Walter Dix

Walter Dix motivated for first healthy season since 2011

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Walter Dix felt ready to take down Usain Bolt after sweeping the 100m and 200m at the U.S. Championships in 2011.

“I want [Bolt] to be at his best, so when I beat him there will be no excuses,” he said in Eugene, Ore., three years ago.

Dix didn’t conquer the great Jamaican. He won two silver medals at the 2011 World Championships, behind Bolt in the 200m and Yohan Blake in the 100m, after Bolt infamously false started out of the final in the lane next to Dix.

The last two years, it’s been Dix who hasn’t been at his best. He was beaten by a balky left hamstring in the 100m at both the 2012 and 2013 U.S. Championships, missing the London Olympics and Moscow World Championships.

U.S. sprinting attention since reverted to Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay. Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100m champion back from a four-year doping ban, and Gay, the American record holder who hasn’t raced since revealing he failed at least one drug test last spring.

Dix has noticed he’s not a marquee attraction anymore, but he’s not taking it personally and making no excuses.

“I have been hurt the last couple years; it’s part of the game,” said Dix, now 28 and “a free agent” after being a Nike-sponsored athlete from 2008 through 2012. “The people that are running good times are the ones whose names are being said the most. Gatlin was right behind Bolt at the last World Championships. Gay was right behind Bolt in 2012. Those are the experienced guys. They show up when it comes to major meets. You can’t take anything away from them. I have to wait my turn.”

That’s patience from a man whose young confidence complemented Bolt’s no-worries attitude a few years ago. After the 2008 Olympic 100m semifinals, Dix reportedly looked at Bolt, who is eight inches taller, and said, “There ain’t going to be no jogging in the final.”

But there was. Bolt ran a world record 9.69, slowing and slapping his chest crossing the finish line, .22 ahead of Dix’s bronze-medal effort. Dix offered one of the quotes of the Olympics in an NBC interview afterward, summing up Bolt’s performance.

“The guy can run,” Dix said.

Dix did not witness Bolt’s triple gold feat at the World Championships last summer. He was focused on training in Europe, where he ran 9.99 seconds in Rieti, Italy, on Sept. 8, wearing a camouflage racing suit and sunglasses. It was his first sub-10-second 100m since that comment about beating Bolt in 2011.

Dix said last season marked the best finish to a year of his career, motivation he carried over to fall work in the weight room. He’s also moved from Southern California to train under University of South Carolina assistant Kevin Brown and has received encouragement from 2004 Olympic 200m champion Shawn Crawford, a South Carolina native.

On Saturday, Dix anchored a U.S. 4x100m team at the Penn Relays and held off a hard-charging Jamaican to win by .01. It wasn’t Bolt. It wasn’t Blake. It was Oshane Bailey, who owns a personal best of 10.11 seconds, a half-second slower than Bolt’s record and nearly a quarter-second slower than Dix’s top time from 2010.

Dix’s next races are in Jamaica on Saturday, the Cayman Islands on May 7 and Puerto Rico the following week. He hopes to be part of the U.S. team at the first IAAF World Relays Championships from May 24-25. He’s not yet entered in any bigger Diamond League meets, the ones frequented by Bolt, who made his own injury news this year.

“Part of the sport is being hurt and having to come back,” Dix said. “I think I should be better [than before the injuries]. I’m stronger.”

Fully healthy, Dix believes he’s in shape to challenge his best 100m time of 9.88. He’ll need to be to achieve his goal for this year.

“Win every race that I run,” Dix said.

Second fastest women’s marathoner ever banned for doping

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.”

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Novak Djokovic rolls at French Open; top women escape

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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.

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.

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