Simone Biles

Simone Biles returns to Secret Classic a different gymnast

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Before Simone Biles won the P&G and World Championships all-arounds last year, she competed at the Secret U.S. Classic.

“The meet wasn’t so great,” her coach, Aimee Boorman, said this week.

Biles fell on uneven bars and floor exercise, barely stayed on the balance beam and didn’t attempt a vault at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

She rewatched those performances a couple months later and apologized to her coach.

“I have no idea who that was that day,” Biles told Boorman.

A different Biles, aided by a sports psychologist, captured the P&G Championship all-around title less than a month after the Secret Classic in her first senior appearance at the meet. She then won the World Championship in Antwerp, Belgium, on Oct. 4.

Biles, the powerful 4-foot, 8-inch Texan, returns to the Secret Classic in the same Chicago suburb on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, Universal Sports) for her first competition since the World Championships. She leads a field that also includes the reigning P&G and Worlds runner-up, 2012 Olympian Kyla Ross.

The Secret Classic is the final tune-up meet for the P&G Championships, which are Aug. 21-24 in Pittsburgh. The World Championships are in Nanning, China, in October.

Biles, who had ankle surgery after Worlds, missed the American Cup in March with a right shoulder aggravation (Boorman said it wasn’t an injury, but a result of overtraining).

She flew to British Columbia for the Pacific Rim Championships and showed off a new floor exercise routine in podium training at the 2010 Olympic speed skating venue. But the shoulder bothered on bars, and she withdrew before the meet as a precautionary measure, Biles said.

“[The shoulder] still spazzes, but it’s fine,” Biles, 17, said. “We’re not worried about it at all.”

Biles, who mapped out short- and long-term goals at the beginning of 2013, said her goals this year are modest — top three in the all-around at the P&G Championships, which would probably be enough to make the World Championships team.

She said she won an all-around competition at a recent camp in front of U.S. National Team coordinator Martha Karolyi.

“[Karolyi has] pushed me this year to get back into shape and remember what it felt like last year and how confident I was,” Biles said.

Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas was also at that camp but wasn’t part of the all-around competition, Biles said. The home-schooled Biles, who sat up in the seat and drove her little sister to school before morning training this past year, looks up to Douglas like an older sister.

Douglas, who hasn’t competed since the London Games, was expected to compete at the P&G Championships, but the Des Moines Register reports she will not be at the meet.

“We’re really good friends, so I don’t think we’re competing against each other,” Biles said. “I never think in training that I’m training to beat people or to compete against other people. You have to beat yourself, actually.”

Biles recognizes the pressure accompanying a World champion going into this year’s big meets. So does Boorman.

“She was a relative unknown at this time last year,” the coach said. “I think she is a little bit nervous going into this competition for the main fact she hasn’t competed since last October.”

Biles will be competing against a startling trend in U.S. women’s gymnastics, too. In the last 10 years, 10 different women have been the top American finisher at the year’s biggest competition.

Karolyi said after last year’s World Championships that there were “several 13-year-olds gearing up for Rio” as well.

Biles will turn 19 in 2016. The oldest member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team that won gold was 18. The U.S. women who went one-two in the 2009 World Championships all-around, Bridget Sloan and Rebecca Bross, did not make the 2012 Olympics.

Does Biles, whose talents and body type have been compared to Shawn Johnson, have the staying power?

“I don’t see her as being someone who wins Worlds one year and she’s done,” said NBC analyst Nastia Liukin, the 2008 Olympic all-around champion. “I think it’s quite possible [for Biles to make Rio 2016].”

Liukin was second in the 2005 World Championships all-around and persevered another three years to Beijing.

“It’s all about your training and your preparation and how you handle the whole three years,” Liukin said. “You can’t look at it as a quadrennium. You have to look at it year by year. She definitely has everything to stay on top through these next three years. Now it’s kind of about staying healthy, which is obviously the most important thing. It’s very difficult to do so when your’e at this stage of the game and at this level.”

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Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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