Nadal beats Tsitsipas for fifth Australian Open final

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal is certainly not treating tennis’ next generation well at the Australian Open.

Add 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas to the list of youngsters Nadal has bullied on his way to his fifth final at Melbourne Park and 25th at all Grand Slam tournaments.

Nadal needed all of 11 minutes Thursday to show Tsitsipas – and everyone else – that the kid’s upset of Roger Federer was not going to be replicated on this night. Not even close. Breaking Tsitispas in the match’s third game and then another five times Thursday, while never facing a single break point himself until the very last game, Nadal won 6-2, 6-4, 6-0.

“It felt like a different dimension of tennis completely,” said the 14th-seeded Tsitsipas, a blank expression on his face. “He gives you no rhythm. He plays just a different game style than the rest of the players. He has this, I don’t know, talent that no other player has. I’ve never seen a player have this. He makes you play bad.”

It was the same straight-set, no-contest treatment Nadal gave to 19-year-old Alex de Minaur in the third round and 21-year-old Frances Tiafoe in the quarterfinals.

Asked if he was trying to make a statement with the way he soundly defeated these up-and-coming talents, Nadal said: “They don’t need any message, no. They are good. They’re improving every month. So it’s always a big challenge to play against them.”

Sure hasn’t seemed like it.

Tsitsipas’ run to the first major semifinal of his nascent career was most notable for the way he beat 20-time major champion Federer in the fourth round, saving 12 of 12 break points across four sets and 3 hours, 45 minutes.

But the left-handed Nadal was a much more difficult puzzle to solve.

On Sunday, the 32-year-old Spaniard will try to earn his second Australian Open title – he won the hard-court event in 2009 – and his 18th Slam trophy.

That final will come against either top-seeded Novak Djokovic or Lucas Pouille, who meet Friday.

A title would make Nadal only the third man in the sport’s history to win each Grand Slam title at least twice, joining retired Australian greats Rod Laver – a front-row spectator Thursday night in an arena named for him – and Roy Emerson.

After a series of health issues, Nadal is once again the relentless forehand-whipping force that can dominate anyone.

He quit during his quarterfinal match at Melbourne Park a year ago because of a right leg problem, then stopped again during his semifinal at the U.S. Open in September because of a painful right knee. That was followed by offseason surgery on his right ankle.

Even though he is wearing a strip of tape over an abdominal muscle that troubled him in the past, Nadal has been terrific in Australia, winning all 18 sets he has played.

“I’m really disappointed today,” Tsitsipas said, adding that he hoped to “prove myself a little bit more, not let him dominate the entire match. Just felt wrong.”

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.”