Djokovic in Grand Slam driver’s seat


NEW YORK — Novak Djokovic could not find his keys.

Alone in a parking lot outside Arthur Ashe Stadium at about 2 a.m. Monday, a handful of hours after beating Roger Federer in the U.S. Open final for his third major title of 2015 and 10th overall, there stood Djokovic, unable to unlock the car he’d been using to drive himself between the tournament site in Queens and the hotel near Central Park where he stayed with his wife and their 10-month-old son the past two weeks.

Turned out, he said, a member of his entourage accidentally grabbed the keys while gathering Djokovic’s bags. So Djokovic reluctantly accepted a ride from a U.S. Open courtesy car, which is how most players get around. It’s just that this 28-year-old from Serbia prefers to be in the driver’s seat, an apt metaphor for his Grand Slam status these days.

“It gives me a little bit of time for myself, to relax. Listening to music, going through my thoughts. I love driving here, because I don’t get a lot of chances to do that throughout the year,” Djokovic said Monday.

“I actually was very much looking forward to that champion’s drive from the tennis court to the hotel,” he added with a laugh, “but it wasn’t meant to be, I guess.”

Djokovic’s voice was scratchy and he coughed a few times during an interview with The Associated Press as he made the rounds on the morning TV talk-show circuit, where hosts fawned over his newest silver trophy.

He is gaining on Federer’s record of 17 Slam championships. Djokovic won their past three major final meetings; reverse those results, and Federer’s lead would be 20-7.

As it is, Djokovic stands tied for the seventh-most major titles in history; Pete Sampras (14), Rafael Nadal (14), Roy Emerson (12), Bjorn Borg (11) and Rod Laver (11) are the only others ahead of him.

“I would lie if I said that I am not aiming to maybe at least match or surpass some guys like Pete or Nadal, even if Nadal is still playing, obviously, so he still has a chance to increase his number,” said Djokovic, who clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking for the fourth time. “I want to keep on going, and hopefully have longevity in my career, because if I continue doing what I’m doing … I have a fair chance to win a couple more.”

After watching Djokovic beat No. 2 Federer 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 on Sunday night, Mats Wilander, who won three major tournaments in 1988, made the point that Djokovic can succeed on any surface, against any style of play and against any specific opponent.

Federer offered a similar assessment.

“He’s just really consistent. Seems like there are not many guys that can hang with him. … He’s perfected his game on the hard courts, no doubt about it. He was always a great clay-court player. And because he moves as well as he does, he’s solid and consistent now on the grass,” Federer said. “To say the least, it’s very impressive.”

Djokovic joined Federer (2004, 2006, 2007) and Laver (who won a true Grand Slam in 1969) as the only men in the Open era, which dates to 1968, to reach all four major finals in a year.

Djokovic went 27-1 at Grand Slam tournaments this season, the lone loss against Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final.

“I really feel like everything happens for a reason,” Djokovic said. “If I won that match, God knows if I would be able to win Wimbledon. Maybe I would be satisfied.”

He paid attention to what Serena Williams went through, arriving at the U.S. Open in pursuit of a calendar-year Grand Slam before falling two victories shy.

Djokovic, yet to win the French Open, has never made it halfway to the Grand Slam.

“There was immense pressure on her … and you could sense that in her semifinal match,” Djokovic said. “But that proves that she is also only human and that it can happen, even to her, one of the most dominant athletes in the history of sports.”

So he’s thought about what it might feel like to deal with that sort of attention?

“I would definitely not mind,” Djokovic said, chuckling. “I hope we’ll be having a different discussion next year, before the U.S. Open, with having three (majors) in the pocket. But you need to be humble. You need to be able to take one step at a time, then see where it takes you.”

Fernando Verdasco accepts 2-month doping ban

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

LONDON – Former top-10 player Fernando Verdasco accepted a voluntary provisional doping suspension of two months after testing positive for a medication for ADHD, the International Tennis Integrity Agency announced.

Verdasco, who turned 39 this month, said he was taking methylphenidate as medication prescribed by his doctor to treat ADHD but forgot to renew his therapeutic use exemption for the drug. The integrity agency said Verdasco has now been granted an exemption by the World Anti-Doping Agency moving forward.

He tested positive at an ATP Challenger tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in February.

The integrity agency said in a news release that it “accepts that the player did not intend to cheat, that his violation was inadvertent and unintentional, and that he bears no significant fault or negligence for it,” and so what could have been a two-year suspension was reduced to two months.

Verdasco will be eligible to compete on Jan. 8.

The Spaniard is a four-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, reaching that stage most recently in 2013 at Wimbledon, where he blew a two-set lead in a five-set loss to eventual champion Andy Murray.

Verdasco reached a career-best ranking of No. 7 in April 2009 and currently is No. 125.

Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov give Canada 1st Davis Cup title

Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports
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MALAGA, Spain — Felix Auger-Aliassime fell to his back behind the baseline, then waited for teammates to race off Canada’s bench and pile on top of him.

A few minutes later, the Canadians finally could lift the Davis Cup.

“I think of us all here, we’ve dreamt of this moment,” Auger-Aliassime said.

Canada won the title for the first time, beating Australia behind victories from Denis Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime.

Auger-Aliassime secured the winning point when he downed Alex de Minaur 6-3, 6-4 after Shapovalov opened the day by rolling past Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-2, 6-4.

Seven years after leading Canada to the top of junior tennis, Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov and their teammates finally got to lift the biggest team trophy in their sport.

“We wanted to grow up and be part of the team and try to help the country win the first title,” Shapovalov said, “so everything is just so surreal right now.”

Shapovalov had dropped both his singles matches this week and needed treatment on his back during a three-set loss in the semifinals to Lorenzo Sonego of Italy that lasted 3 hours, 15 minutes. But the left-hander moved quickly around the court, setting up angles to put away winners while racing to a 4-0 lead in the first set.

Auger-Aliassime then finished off his superb second half of the season by completing a perfect week in Spain. He twice had kept the Canadians alive after Shapovalov dropped the opening singles match, and he replaced his weary teammate to join Vasek Pospisil for the decisive doubles point.

This time, Auger-Aliassime made sure the doubles match wouldn’t even be necessary. After his teammates poured onto the court to celebrate with him, they got up and danced around in a circle.

Canada had reached the final only once, falling to host Spain in Madrid in 2019, when Rafael Nadal beat Shapovalov for the clinching point after Auger-Aliassime had lost in the opening match.

But with Auger-Aliassime having since surged up the rankings to his current spot at No. 6, the Canadians are a much more formidable team now. They won the ATP Cup in January and finally added the Davis Cup crown to the junior Davis Cup title Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov led them to in 2015.

Australia was trying for its 29th title and first since current captain Lleyton Hewitt was part of the title-winning team in 2003.

But it was finally time for the Canadians, who were given a wild card into the field when Russia was suspended because of its invasion of Ukraine.

“Look, I think we were very close today,” de Minaur said. “Just wait until the next time we get the same matchup. Hopefully we can get the win and prove that we can do it.”

But Canada will be tough to beat as long as Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov play.

Shapovalov is just 23 and Auger-Aliassime 22, but both already have been Grand Slam semifinalists and Auger-Aliassime ended 2022 as one of the hottest players on the ATP Tour. He won all of his four titles this year, including three straight weeks in October.

He also beat Carlos Alcaraz in the previous Davis Cup stage in September, just after the Spaniard had won the U.S. Open to rise to No. 1 in the rankings. That victory helped send the Canadians into the quarterfinals, which they started this week by edging Germany.

“They’re not kids anymore, that’s for sure. Not after today – well not after the last couple of years,” said Pospisil, the team veteran at 32. “They’ve been crushing it.”