Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova roll into French Open showdown

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PARIS (AP) — If the upcoming French Open showdown between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova provides any of the sort of animus and back-and-forth they manage to stir up away from the court, look out.

During a news conference after both won Saturday to set up the longtime rivals’ fourth-round matchup at Roland Garros, Williams criticized Sharapova’s autobiography as “hearsay” and twice brought up the Russian’s 15-month doping ban.

VIDEO: Williams talks Sharapova in news conference

Producing by far the best performance in her return to Grand Slam tennis — 16 months after her last major tournament and nine months after having a baby — Williams played cleanly and powerfully in a 6-3, 6-4 tour de force against 11th-seeded Julia Goerges that lasted a mere 75 minutes and lacked much in the way of theatrics.

“There is still a ways to go, but it’s moving in the right direction,” said Williams, who made only three unforced errors in the first set, 12 in all. “And I think that as long as it’s moving in the right direction, I know I will get there.”

Sharapova advanced with a similarly lopsided win, 6-2, 6-1 against 2016 U.S. Open runner-up Karolina Pliskova.

Now comes the drama: Williams vs. Sharapova on Monday with a quarterfinal spot at stake.

They have verbally clashed in the past, such as a 2013 public spat about their private lives.

Williams, 36, owns 23 major singles titles. Sharapova, 31, has won five. Williams has won the French Open three times, Sharapova twice. They are the only active women with a career Grand Slam; they are two of six in history to accomplish that. Both have been ranked No. 1.

But the head-to-head history is overwhelmingly in Williams’ favor: She has won 19 of 21 meetings, including 18 in a row.

“Quite frankly, she’s probably a favorite in this match, for sure,” Williams said with a chuckle. “She’s been playing … for over a year now. I just started. So I’m just really trying to get my bearings and trying to feel out where I am and see where I can go.”

VIDEO: Nadal makes ball boy’s dream come true

The last time Sharapova beat Williams was in 2004.

The last time they played was in the 2016 Australian Open quarterfinals, Sharapova’s final appearance before her 15-month drug suspension.

“Well, it’s been a while,” Sharapova said, “and I think a lot has happened in our lives for the both of us, in very different ways.”

Williams was asked about Sharapova’s book, which was published last year. It contains quite a bit of material about the American, including a reference to Williams crying in the locker room after losing to Sharapova in the Wimbledon final 14 years ago.

“As a fan, I wanted to read the book and I was really excited for it to come out and I was really happy for her. And then the book was a lot about me. I was surprised about that, to be honest,” Williams said. “I was, like, ‘Oh, OK, I didn’t expect to be reading a book about me — that wasn’t necessarily true.’”

Insisting she doesn’t “have any negative feelings” toward Sharapova, Williams said “the success of one female should be the inspiration to another.”

Seconds later, Williams made reference to Sharapova’s “incident of drugs.”

There were plenty of other results involving top names at the French Open on Saturday. Other women moving into the fourth round included 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza, two-time runner-up Simona Halep, two-time major title winner Angelique Kerber and reigning U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens. Men’s winners included 10-time champion Rafael Nadal, No. 3 Marin Cilic, No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro, No. 6 Kevin Anderson and No. 9 John Isner.

The story of Day 7, though, was what everyone can look forward to on Day 9: Williams vs. Sharapova.

This is Williams’ first Grand Slam tournament since January 2017, when she won the Australian Open while pregnant. The American made a brief foray on the tour earlier this season, but she played only four matches.

She had some problems in her initial two outings in Paris, including in the second round, when she dropped the first set against 17th-seeded Ashleigh Barty before — as Williams herself put it — “Serena came out.”

Against Goerges, the careless errors were largely absent. The missing energy was back. In front of a crowd that included former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, it took 15 minutes for Williams to gain the upper hand, sprinting to reach a drop shot and whip a cross-court forehand passing winner for a 3-1 lead.

Williams yelled loudly and raised her fist. It was almost as if she’d never left the scene.

“Any time you play against Serena, you know what you’re up against. You know the challenge that is upon you,” Sharapova said. “Despite the record that I have against her, I always look forward to coming out on the court and competing against the best players.”

NBC’s broadcast coverage of the French Open continues Sunday from 12-3 p.m. ET, also streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

French Open Fourth Round
Women
(1) Simona Halep – (16) Elise Mertens
(12) Angelique Kerber – (7) Caroline Garcia
(3) Garbine Muguruza – Lesia Tsurenko
Serena Williams – (28) Maria Sharapova
(26) Barbora Strycova – Yulia Putintseva
(13) Madison Keys) – (31) Mihaela Buzarnescu
(25) Anett Kontaveit – (10) Sloane Stephens
(14) Daria Kasatkina – (2) Caroline Wozniacki

Men
(1) Rafael Nadal – Maximilian Marterer
(11) Diego Schwartzman – (6) Kevin Anderson
(3) Marin Cilic – (18) Fabio Fognini
(9) John Isner – (5) Juan Martin del Potro
(8) David Goffin – Marco Cecchinato
(20) Novak Djokovic – (30) Fernando Verdasco
(7) Dominic Thiem – (19) Kei Nishikori
Karen Khachanov – (2) Alexander Zverev

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FRENCH OPEN: TV/Stream Schedule | Scores | Men’s Draw (PDF) | Women’s Draw

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier win U.S. figure skating pairs’ title in possible final nationals

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier haven’t decided if they’ll compete beyond this season, so Saturday may have been their farewell to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

If so, they went out as dominant winners, the first pair in their 30s to win nationals in more than 50 years.

Knierim, 31, and Frazier, 30, took their second U.S. title together, totaling 227.97 points to prevail by 31.11 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe. They led by a gaping 15.1 points after Thursday’s short.

Knierim and Frazier were solid after errors on their opening jumping combination in Saturday’s free skate. They broke their own pairs’ margin of victory record from the 2021 U.S. Championships under a scoring system implemented in 2006. Knierim appeared to wipe away tears backstage.

“As I get older, the longer I’m in this sport, the more gratitude I have for it,” Knierim, the oldest woman to win a U.S. figure skating title since 1995 (Renée Roca), said on USA Network. “After that music ended, I’m just thankful that Brandon’s by my side and I’m able to do what I love.”

Ellie Kam and Danny O’Shea bagged bronze to likely round out the three-pair team for March’s world championships.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Knierim and Frazier considered retiring after last season, after they missed nationals due to Frazier’s COVID-19, petitioned onto the Olympic team and posted the best Olympic finish for a U.S. pair (sixth) in 20 years.

They then became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, beating a field that didn’t include any of the top five from the Olympics.

They returned in part to compete as world champions and rank second in the world this season (during which the top Olympic pairs also haven’t competed). They will likely go into March’s worlds in Japan as underdogs to Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who won their lone head-to-head this past fall at the Grand Prix Final.

Back in October, Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“This U.S. Championships for us was extra special because you’re just reflecting on the journey, and you know that there’s a good chance that this will be your last one,” Frazier said.

Knierim won her fifth U.S. title, tying the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka InaTai BabiloniaRandy GardnerKarol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Silver medalists Chan and Howe continued their recent surge. After placing fourth at last season’s nationals, they rank sixth in the world this season. That’s despite summer injuries that left them unable to practice lifts (his shoulder) and throws (her foot) for a while.

Kam, 18, and O’Shea, 31, made the podium four months after becoming a pair and less than two months after a car Kim was riding in was hit by a drunk driver while crossing an intersection. The car was totaled, but Kim and O’Shea still competed days later in Croatia.

O’Shea won the 2016 U.S. title with Tarah Kayne, retired after they split in late 2020, then came back in 2021 with Chelsea Liu. They ranked sixth in the U.S. going into 2022 Nationals, but withdrew beforehand due to concussions both suffered in a November competition fall, according to Figure Skaters Online.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Women
Gold: Isabeau Levito — 223.33
Silver: Bradie Tennell — 213.12
Bronze: Amber Glenn — 207.44
4. Starr Andrews — 188.24
5. Josephine Lee — 187.68
6. Lindsay Thorngren — 187.19
7. Clare Seo — 175.60
8. Gracie Gold — 173.98
9. Ava Ziegler — 167.70
10. Sonja Hilmer — 166.49
11. Gabriella Izzo — 166.40
12. Ting Cui — 161.27
13. Audrey Shin — 161.12
14. Lindsay Wang — 154.91
15. Michelle Lee — 145.28
16. Elsa Cheng — 138.13
17. Alexa Gasparotto — 129.41
WD. Hanna Harrell

Men’s Short Program
1. Ilia Malinin — 110.36
2. Jason Brown — 100.25
3. Tomoki Hiwatashi — 85.43
4. Liam Kapeikis — 82.27
5. Andrew Torgashev — 78.78
6. Maxim Naumov — 77.71
7. Jimmy Ma — 73.88
8. Goku Endo — 73.45
9. Samuel Mindra — 71.36
10. Yaroslav Paniot — 70.87
11. Camden Pulkinen — 69.47
12. Matthew Nielsen — 67.98
13. Joonsoo Kim — 67.45
14. Daniel Martynov — 64.04
15. Will Annis — 63.46
16. Dinh Tran — 60.63
17. Mitchell Friess — 59.14
18. Joseph Klein — 58.38

Pairs
Gold: Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 227.97
Silver: Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 196.86

Bronze: Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea — 184.01
4. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 179.08
5. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 176.34
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 172.74
7. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 148.84
8. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 137.98
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 135.30
10. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 132.07
11. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 129.80

Ice Dance
Gold: Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 229.75
Silver: Caroline Green/Michael Parsons — 207.46
Bronze: Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 198.45
4. Emilea Zingas/Vadym Kolesnik — 198.13
5. Emily Bratti/Ian Somerville — 189.84
6. Lorraine McNamara/Anton Spiridonov — 189.15
7. Katarina Wolfkostin/Jeffrey Chen — 183.05
8. Eva Pate/Logan Bye — 182.61
9. Oona Brown/Gage Brown — 181.89
10. Isabella Flores/Ivan Desyatov — 177.31
11. Angela Ling/Caleb Wein — 167.87
12. Leah Krauskopf/YuanShi Jin — 133.93
13. Cara Murphy/Joshua Levitt — 129.85
14. Caroline Depietri/TJ Carey — 123.40
WD. Raffaella Koncius/Alexey Shchepetov

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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