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Nathan Chen extends Grand Prix win streak to longest in 18 years

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Yuzuru Hanyu hasn’t done it. Neither has Patrick Chan. Nor Yuna KimMao Asada or Yevgenia Medvedeva.

Nathan Chen became the first singles skater since Yevgeny Plushenko nearly two decades ago to win eight straight Grand Prix events, comfortably taking Internationaux de France in Grenoble on Saturday despite a few minor jumping errors in his free skate.

Chen padded his four-point lead from Friday’s short program to win by 32.06 over Russian Alexander Samarin. Chen, skipping Yale sophomore classes to compete, landed four quadruple jumps in his free skate to total 297.16 points.

He had wonky landings on three of the four quads — dinged for negative grades of execution — in his “Rocketman” skate while wearing a wrap around his left hand.

Chen, undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, still ranks second in the world this year, trailing two-time Olympic champion Hanyu’s score from Skate Canada last week of 322.59.

If all goes as planned, Chen and Hanyu will meet for the first time this season at the exclusive, six-skater Grand Prix Final in December.

“The goal for every season is to make the Final, so I’m happy that I accomplished that,” Chen told media in Grenoble. “The program that I did today was not great. A lot of mistakes. A lot of little bobbles on the landings.

“A lot of the mistakes [for all skaters] are due to the ice being harder. A lot of competition is not typically this cold. … That being said, we have to be able to adapt to the situation. We can’t use that as an excuse for our failures. We still have to man up.”

Internationaux de France concluded later Saturday with first-year senior Alena Kostornaia of Russia winning the ladies’ field and Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier earning bronze in the pairs’ event for their best-ever Grand Prix season as a team.

Also Saturday, American Tomoki Hiwatashi improved from 10th after the short program to finish fifth in his senior Grand Prix debut. Hiwatashi, 19 and the world junior champion, landed a pair of quad toe loops.

Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno struggled in Grenoble, falling five times between two programs, including three times in Saturday’s free skate. His eighth-place finish was his worst in five years on the senior international level and his first time off the podium in 13 career Grand Prix starts.

Later Saturday, world champions Gabriella Papapdakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France extended their unbeaten streak since their Olympic silver medal, posting the world’s highest total ice dance score in their Grand Prix season debut.

Papadakis and Cizeron, who haven’t lost to a couple other than the recently retired Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in nearly five years, tallied 222.24 to distance Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by 17.4.

Chock and Bates earned their sixth straight Grand Prix runner-up finish (not counting Grand Prix Finals) after missing the last Grand Prix season due to Chock’s recovery from ankle surgery. They compete at Cup of China next week, bidding for another podium to have a strong chance at qualifying for a fifth Grand Prix Final.

“We really want to focus more on the performance and less on the technicality,” Bates said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “Obviously this is a good result but we don’t have a lot of time to make changes before China, but we think that both of these programs are in a good place.”

Internationaux de France
Men
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 297.16

2. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 265.10
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 254.64
4. Moris Kvitelashvili (GEO) — 236.38
5. Tomoki Hiwatashi (USA) — 227.43
6. Sergey Voronov (RUS) — 220.98
7. Nicolas Nadeau (CAN) — 217.68
8. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 215.84
9. Romain Ponsart (FRA) — 215.64
10. Daniel Samohin (ISR) — 193.66
11. Anton Shulepov (RUS) — 183.98

Ice Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 222.24

2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 204.84
3. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 203.34
4. Olivia Smart/Adrian Diaz (ESP) — 188.18
5. Tiffani Zagorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 184.44
6. Natalya Kaliszek/Maksym Spodyriev (POL) — 183.42
7. Carolane Soucisse/Shane Firus (CAN) — 175.80
8.  Marie-Jade Lauriault/Romain Le Gac (FRA) — 166.28
9. Julia Wagret/Pierre Souquet-Basiege (FRA) — 161.99
10. Allison Reed/Saulius Ambrulevicius (LTU) — 161.73

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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