Djokovic recovers from 2-set French Open hole against teen

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PARIS — For two sets and more than two hours at the French Open on Monday, Novak Djokovic found himself being outplayed by a 19-year-old opponent making his Grand Slam debut.

And yet, to hear Djokovic tell it afterward, he had the kid right where he wanted him.

After dropping a pair of tiebreakers to begin the fourth-round match, Djokovic suddenly went from a big deficit to his best tennis. He grabbed 13 games in a row in a dominant display before Lorenzo Musetti stopped playing because of lower back pain and cramps while trailing in the fifth set.

The result officially goes into the books as a retirement. The score when Musetti quit showed Djokovic ahead 6-7 (7), 6-7 (2), 6-1, 6-0, 4-0.

“I like to play young guys in best-of-five, because I feel even if they are leading a set or two sets to love, as it was the case today, I still like my chances,” said the top-seeded Djokovic, who claimed 19 consecutive points in one stretch once he got going, “because I feel like I’m physically fit and I know how to wear my opponent down.”

Musetti, a talented Italian so good at the outset with his one-handed backhand and tremendous touch, is hardly used to this best-of-five-set format at the majors and he took a medical timeout after the fourth.

“It didn’t make sense to keep playing. I couldn’t win any points or stay in the rallies. It was hard for me to move,” Musetti said. “I was at my limit.”

The 34-year-old Djokovic wound up 9 for 9 on his break-point chances and with a 53-30 edge in winners.

How shocking was it just to see Musetti take the opening pair of sets against Djokovic, who is seeking his second French Open championship and 19th Grand Slam trophy overall?

“Even for me,” Musetti acknowledged afterward, “it was a little surprising.”

The top-seeded Djokovic never had been beaten at Roland Garros by someone ranked as low as the No. 76 Musetti. Djokovic’s only previous loss against a teen at the French Open came back in 2006 against a guy named Rafael Nadal. And Djokovic entered the day 14-0 in the fourth round at the place.

Plus, consider Djokovic’s recent form: He was 10-0 in Grand Slam matches in 2021 and hadn’t ceded more than four games in any set in Paris – let alone an entire set – while dropping a total of just 23 games until Monday.

Eventually, Djokovic earned his fifth career comeback from two sets down by limiting his mistakes and making Musetti look like what he is: Someone with plenty of promise but not much experience.

Djokovic reached his record 15th quarterfinal in Paris and 49th major quarterfinal in all. It will come against another Italian, No. 9 seed Matteo Berrettini, who advanced without needing to swing his racket once Monday.

That’s because the man Berrettini was supposed to face in the fourth round, 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, withdrew in order to let his surgically repaired right knee and the rest of his 39-year-old body rest with an eye on Wimbledon this month.

In other fourth-round men’s action on the top half of the draw, No. 10 seed Diego Schwartzman saved seven set points in the opening set on the way to eliminating Jan-Lennard Struff 7-6 (9), 6-4, 7-5. Schwartzman, a semifinalist at Roland Garros in 2020, next will face 13-time champion Nadal or No. 18 Jannik Sinner – who, like Musetti, is an Italian who is 19.

In women’s play, 17-year-old American Coco Gauff became the youngest player since 2006 to reach the women’s quarterfinals at any Grand Slam tournament by overwhelming No. 25 seed Ons Jabeur 6-3, 6-1 in under an hour.

Gauff now meets Barbora Krejcikova, who reached her first major quarterfinal with a 6-2, 6-0 victory over Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion and 2018 French Open runner-up.

Maria Sakkari, who is seeded 17th, beat No. 4 Sofia Kenin, last year’s runner-up, 6-1, 6-3. Sakkari’s quarterfinal opponent will be 2020 champion Iga Swiatek or Marta Kostyuk.

Gauff, Krejcikova and Sakkari are three of the six first-time Grand Slam quarterfinalists left in the women’s bracket.

On an afternoon that began with the sun shining, before clouds intervened, Djokovic’s two-handed backhand, his best shot, was off. Way off.

By the second game of the third set, he already had accumulated two dozen unforced errors off that wing alone.

And while Djokovic is normally adept at tiebreakers – he made no errors at all in the three tiebreakers of his 2019 Wimbledon final win against Federer – Musetti was on-target and so good in those that high-pressure, high-stakes environment. Musetti is now 10-0 in tour-level tiebreakers for his nascent career.

After that, though, Djokovic took over.

“I never thought I had it won. Absolutely not,” Musetti said. “Against a champion like Djokovic, you truly only have a victory when he shakes your hand at the end.”

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.”