Wimbledon wild-card entry steals set, not win, from Djokovic

Day One: The Championships - Wimbledon 2022
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WIMBLEDON, England – Even knowing what an unusual Wimbledon this has been, what with so many unexpected results and new faces popping up, and so few top seeds – and major champions – remaining, surely Novak Djokovic would not lose to a wild-card entry making his Grand Slam debut, would he?

If it did not quite seem plausible, it did at least become vaguely possible a tad past 9:30 p.m. on Sunday night under the closed roof at Centre Court, when 25-year-old Dutchman Tim van Rijthoven – ranking: 104th; lifetime tour-level victories: eight, all in the past month – had the temerity to smack a 133 mph ace past Djokovic and tie their fourth-round match at a set apiece.

All of nine minutes later, the time it took Djokovic to grab 12 of the next 15 points, and the next three games, both plausibility and possibility took a hike. Soon enough, the third set was his, and not much later, so was the fourth, and the match, a 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 result that gave the tournament’s No. 1 seed a 25th consecutive grass-court victory at the All England Club and a place in his 13th Wimbledon quarterfinal.

“Novak did his Novak thing,” van Rijthoven said, “and played very, very well. He had all the answers.”

Beforehand, van Rijthoven had said: “I’ll go into that match thinking I can win.” Might have still had that sense Sunday evening. If only briefly.

Eventually, the only true question was whether Djokovic would wrap this one up in time, because there is an 11 p.m. curfew. Running up against that would have required them to resume Monday.

“Whew. I am lucky,” Djokovic said after closing the deal with 20 minutes to spare. “It’s never really pleasant if you can’t finish the match in the same day. Glad I did.”

They did not begin playing until 8 p.m., in part due to a delay of roughly an hour at the start of this special afternoon – the first time in history the tournament’s middle Sunday held scheduled play – while a ceremony was held to honor the 100 years of Centre Court.

Djokovic, who questioned after his victory why matches generally begin so late in the main stadium, was among the many past champions who took part, joking to the crowd when it was his turn to speak, “Gosh, I feel more nervous than when I’m playing.”

If he was, indeed, jittery at all at a set apiece many hours later against van Rijthoven, it certainly did not show. Didn’t matter that van Rijthoven kept cranking out huge serves, to the tune of 20 aces, including a pair on second serves. Didn’t matter just how big the cuts were that van Rijthoven took with his forehands. Didn’t matter that the spectators, who love an underdog, were getting louder and louder as the second set came to a close. Didn’t matter that Djokovic stumbled behind what he called a “slippery” baseline twice, landing first on his backside, later on his left knee and stomach.

“He was on a streak on this surface, and I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy. With that serve and a lot of talent, great touch, powerful forehand, he can do a lot of damage,” Djokovic said. “It took me a little bit of time to get used to his pace.”

Djokovic, a 35-year-old from Serbia, calibrated his best-in-the-game returns, got his groundstrokes in fine form – finishing with just 19 unforced errors, compared to 29 winners – and was in complete control, a step closer to all manner of important numbers. His pursuit of a fourth consecutive, and seventh overall, title at Wimbledon, not to mention a 21st major championship, will continue Tuesday against No. 10 seed Jannik Sinner of Italy.

Sinner reached his first quarterfinal at the All England Club by eliminating No. 5 Carlos Alcaraz 6-1, 6-4, 6-7 (8), 6-3 earlier.

The other quarterfinal on their half of the bracket will be No. 9 Cam Norrie of Britain against unseeded David Goffin of Belgium. They each advanced by beating Americans: Norrie beat No. 30 Tommy Paul 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 to get to his first major quarterfinal, and Goffin edged No. 23 Frances Tiafoe 7-6 (3), 5-7, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 over more than 4 1/2 hours.

The rest of the fourth round is Monday, and the only men left in the field who ever have participated in a Grand Slam final are Djokovic and 22-time major champion Rafael Nadal. They are also the only men still around ranked in the top 10.

It’s a similarly unfamiliar collection of players chasing the women’s championship, with just one who has appeared in a Grand Slam final (two-time major title winner Simona Halep, who plays Monday) and just two who were among the top 15 seeds at Wimbledon (No. 3 Ons Jabeur and No. 4 Paula Badosa, who plays Monday).

Jabeur made it to the quarterfinals at the All England Club for the second year in a row with a 7-6 (9), 6-4 victory against No. 24 Elise Mertens of Belgium. The other women moving on Sunday are unseeded and in unfamiliar territory, never having been in any major quarterfinal.

Jabeur next plays Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic, while Tatjana Maria, 34, and Jule Niemeier, 22, will meet in an all-German quarterfinal.

Bouzkova topped Caroline Garcia 7-5, 6-2, Maria defeated 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 after erasing two match points, and Niemeier beat Heather Watson 6-2, 6-4.

“There’s no reason … not to keep this going,” said Bouzkova, who pulled out of the French Open in May after testing positive for COVID-19 before her second-round match. “Kind of believing in myself right now.”

There’s been a lot of that going around at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament. Djokovic put an end to such thoughts for van Rijthoven.

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.”