January 29, 2023

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Tommy Paul reached his first Grand Slam semifinal and ended Ben Shelton’s surprise run by winning his all-American matchup at the Australian Open 7-6 (6) 6-3 5-5. 7, 6 won -4 on Wednesday.

Paul, a 25-year-old from New Jersey, has become the first man from his country to make the Final Four at Melbourne Park since Andy Roddick in 2009. Roddick was also the last man from the United States to win a Grand Slam singles championship, at the US Open 20 years ago.

The 35th Paul was a star as a junior, clinching the French Open title in 2015 and reaching the final at Flushing Meadows that year. As a pro, he holds a tour-level title, 2021 in Stockholm, and up until this week had made it to the fourth round in just one Grand Slam tournament – a year ago at Wimbledon.

His semi-final opponent will be 21-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic or No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev. Djokovic entered his match on Wednesday night with a career record 43-10 in the major quarterfinals; Rublev’s mark at this point was 0-6.

Friday’s other men’s semifinal is No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas against No. 18 Karen Khachanov.

The women’s semifinals on Thursday evening (3:30 p.m. Thursday EST) will be played between two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka and reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, alongside No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka and unseeded Magda Linette.

Azarenka, the oldest deserted woman at 33, and Rybakina, the youngest at 23, advanced with victories on Tuesday; Sabalenka and Linette won the quarterfinals on Wednesday.

Sabalenka improved to 9-0 in 2023 without dropping a set, saving 12 break points from 14 and beating Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-2.

Linette never progressed past the third round at 29 other Grand Slam tournaments – and was eliminated in the first round at 17 – but always is after a 6-3, 7-5 win over two-time major finalist Karolina Pliskova still in the process. Linette’s ability to score and extend points troubled Pliskova, who finished with the same number of winners, 18, but far more unforced errors, 36 to 16.

“Some players feel like the court is a bit bigger and you have a lot of places to play,” Pliskova said of 45th-ranked Linette. “But she didn’t really make me feel that way.”

Sabalenka has made it to the fourth semi-final in their last six major appearances, but is 0-3 there so far.

“I feel a little bit different. I think I lost those three semifinals just because I wasn’t really calm on the pitch. I overdid it. I really wanted to get (a) slam. I was in a hurry. I was very nervous. Screaming, doing all these things,” said Sabalenka. “At the moment I’m a bit calmer on the pitch. I really think this is the only thing missing from my game. If I can keep that focus and that calmness on the pitch, I can do it.

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