Novak Djokovic shrugs off injury scare, wins Adelaide title

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Novak Djokovic showed no signs of an injury that might derail his Australian Open campaign when he beat unseeded American Sebastian Korda 6-7 (8), 7-6 (3), 6-4 to win the Adelaide International.

Djokovic worried Open organizers when he said after his semifinal in Adelaide against Daniil Medvedev that he had been troubled by a tight hamstring. He said the injury eased as the match progressed.

If there had been any lingering issue, it likely would have been exposed in Sunday’s marathon final that stretched over more than three hours and finished with Djokovic claiming his 92nd career singles title.

He also took his second Adelaide title 16 years after his first; he won the tournament in 2007, aged 19.

Djokovic had to save a match and chamionship point at 5-6 in the second set Sunday and was fully stretched by the 22-year-old Korda, son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda.

The match turned on a handful of points. Djokovic held serve to love in his first four service games of the final set and then held serve after being taken to deuce by Korda in his fifth service game.

Djokovic then rallied from 15-40 down at 5-4 in Korda’s next service game to win four-straight points and take the set in 51 minutes — and the match in 3 hours, 9 minutes.

“I hope everyone enjoyed the show tonight, it’s been an amazing week,” Djokovic said. “Seb’s had an amazing tournament and put in an amazing effort today.

“I think he was closer to victory at times today than I was. It was only a couple of shots, a couple of points.”

Djokovic at times showed irritation with this coach Goran Ivanicevic who supported him from a courtside box or remonstrated with himself after a wasted point.

“I’d like to thank my team for handling me, tolerating me in the good and bad times today. I’m sure they didn’t have such a blast with me going back and forth with them but I appreciate them being here.”

His serve was reliable at the start of the first set and he didn’t concede a point on first serve until Korda broke him to lead 5-4. Djokovic immediately broke back and took the set to a tiebreaker.

Korda had an early lead and five set points but Djokovic saved them all and leveled the tiebreaker at 6-6. Djokovic framed a forehand that sailed into the crowd and gave Korda another advantage, allowing the American to take the tiebreaker 10-8.

Djokovic saved a match point at 5-6 on serve in the second set, then forced the set into another tiebreaker that he took comfortably.

Korda produced some outstanding service games and troubled Djokovic at times with the kick of his serve. But he was broken for only the second time in the match in the 10th game of the deciding set, with only a couple of points making the difference.

Earlier, second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka claimed her 11th WTA Tour singles title but her first in almost two years when she overcame qualifier Linda Noskova 6-2 7-6 (4) in the women’s final.

In doing so she ended an extraordinary run by the 18-year-old Noskova who beat third-seeded Daria Kasatkina and former Australian Open champion Viktoria Asarenka in the main draw on the way to her first final.

Sabalenka didn’t drop a set all week and seemed set for another comfortable win when she took the first set on Sunday. But Noskova was much more competitive in the second, holding serve and putting pressure on Sabalenka’s serve, especially with her powerful backhand returns.

“I think I’m a different player right now,” Sabalenka said. “Maybe a little bit smarter, a little bit calmer on court. Just a little bit of everything changed.

“I want to congratulate (Noskova) on an amazing week. I think you’re going to have a great future and 100 percent appear in many more finals.”

Sabalenka’s last single title came in Madrid in May 2021 but she went without a title in 2022 despite reaching three finals.

She ended the year ranked fifth after qualifying for the season-ending WTA Finals in Fort Worth where she lost in the final to Caroline Garcia.

Sabalenka now has won three tournaments in the first week of a season after Shenzen in 2019 and Abu Dhabi in 2021.

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

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Mike Frey/USA TODAY Sports
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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.