Murray eyes top ranking after victory in Shanghai

AP
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SHANGHAI — Andy Murray’s season is turning out even better than he expected: He’s won a second Wimbledon title and a second Olympic gold medal, and reached the finals at the Australian Open and French Open.

And on Sunday, he clinched his sixth title of the year with a 7-6 (1), 6-1 victory over Roberto Bautista Agut at the Shanghai Masters, matching his season-high total from 2009.

Now the Scot has his eyes set on yet another prize: the No. 1 ranking. It may be difficult to catch Novak Djokovic this year, but Murray is closing in on his rival.

“I will try to finish this year as strong as I can. And next year if the opportunity is there to reach No. 1, then I want to try and take it,” Murray said. “It’s going to be a tough thing to achieve that. I’m aware of that.”

“But I believe I can get there. … These last few months have proved that to me.”

With Roger Federer injured, Rafael Nadal still trying to regain his confidence and Djokovic dealing with the effects of an exhausting season, Murray has established himself as the dominant force in the game as the year winds down.

He credits the return of Ivan Lendl to his coaching team, coupled with his victory at Wimbledon after several tough losses in slam finals, for giving him the belief he could compete for major championships again.

“It helped motivate me,” he said. “Really since the French Open, (I’ve) played the best three months of tennis of my career.”

He hasn’t let up in the post-U.S. Open final stretch of the season, either. Since arriving in China two weeks ago, he hasn’t lost a set in 10 matches and has captured back-to-back titles at the China Open and Shanghai Masters.

Murray’s win on Sunday was also his tour-best 65th of the season and gave him his 41st career title, tying Stefan Edberg for 15th place on the all-time list.

Bautista Agut made it hard for him at the start, however. The Spaniard, equally at home on hard courts as he is on clay, pinned Murray to the back of the court with powerful forehands and sharp angles for much of the first set, keeping the second-seeded Scot on the defensive and forcing him to make errors.

Serving for the set at 5-4, Murray appeared distracted by movement in the crowd and wasted three set points before Bautista Agut broke back to level the match. Murray settled down in the tiebreaker, however, and closed out the second set in just 31 minutes.

He had 16 unforced errors in the opening set, but only three after that.

While Murray still has a couple of tournaments left this year, including the ATP Tour Finals in London, he’s already looking forward to next season and his next major challenge of overtaking Djokovic for the No. 1 ranking, which the Serb has held since July 2014.

The timing couldn’t be better.

Djokovic has been off his game since completing his career Grand Slam with a victory at the French Open earlier this season and has talked in recent weeks about putting less pressure on himself to win more slams and hold onto the top ranking.

Bautista Agut said he thinks the way Murray is playing, it’s only a matter of time.

“Andy is doing everything to get Novak,” he said. “I can see it in his eyes. He’s really focused on getting No. 1.”

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.”