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Jessica Pegula crashes out of Australian Open as Victoria Azarenka cruises into semis | CNN

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CNN
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Victoria Azarenka produced a brilliant display of tennis to dispatch world No. 3 Jessica Pegula and reach the Australian Open semifinals.

The two-time Australian Open champion, now ranked 24th in the world, rolled back the years to beat Pegula, one of the most consistent players on the women’s tour over the past couple of seasons and remaining favorite, 6-4 6-1 in just one hour and 37 minutes.

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It marks Azarenka’s best performance in Melbourne since she won the second of her two Australian Open crowns in 2013, as she advances to a second grand slam semifinal since 2020.

“It hurts to beat her because I always want her to do well,” Azarenka said in her post-match interview. “But I know I need to play my best tennis because she’s been so consistent. We had so many rallies … I just had to stay there and take opportunities.

“I’m very proud that I executed my gameplan really well and it’s so amazing to be in the semifinal of another grand slam.

“Last year, my tennis wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t there mentally. I played with a lot of fear and anxiety – it’s hard to make the right decision when you feel anxious and hesitant, so I tried to push myself in the offseason.

“When you achieve great success sometimes, you become conservative to try new things, so this season I was like, ‘I’ll try new things, put my head down and work hard.’”

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Jessica Pegula struggled to dominate the rallies against Azarenka.

For Pegula, who is still waiting to reach her first grand slam semifinal, there will be a lot to mull over in the aftermath of her defeat, in particular given the way her standards dropped so dramatically in the second set.

“She got off to a really slow start,” Barbara Schett, a former professional and current tennis expert for Eurosport, told CNN.

“At the beginning of the match it was Azarenka that was dominating so Pegula was the one reacting more, but that’s not her game style.

“She likes to be the one in control of the point and today that wasn’t the case at all. I thought it was a good comeback in the first set, when she got to 5-4 she was back on serve, but then once again she was panicking, she didn’t like the conditions, she kept telling her coach: ‘I don’t know what to do.

“‘The balls are so slow, I feel like I can’t hit with a lot of pace.’ So she was more focused on herself and in the second set as well you could see it in her body language that she wasn’t feeling great and I was thinking, last year she was playing against Ash Barty at the quarterfinals and she only won two games.

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“Maybe that was in the back of her head as well, that she wanted to do really, really well this year and she just got overwhelmed or the pressure actually started to kick in.”

Azarenka, of course, knows what it takes to win a grand slam, having won twice before in Melbourne in 2012 and 2013. Pegula, conversely, has never previously reached the semifinals of a slam and appeared nervous and overawed by the occasion.

Many expected Pegula, the world No. 3, to dominate with her powerful hitting, but she was barely able to get a foothold in the match early on as Azarenka raced into a 3-0 lead in the first set thanks to some booming, accurate groundstrokes.

Pegula did eventually get on the scoreboard with a gritty, hard-fought hold of serve, saving five break points in a game that lasted more than 10 minutes.

However, she soon began to cut a frustrated figure on the court, seemingly trying to play within herself in an attempt to just keep her shots inside the court. At one point, she looked towards her box and muttered under her breath, shrugging with confusion as she tried to find an answer to Azarenka’s early brilliance.

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With Azarenka serving at 4-2 up, Pegula had a brilliant opportunity to break back, but the Belarusian held firm to stave off two break points with a couple of unerring shots to maintain her narrow first set lead.

However, with Azarenka serving for the first set at 5-3, a combination of nerves and much-improved hitting from Pegula finally broke the 33-year-old for the first time in the match to keep the opening set alive.

Azarenka nullified Pegula's serve brilliantly throughout the match.

But any hopes that Pegula had of turning the set around were quickly banished by Azarenka, who broke back immediately to take the first set.

Aside from the small serving blip, it was a sublime opening set of tennis from Azarenka and reminiscent of the form that helped her win her first grand slam Down Under more than a decade ago.

Things went from bad to worse for Pergula in the second set as Azarenka held and then broke serve to open up a 2-0 lead.

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Pegula look perplexed after yet another groundstroke went long and this time began mouthing and gesticulating towards her box with increased frustration, hitting a ball into the court in anger.

Perhaps the outburst was the stress relief that Pegula needed as she quickly began hitting her shots with more power and accuracy, breaking Azarenka back at the first time of asking.

However, in a game that continued to ebb and flow, Azarenka again broke back straight away and then held serve to open up a commanding 4-1 lead and place one foot in the semifinals.

Azarenka has made a name as one of the better returners in the women’s game and was so far nullifying Pegula’s serve, a weapon which has given the American so much joy in recent seasons.

'Vika' is into her second semifinal since 2020.

Pegula now looked beaten as Azarenka began to wear her down from the baseline; if Pegula had hoped her opponent’s level would drop at some point, she perhaps realized at this moment that it wasn’t going to happen.

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She tried a couple of desperate shots in an attempt to mix things up, but one especially poor drop shot was bounced upon and dispatched with aplomb by Azarenka.

Azarenka then broke Pegula for the fourth consecutive game and with it the last bit of her resolve to take a 5-1 lead and then promptly served out the match.

‘Vika’ joked in her post-match interview that she was eager to get back home to her son – who Azarenka admitted is more into soccer than tennis – and her new dog.

If Azarenka continues to play as she did on Tuesday, then they will likely have to wait until next week for mom to get home.

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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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