Olympic champ Zverev wins at U.S. Open

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NEW YORK – Olympic gold medalist Alexander Zverev ran his winning streak to 12 matches by beating Sam Querrey 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 in the first round of the U.S. Open.

The No. 4 seed from Germany stopped Novak Djokovic’s quest for a Golden Slam in Tokyo and is among the players with the best chance to prevent a Grand Slam in New York.

Zverev, the runner-up here last year, followed up his victory in the Olympics by winning the hard-court title at Cincinnati.

“I’ve won two tournaments, I’m on a 12-match winning streak,” Zverev said. “I hope I can keep the level up and maybe even play better, because to beat Novak here is going to be an extremely difficult task.”

Djokovic plays his first-round match Tuesday night against Danish qualifier Holger Rune. The top-ranked Djokovic is trying to become the first men’s player since 1969 to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in one year.

Djokovic would break a tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for most major titles among men if he wins the tournament. They all have 20.

The No. 1 seed on the women’s side was also in action, with Ash Barty holding off 2010 U.S. Open runner-up Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 7-6 (7).

Zverev came as close as could be to winning his first major title last year in Flushing Meadows. He took the first two sets against Dominic Thiem before losing in a fifth-set tiebreaker, becoming the first player to lose the U.S. Open final after winning the first two sets since Frederick Schroeder in 1949.

He certainly looks capable of finishing the job this time. He stormed past Djokovic in the final two sets of their Olympic semifinal and then rolled past Karen Khachanov in the final.

He followed that with his win at Cincinnati, where he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev, both among the top five seeds in New York. Thiem is not playing this year because of a wrist injury, one of several big names sidelined.

Zverev is one of three men, along with Djokovic and Casper Ruud, with four titles this season. But he knows the tournaments that Djokovic won make him the obvious pick in New York.

“If a guy wins three majors in the same year and then is at the U.S. Open, you have to give him the favorite card,” Zverev said. “Because if not now, then when?”

Barty won Wimbledon for her second major title and now is back in New York after remaining in Australia last year when the event was played with no fans because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I was disappointed not to be able to come and play last year but I think playing here this year with fans makes it all the better,” Barty said.

No. 4 seed Karolina Pliskova, the 2016 U.S. Open runner-up who lost to Barty in the Wimbledon final, beat American teenager Caty McNally 6-3, 6-4. Belinda Bencic, the women’s Olympic gold medalist seeded 11th, beat Arantxa Rus 6-4, 6-4, and No. 17 seed Maria Sakkari topped Marta Kostyuk 6-4, 6-3.

Reilly Opelka, the No. 22-seeded man, swept past Soonwoo Kwon and fellow American Mackenzie McDonald upset No. 27 seed David Goffin 6-2, 7-5, 6-3. But Sebastian Korda, another promising young American, was eliminated when he retired against Nikoloz Basilashvili early in the second set.

Khachanov, the No. 25 seed, was knocked off by Lloyd Harris 6-4, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Fernando Verdasco accepts 2-month doping ban

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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.”