Australian Open qualifying complete; 15 charters to arrive

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Nearly 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles) from Melbourne, the qualifying tournament has been completed for the Australian Open, with 16 men and 16 women set to join the singles main draw beginning Feb. 8.

The qualifiers join the group of players who’ll begin arriving Thursday on 15 charter flight and immediately go into a 14-day quarantine under strict regulations in Australia for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the protocols, all players had to to return a negative test before boarding their flights to Australia, and would be subjected to further testing on arrival and isolation until the results are received.

But there’s already been an exception, with American player Tennys Sandgren reportedly allowed on one of the Australia-bound flights despite recently testing positive for coronavirus.

Sandgren tested positive to COVID-19 on Monday, after originally testing positive in late November, and was initially barred from the flight containing international players out of Los Angeles.

However, he was then allowed to join the delayed flight. He posted on social media to say he wasn’t contagious.

“My two tests were less than 8 weeks apart. I was sick in November, totally healthy now,” the No. 50-ranked Sandgren tweeted. “There’s not a single documented case where I would be contagious at this point. Totally recovered!”

A quarterfinalist at Melbourne Park in 2018 and 2020, Sandgren was supported by Tennis Australia, who reportedly said they followed Victorian state government guidelines in allowing him on to the flight.

“Some people who have recovered from COVID-19 and who are non-infectious can continue to shed the virus for several months,” Tennis Australia said, according to Australian Associated Press. “Victorian Government public health experts assess each case based on additional detailed medical records to ensure they are not infectious before checking into the charter flights.”

The season’s first major has already been delayed by three weeks because of restrictions in place for the pandemic, and the men’s and women’s qualifying tournaments – in Doha, Qatar and in Dubai – were held outside of Australia for the first time.

The women qualifiers include two-time Australian Open and Roland Garros doubles champion Timea Babos of Hungary and British player Francesca Jones, who has a rare genetic condition.

Jones has ectrodactyly ectodermal dysplasia, which means she was born with three fingers and a thumb on each hand, three toes on her right foot and four toes on her left.

On the men’s side, the qualifiers include 17-year-old ATP newcomer of the year, Carlos Alcaraz of Spain.

Six women and six men will also travel to Australia as lucky losers and undergo mandatory quarantine like the rest of the international players, hoping to get a place in the main draw as cover for injuries or withdrawals. There are 104 direct entries based on rankings for the men’s and women’s singles main draw, plus wild-card entries and the qualifiers.

The 15 flights will be at no more than 25% capacity, and will arrive over a 36-hour period ending early Saturday.

Once a negative result has been returned, players can train within a strictly supervised environment for five-hours per day, and players and their teams will be tested every day during quarantine.

The Australian Open draw will be held on Feb. 4, four days ahead of the start of the main tournament, which ends Feb. 21 with the men’s singles final.

Novak Djokovic is the defending men’s champion and Sofia Kenin is the women’s defending champion.

Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams will be among a group of players involved in an exhibition event in Adelaide, South Australia state, on Jan. 29. All other tournaments will be in Melbourne, including the 12-team ATP Cup starting Feb. 1 and two WTA events in the week leading into the Australian Open.

U.S. sweeps Uzbekistan, advances to group stage in Davis Cup

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The United States swept its way into the group stage of the Davis Cup Finals, getting the winning point in a 4-0 victory over Uzbekistan from the doubles team of Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek.

They beat Sergey Fomin and Sanjar Fayziev 6-2, 6-4, after Tommy Paul and Mackenzie McDonald had won singles matches in Tashkent.

Ram is No. 3 in the ATP Tour doubles rankings and partnered with Joe Salisbury to win the last two U.S. Open men’s doubles titles. But the Americans opted not to use Ram last year in the final round, when they dropped the doubles match in a 2-1 defeat against Italy in the quarterfinals.

Krajicek was making his Davis Cup debut, having reached No. 9 in the doubles rankings late last year.

“They had five great days of preparation, and as anticipated they came out really sharp and got the early break in the first set. And after that it was like two freight trains, there was no stopping them,” interim captain David Nainkin said.

Denis Kudla then beat Amir Milushev 6-4, 6-4.

The winners of the 12 qualifiers being held this weekend advance to the Davis Cup Finals group stage in September, along with reigning champion Canada, 2022 runner-up Australia and wild-card recipients Italy and Spain.

Eight teams will advance to the closing matches of the Davis Cup Finals scheduled for Nov. 21-26 in Malaga, Spain.

In other matches:

France 3, Hungary 2: On indoor hard courts in Tatabanya, Hungary, Ugo Humbert won it for the French with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Fabian Marozsan. Adrian Mannarino had forced the deciding match by beating Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (6), 6-2.

Serbia 4, Norway 0: On indoor hard courts in Oslo, the visitors, playing without top-ranked Novak Djokovic, put away the match when Filip Krajinovic and Nikola Cacic edged Viktor Durasovic and Herman Hoeyeraal 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Hamad Medjedovic then outlasted Durasovic 6-4, 6-7, 10-4.

Sweden 3, Bosnia 1: On indoor hard courts in Stockholm, Mikael Ymer sent the hosts through by beating Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.

Lesia Tsurenko to face Zhu Lin in Thailand Open final

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HUA HIN, Thailand — Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine reached her first final in four years after the top-seeded Bianca Andreescu retired with a shoulder injury during their semifinal match at the Thailand Open.

Tsurenko, in search of her fifth WTA title, was leading the 2019 U.S. Open champion 7-5, 4-0 when the Canadian stopped playing.

The former world No. 23 fought from 3-5 down to take the first set and reeled off eight straight games before Andreescu retired with a right shoulder problem.

“Bianca is such an amazing player. She is capable of hitting all kinds of shots and gave so much trouble today,” said the 33-year-old Tsurenko, now ranked 136th. “But I was just fighting and I told myself positive things that I can do it. Unfortunately, she had to retire.”

The Ukrainian last lifted a WTA trophy in Acapulco in 2018 and hasn’t been to a final since Brisbane in 2019.

She will face Zhu Lin of China in the final.

“She had some good wins in the Australian Open,” Tsurenko said. “She is one of the dangerous players in this tournament. She is going to give a good fight.”

In the all-Chinese semifinal earlier, Zhu benefited from a barrage of unforced errors from Wang Xinyu and prevailed 6-2, 6-4 for her first WTA final.

The world No. 54 player, who reached the last 16 at the Australian Open in January, relied on her solid baseline game to force errors.

“It was very windy, so I tried to be patient and keep my first serves in,” said the 29-year-old Zhu, who will team up with Wang in the doubles final against Hao-Ching Chan and Fang-Hsien Wu of Taiwan.