Veronika Kudermetova wins her first WTA title on clay in Charleston

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CHARLESTON, S.C. – Veronika Kudermetova of Russia won her first WTA title, coming up strong on the big points to beat Danka Kovinic 6-4, 6-2 at the Volvo Car Open on Sunday.

The 23-year-old Kudermetova did not drop a set in six matches on the way to the championship at the season’s first clay-court tournament – a feat last accomplished here by Serena Williams in 2012.

Kovinic, also seeking her first title, sailed a forehand long on match point, making the fifth first-time winner this season on the WTA.

“I really enjoyed the play here,” Kudermetova said to the few dozen people watching as she held the championship trophy up high.

The tournament was closed to the general public because of the coronavirus pandemic. It was canceled last year.

Matches were also shuffled to a secondary court with the main stadium undergoing a $50 million renovation.

None of that mattered to Kudermetova, who’ll cherish this win as if she played in a full house.

“Of course, it means a lot,” Kudermetova said. “I’m really happy and proud of myself at my first title.”

Kudermetova didn’t feel confident when the week began. Her only other appearance in Charleston was first-round loss in 2019 and she wasn’t sure how she’d perform on the slower surface.

On Saturday night, Kudermetova had trouble calming her nerves at the prospect of her first tournament crown.

When she stepped on the court, though, she channeled her performances of the past week to take control against Kovinic.

“It’s an amazing week for me,” she said. “I played really well. I think I deserved this trophy.”

Kudermetova, the 15th seed, relied on her serve and forehand to push past Kovinic, of Montenegro, who had defeated three seeded players to advance to the final.

Trailing 3-2 in the opening set, Kudermetova fought off three break points to hold serve, then took three of the final four games.

Kudermetova trailed again in the final set, 2-1, but rallied again. She let out a scream when she won a point at deuce in the fifth game, which she subsequently won to go ahead 3-2.

Kudermetova had an ace clocked at 123 mph to win the next game. She closed things out a few minutes later. Along with the trophy, she won her choice of a new Volvo SUV. After the award ceremony, Kudermetova walked over to where four Volvo models were parked, looking like a car buyer trying to make a smart decision.

Kudermetova had heard about the winner receiving a vehicle, “but it’s means more to take the title than to get a car.”

The tournament held a groundbreaking at the old stadium court – now just a skeleton with a green clay surface – a few hours before the final. The stadium had been unchanged since the event moved from Hilton Head Island to Daniel Island in Charleston starting in 2001. Ben Navarro, owner of Charleston Tennis LLC, which runs the tournament, is planning on having a packed stadium next year.

Navarro’s daughter, Emma, is a WTA pro who lost to Kudermetova in the second round this week.

“I know that I will be coming back,” said Kovinic, a 26-year-old who played in her first final since 2016.

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.”