Nadal knocked out at Cincinnati, Steve Johnson moves up

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MASON, Ohio — Right from the start, Rafael Nadal was running on empty.

Nadal showed the effects of his long layoff from a wrist injury Thursday, losing to Croatia’s Borna Coric 6-1, 6-3 at the Western & Southern Open. The 30-year-old Spaniard has a lot of work to do before the U.S. Open.

He was sluggish and well off the mark on his shots Thursday and had a trainer visit between games to check his shoulder and elbow, which were feeling the effects of a lot of tennis at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and two days in Cincinnati’s heat and humidity.

“Too tired,” he said. “Elbow, shoulder. Two and a half months without competing and especially without practicing, and to do what I did in the Olympics and come here – too much.”

The 19-year-old Coric reached the quarterfinals of a Masters tournament for the first time and ended his streak of 10 straight losses against Top 10 opponents.

The upset left only one member of the Big Four still in the running.

Defending champion Roger Federer and top-ranked Novak Djokovic are missing the tournament because of injuries. Andy Murray is playing, but feeling the effects of a grueling week in Rio de Janeiro where he won the gold medal Sunday. Along with Nadal, those four have combined to win 54 of the last 58 Masters events.

Nadal missed two months because of an injured left wrist and returned to the courts in Rio, where he lost in the semifinals and won the doubles title. The lack of matches showed in Cincinnati: Nadal double faulted five times and had 27 unforced errors. Coric surged ahead 4-0 in the second set and closed it out in an hour and 11 minutes.

Steve Johnson also advanced to the quarterfinals on Thursday and put himself in position to become the top American in the ATP rankings heading into the U.S. Open.

Johnson beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 7-6 (6) and raised his index finger in celebration. He’ll move into the ATP’s top spot next week, knocking John Isner out of the slot that he’s held every week since July 29, 2013. Isner lost in the second round in Cincinnati.

“Hasn’t sunk in yet,” Johnson said. “I just found out. So it’s an honor, it really is. John has held that spot for a while, and I’m just glad that there are a bunch of Americans pushing toward the top.”

Second-seeded Stan Wawrinka wasted a chance to take advantage of the wide-open draw on Thursday, losing to Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-4. Wawrinka smacked his racket on the ground as he fell behind in the first set, the start of a frustrating match overall. Tied 3-3 in the second set, Wawrinka committed two unforced forehand errors and Dimitrov got the break he needed to take control.

Wawrinka had one of those few Masters titles that wasn’t claimed by the Big Four, winning in Monte Carlo in 2014.

In the women’s bracket, Karolina Pliskova became the first woman to reach the quarterfinals, defeating Misaki Doi 7-5, 6-3. Doi was a “lucky loser” who replaced defending champion Serena Williams when she withdrew with an inflamed shoulder on Monday.

Second-seeded Angelique Kerber moved into the quarterfinals with a 7-6 (3), 6-4 win over Barbora Strycova. She’ll end Williams’ streak of 183 consecutive weeks at No. 1 if she wins the tournament.

AP freelance writer Mark Schmetzer contributed to this report.

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.”