Korda of U.S. stops 2-time Australian Open runner-up Medvedev

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MELBOURNE, Australia – Sebastian Korda comes by his athleticism and competitive instincts honestly. From Dad, the 1998 Australian Open champion. From Mom, also a former professional tennis player. And from two big sisters, both current golf pros.

Add in some mentorship from eight-time major champ Andre Agassi and a couple of coaches, including former player Radek Stepanek, and maybe it shouldn’t be all that surprising that Korda, a 22-year-old American never past the fourth round at a Grand Slam tournament, would manage to eliminate two-time runner-up Daniil Medvedev at Melbourne Park.

Korda’s attacking brand of tennis carried him past No. 7-seeded Medvedev 7-6 (7), 6-3, 7-6 (4) in the Australian Open’s third round Friday night, the latest in a string of victories by young men from the U.S. against top players this week.

“I always was told how good of a tennis player I can be. Now (I’m) just getting the right people around me, building a really solid team, just trusting the process,” said the 29th-seeded Korda, who was the 2018 junior champion in Australia. “I’m growing as a person, as a player. Just trying to do the right things. Just have fun, enjoy it – good things will happen.”

This result comes on the heels of two other attention-grabbing victories by players from the U.S., whose men last won a Grand Slam title 20 years ago. On Wednesday, Mackenzie McDonald beat No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal. On Thursday, Jenson Brooksby beat No. 2 seed Casper Ruud.

Now it was Korda’s turn to add his name to the list with a game Medvedev described as “kind of different from everybody.”

Medvedev won the U.S. Open two years ago and made it to the final in Australia in 2021, when he lost to Novak Djokovic, and 2022, when he lost to Nadal after holding a two-set lead. The Russian also was briefly ranked No. 1 last season.

On this night in Rod Laver Arena, it was Korda who dictated most of the points, who put his shots right where he wanted them, who charged forward with verve and slick volleys. He even threw in the occasional drop shot, for good measure.

He compiled nearly twice as many winners as Medvedev, 50-28, and won the point on 75% of his trips to the net, 36 of 48.

“I kind of knew what I had to do. I stuck with it, even when I was going up and down with the emotions,” Korda said.

How would he describe that game plan?

“Just go for it,” he said with a laugh.

Korda broke Medvedev – who said afterward his right wrist and forearm were bothering him – the first time he served in each set. With the match a fraction longer than 2 1/2 hours old, Korda was serving while ahead 4-3, 40-15 in the third set. So close to advancing. Five points away.

Right there, right then, is when Korda slipped up.

After Medvedev made it 40-30 with a forehand winner, Korda got a chance to hit a seemingly simple volley to take the game. But he missed, sending the ball too long. On the next point, he netted a forehand from the baseline, his sixth unforced error off that wing in the set – six more than Medvedev at that moment. A netted backhand then completed the gift-wrapped break, and one love hold later, Medvedev had accumulated eight consecutive points to go up 5-4.

What appeared to be a turning point, though, turned out just to be a blip.

Korda raced to a 6-1 lead in the closing tiebreaker and, while he again needed to settled down after some missed chances, this time he ended things with a forehand winner.

He said he relied on a philosophy he picked up from his mother, Regina Rajchrtova: “Throughout this whole year, I haven’t had one negative thought, whether it’s waiting for transportation to go to the courts, whether it’s eating lunch, whether it’s doing anything. … Kind of just having a new motto of: Positive energy is more positive than negative energy.”

To reach his first Slam quarterfinal, Korda will need to defeat No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz on Sunday. That day’s other men’s matches: Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. Jannik Sinner, Felix Auger-Aliassime vs. Jiri Lehecka, and Karen Khachanov vs. Yoshihito Nishioka.

Nishioka was a 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-2 winner over McDonald, while another one of the eight U.S. men to reach the third round was sent home when Khachanov topped No. 16 Frances Tiafoe 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9).

The women’s upcoming fourth-round matches: Iga Swiatek vs. Elena Rybakina, Jessica Pegula vs. Barbora Krejcikova, Coco Gauff vs. Jelena Ostapenko, and Victoria Azarenka vs. Zhu Lin.

As well as Pegula is playing, dropping zero sets and just 11 games total along the way to Week 2, you might think she’d be completely pleased with how things are going.

Ah, but Pegula is a self-described perfectionist. And so she gave herself a bit of a hard time about what happened late in the second set of her 6-0, 6-2 victory over Marta Kostyuk.

“I was annoyed,” Pegula said after the 65-minute contest.

By what, exactly?

Well, the 28-year-old from New York was cruising along, having won 10 of the first 11 games and serving with a 30-love lead, when she stumbled ever so slightly, ever so briefly. She missed three first serves in a row. She put a backhand into the net. She got lobbed. She double-faulted. She started muttering under her breath. She sent a backhand long to end an 11-stroke exchange. Add it up, and Pegula got broken there, her lead in the second set shrinking to 4-2. For three minutes, her play was less than ideal.

Oh, the horror.

“When I was younger, it came off as kind of a bad attitude. I’d get really negative or down on myself,” Pegula said, adding that she has worked on “not being so hard on myself during the matches.”

Rybakina, Sabalenka to meet in Australian Open women’s final

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Mike Frey/USA TODAY Sports
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MELBOURNE, Australia — What all seemed so different, so daunting, even, about trying to win a Grand Slam title to Elena Rybakina a little more than six months ago is now coming rather naturally.

And if she can win one more match, she will add a championship at the Australian Open to the one she collected at Wimbledon.

Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan, reached her second final in a span of three major tournaments by beating Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (4), 6-3 at Melbourne Park on Thursday, signaling a rapid rise toward the top of tennis.

“Everything was new at Wimbledon,” Rybakina said after hitting nine aces in the semifinals to raise her tournament-leading total to 44. “Now I more or less understand what to expect.”

That could come in handy Saturday, when she will face No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. Sabalenka reached her first Grand Slam title match at age 24 by beating unseeded Magda Linette 7-6 (1), 6-2 in Thursday’s second semifinal.

Sabalenka improved to 10-0 in 2023, winning all 20 sets she has contested this season.

More importantly, the victory over Linette gave Sabalenka her first taste of success in a Slam semi after going 0-3 at that stage until now, losing each previous attempt by a 6-4 score in the third set.

Rybakina and Sabalenka employ a somewhat similar brand of tennis, relying on big serves and big hitting at the baseline. Sabalenka is far less cautious, though, and her penchant for high-risk, high-reward play was evident against Linette, who had never before been past the third round in 29 appearances at majors.

Sabalenka finished with a whopping 33-9 edge in winners, but also compiled more unforced errors – including a trio that led to a break at love by Linette in the opening game.

The key to both semifinals turned out to be a first-set tiebreaker. Azarenka lost the mark on her strokes, for the most part, making things smoother for Rybakina, while Sabalenka raced to a 6-0 lead in hers. It wasn’t the case that each and every shot Sabalenka hit landed right on a line, but it must have seemed that way to Linette.

“In the tiebreaker, I really found my rhythm,” Sabalenka said. “Started trusting myself. Started going for my shots.”

Rybakina’s win over Azarenka, the champion at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013, added to what already was an impressive run through a string of top opponents. She also beat No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 17 Jelena Ostapenko – both owners of major titles – and 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins.

“For sure, they’re very experienced players,” said Rybakina, whose parents and sister have been in town throughout the Australian Open. “I knew that I have to focus on every point.”

She delivered serves at up to 117 mph (189 kph) and stinging groundstrokes that she used to close points seemingly at will on Thursday. Her performance was particularly noteworthy against a returner and defender as established on hard courts as Azarenka, a former No. 1 and a three-time runner-up at the U.S. Open.

“Kind of hard to digest,” Azarenka said. “Obviously, I had quite a few chances that I gave myself.”

Rybakina is just 23, 10 years younger than Azarenka, and the future sure looks bright at the moment.

Rybakina might be seeded just 22nd in Melbourne, and ranked just 25th, but those numbers are rather misleading and not indicative at all of her talent and form. She did not get the usual bump from her title last July at Wimbledon, where zero rankings points were awarded after the All England Club banned players from Russia and Belarus because of the invasion of Ukraine.

Rybakina was born in Moscow; she switched to Kazakhstan in 2018, when that country offered to fund her tennis career.

It was breezy and chilly at Rod Laver Arena from the start of Rybakina vs. Azarenka, with the temperature dipping below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius).

That had a role in the way the first set was as much of a seesaw as can be, with each player seeming to gain the upper hand – and then ceding it just as quickly. Both found the conditions slowed down the tennis balls.

“Kind of misjudged a lot of balls,” Azarenka said.

Rybakina encountered similar issues and her occasional inconsistency was encapsulated by the very first game. She began, inauspiciously enough, with a double-fault, before holding with the help of three aces.

Azarenka nosed ahead by breaking for a 3-2 lead on a leaping, full-extension volley winner with both women at the net. Rybakina, though, broke right back, and then once more to go up 5-3.

Azarenka saved a set point at 5-3 with a terrific down-the-line forehand passing shot, wound up taking the game with a backhand she accented with a shout of “Let’s go!”

A mistake-filled tiebreaker ended with Azarenka pushing a forehand wide to cap an 11-shot exchange, and the set belonged to Rybakina. She broke at love for a 2-1 lead in the second, and while they competed for another 25 minutes, the outcome was never really much in doubt.

Sure, Rybakina again faltered for a bit while trying to serve out the victory at 5-2. No one expected Azarenka to go quietly. But one last break, aided by a double-fault from Azarenka, allowed Rybakina to take another step toward another trophy.

“Ready,” she said, “to give everything I have left.”

Paul, McDonald on US Davis Cup team; Nainkin interim captain

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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul and the player who eliminated Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park, Mackenzie McDonald, are among the players picked by interim captain David Nainkin for the U.S. Davis Cup team’s matches at Uzbekistan next week.

Nainkin’s appointment was announced Friday, three weeks after Mardy Fish’s tenure as captain ended.

Nainkin has been with the U.S. Tennis Association since 2004. He will be assisted against Uzbekistan by Dean Goldfine, who coached 20-year-old Ben Shelton during his quarterfinal run at the Australian Open.

Paul beat Shelton in that round before losing to Novak Djokovic on Friday night.

The other members of the U.S. roster are Denis Kudla, Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek. Kudla replaces Jenson Brooksby on the team.

The matches will be played on indoor hard courts on Feb. 3-4.