Female hockey stars boycott professional leagues

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The world’s best female hockey players are boycotting playing professionally this upcoming season “until we get the resources that professional hockey demands and deserves,” they announced on social media Thursday.

“We come together, over 200 players strong, to say it is time to create a sustainable professional league for women’s hockey,” read a statement posted by dozens of Olympic medalists. “We cannot make a sustainable living playing in the current state of the professional game.”

Players have no health insurance and make as little as $2,000 per season, they said.

“We’re not playing anywhere professionally in North America. We just want to build something better,” U.S. forward Hilary Knight said, according to The Associated Press. “Now, what that looks like could be a handful of different things. But our main purpose and goal is to promote the growth of the game and increase the visibility. But ultimately, we need the sustainability factor to make us all feel better about what we’re doing on a daily basis.”

All but three players from the U.S. Olympic champion team immediately posted the statement. The three who didn’t were its youngest players — goalie Maddie Rooney and defenders Megan Keller and Cayla Barnes — who were still collegians last season. Keller later posted it, and Rooney reposted a teammate’s post.

In the lead-up to the 2017 World Championship, the U.S. national team announced they planned to boycott the tournament if a wage dispute with USA Hockey was not resolved in time. Three days before the puck dropped, USA Hockey and the players reached an agreement that allowed for travel and insurance provisions in line with what the men’s team received.

The Canadian Women’s Hockey League, one of two leagues in North America, announced last month that it would fold effective Wednesday. The other is the National Women’s Hockey League with seven teams.

The NWHL, however, said it planned to push forward with its fifth season this October and would offer salary increases and a “50-50 revenue split from league-level sponsorships and media rights deals.”

The NWHL statement did not mention its earlier plans to expand into Toronto and Montreal next season.

The players’ decision places an emphasis on the NHL to play a larger role in women’s hockey. The NHL has provided financial support to women’s hockey, but has resisted further involvement including the possibility of sponsoring its own league.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly noted the NWHL remains in existence, and the NHL has no intention of interfering with its business plan or objectives. Daly added he doesn’t anticipate “at this early stage” having women’s pro hockey placed on the agenda for the league’s board of governors meetings next month.

“We will further explore the situation privately before taking any affirmative position on next steps,” Daly said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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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.

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

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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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