Jabeur rallies past Pegula, Sakkari wins again at WTA Finals

Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
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FORT WORTH, Texas – Ons Jabeur wasn’t used to the idea of playing so soon after a loss in her WTA Finals debut.

Took her a bit to adjust as well.

The Tunisian rallied for a three-set victory over Jessica Pegula, keeping alive the U.S. Open finalist’s hopes of advancing out of group play in the season-ending event.

Jabeur won the last three games in each of the second and third sets in her 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory after dropping seven consecutive games early in the match.

A loss would have eliminated Jabeur from the semifinals because Maria Sakkari beat Aryna Sabalenka 6-2, 6-4 in the late match in a meeting of a players who won their opening matches.

Jabeur won the first set in the opener of the round-robin matches against Sabalenka before the No. 2-ranked player faltered on the indoor hard court at Dickies Arena.

“It was tough because I’m used to just be depressed for the next two days when I lose,” said Jabeur, the first Tunisian to win a WTA Finals match. “I didn’t have much time here, and it was very tough to sleep the first day to be honest with you.”

It was just the second win in the past nine matches against a top-10 opponent for Jabeur, who also beat Pegula in the Madrid final on clay in May.

No. 3 Pegula, another first-time WTA Finals participant who was set to play doubles with fellow American Coco Gauff in the final match of the day, has lost nine in a row against top five foes.

Pegula temporarily kept alive her hopes for the semifinals by winning a set, but is a long shot after falling to 0-2 in the tournament.

The event was moved to Texas from China because of concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai, a Grand Slam doubles champion who accused a former government official there of sexual assault.

Coronavirus restrictions also played a part, and WTA Tour Chairman and CEO Steve Simon hopes the event can return to China.

Jabeur, the first African woman to reach the WTA Finals since Amanda Coetzer in 2001, rallied from love-40 to hold in a five-deuce first game of third set, then Pegula saved two break points to get even at 3-3.

Pegula couldn’t do it again, losing at love on her serve to give Jabeur the chance to close out the match.

After dropping the first game of the match, Pegula won seven in a row for a 1-0 lead in the second set before Jabeur, who had 11 unforced errors in the first set, held serve.

“She was playing really well, and she was playing very fast,” Jabeur said. “I just had to find that click to change up the rhythm and impose my game more than her game.”

Down a set and two breaks, the seventh-ranked Sabalenka won four consecutive games before Sakkari recovered and won the final three.

“She was just moving well, hitting the ball really good, not missing a lot,” Sabalenka said. “I was making some errors and that’s what was tough tonight. I tried my best, but she was just too good tonight.”

No. 5 Sakkari beat Sabalenko in the WTA Finals for the second consecutive year, needing an hour and 37 minutes after a nearly three-hour match that included two tiebreakers a year ago.

Two of Sakkari’s three victories against top 10 players have come this week after she won tiebreakers in both sets to beat Pegula.

Defending doubles champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova beat China’s Yifan Xu and Zhaoxuan Yang 6-3, 6-3, putting the Czech duo in the semifinals.

The opponent for Pegula and Gauff in the late doubles match was Desirae Krawczyk of the U.S. and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands.

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

Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports
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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.