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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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Olympic 400m champion, announces pregnancy

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Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo, the two-time reigning Olympic 400m champion, announced she is pregnant with her first child.

“New Year, New Blessing,” she posted on social media with husband Maicel Uibo, the 2019 World Championships silver medalist in the decathlon for Estonia. “We can’t wait to meet our little bundle of joy.”

Miller-Uibo, 28, followed her repeat Olympic title in Tokyo by winning her first world indoor and outdoor titles last year.

Also last year, Miller-Uibo said she planned to drop the 400m and focus on the 200m going into the 2024 Paris Games rather than possibly bid to become the first woman to win the same individual Olympic running event three times.

She has plenty of experience in the 200m, making her world championships debut in that event in 2013 and placing fourth. She earned 200m bronze at the 2017 Worlds, was the world’s fastest woman in the event in 2019 and petitioned for a Tokyo Olympic schedule change to make a 200m-400m double easier. The petition was unsuccessful.

She did both races anyway, finishing last in the 200m final, 1.7 seconds behind the penultimate finisher on the same day of the 400m first round.

She did not race the 200m at last July’s worlds, where the 200m and 400m overlapped.

Notable moms to win individual Olympic sprint titles include American Wilma Rudolph, who swept the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at the 1960 Rome Olympics two years after having daughter Yolanda.

And Dutchwoman Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won four gold medals at the 1948 London Olympics, when the mother of two also held world records in the high jump and long jump, two events in which she didn’t compete at those Games.

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