Winds of change blow on day of upsets at French Open

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PARIS — On a Sunday of upsets among the women at the French Open, revenge was a dish served up in an autumnal chill by a Polish teenager.

But it was business as usual for the men, with Rafael Nadal reaching his 14th quarterfinal on the red clay of Paris that, by now, must run in his veins. The 12-time French Open champion ran up a – excuse the pun – practically purrr-fect 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 victory against a player who idolizes him so much that he named his cat “Rafa.”

“All of our generation, we try very hard to be passionate,” Nadal said after seeing off Sebastian Korda, a 20-year-old qualifier who has set his sights on winning at least two Grand Slam titles, one more than his dad, 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda.

“If that’s a good inspiration for the young generation, that’s good,” added the winner of 19 major titles who has yet to drop a set in his pursuit of a record-tying 20th.

A young generation is making its mark at this French Open pushed back by the coronavirus from its usual May-June spot, especially in the women’s draw.

Against the player who humbled her 6-1, 6-0 at the same stage last year, 19-year-old Iga Swiatek turned the tables on top-seeded Simona Halep, sending the 2018 champion packing 6-1, 6-2 with powerful groundstrokes and exquisite net play to advance to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Halep, who also lifted the title at Wimbledon last year, never got into her stride under the roof on Court Philippe Chatrier and was unable to exert any pressure on the now-confident youngster who wilted with nerves in their fourth-round meeting last year that was over in just 45 minutes.

Swiatek used that defeat as fuel.

“A huge lesson,” she said. “I knew that I can, like, play differently and I can finally show my best tennis.”

Halep lasted just 23 minutes longer this time. She never had a break point against her opponent who racked up 14 against her, breaking her twice in each set and keeping her serve under near-constant stress.

“She was everywhere,” said Halep, who had been on a career-best winning streak of 17 matches. “I will have a chocolate and I will be better tomorrow.”

Adding to a sense that winds of change are blowing across women’s tennis, Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan ousted fifth-seeded Kiki Bertens moments later, winning 6-4, 6-4 on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

With three Roland Garros debutants – Trevisan, Argentinian qualifier Nadia Podoroska and Paula Badosa of Spain – playing in the fourth round, the French Open’s second week has already been one of new faces. Halep and Bertens had been among just six seeded women who made the last 16. And sixth-seeded Serena Williams’ pursuit of a record-tying 24th major title ended with an Achilles injury after her first-round win.

“At this level nobody surprises anybody anymore,” said Halep. “Everyone has a big level.”

The 159th-ranked Trevisan tossed her racket in delight after sealing her victory with a backhand lob from the baseline that her Dutch foe, who’d been serving to stay in the match, could only watch as it soared over her head and plopped in. Trevisan didn’t see the ball land but Bertens’ reaction told her the match was won.

“I saw the face of Bertens that was a little bit sad, so I said, `Yeah, it is in,”‘ she said.

Trevisan dropped tennis for about 4 1/2 years from late 2009 to early 2014, and recently wrote in a blog post that she had dealt with anorexia after her father, a former professional soccer player, battled medical problems.

Swiatek, the only teenager who reached the fourth round, and Trevisan, one of two qualifiers who got that far, will now play each other in what will be a first Grand Slam quarterfinal for them both.

Trevisan is playing only her second Grand Slam. She was a first-round loser at her first: the Australian Open this year.

Swiatek, who also reached the fourth round this year at Melbourne Park, has said that having recently passed her school exams, she now wants to fully focus on her tennis, to see whether she should make a career of it or head to university.

Based on the evidence so far on clay in Paris, the books can wait.

“I have, like, time to grow up,” she said. “”It’s, like, perfect for me doing it one step after another.”

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.