Injury-affected Konta makes early Australian Open exit

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Johanna Konta wasn’t sure even as she celebrated Christmas if she’d make the long trip to Australia for the year’s first Grand Slam tournament because of her recovery from a chronic knee problem.

It turned out to be a long way to go for two matches.

The 2016 Australian Open semifinalist lost her first-round match to Ons Jabeur 6-4, 6-2 on Tuesday. It was only her second match since she lost in the quarterfinals of last year’s U.S. Open because of a tendinitis-related problem in her right knee.

Konta lost in the first round at the Brisbane International and then withdrew from the Adelaide International in an attempt to manage her injury. Even before she left for Australia, the British No. 1 told officials she wouldn’t play Fed Cup this year.

The 12th-seeded Konta appeared to be moving without issue on Tuesday, but was outclassed by the 25-year-old Tunisian player who had beaten her the last time the two played last year at Eastbourne. Jabeur broke Konta to win the first set, the British player replied with her only break of the match to open the second, but Jabeur dominated the rest of the way.

Konta had always made at least the second round in four previous appearances in the main draw here. Still, she was upbeat after the loss.

“I think ultimately the main thing was to start playing again, and I am,” she said,. “And how I physically felt out there is obviously a massive tick for me compared to where I was in September of last year. Before Brisbane, I had been out for almost 4-1/2 months. So it’s been quite a bit of time, not far off getting a protected ranking.”

Jabeur said her goal this year is to make it into the top 20 – she’s currently 78th – and to inspire other African Arab players to pick up the sport.

“It would be nice to see more of us out here on tour,” Jabeur said.

After torrential rain his Melbourne Park on Day 1, organizers had to move dozens over to Tuesday, including the Konta-Jabeur match.

Second-seeded Karolina Pliskova beat Kristina Mladenovic 6-1, 7-5 and sixth-seeded Belinda Bencic advanced 6-3, 7-5 over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

In a men’s match suspended from Monday, 18-year-old Jannik Sinner completed a 7-6 (2), 6-2, 6-4 win over Australian qualifier Max Purcell, 2018 Australian Open finalist Marin Cilic beat Corentin Moutet 6-3, 6-2, 6-4..

The Next Gen ATP Finals champion won the last two games of the match on Tuesday. It was Sinner’s first Grand Slam victory after losing to three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka in four sets at last year’s U.S. Open.

“I was up in the score, so it was a little bit easier for me,” Sinner said of his brief appearance on Day 2. “Obviously I wanted to finish yesterday. We waited here till 8 p.m., so it’s been a long day yesterday for me, for every player.”

Top-ranked Rafael Nadal was set to make his tournament debut in the final day match against Hugo Dellien. Only one of Nadal’s 19 Grand Slam singles titles have come at the Australian Open – in 2009- and he lost last year’s final to Novak Djokovic.

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.