Raducanu, 18, 1st qualifier in U.S. Open semis; Zverev wins

Elsa/Getty Images
1 Comment

NEW YORK — When Emma Raducanu got to Flushing Meadows to try to win her way through qualifying and earn what would be a berth in her second Grand Slam tournament, she was not planning on a particularly long stay.

Look at her now, two weeks into this adventure: The 18-year-old from Britain is the first qualifier in the professional era to reach the U.S. Open semifinals. And she hasn’t even dropped a set yet.

“My flights were booked at the end of qualifying,” Raducanu said with a chuckle Wednesday, “so it’s a nice problem to have.”

Showing off the shots and poise of someone much more experienced, the 150th-ranked Raducanu became the second unseeded teen in two days to secure a spot in the final four, eliminating Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Belinda Bencic 6-3, 6-4 in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Not bad for someone ranked outside the top 350 in June after going about 1 1/2 years without a match – in part because of the coronavirus pandemic, in part because her parents wanted her to finish high school.

“I’m not here to chase any records right now,” said Raducanu, only the third woman not ranked in the top 100 to make it this far at the U.S. Open and only the fourth qualifier to advance to the semifinals at any major tournament since the Open era began in 1968. “I’m just taking care of what I can do (in) the moment.”

Raducanu has won all 16 sets she has contested through eight matches in New York – three during the qualifying rounds and another five in the main draw. She next will face No. 4 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, a two-time Grand Slam runner-up, or No. 17 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, a semifinalist at this year’s French Open, on Thursday.

The other women’s semifinal will be 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez of Canada against No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

In the men’s quarterfinals Wednesday, Olympic champion and 2020 U.S. Open runner-up Alexander Zverev stretched his winning streak to 16 matches with a 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-4 victory over unseeded Lloyd Harris.

Harris went up 5-3 in the opening set but got broken while serving for it. He then held a set point at 6-5 in the tiebreaker but couldn’t convert, and the fourth-seeded Zverev was on his way. The 24-year-old from Germany grabbed the next three points for that set, then moved out to leads of 3-0 in the second and 4-0 in the third.

“Somehow managed to win that first set,” Zverev said. “Loosened me up a little bit.”

Shortly after he lost to Dominic Thiem in last year’s final at Flushing Meadows, Zverev was accused by a former girlfriend of domestic abuse, allegations he repeatedly has denied.

His second consecutive U.S. Open semifinal will come against No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who is bidding for a calendar-year Grand Slam, or No. 6 Matteo Berrettini. Their quarterfinal, a rematch of the Wimbledon final won by Djokovic in July, was scheduled for Wednesday night.

“I am going to watch it, like everybody else, I guess,” Zverev said. “I hope it goes for 8 hours and 30 minutes.”

Raducanu made her Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon thanks to a wild-card invitation and she made it to the fourth round before stopping during that match when she had trouble breathing.

That tournament allowed the world to begin to get familiar with her style of crisp, clean tennis, managing to attack early in points from the baseline without sacrificing accuracy. By the end against the 11th-seeded Bencic, a U.S. Open semifinalist in 2019, Raducanu had nearly twice as many winners as unforced errors, 23-12.

She also showed gumption, both at the beginning, when she was undaunted by a 3-1 deficit and claimed the next five games, and at the end, when she fell behind love-30 each of the last two times she served before hanging on.

“Obviously she’s very solid,” said Bencic, who hadn’t dropped a set in the tournament before Wednesday, “to just kind of stay tough till the end and just play her game and kind of not let me in again.”

When Bencic double-faulted to get broken and fall behind 3-2 in the second set, she trudged, slow as can be, to a corner of the court to retrieve her towel. When she got to her sideline seat, she whacked her racket against her equipment bag, then plopped herself down and smacked the racket against the ground.

Raducanu jogged to the sideline, showered in applause and cheers from the crowd.

Just like the prior afternoon, the Ashe spectators lent their considerable support to a teenager whose name is not yet well-known and who’s not yet all that accustomed to gracing these stages.

On Tuesday, a day after turning 19 and sharing cupcakes with Raducanu and others in the locker room, it was Fernandez getting past No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) to become the youngest semifinalist at Flushing Meadows since Maria Sharapova in 2005.

On Wednesday, it was the even-younger Raducanu’s turn.

Her father is Romanian, her mother is Chinese, and Raducanu was born in Toronto, before the family moved to England when Emma was 2.

Mom and Dad did not make the trip to New York – and they’re not exactly in constant contact with their precocious daughter.

“I haven’t actually called my parents for quite a while,” Raducanu said with a sheepish smile and a roll of her eyes. “Yesterday, like the day before, they were ghosting me.”

Fernando Verdasco accepts 2-month doping ban

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

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
1 Comment

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.”