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Skylar Diggins-Smith’s first game as a mom will be with USA Basketball

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Skylar Diggins-Smith said she participated in her first full practice since last year on Friday. On Saturday, she will be available to play in a game for the first time since having her son, when the U.S. women’s national team opens its four-stop tour against top college teams at Stanford.

Diggins-Smith, who did not play the 2019 WNBA season after childbirth and tweeted that she played the entire previous season while pregnant, said she has no restrictions.

“Just getting back in shape and rhythm and timing, some of those things I’m going to have to get back on-the-job training,” she said after practice Friday, a little over a month after participating in a training camp when she wasn’t at full-go. “I’m not even thinking about what percentage I am or putting any pressure on myself to be on a certain timeline or anything. I am what I am, and I know I still got a little more I can give.”

Diggins-Smith, a four-time WNBA All-Star, is one of the most accomplished would-be, first-time Olympians pushing for playing time at guard as Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi close out their international careers.

The WNBA’s No. 3 overall draft pick in 2013 was among the final cuts for the 2014 World Championship team. An ACL tear in 2015 derailed Rio Olympic hopes.

In February 2018, new U.S. head coach Dawn Staley named Diggins-Smith first when listing potential need fillers at the point. Diggins-Smith then played at an all-WNBA second-team caliber that season. Her last game before childbirth was Aug. 21, 2018, in the Dallas Wings’ playoff exit.

The FIBA World Cup, the biggest international tournament outside the Olympics, began a month later without her. After childbirth, Diggins-Smith tweeted that she took two full months away from everything due to postpartum depression.

She’s back and ready to do whatever U.S. coaches ask of her as the run-up to Tokyo Olympic selection starts.

“They know me. I’m just here to be myself,” Diggins-Smith said. “Whatever your role is — it may not be the normal role that you have on your team in the WNBA. Whatever the case may be. I’m just here. I’m back on the floor. This is my first 90 minutes, two hours together [at practice Friday], so I don’t really know what anybody expects of me, but just trying to give good effort, good energy, talk on defense and, yeah, just do whatever they’re asking me to do.”

Diggins-Smith has spoken with many moms in the WNBA.

That included Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who played 14 WNBA seasons and was the Wings’ interim head coach to close out Diggins-Smith’s last season in 2018. McWilliams-Franklin learned she was pregnant with her first child in high school, after which scholarship offers were rescinded. McWilliams-Franklin reportedly said she lost endorsements sitting out part of the 2002 season due to pregnancy.

Diggins-Smith noted that Dallas teammates Tayler Hill and Glory Johnson are also moms.

Hill, the fourth overall draft pick in 2013, learned she was pregnant after her WNBA rookie season, had son Maurice in June 2014 and returned less than two months later for the final stretch of her second season.

Johnson, the fourth overall draft pick in 2012, had her twin daughters, Ava and Solei, nearly four months premature in October 2015 and has sometimes gone months away from them while playing overseas.

“A lot of moms around the league to turn to and a lot of working moms, period, that I have to reference, to talk to,” Diggins-Smith said. “Some who I just met. It’s interesting to hear everybody’s stories and everything that they’ve been through. It’s definitely inspiring, aspirational to see and hear some of these stories.”

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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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