Nadal unsure how Monte Carlo return will go

AP Photo
0 Comments

MONACO — Rafael Nadal is unsure how his latest injury return will go this week, even though it will be on the clay-court king’s favorite surface.

The second-ranked Spaniard is coming back at the Monte Carlo Masters, a tournament he has won a record 11 times along with the French Open and Barcelona.

“It has been a tough year and a half for me, so it’s tough to have a clear view about how I am,” Nadal said Monday at the French Riviera tournament, where he plays Spanish countryman Roberto Bautista Agut in the second round on Wednesday.

“I had too many stops; I didn’t find a way to play three weeks in a row without problems. So it has been hard for me. When you have these things going on, on the mental side it’s up and down. It’s always like a comeback.”

Even Toni Nadal, his uncle and former coach, was skeptical about Nadal’s long-term future in tennis in an interview with El Pais last month.

“Rafael wants to continue playing, despite his physical problems,” Toni said. “That is what will continue to be decisive. Until when, who knows? Maybe two or three more years. What I’m saying is that Rafael is not a tennis player, he’s an injured person who plays tennis.”

Responding on Monday, the 32-year-old Nadal said his uncle had apologized for the comments.

“He came to the court and felt sorry for that. Toni wanted to say it in a positive way because of course I had many issues,” Nadal said. “Toni has conferences for companies every week. So when you talk a lot, sometimes you make some mistakes.”

Bautista Agut beat top-ranked Novak Djokovic at the Miami Open last month – where Nadal did not play. His troublesome right knee had flared up again the previous tournament, forcing him to pull out of his semifinal against Roger Federer at Indian Wells.

Nadal resumed practice two weeks ago and his knee is holding up.

“My knee is quite good. Happy for that. Now I need to work on the tennis,” he said. “I hope the competition puts me in the rhythm I need.”

Nadal usually finds his rhythm quicker than anyone on clay.

Last year, he missed February and March after retiring in the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Marin Cilic with a hip injury.

However, it did not stop him reeling off 14 straight wins on clay without dropping a set – winning two Davis Cup matches, the Monte Carlo and Barcelona titles before Dominic Thiem stopped him in the Madrid Masters quarterfinals.

Nadal went on to win the Rome Masters and French Open and reached the Wimbledon semifinals on grass, losing an epic five-setter to Djokovic.

Then his body let him down, again.

After retiring from the U.S. Open semifinals against Juan Martin del Potro because of a right knee injury, he did not play again last season – pulling out of the Paris Masters and the season-ending ATP Finals with an abdominal problem.

“I don’t like to talk about frustration,” Nadal said. “Because life has been too good to me to be frustrated.”

Nadal has won more than $100 million in prize money and 80 titles, including a record 33 Masters events. His tally of 17 Grand Slams is second to Federer’s 20.

But nagging doubts persist.

“At some point, even if I appreciate everything this sport has given to me, sometimes it’s tough to accept when you have problems in a row,” he said. “Since the beginning of the season again it has been tough. You need to be strong mentally and keep the passion very high.”

But Nadal did manage a lighter note about his uncle’s “overdramatic” prognosis.

“Being No. 2 in the world, it is maybe difficult to be where I am being an injured person,” Nadal said, smiling. “I have more problems than almost the rest of my competitors, but I was able to manage it well all my life.”

Fernando Verdasco accepts 2-month doping ban

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

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
1 Comment

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.”