Nathan Chen leads Grand Prix France, looking to extend remarkable win streak

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Nathan Chen is halfway to his eighth straight Grand Prix title, landing two quadruple jumps en route to a four-point lead at Internationaux de France on Friday.

Chen, a two-time world champion undefeated since a fifth-place PyeongChang Olympic finish, tallied 102.48 points in his “La Bohème” short program in Grenoble. Only two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who is not competing in France, has scored higher this season.

All 11 skaters committed jumping errors Friday. Chen put both hands on the ice on a triple Axel landing. That was sandwiched between a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination and a quad flip.

He scored .23 lower than his short program at Skate America two weeks ago.

“One week is difficult between competitions,” said Chen, who is skipping Yale sophomore classes to compete in France. “Two weeks, you have time to recover, rest and then start building back up. … But having one week, it’s like two days of travel, two days of travel, and then three days of actual training.”

Russian Alexander Samarin is second going into Saturday’s free skate (live streaming schedule here).

Japanese Shoma Uno, the Olympic silver medalist and two-time world silver medalist, fell on a quad toe loop and nearly faceplanted on a triple Axel. He is in fourth, 23.43 behind Chen.

Chen will qualify for December’s six-skater Grand Prix Final with a podium finish, setting the stage for a likely showdown with Hanyu for the first time since Chen beat him at last season’s worlds. No singles skater has won eight straight Grand Prix events since Yevgeny Plushenko at the turn of the century.

Later Friday, 16-year-old Alena Kostornaia landed an under-rotated triple Axel in her senior Grand Prix debut, tallied 76.55 and took a 2.31 lead over Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova going into Saturday’s free skate.

Kostornaia is looking to become the third straight first-year senior Russian to win on the Grand Prix this season after 15-year-olds Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, who landed quads at Skate America and Skate Canada, respectively.

Zagitova, 17, had the back end of her triple Lutz-triple loop combination called under-rotated.

Mariah Bell, seeking her first Grand Prix medal since her 2016 Skate America breakthrough silver, is in third after a relatively clean skate, just an unclear edge call on a triple flip. Her short program is to Britney Spears music (with lyrics), choreographed by former training partner Adam Rippon.

“I’m getting more into my skates with it,” Bell said.

World champions Gabriella Papapdakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France topped the rhythm dance with 88.69 points, best in the world this season.

Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who missed the last Grand Prix season due to Chock’s recovery from ankle surgery, skated into second with 80.69, their best score in three events this season.

“It was the best performance of this program we’ve had this season,” Bates said in audio provided by U.S. Figure Skating. “Room for improvement in the technical score still, particularly Finnstep, but overall really pleased.”

Papadakis and Cizeron haven’t lost to a couple other than recently retired world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in almost five years. Chock and Bates have their work cut out in Saturday’s free dance, but even a runner-up will put them in great position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final later this month.

“It really doesn’t feel like we’ve taken that much [time away],” Chock said. “It’s like riding a bike.”

Internationaux de France
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 102.48
2. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 98.48
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 82.50
4. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 79.05
5. Moris Kvitelashvili (GEO) — 78.79
6. Romain Ponsart (FRA) — 77.48
7. Sergey Voronov (RUS) — 76.60
8. Daniel Samohin (ISR) — 70.84
9. Nicolas Nadeau (CAN) — 69.42
10. Tomoki Hiwatashi (USA) — 68.70
11. Anton Shulepov (RUS) — 63.67

Women’s Short Program
1. Alena Kostornaia (RUS) — 76.55
2. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 74.24
3. Mariah Bell (USA) — 70.25
4. Starr Andrews (USA) — 66.59
5. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 64.78
6. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 64.08
7. Yuna Shiraiwa (JPN) — 63.12
8. Lee Serna (FRA) — 62.43
9. Mae Berenice Meite (FRA) — 56.35
10. Nicole Schott (GER) — 54.43
11. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 50.38
WD. Laurine Lecavelier (FRA)

Rhythm Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 88.69
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 80.69
3. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 79.65
4. Olivia Smart/Adrian Diaz (ESP) — 76.09
5. Tiffani Zagorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 75.05
6. Natalya Kaliszek/Maksym Spodyriev (POL) — 74.19
7. Carolane Soucisse/Shane Firus (CAN) — 68.61
8. Julia Wagret/Pierre Souquet-Basiege (FRA) — 63.55
9. Marie-Jade Lauriault/Romain Le Gac (FRA) — 61.48
10. Allison Reed/Saulius Ambrulevicius (LTU) — 58.10

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 76.59
2. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 73.77
3. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 68.65
4. Ashley Cain-Gribble/Timothy LeDuc (USA) — 66.12
5. Rebecca Ghilardi/Filippo Ambrosini (ITA) — 59.62
6. Minerva Hase/Nolan Seegert (GER) — 59.13
7. Camille Ruest/Andrew Wolfe (CAN) — 57.90
8. Miriam Ziegler/Severin Kiefer (AUT) — 57.30

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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