Mao Asada, Javier Fernandez win Cup of China

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In 2005, a 15-year-old named Mao Asada made her Grand Prix series debut at Cup of China and finished second, ahead of countrywoman Shizuka Arakawa.

Arakawa would go on to win the Olympic title in Torino three months later. Asada was too young to be eligible for those Winter Games.

Asada, though, had started a career that has now become one of the most prolific in the sport’s history.

Now 25, she came back from a one-season break from competition to win Cup of China on Saturday — her 15th career Grand Prix series title (the most among active skaters, and she’s the only singles skater to win all of the current Grand Prix events) to go along with her three World titles and an Olympic silver medal.

World champion Javier Fernandez of Spain took the men’s title ahead of a Chinese teen who in his free skate attempted four quadruple jumps and two triple Axels in his senior Grand Prix debut (landing five of the six jumps, though not all clean).

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will have Cup of China coverage Sunday from 12-1:30 p.m. ET.

Asada led by 5.94 points after Friday’s short program but struggled to place third in the free skate, though it was still enough to edge countrywoman Rika Hongo by 1.72. Russian Yelena Radionova, the World bronze medalist, improved from sixth after the short to finish third.

Asada landed her trademark triple Axel for a second straight night but fell on the back half of a triple flip-triple loop combination among other jumping errors.

Her total score — 197.48 — would have placed third at Skate America two weeks ago (behind Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva and American Gracie Gold) and second at Skate Canada (behind Ashley Wagner).

“I didn’t feel satisfied with the long program today, but I will make myself to the Grand Prix Final,” said Asada, who is in strong shape to qualify for the six-skater Grand Prix Final in December, should she make the podium at NHK Trophy in Japan in three weeks. “We have something to improve in the future.”

On the men’s side, Fernandez landed two quads and fell on a third in his free skate but still had the highest score, as he did in the short program. Fernandez totaled 270.55 points, beating China’s Jin Boyang by 9.22.

Watch Fernandez’s free skate here.

“It’s a hard day a little bit,” Fernandez said. “I fought it through from beginning to end. … It’s still early in the season. There are a lot of things to improve.”

Jin, the 18-year-old World junior silver medalist in his Grand Prix debut, laid out an ambitious free skate after a technically strong short program Friday.

On Saturday, he landed a quadruple Lutz, toe quadruple toe loops (one in combination, stepping out of the landing of one), fell on a quadruple Salchow and landed two triple Axels. On Friday, he landed two quads, including one in combination (the highest-scoring element of all time, according to Icenetwork).

The Grand Prix season continues next weekend with the fourth of six events before the Grand Prix Final, Trophée Bompard in Bordeaux, France. It will feature World champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, U.S. Olympian Gracie Gold and three-time World champion Patrick Chan.

MORE: Why Mao Asada returned to figure skating

WOMEN
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 206.01 (Skate America)
2. Gracie Gold (USA) — 202.80 (Skate America)
3. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 202.52 (Skate Canada)
4. Mao Asada (JPN) — 197.48 (Cup of China)
5. Rika Hongo (JPN) — 195.76 (Cup of China)
6. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 188.99 (Skate Canada)
7. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 188.07 (Skate America)

MEN
1. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 271.14 (Skate Canada)
2. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 270.55 (Cup of China)
3. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 261.23 (Cup of China)
4. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 259.54 (Skate Canada)
5. Max Aaron (USA) — 258.95 (Skate America)
6. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 257.43 (Skate America)
7. Daisuke Murakami (JPN) — 252.25 (Skate Canada)

Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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Conseslus Kipruto tests positive for coronavirus, canceling world-record bid

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Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion, tested positive for the coronavirus without symptoms, which will keep him from a world-record chase on Friday, according to his social media.

The Kenyan was to race in the first in-person Diamond League meet of the year in Monaco on Friday.

“Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities,” was posted. “Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League.

“I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well.”

Kipruto, 25, is the 14th-fastest steepler in history with a personal best of 8:00.12. The world record is 7:53.63, set by Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2004.

Last year, Kipruto won the world title by .01, extending a streak of a Kenyan or Kenyan-born man winning every Olympic or world title in the event since the 1988 Seoul Games. He was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot until opening his season extremely late on Aug. 24.

MORE: Trayvon Bromell’s road back through destruction, death

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Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities. Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League on August 14th. I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well. Wish to thank Monaco for all the work they have done and I wish them and my colleagues a wonderful competition. Athletics is back and I will be back as well. Anyone willing to organise a steeple once I can be cleared? @diamondleaguemonaco #nike #quarantine #WR #Kenya

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