Djokovic upbeat despite yet another setback in Madrid

Getty Images
0 Comments

MADRID (AP) Novak Djokovic remains optimistic despite yet another disappointing result in what has been a frustrating season.

Djokovic’s struggles continued with an overwhelming loss to Rafael Nadal in the semifinals of the Madrid Open on Saturday, a result that extended his streak of five consecutive tournaments without an appearance in a final.

Still, the second-ranked Djokovic left Spain with reason to feel good about his game.

“It was a positive week, a positive experience,” he said. “I take more positives than negatives into the next week in Rome. As I go along, I hope to continue getting better and getting stronger. I felt like I was playing well throughout the week.”

He blamed his elimination mostly on Nadal’s good form.

“I could have played better,” Djokovic said. “But, again, I just had an opponent that was too good. I have to move on. Semifinals is a good result. Hopefully I’ll have another good result in Rome.”

Rome will be Djokovic’s last tournament before he defends his title at the French Open.

“It was really good to play in the semifinals of a big event, and to play against one of the top rivals I have in my life,” Djokovic said. “I haven’t had that feeling in months, so it’s great to feel that.”

Djokovic hadn’t made it to a semifinal since he won in Doha in the beginning of the season. He reached the last four in Madrid after Kei Nishikori withdrew before the quarterfinals because of an injury.

Djokovic, who missed some playing time this season because of an elbow injury, has won only 14 matches this year. Last year he was 31-2 after winning the title in Madrid, which was his fifth of the season at the time.

The disappointing straight-set loss to Nadal was his fifth defeat this year. He had won seven straight matches against the fifth-ranked Spaniard before Saturday’s semifinal, dating back to the 2014 French Open final.

“I felt comfortable hitting the ball the last few days, physically ready, mentally sharp as well. I was trying my best,” Djokovic said. “But it’s just one of these days where your opponent is just playing better than you, and you have to be able to say, `congratulations,’ and move on. He did get the better of me in most of the stats, most of the shots. But, you know, I have lots of good things to take out of this week.”

Among Djokovic’s losses this season was a second-round defeat to Denis Istomin at the Australian Open. He lost to Nick Kyrgios in the quarterfinals in Acapulco and in the Round of 16 in Indian Wells. And in his first clay-court tournament of the year, in Monte Carlo, Djokovic was eliminated by David Goffin in the quarterfinals.

“This drop in level for Djokovic has to do with his fight to be No. 1 and to win as many matches as possible,” Nadal said. “Let’s respect his level right now because it’s true that perhaps it’s not as high as it used to be, but I’m telling you, it’s been a lot of years, and I know because I’ve been in his skin, being up there every single week, being No. 1 every single week, it’s nearly impossible.”

The Madrid Open was Djokovic’s first tournament since he parted ways with longtime coach Marian Vajda and two other team members to try to regain his “winning spark on the court.”

“I’m just going to go along, and in the next three, four weeks maximum, I’ll make my decisions around that, about the team,” Djokovic said.

Fernando Verdasco accepts 2-month doping ban

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

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.”