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Morgan Hurd returns at American Cup; broadcast schedule

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Morgan Hurd competes for the first time since her golden world championships at the American Cup, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC on Saturday.

Coverage starts on Olympic Channel at 11:30 a.m. ET (streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for Olympic Channel subscribers) and continues with NBC’s broadcast coverage from 1-3 p.m. (also streaming).

The American Cup is the biggest annual international gymnastics meet hosted by the U.S. Past winners include Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas.

It’s also the first major U.S. meet since USA Gymnastics’ board of directors and national-team coordinator Valeri Liukin resigned and the Karolyi Ranch closed amid the organization’s sexual abuse scandal and Larry Nassar‘s sentencing.

“The present climate causes me, and more importantly my family, far too much stress, difficulty and uncertainty,” Liukin said in a Feb. 2 statement.

An American woman won every American Cup all-around title since 2002.

Two 16-year-olds — Hurd and two-time U.S. junior champion Maile O’Keefe — are tasked with extending the streak.

The spectacled Hurd broke out last fall. She went from fifth at the 2016 junior nationals and sixth at the 2017 senior nationals to winning the world all-around title in Montreal on Oct. 6.

O’Keefe’s score at the 2017 U.S. Championships to repeat as junior all-around champ would have placed second in the senior division.

The Americans’ biggest competition on paper is Japan’s Mai Murakami, who was fourth at the 2017 Worlds all-around with a balance beam fall.

None of the 2016 U.S. Olympic champion team is in the field, though Biles is expected to return to competition this summer.

The men’s field is led by Japanese star Kenzo Shirai and the top two Americans from last year’s nationals — Yul Moldauer and Allan Bower.

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Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff set Australian Open duel

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff
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Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff will meet in the third round of a second straight Grand Slam, this time at the Australian Open on Friday.

Osaka, the defending champion and world No. 4, and Gauff, the 15-year-old American phenom, each won second-round matches in Melbourne to reach the final 32.

Osaka swept Chinese Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-4 on a windy Wednesday afternoon. Later, Gauff followed her first-round win over Venus Williams by eliminating Romanian veteran Sorana Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

“I know what to expect,” Gauff said. “I’m excited.”

Osaka beat Gauff 6-3, 6-0 in the U.S. Open third round on Aug. 31. In the most memorable moment of that night, Osaka urged Gauff to share the on-court victor’s interview at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It’s better than going into the showers and crying,” Osaka told Gauff in front of a packed crowd. “Let these people know how you feel.”

Gauff obliged after at first declining.

“I’m not the type of person who wants to cry in front of everyone,” she said later. “I didn’t want to take that moment away from [Osaka], as well.”

Gauff, ranked No. 684 at this time last year, is now No. 67. She broke through by beating Williams in the Wimbledon first round, then reaching the round of 16.

Gauff won a lower-level WTA Tour event in October and now ranks fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying. The top four after the French Open qualify for the Tokyo Games, though Gauff has fewer than half the points as No. 4 Alison Riske.

“It’s been really cool to watch her grow because it’s happened so fast,” Osaka said.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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John Isner leaning toward skipping Olympics again

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John Isner, the highest-ranked U.S. male singles tennis player, is considering skipping the Olympics for a second straight time.

“I haven’t put a ton of thought into it, but as of right now, I think I’m leaning towards not playing,” the 19th-ranked player said at the Australian Open on Tuesday. “It’s about scheduling. I know the Olympics, it’s a fantastic honor. There’s no doubt about that. … Right now, at this stage in my career, it’s not a huge priority for me. So that’s probably the main reason I won’t be going. I certainly love playing in the summer in America, and I’m going to focus on that.”

The Tokyo Games take place the same week as a lower-level ATP Tour event in Atlanta that Isner, a former University of Georgia star, has won five times.

Other notable male players already said they will pass on Tokyo, including Sam Querrey, the top American in Olympic qualifying standings.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, a two-time French Open finalist, is prioritizing an ATP event in Kitzbühel the week of the Olympics. The U.S. doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan are not planning to play the Olympics in their final season before retirement, their manager said in November.

“The Olympics is very tough on the schedule … especially with Davis Cup,” Isner said in 2016, according to USA Today. “I think the fact that they have no [ATP ranking] points [at the Olympics], to be honest, was a pretty big factor as well. Obviously the Olympics is not about the money, but no points I think hindered me a bit.”

Isner, who turns 35 on April 26, is likely giving up his last chance to play Olympic singles. In his only Olympic participation, he reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Games, plus lost an opening-round doubles match there with Andy Roddick.

The top four U.S. men qualify for Tokyo, assuming they are among the top 60 overall qualifiers (maximum four per country) after this spring’s French Open.

Taylor FritzReilly Opelka, Steve Johnson and Tommy Paul are the U.S. men currently in Olympic qualifying position if excluding Querrey and Isner.

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