Serena Williams

Serena vs. Sharapova in Paris: the Olympic Rematch

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You have to go all the way back to the Athens Games – yes, those held in 2004 – to find a calendar year when Maria Sharapova has beaten Serena Williams in a tennis match.

The Russian star, who burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old winning Wimbledon amid the pre-recession glory days, hasn’t beaten Serena, whom she took down for her first title, since November 2004 at the WTA Championships. It’s a streak of twelve straight matches for the American, including the London Olympics final last summer.

It was there that Serena issued the most rounding defeat of her lanky opponent, relenting just one game (6-0, 6-1) in the gold medal match less than a year ago. Saturday’s French Open Final at Roland Garros will mark the first time they’ve met in a major final since London.

Sharapova, now 26, would like nothing more than to finally exact some revenge on her 31-year-old nemesis, who hasn’t lost a single Pro Tour match since February – 29 and counting.

But Maria says her 2-13 overall record vs. Serena is looming in the back of her mind. How could it not?

“I would be lying if I didn’t say it bothered me,” Sharapova told the press Thursday in Paris. “You know, of course I have lost to her numerous amounts of times. When I go out there, I obviously — whatever I have done, like I said in the past, has not worked. You try to go out there and do something different because whatever you have done just hasn’t performed well. I hope that I can.”

Does Serena want a 6-0, 6-0 drubbing? Going one better? She certainly tried at the Olympics.

“That would have been awesome only because against Maria, if you give her any hope, she’s trying to come back,” Serena said after her gold medal performance. “It was important for me to go out there and do everything I could to win.”

It might depend on who’s hungrier: For Serena, she’s chasing her first Roland Garros crown since 2002. And Maria? She’s the defending champion on the red dirt of Paris.

“But going into a French Open final, [our record] doesn’t matter,” Sharapova mused. “It all starts from zero. You’ve got to play until the last point, and, you know, believe in yourself.”

Chinese pair holds on for first world title

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Chinese pair Sui Wenjing and Han Cong needed a personal-best score by nearly five points to avoid a silver medal for a third straight year.

They delivered.

Sui and Han beat Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot by 1.76 points at the world championships in Helsinki on Thursday.

They tallied the highest short-program and free-skate scores, including 150.83 in the free Thursday, despite Sui falling on a triple Salchow. Their previous best free skate was 144.28 points.

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov earned bronze as the top three after the short program stayed that way after the free skate.

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Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who had been seeking the first pairs three-peat in 39 years, finished seventh.

Americans Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim finished 10th in their second competition this season after she came back from three abdominal surgeries last summer and fall.

“I am not as confident as I was before I got sick, but I think that’s 100 percent normal when you’re off the ice for so long and you have to re-learn things and start from the bottom,” Scimeca Knierim said. “I’ve only been back at my elite level for a month or two, so I think it’s OK that my confidence is a little shaken. I’m confident that my confidence will grow.”

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier were 20th in the short program, failing to qualify for the free skate.

Based on those results, the U.S. earned one entry for pairs at the PyeongChang Winter Games, according to NBC Sports research in Helsinki. The only time that fewer than two U.S. pairs competed at the Winter Olympics was at the first Winter Games in Chamonix, France, in 1924.

Just about every star pairs team dealt with serious injury problems this season.

Sui and Han missed the autumn season due to Sui’s right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring, after they squandered the 2016 World Championships short program lead.

They returned at the Four Continents Championships in February and posted then-personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

Savchenko, who earned her 10th career worlds medal, and Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament.

Tarasova needed 10 stitches in her left leg after slicing it on Morozov’s skate in a Wednesday practice accident, hours before the short program. Their bronze medal meant Russia avoided a three-year world pairs medal drought. Soviet and Russian pairs have never missed the worlds podium three straight years since their run of dominance started in the 1960s.

Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, the only Sochi medalists competing together at worlds, missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury. They finished fifth on Thursday.

Duhamel and Radford suffered more recent injuries. Duhamel said after the free skate she may have a stress fracture in her left foot, according to the Associated Press. Radford suffered a hip injury in the week before worlds that led to thoughts of withdrawing.

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MORE: Playing the Beatles, North Korean skaters aim for Olympics in South Korea

Pairs Results
Gold: Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 232.06
Silver: Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 230.30
Bronze: Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 219.03
10. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 202.37
20. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 56.23

Playing The Beatles, North Korean skaters aim for Olympics in South Korea

AP
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HELSINKI (AP) — North Korea’s figure skaters are aiming for the Olympics — and they’re using The Beatles.

Ryom Tae Ok and her partner Kim Ju Sik impressed observers by finishing 15th of 28 pairs at the world championships on Thursday. That’s the latest step on a road to next year’s Olympics, which would mean a politically tricky journey to South Korea.

Skating to The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” and music by Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Ryom and Kim soared above expectations in only their third major competition outside their homeland.

Star-struck Ryom said the competition was “very difficult” because she wasn’t used to the large crowd, in comments translated by a team official following Wednesday’s short program. Kim said he was “excited because this is a big competition.”

The pair gave away little more than basic personal data. They’ve skated together for two years and train in the capital Pyongyang. Skating isn’t very popular there, but they’d like to change that, they said.

Asked how they’d feel about competing at the Olympics, Kim said he and Ryom are keen to take part in “a big competition,” but didn’t say how he’d feel about visiting South Korea. A North Korean team official led the pair following a question about how they chose The Beatles’ music. Foreign cultural influence is tightly restricted by the North Korean government.

To qualify for the Olympics, Ryom and Kim will need a good performance in September to take one of four places on offer for pairs at a competition in Germany.

North Korea has a patchy record at the Winter Olympics – it won speed skating medals in 1964 and 1992, but didn’t send any athletes to the Sochi Games in 2014.

When they have gone to the Olympics, North Korean figure skaters have failed to impress. The last time the country sent a pair to the Olympics in 2006, they placed 20th and last in the short program, then withdrew.

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VIDEO: Russian pairs skater slices leg on partner’s skate