Novak Djokovic gets home-crowd feel in Sydney at ATP Cup

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SYDNEY — Almost an hour after he walked off Ken Rosewell Arena to the raucous chants of his name, Novak Djokovic was distracted by replays of his comeback win over Canadian opponent Denis Shapovalov that secured Serbia’s place in the ATP Cup semifinals.

It was like he was reliving the big moments again, as he regularly glanced over to a TV monitor showing highlights in between answering questions at a news conference.

Djokovic, who has won a record seven Australian Open men’s singles titles, was playing in Sydney for the first time in a decade after going 3-0 in singles in the ATP Cup in Brisbane. There was no question who the crowd was supporting Friday. The constant chants and even a burst of trumpet from the flag-waving Serbian fans certainly helped him in his comeback 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4) win.

The 16-time major champion reveled in the environment, with his teammates and coaches on the side of the court, and the echo of “Nole, Nole, Nole” going around the stadium.

“I’m mean, Brisbane we had amazing support – but this has taken it to a different level,” Djokovic said. “All the Serbian people came out today.”

Shapovalov was on the receiving end of some of it, getting a warning from the umpire when he reacted to some taunts from the crowd.

“They were engaged – sometimes a little bit too much. Denis was rightfully annoyed at times, you know, with the sounds, but it was a Davis Cup-like atmosphere, really,” Djokovic explained. “I mean, ATP Cup brings this kind of opportunity for players to experience something they don’t experience in 90% of the tournaments.”

On either side of Djokovic’s win, Dusan Lajovic beat Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 6-2 in the opening singles match and Serbia won the doubles to complete a 3-0 sweep of Canada.

Russia captain Marat Safin kept an eye on proceedings, and figured Djokovic’s tough win may count against Serbia in the semifinals. Karen Khachanov will play Serbia’s No. 2 and Daniil Medvedev will take on Djokovic. The Russians were involved in Day 1 of the quarterfinals, with Medvedev clinching the win in a heated match against Diego Schwartzman and blaming his cranky mood on jetlag following the trip from Perth to Sydney via Melbourne.

“I think is very important for Karen to win that first match so he gives some confidence to Daniil,” Safin said. “Daniil, I think he will have a chance tomorrow, especially (because) Novak had the long match today. They are playing tomorrow morning, so hopefully Novak will not recover well.

“Then doubles will be important ones, but I think we can – we try to do it in the first two matches. I honestly believe … that we will win in two (singles) matches, so we don’t want to go into the doubles.”

If Serbia’s run so far is any guide, there’s almost a home-ground advantage for Djokovic’s team.

Djokovic knew he had the crowd onside against Canada, so he felt like he needed to be a responsible host for his guests.

There was a delay late in the third set against Shapovalov when a spectator needed medical attention from paramedics and Djokovic, despite being down 0-30 while serving for the match, took a bottle of water toward the stadium seating and asked the crowd to pass it along.

He got back level at 30-30 in that game before Shapovalov broke to level the set at 5-5. The Canadian saved a break point in the next game but after the match went to a tiebreaker, Djokovic seized control by winning the first five points.

“That was so close, it could have gone in a different way easily. (Shapovalov) was playing terrific tennis,” Djokovic said. “It felt, not a little bit, fully like I’m playing at home.

“When you have most of the stadium backing you up after every point, of course it makes a significant difference in terms of how you feel on the court. You find that strength. You find that motivation,” Djokovic added. “That’s why I try to cherish these kind of moments and take them with me anywhere I go.”

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.”