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Ato Boldon to bring fresh eyes to NASCAR

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Ato Boldon likes speed. And cars. NASCAR? Well, the four-time Olympic medalist is about to find out.

The retired Olympic sprinter and NBC Olympic analyst will join NBC Sports Group’s NASCAR broadcast team as a features contributor beginning next week. His NASCAR on NBC debut will be July 1 during coverage at Daytona International Speedway.

It’s going to be an eye-opening experience for Boldon, who in an interview with The Associated Press admitted he could name “maybe 10” NASCAR drivers. When asked to list them, he came up with three: the late Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton, the retired driver and current NBC analyst.

Sam Flood, executive producer for NBC’s NASCAR telecasts, isn’t worried.

“Ato is a curious guy and I want someone who loves cars, but is also from a different sports world,” Flood said. “I want a fish out of water to show what NASCAR is all about.”

Boldon joined NBC Sports Group in 2007 and is now the network’s lead track and field analyst. He represented Trinidad and Tobago in the Olympics and is a four-time medalist in the 100 meters and 200 meters.

It was during his coverage of last year’s Olympics in Rio that Boldon first expressed curiously about NASCAR to Flood. The producer had Boldon attend the November season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

At Daytona next week, Boldon will report on what makes NASCAR fans loyal to their drivers while hanging out in the track infield. He will also examine NASCAR’s earlier days of racing on Daytona Beach.

“I don’t think until you have been in a (race) car, you understand how difficult it is,” Boldon said. “People go, ‘Oh, yeah, big deal, they drive fast and they turn left. I do that every day on my commute.’ But I don’t think people get a sense of how difficult it is. I went around that track with Jeff Burton and there was so much going on, just to keep that car wheels down and to keep it off the wall. I couldn’t imagine doing that with another 30 cars, competing for space.

“It really created an appreciation, and the same thing I say about my sport, ‘The pros make it look easy,’ and it is not.”

Boldon loves cars, but has become an environmentalist and given up gasoline-fueled cars. He has made the full transition to driving electric cars, which meant turning in a Porsche for a Tesla four years ago.

The only cars he currently owns are electric, and Boldon is a little nervous that the attraction to the sights and sounds of NASCAR might lead him into a dealership to check out a $200,000 McLaren 570S he’s been eyeing.

“I feel like I am going to be around these NASCAR races, and the sound is half of the thrill, and I’m going to go out and buy something that completely does not make financial sense in any way,” Boldon said.

Boldon will also report from Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Homestead. NBC plans to use him as a hauler driver, a member of Joe Gibbs Racing’s pit crew and will give him the wheel of NBC Sports’ on-track car to experience the horsepower and track banking.

“My hope is that people who never really thought of themselves as NASCAR fans will get something from my exposure to it. I am going in there completely wide-eyes and completely open to all possibilities,” Boldon said.

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2020 French Open women’s singles draw, results

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If Serena Williams is to win a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title at the French Open, she may have to go through her older sister in the fourth round.

Williams, the sixth seed, could play Venus Williams in the round of 16 at Roland Garros, which begins Sunday.

Serena opens against countrywoman Kristie Ahn, whom she beat in the first round at the U.S. Open. Serena could then get her U.S. Open quarterfinal opponent, fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, in the second round.

If Venus is to reach the fourth round, she must potentially get past U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka in the second round. Azarenka beat Serena in the U.S. Open semifinals, ending the American’s latest bid to tie Margaret Court‘s major titles record.

Venus lost in the French Open first round the last two years.

The French Open top seed is 2018 champion Simona Halep, who could play 2019 semifinalist Amanda Anisimova in the third round.

Coco Gauff, the rising 16-year-old American, gets 2019 semifinalist Jo Konta of Great Britain in the first round in the same quarter of the draw as Halep.

The field lacks defending champion Ash Barty of Australia, not traveling due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Also out: U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka, citing a sore hamstring and tight turnaround from prevailing in New York two weeks ago.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

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2020 French Open men’s singles draw, results

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Rafael Nadal was put into the same half of the French Open draw as fellow 2018 and 2019 finalist Dominic Thiem of Austria, with top-ranked Novak Djokovic catching a break.

Nadal, trying to tie Roger Federer‘s male record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, could play sixth-seeded German Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals before a potential clash with Thiem, who just won the U.S. Open.

Djokovic, who is undefeated in 2020 save being defaulted out of the U.S. Open, could play No. 7 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy in the quarterfinals before a possible semifinal with Russian Daniil Medvedev.

Medvedev is the fourth seed but is 0-3 at the French Open. Another possible Djokovic semifinal opponent is fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who reached the fourth round last year.

The most anticipated first-round matchup is between three-time major champion Andy Murray and 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka. In Murray’s most recent French Open match, he lost in five sets to Wawrinka in the 2017 semifinals.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

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