2021 Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini out with COVID-19

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WIMBLEDON, England – Matteo Berrettini, last year’s runner-up at Wimbledon, dropped out of the grass-court Grand Slam tournament hours before he was scheduled to play his first-round match, saying that he tested positive for COVID-19.

The eighth-seeded Berrettini became the second high-profile player to pull out of the men’s draw within the first two days because of the illness caused by the coronavirus, joining 2014 U.S. Open champion and 2017 Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic, who was seeded 14th.

Players are not required by the tournament to get checked for COVID-19 this year; both Berrettini and Cilic said they got tested because they wanted to after having symptoms.

An All England Club spokesperson did not respond to questions about what the level of concern is about COVID-19 at the event or whether additional measures were being taken to prevent spread of the virus, but did say in an email that organizers have been working with the British public health agency and local authorities.

After being canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic, then setting up a bubble-type environment and restricting attendance in 2021 to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Wimbledon has returned to normal in every way, with no mask-wearing requirement, full crowds and the famous Queue back in action.

“For the most part, I feel like it’s OK that players are doing it themselves. I mean, I feel like that’s the regulations in the government now: If you feel symptoms, test. That’s what I would do if I felt any COVID symptoms; I would test,” said 18-year-old American Coco Gauff, the runner-up at the French Open this month.

“I think it’s also good now that we don’t have to test every day or every other day. I don’t want to go back to that. Not being scared to be tested, but it’s also a hassle,” said Gauff, who won her first-round match Tuesday. “With the vaccines and everything, we kind of know that the viral load is low and it’s very hard to transfer if you’re a vaccinated individual.”

Berrettini spent time practicing with 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal on Centre Court last week and also crossed paths there with Novak Djokovic, who beat Berrettini in last year’s final at Wimbledon.

After winning his first-round match Tuesday, Nadal did not sound too concerned.

“Difficult to be a close contact when you are outside, when you are practicing. … For the moment I am feeling great, no problems at all,” Nadal said. “Main thing is I feel very sorry for him because he was playing fantastic.”

The All England Club announced Berrettini’s withdrawal, and he posted about it on Instagram, saying that he was “heartbroken” and has been isolating “the last few days” after experiencing flu-like symptoms.

The men’s bracket already is missing six of the top 11 in the ATP rankings: No. 1 Daniil Medvedev ( ban on Russians ), No. 2 Alexander Zverev (ankle surgery), No. 8 Andrey Rublev (ban on Russians), No. 9 No. Felix Auger-Alissiame (lost Tuesday), No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz (lost Monday) and No. 11 Berrettini.

Berrettini was supposed to play 44th-ranked Cristian Garin in the first round on Tuesday. Berrettini was replaced in the field by Elias Ymer, who lost in qualifying and then lost to Garin.

Berrettini was considered a title contender for Wimbledon, both because of last year’s run to his first Grand Slam final at the All England Club before losing to Djokovic – and because of his recent form on grass.

“I mean, he is definitely (one of the) top two, three players in the world on grass in the last three years. I mean, his results are testament to that,” Djokovic said on Monday about Berrettini. “Probably, this is his favorite surface. For his game, it’s the most suitable surface. So there is a lot of expectations on his side that he should go far in this tournament.”

The 26-year-old Berrettini, who relies on big serves and big forehands, won two tuneup tournaments on the surface this month, going 9-0 at Stuttgart, Germany, and Queen’s Club in London.

That was how he returned to action after being sidelined since March because of an operation on his right hand.

In all, since the start of 2019, he is 32-3 on grass. Two of those three losses came against six-time Wimbledon winner Djokovic and eight-time champion Roger Federer.

“I have no words to describe the extreme disappointment I feel,” he said. “The dream is over for this year, but I will be back stronger.”

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”