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‘Minimal risk’ of Zika virus during Olympics, Rio Games medical director says

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Zika virus is overshadowing the final preparations for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, even eclipsing concerns over deep budget cuts and severe water pollution.

Hundreds of reporters packed Olympic headquarters on Tuesday to hear about ticket sales, venue construction and a reminder that Friday marks six months until the opening of the Games on Aug. 5.

Instead, they got the organizers’ medical director, Dr. Joao Grangeiro, and government health officials offering assurances that the Games will be safe from Zika and that only pregnant women are at risk from the mosquito-borne virus with its epicenter in Brazil.

“Athletes should come to the Olympic Games,” said Grangeiro, who said organizers are following guidelines of the World Health Organization, which calls the spread of the virus an “extraordinary event and public health threat.”

“They [athletes] are not at risk,” Grangeiro added, promising the mosquito count will fall in August during Brazil’s winter.

“We will have Summer Games, but for us it’s winter time,” he said. “We will not have an epidemic or pandemic situation. We can’t say we won’t have any cases [during the Games], but we see this as a minimal risk.”

Daniel Soranz, Rio’s city health secretary, told reporters the mosquitoes around the Olympic Park, the heart of the Games, were not primarily the Aedes aegypt type that transmit Zika.

“We have routine daily actions in the area in order to diminish the number of mosquitoes,” he said.

Jaques Wagner, the chief of staff for Brazil president Dilma Rousseff, said Monday there was no risk to athletes unless “they are pregnant women.” He said pregnant women were “not recommended” to travel to Brazil.

The Zika virus is another problem for Rio organizers, who have been forced to cut about $500 million to keep the $2 billion operating budget in balance with Brazil going through its deepest recession since the 1930s.

The local currency has lost about 30 percent of its value against the dollar in the last year, inflation is above 10 percent and Rousseff is fighting impeachment.

Rio organizing committee spokesman Mario Andrada was asked how organizers can fund programs to kill mosquitoes as they slash other expenditures.

“In this case the most important thing to do is obviously to care for those who have been infected and to prevent new infections, and not to worry if we have budget or not,” Andrada said.

“We have the funds that we need to do the work that we have to do,” Andrada added, without specifying the cost.

He was also asked if tourists were getting worried about traveling to Brazil.

“No. I don’t have even one request to return tickets,” he replied.

Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s executive director of the Olympic Games, said sports federations were briefed about Zika on Tuesday at the IOC offices in Lausanne, Switzerland.

He said the Olympics had dealt with the SARS virus before the 2008 Beijing Games, and Ebola during the 2014 Summer Youth Games in Nanjing, China.

“It is not unusual, not comfortable obviously, but at the same time there’s a very good response from the Brazilian authorities,” he said, “especially with the huge mobilization of armed forces.”

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Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal rekindle record bids at French Open

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Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal will play on the same day at the French Open through the quarterfinals, assuming each advances that far and the weather doesn’t wreak havoc. Each time they walk on the crushed red clay, the legends move closer to tying all-time records.

Williams, in her 10th bid since returning from childbirth to tie Margaret Court‘s 24 Grand Slam singles titles, battled and then rolled past 102nd-ranked countrywoman Kristie Ahn 7-6 (2), 6-0.

“I just need to play with more confidence, like I’m Serena,” she said of the difference between a 74-minute first set and a 27-minute second set. “I love the clay, and I started playing like it, opening the court and moving and sliding.”

Nadal, in his second major since moving within one of Roger Federer‘s male record 20 Slam titles, swept 83rd-ranked Belarusian Egor Gerasimov 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

“Six months without playing a single tennis match is not easy,” said Nadal, who skipped the U.S. Open and then lost his third match at his comeback tournament in Rome. “I had to stop playing tennis for more than two months, so situation is difficult.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Their pursuits are very different.

Williams is already the greatest player in history by many measures, especially considering most of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and some at the Australian Open without the world’s best players.

Williams has lost all four of her major finals since her life-threatening childbirth. But she is not the favorite in Paris, despite the absence of 2019 champion Ash Barty of Australia and recent U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka. Williams hasn’t made the quarterfinals at Roland Garros in four years and just went 16 months between competitive matches on clay.

She’s also battling an Achilles injury that affected her during a U.S. Open semifinal run three weeks ago. She’s spent most of her preparation time in France rehabbing.

“A ton of prayer,” she said, noting coming early to a post-match press conference to maximize her subsequent time handling the Achilles. “I’m doing so much for it.”

None of Williams’ potential first three opponents have ever beaten her. Next up: Bulgarian and fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova, a rematch of their three-set U.S. Open quarterfinal three weeks ago.

Like Williams, Nadal next plays on Wednesday. He gets Mackenzie McDonald, one of six American men to so far reach round two, the most since 1998.

For more than a decade, followers have debated the greatest male player in history between Nadal and Federer (and now Novak Djokovic). But not until winning the 2019 U.S. Open did Nadal move within one Slam of Federer’s total.

Now, Nadal can tie Federer and pass the Swiss if he wins the next two French Opens (and Federer doesn’t win the next Australian Open).

Nadal is going for his 13th crown in Paris, as usual downplaying his favorite status. This time, he’s noting the cool, slow, autumnal conditions and a new brand of tennis ball that is disadvantageous.

“Conditions here probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros,” Nadal said last week. “The conditions are a little bit extreme to play an outdoor tournament.”

Federer is not playing after two knee operations. Nadal, who at 34 is five years younger than Federer, has the opportunity in the coming matches and months to tip the scales in his favor. And help deny Djokovic, who is 33 with 17 Slams.

Nadal is not one to engage in that GOAT debate. Turns out, neither is Williams.

“You can’t compare two people that are equally great,” she said of Nadal and Federer. “I don’t understand why people want to pit who’s this, who’s that? They both have spectacular careers that 99 percent of people can only dream of and they both deserve.”

Earlier Monday, newly crowned U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem rolled 2014 U.S. Open winner Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Thiem, the 2018 and 2019 French Open runner-up, next gets American Jack Sock, a former top-10 player now ranked No. 310.

Sock took out countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 for his first main draw win at the French Open in four years.

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World silver medalist opts out of figure skating Grand Prix

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Elizabet Tursynbayeva, the 2019 World silver medalist, said she will not compete in figure skating’s upcoming Grand Prix Series, according to Kazakhstan’s Olympic Committee.

Tursynbayeva noted in stating her decision that world ranking points will not be awarded in the series, which starts with Skate America from Oct. 23-25.

Fields for the six Grand Prix events, held on consecutive weekends through November, have not been released.

Skaters will be restricted to one Grand Prix start — halved from the usual two — and to the event in their home nations or closest to their training locations.

Tursynbayeva trains in Russia, one of six nations to host Grand Prix events.

Previously, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu announced he would not compete on the Grand Prix due to coronavirus pandemic-related travel risks.

Russian Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova, who announced an indefinite break from competition last December, is also not expected to compete. She is hosting a Russian skating-themed TV show but has not announced her future competition plans.

Tursynbayeva took silver behind Zagitova at the most recent world championships in 2019, a surprise given her 12th-place finish at the PyeongChang Olympics. Tursynbayeva withdrew before her 2019 Grand Prix events, reportedly after suffering an injury.

Last season’s top skaters were all first-year seniors — Russians Alena Kostornaya, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova. The world championships were not held due to the pandemic.

Two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

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