Roger Federer returns to French Open on 10th anniversary of title, 20th anniversary of debut

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Roger Federer called it the most satisfying win of his career, next to his maiden Wimbledon title. Ten years ago, he at last conquered the red clay of Paris, capturing his first French Open title to complete the career Grand Slam.

It remains Federer’s lone Coupe des Mousquetaires as he returns this week to play the tournament for the first time since 2015. Many have speculated this could be the 37-year-old’s French farewell, but the most important voice has repeatedly shot that down.

“How much longer am I going to play? I wish I knew,” Federer said on ESPN at the Miami Open in March. “We’re not thinking about retirement because the more I think about it and the more I talk about it, the closer I am to it. I have no plans. There was talk about [retiring after] the Tokyo Olympics and all that, but that’s not true.”

Federer spoke again Friday, one day before the 20th anniversary of his first Grand Slam main-draw match and two days before he opens play against Italian Lorenzo Sonego. He said he didn’t know if he can win this year. The No. 3 seed, he reached the quarterfinals of his two clay events earlier this month.

In some ways, Federer feels similar to how he did going into the 2017 Australian Open, after missing the 2016 Olympics and U.S. Open due to a knee injury and seeing his ranking fall to No. 17. Federer then won the Australian Open, his first major in four and a half years, igniting a late 30s resurgence.

“A bit of the unknown,” he said. “I feel like I’m playing good tennis, but is it enough or is it enough against the absolute top guys when it really comes to the crunch? I’m not sure if it’s in my racket.”

FRENCH OPEN: TV Schedule | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

In 2009, Federer came to the French Open with a hint of desperation that he had been carrying for three years. Rafael Nadal beat him in the semifinals in 2005 and the final in 2006, 2007 and 2008, the last one a clinical 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 in a tidy 108 minutes.

“I was like, man, how many more chances do I need to get the title?” Federer said not of 2008 but of 2006, the first of consecutive years he came to Paris seeking to complete the Roger Slam — holding all four major titles at once.

The chance in 2009 became an opportunity when Nadal was upset by Swede Robin Soderling in the round of 16. It ended a 31-match win streak to start Nadal’s Roland Garros career and closed his path to a fifth straight French Open title.

“My dream scenario is to beat Rafa here in the finals,” Federer said the next day, after coming from two sets down to outlast Tommy Haas, adding later, “I knew the day Rafa won’t be in the finals, I will be there and I will win. I always knew and that I believed in it.

“Even though people said, oh, he’s got to go through Rafa to win this title, I knew it wasn’t particularly the case because you can’t be in every Grand Slam final.”

So it happened. Federer and Soderling met on a windy, occasionally rainy Sunday with Bjorn Borg, Tony Parker and Eva Longoria in attendance. Federer spent the previous night watching CDs of his two most recent matches with Soderling, who had taken just one set in their nine career meetings.

It turned out to be one of Federer’s easier matches of the two weeks, a 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-4 affirmation.

“I felt like I just played three, four finals of French Open this week because everybody expected me to win. It’s an unbelievable relief of pressure,” Federer said. “Of course there’s no Nadal on the other side of the net, but I beat him a couple of weeks ago on clay [in the Madrid final], so I really feel like I deserve it.”

It marked Federer’s 14th Grand Slam singles title, tying Pete Sampras‘ record. Federer is now at 20, Nadal at 17 and Novak Djokovic at 15. The greatest-ever debate is now fluid, but a decade ago John McEnroe asked Federer, as he cradled the Coupe des Mousquetaires on Court Philippe Chatrier, how it felt to be the GOAT.

“Am I the greatest of all time? We don’t know, but I definitely have many things going for me,” Federer said.

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Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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