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Energy company Santos has extended its sponsorship of the Tour Down Under for a further three years, the organisers have confirmed. The new deal sees Santos remain the title sponsor of the WorldTour opener until at least 2022. Santos has been the naming rights sponsor of the Tour Down Under, Australia's biggest race on the UCI calendar, since 2010. This year's edition marked a decade of the partnership and was won by Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) - who became the first rider to win back to back editions of the men's race - ahead of home rider Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and Wout Poels (Team Sky). The company has also sponsored the Women's Tour Down Under, which was won by Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) for the third time, since its inception in 2012. The women's race has grown dramatically since its first outing as a series of criteriums and this year saw the strongest field to date. The organisers reiterated their ambition to add the event to the UCI's Women's WorldTour calendar. The men's race has been part of the UCI WorldTour since 2008.ADVERTISEMENT "We are thrilled that Santos has committed to extend its partnership with the Tour Down Under for another three years,'' Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, David Ridgway said in a statement on the race website. "Santos' partnership has been critical in shaping the continued growth and success of the event, which injected more than $63.7 million [AUD] into the state's economy last year and showcases South Australia to a global audience in the tens of millions. "Santos should be commended for its new three-year investment which also strives to ensure continual growth of the Women's Tour as we work towards our ultimate goal of UCI WorldTour status."
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With most players at the quarterfinal stage of a Grand Slam, we consider it a good sign if they’ve been cruising through their matches in straight sets. With Karolina Pliskova, the opposite may be true.
When she’s on her game and coolly lasering aces and winners into the corners, few opponents can stay with her. It’s when she’s off her game, and those lasers are finding the net instead, that this low-key Czech has struggled in the past to stay upbeat. “I’m always so hard on myself,” Pliskova said last year; it’s an attitude that can turn defeatist when things don’t go her way.
So far in 2019, Pliskova has fought hard against her fatalistic tendencies. You might not know it, since she has mostly gone under the media radar Down Under, but she’s 9-0 so far this season. She won an opening-week title in Brisbane, and she played her most impressive match—a 6-3, 6-1 drubbing of two-time Grand Slam champ Garbiñe Muguruza—to reach the quarterfinals at the Australian Open. But it hasn’t all been aces and blowouts. Pliskova has had to scrap her way through five three-setters in those 10 wins. She came back from the brink of defeat against Lesia Tsurenko in the Sydney final, and battled hard to hold off a much-improved Camila Giorgi in the third round in Melbourne.
“I’ve been playing well the last couple of matches,” Pliskova said after beating Muguruza. “I had a tough match the day before, so I was feeling confident about this matchup somehow today.”
Sometimes winning the close ones, even when you don’t play flawlessly, gives you more confidence an easy victory cruise. You know you can fight if you have to.
Pliskova’s surge began last July. After losing early at Wimbledon, she split with her coach, Tomas Krupa, and began working with two former WTA players, Rennae Stubbs and Conchita Martinez. With that team in place, she reached the quarterfinals at the US Open, won the title in Tokyo, and advanced to the semis at the WTA Finals in Singapore.
“I just felt like I needed to do some change,” Pliskova said last summer. “I just felt like I need somebody a little bit more positive...Sometimes it’s just important to understand how the player feels, because [Stubbs] was in the same situation. So for me, this is important. And also, it’s a woman. So we have maybe different feelings than men sometimes.”
When Pliskova gets passive or negative or flatlines emotionally, Stubbs challenges her to dig deeper and show how much she wants to win. In the Sydney final, Stubbs’ belief rubbed off on Pliskova.
“I have to say that Rennae helped me quite a bit today,”said Pliskova of the mid-match pep talk that her coach gave her. “It was actually that she believed I could still win it. I felt there is no chance that I could win this match. Of course I tried, but I felt so far away from playing good tennis tonight...But she said, ‘I’m absolutely sure you can win this match,’ which gave me some confidence and belief I can do it.”
This off-season, for the first time, Pliskova left the dark, cold Czech Republic and trained for three weeks with Martinez in sunny Tenerife.
“It’s kind of nice that she gets the different personalities with Conchi [Martinez] and I,” Stubbs said in Brisbane. “Conchi works a lot on her feet and her fast hands and things like that, because that’s really what Conchi did so well. And I’m a little bit more transitional work, coming into the net, serve.”
“The one thing we definitely are very hard on her about is—Conchi and I will go to run for a ball in practice more than she will sometimes, and we’re like, ‘Why are we wanting to run for that ball more than you?’”
Stubbs and Martinez hope to transfer their passion for hard work and enthusiasm for the sport to Pliskova. That begins with improving her footwork, and getting her to move forward instinctively during rallies and take the ball earlier, rather than waiting passively for the next shot.
“For her it’s getting lower and realizing she can move a little more efficiently and a little bit more aggressively,” said Stubbs, who is also doing TV work at the Australian Open.
So far, so good. Could Pliskova be the Simona Halep of 2019? The parallels are easy to see: An old-school Aussie coach—in Halep’s case, that was Darren Cahill—gets the most out of a talented but tough-on-herself player who has yet to fulfill her potential. For now, Pliskova can’t think too far ahead: She plays Serena Williams next. Pliskova beat Serena at the US Open two years ago, but Serena turned that result around at Flushing Meadows in 2018. Pliskova sounds like she’s ready for the challenge.
“Well, we played US Open. I didn’t play well that match, so for sure would be good revenge to play her again,” Pliskova said of a rematch with Serena. “Different conditions here, I think I’m playing a little bit better than last year.”
Win or lose, there’s a long road ahead in 2019, and Team Pliskova seems committed to traveling it together. They seem happy about it, too. After beating Muguruza, the normally stony-faced Czech grinned from ear to ear. For her, that may be the best sign of all.
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Jan Bakelants had taken several strides toward returning to be the rider he once was before a crash at Il Lombardia in 2017 derailed his career and left him recovering from series injuries. The Belgian heads into the 2019 season healthy and excited about his prospects with Team Sunweb where he will bring expertise to the younger riders, and versatility in one-day races and Grand Tours. "I look forward to 2019," Bakelants said in an interview with Sporza. "I am happy with this move and glad that I ended up here, and I'm hopeful about 2019." Bakelants started his career with Topsport Vlaanderen in 2008 and then joined the WorldTour ranks with Omega Pharma-Lotto two years later. He spent two years at RadioShack, went back to Omega Pharma for one season before signing on with AG2R La Mondiale, where he had raced for the last four seasons.ADVERTISEMENT His crash at Il Lombardia at the end of 2017 left him with two broken vertebrae and several broken ribs. He was still recovering heading into the 2018 season but began to make more significant strides mid-summer with sixth place at Grand Prix Cerami and respectable performances at the Tour de Pologne and Deutschland Tour. He ended his season with a series of top 20 results at Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec, Grand Prix de Wallonie and Binche-Chimay-Binche. Team Sunweb announced in July that they had signed Bakelants to the team for the 2019 season, for which he expressed his gratitude. "It is not easy for a team to believe in someone who did not have many chances, it was not an easy year," he told Sporza. Bakelants has not confirmed his schedule, but Team Sunweb will be counting on him to bring experience to the younger riders on the team, and strengths in the hilly one-day races and the Grand Tours. The team's manager Marc Reef also said that Bakelants would fill a captain role during races this season.
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Only eight players remain at the 2019 Australian Open, with the year’s first Grand Slam trophy on the line. There are just seven singles matches to be played at Melbourne Park, but plenty is at stake with the next ATP Rankings to be released on 28 January. looks at the various ATP Ranking possibilities as the ATP Tour’s stars enter the last eight.Kei Can Return To The Top 5This week last year, Kei Nishikori was making his return to action from a right wrist injury on the ATP Challenger Tour. The Japanese star, then No. 24 in the ATP Rankings, did not play in the Australian Open, losing in the first round of the Newport Beach Challenger. He would fall as low as World No. 39 last April.
But now, Nishikori is just two victories from guaranteeing a return to the Top 5 for the first time since the week of 17 April 2017. Nishikori, who outlasted Pablo Carreno Busta in his second fifth-set tie-break of the event (also d. Karlovic in the second round) is currently projected to ascend to World No. 7 with 4,110 points.
If Nishikori advances to his second Grand Slam final (also the 2014 US Open), the 29-year-old will move to 4,950 points and return to the Top 5, surpassing Roger Federer (4,600) and Kevin Anderson (4,845). If the recent Brisbane titlist wins his maiden major crown, he would move past Juan Martin del Potro (5,060) and return to his career-high of World No. 4.Nishikori's Round-By-Round ATP Rankings Projection (Current Points: 4,110)
 Australian Open Champion
Tsitsipas Eyes Breakthrough To Top 10One year ago, Stefanos Tsitsipas, then No. 82 in the ATP Rankings, lost in the first round of the Australian Open. The #NextGenATP Greek owned just six tour-level wins.
But now, not only is he the World No. 15, but the 20-year-old has a chance to take it even further. If Tsitsipas advances to the Australian Open final, he will soar into the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings for the first time. A trip to the championship match on Rod Laver Arena would send Tsitsipas to No. 9, while a dream run to the title would catapult him to No. 8.Tsitsipas' Round-By-Round ATP Rankings Projection (Current Points: 2,445)
 Australian Open Champion
Tiafoe To Crack The Top 30Regardless of his result against 2009 champion Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals, Frances Tiafoe is guaranteed to earn a new career-high ATP Ranking on 28 January, cracking the Top 30 for the first time.
While the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier and reigning Delray Beach Open champion, who is the youngest American quarter-finalist at the Australian Open since Andy Roddick in 2003, is projected to reach No. 30 should he lose to Nadal (1,430 points). He can make a massive jump by reaching the semi-finals or better. Tiafoe would climb to No. 22 or 23 should he stun the Spaniard, pending the result of Lucas Pouille’s quarter-final against Milos Raonic.Tiafoe's Round-By-Round ATP Rankings Projection (Current Points: 1,430)
 Australian Open Champion
Bautista Agut Pushing Towards Career-HighBautista Agut, like Nishikori, is off to a perfect 9-0 start in 2019. If the 30-year-old is able to continue his good form to advance further in Melbourne, he could potentially earn a new career-best ATP Ranking.
The Spaniard lost in the first round of the Australian Open last year, so he had just 10 points to defend at the season’s first major. Since Bautista Agut will gain at least 350 points after reaching his first Grand Slam quarter-final, he is already poised to climb from No. 24 to No. 17, so long as Tiafoe and Pouille fail to reach the final.
But if Bautista Agut defeats Tsitsipas, he could potentially soar to No. 14, pending Raonic’s quarter-final result against Pouille. Bautista Agut, who achieved his career-high of No. 13 in October 2016, would guarantee himself at least a return to that mark by reaching the final, and he would crack the Top 10 for the first time at No. 9 by claiming the trophy.Bautista Agut's Round-By-Round ATP Rankings Projection (Current Points: 1,955)
 Australian Open Champion
Raonic SurgingRaonic is no stranger to climbing the ATP Rankings, as he ascended to World No. 3, his top mark, on 21 November 2016. But the Canadian entered the Australian Open as the No. 17 player in the world.
If Raonic defeats Pouille to reach his fourth Grand Slam semi-final and his second in Melbourne (also 2016), he will move to at least No. 14 on 28 January, and as high as No. 12, depending on the results of Tsitsipas-Bautista Agut and Nadal-Bautista Agut. Like Bautista Agut, Raonic can earn a spot in the Top 10 next Monday by winning his first major title, which would propel him to World No. 9.Raonic's Round-By-Round ATP Rankings Projection (Current Points: 2,250)
 Australian Open Champion
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