Denis Shapovalov tops Jannik Sinner in Australia

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MELBOURNE, Australia — It was getting close to 1 a.m., and 19-year-old Jannik Sinner was getting tired.

Hitting against Rafael Nadal for two weeks and being on a 10-match winning streak that included back-to-back titles on the ATP Tour had conditioned the young Italian well.

But winning a title the day before his Australian Open first-round match against 21-year-old, No. 11-seeded Denis Shapovalov was a stretch too far.

Shapovalov took a medical time out for treatment on his left shoulder after dropping serve to surrender the fourth set, following a long and animated discussion with the chair umpire about a bathroom stop.

He returned to break Sinner’s serve and held on to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, after saving a breakpoint in the last game, in a 3-hour, 55-minute marathon on Margaret Court Arena that ended at 12:49 a.m. local time.

That ended the first day of the year’s first major, one that both players and ardent tennis fans will remember.

“Definitely today was just, I think, incredible tennis from both of us,” Shapovalov said. “Honestly, Jannik is super talented. He’s such an amazing player. You know, he’s a great guy, great worker. I’m sure he’s going to be a very, very tough opponent in the future.”

For Sinner, it was an early end to his fifth major and an up-and-down month Down Under. Even at the end, he had a chance to force another game. He saved a match point and then earned a breakpoint when Shapovalov double-faulted at deuce, but his attempted passing shot to win it sailed just wide.

Since losing to Nadal in the French Open quarterfinals, Sinner has collected his first two ATP titles back-to-back. He was the youngest to do that since Nadal in 2005 and there’s high expectations he’ll win more.

Sinner said after beating fellow Italian Stefano Travaglia 7-6 (4), 6-4 in a two-hour final at the Great Ocean Road Open on Sunday that his experience was not only about winning: “Sometimes losing matches, important matches, can help you maybe even more, especially when you are young.”

He’s learned a lot in the last month, which has included a 14-day hotel quarantine and then a crammed schedule in the tuneup tournaments, which included having to play twice on one day and having to save match points in the semifinals.

After taking the loss against Shapovalov, he was circumspect.

“I don’t think it hurt me, to be honest,” he said of his hectic week. “Obviously, I started to feel a bit tired after, but I think I can learn many things from that. I’m already looking forward to playing the next tournament with the right mentality.”

And then there’s the long-term benefit of his time this month in Australia with 20-time major winner Nadal.

“It’s a big, big lesson,” he said. “The reason why we came here was to practice with Rafa for two weeks, because I think he can give me many things about how to stay on court with the right mentality.

“Even today it’s, for me, mentally tough losing here in the fifth, but it’s going to be a lesson.”

Shapovalov, at 21 and in the relatively rare position of being the older guy on court, admitted his experience proved to be the difference.

“I was able to kind of rest the last couple of days, and he’s had to play some difficult, very difficult matches – he played yesterday literally the final,” Shapovalov said. “It’s definitely never easy before a Grand Slam, but for sure it was in my head and definitely gave me a little bit of confidence. You know, I did feel like I was probably the fresher guy on the court.”

That situation will be reversed in the second round when he meets veteran Australian qualifier Bernard Tomic, who got an easier ride through when Yuichi Sugita retired because of injury while down a break in the third set.

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.”

Sonego beats Bublik at Moselle Open to win 1st title of 2022

Winston-Salem Open - Day 5
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METZ, France – Lorenzo Sonego clinched his first title of the season by beating Alexander Bublik 7-6 (3), 6-2 in the Moselle Open final.

The 27-year-old Italian did not drop a set all tournament as he won the third title of his career and first on hard courts.

The unseeded Sonego recovered from 0-40 down in the fifth game of the match and secured victory when the seventh-seeded Bublik sent a backhand return long.

He then danced on court as he celebrated a perfect tournament where he also beat defending champion Hubert Hurkacz in the semifinals.

Sonego’s win will move him up 21 places in the ATP rankings and into 44th place.