Ruud joins Djokovic, Medvedev, Zverev in ATP Finals semis

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TURIN, Italy — A year ago, Casper Ruud had just cracked the top 30 in the rankings.

Look at him now.

As the eighth and final qualifier for the ATP Finals, the 22-year-old Norwegian has joined top-ranked Novak Djokovic, No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and No. 3 Alexander Zverev in the semifinals of the elite season-ending event.

And he’s done so in style.

Ruud showed off aggressive tactics in the decisive tiebreaker and served an ace on his second match point in a 2-6, 7-5, 7-6 (5) victory over Andrey Rublev in his final round-robin match on to secure his unexpected spot in the last four.

The fifth-ranked Rublev had beaten Ruud in all four of their previous matches.

“I can thank my arm that I was able to hit an ace on match point, because I was so nervous,” Ruud said.

Ruud will next face Medvedev, the U.S. Open champion and the defending champion of this event, which is being played in Turin for the first time after 12 years in London.

Djokovic and Zverev will renew their budding rivalry in the other semifinal.

“Even though I’m the fourth guy I don’t consider myself the fourth-best player in the world,” Ruud said. “Tomorrow will be a fun day – probably the biggest match of my career.”

Later, round-robin play concluded with Djokovic beating British alternate Cameron Norrie 6-2, 6-1 in a mostly meaningless match. Norrie replaced the injured Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is ranked No. 4.

“I played well tonight from the first to the last point,” Djokovic said. “That’s definitely encouraging for the next match tomorrow, which will be tougher.”

French players get life bans for fixing

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LONDON — Two low-ranked French players were banned from the sport for life after being found guilty of match-fixing by a hearing officer.

Jules Okala, a 25-year-old with a career-best ATP ranking of No. 338, and Mick Lescure, a 29-year-old with a top ranking of No. 487, “admitted multiple charges,” the International Tennis Integrity Agency announced.

Neither player is allowed to compete at – or even attend – any sanctioned event again.

Okala was found guilty of seven match-fixing charges and fined $15,000 in addition to the permanent suspension. Lescure was found guilty of eight charges and fined $40,000 on top of the ban.

The punishments come after both players were involved in law enforcement investigations in France and Belgium, according to the sport’s integrity agency.

Ash Barty wins Australia’s top sports award for second time

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Ash Barty’s Australian Open singles title in January was enough to ensure the former top-ranked player won Australia’s most prestigious annual sports award — despite retiring from the game less than two months later.

Barty has been given The Don Award, named after its most accomplished and famous cricketer Don Bradman.

Barty shocked the tennis world in March when she announced her retirement at the age of 25. The three-time major winner was the No. 1-ranked female player at the time of her retirement decision.

The Sport Australia Hall of Fame’s Don Award is given to an athlete or a team “which has provided the most inspiration to the country through performance and example in the past year.”

Barty (2019, 2022) joins Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sally Pearson (2012, 2014) and Olympic champion pole vaulter Steve Hooker (2008, 2009) as a multiple winner of the award.

Barty said she had decided before the Australian Open started that it would be her last major tournament.

“This year was certainly my most enjoyable Australian Open . . . because it felt free,” Barty said in a television interview. “I played without consequence, I played like a little kid. In my eyes, there was no pressure. It was just about me trying to redeem myself, in a way, and playing how I’d always wanted to play – go out there and play like the kid that fell in love with sport.”

Barty said she has no plans to return to tennis.

“In my mind there was never going to be a perfect ending, but it was my perfect ending,” Barty said of her retirement. “It was never about finishing on a win or on a really high emotional feeling. It was just about collectively, I felt it was right.

“Now (that decision) has led to nine months of just an incredible life off the court. It’s been amazing.”

Barty married her long-time partner Garry Kissick in late July. She also golfs frequently and is reported to be playing off a handicap of low single figures.