Muguruza, Halep take rare strong U.S. Open runs into 4th round

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NEW YORK – Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep have mastered the grass at Wimbledon and conquered the clay at the French Open.

Maybe they finally have the answers for the hard courts of the U.S. Open.

The two-time Grand Slam champions both pulled out three-set victories Friday to reach the fourth round of the year’s final Grand Slam tournament.

Muguruza beat three-time U.S. Open finalist Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 to match her best showing in New York.

The No. 9 seed from Spain reached the round of 16 in 2017, right after winning her Wimbledon title. She hadn’t been past the second round since, though said she’s always liked playing in New York despite her struggles.

“This year so far it’s working, so I just want to keep going,” Muguruza said.

Same with Halep, who fought through a marathon first-set tiebreaker and eventually beat Elena Rybakina 7-6 (11), 4-6, 6-3 to reach the U.S. Open fourth round for the first time since 2016.

Daniil Medvedev had a much easier time, as he has the entire first week. The No. 2 seed and 2019 runner-up beat Pablo Andujar 6-0, 6-4, 6-3 and has dropped just 22 games in three rounds.

Both Muguruza and Halep have been finalists at the Australian Open, also played on a hard court. But the U.S. Open had proven a more difficult puzzle for both – more difficult than Halep even realized.

She said during her interview on the court after the match that it was good to be playing this late in the U.S. Open for the first time in three years. Her brother sent her a message saying it was actually two years longer.

“I correct it now,” she said during her news conference.

Halep had lost in the first round in both 2017 and 2018 – the latter the first time that had happened to the No. 1 seed in the first round at the U.S. Open – and her success this time was tough to expect after she missed Wimbledon and the French Open with a calf injury.

The No. 12 seed from Romania needed seven set points to finally win the tiebreaker – after she was broken at love when serving for the set at 6-5.

She eventually won it when the 19th-seeded Rybakina double-faulted, then worked her way to the round of 16 for the first time since reaching the quarterfinals in 2016.

“I know that every match is a battle,” Halep said. “But I’m there, and if I’m healthy, I’m confident that I can play my game.”

Muguruza will next play No. 8 seed Barbora Krejcikova, the French Open champion who is into the fourth round in her debut in the main draw of the U.S. Open.

Another matchup of women’s Grand Slam champions was ahead later Friday when Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open winner, faced 2016 champion and No. 16 seed Angelique Kerber.

No. 3 seed Naomi Osaka, who won her second U.S. Open title last year, was expected to be back on the court for the first time since the first night of the tournament to face Leylah Fernandez in a third-round evening match.

Osaka received a walkover into the third round when opponent Olga Danilovic withdrew Wednesday with a viral illness unrelated to COVID-19.

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

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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.”