Osaka’s 23-match win streak ends against Sakkari in Miami

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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MIAMI — As Naomi Osaka’s 23-match winning streak neared an end she paused before serving to crane her neck and study the sky, as if seeking intervention from above.

Then she carried on, and so did No. 23-seeded Maria Sakkari, who upset Osaka 6-0, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the Miami Open.

“The more stuff like this happens, the more I’ll learn from it,” the No. 2-ranked Osaka said.

The defeat was her first since February 2020, and it ended any chance of reclaiming the No. 1 ranking this week from Ash Barty, who is in the semifinals.

Sakkari will next play No. 8-seeded Bianca Andreescu of Canada, who dropped serve eight times but still outlasted unseeded Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

“I’m super proud of how I handled it tonight, because it wasn’t easy,” Andreescu said. “My body was giving out, and then my mind gave out at one point, because I was just thinking about how tired I was.”

The other women’s semifinal Thursday will pit No. 1-seeded Ash Barty against No. 5 Elina Svitolina.

Osaka won her fourth Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in February, but in five Miami appearances she has never advanced beyond the quarterfinals. She said couldn’t get comfortable on the tournament’s hard-court surface.

“I felt like I haven’t been playing well this whole tournament, like I couldn’t find a groove,” she said.

Against Sakkari, the only Greek woman ranked in the top 250, Osaka lost 15 consecutive points on her serve to fall behind and blew a 4-1 lead in the second set. She faced a break point on seven of her eight service games.

“Today’s service problems kind of came out of nowhere,” Osaka said. “My first serve wasn’t going in at all today.”

Sakkari earned her sixth career win over a top-five opponent. She’s still in the tournament only because she saved six match points in the previous round before beating American Jessica Pegula.

In men’s play, 19-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner earned his first semifinal berth in an ATP Tour top-level event by beating No. 32-seeded Alexander Bublik 7-6 (5), 6-4.

Bublik smiled as he congratulated the No. 21-seeded Sinner at the net.

“You’re not a human, man,” Bublik joked. “You’re 15 years old and you play like this? Good job.”

Osaka made just 41% of her first serves and paid a price, because Sakkari aggressively attacked the second set. Sakkari also served well and would repeatedly extend rallies until Osaka made an error.

“I don’t think it was the best tennis I played in my life,” Sakkari said. “I just did what I had to do.”

Osaka took a 40-0 lead in the opening game, but didn’t win another point on her serve until the second set. When she ended the drought, she received a big ovation from the small crowd, which she followed up with her best stretch of tennis.

But Sakkari rallied. From 40-0 down she won five consecutive points, hitting one last thunderous return to break for a 5-4 lead. She then coolly served out the victory.

“I just really enjoyed myself out there,” Sakkari said.

Fernando Verdasco accepts 2-month doping ban

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
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LONDON – Former top-10 player Fernando Verdasco accepted a voluntary provisional doping suspension of two months after testing positive for a medication for ADHD, the International Tennis Integrity Agency announced.

Verdasco, who turned 39 this month, said he was taking methylphenidate as medication prescribed by his doctor to treat ADHD but forgot to renew his therapeutic use exemption for the drug. The integrity agency said Verdasco has now been granted an exemption by the World Anti-Doping Agency moving forward.

He tested positive at an ATP Challenger tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in February.

The integrity agency said in a news release that it “accepts that the player did not intend to cheat, that his violation was inadvertent and unintentional, and that he bears no significant fault or negligence for it,” and so what could have been a two-year suspension was reduced to two months.

Verdasco will be eligible to compete on Jan. 8.

The Spaniard is a four-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, reaching that stage most recently in 2013 at Wimbledon, where he blew a two-set lead in a five-set loss to eventual champion Andy Murray.

Verdasco reached a career-best ranking of No. 7 in April 2009 and currently is No. 125.

Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov give Canada 1st Davis Cup title

Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports
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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.”