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Bradie Tennell on her improved artistry this season

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Bradie Tennell finished with a silver medal behind 13-year-old Alysa Liu at this year’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January, just days before her 21st birthday.

Then in February, she placed fifth at the Four Continents Championships in Anaheim, Calif. Her next stop is the world championships in Saitama, Japan from March 18-24. The PyeongChang Olympian will look to improve on her sixth-place finish from the 2018 World Championships.

NBCSports spoke with Tennell in Detroit after nationals wrapped up about the surge in her popularity since winning the national title in 2018, her ability to sell the storylines in her programs this year, and one quirky fact about why she always wears her hair the same way during competition.

Have you started to settle into like the pace of the media requests? What’s that like?

Yes. I think it’s all becoming my new normal, which is great. I think last year with everything and how it went, it was kind of a shock to me. But now that I’m more used to it and I have more experience, I think I’m better equipped to handle it all. It’s still exciting, but I don’t think it’s as shocking.

How was it at first compared to how you deal with it now?

At first it was… it was a bit unnerving. But now I feel like it’s more… it’s become just a part of the job. It’s not something that I need to fret over any more.

How did you and your choreographer, Benoit Richaud, develop the free skate storyline to “Romeo and Juliet”?

He came to me after we chose the music and he’s like, ‘Look, this is what I see in the music. Do you agree?’ I was like ‘Yea, I think that’s amazing.’

At the beginning it’s mysterious: you meet this guy at a ball and you fall in love. Then, the slow part is the tragedy where you find him on the floor. The part right before my steps, you find your love who’s dead on the floor. That part is so raw.

The ending is when Juliet is gonna take her own life. That’s when I do all the weird stuff with the dagger – which I personally love. I think it’s so inventive and so cool. I really felt like having that whole story from the very beginning really helped me in the artistry department this year.

You had said before nationals that one of your goals was to display your artistry. Did you meet that goal?

I did. I’m extremely happy with how I performed the programs in terms of the artistic side. Especially my short program. I kinda struggled to connect with that a little bit all season… I wouldn’t say struggle to connect with it. I think I’ve had a pretty good connection. I think I just struggled a little bit to show it. I think this time I really did that well here. Of course, the couple little mistakes in the long, I’m disappointed in those. But I’m very happy with the way that I performed it.

Changing topics: one of the things I read about you is that you always compete with your hair in a bun because it’s so long.

Yes. It’s not quite as long as it used to be any more. It goes about halfway down my back now. But I cut it like… I’d say like once a year. I let it grow out. I cut enough to donate to charity.

It seems like you always have a pretty intricate hair piece to match your costume. Are they made by the same person?

It depends. Sometimes my mom makes them. Sometimes the costume person makes them. It just depends on what we want to do.

How long does that take your mom?

It depends on how complicated it is. It could take an hour, it could take three hours. It depends, to actually make them. But to put them in my hair, it takes like 10-15 minutes.

What’s that process like?

I do my hair. The hairstyle’s all done and everything. And then whatever hair piece we have, she takes and she puts my hair and then she sews it in, so that it doesn’t fly out.

Can’t afford the deduction!

[laughing] That would be awful!

MORE: Hanna Harrell talks taking on the Russians at the world junior championships

As a reminder, you can watch 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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Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff set Australian Open duel

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff
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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.

“I know what to expect,” Gauff said. “I’m excited.”

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.

“It’s been really cool to watch her grow because it’s happened so fast,” Osaka said.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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John Isner leaning toward skipping Olympics again

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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.

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