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Nole keeps perfect record in Abu Dhabi Bouchard inspires Canadian win

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, Dec 28, (Agencies): Novak Djokovic maintained his unbeaten record in Abu Dhabi by beating David Ferrer 7-5, 6-2 Saturday to win his third straight World Tennis Championship title. Djokovic, who finished the year with a 24-match winning streak on the ATP tour since losing the US Open final to Rafael Nadal, needed just 82 minutes to dispatch the third-ranked Ferrer in the final of the invitational exhibition tournament. Djokovic converted his third match point to take home the $250,000 winner’s check. Ferrer led 4-2 in the first set but then started making a number of unforced errors as Djokovic took control of the match. Earlier, the top-ranked Nadal won a third-place playoff match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 (5), 6-3.

In Perth, Australia, teenager Eugenie Bouchard emphasised her status as one of the most promising players in women’s tennis by leading Canada to a 2-1 win over Australia at the mixed teams Hopman Cup. The 19-year-old was named the WTA’s Newcomer of the Year in November and opened her new season with the prized scalp of former US Open winner and world number 18 Samantha Stosur. The hard-hitting Bouchard, ranked 32nd in the world, came from a set down to beat the local favourite in three sets, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, to secure the Group A tie for the Canadians.

Earlier, the powerful serve of Milos Raonic broke the spirit of Bernard Tomic as the 11th-ranked Canadian cruised to a straight sets win, 7-6 (8/6), 6-1, to give Canada first blood in the tie. The host nation won the dead mixed doubles rubber. Bouchard was pleased to have reversed her loss to Stosur in the final in Osaka in October. “It was a good first match for me,” she said. “We had a good battle in Osaka and I got my revenge tonight.” Stosur started the match well enough, but her game started to disintegrate in the second set, when the pair traded service breaks until Bouchard steadied late to level the match. Bouchard broke the normally imposing Stosur serve in four successive games, including to secure the second set.

The Canadian gained the only break of the final set in the eighth game and then served it out. Raonic slammed down 19 aces against Tomic, who once again showed little fight in the second set, after the opening stanza was a tight struggle. Earlier in the day, world number five Agnieszka Radwanska got her new season off to a fine start with a straight sets win over Flavia Pennetta as Poland beat Italy 3-0. After Radwanska edged past the 31st-ranked Pennetta, the Poles clinched the tie in unlikely circumstances, with the 288th-ranked Grzegorz Panfil handed victory over Andreas Seppi in the men’s singles when the Italian retired due to illness. Panfil, who was a late call-up for the tournament following the withdrawal of Jerzy Janowicz due to injury, won the first set 6-4 and scores were level at 2-2 in the second when Seppi retired, complaining of dizziness.

That gave Poland an unbeatable 2-0 lead in the Group A encounter and they were handed a clean sweep when Seppi also withdrew from the mixed doubles. Radwanska only arrived in Perth the night before her match against Pennetta, but looked in good touch in cruising to a 6-2, 6-2 win against the Italian, who has been ranked as high as 10th in the world. The match was closer than the scoreline suggested, with the Italian creating six break points to Radwanska’s four. While the Pole claimed all of hers Pennetta was unable to convert any as she was punished by her own errors against the defensive skills of the ultra-consistent Radwanska. The 24-year-old Radwanska was pleased to perform so well given the circumstances of her opening match.

“I didn’t have much time to adjust and I only slept for like three hours,” she said after a match that was played under an open roof on a warm day. “In Poland it was about five degrees so I was very happy I could play my best tennis, playing alright for the first day here.” The 25th-ranked Seppi should have been far too good for Panfil, but the Italian never looked comfortable on the court after being broken in the very first game. Seppi told tournament officials he was hopeful of being fit to play in Italy’s next tie against Australia on Tuesday. Hua Hin, Thailand, world number two Victoria Azarenka battled back from an injury-plagued season to defeat top-ranked Serena Williams 7-5, 6-3 in Thailand. The Belarusian 24-year-old is hoping her victory at the exhibition match in Thailand will set the stage for a strong performance at the upcoming Australian Open.

“It’s a great warm up before going to compete and start the year,” she told reporters in the seaside resort of Hua Hin. “It’s always really fun because we take each other to the limit.” Asked whether the pair would meet again in the Australian Open final, she replied: “That’s what we’re going to really work hard for.” A jet-lagged Williams, who arrived in the kingdom a day later than Azarenka, shrugged off her defeat. “We had a really good match. We had a lot of moving and I think it was a really good warm up for us in the future,” she said, making her debut in Hua Hin. 2013 was mostly a year to forget for Azarenka who won just three titles against 11 for Williams.

Azarenka limped out of Wimbledon in the early stages with a knee injury and failed to reach the WTA Championships semi-finals in Turkey in October as she battled a lower back injury. A month earlier she crashed out of the China Open in the first round. In contrast Williams enjoyed a match record of 78 wins against just four defeats, claimed the season-ending WTA Championships title and became the oldest number one player. Azarenka will start her 2014 season with a return to Brisbane where she was forced to withdraw from the semi-finals a year earlier due to a toe infection on her right foot.

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