Kei Nishikori grinds out another 5-set win at French Open

French Open 2021: Kei Nishikori takes 5-set win vs. Karen Khachanov
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PARIS — Two matches. Ten sets. A total of 628 points played.

Just another Grand Slam filled with five-setters for Kei Nishikori.

The former U.S. Open finalist rallied past 23rd-seeded Karen Khachanov 4-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 on Wednesday to reach the third round of the French Open – after having also gone the distance to beat Italian qualifier Alessandro Giannessi in his opening match.

“My energy level was not great. Four hours first match and four hours today,” Nishikori said. “I just keep playing.

“My body (is) saying no but my mind is saying keep playing. … I feel like (having played) five matches already.”

Nishikori improved to 9-2 in five-set matches at Roland Garros and 26-7 in his career. He’s won 10 of his last 11 five-setters.

Khachanov was treated by a trainer in the fifth set after cutting his right middle finger by hitting his racket strings in anger.

As the match wore on, Nishikori attempted to end points quicker and mixed in different tactics like serve-and-volleying. On his first match point, he unleashed a powerful inside-out forehand that landed so close to the line that even Nishikori hesitated before realizing it was in and the match was finally over after 3 hours, 59 minutes.

“I just tried to be aggressive in the last game,” Nishikori said after breaking Khachanov at love to close it out.

Nishikori next faces Swiss qualifier Henri Laaksonen, who upset 11th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 for his first victory against a top-20 player.

DOUBLES DEFEAT

It’s one thing to play doubles with your little sister. Quite another to pair with someone 23 years your junior.

Just ask Venus Williams.

Williams learned that when she and 17-year-old Coco Gauff were beaten by 13th-seeded Ellen Perez and Zheng Saisai 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3 in the first round.

It marked the first time that Williams had played a Grand Slam doubles match with anyone but her sister. She and Serena Williams have won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

Gauff has won three WTA doubles titles with Caty McNally, including last week at Parma, Italy, where Gauff also won the singles titles to push her ranking to a career-best No. 25. She is the youngest American woman to make her debut in the Top 25 since Serena accomplished the feat back in 1998.

Also in doubles, defending singles champion Iga Swiatek teamed with Bethanie Mattek-Sands to rout the French pair of Aubane Droguet and Selena Janicijevic 6-0, 6-1.

FINNISH-SWISS SURPRISE

Representing a country where Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka generally take all of the tennis attention, Laaksonen is used to staying low profile.

Not anymore.

The 29-year-old Laaksonen has made a surprise run to the third round after producing what he called the best match of his life against Bautista Agut.

Laaksonen finished with 53 winners.

“So far they have been dropping inside the lines,” he said. “Let’s see what happens next.”

Laaksonen entered Roland Garros on a five-match losing streak and hadn’t posted a victory since October.

“I played last week in Geneva a little bit better, and here I had some tough matches in (qualifying),” Laaksonen said. “Today was just (an) amazing match for me. I was playing really aggressive and it paid off.”

Laaksonen moved from Finland to Switzerland – where his father is from – when he was 16.

Having grown up near Helsinki, he learned to play in challenging weather conditions.

“They opened the clay courts really early, sometimes like end of March, beginning of April already,” he said. “Sometimes we were playing when it was snowing a little bit, but we had always quite a long clay season actually.”

Novak 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.