Berrettini, Ruud, Rublev give Team Europe 3-1 Laver Cup lead

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BOSTON — The pandemic-delayed fourth edition of the Laver Cup – and first without Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic participating – began with Team Europe taking a 3-1 lead over Team World thanks to victories in singles from Matteo Berrettini, Casper Ruud and Andrey Rublev.

Italy’s Berrettini, the runner-up to Djokovic at Wimbledon in July, saved 12 of 13 break points and came back to edge Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime in a match tiebreaker 6-7 (3), 7-5, 10-8.

That came after Norway’s Ruud broke American Reilly Opelka in the third game and again to end the opening set along the way to a 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory on a hard court at the arena used by the NBA’s Celtics and NHL’s Bruins.

During the night session, Andrey Rublev of Russia edged Diego Schwartzman of Argentina in another match tiebreaker 4-6, 6-3, 11-9 to put Team Europe ahead 3-0, before John Isner of the U.S. and Denis Shapovalov of Canada put Team World on the board by defeating Alexander Zverev of Germany and Berrettini 4-6, 7-6 (2), 10-1 in Friday’s doubles match.

A team must reach 13 points to win the three-day competition. Each match victory is worth one point on Friday, two on Saturday and three on Sunday.

Opelka, whose game is built on his big serve and forehand, said afterward the setup “suits (Ruud) better than me” and described it as “slow and dead.”

“It’s the slowest conditions I’ve ever played in, the combo of the court and the ball,” Opelka said.

Ruud acknowledged that worked to his advantage, as did what he said were bits of sand on the court that made it slippery.

“It’s fairly slow,” Ruud said about the court, “and his serve, I felt, wasn’t that fast today as it maybe usually is, because of the surface and also the balls, the way they get after three or four games.”

Team Europe has won all three Laver Cups so far, helped each time by Federer – whose management company is the driving force behind the exhibition, which does not award ATP ranking points – and either Nadal or Djokovic. The members of the Big Three currently share the men’s record with 20 Grand Slam titles apiece.

Djokovic is coming off a run to the final of the U.S. Open; Federer and Nadal are done for the season because of injuries.

Federer was seated courtside Friday.

Boston was supposed to host the Laver Cup last year, but the event was postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

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.”