U.S. over Canada easily, Russia beats France at ATP Cup

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SYDNEY — The United States beat Canada and defending champion Russia defeated France at the ATP Cup, with the the Americans taking a much easier route.

John Isner and Taylor Fritz beat their Canadian singles opponents and then clinched the match in doubles for a 3-0 win.

Isner beat Brayden Schnur 6-1, 6-4 in 66 minutes to give the Americans the early lead. Schnur was a late replacement for Denis Shapovalov, who withdrew from the opening singles match Sunday due to fatigue. The Canadian is recovering from having contracted COVID-19 at a recent tournament in the Middle East.

Fritz then came from a set down to beat No. 11-ranked Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-4 and clinch the match before the Americans won the doubles 6-4, 6-4 over Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov.

Russia, meanwhile, needed the deciding doubles match to clinch victory over France.

Roman Safiullin beat Arthur Rinderknech of France 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 before No. 35-ranked Ugo Humbert evened the match with an upset 6-7 (5), 7-5, 7-6 (2) win over No. 2 Daniil Medvedev.

But Medvedev and Safiullin came back to beat two fresh opponents in the doubles – Fabrice Martin and Edouard Roger-Vasselin – 6-4, 6-4.

Both night matches went to the deciding doubles after Britain and Italy took early leads.

Daniel Evans beat Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff 6-1, 6-2 while Italy’s Jannik Sinner defeated Australia’s Max Purcell 6-1, 6-3.

But world No. 3 Alexander Zverev of Germany beat Cameron Norris 7-6 (2), 6-1 and Australia’s Alex de Minaur defeated Italy’s Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 7-6 (4) to send both matches to a doubles decider.

In the doubles, Britain’s Norris and Jamie Murray secured the tie with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Germany’s Zverev and Kevin Kravietz. Later, home favorites John Peers and Luke Saville held off Italy’s pairing of Berrettini and Simone Bolelli 6-3, 7-5.

Isner saved the only break point he faced against his Canadian opponent.

“I surprised myself with how well I played out here,” Isner said in his on-court interview. “You always work hard in the offseason, but you never really know what could happen in that first match of the year.”

Isner broke twice in the first set and used his strong serve to capitalize on the advantage. The American hit 10 aces and won 46% of his return points.

“I actually really like this court. It’s not too fast, which I prefer. It gives me a little time to swing out on my shots being so big. That helps me out a lot,” Isner said.

On the opening day Saturday, Argentina and Spain both cruised to 3-0 victories over Georgia and Chile, respectively. Serbia, despite playing without No. 1 Novak Djokovic, beat Norway 2-1 and Poland took advantage of Stefanos Tsitsipas’ injury-enforced absence in singles to beat Greece 2-1.

The 16 teams are divided into four groups, with the winners of each group advancing to the semifinals on Jan. 7 and 8. The final is scheduled for Jan. 9.

Fernando Verdasco accepts 2-month doping ban

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports
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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.”