Bencic beats Vekic to move into U.S. Open semifinals

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NEW YORK — Belinda Bencic wore down Donna Vekic and advanced to her first Grand Slam semifinal with a 7-6 (5), 6-3 victory Wednesday at the U.S. Open.

Coming off her upset of top-ranked Naomi Osaka in the fourth round, the 12th-seeded Bencic kept up her big hitting and broke open a close match midway through the second set by winning eight straight points.

Trailing 3-2 in the set, that sent her into the lead and Vekic never recovered, with Bencic winning the final four games to surpass her 2014 run to the U.S. Open quarterfinals for her best performance in a major tournament.

“I just really like the challenge,” she said of playing in big matches. “I think some players are a little bit afraid of the big courts, but for me it’s more motivation.”

Bencic advanced to play either No. 15 Bianca Andreescu or No. 25 Elise Mertens on Thursday night. Six-time U.S. Open champion Serena Williams faces fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina in the other semifinal.

On the men’s side, Rafael Nadal tried to make sure the U.S. Open had one member of the Big Three in the semifinals when he faced No. 20 Diego Schwartzman on Wednesday night. No. 13 Gael Monfils of France and No. 24 Matteo Berrettini were playing in the other quarterfinal.

Vekic, seeded 23rd, was also seeking her first semifinal in a major tournament. But with her face bright red as the sun beat down on Arthur Ashe Stadium, she couldn’t keep up with her friend’s power during the biggest moments of the match.

“I think she was just playing better tennis overall today,” Vekic said. “I felt like I couldn’t get three good points together. I was, like, playing one point good, then bad.”

It was Bencic who cracked first, missing an easy putaway on game point while serving at 4-all in the first set. She momentarily seemed to lose focus, as Vekic then won the next three points to break for a 5-4 lead.

But Bencic broke right back to even it again and eventually they headed to a tiebreaker, where the 22-year-old Bencic has thrived this season. Trailing 2-1, she ran off five of the next six points before eventually wrapping it up to improve to 10-2 in tiebreakers this season.

Vekic recovered to take a 3-2 lead in the second set, but that 10-point fifth game seemed to take a little out of her, with Bencic running off the next eight points to seize the lead.

Bencic, who has dealt with injuries since her lone quarterfinal here five years ago, has worked in the past with fellow Switzerland native Martina Hingis. She is coached by her father, Ivan, whom she acknowledged during her postmatch interview.

“I think he almost died today as well by heart attack,” she said.

Nadal, who has won three of his 18 major titles at Flushing Meadows, will be playing in his 40th career Grand Slam quarterfinal. He is 7-0 against Schwartzman.

One men’s semifinal is already set, with No. 5 Daniil Medvedev facing Grigor Dimitrov, who eliminated five-time U.S. Open champion Roger Federer on Tuesday. Top-ranked Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, fell in the fourth round.

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.