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Badosa, Karatsev snare Sydney silverware

  • Alex Sharp

Paula Badosa "went to the limit" in an absorbing 6-3 4-6 7-6(4) battle with Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova to lift the Sydney Tennis Classic trophy on Saturday.  
The high-calibre contest produced 80 winners between the duo, as Badosa collected her third career title from as many finals. 

Later on Saturday, top seed Aslan Karatsev took the Sydney men's crown, the Russian putting on a 6-3 6-3 masterclass to deny former world No.1 Andy Murray a first title since 2019.  

Badosa, 24, will head to the Australian Open boosted by her Sydney showing, and could face a rematch with Krejcikova in the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park.  

Badosa kept up her perfect strike rate in finals on Saturday

"Super excited. After the level of this final, even more. Amazing week, amazing final," said Badosa, who opens her Australian Open campaign against home hope Ajla Tomljanovic. 

"Of course it gives me a lot of confidence, especially with the level I have played this week." 
The Spaniard also edged the Czech in straight sets on the way to her Indian Wells triumph last October, but Saturday night's clash was one of much finer margins.
Badosa blazed out of the blocks with first-strike tennis, only for Krejcikova to lead by utilising her doubles prowess up at the net.  
From 2-3 down the Spaniard responded in style, rattling through four successive games with arrowed return winners doing the damage. 
Krejcikova, who saved seven match points in the semifinal thriller against Anett Kontaveit, roared "pojd" as the Czech opened up 2-0 on the scoreboard. The world No.4 managed to fend off Badosa battling back, and at 4-4 a brushstroke backhand winner to wrong-foot the Spaniard provided the catalyst to force a deciding set. 

Krejcikova fought on, but Badosa had the answers at the death

The intensity kept building in an arm-wrestle for the initiative. A last-ditch Krejcikova backhand volley gained applause from her opponent, whilst Badosa dazzled with plenty of air time for a backhand overhead winner.  

The match needed a tiebreak to separate the top-10 duo, and it was all about Badosa. The Spaniard lasered a forehand down the tramline, proving the fine margins en route to glory.  
"I think it's small details in that moments. I like to play at the limits," said Badosa, who has now won her past 10 tiebreaks. 

"I'm very happy that in that important moments I'm bringing my best tennis." 
During the trophy ceremony, Badosa made sure to credit Krejcikova.  
"I feel really bad, playing a friend in a match like today, we went to the limit, and losing is never easy," she said, following their heart-warming hug at the net. 

"I remember when we broke into the top 100 a few years ago and now we are playing here in a big final, so for me it's an honour to see you grow." 
World No.20 Karatsev was one of the breakout stars of last season, compiling a magic semifinal run at Melbourne Park, and the Russian was in top gear to topple three-time Grand Slam champion Murray. 

Karatsev's Australian summer began on the right note

"To start a season with a title, it's a good start and good preparation for Australian Open. To get some energy, confidence beginning of the year, it's always good," declared the champion, acknowledging the tireless efforts of Murray. 
"I arrived a bit late to this kind of level, but one of the greatest player in the world of all time, for me it was really important match to play against this kind of player. 
"What he does, it's unbelievable. I think it's a huge comeback from him to play at this level after what he has in the past with the injury." 

Armed with fearless striking, the 28-year-old attacked on return and whipped menacing forehands to carve out an early lead. 
The force was too much, denying Murray any rhythm, and 14 winners catapulted Karatsev a set to the good. 
The top seed's signature backhand soon pinged down the line for an instant break, and two deft crosscourt drop shots illustrated the Russian's burgeoning confidence.  
Murray, chasing title No.47, gained five break points at 1-3 with inspired improvisation and grit, but Karatsev stood firm in a 13-minute hold to snuff out any shout of a vintage Murray comeback.  
"I'd like to congratulate Aslan. I know he also arrived late in Australia recovering from Covid, so it's even more impressive to come back straight away at that level," said the determined Scot, before reflecting on his own Australian Open build-up.

Murray missed out in Sydney, but takes plenty of momentum to Melbourne

"First time back in the finals for three years. It's been a long road to be back here … what an amazing atmosphere to play in," he said.

"I've really missed playing in front of these sort of crowds, in these matches. Unfortunately, the result didn't go my way tonight, but I'll keep trying my best to come back and have more nights like this."