Mikaela Shiffrin

‘Half bear’ Mikaela Shiffrin rallies, repeats as World slalom champion (video)

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Mikaela Shiffrin naps regularly, and it looked like she was hibernating about 30 minutes before she skied in the World Championships slalom Saturday afternoon.

She was shown on camera lying on top of snow near the start house on a warm afternoon in Beaver Creek, Colo.

“In fact, I am half a bear,” she joked later, after she said, “I was staring up at the trees and not thinking about anything. I was listening to music.”

The 19-year-old gathered herself and took to the course under the pressure of defending her title, as the favorite, in front of a hometown crowd.

At first, the time splits made it look like she was still groggy. Shiffrin, skiing with a four tenths lead due to her fastest morning run, had lost it all and fallen .03 behind Swede Frida Hansdotter with about 14 seconds left on the course.

“Between the first run and the second run, all I was thinking about was I honestly just have to try to hold my own against Frida,” Shiffrin said of Hansdotter, who has been better in the slalom during the World Cup season.

But Shiffrin flipped the switch on the final portion of the course, making up .37 to win by .34. Hansdotter had to accept silver with Czech Sarka Strachova bagging bronze.

“That took every ounce of my energy to pull myself together towards the bottom, not to blow it,” Shiffrin said, later adding, “Everybody I’ve seen so far said, ‘Wow, you almost killed us.’ I guess that’s the point, to have a good show, right? But it was not purposeful.”

Shiffrin crossed the finish line looking like the drama and the joy were lost on her. She was expression-less.

“I think I was still sleeping,” she joked. “I put a ton of energy out there, especially that last third of the course. I came away with the win, but I had no energy at the finish. I was like, I don’t know what to do.

“It’s always a little bit awkward because I feel like the best racers in history had the most epic finish celebrations. Ted [Ligety]‘s celebration yesterday when he chucked his ski. Lindsey [Vonn] falls on the ground. [Tina] Maze puts her finger in the air. I always watched these celebrations, and I go over it in my mind before the race thinking, how cool would it be if I won this, and then I did something so epic that everybody just starts crying.

“Then I get to the finish and I’m like, hiiiiiiiii. That was really fun. I’m so glad that I’m here and I won. This is fun. It’s a weird thing. I’m kind of a dork.”

Only one other woman since World War II has successfully defended a World slalom title — Croatian legend Janica Kostelic.

Shiffrin, a teenager for one more month, has won every major slalom title the last three seasons — Olympic gold, two World Championships and two World Cup crystal globes. Time and again, she has gone into major championships as the favorite and delivered.

“One of my motivating factors is not to be one of the examples that those authors use in books like choke or mindset or whatever,” Shiffrin said. “They always use examples of the champions who choked at some point, didn’t perform under pressure. I read these books, I’m like, oh gosh, it’s not so easy. Maybe they didn’t choke. Maybe they didn’t feel good that day.”

Shiffrin must carry over her success from Beaver Creek at her next races on the World Cup circuit in February and March to earn a third straight World Cup title. Only one other woman has won three straight World Cup slalom titles — Swiss great Vreni Schneider.

Shiffrin trails Hansdotter by 41 points in the World Cup slalom standings with three races left. Skiers earn 100 points for a win, 80 for second place, 60 for third and on down the line.

But Shiffrin spreads her focus to another discipline — the giant slalom. She won her first World Cup giant slalom race in October but has not recorded a GS victory since and was eighth in the event at the World Championships on Thursday.

“I really hope that in the next couple weeks, before my next race, I get back to my GS and really try to take the next step,” Shiffrin said on NBC. “I’m so close.”

The World Championships conclude with the men’s slalom, including Ted Ligety, on Sunday on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra.

Tearful Shani Davis back on top at World Championships

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.

“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

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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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