Thiem, Nadal, Halep reach French 4th round

Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

PARIS — Waking up early Friday for his third-round match at the French Open, Dominic Thiem was surprised to see the morning skies were still dark.

Yup, Roland Garros in autumn, when the sun is slower to rouse itself than during the usual May-June slot, takes some getting used to. But, on court, the U.S. Open champion is adjusting just fine to the peculiarities of what is the last Grand Slam tournament in a pandemic-hit year.

The runner-up last year and in 2018, both times to Rafael Nadal, advanced to the fourth round for the fifth consecutive time, with another straight-set victory in this week’s first encounter in Paris between seeded men.

The victim of the third-seeded Austrian’s fierce backhand and super-quick court coverage under the new roof on Court Philippe Chatrier was No. 28 Casper Ruud by 6-4, 6-3, 6-1.

Long after early bird Thiem was done, Nadal also marched on in his pursuit of a 13th French Open title and record-tying 20 major overall. His opponent, Stefano Travaglia, was among five Italian men in third-round play, an Open Era record at a Grand Slam. But he proved no match for Nadal’s overpowering clay-court game. Nadal was on court for just 95 minutes, winning 6-1, 6-4, 6-0.

Sebastian Korda, Nadal’s next opponent, is the 20-year-old son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda. Korda and his third-round Spanish opponent Pedro Martinez reached the main draw via the qualifying tournament. Korda won 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 to become the first qualifier to reach the men’s fourth round since Alejandro Falla in 2011.

The 2015 champion, Stan Wawrinka, fell to French wild card Hugo Gaston, who wrapped up the 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0 win with spectators’ cries of “Hugo! Hugo!” ringing in his ears. Ranked 239th, Gaston next plays Thiem.

In the women’s draw, top-seeded Simona Halep defeated Amanda Anisimova 6-0, 6-1. The 19-year-old Anisimova had beaten the 2018 champion in straight sets in the quarterfinals last year.

Halep, riding a career-best winning streak of 17 matches, will next face another rematch against another teenager: Iga Swiatek.

Thiem, bidding to become the first Austrian with multiple Grand Slam titles, has said he loves the chilly autumnal conditions that other players have grumbled about at this pushed-back French Open.

Still, waking up in the players’ bio-secured hotel at 7 a.m. for the first match on Chatrier, he was taken aback that dawn had yet to break, as it would have done in May.

“Everything dark. Winter is almost coming,” he said. “That was a little bit weird.”

Thiem was broken only once, when he sent a forehand wide to give Ruud a 3-1 lead in the first set. He immediately broke back and converted six of his 15 break points in all. He also saved seven of the eight break points he faced.

Ruud was bidding to become only the second Norwegian to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam.

The first was his father and coach, Christian Ruud, in 1997 at the Australian Open. He watched on Friday on Chatrier.

It was again largely empty for that match, victim of the daily limit of 1,000 spectators imposed on the clay-court Grand Slam tournament. The arena built for 15,000 rang out later in the day to shouts of “Bravo!” and “Merci!” and saw fans in face masks jumping up and down in waves as Caroline Garcia of France beat 16th-seeded Elise Mertens 1-6, 6-4, 7-5.

“There are not many of you but you make as much noise as when it’s full,” Garcia told the crowd, which sheltered under the arena’s new roof from a storm that interrupted play on outside courts. The 45th-ranked Garcia advanced to next face third-seeded Elina Svitolina, who beat the last of 12 Russians in the women’s draw, Ekaterina Alexandrova, 6-4, 7-5.

Halep also played her third-round match in the dry under the Chatrier roof to set up her rematch against the 19-year-old Swiatek.

In the fourth round last year, Halep routed Swiatek 6-1, 6-0, ending the Polish player’s Roland Garros debut.

Swiatek is a tougher prospect this time. She has lost only 13 games, not dropped a set and beat Canadian wild card Eugenie Bouchard 6-3, 6-2 in the third round.

Swiatek hit 30 winners and converted six of her 13 break points against the 2014 Wimbledon finalist now ranked 168th.

Halep is among several players who say they’ve returned reinvigorated, rested and with a new mindset from the pandemic-forced break that shut down the tennis tour for much of the year. Others have said the months-long hiatus was bad for their game.

“I became very relaxed,” Halep said. “I saw that the bigger problems are in normal life, not in our sport. So we have the privilege to play these beautiful and great tournaments.”

Novak Djokovic to start 2023 in Adelaide ahead of Australian Open

Getty Images
1 Comment

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
1 Comment

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.