he’s worked and rehabbed. Just watching him put the work in every day. Taking care of his body. Taking ownership. Becoming more mature,” the USTA’s Blackman said. “That shows the self-awareness and maturity that’s just a huge part of a player being able to maximize their potential.”

Paul’s goal at the moment is to get into the top 50 by the end of the season; he knows the French Open provides an opportunity to take strides toward that.

He says “every part of my game has room for improvement,” and thinks the key is “having more of an open mind about trying to improve everything – off the court, especially.”

He went on: “Just doing everything a little bit more professional now. … Working with a psychologist on breathing or what to be thinking at certain times of a match. Or diet stuff, making sure I’m eating healthy. Doing my recovery. Talking to my team, to my coaches, to my agents, to my parents. Making sure everybody’s in the loop and we’re all doing everything we can to boost my game.”

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.