Djokovic beats Tsitsipas again, faces Rune in Paris final

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PARIS — Novak Djokovic beat Stefanos Tsitsipas for the eighth straight time, edging an entertaining semifinal 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (4) to stay on track for a record-extending seventh Paris Masters title.

The 21-time Grand Slam champion next faces unseeded Danish teenager Holger Rune, who has never been in a Masters final.

Tsitsipas was 15-40 down on his serve in the ninth game of the deciding set but saved two break points – the second with a sublime one-handed backhand drop shot following a long rally – and held for 5-4.

“Some incredible points towards the end,” Djokovic said. “I’m just really glad to overcome this challenge.”

The sixth-seeded Djokovic trailed 4-3 in the tiebreaker but won the next two points to go 5-4 up, and with two serves to come against the fifth-seeded Greek.

After a weak second serve, he used great defense to edge a rally when Tsitsipas patted a forehand volley into the net to give Djokovic a first match point. He took it with a smash at the net, cupped a finger to his ear and yelled “Come on!” to the crowd at the Bercy Arena.

“It’s very sweet when you win matches like this against one of the best players in the world,” Djokovic said. “I thought I started the match very well, again, great hitting like yesterday. I had chances early on in the second. The momentum shifted, the crowd got into it. I think he elevated his level of tennis.”

Djokovic is also aiming for a record-extending 39th Masters title, a fifth title this season and a 91st career overall to move one behind 22-time major winner Rafael Nadal.

Djokovic improved to 9-2 in matches against Tsitsipas, who won two of their first three but now hasn’t beaten Djokovic since the Shanghai Masters quarterfinals in October 2019.

An inspired Rune downed eighth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 6-2 to stay on course for the biggest title of his career.

Rune, who won both of his career titles this year, reached his fourth straight final of the season.

Contesting his first Masters semifinal, he won 86% of his points on first serve and faced no break points.

“It was an unbelievable match from my side today. I really was sticking to the game plan for the whole match and just taking every chance I got,” Rune said. “Putting Felix under pressure, that’s what my game plan was all about, and I managed to do it almost perfectly. I am super proud how I handled everything.”

He ended Auger-Aliassime’s 16-match winning run and the 22-year-old Canadian’s bid for a fourth straight title.

Auger-Aliassime beat Rune in the Swiss Indoors final.

Fernando Verdasco accepts 2-month doping ban

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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.”