Nadal outlasts Tsitsipas to win Barcelona Open for 12th time

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BARCELONA, Spain — Knowing he is still far from his best, Rafael Nadal just kept grinding it out.

He found a way to overcome lost opportunities in the Barcelona Open final and escape defeat while facing a red-hot opponent. Nadal won his first title of the year, squandering a couple of match points and then saving one on his way to beating Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-7 (6), 7-5.

Nadal secured his record 12th title at the clay-court tournament by converting on his third match point to cap a satisfying victory. It had been a lackluster start to the season for the third-ranked Nadal after he didn’t play much last year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s the work of every day,” Nadal said. “It’s about accepting the challenge, it’s about being humble to accept that sometimes you are not playing that well. And you need to fight for it and you need to try to find a solution every day and that’s what I did.”

The match lasted 3 hours, 38 minutes, making it the longest best-of-three set ATP final since stats started being tracked in 1991. It was also the longest best-of-three ATP match so far this year.

It was Nadal’s seventh title in the last 10 editions of the Barcelona Open, and 12th in 16 editions. The tournament was not played last year because of the pandemic.

Nadal called it “probably the toughest final” he had to play in Barcelona.

“I never played a final like this in this tournament,” he said. “It means a lot to me. It was an important victory.”

Nadal also needed three sets to advance in his first two matches in Barcelona. He was coming off a loss to Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters last week, a tournament that Tsitsipas won in a final against Rublev.

Tsitsipas, who had not lost a set on his way to the final in Barcelona, had beaten Nadal in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

Nadal was behind from the start but won four straight games to take the first set. The top-seeded Spaniard got off to another slow start in the second set and needed another late break. He wasted two match points at 5-4, then saved three consecutive break points in the following game.

Tsitsipas converted on his third set point of the tiebreaker to force a third set. The Greek then himself squandered a match point when 5-4 ahead. Nadal survived, winning three straight games for the title.

Tsitsipas, the second-seeded player in Barcelona, was seeking his 27th win this season to surpass Rublev as the top winner on the men’s circuit.

The 34-year-old Nadal has won all 12 finals he reached in Barcelona. He dominated the tournament in his home country from 2005-09, 2011-13 and 2016-18. He lost in the 2019 semifinals to eventual champion Dominic Thiem.

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.