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Ben Shelton emerges as US tennis’ latest star during dream Australian Open run | CNN

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CNN
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Rising stars from the United States feature prominently in the men’s side of the draw at the Australian Open, making up three of the eight players ithat reached reached the quarterfinals in Melbourne.

According to the ATP, it’s the first time since 2000 – when Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Chris Woodruff reached the last eight – that three US players have made the Australian Open’s quarterfinals.

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The most surprising – and certainly least known – name of the three is 20-year-old Ben Shelton, who before traveling to New Zealand and Australia in preparation for the first grand slam of the year had never even been outside of the US.

A big-hitting lefty, Shelton is playing in only his second major, with his first grand slam appearance coming at the US Open at the end of 2022.

The 20-year-old currently boasts a career-high ranking – world No. 89 – and his performances so far in Australia mean he is quickly closing in on a place in the top 50.

“He’s a big server, he has an unbelievable forehand where he can really put pressure on his opponents and dictate the players around,” Barbara Schett, a former professional tennis player and current commentator, told CNN Sports.

“He’s a left hander, which is a big advantage, and he has this lightness about him.”

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Shelton certainly has the ideal background to help him succeed, as his father, Bryan Shelton, played tennis professionally on the ATP Tour, winning two titles, reaching a career-high ranking of 55 in the world and making the mixed doubles final of the French Open.

Bryan Shelton watches his son play at the Western & Southern Open in August 2022.

However, Shelton Sr. – who has been a successful coach in the States since retiring – initially struggled to convince his son to play tennis, with Ben favoring American Football as a youngster.

Ben did eventually decide to follow in his father’s footsteps and has spent the early years of his career developing his game at college and on the ATP Challenger circuit.

“He has a great combination of also being intense on the court and then he has his dad, Bryan Shelton, who used to be a player on the Tour for many, many years and it seems like he [Ben] has the right mindset and he knows exactly what he’s doing out there,” Schett said.

“It’s very refreshing to see somebody so young and new.”

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Shelton’s first major breakthrough on the ATP Tour came at the Cincinnati Masters in August 2022, where he beat world no. 56 Lorenzo Sonego and then secured the first win of his career over a top five player, beating Casper Ruud in straight sets.

Shelton’s first taste of grand slam action came soon after, losing in the opening round of the US Open in a grueling five-setter against Portugal’s Nuno Borges.

However, he finished 2022 on the Challenger Tour with aplomb by reaching four finals out of six tournaments, winning three of them to end the year ranked inside the top 100.

Shelton had a mixed start to 2023, losing in qualifying at the Adelaide International before going on to secure another win over a top 50 opponent by beating Sebastian Baez in the first round in Auckland.

Ben Shelton will face fellow American Tommy Paul in the quarterfinals.

Despite the promise he has shown, few would have predicted the remarkable run Shelton has since enjoyed at the Australian Open.

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“Definitely a surprise,” he told reporters of his success. “I got on the plane with no expectations. I know that it’s very hard to adjust to Australia from the United States just with the jet lag, time change and everything.

“It being my first time, never being out of the United States, I knew it would be a struggle. So I think it maybe has helped me a little bit kind of not having that expectation or the feeling that I have to perform, but being able to just go out there, be myself and play free.

“I think that’s been a big contribution to my success.”

The Atlanta native secured his first grand slam victory by getting the better of China’s Zhang Zhizhen in five sets, before he beat Chile’s Nicolas Jarry and then Australia’s Alexei Popyrin in straight sets.

On Monday, Shelton came through another brutal five-setter against compatriot J. J. Wolf – another rising US talent – to secure his place in the quarterfinals, where he will face another American in Tommy Paul.

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Paul, who is an established top 50 player with an ATP title under his belt, has been ranked as high as No. 28 in the world and will be Shelton’s toughest test yet at the Australian Open.

Paul will no doubt be the favorite to reach the semifinals, but it will be hard to bet against Shelton continuing his dream run Down Under.

The 2023 season was already looking like a promising year for US tennis, but Shelton’s emergence has only further bolstered an exciting group of young future stars.



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Tennis star Jessica Pegula says her sister saved her mom’s life during cardiac arrest in 2022 | CNN

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CNN
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US tennis star Jessica Pegula says her sister, Kelly, saved their mom’s life after she went into cardiac arrest at her home last year.

In an article published in The Players’ Tribune on Tuesday, Pegula opened up about her family’s “tough” year which culminated in “some bizarre, messed-up, full circle moment” when Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch during an NFL game.

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In June last year, reports emerged regarding Pegula’s mom, Kim – a co-owner of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and the National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres – being hospitalized.

Not much was known about her condition at the time but Pegula, in her recent article, wrote in detail about what happened and how her mom has been recovering ever since.

“My mom was asleep when my dad woke up to her going into cardiac arrest and she was unresponsive for quite a while,” Pegula said.

“My sister gave her CPR until the ambulance arrived. She saved her life. Even though she doesn’t like to take credit for this terrible situation, she absolutely saved her life, followed by the critical job performed by the paramedics who arrived and were able to restore a heartbeat.”

Pegula’s mom has been the co-owner of the Bills since 2014, when she purchased the franchise with her husband, Terry, for more than $1 billion.

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The pair also own the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, making Kim the first woman to become president of both an NFL and NHL team.

Jessica Pegula says her mom is still recovering at home but getting better every day.

Pegula says her mom loved her work and was very much the engine room of the sporting empire, but she worries that “she won’t be able to be that person anymore.”

“She is dealing with significant expressive aphasia and significant memory issues,” Pegula said. Aphasia is a language disorder caused by damage in a specific area of the brain, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

“She can read, write, and understand pretty well, but she has trouble finding the words to respond. It is hard to deal with and it takes a lot of patience to communicate with her, but I thank God every day that we can still communicate with her at all.

“The doctors continue to be blown away by her recovery, considering where she started, and her determination is the driving force of that.”

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She says the family practically lived at the hospital during the first two weeks of the recovery process, with her father reluctant to go home without his wife.

The pressure of caring for the family and running a successful business empire took its toll on everyone, Pegula says.

“When they say one day in the hospital equals a week to recover, that is no joke. We were all mentally and physically exhausted,” she added.

Pegula wore a badge in support of NFL player Damar Hamlin at the Australian Open.

While focusing on her mom’s recovery, Pegula questioned whether she’d be able to keep playing tennis at a high level.

But, driven by her mom’s attitude to life, she decided to play at Wimbledon just weeks after her mom’s cardiac arrest, making it to the third round.

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She then reached the quarterfinals of the US Open before ending the year as the women’s singles world No. 3.

“I guess one thing I learned from the past year is it can be a great year, and a bad year, both can be true,” she said.

With her mom recovering at home, Pegula shifted her focus to tennis and she flew to compete at the Australian Open at the start of the year.

However, before the grand slam started, she received the news that Bills player Hamlin had suffered a cardiac arrest and was fighting for his life in hospital.

Pegula, who was minutes away from playing in a mixed doubles event in Sydney, says her “stomach sunk” when she heard what had happened.

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“I usually don’t get too much anxiety, but the thought of what Damar and his family were about to go through hurt my heart,” she said, adding she was close to having a panic attack.

“I knew how important time was. I just kept thinking time, time, time, time. I hope they got him back and quick enough.

“The medical staff and trainers who assisted that night really saved his life and were tremendous in his recovery. I ended up going on for mixed doubles and we won.”

Hamlin, 24, survived and, like Kim, is facing a lengthy recovery process.

Pegula says that his incredible recovery had inspired her performances at the Australian Open where she reached the quarterfinals.

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She wore Hamlin’s number three on her shorts during the tournament but says it was also in honor of her mom.

“It has been a tough year, but at the same time, I feel lucky and blessed,” she said.

“I am thankful she is still with us when other families may not have been so lucky. That she even had a chance at recovery when the first week in the hospital seemed so dim.

“Thankful for the doctors that aided in her recovery. Thankful that she is now home, that she gets to watch the Bills, Sabres and my tennis matches.

“She never watched my matches before because she got too nervous. Now, she watches all of them.”

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Despite NFL future being up in the air, Aaron Rodgers wins Pebble Beach Pro-Am | CNN

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CNN
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Any chance of the Green Bay Packers lifting the Super Bowl this Sunday were dashed long ago, but Aaron Rodgers is still ending the season as a champion.

Playing alongside Canadian pro golf partner Ben Silverman, the quarterback won the PGA Tour’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Sunday, the duo carding 26-under to clinch a one-shot victory over American golfer Peter Malnati and former FedEx President and CEO Don Colleran.

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It sees the 39-year-old Rodgers, who confessed he hadn’t played any golf until Monday since last season’s NFL training camp began, add his name to Pebble Beach’s Wall of Champions.

“It’s really significant, it’s always been on my bucket list,” Rodgers told reporters.

“This is a pretty big deal for me, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s a great week by itself, spending time with Ben, but winning is the sweetest.”

Rodgers on the final hole of the third round.

The pair were crowned victors after 54 holes as heavy winds and rain bombarded the California event, shortening the amateur event to three rounds. The pro tournament, led by England’s Justin Rose, is set to resume Monday.

Despite disappointment on the gridiron as the Packers missed out on the NFL Playoffs for the first time since 2018, Rodgers has enjoyed a stellar year on the fairways. In June, Rodgers and fellow veteran Tom Brady were crowned victors in an all-NFL quarterback, trash-talk heavy edition of The Match, besting young duo Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes.

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And as Buffalo Bills star Allen, playing with Keith Mitchell, finished four strokes behind Rodgers in California, the friendly rivalry showed no signs of abating.

“Josh Allen was telling me there’s going to be an asterisk by this win because there was only three rounds,” Rodgers told reporters.

“But I think that name, our names are going to be up there [on the Wall of Champions] for a long time.”

Bills quarterback Allen was also in action at the event.

Speculation has swirled as to where the Packers quarterback will be plying his trade next season, with talk of a departure from the only NFL team he has ever played for fueled by a tweet from Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver – and former teammate – Davante Adams last week.

Asked in a Twitter Q&A which neighborhood Rodgers would be moving to, Adams, who played with the four-time MVP for seven years until his departure in 2021, replied: “Mine.”

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Those rumors followed Rodgers around the fairways at Pebble Beach, with social media footage showing some spectators singing ‘Raiders’ chants at the quarterback as he walked to the next hole. A wry smile from the Super Bowl XLV winner in return suggested it was taken in good humor, a welcome change from the reception he had endured at the Pro-Am in previous years.

“One year, we got knocked out by the [San Francisco 49ers] in the playoffs, and I came and played and the fans were real rough. There was a lot of trash talking,” Rodgers recalled.

“Not this year, it was all positive. It was all, ‘Come to the Raiders, come to the Niners, come to the [Dallas] Cowboys.’ A couple [New York] Jets calls out there.

“But a lot of Raiders presence, for sure. You hear that Raiders chant for the last four days … Ben did, for sure.”

Rodgers and Silverman embrace.

Meanwhile, recently retired footballer Gareth Bale finished joint-16th alongside partner Joseph Bramlett.

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The former Real Madrid and Tottenham star won many plaudits with a strong first round, highlighted by a spectacular shot from the cart path.

“The last couple of weeks have been amazing,” Bale told reporters.

“People giving me compliments on my game is incredible, they have put a bit too much pressure on my shoulders.

“I am a big golf fan and appreciate what these players do on the golf course. It is great to play with them, interact and watch what they do.”

Rose leads the pro event by two strokes ahead of American trio Malnati, Denny McCarthy and Brendon Todd. The 2013 US Open champion and 10-time PGA Tour winner is chasing his first victory since winning at the Farmers Insurance Open in 2019.

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Gareth Bale stuns pro golfers with incredible cart path shot at Pebble Beach Pro-Am | CNN

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CNN
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Few tuning in to watch the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Thursday will have been surprised to learn that former Real Madrid star Gareth Bale is good at golf.

After all, the Welshman made no secret of his love for the game throughout a glittering soccer career that he called time on in January.

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Yet, just how natural the former Tottenham Hotspur and Real forward looks on the fairways has taken many aback after an impressive first round showing on his PGA Tour debut in California.

Playing alongside professional partner Joseph Bramlett, Bale carded a seven-under 65 on the notoriously challenging Spyglass Hill course to finish the day five shots behind the Pro-Am’s leading duo, the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes’ owner Tom Dundon and American pro golfer Will Gordon.

As a five-time Champions League winner and one of the most decorated players of his generation, Bale is no stranger to big stages. Just three months ago, he was his country’s captain at the Qatar World Cup.

But the 33-year-old, who plays off a two handicap, admitted to a few jitters standing over the first tee on Monday.

“I think every amateur will tell you, even though we’re used to playing in front of 80,000 or more live on TV, it’s a completely different sport,” Bale told Sky Sports.

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“Outside your comfort zone and something that’s just different. It’s a cool experience.”

Bale impressed during the first round.

Bale’s opening tee shot looked nerveless, however – a superb effort that found the green and spun back towards the hole, allowing him to kick off his round with a par.

Yet the overwhelming highlight of the Welshman’s round followed at the subsequent hole when Bale was given a drop on a cart path close to the green.

Faced with an awkward route over a curb, Bale sent a ricocheting shot bouncing off the bank and onto the green, the ball trickling to within four feet of the hole for a par-saving putt.

In the moment, Bale’s first thought was to check the nearby cameras had captured the effort. On reflection after his round, the first thing on his mind was ruing why he’d had to play such a shot to begin with.

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“I was more worried how I was there in the first place, but I guess a lot of amateurs find themselves out of position,” Bale said.

“It was a great shot. Just tried to put it into the bank and hope for the best, like most amateurs do. It was nice to see it roll up nice and close.

“It was a fun day. Looking forward to two more fun days with an amazing group of people like we had today.”

Bale’s feats will have come as no surprise to World No. 3 John Rahm, who lavished praise upon the former footballer’s golf prowess after the pair played a round together last month.

“I told Gareth, ‘you can’t be so good at professional football and golf at the same time, it just doesn’t seem fair’,” Rahm said.

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“Can’t be dedicated to one thing and have this much talent for golf, it’s not fair in the slightest.”

Among the other biggest celebrity names on the star-studded 156-player field, Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers sits two shots adrift of the lead after carding 10-under 62 with pro partner Ben Silverman. Actors Jason Bateman and Bill Murray, as well as rapper Macklemore, are also featuring at the event.

American Hank Lebioda leads the professional leaderboard after shooting eight-under 63, one shot clear of compatriots Kurt Kitayama and Chad Ramsey, as well as England’s Harry Hall.



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