Nick Kyrgios docked point, then game, and falls at Miami Open

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Nick Kyrgios lost his cool, then a point, then a game and then the match.

The all-too-familiar trend that has often overshadowed the super-popular, super-talented and super-perplexing Australian’s career path continued at the Miami Open, where Kyrgios was ousted in the fourth round by No. 9 seed Jannik Sinner of Italy 7-6 (3), 6-3.

How the match was won likely won’t be remembered. Kyrgios’ meltdown will be, his afternoon replete with racket throws and smashes, plenty of heated words with chair umpire Carlos Bernardes and even a fan somehow trying to get a selfie when tensions were at their peak.

But Kyrgios insisted that Bernardes should bear some blame for what transpired, adding that he believed the umpire disrupted his play by talking during a serve.

“When everyone in that crowd is booing an umpire, and he’s becoming the center of attention, that’s not his job,” Kyrgios said. “Because no one in that entire stadium bought a ticket to see him talk or play or do what he does.”

When the match was over, Kyrgios was gracious with his opponent, shaking his hand at the net and exchanging a few pleasantries. Sinner then shook hands with Bernardes, as is tradition, but Kyrgios passed by him and got in a few more words before packing up his racket bag and walking off the court.

“He’s not even going to get a slap on the wrist for his dreadful umpiring performance today,” Kyrgios said. “He was horrendous.”

Kyrgios was in such a hurry to leave that he departed without grabbing the red-white-and-black Nike sneakers that were next to his seat. He teamed with Thanasi Kokkinakis to win a doubles match later Tuesday, then explained his side of what had gone on in singles a few hours earlier.

“I have never been a part of a match where an umpire was hated that much,” Kyrgios said. “Today, he made it about himself, like his feelings got hurt apparently from what I said, from what the crowd’s feeling. You can’t be like that if you’re an umpire. I’m sorry.”

Kyrgios spoke earlier in this tournament about how he took inspiration from women’s star Naomi Osaka and the way she has shed light on the mental struggles that even elite athletes can face. He acknowledged that he’s worked through issues as well, and that he felt like he was facing “constant negativity.”

“I got frustrated,” Kyrgios said Tuesday. “Can I not get frustrated?”

Kyrgios said he’s been in a happier place of late, though that happiness got away from him earlier this month at Indian Wells. After losing in the quarterfinals there to Rafael Nadal and shaking hands, Kyrgios went to his seat and smashed his racket – which wound up nearly striking a ball boy. That earned him a $25,000 fine for a combination of his antics and an audible obscenity.

Kyrgios revealed Tuesday that he found the ball boy from Indian Wells a day later and presented him with a racket as an apology.

“That’s something he’s going to remember like his entire life. The ATP doesn’t … pick up any media things on that,” Kyrgios said.

Another fine might be coming, since that his professed happiness wasn’t there Tuesday, either.

Sinner didn’t know much about what made Kyrgios so upset. “I just tried to stay in my zone, and, yeah, I think that was the right choice,” Sinner said.

The fireworks seemed to start when a walkie-talkie went off during a point at 4-4 in the first set. They picked up considerably during the first-set tiebreaker, when Kyrgios missed a forehand wide and then slammed his racket to the court. He was already upset with Bernardes, for reasons that weren’t immediately clear.

“You have no idea. You have absolutely no idea,” Kyrgios told the umpire during the changeover, when he trailed the tiebreak 4-2.

He double-faulted to go down 5-2, seemed to be speaking to someone near the side of the court, then gave a brief yell. He got a point back to go down 5-3, and that’s when Bernardes apparently had heard enough and issued Kyrgios a point penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“You’re talking about me,” Bernardes told Kyrgios, who insisted he was merely talking to a friend seated nearby.

Kyrgios then double-faulted to lose the set and that’s when emotions truly spilled over.

“What’s unsportsmanlike? What is unsportsmanlike?” he asked Bernardes repeatedly, before screaming that he wanted to talk to a tournament official.

“Get me someone now!” Kyrgios said, then smashed his racket on the court four times. That’s when Bernardes issued the game penalty, putting Kyrgios down a break before the second set even started, and Sinner kept the lead the rest of the way.

This is far from the first time Kyrgios’ on-court antics have overshadowed his play.

In 2019, he walked off the court and threw a chair onto the red clay during a fit of rage during his second-round match at the Italian Open, leading to him being defaulted and fined. Kyrgios was suspended by the ATP Tour for two months in 2016 for “tanking” a match and insulting fans during a loss at the Shanghai Masters. And in 2015, Kyrgios insulted Stan Wawrinka with crude remarks during a match in Montreal, earning him a $12,500 fine and a suspended 28-day ban.

“I know I’m a good person,” Kyrgios said. “I don’t really care, but I don’t understand what could you possibly fine me for today.”

Rybakina, Sabalenka to meet in Australian Open women’s final

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MELBOURNE, Australia — What all seemed so different, so daunting, even, about trying to win a Grand Slam title to Elena Rybakina a little more than six months ago is now coming rather naturally.

And if she can win one more match, she will add a championship at the Australian Open to the one she collected at Wimbledon.

Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan, reached her second final in a span of three major tournaments by beating Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (4), 6-3 at Melbourne Park on Thursday, signaling a rapid rise toward the top of tennis.

“Everything was new at Wimbledon,” Rybakina said after hitting nine aces in the semifinals to raise her tournament-leading total to 44. “Now I more or less understand what to expect.”

That could come in handy Saturday, when she will face No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. Sabalenka reached her first Grand Slam title match at age 24 by beating unseeded Magda Linette 7-6 (1), 6-2 in Thursday’s second semifinal.

Sabalenka improved to 10-0 in 2023, winning all 20 sets she has contested this season.

More importantly, the victory over Linette gave Sabalenka her first taste of success in a Slam semi after going 0-3 at that stage until now, losing each previous attempt by a 6-4 score in the third set.

Rybakina and Sabalenka employ a somewhat similar brand of tennis, relying on big serves and big hitting at the baseline. Sabalenka is far less cautious, though, and her penchant for high-risk, high-reward play was evident against Linette, who had never before been past the third round in 29 appearances at majors.

Sabalenka finished with a whopping 33-9 edge in winners, but also compiled more unforced errors – including a trio that led to a break at love by Linette in the opening game.

The key to both semifinals turned out to be a first-set tiebreaker. Azarenka lost the mark on her strokes, for the most part, making things smoother for Rybakina, while Sabalenka raced to a 6-0 lead in hers. It wasn’t the case that each and every shot Sabalenka hit landed right on a line, but it must have seemed that way to Linette.

“In the tiebreaker, I really found my rhythm,” Sabalenka said. “Started trusting myself. Started going for my shots.”

Rybakina’s win over Azarenka, the champion at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013, added to what already was an impressive run through a string of top opponents. She also beat No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 17 Jelena Ostapenko – both owners of major titles – and 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins.

“For sure, they’re very experienced players,” said Rybakina, whose parents and sister have been in town throughout the Australian Open. “I knew that I have to focus on every point.”

She delivered serves at up to 117 mph (189 kph) and stinging groundstrokes that she used to close points seemingly at will on Thursday. Her performance was particularly noteworthy against a returner and defender as established on hard courts as Azarenka, a former No. 1 and a three-time runner-up at the U.S. Open.

“Kind of hard to digest,” Azarenka said. “Obviously, I had quite a few chances that I gave myself.”

Rybakina is just 23, 10 years younger than Azarenka, and the future sure looks bright at the moment.

Rybakina might be seeded just 22nd in Melbourne, and ranked just 25th, but those numbers are rather misleading and not indicative at all of her talent and form. She did not get the usual bump from her title last July at Wimbledon, where zero rankings points were awarded after the All England Club banned players from Russia and Belarus because of the invasion of Ukraine.

Rybakina was born in Moscow; she switched to Kazakhstan in 2018, when that country offered to fund her tennis career.

It was breezy and chilly at Rod Laver Arena from the start of Rybakina vs. Azarenka, with the temperature dipping below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius).

That had a role in the way the first set was as much of a seesaw as can be, with each player seeming to gain the upper hand – and then ceding it just as quickly. Both found the conditions slowed down the tennis balls.

“Kind of misjudged a lot of balls,” Azarenka said.

Rybakina encountered similar issues and her occasional inconsistency was encapsulated by the very first game. She began, inauspiciously enough, with a double-fault, before holding with the help of three aces.

Azarenka nosed ahead by breaking for a 3-2 lead on a leaping, full-extension volley winner with both women at the net. Rybakina, though, broke right back, and then once more to go up 5-3.

Azarenka saved a set point at 5-3 with a terrific down-the-line forehand passing shot, wound up taking the game with a backhand she accented with a shout of “Let’s go!”

A mistake-filled tiebreaker ended with Azarenka pushing a forehand wide to cap an 11-shot exchange, and the set belonged to Rybakina. She broke at love for a 2-1 lead in the second, and while they competed for another 25 minutes, the outcome was never really much in doubt.

Sure, Rybakina again faltered for a bit while trying to serve out the victory at 5-2. No one expected Azarenka to go quietly. But one last break, aided by a double-fault from Azarenka, allowed Rybakina to take another step toward another trophy.

“Ready,” she said, “to give everything I have left.”

Paul, McDonald on US Davis Cup team; Nainkin interim captain

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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul and the player who eliminated Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park, Mackenzie McDonald, are among the players picked by interim captain David Nainkin for the U.S. Davis Cup team’s matches at Uzbekistan next week.

Nainkin’s appointment was announced Friday, three weeks after Mardy Fish’s tenure as captain ended.

Nainkin has been with the U.S. Tennis Association since 2004. He will be assisted against Uzbekistan by Dean Goldfine, who coached 20-year-old Ben Shelton during his quarterfinal run at the Australian Open.

Paul beat Shelton in that round before losing to Novak Djokovic on Friday night.

The other members of the U.S. roster are Denis Kudla, Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek. Kudla replaces Jenson Brooksby on the team.

The matches will be played on indoor hard courts on Feb. 3-4.