Slowing down? Roger Federer says no as he advances at French Open

Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
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Roger Federer disliked the implication he’s slowing down.

When the 39-year-old Federer drew a time violation Thursday at the French Open for not playing fast enough, he protested to the chair umpire and to his opponent, Marin Cilic.

The warning in the second set came after Cilic twice complained to the chair that Federer wasn’t getting ready to receive serve quickly enough.

“Marin, am I playing too slow?” Federer said. “I understand the rule. I’m going from one corner to the next trying to get my towel. I’m not doing it on purpose.”

Federer, a 13-time winner of the ATP’s annual sportsmanship award, pointed out that he has played little since the coronavirus pandemic prompted changes in procedure between points, and players now fetch their own towels.

“It was a misunderstanding on many levels,” Federer said later. “First I didn’t understand what was going on. I did not know he was upset.”

With a chuckle, Federer added, “I guess I’m new to the new tour. It got a little energy into the match, which I like.”

The dispute delayed play for more than three minutes and seemed to unsettle Federer for the rest of the second set, but he regrouped and won, 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2. The victory advanced Federer to the third round at Roland Garros, his first major tournament in 16 months.

Federer showed in the third set that he harbored no lingering hard feelings toward Cilic, conceding a point he didn’t lose.

On the first point of the pivotal tiebreaker, Cilic hit a serve near the line and Federer conceded it as an ace. The umpire climbed out of his seat and called the serve long, but Federer gave Cilic the point anyway. Replay showed the ball was long.

ENDING A DROUGHT

Former U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens beat a top-10 player for the first time in 2 1/2 years – and it was the same player as last time.

Stephens returned well and used her defensive skills to defuse 10th-ranked Karolina Pliskova’s power for a 7-5, 6-1 victory.

Stephens’ last top-10 win came against Pliskova in the WTA Finals in Singapore in late 2018.

At No. 59, Stephens is ranked outside the top 50 for the first time since 2017, but she’s always dangerous on clay. She was the runner-up at the 2018 French Open and made the quarterfinals in 2019.

DOMESTIC BLISS

No. 5-seeded Elena Svitolina says she and her fiance, former top-10 player Gael Monfils, don’t argue about tennis — or anything else.

“He always has to agree with me, you know,” a grinning Svitolina told the crowd during a post-match interview Thursday, “because I’m the boss in the house.”

Svitolina was in a good mood after beating Ann Li 6-0, 6-4. Monfils later lost to Mikael Ymer, 6-0, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.

3D RAFA

A three-dimensional painting of Rafael Nadal packaged with a digital token of the image in motion shows him playing in the 2014 French Open, which he won.

The 3D image is on multiple layers of plexiglass, and each of the 300 physical paintings from Sulzberg Sports Media & Fine Art is signed by Nadal.

Proceeds from sales will benefit the Rafa Nadal Foundation.

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.”