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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Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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