Simone Biles

Simone Biles hangs on for U.S. gymnastics national title over Kyla Ross; McKayla Maroney impresses

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HARTFORD, Conn. — Simone Biles won silver on all four individual events at the U.S. gymnastics championships, but the tiny 16-year-old earned gold in the standings that mattered most.

Biles, of Spring, Texas, took the U.S. all-around crown over Olympian Kyla Ross by two tenths of a point, 120.45 to 120.25, after two days of competition. Biles stumbled on her final routine, uneven bars (14.2), but Ross bobbled on her finale, the balance beam (15.25), to keep the order the same as it was after the opening night Thursday.

Both Biles and Ross appear to be locks, as does Olympian McKayla Maroney, to make the four-woman team for the World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, Sept. 30-Oct. 6. The roster will be chosen after a selection camp next month.

Biles won the biggest title, but Maroney and Ross split the individual event gold medals: Ross for uneven bars and balance beam and Maroney for vault and floor exercise, the only events she competed on at the XL Center.

Biles started with complete confidence on the beam Saturday, nailing a routine for a 15 that would increase her lead on Ross to over a point. She put on a performance clinic on floor (14.95) and a clean Amanar on vault (15.8).

Heading into the final rotation the only thing that could cost Biles her first senior national title was a major mistake. Part way through her uneven bars routine she made one. Biles lost her footing during a move on the high bar, ended up in a dead hang and had to take an extra swing, a mistake that nearly obliterated her 1.25-point lead over Ross. Biles handled the error like a veteran, quickly getting back on track and landing a solid dismount to capture the title in dramatic fashion.

“I wasn’t going to let go of that bar,” Biles laughed when asked about what she was thinking when she made the error.

Ross came out swinging on floor (14.5), defiantly landing the tumbling pass that tripped her up in night one. She continued with consistency, turning in nearly flawless vault (15.3) and uneven bars routines (14.95). Ross survived beam, but it wasn’t enough to surpass the dynamic Biles.

Maroney looked like she never took a break for training. She drove home an Amanar vault that delivered an execution score of 9.7, the highest of the entire competition … by a wide margin. She grabbed the floor title from Biles by one tenth.

“I know that I’m not just a one-event wonder.” said Maroney, the world champion and Olympic silver medalist on vault,

The fourth spot on the worlds team is up for grabs.

Brenna Dowell, third in the all-around with 116.55 points, continued to make her case to the selection committee, hitting with consistency and proving she can handle the pressure of big-time competition. Peyton Ernst (115.3) and Maggie Nichols (114.7) rounded out the top five.

Lexie Priessman, the 2012 U.S. junior national champion who withdrew with an Achilles injury before the competition, was added to the national team, but it appears her season is over.

“We don’t want to take risks that could cause more injury,” U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said.

Priessman will see a specialist next week to determine the extent of the injury.

Also added to the national team was Elizabeth Price, the Olympic alternate who bounced back Saturday after a weak opening night. Price competed on just two events, vault and uneven bars. Price could fill a void for the U.S. on uneven bars, but it will be tough for her to make the world team with Ross and Biles’ excellence there.

American Cup champion Katelyn Ohashi, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, did not compete at nationals and was not named to the national team at the conclusion of the competition. However, Ohashi can be placed on the national team at a training camp, but it also appears she will not be in contention for the World Championships team.

All-around
1. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 120.450
2. Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif., 120.250
3. Brenna Dowell, Odessa, Mo., 116.550
4. Peyton Ernst, Coppell, Texas, 115.300
5. Maggie Nichols, Little Canada, Minn., 114.700

Vault
1. McKayla Maroney, Long Beach, Calif., 31.200
2. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 30.875
3. Mykayla Skinner, Gilbert, Ariz., 29.600

Uneven bars
1. Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif., 30.950
2. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 28.950
3. Brenna Dowell, Odessa, Mo., 28.850
4. Peyton Ernst, Coppell, Texas, 28.450
5. Ariana Guerra, League City, Texas, 28.350

Balance beam
1. Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif., 29.950
2. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 29.900
3. Kennedy Baker, Flower Mound, Texas, 28.950
4. Peyton Ernst, Coppell, Texas, 28.600
5. Maggie Nichols, Little Canada, Minn., 28.500

Floor exercise
1. McKayla Maroney, Long Beach, Calif., 30.100
2. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 30.000
3. Mykayla Skinner, Gilbert, Ariz., 29.750
4. Madison Desch, Lenexa, Kan., 29.300
5. Brenna Dowell, Odessa, Mo., 29.000

National team
Kennedy Baker, Flower Mound, Texas/Texas Dreams
Simone Biles, Spring, Texas/Bannon’s Gymnastix
Brenna Dowell, Odessa, Mo./GAGE
Peyton Ernst, Coppell, Texas/Texas Dreams
Madison Kocian, Dallas/WOGA
McKayla Maroney, Long Beach, Calif./All-Olympia
Maggie Nichols, Little Canada, Minn./Twin City Twisters
Elizabeth Price, Coopersburg, Pa./Parkettes
Lexie Priessman, Cincinnati, Ohio/Cincinnati Gymnastics
Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif./Gym-Max
MyKayla Skinner, Gilbert, Ariz./Desert Lights

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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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