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

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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.

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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

 

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff set Australian Open duel

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff
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Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff will meet in the third round of a second straight Grand Slam, this time at the Australian Open on Friday.

Osaka, the defending champion and world No. 4, and Gauff, the 15-year-old American phenom, each won second-round matches in Melbourne to reach the final 32.

Osaka swept Chinese Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-4 on a windy Wednesday afternoon. Later, Gauff followed her first-round win over Venus Williams by eliminating Romanian veteran Sorana Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Osaka beat Gauff 6-3, 6-0 in the U.S. Open third round on Aug. 31. In the most memorable moment of that night, Osaka urged Gauff to share the on-court victor’s interview at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It’s better than going into the showers and crying,” Osaka told Gauff in front of a packed crowd. “Let these people know how you feel.”

Gauff obliged after at first declining.

“I’m not the type of person who wants to cry in front of everyone,” she said later. “I didn’t want to take that moment away from [Osaka], as well.”

Gauff, ranked No. 684 at this time last year, is now No. 67. She broke through by beating Williams in the Wimbledon first round, then reaching the round of 16.

Gauff won a lower-level WTA Tour event in October and now ranks fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying. The top four after the French Open qualify for the Tokyo Games, though Gauff has fewer than half the points as No. 4 Alison Riske.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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John Isner leaning toward skipping Olympics again

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John Isner, the highest-ranked U.S. male singles tennis player, is considering skipping the Olympics for a second straight time.

“I haven’t put a ton of thought into it, but as of right now, I think I’m leaning towards not playing,” the 19th-ranked player said at the Australian Open on Tuesday. “It’s about scheduling. I know the Olympics, it’s a fantastic honor. There’s no doubt about that. … Right now, at this stage in my career, it’s not a huge priority for me. So that’s probably the main reason I won’t be going. I certainly love playing in the summer in America, and I’m going to focus on that.”

The Tokyo Games take place the same week as a lower-level ATP Tour event in Atlanta that Isner, a former University of Georgia star, has won five times.

Other notable male players already said they will pass on Tokyo, including Sam Querrey, the top American in Olympic qualifying standings.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, a two-time French Open finalist, is prioritizing an ATP event in Kitzbühel the week of the Olympics. The U.S. doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan are not planning to play the Olympics in their final season before retirement, their manager said in November.

“The Olympics is very tough on the schedule … especially with Davis Cup,” Isner said in 2016, according to USA Today. “I think the fact that they have no [ATP ranking] points [at the Olympics], to be honest, was a pretty big factor as well. Obviously the Olympics is not about the money, but no points I think hindered me a bit.”

Isner, who turns 35 on April 26, is likely giving up his last chance to play Olympic singles. In his only Olympic participation, he reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Games, plus lost an opening-round doubles match there with Andy Roddick.

The top four U.S. men qualify for Tokyo, assuming they are among the top 60 overall qualifiers (maximum four per country) after this spring’s French Open.

Taylor FritzReilly Opelka, Steve Johnson and Tommy Paul are the U.S. men currently in Olympic qualifying position if excluding Querrey and Isner.

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