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Alysa Liu is first U.S. woman to land quad, wins Junior Grand Prix debut

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Alysa Liu had just become the first U.S. woman to land a quadruple jump – a Lutz, no less — in competition.

But to the 14-year-old Californian, it was just another day at the rink.

“It’s pretty cool,” she said. “I don’t obsess.”

“My triple Lutz, for me it’s easier than all my other triples. Salchow is harder than Lutz. It’s my favorite jump, and it’s the easiest to do.”

Liu made almost all of the elements in her free skate look easy Saturday, earning 138.80 points to scorch the field and win her debut Junior Grand Prix event. Her overall score, 208.10, outpaced silver medalist Park Yeonjeong of South Korea by 21.52.

The victory was the first for a U.S. woman in a Junior Grand Prix since Polina Edmunds in September 2013. It broke a string of 20 straight Junior Grand Prix wins for Russians.

“It’s a good learning experience, the first JGP,” said Liu, who in January became the youngest U.S. champion in history but is too young to compete on the senior international level until the 2022 Olympic season. “It’s my first big competition this season, and I’m just trying to learn from it.”

There was little to improve, jump-wise, on Saturday. After performing a clean short program on Friday (sans quad Lutz or triple Axel), Liu led by 2.07. Her free skate to Jennifer Thomas’ uplifting “New World Symphony,” choreographed by Lori Nichol, opened with a solid triple Axel-double toe loop combination, followed by the quad Lutz.

Although Liu fell on her second triple Axel, she landed two triple-triple combinations and gained top marks on her spins and step sequence.

“I practice my programs, like, a lot, and normally I can do all of the elements in my program,” Liu said. “I think I was too slow [on the second Axel], too hesitant. But normally I can do it.”

Other young women, including Russia’s reigning world junior champion Alexandra Trusova and world silver medalist Elizabet Tursynbayeva of Kazakhstan, perform quads, while others – Japan’s Rika Kihira, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva of Russia – compete triple Axels. But only Liu has landed both triple Axel and quad in competition.

“My favorite things to practice are jumps,” Liu said. “My least favorites are – well, I’m not sure what least favorite is. I like all of it, but I like jumps best.”

Liu’s exploits are inspiring other young skaters to up their technical ante.

“It’s very cool what she’s done, now we are all working on quads every day and triple Axels,” Emilia Murdock, seventh in Lake Placid, said. “She has shown that the U.S. ladies can beat the Russians, and we can beat the Japanese and Koreans. We just need to work on motivating each other. Alysa has helped the sport a lot.”

Laura Lipetsky, who has coached Liu since the skater was 5 years old, thinks her skater performs best under pressure. Lipetsky, along with Liu’s father, Arthur, kept the skater busy this week with strolls around Mirror Lake and window shopping along Lake Placid’s Main Street.

“There is a lot of work beforehand, as far as training,” Lipetsky said. “And then we have our own ritual before she gets on the ice. … We laugh a lot; we have a lot of fun. That’s what is important in the sport, working hard but having fun as well.”

Liu’s competition will likely get tougher as the season progresses. Just a single Russian competed in Lake Placid: Anastasia Tarakanova, seventh in Russian juniors last season, took bronze with 179.29 points. Ksenia Sinitsyna, fourth at last season’s junior worlds, was slated to compete but could not travel to the U.S. due to issues with travel documents.

As for Liu, don’t expect her to add another quad to her programs any time soon. There’s other work to be done before her next competition, a Junior Grand Prix in Poland in three weeks.

“I do more ballet to help my programs,” she said. “I’m working on my programs more, (doing choreography) with no jumps and spins. I’m doing skating skill exercises.”

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MORE: 2019 Senior Grand Prix assignments

Coco Gauff upsets 9th seed to start French Open

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Coco Gauff notched yet another impressive Grand Slam match win, taking out ninth seed Jo Konta in her French Open main draw debut on Sunday.

Gauff, a 16-year-old American, upset the Brit Konta, a 2019 French Open semifinalist, 6-3, 6-3 on the first day of play at Roland Garros despite 12 double faults. Konta had 41 unforced errors to 22 winners.

“Every match is a great win,” said Gauff, the youngest player in either singles draw. “I don’t really take anything for granted because I’m just happy to be playing. I don’t think maybe winning Slams, matches at Slams is something I’m used to. Especially, this is my first main draw Roland Garros. When I’m on the court. I can act like I’m used to it. When I’m off the court, I’m just happy to be here.”

The clay-court Slam was postponed from May due to the coronavirus pandemic, is being held with damp temperatures in the 50s and has limited spectators to 1,000 per day.

“I’m pretty sure this is my first ever pro tournament, maybe even tournament in general, playing in weather like this,” said Gauff, noting she warmed up for 20 minutes before going on court so she could walk in with a sweat.

Gauff, the 2018 French Open junior champion, gets Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan in the second round after playing a match in leggings for the first time in about six years.

She’s coming off an impressive last year-plus, reaching the fourth round at the most recent Wimbledon and Australian Open. In between, she became the youngest WTA tournament champion since 2004. She recorded wins over Venus Williams and Naomi Osaka.

Gauff will bid over the next nine months to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team outright by being among the top four Americans in WTA rankings after the 2021 French Open. Therefore, her result at this French Open will not count toward Olympic qualifying.

She is currently ranked 51st overall and eighth among Americans.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Earlier Sunday, Williams finished her 2020 with a third first-round loss in as many Grand Slam tournaments — 6-4, 6-4 to Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

With the WTA’s autumn Asian swing canceled, Williams said she won’t play before next season starts in Australia.

Williams, 40 years old and ranked 76th, will need a scintillating start to 2021 to make the U.S. Olympic team in singles. She is currently the 14th-highest-ranked American. If she doesn’t make it in singles, Williams (or Gauff) could be chosen as a doubles-only player for the Tokyo Games.

Top seed Simona Halep took the last 10 games of her 6-4, 6-0 win over Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo. Halep, who is on a 15-match win streak dating to February, could play Gauff in the quarterfinals.

On the men’s side, Stan Wawrinka swept Andy Murray 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 in a battle of three-time major champions and a rematch of their life-changing 2017 semifinal in Paris.

“I need to have a long, hard think about it,” Murray said. “I don’t feel like the conditions are an excuse for it.”

It marked Murray’s first match on clay since that semi, won by Wawrinka in five sets. After that match three years ago, Wawrinka underwent two knee surgeries and Murray had two hip surgeries. Neither has made a Grand Slam semifinal since, and Murray nearly retired due to hip problems.

U.S. men went 3-0 on Sunday after winning one match total at the 2019 French Open.

The most notable victor: Sebastian Korda, the 20-year-old son of Czech 1998 Australian Open winner Petr Korda and brother of Nelly Korda, the world’s second-ranked female golfer.

Korda beat Italian veteran Andreas Seppi 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to become the youngest U.S. man to win a French Open main-draw match since 18-year-old Andy Roddick defeated Michael Chang in 2001.

Korda, after his first tour-level win, gets John Isner in the second round.

Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal, each trying to tie Grand Slam singles titles records, play first-round matches on Monday.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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Julian Alaphilippe wins world road race title with late attack

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Julian Alaphilippe became the first Frenchman to win a road cycling world title in 23 years, attacking late and holding on to prevail by 24 seconds in Imola, Italy, on Sunday.

Alaphilippe, who wore the Tour de France yellow jersey for 16 stages between the last two years, went clear from a star-filled group at the top of the last climb with about eight miles left of a 160-mile day.

“It was a dream of my career, you know,” said Alaphilippe, whose best previous worlds finish was eighth. “I came here with, for sure, a lot of ambition. It’s just a dream day for me.”

Belgian Wout van Aert took silver, followed by Swiss Marc Hirschi in a five-man bunch sprint for the last two medals. Van Aert also earned silver in the time trial on Friday.

Slovenian Primoz Roglic, who was second in the Tour de France, finished sixth in the same time as the silver and bronze medalists after more than six and a half hours of racing.

The top American was Sepp Kuss in 52nd place, 12:35 behind.

Full results are here.

The last Frenchmen to win world titles were Laurent Brochard (road race) and Laurent Jalabert (time trial) in 1997.

Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, who won the Tour de France last Sunday, attacked with 26 miles left. He led by as much as 25 seconds before being reeled back in with about 13 miles to go.

The cycling season continues with the last two Grand Tours, each starting later than normal due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Giro d’Italia begins Oct. 3, and the Vuelta a Espana starts Oct. 20, before the Giro finishes.

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MORE: A more equal future for women’s cycling? Lizzie Deignan has high hopes