Unseeded Latvian teen Ostapenko into 1st Slam semi at French

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PARIS (AP) With the unbridled joy of a kid reaching heights she never has, and the go-for-it strokes of someone too bold to know better, an unseeded 19-year-old from Latvia, Jelena Ostapenko, beat former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 at the French Open on a rainy Tuesday to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal.

Ostapenko sent shots toward the lines and put them right where she wanted often enough to deliver 38 winners – 32 more than the defensive-minded Wozniacki, a two-time runner-up at majors.

“I knew,” the 47th-ranked Ostapenko said, “I had to be aggressive all match.”

Ostapenko’s next opponent is 30th-seeded Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland, who eliminated 13th-seeded Kristina Mladenovic of France 6-4, 6-4.

Both women’s quarterfinals were interrupted twice because of showers; the first delay lasted more than 3 hours, the second about a half-hour. The men’s quarterfinals involving Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic that had been scheduled for Tuesday were postponed until Wednesday.

The last two women’s quarterfinals are also Wednesday: No. 2 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic vs. No. 28 Caroline Garcia of France, and No. 3 Simona Halep of Romania vs. No. 5 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine. This is the first Grand Slam tournament since the 1979 Australian Open that none of the eight women’s quarterfinalists had won a major title.

When Tuesday’s play began, the wind averaged 18 mph (30 kph), with gusts up to 50 mph (85 kph), making balls swerve oddly. Serve tosses were an adventure. Players repeatedly wiped their eyes to get rid of dust kicked up from the clay court. By the final resumption, the temperature was below 55 degrees (12 Celsius).

“We had all the seasons rolled into one today. We had a hurricane, a sandstorm, and we almost had snow, too,” Bacsinszky told the crowd at Court Philippe Chatrier. “It was really tough to keep my concentration all day long. I feel exhausted – and I’m sure you do, too.”

Ostapenko had the most trouble in those conditions, quickly trailing 5-0.

She calibrated her strokes better as time went on and the air swirled less, taking four games in a row to make the first set interesting before ceding it. Still, it was clear that she was up to the task against the 11th-seeded Wozniacki, who is 26 and has been to two U.S. Open finals and yet somehow seemed the less sure of herself.

Then again, this was a matchup that clearly suits Ostapenko: She is now 4-0 against Wozniacki.

“Her shots are hard to read,” Wozniacki said, “so you don’t really feel comfortable at any point in the match.”

Ostapenko was down 2-1 in the third set before taking the last five games, serving it out at love. When the match ended, she smiled and shouted and pumped her fist.

Ostapenko’s rise has been swift.

She is the youngest French Open semifinalist in a decade. And she is the first Latvian woman to reach a Grand Slam semifinal in the professional era, which began in 1968.

She has yet to win a tour-level title of any sort.

A year ago, Ostapenko lost in the first round of the French Open.

The year before that, she lost in the first round of French Open qualifying.

Before last week, she had never been past the third round of any Grand Slam tournament.

“It looks like she hits it late a lot of the time, and you think she won’t be able to do cross-court or down the line in certain moments,” Wozniacki said of her fearless opponent, “and she does anyway.”

Now Ostapenko will play for a berth in the final Thursday, which just so happens to be Ostapenko’s 20th birthday and Bacsinszky’s 28th.

For Bacsinszky, it will be only slightly more familiar territory. She has played in one previous major semifinal, also in Paris, losing to eventual champion Serena Williams two years ago.

Four years ago, after her time on tour was limited by foot and abdominal injuries, she took a hiatus from tennis to work at restaurants with an eye toward pursuing a degree in hotel management.

In 2014, she was ranked outside the top 100 and went through qualifying at the French Open.

But Paris has become a site that brings out her best tennis.

“It’s the tournament closest to my heart,” Bacsinszky said. “I love to play here.”

 

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.”