Ons Jabeur makes more history for Arab women at Wimbledon

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WIMBLEDON, England ⁠— To the many “firsts” filling Ons Jabeur’s resume, add a new one: First Arab woman to reach the semifinals at a Grand Slam tournament.

The third-seeded Tunisian improved on last year’s quarterfinal run at Wimbledon by doing one better at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament. She beat Marie Bouzkova 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 on Centre Court.

“It means a lot,” said the 27-year-old Jabeur, who is ranked No. 2 in the world. “I was hoping that I could get to this stage for a long time already. … I was talking a little bit to (former Moroccan player) Hicham Arazi, and he told me, `Arabs always lose in the quarterfinals and we are sick of it. Please break this.’ I was, like, I’ll try, my friend.”

She tried and it’s true, she did it.

In the semifinals, Jabeur will face another newcomer to this stage at a major tournament – Tatjana Maria.

The 34-year-old German, who twice took breaks from tennis to have a child, became the oldest first-time Grand Slam semifinalist in the Open era in her 35th appearance at such a tournament. She defeated 22-year-old Jule Niemeier 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 on No. 1 Court.

Jabeur and Maria are good friends.

“I’m really happy for her that she’s getting what she deserves. I know she struggled a lot,” Jabeur said. “It’s not easy coming back after having two babies. It’s going to be a great match between us, a lot of respect, for sure.”

Jabeur has been setting record after record for Arab players in recent years. She became the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam tournament in 2020 at the Australian Open. In 2021, she was the first Arab player to break into the top 10 of the men’s or women’s rankings, then became the first Arab to win a WTA title, and topped it off with her record run to the Wimbledon quarterfinals.

This year, things have been going even better for Jabeur on the grass at the All England Club. She won her first four matches in straight sets and was rarely troubled in any of them.

That changed against Bouzkova, a 23-year-Czech who had never before been to the third round at a major tournament. Bouzkova’s strong start, however, didn’t last into the second set.

“She gets all the balls and doesn’t make, to win a point, easy for me,” Jabeur said. “I’m glad I stepped in with my game. I was more aggressive in the second set, and especially tactically I was playing some angles that she didn’t like much.”

Maria also lost the first set before recovering to win the next two. The victory made her only the sixth woman to reach the Wimbledon semifinals after turning 34 years old.

The previous five women – Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Venus Williams and Serena Williams – won a combined 30 titles at the All England Club in their careers.

“To be in a list of such great players, it’s amazing,” said Maria, who had only ever reached the third round at a major once before – at Wimbledon in 2015. “I mean, to have my name in the same spot, yeah, I still cannot believe it, really.”

Maria is making her 10th appearance at the All England Club – her participation was twice interrupted to have children. Her first daughter was born in 2013 and the second came in 2021.

Tennis, despite this incredible run at Wimbledon, has taken a back seat to family ever since the kids came along.

“I think for me, that’s the most important in my life, to be a mom of my two kids. Nothing will change this,” Maria said. “I’m in the semifinal of Wimbledon, it’s crazy, but I’m still a mom. After this I will go out over there and I will see my kids and I will do the same thing what I do every single day.”

Maria was ranked outside the top 250 as recently as March, but she has worked her way back to No. 103.

She returned from her second maternity leave about a year ago and lost in the first round of the U.S. Open. At the majors this year, she lost in the first round at both the Australian Open and the French Open.

“I always believed that I have something inside, I mean, that I can do this,” Maria said. “I always believed in this, but to be now here in this spot … one year ago I gave birth to my second daughter. If somebody would tell me one year later you are in a semifinal of Wimbledon, that’s crazy.”

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.”