Pro tennis set to resume in Australia after lockdown

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Tennis players in Australia will have a chance to compete for prize money for the first time since March in a UTR pro series starting this weekend in Sydney and continuing in city hubs across the country from next week.

Top-ranked Ash Barty is unlikely to compete, concentrating instead on practice. Former U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur is reportedly ready to join a series that will involve local competition for Australia-based men and women and likely run through August.

Elite competitive tennis has been shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic but exhibitions have started, including the Novak Djokovic-backed Adria Tour in Serbia and Croatia that had to be called off when the men’s No. 1 and three other players tested positive for COVID-19. Djokovic, who tested positive despite showing no symptoms, said he will remain in self-isolation for 14 days.

The U.S. Open is scheduled to begin Aug. 31, without spectators, and the French Open – postponed from May – is supposed to start Sept. 27.

Players have returned to practice at Australia’s national tennis academy and community tennis has resumed in recent weeks, under guidelines for physical distancing.

Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley said organizers had done a lot of planning for the new domestic series, which sets strict protocols that limit the number of people on the court and require players to undergo health checks and bring their own towels.

“With so much of the tennis season still uncertain, our aim through the UTR Pro Tennis Series is to give as many of our athletes the chance to compete and, importantly, also earn prize money, after months of not being able to make their living playing the sport they have devoted their lives to,” Tiley said in a statement. “Our team … worked closely with the authorities and tennis staff around the country to ensure they are run according to strict local biosecurity protocols.”

Restrictions are slowly being relaxed in most of Australia after the coronavirus lockdown, although the easing has been delayed in parts of Melbourne where so-called hot spots have emerged in the last week.

Australia, which has closed its international borders since March, on Wednesday recorded its first death in a month from COVID-19 when a man in his 80s died in Melbourne. It increased Australia’s death toll to 103 from the new coronavirus.

Alcaraz loses to Goffin in 1st match as No. 1

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Carlos Alcaraz’s first match as the No. 1-ranked player ended with a straight-set loss to David Goffin at the Astana Open.

The 19-year-old Spaniard lost 7-5, 6-3 in his first tour match since winning the U.S. Open and capturing the No. 1 ranking.

“David was playing really, really well. To come back to competition is never easy,” Alcaraz said. “It’s really tough for me, for my confidence.”

Alcaraz came from 5-2 down to level the first set at 5-5, only to be broken again by his Belgian opponent.

“When you play against the World No. 1 on a big stage, big crowd, the fire inside gives you so much power to play your best tennis because you don’t have any choice,” Goffin said. “You have to fight and give your best and that was the case today.”

Second-seeded Daniil Medvedev and No. 3-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas both avoided similar upsets. Medvedev beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain 6-3, 6-1 and Tsitsipas ousted Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3. 6-4.

Kasatkina knocks out Raducanu at Agel Open

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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — Fifth-seeded Daria Kasatkina defeated 2021 U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu 7-5, 6-4 to advance to the second round of the Agel Open.

Kasatkina was playing her first match since losing in the first round of the U.S. Open and will next face Ekaterina Alexandrova.

Sixth-seeded Belinda Bencic of Switzerland rallied to eliminate former top-five player Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 6-7 (7), 6-1, while Aliaksandra Sasnovich upset eighth-seeded Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-2.

American qualifiers Alycia Parks and Catherine McNally both advanced. Parks upset Czech Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 7-6 (3) and McNally eased past Anna Blinkova 6-1, 6-2 at the indoor hardcourt event in the Czech eastern city of Ostrava.