Caruso beats Sandgren to set up meeting with Djokovic

Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
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ROME — Novak Djokovic’s first match since being defaulted from the U.S. Open will come against local wild-card entry Salvatore Caruso on Wednesday in the second round of the Italian Open.

The 87th-ranked Caruso defeated American qualifier Tennys Sandgren 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) Tuesday in the opening round at the empty Foro Italico, where fans are being kept away because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Caruso saved a match point late in the third set before closing it out after nearly three hours on a steamy 32 degree Celsius (90 degree F) day.

The top-ranked Djokovic, who had a first-round bye, said Monday that he learned “a big lesson” after he was thrown out of the tournament in New York for unintentionally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball.

Djokovic beat Caruso in straight sets in their only career meeting in the third round of last year’s French Open.

“I’ll try to draw from what I learned in that match,” Caruso said. “I’ll try to take a set from him and, who knows, maybe even the match. I’ve got to go out onto the court with the mindset that I can win.”

In other matches on Rome’s red clay, U.S. Open quarterfinalists Andrey Rublev and Denis Shapovalov both won in straight sets.

Rublev eliminated Argentine qualifier Facundo Bagnis 6-4, 6-4; then Shapovalov was even more efficient in a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Guido Pella.

Alex de Minaur – another U.S. Open quarterfinalist – was tentative and wasted numerous chances in a 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6) loss to German qualifier Diminik Koepfer.

Also, Argentine qualifier Federico Coria, the younger brother of 2005 Rome runner-up Guillermo Coria, beat Jan-Lennard Struff 6-1, 7-6 (5). Coria will next face local favorite Matteo Berrettini, the No. 4 seed.

In the women’s tournament, Katerina Siniakova rolled past three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-1; and last year’s French Open finalist, Marketa Vondrousova, held off a comeback from Japanese qualifier Misaki Doi to win 6-1, 4-6, 6-4.

Also, Coco Gauff won her first Tour-level match on clay, sliding into her shots like a veteran in beating 34th-ranked Ons Jabeur 6-4, 6-3.

But the 16-year-old American also hit three consecutive double-faults to hand back an early break in the second set before regaining her composure to seal the victory in 1 hour, 21 minutes.

Gauff said she had good results on clay as a junior and noted that she spends a lot of time on the surface at the French academy run by Patrick Mouratoglu, Serena Williams’ coach.

“I’ve been going there since I was 10,” Gauff said. “So I’m quite used to the red clay.”

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.