McDonald to face Sinner in Citi Open final

Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — A little more than two years ago, American tennis player Mackie McDonald needed surgery for a torn hamstring tendon and couldn’t walk for weeks.

Look at the 26-year-old McDonald now – a finalist at an ATP tournament for the first time.

McDonald beat 2015 champion Kei Nishikori 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 at the Citi Open in a back-and-forth semifinal filled with superb baseline play across 2 hours, 46 minutes.

“I feel like I put it all together a little bit this week,” said McDonald, who is unseeded and ranked 107th. “You never know when it’s going to click. For me, it’s this week, so far.”

He will face fifth-seeded and 24th-ranked Jannik Sinner of Italy for the trophy.

The 19-year-old Sinner arrived at the hard-court tournament in the nation’s capital on a four-match losing streak. But he reached his fourth ATP final and stopped the run of 20-year-old Californian Jenson Brooksby with a 7-6 (2), 6-1 victory.

McDonald was a college star at UCLA, winning NCAA singles and doubles titles in 2016. In the pros, he showed real promise by reaching Wimbledon’s fourth round in 2018. But McDonald badly injured his leg in a doubles match at the 2019 French Open and the road back was tough.

He showed that his game was coming together this February, when he got to the Australian Open’s fourth round. More positive ground came this week, including beating defending Citi Open champion Nick Kyrgios in straight sets in the first round and the close one against 2014 U.S. Open runner-up Nishikori.

When Nishikori netted a forehand to get broken to end the match, McDonald let out a celebratory yell.

“Yeah, it means a lot. I’m trying to downplay or, I guess, downplay a little bit. Try to keep my cool,” said McDonald, who for years has written down his tennis goals and now is one win from accomplishing one of them. “I guess that’s what’s really helping me – not make the moments too big, getting too high or too low, staying focused, knowing the values behind it.”

Sinner can become the first teen to win the U.S. Open tuneup since Juan Martin del Potro in 2008, a year before the Argentine claimed his only Grand Slam title in New York.

“He’s fairly strong mentally. He makes good decisions,” Brooskby said about Sinner. “He does a lot of things right.”

But it was Brooksby who nearly nosed ahead, holding three set points when he was up 6-5 and got to love-40 while Sinner served.

That is where Brooksby faltered, suddenly deserted by the backhands and drop shots that have been been the bedrock of his success during a breakthrough season in which he raised his ranking from outside the top 300 to 130th.

On the brink of relinquishing the set, Sinner grabbed the next five points to hold for 6-all – or, more accurately, Brooksby frittered away the next five points.

“I was, yeah, a little bit lucky,” Sinner acknowledged afterward.

In the tiebreaker, Brooksby’s mistakes continued to mount. He tried a drop shot that Sinner got to and tapped over the net for a winner to begin things. The set – the first one Brooksby lost in five matches – concluded with a drop shot into the net.

“I just tried to stay calm, stay with the right mindset,” Sinner said. “The first set could have gone either way. This, for sure, gave me confidence for the second set.”

The denouement perhaps reflected the gulf in experience that favors the younger of the two. Brooksby had appeared in a total of nine ATP matches, 80 fewer than Sinner.

“I know what I did wrong and did not come away with it, and also the letdown after that,” Brooksby said. “I’ll definitely learn from that the most and be more comfortable with those situations as it goes on.”

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.”