Nadal drops set, beats Schwartzman to reach French Open semis

Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
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PARIS — Rafael Nadal’s French Open set streak is over. His pursuit of a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title – including 14 at Roland Garros – remains very much intact.

Nadal shrugged off dropping a set in Paris for the first time in two years and regained control, whipping violent forehands punctuated with first pumps and yells of “Vamos!” en route to a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory over 10th-seeded Diego Schwartzman to reach the semifinals at the clay-court major tournament.

After he ceded the second set and trailed 4-3 in the third, Nadal said later matter-of-factly, “That was the moment to make it happen.”

As if wanting something were enough to will it into existence, he won the next nine games. How? Let him tell you.

“Not many mistakes,” Nadal said. “Hitting a lot of winners. Starting to hit the forehand down the line. Playing more angles. Playing longer with my forehand cross. Returning a little bit better. I mean, my serve, I think, started to work better.”

The No. 3 seed Nadal will play in Friday’s semifinals against either No. 1 Novak Djokovic, in what would be a rematch of last year’s final and their 58th meeting anywhere, or No. 9 Matteo Berrettini. The Djokovic-Berrettini quarterfinal was scheduled for Wednesday night.

The other men’s semifinal will be No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. No. 6 Alexander Zverev.

Nadal, who turned 35 last week, is now 105-2 for his career at Roland Garros.

He is just two wins from eclipsing the men’s mark for most total Grand Slam singles championships that he currently shares with Roger Federer.

In addition to his 13 trophies at Roland Garros – four in a row from 2005-08, five in a row from 2010-14 and another four in a row so far since 2017 – the Spanish left-hander won four titles at the U.S. Open, two at Wimbledon and one at the Australian Open.

There are four first-time Grand Slam semifinalists left in the women’s bracket, something that last happened at the 1978 Australian Open.

In Wednesday’s quarterfinals, No. 17 seed Maria Sakkari ended Iga Swiatek’s title defense by beating her 6-4, 6-4, and unseeded Barbora Krejcikova stopped the run of 17-year-old Coco Gauff 7-6 (6), 6-3. So Sakkari faces Krejcikova on Thursday, when the other semifinal will be No. 31 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova against unseeded Tamara Zidansek.

Nadal entered his quarterfinal with a 35-set run at Roland Garros that began during the 2019 final. That grew to 36 on Wednesday, before Schwartzman outplayed him for a stretch, surprisingly winning more of their exchanges that lasted at least nine strokes.

“I don’t pretend to come here and not (lose) sets. Is not my mindset to come here and just thinking (losing) a set is going to be a disaster for me. I mean, that’s part of the game,” Nadal said. “The thing that matters is how you recover from a set lost.”

So this is what came next: Nadal held, then broke to go up 5-4, before holding at love to take the third set. He broke again to open the fourth and remove any remaining sense of suspense.

Schwartzman – now 1-11 against Nadal, including a loss in the 2020 French Open semifinals – started muttering to himself and bounced his racket off the clay a moment before getting broken again to trail 3-0 in fourth.

“Well, for anybody it’s very difficult to play against him. He’s feeling very comfortable on court,” Schwartzman said. “He’s Rafa. and he’s always finding the way.”

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.”