Katie Ledecky
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Katie Ledecky, Caeleb Dressel sizzle as world championships near

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Two of U.S. swimming’s biggest stars appear in form going into the world championships.

Katie Ledecky swam the world’s fastest 800m freestyle of 2019 at a Tyr Pro Series meet in Bloomington, Ind., on Sunday. A half-hour later in Atlanta, Caeleb Dressel clocked his fastest 100m freestyle since the summer of 2017.

It marked the last full meet for Ledecky before worlds in Gwangju, South Korea, in two months. Dressel will swim another meet in late June, his coach, Gregg Troy, said Monday.

Ledecky’s swim was a statement by virtue of the world rankings. She came to Bloomington as the world leader in the 800m, but only by four tenths of a second over Wang Jianjiahe, a 16-year-old who broke the Asian record at the Chinese Championships.

Nobody has been that close to Ledecky in her trademark event since her breakthrough 2012 Olympic title at age 15, though Ledecky and Wang have never been in the same race.

“I’m aware of what everyone else in the world is doing,” Ledecky said last month, according to the Washington Post.

Ledecky opened breathing room in Bloomington, going four seconds faster than a month ago and winning by 26 seconds against a domestic field (Ledecky swept the 200m, 400m and 800m frees over the weekend and hasn’t lost domestically in any of those events in five years). She owns the 20 fastest 800m frees in history and on Sunday clocked the seventh-fastest of that set.

It’s an opportune time to look at the world rankings in the four individual events Ledecky will swim in Gwangju:

200m Freestyle
1. Ariarne Titmus (AUS) — 1:54.30
2. Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) — 1:55.29 (not expected to swim 200m free at worlds)
3. Katie Ledecky — 1:55.78

400m Freestyle
1. Ariarne Titmus (AUS) — 3:59.66
2. Katie Ledecky — 3:59.95
3. Li Bingjie (CHN) — 4:03.29

800m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky — 8:10.70

2. Wang Jianjiahe (CHN) — 8:14.64
3. Leah Smith (USA) — 8:16.33

1500m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky — 15:45.59
2. Wang Jianjiahe (CHN) — 15:46.69
3. Simona Quadarella (ITA) — 16:04.02

On paper, it’s the toughest competition Ledecky faces going into a major international meet since she expanded her program to include all of those events in 2014. Titmus, 18, is now the fifth-fastest 200m freestyler in history and the third-fastest in the 400m free. Wang is No. 3 all-time in the 800m and No. 6 in the 1500m.

The difficulty increases when putting history in perspective. Most elite female distance swimmers peak in their teens and, until recent years, were all but if not retired in their early 20s (Ledecky is 22).

Dressel’s performance last weekend triggered alarm bells to anybody who might have been sleeping on the man who earned a Michael Phelps-record-tying seven golds at the 2017 Worlds.

The summer of 2018 did not go to plan for Dressel, who earned two individual victories in seven tries between the two biggest meets of the year.

But in Atlanta, Dressel ran down Chase Kalisz in Saturday’s 200m butterfly, covering the last 50 meters 1.79 seconds faster than the field. Impressive for Dressel, a sprinter, to do that in an event he rarely contests and against Kalisz, the world’s greatest all-around swimmer whose primary event is the 400m individual medley.

Then on Sunday, Dressel moved from No. 27 to No. 4 in the world this year in the 100m freestyle. His 47.86 was his fastest 100m free since the 2017 Worlds, when Dressel recorded the three fastest 100m free times in American history.

The 2019 world rankings in Dressel’s primary events show that he, like Ledecky, could be in for a fight to repeat his 2017 medal haul:

50m Freestyle
1. Bruno Fratus (BRA) — 21.47
2. Ben Proud (GBR) — 21.48
3. Andrea Vergani (ITA) — 21.53
6. Caeleb Dressel — 21.69 (Dressel did not swim the 50m free in Atlanta)

100m Freestyle
1. Vladislav Grinev (RUS) — 47.43
2. Kyle Chalmers (AUS) — 47.48
3. Marcelo Chierighini (BRA) — 47.68
4. Caeleb Dressel (USA) — 47.86

100m Butterfly
1. Mehdy Metella (FRA) — 50.85
2. Chad le Clos (RSA) — 51.25
3. Sebastian Sabo (HUN) — 51.34
5. Caeleb Dressel — 51.41

Dressel’s winning times from 2017 Worlds in those three events were all significantly faster than Fratus, Grinev and Metella’s top times for 2019, but smart swimmers will be peaking in July and not at spring meets.

In other events Sunday, Annie Lazor continued her tear by clocking 2:20.77 in Bloomington’s 200m breaststroke and becoming the second-fastest American in history behind two-time Olympic champion Rebecca Soni.

Lazor, a 24-year-old who was seventh at the 2016 Olympic Trials, chopped 3.65 seconds off her personal best in the last 10 months. She leads the 2019 world rankings ahead of world champion Yuliya Yefimova of Russia. But Lazor did not qualify for the world championships team last summer.

Nathan Adrian ended his first meet since testicular cancer treatment (which included two surgeries) with a third-place finish in Sunday’s 50m freestyle. Adrian, a five-time Olympic champion, was fourth in the 100m free on Friday.

“I don’t really know what to make of the times, but in terms of my stroke, that felt better than I expected it to feel,” Adrian told Swimswam.com.

MORE: Olympic breaststroke champion faces ban for missed drug tests

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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.

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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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