Hampered Nadal gets past Fritz at Wimbledon

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WIMBLEDON, England (AP) Wincing from abdominal pain, unable to ply his customary relentless style of tennis, Rafael Nadal thought he might need to stop playing in the Wimbledon quarterfinals against Taylor Fritz.

Up in the Centre Court stands, Nadal’s father was waving his arms, motioning to the 22-time Grand Slam champion to quit. Not surprisingly, perhaps, he didn’t listen. Nadal stayed out there, adjusted his service motion and his strategy – and figured out a way to win.

With much of the crowd roaring and standing after Nadal’s best strokes, he twice erased one-set deficits against the 11th-seeded Fritz and emerged with 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10-4) victory to reach his eighth semifinal at the All England Club.

“For a lot of moments,” Nadal said, “I was thinking, `Maybe I will not be able to finish the match.”‘

He did complete it, but said he couldn’t be sure whether he will be able to play against Nick Kyrgios, a 27-year-old Australian who earned his Grand Slam semifinal debut with a 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory over Cristian Garin of Chile.

“I don’t know exactly what I have. It’s clear something’s not right,” said Nadal, who will get tests for an issue that first cropped up nearly a week ago but got much worse at 3-1 in the first set against Fritz. “I’m obviously worried.”

The other men’s semifinal is Novak Djokovic against Cam Norrie. The women’s semifinals are 2019 champion Simona Halep against Elena Rybakina, and Ons Jabeur against Tatjana Maria. Halep eliminated Amanda Anisimova 6-2, 6-4, and Rybakina defeated Ajla Tomljanovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Nadal got to his 38th career major semifinal by denying what would have been a first such appearance for Fritz, who beat Nadal in the hard-court final at Indian Wells, California, in March. That ended a 20-match winning streak for Nadal, who was bothered that day by a painful rib injury.

This time, the problem was a muscle in his stomach area, which had some athletic tape. Nadal left the court with a trainer for a medical timeout while up 4-3 in the second set; Fritz paced around the baseline, waiting.

A doctor gave Nadal some pills; the trainer tried to relax the muscle.

“They can’t do much,” Nadal said. “Nothing can be fixed when you have a thing like this.”

When action resumed, Nadal clearly was compromised. It was hard not to think: Might he give up?

Nadal acknowledged that went through his mind. Fritz did, too.

“It definitely made me kind of think. I kind of stopped being as aggressive,” the 24-year-old American said. “I feel like I let it kind of get to me a little bit.”

He pretty much handed over the second set of what would become a 4-hour, 21-minute contest under a sky of slate clouds. After Fritz took the third set, his big serve got broken three times in the next.

Nadal occasionally would watch a ball off Fritz’s orange racket fly by. Nadal couldn’t move the way he usually does. His trademark grunts of “Uhhhh!” were rare. He didn’t generate the usual zip on his serves, which dipped from a high of 120 mph to barely above 100 mph. He sought to end exchanges with a quick-strike forehand or a drop shot – sometimes with success, often not.

But Nadal is not one who concedes easily. This was his 351st Grand Slam match and he has a total of three mid-match retirements at majors (against Andy Murray at the 2010 Australian Open, against Marin Cilic at the 2018 Australian Open, and against Juan Martin del Potro at the 2018 U.S. Open). In all tour-level events, the totals are: 1,275 matches, nine retirements.

“I hate to do it,” Nadal said.

So he summoned his best for last, grabbing a 5-0 lead in the closing tiebreaker – the first-to-10, win-by-two format starting at 6-all in a fifth set is new to Wimbledon this year – and then five of the last six points.

Fritz’s take on the tiebreaker? “Got destroyed,” he said.

“Probably hurts more than any loss I’ve ever had,” Fritz said. “After the match was over, I was sitting there and I felt like crying.”

Nadal extended his unbeaten mark in 2022 Grand Slam matches to 19-0 as he seeks to add a trophy at Wimbledon to his triumphs at the Australian Open in January and French Open in June. For everything he’s accomplished, the 36-year-old Spaniard never has won the first three Slam titles of a season.

Nadal, who won Wimbledon in 2008 and 2010, leads Kyrgios 6-3 head-to-head; they are 1-all at Wimbledon. In 2014, Kyrgios, then just 19 and ranked 144th, announced himself to the world by winning; in 2019, Nadal took the rematch after Kyrgios was at a local pub into the wee hours the night before.

“I feel like that would be a mouth-watering kind of encounter for everyone around the world,” Kyrgios, never afraid of a little hyperbole, said about facing Nadal again. “That would probably be the most-watched match of all time.”

Give Kyrgios credit for honesty on this matter, at least: Even he did not think this day ever would arrive. Kyrgios became the first unseeded and lowest-ranked man to get to the final four at the All England Club since 2008 by playing what, for him, amounts to a restrained and efficient brand of tennis against Garin.

“I thought my ship had sailed,” Kyrgios said. “Obviously, I didn’t go about things great early in my career and may have wasted that little window.”

Kyrgios, who is ranked 40th, has garnered more attention for his behavior on and off the court than his skills with a racket in hand. His match against the unseeded Garin came a day after police in Canberra, Australia, said that Kyrgios is due in court next month to face an allegation of common assault stemming from something that happened in December.

“I have a lot of thoughts, a lot of things I want to say, kind of my side about it,” Kyrgios said at his post-match news conference. “Obviously I’ve been advised by my lawyers that I’m unable to say anything at this time.”

Worth noting, too, is how well Kyrgios has been playing. His serve, in particular, is among the best in the game, regularly topping 130 mph, and he pounded 17 aces against Garin while getting broken just once – in the very first game, at love.

His big forehands are terrific, too, but little else is conventional about Kyrgios. One example: “I don’t have a coach,” Kyrgios said with a smile. “I would never put that burden on someone.”

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.”