Mertens, Sabalenka combine for Australian Open doubles title

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka won the Australian Open women’s doubles final to collect their second Grand Slam trophy as a team.

It is likely to be their last for a while.

Sabalenka, a Top 10 player with nine WTA singles titles, wants to focus on the singles at the majors but plans to combine with Mertens for some Premier-level doubles events.

The 22-year-old from Belarus was the dominant player on court as she and Mertens, the U.S. Open doubles champions in 2019, combined for a 6-2, 6-3 win over third-seeded Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic.

Second-seeded Sabalenka and Mertens wasted three championship points in an eight-minute last game. Sabalenka earned a fourth championship point with an ace and clinched the title when Siniakova sent a backhand wide.

Krejcikova and Siniakova were the Wimbledon and French Open women’s doubles champions in 2018, but struggled against two players who each reached the fourth round of the Australian Open singles draw before losing to eventual semifinalists.

No. 7-ranked Sabalenka lost to 23-time major winner Serena Williams in three sets. Mertens, who won a title at a tuneup tournament the weekend before the Australian Open began, lost to Karolina Muchova.

Mertens plans to keep playing doubles at the majors but Sabalenka is switching gears.

“I feel like it’s a little bit more stress (playing singles and doubles) in the Grand Slams. I just want to focus on singles and manage my energy,” Sabalenka said. “Still when you go out for doubles, you’re still there for competing, to put everything you have – sometimes it’s not really working well with me.

“I just want to save it for singles, try something different this year and see what happens on the Grand Slams.”

The Australian Open has had some unprecedented challenges for players because of regulations in place for the COVID-19 pandemic, including a 14-day quarantine for all international arrivals in the country.

It was more difficult for 72 players who were forced into hard lockdown – not allowed to leave their quarantine accommodation for any reason – after possibly coming into contact with people on their charter flights who tested positive for the coronavirus after landing in Australia.

“Of course we are really proud because there was some rough times during the stay here in Australia,” Siniakova said. “But we are so happy that we could come here even after the hard quarantine and make (the) final,” Siniakova said. “It’s really amazing that we could play so great tennis and go so far”

Krejcikova has another chance at a title in Australia after combining with American Rajeev Ram to secure a spot in the mixed doubles final against Australian wild cards Sam Stosur and Matthew Ebden.

Ram is also in the men’s doubles final with teammate Joe Salisbury against Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek. Ram and Salisbury are the defending champions.

Alcaraz loses to Goffin in 1st match as No. 1

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Carlos Alcaraz’s first match as the No. 1-ranked player ended with a straight-set loss to David Goffin at the Astana Open.

The 19-year-old Spaniard lost 7-5, 6-3 in his first tour match since winning the U.S. Open and capturing the No. 1 ranking.

“David was playing really, really well. To come back to competition is never easy,” Alcaraz said. “It’s really tough for me, for my confidence.”

Alcaraz came from 5-2 down to level the first set at 5-5, only to be broken again by his Belgian opponent.

“When you play against the World No. 1 on a big stage, big crowd, the fire inside gives you so much power to play your best tennis because you don’t have any choice,” Goffin said. “You have to fight and give your best and that was the case today.”

Second-seeded Daniil Medvedev and No. 3-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas both avoided similar upsets. Medvedev beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain 6-3, 6-1 and Tsitsipas ousted Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3. 6-4.

Kasatkina knocks out Raducanu at Agel Open

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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — Fifth-seeded Daria Kasatkina defeated 2021 U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu 7-5, 6-4 to advance to the second round of the Agel Open.

Kasatkina was playing her first match since losing in the first round of the U.S. Open and will next face Ekaterina Alexandrova.

Sixth-seeded Belinda Bencic of Switzerland rallied to eliminate former top-five player Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 6-7 (7), 6-1, while Aliaksandra Sasnovich upset eighth-seeded Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-2.

American qualifiers Alycia Parks and Catherine McNally both advanced. Parks upset Czech Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 7-6 (3) and McNally eased past Anna Blinkova 6-1, 6-2 at the indoor hardcourt event in the Czech eastern city of Ostrava.