ATP Finals: Thiem-Medvedev, not Djokovic-Nadal

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LONDON — Instead of No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 2 Rafael Nadal for the ATP Finals trophy, it’ll be No. 3 Dominic Thiem against No. 4 Daniil Medvedev.

Nadal had won 71 matches in a row when grabbing the opening set, and he served for the victory in Saturday’s semifinals when leading 5-4 in the second set. But Medvedev broke at love there and came all the way back to win 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3, claiming the last four games.

“It’s great that we managed to beat two of the biggest players in the history of the sport,” Medvedev said. “It’s super for tennis.”

Thiem frittered away four match points in his semifinal against Djokovic because he was “tight and nervous” during a second-set tiebreaker. Thiem gathered himself, though, and eventually reeled off seven of the match’s last eight points after trailing 4-0 in the last tiebreaker, winning 7-5, 6-7 (10), 7-6 (5).

“What he did from 0-4 in the third-set tiebreaker was just unreal,” said Djokovic, a 17-time Grand Slam champion. “I don’t think I played bad. … He just crushed the ball and everything went in.”

Thiem ended Djokovic’s bid for a record-tying sixth ATP Finals trophy, while Medvedev prevented Nadal from continuing to pursue the most significant title the 20-time major champ hasn’t won.

Instead of a 57th meeting between Djokovic and Nadal, Thiem and Medvedev will face off for the fifth time. Thiem leads 3-1, including a straight-set victory in the U.S. Open semifinals in September en route to the 27-year-old Austrian’s first Grand Slam championship.

“I, for sure, can cause him some trouble,” Medvedev said.

Did that to Nadal, too.

Nadal seemed on his way to the final when he reeled off four consecutive games in the second set for a chance to serve for the match. He surprisingly stumbled.

“I played a bad game. That’s it,” said Nadal, who deflected a question about whether he had any physical issues during the match.

Once he was back in the match, Medvedev took advantage, dominating the ensuing tiebreaker with the help of a shanked lob winner, a forehand winner that concluded a 26-stroke exchange and a leaping backhand that drew a netted forehand.

Nadal couldn’t shake that off, dropping the match’s last three games as he serve-and-volleyed more than usual, sliced his backhand more than usual and made forehand errors more than usual.

Medvedev had been 0-3 against Nadal, including a five-set loss in the 2019 U.S. Open final, and the lanky 24-year-old Russian’s top-notch serve, capable backhand and willingness to hang in long baseline rallies provided Saturday’s breakthrough.

A year ago, Medvedev went 0-3 in round-robin play at the ATP Finals, while Thiem was the runner-up to Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Whoever wins Sunday on the indoor hard court – where things will be quiet because spectators are banned due to the coronavirus pandemic – will be the tournament’s sixth different champion over the past six years, the longest such stretch since 1974-79.

It was the first time since 2004 that the top four players in the rankings filled the four semifinal slots for the ATP Finals. Djokovic, already assured of finishing the year at No. 1 for a record-tying sixth time, was trying to match Roger Federer’s mark of six ATP Finals trophies.

In the second set against Djokovic, Thiem’s ace put him ahead 6-5 in the tiebreaker, one point from victory.

But Djokovic saved that initial chance with a 127 mph service winner. Thiem’s next opportunity came at 7-6; he double-faulted.

“I was, like, so tight in my whole body,” Thiem said.

The third was at 9-8, when he pushed a down-the-line forehand wide. At 10-9, Djokovic erased No. 4 with a forehand that landed right on a line.

That began a three-point run by Djokovic to steal the set.

But Thiem regrouped and his 300th career tour-level victory made him only the second man with at least five wins each against the Big Three of Djokovic (5-7 career mark), Federer (5-2) and Nadal (6-9). Andy Murray is the other.

“If you beat these guys,” Thiem said, “it gives you a huge boost of confidence.”

Note: Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares clinched the year-end No. 1 team ranking for men’s doubles when the other contenders, Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury, lost in Saturday’s semifinals to Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.

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.