Roger Federer makes Wimbledon final, dream year continues

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LONDON (AP) — Roger Federer is here once more, back in a Wimbledon final for the 11th time, back on the verge of an eighth championship at the All England Club, more than any man has collected in the storied, century-plus history of the place.

Nearly 36, and a father of four, Federer continued his resurgent season and unchallenged run through this fortnight by conjuring up just enough brilliance to beat 2010 Wimbledon runner-up Tomas Berdych 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4), 6-4 on Friday.

“Can’t almost believe it’s true again,” Federer said.

He has won every set he’s played in this year’s tournament and while he did not dominate the semifinal, he was never in much trouble. On Sunday, Federer will face 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic, who reached his first final at the All England Club by eliminating 24th-seeded Sam Querrey of the U.S. 6-7 (6), 6-4, 7-6 (3), 7-5 with the help of 25 aces and some terrific returning.

Since equaling Pete Sampras and William Renshaw (who played in the 1880s) with a seventh title at Wimbledon in 2012, Federer has come this close before to No. 8. But he lost to Novak Djokovic in the 2014 and 2015 finals.

Now comes gets another chance.

Federer would be the oldest man to win Wimbledon in the Open era, which dates to 1968; as it is, he’s the oldest finalist since Ken Rosewall was 39 in 1974.

“This guy doesn’t seem like he’s getting any older or slowing down,” said Berdych, who wore shoes with a silhouette of Djokovic’s face on the tongue. “He’s just proving his greatness in our sport.”

Also noteworthy: This is Federer’s second major final of 2017. After taking off the last half of last year while letting a surgically repaired left knee heal, he won the Australian Open in January for his record-extending 18th Grand Slam trophy.

“Giving your body rest from time to time is a good thing, as we see now,” Federer said. “And I’m happy it’s paying off because for a second, of course, there is doubts there that maybe one day you’ll never be able to come back and play a match on Centre Court at Wimbledon. But it happened, and it’s happened many, many times this week.”

Now only Cilic stands in Federer’s way at Wimbledon. They met in the quarterfinals a year ago, when Federer came all the way back after dropping the first two sets to win in five, before exiting in the semifinals.

They love their history around these parts and they love Federer and, above all, they love watching him make history. Spectators roared at many of his best offerings against Berdych, who was seeded 11th.

Trailing 3-2 in the third set, for example, Federer faced a couple of break points at 15-40 and extricated himself from that sticky situation this way: ace at 107 mph (173 kph), ace at 116 mph (187 kph), service winner at 120 mph (194 kph), ace at 119 mph (192 kph). And in the very next game, he surged to a 4-3 lead by breaking Berdych. That was pretty much that.

There were other moments of magic. The down-the-line forehand passing winner that landed right on the opposite baseline in the second set, leaving Berdych slumping his shoulders. Or the no-look, flicked backhand winner several games later that not many players would even try, let alone manage to do.

Still, this would not quite qualify as a vintage, Federer-at-his-wondrous-best performance. He was hardly perfect out there. He even double-faulted twice in one game to get broken in the opening set. He was pushed to a pair of tiebreakers, too. And yet there never was a sense Berdych could win.

Querrey, in contrast, took the first set against Cilic under odd circumstances. Things were close as can be between the pair of 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) big servers in the early going, right up to 6-all in games and 6-all in the tiebreaker. Cilic was playing so cleanly until that moment, delivering 12 winners before his initial unforced error; he would finish with a 70-21 margin.

But Cilic seemed distracted by a delay of a couple of minutes after his first-serve fault at 6-6, when a female spectator who appeared to feel ill was helped from her seat and out of the stands. Awarded another first serve, he managed only a 113 mph offering that Querrey handled easily, and the next stroke was a badly missed backhand by Cilic. Now down 7-6, Cilic flubbed another backhand, pushing it wide to cede the set.

The fourth turned with Querrey up 4-3 and serving at 30-love. Cilic seized the next four points to break, pounding a forehand return winner, a down-the-line backhand winner, another big return that startled Querrey and led to a drop shot winner, and a massive forehand return off a 79 mph (127 kph) second serve that drew a shanked backhand. His lead gone, Querrey yelled, “No!”

“I don’t think it was anything that didn’t work for Sam. It was more Marin locking in and getting a good read on Sam’s serve,” said Querrey’s coach, Craig Boynton. “I haven’t seen someone return Sam’s serve like that in a long time.”

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New generation of male figure skaters owns spotlight at worlds; preview

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Nobody in the men’s field at figure skating worlds owns an Olympic or world title for the first time since 1985. This could lead to the best U.S. men’s results in years.

Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan combined to win every gold medal since 2011, but all of them ended their seasons at the Olympics.

This week in Milan, the four leading men, who just competed in their first Olympics, are all 20 years or younger. And that includes two Americans.

Nathan Chen can become the first world singles champion from the U.S. since Evan Lysacek in 2009. Chen and Vincent Zhou could be the first U.S. men to finish in the top five together since Lysacek and Johnny Weir in 2005. Chen, Zhou and Max Aaron could make up the best U.S. trio at a worlds in more than 20 years.

Start with Chen. The 18-year-old said he planned to compete this week regardless of what happened at the Olympics, but after his struggles in the team event and individual short programs, the quad master nailed his free skate, came home to California and said he took maybe one day off of training before this event.

Chen is one of three men in the gold-medal hunt, along with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China. While Chen largely struggled at the 2017 Worlds and in PyeongChang, Uno and Jin each made the podium at both events. And each can come close to or equal Chen in quad numbers.

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Zhou, 17, has a chance to become the youngest man to earn a world medal since Hanyu in 2012. Or the first man to win the world junior title one season and make the world senior podium the next since Yevgeny Plushenko in 1997-98.

Zhou is riding momentum. He struggled in the fall and entered nationals in January ranked fifth among Americans for the season. He placed third to make the Olympic team and then landed three clean quads in his Olympic free skate to jump from 12th to sixth.

“I did better there than a lot of people thought I would,” Zhou told NBC Sports research last week. “I knew I was capable of that all season.

“I want to reach my ultimate goal of being Olympic champion, and my best chance is in 2022 … because by 2026 I will probably be old and creaky with four prosthetic limbs.”

Aaron made it to Milan after Olympian Adam Rippon gave up his spot, and the top two alternates (Jason Brown and Ross Miner) both declined. Still, Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, is seeded seventh in the men’s field based on top scores this season.

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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Carolina Kostner the sentimental favorite at figure skating worlds

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova is without question the favorite at this week’s world figure skating championships, especially after the sprightly Russian’s training partner and rival Yevgenia Medvedeva withdrew because of injury.

She won’t be the sentimental favorite, though.

That would be Carolina Kostner, the ageless Italian star who could be competing at worlds for the last time on home soil. The 2012 champion and six-time world medalist seemed to indicate that retirement could be looming after she finished fifth at the PyeongChang Games, where she was chosen to carry the Italian flag at the Closing Ceremony.

Kostner will have a huge home crowd behind her when the event begins Wednesday in Milan.

“Decisions like that should never be taken in a hot moment. It will come naturally,” said Kostner, who no longer can compete with the sport’s high-fliers when it comes to technical marks, but whose elegant artistry and presentation often make up the difference.

“She is an example of perseverance, of a long-lasting athlete,” Medvedeva said. “I have trouble imagining how someone can stay in that shape for a very long time. When you see people like Carolina, you understand that if she can do something, then that something is possible. If you love what you do, you put all of yourself into it, like Carolina Kostner.”

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When asked about retirement, Kostner brought up her cousin, Isolde Kostner, who won three Olympic Alpine skiing medals before deciding to step away from competition.

“She stopped skiing shortly before the (2006) Olympics in Italy,” Caroline Kostner said. “Many did not understand why she wouldn’t pull through because it was her home country, and she said, ‘You will feel strongly when it is time to stop.’ And I haven’t felt it yet.”

The biggest story at the world championships in an Olympic year tends to be who is missing rather than who shows up. The grind of competing for an entire season builds toward the quadrennial event, and athletes who medal or intend to retire rarely press on to worlds. Then there are the injuries, which accumulate during the year.

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