‘Tight and nervous,’ Thiem tops No. 1 Djokovic at ATP Finals

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LONDON — Dominic Thiem thought winning his first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open would make him calmer in the tensest moments of the biggest matches. He realized in his ATP Finals showdown with No. 1 Novak Djokovic how wrong that notion was.

Still, after frittering away four match points in their semifinal Saturday because he was “tight and nervous” during a second-set tiebreaker, Thiem gathered himself. He eventually reeled off seven of the match’s last eight points to get to the final of the season-ending championship.

The No. 3-ranked Thiem ended Djokovic’s bid for a record-tying sixth ATP Finals title, coming through 7-5, 6-7 (10), 7-6 (5) after trailing 4-0 in the concluding tiebreaker.

“What he did from 0-4 in the third-set tiebreaker was just unreal,” said Djokovic, a 17-time Grand Slam champion. “I don’t think I played bad. … He just crushed the ball and everything went in.”

When it ended with Djokovic sailing a forehand long, Thiem dropped his racket and covered his face with his hands.

Thiem could have closed things more than an hour earlier. But in the earlier tiebreaker, Thiem acknowledged, “I was mentally not that strong.”

His 300th career match win put him in the final of the season-ending tournament for the second straight year; he was the runner-up to Stefanos Tsitsipas in 2019.

No. 2 Rafael Nadal was scheduled to face No. 4 Daniil Medvedev in the second semifinal. None of the last three men in the field has won the tournament, meaning there will be a sixth different champion over the past six years, the longest such stretch since 1974-79.

It’s the first time since 2004 that the top four players in the rankings filled the four semifinal slots for the ATP Finals. This year’s group is quite a quartet: They won the past 10 Grand Slam titles and the last nine Masters 1000 trophies.

Djokovic, already assured of finishing the year ranked No. 1 for a record-tying sixth time, was trying to match Roger Federer’s mark of six ATP Finals trophies.

In Saturday’s rematch of February’s Australian Open final, in which Djokovic beat Thiem in five sets, there were plenty of long baseline exchanges on the indoor hard court – where things were quiet because spectators were banned due to the coronavirus pandemic – and few break chances for either player.

Thiem faced three break points and saved them all, quite an achievement against supreme returner Djokovic. And while Thiem managed to produce only a pair of break points, he used one of those to take a 6-5 lead in the opening set.

In the second, Thiem’s ace put him ahead 6-5 in the tiebreaker, one point from victory.

But Djokovic saved that initial chance with a 127 mph service winner. Thiem’s next opportunity to win came at 7-6, but he double-faulted.

“I was, like, so tight in my whole body,” Thiem said.

The third was at 9-8, when he pushed a down-the-line forehand wide. At 10-9, Djokovic erased No. 4 with a forehand that landed right on a line.

That began a three-point run by Djokovic to steal the set and prolong the match.

Thiem regrouped, though, to become only the second man with at least five victories each against the Big Three of Djokovic (5-7 career mark), Federer (5-2) and Nadal (6-9). Andy Murray is the other.

“That is super special to me,” Thiem said. “Every single match against them is a huge privilege. It’s a huge opportunity to learn. If you beat these guys, it gives you a huge boost of confidence.”

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.