Alpine skiing men’s World Cup preview

Bode Miller, Ted Ligety

Any predictions for the men’s Alpine skiing season were torn to shreds along with Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal‘s Achilles tendon last week.

The revised picture is that of an Austrian seeking history, two veterans and a rising speed racer leading the U.S. men and a jumble of international threats across all disciplines.

Five storylines to watch as the campaign unfolds, beginning with a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Sunday:

1. Marcel Hirscher can stand alone

It’s pretty remarkable that a man with one career individual Olympic or World Championships gold medal has been the world’s best overall skier three years running.

But so it is for the Austrian Hirscher, who last year likened the pressure he skis under to trying to survive a pack of “a hundred crazy dogs who want to eat you up.”

Hirscher is a clear favorite to win the World Cup overall title for a fourth straight campaign this year, given the now-sidelined Svindal was runner-up the last two seasons.

No man has ever won four straight World Cup overall titles. Only one woman has done it, another Austrian of course. Annemarie Moser-Proell took five straight from 1971 through 1975.

Hirscher can take comfort that this is a non-Olympic season. He was a heavy favorite to win Olympic slalom gold in Sochi but was relegated to silver by countryman Mario Matt. Hirscher finished fourth, fourth and fifth in his other three career Olympic races.

Hirscher has proven more formidable over the course of a season. He ousted Ted Ligety for the giant slalom season title in 2011-12, then took the slalom crowns the last two seasons. He is so strong in those technical events that he wins World Cup overall titles racing few super-Gs, even fewer super combineds and no downhills.

His battle with Ligety in giant slaloms, beginning in Soelden, ought to be compelling.

2. Ted Ligety wants to be a ‘true champion’

Ligety finally won his coveted Olympic giant slalom gold medal in February, but he has said there is a trophy he would rather have — the crystal globe that goes to the World Cup overall champion.

“Because it’s a compilation of a season’s work,” Ligety said last year. “It’s really the mark of a true ski champion. Winning an Olympic gold medal is awesome. It shows you can really get yourself on the top level that day and push yourself. There’s a lot different things that can go into that, maybe the best guy doesn’t always win. The overall title, the best guy always wins that.”

Ligety is on the cusp. He improved from ninth in the overall standings in 2010-11 and 2011-12 to third in 2012-13 and fourth last year. He may be Hirscher’s biggest threat with Svindal out of the picture.

Ligety will go for his sixth career season title in the giant slalom, but he’ll need to capitalize in the faster super-G and slower slalom to close the points gap on Hirscher. He is the reigning World champion in the super-G, but Ligety has made the podium just once in a World Cup super-G race, five years ago.

No U.S. man has won a World Cup overall title since Bode Miller in 2007-08.

3. Bode Miller’s last season?

Miller had his best World Cup season since 2007-08 last year and capped it with his sixth career Olympic medal in Sochi. He said two months after Sochi that the 2014-15 season would likely be his last, but he has also not completely ruled out a run for a sixth Olympics in 2018.

Miller still has World Cup goals. Specifically, he would like to win the circuit’s famed downhill race, the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Miller has won two races in Kitzbuehel, but both were combined events rather than downhills. In the Hahnenkamm, he owns two seconds and a third over his decorated career that began before GPS navigations were available for driving through Europe.

“For any racer, Kitzbuehel is pretty much the pinnacle. It’s the top of downhill,” he told an Austrian media outlet in 2012. “I’ve never won the downhill here, and it is one of those things that I do feel is missing from my career and my downhill record book.”

This year’s Hahnenkamm is Jan. 24, very likely before the World Cup downhill champion Svindal returns from injury.

4. The next U.S. star?

Ligety is 30 years old. Miller is 37. They carried U.S. men’s skiing the last two Olympic cycles. The next man up may be Travis Ganong, a 26-year-old from California.

Ganong entered his first Olympics in February with zero career top-five finishes on the World Cup circuit. Then he finished fifth in the Sochi Olympic downhill. Then he finished third and fourth in the first two World Cup races after the Olympics last winter.

Ganong is a speed-event racer — he won’t ski the technical giant slalom in Soelden on Sunday — and could be a big beneficiary to Svindal’s absence this year. He’ll likely debut at the season’s first speed races in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Thanksgiving weekend.

5. Best of the rest

In the speed races, Olympic downhill champion Matthias Mayer of Austria is a promising talent at 24 years old, but he suffered a knee injury last week and hopes to debut in Lake Louise.

This could be the year that Kjetil Jansrud, the Olympic super-G champion, takes Svindal’s crown as Norway’s best overall skier and runs with it. He won two World Cup races after the Sochi Olympics last season and is fully recovered from blowing out his knee at the 2013 World Championships.

Veterans Alexis Pinturault (France) and Felix Neureuther (Germany) will look to unseat Ligety and Hirscher in the technical events, though Neureuther is out this weekend due to back problems. They all may be surpassed by Norway’s 20-year-old phenom Henrik Kristoffersen, the Olympic slalom bronze medalist.

Women’s Alpine skiing World Cup preview

2023 French Open women’s singles draw, scores

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At the French Open, Iga Swiatek of Poland eyes a third title at Roland Garros and a fourth Grand Slam singles crown overall.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Swiatek, the No. 1 seed from Poland, can join Serena Williams and Justine Henin as the lone women to win three or more French Opens since 2000.

Turning 22 during the tournament, she can become the youngest woman to win three French Opens since Monica Seles in 1992 and the youngest woman to win four Slams overall since Williams in 2002.

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But Swiatek is not as dominant as in 2022, when she went 16-0 in the spring clay season during an overall 37-match win streak.

She retired from her last pre-French Open match with a right thigh injury and said it wasn’t serious. Before that, she lost the final of another clay-court tournament to Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed, and Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, the No. 4 seed and Wimbledon champion, are the top challengers in Paris.

No. 3 Jessica Pegula and No. 6 Coco Gauff, runner-up to Swiatek last year, are the best hopes to become the first American to win a Grand Slam singles title since Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major drought is the longest for U.S. women since Seles won the 1996 Australian Open.

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2023 French Open Women’s Singles Draw

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2023 French Open men’s singles draw, scores

French Open Men's Draw
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The French Open men’s singles draw is missing injured 14-time champion Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2004, leaving the Coupe des Mousquetaires ripe for the taking.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Novak Djokovic is not only bidding for a third crown at Roland Garros, but also to lift a 23rd Grand Slam singles trophy to break his tie with Nadal for the most in men’s history.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Women’s Draw

But the No. 1 seed is Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who won last year’s U.S. Open to become, at 19, the youngest man to win a major since Nadal’s first French Open title in 2005.

Now Alcaraz looks to become the second-youngest man to win at Roland Garros since 1989, after Nadal of course.

Alcaraz missed the Australian Open in January due to a right leg injury, but since went 30-3 with four titles. Notably, he has not faced Djokovic this year. They could meet in the semifinals.

Russian Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2 seed, was upset in the first round by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild. It marked the first time a men’s top-two seed lost in the first round of any major since 2003 Wimbledon (Ivo Karlovic d. Lleyton Hewitt).

No. 9 Taylor Fritz, No. 12 Frances Tiafoe and No. 16 Tommy Paul are the highest-seeded Americans, all looking to become the first U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals since Andre Agassi in 2003. Since then, five different American men combined to make the fourth round on eight occasions.

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2023 French Open Men’s Singles Draw

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