Katie Ledecky, Ryan Lochte notch key wins in Austin

Leave a comment

Katie Ledecky and Ryan Lochte recorded statement victories, while Michael Phelps showed there’s at least one event he still must improve upon in his comeback at their opening meet of the Olympic year in Austin, Texas, on Saturday.

Ledecky outdueled Swede Sarah Sjöström in the 200m freestyle, in a matchup of the two Rio Olympic favorites in the event.

Ledecky clocked a personal-best 1 minute, 54.43 seconds, with Sjöström in second, 1.71 seconds behind. Missy Franklin was third (full results here).

“Good swim all-around,” Ledecky said on NBC Sports Live Extra. “I was happy with my 100 [freestyle personal best] and my 400 [freestyle win] yesterday and knew the 200 was right in the middle, been able to focus a little more on the shorter races this year. I think it’s paying off.”

Ledecky, 18, moved into fourth place all time in the event. The reigning World champion in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles last lost a long-course meters final in any of those events on Jan. 18, 2014.

Sjöström, who beat Ledecky in the 100m free on Friday and won the 50m free later Saturday, had the world’s fastest 200m free time in 2015 but did not contest it at the World Championships last August.

Sjöström’s best time in 2015, 1:54.31, would have beaten Ledecky on Saturday, though.

Earlier Saturday, Lochte won the grueling 400m individual medley at a meet in an Olympic-sized pool for the first time since May 30, 2013.

In fact, it marked Lochte’s first win in a Pro Swim Series meet in an event other than the 200m individual medley since April 24, 2014.

Lochte, the reigning Olympic 400m IM champion, has rarely contested the event since the London Games but remained coy about whether he will race it June 26 at the Olympic trials.

“I don’t know,” he said on NBC Sports Live Extra. “It’s something that me and my coach, David Marsh, are going to talk about, but we’ll keep you guys on your toes.”

Lochte clocked 4:12.66 on Saturday, beating the fastest U.S. man from 2015, Chase Kalisz, by 1.98 seconds. Lochte’s time would have ranked No. 8 in the world and No. 4 in the U.S. for 2015.

Also Saturday, Phelps finished fourth in the 200m freestyle, which is no longer one of his primary events.

Phelps, fastest in the world in 2015 in the 100m and 200m butterflies and the 200m individual medley, ranked No. 18 in the U.S. in the 200m free in 2015.

Phelps could contend for a place on the 4x200m free relay team in Rio after being on that relay at the last three Olympics. But he will likely have to cut at least one second off his best time in the event since his comeback.

“I have to swim it more,” Phelps told media in Austin. “It was OK, but I’m just frustrated.”

Maya DiRado and Ryan Murphy, two swimmers in great position to make their first Olympic teams at trials, swept the 200m backstrokes Saturday. Franklin took third in the women’s 200m back.

Olympic 100m free champion Nathan Adrian easily took the 50m freestyle in 21.85 seconds. Adrian, the World 50m free silver medalist, won against a field that did not include reigning Olympic and World champion Florent Manaudou of France.

The meet concludes Sunday with finals at 7 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra.

MORE SWIMMING: Ledecky looks like Olympic contender in 100m free

Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

MORE: Simona Halep, Nadia Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
Getty Images
Leave a comment

When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

MORE: Simona Halep, Nadia Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!