U.S. men’s race for Olympic figure skating spots wide open

Jason Brown

DETROIT — Already a mystery not to be solved until January, the road to Sochi for the American men got even more clouded with the short program at Skate America on Friday night.

In the first Grand Prix of the Olympic season, reigning national champion Max Aaron fell (literally) to sixth place out of eight skaters while less heralded Jason Brown and Adam Rippon scored personal bests with respective satisfying skates.

They’ll finish with free skates Saturday.

Skate America Friday recap

Reigning Olympic champion Evan Lysacek and Aaron, who broke out for a national title in January in Omaha, were for the last few months the de facto front-runners in a race for two Olympic spots for the red, white and blue.

But Aaron’s attack-at-all-costs approach hurt him at Joe Louis Arena, falling on his first big jump, a quadruple Salchow.

“It’s all my fault; I take the blame,” Aaron, 21, said. “It was a bit of a lack of focus.”

While Aaron’s stock takes a dip, Brown and Rippon rise on a list that won’t be easy to decipher in the weeks leading up to the National Championships in January.

Said list also includes three-time national champion Jeremy Abbott, three-time medalist Ross Miner and 2011 silver medalist Richard Dornbush.

“I wanted to show that I had this big presence on the ice,” said Rippon after his short program, which put him in third (80.26 points) behind Japan’s Tatsuki Machida and Brown. “I think it’s the first step to making the Olympic team. I feel like I’ve been a dark horse for about a year and a half now, but I feel like I’m on the right track now.”

Rippon was second at nationals in 2012 but faltered to fifth a year ago. Training alongside two-time U.S. national champion Ashley Wagner, Rippon has gained muscle strength and confidence, skating to “Carmen” Friday night and conjuring a form he said he had lost due to a lack of confidence a year ago.

“I think everyone has the same mentality: ‘I can be one of those guys,’” Rippon said of the Americans and qualifying for Sochi. “But I want to come across as, ‘I know I’m one of those guys.’ It’s not a cockiness. It’s a demeanor that you see and you’re scared that I’m in the event.”

Brown was a last-minute substitute for Lysacek, whose lingering injuries have denied the Vancouver gold medalist a comeback, which was originally planned for September, then here. Lysacek will have to register an international qualifying score prior to nationals to be eligible for the Olympics.

“I’m working really hard everyday. I’m working on making my program more difficult however I can,” said Brown, 18. “[Sochi] is definitely a goal of mine. Every day I realize that this could be possible, that it could be a reality.”

Aaron, for one, doesn’t disagree that the field is wide open.

“Jason is a great sub in; he’s a hard worker and a great athlete,” he said. “Evan needs to be healthy before he competes.”

Elvis Stojko not a fan of Olympic team event

Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz exit French Open, leaving no U.S. men

Frances Tiafoe French Open

Frances Tiafoe kept coming oh so close to extending his French Open match against Alexander Zverev: 12 times Saturday night, the American was two points from forcing things to a fifth set.

Yet the 12th-seeded Tiafoe never got closer than that.

Instead, the 22nd-seeded Zverev finished out his 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1, 7-6 (5) victory after more than 3 1/2 hours in Court Philippe Chatrier to reach the fourth round. With Tiafoe’s exit, none of the 16 men from the United States who were in the bracket at the start of the tournament are still in the field.

“I mean, for the majority of the match, I felt like I was in control,” said Tiafoe, a 25-year-old from Maryland who fell to 1-7 against Zverev.

“It’s just tough,” he said about a half-hour after his loss ended, rubbing his face with his hand. “I should be playing the fifth right now.”

Two other American men lost earlier Saturday: No. 9 seed Taylor Fritz and unseeded Marcos Giron.

No. 23 Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina beat Fritz 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5, and Nicolas Jarry of Chile eliminated Giron 6-2, 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-3.

There are three U.S women remaining: No. 6 Coco Gauff, Sloane Stephens and Bernarda Pera.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

It is the second year in a row that zero men from the United States will participate in the fourth round at Roland Garros. If nothing else, it stands as a symbolic step back for the group after what seemed to be a couple of breakthrough showings at the past two majors.

For Tiafoe, getting to the fourth round is never the goal.

“I want to win the trophy,” he said.

Remember: No American man has won any Grand Slam title since Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open. The French Open has been the least successful major in that stretch with no U.S. men reaching the quarterfinals since Andre Agassi in 2003.

But Tiafoe beat Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the U.S. Open along the way to getting to the semifinals there last September, the first time in 16 years the host nation had a representative in the men’s final four at Flushing Meadows.

Then, at the Australian Open this January, Tommy Paul, Sebastian Korda and Ben Shelton became the first trio of Americans in the men’s quarterfinals in Melbourne since 2000. Paul made it a step beyond that, to the semifinals.

After that came this benchmark: 10 Americans were ranked in the ATP’s Top 50, something that last happened in June 1995.

On Saturday, after putting aside a whiffed over-the-shoulder volley — he leaned atop the net for a moment in disbelief — Tiafoe served for the fourth set at 5-3, but couldn’t seal the deal.

In that game, and the next, and later on, too, including at 5-all in the tiebreaker, he would come within two points of owning that set.

Each time, Zverev claimed the very next point. When Tiafoe sent a forehand wide to end it, Zverev let out two big yells. Then the two, who have been pals for about 15 years, met for a warm embrace at the net, and Zverev placed his hand atop Tiafoe’s head.

“He’s one of my best friends on tour,” said Zverev, a German who twice has reached the semifinals on the red clay of Paris, “but on the court, I’m trying to win.”

At the 2022 French Open, Zverev tore ligaments in his right ankle while playing Nadal in the semifinals and had to stop.

“It’s been definitely the hardest year of my life, that’s for sure,” Zverev said. “I love tennis more than anything in the world.”

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2023 French Open women’s singles draw, scores

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At the French Open, Iga Swiatek of Poland eyes a third title at Roland Garros and a fourth Grand Slam singles crown overall.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Swiatek, the No. 1 seed from Poland, can join Serena Williams and Justine Henin as the lone women to win three or more French Opens since 2000.

Having turned 22 on Wednesday, she can become the youngest woman to win three French Opens since Monica Seles in 1992 and the youngest woman to win four Slams overall since Williams in 2002.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Men’s Draw

But Swiatek is not as dominant as in 2022, when she went 16-0 in the spring clay season during an overall 37-match win streak.

She retired from her last pre-French Open match with a right thigh injury and said it wasn’t serious. Before that, she lost the final of another clay-court tournament to Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed, is her top remaining challenger in Paris.

No. 3 Jessica Pegula, the highest-seeded American man or woman, was eliminated in the third round. No. 4 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, who has three wins over Swiatek this year, withdrew before her third-round match due to illness.

No. 6 Coco Gauff, runner-up to Swiatek last year, is the best hope to become the first American to win a Grand Slam singles title since Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major drought is the longest for U.S. women since Seles won the 1996 Australian Open.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Women’s Singles Draw

French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw