Grant Hackett

Grant Hackett qualifies for World Championships after 6-year retirement

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Seven-time Olympic medalist Grant Hackett made the Australian team for the World Swimming Championships this summer after a six-year retirement.

Hackett, 34, finished fourth in the 200m freestyle at the Australian Championships. That earned a spot on the Australian 4x200m freestyle relay team at the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, in August.

Hackett last raced internationally at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, where he earned silver in the 1500m free and bronze as part of the 4x200m free relay.

On Sunday, Hackett finished behind Cameron McEvoy, David McKeon and Thomas Fraser-Holmes in the Australian Championships 200m free final.

“I by no means expected it,” Hackett said in a poolside interview. “It didn’t really feel like I executed everything that well.”

He swam .01 slower than Fraser-Holmes. In August, Fraser-Holmes won the 200m free at the biggest international meet of the year at the Pan Pacific Championships, topping Ryan Lochte and the world’s best all-around swimmer, Japan’s Kosuke Hagino.

“It’s like one of the biggest achievements of my life to make that team after such a long amount of time off – and in only such a short preparation,” Hackett said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

No Australian male swimmer has won individual Olympic gold since Hackett captured the 1500m free at the Athens 2004 Olympics. He and Ian Thorpe are the only Aussie men to take individual Olympic gold in the last four Olympics. Thorpe failed in his comeback attempt for the London 2012 Olympics, after a four-year retirement.

Hackett could become the oldest Australian Olympic swimmer by three years if he makes the Rio 2016 team, according to sports-reference.com.

He struggled with domestic disputes and sleeping-pill addiction since retiring following the Beijing Olympics, spending time last year in a U.S. rehab facility.

Hackett returned to swim training last summer, later saying he was inspired by a conversation with Michael Phelps in August.

“Michael said, ‘You should swim again,’ and it was the first time that I felt like I wanted to get back in the water,’’ Hackett said, according to The Australian.

Two other swimmers posted notable results in the 200m free final.

The winner McEvoy clocked a time that would have won last year’s Pan Pacific Championships. McEvoy, a physics buff, did win last year’s Pan Pacific Championships 100m free, upsetting World champion James Magnussen and Olympic champion Nathan Adrian. McEvoy could be looking at a five-medal haul at the World Championships, including the three men’s relays (perhaps more if including mixed-gender relays).

Then there’s Dan Smith, who finished in fifth, which should earn him a place in the World Championships relay in the preliminary heats. Smith, a former 14-year-old prodigy compared to Thorpe a decade ago, came back from heroin addiction.

In other events, five-time 2012 Olympic medalist Alicia Coutts failed to qualify for the World Championships team in the 100m butterfly. She’s the two-time reigning World silver medalist in the event. Australian media reported Coutts, 27, may retire. Coutts’ five medals at London 2012 were the most by an Australian in any sport at an Olympics since Thorpe took five at Sydney 2000.

Christian Sprenger finished second in the 100m breaststroke, which he won at the 2013 World Championships. But Sprenger’s time failed to meet Australian criteria to be named to a World Championships team. He could still be a discretionary selection, but the 29-year-old may also retire.

“I have some decisions to make in the next few months, I suppose,” Sprenger said, according to the Australian Associated Press.

Japanese woman, 100, swims 1500m record

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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