April Ross, Kerri Walsh

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross would not go back to old partners

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Imagine this scenario: Misty May-Treanor decides she wants to unretire and go for a fourth straight Olympic beach volleyball gold medal. The first person she calls is her old partner, Kerri Walsh Jennings, who is currently playing with new partner April Ross.

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A similar instance occurred before the 2011 season. May-Treanor decided in 2010 she would take the next year off and was uncertain about her future, so Walsh Jennings partnered with Nicole Branagh.

But May-Treanor had a change of heart and told Walsh Jennings she was coming back, either with Walsh Jennings or with a new partner if she had to.

Walsh Jennings made a friendly split with Branagh, teamed up with May-Treanor again, and they won a third Olympic gold a year later in London.

So, what would Walsh Jennings say if May-Treanor, retired since London, called her with comeback plans again?

“I would say, thank you for calling me, I really appreciate that and tell her good luck,” Walsh Jennings said.

She’d stick with Ross. The makings of their partnership were born at the London Olympics, where Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor beat Ross and Jennifer Kessy in an all-American gold-medal match. Walsh Jennings told Ross, “Let’s go win gold in Rio,” when they shook hands after the final point.

Walsh Jennings and Ross didn’t make it official until later, after Walsh Jennings called May-Treanor one more time.

“[May-Treanor] left the door open for sure, even if it was a millimeter,” Walsh Jennings said.

“It will be what it will be; I’d have to figure out my own side,” May-Treanor essentially said, according to Walsh Jennings.

“I’m committed so much with April,” said Walsh Jennings, who has won four FIVB World Tour events in her first full season with Ross this year and six straight AVP tournaments, including this past week in Atlantic City, N.J. “It was such a unique situation last time around [four years ago with Branagh and May-Treanor].”

Likewise, Ross’ Olympic partner stepped away from beach volleyball after London. Kessy decided to start a family and then return to the sport. But she will not be coming back to play with Ross.

“I had such a great time playing with Jen, and I’m so happy with how we did, but this is my team now,” Ross said. “I’m 100 percent committed. There would be no thought in my head regarding changing teammates at this point.”

Walsh Jennings and Ross have twice as many international wins as any other team this year. Last week, Ross said they will play at the AVP Championships in Huntington Beach, Calif., from Sept. 18-21, followed by the final FIVB Grand Slam in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the next week. Sao Paulo would likely be their last tournament of the year, Ross said.

Sao Paulo could provide a preview of the kind of atmosphere to expect at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil has been the biggest rival to the U.S. since beach volleyball was added to the Olympics in 1996. Ross said the most heated environment she’s faced in her career wasn’t in Brazil but in Austria.

“In Brazil, they’re just fans of volleyball,” Ross said. “They want to get your picture and get your autograph. They’re just fans of the sport.”

Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor won their first World Championship together in Rio de Janeiro in 2003.

“We don’t speak their language, so if they’re heckling we have no idea what they’re saying,” Walsh Jennings said. “They’re loud and crazy, and it’s hot. Misty and I tried to quiet the crowd. That’s definitely the goal in Rio [in 2016], to quiet the Brazilians.”

Adding to the anticipation of Sao Paulo is the new Brazilian team of Talita and Larissa, which has won the last two FIVB World Tour events. Larissa, a 2012 Olympic bronze medalist with Juliana, came out of retirement earlier this year. Walsh Jennings and Ross have yet to play Talita and Larissa.

“They’re probably No. 1 on our radar right now,” Ross said. “We have to play them to figure out what the matchup’s going to be like to figure out how to beat them.”

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Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal rekindle record bids at French Open

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Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal will play on the same day at the French Open through the quarterfinals, assuming each advances that far and the weather doesn’t wreak havoc. Each time they walk on the crushed red clay, the legends move closer to tying all-time records.

Williams, in her 10th bid since returning from childbirth to tie Margaret Court‘s 24 Grand Slam singles titles, battled and then rolled past 102nd-ranked countrywoman Kristie Ahn 7-6 (2), 6-0.

“I just need to play with more confidence, like I’m Serena,” she said of the difference between a 74-minute first set and a 27-minute second set. “I love the clay, and I started playing like it, opening the court and moving and sliding.”

Nadal, in his second major since moving within one of Roger Federer‘s male record 20 Slam titles, swept 83rd-ranked Belarusian Egor Gerasimov 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

“Six months without playing a single tennis match is not easy,” said Nadal, who skipped the U.S. Open and then lost his third match at his comeback tournament in Rome. “I had to stop playing tennis for more than two months, so situation is difficult.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Their pursuits are very different.

Williams is already the greatest player in history by many measures, especially considering most of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and some at the Australian Open without the world’s best players.

Williams has lost all four of her major finals since her life-threatening childbirth. But she is not the favorite in Paris, despite the absence of 2019 champion Ash Barty of Australia and recent U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka. Williams hasn’t made the quarterfinals at Roland Garros in four years and just went 16 months between competitive matches on clay.

She’s also battling an Achilles injury that affected her during a U.S. Open semifinal run three weeks ago. She’s spent most of her preparation time in France rehabbing.

“A ton of prayer,” she said, noting coming early to a post-match press conference to maximize her subsequent time handling the Achilles. “I’m doing so much for it.”

None of Williams’ potential first three opponents have ever beaten her. Next up: Bulgarian and fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova, a rematch of their three-set U.S. Open quarterfinal three weeks ago.

Like Williams, Nadal next plays on Wednesday. He gets Mackenzie McDonald, one of six American men to so far reach round two, the most since 1998.

For more than a decade, followers have debated the greatest male player in history between Nadal and Federer (and now Novak Djokovic). But not until winning the 2019 U.S. Open did Nadal move within one Slam of Federer’s total.

Now, Nadal can tie Federer and pass the Swiss if he wins the next two French Opens (and Federer doesn’t win the next Australian Open).

Nadal is going for his 13th crown in Paris, as usual downplaying his favorite status. This time, he’s noting the cool, slow, autumnal conditions and a new brand of tennis ball that is disadvantageous.

“Conditions here probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros,” Nadal said last week. “The conditions are a little bit extreme to play an outdoor tournament.”

Federer is not playing after two knee operations. Nadal, who at 34 is five years younger than Federer, has the opportunity in the coming matches and months to tip the scales in his favor. And help deny Djokovic, who is 33 with 17 Slams.

Nadal is not one to engage in that GOAT debate. Turns out, neither is Williams.

“You can’t compare two people that are equally great,” she said of Nadal and Federer. “I don’t understand why people want to pit who’s this, who’s that? They both have spectacular careers that 99 percent of people can only dream of and they both deserve.”

Earlier Monday, newly crowned U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem rolled 2014 U.S. Open winner Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Thiem, the 2018 and 2019 French Open runner-up, next gets American Jack Sock, a former top-10 player now ranked No. 310.

Sock took out countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 for his first main draw win at the French Open in four years.

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

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World silver medalist opts out of figure skating Grand Prix

Elizabet Tursynbaeva
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Elizabet Tursynbayeva, the 2019 World silver medalist, said she will not compete in figure skating’s upcoming Grand Prix Series, according to Kazakhstan’s Olympic Committee.

Tursynbayeva noted in stating her decision that world ranking points will not be awarded in the series, which starts with Skate America from Oct. 23-25.

Fields for the six Grand Prix events, held on consecutive weekends through November, have not been released.

Skaters will be restricted to one Grand Prix start — halved from the usual two — and to the event in their home nations or closest to their training locations.

Tursynbayeva trains in Russia, one of six nations to host Grand Prix events.

Previously, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu announced he would not compete on the Grand Prix due to coronavirus pandemic-related travel risks.

Russian Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova, who announced an indefinite break from competition last December, is also not expected to compete. She is hosting a Russian skating-themed TV show but has not announced her future competition plans.

Tursynbayeva took silver behind Zagitova at the most recent world championships in 2019, a surprise given her 12th-place finish at the PyeongChang Olympics. Tursynbayeva withdrew before her 2019 Grand Prix events, reportedly after suffering an injury.

Last season’s top skaters were all first-year seniors — Russians Alena Kostornaya, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova. The world championships were not held due to the pandemic.

Two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

MORE: Orser reacts to Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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