Djokovic pushes ahead with Adelaide title

ADELAIDE: Top seed Novak Djokovic saved a match point Sunday before defeating Sebastian Korda to win the Adelaide International and reinforce his status as a heavy title favorite for the Australian Open. The 21-time Grand Slam winner needed more than three hours to stamp his authority on his unseeded American opponent, son of former world number two Petr Korda, 6-7 (8/10), 7-6 (7/3), 6-4. In doing so, Djokovic extended his unbeaten streak in Australia to 34 straight matches.

The winner of 92 career titles now heads to the Australian Open in about a week with momentum in his bid to secure the Grand Slam for a 10th time, helped by the absence at Melbourne Park of injured world number one Carlos Alcaraz. Djokovic, the 2007 champion at Adelaide in the early days of his career, called the pre-Open tune-up week “very special for me”, thrilled by overwhelming fan enthusiasm.

“It’s been an amazing week. To be standing here is a gift definitely,” said the Serbian world number five, who missed last year’s Australian Open after being deported over his vaccination status. “I gave it my all today and throughout the week in order to be able to get my hands on this trophy. The support I have been getting in the last 10 days was something that I don’t think I’ve experienced too many times in my life,” he added, with packed pro-Djokovic crowds whenever he played. It definitely felt like playing at home.”

Djokovic nullified Korda’s match point while serving at 5-6, 30/40 in the second set, coming good on an overhead to make the save before the set moved into another tiebreaker which the Serb won. Korda, 22, was playing his fifth career final and said the experience boded well for the rest of the season. “It was a great start to the year, I wish I could have gotten it done today, but I know there’s a long journey to go and a lot of positives from this week,” he said. “I think we’re (he and his team) are going to have a great year together.”

Djokovic, who showed no sign of the leg problem which bothered him on Saturday during his defeat of Daniil Medvedev, agreed, paying tribute the fast-emerging American. “Amazing effort today Seb. I’d probably say you were closer to victory today than I was. It was decided in one or two shots, one or two points,” he said. “Tough luck today but the future is bright for you.”

Ready for ‘big fight’

Meanwhile, Aryna Sabalenka said she was ready for a “big fight” at the Australian Open after firing a warning shot Sunday by winning her first title since 2021 at the Adelaide International. The world number five ended a slump of three consecutive defeats in WTA finals with a 6-3, 7-6 (7/4) victory against rising Czech teenager Linda Noskova in torrid 36 Celsius (96.8 Fahrenheit) conditions.

The Belarusian double-faulted on the first of three match points but sent over a serve winner on the second to wrap up the afternoon. “I’m super happy with another title, it was a great week,” the winner said. “I enjoyed every moment here in Adelaide, I’m happy with my performance. “My serve helped me a lot, today especially. I was able to put her under pressure on her serve. I think that’s why I won today.”

The second seed, a holder of 10 titles, added one more to her career total as she put her veteran’s experience to good use, ending the week without the loss of a set. She last lifted a trophy at the Madrid Masters in May, 2021 and is optimistic about her Australian Open chances after her week in South Australia. “I just feel that I’m ready to show my best. I’m ready for a big fight,” she said.

World number 102 Noskova, the 2021 Roland Garros junior champion, will rise towards the top 50 with her run to her maiden final, upsetting world number two Ons Jabeur and veteran Victoria Azarenka along the way. At 18, she was the youngest finalist at a WTA 500 event since Caroline Wozniacki at New Haven 2007. “It was obviously a very tough match today. Aryna played just amazing,” Noskova said. “I didn’t have a lot of chances. I did have some break points, but she always served her way out of it. That was really tough to beat.”

The teenager added: “When I trust myself and my game, I can actually beat some of the best players; that’s really a great feeling. “But I’m obviously going to have to develop my game. There are a lot of blind spots. There’s always things to work on.” – AFP

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