Michael Phelps
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For Michael Phelps at Olympic Trials, nothing is a lock

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Bob Bowman was convinced, for no particular reason, that Michael Phelps would perform terribly going into the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, Australia.

It turned out to be the best meet of his life. Coach and swimmer now agree Phelps swam better in 2007 than at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Phelps won all five of his individual events in Melbourne, plus two relays, with five world records total. A preliminary medley relay disqualification, which did not involve Phelps, kept him from a shot at eight gold medals.

How does Bowman’s incorrect prediction from nine years ago factor into next week’s U.S. Olympic Trials?

“What I think really doesn’t matter,” Bowman said Saturday. “What he does in a couple of days is what’s going to matter.”

Neither Bowman nor Phelps were firm in their predictions on the eve of Trials. Not how well he will swim. Not even how many total events he will swim out of the five he’s signed up for.

“We’re in the ‘I don’t know stage’ right now, but in about three days we’ll know,” Bowman said. “I always don’t really have a feel for it until he swims. … I think he’s trained a lot better than he has, and he seems to be doing well in practice. That’s all we can ask for. But I think he’s going to do well.”

Later, Bowman added, “Every sign is good. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t tell you.”

Which led Phelps to quip, “We’re pretty good at hiding things.”

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Phelps will swim at his fifth and final Olympic Trials in a well-publicized different state than four years ago, when he and Bowman were privately feuding to the point that Phelps once missed 10 straight days of practice.

What Phelps has revealed is that he was frustrated by his pre-Trials tune-up meet three weeks ago in Austin, Texas.

He is expected to have designs on making the Olympic team in three individual events — the 100m and 200m butterflies and the 200m individual medley — and being part of the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relay pools, along with the 4x100m medley relay.

“I did a lot of thinking, and I’m pretty much set on what I want to swim,” Phelps said. “You guys will see the first event soon.”

Phelps’ earliest possible Trials race would be a 200m freestyle preliminary heat Monday morning at the CenturyLink Center. He could scratch that event, though, since he doesn’t have to race it to be eligible for the 4x200m free relay.

“Nothing is a lock,” Phelps, who hasn’t posted a strong individual 200m free time in his comeback, said of the relays. “Whoever is swimming the best should be on this relay. Obviously, if you’re in a rhythm, and you didn’t swim it at Trials, or you didn’t swim it at a meet leading up to it, and the coach thinks you should be on it, then that’s their decision. I’m fine with whatever they choose.”

Decisions on relay lineups are made by the U.S. coaching staff. Bowman is the U.S. men’s head coach.

“You have to weigh how he does at these Trials, and if he’s at his top level, you have to assume he’s at his top level across the board,” Bowman said.

MORE: Olympic Swimming Trials broadcast schedule

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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