Tennis: Djokovic battles from brink to beat Korda for Adelaide crown

Novak Djokovic dug deep to save a match point on the way to a battling 6-7 (8)  7-6(3) 6-4 victory over Sebastian Korda in the Adelaide International 1 final on Sunday ahead of this month’s Australian Open.

A day after he overwhelmed Daniil Medvedev in the semi-final despite sustaining a hamstring injury, Djokovic moved freely on court but was pushed hard by Korda before the Serb made a late charge to deny his opponent a potentially career-defining win.

“I hope you enjoyed the show tonight,” Djokovic said.

“I want to say a few words to Seb and his team. Amazing tournament, amazing effort today. I’ll probably say that you were closer to the victory today than I was.

“The future is bright for you so just keep going.”

Korda broke for a 5-4 lead in a tense first set and was 40-0 up on serve when Djokovic hit back to level the scores, but the world number five came undone in the tiebreak as the American soaked up the pressure to convert his seventh set point.

A fuming Djokovic yelled at and banished two members of his entourage from their courtside seats before the second set, in which he uncharacteristically struggled with his returns to allow Korda to dominate the rallies.

But with the crowd behind him on his return to Australia after his deportation last year due to his unvaccinated coronavirus status, Djokovic raised his game to save a match point before forcing a tiebreak which the top seed won.

Djokovic held for a 5-4 lead in the final set and the 35-year-old closed out victory with a break of serve as Korda finally felt the pressure and double-faulted before making two errors.

Djokovic thanked his team for tolerating him in good and bad times.

“Today I’m sure they didn’t have a blast with me going back and forth with them,” Djokovic said before addressing the crowd. “It definitely felt like playing at home. You guys made me feel very welcome, so thank you.”

Victory also helped Djokovic go level with his great rival Rafael Nadal on 92 ATP singles titles in the open era, with only Ivan Lendl (94), Roger Federer (103) and Jimmy Connors (109) ahead of the duo.

Djokovic is bidding for a record-extending 10th Australian Open title at the Jan. 16-29 tournament to draw level with Nadal on 22 Grand Slam titles.

Sabalenka stops qualifier Noskova to seal Adelaide title

Aryna Sabalenka warmed up for the Australian Open by capturing her 11th WTA Tour title with a 6-3, 7-6 (4) win over teenaged Czech qualifier Linda Noskova in the Adelaide International 1 final on Sunday.

The big-hitting Sabalenka made a sluggish start to the WTA 500 event this week before hitting her stride and she was flying in the first set against the giant-killing 18-year-old, taking charge of rallies from the baseline to grab the advantage.

Noskova, who had defeated ailing top seed Ons Jabeur in the semi-final after wins over the higher-ranked Daria Kasatkina and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, took the tight second set to a tiebreak where Sabalenka switched gears.

A crosscourt winner set up three matchpoints for Sabalenka and the world number five double-faulted before closing out the contest with a booming serve for her first title in almost two years and a boost before the January 16-29 Australian Open.

“I’m super happy with another title. It was great week. I enjoyed every moment in Adelaide. So just super happy with my performance this week,” Sabalenka, who bagged her first title since Madrid in 2021, told reporters.

“I almost forgot how it feels to have the title.”

The Belarusian said she was looking forward to the year’s first Grand Slam after reaching the round of 16 in 2022.

“I just feel that I’m ready to show my best and I’m ready for a big fight,” Sabalenka said.

“Again, you never know what’s going to happen. I just want to control what I can and just do my best.”

American Coco Gauff also made a title-winning start to her season, comfortably beating junior Roland Garros champion Rebeka Masarova 6-1, 6-1 in rain-affected Auckland Classic final.

The top seed did not drop a set all week en route to the third crown of her career and first since the 2021 Parma title.

“It’s been great,” Gauff said. “Honestly a great week for me despite the rain; I can’t ask for a better start to my season.”

Gauff said the triumph was great for her confidence before the Australian Open.

“You never know how your first week is going to go, it could be good or terrible,” she said. “But it’s been a great week.”

Fritz delivers as US win inaugural United Cup crown

Taylor Fritz edged Matteo Berrettini 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6) as the United States justified their status as favourites to outclass Italy in a one-sided final at the inaugural United Cup mixed team tournament on Sunday.

Coming into the third rubber with his team 2-0 up and needing one more victory to win the $15 million event, world number nine Fritz took the opening set when his big-hitting opponent found the net in a tight tiebreak.

Indian Wells champion Fritz squandered five chances to break in the next set but held his nerve in another tiebreak, sparking wild American celebrations on the side of the court and in the stands.

“It’s great. It’s amazing for the team to win this event. We came in with really high hopes, or at least I did,” Fritz said. “I was really happy to be in that position to clinch the match.

“Just the emotions when you win and everyone comes running at you, it’s amazing. I don’t know if you saw the replay but Frances Tiafoe basically headbutted me.”

Madison Keys made it 4-0 by beating Lucia Bronzetti 6-3, 6-2 to kick off another round of celebrations as her team mates swapped the champagne for water and drenched the world number 11.

Earlier, Lorenzo Musetti’s withdrawal from his match with Tiafoe handed the US a 2-0 lead after Jessica Pegula downed Martina Trevisan 6-4 6-2 at Ken Rosewall Arena.

A shoulder injury forced the 20-year-old Musetti to concede to Tiafoe after his first serve of the second set. The Italian lost the opener 6-2.

Tiafoe, ranked 19th in the world, had to fight to win his opening service game before breaking in the third game and easing to the first set.

Musetti, however, was struggling and, after attempting to play following treatment, he stepped over the net to concede.

Pegula overcame Trevisan, clinching the opening set 6-4 as both players struggled on serve. She took command in the second set, winning the first five games before ending a late fightback by her opponent to prevail.

Victory in the season-opening tournament that began with 18 nations in six groups across Sydney, Perth and Brisbane extended US dominance of team tennis events.

The Americans top the table with most titles in the Davis Cup (32), Billie Jean King Cup (18) and Hopman Cup (6).

While the tournament was praised for bringing players from the men’s and women’s tours together, its continued popularity will depend on how organisers tweak the format to reduce dead rubbers.

The US also took full advantage of playing in Sydney throughout, while their semi-final opponents Poland and Italy both travelled to the city midway through the event for the last-four stage.

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