Australian Open has most U.S. men in quarterfinals of a Slam since 2005

Ben Shelton
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MELBOURNE, Australia — The next stop on Ben Shelton’s first trip outside the United States will be a spot in the Australian Open quarterfinals.

The 20-year-old NCAA champion from the University of Florida extended his stay in his debut at Melbourne Park by pulling out a 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 6-2 victory over J.J. Wolf in an all-American matchup in John Cain Arena on Monday.

Shelton is playing in only his second Grand Slam tournament — and using his passport for the first time — and he credited himself with being “energetic” and “courageous” across the more than 3 1/2 hours he and Wolf traded big cuts and momentum shifts on a day where the temperature rose above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius).

Now the 89th-ranked Shelton meets yet another unseeded American, 35th-ranked Tommy Paul, who eliminated No. 24 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 on Monday.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

They join Sebastian Korda — his dad won the 1998 Australian Open — to give the U.S. three men in the quarterfinals in Melbourne for the first time since 2000. Back then, the trio was Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Chris Woodruff.

The last time the U.S. had two male quarterfinalists at a Grand Slam was the 2011 U.S. Open. The last time it had three was the 2005 U.S. Open.

Shelton, Paul and Korda are all in the final eight at a major for the first time. Not the case, of course, for Novak Djokovic, the 21-time Grand Slam champion who looked indomitable during a 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 win over No. 22 seed Alex de Minaur of Australia and declared that his bothersome left hamstring is no longer an issue.

“I didn’t feel anything today,” Djokovic said, noting that he has been taking “a lot of” anti-inflammatory pills.

Djokovic, who couldn’t play in last year’s Australian Open because he wasn’t vaccinated against COVID-19, moved a step closer to a record-extending 10th championship in Melbourne by never facing a break point and by claiming a half-dozen of de Minaur’s service games.

Djokovic moves on to a matchup against No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev. The Russian kept coming back, kept coming back, kept coming back — from down 5-2 in the fifth set, from facing a pair of match points while trailing 6-5, from deficits of 5-0 and 7-2 in the first-to-10 concluding tiebreaker — before finally putting away No. 9 Holger Rune 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (11-9) at Rod Laver Arena.

Rublev won it when his backhand return slipped off the net cord and barely, just barely, made it over onto Rune’s side of the court, impossible to reach. Rublev dropped to his back at the baseline and raised both arms as if to say, “Sorry!” — or perhaps “Sorry. Not sorry!” — while Rune also flung away his racket.

“I have no words, man. I’m shaking,” said Rublev, who is 0-6 in Grand Slam quarterfinals for his career. “That ball was exactly on my side and I don’t know how (it) went over.”

Advancing in the women’s draw Monday were Magda Linette — into the quarterfinals of a Slam for the first time at age 31 and in her 30th appearance at a major — Karolina Pliskova, Aryna Sabalenka and Donna Vekic.

The left-handed Shelton comes equipped with a powerful serve that produced the fastest offering of the tournament so far, at 142 mph during his first-round victory, an instinct for defense and a competitive streak. Against Wolf, who played college tennis at Ohio State and also was playing in the main draw in Melbourne for the first time, Shelton only faced two break points and saved them both.

At times a bit quiet in the early going under the sun, Shelton grew more and more loud and animated as the shadows crept across the blue playing surface and the scoreline increased the intensity.

He would throw uppercuts and yell, “Come on!” or “Let’s go!” after winning points, and when the close contest came to a close, Shelton jutted out his tongue and flexed his arms.

“Definitely a grueling match,” said Shelton, whose father, Bryan, reached a career-best ranking of No. 55 as a pro and now coaches the Florida men’s team.

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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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