Novak Djokovic tries to remain optimistic despite another setback

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MADRID – Novak Djokovic is trying his best to stay optimistic despite a disappointing start to his season.

Former No. 1-ranked Djokovic has struggled since returning from a layoff for a right elbow injury and is yet to reach the quarterfinals in the six tournaments he has played this year. His latest defeat was against Kyle Edmund in the second round of the Madrid Open on Wednesday.

“Obviously I’m disappointed from losing this match, but I can be happy with the progress of the level of tennis,” Djokovic said. “There are positives to take out from this. But obviously disappointing to go out early in the tournament.”

Djokovic lost in the third round in Monte Carlo a few weeks ago, following second-round exits at both Miami and Indian Wells. The No. 12-ranked Djokovic also failed to advance past the last 16 at the Australian Open, which was the last tournament he won three consecutive matches.

“It’s a process,” Djokovic said. “It’s something I have to accept, I have to embrace. In general I feel much better about everything that is happening on the court and around tennis in general … than maybe two months ago.”

In a bid to get back on track, Djokovic has reunited with coach Marian Vajda and trainer Gebhard Gritsch after stints working with former players Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek.

“If there is anybody that knows my game well, knows me as a person well, especially in the last decade, it’s these two guys,” Djokovic said following his first-round in Madrid. “I think it’s going to take a little bit of time for us to really get my game together the way we want to. Even though they know my game very well, it’s still a process.”

Djokovic has won 12 major titles but last year failed to reach a final at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time since 2009. Until he withdrew from the 2017 U.S. Open, the Serbian star had played in 51 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments and reached the final 21 times.

Despite his 6-6 win-loss match record since return from the elbow injury, Djokovic tried to put his slump into perspective.

“I’ve played this sport so many years and had a bunch of success. I try to always remind myself and be grateful for that,” he said. “Nobody is forcing me to play this sport. I want to do it. That’s where I draw my strength. As long as I keep going, as long as I love the sport, I’ll keep going.”

Top-ranked Rafael Nadal was confident Djokovic would regain his best form.

“I think he’s going step-by-step to be able to recover and be at the category he deserves. I don’t have any doubt that he’s going to be back up at the highest level,” said Nadal, who himself has returned from lengthy injury layoffs to add to lift his career tally to 16 major titles. “What Novak did on this sport is amazing. He will continue doing a lot of great things in the future. I don’t have any doubt of that.”

The 30-year-old Djokovic admitted he may have tried to return to action too soon after the injury. He was off for six months but the elbow started hurting again when he began training to get ready for the preseason.

“I clenched my teeth and I kind of went through it, played Australia, but wasn’t really ready,” Djokovic said. “Then I had to do surgery. It takes time to overcome that surgery. It has obviously some consequences on your body that I never faced before, I never knew before, because I never had any surgery before.”

He said he doesn’t regret anything and wants to learn from the “new experiences” that he had to go through.

“I just think that’s life,” he said. “That was something that was supposed to happen for me, to teach me some lessons, to make me stronger, to allow me to grow, to evolve as a person, as a player. I’m grateful. That’s all I can say. There are worse things in life.”

 

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.”