Roger Federer: Olympic individual gold not top goal; Martina Hingis asked about Rio mixed doubles

Roger Federer, Martina Hingis
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NEW YORK — Roger Federer has said his “big goal” is to win Wimbledon for an eighth time and, “in a dream world,” become No. 1 again.

Where does that leave the biggest individual title missing from his trophy case — an Olympic gold medal?

“It’s not my No. 1 goal, or my No. 2 goal,” Federer said after losing an exhibition to Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov at the BNP Paribas Showdown in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. “It’s just something I’ve said, maybe I can reach that tournament and then see how it goes.”

Federer will turn 35 years old on the first Monday of the Rio 2016 Olympics.

He couldn’t compare Grand Slam tournaments (of which he has won 17) to the Olympics (where he captured a doubles gold, singles silver and carried the Swiss flag in the Opening Ceremony twice over four appearances).

“It’s so separate to everything else,” Federer said. “If you ask me Grand Slam or Olympics or this or that, I don’t know.

“I can tell you a story about Sydney [2000], Athens [2004], Beijing [2008], London [2012], and each one of them, to me, was an eye-opener.”

Rio could be special, too. Martina Hingis, the greatest Swiss women’s player of all time, is set to be eligible to return to the Olympics for the first time since 1996.

Federer and Hingis, 34, could play mixed doubles in Rio. Mixed doubles rejoined the Olympic program for 2012 for the first time since 1924, and the Swiss duo discussed playing together in London but opted against it.

“She has approached me [for 2016], and I said I’d give it some thought,” Federer said Tuesday. “The problem is, I don’t know how I play singles, doubles, mixed [doubles] within an eight-day period [at the Olympics]. To try to win them all, it’s like 15 matches in eight days [15 in nine days in London 2012; the Rio schedule hasn’t been announced, but it would take 15 matches]. You tell me how that works. I don’t [know]. I have to figure out things and what my priority is at the end of the day.”

Federer must also figure out his Davis Cup status, as International Tennis Federation rules dictate playing at least once for one’s country in the team event in either 2015 or 2016. Federer is sitting out Davis Cup in 2015 and would not comment on 2016 when asked Tuesday.

Federer and Hingis’ Olympic careers haven’t overlapped yet.

Hingis, then 15, was the second-youngest singles player at the Atlanta 1996 Games, behind Anna Kournikova, and lost in the second round.

She then won five Grand Slam singles titles, skipped the Sydney 2000 Olympics to avoid injury risk, was retired during the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and not playing WTA Tour events in 2012.

Federer and Hingis played together and won at the 2001 Hopman Cup, a team indoor event in Australia.

“She was, I guess, some say a hero of mine, seeing her on the tour, basically when I was still not knowing what I was doing on the tennis court,” Federer said. “She was already winning Wimbledon and all of those things. It was unbelievable to watch. I’ll obviously give it [mixed doubles in Rio] some thought because I have a lot of respect for her.”

Federer’s Olympic debut came at Sydney 2000, three years before he bagged the first of those record 17 Grand Slam singles titles. He recalled those Games while pacing the Madison Square Garden hallways late Tuesday night.

Federer expressed disappointment in not being able to play doubles in Sydney with Marc Rosset, the 1992 Olympic singles champion and most decorated Swiss player before Hingis came along.

Rosset, then 29, pulled out of the Sydney Games, reportedly due to “extreme physical and mental exhaustion” and after a deadline to add a replacement.

“[Doubles] was going to be my highlight,” Federer said. “Marc was like the older brother for me.”

In singles, the unseeded Federer’s draw opened up. He reached the semifinals without having to beat top seeds in his section Marat Safin, Tim Henman and Michael Chang.

But Federer lost in two matches with a medal at stake, to German Tommy Haas in the semifinals and then France’s Arnaud Di Pasquale in the bronze-medal match.

“Probably the most disappointed I’ve ever been in my tennis life,” Federer said Tuesday, coming toward a stop in a Madison Square Garden hall. “I couldn’t believe how close I was to the medal. At the end I left with nothing.”

Not exactly.

Federer, as Switzerland’s only male Olympic tennis player in 2000, spent much of his time with the two female Swiss players in Sydney — Emmanuelle Gagliardi and Mirka Vavrinec. Federer kissed Vavrinec on the final day of the Sydney Games. They are now married with two sets of twins.

“Overall it was probably the most unbelievable Olympics I ever had,” Federer said.

Photos: Lindsey Vonn, Roger Federer play tennis in the Alps

*Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the mixed doubles debuted at the Olympics in 2012.

With career records in view, Mikaela Shiffrin knows nothing is promised

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Sometime in the coming weeks, U.S. alpine ski racer Mikaela Shiffrin will presumably —  presumably being a very loaded and problematic word here  — win her 83rd race on the World Cup circuit, the highest level of her sport, thus passing fellow American Lindsey Vonn for the most career victories by a woman. Not long after that, she will presumably win her 87th race, one more than Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden, who won his 86 races from 1975-89. With that win, Shiffrin, who will turn 28 in March, will have accumulated more career victories than any ski racer in history, and will have ended a chase that has been ongoing and presumed for the better part of a decade. She will be deservedly celebrated for this achievement.

That celebration will undersell the moment and give Shiffrin a lesser form of praise than she deserves, because that is what career records do, just by existing. Career records compress the pain and struggle of an athletic career into a single, antiseptic number: the most this, or the most that. Touchdown passes, base hits, goals, sub four-minute miles. It will be said that Shiffrin’s record is the result of sustained brilliance, and that is manifestly true. It will be said that she packed her victories into a shorter period — 12 seasons — than either of the final two racers she passed; Vonn raced 18 seasons and won No. 82 at age 33, while Stenmark raced 16 seasons and won his last race at age 32. So this will also be true.

But these descriptions will soften the toll of Shiffrin’s work, because that is also what career records do. They simplify the complicated and sand down the rough edges, in service of the myth that the chosen number was inevitable. This was particularly true with Shiffrin: She was a prodigy, whispered — and then shouted — about across the breadth of the sport when she was barely in her teens, as the next big — and possibly biggest — thing. She won her first World Cup race at age 17 and an Olympic gold medal at 18 (the 2014 slalom in Sochi). She won a remarkable 17 World Cup races in the season that ended on March 17 of 2019, just four days after her 24th birthday. At that point she had won 60 World Cup races and seemed likely to blow past Vonn and Stenmark in as little as two more seasons. Hosanas were readied.

It has not played out exactly like that. In the three-plus seasons since that remarkable 2019 campaign, Shiffrin has won a total of 16 races (40 of Shiffrin’s 76 wins were crammed into three hyper-successful seasons from 2017-’19). She has changed since then, and she has been changed — by personal tragedy, by injury, by the realization of personal and professional mortality which young athletes deny successfully and older athletes either deny unsuccessfully or accept and fight against. What seemed easy has become much more difficult. (Of course, it was always difficult, Shiffrin just made it look easy, which is what the exceptional among us do.) And she has endured, most of all.

“For the last two years, I’ve had a note with something I wrote down,” Shiffrin said last weekend from her World Cup base in Europe. “It says, basically, what I would like most in life is to go back, like two-and-a-half years. I want to go back to where I was at the start of the year right after that 17-win season. It was my greatest season ever, and I was so happy. And I’d give anything to go back to that feeling.” She does not say this as if saddened, but as if enlightened, a very different thing.

The arc of Shiffrin’s life and career following that 2019 season is well-known to ski racing fans and even to a broader audience that witnessed her struggles in the 2022 Olympics. (More on that upcoming.) Just before the start of the 2020 World Cup season, Shiffrin’s 98-year-old grandmother, Pauline Condron, died. It’s reflexive to diminish deaths of the very old, but loss is loss and Shiffrin was very close to her grandmother. Shiffrin won six races from November to late January — not the pace of her previous season, but not shabby. On Feb. 2, 2020, her father, Jeff, died from an injury suffered in an accident at the family’s home in Colorado, while Mikaela was racing in Europe. From that moment forward, Shiffrin has carried extra weight.

As we talked last week, I suggested to Shiffrin — and again, this is not revelatory in tracing the life of an athlete, or a human being — that what had been a certain kind of innocence had become significantly more complicated in the last few years.

“When I was 16, 17, 18 years old,” says Shiffrin. “I didn’t know many people who had passed away. Since then, two of the five most important people in my life have passed away. They’re not here anymore. And that number is not going to get smaller as I get older.”

After the death of her father, Shiffrin did not race for over 300 days, much of that time during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which World Cup racing continued with relatively few cancellations (although with many interruptions and absences, and of course, no spectators). She returned and won three races in the 2021 season, pushing her total to 69. Content that highlighted her status in that moment often noted that she was “back.” She was not back. She will never be “back” in that simplistic, sports-centric way.

“Coming back to racing after my father passed,” says Shiffrin. “So many people said, ‘Well, you’re back.’ And then I won again and people said, ‘Wow, you’re really back.’ Actually, I was still really struggling.”

At the end of the 2021 season, Shiffrin won four medals at the World Championships, including a gold in the combined downhill-slalom event. She won four more World Cup races before the ’22 Olympics, but did not perform well in Beijing. She skied out early in both the giant slalom (stunning) and slalom (jaw-dropping), and then, after finishing– but not contending — in the speed events of Super-G and downhill, skied out in the slalom portion of the combined. It was an inexplicably poor performance that was endlessly analyzed in real time, including by Shiffrin herself, because she does not shy from public self-analysis, however painful.

Since then, on the one hand, she acknowledges that the experience left scars, because of course it did. At the same time, “I mean, people ask me about it,” she says. “Less and less on a daily basis, but I try to get the message out that I’m moving on.” Some of it will always be a mystery. “In the slalom and giant slalom and the combined, I went out at the fourth gate, the fifth fate, the ninth gate, but I skied those gates exactly how I wanted to ski them. I’m not one to DNF, usually. And in those races, I did not picture myself skiing out of the course, that’s for sure. But I did.”

Ten months have passed since that experience; three years since the deaths of her grandmother and father. This year she won World Cup slaloms in Levi, Finland, on consecutive days, Nos. 75 and 76. And then on Thanksgiving weekend at Killington in central Vermont, a home game on a hill where she had won five slaloms in five starts, she finished fifth (and 13th in giant slalom).

In all of this, the personal tragedies and the racing struggles, her relationship with her sport has evolved. The giant slalom finish in Killington she assigns to training too little this year in the discipline. The rest is more ethereal, more mental. “I’m in the middle of this whole, season-long epiphany, and maybe the Olympics sparked it, of how hard it is to not only win a ski race, but to make it to the finish. That’s not something I’ve struggled with for most of my career, but when you think about it, in ski racing, and you add up the changing conditions, the amount we care, it’s mind-boggling to me what I’ve done for the last 12 years.”

If that sounds like a lack of confidence, maybe, but that’s too simple. Consider it both a mature appreciation and a return to her roots as a racer. Jeff Shiffrin taught his kids — Mikaela and her brother, Taylor — to embrace the process of skiing artfully and to let the wins flow from that. “Any time I’ve started a race trying to win, instead of skiing my best, I have not won that race. But there is such an adrenaline rush to our sport, before you even win the race, and I’m still here for that. If I was here just for the winning, I would have retired by now. Because I’m close to 82 and 86, people find that hard to believe, but it’s true. I’d be done by now.”

She’s not done. Shiffrin thinks about what might come next, and concludes what most athletes conclude: “Anything else I do in life is probably going to be hard, but most other things are not going to give me as much back as ski racing has.” The 2026 Olympics will be jointly hosted by the city of Milan and the mountain resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy, an iconic ski racing venue. “Anything could happen, and I could decide to retire,” Shiffrin says. “But I don’t see it happening before the [next] Olympics.”

Unfinished business? (And to be fair, despite Beijing, Shiffrin has three Olympic medals; the only U.S. woman to have won more is Julia Mancuso, with four.) “Not medal-wise,” she says. “But the last three Olympics have been in places that have nothing to do with alpine skiing, normally.” [Boy is that right: Sochi, PyeongChang, and Beijing.] “Cortina is a place that I love. I’d like to experience an Olympics there.” Pause. “And of course if I’m racing, I’m going to want to be a medal contender, and there’s all that goes along with that.” A mouthful.

Before that, 82 and 86 await. Shiffrin will race a giant slalom and slalom this weekend in Sestriere, Italy, site of the 2006 Olympic and Paralympic alpine races. From there, the World Cup grinds on, with 13 more slaloms and giant slaloms beyond that, and numerous speed races, should Shiffrin decide to race those as she often has in the past. There are plenty of opportunities to finish this job, as it were.

Yet she understands, most of all, that nothing is promised, not even life, and certainly not ski race wins. “In one way, I know I’ll win another World Cup race,” she says. Presumably. “But I also know you can’t be certain.” And that is the lesson that will make the records most meaningful.

Jamie Anderson, Olympic snowboarding champion, announces pregnancy

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Jamie Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboarding champion, announced she is pregnant.

“The most precious and beautiful I’ve ever felt,” was posted on Anderson’s social media. “So incredibly grateful.”

Anderson, a 32-year-old who is engaged to 2018 Canadian Olympic snowboarder Tyler Nicholson, plans to return to competition in late 2023 and try for one more Olympics, a fourth for her, in 2026, according to People, which reported she is seven months pregnant.

A rep for Anderson later clarified that while she is planning on the 2026 Winter Games in Italy, she will take her competitive future on a season-by-season basis beyond that.

“I wasn’t planning on retiring with or without the baby, but I’m just so excited to be able to share this experience with our family,” Anderson said, according to the magazine. “I can see Tyler at the bottom of X Games with the little one. I think that would be really sweet.”

Anderson won the first two Olympic women’s slopestyle titles in 2014 and 2018. She placed ninth this past February after a tearful run-up to the Games.

Anderson also took silver in the first Olympic women’s big air event in 2018. Her 21 career X Games medals across all sites are tied for the record with Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris.

New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, 21, won Olympic slopestyle gold and big air silver in February after sweeping the titles at January’s X Games in Aspen, Colorado. Austria’s Anna Gasser, 31, repeated as big air gold medalist.

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