U.S. women’s gymnastics rested, ready for Rio

Team USA gymnastics
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RIO DE JANEIRO – The U.S. women’s gymnastics team might just be the biggest gold-medal lock of the Olympics. How do we know?

Martha Karolyi is giving the team a day off. Two days before the competition starts.

“It’s pretty unusual,” Karolyi admitted in a Facebook Live chat Thursday night with 2008 Olympic silver medalist Sam Peszek.

That’s how confident Karolyi is in their preparation; the 73-year-old matriarch did Facebook Live ahead of the biggest meet in four years. Imagine the Russian or Chinese coaches, or even Coach K or Geno Auriemma doing this.

These are Karolyi’s legacy Olympics, her fourth and final Games as the national-team coordinator. The program vaulted into a class of its own in the last five years, winning every Olympic and world championships team and individual all-around title.

This year’s team is her most decorated yet and the biggest favorite for the Olympic women’s team gold in recent memory. The pressure to succeed is overwhelming.

The U.S. women finished their only pre-Olympic training session on the bright-green competition floor at about 7 pm Rio time Thursday night.

MORE: U.S. women start competition on Sunday at 4:30 pm ET

From there, Karolyi would have been expected to pore over scores, analyze routines or discuss Sunday’s qualifying lineup with coaches.

Those were not her immediate plans, though the lineup was a major talking point among the media, and young Laurie Hernandez’s coach. Karolyi deflected questions in her usual gushing-but-not-revealing manner.

Three U.S. women can vie for the all-around in qualifying, and it looks like the 16-year-old Hernandez will sit out in favor of returning Olympians Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman joining Simone Biles, despite beating both of them at the U.S. Olympic Trials last month.

Again, this speaks to how big of a favorite the U.S. is. The closest thing to a controversy is debating the third-most deserving gymnast on the squad.

This is tame compared Karolyi’s previous three Games in charge, when she had to deal with injuries to individual world champions in the lead-up to the team final.

The confidence is clear among the gymnasts, too. They already have the team name chosen to follow-up the Fierce Five moniker of four years ago, but Raisman said they won’t reveal it until after the team final Tuesday night.

Raisman didn’t say anything about “if we win the team final.” One would think a team name announcement after a silver or bronze medal wouldn’t make sense, but this thought doesn’t seem to enter their minds.

Karolyi and the gymnasts marched out of the mixed zone at about 7:30 Thursday night and into a transport. They were shuttled across a largely empty and very dark Olympic Park. The gymnasts went to an interview with Ryan Seacrest. Karolyi did a series of interviews.

Raisman was asked about Karolyi’s unusual move to give the team a free day Friday. The team captain said the Fierce Five did not get such a luxury in London, though they did get one at a pre-Games team camp.

“Usually we give a day off,” Karolyi said, “and they have several half-days off.”

Is this team more prepared than the 2012 team?

“It’s so hard to compare the teams,” Karolyi said. “I feel all the teams were well prepared.

“We reached the good level of training. We thought it would very welcome to give them a little bit of break. It’s not so much from the physical effort, but I think mentally you permanently have to focus so much. You have to keep your very best every single second, every single repetition that it’s very good to give them a day off to loosen up and come back with a lot of refreshment and energy for the competition.”

The gymnasts seemed loose enough even before they were given Friday off.

They met Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps in the athletes’ village on Wednesday.

Raisman said she “acted like a 5-year-old” in front of the Jamaican sprinter. Biles said she had to be the reasonable voice when Raisman and Douglas, the team veterans, were being boisterous in Bolt’s presence.

“I kept it calm, because I know how it feels when people rush over to me,” said the 19-year-old Biles, speaking from her experience of winning three straight world all-around titles. Two years ago, Biles seemed ready to cartwheel across the lobby when she found out her face was on hotel room keys at the P&G Championships. She has matured.

“Aly and Gabby practically flipped the whole dinner table and screamed, ‘Usain!’ and attracted people,” Biles said. “I said you can’t do that, keep it calm.”

In the end, the team noticed how hungry Bolt must have been, since he had two heaping plates of pasta on his table. Hernandez wanted to challenge Bolt to a race, but that will wait.

“Hopefully another time, when he’s not starving, we can have a conversation with him,” Raisman said.

One thing the U.S. women won’t be doing on their day off is marching in the Opening Ceremony and tiring their legs with hours of standing. That would have been even more eyebrow-raising than Karolyi letting them free for the day.

Karolyi said the last time U.S. women’s artistic team members marched in the Opening Ceremony was at the 1988 Seoul Games. And that Karolyi actually marched with them.

That would be a sight to behold, but a quick YouTube query and a Where’s Waldo-esque search through the light-blue tops and long white skirts yielded no definitive proof.

“I, for sure, have been around a very long time,” Karolyi joked, fittingly in the Facebook Live chat.

When her teams perform well, Karolyi rewards herself. At the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio, the U.S. won the team event, swept the all-around podium and took gold and silver in three of four apparatus finals.

Karolyi visited a jewelry store and hopes to return, should the team take care of business. From the looks of it, they already have.

To Karolyi’s liking, they stuck their landings and showed maturity in Thursday’s training session. They’ve also traded pins and scouted boys. The team has mastered time management, too.

“Work hard, play hard,” Biles joked.

Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz exit French Open, leaving no U.S. men

Frances Tiafoe French Open

Frances Tiafoe kept coming oh so close to extending his French Open match against Alexander Zverev: 12 times Saturday night, the American was two points from forcing things to a fifth set.

Yet the 12th-seeded Tiafoe never got closer than that.

Instead, the 22nd-seeded Zverev finished out his 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1, 7-6 (5) victory after more than 3 1/2 hours in Court Philippe Chatrier to reach the fourth round. With Tiafoe’s exit, none of the 16 men from the United States who were in the bracket at the start of the tournament are still in the field.

“I mean, for the majority of the match, I felt like I was in control,” said Tiafoe, a 25-year-old from Maryland who fell to 1-7 against Zverev.

“It’s just tough,” he said about a half-hour after his loss ended, rubbing his face with his hand. “I should be playing the fifth right now.”

Two other American men lost earlier Saturday: No. 9 seed Taylor Fritz and unseeded Marcos Giron.

No. 23 Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina beat Fritz 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5, and Nicolas Jarry of Chile eliminated Giron 6-2, 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-3.

There are three U.S women remaining: No. 6 Coco Gauff, Sloane Stephens and Bernarda Pera.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

It is the second year in a row that zero men from the United States will participate in the fourth round at Roland Garros. If nothing else, it stands as a symbolic step back for the group after what seemed to be a couple of breakthrough showings at the past two majors.

For Tiafoe, getting to the fourth round is never the goal.

“I want to win the trophy,” he said.

Remember: No American man has won any Grand Slam title since Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open. The French Open has been the least successful major in that stretch with no U.S. men reaching the quarterfinals since Andre Agassi in 2003.

But Tiafoe beat Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the U.S. Open along the way to getting to the semifinals there last September, the first time in 16 years the host nation had a representative in the men’s final four at Flushing Meadows.

Then, at the Australian Open this January, Tommy Paul, Sebastian Korda and Ben Shelton became the first trio of Americans in the men’s quarterfinals in Melbourne since 2000. Paul made it a step beyond that, to the semifinals.

After that came this benchmark: 10 Americans were ranked in the ATP’s Top 50, something that last happened in June 1995.

On Saturday, after putting aside a whiffed over-the-shoulder volley — he leaned atop the net for a moment in disbelief — Tiafoe served for the fourth set at 5-3, but couldn’t seal the deal.

In that game, and the next, and later on, too, including at 5-all in the tiebreaker, he would come within two points of owning that set.

Each time, Zverev claimed the very next point. When Tiafoe sent a forehand wide to end it, Zverev let out two big yells. Then the two, who have been pals for about 15 years, met for a warm embrace at the net, and Zverev placed his hand atop Tiafoe’s head.

“He’s one of my best friends on tour,” said Zverev, a German who twice has reached the semifinals on the red clay of Paris, “but on the court, I’m trying to win.”

At the 2022 French Open, Zverev tore ligaments in his right ankle while playing Nadal in the semifinals and had to stop.

“It’s been definitely the hardest year of my life, that’s for sure,” Zverev said. “I love tennis more than anything in the world.”

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2023 French Open women’s singles draw, scores

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At the French Open, Iga Swiatek of Poland eyes a third title at Roland Garros and a fourth Grand Slam singles crown overall.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Swiatek, the No. 1 seed from Poland, can join Serena Williams and Justine Henin as the lone women to win three or more French Opens since 2000.

Having turned 22 on Wednesday, she can become the youngest woman to win three French Opens since Monica Seles in 1992 and the youngest woman to win four Slams overall since Williams in 2002.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Men’s Draw

But Swiatek is not as dominant as in 2022, when she went 16-0 in the spring clay season during an overall 37-match win streak.

She retired from her last pre-French Open match with a right thigh injury and said it wasn’t serious. Before that, she lost the final of another clay-court tournament to Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed, is her top remaining challenger in Paris.

No. 3 Jessica Pegula, the highest-seeded American man or woman, was eliminated in the third round. No. 4 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, who has three wins over Swiatek this year, withdrew before her third-round match due to illness.

No. 6 Coco Gauff, runner-up to Swiatek last year, is the best hope to become the first American to win a Grand Slam singles title since Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major drought is the longest for U.S. women since Seles won the 1996 Australian Open.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Women’s Singles Draw

French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw