Muguruza, Halep move into French Open semifinals

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PARIS – After Angelique Kerber’s final backhand bounced out of bounds on Court Suzanne Lenglen, Simona Halep turned to her box and pointed to her head.

Coming from a player whose mental strength has often been questioned, the gesture spoke volume.

The top-ranked player indeed showed solid nerves to turn things up after a really bad start in her French Open quarterfinal on Wednesday. After 2 hours and 14 minutes, Halep rallied past the 12th-seeded Kerber 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-2 and reached the French Open semifinals for the third time.

Halep got off a sluggish start and trailed 4-0 in the opening set. She fought back to force a tiebreaker but briefly lost her focus to drop the set after losing five consecutive points.

“After the first set I just stayed strong, I did not give up at all,” Halep said. “I missed a lot at the beginning of the match. I tried to do too much. Then I changed a little bit of tactics and it worked.”

Halep broke at the start of the second set and then Kerber dropped her serve again in the ninth game. In the decider, Halep came to the net more often to finish points and opened up a 4-1 lead. She broke again in the eighth game to seal the match.

Halep is still chasing her first Grand Slam title after several near-misses. She led Jelena Ostapenko by a set and 3-0 in last year’s final at Roland Garros, but then fell apart and eventually lost to the unseeded Latvian in her second French Open final.

Halep next faces third-seeded Garbine Muguruza, who thrashed Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-1 in a matchup of past French Open champions.

“I don’t feel I’m favorite for this match, because she’s played better than I have this year,” Muguruza said. “She loves clay. She loves Roland Garros. She’s shown it.”

The No. 3-seeded Muguruza had lost all three previous meetings against Sharapova, who won two of her five Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros.

Muguruza has not dropped a set so far in this year’s tournament as she seeks a second championship in Paris and third major trophy overall. The Spaniard won the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon last year.

“I think she did a lot of things better than I did. I think she was the aggressive one,” Sharapova said. “She had a lot more depth in the ball. I think my shots were a lot more forced. She served a lot better than I did.”

Sharapova looked far from her best right from the start, double-faulting three times to get broken in the opening game. She ended up with six double-faults and 27 total unforced errors, 12 more than Muguruza.

In men’s play, Rafael Nadal was playing Diego Schwartzman bidding to reach his 11th semifinal at Roland Garros. Two past U.S. Open champions met in the other men’s quarterfinal: No. 3 Marin Cilic against No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro.

More AP tennis coverage: https://www.apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

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.”