Andy Murray gives Britain Davis Cup title after 79 years

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GHENT, Belgium (AP) Andy Murray gave Britain its first Davis Cup title in 79 years when he beat Belgium’s David Goffin 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 in the first of reverse singles Sunday.

The win gave Britain an unassailable 3-1 lead in the best-of-five series and the final singles match was not played.

“I can’t believe we did it,” Murray said on court. “We may never get an opportunity to do this again. We should celebrate tonight.”

Britain is the only nation to have competed in all Davis Cup editions since 1900 and its 10th title makes it the third most successful nation after the United States (32) and Australia (28).

But it was a long way coming. Britain last won it in 1936 with Fred Perry as its star and last played in the final in 1978.

Murray, ranked No. 2 in the world, is unbeaten in Davis Cup play this year.

After hitting a backhand lob that clinched the match, Murray fell on his back on the clay at the Flanders Expo arena.

His teammates piled atop him but Murray was quick to wiggle himself out and ran toward the Belgian bench to congratulate his opponents, before being hoisted by his teammates.

Murray, who ended Britain’s 77-year wait for a men’s Wimbledon champion in 2013, then sat on the British team’s bench, his face hidden behind a Union Jack flag. He now has two Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal to go with the Davis Cup title.

Murray became only the third player after John McEnroe in 1982 and Mats Wilander in 1983 to achieve an 8-0 singles record in one calendar year since the introduction of the World Group in 1981.

After teaming with brother Jamie to win the doubles on Saturday, he is the first player since Pete Sampras in 1995 to win three live matches in a Davis Cup final. He is also only the second player to win 11 live matches in the same Davis Cup year after Ivan Ljubicic in 2005.

McEnroe had a 12-0 record in 1982 and Michael Stich had 11 wins in 1993.

Murray had brought Britain back into contention on the opening day by beating Ruben Bemelmans in straight sets. He then teamed with brother Jamie to win Saturday’s doubles.

Goffin, ranked No. 16, has not won a set against Murray in two previous matches on the tour.

The Belgian appeared to get a glimmer of hope when he broke Murray’s serve for a 2-0 lead in the third set. Goffin came back from two sets down for the first time in his career to beat Kyle Edmund in the opening singles.

With nine sets of tennis over two days behind him, Goffin was unable to sustain the momentum and dropped his serve in the very next game. A sizzling backhand cross-court winner had given Murray two break points and Goffin then played a forehand wide.

But the Belgian was not finished and again broke to make it 2-2.

Murray hit a service winner and an ace to come out unscathed despite facing a break point in the next game. Then, as many times during the match, he pounced on Goffin’s second serve to break the Belgian at love and regain the initiative.

Murray wasted the first match point by netting a backhand return. But the final lob was a superb shot to finish the long quest for the title as the loud British supporters exploded in joy.

Australian Open director: Novak Djokovic’s hamstring had 3-cm tear

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said Novak Djokovic played at the Grand Slam event with a muscle tear of 3 centimeters – a little more than an inch – in his left hamstring along the way to winning the championship.

“He gets a bad rap, but at the end of the day, I don’t think anyone can question his athleticism. This guy, I did see, he had a 3-centimeter tear in his hammy,” Tiley said in an interview.

“The doctors are … going to tell you the truth,” Tiley said. “I think there was a lot of speculation of whether it was true or not. It’s hard to believe that someone can do what they do with those types of injuries. But he’s remarkable.”

Djokovic won the trophy at Melbourne Park by beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets for a record-extending 10th title there and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam trophy overall. Rafael Nadal is the only other man who has won that many majors.

The triumph also allowed Djokovic to return to No. 1 in the ATP rankings.

The 35-year-old from Serbia hurt his hamstring during a tune-up tournament in Adelaide ahead of the Australian Open. He wore a heavy bandage on his left thigh and was visited by trainers during matches in Week 1 in Melbourne.

He said he took “a lot” of painkiller pills and did various treatments to help the leg.

“Let me put it like this: I don’t say 100%, but 97% of the players, when you get results of the MRI, you go straight to the referee’s office and pull out of the tournament,” Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic, said after the final. “But not him. … His brain is working different.”

Aryna Sabalenka wins 1st Grand Slam title at Australian Open

2023 Australian Open - Day 13
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MELBOURNE, Australia – One point away from her first Grand Slam title, Aryna Sabalenka faulted. And then she faulted again. She grimaced. She yelled and turned her back to the court. She wiggled her shoulders and exhaled.

Clearly, this business of winning the Australian Open was not bound to happen without a bit of a struggle Saturday night. Sabalenka knew deep inside that would be the case. She also knew that all of the effort she put in, to overcome self-doubt and those dreaded double-faults, had to pay off eventually. Just had to.

And so, as she wasted a second match point by flubbing a forehand, and a third by again missing another, Sabalenka did her best to stay calm, something she used to find quite difficult. She hung in there until a fourth chance to close out Elena Rybakina presented itself – and this time, Sabalenka saw a forehand from her similarly powerful foe sail long. That was that. The championship belonged to Sabalenka via a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 comeback victory over Wimbledon winner Rybakina.

“The last game, yeah, of course, I was a little bit nervous. I (kept) telling myself, like, ‘Nobody tells you that it’s going to be easy.’ You just have to work for it, work for it, ’til the last point,” said Sabalenka, a 24-year-old from Belarus who is now 11-0 with two titles in 2023 and will rise to No. 2 in the WTA rankings on Monday.

“I’m super happy that I was able to handle all those emotions,” she said, “and win this one.”

The only set she has dropped all season was the opener on Saturday against Rybakina, who eliminated No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the fourth round.

It was telling that Sabalenka’s remarks during the post-match ceremony were directed at her coach, Anton Dubrov, and her fitness trainer, Jason Stacy – she referred to them as “the craziest team on tour.”

“We’ve been through a lot of, I would say, downs last year,” said Sabalenka, who was appearing in her first major final and had been 0-3 in Slam semifinals until this week. “We worked so hard and you guys deserve this trophy. It’s more about you than it’s about me.”

Well, she had a lot to do with it, of course. Those serves that produced 17 aces, helping erase the sting of seven double-faults. Those hammered groundstrokes and relentlessly aggressive style that produced 51 winners, 20 more than Rybakina’s total. And, despite her go-for-broke shotmaking, somehow Sabalenka limited her unforced error count to 28. One more key statistic: Sabalenka managed to accrue 13 break points, converting three, including the one at 4-3 in the last set that put her ahead for good.

“She played really well today,” said Rybakina, who has lost all four matches she’s played against Sabalenka, all in three sets. “She was strong mentally, physically.”

While the latter has long been a hallmark of her game, even Sabalenka acknowledges that the first has been an issue.

Her most glowing strength was also her most glaring shortfall: her serve. Capable of delivering aces, she also had a well-known problem with double-faulting, leading the tour in that category last year with nearly 400, including matches with more than 20.

After much prodding from her group, she agreed to undergo an overhaul of her mechanics last August. That, along with a commitment to trying to keep her emotions in check – she used to work with a sports psychologist but no longer, saying she relies on herself now – is really paying off.

“She didn’t have great serve last year, but now she was super strong and she served well,” said Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan. “For sure, I respect that. I know how much work it takes.”

With seagulls squawking loudly while flying overhead at Rod Laver Arena, Rybakina and Sabalenka traded serious racket swings for nearly 2 1/2 hours.

The serves were big. So big. Rybakina’s fastest arrived at 121 mph (195 kph), Sabalenka’s at 119 mph (192 kph).

The points were over quickly. So quickly: Seven of the first 13 were aces.

Sabalenka had been broken just six times in 55 service games through the course of these two weeks, but Rybakina did it twice in the opening set.

And never again. Sabalenka resolved to take the initiative even more, and the payoff for her high-risk, high-reward attitude was too much for Rybakina to withstand over the last two sets.

Sabalenka said ahead of time that she expected to feel some jitters. Which makes perfect sense for anyone: This was the most important match of her career.

At the end, when it mattered more than ever, Sabalenka was able to steady herself. After the final point, she dropped to her back on the court and stayed down for a bit, covering her face as her eyes welled with tears.

Quite a difference from a year ago at Melbourne Park, when Sabalenka departed after 15 double-faults in a fourth-round loss.

“I really feel right now that I really needed those tough losses to kind of understand myself a little bit better. It was like a preparation for me,” Sabalenka said at her post-match news conference, her new trophy nearby and a glass of bubbly in her hand. “I actually feel happy that I lost those matches, so right now I can be a different player and just a different Aryna, you know?”