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Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal face toughest tests of Wimbledon stars; preview

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Neither Serena Williams nor Rafael Nadal has played a tournament match since the French Open three weeks ago. And of tennis’ giants, it’s Williams and Nadal who received the most difficult draws at Wimbledon.

Williams, taking her sixth crack at tying Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, could face defending champion Angelique Kerber or and an unseeded Maria Sharapova in the fourth round. If she makes the quarterfinals, top-ranked Ashleigh Barty or 2017 Wimbledon winner Garbine Muguruza could await.

Williams debated daily in May whether to skip the French Open after withdrawing from her previous three events with health problems, namely a left knee injury. She played in Paris anyway, not at 100 percent, and was bounced in the third round for her earliest Grand Slam exit in five years.

The 37-year-old mom, who made the 2018 Wimbledon final after a life-threatening childbirth 10 months earlier, said she’s had “a good week and a half” of prep.

“I just haven’t had enough match play, quite frankly,” said Williams, a seven-time Wimbledon winner. “I haven’t had the best time and preparation that I normally would have.”

WIMBLEDON: Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

Nadal is seemingly healthier, having trained on grass in his native Mallorca since lifting his 12th French Open title on June 9. His opportunity at Wimbledon: move within one Grand Slam title of Roger Federer‘s male record 20. But Nadal has gotten past the fourth round at the All England Club just once in the last seven years, reaching the semifinals in 2018.

Just to get to a potential semifinal with Federer, Nadal might have to go through Nick Kyrgios in the second round, two-time Wimbledon semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the third round, 2017 Wimbledon runner-up Marin Cilic in the fourth round and two-time French Open runner-up Dominic Thiem in the quarters. Kyrgios, Shapovalov, Cilic and Thiem have all beaten Nadal in the last two years.

But Nadal is concerned about his first-round opponent, 258th-ranked Yūichi Sugita, who advanced through qualifying this week and beat Lukas Rosol, who shocked Nadal in the second round of 2012 Wimbledon.

“Tuesday going to be my first match,” on grass this year, Nadal acknowledged. “Going to be a tough one, a tough start against a player who already played three matches here. So is a challenge.”

Eight-time Wimbledon winner Federer and defending champ Novak Djokovic are the favorites.

Federer grabbed his 102nd career tour title at a grass-court tune-up event in Halle, Germany, a week ago. He was drawn into a quarter with No. 8 Kei Nishikori and No. 9 John Isner, neither of whom has taken a set off the Swiss on grass. He’s coming off playing a full clay-court season — swept by Nadal in the French Open semifinals — for the first time since 2015.

“I’m happy I was able to adjust again on the grass,” said the 37-year-old Federer, who became the oldest modern-era Wimbledon men’s champion with his last title two years ago. “I came through Halle, the clay court season, French Open, without any injuries, feeling good. I guess I would be ready for longer rallies.”

Djokovic, like Nadal, has not played since Roland Garros. But Wimbledon was the scene last year of his return to the top of the sport after falling out of the top 20. He was the lowest-ranked man to win at the All England Club since 2001, and it catapulted him to titles at the U.S. Open and Australian Open.

“That’s what kind of gave me that push and also a huge relief,” Djokovic said of his fourth Wimbledon title. His road to a fifth could include No. 7 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals and Kevin Anderson, whom he swept in last year’s final, in the semis.

But as with Williams and Nadal, it’s tougher to gauge prospects before Wimbledon than perhaps any other Slam without the grass-court experience this season. Williams last played a grass tune-up event in 2011, but she’s also won Wimbledon three times since then.

“I know how to play tennis,” she said, smiling.

MORE: Giannis Antetokounmpo looks to lead Greece to Olympics

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WATCH LIVE: Nathan Chen in U.S. Figure Skating Championships free skate

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Nathan Chen tries to become the first man to win four straight U.S. figure skating titles since 1988, live on NBC Sports on Sunday.

NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of the men’s free skate for subscribers starting at 2:30 p.m. ET in Greensboro, N.C. NBC joins with TV coverage at 3.

LIVE STREAM: Men’s Free Skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Chen, a 20-year-old Yale sophomore, is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics. He can become the seventh man since World War II to win four straight national titles.

Five of the previous six went on to earn Olympic gold, including Dick ButtonScott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano in 1988.

Chen carries a substantial 13.14-point lead from Saturday’s short program, where he landed two quadruple jumps on one week of full training following a flu bout.

The anticipated drama Sunday comes in the battle for silver and bronze medals and the last two world championships team spots.

Jason BrownAndrew TorgashevVincent Zhou and Tomoki Hiwatashi are separated by 8.78 points. Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion, and Zhou, the 2019 World bronze medalist, are the only men in the field other than Chen with world team experience.

Key Skate Times
5:01 p.m. (ET) — Vincent Zhou
5:18 — Tomoki Hiwatashi
5:26 — Andrew Torgashev
5:35 — Nathan Chen
5:43 — Jason Brown

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Mikaela Shiffrin, with 66th World Cup win, moves one shy of career dream

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Mikaela Shiffrin has said one of her career dreams is to win in every discipline in one season. She is now one victory shy of realizing it.

Shiffrin earned her 66th World Cup victory — and her second in three days — at a super-G in Bansko, Bulgaria, on Sunday.

She prevailed by .29 of a second over Italian Marta Bassino and .70 over Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami. Gut-Behrami, the last skier other than Shiffrin to win a World Cup overall title back in 2016, earned her first podium in exactly one year.

Full results are here.

“Perfect weekend for me,” said Shiffrin, who moved one shy of recently retired Austrian Marcel Hirscher for third place on the World Cup career wins list. “The whole team is excited about the whole weekend, but especially today.”

She is en route to a fourth straight World Cup overall title. And she is a combined victory away from wins in all five disciplines in one season. Only Marc GirardelliPetra KronbergerJanica Kostelic and Tina Maze have done it.

“The thing that I’m most proud of right now is that I know how to win in slalom, [giant slalom], super-G and downhill, which I never expected that would really happen,” she said.

Shiffrin struggled with confidence during a winless stretch in early January, trying not to compare herself to last season, when she won a record 17 times. She still leads the men’s and women’s tours with six victories this season, a little more than halfway through.

“Every race is such a big fight, and I haven’t been the one on top of this fight every time,” she said. “Certainly I’ve been like sometimes the expectations that I have or that other people might have, I’m not quite living up to that. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like I’m failing sometimes, even though this is still just an incredible season.”

There are two combined races left this season for Shiffrin to achieve the dream — Feb. 23 in Switzerland and March 1 in Italy. While combined — mixing a speed run and a technical run — might seem perfect for Shiffrin, she has one victory in four starts in the discipline between the World Cup and Olympics.

And Shiffrin is careful about her race schedule. She is undecided on entering a downhill and super-G next weekend at the 2014 Olympic venue in Russia.

“After this weekend my brain is a little bit dead,” she joked.

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