‘Didn’t do it for the hype’: Kenin stops Coco in Australia

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MELBOURNE, Australia — It made sense to Sofia Kenin that Coco Gauff would be the one getting all of the attention and generating all of the buzz.

That’s only natural when Gauff is 15 and making tennis history time and time again.

“Yeah, I mean, the hype is for her. She’s obviously done great stuff, of course. It’s absolutely normal. Just (tried) not to let that get in my head,” Kenin said. “Of course, I didn’t do it for the hype. I did it for myself, because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.”

Well, Sofia, you did it. Now get ready for the spotlight to shine your way. Kenin stopped Gauff’s latest Grand Slam run by beating her 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0 in the Australian Open’s fourth round on Sunday.

Like Gauff, Kenin is a young – although, at 21, not quite as young – American and she reached her first major quarterfinal with the victory.

“I want to show who I am, show my best tennis, show why I’m there, why I belong,” the 14th-seeded Kenin said. “I’m doing that.”

In her previous match, the 67th-ranked Gauff beat Naomi Osaka to become the youngest player in the professional era to defeat the reigning women’s champion at the Australian Open. At Wimbledon last year, Gauff became the youngest qualifier ever at that tournament, beat Venus Williams in the first round and made it all the way to the fourth.

Entering Sunday, Gauff was 8-2 in Grand Slam action, with her only losses to women who have been ranked No. 1 and own multiple major titles: Halep (at Wimbledon) and Osaka (at the U.S. Open).

Hence the aforementioned hype.

“I couldn’t really write this,” Gauff said. “I don’t think anybody could really write how this past (several) months have gone.”

She did not play as well as she has been this time, though, winding up with 48 unforced errors, more than twice as many as Kenin’s 22.

Gauff’s power is impressive. One tiny indication: She slammed a forehand into the net so hard that it dislodged a piece of a sponsor’s white plastic sign.

Kenin can’t copy that.

But thanks to her relentless ball-tracking and a bit of in-your-face attitude with a racket in hand, Kenin surged up the WTA rankings from 52nd to 12th in 2019 while winning her first three tour-level singles titles plus a couple in doubles.

“She definitely put a lot of balls in the court,” Gauff said. “She’s quick.”

Just before Gauff announced herself last season, Kenin delivered her own breakthrough at the French Open by upsetting Serena Williams to get to the round of 16 at a major for the first time.

Now Kenin has taken another step.

Wasn’t easy, though.

After double-faulting twice in the tiebreaker to drop the opening set – “For sure, nerves,” Kenin acknowledged – she immediately tilted things the other way, breaking in the initial game of the second and never letting that lead slip away.

When it ended, appropriately enough, on a missed backhand by Gauff, Kenin dropped her racket at the baseline and covered her face as tears welled in her eyes.

“Anyone would get pretty emotional for the first time,” said Kenin, who next faces another woman making her Slam quarterfinal debut, 78th-ranked Ons Jabeur of Tunisia.

Jabeur was a 7-6 (4), 6-1 winner against 27th-seeded Wang Qiang, who surprised Serena Williams in the third round.

The wins for Kenin and Jabeur ended at about the same time, and the future opponents soon found each other cooling down side-by-side on exercise bicycles.

Kenin laughed as she described the scene this way: “She’s like, ‘Good job.’ I’m like, ‘You, too.’ It was fun, a funny moment. She’s like, ‘Are you feeling tired?’ ‘No, I’m good.’ She’s like, ‘Yeah, me, too.’ I’m like, ‘OK. I’ll see you on Tuesday, then.’”

Also advancing to a quarterfinal showdown were No. 1 Ash Barty – trying to become the first Australian to win the nation’s Grand Slam tournament since the 1970s – and last year’s runner-up in Melbourne, Petra Kvitova.

Reigning French Open champion Barty moved on with a 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 win against No. 18 Alison Riske of the United States, who double-faulted on the last point.

Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, was down a set and a break before coming back to defeat No. 22 Maria Sakkari 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-2.

“I love Petra,” said Barty, who lost to Kvitova in Australia a year ago, “but let’s hope she doesn’t break my heart.”

In the men’s fourth round, defending champion Novak Djokovic moved into a matchup against No. 32 Milos Raonic, and Roger Federer overcame a slow start to beat Marton Fucsovics 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 and his 15th quarterfinal in Australia, where he will face 100th-ranked Tennys Sandgren of the United States.

Raonic, the 2016 Wimbledon runner-up, was asked whether he thinks Djokovic, who owns 16 Grand Slam titles, eventually will catch Federer, who has 20.

“I just hope,” Raonic replied, “I can stop him at this one.”

Sandgren reached his second quarterfinal in Melbourne, reprising his 2018 feat by coming out on top in a physical, contentious encounter with No. 12 Fabio Fognini of Italy 7-6 (5), 7-5, 6-7 (2), 6-4.

Sandgren ended it with a marvelous drop volley to cap a 26-stroke exchange, then took a bow.

“I was expecting a fight,” Sandgren said. “And a fight we had.”

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.”