It’s Barty time at Australian Open; local hope is into semis

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MELBOURNE, Australia — There’s a Barty going on Down Under. It’s already bigger than the Barty party that took over Melbourne Park last year.

That ended with Ash Barty’s loss to Petra Kvitova in the Australian Open quarterfinals. This one picked up with Barty’s 7-6 (6), 6-2 quarterfinal win over the two-time Wimbledon champion.

The 23-year-old Barty, who clinched her first major title at the French Open and won the season-ending WTA Finals last year, is the first Aussie into the Australian Open women’s semifinals since Wendy Turnbull in 1984.

No Australian has won a singles title at the national championship since 1978, when Chris O Neil took the women’s title. The drought for Australian men extends two years longer.

“I’m not going to have anything but a smile on my face when I walk out onto this court,” Barty said of the expectations.

Australia has produced dozens of major winners – Margaret Court holds the all-time record with 24 Grand Slam singles titles. Rod Laver completed two calendar-year Grand Slams. They’ve both got arenas named in their honor at Melbourne Park, but the advantage of having a major on home soil hasn’t netted a singles title here for an Aussie since the tournament was played on grass.

It is now played on hard courts and there was only one player on the women’s tour who was level with Barty in terms of match wins on that surface in 2019: Sofia Kenin.

They both finished the year with 38. They meet next.

The 21-year-old Kenin reached the semifinals at a major for the first time with her 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 78-ranked Ons Jabeur of Tunisia.

The Moscow-born, Florida-raised Kenin won’t mind at all if she crashes the party. She took out Serena Williams last year at the French Open before losing to Barty in the fourth round. She also registered wins over Barty and then No. 1-ranked Naomi Osaka later in the year.

Her run at Melbourne Park included a comeback win in the third round over 15-year-old Coco Gauff, one of the sport’s brightest up-and-comers.

“I played a lot of big names. I don’t think I’ve played anyone big in their home crowd,” the 14th-seeded Kenin said. “It’s going to be a different atmosphere obviously. But it’s exciting.”

In Wednesday’s quarterfinals, Wimbledon champion Simona Halep plays Anett Kontaveit, and two-time major winner Garbine Muguruza takes on Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

HOLDING COURT

Tennis greats John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova have caused a stir with a protest demanding a name change for Margaret Court Arena, one of the main show courts at the Australian Open.

Navratilova climbed up the umpire’s chair and started to address spectators at the arena using the court microphone, but organizers cut off the live feed. Navratilova and McEnroe then unfurled a banner reading “Evonne Goolagong Arena.”

Navratilova has frequently objected to Court having the stadium named after her because of her anti-gay comments, and wants it to be named after Goolagong, the Australian seven-time Grand Slam singles champion.

“I’ve been speaking out about an issue for a while now and John McEnroe is here to join me and push the conversation forward,” local media quoted Navratilova as saying.

Tennis Australia said the protest breached its tournament protocols.

“We embrace diversity, inclusion and the right for people to have a view, as well as their right to voice that view,”‘ Tennis Australia said in a statement. “But the Australian Open has regulations and protocols with respect to how any fan, player or guest can use our facility, the event and the global stage it provides. This is to ensure the integrity of our event.

“Two high-profile guests have breached these protocols and we are working through this with them.’

Court won an all-time record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, including 13 before the Open era.

UNLUCKY SEVEN

It’s a big number of match points, but not crazy in Tennys’ terms. Seven times the 100th-ranked Tennys Sangren was a point away from victory over 20-time major winner Roger Federer, and from a career-best appearance in a Grand Slam semifinal.

After losing to Federer in five sets, Sandgren said he was tired mentally, he was tired physically and he was just plain tired. But there were lot of positives he could take out of his second run to the quarterfinals in Australia in three years.

“Tennis is a crazy sport. Seven is not that many. Was it seven?” he said of the collection of near misses. “One on my serve. Really not that many. If I had, like, six on my serve, I’d be really (upset).”

The seesawing match was full of unusual episodes, including a caution for Federer for swearing, an off-court medical timeout for the 38-year-old Swiss star, and then there was the hit-and-run during a changeover in the fourth-set tiebreaker.

A ballgirl running toward the baseline collided with Sandgren as he approached his court-side seat at 3-3. Her knee hit his right calf, and took him by surprise. He’d already had three match points on Federer’s serve by that stage, and would have another four in the tiebreaker, so he wasn’t using it as an excuse.

“That’s not a distraction. That was physically painful. She was apologetic and everything. Accidents happen, so that wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “I’ve had to deal with plenty of things going on in my career. This wasn’t anything more or less than what I was accustomed to. I don’t think there was anything that was taking away from my level of play.

“It stung a little bit at the time (but) it didn’t bother me when the point started.”

At least Sandgren is back into the second week at the majors. He has slipped from a career-high No. 41 during an interrupted year when he made first-round exits at the Australian and French Opens, before reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon and the third at the U.S. Open.

“I’m sure I’ll look back in a couple days and appreciate the tennis I played the last, what, eight, nine days,” he said. “But currently just disappointed. Just disappointed.”

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.