Naomi Osaka escapes Victoria Azarenka at French Open

Leave a comment

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

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Ted Ligety scales back race schedule

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Two-time Olympic champion Ted Ligety is scaling back his race schedule as he enters the final portion of his decorated Alpine skiing career.

Ligety, a 34-year-old who has endured many injuries since his last World Cup win in 2015, said he will race strictly giant slaloms this year. The World Cup season starts in late October.

“So it’ll be a little bit easier schedule on my body,” Ligety said in a KPCW radio interview in his native Park City, Utah. “I’ll be able to be home a little bit more as well, and then we see. I mean, I would like to keep going as long as I feel like I can win races and feel healthy. That’s really the biggest part, and nowadays I have a 2-year-old son, and there’s more factors than there was when I was 25 years old.”

Ligety, nicknamed “Mr. GS” for his giant slalom prowess, has a 2014 Olympic gold medal and three world titles in that event.

He also owns an Olympic combined title from 2006 and world titles in the super-G and combined from 2013, but he hasn’t won a race in one of those disciplines since January 2014. And since then, he has undergone back and knee surgeries and dealt with hip problems.

“There’s a lot of hard miles on my body up to this point, but I’m still enjoying it,” said Ligety, whose 321 World Cup starts are the most among active Olympic medalists now that Lindsey Vonn and Aksel Lund Svindal have retired. “Right now, I feel really healthy and trying to get to a point where I feel I can win races. That’s the goal right now.”

Ligety, a four-time Olympian, has not publicly committed to a 2022 Olympic run.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Mikaela Shiffrin ponders what’s next

Usain Bolt calls out ’embarrassing’ Jamaican sprinters

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Usain Bolt called out his fellow Jamaican Olympic medalists Yohan Blake and Warren Weir as well as the next generation of his countrymen who have been slower than the top U.S. sprinters in the two years since Bolt retired.

“I’ve walked away from the sport, and no one is there to pick it up, pick up the pieces, keep the level,” Bolt said in a Jamaica Gleaner interview published last week. “It’s embarrassing for the country. Every time I see people, [they say] come back. We need you. But you have so much talent in Jamaica.”

In 2018, Jamaica had none of the 10 fastest men in the world for the first time since 2003. This year, Blake is the lone Jamaican who has broken 10 seconds, while five Americans have done so.

Blake, 29, is the second-fastest sprinter in history and beat Bolt at the 2012 Jamaican Olympic trials but has lost multiple steps since a series of leg injuries beginning in 2013.

Led by Christian Coleman and Justin Gatlin, the U.S. could sweep the 100m podium at the world championships in late September. Jamaica hasn’t missed an Olympic or world podium in the men’s 100m since 2004.

While Bolt earned most of those medals, Jamaica boasted a deep group with Blake, Weir, former world-record holder Asafa PowellNesta Carter and Michael Frater. All are now 29 years or older.

“I don’t think it is going to get any better because I think these youngsters are a little bit spoiled,” Bolt said of his countrymen, according to Reuters.

Bolt reacted to Blake, Weir and fellow veteran Kemar Bailey-Cole splitting from Glen Mills, the coach whom they shared with Bolt. Bolt said that sprinters who left Mills “disrespected” the coach on social media.

“[Mills] took you to the highest level that you have ever been,” he said. “They probably won’t get back to that level, but he has brought you there. … If you don’t work hard and you don’t train hard, how can you be great? When Warren Weir got to the level that he is, I remember Warren Weir taking days off to go to Florida and [fellow sprinter] Jason Young. Just randomly, take a week off from training. … frolicking and just relaxing. Who does that in a season?

“These youngsters, they feel like because they got the contract … they feel like they’ve made it. That is the problem. No one wants to listen. No one has the fight in them or the anger to be great. If you don’t want it, then it don’t matter how much I speak. I’ve spoken to all these young athletes from Bailey-Cole to Blake, all of them, I’ve had conversations. You know what I mean? They don’t want to hear it.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Justin Gatlin edges Noah Lyles in Monaco