Jenson Brooksby into Citi Open semifinals

Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — Jenson Brooksby wasn’t even supposed to play in the Citi Open at all. Now he’s in the final four of his first ATP 500 event.

Brooksby beat 11th-seeded John Millman of Australia 6-1, 6-2 in just 67 minutes at the hard-court tournament, making the 20-year-old from Sacramento, California, the lowest-ranked semifinalist in Washington since John Isner in 2007.

“I’m not surprising myself … (and) by now, people know what to expect, in general. But, I mean, I think I still am surprising them,” said Brooksby, who started the year outside the top 300, began the week at No. 130 after reaching the final on grass at Newport, Rhode Island, last month, and now is primed to break into the top 100. “But, I mean, within myself, I know it’s very doable, and I’m glad that I have been doing it so far.”

He has not dropped a set through four victories – three against seeded opponents, including No. 2 Felix Auger-Aliassime and No. 16 Frances Tiafoe, and another against two-time Grand Slam runner-up Kevin Anderson.

No less than a tennis authority than Andy Murray took note of Brooksby’s progress. The three-time major champion and former No. 1 tweeted, “Jenson Brooksby is the sort of player I love to watch,” praising his “variety” and “high tennis IQ.”

Next up is another seeded, and even younger, opponent: No. 5 Jannik Sinner, a 19-year-old from Italy who defeated Steve Johnson of the U.S. 6-4, 6-2.

The other quarterfinals were later Friday: 2015 champion Kei Nishikori vs. No. 14 Lloyd Harris, and Mackie McDonald vs. Denis Kudla.

Anderson and Kudla originally were given wild-card entries in Washington; Rafael Nadal, the top seed and biggest draw who lost to Harris on, was another recipient.

So Brooksby was in Lexington, Kentucky, competing on the lower-level Challenger Tour last week when he found out that withdrawals by others allowed Anderson and Kudla to move into the bracket on the strength of their rankings, freeing up a last-minute wild-card invitation.

Brooksby caught a flight to the nation’s capital and has displayed a game that has a bit of everything – reflex returns, a top-notch backhand, drop shots, an improving serve – backed up by a confident approach.

He likes to say that his greatest strength is having no weakness.

“I came motivated and ready to compete my butt off here and show my level consistently, as always,” he said. “I’m excited to keep proving my level and keep going out there and competing.”

This was the American’s second time facing Millman, who beat a 17-year-old Brooksby in straight sets in the first round of the 2018 U.S. Open. Millman would go on to beat Roger Federer en route to the quarterfinals.

“I’m a late grower, so I think mostly I think I have just physically improved a lot,” the 6-foot-4 Brooksby said, describing himself as “just a small guy” during that initial contest against Millman. “Now I think my game has just gotten better. I have gotten mentally stronger and definitely more physical. So it’s definitely a way different ballgame for me in general now than a couple years ago.”

Nick Bollettieri, coach to many tennis stars, dies at 91

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Nick Bollettieri, the Hall of Fame tennis coach who worked with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Andre Agassi and Monica Seles, and founded an academy that revolutionized the development of young athletes, died at 91.

Bollettieri died at home in Florida after a series of health issues, his manager, Steve Shulla, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

“When he became sick, he got so many wonderful messages from former students and players and coaches. Many came to visit him. He got videos from others,” Shulla said. “It was wonderful. He touched so many lives and he had a great send-off.”

Known for his gravelly voice, leathery skin and wraparound sunglasses – and a man who called himself the “Michelangelo of Tennis” despite never playing professionally – Bollettieri helped no fewer than 10 players who went on to be No. 1 in the world rankings. That group includes sisters Serena and Venus Williams, Jim Courier, Maria Sharapova, Agassi and Seles.

“Our dear friend, Nick Bollettieri, graduated from us last night. He gave so many a chance to live their dream,” Agassi wrote on Twitter. “He showed us all how life can be lived to the fullest. Thank you, Nick.”

Bollettieri remained active into his 80s, touring the world to drop in on the top tournaments and, in 2014, became only the fourth coach to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. That was the same year another one of his proteges, Kei Nishikori, reached the final of the U.S. Open.

Six of his pupils already are in the Hall of Fame, a number sure to grow once others are eligible.

“I forged my own path, which others found to be unorthodox and downright crazy,” Bollettieri said in his induction speech at the hall in Newport, Rhode Island. “Yes, I am crazy. But it takes crazy people to do things that other people say cannot be done.”

The Bollettieri Tennis Academy opened in 1978 in Bradenton, Florida, and was purchased by IMG in 1987.

The IMG Academy now spans more than 600 acres and offers programs in more than a half-dozen sports in addition to tennis.

Bollettieri was an educator who would brag he never read a book, never mind that he majored in philosophy in college and even gave law school a try, albeit for less than a year.

He also was an adept self-promoter – one who would publish a pair of autobiographies – no matter that detractors dismissed him as a hustler and huckster. The truth is, any criticism was no match for the astounding success of his pupils.

His teaching methods were widely copied and tennis academies dot the globe today.

“Our sport lost one of its most passionate coaches & advocates,” Hall of Fame member Billie Jean King wrote on Twitter. “Nick was always positive & was able to get the best out of everyone fortunate enough to work w/him.”

Bollettieri’s first student to reach No. 1 was Boris Becker in 1991. Then came others, such as Martina Hingis, Marcelo Rios and Jelena Jankovic.

Just as rewarding, Bollettieri said, were the successes of less accomplished players.

“The fuel that has sustained me to the summit is, without a doubt, my passion to help others become champions of life, not champions just on the tennis court,” he said. “Nothing makes me more happy than when I run into a past student or receive a kind note telling me how I changed their lives, that they are better parents, lawyers, doctors, CEOs and people because of the impact I made on their lives.”

Bollettieri’s devotion to his players came at a cost. For much of his career, he was on the road nine months out of every year, and he cited his travel schedule as one reason he was married eight times.

Survivors include his wife, Cindi, seven children and four grandchildren, according to Shulla, who said a celebration of Bollettieri’s life is planned for March.

Nicholas James Bollettieri was born July 31, 1931, in Pelham, New York. He earned a philosophy degree and played tennis at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, and was a paratrooper in the Army before enrolling in law school at the University of Miami.

For spending money, Bollettieri began teaching tennis for $1.50 an hour, according to the Hall of Fame. More than 60 years later, his fee was $900.

After a few months, he dropped out of law school to concentrate on coaching. At first, he conceded, knowledge of tennis technique wasn’t his forte.

“I didn’t know much about teaching the game,” he said. “The gift God gave me was the ability to read people.”

Bollettieri won praise for his motivational skills, yelling when he deemed it necessary. He had an eye for talent and was a visionary regarding boot-camp training for young athletes who lived together.

He bought a club in 1978, and students lived in his house. Two years later, he borrowed $1 million from a friend to build a first-of-its-kind complex in what had been a tomato field.

The site now has a boarding school, 55 tennis courts and facilities for seven other sports, including football, basketball and baseball.

Running a business wasn’t Bollettieri’s strong suit, and he sold the academy to IMG but continued to work there, stressing a tactical approach that transformed tennis. He urged players to take advantage of modern racket technology, emphasizing power over finesse.

The academy churned out big hitters who relied on their serve and forehand to overpower opponents. That approach worked for Agassi, Seles, Courier and many others.

“In my dreams,” Bollettieri confessed with a grin, “I say, `Nick, you’re darn good.”‘

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.