Simone Biles

Simone Biles leads after first day of women’s competition at U.S. gymnastics championships

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First-year senior Simone Biles posted a massive all-around score of 60.50 on the first night of competition at U.S. Gymnastics Nationals, which doesn’t just top the standings in the U.S. — it’s the highest score in the world this season.

Everybody’s scores Thursday will be combined with scores Saturday (8 p.m., NBC and online here) to determine a new national champion at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.

Biles, 16, competed as though her three-fall performance at the U.S. Classic three weeks ago never happened. She started strong on the uneven bars (14.75) and posted the highest score on floor exercise (15.05), but it was on the balance beam when she punched in what could be considered one of the greatest full twisting double back somersault dismounts of all time.

She earned a 14.9 on beam, also leading the field, and enters the second and final night of competition Saturday with a lead of .75 over Olympian Kyla Ross. Performances at the National Championships will help determine who will be chosen for the four-gymnast team going to the World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, Sept. 30-Oct. 6.

Biles continued her bounce back from the U.S. Classic in July, when she didn’t record a score over 14. This is the same gymnast who beat Ross at the Jesolo Trophy in Italy in March.

“I kept my mindset to do what I did in Europe,” Biles said.

McKayla Maroney, who is competing on two of four apparatus in Hartford, hit her floor routine with ease (14.85, second to Biles), and vaulted well, but not her best, taking a big step forward on her signature Amanar. Nevertheless, she leads field on that event by one tenth of a point over Biles.

Ross stumbled on the same floor tumbling pass that gave her trouble at the U.S. Classic, only to roar back on her last two events — vault and bars.

“I don’t really know what happened on beam and floor,” Ross said. “I maybe had a little bit of jitters. I know starting on beam is a little difficult.”

Third place Brenna Dowell, 17, proved that she is becoming one of the most dependable U.S. gymnasts. She made only one major mistake, on her first event, uneven bars, and performed a very impressive front handspring double front pike on floor.

It was a frustrating night for Elizabeth Price. The 2012 Olympic alternate was unable to work her way out of an error on the uneven bars, one of her best events, and took a fall. Price, who is recovering from injury, will be looking to improve on night two and can still impress U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi at the selection camp in September.

It was also a disappointing night for Madison Kocian. the latest gymnast out of the Texas WOGA pipeline that produced Olympic all-around champions Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin. Kocian led the all-around after two rotations before badly rolling her ankle on the floor and eventually opting to not finish Thursday’s competition. No word yet on if she’ll be continue Saturday.

Peyton Ernst, one of Kim Zmeskal’s stars, delivered big time on the vault, sticking her 2 1/2-twisting Yurchenko, but came apart on the balance beam. She’s in fourth place.

Here are the standings after the first of two nights of competition:

Women’s all-around
1. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 60.500
2. Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif., 59.750
3. Brenna Dowell, Odessa, Mo., 58.450
4. Peyton Ernst, Coppell, Texas, 57.450
5. Maggie Nichols, Little Canada, Minn., 56.950

Vault
1. McKayla Maroney, Long Beach, Calif., 15.500
2. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 15.400
3. Mykayla Skinner, Gilbert, Ariz., 14.850

Uneven bars
1. Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif., 15.500
2. Madison Kocian, Dallas, Texas, 15.000
3. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 14.750
4. Peyton Ernst, Coppell, Texas, 14.600
5. Brenna Dowell, Odessa, Mo., 14.500

Balance beam
1. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 14.900
2. Madison Kocian, Dallas, Texas, 14.800
3. Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif., 14.700
4. Abigail Milliet, Denton, Texas, 14.600
5. Kennedy Baker, Flower Mound, Texas, 14.300

Floor exercise
1. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 15.050
2. McKayla Maroney, Long Beach, Calif., 14.850
3. Mykayla Skinner, Gilbert, Ariz., 14.750
4. Brenna Dowell, Odessa, Mo., 14.600
4. Madison Desch, Lenexa, Kan., 14.600

Men’s competition preview, schedule

Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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