Canada beats Australia to reach Davis Cup semifinals

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MADRID — Canada became the first team to reach the semifinals of the new Davis Cup Finals, winning the decisive doubles match to beat Australia 2-1 on Thursday.

Vasek Pospisil and Denis Shapovalov defeated John Peters and Jordan Thompson 6-4, 6-4 to give Canada its first Davis Cup win against the Aussies.

Nick Kyrgios surprisingly did not play for Australia, being left with a cheering role because of a collarbone injury picked up on Wednesday.

“We didn’t really have a choice,” Australia team captain Lleyton Hewitt said. “He couldn’t play. That’s just the way the cards fell.”

The 30th-ranked Kyrgios, Australia’s No. 2 player, had won both of his matches in the group stage without dropping a set. He was substituted by the 48th-ranked John Millman, who hadn’t played previously in Madrid.

“I was expecting to play Nick. We were surprised,” Pospisil said. “Then I just digested it for five minutes and went back to getting my rackets ready. And obviously start to change my mentality in terms of how I was going to play the match a little bit because they’re two very different players, polar opposites.”

Millman lost Thursday’s first singles to Pospisil 7-6 (7), 6-4, but Australian No. 1 Alex de Minaur evened the series with a 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 win over Shapovalov in a battle of 20-year-olds at the “Caja Magica” center court.

Shapovalov and De Minaur had previously met in the 2015 junior Davis Cup final and in the 2016 Wimbledon boys final.

Canada had not beaten Australia in nine previous Davis Cup meetings, with only one match victory.

Earlier this week, the Canadians ended a losing streak of 15 meetings against the United States, a team it had never beaten in the Davis Cup.

“This is unbelievable,” Canada team captain Frank Dancevic said. “We came here not knowing what to expect. We have a great team and we had the potential to get this far, but the guys put their hearts on the line this week. They’re playing unbelievable tennis, and to clinch the doubles this way, to play so clutch, they wanted it so bad. I’m so proud of them, it’s amazing.”

By reaching the semifinals, Canada is guaranteed a place in the 2020 Davis Cup Finals.

Canada will next face either Serbia or Russia, who play their quarterfinal on Friday morning.

Novak Djokovic earlier helped Serbia eliminate top-ranked France, while Britain advanced despite resting Andy Murray to set up a meeting with Germany. Argentina went through as a second-place finisher to take on Rafael Nadal and host Spain.

Djokovic defeated Benoit Paire 6-3, 6-3 to seal Serbia’s victory after Filip Krajinovic had beaten Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5, 7-6 (5) in the first singles. France picked up its lone point with duo Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut defeating Viktor Troicki and the retiring Janko Tipsarevic 6-4, 6-4.

Djokovic had a break in the first set and two in the second to clinch his 14th straight Davis Cup singles victory.

“I made some crucial breaks at the right time in both sets,” Djokovic said. “It’s tough to play Benoit, he is a very talented guy, very unpredictable.”

Serbia secured first place in Group A by winning every tie without dropping a set in the singles matches.

Group winners advanced to the knockout stage along with the two best second-place finishers among the six groups.

Argentina was one of those top second-place finishers, along with Russia. France, Belgium, Kazakhstan and the U.S. were eliminated as the other runners-up.

Four of the top six-ranked Davis Cup teams failed to advance – France, defending champion Croatia, Belgium and the U.S.

Britain got past Kazakhstan after Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski defeated Alexander Bublik and Mikhail Kukushkin 6-1, 6-4 in the deciding doubles match.

“It’s been another good day for us,” Skupski said. “Very proud to get the win today with Jamie. I thought we fought hard. I think we’re playing well.”

The teams were tied 1-1 in Group E after Kyle Edmund beat Kukushkin 6-3, 6-3 and Bublik defeated Daniel Evans 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.

Britain decided to rest Andy Murray, who on Wednesday came from behind to win his match against Tallon Griekspoor in three sets.

Germany won Group C by defeating Chile 2-1 thanks to a doubles win by Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies over Marcelo Tomas Barrios and Alejandro Tabilo.

Phillip Kohlschreiber had given Germany the lead by defeating Nicolas Jarry 6-4, 6-3, but Cristian Garin evened the series with a 6-7 (3), 7-6 (7), 7-6 (8) victory over Jan-Lennard Struff.

“I think we’re really excited to be playing them in the quarterfinals,” Britain’s Jamie Murray said of the matchup against Germany. “I think it’s going to be a very evenly-matched tie and really excited to get the chance to go out there and compete again.”

The new Davis Cup Finals is being played in World Cup-style with all 18 teams playing in a single venue in the same week.

Rybakina, Sabalenka to meet in Australian Open women’s final

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Mike Frey/USA TODAY Sports
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MELBOURNE, Australia — What all seemed so different, so daunting, even, about trying to win a Grand Slam title to Elena Rybakina a little more than six months ago is now coming rather naturally.

And if she can win one more match, she will add a championship at the Australian Open to the one she collected at Wimbledon.

Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan, reached her second final in a span of three major tournaments by beating Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (4), 6-3 at Melbourne Park on Thursday, signaling a rapid rise toward the top of tennis.

“Everything was new at Wimbledon,” Rybakina said after hitting nine aces in the semifinals to raise her tournament-leading total to 44. “Now I more or less understand what to expect.”

That could come in handy Saturday, when she will face No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. Sabalenka reached her first Grand Slam title match at age 24 by beating unseeded Magda Linette 7-6 (1), 6-2 in Thursday’s second semifinal.

Sabalenka improved to 10-0 in 2023, winning all 20 sets she has contested this season.

More importantly, the victory over Linette gave Sabalenka her first taste of success in a Slam semi after going 0-3 at that stage until now, losing each previous attempt by a 6-4 score in the third set.

Rybakina and Sabalenka employ a somewhat similar brand of tennis, relying on big serves and big hitting at the baseline. Sabalenka is far less cautious, though, and her penchant for high-risk, high-reward play was evident against Linette, who had never before been past the third round in 29 appearances at majors.

Sabalenka finished with a whopping 33-9 edge in winners, but also compiled more unforced errors – including a trio that led to a break at love by Linette in the opening game.

The key to both semifinals turned out to be a first-set tiebreaker. Azarenka lost the mark on her strokes, for the most part, making things smoother for Rybakina, while Sabalenka raced to a 6-0 lead in hers. It wasn’t the case that each and every shot Sabalenka hit landed right on a line, but it must have seemed that way to Linette.

“In the tiebreaker, I really found my rhythm,” Sabalenka said. “Started trusting myself. Started going for my shots.”

Rybakina’s win over Azarenka, the champion at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013, added to what already was an impressive run through a string of top opponents. She also beat No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 17 Jelena Ostapenko – both owners of major titles – and 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins.

“For sure, they’re very experienced players,” said Rybakina, whose parents and sister have been in town throughout the Australian Open. “I knew that I have to focus on every point.”

She delivered serves at up to 117 mph (189 kph) and stinging groundstrokes that she used to close points seemingly at will on Thursday. Her performance was particularly noteworthy against a returner and defender as established on hard courts as Azarenka, a former No. 1 and a three-time runner-up at the U.S. Open.

“Kind of hard to digest,” Azarenka said. “Obviously, I had quite a few chances that I gave myself.”

Rybakina is just 23, 10 years younger than Azarenka, and the future sure looks bright at the moment.

Rybakina might be seeded just 22nd in Melbourne, and ranked just 25th, but those numbers are rather misleading and not indicative at all of her talent and form. She did not get the usual bump from her title last July at Wimbledon, where zero rankings points were awarded after the All England Club banned players from Russia and Belarus because of the invasion of Ukraine.

Rybakina was born in Moscow; she switched to Kazakhstan in 2018, when that country offered to fund her tennis career.

It was breezy and chilly at Rod Laver Arena from the start of Rybakina vs. Azarenka, with the temperature dipping below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius).

That had a role in the way the first set was as much of a seesaw as can be, with each player seeming to gain the upper hand – and then ceding it just as quickly. Both found the conditions slowed down the tennis balls.

“Kind of misjudged a lot of balls,” Azarenka said.

Rybakina encountered similar issues and her occasional inconsistency was encapsulated by the very first game. She began, inauspiciously enough, with a double-fault, before holding with the help of three aces.

Azarenka nosed ahead by breaking for a 3-2 lead on a leaping, full-extension volley winner with both women at the net. Rybakina, though, broke right back, and then once more to go up 5-3.

Azarenka saved a set point at 5-3 with a terrific down-the-line forehand passing shot, wound up taking the game with a backhand she accented with a shout of “Let’s go!”

A mistake-filled tiebreaker ended with Azarenka pushing a forehand wide to cap an 11-shot exchange, and the set belonged to Rybakina. She broke at love for a 2-1 lead in the second, and while they competed for another 25 minutes, the outcome was never really much in doubt.

Sure, Rybakina again faltered for a bit while trying to serve out the victory at 5-2. No one expected Azarenka to go quietly. But one last break, aided by a double-fault from Azarenka, allowed Rybakina to take another step toward another trophy.

“Ready,” she said, “to give everything I have left.”

Paul, McDonald on US Davis Cup team; Nainkin interim captain

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Mike Frey/USA TODAY Sports
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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul and the player who eliminated Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park, Mackenzie McDonald, are among the players picked by interim captain David Nainkin for the U.S. Davis Cup team’s matches at Uzbekistan next week.

Nainkin’s appointment was announced Friday, three weeks after Mardy Fish’s tenure as captain ended.

Nainkin has been with the U.S. Tennis Association since 2004. He will be assisted against Uzbekistan by Dean Goldfine, who coached 20-year-old Ben Shelton during his quarterfinal run at the Australian Open.

Paul beat Shelton in that round before losing to Novak Djokovic on Friday night.

The other members of the U.S. roster are Denis Kudla, Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek. Kudla replaces Jenson Brooksby on the team.

The matches will be played on indoor hard courts on Feb. 3-4.