Kenin voted WTA Player of Year; Azarenka gets Comeback honor

Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
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Sofia Kenin collected the WTA Player of the Year award on Tuesday after winning the Australian Open in January for her first Grand Slam title and finishing as the runner-up at the French Open in October.

The 22-year-old from Florida went 16-2 at the three major tournaments played in 2020 – Wimbledon was canceled for the first time since World War II because of the coronavirus pandemic – and ended the abbreviated season with a career-best ranking of No. 4.

In other honors announced Tuesday and based on voting by international media members, Victoria Azarenka was picked as Comeback Player of the Year, Iga Swiatek was named Most Improved Player, Nadia Podoroska was the Newcomer of the Year and Kristina Mladenovic and Timea Babos were the Doubles Team of the Year.

Swiatek’s coach, Piotr Sierzputowski, earned the Coach of the Year award.

In two categories decided by a players’ vote, Marie Bouzkova was the recipient of the Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award, and the 10 members of the WTA Players’ Council shared the Peachy Kellmeyer Player Service Award.

Kenin entered this year with an 11-11 career mark in Grand Slam tournaments and zero trips beyond the fourth round at any of the sport’s top four events. But she announced her arrival as an ascending star early in the season by beating No. 1-ranked Ash Barty in the semifinals and former No. 1 Garbine Muguruza in the final at Melbourne Park.

That triumph made Kenin the youngest Australian Open champion since 2008, when Maria Sharapova was 20. It also propelled Kenin into the Top 10, making her the youngest American to debut so high in the rankings since Serena Williams did it in 2002 at 20.

Kenin went on to get to the fourth round at the U.S. Open, then the final at the pandemic-postponed French Open before losing to Swiatek for the title.

Swiatek, a 19-year-old from Poland, had never won a tour-level trophy until her magical two weeks at Roland Garros, where she didn’t drop a set. She finished the year ranked 17th.

The 23-year-old Podoroska, an Argentine, also had a breakthrough in Paris, making it all the way to the semifinals as a qualifier ranked 131st before losing to Swiatek.

Azarenka won her first title in more than four years, then followed that up by reaching her first Grand Slam final in seven years by getting that far at the U.S. Open, where she lost to Naomi Osaka.

Azarenka left the tour in 2016 to become a mother and her return had some rough patches, including going a calendar year without winning a match.

Mladenovic and Babos won two Grand Slam doubles titles this season, at the Australian Open and French Open.

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.