Sharapova wins her 600th match and asks am ‘I getting old?’

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Maria Sharapova reached a career milestone on Friday, which came as a nice surprise after a tough match.

“Oh, wow. I’ve won 600 matches?” Sharapova said, when an on-court interviewer congratulated her for the achievement earned by winning her third-round match Friday at the Australian Open.The No. 5-seeded player then thought a moment, and laughed nervously.

“Oh boy,” she said. “Is this friendly reminder that I’m getting old?”

Sharapova is 28, which in tennis years means she’s starting to wonder how much time is left in her career, and how much longer her body will allow her to compete in a sport filled with power-hitting youngsters.

The five-time Grand Slam winner hadn’t dropped a set into the third round but struggled a bit before beating 22-year-old Lauren Davis 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-0. After racing through the first set in just 26 minutes, Sharapova was broken twice in the second set, which lasted 77 minutes. She returned with more composure in the final set, making just five unforced errors and breaking Davis three times.

In the fourth round, Sharapova faces up-and-coming Swiss teen Belinda Bencic, who won her first two WTA titles in 2015 including at Toronto where she beat No. 1 Serena Williams in the semis followed by No. 2 Simona Halep in the final.

If anyone has proven that age is just a number it’s Williams, who is 34 and has one of the greatest late career runs in sports history. She has won 21 Grand Slam titles, including six Australian Opens, and is still going strong.

Sharapova could face Williams in the quarterfinals, which would be the latest in their long-running rivalry. Sharpova hasn’t beaten Williams since 2004, losing their last 17 meetings including last year’s Australian Open final.

But after Friday’s milestone, Sharapova took a moment to pause and reflect on her 600 career wins.

“I think it’s a proud number,” she said at her post-match news conference. “I’ve been doing it a long time. That’s a fact.”

Sharapova was 9 when she moved from Russia to Florida with her father, Yuri, to train at the famed Nick Bollettieri tennis academy. Three years earlier, when she was 6, Sharapova was spotted at a Moscow exhibition by Martina Navratilova, who told her father that America was the best place to cultivate the young player’s talent.

It meant a two-year separation from her mother, Yelena, who stayed in Russia because of financial reasons and the wait to obtain a visa.

Asked Friday how she navigated the world of professional tennis as a young player, Sharapova credited her parents.

“You know, my father paved this career for me, that I just keep following,” she said. “He just really opened the door to my dream. I’m just kind of living it.”

“My mother opened up the world to me culturally, educationally. So I got very different things from both of them,” Sharapova said.

When she was younger, Sharapova never would have imagined she would still be playing tennis now. But age and experience – and the injuries that have derailed her career at times – have made her realize what she appreciates.

“I really love what I do. Although I’d love to sit on the beach and read a book and drink margaritas, after a few days I get bored,” Sharapova said. “At 28 years old, I’m healthy and look forward to playing for many years.”

Fernando Verdasco accepts 2-month doping ban

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
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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.”