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Nigeria shakes off travel issues, defeats Japan in Olympic opener

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The days leading up to the start of the Olympic men’s soccer competition were anything but smooth for Nigeria, with their being disputes with the Nigerian Football Federation regarding items such as the payment of their bonuses and the size of the plane that was supposed to take them from Atlanta to Manaus. Thursday morning things were finally sorted out, with the team arriving in Manaus just under seven hours before they were scheduled to face Japan in the group opener for both. What would Nigeria be able to give from a competitive standpoint given their travels?

Turns out the Nigerians had plenty left in the tank, as they scored five goals in holding off the Japanese for a 5-4 victory in the final match of the day.

Prior to Thursday no Olympic men’s soccer player managed to register a hat trick in a match since Carlos Tevez did so in 2004 in Athens. That feat was accomplished twice in Brazil, with Nigeria’s Oghenekaro Etebo becoming the second to do so. Etebo, who opened his account in the 11th minute, would go onto score four goals in the match. Etebo’s first goal was the third in a stretch of four goals scored in a seven-minute span, with both teams claiming two apiece.

Nigeria’s Umar Sadiq tapped in a rebound given up by Japan keeper Masatoshi Kushibiki in the sixth minute to open the scoring, only to have Japan receive a penalty three minutes later. Shinzo Koroki converted the penalty in the ninth minute, with Etebo offering a reply two minutes later and Japan’s Takumi Minamino knotting the score at two goals apiece in the 13th minute. The teams would remain tied until the 42nd minute, when Etebo scored his second on a failed clearance by a Japanese fullback. Etebo’s first shot wasn’t all that strong, but the defender attempted to clear the ball with a header that fell right onto Etebo’s right foot.

Less than ten minutes later Japan would be whistled for a foul in the area, with Etebo getting his hat trick from the spot in the 51st minute. Etebo scored his fourth goal in the 65th minute, with Kushibiki’s clearance of a Nigerian cross being of poor quality. At that point it appeared as if Nigeria could pick its final tally, but to their credit Japan refused to quit. A goal from recent Arsenal signing Takuma Asano in the 70th minute made the score 5-3, with Musashi Suzuki pulling Japan to within a goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time. Luckily for Nigeria their opponents ran out of time, as they appeared to be gassed (understandably so, given their travel to Manaus) down the stretch.

Both teams return to action Sunday, with Nigeria taking on Sweden and Japan facing Colombia in a doubleheader in Manaus.

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.

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

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World silver medalist opts out of figure skating Grand Prix

Elizabet Tursynbaeva
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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.

MORE: Orser reacts to Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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