Katie Ledecky wins by 21 seconds to close Pan Pacs

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Katie Ledecky routed the 1500m freestyle field by 21.11 seconds as the U.S. won seven of 10 events on the last day of the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo on Sunday.

Ledecky ended the meet with three gold medals, one silver and one bronze. In her last swim, she clocked 15:38.97, well off her world record from May 16 of 15:20.48, but still easily enough to win an event that she has never lost.

“The time wasn’t great,” Ledecky told media in Tokyo. “Swimming the range of events that I swim, it’s hard to put together all great races.”

She qualified for the 2019 World Championships in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees and also figures to anchor the 4x200m free relay in South Korea next year. Ledecky swam all of those events plus the 4x100m free at the 2017 Worlds.

Sweeping those five events at 2019 Worlds, as she did at the 2015 Worlds, looks like a difficult task. Ledecky was third in the 200m free in Tokyo, faced (and passed) her toughest test in the 400m free in six years and was part of a 4x200m free team at Pan Pacs that was beaten by Australia.

Overall, many U.S. swimmers posted slower times than they did at nationals two weeks ago, some citing jet lag from arriving in Japan four days before the meet started. The Americans won two of the seven relays, its worst percentage at a major international meet since it went winless at the 2001 Worlds.

Australia swept the women’s relays, capped by Cate Campbell passing Olympic and world 100m free champion Simone Manuel on the last leg of the medley relay Sunday. The U.S. barely held off Japan by .05 in the men’s medley relay, one day after swimming out of order in the 4x100m free.

The U.S. totaled 18 gold medals for the meet, which does not include European nations and lacks China’s best swimmers. Australia was second at eight golds with open-water events still to come.

PAN PACS: Full Results | U.S. qualifiers for 2019 Worlds

In other events Sunday, Michael Andrew upset seven-time 2017 World champion Caeleb Dressel in the 50m freestyle for a second straight meet. Andrew, who turned pro at 14 in 2013, clocked a personal-best 21.46 seconds, easily beating Dressel (21.93). Great Britain’s Ben Proud is fastest in the world this year at 21.11.

“The first two finals sessions [this week] were kind of rough,” said Andrew, who clocked personal bests in the 50m free, 100m backstroke and 100m butterfly in Tokyo. “I feel like that had to do with maybe time zone or something. But very quickly I took the effort, changing my mental frame of mind, being able to prepare for the meet I still had ahead of me. So I’m really happy with the swims.”

Campbell completed a sweep of the sprint freestyles, holding off Manuel in the 50m free. Campbell clocked 23.81 to Manuel’s 24.22 and finished the meet with five golds, including three on relays.

Olympic champion Ryan Murphy won the 200m backstroke in a personal-best 1:53.57, ranking him second in the world this year behind world champion Evgeny Rylov of Russia.

Zane Grothe missed the American record by .14, winning the 800m freestyle in 7:43.74. Grothe, who made the 2019 Worlds team in the 400m, 800m and 1500m frees, ranks second in the world this year behind European champion Mykhailo Romanchuk of Ukraine.

Kathleen Baker took the women’s 200m back in a personal-best 2:06.14, ranking her second in the world this year. World leader Kylie Masse of Canada was fourth in 2:07.00.

In the 200m breaststroke, Micah Sumrall edged Olympic 100m breast champion Lilly King by .24 in 2:21.88. King’s rival in the 100m breast, Russian Yulia Efimova, owns the fastest time in the world this year of 2:20.72.

World-record holder Ippei Watanabe of Japan won the men’s 200m breast in 2:07.75. World champion Anton Chupkov of Russia is fastest in the world this year with a 2:06.80.

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MORE: U.S. DQed from Pan Pacs relay for swimming out of order

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.

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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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