Meryl Davis, Charlie White

Meryl Davis, Charlie White class of ice dance field at U.S. Championships

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Meryl Davis and Charlie White have a little history to take care of before they go for the first Olympic gold medal by an American ice dance couple in Sochi.

The reigning Olympic silver medalists are heavy favorites to win a record sixth U.S. Championship in ice dance, breaking a tie with four past couples.

Davis and White begin their fifth straight U.S. title defense on Friday at Boston’s TD Garden, hope to wrap up No. 6 on Saturday and be named to their second Olympic Team on Sunday.

They’re the closest to a sure thing across all four disciplines this weekend and might be the only American figure skaters to win a medal in Sochi.

Part of that is due to a lull across U.S. men’s, women’s and pairs skating, but more for their remarkable podium consistency since taking the baton from 2006 Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto.

Davis and White are the reigning world champions, have won five straight Grand Prix Finals and haven’t finished off the podium anywhere in nearly five years.

“We have been very fortunate to have an amazing career as American ice dancers,” the curly blond White said.

U.S. Figure Skating Championships Previews: Men | Women | Ice DancePairs | Schedule

It started in earnest at the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Davis and White won their first national title in 2009, but that was without the sidelined Belbin and Agosto, who became the first U.S. ice dancers to win an Olympic medal in 2006.

Davis and White outscored Belbin and Agosto in the short dance, original dance (since dropped from ice dancing competitions) and the free dance in Spokane, Wash., in 2010.

They then beat Belbin and Agosto again at the Olympics, silver to fourth, firmly planting themselves as the No. 1 U.S. ice dancers.

They enter Boston as the couple to beat and could win even with flaws, but neither likes those perspectives.

“I think Charlie and I always feel like the hunters,” Davis said. “Four years ago we were really seeking to be the top U.S. team going into the Games. We had a lot we wanted to accomplish. This time we’re really aiming to go after the perfect performances.”

It might take perfection to win Olympic gold over Canadian Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, their training partners in Canton, Mich. Virtue and Moir are known for their lyricism; Davis and White their athleticism.

The Americans brought in five-time “Dancing With the Stars” champion Derek Hough and a Persian dancer to boost their programs this season. They’ve been skating together for 18 years but are still learning, still improving.

Which doesn’t bode well for any other couples’ chances of taking gold in Boston.

“We’ve left no stone unturned,” White said.

The competition for the other two Olympic spots is led by Alex and Maia Shibutani, the “ShibSibs,” whose parents attended Harvard and mother was born in Japan. They’ve been skating together for 10 years, but this is their first chance to make an Olympic Team.

The Shibutanis have trained with Davis and White for six years.

“Ugh, those guys,” Alex joked of Davis and White. “When we were juniors in 2010, you’d have to ask them, but I felt very much like we were not yet ready to be a part of their group. After Grand Prix Finals, traveling with them, being to so many World Championships, they’ve really accepted us.”

Alex, who at 22 is three years older than Maia, was born in Boston and is excited to skate in the arena that the Celtics and Bruins call home.

“If you see him getting emotional when he’s looking up into the rafters,” Maia said, “you’ll know why.”

“I’m kind of a Mass-hole of sorts when it comes to the sports teams,” Alex said.

They are known for their humor and social media sense but also for their energy on the ice. The Shibutanis skate to Michael Buble in the short dance and a Michael Jackson medley in the free dance and have worked with Corky Ballas on choreography. Ballas, a Latin ballroom dancing champion, has trained “Dancing With the Stars” professionals such as Hough.

The Shibutanis won bronze at the 2011 World Championships, finished second, second and third at the last three U.S. Championships and won bronze medals at both of their Grand Prix events this season.

They’re the clear-cut No. 2 couple. Behind them are Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue

Bates took 11th at the 2010 Olympics with Emily Samuelson and teamed with Chock two years ago. They beat the Shibutanis at the 2013 U.S. Championships but did not make the podium in two Grand Prix events this season.

Hubbell and Donohue were fourth at the U.S. Championships and posted comparable scores to Chock and Bates in the Grand Prix season. They could be vying for that third and final spot.

Novak Djokovic rolls at French Open; top women escape

Novak Djokovic
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Novak Djokovic began what could be a march to his 18th Grand Slam title, sweeping Swede Mikael Ymer 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 in the French Open first round on Tuesday.

The top seed Djokovic lost just seven points in the first set. He gets Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis in the second round in a half of the draw that includes no other man with French Open semifinal experience.

Djokovic had plenty going for him into Roland Garros, seeking to repeat his 2016 run to the title. The chilly weather is similar to four years ago.

“I don’t like usually comparing the years,” he said. “But I think [the conditions are] quite suitable to my style of the game.”

As is Djokovic’s form. His only loss in 2020 was when he was defaulted at the U.S. Open for hitting a ball in anger that struck a linesperson in the throat.

Djokovic got a break with the draw when No. 3 seed Dominic Thiem was put in No. 2 Rafael Nadal‘s half. The Serbian also won his clay-court tune-up event in Rome, where he received warnings in back-to-back matches for breaking a racket and uttering an obscenity.

“I don’t think that [the linesperson incident] will have any significant negative impact on how I feel on the tennis court,” Djokovic said before Roland Garros. “I mean, I won the tournament in Rome just a week later after what happened in New York.

“I really want to be my best version as a player, as a human being on the court, and win a tennis match. Because of the care that I have for that, I sometimes express my emotions in good way or maybe less good way.”

If Djokovic can lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires two Sundays from now, he will move within two of Roger Federer‘s career Slams record. Also notable: He would keep Nadal from tying Federer’s record and head into the Australian Open in January, his signature Slam, with a chance to match Nadal at 19.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Earlier Tuesday, No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Sofia Kenin each needed three sets to reach the second round.

The Czech Pliskova rallied past Egyptian qualifier Mayar Sherif 6-7 (9), 6-2, 6-4. Pliskova, the highest-ranked player without a major title, next gets 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.

“Let’s not talk about my level [of play],” Pliskova said. “I think there is big room for improvement.”

Kenin, the American who won the Australian Open in February, outlasted Russian Liudmila Samsonova 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

“It doesn’t matter how you win — ugly, pretty, doesn’t matter,” Kenin said on Tennis Channel.

She gets Romanian Ana Bogdan in the second round. Only one other seed — No. 14 Elena Rybakina — is left in Kenin’s section en route to a possible quarterfinal.

American Jen Brady, who made a breakthrough run to the U.S. Open semifinals, was beaten by Danish qualifier Clara Tauson  6-4, 3-6, 9-7.

Sam Querrey nearly made it eight American men into the second round, serving for the match in the third set. But he succumbed to 13th-seeded Russian Andrey Rublev 6-7 (5), 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-4, 6-3. It’s still the best first-round showing for U.S. men since nine advanced in 1996.

The second round begins Wednesday, highlighted by Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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U.S. men off to best French Open start in 24 years

Sebastian Korda
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The last time U.S. men started this well at the French Open, Sebastian Korda wasn’t alive and his dad had yet to win a Grand Slam singles title.

Eight American men are into the second round at Roland Garros, the largest contingent in the last 64 since 1996. It could have been nine, had Sam Querrey served out the match in the third set against 13th seed Andrey Rublev of Russia.

Still, the U.S. has more men in the second round than any other nation. Astonishing, given U.S. men went a collective 1-9 at the 2019 French Open.

Back in 1996, nine American men won first-round matches. That group included Pete SamprasAndre AgassiJim Courier and Michael Chang (in Sampras’ deepest run in Paris, to the semifinals).

Clay has long been kryptonite for this generation of Americans — the last U.S. man to make a Roland Garros quarterfinal was Agassi in 2003.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

This group includes veterans like Jack Sock, who swept countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 on Monday. Sock, 28, was once ranked eighth in the world.

He then dropped out of the rankings entirely, missing time due to injury and going 10 months between tour-level match wins. He’s now at No. 310 and preparing to play No. 3 Dominic Thiem in the second round.

“A pretty horrific two years in a row,” Sock said. “I’m not opposed to silencing some haters after the last couple years I’ve gone through. I’ve read and seen enough of it, heard enough of it. I’m kind of ready to reestablish myself out there, let people know that I’m back.”

Then there’s 35-year-old John Isner, the big server who swept a French wild card in round one. Isner, the highest seeded U.S. man at No. 21, has posted some decent Roland Garros results, reaching the fourth round three times.

There are new faces, too. Taylor Fritz is seeded 27, aged 22 and in an open section of the draw to make his first Grand Slam fourth round.

On Sunday, 20-year-old Korda became the youngest U.S. man to win a French Open main-draw match since an 18-year-old Andy Roddick beat Chang in 2001.

He is the son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda and brother of the world’s second- and 22nd-ranked female golfers (Nelly and Jessica).

So far, Sebastian’s biggest feats: winning the 2018 Australian Open junior title and, in his only golf tournament, beating both of his sisters when he was 11. It was around that age that he gave up ice hockey and focused solely on tennis.

Korda was hooked after watching a Czech whom his dad coached, Radek Stepanek, at the U.S. Open in 2009.

“He played Djokovic on [Arthur] Ashe [Stadium] like at 10:30 at night,” Korda, nicknamed Sebi, said on Tennis Channel. “Completely packed. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I went home, and I was like, this is exactly what I want to do.”

An American man is already guaranteed to make the third round in Paris. Korda faces Isner on Thursday.

“I grew up on the clay,” Korda said, “so I know how to play on it a little bit.”

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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