Happy families: Osaka, Williams win openers in Australia

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Naomi Osaka won the tournament’s opening match for her dad at the Australian Open. Serena Williams won hers for her daughter.

The first two matches on center court at the Australian Open were all about families for two champions.

For something new, Osaka’s father, Leonard Francois, was in the crowd watching as the defending champion reeled off the last four games after dropping serve for the only time to beat Marie Bouzkova 6-2, 6-4.

Next up, Williams started her bid for a first major title as a mom when she beat 18-year-old Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-3. Williams has won the title seven times in Australia, and is aiming for an all-time record-equaling 24th Grand Slam singles title. She hasn’t added to her career tally since victory at the 2017 Australian Open, and then becoming Olympia’s mom. She managed to end one drought last week when she won the title in Auckland, New Zealand – her first since the Australian title three years ago.

“I hadn’t been able to win as a mom, so it was nice to finally be able to win a tournament with a 2-year-old now,” Williams said of her Auckland win. “I’ve been pretty close, but it was special for me and for her. I hope for her.”

Williams has lost four Grand Slam finals since her last title, and is determined to end that streak.

She won seven straight games until Potapova held serve and changed the momentum – for a little while at least. The Russian got a service break, but broke Williams rallied quickly to get back on track.

Osaka thanked the crowd after her match, saying “You probably didn’t come for me, but thanks for filling up the stadium.”

There was one person in particular who was there only for Osaka.

“My dad watched my match from my box for the first time during a Grand Slam,” Osaka, who won back-to-back majors at the 2018 U.S. Open and last year’s Australian Open, tweeted. “I feel so happy.”

She later explained: “He’s just superstitious. Because, like, he literally — because, like, before when he used to sit in my box I would just look at him and complain a lot, but I have matured over the past, like, three or four years he hasn’t sat in my box.”

Father-of-four Roger Federer had a routine 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over Steve Johnson in his first tournament of the year, saying he was content with his form after a vacation and some heavy off-season training. He’s 21-0 in first-round matches at the Australian Open, where he’s won six of his 20 major titles.

Two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova, who lost the final here last year to Osaka, advanced 6-1, 6-0 over Katerina Siniakova on Margaret Court Arena in a mid-afternoon match that continued while play was suspended because of rain on the the outside courts.

Osaka is aiming to be only the ninth woman to successfully defend the Australian Open title. She wasn’t able to do that at the U.S. Open last year, when she lost in the fourth round, but says she learned some valuable lessons there.

“Definitely, it was really tough for me trying to control my nerves,” she said of her first-round win. “I’m really glad I was able to finish it in two.

Other seeded players advancing on the women’s side included No. 13 Petra Martic and No. 14 Sofia Kenin. Martic had a 6-3, 6-0 win over Christina McHale and Kenin beat Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan 6-2, 6-4..

Denis Shapovalov lost an ill-tempered match 6-3, 7-6 (7), 6-1, 7-6 (3) to Marton Fucsovics, who has made a habit of taking out the No. 13 seed in Melbourne.

Shapovalov berated the umpire and received a code violation for spiking his racket after the third set.

“I didn’t break it. If I break it, 100% code me,” Shapovalov yelled at umpire Renaud Lichtenstein. “You’re not doing your job. You’re just finding reasons to code me.”

Fucsovics also beat the 13th seed last year at Melbourne Park, that time Sam Querrey in the second round.

“Usually this is not a lucky number, but for me, my favorite number,” he said. “I played some of my best tennis today. Everything was working well.”

No. 8 Matteo Berrettini and No. 22 Guido Pella also advanced along with Querrey, who beat 25th-seeded Borna Coric 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, and Dan Evans, who rallied from two sets down to beat Mackenzie McDonald 3-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3.

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.