Sebastian Korda in 1st Grand Slam quarterfinal – NBC Sports – Misc.

MELBOURNE, Australia — This was not a smooth ride for Sebastian Korda at the Australian Open. An early deficit against a higher-seeded opponent. Some so-so serving. An up-and-down fifth-set tiebreaker filled with mistakes by both players.
At the end – the very end – it was Korda, a 22-year-old American, who earned a spot in his first Grand Slam quarterfinal by taking the last trio of points to edge No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7).
“Those are the toughest points to win … those last three there,” said Korda, whose father, Petr, won the 1998 championship in Australia. “They’re brutal in a way.”
The younger Korda has made it a point to reach out and tap signs marking the titles won by his dad and by mentor Andre Agassi in the hallway leading to the court in Rod Laver Arena.
“Every single time I walk by, I always give … a little fist bump,” Korda said. “Kind of makes me feel like they’re with me, in a way. I always know that they’re watching. They’re both very special for me. They helped me a ton.”
Korda’s mother was a professional tennis player, too, and his two older sisters play pro golf. They’ve been following the guy they call “Sebi,” via TV from the United States during the Australian Open, despite the 16-hour time difference between the East Coast and Melbourne.
“I just got off the phone with them,” Korda said about his parents. “They’re going to try to go to bed.”
This victory followed up a third-round win for Korda against 2021 U.S. Open champion Daniil Medvedev, the runner-up at Melbourne Park each of the past two years.
The 29th-seeded Korda will face 18th-seeded Karen Khachanov for a spot in the semifinals. The other quarterfinal on the top half of the bracket will feature unseeded Jiri Lehecka against No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who beat No. 15 Jannik Sinner 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3 in 4 hours.
“I felt like I spent an entire century on this court, playing tennis. It felt so long,” said Tsitsipas, who also beat Skinner in Australia a year ago. “What a great night. That was superb.”
Korda was one of four American men to get to the fourth round, along with Ben Shelton, J.J. Wolf and Tommy Paul, the most for the country in Australia since four made it in 2004.
“It’s awesome,” Korda said. “We’ve got a great group coming up. I think we can do some special things in the next couple years.”
Khachanov, a semifinalist at last year’s U.S. Open, eliminated Yoshihito Nishioka 6-0, 6-0, 7-6 (4). Lehecka arrived in Australia with an 0-4 career record in Grand Slam matches, but he is now in the quarterfinals after beating No. 6 Felix Auger-Aliassime 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (3).
“I’m sure we will see a lot of him in the future,” Auger-Aliassime said.
While Novak Djokovic, whose fourth-round match against Australia’s Alex di Minaur, is the lone man left with a Grand Slam title – and he’s got 21 of them, nine at Melbourne Park – Tsitsipas is the only other past major finalist still around.
He was the runner-up to Djokovic at Roland Garros in 2021 and has reached the semifinals in Australia three times.
Tsitsipas, a 24-year-old from Greece, looked terrific against Sinner for two sets Sunday night, something less than terrific for two sets, then surged to victory by breaking to lead 4-2 in the fifth.
“Stayed really calm, just like Mr. Rod Laver used to do in his day,” said Tsitsipas, shouting out the stadium’s namesake, who was in attendance.
Korda vs. Hurkacz came down to the first-to-10, win-by-2 tiebreaker now used at all major tournaments in the fifth sets of men’s matches and third sets of women’s. Both players appeared to be tight, neither was able to muster much in the way of winners, and the scoreline swings were as wild as can be.
Hurkacz, whose victory over Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2021 was the 20-time Grand Slam champion’s final singles match, went ahead 3-1. Then Korda took six consecutive points to lead 7-3. And then Hurkacz grabbed four in a row to tie it at 7-all.
Right then, though, is where Korda emerged with some of his best deliveries of the day.
An overhead that ended a 20-stroke exchange – and led to Hurkacz knocking over a serve-speed readout display at the back of the court – made it 8-7. A 117 mph (188 kph) service winner made it 9-7. And a down-the-line backhand passing winner to cap a 27-shot point finished things off.
“There was plenty of times where I could have just completely lost it. I lost it a little bit a couple points,” said Korda, whose coach, Radek Stepanek, repeatedly hopped out of his seat in the stands. “But I just stuck with it, tried to be as positive as I can. Especially toward the whole fifth, that was my only goal.”
MELBOURNE, Australia — At the draw ceremony for the season-ending WTA Finals in October, the emcee called Jessica Pegula to the front of the room and asked the 28-year-old American about her championship at an event in Mexico a handful of days earlier.
He called it the “biggest title” of her career. Pegula politely corrected him: “Biggest title so far,” she said, emphasizing those last two words.
Pegula chuckled when asked about that exchange during an interview with The Associated Press.
“I didn’t mean to say that, but that’s good that I said that,” she said. “So far, that IS my biggest title, so that’s factual and true – but also, hopefully, definitely not the last.”
Pegula’s had a winding journey in professional tennis and, at the Australian Open, she is hoping to add by far her most significant trophy yet. When she steps on court to face 2012-13 champion Victoria Azarenka, Pegula will be appearing in the quarterfinals for the third year in a row at Melbourne Park – and for the fifth time overall at a major, all in the past 24 months.
The No. 3 Pegula is the highest-seeded woman remaining, with No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 2 Ons Jabeur eliminated.
“I have a great shot here. … All around, throughout the whole tournament, I’ve been playing the best I have,” she said after beating 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova 7-5, 6-2 in the fourth round.
Pegula relies on terrific returning (she’s won a tournament-high 64% of games served by opponents) and strong defense. She uses a flat forehand and backhand slice (she’s won 61% of points played at the baseline, second-best so far).
“She plays quite simple, which is, I would say, a compliment,” Azarenka said, likening that aspect of Pegula’s approach to former No. 1 Ash Barty, who “just did certain things so well, over and over and over again.”
Pegula is 0-4 so far in Slam quarterfinals, with losses to Jennifer Brady at the 2021 Australian Open, Barty at the 2022 Australian Open, and Swiatek at the 2022 French Open and 2022 U.S. Open.
“I guess, currently, seeding-wise, I’m the favorite,” Pegula said. “I would say it feels different.”
And it’s a long way from her trying times over the last decade. There was a 2013 knee problem that required surgery, but she worked her way back from that and earned a Grand Slam main-draw debut at the 2015 U.S. Open by beating 2009 U.S. Open quarterfinalist Melanie Oudin in the last round of qualifying.
Then came another health setback: A hip operation that kept Pegula out of action for more than half of 2017, dropping her ranking to No. 860 and sending her to lower-level ITF events.
Again, she regrouped and returned, claiming her first WTA title at Washington in 2019. That came shortly after beginning to work with Venus Williams’ former coach, David Witt, who has pointed to the way Pegula “started believing in herself more that she belongs up there.”
In Grand Slam action, Pegula went through a seven-match losing streak that ended with a third-round showing at the 2020 U.S. Open, and she delivered her initial major quarterfinal five months later in Australia.
More steps have followed – she called them “mini-breakthroughs” – including cracking the top 10 last year.
“I was like, `Wow, I broke through there,’ because I didn’t have a great Slam record. Then after that, it was … winning my first WTA event. That was a big one,” Pegula said. “So there’s all these little … milestones, I guess you could call them. I think it just kept building my confidence as I went along. I wouldn’t say there was like a huge turning point.”
Another could come this week: The Pegula-Azarenka winner will face whoever emerges from the quarterfinal between 2022 Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
The fourth-round matches on the bottom half of the draw were as follows: Aryna Sabalenka vs. Belinda Bencic, Donna Vekic vs. Linda Fruhvirtova, Caroline Garcia vs. Magda Linette, and Karolina Pliskova vs. Zhang Shuai.
MELBOURNE, Australia — Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka made it back to the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2016 by beating Zhu Lin 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.
“I really focused on staying patient, staying focused on myself,” said the 33-year-old Azarenka, who won the title in Australia in 2012 and 2013, “because it was very, very easy to just lose that patience, lose control, because it was very tough out there.”
The third set began with six consecutive breaks of serve, before Zhu finally was the first to hold, taking a 4-3 lead.
But the 24th-seeded Azarenka grabbed the final three games. She held, then broke to go up 5-4 when Zhu put a forehand into the net.
Azarenka faced two break points while trying to serve for the victory. She managed to save both and closed it out with a cross-court forehand winner after 2 hours, 40 minutes of play.
“It was a bit frustrating for me, I’m not going to lie. I probably didn’t show it, but I was a bit upset because, `When is it going to turn my way?”‘ Azarenka said. “At one point, I had to tell myself a little bit to stop thinking (about) what she’s doing, really focus on myself: `What I can do, control? I can’t control her making winners. I can’t control her hitting lines or playing amazing tennis. I can play a part in not letting her play such a good tennis.”‘
The result ends a career-best run for the 87th-ranked Zhu, who had lost in the first or second round in each of her previous 13 Grand Slam appearances.
“I’m really exhausted right now. I mean, I gave everything out there. I’m really proud of myself,” Zhu said. “Victoria, she’s a Grand Slam champion. You have to be, like, 120%, even 200%, to be able to beat her.”
Azarenka will face No. 3 Jessica Pegula on Tuesday for a place in the semifinals.
Pegula eliminated 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova 7-5, 6-2 on Sunday.
“She’s a great friend of mine. I absolutely adore her,” Azarenka said about Pegula. “We have really tough battles every single time. We practice with each other. There’s going to be no surprises, absolutely.”

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