Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

But is Rio ready for Roger…?

Leave a comment

The hallowed grounds of Wimbledon gave tennis its most memorable stage at the Olympics this past year, and home-grown gold medalist Andy Murray adding to the British fervor.

But as 2013 ticks closer and the Rio Games sit just three-and-a-half years away, little is known about what the first South American country to host the Olympics will conjure up for a tennis facility.

Over the last 10 days, Brazil has staged what could be seen as a testing tour for the Summer Games with the Gillette Federer Tour, a sponsored batch of exhibition matches headlined by — you guessed it! — Roger Federer.

The exhibitions taking place in Sau Paulo, Argentina, and Colombia were wildly advertised across South American TV and media outlets, with Gillette creating a viral video featuring Federer as a Brazilian soccer and volleyball star that garnered over seven million clicks on YouTube.

From a fan perspective, the swing has widely been viewed as a success, as near-sellout crowds watched six exhibitions that also featured Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Juan Martin Del Potro, Maria Sharapova, Tommy Haas, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Brazil’s highest-ranked player, Tomaz Bellucci.

The tour, which took place over ten days, cemented the players’ support behind Brazil’s hosting of the 2016 Games. No support was greater than Federer’s, who said during his time there that he would cut back his schedule over the next few years, but still aim to play in Rio come 2016.

Lucia Hoffman, a Sao Paulo native and New York-based journalist, said the tennis world has turned its attention to a new source of money and fan interest.

“The players came to check out this new world of tennis that they have been told will become the new tennis destination on the tour,” Hoffman wrote in an email. “Almost like Asia became many years back… The new ATP CEO now he has his eyes on Brazil.”

The loss of two U.S. tennis events (in San Jose and Los Angeles) over the next two years is South America’s gain with the tournaments finding a new home there. Yet it remains unknown what surface (clay, most likely) or what sort of facility the Brazilians will construct or re-purpose for tennis in Rio.

While Federer voiced support for the fan turnout in Brazil, he noted that the aging Ibirapuera Stadium didn’t hold muster compared to ATP event sites when it comes to modern-day amenities.

“I think some things need to be improved if you want to make sure the fans have the best experience possible,” Federer told Estado de Sao Paulo. “This venue is a little old and it needs to be bigger, but the atmosphere is great and the fans incredible. There is no need to worry about that side of things.”

Hoffman said the fans not only treated Federer like royalty, but more like a soccer star, the ultimate South American compliment.

“This tour was huge, like a tsunami, for tennis in Brazil,” she wrote. “Brazilian TV was totally invested in it. So, from all social classes, all ages, people knew about the Gillette Federer Tour as much as they knew about their soccer. And in a country of 200 million, that’s huge.”

Ryan Lochte ‘wipes away the past’ in Power Bar video

Leave a comment

For the second time in as many months, Ryan Lochte stars in a jocular ad making a veiled reference to his Rio Olympic gas-station incident.

The swimmer wipes away “the past” on a foggy bathroom mirror and throws a blond wig out of a sunroof in a one-minute Power Bar video published Tuesday.

The company’s tag line in the video is “Clean Start.”

“For example, I am going to recommit myself to water sports,” Lochte says in the spot.

The ad follows a December video for Pine Bros. Softish Throat Drops, where Lochte starred in a spot with a closing banner that read, “Pine Bros.: In this Season of Forgiveness.”

Lochte had previously lost sponsorship deals, including with Speedo, after his Rio Olympic gas-station incident for which he was suspended through June by USA Swimming, plus for the world championships in July.

PHOTOS: Lochte set to be a father

U.S. Figure Skating Championships men’s preview

Leave a comment

The stage is set for Nathan Chen in Kansas City this week.

The 17-year-old is arguably the biggest favorite of any senior discipline at the U.S. Championships, looking to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 1966.

Chen, who boasts six quadruple jumps between his two programs, broke out at the Grand Prix Final in December by taking a silver medal. That propelled him to the top of U.S. men’s skating.

He outscored the reigning Olympic and world champions in the free skate at the Grand Prix Final in the best U.S. men’s international performance since Evan Lysacek won Olympic gold in 2010.

Chen’s chances for gold this week were boosted by the withdrawal of 2016 U.S. champion and training partner Adam Rippon due to a broken foot. And by 2015 U.S. champion Jason Brown‘s recent right leg injury.

Brown is still in the field, though, as is 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron. Chen, Brown and Aaron are vying for two spots on the team for the world championships in two months in Helsinki.

“Those are the very clear top three,” NBC Olympics analyst Johnny Weir said. “It’ll take a disaster or a performance of a lifetime for anybody else to get into that top three.”

Friday
Men’s short program — 8:30 p.m.-midnight ET, Universal HD
Sunday
Men’s free skate — 4-6 p.m., NBC

MORE: U.S. Championships broadcast schedule
PREVIEWS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Nathan Chen
Age: 17
Hometown: Salt Lake City
2016 Grand Prix Final silver medalist
2016 U.S. bronze medalist
Two-time U.S. junior and novice champion

Chen came back strong this season following the first major injury of his career suffered at least year’s nationals exhibition. Hip surgery kept Chen from making his world championships debut in 2016, but he’s now poised to lead the U.S. men into Helsinki, trying to earn three Olympic berths. First, Chen goes for his first senior national title.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: Nathan is the star of the show this year. The type of talent he has doesn’t come along every day. He possibly could be on the Olympic podium next year with the technical skating he’s giving us. Artistically, his component scores, if you look at him from last nationals to this nationals, he’s a different skater. He may not be [Olympic champion Yuzuru] Hanyu yet, but he has all the makings of a great, artistic male skater. I think he’s already giving us enough, to be honest.

Jason Brown
Age: 22
Hometown: Colorado Springs
2015 U.S. champion
Fourth at 2015 World Championships

Don’t forget that Brown was one spot off the podium at the 2015 Worlds. It’s been mostly a nightmare since for the 2014 Olympic sensation. Brown missed the 2016 U.S. Championships with a back strain and revealed last week that he was off the ice for the last two weeks of December with a stress fracture in his right fibula. Brown is the only man in this week’s field who has been within 40 points of Chen’s best total score this season.

Johnny Weir’s Take: Now that Adam Rippon is out, the artistic challenger, if he can land a quad, is Jason Brown. He’s won the national title before. He knows what it takes and what that kind of pressure feels like. That is an advantage he has over Nathan Chen. If he lands the quad and creates that artistic moment, he is very favored in the U.S. by the judging panel. He will need a quad toe loop if he’s going to hold off Nathan Chen.

Max Aaron
Age: 24
Hometown: Colorado Springs
2013 U.S. champion
2015 Skate America champion

Aaron may be the best pure athlete in the field. He has finished in the top four at nationals each of the last four years, but it’ll probably take top two this week to earn a world championships spot. He’ll likely have to beat the injured Brown.

Johnny Weir’s Take: He has great skating skills. He’s a wonderful athlete. But I don’t think his free program especially is strong enough choreographically to challenge either Nathan Chen or Jason Brown.

Grant Hochstein
Age: 26
Hometown: Artesia, Calif.
Fourth at 2016 U.S. Championships
10th at 2016 World Championships

Hochstein was placed on the 2016 World Championships team after Chen withdrew due to that hip injury. He finished a respectable 10th in his worlds debut but dropped to 11th in each of his fall Grand Prix starts. Hochstein ranks seventh this season among men in the U.S. Championships field.

Tim Dolensky
Age: 24
Hometown: Kennesaw, Ga.
Seventh at 2016 U.S. Championships

Dolensky had his best U.S. Championships finish last season and ranks behind only Chen, Brown, Rippon and Aaron among U.S. skaters’ top scores this season.

Vincent Zhou
Age: 16
Hometown: Riverside, Calif.
2013 U.S. junior champion
Fifth at 2016 World Junior Championships

Zhou would be a bigger threat if he hadn’t pulled out of his last event in December with a leg injury. Still, he has the jumping firepower, when he lands them, to contend for the podium when healthy.

MORE: Wagner, Chen share training ice, favorite status at nationals