Zverev denies Djokovic another chance to earn a big title

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TURIN, Italy – For the second time this year, Alexander Zverev has denied Novak Djokovic the chance to play for a big trophy.

Following up his win over the top-ranked player in the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympics, Zverev beat Djokovic 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-3 at the same stage of the ATP Finals.

“Every time we play against each other, it’s very high level,” Zverev said. “This year we played each other five times. … Every time we played for multiple hours and it was very physical.”

The result means Djokovic can’t match Roger Federer’s record of six titles at the season-ending event for the top eight players. At least not this year.

Instead, Zverev will play second-ranked Daniil Medvedev in Sunday’s final.

“He’s the greatest player of all time and I think people forget that sometimes,” Zverev said of Djokovic, who shares the record of 20 Grand Slam titles with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Medvedev, the U.S. Open champion, beat first-time qualifier Casper Ruud 6-4, 6-2 earlier as he seeks to defend his title in the first edition of the tournament in Turin – after 12 years in London.

Medvedev has won his last five meetings with Zverev, including a round-robin match earlier this week that was decided in a third-set tiebreaker.

Zverev won this event in 2018.

Djokovic committed a series of uncharacteristic baseline errors to hand Zverev the decisive break midway through the third set.

Zverev then held his nerve, saving a break point, before serving a slicing ace down the T on his first match point.

“I just had the one very bad game in the third set – three forehand, one backhand unforced errors, really from pretty easy position,” Djokovic said.

The tone of the match, though, was set in the first set, after Zverev saved a set point at 4-5.

In the first-set tiebreaker, a challenge from Zverev forced Djokovic to hit a second serve and resulted in a double fault. Then a backhand drop shot from Djokovic clipped the net and hopped over, enabling Zverev time to run it down and reply with a sharply angled forehand cross-court winner.

At 5-4 in the tiebreaker, Zverev crushed a backhand winner up the line to conclude a long rally, then produced a big serve out wide on his first set point that Djokovic couldn’t return.

In September at the U.S. Open, Medvedev ended Djokovic’s bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam by beating the Serb in the final to lift his first trophy at a major.

Dictating play from the start against Ruud, Medvedev improved to 9-0 at the ATP Finals since going 0-3 in his 2019 debut.

An inside-out forehand winner from Medvedev that concluded a 32-shot rally led to an early break in the opening set. Then Medvedev began varying his game more with forays to the net and drop shots as he again broke midway through the second set.

Ruud was broken again when he interrupted a point to challenge a call, which held up under review, handing Medvedev a chance to serve the match out.

Medvedev, who didn’t face a single break point and won 11 of 15 points at the net, finished it off with a perfectly executed serve and volley on his first match point.

Ruud, who also lost to Djokovic in straight sets in his opening round-robin match, said that getting beat soundly by the top two players “makes me want to seek revenge and become a better player for the next year.”

The doubles final will feature Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury against Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut.

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”