Karen Khachanov has defended himself after his support at the Australian Open for a contested Armenian enclave sparked a strongly worded complaint from Azerbaijan tennis officials.
The Russian, who has Armenian roots, wrote a message on a television camera lens after his fourth-round win at Melbourne Park that said: “Keep believing until the very end. Artsakh, hold on!”
In a previous round, the semi-finalist wrote: “Artsakh stay strong.”
They were referencing the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-populated enclave of Azerbaijan over which Baku and Yerevan have fought two wars.
“I have Armenian roots. From my father’s side, from my grandfather’s side, even from my mum’s side. I’m half-Armenian,” he said after reaching the semi-finals, with an Armenian flag seen in Rod Laver Arena.
“To be honest, I don’t want to go deeper than that and I just wanted to show strength and support to my people. That’s it.”
In a letter posted online, the Azerbaijan Tennis Federation said it had protested to Australian Open organisers and the International Tennis Federation (ITF).
It demanded he be “punished” with “harsh measures”.
“Writing heartfelt wishes on the camera lens is a kind of tradition in tennis but Khachanov abused this, using it in his dirty plans,” it added.
Khachanov said he was not aware of the letter and had not been told to stop his post-match messages “so far”.
‘GOING TO BE PRETTY P****D’: STAR REACTS TO OPEN EXIT
Victoria Azarenka put on an Australian Open clinic tonight, easily eliminating Jessica Pegula in straight sets.
For the American, who was seeded No.3 coming into the tournament, it comes as a brutal loss given some were predicting she could win her first grand slam in a matter of days.
But how long will it take Pegula before she is able to move on from the 6-4 6-1 beating?
Forget days or weeks, Pegula will be back at Melbourne Park around lunchtime tomorrow for doubles.
“I think it actually helps that I’m playing doubles tomorrow because I don’t have so much time to sulk around and kind of be in my feelings,” she said.
“But, I mean, I saw I played third match tomorrow, so I got to go get racquets strung, book practice courts, figure out what time I’m going warm up. I’ll be back here probably by noon. A quick turnaround.
“Obviously I’m going to be pretty p****d about my match tonight”
While one grand slam chance has slipped, the 28-year-old is still eyeing the ultimate prize in doubles.
“But tomorrow is just another chance to get another win, to get a better feeling, to go back and be in a competitive mindset, hopefully do well in the doubles. I still want to win.”
‘BACK IN A TIME MACHINE’: EX-CHAMP SENDS BRUTAL WARNING
Becoming just the fourth mother to win a grand slam is what awaits Victoria Azarenka after she wound back the clock in a shock quarter-final demolition of tournament favourite Jessica Pegula.
A decade after winning her second Australian Open, the 33-year-old Belarussian was back to her best, dominating No.3 seed Pegula 6-4 6-1 in 97 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
Azarenka, the No.24 seed, now faces reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the semi-finals.
“It is hard to beat her (Pegula) because I want her to do well.” she said.
“She has been playing amazing, very consistent. I knew from the first point I had to bring it. So many rallies. I just wanted to try to stay there, take opportunities because she was going to take everything if I don’t try to win myself.
“I am very proud that I executed my game plan really well . . . it’s so amazing to be in a semifinal of another grand slam.”
Azarenka, who is the last woman to successfully defend the Australian Open crown (2012-13), gave birth to her son Leo in December 2016.
She said a change in mindset was behind her run at this year’s Open after a couple of years in the wilderness where she failed to get past the fourth round at a grand slam.
“Last year my tennis wasn’t bad but I wasn’t there mentally to go out there. I played with a lot of fear and anxiety so it really was difficult to be brave and to take . . . to make the right choices in the important moments when you feel anxious and hesitant.
“I worked a lot on my mindset and challenged myself on my things I wouldn’t really do before and pushed myself forward.
“When you achieve great success sometimes you become conservative and more hesitant to try new things. This off season I was like, you know what, be open-minded and try new things and I put my head down and worked hard.”
INSANE STAT AFTER YOUNG GUN QUITS IN OPEN SHOCK
Karen Khachanov reached his second consecutive Grand Slam semi-final when Sebastian Korda retired hurt, ending the young American’s dream of emulating his father Petr’s 1998 title run.
Korda needed treatment on a wrist injury in the second set of their quarter-final before calling it quits when trailing 7-6 (7/5), 6-3, 3-0 to the Russian 18th seed on Rod Laver Arena.
Incredibly it is the first retirement of this year’s Australian Open.
That’s despite 242 matches being played in the sweltering Melbourne heat and the biggest name in the event, Novak Djokovic, carrying a hamstring injury.
Khachanov’s reward is a clash with either Greek third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas or unseeded Czech Jiri Lehecka, who play later, for a spot in Sunday’s final.
Victory equals the 26-year-old’s best performance at a major after his semi-final run during last September’s US Open, where he lost to Norway’s Casper Ruud.
The Olympic silver medallist, who has won four Tour-level titles, came into the match with far greater experience at this stage of a Grand Slam than Korda, having reached the last eight at all four majors.
In contrast, the 22-year-old Korda was in his first quarter-final. Khachanov also had a far easier ride in the fourth round, routing Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka in straight sets while Korda slogged through a five-set thriller against Hubert Hurkacz.
“I think until a certain point it was very competitive, a very good battle,” said Khachanov.
“He beat my friend Daniil (Medvedev) in three sets and won in five sets against Hurkacz so you know he is playing great. So applause to him.
“I’m feeling good to be honest and really happy about the way I’m competing,” he added. “I’m looking forward to the semi-finals here in Australia for the first time.”
‘ARTSAKH STAY STRONG’: KHACHANOV’S PUSH FOR PEACE
Karen Khachanov is not playing under the Russian flag but the ethnic-Armenian is representing a different cause, voicing support for the Republic of Artsakh amid its battle with Azerbaijan.
The Artsakh region is internationally recognised as being within Azerbaijan, but the mostly ethnic-Armenian population within it want their own sovereign status.
They have the support of neighbouring Armenia, but not Azerbaijan, who have blocked the only road connecting Artsakh to Armenia.
More than 100,000 residents are reportedly now trapped in the region with supplies running low, attracting the support of Khachanov as he continues his bid for the Australian Open title.
“Artsakh stay strong!” He has written on cameras following wins.
“Keep believing all the way until the end!”
Fans have flown Armenian and Artsakh flags at his matches.
IT’S 2023: IMAGE HAS AUS OPEN FANS STUNNED
Surely there is a better way dry the courts after a downpour?
The question so many are asking after rain interrupted play at the Australian Open and suspended the action on Rod Laver Arena while the roof was closed.
A forecast downpour in Melbourne arrived a little earlier than expected forcing Rybakina and Ostapenko off court for 25 minutes during the first set of their quarter-final.
With the court drenched, out came the ball kids and Aus Open employees with their trusty blue and white towels.
On all fours it was a team effort to dry it all out for the resumption of play.
In a world where AI can write essays for school kids, cars can drive themselves and lines people can be replaced by robots, surely there is something a bit more hi-tech?
Well there is, but it’s expensive and News Corp is reliably informed by a Tennis Australia insider that hands, knees and towels is in fact the fastest way to get play going again.
2:37PM GAME SET AND MATCH
The first of the women’s semi-finalists is locked in with Elena Rybakina demolishing Jelena Ostapenko in straight sets.
The 22nd seed took one hours and 19 minutes to secure the 6-2, 6-4 victory which was interrupted for 25 minutes because of rain.
Rybakina will play the winner of Jessica Pegula v Victoria Azarenka which will be played later tonight.
Rybakina is the reigning Wimbledon champion but victory today marks the first time she has made the Aus Open semis.
1:55PM THE BROMANCE IS ALIVE AND WELL
The bromance between Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios continues with the Serbian star responding to a cheeky message form the Aussie after demolishing Alex de Minaur.
Djokovic destroyed Demon in straight sets and little over two hours to secure a quarter-finals berth with many suggesting it was one of the best ever performances from the 21-time slam winner.
His performance was so ruthless in fact it prompted Kyrgios to tweet: “Watching Novak tonight makes me feel good about my tennis in general. How have I beaten this guy.”
Asked about Kyrgios’ comment, Djokovic said: “He was lucky.
“No, I’m kidding. Thanks. Thanks. I mean, to Nick, I take that as a compliment.
“My response (to Nick) will be, he was lucky to beat me first attempt.
“Yeah, he’s an awkward player for me to play against. But, yeah, I mean tonight’s match, know, couldn’t play maybe much better than this.
“Honestly I stepped into the court with a clear game plan even though I never faced Alex before. I just … I felt like anything that I wanted to do was great. Movement. Serve. You know from back of the court I was really aggressive, taking away the time from Alex.
“And just overall very, very pleased with the performance.”
The pair who were once “enemies” on tour have becomes far friendlier in the last 12 months after the Aussie reached out and offered unwavering support for Djokovic throughout his deportation ordeal in 2022.
It officially became a “bromance” after Djokovic beat Kyrgios in the Wimbledon final last July.
Their grudges put aside, the Serbian star said: “I never thought I was going to say so many nice things about you, considering the relationship.
”OK, it’s officially a bromance!”
They have since enjoyed frequent cheeky moments and jokes on social media.
1:46PM KYRGIOS GIVES POST SURGERY UPDATE
Nick Kyrgios has shared a surprise image of his post surgery state having undergone a procedure on the knee injury which ruled him out of the Australian Open.
The Aussie superstar, who pulled out of the tournament on day one, is now sporting a massive brace on his left leg.
Kyrgios had an arthroscopic procedure to clean up his lateral meniscus and remove a paralabral cyst.
Afterwards he posted: “I’ll be doing everything I can to get back to my best,” he wrote. “To the real ones checking in and sending the vibes … I love you.”
The Aussie star revealed the “brutal” call to withdraw from the Australian Open was required to prolong his career.
The first sign of trouble in the knee started two weeks ago when he was training in Canberra.
First it was just pain before it was decided to have a precautionary MRI. The scan revealed a parameniscal cyst growing in his left meniscus which had resulted from a small tear in his lateral meniscus.
It wasn’t ideal but there was a theory it could be managed. Just before Krygios arrived in Melbourne last week he had a procedure called a fenestration where a syringe was used to drain the cyst.
By this stage the cyst had become noticeable on the side of his knee with pain-killing injections also trialled to see if they could fix the problem.
1:05PM SCHEDULING DEBATE ROLLS ON
Another past-2am finish at Melbourne Park has Australian Open scheduling again firmly in the spotlight as tournament organisers vow to assess the future of wee-hour finished
As one sports scientist highlighted the physical damage inflicted upon players who are unable to deliver prime performances in late-night matches, the latest-ever finisher at the Australian Open declared players had to endure.
Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka advanced to her sixth Melbourne Park quarter-final early on Monday morning, with her victory over China’s Lin Zhu wrapping up at 2.17am.
Tournament director Craig Tiley on Monday described late finishes as “not ideal” but committed to ensuring scheduling was part of this year’s tournament review.
“It was two hours and 40 minutes of complete pressure,” Azarenka said after the match.
“I don’t even know what time it is.
“Probably I’ll be up till 6:00am, then mask on and sleep during the day.”
Tennis great Chris Evert questioned the match’s timing, asking “what other sports, if any, compete at 2.30am???”, while counterpart Pam Shriver said she was “sad for women’s singles to start this late”.
READ THE FULL STORY
12:34PM SHADES OF BARTY
There will be shades of Ash Barty in the Australian Open quarter-finals — one two-time champion has declared — despite the reigning champion not even competing at the tournament.
Barty might have called time on her grand-slam-winning career in late 2022, but Melbourne Park champion Victoria Azarenka says her quarter-final opponent, American Jessica Pegula, is reminiscent of the Australian star.
“I will say she plays quite simple, which is I would say is a compliment,” Azarenka said.
“It’s quite easy to be flashy. Not easy, but it’s easier to just go overboard.
“But to have that consistency and simplicity … a player of different style, but Ash Barty is one of the people, she just did certain things so well and over and over and over again.
“I feel like Jess has in her way, in her style, kind of similarity.”
READ THE FULL STORY
10:37AM IS DJOKER FAKING IT?
Tennis and Netflix star Taylor Fritz has weighed in on the fake injury furore at the Australian Open revealing some players amp it up while others are more discreet.
The American, who was stunned in the third round of this year’s Australian Open by Aussie battler Alexei Popyrin, said for some players, stretching the severity of an injury can help ease the pressure they feel.
Mentioning no names of course but his comments come after Novak Djokovic played the victim card again following accusations he was over-egging his hamstring injury.
“My opinion that probably nobody cares about … 80 per cent of players are always dealing w something (severity levels differ) but everyone is honesty always a little banged up,” Fritz wrote on social media.
“The media is only ever focusing on the top guys so there issues get more attention.
“Also some players are more vocal talking about injuries then others. I don’t think people fake injuries, I do think sometimes players stretch the severity of the injury because it depressurises 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, and before people get defensive, “I’m not talking about anyone in particular this is just what I see as a player, sometimes there r (sic) serious injuries, sometimes there (sic) over exaggerated ones from people 1-500.
“I’m not taking shots at any players so please don’t get defensive.”
Fritz is not the only name in tennis to cast doubt on what is happening.
Straight after being blasted off the court by Djokovic, Alex de Minaur said: “Look, I don’t know. I think everyone’s kind of seeing what’s been happening over the couple weeks. It’s the only thing everyone’s been talking about.
“Today I was out there on court against him. Either I’m not a good enough tennis player to expose that, or … it looked good to me. He was just too good in all aspects.”
9:32AM FORGOTTEN MEN
Perhaps the fourth round match we all forgot was happening.
Tommy Paul defeated 24th seed Roberto Bautista Agut to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final and set up an all-American clash at the Australian Open.
The world number 35 outclassed an opponent ranked 10 places higher 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 on Margaret Court Arena in 3hrs 19mins.
He will face fellow unseeded American Ben Shelton for a place in the semi-finals after he beat another American, JJ Wolf, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2, 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (7/4), 6-2.
With Sebastian Korda also through, the United States has the most men in the Melbourne Park final eight since 2000 when Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Chris Woodruff all got that far.
“That was a really physical tough match,” said Paul, who has one career title, on hard courts in Stockholm in 2021.
“Any time you play Bautista it’s going to be a war. I prepared for that match and I thought I executed it really well.
“I felt like I was running a lot though … so that wasn’t a lot of fun, but happy to get through that one.”
8:30AM AUS OPEN WILL IGNORE JAN 26
The Australian Open will be an Australia Day-free zone, with Tennis Australia to ignore Thursday’s public holiday due to “differing views’’ on the date of the national celebration.
The Open organisers have this year gone to great lengths to support social issues and equality, with a three-day “Glam Slam” for LGBTI+ players and a Pride Day this Friday.
A First Nations Day was staged on the first Wednesday of the tournament to celebrate Australia’s Indigenous history, and an All Abilities Day will take place on Tuesday.
Two dedicated days to promote major sponsors Emirates and Kia were also scheduled as part of the tournament.
But nothing has been planned to celebrate Australia Day this week, with Tennis Australia confirming the day would instead focus on celebrating women’s tennis.
7:45AM DJOKER SLAMS FAKE INJURY INSULTS
oval Djokovic didn’t play like a man suffering from a hamstring complaint as he humiliated Australian Alex de Minaur.
In fact, he ‘felt fantastic’ during the straight sets demolition that lasted barely two hours.
And such was the ruthlessness of the performance, and how free Djokovic looked as he glided across the court, it wasn’t long before sceptics popped up and wondered just how bad that hamstring injury could have been.
During Djokovic’s last appearance at Melbourne Park – in 2021, when he claimed a record ninth Australian Open – the Serbian star revealed he competed with a torn abdominal muscle suffered in the third round, and was hampered by it throughout the second week of the tournament.
But the constant speculation about the severity – and veracity – of his injuries is starting to wear thin with Djokovic, who took time out in the Serbian segment of his post-match press conference hit back.
“I leave the doubting to those people – let them doubt,” he said in Serbian to his country’s media.
“Only my injuries are questioned. When some other players are injured, then they are the victims, but when it is me, I am 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, both from two years ago and now. Whether I will publish that in my documentary or on the social media, depends on how I feel. Maybe I will do I it, maybe I won’t.
“I am not really interested at this point what people are thinking and saying.
“It is fun, it is interesting to see how the narrative surrounding me continues, narrative that is different compared to other players that have been going through similar situation. But I am used to it, and it just gives me extra strength and motivation. So I thank them for that.”
6AM: UNTOUCHABLE? HISTORY BECKONS FOR DEMOLITION DJOKER
Alex de Minaur says Novak Djokovic could be untouchable if he reproduces the level of tennis he delivered to oust the Aussie in straight sets on Monday night.
The nine-time Australian Open champion crushed the 22nd-seed Aussie 6-2 6-1 6-2 in a display which put his rivals — including quarter-final opponent Andrey Rublev — on notice.
Rublev said earlier on Monday he expected to be facing Djokovic and his prophecy looked certain to be fulfilled within 15 minutes of the first game of a match the Serbian dominated.
Such was his superiority as he moved one win closer to Andre Agassi’s record of 26 consecutive singles wins at Melbourne Park, de Minaur said Djokovic was bound for a 10th Australian Open.
“I think what I experienced today was probably Novak very close to his best, I would say,” de Minaur said.
“To me, if that’s the level, I think he’s definitely the guy that’s going to take the title.”
Djokovic said post-match that his confidence levels had risen after getting through the de Minaur match unscathed.
And with his body improving and becoming less of a focus, he can start to hone in on his ambition of another Melbourne Park triumph.
De Minaur added he felt like Djokovic could hit winners from anywhere on the court during the three-set blitz.
“He hasn’t done what he’s done in this sport without knowing how to play this level,” he said.
“Look, I knew what to expect. Ultimately you go out there with a plan, you try to execute it. “At times your opponent makes it pretty difficult to execute a plan. I think today that’s what he was doing.
“He was what felt like on another level to mine. I was just trying to hang on there. At the start was very solid, then he loosened up even more and started swinging. It felt like he could hit
winners from every place in the court.”
Originally published as Australian Open Day 9 live scores: Schedule, order of play, highlights, results