Victoria’s Secrets and Silk Pajamas

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Bill Simons

HOW COOL IS THIS? America will have its first men’s semifinalist at the Australian Open – either Tommy Paul or Paul Shelton – since Andy Roddick in 200o

RAGING AGAINST THE MACHINE: Jelena Ostapenko again made seemingly absurd complaints about the electronic scoring device. She might want to go in for an eye test.

PUTIN’S ECHOES: There’s a chance that we could have an all-Russian men’s final, with Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov facing off, and an all-Belarusian women’s final, with Aryna Sabalenka and Vika Azarenka. Or the final could feature Russian native Elena Rybakina or Pole Magda Linette.

HEADLINE OF THE DAY: “Let’s Party Like it’s 2013” – on Vika Azarenka making an Australian Open run ten years after she won in 2013.

SILK PAJAMAS DON’T MATTER: During America’s long drought since the days when Sampras, Agassi and Roddick lifted Slam trophies, there was a quiet criticism that said Americans were faltering in an international game because our wonderful country is so affluent. Boxer Marvin Hagler once claimed, “if you sleep in silk pajamas, it’s tough to wake up at six in the morning and go for a run.”

Similarly, observers asked why kids who drive a BMW and have so many video games would want to tough it out on the brutal international circuit against foes who live in basement apartments in Moscow and view tennis as their golden pathway to wealth and freedom. But guess what? America’s No. 1 male player, the hard-working Taylor Fritz, who’s No. 9 in the world, comes from a vastly wealthy Southern Californian family, and the parents of the gritty Jessica Pegula are said to be worth $7.7 billion. 

DOMINATING THE AIRWAVES: While ESPN showed live coverage of Elena Rybakina winning in Melbourne, the Tennis Channel aired a replay of Elena downing Ons Jabeur in the Wimbledon final.  

GO FIGURE: Despite rain being in the forecast for Tuesday, Aussie Open authorities didn’t close their multi-million dollar roof on Laver Arena and a rain delay ensued…In the tunnel before their quarterfinal, friends and foes Vika Azarenka and Jessica Pegula exchanged a fist bump…Djokovic is still on his five-year winning streak at the Aussie Open and remains the prohibitive favorite…Since 1990, only four Americans have made it to the fourth round in their debuts at the Australian Open – Patrick McEnroe, Andre Agassi, Tennys Sandgren and Ben Shelton. 

LIKE HER BILLS, PEGULA FALLS: The Buffalo Bills had it all set up the way they wanted. They were playing at home – and a wicked storm was dumping several inches of snow on the field. But the Cincinnati Bengals started fast and crushed the Bills.

Jessica Pegula, the last American woman remaining at the Australian Open, was also the highest seed left. Iga Swiatek, the prohibitive tournament favorite, had lost. Pegula, whose parents own the Bills, hoped to rid herself of the claim that she was the best player to never have gotten beyond the quarterfinals of a Slam. The 28-year-old had reached the quarters in four of the last five majors. She was moving better than ever. She’d been breaking serve with abandon, and, under the tutelage of David Witt, was said to be playing better than ever. 

Many thought she could win the tourney. Plus, she’d beaten her Florida friend Vika Azarenka the last time they played in Australia. But today, Azarenka, who was only seeded No. 24, was dialed in. She came out strong, moved fast, stepped into her shots, was aggressive and called on her great experience. Pegula, like her Bills, suffered a one-sided loss, 6-4, 6-1. 

Jessie, who beat Swiatek earlier this year, has drawn wide-ranging praise. Still, she’s now lost five times in quarterfinals and remains the greatest active WTA player not to have gotten beyond the quarters of a Slam. Vika will be playing Wimbledon champ Elena Rybakena for a chance to get to the final and win her third  title.

MORE AUSSIE TEARS: Djokovic almost got teary eyed as he spoke about his children on the court with Jim Courier.

NOVAK KNOCKS CRITICS: Djokovic, who played his best tennis of the tourney when he demolished Aussie Alex de Minaur, 6-2, 6-1, 6-2, countered those who suggested he’s been exaggerating his hamstring injury. “I leave the doubting to those people – let them doubt,” he said. “Only my injuries are questioned. When some other players are injured, then they are the victims, but when it is me, I’m faking it. It is very interesting. I don’t feel that I need to prove anything to anyone.

“I have got the MRI, ultrasound and everything else…I am not really interested at this point in what people are thinking and saying. It’s fun, it’s interesting, to see how the narrative surrounding me continues, [a] narrative that is different compared to other players…But I am used to it and it just gives me extra strength and motivation. So I thank them for that.”

Taylor Fritz, who has suffered a slew of injuries, then posted a tweet that he said didn’t relate to any one player. “Eighty percent of players are always dealing with something…everyone is honestly always a little banged up…The media is only ever focusing on the top guys so their issues get more attention…Some players are more vocal talking about injuries…I don’t think people fake injuries, I do think sometimes players stretch the severity of the injury because it depressurizes them and helps them play better (which honestly is fine, do whatever works)…I don’t think it’s done in a bad sportsmanship kind of way…I’m not talking about anyone in particular…I’m not taking shots at any players, so please don’t get defensive.”

LET IT BE, LET IT BE: The John Lennon “Let It Be, Let It Be” memorial award goes to Andrey Rublev, whose let cord winner gave him an 11-9 victory in his five-set win over Holger Rune in the fourth round. The runner-up let cord award goes to Tommy Paul, whose let cord winner secured his fourth-round win over Roberto Bautista Agut.

KORDA FALLS: Slim, elegant Seb Korda gained a match point in the Adelaide final against Novak Djokovic. In Melbourne he downed the former No. 1 Daniil Medvedev and prevailed in a fifth-set tiebreak against Hubert Hurkacz. Then America’s No. 3 player faced Russia’s No. 3, Karen Khachanov. Korda had two straight wins over Karen, but the Russian prevailed in a tight first-set tiebreak. Then the pain in his right wrist that Korda had felt a few weeks ago in Adelaide flared. He could barely hit forehands. Volleys were virtually impossible. Clearly despondent and In pain, Seb withdrew in the third set. 

Khachanov, who has now reached two straight Slam semis, will face Stefanos Tsitsipas, who beat the 21-year-old Czech Jiri Lehecka and is in his fourth Aussie semi. He’s never won a Slam.

SEEMS UNFAIR: Among Russian and Belarusian players, Andrey Rublev has been the most outspoken in his calls for peace. Yet he was heckled the most in Melbourne. 

DOUBLES HAPPENINGS: Pegula and Coco Gauff are into the doubles quarterfinals along with Palm Desert’s Desirae Krawczyk and former UCLA star Ena Shibahara. Indians Rohan Bopanna, 42, and Sania Mirza, 36, are into the mixed doubles semis.

VICTORIA’S SECRETS – PANIC ATTACKS, FEAR AND GRATITUDE: Victoria Azarenka bravely spoke of her anxiety and feelings of being lost, saying that she “couldn’t find anything good about myself…[so] I…tried to take it more simple. I started with not trying to be positive, just trying to be neutral, not to go negative. Accepting the anxiety I have. Accepting the fear I have..working through it…It requires…daily work, that I’m doing.

“I’m going through what makes me feel confident…[and] happy…more open, be more accepting…’Compassionate’ was a very hard word for me to understand.”

Vika confided that tennis “triggers a lot of anxiety. It’s…like an open canvas…Weird emotions come on the court. Sometimes like, ‘What the hell are you thinking about?’

“People say, ‘Try not to think about it.’ I’m like, ‘What the f–k are you talking about? How are you able not to think about anything?”

She said her fear of failing “subconsciously sometimes stops you…Being uncomfortable is scary. I’ve had panic attacks.”

Now, Vika most enjoys “being able to accept everything that I’m…going through. If I’m not playing well, I’m looking for a solution…I’m enjoying the process…that gives me gratitude and appreciation for all the things that I’ve ever gone through.”

Vika noted the demonization of Djokovic and said she could resonate with the Serb. “There’s [an]…incredible desire for a villain and a hero story…But we’re not villains, we’re not heroes, we’re regular human beings that go through so many, many things.

“Assumptions and judgments…are just s–t because nobody’s there to see the full story. It didn’t matter how many times I said my story, it didn’t cut through.”     

Vika said she didn’t want to think about possibly winning her third Aussie title and added that she just wanted to stay calm and at peace. 

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