U.S. Open players don’t need COVID-19 shots; about half have them

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NEW YORK – When Andy Murray sat in the U.S. Open’s main interview room for a pre-tournament news conference Saturday, the moderator informed the 2012 champion he was allowed to remove the sort of light blue medical mask that has become so ubiquitous during the coronavirus pandemic.

Unlike the nine players who met with the media in that spot a day earlier, Murray chose to keep his mask on. And unlike roughly half the other men and women who will be taking the court when the year’s last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Murray has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

He wishes more tennis pros were. It sets up a couple of contrasts at Flushing Meadows when it comes to a hot-button issue across society these days, especially as cases connected to the delta variant increase.

For one thing, players and their team members do not need to be vaccinated, but the spectators who have paid to watch them – and at some courts can get close enough to the action to offer high-fives – now must be able to show they have had at least one shot.

Plus, among the players, there are those, such as No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who frame the decision about whether to get a shot as a purely personal choice. And there are those, such as Murray, who explain it as being not just about protecting oneself but also about helping others.

“I feel like I’m enjoying kind of a fairly normal life, whereas for the players that haven’t, it’s different. I’m sure they’ll be frustrated with that. Ultimately, I guess the reason why all of us are getting vaccinated is to look out for the wider public. We have a responsibility as players that are traveling across the world to look out for everyone else, as well,” Murray said. “I’m happy that I’m vaccinated. I’m hoping that more players choose to have it in the coming months.”

An ATP spokesman said Saturday that just above 50% of male players are vaccinated and the men’s tour “continues to strongly recommend vaccination to players.” A WTA spokeswoman said nearly half of female players are vaccinated and the women’s tour “strongly believes in, and encourages everyone to get, a vaccine,” with a goal of raising numbers “in excess of 85% by the end of the year,” while not currently requiring athletes to get the shots.

As recently as Wednesday, the U.S. Tennis Association said fans wouldn’t need to be vaccinated at the U.S. Open. But, prompted by the New York mayor’s office, the USTA did an about-face Friday, making it mandatory for fans over 12 years old entering the grounds to show proof they’ve received one dose – drawing praise on social media from those pleased about the extra layer of precaution and complaints from others upset about the policy and its timing.

People who interact with players already were required to be vaccinated: USTA employees, chair umpires, ball kids, the media and some security and transportation workers.

Some players say their itinerant lifestyle, regularly traveling from city to city – or even continent to continent – makes getting the vaccine complicated.

“There are some opportunities that have come up throughout the year. Maybe a handful,” said three-time major semifinalist Johanna Konta, who is not vaccinated and pulled out of Wimbledon because of contact tracing after a team member tested positive for COVID-19, then got sick herself and missed the Tokyo Olympics. “But obviously it is a logistical thing to put together and to time those things. That is just the nature of kind of our sport.”

Unlike in team sports such as the NFL or Major League Baseball, where vaccines were encouraged and incentivized, tennis is very much an individual sport, where certain tournaments offer players the chance to get shots on-site and others don’t – including the U.S. Open itself.

“We provided the athletes with the information of where they can go to be vaccinated in the vicinity of the hotel. … There are so many locations here in New York City for non-citizens to receive a vaccine,” tournament director Stacey Allaster said. “We won’t specifically be doing it here on-site.”

Coco Gauff, the 17-year-old American who was a French Open quarterfinalist in June, said she was supposed to get her first vaccine shot the same week she got COVID-19.

“The real problem is just getting the dosages spaced out and, obviously, going from country to country is difficult,” Gauff said this month.

“But,” she said, “I’m going to get it as soon as I can.”

Other players, such as Stefanos Tsitsipas, the runner-up to Djokovic at the French Open, say they only would be vaccinated if it were required.

“At some point I will have to, I’m pretty sure about it, but so far it hasn’t been mandatory to compete, so I haven’t done it,” said Tsitsipas, who is scheduled to face Murray on Monday.

Djokovic and his wife, Jelena, tested positive for the coronavirus last year after he organized a series of exhibition matches while the pro tours were on hiatus.

“I feel like that should be always a personal decision, whether you want to get vaccinated or not. So I’m supportive of that,” Djokovic said. “So whether someone wants to get a vaccine or not, that’s completely up to them. I hope that it stays that way.

Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov give Canada 1st Davis Cup title

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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.”

Australia beats Croatia 2-1 to reach Davis Cup final

Day Four - Davis Cup Finals 2022
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MALAGA, Spain – Australia had to fight back twice to reach its first Davis Cup final in 19 years after beating Croatia 2-1.

Lleyton Hewitt’s team recovered from losing the first singles. Then the Australian doubles pair battled back from a set down in the decider.

Australia won its 28th and last title in 2003. It has finally got back to the final.

“I am so proud. Australia has a really rich history in this competition,” said Hewitt, who played a record 43 Davis Cup ties for Australia from 1999-2018.

“We have been fortunate to win it all on a number of occasions a long time ago. And I know what it meant to me as a player to play a final, and I am glad these guys can play it.”

Borna Coric put Croatia ahead by beating Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-4, 6-3, but Alex de Minaur leveled after defeating Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-2 to send it to the doubles.

Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell then secured the semifinal win against Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic by 6-7 (3), 7-5, 6-4.

“This is what this team is about, that never-say-die attitude,” De Minaur said.

Canada will face Italy on Saturday in the other semifinal.

In the opener, Kokkinakis struck 11 aces, but Coric was able to break him once in each set.

“On my serve, I felt like it was an ace or he put it back on my toes,” Kokkinakis said.

Cilic, who was on the Croatia team that won the title in 2018, committed 10 double faults. That erratic serve helped De Minaur break Cilic four times and level his head-to-head record with the former U.S Open winner at two wins each.

Thompson and Purcell bettered the more experienced pair of Mektic and Pavic, both ranked in the top 10 in doubles. Thompson and Purcell combined for 13 aces, broke the Croats twice, and never dropped a service game to come back after losing the first-set tiebreaker.

Two-time winner Croatia was the runner-up last year.

“It proved too difficult on the court today,” Cilic said. “(But) for us it has been a great year again after the finals last year to reach the semis.”

The final is on Sunday on the indoor court in Malaga.