Bianca Andreescu takes time off for mental break

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Bianca Andreescu, the 2019 U.S. Open champion, will take a mental break from tennis and sit out the start of next season, including the Australian Open, saying Monday she wants to “re-set, recover, and grow” after a challenging two years that included getting COVID-19.

The 21-year-old from Canada wrote in a posting on Twitter that she was affected mentally and physically by “multiple weeks in isolation quarantining” and that her grandmother’s stay for several weeks in a hospital’s intensive care unit because of the coronavirus “really hit me hard.”

“A lot of days, I did not feel like myself, especially while I was training and/or playing matches. I felt like I was carrying the world on my shoulders,” Andreescu said. “I could not detach myself from everything that was going on off the court; was feeling the collective sadness and turmoil around and it took its toll on me.”

Andreescu joins other professional athletes who have cited the need for time away from competition to gather themselves mentally – including, for example, Naomi Osaka, a four-time major title winner and former No. 1-ranked player in tennis. Osaka took a break after pulling out of the French Open in May and again after her loss at the U.S. Open in September, sitting out the remainder of the season.

Andreescu was 19 when she capped a breakthrough season by upsetting her idol, Serena Williams, in the U.S. Open final two years ago. Soon after, Andreescu rose to a career-best No. 4 in the WTA rankings.

But in October 2019, she tore the meniscus in her left knee and was gone from the tour for about 15 months.

Andreescu returned to action at this year’s Australian Open, where Williams offered this assessment: “She has a bright future. She’s really young; rather incredibly mature. I’ve always said I think her light burns brightly. She really has a great game to continue to win more Grand Slams.”

Andreescu won her opening match in Melbourne, then lost in the second round. She wound up going 4-4 in Grand Slam tournaments in 2021, including a fourth-round run at the U.S. Open and first-round exits at the French Open and Wimbledon.

That was part of an overall 17-12 mark on tour with no titles this season, leaving her ranking at No. 46 entering 2022.

She said in April that she had tested positive for COVID-19. In June, she announced that she would no longer be coached by Sylvain Bruneau after four years together.

What Andreescu left unclear Monday was when she will be back on court.

“I want to give myself extra time to re-set, recover, and grow from this (as cliche as that sounds) and continue to inspire by doing charity work, giving back and working on myself because I know by doing this, I will come back stronger than ever,” she wrote. “I will therefore not start my season in Australia this year, but will take some additional time to reflect, train, and be ready for the upcoming 2022 tennis season.”

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.”