Ashleigh Barty set for first WTA Finals appearance

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SHENZHEN, China — Top-seeded Ashleigh Barty of Australia is ready to cap off the most successful season of her career with a first appearance in the year-end WTA Finals.

Barty achieved a number of career firsts this season from winning her inaugural Grand Slam title at the French Open, earning world No. 1 status, and leading Australia to the upcoming Fed Cup final.

“It’s been an incredibly consistent year across all surfaces, across all continents in the world,” Barty said. “I feel like (I’ve) played an exceptional level of tennis.”

This year’s WTA Finals, debuting for its scheduled 10-year run in Shenzhen, is welcoming more members of the younger generation to its eight-player lineup than in the recent past.

The 23-year-old Barty is joined in Shenzhen by 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu of Canada, who won her first Grand Slam trophy at the U.S. Open last month; 22-year-old Naomi Osaka of Japan, the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open champion; and 22-year-old Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, the last player to qualify for the field.

Only Osaka of the four has played in the WTA Finals in the past, and lost all three of her round-robin matches in her debut last year. She’s hoping that although she’s arrived here tired from winning the Osaka and Beijing titles, she will have a better showing than in 2018.

“I think last year, the end of the year was just so hectic for me, and I didn’t really remember anything,” Osaka said. “Honestly, by the time I got here, I was just so tired.

Barty, Osaka and Bencic feature in the Red group along with two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic. Andreescu is in the Purple group with reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep of Romania, Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic, and defending champion Elina Svitolina of Ukraine.

This year’s singles winner’s is guaranteed at least $ 4.1 million, which makes it the richest tournament paycheck for men or women in the sport. If the WTA Finals champion goes through to victory with an undefeated 3-0 record in round-robin matches they would earn $4.725 million in prize money.

Many are touting that one of the younger generation will hoist the trophy, but Barty doesn’t believe that any of the players have an advantage over the other competitors.

“In my opinion, I don’t think there ever is a favorite,” Barty said. “I think everyone is deserving to win that’s in the draw. On any given day, anyone can be beaten. That’s the beauty of sport, there are no certainties.”

Andreescu seems remarkably mature and capable of handling all the notoriety that’s come along with her recent U.S. Open victory. This coming week will provide her initial test in dealing with star status at an elite event.

“I found that I deal pretty well under pressure,” Andreenscu said. “Don’t ask me how. I think my game just elevates to another level unconsciously, which I’m really grateful for. I think that’s why I play my best against the top players. That was more when I was an underdog, so let’s see how it is now.”

The WTA Finals start on Sunday in the Red group when Osaka will try to improve her career record to 2-0 over Kvitova, while Barty and Bencic have a first career meeting.

Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov give Canada 1st Davis Cup title

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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.”

Australia beats Croatia 2-1 to reach Davis Cup final

Day Four - Davis Cup Finals 2022
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MALAGA, Spain – Australia had to fight back twice to reach its first Davis Cup final in 19 years after beating Croatia 2-1.

Lleyton Hewitt’s team recovered from losing the first singles. Then the Australian doubles pair battled back from a set down in the decider.

Australia won its 28th and last title in 2003. It has finally got back to the final.

“I am so proud. Australia has a really rich history in this competition,” said Hewitt, who played a record 43 Davis Cup ties for Australia from 1999-2018.

“We have been fortunate to win it all on a number of occasions a long time ago. And I know what it meant to me as a player to play a final, and I am glad these guys can play it.”

Borna Coric put Croatia ahead by beating Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-4, 6-3, but Alex de Minaur leveled after defeating Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-2 to send it to the doubles.

Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell then secured the semifinal win against Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic by 6-7 (3), 7-5, 6-4.

“This is what this team is about, that never-say-die attitude,” De Minaur said.

Canada will face Italy on Saturday in the other semifinal.

In the opener, Kokkinakis struck 11 aces, but Coric was able to break him once in each set.

“On my serve, I felt like it was an ace or he put it back on my toes,” Kokkinakis said.

Cilic, who was on the Croatia team that won the title in 2018, committed 10 double faults. That erratic serve helped De Minaur break Cilic four times and level his head-to-head record with the former U.S Open winner at two wins each.

Thompson and Purcell bettered the more experienced pair of Mektic and Pavic, both ranked in the top 10 in doubles. Thompson and Purcell combined for 13 aces, broke the Croats twice, and never dropped a service game to come back after losing the first-set tiebreaker.

Two-time winner Croatia was the runner-up last year.

“It proved too difficult on the court today,” Cilic said. “(But) for us it has been a great year again after the finals last year to reach the semis.”

The final is on Sunday on the indoor court in Malaga.