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Tommy who? Paul progresses to semis as Novak crushes Rublev, Police question pro-Russia fans

Tommy Paul is living the dream as he sets his sights on his first grand slam semi-final appearance after extending his surprise run deep into the Australian Open.

With his mum fresh off the plane – and sitting alongside his Insta-famous girlfriend Paige Lorenze at Rod Laver Arena – the 35th-ranked Paul outclassed unseeded countryman Ben Shelton in Wednesday’s quarter-final.

Paul prevailed in a tight first set and steadied after dropping the third to win 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 5-7 6-4. In doing so, he became the first American since Andy Roddick in 2009 to reach the last four in Melbourne.

Paul has never previously been past the fourth round of a grand slam and is probably best known to Australian audiences as a close ally of Nick Kyrgios.

Now the 25-year-old has achieved what Kyrgios, who underwent knee surgery on Monday, has not yet by reaching the Open’s last four.

The result set up a blockbuster semi-final for Paul on Friday against either nine-times winner Novak Djokovic.

“I was doing a couple of interviews and they were asking how I felt to be in the quarter-finals, and I was like, ‘semi-finals sounds a little better’,” Paul said. “I’m pumped to be there and obviously really excited for whoever I play on Friday.

“Making it to the second weekend of a slam, that’s everyone’s dream when they start playing tennis, so I can’t believe I’m here right now.”

Paul was a junior star, winning the 2015 French Open boys’ title and reaching the US Open junior final that year. But he has just one tour-level title to his name.

Paul’s Open run has included wins over seeded Spaniards Roberto Bautista Agut (24) and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (30). His last-four assignment against Djokovic or Rublev promises to be far tougher.

Whatever the result, Paul has already enjoyed the ride of his professional life in Melbourne. And sharing it with those closest to him makes it all the more sweet.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 25: Tommy Paul of the United States celebrates winning in the Quarterfinal singles match against Ben Shelton of the United States during day ten of the 2023 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 25, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images)

Tommy Paul celebrates winning. (Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images)

“I’m just really excited right now because my mum, after I won in the round of 16, she hopped on a plane,” Paul said moments after sealing the win over Shelton.

“She’s right up there, she got here this morning. She went straight from work to the airport to get here and watch my match today.”

Paul also gave a birthday shout-out to social media influencer Lorenze, who turns 25 on Thursday and boasts 399,000 followers on Instagram.

Shelton’s loss ended his own surprise venture into the Open’s second week, where the United States had three men in the last eight of a grand slam for the first time since 2005. The 20-year-old left-hander was a first-round loser in his only previous grand slam appearance, at last year’s US Open.

Ranked No.89, Shelton will rise at least into the top 50 for the first time on the back of his results in Melbourne.

Djokovic eases past Rublev in cakewalk

Novak Djokovic has sent an ominous warning to his Australian Open rivals, cranking into top gear despite revealing he’s been hooked up to machines to treat his lingering hamstring injury for most of the past fortnight.

Djokovic upped the ante in his search for a 10th Open crown as he coolly dispatched fifth seed Andrey Rublev 6-1 6-2 6-4 on Wednesday to reach his 44th grand slam semi-final and 10th at Melbourne Park.

Two nights after Djokovic wiped the floor with Australian hope Alex de Minaur in the fourth round, the world No.5 left 25-year-old Rublev powerless in a one-sided contest at Rod Laver Arena.

Djokovic will head into his semi-final as heavy favourite in his first match against unseeded American Tommy Paul, who beat compatriot Ben Shelton 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 5-7 6-4.

“Last two matches, playing against two guys that are really good players, in-form players, to beat them dominantly in three sets is something that is definitely something that I want in this moment, something that sends a message to all my opponents remaining in the draw,” he told reporters.

“With this kind of match, of course the confidence level rises, considering the circumstances.

Novak Djokovic.

Novak Djokovic. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

“I feel good on the court, better and better as the tournament progresses. I’ve been in this situation in so many times in my life, in my career, never lost a semi-finals in Australian Open.

“Hopefully that will stay the same.”

The hamstring injury suffered in Adelaide has impacted the Serb’s return to Melbourne Park, after he missed the 2022 tournament following his deportation for not being vaccinated against COVID-19.

Djokovic has had his left thigh strapped throughout his campaign but his ominous form had prompted him to reject suggestions he had faked or played up the injury.

After making light work of Rublev, he touched on his injury management.

“To be honest, I’ve been connected to machines more than I have been connected to anybody else or my bed or anything else really in the days off,” Djokovic said.

“I’ve tried about any bio-feedback machine there is in this planet in order to get my leg ready and it worked. I’m going to keep going.

“I miss tennis in the days off but at the same time I think it’s important to be smart and wise with the body in these particular circumstances where it’s more important to recover and get ready for the next challenge.”

Only Roger Federer (46) has made more grand slam semi-final appearances than 35-year-old Djokovic, who is attempting to equal Rafael Nadal on 22 majors.

Djokovic is now on a 39-match winning streak in Australia stretching back to 2018.

Pro-Russia fans questioned by police

Four Australian Open spectators, including a man holding a Russian flag with Vladimir Putin’s face on it, are being questioned by Victoria Police after allegedly threatening security at Melbourne Park.

A group of fans on Wednesday night gathered on the stairs outside Rod Laver Arena and Margaret Court Arena and recited pro-Russia chants, with several either holding or wearing various Russian flags.

The fans chanted “Russia, Serbia” after star Serb Novak Djokovic defeated Russian Andrey Rublev in straight sets.

Among them was the man who held up the flag featuring Russian president Putin, while wearing a T-shirt bearing the pro-war in Ukraine ‘Z’ symbol.

A different man had earlier been pictured with a Z symbol T-shirt inside Rod Laver Arena during the match.

Past and present Russian flags, the Russian Eagle flag, Belarusian flags and items of clothing with the Z symbol are prohibited items at Melbourne Park.

“Four people in the crowd leaving the stadium revealed inappropriate flags and symbols and threatened security guards,” a Tennis Australia spokesperson said. “Victoria Police intervened and are continuing to question them.  The comfort and safety of everyone is our priority and we work closely with security and authorities.”

TA had initially permitted spectators to bring Russian and Belarusian banners to Melbourne Park, as long as they did not cause disruption. But the policy was reversed last Tuesday morning after a Russian flag was prominently displayed courtside during a match involving Ukrainian player Kateryna Baindl.

That rule has been flouted on multiple occasions but Wednesday night’s incident was clearly the most blatant.

Russian and Belarusian players, like Russians Rublev and Karen Khachanov and star Belarusians Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka, are allowed to compete in Melbourne, but must do so under a neutral banner.

They were banned by the All England club from participating at Wimbledon last year in reaction to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Russia is Belarus’ largest and most important economic and political partner.

Sabalenka, Linette into Open semi-finals

Unfancied Magda Linette’s dream run at the Australian Open has continued, with the unseeded Pole ousting Karolina Pliskova to set up a semi-final showdown with Aryna Sabalenka.

Linette arrived at Melbourne Park saddled with an inauspicious record at the majors, having failed to progress beyond the third round in 29 previous attempts.

But she has turned that around in stunning style by beating five top-50 players in succession, including former world No.1 Pliskova.

Linette made the crucial break in the 11th game of the second set and held her nerve to serve out the match, winning 6-3 7-5 in one hour, 27 minutes.

“It’s so emotional; I can’t really believe it,” she said.  “Dreams come true. We keep going though. I don’t want to get too excited because we’re still in the tournament but I’m super grateful and happy.”

The 30-year-old admitted she had become much better at managing her emotions on the court. “All through my life I’ve been taking mistakes and losses very personally, so I had to disconnect those two things,” she said.

“It was really difficult, because I felt a lot of times that the misses, the mistakes, were defining me. My coaches and I did a really great job, and I’m really thankful to them, because they really put up with a lot of crap.”

The loss means Pliskova’s long wait for a maiden grand slam title continues.

The 30-year-old Czech has lost both of her major finals – at the 2016 US Open to Angelique Kerber and at Wimbledon two years ago to Ash Barty.

Sabalenka is the highest-ranked of the four Open semi-finalists and will start as the clear favourite against Linette, having dropped just seven games in their only two previous clashes. That record was in stark contrast to her previous 1-5 win-loss record against her opponent in Wednesday’s quarter-final – unseeded Croatian Donna Vekic.

But Sabalenka was able to turn that around in a 6-3 6-2 victory that was nowhere near as straightforward as the scoreline suggested. The powerhouse Belarusian saved a slew of break points in the opening set and was thrilled with her discipline and focus in the big moments.

“Before I would try to go for aces or go for crazy shots to get out easily from those situations,” she said.

“But now I keep saying ‘no, work for it. It’s not going to be easy. You have your shots, you have your serve. Just work for it and go for bigger targets’. That’s just a different approach.”

It will be a fourth grand slam semi for Sabalenka but her first at Melbourne Park.

“I don’t like this word ‘confidence’ – for me it sounds like to be cocky, ” she said. “I just feel like I have more believe in myself.

The Belarusian has yet to drop a single set in nine straight victories this year, including a title triumph at the Adelaide International.

ARYNA SABALENKA

Age: 24

Ranking: 5

Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $US12,302,010

Career titles: 11

Grand slam titles: 0

Australian Open win-loss record: 13-5

Best Australian Open result: semi-finals 2023

MAGDA LINETTE

Age: 30

Ranking: 45

Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $US4,301,282

Career titles: 2

Grand slam titles: 0

Australian Open win-loss record: 8-6

Best Australian Open result: semi-finals 2023

Day 10 snapshot

PLAYER OF THE DAY: Magda Linette – the unheralded, unseeded Pole continues to fly her country’s flag with distinction in the absence of ousted world No.1 Iga Swiatek, continuing her breakout run with a 6-3 6-2 quarter-final win over dual grand slam runner-up Karolina Pliskova. 

STAT OF THE DAY: The 30-year-old Linette is through to her first major semi-final in her 30th grand slam after eliminating the 30th seed.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “All through my life I’ve been taking mistakes and losses very personally, so I had to disconnect those two things. My coaches and I did a really great job, and I’m really thankful to them because they really put up with a lot of crap.” – Linette on her mental transformation.

TOURNAMENT SUMMARY: Linette will play fellow maiden Melbourne Park semi-finalist Aryna Sabalenka for a spot in the title match after the Belarusian fifth seed and highest-ranked woman left in the tournament beat Donna Vekic 6-3 6-2.


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