Nakashima beats Lehečka again to win Next Gen Finals title

Next Gen ATP Finals - Day Five
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MILAN – American Brandon Nakashima stayed perfect in Milan as he won the Next Gen ATP Finals with his second straight-set victory over Jiří Lehečka this week.

Nakashima took just 80 minutes to win 4-3 (5), 4-3 (6), 4-2, securing the title on the first of three championship points when Lehečka sent a forehand long.

The fourth-seeded Nakashima won all five of his matches at the year-ending tournament for 21-and-under players, including a straight-set victory over Lehečka in the group stage.

“It’s been a great season for me. I’ve definitely learned a lot with every match, with every tournament,” said Nakashima, who won his first ATP title in his home city of San Diego in September.

“Of course at the beginning of the year I had some goals, to win my first ATP title and to be able to do that in San Diego was super special. To finish off the year here with the title at the Next Gen is super special. I think the whole year for me has been very consistent.”

Nakashima had to recover from being 3-1 down in the opener and also faced two set points in the second-set tiebreaker.

“I think in those pressure situations it all comes down to your mental game,” he said. “It’s about staying calm in those moments, of course there’s going to be some nerves sometimes but you just try to manage as best as possible.

“I think in those pressure situations I’m pretty good this year.”

Lehečka was out for revenge as well as the title and broke Nakashima’s serve in the very first game. But Nakashima broke back in the sixth game to take the set to a tiebreaker, where the American raced into a 5-0 lead and went on to take the set.

Lehečka threatened to start the second set in similar fashion but Nakashima managed to save two break points early on.

Indeed the next break of serve was to prove the most important as it came in the final game of the tournament.

“It was a tough match. Brandon was playing very good tennis this week,” Lehečka said. “He deserved to win, he was playing the best tennis out of everyone here.

“I’m sad I didn’t take at least one set today, I was a break up in the first, I had two set points in the second, so this feels kind of unlucky … He was more solid in the crucial moments, that’s how I would explain today’s loss.”

It was Nakashima’s second appearance at the Next Gen Finals, having lost to compatriot Sebastian Korda in the semifinals last year.

This is the fifth edition of the Next Gen ATP Finals, which has featured shorter sets of first-to-four games and other experimental format changes. New rules included no changeovers after the first game of each set and only one sit-down per set after three games; a 15-second serve clock after aces, double-faults and unreturned serves; and coaching during an opponent’s medical timeout or toilet break.

Current No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz won last year’s edition.

“This tournament is great. I think it’s great that all the young, up-and-coming players come together and compete in a nice, fun format,” Nakashima said. “I think it really exposes the younger generation well, so I think it’s a great stepping stone for the ATP tour.

“To be on that list with all the past champions I think is a great achievement and we just have to keep working hard and look forward to next year.”

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.”