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    Court Dismisses Guilty Plea by Australian Tennis Star Nick Kyrgios in Assault Case

    The guilty plea and dismissal stemmed from a confrontation Mr. Kyrgios had with his partner in 2021 when she tried to prevent him from leaving in a ride-hailing car.MELBOURNE, Australia — The Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios pleaded guilty on Friday to common assault during a court hearing in Canberra, the Australian capital and his hometown. But shortly after, the court dismissed the charge.Mr. Kyrgios, 27, faced a maximum penalty of two years in prison for shoving his former romantic partner, but he argued for dismissal of the charge, citing his history of mental health issues. He withdrew that bid after the court heard evidence that he was not suffering a significant depressive illness.His lawyer then called for the conviction to be dismissed on the grounds that Mr. Kyrgios would face a greater harm from it than an ordinary defendant. The magistrate agreed, effectively dismissing the charge and allowing Mr. Kyrgios to walk away without a conviction or a criminal record.The seriousness of the matter was “low-level,” the magistrate, Beth Campbell, said, adding that she did not think the tennis star was likely to offend again.The unexpected chain of events in the packed courtroom stemmed from an altercation in January 2021, in which Mr. Kyrgios was accused of having shoved Chiara Passari, his former partner, during a dispute when she tried to prevent him from leaving in an Uber.The couple briefly split after the alleged incident, then reconciled. Ms. Passari, an Australian model, did not report the matter to the police until they had separated once again, in December 2021.In a post on Instagram after the hearing, Mr. Kyrgios thanked the court for dismissing the charge, cited mental health difficulties at the time of the incident and thanked his friends, family and new partner, Costeen Hatzi.“I was not in a good place when this happened, and I reacted to a difficult situation in a way I deeply regret,” he said. “I know I wasn’t OK, and I’m sincerely sorry for the hurt I caused.”“Mental health is tough,” he said, adding: “I now plan to focus on recovering from injury and moving forward in the best way possible.”Common assault, the charge brought against Mr. Kyrgios, is the least serious assault charge in Australia, and indicates that the victim experienced immediate, unlawful violence, or the threat of it, though not bodily injury. Ms. Passari had reported shoulder pain and a grazed knee after the altercation.Known for his outbursts on and off the court and for his mercurial, magnetic playing style, Mr. Kyrgios has become a kind of folk hero in his native Australia for pushing boundaries with his behavior. On Friday, he had arrived at court on crutches after recently undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.Last month, he was awaiting a warm welcome on home turf at the Australian Open, the first major tennis tournament of the year. He withdrew a little more than 24 hours before his scheduled first-round match because of a knee injury, which resulted in the surgery. More

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    Aston Villa’s Alisha Lehmann leapfrogs Roger Federer as most followed Swiss sports star on Instagram

    ASTON VILLA footballer Alisha Lehmann is now the most followed Swiss sports star on Instagram.She has pipped tennis legend Roger Federer to top spot, with the 21-grand slam winner boasting 11.2million followers.
    Alisha Lehmann is the most followed Swiss sports starCredit: Instagram @ alishalehmann7
    The Aston Villa star boasts 11.3million followersCredit: Instagram @alishalehmann7
    She often shares glamorous photosCredit: Instagram @ alishalehmann7
    Lehmann is popular for her football contentCredit: Tik Tok / @alishalehmann7
    Roger Federer previously held the title of most followed Swiss sport starCredit: The Mega Agency
    Lehmann, 24, may not have achieved as much in a sporting capacity but it appears she is more popular on social media.
    The forward boasts 100,000 more followers on Instagram than compatriot Federer, and is nowhere near as active as the retired star.
    Lehmann has only 171 posts but several photos have broken the 1m ‘likes’ barrier.
    Most popular are shots of Lehmann in a Villa kit, either on the training pitch or in match action.
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    Lehmann is also known for her raunchy side which includes bikini snaps on the beach.
    But it has also led to trouble for the Swiss after she broke up with Villa star Douglas Luiz following a row they had over Lehmann starring in a sizzling 2023 calendar.
    Lehmann has a rich dating history which includes Swiss international Ramona Bachmann, who used to play for Chelsea Women.
    Fans of the Villa ace get an insight into her life on Instagram, with posts often documenting her travels to places like Miami and Rio de Janeiro.
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    Federer does likewise now he is no longer on the court chasing titles.
    While another popular Swiss, Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka, has 2.9m followers thanks in part to his football posts. More

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    Investigation Into Alexander Zverev Finds Insufficient Evidence for Abuse Claims

    The ATP Tour won’t discipline Zverev after a 15-month investigation into allegations made by his former girlfriend.The men’s professional tennis tour will not punish Alexander Zverev, the German star, in connection with allegations that he assaulted his girlfriend in 2019.After a 15-month investigation, the ATP Tour announced Tuesday that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations and that it would take no disciplinary action against Zverev.The ATP commissioned the investigation after Zverev’s former girlfriend Olya Sharypova, a Russian former tennis player, said that Zverev repeatedly abused her during confrontations in New York, Shanghai, Monaco and Geneva.The investigation was conducted by The Lake Forest Group, a third-party consultant, working with the ATP’s outside legal counsel, the Florida-based firm Smith Hulsey & Busey. The ATP issued a news release but did not publish a full report.Zverev and Sharypova both cooperated with the investigation, which included extensive interviews with them, as well as family members, friends and other tennis players. Investigators also reviewed text messages, audio files and photos, some of which came from a forensic analysis of Zverev’s phone. Sharypova did not file criminal charges against Zverev.Zverev has denied the allegations and said he supported the ATP carrying out an investigation. The allegations appeared both on social media and in a lengthy article in Slate published in 2021.“From the beginning, I have maintained my innocence and denied the baseless allegations made against me,” Zverev said in a statement Tuesday. “I welcomed and fully cooperated with the ATP’s investigation and am grateful for the organization’s time and attention in this matter.”Zverev has also sued Slate, and a German court ruled after a preliminary hearing that the evidence presented in the article was not sufficient under German law to justify the impact on him. That decision stated the article needed to have enough balance that it did not leave the impression that Zverev was guilty of the acts Sharypova accused him of committing.Zverev, the Olympic gold medalist in men’s singles in 2021, continued to play during the investigation and recorded some of his biggest wins during that time, including at the tour’s season-ending ATP Finals. He severely injured an ankle in June 2022 in the semifinals of the French Open but returned to playing competitively late in the fall; he played in January in the Australian Open, where he lost in the second round. After the loss, he said he had yet to regain his fitness or his form from before the injury.“I am grateful that this is finally resolved and my priority now is recovering from injury and concentrating on what I love most in this world — tennis,” he said in his statement Tuesday.Sharypova did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the investigation. In 2021, she said she did not want to discuss her story, writing in a message, “I don’t want to live in my memories of the past anymore, because it’s too hard for me. I want to live in the present and be engaged in making myself happy.”Massimo Calvelli, the chief executive of the ATP, said the tour had pursued an “exhaustive process” in the investigation. He said the investigation had “shown the need for us to be more responsive on safeguarding matters,” including protection of players, their partners and anyone directly connected with the tour. The ATP plans to hire a director of safeguarding in the near future. More

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    Novak Djokovic Captures His 10th Australian Open Men’s Singles Title

    After missing last year’s tournament when he was deported for being unvaccinated for Covid-19, the Serb beat Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in straight sets to win his 22nd Grand Slam title.MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic came to Australia with a mission, or, really, a series of them.To win the championship he had won nine times once more. To win a 22nd Grand Slam men’s singles title and draw even with his rival Rafael Nadal at the top of that list. To remove any doubt anyone might have about whether he remains the world’s dominant player, the most commanding player of the last decade and now this one, too. To show the world that the only way to keep him from winning nearly any tennis tournament is to not let him play.Check. Check. Check. And check.A year after Australia deported him over his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19, Djokovic reclaimed the Grand Slam title he has won more than any other, capturing a record 10th championship at the Australian Open by beating Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), on Sunday.After one last forehand off Tsitsipas’s racket floated long to end a match that felt lopsided despite the two tiebreakers, Djokovic turned and stared at his family and coaches sitting in his box. He pointed to his head, his heart and then just below his waistband, letting the world in on his team’s code language and telling it that winning on Sunday took everything he had.“It takes a big heart, mental strength and the other thing as well,” he said with a laugh once the night had turned into early morning.He wore a jacket emblazoned with a bright No. 22 just under the right side of his collarbone and called this triumph “the biggest victory of my life.”The 2023 Australian OpenThe year’s first Grand Slam event ran from Jan. 16 to Jan. 29 in Melbourne.Coaching That Feels Like ‘Cheating’: In-match coaching has always happened on the sly, but this year is the first time the Australian Open has allowed players to be coached from the stands.Rod Laver Likes What He Sees: At 84 years old, the man with his name on the stadium sits courtside at the Australian Open.India’s Superstar: Sania Mirza, who leaves tennis as a sleeping giant, has been a trailblazer nonetheless. “I would like to have a quieter life,” she said.Behind the Scenes: A coterie of billionaires, deep-pocketed companies and star players has engaged for months in a high-stakes battle to lead what they view as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to disrupt the sport.In addition to gaining pole position to surge past the injured star Nadal on the career Grand Slam list — and in the GOAT debate — Djokovic also reclaimed the top spot in the world rankings, making him, at 35, the second-oldest player to reach that rarefied realm, behind only Roger Federer, who was nearly 37 during his last stint on top of the tennis world. Djokovic turns 36 on May 22. It’s probably a bad idea to bet against his taking that record from Federer, as he has so many others.The feat is even more noteworthy given how much tennis Djokovic has had to miss in the last year. He cannot play in the United States because of his refusal to get a Covid-19 shot. Unless there is a change in that policy, he will again miss a major tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., in March and the hardcourts swing this summer, which includes the U.S. Open.He is either stubborn or a man of principle — and more likely both.Djokovic’s score sheets in this tournament might suggest that these last two weeks were little more than a vacation with some tennis thrown in. He dropped only a single set in seven matches. His fourth-round, quarterfinal and semifinal tests were nearly complete wipeouts of opponents.Djokovic called the triumph “the biggest victory of my life.”Loren Elliott/ReutersWhen Djokovic is on, as he was in the second week of this tournament, his game is all about firsts. Line-scraping first serves that give him the first point of his service games. First breaks of his opponents’ serves that become an initial dagger, and first-set wins for a player who rarely lets anyone creep back into a match.He does not let opponents catch their breath, smacking returns at their shins, forcing them to hit yet another shot, and then another one, after they think they have won a point. It’s tennis as a form of suffocation. Tommy Paul, the American who lost to Djokovic in the semifinals, said when it was over that much of the first set had been a blur. Paul has played tennis his whole life, but this time the seconds between points, between the moment he hit a ball and the moment he was on the run chasing the next one, had never passed so quickly.Andrey Rublev, a Russian with a fearsome forehand and serve, paced in the hallway in the minutes before being called onto the court to play him in the quarterfinals. In the fourth round, Alex de Minaur, playing in front of a hometown crowd ready to cheer him into battle, won just five games. After demolishing de Minaur, Djokovic said to the Serbian press that playing against an Australian in Australia had motivated him because of what the country’s government had done to him last year, detaining and deporting him because of his notoriety and his stance against mandated vaccinations.But Djokovic’s reclamation mission in Australia was filled with hazards. Ahead of the tournament, he aggravated his hamstring. It forced him to take the court wearing a thick strapping around the injured area until the final. He hobbled through the first week, playing without the magical movement that is the foundation of his game.Goran Ivanisevic, Djokovic’s coach, said 97 percent of players would have pulled out of the tournament.“He is from outer space,” Ivanisevic said of Djokovic, who became even more aggressive because of his injury, smacking his forehand whenever he saw a chance to end a point quickly. “His brain is working different.”And then, as with so many of his previous injuries, a combination of rest, massages and painkillers made the pain and discomfort go away when it mattered most. He heard the noise on social media questioning whether the leg had ever been hurt at all, and shot back that no one ever questioned the validity of other players’ injuries — an unsubtle reference to the always banged-up Nadal.Then, just as he was hitting top speed, his father, Srdjan, was caught on video taking a picture with fans outside Rod Laver Arena, some of whom were holding Russian flags, after Djokovic’s win in the quarterfinals. Serbia and Russia have close political and cultural ties. Tennis crowds outside Serbia almost always arrive with some hostility for Djokovic, and they pull hard for his opponents, who are usually underdogs.Djokovic dealt with Paul and then dealt with the public, assuring everyone that his father had never meant to show support for the war in Ukraine, that as someone who grew up in the war-torn Balkans he knew the horrors of violent conflict and would never support it.After that, only Tsitsipas, for years seen as tennis’s heir apparent, stood in his way. Tsitsipas was completely overwhelmed by Djokovic in the final.James Ross/EPA, via ShutterstockMaybe Sunday night in Australia, where the large, spirited Greek population has turned Tsitsipas into an adopted son, would be the night, especially with the No. 1 ranking on the line.Then again, maybe not. Tsitsipas came out without the ease and fluidity that he had played with for nearly two weeks, and he fell behind early. Djokovic barely seemed to break a sweat as he took the first set.In the second set, though, Tsitsipas’s arm seemed to loosen, the forehands started to bang and the windmill one-hand backhands started to whip.This will undoubtedly be the hour that keeps Tsitsipas up at night in the coming weeks. The netted volley that would have given him a chance to break Djokovic’s serve at 4-3. The tentative return of Djokovic’s meatball of a second serve when Tsitsipas had set point. The long forehand and the loose backhand — the stroke Djokovic picked on all night that gave him the edge he would not give up in the tiebreaker.“He’s the greatest that has ever held a tennis racket,” Tsitsipas said of Djokovic as he held his runner-up plate once more.Djokovic is the game’s best front-runner, winning roughly 95 percent of the matches in which he wins the first set. He has lost a two-set lead only once, 13 years ago.They traded service breaks in the first two games of the third set, and then traded service games until yet another tiebreaker. Like the match itself, this one was not nearly as close as the final numbers. Tsitsipas sprayed his shots long and into the net, allowing Djokovic to grab a 5-0 lead.And while Tsitsipas made it close, winning five of the next six points, as Djokovic tightened his game and Tsitsipas swung his racket with nothing to lose, there was little question how this would end — only when. More

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    Novak Djokovic Comes Full Circle at the Australian Open

    Deported a year ago and unable to play in 2022’s first Grand Slam tournament, Djokovic deeply felt this major title, his 22nd, calling it “a huge relief.”MELBOURNE, Australia — It felt like a full-circle occasion as Novak Djokovic celebrated on Sunday in the same city where he had been deported on a Sunday little more than a year ago.It felt like a cycle was ending. With the Australian Open title and the No. 1 ranking back in his possession, he cried in a way that he had never cried before at Melbourne Park or perhaps at any tournament: with big, loud, body-wrenching sobs as he lay on his back in the players’ box after embracing his family and team and then dropping to the ground, overcome by it all.When he finally returned to his feet and then to his courtside seat, he buried his face in a white towel and sobbed some more.“I just felt this huge burden off my back with everything we’ve been through,” he said. “It was a huge relief, and a huge release as well.”Djokovic has experienced no shortage of powerful sensations in Rod Laver Arena: the coming-of-age giddiness of winning his first Grand Slam singles title in 2008; the sweet misery of winning the longest major singles final in history in 2012 over Rafael Nadal, a 5-hour-53-minute test that left both combatants too weary to stand for the awards ceremony.But Sunday will surely occupy a category apart. Not for the final itself — a relatively straightforward 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas — but for all that led to it and how Djokovic reacted.“He’s keeping everything inside,” Goran Ivanisevic, his coach, said. “Sometimes you have to explode.”Djokovic’s decision not to be vaccinated for the coronavirus has had big consequences, and returning to Australia after his forced exit on the eve of last year’s Australian Open would have been plenty to process on its own. But then came the left hamstring injury that caused Djokovic to hobble at times during the early rounds.Ivanisevic said “97 percent” of players would have withdrawn from the tournament if they had received magnetic resonance imaging test results that looked like Djokovic’s.“But not him; he is from outer space,” said Ivanisevic, pointing a finger to his temple. “His brain is working different.”The 2023 Australian OpenThe year’s first Grand Slam event runs from Jan. 16 to Jan. 29 in Melbourne.Coaching That Feels Like ‘Cheating’: In-match coaching has always happened on the sly, but this year is the first time the Australian Open has allowed players to be coached from the stands.Rod Laver Likes What He Sees: At 84 years old, the man with his name on the stadium sits courtside at the Australian Open.India’s Superstar: Sania Mirza, who leaves tennis as a sleeping giant, has been a trailblazer nonetheless. “I would like to have a quieter life,” she said.Behind the Scenes: A coterie of billionaires, deep-pocketed companies and star players has engaged for months in a high-stakes battle to lead what they view as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to disrupt the sport.Djokovic, who said he would have withdrawn if this were not a Grand Slam tournament, said he did not practice on any of the off days. He followed the same template in 2021 when he won the title after tearing an abdominal muscle. This time, he also required extensive therapy.“Look, a lot of people doubted and still doubt that I was injured,” he said, explaining that he would provide evidence at some stage. “But again, I don’t feel I need to prove anything to anyone. But it did affect me, especially in the first week. From the fourth round onwards, I felt like it was behind me.”Then came the latest controversy sparked by his father, Srdjan, who posed for photos with flag-carrying Russian supporters inside Melbourne Park after Djokovic’s quarterfinal defeat of the Russian Andrey Rublev on Wednesday.Djokovic explained that his father had intended to celebrate with Serbian fans as he had been doing throughout the tournament. But it was Djokovic who was left to address the incident with tournament officials and to explain it directly to the news media.“It required an enormous mental energy really to stay present, to stay focused, to take things day by day and really see how far I can go,” Djokovic said.Stefanos Tsitsipas, left, and Djokovic, during the trophy ceremony.Loren Elliott/ReutersBut it hardly affected the bottom line. He did not lose a set in the semifinal against Tommy Paul, an unseeded American, or in the final against Tsitsipas, the shaggy-haired, 24-year-old Greek star who beat Djokovic in two of their first three matches but has now lost to him 10 times in a row.On Sunday, Tsitsipas’s best shot, the forehand, too often cracked under Djokovic’s pressure, and sometimes it seemed as if it cracked simply at the prospect of Djokovic’s pressure. But Tsitsipas, who would have become No. 1 for the first time with a first major title, did not look quite as crestfallen as he did after losing a two-set lead to Djokovic in the 2021 French Open final.“Paris was heartbreaking,” he said.Instead, whether he realized it or not, he tried to take a page on Sunday night from Djokovic’s early-career playbook: when the Serb was getting beaten repeatedly by more established champions like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Despite the frustration and dejection, Djokovic came to see playing his accomplished rivals as an opportunity to get the most out of himself.“Novak is a player that pushes you to your limits,” Tsitsipas said. “I don’t see this as a curse. I don’t see this as something, like, annoying. This is very good for the sport, to have competitors like him, to have champions like him. He’s very important for us that want to get to his point one day.”This seems the smart approach rather than stewing in negativity. But the reality for Tsitsipas is that Djokovic won that first Grand Slam title in 2008 in Melbourne at age 20 and won four more majors before he turned 25. And however full circle it all felt in Melbourne on Sunday night, Djokovic is hardly done searching for more titles, more ways to win.He and Nadal, who won the Australian Open in Djokovic’s absence last year, are back in a tie with 22 Grand Slam singles titles apiece. Djokovic wants the lead and as many majors as he can get before time and younger men inevitably deprive him of the opportunity.Like Federer, whose wife Mirka’s support on the home front and on the road with their young children allowed him to compete successfully on tour into his late 30s, Djokovic’s wife, Jelena, is giving him the same flexibility with their young son and daughter. Unvaccinated for the coronavirus, he is still unable to enter the United States at this stage but said he hoped a change in policy would allow him to enter in time to play at Indian Wells, Calif., in March.“I still have lots of motivation; let’s see how far it takes me,” he said. “I don’t know how many more years I’m going to play or how many more Slams I’m going to play. It depends on various things. It doesn’t depend only on my body.“I think it’s extremely important for me to first have the support and love from the close ones and the ability to go and play and keep the balance with the private life. But at the same time have the mental clarity or — how should I say — aspirations to really strive to chase these trophies. Physically I can keep myself fit. Of course, 35 is not 25, even though I want to believe it is. But I still feel there is time ahead of me.”Djokovic’s let out a scream, and also sobbed, after winning the men’s singles final on Sunday.Lintao Zhang/Getty ImagesFederer, 41, retired last September, and Nadal, 36, no doubt remains a threat when healthy but is out of action again for at least several weeks, this time with the hip injury that contributed to his losing in the second round to Mackenzie McDonald.Ivanisevic expects Nadal back in force in the spring for the clay-court season that culminates with the French Open, which Nadal has won a mind-bending 14 times, more than any player has won any Grand Slam tournament.“What I feel Nadal and I do, what we still fight for and what still motivates us the most is winning the biggest titles in our sport and keeping up with the young guns,” Djokovic said. “I think tennis is in good hands with great characters, great personalities and great players, but we’re still not going anywhere.”Djokovic has now joined Nadal in the double-digit club at a major tournament with his 10th Australian Open title.It has been and remains quite a duel, elevating and at times exhausting both men. Chasing excellence is hard enough; chasing it through adversity, whatever its provenance, is harder still.Though Djokovic, with his supreme timing and elastic movement, can make a difficult game look easy, his emotions in the aftermath on Sunday made it clear how challenging this tournament and this cycle have been. A little more than a year ago, he and Ivanisevic were at Melbourne Airport, being escorted to their plane out of the country.Now, Djokovic is back on top Down Under.“I would say this is probably the biggest victory of my life, considering the circumstances,” he said, the Australian Open trophy back in very familiar hands. More

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    Novak Djokovic bizarrely points to his manhood after Australian Open 2023 triumph over Stefanos Tsitsipas

    NOVAK DJOKOVIC bizarrely appeared to point at his manhood after his Australian Open victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas. The Serbian made history as he won a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam to draw level with Rafael Nadal.
    Djokovic had a message to share after his victoryCredit: Getty
    Novak Djokovic is the 2⃣0⃣2⃣3⃣ Australian Open 𝐂𝐇𝐀𝐌𝐏𝐈𝐎𝐍 🏆No. 1 in the world 🌎22 Grand Slam titles 🤩𝟏𝟎 𝐀𝐮𝐬𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐥𝐢𝐚𝐧 𝐎𝐩𝐞𝐧 𝐯𝐢𝐜𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐬 🏆#AusOpen pic.twitter.com/XT0WfrYrzf— Eurosport (@eurosport) January 29, 2023

    The 35-year-old beat Tsitsipas in straight sets to secure a 10th Australian Open title and broke down in tears in the stands with his family.
    But before the emotional scenes Djokovic appeared to have a message for the crowd.
    He first pointed to his head, then his chest and then his manhood shortly after his victory was confirmed.
    The win came a year after a major row over Djokovic’s vaccination status saw him booted out of the country.
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    But a year on and he can now set his eyes on becoming the most-decorated male tennis player of all time, with him and Nadal set to battle it out at the French Open in June.
    Donning a jacket bearing the number “22”, Djokovic said after the match: “What a journey it has been for my family, team and myself.
    “I don’t take anything for granted. I know you guys tolerate sometimes the worst sides of my character on and off the court. I appreciate the patience, love and support.
    “I have to repeat this – this trophy is yours as much as mine.
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    “This has been one of the most challenging tournaments I have ever played in my life, considering the circumstances, not playing last year.
    “I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome and comfortable to be in Melbourne and Australia.
    “Only my team, my family and friends, know what we have been through. This is probably the biggest victory of my life considering the circumstances.”
    Tsitsipas, who also lost the French Open final in 2021, had only kind words for the victor.
    The Greek player said: “Novak, it speaks for itself what you have achieved so far. It’s all in the numbers, congratulations to you and your supportive family.
    An emotional Djokovic collapsed into his family’s arms as he reflected on his victoryCredit: Getty
    Tsitsipas paid tribute to his opponent at the end of the gameCredit: EPA
    “It has been an unbelievable journey for you. I admire what you have done for the sport, I think you make me a better player when I am on the court.
    “Novak brings the best out of me. I have worked my entire life for matches like these.
    “He is one of the greatest in our sport. He is the greatest that has ever held a tennis racket for sure.
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    “I’d like to thank you for pushing our sport so far. I think we deserve a player like you who pushes every individual to the max.
    “This is not easy, another final at a Grand Slam, but I am always willing to go back on court and work hard.” More

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    Why Coaching From the Stands in Tennis Can Feel Like ‘Cheating’

    In-match coaching has always happened on the sly, but this year is the first time the Australian Open has allowed players to be coached from the stands.MELBOURNE, Australia — It has been an Australian Open full of progress and positive energy for Dean Goldfine, the traveling coach of the fast-rising American Ben Shelton, a surprise quarterfinalist in his first trip abroad.But Goldfine has also felt pangs of guilt. This is the first Australian Open, and only the second Grand Slam tournament, in which coaches have been allowed to communicate with players during matches from the stands, and that has made him uncomfortable.“Sometimes when I’m out there, when it’s happening, when I’m saying stuff, it’s like I want to look around and over my shoulder, because I feel like I’m cheating,” he said last week.Goldfine, 57, has been coaching on tour for more than 30 years. But in-match coaching had until recently been banned at all men’s tournaments, and at all four major tournaments for both women and men.The game is now in the midst of a quiet revolution. The women’s tour, outside of the Grand Slams, has allowed various forms of in-match coaching since 2008, and the men’s tour began allowing it last July from the stands for a trial period that included the 2022 U.S. Open, which was the first Grand Slam tournament to permit the practice.The Australian Open has followed that lead, and the other two major tournaments — the French Open and Wimbledon — are set to take part in the trial this year.Wimbledon’s leadership has long been the most vehement opponent of in-match coaching. Richard Lewis, the former chief executive of the All England Club, which runs the event, argued for the virtues of a “gladiatorial” contest in which players were required to problem-solve under pressure on their own.That remains an appealing concept to many players, spectators and even some coaches.“I’m against the coaching,” Goldfine said. “Just because for me that’s one of the unique things about our sport. It just takes away a big part of our game, which is the player out there, dealing with what’s going on and understanding it and being able to make adjustments and being able to deal with their emotions also.”Goldfine brought up Goran Ivanisevic, the mercurial Croatian star with the huge serve who did finally win Wimbledon in 2001 but had long struggled to bear down, block out distractions and play his best in big moments.“Imagine if Goran would have had someone that really could get him to calm down during matches,” Goldfine said.The 2023 Australian OpenThe year’s first Grand Slam event runs from Jan. 16 to Jan. 29 in Melbourne.Rod Laver Likes What He Sees: At 84 years old, the man with his name on the stadium sits courtside at the Australian Open.India’s Superstar: Sania Mirza, who leaves tennis as a sleeping giant, has been a trailblazer nonetheless. “I would like to have a quieter life,” she said after the mixed doubles final.Behind the Scenes: A coterie of billionaires, deep-pocketed companies and star players has engaged for months in a high-stakes battle to lead what they view as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to disrupt the sport.Endless Games: As matches stretch into the early-morning hours, players have grown concerned for their health and performance.The rule has been a point of difference for tennis, which has been the rare major sport to forbid coaching during play (consider all those soccer and basketball coaches hollering instructions and all those caddies chattering in golfers’ ears).But the tide appears to have turned in earnest. Roger Federer, the Swiss superstar long opposed to the concept, has retired. Wimbledon has new leadership and has joined the experiment, which is feeling less and less like a trial and more and more like policy.Stefano Vukov, Elena Rybakina’s coach, shouted from the player’s box during her women’s singles semifinal match against Victoria Azarenka.Martin Keep/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThe main arguments in favor are that the interaction between coaches and players provides entertainment value, improves the quality of play and reflects the pro game’s shift to more of a team concept. Singles stars are relying on larger staffs, including physiotherapists, trainers, performance psychologists and, in the case of Rafael Nadal, sometimes as many as three coaches.Perhaps the most crucial argument is that allowing in-match coaching eliminates hypocrisy, because many coaches were already breaking the no-coaching rule on the sly.“I was at different times doing it, and I’m sure everyone’s done it at some stage,” said Nicole Pratt, a retired Australian player who is now a leading coach. “I guess probably being English-speaking and because most of the umpires understood English, I felt like that was somewhat a disadvantage sometimes. So now it’s an even, level playing field, and to be honest, I love it. Because I do think it can be influential on a match, the information a player is given, although not always.”In the past, in-match coaching has often been delivered illegally through code words or hand signals, like the one used by Serena Williams’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou during the uproarious 2018 U.S. Open final against Naomi Osaka that led to Williams being penalized by the chair umpire. Williams argued that she was not being coached during play and did not “cheat to win.”The language barrier has not always been protective. Stefanos Tsitsipas, the Greek star who will face Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open final on Sunday, has long supported in-match coaching and has received numerous code violations for being coached by his father, Apostolos. Tournament officials have sometimes deployed Greek-speaking personnel to sit close to his father in the player’s box.Tsitsipas is delighted to see an end to the fines, at least for now. But above all, he is content to see the player-coach dialogue officially integrated into matches.“In my case, it has always been part of how I do things when I’m on the court,” Tsitsipas said on Friday. “I’m glad it’s not penalized now. That’s how it should be. I see no reason to have a coach with you if they can’t share some of their view and knowledge with you when you’re competing. I feel like it’s something very natural in our sport.”But in-match coaching is not necessarily a leveler. Top players can, in general, afford top coaches. Those lower down in the food chain usually cannot.“I worry about richer players getting richer,” said Jim Courier, the former No. 1 player who won the Australian Open twice. “I think about players who come down and play qualifying and cannot even travel with a coach and get in and go up against someone with four coaches.”Perhaps a data analyst would be a good hire at this stage. Many players now make use of analytics for scouting, paying for private services or using those provided by a national federation, like the United States Tennis Association. But for the coaching trial, the Australian Open is providing access to detailed in-match data, which is available on tablets in the player’s boxes at Rod Laver Arena and elsewhere on coaches’ smartphones or other devices.The data is compiled from information provided by Hawk-Eye Live, the electronic line-calling system, and tracks seemingly everything: players’ serve locations on routine points and pressure points; their ball-contact locations on the stroke following the serve; the percentage of balls they are hitting on the rise.“We knew we were going to have in-match coaching, which is great, but the question was how can we provide some support in an intuitive way,” said Machar Reid, the head of innovation at Tennis Australia.Stefanos Tsitsipas’s coaches — Mark Philippoussis, center, and his father, Apostolos Tsitsipas, right — watching his second-round match.Hannah Mckay/ReutersIt is quite a package and, for now, provides data only from matches in progress, not from an opponent’s prior matches. “This is all about in-match, and not so it can be used from a scouting point of view,” Reid said.Goldfine said the Tennis Australia package was “a lot to process” in real time, but he did pick out some data points to share with Shelton, a left-hander, during his quarterfinal defeat to Tommy Paul, a fellow American.“I did watch some of Tommy’s matches on Tennis TV, and in a couple of the lefty matches I watched, he served a fair amount of second serves to the forehand,” Goldfine said. “But against Ben, I noticed it was pretty much all backhand on the second serve. So that was one thing I did look at on the screen was serve locations, because for me, that’s big. So, I told Ben about halfway through the second set to sit on the backhand.”Goldfine offered much more advice to Shelton based on his own observations and instincts. The rules for the coaching trial allow for “a few words and/or short phrases,” but “no conversations are permitted.”How exactly do you define a conversation?“It’s a little ridiculous, just from that standpoint,” Goldfine said. “Just a big gray area.”What was clear to Goldfine and Shelton was that the coaching helped, perhaps all the more because Shelton, 20, is an inexperienced professional fresh out of college tennis, where in-match coaching is always permitted.“It’s been huge for Ben,” Goldfine said.It also provided entertainment when Paul, befuddled by Shelton’s big serve, turned to his coach, Brad Stine, to ask him which way Shelton might serve on the next point. Stine made a T with his fingers to indicate down the middle. Shelton, who had noticed their interaction, served wide instead, and everyone ended up grinning.The surprise is that the coaching trial has not changed the flow of the game much for spectators. It has provided some unsettling viewing — such as Elena Rybakina’s emotive coach Stefano Vukov admonishing her during matches — but it has generally gone unnoticed.The question remains whether in-match coaching provides enough payoff to justify changing a fundamental aspect of an individual sport. For now, tennis is leaning heavily toward the affirmative.“What I’m afraid of is that these young players will become dependent on their coaches,” Goldfine said. “And coaching for me is teaching, but having Ben experience it so he learns for himself, so he’s able to do these things on his own and figure things out. The last thing I want is my player to be dependent on me.” More

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    Big Risks and Big Rewards for Aryna Sabalenka at the Australian Open

    The Belarusian, who beat Elena Rybakina to win her first Grand Slam title on Saturday, held the trophy in triumph while the war in Ukraine remained a brutal reality.MELBOURNE, Australia — It was the sort of outcome that Wimbledon had been intent on avoiding at the All England Club: a Belarusian champion holding up the silverware in triumph with the war in Ukraine still a brutal reality.But Wimbledon, where Belarusian and Russian players were banned in 2022 and may be again this year, has remained an outlier in professional tennis and increasingly in international sports.Aryna Sabalenka, born and raised to pound tennis balls into submission in Minsk, Belarus, was free to play and win the Australian Open women’s singles title as a neutral competitor, even if there was scant chance her victory would be greeted neutrally at home or by her country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, whom she knows personally.“I think everyone still knows I’m a Belarusian player, and that’s it,” Sabalenka said on Saturday night at a news conference, a glass of champagne in hand and the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup glittering beside her.She put her name on the trophy and secured her first Grand Slam women’s singles title with a brilliant and bold performance. Anything less would not have sufficed against Elena Rybakina in their gripping, corner-to-corner final that might have been better suited to a ring as the two six-footers exchanged big blows for two hours and 28 minutes.Mash tennis. Crush tennis. Rip tennis. Smack tennis. Take your pick, but something onomatopoeic seemed appropriate with all that power on display, and what separated this match from many a tennis slugfest was the consistent depth and quality of the punching.High risk was rewarded repeatedly on Saturday as both finalists took big swings, aiming close to the lines and often hitting them.The 2023 Australian OpenThe year’s first Grand Slam event runs from Jan. 16 to Jan. 29 in Melbourne.Coaching That Feels Like ‘Cheating’: In-match coaching has always happened on the sly, but this year is the first time the Australian Open has allowed players to be coached from the stands.Rod Laver Likes What He Sees: At 84 years old, the man with his name on the stadium sits courtside at the Australian Open.India’s Superstar: Sania Mirza, who leaves tennis as a sleeping giant, has been a trailblazer nonetheless. “I would like to have a quieter life,” she said.Behind the Scenes: A coterie of billionaires, deep-pocketed companies and star players has engaged for months in a high-stakes battle to lead what they view as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to disrupt the sport.Rybakina finished with 31 winners to 25 unforced errors. Sabalenka, in what looked like the finest performance of her career, finished with 51 winners to 28 unforced errors: She cranked up the quality after an erratic opening set and won the lion’s share of the rallies, or maybe the tiger’s share, considering she had the animal tattooed on her left forearm at age 18 to remind her to fight for every point.“My parents didn’t know about this tattoo,” she told the Tennis Channel. “When they saw it the first time, my dad was laughing, I don’t know why, but my mom didn’t talk to me for one week.”Five years later, the tattoo remains but much has changed: Her father, Sergey, died in 2019 at age 43, leaving Sabalenka committed to achieving the dream he had for her to become No. 1.She has already fulfilled his wish in doubles, reaching the top spot in 2021. When the new singles rankings are released on Monday, she will be back at No. 2, behind Iga Swiatek, who still has a large lead based on her terrific 2022 season but who has lost to Sabalenka and Rybakina in the last two significant tournaments.Sabalenka, with the tattoo of a tiger on her left forearm that she got at 18 to remind her to fight for every point.Fazry Ismail/EPA, via ShutterstockSabalenka defeated her in November in the semifinals of the WTA Finals, the season-ending tour championships in Fort Worth. Rybakina overpowered Swiatek in the fourth round in Melbourne on her way to the final.Swiatek, the Polish star who looked set to become a dominant No. 1, is instead struggling to adjust to her new status and facing increased competition at the top, although she remains, until proven otherwise, the best women’s clay-court player.But on other surfaces, Sabalenka and Rybakina, last year’s surprise Wimbledon champion, clearly pose a formidable threat with their aggressive returns, relatively flat groundstrokes and penetrating serves.There were rare variations on Saturday: a drop-shot winner from Rybakina, a few defensive lobs and the occasional off-speed backhand. But for the most part, it was strength versus strength; straight-line power against straight-line power. The spectacle was frequently breathtaking, but you did not have to hold your breath for more than a few seconds: The longest rally was 13 strokes, and the average rally length was just 3.28 strokes.It was tennis reminiscent of the big-serving, high-velocity duels between Serena and Venus Williams. It was also a significant departure from last year’s Australian Open, where Ashleigh Barty ended a 44-year singles drought for the host country by winning the title, putting her court craft and crisply sliced one-handed backhand to work before shocking the tennis world (and Australia) by retiring in March at age 25.But Barty, now married to Garry Kissick and expecting their first child, has hardly avoided the Australian Open, making numerous public appearances this year and walking onto Rod Laver Arena before Saturday’s final with the Akhurst Memorial Cup in hand.“I can honestly look myself in the mirror and say I gave everything to tennis, but it gave me back so much more in return,” she said in a recent interview. “And all that really starts from the people I was surrounded with. So much of my success is our success. It genuinely is.”Sabalenka could relate to that on Saturday as she shared a post-victory moment with her team and then watched from afar as her normally stoic coach, Anton Dubrov, put a white towel to his face and sobbed in the player box.Sabalenka said she had never seen Dubrov cry and explained that last season, in February, as she struggled with the yips on her second serve and her confidence and reached a point where she could not even openly discuss the problem, Dubrov offered his resignation.“There were moments last year when he said, ‘I think I’m done, and I think I cannot give you something else, and you have to find someone else,’” Sabalenka said in an interview with Nine Network. “And I said: ‘No, you’re not right. It’s not about you. We just have to work through these tough moments, and we’ll come back stronger.’”Her performance on Saturday was incontrovertible proof that they had succeeded, with the help of a biomechanical expert but also Sabalenka’s own resilience. She is 11-0 this year and though she double-faulted seven times in the final, including on her first match point, she also repeatedly shrugged off any jitters (and the palpable concern of the big crowd) and came up with aces or service winners on subsequent serves.In the end, she hit 17 aces to Rybakina’s 9.“For sure, it’s not easy mentally,” Rybakina said of Sabalenka. “She didn’t have a great serve last year, but now she was super strong and she served well. For sure, I respect that. I know how much work it takes.”Rybakina has paid her dues, too. Born and raised in Russia, she switched allegiance to Kazakhstan in exchange for financial support in 2018. And though she was allowed to play at Wimbledon last year, her victory, with her strong Russian connections, was not the outcome the tournament was seeking either when it imposed its ban under pressure from the British government.Some Ukrainian players continue to oppose Russians and Belarusians being allowed to compete at all on tour, even as neutrals. The debate is about to intensify as the International Olympic Committee begins to push for Russians and Belarusians to be allowed to compete as independent athletes at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris — a move the Ukrainian government strongly opposes and could respond to by withdrawing its own athletes.But Sabalenka, after sitting out Wimbledon, where she reached the semifinals in 2021, is now a Grand Slam singles champion in Australia and was feted with no apparent ambivalence by the Australian Open tournament director, Craig Tiley, and was awarded her trophy in Rod Laver Arena by Billie Jean King.Sabalenka’s news conference was full of questions intended not to confront her directly but rather to probe the issue. However you present her on the scoreboard, it was a Belarus victory.“Missing the Wimbledon was really tough for me,” she said. “It was a tough moment for me. But I played the U.S. Open after. It’s not about Wimbledon right now. It’s just about the hard work I’ve done.” More