The Australian Open has lost another superstar drawcard, with world No.1 Carlos Alcaraz forced out of the Melbourne major with a leg injury.
The 19-year-old Spaniard, who won his maiden grand slam title at the US Open in September, revealed he suffered a muscle injury in his right leg during pre-season training.
“I had worked a lot to reach my best level in Australia. Unfortunately I won’t be able to play either the Care A2+ Kooyong (warm-up event) or the Australian Open,” Alcaraz posted on social media on Friday.
“It is a hard moment, but I have to be optimistic, recover and look ahead. See you in 2024 Australian Open.”
He added: “When I was at my best in preseason, I picked up an injury through a chance, unnatural movement in training. This time it’s the semimembranosus muscle in my right leg.”
Alcaraz rocketed to the top of the rankings last year, becoming the youngest man ever to reach No.1 after beating Casper Ruud in the US Open final.
However he suffered a blow late in the 2022 campaign when he tore an abdominal muscle, forcing him to miss the ATP Finals and the Davis Cup Finals.
Alcaraz’s withdrawal means his countryman, reigning champion Rafael Nadal, will be promoted to top seed for his title defence when the season’s first grand slam gets under way at Melbourne Park on January 16.
The teenager’s absence also follows the retirements last year of women’s title Ash Barty, seven-times champion Serena Williams and six-times men’s champion Roger Federer.
The young Spaniard burst onto the scene in 2022, with his US Open win making him the youngest men’s US Open champion since Pete Sampras took the honours in 1990. His world No.1 ranking made him the youngest ever to hold the title, breaking the record held by Lleyton Hewitt.
Ash Barty reveals baby joy
An overjoyed Ash Barty has announced she is to become a mother.
The retired tennis champion will not defend her Australian Open crown this month but continues to draw headlines.
The 26-year-old revealed her baby joy on social media on Friday night.
Barty posted a photo on Instagram of her dog Origi with a pair of baby shoes.
“2023 set to be the best year yet. We are so excited for our new adventure,” Barty wrote in a caption including a baby emoji.
“Origi already the protective big sister.”
Her golf-professional partner Garry Kissick also posted on Instagram a photo of the baby shoes with the dog and a baby-sized Liverpool kit with the caption “Little Red, 2023” and a baby emoji.
The three-time grand-slam champion’s news comes nine months after she shocked the tennis world by quitting the sport seven weeks after ending Australia’s 44-year singles title drought in Melbourne.
Djokovic and Medvedev to meet in Adelaide semi-final
Novak Djokovic has set up a tasty semi-final with Daniil Medvedev at the Adelaide International 1 after the Serb downed free-swinging Denis Shapovalov 6-3 6-4, while Medvedev brushed aside fellow Russian Karen Khachanov 6-3 6-3.
Djokovic wasn’t always at his best on Friday but got the job done in one hour and 56 minutes as he continues to tune up for the Australian Open.
“I think the scoreline doesn’t give you the right idea of what happened on the court,” said Djokovic.
“It was such a close match, almost two hours for two sets.
“But I am definitely pleased with the way I fought tonight.”
The battle started with a 15-point, first-game epic, with two break points on offer for the Canadian.
But he failed to capitalise and missed out again in the fifth game before Djokovic put his foot down.
Djokovic broke in the eighth game and then served out the set to love.
Down a break in the second set, the world No.18 refused to yield, with two superb winners paving the way for him to level the scores at 3-3.
But his seven double faults across the match hurt and often came at the worst possible times, some loose forehands also hardly helping the left-hander’s cause against the 21-time grand slam champion.
Djokovic broke Shapovalov in the ninth game and then served out the match.
Meanwhile, Medvedev broke Khachanov in the seventh game of the first set, winning three successive games to wrap things up in style.
Khachanov got a break in the second to lead 3-1 but Medvedev roared back to claim a convincing victory.
“It’s never easy to play your compatriot,” Medvedev said in an on-court interview.
“I’m happy that I managed to really raise my level, especially in the end of both sets, and really happy to be through to the semis.”
The 2021 US Open champion, Medvedev had his first Australian Open final loss that year, going down to Djokovic in straight sets.
Djokovic holds an 8-4 career record against Medvedev and is on a three-match run against the 2021 US Open champion.
The Russian’s last win against Djokovic came at the 2021 US Open.
“I don’t think there is going to be too many short points tomorrow,” said Djokovic.
“We both serve well and normally when you play Daniil you have to be ready to go the distance – physically and mentally.”
In other matches on Friday, American Sebastian Korda upset Italian sixth seed Jannik Sinner 7-5 6-1, while Australia’s Alexei Popyrin suffered a three-set quarter-final loss to Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka.
Nishioka won 7-6 (7-4) 6-7 (8-10) 6-2 and will face Korda, the son of former Australian Open champion Petr Korda, in the last four.
Tomljanovic’s cruel Open rankings twist
An untimely knee injury is set to rob Ajla Tomljanovic of a precious first-time grand slam seeding at the Australian Open.
Australia’s top women’s hope following the retirement of 2022 champion Ash Barty, Tomljanovic was in line for a top-32 seeding at her home grand slam before withdrawing from the United Cup.
In a major blow, Tomljanovic is now projected to slip two places to world No.35 after opting to sit out the mixed teams’ event as a precaution due to the knee complaint.
With world No.10 Simona Halep not contesting the Open, the 33rd-ranked player as of next Monday’s rankings will nab the final women’s seeding slot.
A quarter-finalist at both Wimbledon and the US Open last year, Tomljanovic is now sweating on two withdrawals before next Thursday’s draw to snatch an all-important seeding.
Being seeded would ensure Tomljanovic couldn’t run into a higher-ranked rival until at least the third round at Melbourne Park.
Such a protected position in the draw would be a huge advantage for the first Australian woman since the great Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1979 to reach the last eight at Wimbledon and New York in a single season.
Before Tomljanovic’s injury setback, Barty hailed her 29-year-old former Fed Cup teammate a genuine Melbourne Park title hope.
“And that’s the genuine feeling among the players,” Barty told AAP.
“Certainly when I played Ajla, I knew I had to be at my absolute very best or she’d completely roll me.
“And she’s got that respect from everyone.”
Tomljanovic took the opening set of a gripping Wimbledon quarter-final against eventual champion Elena Rybakina last July before also losing a high quality US Open last-eight encounter to world No.2 Ons Jabeur.
While Tomljanovic needs a touch of luck, Poland’s world No.1 and reigning French and US Open champion Iga Swiatek will be top seed at Melbourne Park for the first time.
Nick Kyrgios will be Australia’s highest seed at the season’s first slam.
The 2022 Wimbledon finalist is currently slated to be seeded 21st.
Crucially, countryman Alex de Minaur is likely be seeded 24th.
That means de Minaur will avoid being in the bracket of players seeded between 25th and 32nd who will be drawn to strike a top-eight opponent in round three.
Teenage whiz Carlos Alcaraz, who removed Lleyton Hewitt from a page in the tennis record books by becoming the youngest year-end No.1 in history, will be the men’s Open top seed.
Italy go 2-0 up over Greece
Maria Sakkari’s early horror show turned into a bona fide thriller, but there’d be no happy ending for Greece who trailed 2-0 after the first night of their United Cup semi-final against Italy.
With a mismatch between world No.803 Stefanos Sakellaridis and Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti (No.23) to follow, the Greek team would have been banking on a Sakkari win to keep them well-placed in the contest.
But Martina Trevisan hadn’t read that script, edging the visibly frustrated Sakkari 6-3 6-7 (7-5) 7-5 in a three-hour and 15-minute epic.
The world No.6 went in as a warm favourite in Sydney, having not dropped a set during her three singles wins to start the competition.
Trevisan, the world No.27, had been patchy at best with only one, three-set win.
But form went out the window, often along with Sakkari’s groundstrokes.
Trevisan broke Sakkari in her opening service game and ultimately established a 4-2 lead.
Some 22 unforced errors flowed from Sakkari’s racquet in the first set, including a diabolical ninth game where she netted a backhand, struck a ball long, double-faulted and missed a regulation volley to enable her opponent to draw first blood.
The rot continued in the second as Trevisan took a 2-0 lead before the two-time grand slam semi-finalist suddenly started to get her game together.
Sakkari broke back and pushed ahead with another in the seventh game, ultimately serving for the set at 5-4.
But Trevisan flipped the script again, snatching the break back to level the contest.
The key moment in the tiebreak came at 4-4, Trevisan dominating the rally only for Sakkari to pull out a superb slapped forehand on defence to win the point.
While she levelled the match, Sakkari struggled to kick on in the third, a net cord giving Trevisan the break for 3-2.
The ever-smiling Italian couldn’t hold that one but broke Sakkari in the 11th game before serving out the match.
A routine 6-1 6-1 win followed for Musetti, handing Italy a major advantage heading into day two.
Musetti said he wasn’t at his best despite the easy win, saying the tense women’s match played its part.
“For me it was very stressful. I was watching her on TV and I warmed up like seven times,” he said.
“I was so happy in the end because she fought really well and deserved the win.”
Matteo Berrettini can seal a spot in the final for Italy with a first-up win over Stefanos Tsitsipas on Saturday.
Italy’s Lucia Bronzetti is also favoured to beat Despina Papamichail in the other women’s singles before a mixed doubles match is played.
Pegula stuns Swiatek as USA lead Poland
Frances Tiafoe has delivered a winning encore to Jessica Pegula’s spectacular upset of world No.1 Iga Swiatek to give the USA a 2-0 lead over Poland in the opening United Cup semi-final in Sydney.
Pegula reversed a run of four straight losses to Swiatek with a commanding 6-2 6-2 victory over the reigning French and US Open champion and hot Australian Open favourite.
Tiafoe, a 2022 US Open semi-finalist, then lived up to expectations with a 6-3 6-3 win over world No.245 Kacper Zuk in the opening men’s singles match to ram home Team USA’s advantage ahead of Saturday’s remaining three rubbers.
Poland will need to win all of those matches to snatch the tie, starting with world No.10 Hubert Hurkacz’s tussle with the ninth-ranked Taylor Fritz.
Magda Linette faces 2022 Australian Open semi-finalist Madison Keys in the second women’s singles encounter before Swiatek and Hurkacz are scheduled to take on Pegula and Fritz in the potentially decisive mixed doubles.
Pegula will be brimming with confidence if she is called upon for another live rubber on Saturday.
Hardly a slouch herself after rising to No.3 in the rankings following a stellar 2022 campaign, the inspired 28-year-old never blinked under a closed roof at Ken Rosewall Arena.
Pegula broke Swiatek five times and dropped her own serve only once in storming to her first win over the three-time grand slam champion since 2019.
“I’ve played her in a lot of different places but I definitely feel like these were the fastest conditions,” Pegula said.
“Also Poland had a tough turnaround yesterday (flying from Brisbane) and we’ve been lucky enough to have been playing here, and maybe have a little bit of an advantage in being used to the courts.
“So I wanted to take that and use it as much as I could and I did a really good job playing really aggressive, serving smart and returning really well.”
Unbeaten in nine singles and doubles matches between them, Pegula (5-0) and Tiafoe (4-0) have put the USA in the box seat to be the first team through to Sunday’s final.
“Let’s just keep going. Let’s win this thing,” Tiafoe said.
“My confidence has been pretty high for a little bit. I’ve been playing some of the best tennis of my life right now and I’m just having fun out there on court.
“Just competing, comfortable in myself, comfortable in my game, and I’m happy with where I’m at – but I can get better.”
In the evening semi-final, Italy took a 2-0 lead over Greece.
World No.27 Martina Trevisan stunned the fancied Maria Sakkari 6-3 6-7 (7-5) 7-5.
Trevisan showed more composure when it mattered against the error-prone Greek world No.6 before Lorenzo Musetti dominated Stefanos Sakellaridis as expected 6-1 6-1.
Matteo Berrettini can seal a spot in the final for Italy with a first-up win over Stefanos Tsitsipas on Saturday.
Italy has further fallbacks with Lucia Bronzetti favoured to beat Despina Papamichail in the other women’s singles before the final mixed doubles.
Next-gen Aussies on show in AO qualifiers
Little-known Australian Adam Walton has been handed a wildcard into the Australian Open qualifiers as he attempts to snare a maiden berth at a grand slam.
The 23-year-old is ranked 432 in the world and was one of a number of players handed a spot in the January 9-12 qualifiers.
The US college graduate turned professional last season and skyrocketed up the rankings after winning three ITF titles.
Dane Sweeny, a 21-year-old from Queensland, claimed six ITF singles title during a breakout 2022 season and has also earned a spot in the qualifiers.
Others to earn spots are teenage talents Philip Sekulic, Jeremy Jin and Edward Winter, along with Tristan Schoolkate, James McCabe and Derek Pham.
American teen Bruno Kuzuhara, the reigning Australian Open boys’ singles champion, has also been awarded a men’s qualifying singles wildcard.
Astra Sharma, Destanee Aiava and Ellen Perez, who have all represented Australia in the Billie Jean King Cup, headline the women’s qualifying singles wildcard recipients.
Sharma achieved a career-high singles ranking of No.84 last season and is hoping to earn a fifth consecutive main-draw appearance at her home grand slam.
Petra Hule is another recent US college graduate making giant inroads on the tour.
The 23-year-old from South Australia posted consistent results on the Australian Pro Tour last year, helping her break into the world’s top 500.
Aiava and Lizette Cabrera, both former top 150 players, have been rewarded for their recent success on the Australian Pro Tour by being handed spots in the qualifiers.
AUSTRALIAN MEN IN QUALIFIERS
Dane Sweeny (Qld)
Tristan Schoolkate (WA)
James McCabe (NSW)
Adam Walton (Qld)
Philip Sekulic (Qld)
Bruno Kuzuhara (USA)
Edward Winter (SA)
Jeremy Jin (NSW)
Derek Pham (WA)
AUSTRALIAN WOMEN IN QUALIFIERS
Astra Sharma (WA)
Lizette Cabrera (Qld)
Alexandra Bozovic (NSW)
Destanee Aiava (Vic)
Ellen Perez (NSW)
Seone Mendez (NSW)
Petra Hule (SA)
Kaylah McPhee (Qld)
Elysia Bolton (NSW)
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