20 Slams! Djokovic wins Wimbledon to tie Federer, Nadal

Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports
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WIMBLEDON, England — The Wimbledon final was locked up at a set apiece after nearly 2 1/2 hours, and Novak Djokovic’s bid for a record-tying 20th Grand Slam title was at a critical juncture, when he faced two break points while thousands in the full-capacity crowd at Centre Court chanted his opponent’s first name.

Bothered, perhaps, by the challenge he was facing between the lines Sunday, and, perhaps, by the support being thrown behind Matteo Berrettini, and, perhaps, by the weight of the milestone he was pursuing, Djokovic shrugged all of that off and steeled himself, as he’s done so many times at so many moments on so many stages.

On each of the next two points, Djokovic, known for his baseline supremacy, charged forward. On each, Berrettini’s passing attempt found the net. After the second, Djokovic stared into the stands and pointed to his ear, then waved his racket. He got what he wanted; a chorus of his nickname broke out: “No-le! No-le!” Two points later, when he grabbed the game with a 118 mph ace, Djokovic put his racket behind an ear, heard more noise, nodded and smiled.

An hour later, the match was finished – Djokovic won 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 – and so, too, was his stated desire to equal the total of major championships collected by his biggest rivals, Roger Federer (who reached 20 in 2018) and Rafael Nadal (who did it last year). No other male tennis player has more than 14.

Djokovic, of course, wants more.

“I consider myself best, and I believe that I am the best, otherwise I wouldn’t be talking confidently about winning Slams and making history,” said Djokovic, a 34-year-old from Serbia who is ranked No. 1 and has spent more weeks in that top spot than any other man. “But whether I’m the greatest of all time or not, I leave that debate to other people.”

It is a popular topic, certainly. And every member of the so-called Big Three has his supporters. This season might tilt the balance in Djokovic’s favor in the minds of those yet to be convinced.

Already the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the first three major tournaments in a year, Djokovic will take aim at a true calendar Grand Slam at the U.S. Open, which starts Aug. 30. Only two men – Don Budge in the 1930s and Laver twice in the 1960s – have gone 4-for-4.

“I’m going to definitely give it a shot,” Djokovic told the Centre Court crowd during the trophy presentation. “I’m in a great form and obviously playing well. … So let’s keep it going.”

He earned a third consecutive championship at the All England Club and sixth overall. Those go alongside nine at the Australian Open, three at the U.S. Open and two at the French Open.

“I have to pay a great tribute to Rafa and Roger. They are legends. Legends of our sport. They are the two most important players that I ever faced in my career,” Djokovic said. “They are, I think, the reason that I am where I am today. They’ve helped me realize what I need to do in order to improve, to get stronger mentally, physically, tactically.”

Federer tweeted his congratulations, writing, “Wonderful performance, well done!”

This was Djokovic’s 30th major final – among men, only Federer has played more, 31 – and the first for Berrettini, a 25-year-old from Italy who was seeded No. 7.

“Hopefully,” Berrettini said, “it’s not going be my last one.”

It was a big sporting day in London for his country: Italy’s soccer team faced England at Wembley Stadium in the European Championship final at night.

With Marija Cicak officiating, the first female chair umpire for a men’s final at a tournament that began in 1877, play began as the sun made a rare appearance during the fortnight, the sky visible in between the clouds.

The opening game featured signs of edginess from both, but especially Djokovic, whose pair of double-faults contributed to the half-dozen combined unforced errors. He faced a break point but staved it off.

“Definitely,” Djokovic acknowledged, “felt slightly more nervous than I usually feel.”

The 6-foot-5, barrel-chested Berrettini’s powerful serves sent line judges contorting to get their head out of harm’s way. Djokovic occasionally took cover himself, crouching and raising his racket as if it were a shield to block back serves aimed at his body.

Not many opponents manage to return serves at 137 mph and end up winning the point, but Djokovic did that at least twice. And the big forehands Berrettini drives past most other players kept coming back off Djokovic’s racket.

“I didn’t play badly because I didn’t feel well,” Berrettini said. “He made me play badly.”

That’s what Djokovic does: He forces foes to work so hard to win every point, let alone a game, a set, a match.

Indeed, this one could have been over much sooner: Djokovic led 4-1 in the first set, 4-0 in the second and 3-1 in the third. But in the first, he faltered, wasting a set point at 5-2, getting broken when he served for it at 5-3, then dropping four of the tiebreaker’s last five points.

When Berrettini closed it out with a 138 mph ace, he shouted – but said later he couldn’t hear his own roar because of the how loud many of the 15,000 spectators were.

But Djokovic is nothing if not a fighter. He blunted Berrettini’s best efforts and won the fans over, too. When it was over, Djokovic dropped to his back on the turf, arms and legs splayed, showered by cheers. Moments later, he rose, threw his head back, spread his arms and basked in the joint appreciation of his accomplishment.

As Berrettini put it: “He’s writing the history of this sport, so he deserves all the credit.”

It was an entertaining final, with some magical points. On one, Berrettini conjured up a ‘tweener lob that Djokovic tracked down with his own-back-to-the-court flick that wound up in the net. On another, Djokovic slid into a keep-the-point-going defensive backhand and, after Berrettini replied with a drop shot, sprinted forward for a winner. Djokovic raised his index finger – as if to remind everyone, “I’m No. 1!” – and Berrettini flipped his racket end over end, caught it and smiled.

What more could he do?

Not much anyone can do against Djokovic, it seems.

He has won eight of the past 12 majors – all since turning 30. And for all of the questions about when the younger generation would step forward, Djokovic is singlehandedly holding off the kids.

In this year’s three majors, he is 21-0, with victories in finals over Daniil Medvedev, 25, in Australia, Stefanos Tsitsipas, 22, in France, and now Berrettini, 25.

On Sunday, Djokovic made merely 21 unforced errors, while accumulating 31 winners.

Djokovic’s returns are as good as anyone’s, ever. His two-handed backhand is a constant threat. His ability to anticipate and reach shots is remarkable. And he does whatever it takes: Djokovic won 34 of 48 points when he went to the net, 7 of 9 when he serve-and-volleyed.

What sets him apart above all is a quality stats can’t trace: “The ability to cope with pressure,” he called it.

When the tension and heart rate ratchet up, Djokovic is either impervious to that sort of thing – or plays as if he is.

It’s the experience. The grit and guts. The talent and hard work.

This has been a year of dominance by Djokovic, on top of a decade of success.

“The last 10 years has been an incredible journey,” he said, “that is not stopping here.”

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.”