Qinwen, Samsonova set up China-Russia tennis final in Tokyo

Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports
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TOKYO – Rising teenager Zheng Qinwen continued her winning run at the Toray Pan Pacific tournament, beating the sole remaining seed Veronika Kudermetova 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) in the semifinals at the Ariake Coliseum.

In another Chinese-Russian matchup, unseeded Liudmila Samsonova overcame Zhang Shuai 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.

In a match that lasted a little over three hours, Qinwen and fourth-seeded Kudermetova traded huge ground shots, big serves and plenty of errors as they pushed each other to the limits.

Qinwen, who ousted top seed Paula Badosa in the second round, had an early advantage after breaking Kudermetova in the fourth game, but the Russian player stayed on track and broke the 19-year-old Chinese in the seventh and ninth games to secure the set.

There was just one break of serve in the remainder of the match when an error by Kudermetova gave Qinwen the advantage in the second set.

Qinwen had to save herself on many occasions, but her errors were often matched by great recoveries. The grueling match started to take its toll on Kudermetova and she needed a medical timeout for an arm problem after going 6-5 up in the final set.

World No. 36 Qinwen then served to love to set up the tiebreak and errors by Kudermetova, including a double-fault at 2-5, saw the Russian’s hopes of reaching the final unfold.

Qinwen, who will be in her first final, will need to be much more efficient to beat Samsonova, especially on her own service games. She had eight aces to Kudermetova’s six but 24 more second serves than her opponent.

“I feel so amazing to arrive in the final,” Qinwen said. “Today was a really, really difficult match. Every point was so important and there were a lot of emotions. My opponent played really good. She has a good serve and really good baseline shots and it was not easy.”

Samsonova, who won two tournaments and reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open in August, sent down an early message in her first service game against Shuai with a couple of aces that topped 180 kph.

She broke the 33-year-old Chinese in the next game with some powerful ground strokes. But she was also broken in her second service game after some unforced errors, recovering to win her next two service games to love.

World No. 28 Shuai played steady tennis but the 30th-ranked Samsonova’s errors kept the match even as the set headed to a tiebreak. A blistering forehand into the right corner gave her setpoint and she took the first set with one of her 13 aces.

After breaking Samsonova in the first game of the second set, Shuai then blew a 40-0 lead in the next game and lost her own serve.

Shuai didn’t look to have any answers as the 23-year-old Russian upped her game and she was broken in her final two service games, effectively ending the contest.

“I didn’t expect this at all,” said Samsonova, who beat Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the first round and third seed Garbine Muguruza in the quarterfinals. “I came here to try to play my best and I’m in the final.

“It’s amazing. It was a very mental game because she was playing amazing so I tried to stay in there and play with her game. It was tough, but in the tiebreak I think I played better.”

Shuai is confident compatriot Qinwen is destined for greater things. “For sure some day she’ll win a Grand Slam,” she said. “When I played her, I couldn’t find where I could win points. Most of the time when you play someone, you find a way to play someone, you find a way to win points but with her, no way. She’s strong from both sides and has a big serve.”

Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov give Canada 1st Davis Cup title

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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.”

Australia beats Croatia 2-1 to reach Davis Cup final

Day Four - Davis Cup Finals 2022
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MALAGA, Spain – Australia had to fight back twice to reach its first Davis Cup final in 19 years after beating Croatia 2-1.

Lleyton Hewitt’s team recovered from losing the first singles. Then the Australian doubles pair battled back from a set down in the decider.

Australia won its 28th and last title in 2003. It has finally got back to the final.

“I am so proud. Australia has a really rich history in this competition,” said Hewitt, who played a record 43 Davis Cup ties for Australia from 1999-2018.

“We have been fortunate to win it all on a number of occasions a long time ago. And I know what it meant to me as a player to play a final, and I am glad these guys can play it.”

Borna Coric put Croatia ahead by beating Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-4, 6-3, but Alex de Minaur leveled after defeating Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-2 to send it to the doubles.

Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell then secured the semifinal win against Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic by 6-7 (3), 7-5, 6-4.

“This is what this team is about, that never-say-die attitude,” De Minaur said.

Canada will face Italy on Saturday in the other semifinal.

In the opener, Kokkinakis struck 11 aces, but Coric was able to break him once in each set.

“On my serve, I felt like it was an ace or he put it back on my toes,” Kokkinakis said.

Cilic, who was on the Croatia team that won the title in 2018, committed 10 double faults. That erratic serve helped De Minaur break Cilic four times and level his head-to-head record with the former U.S Open winner at two wins each.

Thompson and Purcell bettered the more experienced pair of Mektic and Pavic, both ranked in the top 10 in doubles. Thompson and Purcell combined for 13 aces, broke the Croats twice, and never dropped a service game to come back after losing the first-set tiebreaker.

Two-time winner Croatia was the runner-up last year.

“It proved too difficult on the court today,” Cilic said. “(But) for us it has been a great year again after the finals last year to reach the semis.”

The final is on Sunday on the indoor court in Malaga.