Naomi Osaka into Western & Southern Open final

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — After two days of little sleep and unexpected stress, Naomi Osaka rose to the moment.

The two-time Grand Slam champion returned to the court after bringing the push for racial justice to the forefront on the tennis tour, and she advanced to the finals of the Western & Southern Open on Friday with a straight-set victory.

This one meant a lot.

“Of course I feel extra pressure now that there’s more eyes watching me,” she said.

After a one-day break in the tournament prompted by her decision to speak out, Osaka reached her first Western & Southern title match by gritting out a 6-2, 7-6 (5) victory over Elise Mertens.

The 22-year-old Osaka was hoping someone else in tennis would take the lead in speaking up for racial justice – she considers herself more of a follower – but realized she would have to make the first step. She acknowledged that it was “a bit frightening” to get so much attention the last two days, given how she prefers to stay in the background.

“I feel like it’s been kind of hectic and I honestly haven’t been able to get that much sleep yesterday, so I was glad to win today,” she said.

Osaka tweeted after her semifinal victory that she was exhausted and “sick to my stomach” over the many Black people killed by police. She had decided to withdraw from the tournament as a statement in support of racial justice, joining athletes in other sports.

Other tennis players expressed support and the tournament was halted for one day, prompting Osaka to stay in the draw.

Back on court, how would she handle the emotions of the last few days?

“Preparing for this match was a bit stressful,” she said.

Even though her first serve was inconsistent – she made only half of them – the fourth-seeded Osaka fought off 18 of 21 break points while gritting it out.

“I totally respected her decision,” Mertens said of Osaka’s initial withdrawal. “I think it’s great what she does and she’s a role model for tennis. So I totally accept it.”

One alarming moment: Osaka grabbed her left hamstring after chasing a ball during the tiebreaker, but completed the match without pause. Osaka won the 2018 U.S. Open and will be coming off a successful week – in many ways – heading into this one.

The Western & Southern Open was moved from Mason Ohio to the U.S. Open site in Flushing Meadows because of pandemic precautions, creating a two-tournament event without spectators.

Osaka will face resurgent Victoria Azarenka, who beat Johanna Konta 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 to reach the Western & Southern final for the first time since 2013, when she beat Serena Williams.

The 31-year-old Azarenka considered retiring at the start of the year. She lost in the first round at Monterrey and to Venus Williams at Lexington last week.

Azarenka, ranked No. 59, smiled throughout her semifinal and raised her index finger after finishing it off. She has lost only one set this week, showing exuberance over her success.

“I haven’t felt this way in so, so long – probably ever, to be honest,” she said. “That’s what I’m enjoying.”

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic overcame more neck problems and advanced to the finals with a 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (0) win over Roberto Bautista Agut, who had won their last three head-to-head match-ups on hard courts.

Djokovic won the tournament for the first time in 2018, becoming the first to win all nine ATP Masters 1000 events. Another title would tie him with Rafael Nadal’s 35 Masters titles, most since the series began in 1990.

Djokovic has been bothered during the week by a sore neck, and he got treatment twice during the match on Louis Armstrong Court. He also put his hand on his stomach repeatedly.

After blowing a 5-2 lead in the third set, he served three aces to sweep the tiebreaker.

Djokovic will face Milos Raonic, who beat fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6 (5), 6-3 after fighting off a break point in the first set. Djokovic is 10-0 career against the Canadian.

Raonic was one of the first players to publicly support Naomi’s decision to drop out of the tournament.

“It’s not a political thing by any means,” he said Friday. “I think it’s a human right to not have that fear. I hope there’s a chance in the future, and I hope we as athletes can do a small part in that.”

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.