Jason Brown

‘Starstruck’ Jason Brown relishes fame

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Does Jason Brown know how popular he’s become? Yes, he’s checked YouTube.

Brown, 19, took second at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships two weeks ago and is the youngest U.S. men’s Olympic singles skater since 1976.

He rocketed to fan favorite status with his Riverdance style free skate Jan. 12, which has more than 2.7 million views on YouTube.

“The most hits that I’ve ever gotten before this was 8,000,” he said in a media teleconference Wednesday. “I would freak out if there was more than 100 people.”

The reception of the sudden and well-earned attention drips off his gushy, bubbly personality.

“It is so beyond everything I ever imagined,” Brown said. “I can’t even put to words how blown away, I don’t even know what to say. It’s so shocking. I don’t even know where to start.”

Brown said he returned to his Colorado training center the day after the U.S. Championships. You might not believe the scene.

“Half the lights are off,” Brown said. “I was the only one at the rink.”

On the ice, nothing has changed for Brown. He’s preparing for the first of what he hopes is three Olympics in Sochi and hoping to improve on his performance at the U.S. Championships.

“I am still the same person before I left for nationals,” he said. “I’m that crazy guy with long hair who loves to skate and loves to perform.”

He’s taken the motto, “Reschedule. Don’t delete,” in adjusting to increased requests for his time and camera crews at his rink.

“I’m not used to the spotlight,” said Brown, whose ponytail has a Twitter account with a few hundred followers. “But I’m really enjoying it.”

He’s asked advice of Olympic coaches and skaters, including Emily and Sarah Hughes, of how to deal with his first major senior international competition in Sochi.

He said he’d relish the chance to pick 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton‘s brain and was told 1948 and 1952 Olympic champion Dick Button was one of the 2.7 million viewers of his YouTube skate.

“That is like oh my gosh,” Brown said. “I don’t even know how to express how crazy cool that is.”

He regrets passing up the chance to meet two-time Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan last year.

“I get really, really starstruck around people,” he said, mentioning his mom urged him to approach Kwan. “I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I can’t do it. [Kwan] left without me even asking for a picture. I was so scared.”

He’s even in awe of his peers. He called a November experience in Paris sharing warm-up ice and a podium with gold-medal favorites Patrick Chan of Canada and Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan surreal.

It came one month after Brown, the reigning world junior silver medalist, was second after the short program in his senior Grand Prix series debut at Skate America. Brown tumbled to fifth after being a little too excited in his free skate then.

It meant the world to rebound in Paris and beat everyone except Chan and Hanyu.

“To be in the press conference after that with those two guys, it really proved that [Skate America] wasn’t a fluke,” Brown said. “It made me believe that anything is possible.”

Brown is unfettered by Sochi security issues, stating matter-of-factly that 16 family members are traveling to watch him.

“I’m going to be bouncing off the walls excited,” Brown said. “At the same time it is a competition, so I will get that focus, after the Opening Ceremony.”

So, does anything rattle Brown? He’s grown from throwing temper tantrums on the ice at 7 or 8 to turning to a psychologist in the rare times he’s upset now — as little as as once a month.

He’s trying to stay grounded and believes he can win a medal in Sochi. It’s not out of the question given the shaky depth of the men’s field.

His motivation? His coach’s first words to him after his dazzling free skate at the U.S. Championships.

“This was a little slow, that could have been better, that was two-footed,” Brown said. “For not even one second did I think that that was the best performance I’ve ever done.”

Russia taps Plushenko for Olympic record attempt

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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