Pegula almost didn’t go to Wimbledon; now she eyes 3rd round

Day Three: The Championships - Wimbledon 2022
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WIMBLEDON, England – Jessica Pegula heard the jokes from other players at Wimbledon: “They’re like, `Did you play yet? You still haven’t played?!’ And they’re already on their second-round matches.”

The 28-year-old American, who is seeded No. 8 at the All England Club, finally got on court on Day 3 of the tournament to play her first grass-court match of 2022 – and Pegula won, eliminating Donna Vekic 6-3, 7-6 (2).

Now Pegula will be scheduled to be back out there Thursday, trying to get to the third round at Wimbledon for the first time.

Pegula almost did not enter the grass-court Grand Slam event at all. Her mother, Kim, was hospitalized in Florida about two weeks ago for what her family described then as “some unexpected health issues.” That was shortly after Jessica returned from the French Open, where she reached the quarterfinals in singles plus the final in doubles, alongside Coco Gauff.

Pegula’s parents own the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.

“She’s doing a lot better now. That’s why I’m here. If she wasn’t doing well, I probably wouldn’t have come. I flew out Wednesday last week, and within that time she was in a really good condition, where I felt like everything was fine, and I felt like my family had everything under control. She’s progressing and she’s been doing rehab,” said Pegula, who faces Harriet Dart of Britain next. “I felt comfortable coming here. But that’s why I didn’t play any warmup tournaments.”

Pegula said her husband and other members of the family are with Mom and have been passing along regular updates.

“I hope,” Pegula said, “she got to watch me play today.”

While Pegula has a game that suits hard courts well – and she’s made the quarterfinals at the Australian Open the past two years on that surface – she is displaying more and more ability to adapt and find success elsewhere.

After her breakthrough on the red clay of Roland Garros earlier this month, she looked right at home on Court 17 on Wednesday against Vekic. Pegula finished with one more winner and far fewer unforced errors, 34-20.

The contest originally was scheduled for the day prior but got pushed back after rain delays slowed the progress of earlier matches Tuesday.

“I was kind of happy that it got postponed, because I think it would have been hard to start the match and then stop it and then have to come back,” said Pegula, who works with David Witt, the former longtime coach of five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams. “That’s a lot more nerve-wracking, so I was OK with it.”

And as for the grass? She lost in the first round at the All England Club in 2019 and the second round in 2021.

“A lot of people tell me my game would be really good for grass, because I hit really flat and hit through the court. When I first played on grass, I really liked it, because it was quicker and suited my game. But the courts have slowed down a lot and so I didn’t enjoy it as much the last few years,” Pegula said. “I feel a lot better on it this year than last year, even though I played more on grass last year. Maybe I’m wrapping my head around moving on it. That’s a big part of it. Sometimes you can just feel really, really awkward. I’ve been feeling better gradually. And today it felt real good.”

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.”