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U.S. upset by France at FIBA World Cup, first major loss in 13 years

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The U.S. men’s basketball team suffered its first global tournament loss in 13 years, beaten by France 89-79 in the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday.

The U.S., which was bidding for the first World Cup three-peat but without any NBA superstars, will leave worlds in China without a medal.

“It’s not about, well, the United States didn’t have their other guys,” said U.S. coach Gregg Popovich, at his first tournament since succeeding Mike Krzyzewski. “There’s no such thing as other guys. These are the guys that were here.

“It’s also a disrespectful notion to even bring something like that up, that, hey you guys didn’t have this guy and that guy. That’s disrespectful to France or whoever else is in the tournament. France beat us. It doesn’t matter who was on the team.”

The Americans had won 58 straight games with NBA players among the Olympics, World Cup and FIBA Americas since its last defeat in the 2006 World Cup semifinals to Greece.

The Americans, led by Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (29 points), battled back from a 10-point, third-quarter deficit to lead by seven early in the fourth.

But France, with Rudy Gobert (21 points, 16 rebounds), went on an 11-point run in the fourth to retake the lead and advance to a Friday semifinal against Argentina. A full box score is here.

“I don’t know how to describe,” Gobert said on ESPN2 of France’s first-ever win over the U.S. after nine losses between the Olympics and worlds and 21 losses when including the U17, U19 and World University Games levels. “I’ve been dreaming about this for a long time. … It’s probably the kind of game you’re going to talk about in 20 years. We’ve got to take it all in.”

Spain gets Australia in the other semifinal. Spain and France clinched 2020 Olympic spots as the last two remaining European teams, making it eight teams qualified so far for the tournament. The others are Japan, Australia, Iran, Nigeria, the U.S. and Argentina.

MORE: Every U.S. loss since the Dream Team

This U.S. team was deemed vulnerable after every NBA superstar withdrew from World Cup roster consideration.

What was left was a roster with two 2019 NBA All-Stars (Kemba Walker and Khris Middleton) and one player with Olympic experience (Harrison Barnes).

“You guys are going to go on and say who we didn’t have, but why don’t you all focus on who we do have?” Mitchell said. “We came ready to work for coach Pop.”

Walker, the team leader in the backcourt, struggled Wednesday with twice as many turnovers as made field goals (2 for 9). The Americans also got beat in the paint, outrebounded 44-28.

“Of course, people are going to say it was a big upset because of who we are and what this team has done in the past,” Walker said.

The concern for this team was first confirmed with a pre-tournament loss to Australia, snapping a 78-game win streak with NBA players when including exhibitions. Then tested again in group play last week, when the U.S. eked past 17th-ranked Turkey by one point in overtime.

The U.S., which qualified for the 2020 Olympics by advancing out of group play, was due for a step up in competition by starting knockout play against France.

The French have five NBA players, including Gobert, Evan Fournier and Nicolas Batum. They challenged the Americans at the Rio Olympics, losing 100-97 in group play.

The U.S. plays Serbia in a consolation-round game Thursday in a rematch of the Rio Olympic final.

“Any loss hurts,” Popovich said. “This situation, it hurts more.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup schedule, results

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Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

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

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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