Phyllis Francis wins upset 400m title; Allyson Felix ties medal record

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Phyllis Francis disrupted the anticipated Allyson FelixShaunae Miller-Uibo rematch, surging in between the stars to win the world 400m title on Wednesday.

Miller-Uibo, who edged Felix by .07 in Rio, was poised to win her first world title through 350 meters. But the Bahamian stumbled with about 20 meters left and dropped back to fourth on a rainy, chilly night in London.

In came Francis, passing Felix to her left and Miller-Uibo to her right to grab gold in a personal-best 49.92 seconds, the slowest winning time in world championships history (that weather).

Qatar’s Salwa Eid Naser was second in 50.06, followed by Felix in 50.08 for bronze. Miller-Uibo slowed home in 50.49.

Francis, 25, improved on her fifth-place finish in Rio. The former University of Oregon standout from Queens, N.Y., was second at both the 2016 Olympic Trials and the USATF Outdoor Championships in June.

“At the finish line I was surprised. I thought I was second or third,” Francis said, according to The Associated Press. “But then they told me, ‘You are first.’ That is crazy.”

Felix, though she didn’t repeat as world champion, bagged her 14th career world championships medal, tying the record shared by Usain Bolt and Merlene Ottey. Felix can pass both of them with 4x100m and 4x400m medals this weekend.

“I cannot lie, I am disappointed to lose one gold tonight, but the championships is not over yet, so we keep going,” the 31-year-old Felix said, according to The New York Times. “But this was the race that mattered to me, the individual race. That is what it is about. So to come up short tonight is never fun.”

In other events, Botswana’s Isaac Makwala continued a whirlwind week by running a pair of 200m races, including one alone, to qualify for Thursday’s final. Makwala, the top-ranked 200m runner this year, qualified safely after being medically cleared to re-run following a stomach virus.

More from Makwala here.

Meanwhile, favorite Wayde van Niekerk squeaked into the final in the last qualifying spot, third in his semifinal in 20.28 seconds. Van Niekerk is trying to join Michael Johnson as the only sprinters to sweep the 200m and 400m at one world championships. The South African won the 400m on Tuesday.

Karsten Warholm became the first Norwegian man to win a world championships race, clocking 48.35 in the 400m hurdles. Also the slowest winning time in worlds history. Olympic champion Kerron Clement took bronze, .17 behind.

Mo Farah headlined the qualifiers into Saturday’s 5000m final, which will be the last championship track race of his career before moving to road racing. Farah has won all five Olympic and world 5000m titles since 2011.

China’s Gong Lijao dethroned American Michelle Carter in the shot put, throwing 19.94 meters. Gong, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, took fourth in Rio behind Carter, who became the first U.S. Olympic women’s shot put champ.

Carter, who came into worlds ranked fifth in the world this year, took bronze behind Hungarian Anita Marton, repeating her finish from 2015 Worlds.

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Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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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

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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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.”

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