Rika Kihira leads Skate Canada over 15-year-olds

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Japanese Rika Kihira leads Skate Canada after the women’s short program, topping a pair of 15-year-olds in their senior Grand Prix debuts going into Saturday’s free skate.

Kihira, who swept her three Grand Prix starts in her first senior season last year but was fourth at worlds, already had the world’s top short program score this season. She bettered it Friday with her trademark triple Axel and 81.35 points, taking a 3.13-point lead over South Korean You Young.

“The quality of my triple Axel and my triple loop was good, like in practice, but in some parts of the program I was nervous and I didn’t do my spins so well,” Kihira said, according to the International Skating Union (ISU).

NBC Sports Gold live streams all of the free programs on Saturday. A full broadcast schedule is here.

You became the 11th woman to land a triple Axel in international competition, according to skating media.

Another young teen, Russian Alexandra Trusova, is in third. Trusova landed four quadruple jumps in her most recent free skate but attempted none Friday as they are not permitted in short programs.

Bradie Tennell, the 2018 U.S. champion, is in fourth place. If Tennell can get on the podium, she will have a decent chance at becoming the first U.S. woman to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final since 2015. She took silver at Skate America last week.

Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva stands sixth, 15.33 behind. She stumbled out of a double Axel landing and then fell and slid into the boards on a triple Lutz.

“Doesn’t make any sense, does it?” coach Brian Orser said in the kiss-and-cry, generating no reaction from Medvedeva before the score came up.

Medvedeva last won on the top international level in November 2017 at the tail end of a two-year win streak.

Later Friday, Yuzuru Hanyu landed two quads en route to the world’s top short program score this season — 109.6 — and a 20.55-point lead over American Camden Pulkinen. Hanyu scored 6.89 points higher than Nathan Chen did at Skate America, though they will not go head-to-head until the Grand Prix Final at the earliest.

“It was not so great, but I felt I did my best today,” Hanyu said, according to the ISU. “I felt calm today, but I am not sure if my calmness led to me being more focused.”

Earlier in ice dance, two-time world medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue began their march toward a fifth straight Grand Prix win and a spot in the Grand Prix Final.

Hubbell and Donohue topped the rhythm dance with 83.21 points, 1.76 off their world-leading score from Skate America last week. They lead Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier by .63 going into Saturday’s free dance.

World champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France make their Grand Prix season debut in France next week.

In pairs, Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy took the lead in the short program with 76.45 points, best in the world this season. The teenagers topped Canadian champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro by .95 and relegated three-time world medalists Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov to third.

Skate Canada
Women’s Short
1. Rika Kihira (JPN) — 81.35
2. You Young (KOR) — 78.22
3. Alexandra Trusova (RUS) — 74.40
4. Bradie Tennell (USA) — 72.92
5. Gabrielle Daleman (CAN) — 63.94
6. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 62.89
7. Serafima Sakhanovich (RUS) — 62.63
8. Kim Yelim (KOR) — 61.23
9. Alexia Paganini (SUI) — 60.68
10. Marin Honda (USA) — 59.2
11. Alicia Pineault (CAN) — 57.59
12. Veronik Mallet (CAN) — 51.9

Men’s Short
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 109.6
2. Camden Pulkinen (USA) — 89.05
3. Nam Nguyen (CAN) — 84.08
4. Deniss Vasiljevs (LAT) — 84.01
5. Keiji Tanaka (JPN) — 80.11
6. Andrei Lazukin (RUS) — 78.99
7. Julian Zhi Jie Yee (MAS) — 75.64
8. Nicolas Nadeau (CAN) — 75.22
9. Matteo Rizzo (ITA) — 70.12
10. Paul Fentz (GER) — 66.32
11. Roman Sadovsky (CAN) — 65.29
12. Brendan Kerry (AUS) — 56.75

Pairs’ Short
1. Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.45
2. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 75.5
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 73.57
4. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim (USA) — 71.28
5. Liubov Ilyushechkina/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 68.62
6. Jessica Calanag/Brian Johnson (USA) — 62.54
7. Tang Feiyao/Yang Yongchao (CHN) — 62.35
8. Evelyn Walsh/Trennt Michaud (CAN) — 56.09

Rhythm Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 83.21
2. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 82.58
3. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 79.52
4. Lilah Fear/Lewis Gibson (GBR) — 76.67
5. Sara Hurtado/Kirill Khaliavin (ESP) — 72.77
6. Betina Popova/Sergey Mozgov (RUS) — 71.44
7. Marjorie Lajoie/Zachary Lagha (CAN) — 70.50
8. Caroline Green/Michael Parsons (USA) — 69
9. Sofia Evdokimova/Egor Bazin (RUS) — 67.2
10. Haley Sales/Nikolas Wamsteeker (CAN) — 63.06

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.

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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.

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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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