Thiem halts Kyrgios at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — The Nick Kyrgios Experience was in full effect against Dominic Thiem, from the underarm ace that successfully closed the second set to the around-the-back, between-the-legs miss that ceded the third and so much more – to the delight of the Australian Open’s last spectators for a while.

Kyrgios, a 25-year-old Australian who is part showman and part sideshow, had a grand ol’ time while he was off to a perfect start, egging on a rowdy, partisan crowd and building a two-set lead in the third round Friday against No. 3 seed Thiem, the reigning U.S. Open champion and last year’s runner-up at Melbourne Park.

Not surprisingly, the talented and tempestuous Kyrgios was decidedly less amused after his level of play dipped, resulting in a tossed racket, his customary sort of back-and-forth with the chair umpire, a couple of warnings that resulted in a point penalty – and, eventually, a 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 loss to Thiem.

“The energy out there was special,” said Kyrgios, who sat out nearly all of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic and is ranked 47th. “To produce that level and go toe-to-toe with one of the best players in the world, I’m pretty proud. I left it all out there. … He’s so disciplined. He’s so composed. His level doesn’t drop.”

At Flushing Meadows last September, Thiem became the first man in 71 years to come back to win the final after dropping the first two sets, so this was nothing new for him.

“That match showed me … that giving up is never an option. There is always a chance,” said Thiem, who faces Grigor Dimitrov next. “Today, I was so close to losing.”

In calm contrast to the ever-animated Kyrgios, Thiem reserved his displays of emotion to a simple shake of a raised right fist that marked his break to go up 4-3 in the fifth set and then the last point.

This was Kyrgios’ second consecutive five-setter at 10,500-capacity John Cain Arena; in the previous round, he erased two match points en route to eliminating No. 29 Ugo Humbert.

This time, he was the one who blew a lead, which could have been even more significant, had he not wasted a pair of break points at the start of the third set.

Thiem’s mindset there?

“I was dealing with the loss already,” he said.

The stadium was about three-quarters full Friday; many in attendance were not mindful of being socially distant or wearing the masks that were to become mandatory at midnight for the state of Victoria. The state government has imposed a five-day lockdown because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

While competition at the tournament can continue, no spectators will be allowed as of Saturday.

“Tonight was epic,” Thiem said, “and a good last match before the lockdown.”

So with one last night out for the time being, folks were living their best lives.

They sang at changeovers, while Kyrgios sipped from a soda can. They jumped and screamed at Kyrgios’ winners. They pounded the backs of seats. They cheered Thiem’s mistakes. They booed close line calls that went against Kyrgios – even though such decisions are determined by an automated system of cameras, not line judges, at this event.

“I think Thiem, actually, drew some energy from everyone kind of against him,” Kyrgios said.

The spectacle started during the warmup, when Kyrgios – wearing a beige sleeve on his left leg – paused his practice serves to wave his racket and ask his fellow Aussies to get louder. They obliged, of course, eliciting a big grin from their guy.

When Kyrgios broke serve in the match’s initial game, he hopped in delight and relished the cascading cheers, cupping his right hand on his ear to again implore for more – and, again, they complied.

His first game featured an underarm serve and a between-the-legs half-volley, neither of which worked – nor were they the last of those tricks he would try.

When Thiem pushed a forehand out to get broken and trail 5-4 in the second, Kyrgios yelled “Let’s go, baby!” as he strutted to the changeover. When the underarm ace ended the set, Kyrgios stretched his arms wide, as if to say, “Are you not entertained?”

Later, he questioned the loss of a point on a hindrance call, saying that his yell was no louder or more distracting to his opponent than other players’ grunts.

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.