Bright start: Serena Williams advances at Australian Open

AP Photo

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) At the time, she called herself “Super Serena” and posted a picture of herself dressed like Superwoman.

In hindsight, tennis star Serena Williams thinks it wasn’t the best idea to chase after a man who appeared to be stealing her cell phone.

“Sometimes, athletes just react,” the No. 1-ranked player said Monday as she started her bid for a seventh Australian Open title with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Italy’s Camila Giorgi.

Williams hadn’t completed a competitive match since losing in the U.S. Open semifinals, a defeat that ended her bid to win all four Grand Slams in the same season. The last player to do it was Steffi Graf in 1988.

The extended break raised questions about Williams’ form and meant she hadn’t elaborated much publicly on the cell phone incident, which happened in November while she dined with a friend at a San Francisco restaurant. She wrote about it in a Facebook post at the time, saying she had noticed a man lurking near her table before he grabbed the cell phone and left.

Surveillance footage showed Williams quickly leaving the restaurant and appearing to confront the man on the sidewalk. Williams wrote that she asked the man if he had accidentally taken the wrong phone, and he gave it back. She signed the post, “Super Serena” and the tale quickly made headlines.

“I didn’t think it would be such a big story,” Williams said Monday. “I didn’t know it would be everywhere, every blog, every TV channel and every radio station. People were calling me. My dad was worried. I just had no idea it would blow up like that.”

Asked if she would do it again, Williams said, “Oh, God, no. I reacted and I didn’t think.”

Now, her focus has returned to tennis and the 21-time Grand Slam winner says she’s fit despite her time off and a recent injury.

“I haven’t played in a long time, but I have been playing for 30 years so – I try to focus on that,” said Williams, who withdrew from the Hopman Cup earlier this month after playing just one set because of inflammation in her left knee.

Williams said she didn’t feel the knee problem at all during Monday’s match, dropping just one service game against No. 34-ranked Girorgi.

No. 5 Maria Sharpova, who lost to Williams in last year’s final, breezed through her first-round match 6-1, 6-3 against Nao Hibino of Japan.

Sharapova showed no lingering effects from her own recent ailment, a left forearm injury that forced her to pull out of the Brisbane International earlier this month.

“I haven’t played many matches in many weeks, it was great to come out here and start my season,” said Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam winner who could face a rematch against Williams this year but in the quarterfinals.

In her off-court time, Sharapova said she’s been working on a biography.

“I’m not going to talk about it much just because I want the book to do the talking. But I’m really excited about it,” said Sharapova, who said she has been interviewing her mother, father and grandparents and plans to include some journals she kept as a young girl. Digging up her past, she said, has been “really interesting and scary at the same time.”

Williams, who has an 11-year dominance over Sharapova, is the favorite in Melbourne but faces a strong crop of resurgent and determined players.

Among them is 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard, who continued an injury comeback Monday beating Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia 6-3, 6-4. Bouchard faces No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round.

Bouchard is playing in only her fourth tournament since sustaining a concussion when she fell in the dressing room at last year’s U.S. Open. The 21-year-old Canadian made it to the quarterfinals at an event in China and followed that up by reaching the final at the Hobart International.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova also advanced Monday, beating Thai qualifier Luksika Kumkhum to avenge her upset three-set loss in the first round here in 2014.

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
1 Comment

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.”