Top-seeded Simona Halep makes second round of Prague Open

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PRAGUE — Top-seeded Simona Halep had to fight hard to advance to the second round of the Prague Open in beating unseeded Polana Hercog 6-1, 1-6, 7-6 (3) on Tuesday.

It was the first competitive match for Halep since she won the Dubai Championships in February for her 20th career WTA title. Before the Wimbledon champion recovered from a foot injury she sustained in Dubai, the coronavirus pandemic forced a five-month break.

The Romanian dropped her serve six times and double-faulted eight times before prevailing in a tiebreaker on her seventh match point.

“After the second set, I felt tired,” Halep said. “But I knew she was in the same position so I just had to stick to the plan and fight. The fighting helped me to win the match.”

She will face next Czech wild-card entry Barbora Krejcikova.

Second-seeded Petra Martic, who reached the semifinals in Palermo last week, overcame Varvara Gracheva 7-6 (2), 6-3 and will face Kristyna Pliskova in the second round.

Third-seeded Elise Mertens recovered from a second-set scare to beat Jasmine Paolini 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.

However, four of the top-10 seeded players went out.

Fifth-seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova was upset by Lesia Tsurenko 6-2, 6-4, No. 6 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova lost to Arantxa Rus 7-5, 6-2, Sara Sorribes Tormo eliminated seventh-seeded Barbora Strycova and Irina-Camelia Begu dispatched ninth-seeded Anastasia Sevastova 6-2, 6-2.

Camila Giorgi, Magdalena Frech, Ana Bogdan and Leonie Kung also advanced.

The Prague Open is the second European tournament in the WTA’s restart amid the coronavirus pandemic, with strict health protocols in place.

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.