Getty Images

Nathan Chen, speeding up as a sophomore, heads to France; TV, live stream schedule

Leave a comment

Yuzuru Hanyu gave his best Grand Prix performance in years last week. Nathan Chen can respond this week in what will likely be his last event before a showdown with Hanyu at December’s Grand Prix Final.

Chen and fellow reigning world champions Alina Zagitova and Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron headline Internationaux de France, streaming live for NBC Sports Gold subscribers on Friday and Saturday.

Chen is undefeated in full competition since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics. This week, he goes for an eighth straight Grand Prix victory, which would be the longest streak for a singles skater since the early 2000s.

His competition is stronger than at Skate America two weeks ago, when Chen dusted the field by 44 points. That’s because of the presence of Japanese Shoma Uno, who owns three silver medals between the Olympics and world championships. Albeit Uno ranks eighth in the world this season by top total scores.

Chen remains such a strong favorite that the real measuring stick is what the two-time Olympic champion Hanyu did at Skate Canada last week — six quads between two programs for 322.59 points. At Skate America, Chen landed five quads total for 299.09.

It’s Chen’s second straight year on this schedule, taking classes at Yale and training without California-based coach Rafael Arutunian on site. It’s already running smoother than in 2018. Chen struggled through illness to start last season, where he won Skate America with one fewer quad than two weeks ago.

“Last season, I started really slow,” Chen said on the Ice Talk podcast at Skate America. “This season, I definitely feel like I’m getting to things faster.”

A podium finish in France should put Chen in December’s Grand Prix Final, which takes the top six skaters from the fall Grand Prix season. Hanyu, who took silver to Chen at last year’s worlds while injured, can earn his place in the Final with a solid performance at NHK Trophy in Japan in three weeks.

Internationaux de France also marks the Grand Prix season debuts for Zagitova and Papadakis and Cizeron.

The 17-year-old Zagitova, the only skater who is a reigning Olympic and world champion, must this season stave off a group of younger Russian teens armed with triple Axels or quads. Zagitova, who has never landed a triple Axel or quad in competition, faces one of them this week in Alena Kostornaia, who landed two triple Axels (one under-rotated) in her senior international debut last month.

Papadakis and Cizeron aren’t feeling nearly as much heat going into their full-fledged season debut. They haven’t lost to a dance couple other than the recently retired Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in almost five years. Look for them to chase this number: 209.55 — Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue‘s world-leading score for the season set at Skate America.

Hubbell and Donohue aren’t in Grenoble, but U.S. silver medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates could be the closest to the French this weekend.

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Tuktamysheva, armed with triple Axel, fights to compete with Russian teens

Internationaux de France Broadcast Schedule

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 9:30 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
11:30 a.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
1:15 p.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
3 p.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Saturday 8:15 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
10:30 a.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
2 p.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
4 p.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Sunday 4-6 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

 

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

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

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.”

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

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!