Nathan Chen debuts new jump, wins Olympic season opener (video)

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Only three quadruple jumps for Nathan Chen this week, yet the U.S. champion still made history.

The 18-year-old phenom landed his first quad loop in competition, becoming the first skater to master five different four-revolution jumps minus the one quad no man can land — the Axel.

Chen isn’t ready to unleash them all in one competition yet, though. He landed a quad flip and quad Lutz in addition to the loop between two programs at the U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City on Thursday and Friday.

Chen won his Olympic season debut at the rink where he began skating as a toddler.

He tallied 275.04 points, distancing 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron by 13.48 points at a lower-level event featuring none of the sport’s international contenders. Full scores are here.

Chen scored 18.58 more points than his season debut last year, when he attempted seven quads and fell on three. But he wasn’t fully satisfied, lamenting doubling a planned quad toe loop Friday.

Afterward, he reportedly shot down chatter that he could attempt seven quads in one free skate later this season.

“That’s a little crazy talk, I think,” Chen said, according to the Deseret News. “I think that there’s a lot of potential with the programs that I have right now. Adding a bunch of quads is not really the main priority. It’s building back to where I was, and to keep on evolving the rest of the program.”

Where was Chen last winter? In a class by himself in number of quads.

He landed a record seven quads at the U.S. Championships in January and again at the Four Continents Championships at the PyeongChang Olympic venue in February, when he beat Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu. He was sixth at the world championships, attempting a record six quads in the free skate alone but falling twice.

Chen is preparing for the bigger events this fall and winter, starting with his Grand Prix debut at Rostelecom Cup in Russia in a month.

Earlier Friday, Japan’s Marin Honda topped the women’s short program in Salt Lake City. The 16-year-old world junior champion from 2016 landed all of her jumps cleanly for 66.90 points.

Three of the top four women from last season’s U.S. Championships also skated in an early preview of competition for three Olympic spots. The team will be chosen after nationals in January.

U.S. champion Karen Chen, silver medalist Mariah Bell and fourth-place finisher Mirai Nagasu each struggled with jumps Friday.

Chen, no relation to Nathan, put her hand down on a triple loop, under-rotated a triple toe loop and scored 66.18 points.

“There was a few minor mistakes, but overall I’m very happy that I was able to stand up on everything,” she said.

Bell fell on the second half of a jumping combination and tallied 60.68.

“I have a lot of improving to do,” Bell said. “It definitely was not my best, by far, but it’s an OK place to start [the season].”

Nagasu attempted a triple Axel — rarely seen in women’s skating — but two-footed the landing, stepped out of another jump and performed a triple-double combination rather than a triple-triple. She still bettered Bell with 63.81 points.

“I’ve been nailing that triple Axel in practice; I really wanted to land it,” Nagasu said. “I’m like mad, but proud of myself at the same time.”

The women’s free skate in Salt Lake City is Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET, streamed on Icenetwork.com for subscribers.

Also Friday, Russian Alina Zagitova won the lower-level Lombardia Trophy in Italy with a point total that ranks her fourth all-time — 218.46.

Only world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva (Zagitova’s training partner) and the last two Olympic champions — Adelina Sotnikova and Yuna Kim — have scored higher under the system in place since 2003.

It’s impressive that Zagitova, the 2017 World junior champion, posted that score so early in a season. And that she did it in her senior international debut.

She edged Japanese Wakaba Higuchi by .83 of a point. Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner was third, 20.1 points behind.

The Lombardia Trophy men’s free skate — with world silver medalist Shoma Uno leading U.S. Olympian Jason Brown by 21.86 points — is Saturday. The event is streamed live here.

The figure skating season continues next week with the last two male world champions — training partners Hanyu and Javier Fernandez — facing off at the Autumn Classic in Montreal. Medvedeva also makes her international season debut in Slovakia.

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Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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