New dad Rafael Nadal doesn’t care about playing for the No. 1 rank

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PARIS — Rafael Nadal is a different man. He’s losing sleep over his newborn baby and not so much the No. 1 ranking.

Even with all of his absences, Nadal has a shot at finishing the season as the world No. 1. He has racked up 5,820 points, trailing only the top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz, who has 6,650. But Nadal made clear on Tuesday what his priorities were when he was peppered with questions about fighting for the year-end No. 1 spot.

There will be no fight.

Nadal has achieved the coveted year-end No. 1 ranking five times, tied with Roger Federer, and trailing only Novak Djokovic (7) and Pete Sampras (6).

“I don’t fight to be No. 1,” Nadal said at a Paris Masters news conference. “Something that I said since long time ago: I will not fight anymore to be No. 1. I did in the past. I achieved that goal a couple of times in my career that I have been very, very happy and proud about. But I am in a moment of my tennis career that I don’t fight to be No. 1.”

For now, he wants to be a No. 1 dad.

He’s come to Paris for his first tournament since his wife Maria Francisca Perello gave birth to their first child – a boy – in early October. Nadal admitted he’s approaching things differently now that he’s a father.

“It’s quite interesting how, even after (knowing him only) two or three weeks, leave your son at home and not be able to see him . . . you start missing him,” Nadal said. “We are lucky today that, with the technology, everything, we can do video calls any time that you want.”

Nadal received a first-round bye and will face Tommy Paul or Roberto Bautista Agut in the second round on Wednesday. He hasn’t played competitively since September when he partnered with Federer in doubles at the Laver Cup to celebrate the last match of the retiring Swiss great.

Nadal won the Australian Open and French Open this year to achieve a record 22 Grand Slam singles titles, one more than Djokovic and two more than Federer. But the vibe on tour is a changing of the guard, with 36-year-old Nadal passing the baton to 19-year-old Alcaraz, at least in their Spain homeland.

Nadal has struggled with injuries and played only 10 tournaments. He suffered a stress fracture in his ribs at Indian Wells in March. Then an abdominal injury forced him to pull out of the Wimbledon semifinals and affected him the whole summer.

“It’s obvious that when I was No. 1 for the first time in my career in 2008, I really wanted to be there,” Nadal said, “because I felt that 2005, ’06, ’07, including ’08, I was doing amazing results, winning a lot of tournaments, having a lot of points on the ranking system.

“Today is a different story for me. I don’t know how many events I played, like 10, and I finished eight. Difficult to be No. 1 like this. But happy to be in that position that says when I was playing, I was playing well.”

Alcaraz became the youngest men’s No. 1 in the 50-year history of the ATP rankings in September when he won his first major crown at the U.S. Open.

“It was my dream to win a Grand Slam, to become No. 1 of the world, but I didn’t expect to do that at 19 years old,” Alcaraz said. “Everything came so fast, faster than I could imagine.”

Alcaraz is set to clinch the year-end No. 1 for the first time. He could be the first player to achieve that outside the Big Four of Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Andy Murray since Andy Roddick in 2003.

No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 4 Casper Ruud have an outside chance at No. 1 as 1,000 points go to the Paris Masters winner and 1,500 points for a perfect run at the ATP Finals in Turin this month.

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.