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Javier Fernandez’s last bow to Europe and the world

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The world of skating will realize his departure when the world championships opens in Saitama, Japan in less than seven weeks.

Spain’s Javier Fernandez has left competitive ice with a new achievement – his seventh consecutive European gold medal, thus becoming the first man since 1936 (and the second ever) to reach such a feat. Fernandez, the 2018 Olympic bronze medalist and two-time world champion, graciously took the time to answer NBCSports’ questions about his legacy and his future.

You are still positive that this European Championships will be your last competition?

Yes, this was my last competition. After the Olympics, I said that I would stop with this championship, and that is what I will do. I wanted to do the Europeans as my last competition. I didn’t want to end with the pressure I lived through the Olympics. The Europeans is more my house. Now it’s time for the next step in my life, after 21 years of skating, 13 straight European Championships and seven continental titles.

It’s a bit sad, of course, after all these years, but I’ll skate in other ways now. I’ve achieved every goal I had. Every one of my medals is so special. I am grateful I was able to accomplish much more than I ever thought I would be able to accomplish.

How difficult do you think it will be to switch to a new career?

At the end of the day you need to have your mind set. It will be difficult to switch from one life to the next. But the next chapter will still be related to figure skating. As long as I keep figure skating, which I have done all my life, I think it will be okay.

What do you think will be your legacy to skating?

I hope people will think of me as a different type of skater, a more complete one. Skaters are not jumps, they are about complete skating. Some skaters are like this and I am proud of them. I hope I have left something like that in figure skating.

Also, it’s good for the world to know that not only major countries can win. Everyone from any country has one’s own story. Coming from many different countries will make up different stories. I hope I can help figure skating grow in my country. I still have a lot of work to do!

Will you be a coach? How do you prepare for that?

I enjoy coaching. I’ve had many different experiences with different coaches, and I took the best part of them. There are many different ways to teach, and I took everything. I’ve always had this idea that one day I would coach.

Spain’s Javier Fernandez reacts after learning his scores in the men’s free skating at the European Championships in Minsk, Belarus. AP Photo

Will you keep doing shows?

Oh yes! That’s the point: I’ll be doing shows for some time, and coaching part-time, that means skating camps and summer camps.

I’ve already done skating camps in the summer [as a coach], but that doesn’t quite satisfy me. I’d rather work with skaters every single day. You need time to teach what I would like to teach.

Then, once my show time is over, I’ll embark into a full-time coaching career. In Madrid, if that works.

How do you explain that you managed to have such a long career? Skating careers seem to be so short nowadays. 

You need to understand the kind of a person and of an athlete you are. You can’t push you too much or too less. A skater needs to be complete – not only jump – right from the beginning, and to start growing with time. Don’t try to push yourself when you are a teenager, when your body is changing.

Also, you have to be 100 percent sure of your goal. And your goal must not be too far away. I see many people who fail because they have fixed too far away goals that can’t be achieved. You have to be fair to yourself. You know, I come from a modest family. I was raised that way: I never wanted more than I thought I could get. I always was the same person. That made my career last so long.

I could definitely have failed to win this seventh European title. You never know what may happen. But it was realistic. Had I not won, I had a back-up as well: I could have thought to myself that I came to this competition to retire, not to win. I’m glad I didn’t have to! (Smiling)

Could you talk about the way you see skating evolve? You seemed quite angry coming out of the short program. 

Yes, I was angry that my quad Salchow was deemed underrotated when it was not. Throughout my career I’ve been mad when the judges put me first after a bad skate. But I’m mad also when I skate well and get penalized. Judges have the slow motion and they can check.

You know what action I would like this to open? Judges consider landing to evaluate a jump, which is fine. But they should also consider the take-off. So many skaters rotate half a turn less just in the take-off. What is fair? And what is not?

How do you react to ladies doing quads now?

You know, some girls did triple Axels and quads already in the past. Now it seems that the sport is pushing in that direction. A Japanese and a Russian girl are landing a triple Axel again, now an American. Another Russian girl is landing a quad. It may be good, but we need to wait for a few years to evaluate how good it really is. The worst thing for skating would be that a 14-year-old girl has to retire because she can’t land her jumps anymore. Can a girl who lands a quad at 12 still land it at 25? That’s what remained to be seen.

NBCSports: Why do you think it would be the worst for skating?

Everyone who comes to the rink to watch a skating competition has to come for a reason. As a skater, you need people to follow you. I can tell you that if you skate for 21 years, you can get people to follow you and come to competitions. Otherwise why would you come, if after just a few years a skater you had enjoyed watching doesn’t even compete anymore?

Remember in not so distant years: the best thing with skating was that you could follow skaters for very many years. Those skaters contributed to skating’s popularity.

Javi’s legacy

Much has been said about Javi’s legacy, from his coach Brian Orser to worldwide skaters. Many fans and officials expressed their gratefulness in Minsk as well. We selected just four. Each one exemplifies a specific trademark from Javi.

“Javi? He brought Spain to the world of skating, and he brought skating into Spain. The first year he won the Europeans there was not even one Spanish journalist from Spain in the press room. Now his shows in Spain, Revolution on Ice, like the one he did last December, are now quite successful,” said a Spanish fan.

“His charm, his character. That belongs to him only, and he brought what he is to skating,” said another.

“He brought the balance between the two sides of skating: the technique of jumps, as he was one of the first ones to land two different quads in a free program, and all of what makes skating (speed, glide, edges, steps). He blended the whole into interesting and fun to watch programs.”

“Why will he be missed? For his character. He is a normal person. He is a big star on the ice, but he never behaved like a star out of the ice. Some people tend to ignore us. He, not. He considers everyone in the same way, and he is kind with everyone, be it volunteers, other skaters, fans, audience, coaches.”

MORE: Behind the scenes on Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 at the European Championships

As a reminder, you can watch Four Continents and the world 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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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.

MORE: Simona Halep, Nadia Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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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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