Serena Williams, after mulling skipping French Open, rallies for first-round win

Leave a comment

Serena Williams considered daily whether to skip the French Open. She could have been sent packing after the first round on Monday.

Williams rallied to avoid the second first-round loss in her 71-Grand Slam career, topping Russian Vitalia Diatchenko 2-6, 6-1, 6-0.

“I didn’t play great in this match, but it is what it is,” Williams said on Tennis Channel after notching her 800th tour-level main-draw match victory. “I’m happy I got through it. I knew that it could go worse.”

It could have been the first time Serena and older sister Venus Williams lost in the first round of the same major. Williams, eyeing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, moved on to face Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara or Slovenian Dalila Jakupović in the second round.

Williams withdrew from her previous three tournaments with health problems, citing a left knee injury at the last two.

“It crossed my mind every day,” whether to pass on Paris, Williams said, “but I’m here. And to do the best that I can do.”

She played well save that first set, being broken twice in a row with 14 unforced errors. Diatchenko won eight of nine points on Williams’ serve at one stretch.

“I’m a little upset,” Williams said. “I’ve been practicing extremely well, and I didn’t play like that at all. I think I’m going to take a deep breath. I was also a little nervous today. Usually I’m never nervous. That also means that I absolutely love what I do and means I want to be out here, so it’s a good sign.”

Williams, 37, is taking her fifth crack at tying Margaret Court‘s record 24 majors. She made her Grand Slam return from childbirth at the French Open last year. In career match wins, Williams trails only Martina Navratilova (1,442), Chris Evert (1,309), Steffi Graf (902) and Virginia Wade (839).

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

Earlier Monday, Rafael Nadal began his bid for a record 12th championship in Paris and Novak Djokovic got started on his quest for a fourth consecutive major trophy with easy wins.

Nadal was a bit shaky in the very first game against 184th-ranked German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann, facing four break points, but he saved them all — and didn’t face another the rest of the way for a 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 victory.

Nadal’s feared forehand was not at its dangerous best, accounting for more unforced errors (11) than winners (nine).

“I had my match plan and, yeah, some of the things, they didn’t work out well,” said Hanfmann, who played college tennis at USC. “But, I mean, that’s why he’s as good as he is.”

Djokovic also needed under two hours to reach the second round, running his Grand Slam winning streak to 22 matches by getting past 44th-ranked Hubert Hurkacz of Poland 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.

Upsets included former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who went out 0-6, 6-3, 6-3 to 68th-ranked Veronika Kudermetova of Russia.

Frances Tiafoe, the only seeded U.S. man at No. 32 and a quarterfinalist at the Australian Open in January, threw up a couple of times and his game came apart late in a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 loss to Filip Krajinovic of Serbia.

“Obviously very depleted and had nothing really in me,” said Tiafoe, now 0-4 at Roland Garros.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Six months to Tokyo Paralympics: Ten athletes to watch

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ten Paralympic hopefuls to watch, six months out from the Tokyo Games Opening Ceremony on Aug. 25 …

Chuck Aoki (Rugby)
The U.S.’ top scorer, but still looking for a Paralympic title after bronze and silver medals in 2012 and 2016. Aoki’s father’s family is from Japan, immigrating to the U.S. in the early 1900s. His great-grandparents and grandparents were placed in World War II internment camps. Aoki switched from wheelchair basketball to rugby after seeing the 2005 Oscar-nominated documentary “Murderball.” He has been on the national team since 2009.

Shingo Kunieda (Tennis)
Japan is known for its tennis players (Naomi OsakaKei Nishikori), but Kunieda is by far the most accomplished. He owns a wheelchair record 23 Grand Slam singles titles, 21 Grand Slam doubles titles and three Paralympic gold medals. Japan earned 24 medals at the Rio Paralympics, but they were all silver or bronze.

Oksana Masters (Cycling)
Already a Paralympic rowing and Nordic skiing medalist, Masters bids for a second Games to add a road cycling medal to her haul. In Rio, she placed fourth in the road race and fifth in the time trial. At her last Paralympics in PyeongChang, Masters came back from a fractured right elbow to earn five medals, including two golds.

Evan Medell (Taekwondo)
The U.S. has a medal contender in taekwondo, which debuted as an Olympic medal sport in 2000 and is on the Paralympic program for the first time in Tokyo. Medell, a 22-year-old licensed diesel mechanic, is ranked No. 1 in the world in the K44 +75kg division after 2019 titles at the European and Parapan American Championships.

Morteza Mehrzad (Volleyball)
Iran dominates men’s sitting volleyball. None of its players were more noticeable in Rio than the 8-foot, 1-inch Mehrzad, who led the team in scoring in the gold-medal match. Mehrzad was also part of Iran’s 2018 World title team, a signal that he could return for another Paralympics in Tokyo.

Becca Meyers (Swimming)
Earned three golds and one silver in individual events at the Rio Games, plus broke three world records. Meyers followed that with medals across three different strokes (plus the individual medley) between the 2017 and 2019 World Championships. She has trained at both the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and the Nation’s Capital Swim Club, which produced Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, respectively.

Becca Murray (Basketball)
The leading scorer on the U.S.’ Rio Paralympic champion team returned to the program in 2019 after two years away. Murray, who debuted at the Paralympics in 2008 at age 18 (and earned gold), looks to help the U.S. women bounce back from a 2018 World Championship sixth-place finish without her.

Daniel Romanchuk (Track and Field)
Eliminated in the heats of all his Rio Paralympic events as an 18-year-old. Now Romanchuk is a marathon superstar, winning the wheelchair division in Boston, Chicago, London and New York City in 2019. The University of Illinois product is expected to enter a range of distances in Tokyo, given he lowered 800m and 5000m world records on the track in his classification.

Allysa Seely (Triathlon)
Led a U.S. medals sweep in her classification in triathlon’s Paralympic debut in Rio. Followed with world championships medals in 2017 (silver), 2018 (gold in an undefeated season) and 2019 (silver).

Ben Thompson (Archery)
Upset the world No. 1 compound archer to win the world title in 2019. Ended the season with a No. 1 world ranking and Male Paralympic Athlete of the Year from the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. Thompson competed in recent years with sister-in-law Megan‘s name on his arrow wraps. Megan fought breast cancer for years before her death in November as he was en route to the Team USA Awards.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Memorable Paralympic moments from 2010s decade

2020 World Track Cycling Championships TV, live stream schedule

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The world track cycling championships offer an Olympic preview, live on NBC Sports Gold and also airing on Olympic Channel this week.

All five daily sessions, beginning Wednesday, stream live for NBC Sports Gold “Cycling Pass” subscribers. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA airs same-day delayed TV broadcasts.

The U.S. contingent is led by Chloé Dygert, a world champion on the track and the road who is trying to make the Olympic team in both disciplines. Dygert already qualified for Tokyo by winning the world title in the road time trial in September.

On the track, Dygert swept individual and team pursuit titles in 2017 and 2018 but missed last year’s worlds after a May 2018 concussion. She was part of the 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medal team pursuit squad in Rio.

The U.S. has yet to win an Olympic women’s track cycling title. The individual pursuit is not on the Olympic program, but Dygert could anchor a potent team pursuit. The U.S. finished seventh without Dygert and the late Kelly Catlin at the 2019 Worlds.

The international field is led by married British couple Jason and Laura Kenny, who own 10 combined Olympic titles.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Day Time (ET) Key Events Network
Wednesday 12:20 p.m. Team sprints NBC Sports Gold | STREAM
8 p.m.* Olympic Channel | STREAM
Thursday 12:20 p.m. Team pursuits NBC Sports Gold | STREAM
8 p.m.* Olympic Channel | STREAM
Friday 12:20 p.m. Women’s sprint, omnium NBC Sports Gold | STREAM
10:30 p.m.* Olympic Channel | STREAM
Saturday 10:20 a.m. Women’s madison NBC Sports Gold | STREAM
5 p.m.* Olympic Channel | STREAM
Sunday 7:50 a.m. Women’s keirin NBC Sports Gold | STREAM
5 p.m.* Olympic Channel | STREAM

*Delayed broadcast