Australian Open: No. 2 seeds upset in men’s, women’s draws; top U.S. man out

Jenson Brooksby
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Oh-so-close to completing a straight-set upset of No. 2 seed Casper Ruud at the Australian Open, Jenson Brooksby frittered away three match points, sat down at a changeover and began yelling at himself.

“How?! How?! God!!”

His face was flush, his emotions unhidden, his game unraveling. Soon enough, that set slipped away, as Ruud’s confidence seemed to surge and Brooksby’s collapse momentarily continued. And then, in a blink, Brooksby was back in charge, taking command immediately in the fourth set along the way to a 6-3, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-2 victory over Ruud and a spot in a surprisingly American-filled third round at Melbourne Park.

“I was getting a little more frustrated out there that I didn’t close it out, and my mentality was changing a little bit,” said the 39th-ranked Brooksby, who sipped from little jars of pickle juice in the fourth set at Rod Laver Arena. “Those are the situations you have to handle sometimes in matches, and you’re going to face. I think the biggest question is: How do you respond? I just told myself to reset.”

So leave it to a pair of 20-something Californians to rid the men’s bracket of its two highest seeded players: Brooksby, 22, delivered his unexpected triumph at the same stage and in the same stadium that Mackenzie McDonald, 27, defeated No. 1 seed and defending champion Rafael Nadal a day earlier. That makes this the first Grand Slam tournament since the 2002 Australian Open that the Nos. 1-2 seeds lost before the end of the second round.

Both No. 2 singles seeds were upset Thursday. Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, the Wimbledon and U.S. Open runner-up, was ousted by 2019 French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 5-7, 6-1.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

Nadal owns a men’s-record 22 Grand Slam titles. Ruud was the runner-up at the French Open to Nadal last June and at the U.S. Open to Carlos Alcaraz last September.

Their exits are a big deal and make nine-time champion Novak Djokovic — who overcame a medical timeout for a hamstring injury to beat Enzo Couacaud 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-0 on Thursday night — even more of a title favorite in his return to Australia after being deported a year ago because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Also a big deal: The progress of U.S. men through the year’s first major championship. None has won a Grand Slam title since Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open.

By reaching the third round, Brooksby joined countrymen Michael Mmoh, Ben Shelton, Tommy Paul and J.J. Wolf, who also won Thursday, along with McDonald, No. 16 Frances Tiafoe and No. 29 Sebastian Korda, who all won Wednesday. The highest-seeded American man, though, could not make it that far: No. 8 Taylor Fritz bowed out with a 6-7 (4), 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-2 loss to 113th-ranked Australian wild-card entry Alexei Popyrin.

Mmoh, who lost in qualifying but got into the main draw when another player withdrew, made it this far at a major tournament for the first time by defeating No. 12 Alexander Zverev 6-7 (1), 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

“Life is crazy. Right when you think everything is looking dim, everything is looking dark, there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” the 107th-ranked Mmoh said. “My week is proof of that.”

Shelton, the NCAA champion from the University of Florida participating in just his second Slam, beat qualifier Nicolas Jarry of Chile 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3), 7-5; Paul came back to edge No. 30 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain 6-2, 2-6, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4; and Wolf breezed past No. 23 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.

Brooksby now plays Paul; Mmoh takes on Wolf.

“A lot of Americans doing really well right now, and we’re all pushing each other,” Brooksby said. “Just looking forward to the next one.”

There was also a big win for an American woman Thursday: 21-year-old qualifier Katie Volynets defeated No. 9-seeded Veronika Kudermetova of Russia 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.

Elsewhere, No. 4 Caroline Garcia beat 2021 U.S. Open finalist Leylah Fernandez 7-6 (5), 7-5, No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka improved her 2023 record to 6-0 by topping Shelby Rogers 6-3, 6-1 after trailing 3-1 early, and No. 19 Ekaterina Alexandrova defeated Taylor Townsend 1-6, 6-2, 6-3.

“I literally have the chills, because the fans here are just incredible,” said Volynets, who reached the third round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. “I’ve never played in a stadium this packed and with that many people keeping the energy up for me. It was awesome.”

Brooksby was supposed to enter the Australian Open a year ago but came down with COVID-19 the day before he was supposed to fly overseas.

“Hopefully this is the first of many many good years here to come,” Brooksby said.

His unusual playing style, including his two-handed backhand volleys, and ability to track down opponent’s shots, were trouble for Ruud, who took a medical timeout after the second set because of a bothersome abdominal muscle.

“He was annoyingly good today,” said Ruud, a 24-year-old Norwegian coached by his father, a former pro player.

The biggest problem for Brooksby was closing this one out. He held a trio of match points while trying to serve for the victory at 5-3 in the third set but could not cash any of them in.

Ruud raced through the end of that set, but Brooksby righted himself in the fourth, jumping out to a 3-0 lead. Brooksby finished things off 1 hour, 15 minutes after his first chance.

When the match ended, Brooksby said, “The first thing that popped to my mind was I was just proud of my mental resolve just to stay focused out there.”

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Scotty James wins fifth X Games snowboard halfpipe title

Scotty James
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Scotty James doesn’t have Olympic gold, but he remains king of the X Games halfpipe.

James, the Australian snowboarder who took bronze and silver at the last two Olympics, earned his fifth Aspen gold, repeating as champ of the biggest annual contest under falling snow in the Colorado Rockies. Only the retired Shaun White has more X Games men’s snowboard halfpipe titles with eight.

Nobody on Friday night attempted a triple cork, which was first done in competition by Japan’s Ayumu Hirano last season en route to the Olympic title. Hirano placed sixth Friday.

“It was a tough night, pretty interesting conditions,” James said. “Had to adjust the game plan. The show goes on.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression over the course of a three-run jam session for the entire field rather than scoring individual runs.

Earlier, Olympic gold medalist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott of New Zealand repeated as women’s snowboard slopestyle champion, passing Olympic bronze medalist Tess Coady of Australia on the final run of the competition. Sadowski-Synnott, the only snowboarder or skier to win Olympic, world and X Games slopestyle titles, capped her finale with back-to-back 900s.

The competition lacked 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion Jamie Anderson, who announced her pregnancy last month.

Canada’s Megan Oldham landed the first triple cork in women’s ski big air competition history to beat Olympic silver medalist Tess Ledeux of France, according to commentators. Oldham, a 21-year-old ex-gymnast, was fourth at the Olympics.

Eileen Gu, the Olympic champion from China, did not compete but is entered in halfpipe and slopestyle later this weekend.

ON HER TURF: U.S. freeskier Maggie Voisin on grief, loss, finding motivation

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Isabeau Levito wins U.S. figure skating title at age 15, followed by comeback stories

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Isabeau Levito won her first U.S. figure skating title at age 15, cementing her status as the new leading American woman to open the new Olympic cycle.

Levito, the world junior champion, tallied 223.33 points between two strong programs in San Jose, California. She distanced two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell, who went 19 months between competitions due to foot and ankle injuries in 2021 and 2022 and scored 213.12.

Tennell was just two hundredths behind Levito after Thursday’s short but had multiple jumping errors in the free skate.

Levito followed her as last to go in the free and nailed the most pressure-packed performance of her young career, including the hardest jump combination done of the entire field. She didn’t receive a single negative mark from a judge for her 19 technical elements in her two programs.

Moments later, she was in tears backstage.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

“I was just so proud of myself for staying so calm and staying so focused, doing exactly what I aimed to do,” Levito, who hasn’t finished off the podium in more than 20 events dating to November 2016, said on NBC. “I’m ready to start bouncing off the walls.”

Amber Glenn, 23, placed third and will likely become the oldest U.S. women’s singles skater to make her world championships debut in at least 45 years. Glenn botched her 11th attempt to join the list of U.S. women to land a clean triple Axel (tally according to Skatingscores.com) but still moved up from fourth after the short program, passing Starr Andrews.

Last year, Glenn entered nationals as the fourth-ranked U.S. woman and a hopeful for the three-woman Olympic team. She placed 14th in the short program, competing unknowingly with COVID-19, then tested positive and withdrew before the free skate.

In 2021, Glenn was the U.S. silver medalist, yet passed over for a spot on the two-woman world team in favor of the more experienced Karen Chen, who finished 35 hundredths behind Glenn at those nationals.

Levito, Tennell and Glenn are expected to make up the team for March’s world championships, decided by a committee.

Gracie Gold, a two-time U.S. champion who was fifth after the short program, popped a pair of planned triple Lutzes and dropped to eighth.

None of the three 2022 U.S. Olympians competed. Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell retired. Chen is a student at Cornell and might not return.

Nationals continue Saturday with the free dance and pairs’ free skate, live on NBC Sports and Peacock.

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