Australian Open: Marin Cilic upsets No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev

Marin Cilic
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MELBOURNE — Former U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic upset No. 5-seeded Andrey Rublev to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open.

The 33-year-old Cilic, who won the 2014 U.S. Open title and was a runner-up to Roger Federer in Australia in 2018, beat Rublev 7-5, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3 in the last match completed on Day 6 of the year’s first Grand Slam tournament.

He went into the encounter with just one win in his previous 15 matches against Top 10 players and had lost his previous four head-to-heads against Rublev, but was dominant from the start.

Cilic will next play No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime, who won 14 of the last 16 games in his 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 third-round win over No. 24 Dan Evans.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

Daniil Medvedev, who lost last year’s Australian Open final to Novak Djokovic but avenged that with a victory over the Serb for the U.S. Open title, reached the fourth round for the fourth straight year at Melbourne Park with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win over Botic van de Zandschulp.

The 25-year-old Russian was a conspicuous fan favorite on Margaret Court Arena, too, two days after being unsettled by the boos and jeers of a parochial crowd on Rod Laver Arena when he ended the run of mercurial Aussie Nick Kyrgios.

He was critical of a lack of respect in that match — mostly about the noise between first and second serves — and this time offered some relationship advice to the crowd.

“Every good relationship must have its ups and downs,” he said in his on-court TV interview, explaining that he planned to be back on court quite often in the future. “I hope it’s going to be more good times than bad times, otherwise it doesn’t work.”

Medvedev later clarified he didn’t have a problem with the Australian crowds and had been fully expecting to have them against him when he played Kyrgios — just not while he was in his service motion.

“The other night I was playing against an Australian player, very electric Australian player,” he said. “After the match, I think it was, yeah, straightaway pretty actually fun for everybody.

“That’s how I felt, and I didn’t see actually a lot of let’s say negative reactions.”

Medvedev avoided a showdown with Djokovic after the world’s top-ranked player had his visa canceled and was deported on the eve of the tournament for failing to meet Australia’s strict COVID-19 vaccination criteria.

He also avoided another match against an Australian in the fourth round when wildcard entry Chris O’Connell lost to Maxime Cressy 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-2.

Cressy’s win means there’s two 24-year-old Americans who’ll be in the fourth round of a major for their first time.

No. 70-ranked Cressy is in his fourth Grand Slam tournament. No. 20-ranked Taylor Fritz finally made it in his 22nd attempt, with a 6-0, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 15 Roberto Bautista Agut, and said it “means a ton.”

“I mean, it’s huge. Like after that match I was almost close to like tearing up a bit,” Fritz said. “It seems stupid, because so many people have made the second week of Slams but it’s just, like, eluded me for so long.

“I never doubted it would happen,” he added, “but I definitely, definitely was getting sick of playing, you know, Top 4 player for the opportunity every time.”

Fritz will next play fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas, a runner-up at the French Open and semifinalist in Australia last year, who fended off Benoit Paire 6-3, 7-5, 6-7 (2), 6-4.

On the women’s side, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep is into Week 2 at Melbourne Park for the fifth consecutive year after a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Danka Kovinic.

She’ll be joined by second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, who advanced with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 win over No. 31 Marketa Vondrousova.

A contender for the No. 1 ranking — Sabalenka can potentially overtake Ash Barty depending on results here — the 23-year-old from Belarus admits her serve is still a work in progress.

The match started ominously, when Sabalenka had two double-faults and was broken in the first game.

But unlike the previous round, when she had nine double-faults in her first two service games and 19 in the match, the semifinalist last year at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open managed to almost halve that glaring statistic.

“I’m really happy right now,” Sabalenka said, laughing, in her on-court TV interview. “Mostly I’m happy I made only 10 double-faults.”

It’s something she’ll be working on ahead of her next match against No. 115-ranked Kaia Kanepi, who has reached the quarterfinals six times at Grand Slam events — but only once since 2013 and never in Australia.

In other third-round matches, 27th-seeded Danielle Collins of the U.S. rallied from a set and a break down to beat 19-year-old Clara Tauson 4-6, 6-4, 7-5. She’ll next meet No. 19 Elise Mertens, who advanced 6-2, 6-2 over Zhang Shuai. No. 7 Iga Swaitek, the 2020 French Open champion, beat No. 25 Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 6-3.

None of the other players remaining the women’s draw has won as many tour-level titles as Halep’s 23.

Halep’s next opponent will be Alize Cornet, who celebrated her 32nd birthday with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over No. 29 Tamara Zidansek, a 2021 French Open semifinalist.

Cornet followed up her upset of No. 3 Garbiñe Muguruza by reaching the fourth round at the Australian Open for the first time since 2009.

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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