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Alena Kostornaia defeats Alina Zagitova to win first Grand Prix in France

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Alena Kostornaia is now the third straight first-year senior Russian woman to win on the Grand Prix season. The past two weeks, 15-year-olds Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova did it while landing quads at Skate America and Skate Canada, respectively.

Kostornaia did it sans quads, but with three triple Axels across two programs Friday and Saturday in Grenoble, France.

Kostornaia, 16 and skating in her Grand Prix debut, opened her free skate with a clean triple Axel in combination, followed by a solo triple Axel and a double Axel. She was accompanied by music from the Twilight soundtrack and Muse.

Despite an edge call on a triple flip, she scored 159.45 points in the free skate for a total of 236.00 points.

“I can’t answer that question because Alina’s a great sportsman,” said Kostornaia, after being asked if she was happy she defeated Alina Zagitova (the interview was conducted in English and posted on Twitter). “She win[s] all competition you can imagine and I’m very happy that she can go to the podium.”

(Note for fans just getting acquainted with Kostornaia: She pronounces her first name “al-YON-ah,” while Zagitova’s first name is “ah-LEE-nah.”)

Kostornaia trains alongside Zagitova, the reigning world and Olympic champion. Zagitova scored 141.82 points in the free skate (actually third in the phase) for a total of 216.06 points and the silver medal. Zagitova is 17 and in her third season as a senior skater.

Zagitova skated to a “Cleopatra” medley and was called for three under-rotations: the opening triple Lutz (which also received an unclear edge call), her double Axel in combination with a triple toe, and her triple Lutz, triple loop combination.

Closing out the session, American Mariah Bell, 23, claimed her first Grand Prix medal since a breakout performance at 2016 Skate America. She held on to her bronze medal position after the short program to tally 142.64 points in the free skate (scoring ahead of Zagitova in the phase) for a total score of 212.89 points.

“I’ve gone last many times, but this time was a little more challenging,” Bell said in audio provided by U.S. Figure Skating following the event. “I sometimes feel like when I get off the ice it’s a dream. And I hope I don’t wake up. It’s such a good feeling.”

Bell was called for just one under-rotation on her triple Lutz, the final jump of her “Hallelujah” program.

The other American in the field, Starr Andrews, was fifth with 180.54 total points.

Russia’s two pair teams in Grenoble landed on the podium to close the event. Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov took home the gold with 207.58 total points while Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin earned silver with 206.56 points.

U.S. pair team Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier won their second Grand Prix bronze medal of the season, matching their Skate America finish two week ago. This marks their best-ever Grand Prix season as a team.

“This was a tough one, this week,” Frazier said following the event in audio provided by U.S. Figure Skating. “It was different physically, mentally, coming off a pretty exciting competition from Skate America. It was a big test to see how we kept our composure in a different kind of pressured situation, which is what we’re trying to do more.

“We were competing for a medal spot with a very respectable team from our country,” he added. “We knew they were gonna bring it and we had to fight. That’s the kind of fight we’ll see at Nationals.”

Americans Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, the 2019 national pair champions, finished in fourth place.

Earlier Saturday, Nathan Chen extended his Grand Prix winning streak to the longest in 18 years, and French ice dance couple Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron won their first Grand Prix of the season after a “Fame”/disco-themed rhythm dance.

Internationaux de France
Women
1. Alena Kostornaia (RUS) — 236.00

2. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 216.06
3. Mariah Bell (USA) — 212.89
4. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 199.24
5. Starr Andrews (USA) — 180.54
6. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 174.12
7. Nicole Schott (GER) — 166.89
8. Lea Serna (FRA) — 166.02
9. Yuna Shiraiwa (JPN) — 161.71
10. Mae Berenice Meite (FRA) — 157.45
11. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 144.89
WD. Laurine Lecavelier (FRA)

Pairs
1. Mishina/Galliamov (RUS) — 207.58

2. Pavliuchenko/Khodykin (RUS) — 206.56
3. Denney/Frazier (USA) — 199.40
4. Cain-Gribble/LeDuc (USA) — 195.78
5. Miriam Zielger/Severin Kiefer (AUT) — 181.26
6. Camille Ruest/Andrew Wolfe (CAN) — 166.15
7. Minerva Fabienne Hase/Nolan Seegert (GER) — 163.09
8. Rebecca Ghilardi/Filippo Ambrosini (ITA) — 157.92

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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