Djokovic defeats Nishikori in 1st round of Madrid Open

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MADRID (AP) Novak Djokovic notched an encouraging win in his comeback from a right elbow injury when he beat Kei Nishikori 7-5, 6-4 in the first round of the Madrid Open on Monday.

Djokovic broke serve late in each set to get past the 20th-ranked Nishikori after nearly two hours in the Magic Box.

Djokovic hasn’t made it to the quarterfinals in his previous five tournaments this year, admitting he returned to tennis too quickly. In his last event, he lost in the third round in Monte Carlo, where Nishikori reached the final.

Djokovic was aggressive from the start, hitting 26 winners against Nishikori, who has made at least the Madrid quarterfinals for the last five years. He was a finalist in 2014, losing to Rafael Nadal.

“The draw was such that we had to face in the first round, which is a bit strange,” Djokovic said. “But it was a good opening match.”

Maria Sharapova, who won in Madrid in 2014, made it to the last 16 by defeating Irina-Camelia Begu 7-5, 6-1 in only her second match since the Australian Open. She has been dealing with a left forearm injury.

“It was a lot of hard work,” Sharapova said of her match. “Being down a break to start off both of those sets didn’t make things easy for me. That will certainly help me moving forward.”

Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki edged past Ashleigh Barty 6-2, 4-6, 6-4. Wozniacki reached the 2009 final on debut and hasn’t been close since.

“I was lucky to get away with it in that third set,” the second-seeded Wozniacki said.

Milos Raonic defeated Nicolas Kicker 6-3, 6-2 to set up a second-round encounter with third-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, while Richard Gasquet beat Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-2 to advance to play qualifier Dusan Lajovic, who got past Karen Khachanov 6-3, 6-2.

In a first-round match between Frenchmen, Benoit Paire hit 39 winners to defeat 18th-ranked Lucas Pouille 6-2, 6-3, advancing to face 19-year-old Denis Shapovalov of Canada, who got past Tennys Sandgren of the U.S. 6-1, 6-4.

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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

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.”