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Will Nathan Chen return to six quad jumps in his free skate?

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GRENOBLE, France – Nathan Chen landed four quadruple jumps in his free skate to win Grand Prix France this past weekend: a Lutz, two toes and a Salchow. Two weeks earlier, he had landed three en route to a third consecutive Skate America victory: a flip, a toe and a Salchow.

As early as 2017, however, at the world championships in Helsinki, Chen had produced a six-quad free skate. He had landed “only” four clean then. But that day, April 1, 2017, he had made the sport’s free skates shift from mainly triple jumps with a few quads to mainly quads with a few triples.

He subsequently delivered six-quad free skates at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics and at Worlds in Milan a few weeks later. In both occasions he won the free skate phase, leading him to his first world crown.

Women are starting to get into the quad game, too. Chen is not yet ready to repeat his feat from back then, though.

“With the new rules [voted by the ISU Congress in June 2018], you would need to do all five different quads [all except the Axel] if you wanted to land six quads into one program. This would be very high risk,” he said after Grand Prix France in Grenoble. Under the new rules, only one type of quad can be done twice in a program.

Rafael Arutunian, who coaches Chen from California while his pupil is a sophomore at Yale University, clearly stated that rules were by no means a limit.

“Rules can’t make you stop improving if you want to. The goal everybody has is to improve the sport,” he said.

The two-time Olympic champion, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, delivered similar program content in Kelowna at Skate Canada one week earlier, as he landed four quads as well: a loop, a Salchow, and two toes.

Both Chen and Arutunyan highly praised Hanyu in Grenoble.

“I’m a big fan of Yuzuru Hanyu,” Arutunian said. “I heard about the big score he got at Skate Canada. He is such an iconic skater.”

“He’s Yuzu,” Chen added. “He’s won two Olympic gold medals, and he just put great results and got super-scores right at the start of the season, with high quality quads. He is a role model in figure skating.”

Four quads, incorporating three different kinds, seem to be the current highest standard in men’s skating under the new rules.

“Going for six quads is not worth the risk,” Chen continued. “Four is obviously less than six, but nailing four high-quality quads is more important nowadays.

“Which doesn’t imply that I’m not going for six quads!” he added mischievously.

Chen’s free program for this season nonetheless suggests that it potentially has room for an additional quad. At Skate America, the two-time world champion opened his program with a triple Lutz, triple toe combination. In Grenoble, he placed a triple Lutz, double toe combination right after his opening quad Lutz. Both could potentially turn either into a quad Lutz or into a quad flip combination, depending on which jump he elects to open his program with.

When asked about such a possibility, Chen excluded the idea that it would turn into a quad Lutz, triple toe combination, however: “No, this won’t be a quad-double!” he said with a laugh.

Chen also stated that he was not landing the quad loop at the moment (although some 2017 footage indicates that he did land it). This means that five quad-programs certainly remain within reach for the time being.

“Of course, we’re working on getting six quads again, and also a quad Axel, and may be quintuples one day,” Arutunian said. “What Nathan is doing in practice now is not what you see in competition.”

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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