Tsitsipas tops Zverev at French Open for 1st Slam final

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PARIS — Stefanos Tsitsipas already had given away all of a two-set lead in his French Open semifinal when he double-faulted to trail love-40 in the opening game of the fifth.

Get broken there, and Friday’s match might completely slip from his grasp.

Tsitsipas steeled himself to win five consecutive points, including one with a cross-court forehand passing shot he celebrated by shaking his racket as the crowd chanted his last name. That hold pushed Tsitsipas back in the right direction and into his first Grand Slam final, thanks to a late surge that produced a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Alexander Zverev.

“I’m someone who fights. I was not willing to give up yet. I think I did few things right that worked in my favor,” said the fifth-seeded Tsitsipas, who entered the day 0-3 in major semifinals.

“It was a breath of fresh air, that first game,” he said. “I felt revitalized.”

Tsitsipas broke to go up 3-1 with plenty of help from Zverev, who double-faulted, then missed a backhand, followed by a forehand and another backhand. Zverev winced and Tsitsipas raised his right fist. Eventually, Tsitsipas served out the biggest win of his career, ending it after more than 3 1/2 hours on his fifth match point.

“It was a match full of emotions, full of so many different phases that I went through,” said Tsitsipas, a 22-year-old from Greece. “So at the end, it was just such a big relief I was able to close it in such a good way. It was just exhausting.”

He is the youngest man in the French Open final since Rafael Nadal won the 2008 title shortly after his 22nd birthday.

On Sunday, Tsitsipas will face 13-time Roland Garros champion Nadal or top-seeded Novak Djokovic for the trophy on the red clay. Nadal and Djokovic faced each other for the 58th time later Friday.

Tsitsipas regained control of his semifinal on a cloudy afternoon in the late going thanks to a combination of more solid returning by him and a succession of groundstroke unforced errors from the sixth-seeded Zverev, a 24-year-old from Germany.

“I started to play proper tennis in the third set. Against someone like Stefanos, it might be too late,” said Zverev, the 2020 U.S. Open runner-up. “If I break him the first game of the fifth set, maybe the outcome would be different.”

This is not some out-of-nowhere ascension for Tsitsipas. He has been building toward this over the past couple of seasons, reaching three major semifinals in a row and leading the ATP in total match wins (39 now) and clay-court wins (22) in 2021.

Three of his seven career tour-level titles came on clay, including a pair this year – at the Monte Carlo Masters and Lyon.

Zverev’s loss makes him 0-10 against members of the Top 10 at Grand Slam tournaments, an especially confounding statistic when viewed in contrast to his 31-30 mark against such opponents in any other setting.

“I’m not at a stage anymore where great matches are something that I’m satisfied with,” Zverev said. “I lost. I’m not in the final. Was it a good match? Yeah. But at the end of the day, I’m going to fly home tomorrow. There’s nothing positive about that.”

He hadn’t faced a seeded player en route to the semifinals, including two matches against qualifiers and a quarterfinal victory over 46th-ranked Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

Tsitsipas, meanwhile, was a facing a fourth consecutive seeded foe, after wins over No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, No. 12 c and No. 31 John Isner.

Speaking before the Nadal-Djokovic semifinal was over, Tsitsipas looked ahead to facing a fifth seeded opponent over these two weeks.

“Both of them, it will have to be physical. Both of them, attention to detail, full concentration,” Tsitsipas said. “There isn’t much difference between those two.”

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.”