Barty, Osaka advance, Nadal has walkover in Aussie warmups

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Top-ranked Ash Barty reached the Adelaide International semifinals with a 6-3, 6-4 win over 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and Rafael Nadal advanced in Melbourne via a walkover in tune-up tournaments ahead of the year’s first Grand Slam event.

Barty used her usual backhand slice and powerful forehand drive but also hit 17 aces and won 31 of 32 points on her first serve to advance. Barty lost to Kenin in the Australian Open semifinals at Melbourne Park two years ago.

“I was able to look after my service games pretty well and it was a lot of fun playing out here again and to get a little bit more court time and to start to play a little bit better,” Barty said.

Barty beat Coco Gauff in three sets in her season opener after almost four months since her last competitive outing.

“That’s what you want. It’s nice to come out here right from the start and know that you have to bring your very best level,” the 2021 Wimbledon champion said. “Obviously looking at these last two matches, there’s still work to do.”

Barty will meet defending champion Iga Swiatek in the semifinals. The 2020 French Open champion beat two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 2-6, 6-1.

Earlier, seventh-seeded Elena Rybakina beat Shelby Rogers 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 to advance to the semifinals.

Nadal, a 20-time Grand Slam singles champion, advanced without taking the court when Dutch opponent Tallon Griekspoor withdrew. It was only one day after Nadal played and won his first competitive match in five months, beating Ricardas Berankis in straight sets.

Nadal will play unseeded Emil Ruusuvuori for a place in the final. Ruusuvuori beat Alex Molcan 6-2, 6-1.

In other men’s play, Marin Cilic and top-seeded Gael Monfils won in the Adelaide International quarterfinals. Cilic beat Laslo Djere 6-3, 6-2 and Monfils defeated sixth-seeded Tommy Paul 6-4, 6-1.

Top-seeded Naomi Osaka and second-seeded Simona Halep advanced to the semifinals of the Summer Set 1 tune-up event in Melbourne. Osaka beat Andre Petkovic 6-1, 7-5 while Halep defeated Viktorija Golubic 6-2, 5-7, 6-4.

Despite the win, Halep was her usual critical self.

“Nothing was working today,” Halep said in her on-court interview. “I fought with myself a lot and found it difficult to control my emotions, but she put me in this situation and put pressure on me. But if you want to win, you don’t give up.”

In the quarterfinals of the WTA’s Summer Set 2 in Melbourne, Amanda Anisimova beat Irina-Camelia Begu 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 and Daria Kasatkina defeated Nuria Parrizas Diaz 7-5, 6-1.

The Adelaide and Melbourne tournaments are two of six tune-up events being staged in Australia this week ahead of the season-opening major at Melbourne Park, which starts on Jan. 17.

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.”