After U.S. Open run, Shapovalov piling up more wins in Rome

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
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ROME — From singles to doubles, hard courts to clay courts, North America to Europe, Denis Shapovalov just keeps playing – and, for the most part, winning.

After spending more than 22 hours on court over the previous two weeks at the U.S. Open, where he reached the quarterfinals in both singles and doubles, Shapovalov is still going strong after crossing the Atlantic.

The Canadian recovered from an early break in the second set to beat Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez 6-4, 6-4 Thursday and reach the third round of the Italian Open.

A few hours later, “Shapo” was back on court for doubles and teamed with Rohan Bopanna to knock out the top-seeded duo of Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah.

“Luckily, I’m still 21 years old,” Shapovalov said. “It’s been a lot of tennis. For sure I’m feeling it physically, no question about it. But I’m getting good treatment every day. I’m just pushing through it.

“It’s very tough, especially after the Grand Slam. Your body just kind of naturally wants to relax. … But I’m really happy with the way I have been able to maintain my level and maintain physically.”

Shapovalov will continue playing singles and doubles at the French Open, which starts in 10 days.

Shapovalov also won his opening singles match in Rome in straight sets, over Argentine clay-courter Guido Pella.

“I’m a hard-court player, so it’s definitely not easy matchups for me,” Shapovalov said. “I’m really happy to be through and really happy with the way my game has transitioned from the hard courts to the clay courts.”

Known for his attacking game and stylish shot-making, the 14th-ranked Shapovalov worked on adding more patience to his repertoire with new coach Mikhail Youzhny during the five-month break for the coronavirus pandemic.

“Obviously I like to pull the trigger and go for my shots as early as possible,” Shapovalov said. “We had a lot of time to really build up the game.”

Shapovalov was the first player to reach the quarterfinals in both singles and doubles at the U.S. Open since Youzhny achieved the feat 14 years earlier.

“He’s really trying to make me more of all-rounded and smarter player,” Shapovalov said of his coach.

Shapovalov will next face Ugo Humbert, who eliminated Fabio Fognini 7-5, 7-6 (4).

Lorenzo Musetti, an 18-year-old Italian who needed a wild card just to get into qualifying, continued his dream run with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Kei Nishikori — having beaten Stan Wawrinka in straight sets two days earlier.

Musetti became the youngest player to reach the third round in Rome since Fabrice Santoro in 1991.

Nishikori was returning from right elbow surgery and missed the U.S. Open after testing positive for COVID-19.

Also at the Foro Italico, which is devoid of fans this year because of the pandemic, Dusan Lajovic defeated Milos Raonic 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-2 and will next face nine-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal; and Hubert Hurkacz beat U.S. Open quarterfinalist Andrey Rublev 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-2.

U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka is also putting together an impressive run, to which she added a 6-0, 6-0 rout of Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.

Azarenka committed only four unforced errors to 22 from Kenin, who double-faulted on the first match point.

Also, ninth-seeded Garbine Muguruza eliminated 16-year-old Coco Gauff 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3 in an error-strewn match that included 24 double-faults – nine from Muguruza and a whopping 15 from Gauff, who was playing her first pro tournament on clay.

Two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova rallied past 14th-seeded Anett Kontaveit 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 and will next face two-time Rome champion Elina Svitolina, last year’s French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova beat Dutch qualifier Arantxa Rus 6-3, 6-3, and Yulia Putintseva ousted eighth-seeded Petra Martic 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-4.

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

San Diego Open - Finals
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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”