Yevgenia Medvedeva must rally to make Grand Prix Final

Leave a comment

Coach Brian Orser gave Yevgenia Medvedeva another post-short program pep talk Friday, this one after the Russian stood third at Internationaux de France, but within a half-point of first place.

“There’s a lot of pressure on the short program, OK?” Orser told the two-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist. “And we’re getting there. You’re a little bit behind, so guess what? Kill it in the long, just like we did at Skate Canada. … You’ve got to be feisty.”

The standings must change in Saturday’s free skate, or Medvedeva will fail to qualify for December’s six-skater Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside of the world championships.

Her short program looked smooth until she doubled the back end of her planned triple-triple combination. She tallied 67.55 points, trailing Japanese Mai Mihara and Rika Kihira by .4 and .09, respectively.

U.S. champion Bradie Tennell is sixth after struggling with jumps, hurting her already minute chance of making the Grand Prix Final. Tennell almost surely must win, or it will mark a third straight season with no U.S. woman in the Final.

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV/Stream Schedule

The two-time world champ Medvedeva finished second or third at her last four events dating to January, since withdrawing before last season’s Grand Prix Final with a broken bone in her right foot. She moved from Moscow to Toronto in the offseason, began training under Orser and rebounded from a seventh-place short program to finish third in her Grand Prix season debut at Skate Canada last month.

Orser referred to her leading Skate Canada free skate in his kiss-and-cry urging to Medvedeva on Friday.

“I feel more alive than after the short program at Skate Canada,” Medvedeva said, according to the International Skating Union “I have the opportunity to fight.”

Medvedeva will automatically make the Grand Prix Final by winning Saturday. If she finishes second, it may come down to a tiebreaker. Olympic champion and former training partner Alina Zagitova is already in the Final. The two Russians haven’t faced off since Zagitova edged Medvedeva for gold in PyeongChang by 1.31.

Mihara is the surprise leader in France despite under-rotating the back end of her triple-triple combo. She finished fourth at her last four Grand Prix starts but is now in position to make her first Grand Prix Final.

Kihira, who won her senior Grand Prix debut two weeks ago, is in third place after popping her opening Axel. Kihira, ranked second in the world this season, landed two triple Axels in her leading free skate at NHK Trophy two weeks ago.

Tennell struggled with her difficult, opening triple Lutz-triple loop combination, as she did en route to a fourth-place finish at October’s Skate America. She two-footed her Lutz landing and was unable to add a second jump, forcing her to tack a triple toe loop onto her triple flip later in the program. Three of her four jumps were called under-rotated.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Ashley Wagner on coaching, TV work, future

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff set Australian Open duel

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff
Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

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.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

John Isner leaning toward skipping Olympics again

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront