Rybakina warms up for Aussie Open with title run in Hobart

Getty Images
0 Comments

HOBART, Australia — A year after failing to qualify for the Australian Open, Elena Rybakina will enter the season’s first major with a seeding and fresh off a title after beating Zhang Shuai 7-6 (7), 6-3 in the Hobart International final on Saturday.

The 20-year-old Rybakina surged more than 150 places in the WTA rankings in 2019 to finish at No. 37. She’ll enter the Australian Open, which starts Monday in Melbourne, as the 29th seed after reaching the final at the Shenzhen Open in China to start the 2020 season and capturing her second career title a week later.

Rybakina served 10 aces and was superior from the baseline against Zhang, who reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year and combined with Sam Stosur to win the doubles title at the Australian Open.

“It’s amazing. I’m really happy with my win because last week I had an opportunity. I was really motivated,” Rybakina said. “Of course I’m really happy and confident.”

Rybakina won’t get much time to dwell on her latest win, with only one day off before her first-round meeting against Bernarda Pera at Melbourne Park.

“Last year I lost first round in (qualifying) and this year I’m going to be seeded – that’s great. I’m just looking forward to Monday.”

French players get life bans for fixing

Getty Images
0 Comments

LONDON — Two low-ranked French players were banned from the sport for life after being found guilty of match-fixing by a hearing officer.

Jules Okala, a 25-year-old with a career-best ATP ranking of No. 338, and Mick Lescure, a 29-year-old with a top ranking of No. 487, “admitted multiple charges,” the International Tennis Integrity Agency announced.

Neither player is allowed to compete at – or even attend – any sanctioned event again.

Okala was found guilty of seven match-fixing charges and fined $15,000 in addition to the permanent suspension. Lescure was found guilty of eight charges and fined $40,000 on top of the ban.

The punishments come after both players were involved in law enforcement investigations in France and Belgium, according to the sport’s integrity agency.

Ash Barty wins Australia’s top sports award for second time

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

MELBOURNE, Australia — Ash Barty’s Australian Open singles title in January was enough to ensure the former top-ranked player won Australia’s most prestigious annual sports award — despite retiring from the game less than two months later.

Barty has been given The Don Award, named after its most accomplished and famous cricketer Don Bradman.

Barty shocked the tennis world in March when she announced her retirement at the age of 25. The three-time major winner was the No. 1-ranked female player at the time of her retirement decision.

The Sport Australia Hall of Fame’s Don Award is given to an athlete or a team “which has provided the most inspiration to the country through performance and example in the past year.”

Barty (2019, 2022) joins Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sally Pearson (2012, 2014) and Olympic champion pole vaulter Steve Hooker (2008, 2009) as a multiple winner of the award.

Barty said she had decided before the Australian Open started that it would be her last major tournament.

“This year was certainly my most enjoyable Australian Open . . . because it felt free,” Barty said in a television interview. “I played without consequence, I played like a little kid. In my eyes, there was no pressure. It was just about me trying to redeem myself, in a way, and playing how I’d always wanted to play – go out there and play like the kid that fell in love with sport.”

Barty said she has no plans to return to tennis.

“In my mind there was never going to be a perfect ending, but it was my perfect ending,” Barty said of her retirement. “It was never about finishing on a win or on a really high emotional feeling. It was just about collectively, I felt it was right.

“Now (that decision) has led to nine months of just an incredible life off the court. It’s been amazing.”

Barty married her long-time partner Garry Kissick in late July. She also golfs frequently and is reported to be playing off a handicap of low single figures.