Kyrgios credits serve after winning all-Aussie battle at Delray Beach

Nick Kyrgios battled to a three-set victory over fellow Australian John Millman in the first round of the Delray Beach Open.

Kyrgios’ last competitive match was at the Australian Open when he lost in the opening round against Milos Raonic, but he fared much better against Millman on Monday.

The 23-year-old came out on top of the 6-4, 6-7 (1-7), 7-6 (7-3) contest that lasted just over two hours.

Kyrgios broke in the opening game of the match en route to taking the first set, but there were no breaks of serve in the rest of the match and he just edged the deciding tie-breaker.

“My serve keeps bailing me out of these types of matches, which is pretty fortunate for me,” he said.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. John is one of the toughest competitors on tour and he’s a good mate of mine, so I’m just happy to get through with the win.”

Denis Istomin from Uzbekhistan also advanced as he beat Feliciano Lopez 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 while Lukas Lacko was a 6-4, 6-4 winner over Yosuke Watanuki, and wildcard Lloyd Harris from South Africa scored a 7-6 (7-1), 6-3 win over Darian King.

“I’m happy to get the win and thought I played pretty good tonight,” said Harris after earning only his second ATP Tour-level win.

“I’ve been playing my best tennis over the past six months and if I play well, I believe I can beat anyone.”

Illness keeps Wozniacki out of Dubai event while seeds tumble

Former World No 1 Caroline Wozniacki has been forced to pull out of a tournament for the second week running due to illness.

The Dane hasn’t played any competitive tennis since the Australian Open as she withdrew from last week’s Qatar Open due to a viral illness and the same issue is preventing her from playing at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

“It sucks. I’ve gotten ready to play these two weeks (Doha and Dubai) where I usually play well,” she said.

The 2018 Australian Open champion added: “If I can’t even play at a reasonable level, there’s no reason for me to go out there and just play one set – I want to go out there and I want to win.”

She was replaced in the draw by Polona Hercog, but the Slovenian lost 6-3, 6-2 against Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland.

Julia Goerges from Germany was the biggest casualty as the 13th seed suffered a 6-4, 7-5 defeat at the hands of American Alison Riske.

The 15th seeded Anett Kontaveit also fell at the first hurdle as the Estonian was dumped out by Shuai Zhang with the Chinese player picking up the 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 victory.

Just days after winning the Qatar Open, 16th seed Elise Mertens was brought back down to earth as she was beaten 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 by Chinese qualifier Zhu Lin.

Former French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko also crashed out as she lost 6-4, 6-0 against American Jennifer Brady, but 14th seed Caroline Garcia is still in the draw as the Frenchwoman beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-0.

Djokovic and Osaka win big at Laureus awards

Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka walked away with the sportsman of the year and breakthrough of the year award respectively at the Laureus World Sports Awards.

Djokovic won his fourth Laureus gong as he beat off competitive from France footballer Kylian Mbappe, American basketball player LeBron James and Kenyan athlete Eliud Kipchoge.

After struggling with form and injury at the backend of the 2017 season and the early half of 2018, the Serb turned his fortunes around as he won Wimbledon and the US Open, and finished the year as the world No 1.

“A Laureus Award is what every athlete wants to win, and this one is a huge honour for me,” Djokovic, who also won the award in 2012, 2015 and 2016, said.

“Being among so many sporting greats here tonight… gives this award a special meaning for me. Last year was an incredible season for me. Returning from injury to win Wimbledon and the US Open is something I’ll remember forever.”

Osaka won the breakthrough award on the back of winning her maiden Grand Slam at the US Open last year.

The Japanese star started the 2018 season outside the world top 50, but finished inside the top five after beating Serena Williams in the final at Flushing Meadows.

Osaka saw off the challenge from Great Britain’s Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas, Spanish motor cyclist Ana Carrasco and Jamaican athlete Brianna Williams to win her first Laureas award.

“I want to give a huge thank you to the Laureus Academy for giving me the Laureus Breakthrough of the Year award,” she said via a video message. “I want to thank my coaching staff and my family for being with me for these entire years.

“I also want to [acknowledge] the other nominees, and thank the Laureus Academy for nominating me for such a prestigious award.”

Osaka dismisses 'hurtful' claims over coach split

World No 1 Naomi Osaka says reports that claim she split with her coach Sascha Baji over money-related issues are totally false.

Barely a month after Bajin helped her to reach No 1 in the world rankings for the first time on the back of winning a second consecutive Grand Slam at the Australian Open, Osaka announced that she split with the German.

No reason was given, but the 21-year-old Japanese star has come out to make it clear that it was not because of money.

“The main thing I know that everyone thinks it was a money-related issue, but it wasn’t,” she is quoted as saying by The National.

“For me, that’s one of the most hurtful things I’ve ever heard. Because I travel with everyone on my team, I see them more than my family, so I would never do that to them.

“I think my reason is I wouldn’t put success over my happiness. That’s my main thing. I’m not going to say anything bad about him because, of course, I’m really grateful for all the things that he’s done. I wouldn’t just come here and say anything bad.

“If anything, you would have to be around him to see, or ask him.

She added: “It was kind of brewing in Australia and I think some people could see that if they saw how we interacted. I would not want to split on really bad terms, because he was sort of the one who made me open up to people, so I didn’t want it to be a really hostile thing.”

Reilly Opelka clinches maiden ATP Tour title in New York

Reilly Opelka broke through with his first ATP Tour title after defeating Brayden Schnur in three sets in the final of the New York Open.

The 21-year-old Opelka, the 2015 Wimbledon Boys’ Singles champion, beat the Canadian qualifier 6-1, 6-7 (7-9), 7-6 (9-7) in two hours and three minutes to secure his maiden title.

The American, who saw off top seed John Isner in the semi-final, took just 18 minutes to win the opening set, but after no breaks of serve in the second set, Schnur hit back via the tie-breaker.

Both players were solid on their serves again in the decider and, after wasting three match points, Opelka finally got the job done at the fourth time of asking.

“This [title] is definitely what I’m most proud of,” he said. “I was tough mentally, especially losing a lot of first sets this week, and my first serve really helped me out. I was able to play clutch in those big moments.”

Cecchinato beats Schwartzman to capture third ATP crown in Argentina

Italian Marco Cecchinato secured a dominant straight sets victory over Diego Schwartzman to clinch the Argentina Open.

The third seed required just over an hour to see off home favourite Schwartzman 6-1, 6-2 with the Buenos Aires result earning him the third ATP Tour singles trophy.

Cecchinato won the opening set in under 30 minutes as he broke twice and he took that momentum into the second set with a break in the opening game and again in game seven.

“I was able to play a great match and was always focused. I followed the game plan from the beginning to the end,” he said after the match.

“I was able to win the first two matches [this week] the hard way, working point by point. I improved my level yesterday and I was focused today, so I’m happy with how I was able to win the tournament.”

Reilly Opelka outguns John Isner in tense shootout

Reilly Opelka and John Isner served up a barrage of aces in a closely contested New York Open semi-final clash, setting a new ATP Tour record in the process.

Opelka sent down 43 aces while Isner served 38 as they set a new record of 81, which is 10 better than the 71 Nick Kyrgios and Ryan Harrison served in Brisbane earlier this year.

And world No 89 Opelka also led the way on the scoreboard as he won 6-7 (10-12), 7-6 (17-14), 7-6 (7-4) in two hours and 33 minutes, having saved six match points.

Unsurprisingly there were no breaks of serves in any of the sets with Opelka saving the match points during the second-set tie-breaker.

He will take on Brayden Schnur in the final after the Canadian qualifier beat sixth seed Sam Querrey 7-6 (9-7), 4-6, 6-3.

"It's an extremely big moment for me. These last few days have been unbelievable," Schnur, who won his maiden ATP Tour match in New York this week, said.

"I was one of the last guys to get into qualifying and my coach said to just see what happens. I think I've turned a lot of heads this week and am on the come-up."

Del Potro poised for comeback at Delray Beach Open

Juan Martin del Potro has been named as the top seed at the Delray Beach Open as he prepares to make his long-awaited return from injury.

The former US Open winner was forced to call a premature end to his 2018 season after fracturing his right kneecap at the Shanghai Masters in early October.

After initially pencilling in the Australian Open as his comeback tournament, he withdrew on the eve of the opening Grand Slam of the year.

However, he has been confirmed as a wildcard entry for this week's Delray Beach Open in Florida.

The Argentine will be the top seed and he will take on Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan in his first-round encounter.

Americans John Isner, Frances Tiafoe and Steve Johnson are also in the draw along with Australian Nick Kyrgios and Ivo Karlovic of Croatia.

Two WTA legends declare Djokovic the greatest of all time

WTA tennis greats Chris Evert and Lindsay Davenport are in agreement that Novak Djokovic - not Rafa Nadal or Roger Federer - is the best tennis player the world has ever seen.

Djokovic has won the last three Grand Slams in a row, leaving him the French Open away from holding all four major titles at once for the second time in his career.

It’s something that is not going unnoticed as the debate over who is the greatest of all time continues to rage.

“Djokovic was inhuman during the Australian Open,” Evert explained to the Tennis Channel.

“I’ve never seen anybody with that much mental focus, that much clarity and that much determination.

“Even better than Rafael Nadal, who is also 100% great in those categories.

“If he has another great two or three years, I think he can pass them all (grand slam titles won).

“I’m a big Roger Federer fan, but I’m not as optimistic about Roger winning another grand slam, unless it is Wimbledon.

“The points are shorter, power plays a big role and serving plays a big role.”

Davenport agreed, adding: “The other two (Federer and Nadal) has never hold all four (grand slams) at the same time. Novak is one slam away from doing it twice.

“It’s just unheard of that we have a player that are that good within the same era.”

Lionel Messi revealed as investor in revamped Davis Cup competition

Football great Lionel Messi is one of the key investors in the company behind the revamped Davis Cup, it was announced recently.

The Barcelona and Argentina legend is apparently a tennis fan, and has joined team-mate Gerard Pique in putting his money and name behind the controversial project.

“Leo knows more than anyone about this because he is involved in Kosmos (the company now running the Davis Cup),” Pique said

“He is a partner, he is part of the Kosmos family, he likes tennis.

“We have a relationship of 18 years since he arrived at the club and I always try to share with him things I’m thinking, he loves to be part of it and he wanted to be part of it.”

Kosmos have signed a 25-year deal to run the Davis Cup, although they have met significant opposition from top players over their changes.

Simona Halep edges Elina Svitolina in thrilling Doha semi-final

Simona Halep produced some of her best tennis to battle back from the brink and defeat Elina Svitolina in the Qatar Open semi-finals.

The former world number one claimed the first set, but it all started to go wrong for her after that.

She surrendered the second and was 4-1 down in the third, but somehow mustered the resilience to fight back and claim a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 win.

“I’m happy because I didn’t give up,” Halep said to the WTA’s official website.

“The two finals that I played against her in Rome I gave up and I was not ready to fight.

“Now I change that, and it makes me happier, because I showed myself that I’m able to do that.

“The mental part is really important… but definitely today I was stronger physically as well, because against Svitolina (it) is never easy to win a match. She’s very strong on the legs.”

Halep will now face unseeded Belgian Elise Mertens in Saturday’s final after she produced a brilliant 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 success over Angelique Kerber.

Simona Halep to face Elina Svitolina in Doha semi-finals

Top seed Simona Halep battled her way into the Doha Open semi-finals with a 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (8-6) win over Julia Goerges on Friday.

The Romanian started the match at a frantic pace, racing into a 4-0 lead before Goerges fought her way back to a tiebreak, which she lost.

The second set was different, with Goerges earning the break before getting pegged back, but the result was ultimately the same with Halep too strong on the crucial points.

Halep, playing in her first tournament since joining up with new coach Thierry Van Cleemput, will now face Elina Svitolina in the last four.

The Ukrainian powered past Czech qualifier Karolina Muchova 6-4, 6-2 in a match she dominated on serve.

“I was just trying to focus on what I have to do on my game, on my strength, what I had to do,” Svitolina said.

“I had to serve good, had to return. Had to move quickly. So just everything had to be good.

“In the end I found a way to beat her. I was very happy I could do it in two sets.”

Last year’s finalist, Angelique Kerber, meanwhile, is also in the semi-finals but had to work very hard for her 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) win over Barbora Strycova.

Belgium’s Elise Mertens completes the semi-final line-up after she cruised to a 6-4, 6-3 win over Kiki Bertens.

More injury troubles for Sharapova as she pulls out of Indian Wells

Maria Sharapova's recent injury troubles show no signs of abating after she revealed she will be forced to miss this year's BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

The five-time Grand Slam winner has struggled with shoulder problems throughout her career, but it has become more common in recent months and will keep her out of the Indian Wells event.

She was forced to call a premature end to her 2018 season and, after making a confident start to the 2019 season by reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open, her injury woes struck again at the St Petersburg Open.

After winning her opening match in Russia, a shoulder injury forced her to pull out of her second-round clash and she has been sidelined ever since.

“I saw [my doctor] at the beginning of December, and he says it’s a day-by-day pain management situation,” she said after the Australian Open.

“It’s definitely been an issue for the majority of last year and going into this year, as well, but it’s something that…I’m still working through.”

She will now also miss the Premier Mandatory event in the United States with organisers confirming her withdrawal on Twitter.

“We will miss Maria this year and hope to see her back at Indian Wells next year!” they posted.

German Mona Barthel moves into the main draw of the tournament, which runs from March 4-17.

Tournament director hopes Federer reaches 'magical' 100th title in Dubai

Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships tournament director Salah Tahlak hopes Roger Federer will finally clinch his 100th ATP title at the event.

The 20-time Grand Slam winner notched up title No 99 at the Swiss Indoors in Basel last year, but he has failed to reach another final after his win in October.

He will get another opportunity to get to three figures at next week’s event and Tahlak hopes Federer enjoys this “magical moment” moment in Dubai.

“For Roger, Dubai is important because his first official title came in Milan. It was a tournament owned by Dubai Duty Free. It has always been a great bond between Roger and Dubai,” he told Khaleed Times.

“So it’s very important to have him back. I hope the draw next Saturday will help him because if he reaches the final and wins it, it will be the number eight title for him in Dubai and that will also be the 100th title of his career.

“It will be a magical moment. It will also be a great legacy that he will be leaving behind if he wins his 100th title in Dubai.”

Halep and Kerber through in Doha

Top seeds Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber and Elina Svitolina booked their places in the last eight on the Qatar Open on Thursday.

Reigning French Open champion Halep took her head-to-head record against Lesia Tsurenko to 6-0 as she secured a comfortable 6-2, 6-3 victory in under 90 minutes.

Halep won the first five games of the opening set and, after a brief fightback from the Ukrainian, she also reeled off the final five games of the second set to advance.

Next up is Julia Goerges after the ninth-seeded German beat American lucky loser Alison Riske 6-1, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4.

Third seed Kerber had an easier day than compatriot Goerges as the three-time Grand Slam winner was a 6-1, 7-6 (7-2) winner over Anett Kontaveit from Estonia.

Fourth seed Elina Svitolina secured her first-ever win over 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko as she won their encounter 6-4, 6-4.

Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens came through a three-set encounter as the fifth seed edged Carla Suarez Navarro from Spain 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 to secure a clash against Elise Mertens, who was a 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) winner over Kristyna Pliskova.

Kristyna Pliskova only made the main draw after her sister second seed Karolina withdrew due to a viral illness.

Tsitsipas crashes out in Rotterdam

Australian Open semi-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas was sent crashing out in the first round of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament.

The Greek was a revelation at Melbourne Park as he beat Roger Federer en route to the last four, but he couldn’t repeat those heroics against Damir Dzumhur.

Although he saved two match points in the decider, Tsitsipas still went down 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 in one hour and 54 minutes in Rotterdam.

“I lost to myself, not to him,” 20-year-old is quoted as saying by AFP.

“He fools you, waits for you to make mistakes. He stands eight metres behind the baseline and plays with your strengths. He played nothing crazy or special, but you don’t get any rhythm with him.

“The momentum was on my side but he kept putting the ball into the court and running.”

Stan Wawrinka continued his resurgence as the three-time Grand Slam winner held off fourth seed Milos Raonic with a 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) victory.

The Swiss broke once in the first set and after no breaks in the second, he took the match via the tie-breaker.

He will face another Canadian for a place in the semi-final after Denis Shapovalov secured a 6-4, 6-3 win over Tomas Berdych.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is another player who is regaining his best form as the Frenchman followed up his trophy win at the Open Sud de France with a 6-1, 6-4 defeat of Thomas Fabbiano.

Fifth seed Daniil Medvedev also advanced as the Russian beat Jeremy Chardy 7-6 (7-2), 6-2 while Gael Monfils was a 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 winner over Andreas Seppi.

Nishikori advances, Khachanov crashes out

Top seed Kei Nishikori advanced but Karen Khachanov was sent packing at the ABN AMRO Word Tennis Tournament on Wednesday.

Top seed Nishikori came from a set down to beat Pierre-Hugues Herbert 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 in two hours and 11 minutes.

The Japanese player secured the crucial break of serve in game three of the decider with the victory earning him a quarter-final clash against Ernests Gulbis after the Latvian beat Marius Copil 6-2, 6-4.

“It wasn’t easy, as he was playing good tennis and serving well,” said Nishikori.

“I had a little bit of trouble with my return game and couldn’t convert the important points. I just tried to play steady, as I wasn’t playing bad, and I tried to stay aggressive.”

Local hero Tallon Griekspoor pulled off an incredible upset for the second year in a row as he followed up his 2018 win over Stan Wawrinka with a three-set win over second seed Khachanov.

After sharing the first two sets, wildcard Griekspoor raced into a 4-0 lead in the third set after breaking the Russian twice, and then won it on his third match point.

Fourth seed Milos Raonic set up a clash against Wawrinka after the Canadian beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 7-6 (10-8), 7-5.

“It’s going to be tough, particularly as our last match was four tie-breaks, across four hours, in Melbourne,” Raonic said of his meeting with the Swiss.

Raonic is joined in the second round by his compatriot Denis Shapovalov, who beat Franko Skugor 7-5, 6-4, and up next is Tomas Berdych, a 7-6 (10-8), 6-4 winner over Gilles Simon.

Meanwhile, Gael Monfils accounted for David Goffin’s exit as the Frenchman secured a 7-6 (7-5), 7-5 win while Fernando Verdasco beat Matthew Ebden 7-5, 6-4.

Osaka announces surprise split from coach Sascha Bajin

Naomi Osaka has decided to part ways with coach Sascha Bajin despite the multiple Grand Slam successes the two have enjoyed together.

The 21-year-old Osaka announced the unexpected split, which came just 17 days after she followed up her US Open win with victory at the Australian Open, via Twitter.

"Hey everyone, I will no longer be working together with Sascha. I thank him for his work and wish him all the best in the future," Osaka wrote.

Bajin also responded with a short message on Twitter.

"Thank you Naomi. I wish you nothing but the best as well. What a ride that was. Thank you for letting me be part of this."

The pair started working together during the 2017 off-season and by March the following year they won their first trophy when the Osaka claimed the Indian Wells Masters.

Bigger and better things came in September when she became the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam following her success at the US Open.

And their brilliant run continued in Melbourne when they not only won the season-opening Grand Slam, but Osaka also became the first Asian player to top the world rankings.

No reason was given for the split, but AFP reports that “Japanese media cited Osaka’s management company IMG in reporting that there had been a breakdown in the player’s relationship with the coach since the start of the year”.

Roger Federer opens up on possible clay-court return

Roger Federer still hopes to make a return to clay in the near future, but has ruled out playing Monte Carlo this year.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion has skipped clay season in its entirety, including the French Open, in recent years as he believes it impacts on his preparations for grass.

However, he has recently confirmed that is set to change in 2019, and now he’s added clues to what his schedule will likely be.

“I do not want to play much more,” Federer admitted.

“I’d rather train more and prepare well for the grass-court season, I do not definitely want to overdo it.

“What tournament should we look at? Monte Carlo is probably too early.”

The Monte Carlo Masters is set to get underway on April 13, meaning we are probably more likely to see Federer back on the red dirt in Madrid (May 3) and/or Rome.

Halep, Barty inspire Romania and Australia to big Fed Cup wins

Simona Halep led Romania into the Fed Cup semi-finals after defeating Karolina Pliskova in a titanic tussle, while Ashleigh Barty also helped Australia advance.

The former world number one won a two-and-a-half-hour epic against Pliskova 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 to put Romania one win away from qualification.

Katerina Siniakova kept the Czech’s hopes alive by leveling the tie, but Irina Begu and Monica Niculescu defeated Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-4, to seal victory.

Elsewhere, Ashliegh Barty was Australia’s star player as they ground out an impressive 3-2 win over the USA.

Starting the day level at 1-1, Barty put the Aussies on the brink of victory by beating Madison Keys 6-4, 6-1, before Danielle Collins beat Daria Gavrilova to send it to a deciding rubber.

Barty was again the difference-maker, teaming with Priscilla Hon to score a doubles victory over Nicole Melichar and Collins.

“We’ve had a hell of a weekend and there’s absolutely nothing better than coming out and playing a live tie for your country,” Barty said.

In the semi-finals, Australia will face Belarus while France meet Romania.