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Three questions with Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue before U.S. Championships

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Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue broke through the U.S. ice dance field to win their first national title in 2018. This year, they come back to defend – but their resumes are so much stronger this year.

The Montreal-based team most recently won the Grand Prix Final after sweeping both their assignments earlier in the fall.

At their media teleconference ahead of nationals, they spoke candidly with reporters about how they’re preparing for the competition (“jovially,” said Donohue) and the purpose behind the tweaks to their programs audiences will see in Detroit.

The rhythm dance is Jan. 25 and the free dance is Jan. 26.

Here’s what we learned:

1. Their families are all-in on building the competitive atmosphere surrounding nationals.

Madison Hubbell: My extended family has very rarely been able to see me skate live. They were able to come to Stars on Ice at the same arena, Little Ceasars Arena, this past spring. I think my uncle, mainly, uncle and my cousin, are just obsessive sports fans. For them, to go to the Little Ceasars Arena, is like, it calls for a celebration. ‘You’re gonna skate in this big arena, and we’re gonna do it the way these other sports do it.’ They called the arena, everybody’s confirmed that it is possible for them to do a tailgate. They are arranging it and they’re also arranging it with Kaitlin Hawayek’s parents and Evan Bates’ parents.

Zach Donohue: It’s gonna be lit!

MH: It’s gonna be all of our families. We’re extending the invitation of course to the families of the other athletes who will be around that day. Hopefully we’ll get a lot of really excited family and friends coming into the arena with a lot of energy. They’ve never done this before. Unfortunately, we’ll be skating so it’s not like we can join, but it sounds really fun.

ZD: I’m just concerned that it’s gonna happen like, too nicely, and then I’ll miss one of the events. Is that acceptable? How do we feel?

MH: Maybe they’ll be like, ‘man, I’m really sorry guys, we missed you actually. We were having too much fun outside.’

ZD: ‘Sorry about that!’

2. Momentum might build up their confidence, but they still take competitions one step at a time.

ZD: I don’t know if momentum is the right word. It’s always nice to be able to look back and see your hard work come to bear fruit. I think for sure gives you a boost of confidence in your abilities. Honestly, if anything, it just motivates us for more. Once you’ve had a taste of achieving your dream, it’s kind of hard to shy away from that. I would say that it’s definitely motivating.

MH: We take it competition by competition. I agree there’s a momentum based on knowing that our equation is working, the things that we’re doing here in training are working to continue improving what we’re capable of. But it isn’t a momentum because it’s a different competition with a different panel [of judges] and different competitors every time. We’re not taking it as winning the last four competitions made us unbeatable at nationals. It’s a completely different story. But at least we know going home from Vancouver [the Grand Prix Final] that the thing we were doing in training were working. We didn’t have to change the formula.

3. Making changes to their programs helps them tell the story better, especially in their free dance.

ZD: We changed the music just to mess with you – just kidding!

MH: We don’t consider it too major, but we changed the order of elements. The one-foot section will go earlier in the program because we felt like with the story, it made more sense to finish the dance spin at the end of the program where it’s a very intimate moment between the two of us. We can be very close compared to the one-foot section where we’re separated. It felt a little incomplete to tell the story of the last moments where you’re with the love of your life and you have to let go of them. We changed those elements around in order to make more sense within the story.

MORE: Nathan Chen prepared to capture third national title

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating 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.

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Alysa Liu, attempting unprecedented jump list, takes silver at Junior Grand Prix Final

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Alysa Liu took silver at the biggest international competition of her young career, attempting a historic set of jumps at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy.

Liu, the 14-year-old who in January became the youngest U.S. senior champion in history, attempted two triple Axels and two quadruple Lutzes in her free skate Friday. She fell on the first Axel, and the other three landings were judged as under-rotated.

Earlier this season, Liu became the first woman to land both a triple Axel and a quad of any kind. She was attempting Friday to become the first woman to land two triple Axels and two quads in one program.

Liu, the leader after Thursday’s short program, was overtaken in the free skate by Russian Kamila Valieva, who was not alive when Turin hosted the 2006 Olympics. Valieva is the latest star pupil of coach Eteri Tutberidze, who guided Olympic and world champions Alina Zagitova and Yevgenia Medvedeva.

Valieva, who has a quad in her arsenal, was recently injured, according to the ISU broadcast, and did not attempt a four-revolution jump. She relied on artistry and other elements, tallying 207.47 points. She beat Liu by 2.82 points to become the 10th straight Russian to win the event.

Liu became the first U.S. woman to earn a Junior Grand Prix Final medal since Hannah Miller took silver in 2012.

Liu, previously undefeated in her first junior international season, appears likeliest to disrupt the Russians come the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. First, she must compete at the junior international level through next season. She is expected to defend her senior national title in January.

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MORE: Nathan Chen distances coach-less Yuzuru Hanyu at Grand Prix Final

Caroline Wozniacki sets tennis retirement

Caroline Wozniacki
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Former No. 1 and 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki will retire from professional tennis after competing in Melbourne next year.

The 29-year-old from Denmark wrote in an Instagram post on Friday that she wants to start a family with her husband, former NBA player David Lee, and work to raise awareness about rheumatoid arthritis.

Wozniacki said her decision to stop playing “has nothing to do with my health.” She announced in October 2018 that she has rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition that can cause pain and swelling in the wrist and other joints.

“I’ve always told myself, when the time comes, that there are things away from tennis that I want to do more, then it’s time to be done,” Wozniacki wrote. “In recent months, I’ve realized that there is a lot more in life that I’d like to accomplish off the court.”

She is currently ranked No. 37 after going 20-15 without a singles title in 2019.

Coached for much of her career by her father, Piotr, a former professional soccer player, Wozniacki used tremendous court coverage — she ran in the New York City Marathon — and uncanny ability to get back shot after shot from opponents in a counter-punching style to win 30 WTA titles, including the season-ending tour championships in 2017.

She also reached three Grand Slam finals.

At just 19, Wozniacki was the runner-up to Kim Clijsters at the 2009 U.S. Open, then again was the runner-up at Flushing Meadows in 2014 to her good friend Serena Williams.

Wozniacki claimed her first major championship in her third such final, and 43rd appearance in a Grand Slam tournament, at last year’s Australian Open. She beat Simona Halep in a three-set final to return to the top of the rankings after a six-year absence, a record.

As someone who had played so well, for so long, without ever quite claiming one of her sport’s most important trophies until then, Wozniacki was thrilled to set aside all of the questions about whether she ever would win a major title.

She has earned more than $35 million in prize money — along with millions more in endorsements — and owns a win-loss record of 630-262. She spent 71 weeks at No. 1 and competed in three Olympics, carrying the flag for Denmark at the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony.

“I’ve accomplished everything I could ever dream of on the court,” she wrote.

The Australian Open begins on Jan. 20.

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MORE: Roger Federer minted on Swiss coin

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I’ve played professionally since I was 15 years old. In that time I’ve experienced an amazing first chapter of my life. With 30 WTA singles titles, a world #1 ranking for 71 weeks, a WTA Finals victory, 3 Olympics, including carrying the flag for my native Denmark, and winning the 2018 Australian Open Grand slam championship, I’ve accomplished everything I could ever dream of on the court. I’ve always told myself, when the time comes, that there are things away from tennis that I want to do more, then it’s time to be done. In recent months, I’ve realized that there is a lot more in life that I’d like to accomplish off the court. Getting married to David was one of those goals and starting a family with him while continuing to travel the world and helping raise awareness about rheumatoid arthritis (project upcoming) are all passions of mine moving forward. So with that, today I am announcing that I will be retiring from professional tennis after the Australian Open in January. This has nothing to do with my health and this isn’t a goodbye, I look forward to sharing my exciting journey ahead with all of you! Finally, I want to thank with all my heart, the fans, my friends, my sponsors, my team, especially my father as my coach, my husband, and my family for decades of support! Without all of you I could have never have done this!

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