Djokovic cedes Australian Open set in first round for first time since 2006

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic did something he hadn’t in 14 years: He dropped a set in a first-round match at the Australian Open.

That didn’t bother him, though. He actually looked upon the challenge he faced Monday night under the closed roof at Rod Laver Arena as a good thing.

“I actually like tough first rounds – in Grand Slams, particularly,” the defending champion at Melbourne Park said after getting past 37th-ranked Jan-Lennard Struff 7-6 (5), 6-2, 2-6, 6-1. “Because it gets me going. From the beginning, I have to be alert. I have to be on a high level. And I think I was.”

Djokovic last ceded a set in an Australian Open opener all the way back in 2006, during a loss to Paul Goldstein. Since then, the 16-time Grand Slam champ had produced 13 consecutive straight-set wins in the hard-court tournament’s first round; add in the initial pair of sets against Struff, and the streak was at 41.

But then came a bit of a blip.

Struff managed to break Djokovic three times in that third set alone.

“He turned it around. He was not missing much,” the second-seeded Djokovic said. “Credit to him for fighting. He’s a very powerful player.”

Also worth mentioning: Djokovic helped his opponent by faltering with two double-faults on the last two points of the set.

Soon, though, he regrouped, taking eight of nine points to begin the fourth and was on his way to the 900th match win of his career. The last set took all of 22 minutes.

The first set offered its own hiccups for Djokovic. He was a point away from taking it while serving for the set at 5-3 before finding himself locked in a tiebreaker against the big-hitting Struff, who has lost in the first round in 16 of his 26 career major appearances.

Djokovic began to show signs of frustration, rolling his eyes and spreading his arms wide, as if to say, “What is going on here?!” after one miss, hanging his head and slumping his shoulders after another. Eventually, he came through there.

All in all, even with some less-than-perfect patches, Djokovic considered the evening a satisfactory way to launch his bid for a record eighth title in Melbourne.

“I ended this match in a good fashion, in the right way,” Djokovic said, “and this is very positive.”

Gilbert Klier Junior hit with 12-month doping ban

Landon Bost/Naples Daily News/USA TODAY Network-Florida /USA TODAY NETWORK
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LONDON — Brazilian Gilbert Klier Junior, a bronze medalist at the 2018 Youth Olympics, has been banned for 12 months in a doping case, the International Tennis Integrity Agency said.

The ITIA said it had accepted that Klier Junior had not deliberately doped and that the banned substance SARM S-22 had entered his body through a contaminated supplement. However, it said he bore some responsibility, especially “following other high profile cases involving Brazilian tennis players and other sports people.”

The 22-year-old Klier Junior has a career high ranking of 354th and won bronze in the singles event at the 2018 Youth Olympics.

The ban was backdated to start from last June, when Klier Junior was first suspended from competition while the case was resolved.

Croatia advances in Davis Cup as Coric beats Thiem

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Borna Coric beat 2020 U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem 7-6 (3), 6-2 to send Croatia into the group stage of the Davis Cup.

Coric helped the Croatians win their second Davis Cup title in 2018, but he was sidelined when they lost in the 2021 final while missing a year of action with a right shoulder injury.

He returned to the tour last March, winning a Masters 1000 title in August in Cincinnati, Ohio, and rejoined the Croatians when they reached the Davis Cup semifinals last year.

His victory over Thiem, who has also dealt with injuries in recent years, gave Croatia a 3-1 victory in Rijeka. The Austrians had taken the tie against the No. 1 team in the Davis Cup rankings to a fourth match when Alexander Erler and Lucas Miedler beat Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic 6-3, 7-6 (11) in the doubles match earlier Sunday.

Chile, Finland, the Netherlands, South Korea and the Czech Republic also completed victories Sunday to secure their places in the next round, which will be played in September.

On Saturday, the U.S. completed a sweep of Uzbekistan, while Serbia, France, Britain, Switzerland and Sweden also finished off victories. Those 12 countries will play in the group stage, along with reigning champion Canada, 2022 runner-up Australia and wild-card recipients Italy and Spain.

Eight teams will then advance to the closing matches of the Davis Cup Finals scheduled for Nov. 21-26 in Malaga, Spain.

In Sunday’s other matches:

– Finland 3, Argentina 1: On indoor hard courts in Espoo, Finland, Harri Heliovaara and Emil Ruusuvuori edged Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, before Ruusuvuori secured the winning point and a personal 3-0 weekend by beating Facundo Bagnis 7-5, 6-1.

– Netherlands 4, Slovakia 0: On indoor hard courts in Groningen, Matwe Middelkoop and Wesley Koolhof sent the hosts through with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Alex Molcan and Lukas Klein. Middelkoop then beat Jozef Kovalik 6-4, 6-4.

– South Korea 3, Belgium 2: On indoor hard courts in Seoul, the hosts rallied from a 2-0 deficit after the first day. Min-Kyu Song and Ji Sung Nam kept them alive with a 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) victory over Joran Vliegen and Sander Gille. Soonwoo Kwon then beat David Goffin 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 before Seong Chan Hong completed the comeback with a 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over Zizou Bergs.

– Czech Republic 3, Portugal 1: On an indoor clay court in Maia, Portugal, Jiri Lehecka wrapped up the victory by beating Joao Sousa 6-4, 6-1.

– Chile 3, Kazakhstan 1: On an outdoor clay court in La Serena, Chile, Cristian Garin beat Alexander Bublik 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 after the hosts had taken the lead with a victory by the doubles team of Alejandro Tabilo and Tomas Barrios Vera.