Novak Djokovic shakes off rust with win at Paris Masters

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PARIS – In his first singles match since missing out on a calendar-year Grand Slam, Novak Djokovic beat Marton Fucsovics 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in the second round of the Paris Masters.

No. 1 ranked Djokovic showed signs of rustiness with a couple of unforced errors in the opening game, but he put pressure on his Hungarian opponent with the quality of his service returns, breaking him twice in the first set.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion dropped serve with a forehand error to trail 2-1 in the second set. Fucsovics leveled the set score when Djokovic hit a return long.

Clearly not at the top of his game, a roaring Djokovic punched the air after whipping a forehand pass to hold serve in the third game of the final set. He broke for a 4-2 lead when Fucsovics sent a backhand long before converting his second match point with a forehand winner.

“It was a great fight,” Djokovic said. “We kind of pushed each other to the limit. It was a great opening match for me, I’m very pleased.”

Djokovic could clinch the year-end No. 1 ranking in Paris before the end of the season and break a tie with Pete Sampras with a record seventh year-end No. 1 finish.

“Now it’s about finding that match-play intensity and playing more points,” Djokovic said. “And the more points I play, you know, the more matches I play, I’m going to get better.”

The top-ranked Serbian has lifted the Paris Masters trophy a record five times and could break a tie with Rafael Nadal for the most Masters 1000 titles won. Nadal and Djokovic have won 36 Masters 1000 titles each, eight more than Roger Federer.

Djokovic came up one victory short of a calendar-year Grand Slam when he lost to Daniil Medvedev at the U.S. Open in September.

Also Tuesday, Felix Auger-Aliassime stayed in contention for a place at the ATP Finals by beating Italian qualifier Gianluca Mager 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the first round.

The ninth-seeded Auger-Aliassime hit two double-faults and sent a forehand wide to allow Mager to serve out the first set. But he leveled the match when Mager double-faulted on set point in the second.

Auger-Aliassime then broke Mager twice in the third.

“I had difficulty with my pace at the beginning of the match. I didn’t hit enough first serves so I had a bit of pressure on my second serve,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I bounced back in the second set. I tried to find solutions in returns, changing my positions, varying my returns. And after returning so well, I created occasions and I won the second set and then I finished very well.”

Qualifying for the ATP Finals would cap a good season for the 21-year-old Canadian, who reached the semifinals at the U.S. Open and the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. He also reached the final at the Murray River Open in Melbourne and the Stuttgart Open in Germany.

Djokovic, Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev and Matteo Berrettini have already qualified for the ATP Finals. Auger-Aliassime, Casper Ruud, Jannik Sinner, Hubert Hurkacz and Cameron Norrie are among the players hoping to join the eight-man tournament.

American players Reilly Opelka, Tommy Paul and Taylor Fritz also advanced to the second round, as did Karen Khachanov of Russia, Carlos Alcaraz of Spain and James Duckworth of Australia.

Opelka, the runner-up in Toronto, hit 19 aces while beating Filip Krajinovic of Serbia 6-3, 7-6 (4), while Fritz defeated Lorenzo Sonego of Italy 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 and Paul beat Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany 6-3, 6-4.

French players get life bans for fixing

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LONDON — Two low-ranked French players were banned from the sport for life after being found guilty of match-fixing by a hearing officer.

Jules Okala, a 25-year-old with a career-best ATP ranking of No. 338, and Mick Lescure, a 29-year-old with a top ranking of No. 487, “admitted multiple charges,” the International Tennis Integrity Agency announced.

Neither player is allowed to compete at – or even attend – any sanctioned event again.

Okala was found guilty of seven match-fixing charges and fined $15,000 in addition to the permanent suspension. Lescure was found guilty of eight charges and fined $40,000 on top of the ban.

The punishments come after both players were involved in law enforcement investigations in France and Belgium, according to the sport’s integrity agency.

Ash Barty wins Australia’s top sports award for second time

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Ash Barty’s Australian Open singles title in January was enough to ensure the former top-ranked player won Australia’s most prestigious annual sports award — despite retiring from the game less than two months later.

Barty has been given The Don Award, named after its most accomplished and famous cricketer Don Bradman.

Barty shocked the tennis world in March when she announced her retirement at the age of 25. The three-time major winner was the No. 1-ranked female player at the time of her retirement decision.

The Sport Australia Hall of Fame’s Don Award is given to an athlete or a team “which has provided the most inspiration to the country through performance and example in the past year.”

Barty (2019, 2022) joins Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sally Pearson (2012, 2014) and Olympic champion pole vaulter Steve Hooker (2008, 2009) as a multiple winner of the award.

Barty said she had decided before the Australian Open started that it would be her last major tournament.

“This year was certainly my most enjoyable Australian Open . . . because it felt free,” Barty said in a television interview. “I played without consequence, I played like a little kid. In my eyes, there was no pressure. It was just about me trying to redeem myself, in a way, and playing how I’d always wanted to play – go out there and play like the kid that fell in love with sport.”

Barty said she has no plans to return to tennis.

“In my mind there was never going to be a perfect ending, but it was my perfect ending,” Barty said of her retirement. “It was never about finishing on a win or on a really high emotional feeling. It was just about collectively, I felt it was right.

“Now (that decision) has led to nine months of just an incredible life off the court. It’s been amazing.”

Barty married her long-time partner Garry Kissick in late July. She also golfs frequently and is reported to be playing off a handicap of low single figures.