Naomi Osaka escapes Victoria Azarenka at French Open

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Naomi Osaka says she doesn’t really notice the No. 1 next to her name anymore. She is quickly earning another label at the French Open: escape artist.

Osaka rallied past former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the second round, winning her second straight match from a set down on Thursday. It’s her 16th straight win at a major, with seven of those going the full three sets.

“She kind of killed me in the first set, and I just kept trying to find a way to stay positive,” Osaka said. “I didn’t dip at all during this match, and she was just playing so well. I was just waiting for her to get a little bit tired.”

Azarenka, a mom who is eight years older than Osaka, was up a break in the second set, then failed to convert a break point to serve for the match before Osaka battled back. The two-time Australian Open champion was denied what would have been her biggest win since having son Leo on Dec. 19, 2016.

“I kind of felt like a challenger,” said Osaka, who gets Czech Katerina Siniakova next in her quest to win a third straight major. “Like, I know she went to the semis here before, so obviously she has a lot more experience here. She won Grand Slams and she was No. 1 way before I was. I’m still kind of new at this”

But not new at grinding out wins and performing under pressure.

After beating Serena Williams in the 2018 U.S. Open final, Osaka won four matches at the Australian Open that went three sets, including in the semifinals and final. Osaka has noted the strength shown in a comeback from down 5-1 in the third set to beat Donna Vekic last month to reach her first clay-court semifinal in Stuttgart, Germany.

“She’s been a lot in those situations where those margins are really small,” Azarenka said. “Proving that she deserves to be where she’s at right now.”

Osaka never made it past the third round in three previous Roland Garros appearances. She was nearly bounced Tuesday, getting bageled in 20 minutes in her first set of the tournament against the world No. 90 who had lost 10 straight Grand Slam matches.

Osaka said it was the most nervous she had ever felt during a match, noting it being her first time playing a Slam as the world No. 1 and first match on Court Philippe Chatrier.

“It’s not outside pressure,” she said. “It’s more like I feel like I have to win. I acknowledge that’s kind of a toxic trait, but, like, it’s gotten me this far, so … ”

Also Thursday, Williams beat Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara 6-3, 6-2 to reach a third-round date with countrywoman Sofia Kenin. If Osaka and Williams each win their next two matches, they meet in the quarterfinals. Williams, like Osaka, lost her first set of the tournament.

Defending champ Simona Halep needed extra time to dump Magda Linette 6-4, 5-7, 6-3 after losing the last four games of the second set. Halep later said she felt a little bit sick with stomach problems.

The Romanian’s draw could be wide open if Aleksandra Krunić beats No. 27 Lesia Tsurenko when that match resumes Friday at 6-6 in the third. Tsurenko is the only player left in Halep’s quarter ranked higher than Halep’s first-round opponent, No. 47 Ajla Tomljanovic.

In men’s action, No. 1 Novak Djokovic rolled Swiss Henri Laaksonen 6-1, 6-4, 6-3. He gets Italian qualifier Salvatore Caruso in third round. Djokovic’s potential semifinal foe, No. 4 Dominic Thiem, outlasted tricky Kazakh Alexander Bublik 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 7-5.

No. 5 Alexander Zverev swept Swede Mikael Ymer 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (3) in a match that took half the time as his first-round five-setter. Zverev is in Djokovic’s quarter.

No. 8 Juan Martin del Potro assured all of the top 10 male seeds reached the third round, rallying past Yoshihito Nishioka 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-2. Del Potro, who missed the Australian Open in January and Indian Wells in March with a knee injury, said he felt hip and knee pain during the 3-hour, 46-minute duel.

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

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Six months to Tokyo Paralympics: Ten athletes to watch

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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.

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MORE: Memorable Paralympic moments from 2010s decade

2020 World Track Cycling Championships TV, live stream schedule

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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.

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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