The Cincinnati Bengals claimed their first playoffs win in 31 years led by Joe Burrow's two touchdown passes as they got past the Las Vegas Raiders 26-19 in Saturday's wild card game.

Burrow completed 24 of 34 passes for 244 yards with two touchdowns, although the second for Tyler Boyd was controversial after an official's whistle was heard, presumably for out of bounds, during the play yet it stood.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr made 29 of 54 passes for 310 yards and one touchdown but he threw an interception on the final play as he drove his side to the nine-yard line, with Germaine Pratt picking it off.

All three TDs came in the first half, with Burrow finding CJ Uzomah with a lazer for a first-quarter touchdown before opening up a 20-6 lead with his pass for Boyd.

Carr's 80-yard drive ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass for Zay Jones on the stroke of half-time to close the gap.

Rookie Evan McPherson went four of four to help the Bengals clinch victory, staving off the Raiders' late push to make it five straight wins.

Ja'Marr Chase was important for the Bengals too, with nine receptions for 116 yards and three rushing carries for 23 yards.

The Raiders, who have endured a difficult season, will have to wait to end their 41-year playoffs road win drought.

The end of the Novak Djokovic saga is set to be settled on Sunday after a procedural hearing began.

Djokovic, who returned to detention on Saturday as per a pre-agreed court arrangement, is fighting to be able to compete at the Australian Open, which starts on Monday.

A procedural hearing, where the matter was formally transferred from the Federal Circuit Court to the Federal Court of Australia, started at 09:30 local time (22:30 GMT).

Djokovic's lawyers secured an early procedural victory when it was decided the case should be heard by a full court, consisting of Chief Justice James Allsop, Justice Anthony Besanko and Justice David O'Callaghan.

That reduces the avenues for any possible appeal against the court's decision. Stephen Lloyd, who was appearing on behalf of immigration minister Alex Hawke, had indicated his preference for a single judge.

A central tenet of the case is set to be Hawke's assertion that Djokovic should be removed from the country "on health and good order grounds" and "in the public interest".

 

In submissions to the court issued by Djokovic's lawyers, Hawke is shown to say that he accepted the world number one recently tested positive for COVID-19.

However, Hawke adds that: "I am concerned that his presence in Australia, given his well-known stance on vaccination, creates a risk of strengthening the anti-vaccination sentiment of a minority of the Australian community."

The nine-time Australian Open champion's visa was revoked for a second time on Friday despite Djokovic winning his initial case last Monday.

His lawyers began their argument shortly after the hearing started, with Chief Justice Allsop having suggested that due to quality of the written submissions, both side's arguments would be heard by lunchtime local time.

The end of the Novak Djokovic saga is set to be settled on Sunday after a procedural hearing began in Melbourne.

Djokovic, who returned to detention on Saturday as per a pre-agreed court arrangement, is fighting to be able to compete at the Australian Open, which starts on Monday.

A procedural hearing, where the matter was formally transferred from the Federal Circuit Court to the Federal Court of Australia, started at 09:30 local time (22:30 GMT).

Djokovic's lawyers secured an early procedural victory when it was decided the case should be heard by a full court, consisting of Chief Justice James Allsop, Justice Anthony Besanko and Justice David O'Callaghan.

That reduces the avenues for any possible appeal against the court's decision. Stephen Lloyd, who was appearing on behalf of immigration minister Alex Hawke, had indicated his preference for a single judge.

A central tenet of the case is set to be Hawke's assertion that Djokovic should be removed from the country "on health and good order grounds" and "in the public interest".

 

In submissions to the court issued by Djokovic's lawyers, Hawke is shown to say that he accepted the world number one recently tested positive for COVID-19.

However, Hawke adds that: "I am concerned that his presence in Australia, given his well-known stance on vaccination, creates a risk of strengthening the anti-vaccination sentiment of a minority of the Australian community."

The nine-time Australian Open champion's visa was revoked for a second time on Friday despite Djokovic winning his initial case last Monday.

His lawyers began their argument shortly after the hearing started, with Chief Justice Allsop having suggested that due to quality of the written submissions, both side's arguments would be heard by lunchtime local time.

Sequels, necessary or otherwise, tend to be widely popular. Whether it's in the world of boxing or on the big screen, audiences are consistently drawn in by the prospect of a second act.

But they are not quite as keenly anticipated in the NFL playoffs.

When it gets to January, there is a desire to see matchups that have not been witnessed in the regular season. That is a small part of the allure of the postseason.

Yet the opening day of 'Super Wild Card Weekend' will serve up one sequel and the third and final act of an AFC East trilogy.

Even though the first playoff games of the 2021 campaign are repeats, there is reason to believe they will be compelling. Here Stats Perform previews Saturday's action.

Las Vegas Raiders @ Cincinnati Bengals

The Raiders' visit to Cincinnati sees a matchup of two quarterbacks playing in their first postseason game, albeit at markedly different stages of their careers.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr helped a team then based in Oakland to reach the playoffs in 2016, only for him to then miss out on their Wild Card defeat to the Houston Texans due to injury. Carr has made 127 career regular-season starts. Only two quarterbacks have ever had more prior to their first playoff start: Fran Tarkenton (174) and John Brodie (134).

Meanwhile, Joe Burrow led the Bengals to the playoffs in just his second season in the NFL and goes into his postseason debut in red-hot form. He has 971 passing yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions over his last two games. This is the 49th instance of a player having at least eight TD passes and no INTs over a two-game span. Burrow has the most passing yards of those 49 instances, over 100 yards more than the next closest (Ben Roethlisberger, 862 in 2014).

Burrow was the most accurate quarterback in the NFL by well-thrown percentage (min. 200 attempts) in the regular season. He delivered an accurate well-thrown ball on 86.5 per cent of attempts, though in Carr he must outduel the man third on that same list (82.1 per cent).

Should he do so, Burrow will give the Bengals their first playoff win since the 1990 campaign. They have lost eight straight playoff games, while their span without a playoff win is the longest active streak in the NFL, and the fifth-longest streak in NFL history. Only one team ever lost nine straight playoff games: the Detroit Lions, who have lost their last nine postseason games.

New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills

The Patriots and the Bills playing for the third time in a little over a month may feel repetitive, but this game actually marks a playoff first.

It is the first playoff game since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 in which the Pats and Bills have met.

Their lone playoff clash was an AFL tiebreaker in 1963, after the teams finished the season tied for first place in the Eastern Division (both 7-6-1). The Boston Patriots won that playoff game, 26-8, at Buffalo's War Memorial Stadium.

With lows of minus 16 degrees Celsius expected in Buffalo on Saturday, a low-scoring close game would not be a surprise. The Bills (289) and Patriots (303) are ranked one-two in the NFL this season in fewest points allowed. Buffalo allowed the fewest passing touchdowns (12), and New England tied Denver for the fewest rushing touchdowns allowed (nine).

Yet if the Bills come out on the right side of the ledger, recent history suggests they will do so by a double-digit margin.

The Bills won 11 games this season and all their wins were by at least 12 points. Buffalo's average victory margin (22.1 points) was the highest in the NFL (New England: 2nd at 21.4).

Novak Djokovic was back in detention on Saturday night as he awaited decision day in his battle to play at the Australian Open.

The end of the saga should come on Sunday when Djokovic's lawyers attempt to prevent the Serbian being deported.

A procedural hearing, where the matter was formally transferred from the Federal Circuit Court to the Federal Court of Australia, saw an 09:30 AEDT (Saturday 22:30 GMT) start to the case agreed upon.

Djokovic's lawyers secured an early procedural victory when it was decided the case should be heard by a full court, consisting of Chief Justice James Allsop, Justice Anthony Besanko and Justice David O’Callaghan.

That reduces the avenues for any possible appeal against the court's decision. Stephen Lloyd, who was appearing on behalf of immigration minister Alex Hawke, had indicated his preference for a single judge.

A central tenet of the case is set to be Hawke's assertion that Djokovic should be removed from the country "on health and good order grounds" and "in the public interest".

In submissions to the court issued by Djokovic's lawyers, Hawke is shown to say that he accepted the world number one recently tested positive for COVID-19.

However, Hawke adds that: "I am concerned that his presence in Australia, given his well-known stance on vaccination, creates a risk of strengthening the anti-vaccination sentiment of a minority of the Australian community."

The nine-time Australian Open champion's visa was revoked for a second time on Friday despite Djokovic winning his initial case on Monday.

His lawyers will dispute the minister's claims and push for Djokovic to be freed from detention to be able to defend his title at Melbourne Park.

In their application to the court, Djokovic's legal team state: "There was no evidence before the respondent that Mr Djokovic had made any comments about his vaccination status or expressed any 'views' regarding vaccination at any time during which he has been in Australia (on this occasion or previous occasions) or at any other time in any other location (post April 2020)."

For Djokovic, lawyer Nick Wood said on Friday that his client was of "negligible risk", "of good standing" and had a medical contraindication to a vaccine.

The Australian Open starts on Monday, when Djokovic hopes to begin his journey to what could be a 10th Melbourne slam and a record-breaking 21st major title.

Djokovic is scheduled to face countryman Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round.

Thanasi Kokkinakis fought back from a set down to beat Arthur Rinderknech and claim a maiden ATP Tour title at the Adelaide International 2 in his hometown.

Kokkinakis was beaten by Gael Monfils in the semi-final of the Adelaide International 1 last weekend, but the 25-year-old got his hands on the trophy on Saturday after a 6-7 (6-8) 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 win.

The Australian saved two match points in a semi-final defeat of Marin Cilic and showed his fight again to deny Rinderknech a first title.

Kokkinakis has had a tough time with injuries since rising to a career-high ranking 69 as a teenager in 2015, but he has shown what he is capable of early in the season ahead of the Australian Open.

There were no break point in the first two sets, but Frenchman Rinderknech failed to hold twice in the decider on a special day for Kokkinakis.

Kokkinakis said: "I wouldn't want to win my first title anywhere else. To my family, friends and coaches, what a ride it's been. You have seen me at my lowest lows and now the highest high. It's been a serious journey. For now, I am so happy.

"I've been playing and practising on this court since I was eight or nine years old, coming here before school every day. I love this court so much."

Kokkinakis will play qualifier Yannick Hanfmann in the first round of his home grand slam next week, while Rinderknech takes on Alexei Popyrin at Melbourne Park.

Madison Keys overpowered Alison Riske to score a crushing win in Saturday's Adelaide International 2 final.

A 6-1 6-2 victory for Keys at Adelaide International 2 gave her a sixth WTA Tour title and a first since a stunning run in 2019 at Cincinnati.

Keys, who faces a tough Australian Open first-round clash against 2020 champion Sofia Kenin, showed her form is coming back after a lean spell.

The former world number seven has slipped to a lowly 87th in the rankings, but at the age of 26 she has ample time to climb back towards the top of the game.

This win moves her back into the top 60, with Elina Svitolina and Coco Gauff among the players Keys has fended off this week.

Keys said: "I'm really happy with how today went. There were a couple of opportunities where momentum could have switched, and I think I did a really good job of just regrouping and continuing to focus on my side of the court. Really happy to get a win."

Keys explained her mindset had been "dark" at times in 2021, with her appetite for tennis ebbing away.

She said: "Just knowing from what I was thinking about last year and the deep, dark pit of despair that I put myself into because of that, I don't want to go back to that. I don't want to let myself borderline hate being on the tennis court and hate competing. If I let myself think that way, that's where it goes."

Her motivation is on an upwards curve now, and results like this will help. Keys held serve throughout, did not face a break point, and broke Riske's delivery four times on the way to sealing victory in an hour and six minutes.

Quoted on the WTA website, Keys added: "I think the biggest takeaway is that things can switch at any moment. As long as you can continue to have the right mindset and keep going for things and keep working hard, things will get better if they're not going well, as long as you just have the right mindset and continue to have a good attitude about it."

Aslan Karatsev failed to read the script as he beat Andy Murray in straight sets to win the Sydney Classic on Saturday.

Three-time grand slam champion Murray had rolled back the years to reach his first ATP Tour championship match since beating Stan Wawrinka in Antwerp back in October 2019.

There was to be no 47th ATP Tour singles title for the Briton at Ken Rosewall Arena, though, as Karatsev won 6-3 6-3 to ensure he will start the Australian Open next week with a spring in his step.

The world number 20 from Russia was a surprise semi-finalist in the first grand slam of the year at Melbourne Park last year and looks capable of making his presence felt again.

Karatsev struck 27 winners to 13 from the racket of former world number one Murray, who was unable to break the Vladikavkaz native's serve.

Murray failed to hold in the first game of the final and the opening set was over when he was broken for a second time.

Karatsev surged into a 3-0 lead in the second set and fended off five break points before finally holding to take a 4-1 lead, then went on to serve it out as he secured a third ATP Tour singles title, having been triumphant in Moscow and Dubai last year.

Murray will take great heart from the strides he has made this week and three years after fearing he may be force to retire at the Australian Open, the 34-year-old will face Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round of the 2022 tournament next week.

Karatsev will do battle with Spaniard Jaume Munar for a place in the second round at Melbourne Park.

Paula Badosa underlined her credentials as an Australian Open contender by capturing the Sydney Classic title on Saturday.

The Spaniard beat French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova 6-3 4-6 7-6 (7-4) to claim the trophy in a battle of two of the breakout stars on the WTA Tour.

Krejcikova was considered a doubles specialist until last season, when she soared from 65th to fifth place in the world rankings, on the back of Roland Garros glory and runs at both Wimbledon and the US Open.

New York-born Badosa also shot up the rankings in 2021, surging from 69th to number eight by the year's end after winning titles in Belgrade and Indian Wells.

Her performance in winning the latter, a prestigious WTA 1000 event, pointed to Badosa being a likely challenger for hardcourt success in Australia.

She beat Krejcikova during that Californian tournament and repeated the feat in Sydney, the hard-hitting Spaniard maintaining a 100 per cent winning record in WTA finals.

Badosa said: "I feel really bad because I'm playing against a friend and playing a match like today where I think we both went to the limit and losing, it is never easy.

"But I want to congratulate you for everything. We both broke into the top 100 a few years ago, and now we're playing big finals.

"For me, it's an honour to see you grow, you're an amazing player and a grand slam champion."

Badosa begins her Australian Open mission in Melbourne against a home player in Ajla Tomljanovic next week, while Krejcikova has a first-round clash with German Andrea Petkovic.

Chris Evert has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and has begun chemotherapy, the American tennis great announced.

The 67-year-old Evert, whose on-court battles with Martina Navratilova in the 1970s and 1980s provided one of the greatest tennis rivalries, won 18 grand slam singles titles in a much-lauded career.

Evert told ESPN, for whom she has worked as a match analyst, that she underwent the first of six rounds of chemotherapy this week.

It means Evert has not travelled to Melbourne to work at the Australian Open, which begins on Monday. She said she would be providing analysis from home during the tournament.

The cancer was discovered after a preventive hysterectomy and Evert said it was found at an early stage.

In a message posted on Twitter, she said: "I wanted to share my stage 1 ovarian cancer diagnosis and the story behind it as a way to help others. I feel very lucky that they caught it early and expect positive results from my chemo plan."

Speaking to ESPN, she added: "I've lived a very charmed life. Now I have some challenges ahead of me. But, I have comfort in knowing the chemotherapy is to ensure that cancer does not come back.

"As someone who has always had control over my life, I have no idea how I'll respond to chemotherapy. I have to give in to something higher."

 

Evert's sister Jeanne died from ovarian cancer in February 2020.

"When I go into chemo, she is my inspiration," Evert added. "I'll be thinking of her. And she'll get me through it."

Messages of support poured in for Evert, with Navratilova writing: "We are all with you and behind you Chrissie, you are a true champion and I have no doubt you will conquer this nasty opponent with nary a sweat!"

Billie Jean King, a fellow American tennis legend, said she and her partner Ilana Kloss would have Evert "in our thoughts and prayers".

"Sending you so much love and healing thoughts, @ChrissieEvert ... and we wish you strength as you face this battle. You are one of a kind, and there are so many who love you," King said.

Among current WTA Tour stars, there were Twitter messages of support from the likes of Victoria Azarenka, Garbine Muguruza, Madison Keys, Paula Badosa and Ons Jabeur.

Tracy Austin, a fellow player-turned-analyst, told Evert: "You are one of the strongest people I know. There are so many of us that will be with you every step of the way."

Stephen Curry was "a little concerned" about a hand injury he sustained in the Golden State Warriors' thrashing of the Chicago Bulls on Friday but declared: "I'll be all right."

Curry fell on his right hand during the Warriors' 138-96 rout of the Bulls at United Center – their 10th consecutive victory over Chicago.

The seven-time NBA All-Star, who scored 19 points, was initially worried about the damage he may have done, but says the pain did not last for long.

He said: "Anything that involves the hands, especially the right one, you're a little concerned. But the feeling came back, the strength came back. It hurts, but I'll be all right."

Curry added: "I have some PTSD from [a hand injury sustained] two years ago. When I landed, it felt kind of the same, but we'll get it looked at and figure it out. Should be all right."

Rookie forward Jonathan Kuminga top-scored with 25 points in 26 minutes for Golden State, with Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins finishing with 22 and 21 points respectively.

Klay Thompson was rested as he eases his way back from a long injury lay-off, while Draymond Green could return from a calf injury against the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday.

The Warriors' demolition of Eastern Conference leaders Chicago (27-13) was only their second win in six games and moved them to 31-11, sitting second in the Western Conference behind the 32-9 Phoenix Suns.

 

The Golden State Warriors showed off their newfound depth and flexed their muscle with a 138-96 rout over the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls on Friday.

Three Warriors scored more points than Stephen Curry, who finished with 19 points including four three-pointers in the win without Draymond Green (calf) and Klay Thompson (rest).

Top 10 draft pick Jonathan Kuminga top scored with 25 points, while Jordan Poole added 22 including five triples and Andrew Wiggins contributed 21.

Golden State piled on 78 points in the first half, leading by 31 at the main break and never looked back after the Bulls lost Zach LaVine to a knee injury early in the first quarter.

DeMar DeRozan was kept quiet with 17 points, two rebounds and seven assists, while Nikola Vucevic top scored for the Bulls with 19 points along with 14 rebounds.

Chicago, who were humbled 138-112 by the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, slip to a 27-13 record but remain top of the Eastern Conference.

 

Suns and Heat continue stellar records

Devin Booker scored 35 points including five three-pointers while Deandre Ayton had 27 points with 12 rebounds as the ladder-leading phoenix Suns won 112-94 over the Indiana Pacers. The Suns are 32-9 at the halfway mark, which is their second-best record in franchise history after 41 games.

Jimmy Butler returned from a three-game absence due to an ankle injury with 23 points, 10 assists and two steals as the Miami Heat rallied late to win 124-118 over the Atlanta Hawks. The Heat improve to 27-15 and sit second in the east.

Joel Embiid had 25 points, 13 rebounds and six assists as the Philadelphia 76ers got past the Boston Celtics 111-99. Embiid fell five points short of breaking the 76ers franchise record for 30 points or more in nine straight games.

 

Grizzlies winning run ended

The Memphis Grizzlies' 11-game winning streak came to a halt at the hands of Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks 112-85. The Grizzlies struggled from beyond the arc, making seven-of-31 (22.6 percent) from three-point range with Jaren Jackson Jr missing all six of his three-point attempts. Doncic had a triple-double with 27 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

Novak Djokovic has won the last three Australian Open titles and lifted the trophy nine times in all, which means he arrived in Melbourne as a hot favourite to triumph again.

Yet even before the chaos of the last 10 days, this looked a tough Australian Open for Djokovic, given the likes of Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev have recently taken his scalp in major hard-court matches.

There was no doubt he was a worthy favourite, but Djokovic's dominance of the first half of last season was followed by a series of painful defeats, weakening his standing at the top of the game.

When the men's singles draw was made on Thursday, only two former champions featured: Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, the 2009 winner.

Here, Stats Perform assesses the contenders to follow Djokovic onto the Melbourne Park throne.

NEXT NUMBER ONE? DANIIL MEDVEDEV

Last year's runner-up, given a sound pasting by Djokovic in a final that came nowhere close to matching expectations, has come a long way since that crushing blow. Russian Medvedev was the only man to beat Djokovic in a grand slam last year, doing so at the final hurdle of the final major, without dropping a set in the US Open title match. That denied Djokovic a calendar year sweep of the majors, which would have been the first time the feat had been achieved by a man since Rod Laver's 1969 complete set.

He also took the first set off Djokovic in the Paris Masters final in November, only to lose the match. What is clear is that Medvedev is amassing experiences against Djokovic: some good and some bad, but all surely massively helpful. He lost in their first three encounters but has won four of the seven since.

Progress like this is what repeat champions are made of. Medvedev has a 9-9 win-loss record when dropping the first set of matches over the past year, which shows he is not easily beaten. Only Djokovic (14-6) has a better record in that respect.

Medvedev has a 54-9 record on hardcourts over the past 12 months, has gone mightily close to hitting number one in the rankings, and might see a lot of that top step in the months and years to come. On the 52-week rolling list, he holds a 16-8 win-loss record against top-10 opponents, which is second only to Djokovic (22-5).

Should Medvedev pull off a second consecutive grand slam win, it would make him just the third Russian man to win two or more grand slam singles titles, after Yevgeny Kafelnikov (French Open 1996 and Australian Open 1999) and Marat Safin (US Open 2000 and Australian Open 2005).

The last player other than Federer, Nadal and Djokovic to secure back-to-back majors was Andre Agassi (US Open 1999 and Australian Open 2000).

 

OVERDUE SLAM INCOMING? ALEXANDER ZVEREV

The Olympic champion and ATP Finals winner is just lacking a grand slam title to confirm to the wider sporting world his status as one of the rising generation's preeminent performers. Zverev beat Djokovic in semi-finals en route to both of those big 2021 titles, and although he also lost three times to the 20-time major winner over the season, he took four sets off the man from Belgrade in those defeats.

Zverev is improving season on season, and if he avoids injuries or other tribulations in 2022 then he surely stands a strong chance of picking up that first slam before the year is out. He won six titles in all in 2021, more than any other singles player on the ATP Tour, and holds a 43-10 win-loss record on hardcourts on the 52-week rolling list.

When the draw was made, he and Djokovic were set on another semi-final collision course, and that prospect looked tantalising. Until recently so far apart, the gap has closed considerably, Zverev tallying victories that will have surely troubled the world number one.

NOT READY TO BE YESTERDAY'S MAN: RAFAEL NADAL

Because why the heck not? Nadal, at the age of 35, returned from a long foot injury lay-off with a title at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament this month, and if his record at the Australian Open is deemed unspectacular by some, the Spaniard himself takes great pride in his achievements.

Recently, in a Melbourne news conference, he was asked why he had not reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open since his title year, and Nadal swiftly put his questioner right.

"I am very sorry to tell you – I don't want to – but I have been in the final of 2012, '14, '17, '19," he said. "I got injured a couple of times here in my tennis career, so of course it's been a great tournament for me, and of course I had a lot of challenges in terms of injuries in this event. Sorry to correct you."

Polite as ever, but pointed. Nadal knows he has been successful in Australia and would surely not have returned this year if he felt there was no chance of another run to the final. He rightly takes issue with those who forget his feats. Remember, he, like Djokovic and Federer, sits on 20 grand slams.

Nadal reached the quarter-finals last year and lost from two sets up against Stefanos Tsitsipas, so he will want to banish that memory. There is little evidence of hard-court form beyond his win in a mediocre field last week in Melbourne, but he is Rafael Nadal and he wins tennis tournaments. At least one every year since 2004. A 6-8 record against rival top-10 players over the past 52 weeks is no great shakes, but you count out Nadal at your peril.

 

NEXTGEN OR NEXT NEW CHAMP? JANNIK SINNER

Tennis is such a generation game just now. The Big Three (Big Four, if you include Andy Murray) are in the twilight years of their careers, coming under long-awaited threat from the mid-twenties likes of Medvedev, Zverev, Dominic Thiem (absent from Australia), Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini.

Sinner is to the forefront of the pack of the next big group coming through (see also: Carlos Alcaraz, Lorenzo Musetti). At 20, the Italian is entering a big year in the context of his career. By the time Djokovic turned 20, he was sixth in the world, Federer was 14th on the day he left his teenage years behind, and Nadal was second. Progress comes at different rates.

Sinner was 15th in the rankings on his last birthday, in August, but has since dipped his toes into the top 10 and currently stands 11th. He won four ATP Tour titles in 2021, finished the year with a 49-22 record, and can reasonably be expected to kick on. The Italian has yet to majorly show up at the grand slams, with a Roland Garros quarter-final in 2020 his best run yet.

Expect that to change soon enough. Sinner is only 6-9 against top-10 players on the 52-week list, but he warmed up for the challenge that lies ahead in Melbourne with three straight-sets singles victories at the ATP Cup. His 42-14 record on hardcourts over the last year suggests the Australian Open should suit him as well as any slam.

Twenty-time major winner Rafael Nadal says he is tired of the Novak Djokovic saga ahead of the Australian Open and insists the event will be "great" with or without him.

Sixth seed Nadal is preparing to take on American Miguel Giron in the Australian Open first round on Monday but preparations have been hijacked by Djokovic's ongoing visa status.

The world number one had his visa cancelled by the Australian Immigration Minister on Friday with an appeal to be held on Sunday.

The situation has dragged on for the past week, with Nadal admitting he was tired of the narrative and that no one player is bigger than the Australian Open.

"I tell you one thing, it's very clear that Novak Djokovic is one of the best players of the history, but there is no one player in history that's more important than an event," Nadal told reporters on Saturday.

"[The] Australian Open is much more important than any player. If he's playing finally, OK.

"If he's not playing, [the] Australian Open will be great, with or without him. That's my point of view."

World number six Nadal, who has only won the Australian Open title once in 2009, said he hoped focus would return to the upcoming tournament where he is aiming for a record-breaking 21st slam.

"Honestly, I'm little bit tired of the situation because I just believe that it's important to talk about our sport, about tennis," Nadal said.

The Spaniard added that he respected Djokovic and has a "good relationship" with him despite their differences.

"I wish him all the best. I really respect him, even if I [do] not agree with a lot of things that he did the last couple of weeks," he said.

Chicago Bulls' All-Star Zach LaVine will undergo an MRI on his left knee after limping out of the side's 138-96 loss to the Golden State Warriors.

LaVine left the court early on Friday with the Bulls suffering their worst loss of the season in his absence, days after a disappointing defeat to the Brooklyn Nets.

The Bulls are top of the Eastern Conference with a 27-13 record with LaVine averaging 25.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.

Bulls head Billy Donovan refused to be drawn on the extent of the injury but conceded the 26-year-old will miss Saturday's game against the Boston Celtics.

"I don't want to sit there and speculate that they've got more concern or not," Donovan told reporters after the game.

"I think they're just looking at it, he came down a bit funny. He's got some discomfort right now and they want to take a look. He didn’t feel like he could return."

He added: "I just don’t know until he gets an MRI. That's all it is right now. We leave tonight to go to Boston and he won't be going with us. We'll know a bit more detail tomorrow."

LaVine suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in 2017 playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

American Russell Henley holds a three-stroke lead at the halfway mark of the Sony Open in Hawaii after a seven-under-63 on Friday.

Henley, who won the Sony Open in 2013, carded an eight-under-62 on the opening day and backed that up to be 15-under and three shots ahead of second-placed Haotong Li.

Li along with third-placed Matt Kuchar and equal fourth Chris Kirk all carded rounds of five-under-65.

Kirk is one of 10 players tied for fourth alongside Seamus Power, Stewart Cink, Corey Conners, Adam Svensson, Keita Nakajima, Davis Riley, Dylan Wu, Brandt Snedeker, Payton Kizzire and 2021 Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama.

Henley's seven-under-63 was a round-best alongside Cink and Charles Howell III who both surged up the leaderboard.

The 32-year-old American had an even card on the second round before holing a bunker shot for eagle on the 18th hole, his ninth hole of the day.

Henley came home strong with four birdies and an eagle in his final six holes, including a 29-foot eagle putt. He has three PGA Tour titles across his career, the last being in 2017.

Veteran Jim Furyk dropped well off the pace after his fast start, with a two-over-round of 72 leaving him six under at halfway, while day one leader Kevin Na slipped to eight under after a round of one-over-71.

In a season when players are prone to missing time due to COVID-19 protocols, injury maintenance and routine rest, any single regular-season game rarely feels meaningful.

The Brooklyn Nets’ 138-112 thumping of the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, however, seemed to make a statement about the pecking order at the top of the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls maintain the best record in the East at 27-12, two games ahead of the Nets, but Brooklyn used a dominant second-half surge to display how astronomically high the team’s ceiling is.

Playing in front of a frenzied crowd, the Bulls matched the Nets shot-for-shot for a while, and the game was tied at 71 early in the third quarter. Brooklyn responded by tightening its grip on the defensive end of the floor and playing the last 8:29 of the quarter on a 30-8 run.

Chicago opened the fourth quarter by turning the ball over four times in five possessions, and the Brooklyn lead grew to as much as 38 before both teams removed their marquee players – a scary reminder to rest of the NBA that a juggernaut is looming in the East.

Irving makes the difference

With Kyrie Irving declining to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the Nets opened the season without him and played well with either Kevin Durant or James Harden running the show. Part of the luxury of having three of the league’s top 15 players is that one injury – or one bizarre soap opera centered around medical choices and municipal rules – doesn’t derail the season.

The Nets’ trio of All-Stars has still played only 16 games together, including the playoffs, but the early returns show that having Durant, Harden and Irving all on the court at the same time makes for a historically great offense.

The Nets’ change of heart to allow Irving to be a road-only, part-time player may have vaulted them to the top of the NBA title conversation.

With Durant, Harden and Irving on the court together, the Nets are scoring 125.4 points per 100 possessions. For comparison, the Utah Jazz have the NBA’s most efficient offense over the course of this entire season at 114.2 points per 100 possessions.

In all other scenarios over the past two seasons, including those when Durant and Harden play together, the Nets have operated with an offensive efficiency of 113.1 – an impressive number but one that is noticeably less than 125.4.

Nets, With/Without Kevin Durant, James Harden & Kyrie Irving On Court - Since 2020-21 (reg & post)

  With All  All Other Lineups Points/100 125.4 113.1 Opp Points/100 110.2 108.3 Point Diff/100 +15.2 +4.8 FG Pct .535 .481 Opp FG Pct .450 .449 3-Pt Pct .418 .449 Opp 3-Pt Pct .350 .347

Due to New York regulations, Irving can’t play home games for the Nets, but he is permitted to participate in most road games. After scoring 22 points in each of his first two games of the season, Irving needed just nine points in Wednesday’s blowout of the Bulls. His impact, however, is not lost on head coach Steve Nash.

“Kyrie definitely is another huge threat on the floor, whether he scores nine points or 29,” Nash told reporters. “Clearly you lose a generational talent when he’s not in the lineup.

“But there’s a level we reached (on Wednesday night) – with the purpose, the pace, the spirit, the resolve – that I thought was really important for our group to see how successful they can be when they do that.

“Even without Kyrie, can we bring that same level more often than not? If we do, we’ll get back to a top-10 defense like we were for most of the year and get back to pushing for the top spot in the East. But it’s hard work. It’s not easy, and you’ve got to do it day-in and day-out.”

Nash’s point rang true just a day later, when the Nets were beat 130-109 at home on Thursday by the Oklahoma City Thunder, albeit without Irving and Durant.

Brooklyn’s title hopes very well could come down to finding a way around the local regulations that prevent unvaccinated players like Irving from playing in New York, since the trio has already proven to be lethal.

Harden back in form

One powerful force allowing the Nets to climb toward the top of the East has been the re-emergence of Harden.

The league’s officials opened the season determined to stop rewarding offensive players for flailing and flopping in ways that aren’t natural to basketball, and some of the league’s brightest stars saw a sharp decline in free throw attempts, Harden included.

It is fair to say he has since adjusted.

Through the first 12 games of the season, Harden was averaging just 18.2 points per game and was attempting an average of just 4.7 free throws per game.

Since Nov. 12, Harden is scoring 24.8 points per game and attempting 9.8 free throws per contest.

The nine-time All-Star still isn’t shooting as efficiently as he typically does but has continued to thrive as one of the league’s best distributors. Harden’s 9.9 assists per game trail only Chris Paul’s 10.1 in the league this season. Harden is averaging 3.0 assists in both the first and third quarters, when he mostly plays with Durant and the rest of the starting unit.

His numbers will never again be as impressive as they were in Houston, where Harden was essentially a one-man offense, but he has adapted very well to playing alongside other stars and focusing a bit more on distribution – something that many critics doubted after he spent so long as the lone focal point with the Rockets.

Durant No. 1?

Durant remains the most reliable and lethal scorer in the league today, and his overall game puts him in the discussion for the best player in the world. He has played so well that it is easy to forget that he was rehabilitating from a ruptured Achilles tendon just 13 months ago.

Durant carried an incredible load in the last year’s playoffs, playing over 40 minutes per game, averaging 34.3 points and getting within a toe’s length of knocking out the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo may be the only other player with a claim to be the best in the world right now after winning two MVPs and a championship over the past three seasons.

But Durant’s ball-handling and outside shooting make him feel like a more traditional creator of offense, and his playoff resume credentials speak for themselves after he won back-to-back titles and Finals MVPs with the Golden State Warriors.

The bench brings the right blend

Lost in the excitement over Durant, Harden and Irving playing together Wednesday in Chicago was how well the supporting cast played, even with Joe Harris, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Claxton missing the game.

Rookies Day’Ron Sharpe and Kessler Edwards were forced into starting roles and heavy minutes against the Bulls and met the challenge head-on. Sharpe was especially productive, totaling 20 points and seven rebounds in by far the best game of his young career.

The shooting of 13th-year guard Patty Mills has proven to be a crucial part of Brooklyn’s offense, and his 6-for-8 performance from behind the 3-point line against the Bulls indicates he will remain vital in the postseason.

This blend of youth and experience bodes very well for the Nets down the stretch. Sharpe, Edwards, Cameron Thomas and David Duke Jr. have all had impressive moments this season and have plenty of room to grow.

Mills, Aldridge, Harris, Blake Griffin and even Paul Millsap bring plenty of experience that will be appreciated this spring. And while at least a few of Brooklyn’s depth players will be cut from the playoff rotation, the roster appears to have the flexibility to account for unique playoff matchups.

The bottom line

While depth will play a role, the Nets will only go as far as their three stars take them this season.

The regular season will likely continue to be a roller coaster ride, full of ups and downs. Brooklyn has used 20 different starting lineups in 41 games this season, second most in the league, and that is a recipe for inconsistent results.

But this team made a statement in Wednesday’s road rout of the Bulls, showing what the whole league has feared since last season: Durant, Harden and Irving have the talent and chemistry to be one of the most potent NBA trios ever, and the Nets should be considered title favorites as long as all three can take the floor.

Novak Djokovic's Australian Open fate will be determined on Sunday although it remains to be decided if it will be in front of a full court or single judge.

Saturday's hearing was procedural with Justice David O'Callaghan transferring the matter to the Federal Court of Australia as agreed by both parties' lawyers for a 9:30am AEDT start.

The hearing was adjourned with the only contention that Djokovic's lawyers are in favour of the case being held before more than one judge, meaning no appeal to the full bench is possible.

Stephen Lloyd, who was appearing on behalf of the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, did not agree, with the court expected to make a decision later on Saturday.

“We say there isn’t a justification for stepping out of the ordinary," Lloyd told the court.

Djokovic's visa was revoked for a second time on Friday despite the 34-year-old winning his initial case on Monday.

The Serbian world number one is fighting the decision, and lawyer Nick Wood, on behalf of Djokovic, contended in a directions hearing on Friday evening that the "underlying new rationale" behind the Australian government's latest move to kick out the Serbian is that it contends his presence "will excite anti-vax sentiment".

Wood said immigration minister Alex Hawke had given no consideration to the impact that deporting Djokovic may have among those opposed to COVID-19 vaccines, saying his client was of "negligible risk", "of good standing" and had a medical contraindication to a vaccine.

In a statement released on Friday, Hawke said the decision had been taken "on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so".

The Australian Open is due to commence on Monday where Djokovic was aiming for his 10th Melbourne slam. Djokovic was also hoping to challenge for a record-breaking 21st major title.

Djokovic is scheduled to face countryman Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round in Melbourne on Monday.

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