Ashleigh Barty secures spot in Australian Open’s 4th round

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Ash Barty is starting to feel right at home at Melbourne Park.

The top-ranked Aussie was the first player to secure a spot in the fourth round of the Australian Open, and thinks she’s starting to regain the momentum that helped get her to the top of the rankings and a first major title in 2019.

Barty fended off eight break-point chances before beating 29th-seeded Elena Rybakina 6-3, 6-2 in the opening match Friday on Rod Laver Arena.

The 20-year-old Rybakina had won 11 of her first 12 matches of the season, winning the title in the tuneup tournament in Hobart after reaching the final in Shenzhen.

Barty, the French Open champion, won her first title on home soil in Adelaide last week and, after dropping the first set she played at Melbourne Park, has advanced through three rounds without losing another set. She had a tough start against Rybakina, having her serve broken in the opening game, but otherwise felt good about her latest win.

“I felt I needed to be switched on. A lot of the games were long and tough and happy to get out of them,” she said. “Today was probably my sharpest match that I played (this summer). I felt really comfortable moving around the court. I felt like I found the middle of the racket a lot sooner than my other matches.”

Barty reached the quarterfinals last year, which gave her the confidence she carried through the full season and included titles at Roland Garros and the WTA Finals. An Australian title is a big step, though. It’s been more than four decades since an Australian lifted the trophy.

She’ll next meet either No. 18 Alison Riske, or her doubles partner Julia Goerges on Sunday for a spot in the quarterfinals.

Serena Williams, who has won seven Australian titles among her 23 majors, was playing Wang Qiang in the following match.

No. 14 Diego Schwartzman was the first of the men through the fourth round, beating No. 24 Dusan Lajovic 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (7) and could meet seven-time champion Novak Djokovic in the fourth round.

Second-ranked Djokovic had the third match on Rod Laver against Yoshihito Nishioka. Six-time major winner Roger Federer was playing a night match against John Millman, after defending champion Naomi Osaka and 15-year-old Coco Gauff meet on the center court.

After a disruptive day weather-wise on Day 4, it was mostly sunny at Melbourne Park on Friday.

Gilbert Klier Junior hit with 12-month doping ban

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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.