Rafael Nadal struggles with foot injury in Italian Open loss

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ROME – With just 10 days to go before the French Open, Rafael Nadal is struggling with an injury again.

Nadal was hampered by a foot problem toward the end of a 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 third-round loss to Denis Shapovalov at the Italian Open.

At one point, the 35-year-old Nadal walked over and leaned on his towel box and grimaced in apparent pain. He also limped between points.

Nadal missed a large portion of last year with a left foot injury.

“I hurt my foot again with a lot of pain,” Nadal said. “I’m a player living with an injury. It’s nothing new. It’s something that is there, unfortunately. Day by day is difficult.

It was a worrisome scene for Nadal – especially with the French Open starting on May 22.

“What can happen in the next couple of days, I don’t know,” said Nadal, who has won Roland Garros a record 13 times. “What can happen in one week, I really don’t know now.”

Nadal returned to the tour last week following a rib stress fracture that kept him out for six weeks after a blistering start to the year that included his record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.

“It’s difficult for me to accept the situation sometimes,” Nadal said. “Can be frustrating that a lot of days I can’t practice the proper way.”

Nadal was also beaten by 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz in the quarterfinals of last week’s Madrid Open.

Nadal double-faulted twice then missed a backhand long to hand Shapovalov a break of his serve and the second set. Shapovalov then took complete control when he won 14 straight points late in the third.

“Definitely tough to see him in pain there at the end,” said Shapovalov, who will face Casper Ruud in the quarterfinals. “I never want to see that, especially with a great legend like Rafa. … He brings so much to our sport. Hopefully he’s fit and ready to go for the French.”

Nadal, who has won the Italian Open a record 10 times, said his foot started hurting midway through the second set, adding: “Then (it) wasn’t playable for me.”

Earlier, top-ranked Novak Djokovic was untroubled in a 6-2, 6-2 win over Stan Wawrinka, who was playing only his second tournament after undergoing two surgeries on his left foot.

Djokovic, a five-time champion in Rome, will next play Felix Auger-Aliassime, who ended the run of American qualifier Marcos Giron with a 6-3, 6-2 victory. It will be the first meeting between Djokovic and Auger-Aliassime.

In the women’s tournament, top-ranked Iga Swiatek was tested before pulling out a 6-4, 6-1 victory over former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka to reach the quarterfinals and extend her winning streak to 25 matches.

Azarenka took a 3-0 lead before Swiatek won five straight games in a grueling first set that lasted 1 hour, 20 minutes.

“My first serve wasn’t working properly,” Swiatek said “But I’m happy that I could kind of win ugly in the first set, then improve in the second. It gives me confidence that even when my game is not 100% good, I can still win matches.”

Swiatek is attempting to win her fifth straight tournament and defend her title in Rome.

The last player to win more consecutive matches was Serena Williams, who had a streak of 27 in a row over 2014 and 2015.

“(The streak) doesn’t really matter for me because every match is different,” Swiatek said. “In many matches, I struggled this season, even though I won them. Anything can happen. Every match is a different story.”

Swiatek’s run makes her a favorite to win a second French Open when the year’s second Grand Slam gets underway in 10 days. When Swiatek won at Roland Garros in 2020 she was ranked No. 54 – making her the lowest-ranked woman to win the Paris major in the Open era.

In a sign of how challenging it was for Swiatek to hold serve on the red clay court at the Foro Italico, she played more than twice as many points on her serve than Azarenka did – 98 to 47.

Azarenka was rattled when a spectator entered the front row of the mostly empty VIP section just behind her as she was facing a break point late in the first set. When she then double-faulted to hand Swiatek control of the set, she slammed her racket in frustration and complained to the chair umpire about the mid-game interruption.

Swiatek will next face 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu, who eliminated Croatian qualifier Petra Martic 6-4, 6-4.

The loudest cheers of the day were for Jannik Sinner, the 20-year-old Italian who beat Filip Krajinovic 6-2, 7-6 (6) to reach the quarterfinals for the first time at his home tournament.

Sinner will next face Stefanos Tsitsipas, who rallied past Karen Khachanov 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 for a tour-leading 29th win of the year.

Also, 2017 Rome champion Alexander Zverev, who is also coming off a run to the Madrid final, beat Alex De Minaur 6-3, 7-6 (5).

Zverev, who is still seeking his first title of the year, has his father and coach, Alexander, back on the circuit with him after a prolonged absence for reasons the family has kept personal.

When Zverev won the ATP Finals in November, his older brother and fellow pro, Mischa, was coaching him.

“I was missing a coach for six months,” Zverev said. “That’s what was missing.”

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.”