Defending champion Novak Djokovic loses to Dominic Thiem in French Open quarterfinals

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PARIS — Novak Djokovic’s French Open title defense ended with a surprisingly lopsided 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-0 quarterfinal loss to sixth-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria on Wednesday.

A year ago, Djokovic became the first man in nearly a half-century to claim a fourth consecutive major championship and completed a career Grand Slam at Roland Garros. But his form has dipped considerably since then, and now he has gone four majors in a row without earning a trophy.

“It’s a fact that I’m not playing close to my best,” Djokovic said. “This is a whole new situation that I’m feeling.”

On Wednesday at a windy Court Suzanne Lenglen, Djokovic was out of sorts in so many ways, even before that 20-minute third set in which he won only 8 of 34 points. That was only the second time that Djokovic lost a final set by the score of 6-0 in his 937 career tour-level matches.

“It was not there for me today,” Djokovic said with a sigh.

He wasted two set points in the opener. By the end of the match, he wound up with nearly twice as many unforced errors, 35, as winners, 18. His backhand was particularly problematic.

Known for tremendous footwork and court coverage, the No. 2-seeded Serb even stumbled and tumbled to the court, his racket flying out of his hands, early in the second set. Djokovic was left on his knees, and soon he would be out of the tournament entirely.

“All in all,” Djokovic said, “it was decided, I think, in the first set.”

How unlikely was this result? Djokovic entered the day having won all five previous matches – and 11 of 12 sets – against Thiem, including in the French Open semifinals a year ago.

“It’s amazing for me,” Thiem said. “To beat him for the first time in the quarters of the French Open is a dream.”

Plus, Djokovic had appeared in a record six consecutive semifinals in Paris. But this continued what has become something of a 12-month downward slide for him since he finally grabbed ahold of the French Open championship he had so long sought.

Since then, though, the highlight for Djokovic was a runner-up finish at the U.S. Open. Otherwise, he lost his No. 1 ranking to Andy Murray and lost in the third round of Wimbledon, the first round of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and the second round of the Australian Open.

Along the way, he split with one of his coaches, Boris Becker, and then his other, Marian Vajda, along with other members of his entourage. Djokovic enlisted Andre Agassi for coaching help during Week 1 of the French Open, but Agassi had some prior commitments and so was gone by the time Djokovic faced Thiem.

The 23-year-old Thiem will face nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal next.

“You have to play the best guys round after round,” Thiem said. “It’s not getting easier on Friday.”

The other men’s quarterfinals scheduled for later Wednesday: 2016 runner-up Murray vs. No. 8 Kei Nishikori, and 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka vs. No. 7 Marin Cilic.

Thiem is a talented, up-and-coming player, to be sure, and he is the only man to beat Nadal in the Spaniard’s 23 matches on clay in 2017. That came in the quarterfinals of the Italian Open last month.

Earlier Wednesday, Nadal reached his record 10th French Open semifinal when No. 20 Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain retired from their match early in the second set because of an injured abdominal muscle he said began bothering him on a serve at 5-2 in the first.

Nadal led 6-2, 2-0 when Carreno Busta stopped.

Nadal has dropped only 22 games so far in the tournament, the fewest he has lost on the way to any of his 26 Grand Slam semifinal berths.

“I don’t know how many games I lost this year, but I really don’t care about this, no?” Nadal said. “I only care that I am in the semifinals.”

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.”