Berrettini keeps title defense alive at Queen’s Club

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LONDON – Defending champion Matteo Berrettini stayed on course for back-to-back grass-court titles by recovering from a set down to beat lucky loser Denis Kudla and reach the Queen’s Club quarterfinals on Thursday.

Berrettini won 3-6, 7-5 (5), 6-4 and will be one of just two seeded players in the quarterfinals.

The second-seeded Italian, who beat Andy Murray in the Stuttgart final on Sunday, has only recently returned from three months out because of hand injury and was sluggish with his groundstrokes throughout a hard-fought match in balmy conditions in west London.

Berrettini’s booming serve, which took him to the Wimbledon final last year, eventually bailed him out after Kudla – ranked No. 82 – won the first set without facing a break point.

Three aces from Berrettini helped him win the second-set tiebreaker, after which he called for the trainer.

Berrettini broke for 3-2 in the third set, was immediately broken himself, then benefitted from a unforced error at the net by Kudla – an Ukrainian-born American – to break again for 5-4.

The Italian saved a break point in the next game, during which he sent down a serve at 140mph (225mph), and clinched the match at the first attempt with a winner from a backhand volley.

Berrettini, who had 22 aces and 33 unforced errors, beat Cameron Norrie in last year’s final of the Wimbledon warmup and has now won 17 of his last 18 matches on grass. Norrie is one of six – of eight – seeded players already out before the second round has even finished.

No. 7 Marin Cilic is the only other seeded player through.

Berrettini next faces Tommy Paul, who beat three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka 6-1, 6-4 earlier Thursday. Paul beat sixth-seeded Denis Shapovalov in the first round.

Also advancing to the quarterfinals were Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic, who beat 2010 champion Sam Querrey 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, and British wild-card entry Ryan Peniston, a 6-0, 4-6, 6-4 winner against Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina.

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.”