Naomi Osaka tested by Gauff, wins 3-setter in tour return

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
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MASON, Ohio — Two days after a thoughtful exchange with a local sports columnist, Naomi Osaka delivered a more relevant statement on the court.

She’s back.

Down a set and a break to 17-year-old Coco Gauff, the second-ranked Osaka fought back to pull out a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win at the Western & Southern Open on Wednesday, her first WTA Tour event since the French Open in late May.

Osaka appreciated being tested so quickly.

“It’s definitely been a while since I played a tough opponent in a three-set match,” she said. “It was definitely really tough, but I feel really good right now. I’m super excited to play another match.”

Citing discomfort with post-match news conferences, the four-time Grand Slam champion withdrew from Roland Garros and skipped Wimbledon. She was eliminated in the round of 16 at the Tokyo Olympics after lighting the Olympic cauldron in her native Japan.

The 23-year-old Osaka is outspoken on many social issues and announced during Monday’s pre-match media session that she would be donating her tournament prize money to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, her father’s homeland. Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty asked how she balanced her discomfort with news conferences and her need to speak out.

Osaka paused in thought and, declining the moderator’s suggestion to move on from the topic, asked Daugherty to repeat the question. She responded with what the writer later described as the best answer he’s ever heard in 34 years of covering sports.

“Um, I mean, for me, I feel like this is something that I can’t – I can’t really speak for everybody,” she said. “I can only speak for myself, but ever since I was younger, I have had a lot of media interest on me, and I think it’s because of my background as well as, you know, how I play, because in the first place, I’m a tennis player.

“That’s why a lot of people are interested in me, so I would say in that regard, I’m quite different to a lot of people, and I can’t really help that there are some things that I tweet or some things that I say that kind of create a lot of news articles or things like that, and I know it’s because I have won a couple of Grand Slams, and I have gotten to do a lot of press conferences that these things happen, but I would also say, like, I’m not really sure how to balance the two. Like I’m figuring it out at the same time as you are, I would say.”

While Osaka appeared comfortable during the exchange, her agent, Stuart Duguid, described Daugherty on Twitter as a “bully.”

In other matches, top-ranked Ash Barty needed a second-set tiebreaker to beat Heather Watson, 6-4, 7-6 (3) in a match postponed from Tuesday by rain. Three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber upset fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina.

Simona Halep, the 12th seed, withdrew with a right thigh injury.

Men’s top seed Daniil Medvedev cruised to a 6-2, 6-2 win in 59 minutes over wild card Mackenzie McDonald, and three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray was eliminated by ninth-seeded Hubert Hurkacz.

Both Olympic singles gold medalists, Alexander Zverev and Belinda Bencic, and men’s No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas all advanced in straight sets. Two-time Slam champion Garbine Muguruza and fifth-seeded Karolina Pliskova also won in straight sets.

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.”