Spanish teen Alcaraz upends No. 3 Tsitsipas in 5 at U.S. Open

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NEW YORK – Until now, 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz has exhibited enough promise and precociousness to make people think he eventually could succeed Rafael Nadal as Spain’s top tennis player. On Friday at the U.S. Open, with a dramatic five-set victory over No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alcaraz showed why he’s been getting so much attention already.

With a tenacity to match his talent, and boosted by a rowdy Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd a tad tired of Tsitsipas’ penchant for taking lengthy breaks between sets, Alcaraz won 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 0-6, 7-6 (5) in just over four hours to become the youngest man in the fourth round at Flushing Meadows since a couple of guys named Pete Sampras and Michael Chang in 1989.

“I just don’t know what happened out there in the court,” the 55th-ranked Alcaraz said after what was only his 10th Grand Slam contest. “I can’t believe that I beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in an epic match. For me, it’s a dream come true.”

His was not the only significant victory for an 18-year-old against a top player: Later in that same arena, 2018 and 2020 champion Naomi Osaka tossed and spiked her racket as she let her lead slip away in what turned into a 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4 loss to Canadian teen Leylah Fernandez.

“Honestly, I wasn’t focusing on Naomi,” Fernandez said. “I was only focusing on myself and what I needed to do.”

Both Alcaraz and Fernandez made sure during on-court interviews to thank the fans, who are making up for last year’s absence – no spectators were allowed because of the coronavirus pandemic then, but it’s full capacity now – with plenty of noise.

They booed Osaka for turning her back to the court and holding up action in the final game. They chanted “Let’s go, Carlos!” during his win and rose to their feet for ovations at various points, including right before the concluding tiebreaker, with Alcaraz waving his arms to request, and receive, even more support.

“He can be a contender for Grand Slam titles,” said Tsitsipas, the runner-up at the French Open this year. “He has the game to be there.”

At night in Ashe, four-time major champion Naomi Osaka was scheduled to face 18-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez.

In earlier action, three women with multiple major titles each – Garbine Muguruza, Simona Halep and Angelique Kerber – pulled out three-set victories to advance to Week 2.

Muguruza got past Victoria Azarenka, a three-time U.S. Open runner-up including a year ago, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 and next faces French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova. Kerber, who won the title in New York in 2016, defeated 2017 champ Sloane Stephens 5-7, 6-2, 6-3. And Halep was a 7-6 (11), 4-6, 6-3 winner over Elena Rybakina.

Alcaraz showed off so many skills against Tsitsipas. Big cuts off both wings, so big that this was the assessment offered by Tsitsipas: “I’ve never seen someone hit the ball so hard.” And that was backed up by the stats, none more remarkable than the one showing that Alcaraz finished with 45 winners off forehands and backhands, compared with 14 for Tsitsipas.

There was more. So much more. A serve with some pop, reaching 134 mph. Returns that were too much to handle. And drop shots. So many drop shots, some of which claimed points outright, others of which laid the groundwork for a lob or a just-the-right-angle passing winner. Alcaraz even won one point with the help of a back-to-the-net, through-the-legs tweener.

As impressive as all of that may have been, nothing stood out about the kid as much as the mental strength required to hang in there in the crucible of a Grand Slam fifth set in the biggest arena in tennis against a top player. Especially after getting shut out in the fourth.

“He dealt with it really well,” Tsitsipas said.

And he meant everything: the scene, the setting, the stakes. Alcaraz had some fun along the way, too, interacting with the ticket-holders, pumping his fists, yelling “Vamos!” and, after some of his best shots, nodding confidently in the direction of his coach, 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero.

When it ended with Alcaraz smacking an inside-out forehand winner, he flung away his racket, dropped onto his back and covered his face with both hands.

“I had to be aggressive until the last point,” he said later. “I think I did.”

He stayed down for several moments, his chest heaving. After rising to go to the net, Alcaraz got a pat on the shoulder from Tsitsipas. Alcaraz then again put his palms over his eyes and squeezed his eyes shut.

This is the sort of triumph others have seen coming for him, and the milestones keep arriving.

He already was the youngest man to make two third-round runs at a major since Novak Djokovic in 2005. And the youngest to win at least one match at each Slam in a year since 1989, when that was done by Goran Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon champion who now is one of Djokovic’s coaches.

Now add this: Alcaraz is the youngest man to beat a top-three player at a Grand Slam tournament since the ATP computerized rankings started in 1973.

“It was supposed to be my match. Today was a match that I shouldn’t have lost,” said Tsitsipas, who had been the subject of criticism from first-round Andy Murray and others for taking what they thought was too long when heading off court for several minutes for an allowed toilet break.

This time, Tsitsipas did leave after the third set, but just for a few minutes (Alcaraz departed, too, and returned 30 seconds sooner). After the fourth, Alcaraz got treated on the sideline by a trainer who massaged his legs and lower back.

At the end of the fifth set, with the outcome in the balance, Alcaraz was better.

“You feel like you’re in control and it doesn’t really go your way at the end,” Tsitsipas said. “It’s kind of bitter, I would say.”

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.”