Djokovic wins 35th Masters; Osaka (hamstring) withdraws from final

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — For all that’s been on Novak Djokovic’s plate of late – including a painful neck and his efforts to start a new players’ association in men’s tennis – he just keeps winning.

He’s perfect in 2020, an ideal way to head into the U.S. Open.

Djokovic tied Rafael Nadal’s record by earning his 35th title at a Masters 1000 tournament, overcoming a sluggish start to beat Milos Raonic 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the Western & Southern Open final Saturday and improve to 23-0 this season.

“Has been challenging mentally and emotionally for me to stay sane and be able to compete on the highest level and win this title,” Djokovic said. “Going on an unbeaten run so far this year obviously brings even more confidence each match.”

Djokovic, 11-0 head-to-head against 2016 Wimbledon runner-up Raonic, goes into the U.S. Open as the No. 1 seed and a big favorite. The Grand Slam tournament begins Monday.

“What is that, 23-0?” Raonic said playfully during the trophy ceremony. “Honestly, if I start the year off 3-0, I’m pretty happy.”

Earlier Saturday, Victoria Azarenka won her first tour title since 2016 when Naomi Osaka pulled out of the women’s final because of a left hamstring injury.

“I just hope I’m giving myself, you know, the opportunity and the chance to have enough time” to recover ahead of the U.S. Open, Osaka said.

The Western & Southern Open normally is held in Ohio but was moved to Flushing Meadows this year because of the coronavirus pandemic as part of a two-tournament “controlled environment.”

Djokovic will be seeking his 18th Grand Slam title, which would move him one behind Nadal and two behind Roger Federer’s men’s record of 20. Neither of those rivals is entered in the U.S. Open – although both spoke out via Twitter on Saturday against Djokovic’s bid to start a new group to represent men’s tennis players.

“We want to have our own organization and association that is 100% ours,” Djokovic said.

On court, Djokovic was listless in the first set, looking exactly the way one might have expected given that he labored through a three-hour semifinal a day earlier, when he repeatedly grabbed his stomach and twice had his neck massaged by a trainer.

It took all of 30 minutes for Raonic, a Canadian ranked No. 30, to take that set. But Djokovic asserted himself in the second set, breaking to lead 3-2 with a backhand passing shot and raising his right fist.

In the third, Djokovic broke twice more, and eventually the 33-year-old from Serbia was raising his arms to mark his 80th career title and 61st on hard courts. Jimmy Connors holds the men’s record of 109 titles; the only others ahead of Djokovic are Federer, Ivan Lendl and Nadal.

Djokovic also won the Western & Southern Open in 2018 and is now the first man to win each Masters 1000 event – one level below the Grand Slams – at least twice.

Osaka initially felt a problem with her leg in her first match of the Western & Southern Open and said she pulled the hamstring in the second-set tiebreaker of her semifinal Friday.

She called this an “emotional week.” The 22-year-old Osaka brought the push for racial justice to the tennis tour by saying she was not going to play in her semifinal, joining athletes in other sports sitting out in reaction to the shooting by a Wisconsin police officer of a Black man, Jacob Blake.

Osaka’s stance prompted the tournament to say it was taking a “pause” to back the cause and scrapping all scheduled matches for Thursday. When play resumed Friday, Osaka competed, saying she was glad the matter got attention.

During his runner-up speech Saturday, Raonic said: “I’m a strong believer that we’re very lucky up in Canada that every single person walking on a street can feel safe and I hope that there is some serious change that goes on through the U.S., and that every Black man, woman, child can feel safe in their own communities, on the streets.”

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

Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports
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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.