FIVB

April Ross discusses playing without Kerri Walsh Jennings

Leave a comment

NEW YORK — Lauren Fendrick and April Ross had a chilly start to their new partnership.

They placed ninth last week at the FIVB World Tour stop in Moscow, where players wore long sleeves under their bathing suits while playing in snowy conditions.

The partnership heated up this week at the AVP tournament in New York City, winning Sunday as the temperature climbed above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

“That’s beach volleyball—you have to be ready for crazy weather,” said Ross, who made time to meet with local students who helped raise $162,160 for the Side-Out Foundation to fund critical research and clinical trials in late stage metastatic breast cancer. Ross lost her mother, Margie, to breast cancer in 2001.

Ross decided to partner with Fendrick after splitting with Olympic bronze medal teammate Kerri Walsh Jennings in April. According to Ross, “the final nail in the coffin” for her partnership with Walsh Jennings was when Ross signed an exclusivity agreement with the AVP for domestic events leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, while Walsh Jennings decided not to.

Ross is still getting used to Fendrick, who played with Brooke Sweat at the Rio Olympics. In Moscow, Fendrick made a joke on social media about figuring out their high-five routine.

But Ross is already excited about her compatibility on defense with the 6-foot-1 Fendrick, the 2014 and 2016 AVP Best Blocker who is nicknamed “The Long Arm of the Law” because she earned her law degree from USC.

“I think she is one of the best blockers in the world, if not the best blocker in the world,” Ross said. “I love playing behind her. She takes up so much space.”

Whereas Ross utilized two plays on defense with Walsh Jennings, she now rotates between seven different defensive plays with Fendrick.

“Lauren wants to push the boundaries and see what new stuff we can come up with and be more creative on the court,” Ross said. “Kerri is a little more traditional minded.”

Fendrick has been impressed by Ross’ toughness. Ross dislocated her right big toe in Sunday’s semifinal match in a collision that gave Fendrick’s foot a sizable bruise. Up until first serve of the final, Fendrick believed Ross’ injury would force them to withdraw.

“She’s a warrior,” Fendrick said about Ross, who planned on getting an X-ray after the match. “I am lucky to have her by my side.”

Walsh Jennings and new partner Nicole Branagh are set to make their FIVB World Tour season debut beginning June 26 in Porec, Croatia. Ross and Fendrick are also on the entries list.

Walsh Jennings and Ross have not been on opposite sides of the net in an international tournament since 2012, when Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor defeated Ross and Jennifer Kessy for the gold medal at the London Olympics.

“To be honest, for my entire career, I’ve focused on my side of the net,” Ross said. “That’s going to continue to be the case. If we do come up against her, it will be just like any other team out there on the international tour.”

Walsh Jennings congratulated Ross on winning the AVP Austin Open on May 21 with Whitney Pavlik, but they have not talked since.

“We are competitors now,” Ross said. “She is on a different team now, and I’m on a different team.”

Ross, 34, reiterated that she will figure out her long-term partner plans for the 2020 Olympics, as well as the timing of starting a family with husband Brad Keenan, after this season.

Until then, she is focused on the Beach Volleyball World Championships, which start July 28 in Vienna, Austria.

“Other than the Olympics, this is the biggest event beach volleyball has,” said Ross, the 2009 world champion. “It’s definitely the No. 1 priority for me this year.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Kerri Walsh Jennings in world champs field with new partner

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!