Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin
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Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn top women’s Alpine skiing season storylines

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Three storylines for the Olympic women’s Alpine skiing season ahead of Saturday’s World Cup opener in Soelden, Austria …

1. Second time would be sweeter for Mikaela Shiffrin

Shiffrin certainly deserved last year’s World Cup overall title, awarded to the skier who accumulates the most points across all disciplines, but she was quoted in Austrian media this month intimating that it wasn’t wholly fulfilling.

That’s because the previous overall winners — Swiss Lara Gut, Austrian Anna VeithLindsey Vonn and Slovenian Tina Maze — all raced partial seasons, largely due to injuries. In Maze’s case, it was a single farewell race into retirement.

Shiffrin’s hope for stronger competition this season is already dented. Gut and Veith are sitting out Saturday’s opener. They’re targeting returns from last winter’s knee surgeries in late November or early December.

(Update: Gut surprisingly announced she will race Saturday in an early return from tearing an ACL and suffering meniscus damage in February.)

Vonn plans to race in October for the first time in five years, but she downplayed overall title aspirations in recent seasons. The 33-year-old emphasized quality over quantity in limiting her race schedule, chasing the career World Cup wins record by focusing on downhills and super-Gs.

Then on Sunday, Slovenian Ilka Stuhec, the surprise runner-up to Shiffrin last season, suffered a torn ACL that will likely keep her out the entire year.

Italian Sofia Goggia, who made her first World Cup podium last season (and then 12 more), may be the most promising challenger.

MORE: Shiffrin chases higher goals as second Olympics approach

2. Lindsey Vonn’s eight-year wait

Incredibly after all of her injuries, Vonn is arguably the Olympic downhill favorite at the moment with world downhill champ Stuhec’s ACL tear.

This season is all about the Olympics for Vonn, who spent the previous two seasons chasing (when healthy) something else — the Word Cup wins record.

She managed to reach 77, nine shy of retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s total. Vonn is capable of breaking the record this season (she won nine races in 2015-16 and eight in 2014-15), but that would be cake icing at this point. She plans to go after Stenmark in 2018-19.

Vonn can set a bunch of age records this season, including oldest female World Cup downhill race winner and oldest female Olympic Alpine medalist.

But most of all she will be motivated by having to watch the Sochi Games on TV, unable to defend her emotional downhill title from 2010.

MORE: Vonn’s bid to race men delayed

3. Comebacks, comebacks, comebacks

Other than Shiffrin and Vonn, just about every big name is a question mark because of major injuries. We mentioned Gut and Veith, but also Julia Mancuso.

Mancuso, who owns four Olympic medals, last raced March 2015. She missed the last two seasons due to hip problems but is expected to finally return the first week of December.

Mancuso has an acumen for turning it on for the Olympics — she made the podium in 2006, 2010 and 2014 with scant World Cup success those seasons.

Shiffrin’s closest slalom challenger last season — Slovak Veronika Velez Zuzulova — underwent right knee surgery in September that could keep the 33-year-old out until December.

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MORE: Mancuso narrows focus in comeback

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.”

MORE: Simona Halep, Nadia Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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