Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski
Getty Images

Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir preview Grand Prix Final

Leave a comment

With the Pyeongchang Olympics coming in 14 months, any year-out figure skating predictions will lean heavily on what happens at this week’s Grand Prix Final.

The top six per discipline from around the world gather in Marseille, France, to crown the best skaters of the first half of the season.

The fields include every reigning world champion. The broadcast schedule is here.

NBC Olympic figure skating analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir offered their takes on the men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dance favorites:

Men
Field (Highest Grand Prix season score)
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 301.47
2. Javier Fernández (ESP) — 292.98
3. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 285.07
4. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 279.72
5. Nathan Chen (USA) — 268.91
6. Adam Rippon (USA) — 267.53

Preview
Hanyu can become the first singles skater to win four straight Grand Prix Finals in the event’s 22-year history. The Japanese Olympic champion broke his own scoring records at this event last year, but he is not a heavy favorite. Fernandez, the two-time reigning world champion, is the only men’s skater to go undefeated in the fall. Chen and Rippon are the first U.S. men to qualify for a Grand Prix Final since 2011.

Lipinski’s Take
It’s Yuzu’s to lose, but then there are times you never know what you’re going to get from Yuzu. He could skate flawlessly, or he has these crazy falls and the program kind of falls apart and you can have Javi or Patrick Chan swooping in. … Chen is definitely a dark horse. If there are mistakes (from others), and he does his job, you can’t deny the technical difficulty in his program (six total quadruple jumps).

Weir’s Take
What Yuzuru did was very good at the NHK Trophy (two weeks ago), but he wasn’t in the normal state where he would have been maybe a year ago. But he does always bring it around the Grand Prix Final. … It’s huge that there are two American men in the Grand Prix Final. A year ago, we were looking at a world championships in the United States, thinking the Americans didn’t have a shot. Even if the Americans finish fifth and sixth, it’s a huge accomplishment.

Women
Field (Highest Grand Prix season score)
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 221.54
2. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 215.21
3. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 206.45
4. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 205.90
5. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 200.35
6. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 198.00

Preview
Medvedeva hasn’t lost in more than one year and is a clear favorite to repeat. It very well could be a Russian sweep, given Pogorilaya has been the clear No. 2 this season, and Radionova has made the podium in both of her Grand Prix Final appearances. No U.S. women are in the field for the first time since 2008.

Lipinski’s Take
Medvedeva is sort of like Yuzu. She’s at a different level. I haven’t seen a skater like her in a long time. You talk about the complete package, whether it’s artistry or technical ability. She has that. She has this unique personality on the ice. She has this charisma that captures the audience. She has a tough, competitive mental outlook when she steps on the ice.

Weir’s Take
Yevgenia Medvedeva is definitely in a class by herself, but should she make a small mistake, Anna Pogorilaya has been looking very strong this year. And (Pogorilaya) has the woman image on the ice. She’s the woman among girls.

Pairs
Field (Highest Grand Prix season score)
1. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 218.30
2. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 206.94
3. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 203.76
4. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 197.96
5. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 197.77
6. Julianne Séguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 197.31

Preview
Duhamel and Radford, the two-time reigning world champions, became heavy favorites after the withdrawal of Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot due to Savchenko’s ankle injury last week. Duhamel and Radford are the only pair in the field that owns medals together from any major international competition (Olympics, world championships, Grand Prix Final).

Lipinski’s Take
I love Savchenko and Massot, I really do, but there’s something over these past few years with the Canadians, that when I watch them, I feel their fire. I don’t know if it’s their personalities or attack they have. It’s more of a personal preference.

Weir’s Take
The pairs has been a year of growth. Nobody has really delivered a stellar performance at any of the Grand Prixs yet. So I think Duhamel and Radford are definitely looking for that moment where they are the class of the field. I’m really missing (2015 Grand Prix Final champions Ksenia) Stolbova (injured) and (Fedor) Klimov this season.

Ice Dance
Field (Highest Grand Prix season score)
1. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 195.84
2. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 193.50
3. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 188.24
4. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 186.68
5. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 185.75
6. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 175.77

Preview
Two weeks ago at NHK Trophy, Virtue and Moir handed Papadakis and Cizeron their first defeat in nearly two years. The Canadians, who took gold and silver at the last two Olympics, are back after a two-season break from competition. A U.S. couple has made the Grand Prix Final podium nine straight times, and that streak figures to live on with the same three couples qualified from last season.

Lipinski’s Take
Tessa and Scott sort of dominated the French in their first matchup, but you have to remember the French made a lot of costly mistakes. If they both skate cleanly at the final, it should be much closer. If either of them have mistakes and leave the door open, it’s the Shibs (Shibutanis). 

Weir’s Take
My favorites of the season, it’s definitely the French. If their technique is solid, and they’re on point at the Grand Prix Final, they can overtake the Canadians, even though they lost to them by a considerable amount at NHK Trophy.

MORE: Javier Fernandez builds toward last Olympic chance

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!