Barty opens her 2022 season with win over Gauff in Adelaide

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Top-ranked Ash Barty had a tough opener to her 2022 season, having to rally from a set and a break down to beat 17-year-old American Coco Gauff 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in the second round of the Adelaide International.

The Wimbledon champion dropped serve twice in the first set and was 4-2 down, facing another break point, in the second before recovering to win 11 of the last 13 games.

A two-time major winner, Barty is aiming to be the first Australian woman to win her home major since Chris O’Neil in 1978.

Barty reached the Australian Open semifinals in 2020 and the quarterfinals in 2019 and last year.

She had a bye in the first round at Adelaide, one of the main tune-up tournaments for the Australian Open which starts Jan. 17.

“I felt like I played a pretty-good quality match, considering it was the first match in a few months,” Barty said. “Coco played great. She made me hit a lot of balls tonight and I got better and better as the match wore on so it was nice to come out here and get some court time.”

The second and third seeds didn’t survive the second round.

Second-ranked Aryna Sabalenka had an upset 7-6 (6), 6-1 loss to No. 100-ranked Kaja Juvan and Shelby Rogers fended off third-seeded Maria Sakkari 7-6 (5), 2-6, 6-4.

Sabalenka, a semifinalist at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, wasted a set point as she struggled with her serve in the tiebreaker. She then had 11 double-faults in the second set to give her 18 in total for the match.

The win was Juvan’s first against a Top 10 player and earned her a spot in the quarterfinals.

“I was a little bit scared at first because she’s incredible and she has done so many things really, really well,” Juvan said. “But on the other hand, it’s the start of the season, it depends on the day a little bit, and I really believed that I could do it.”

Rogers had to recover quickly after she led by a set and a break and then lost seven straight games to Sakkari.

“It’s nice to start with a big win like that,” Rogers said. “She’s coming off an incredible season last year and she’s such a great competitor. So I knew I had to bring my best tennis, whatever that looks like at the beginning of the year.”

Rogers will face seventh-seeded Elena Rybakina in the quarterfinals.

Travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic mean there’s a crammed schedule of tournaments before the Australian Open.

The WTA 500 event in Adelaide is one of three women’s tournaments this week, including two in the so-called Summer Set in Melbourne.

In the Summer Set 1 tournament on Wednesday, second-seeded Simona Halep opened with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Destanee Aiava and Madison Brengle beat Hao Hibino 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) to move into a second-round match against third-seeded Veronika Kudermetova, who edged Viktoria Kuzmova 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6).

In the Summer Set 2 tournament, 2017 U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys had a 6-3, 7-6 (2) win over Harriet Dart to move into a quarterfinal match against third-seeded Daria Kasatkina.

The main men’s event this week is the 16-team ATP Cup in Sydney, with Daniil Medvedev aiming to help Russia defend its title. Rafael Nadal is playing in a tune-up tournament in Melbourne.

After months of uncertainty, No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic confirmed he’d received a medical exemption from Australia’s strict COVID-19 vaccine requirements and he was heading to Melbourne in a bid to defend his Australian Open title.

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

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.”