Nadal bounced by 50th-ranked Harris in D.C.

Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — The good news for Rafael Nadal was that his painful left foot felt much better at the Citi Open. The bad news? His debut appearance at the tournament ended after two rough outings.

A day after needing three sets and more than three hours to get by at the hard-court tuneup for the U.S. Open, Nadal was eliminated 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 under the lights by 50th-ranked Lloyd Harris of South Africa.

“I need to keep working,” Nadal said.

He is a 20-time Grand Slam champion. Harris has only once made it as far as the third round at a major.

“All the credit to him that he played aggressive,” Nadal said. “He played well. He was brave.”

The 24-year-old Harris is 6-foot-4 with big serves that regularly topped 120 mph and produced 16 aces.

“His serve,” Nadal said, “was huge.”

Nadal’s, admittedly, was not. That might be a sign of rust, which would be understandable given that the 35-year-old Spaniard hadn’t competed anywhere in nearly two months – not even picking up his racket for about three weeks after a semifinal loss to Novak Djokovic at the French Open.

Nadal skipped Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics and certainly never quite played the way he can during his first trip to the U.S. capital.

The match ended when Nadal got broken for the second time, with Harris dropping his racket in disbelief after delivering a lob winner to close the proceedings.

“I played this last game really bad,” said Nadal, who was the top seed. “My serve was not working the proper way.”

This was less of a physical tug-of-war between a pair of heavy hitters than Nadal’s victory over 192nd-ranked Jack Sock, which was decided by a third-set tiebreaker.

About 3 1/2 hours before returning to the main stadium to face Harris, Nadal made his way to tiny Court 5 for a training session.

As fans shouted “Vamos, Rafa!” and snapped photos and video with their phones from the stands at an adjacent court, Nadal didn’t do much running. Instead, he mostly stayed in place while smacking groundstrokes, then practicing volleys, serves and returns for 45 minutes with Emilio Gomez, a 29-year-old from Ecuador who is ranked 165th and lost in the Citi Open’s first round.

Not at all taxing by Nadal’s usual exacting and exhausting standards.

And against Harris, when the points mattered, it took Nadal a bit to get going. It wasn’t really until the second set that he seemed into it, as did the fans, many of whom rose to salute when Nadal broke to lead 3-1 with a forehand passing winner.

But down the stretch in the third set, it was Nadal, surprisingly, who faltered. He now will try to regroup ahead of the U.S. Open, which he missed last year during the pandemic but won the last time he entered, in 2019.

Harris, meanwhile, continues the pursuit of a first ATP title, which would leave him 87 behind Nadal’s total.

“To be honest, tennis-wise, I did a lot of good things,” Harris said. “I think the best thing was to stay in the moment, keep my composure.”

Next for him is a match against 2015 Citi Open champion and 2014 U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori.

Other quarterfinals: Mackie McDonald vs. Denis Kudla in an all-U.S. contest, No. 5 seed Jannik Sinner of Italy vs. Steve Johnson of the U.S., and No. 11 John Millman of Australia vs. Jenson Brooksby of the U.S.

Sinner beat Sebastian Korda 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3) in a matchup between two youngsters considered possible future stars of men’s tennis who also happen to be doubles partners this week.

Sinner, 19, reached the French Open quarterfinals last year and the fourth round there this year before losing to 13-time champion Nadal each time. Korda, 21, is only the third man in the last 50 years to reach the fourth round in his debuts at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

They got to know each other on tour; Sinner said Korda texted him about joining up in doubles. After facing each other on a breezy, 90-degree afternoon, they reached the doubles semifinals at night by beating Nick Kyrgios and Frances Tiafoe.

Brooksby, 20, beat No. 2 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-3, 6-4.

“He’s going to be dangerous in the future,” said Auger-Aliassime, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist last month.

For Nadal, the past two months were not easy.

“I had a lot of problems with my foot. I was not able to practice all the days that I really wanted, but I did as much as I could,” he said. “And I tried hard here, no?”

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.”