Jessica Pegula, Sebastian Korda knocked out in Australian Open quarterfinals

Jessica Pegula Australian Open
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Victoria Azarenka displayed the same confident brand of hard-hitting baseline tennis that carried her to two Australian Open titles and the No. 1 ranking a decade ago, beating Jessica Pegula 6-4, 6-1 on Tuesday night to return to the semifinals at Melbourne Park.

Azarenka won the 2012 and 2013 championships in Australia, but she had not been back to the final four there since then.

Now 33 and a mother — she walked out into Rod Laver Arena wearing a jersey from her 7-year-old son’s favorite soccer team, Paris Saint-Germain — Azarenka, who is from Belarus, delivered big shot after big shot, raced to a 3-0 lead in 12 minutes, and never really let the No. 3-seeded Pegula, a good friend, get into the match.

“Leo doesn’t really care so much that I’m playing here,” Azarenka said with a laugh. “He worries more about his football and when are we going to go play again. Obviously, he is watching some matches, but he definitely wants his mom to be home. So a few more days here, and I’ll be back.”

Might make the trip with a trophy in tow if she keeps playing like this.

Even when Pegula did grab a game, she needed to work so hard for it, erasing six break points before finally holding serve to get on the board. It was a far cry from the sort of success Pegula had earlier in the tournament: She entered Tuesday having dropped zero sets and 18 games across four previous matches.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

The No. 24-seeded Azarenka’s semifinal opponent will be No. 22 Elena Rybakina, the reigning Wimbledon champion, who defeated 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-4 on Tuesday afternoon. That match was delayed for about 20 minutes in the first set while the main stadium’s retractable roof was shut because of rain.

Rybakina hit 11 aces to take her tournament-leading total to 35.

“I got all the experience at Wimbledon, and it’s helping me now this time, here in Australia, and I know what to expect,” said Rybakina, who was born in Moscow but has represented Kazakhstan since 2018 because it offered to fund her tennis career. “For sure, it’s just easier in this case.”

In men’s action, Karen Khachanov reached his first semifinal at Melbourne Park — and made his second consecutive trip to the final four at a Grand Slam tournament, following his run at the U.S. Open last September — when 22-year-old American Sebastian Korda stopped playing in the third set because of an injured right wrist.

Khachanov will face No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who swept Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic.

Korda, whose father Petr was the 1998 champion in Australia, felt pain in his wrist when he mis-hit a forehand service return in the second set. He called for a trainer to examine and tape it. But Korda retired from the match while trailing 7-6 (5), 6-3, 3-0.

Soon, Khachanov was doing an on-court winner’s interview, telling the spectators to offer applause for his injured opponent, while Korda was walking toward the locker room, a red equipment bag over his left shoulder and a dour look on his face.

“I kind of reinvented myself, I would say. I always believed in myself, but there are always ups and downs,” said Khachanov, a 26-year-old Russian who is seeded No. 8. “And sometimes when you have this great result, it just shows you what you are capable of and you start to believe more and more.”

Korda’s wrist first bothered him during a tune-up tournament in Adelaide earlier this month, but he said it seemed to be fine over the past two weeks until Tuesday.

“I kind of felt that spot that I was feeling before,” Korda said. “Some forehands, I couldn’t even hold the racket. Volleying was almost impossible for me. So it was a little tough.”

A three-time runner-up at the U.S. Open, most recently in 2020, Azarenka has always played most effectively on hard courts, and that showed again on this evening. She repeatedly got the better of lengthy exchanges of forehands and backhands; Pegula made eight of the match’s first 10 unforced errors.

After some misses, Pegula would sigh, roll her eyes, slump her shoulders. She often looked into the stands at her coach, Davis Witt, to say something, including one exclamation about the ball speed of “It’s so … slow!”

“It hurts to beat her, because I always want her to do well. But also, at the same time, I know I have to play my best tennis. … I knew from the first point I have to bring it,” Azarenka said. “We had so many rallies, and I just wanted to try to stay there, take opportunities, because she was going to take everything if I don’t try to win it myself.”

Pegula, a 28-year-old from New York, was playing in the quarterfinals in Melbourne for the third year in a row but fell to 0-5 for her career at that stage in Grand Slam tournaments. Her parents own the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, and Pegula wore a patch on her skirt during matches with the No. 3, the jersey number of player Damar Hamlin, who collapsed on the field during a game on Jan. 2.

Her exit Tuesday leaves No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka as the lone top-20 woman still in the bracket. On Wednesday, Sabalenka will play unseeded Donna Vekic in the quarterfinals, while No. 30 Karolina Pliskova faces unseeded Magda Linette.

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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.

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

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