Fernandez beats Kerber at U.S. Open to follow Osaka upset

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Raising her right fist overhead to celebrate shot after shot, 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez demonstrated that her upset of defending champion Naomi Osaka at the U.S. Open was certainly no fluke by beating another past title winner at Flushing Meadows.

With grit and guile, and a veteran’s poise in the face of a big deficit against a much more accomplished opponent, the unseeded Fernandez grabbed the last five games to beat 2016 champion Angelique Kerber 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 in the fourth round in Louis Armstrong Stadium.

“At the end it, was just two, three points which decide the match,” the 16th-seeded Kerber said. “She took it in her hands.”

Just like against Osaka in Arthur Ashe Stadium two nights earlier, Fernandez dropped the opening set. Just like against Osaka, Fernandez trailed in the second set, too – this time, Kerber led by a break at 4-2.

But for the second match in a row on a big court, the 73rd-ranked Canadian got the crowd on her side, exulting each time she hit one of her on-the-run, impossible-angle groundstrokes. She’d pump a fist. She’d windmill her arms. And she got to do so repeatedly, ending up with a 45-28 edge in winners.

How does Fernandez remain steady in these tight matches against foes who’ve been through these sorts of moments much more than she has?

“I honestly don’t know,” Fernandez said. “I just try to use all my training from back home. They told me to take it point by point and that’s what I tried to focus on. I was glad I was able to execute it.”

Fernandez is a left-hander who redirects opponent’s shots swiftly and seemingly with ease, sometimes dropping to a knee near the baseline to get the proper leverage. That’s a very similar style to the one Kerber used to reach No. 1 in the rankings and claim three Grand Slam titles.

“She’s always … enjoying her tennis out there,” Kerber said. “I think she can go really far in the next few years.”

Kerber would know. She has won more matches at the U.S. Open – and at all Grand Slam tournaments – than any other woman in the draw. She is 33 and has been playing well enough to get to the Wimbledon semifinals in July.

But she could not stay with Fernandez and seemed bothered by it, looking over at her guest box with arms spread apart while muttering something in the final game.

It wasn’t much earlier in the match that she seemed to be steadying herself and ready to push Fernandez in the third set. Indeed, Kerber held a break point with a chance to go up 3-1, but Fernandez erased that chance with a cross-court forehand winner.

Kerber wouldn’t claim another game.

She tried to make a final stand when Fernandez served for the victory. Kerber again got to break point, but Fernandez delivered an on-the-run forehand winner get to deuce. A corner-to-corner backhand that somehow extended a point before Kerber missed created a match point. And Kerber’s backhand into the net ended it.

Fernandez raised both arms, then leaned forward with her hands on her knees and smiled. She stood and patted her chest with her palm, while Kerber walked around the net to offer a clasp of hands and an arm around Fernandez’s shoulders.

Now Fernandez, who only once had been as far as the third round at a major tournament until now, will meet No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina in the quarterfinals.

“Hopefully,” Fernandez told the Armstrong crowd, “you guys will all be there cheering me on, and we’ll see how it goes.”

Fernandez is among several fresh faces making moves at this most tumultuous of U.S. Opens, where the question at the start of each day has become, “Who will pull off a surprise?” – and there tend to be multiple answers by each night.

Consider Botic van de Zandschulp part of Sunday’s group. He’s a 25-year-old Dutchman ranked 117th who became just the third male qualifier to get to the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows since the Open era began in 1968.

As it is, only nine seeded men made it to Week 2, the fewest at the U.S. Open since 2005, and van de Zandschulp reduced the total by one with a 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 5-7, 6-1 victory over No. 11 Diego Schwartzman in 4 hours, 20 minutes.

“Before the tournament,” van de Zandschulp observed, “no one expected me to reach the quarterfinals here.”

Seems fair.

After all, he had a 2-3 career record in Grand Slam matches until this tournament. And he was enough of an unknown quantity that Schwartzman watched some videos of old matches to get a sense of what to anticipate.

Even that didn’t work.

“I was thinking he was trying to play aggressive, trying to do winners. It was a little bit different. He was doing the slices, passing shots,” said Schwartzman, a semifinalist at last year’s French Open. “The mix that he did, it was working.”

Now comes a tough test against No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, a two-time major finalist who moved on – as expected – by beating Dan Evans 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.

The other men’s fourth-round matchups later Sunday were 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz – who defeated No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday – against qualifier Peter Gojowczyk, and No. 12 Felix-Auger Aliassime against Frances Tiafoe.

For the women, it was No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka vs. No. 15 Elise Mertens, and two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza vs. 2021 French Open champ Barbora Krejcikova.

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.”