Williams, Wozniacki win at WTA Finals

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SINGAPORE — Venus Williams rallied at the WTA Finals to beat Caroline Garcia of France 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-3 Saturday and become the oldest women’s finalist at the year-end tournament.

In the other semifinal, Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark beat Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic 7-6 (9), 6-3 to set up a championship match against the American.

The 37-year-old Williams said “it’s hard to produce your best tennis at the end of the year because you’ve given so much.”

Williams holds a 7-0 winning career record over 27-year-old Wozniacki and has only lost one of 15 sets they’ve played.

Williams, who appeared in the Australian Open and Wimbledon finals this season, won the WTA Finals in 2008, and was also a finalist in 2009. Wozniacki was a year-end finalist in 2010.

Williams started the semifinal flat but kept improving against Garcia.

“One more match and I’m going to be playing against one of the best players in the tournament, another Caroline, and it’s going to be like deja vu,” Williams told the crowd.

“This tournament is one of the best, the top eight players in the world. Nothing is easy and to be standing in the winner’s circle, almost, is so amazing.”

Williams became more aggressive and Garcia, making her WTA Finals debut, started to make too many errors. In the end, Williams saved 12 of 13 break points in the match, and took advantage of four of nine break-point opportunities.

“I think in the second and third (sets) I was able to figure it out a little more,” Williams said.

Garcia called it a “very difficult” match.

“She’s hitting the ball very hard, very aggressive, huge serve, sometimes no rallies,” Garcia said.

Sixth-ranked Wozniacki leads the tour with most match wins on the season at 59-21 so far.

The third-ranked Pliskova’s loss is good news for Simona Halep, who will retain the No. 1 ranking through to next year.

Pliskova, playing in the year-end semifinals for the first time, needed to win the WTA Finals title to return to the No. 1 ranking for a second time this year.

Wozniacki improved her career record over Pliskova to 6-3, and is 3-2 in meetings this year.

Both players had six set points in the first set, but it was Wozniacki who capitalized on the sixth offering when Pliskova netted a backhand.

All six of Wozniacki’s set points were in the tiebreaker where she initially led 6-1. Pliskova held her first three set points on Wozniacki’s serve in the 10th game and three in the tiebreaker.

“All of a sudden it’s 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, and I said this isn’t fun anymore,” Wozniacki said. “I started thinking I should have lost this set already, so actually this is just a bonus. So I had a lot of talks with myself at that point.”

From 3-3 in the second set, Wozniacki won 12 of the last 15 points to take her place in the final.

Also Saturday, Martina Hingis played the final match of her career when she and partner Chan Yung-Jan lost their semifinal 6-4, 7-6 (5) to Timea Babos and Andrea Hlavackova.

Hingis and Chan won nine titles this season, including the U.S. Open trophy.

“I think it’s been an amazing journey and amazing career that I can be proud of,” the 37-year-old Hingis said. “It’s not really goodbye. I hope I’ll still be part of the game.”

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.”