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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Isabeau Levito, Bradie Tennell, Amber Glenn named to U.S. team for World Championships

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SAN JOSE, Calif. – With a calm command belying her age, Isabeau Levito has taken control of U.S. women’s skating at age 15.

Levito came here as the solid favorite to take her first national title, and she did it with a seemingly effortless grace, her balletic style producing solid winning performances in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate.

She was the last of 18 skaters in the free skate, following rivals who made mistakes big and small. Levito did not need perfection, but her skating approached it, even if the execution of some jumps could have been better.

Levito left no doubt of her superiority and burst into a wide smile even before the scores were announced. After a narrow win over Bradie Tennell (.02 points) in the short program, Levito (223.33) wound up 10.21 points ahead of the runner-up Tennell (213.12) in the final standings.

Amber Glenn was third at 207.44. She, Levito and Tennell will fill the three women’s places on the U.S. team for the March World Championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Two of the three U.S. women’s skaters on the 2022 Olympic team have announced their retirements (Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell; Karen Chen is a student at Cornell and might not return). Given that and Tennell’s recurrent problems with injuries, Levito’s stature as the leading U.S. woman seemed assured. Whatever pressure she felt holding that position was not evident.

“My entire goal truly for both programs was to stay composed and to really try to suppress my nerves as much as possible and to really not let little minor silly mistakes happen,” Levito said. “I feel as though I did just that today and I’m very proud of myself for it.”

“I’ve gotten very good at suppressing nerves,” she had said after the short program. “I still feel the effects of the competition. But I find my own way mentally to handle it.”

For both Tennell and Glenn, there was a redemptive quality to their skating.

Neither had a result at last year’s nationals. Glenn had to withdraw after the short program when she tested positive for COVID. Tennell never made it to the event because of the foot injury that kept her out of competition for all last season.

“Honestly, it was terrifying being back here after the conclusion of my season last year,” Glenn said. “That was a big mental hurdle for me, but I was happy I was actually able to enjoy myself again and enjoy competing.”

Glenn made her 10th career attempt at a triple axel, stepping out of the landing after getting full rotational credit. Her persistence in trying that jump, which she never has landed cleanly, is one reason she was holding her hip after finishing the free skate. Glenn insisted it was just soreness.

“An unfortunate side effect of being 23 and doing these ultra (difficult) elements is my body can’t always keep up very well,” Glenn said.

Tennell, who turns 25 Tuesday, has been battling an injury in her right foot for more than a year, then an injury in her left foot since October. She fought past all that to make the podium for the fifth time in her last five nationals – twice first, twice second and once third.

“This one probably means the most, because I didn’t think I was going to be able to do this again,” Tennell said. “To be here and to have achieved it, especially after the (poor) start of my season and the bumps that I had to overcome, I’m very proud of what I accomplished.”

Levito, the reigning world junior champion, reeled off seven triple jumps, two in combination with other triple jumps. She glided from element to element seamlessly.

“I finally skated the free the way I’ve been training to do it,” she said.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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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.

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