Andy Murray makes tepid return as he loses exhibition match

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Andy Murray made a tepid return to the court, losing a one-set match 6-2 to Roberto Bautista Agut in the United Arab Emirates exhibitions on Friday.

Murray, who has slipped to 16th in the rankings after ending last year as No. 1, wasn’t scheduled to play at the Abu Dhabi tournament. However, he filled in for Novak Djokovic, after the 12th-ranked Serb withdrew from his semifinal against Bautista Agut earlier in the day with a recurrence of pain in his right elbow.

Murray, who has been struggling to find full fitness following a right hip problem, was initially only in Abu Dhabi to practice before next month’s Australian Open.

He is also expecting to play in Brisbane, Australia next week.

The 30-year-old British player lost his first two service games and trailed 4-0 against the 20th-ranked Spaniard. In the seventh game, he held a service game lasting 12 minutes.

“Obviously I made a slow start and Roberto is one of the best players in the world,” Murray said. “When you haven’t competed for a while, it takes time to get up to that pace. I started to feel a bit better toward the end, but I need to keep improving for sure.”

Murray, a three-time Grand Slam winner, did not move around the court at his usual pace and his first serves were way below his best. He did have one ace late in the fifth game, in which he also executed an athletic lunge at the net to win a point.

What appeared to trouble Murray the most was retrieving shots on the run with his backhand. He sent a few returns into the net, and did not even go for a couple of shots. Even though he moved gingerly, it was understandable as he returned to training only last week.

“It was nice to be able to play,” a relieved-sounding Murray said. “I was just planning on stopping here for a couple of days on the way to Australia to get some practice in with the guys.”

Aside from an exhibition match against Roger Federer back home in Scotland last month, Murray has not played since losing to Sam Querrey in the Wimbledon quarterfinals in July.

Also Friday, U.S. Open runner-up Kevin Anderson of South Africa reached the final after beating fifth-ranked Austrian Dominic Thiem 7-6 (6), 6-4.

Andrey Rublev of Russia secured fifth place in the six-player tournament by beating Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain 6-4, 6-2.

On Saturday, 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams returns to court with an exhibition match against French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

The 36-year-old Williams, the Australian Open champion, gave birth to her first child in September.

Fernando Verdasco accepts 2-month doping ban

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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

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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.”