Things feel better for Naomi Osaka back in New York

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NEW YORK — Everything felt better for Naomi Osaka once she returned to the U.S. Open.

The knee injury that forced her to retire during her last match no longer is so painful.

The disappointment with her tennis that led her last month to say she wasn’t having fun playing has been replaced by calmness.

When she comes back to Flushing Meadows, she’s a champion.

And in many ways, she’s home.

“Yeah, I mean, I feel like I have a familiarity,” Osaka said Friday. “That’s not because I won last year. It’s because I have been kind of hitting on these courts since I was a kid. I used to train here.”

All that training paid off last year for the Japan native who moved to New York at age 3, when she beat Serena Williams in the tense and turbulent final for her first major title. The aftermath of the match was a battle of emotions for Osaka, the thrill of victory mixed with sadness over watching Williams’ meltdown after chair umpire Carlos Ramos had given her a warning for receiving coaching during the match.

Osaka, the No. 1 seed for the tournament that begins Monday, has put that night behind her. She declined Friday to discuss her relationship with Williams, who subsequently apologized to Osaka.

Besides, she’s had plenty of tougher times in tennis in the year since.

It certainly didn’t start that way, as she backed up the U.S. Open title by winning the next major at the Australian Open, and eventually climbed to No. 1 in the WTA rankings. But the 21-year-old lost in the third round at the French Open and was knocked out in the first round at Wimbledon, then took about a month off before starting her hardcourt season in Toronto.

Before ending that break, Osaka wrote a lengthy social media post in which she said she’d had some of the worst months of her life and probably hadn’t had fun playing tennis since Australia. Things have since changed, she said.

“I took, like, a break sort of and kind of relaxed my mind and realized that you have to have fun doing what you love,” Osaka said. “For me, I love tennis. Sometimes I feel like I don’t, but I wake up every morning and if I don’t play, I feel like I kind of have done nothing during the day.”

She went on to reach the quarterfinals in both events since, but had to stop playing in the third set of her match against Sofia Kenin in the Western & Southern Open because of discomfort in her left knee. She wouldn’t specify the nature of the injury, but said she’s able to play more lately and is healing well.

And like the knee pain, the frustrations with tennis will eventually lessen as well.

“I’m sure it’s going to be OK. I think time will help her to get back to normal,” said fellow Japanese star Kei Nishikori, a friend and the 2014 U.S. Open runner-up. “I think it’s normal to have that feeling. Of course, she suddenly gets No. 1, winning two Grand Slams, be No. 1, like straightaway. She’s still young.”

She can rely on her comfort in New York and her confidence on its courts, unlike some players. Wimbledon champion Simona Halep has been knocked out in the first round the last two years and has acknowledged that the bright lights and the big city aren’t exactly her scene.

She’s working on it, going out to restaurants in the city and spending time in Central Park, in hopes that the noise in the arena won’t be so jarring once she takes the court.

“I try to adjust myself as much as possible to this atmosphere. It’s loud and it’s different. Many people around,” Halep said. “I like it, but being a spectator. Being a player, it’s a little bit tougher for me, but year by year I’m getting better. So I have to work to improve more.”

Osaka doesn’t have to worry about that, having lived in the city for around five years when she was younger. She made it to the third round in 2016 and ’17 before her breakthrough last September, and that has her thinking the next few weeks will be better than her previous few months.

“I’m not sure if it’s because the last couple of months have been kind of turbulent, but definitely I feel really comfortable and I know that, despite everything, I play well here every year,” Osaka said. “So I’m not too worried about that.”

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.