Heated Medvedev wins QF for Russia; Australia beats Britain

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SYDNEY — Daniil Medvedev was docked a point for twice banging the umpire’s chair with his racket in a heated second set before he recovered to secure Russia’s semifinal spot at the ATP Cup with a win over Argentine opponent Diego Schwartzman.

The fourth-ranked Medvedev blamed the meltdown on jet lag from Russia’s cross-continental journey from Perth to Sydney – including an overnight stop in Melbourne – between the group stage and the quarterfinals.

He said he expected to get a fine for the code violation but otherwise was satisfied to win the “super tough match” 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 on Thursday to secure Russia’s win over Argentina before the doubles. Karen Khachanov had given Russia the lead when he beat Guido Pella 6-2, 7-6 (4).

“I didn’t have anything near me to hit at than the chair … so just hit one thing with the racket,” he said. “I got a code violation which I deserve – the second one is no question. Then we moved on.”

There were some other positives, Medvedev said, listing the fact that the he didn’t damage the chair, injure anybody or break his racket when he hit Mohamed Lahyani’s chair in a heated exchange after dropped serve in the seventh game of the second set.

The Russians spent the afternoon watching the broadcast of Australia’s 2-1 win over Britain in the first of the quarterfinal matches, when Alex de Minaur and Nick Kyrgios combined to edge Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury 3-6, 6-3, 18-16 on their fifth match point.

Kyrgios gave Australia the lead with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Cam Norrie in the opening singles but de Minaur lost to Dan Evans 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (2), meaning the result would hinge on the doubles.

The tension in the night matches started at the end of the first set. Medvedev had set point on serve but was broken in a game lasting 8+ minutes. He broke back to win the set but then exchanged words with Schwartzman as both players went to their team zones at each end of the court.

Lahyani got out of his umpire’s chair to get between the players, and later gave Medvedev a code violation for unsporting conduct for going on with the verbal exchange.

Seven games later, Medvedev approached the chair to get clarification on the code violation. He tapped the umpire’s chair and was warned for it, and then hit again and got a point penalty, meaning Schwartzman started the next game with a 15-0 lead.

Medvedev said he got the second code violation for arguing about the first one, “because I didn’t hear it.”

“I will probably talk to Mohamed to see why I got it, because I don’t know why I got it,” Medvedev said.

Schwartzman held on to his break and leveled the match on his fifth set point. But Medvedev, who lost an almost five-hour U.S. Open final to Nadal last year, regained his composure in the third set, cut down his errors and got the vital break in the eighth game.

Russia team captain Marat Safin said the tennis was “high-class” and commended Medvedev for blocking out the distractions.

“It was important for him to stay mentally strong. Just hold on to what he can,” Safin said. “Give the best and see what’s going to come. And not to go too crazy, and not to rush with the approach shots, or hitting the ball too hard.

“You have to be smart, and sometimes squeeze yourself together and maintain self calm.”

Medvedev went 3-0 in his singles matches as Russia swept all three group games in Perth, but had a tougher time against Schwartzman, who produced the win against Croatia on Wednesday in Sydney that propelled Argentina into the quarterfinals.

Now the Russians will meet the winner of Friday’s quarterfinal between Serbia and Canada.

Australia will play either Spain or Belgium on Saturday, progressing after team captain Lleyton Hewitt gambled on sending his two singles players back out for the doubles.

A euphoric Kyrgios lifted de Minaur over his shoulder and carried him off the court after the doubles win, then told the crowd he would celebrate with a red wine.

Fair enough. De Minaur spent five hours on court in back-to-back matches, saving four match points before losing his singles to Evans in a 3-hour, 23-minute encounter, and then saving four match points before winning the deciding doubles in a super tiebreaker.

“It was unreal. You know, the adrenaline has kind of worn off and I’m exhausted,” Kyrgios said. “But it was awesome. It was honestly – today was one of the best moments in my career, definitely.”

Australia’s unbeaten run through the new team tournament has come at a time when the country needs some good news amid catastrophic wildfires that have claimed at least 26 lives since September, killed millions of animals and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.

Britain had four match points in the doubles. The one that Murray won’t forget was at 11-10, when he had an almost open court in front of him but somehow sent a backhand long.

“I missed that shot basically on top of the net, which was ridiculous,” Murray said. “That will hurt. I’ll probably never miss it again in my career. But today I missed it, and that cost us.”

Australian Open director: Novak Djokovic’s hamstring had 3-cm tear

Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said Novak Djokovic played at the Grand Slam event with a muscle tear of 3 centimeters – a little more than an inch – in his left hamstring along the way to winning the championship.

“He gets a bad rap, but at the end of the day, I don’t think anyone can question his athleticism. This guy, I did see, he had a 3-centimeter tear in his hammy,” Tiley said in an interview.

“The doctors are … going to tell you the truth,” Tiley said. “I think there was a lot of speculation of whether it was true or not. It’s hard to believe that someone can do what they do with those types of injuries. But he’s remarkable.”

Djokovic won the trophy at Melbourne Park by beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets for a record-extending 10th title there and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam trophy overall. Rafael Nadal is the only other man who has won that many majors.

The triumph also allowed Djokovic to return to No. 1 in the ATP rankings.

The 35-year-old from Serbia hurt his hamstring during a tune-up tournament in Adelaide ahead of the Australian Open. He wore a heavy bandage on his left thigh and was visited by trainers during matches in Week 1 in Melbourne.

He said he took “a lot” of painkiller pills and did various treatments to help the leg.

“Let me put it like this: I don’t say 100%, but 97% of the players, when you get results of the MRI, you go straight to the referee’s office and pull out of the tournament,” Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic, said after the final. “But not him. … His brain is working different.”

Aryna Sabalenka wins 1st Grand Slam title at Australian Open

2023 Australian Open - Day 13
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MELBOURNE, Australia – One point away from her first Grand Slam title, Aryna Sabalenka faulted. And then she faulted again. She grimaced. She yelled and turned her back to the court. She wiggled her shoulders and exhaled.

Clearly, this business of winning the Australian Open was not bound to happen without a bit of a struggle Saturday night. Sabalenka knew deep inside that would be the case. She also knew that all of the effort she put in, to overcome self-doubt and those dreaded double-faults, had to pay off eventually. Just had to.

And so, as she wasted a second match point by flubbing a forehand, and a third by again missing another, Sabalenka did her best to stay calm, something she used to find quite difficult. She hung in there until a fourth chance to close out Elena Rybakina presented itself – and this time, Sabalenka saw a forehand from her similarly powerful foe sail long. That was that. The championship belonged to Sabalenka via a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 comeback victory over Wimbledon winner Rybakina.

“The last game, yeah, of course, I was a little bit nervous. I (kept) telling myself, like, ‘Nobody tells you that it’s going to be easy.’ You just have to work for it, work for it, ’til the last point,” said Sabalenka, a 24-year-old from Belarus who is now 11-0 with two titles in 2023 and will rise to No. 2 in the WTA rankings on Monday.

“I’m super happy that I was able to handle all those emotions,” she said, “and win this one.”

The only set she has dropped all season was the opener on Saturday against Rybakina, who eliminated No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the fourth round.

It was telling that Sabalenka’s remarks during the post-match ceremony were directed at her coach, Anton Dubrov, and her fitness trainer, Jason Stacy – she referred to them as “the craziest team on tour.”

“We’ve been through a lot of, I would say, downs last year,” said Sabalenka, who was appearing in her first major final and had been 0-3 in Slam semifinals until this week. “We worked so hard and you guys deserve this trophy. It’s more about you than it’s about me.”

Well, she had a lot to do with it, of course. Those serves that produced 17 aces, helping erase the sting of seven double-faults. Those hammered groundstrokes and relentlessly aggressive style that produced 51 winners, 20 more than Rybakina’s total. And, despite her go-for-broke shotmaking, somehow Sabalenka limited her unforced error count to 28. One more key statistic: Sabalenka managed to accrue 13 break points, converting three, including the one at 4-3 in the last set that put her ahead for good.

“She played really well today,” said Rybakina, who has lost all four matches she’s played against Sabalenka, all in three sets. “She was strong mentally, physically.”

While the latter has long been a hallmark of her game, even Sabalenka acknowledges that the first has been an issue.

Her most glowing strength was also her most glaring shortfall: her serve. Capable of delivering aces, she also had a well-known problem with double-faulting, leading the tour in that category last year with nearly 400, including matches with more than 20.

After much prodding from her group, she agreed to undergo an overhaul of her mechanics last August. That, along with a commitment to trying to keep her emotions in check – she used to work with a sports psychologist but no longer, saying she relies on herself now – is really paying off.

“She didn’t have great serve last year, but now she was super strong and she served well,” said Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan. “For sure, I respect that. I know how much work it takes.”

With seagulls squawking loudly while flying overhead at Rod Laver Arena, Rybakina and Sabalenka traded serious racket swings for nearly 2 1/2 hours.

The serves were big. So big. Rybakina’s fastest arrived at 121 mph (195 kph), Sabalenka’s at 119 mph (192 kph).

The points were over quickly. So quickly: Seven of the first 13 were aces.

Sabalenka had been broken just six times in 55 service games through the course of these two weeks, but Rybakina did it twice in the opening set.

And never again. Sabalenka resolved to take the initiative even more, and the payoff for her high-risk, high-reward attitude was too much for Rybakina to withstand over the last two sets.

Sabalenka said ahead of time that she expected to feel some jitters. Which makes perfect sense for anyone: This was the most important match of her career.

At the end, when it mattered more than ever, Sabalenka was able to steady herself. After the final point, she dropped to her back on the court and stayed down for a bit, covering her face as her eyes welled with tears.

Quite a difference from a year ago at Melbourne Park, when Sabalenka departed after 15 double-faults in a fourth-round loss.

“I really feel right now that I really needed those tough losses to kind of understand myself a little bit better. It was like a preparation for me,” Sabalenka said at her post-match news conference, her new trophy nearby and a glass of bubbly in her hand. “I actually feel happy that I lost those matches, so right now I can be a different player and just a different Aryna, you know?”