Everything clicking as Halep reaches Wimbledon quarterfinals

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WIMBLEDON, England — Simona Halep’s serve was working, her returns were landing, and the points were piling up fast.

That’s a pretty good combination for a player who just advanced to the Wimbledon quarterfinals by winning her 11th straight match at the All England Club but says she is still trying to get back to her best tennis and regain the confidence she lost while injured.

“I worked really hard in the past two, three months. I’m really happy with all that I’ve done,” said Halep, who won the Wimbledon championship in 2019 but missed defending her title last year because of a left calf injury. “I got the confidence. I really feel this is my game. I’m pushing myself to do it as much as possible. I want to improve still.”

It’ll be tough to improve on Monday’s display on Centre Court.

The 16th-seeded Halep advanced to the Wimbledon quarterfinals for the fifth time by beating fourth-seeded Paula Badosa 6-1, 6-2. She lost only eight points on her serve and saved the only break point she faced. On the other side of the ball, the Romanian won 30 of the 55 points served by Badosa.

“I was just missing,” Badosa said. “Some days it goes in the line. And some days, like today, all of them go out.”

Halep’s next opponent will be Amanda Anisimova. The 20th-seeded American finally ended the debut run of Harmony Tan, a French player who eliminated Serena Williams in the first round, by winning 6-2, 6-3.

Also Monday, Ajla Tomljanovic beat Alize Cornet 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 and will next face Elena Rybakina. The 17th-seeded Rybakina defeated Petra Martic 7-5, 6-3.

Halep is the only former Grand Slam champion left in the women’s tournament. In April, she started working with Patrick Mouratoglou, the former coach of Williams.

Halep injured her calf more than a year ago, forcing her to withdraw from the French Open and Wimbledon. She would have been the defending champion at the grass-court Grand Slam last year because the 2020 tournament was canceled amid the pandemic.

The 30-year-old Halep has said the injury made her consider retirement. There doesn’t seem to be any thought of that now.

“It means a lot that I’m back in a quarterfinals after I struggled so much with injuries and self-confidence,” Halep said. “But, as I said, I’m working hard every day. I feel like if I do that, I will get better. Actually, I’m really happy with the way I’m playing. I’m really confident. It’s a pleasure to be on court.”

With third-seeded Ons Jabeur in the other half of the draw, Halep is favored to get back into the final.

First, though, she has to get past Anisimova – the last American in the tournament.

“I’m sure that I can play good tennis again. But it’s going to be a big challenge,” Halep said of her next match. “It’s quarterfinals at Wimbledon. I’m ready for it and I’m looking forward for it.”

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.”