Djokovic advances, Medvedev ousted at Western & Southern Open

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Only a dozen unforced errors. Every shot crisp in windy conditions. Top-ranked Novak Djokovic had all parts of his game working Wednesday while advancing to the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open.

Djokovic had no problems with his creaky neck or the swirling winds during a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Jan-Lennard Struff that was by far his best showing of the week.

So far, no rust at all after the long layoff from competitive tennis.

“Everything was worked on in the last six months, I had plenty of time,” Djokovic said. “I worked on every single thing. It’s great it’s paying off so early after the break.”

Djokovic tested positive for COVID-19 after exhibition matches he organized in Serbia and Croatia in June with no social distancing.

In his match Monday against Ricardas Berankis, Djokovic had his sore neck massaged twice by a trainer during a 7-6 (2), 6-4 victory that included seven double faults. The neck has gotten better, and so has his overall game.

“Right now it’s not a concern,” he said. “It’s still not 100% but it’s close to that. I’ve been gaining more range in my movement of the neck every single day, so no complaints.”

In the semifinals, he’ll face Roberto Bautista Agut, who knocked out defending champion Daniil Medvedev earlier in the day.

Medvedev failed to close it out in the second set, and Bautista Agut rallied for a 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory that eliminated yet another top player out of the tune-up tournament for the U.S. Open. Djokovic is the only player left in the tournament with an ATP Masters 1000 title to his credit.

Medvedev led 4-3 in the second before letting it slip away. He converted only five of 20 break points in the match and swatted his racket against the court in frustration at the end.

“Even in the third set I had my chances and didn’t take them,” Medvedev said.

Bautista Agut reached his third Masters semifinal and his first since 2016. He needed a set to adjust to the breezy, cooler conditions on court.

“It’s never easy to come back and play good at first,” he said. “I have to be patient, to try to enjoy every single match I play here after six months without competing. Just pleased and happy to be in the semifinals.”

Medvedev hoisted the champion’s Rookwood Pottery cup last year in Mason, Ohio, where the tournament is held annually. This year’s event was moved to the U.S. Open site in Flushing Meadows because of pandemic precautions, creating a two-tournament event without spectators.

On the women’s side, fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka beat No. 12 Anett Kontaveit 4-6, 6-2, 7-5, reaching the semifinals as the only Top 10 player left in the bracket. She’ll play No. 14 Elise Mertens, who beat 83rd-ranked Jessica Pegula 6-1, 6-3.

Already down one set, Osaka had her serve broken early in the second, then won six games in a row to gain momentum.

“For the first set and honestly a couple games in the second, I was just really being down on myself and being negative,” Osaka said. “If I had to lose a match, I didn’t want to lose a match on that note. I just tried to be more positive and pump myself up.

“I just came back from six months (off) and the third match and I was already being negative, which is something I hope I can change.”

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.”