Anna Shcherbakova one step closer to Grand Prix Final

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Skate America champion Anna Shcherbakova of Russia is within striking distance of locking up a spot at the Grand Prix Final after leading the pack in the short program at the Cup of China on Friday.

Despite an edge call on the triple Lutz in her jump combination, Shcherbakova scored 73.51 points to out-distance Japan’s Satoko Miyahara by 4.6 points. Miyahara was called for under-rotations on the triple toe of her triple Lutz, triple toe combination as well as her solo triple loop.

The ladies’ short program rules don’t allow for quadruple jumps, but Shcherbakova executed two in her free skate at Skate America a few weeks ago. She’s expected to match that program content in her free skate in Chonqing.

A late addition to the field, American Amber Glenn, sits third with 67.69 points. In an event marred by under-rotations and edge calls, Glenn’s was the only clean short program.

Meanwhile, 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva of Russia is fourth after falling on a triple Axel attempt. She won Cup of China in 2014. Countrywoman Sofia Samodurova, the reigning European champion, is fifth with 63.99 points.

China’s Yan Han and Jin Boyang lead the men’s field with 86.46 points and 85.34 points, respectively. Yan did not compete during the 2018-19 post-Olympic season, but Friday, skated to his short program from PyeongChang (“A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri) with a new coach.

Jin, a two-time world championships bronze medalist, placed sixth at Skate America earlier this season. He fell on an opening quad Lutz attempt, but put two quads in his short program with a quad toe, double toe combination.

Italy’s Matteo Rizzo is third with 81.72 points while American Camden Pulkinen, in his first season on the senior Grand Prix, sits fourth with 78.92 points. They each fell one time: Rizzo on a jump combination, and Pulkinen on his opening quad toe attempt.

In ice dance, Russians Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov have a five-point lead over Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates headed into Saturday’s free dance. Chock and Bates won a silver medal last weekend at Grand Prix France, while this is the Russian’s first Grand Prix event of the season. They are also expected to compete at home at Rostelecom Cup next weekend.

In pairs, it’s no surprise that two-time world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong lead after the short program with 80.90 points after a clean performance that included side-by-side triple toes and a throw triple flip. Canada’s Liubov Ilyushechkina and Charlie Bilodeau are second with 69.98 points followed by China’s second pair in the field, Peng Cheng and Yang Jin (68.50 points).

The lone Americans in the field, Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, sit fifth with 64.08 points.

All of the free skates at Cup of China continue Saturday morning. A full broadcast schedule is here.

Cup of China
Rhythm dance
1. Sinitsina/Katsalapov (RUS) — 85.39

2. Chock/Bates (USA) — 80.34
3. Fournier Beaudry/Sorensen (CAN) — 78.41
4. Wang/Liu (CHN) — 74.77
5. Hawayek/Baker (USA) — 74.70
6. Skoptcova/Aleshin (RUS) — 69.19
7. Evdokimova/Bazin (RUS) — 64.07
8. Chen/Sun (CHN) — 61.83
9. Guo/Zhao (CHN) — 57.10
10. Komatsubara/Koleto (JPN) — 56.60

Women
1. Anna Shcherbakova (RUS) — 73.51
2. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 68.91
3. Amber Glenn (USA) — 67.69
4. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 65.57
5. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 63.99
6. Marin Honda (JPN) — 61.73
7. Young You (KOR) — 61.49
8. Yi Christy Leung (HKG) — 53.90
9. Yi Zhu (CHN) — 53.19
10. Kailani Craine (AUS) — 53.01
11. Hongyi Chen (CHN) — 49.44
12. Yujin Choi (KOR) — 48.75

Men
1. Yan Han (CHN) — 86.46
2. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 85.43
3. Matteo Rizzo (ITA) — 81.72
4. Camden Pulkinen (USA) — 78.92
5. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 76.80
6. Zhang He (CHN) — 76.03
7. Keiji Tanaka (JPN) — 74.64
8. Andrei Lazukin (RUS) — 74.31
9. Brendan Kerry (AUS) — 73.96
10. Conrad Orzel (CAN) — 72.22
11. Cha Junh-wan (KOR) — 69.40
12. Chih-I Tsao (TPE) — 64.07

Pairs
1. Sui/Han (CHN) — 80.90
2. Ilyushechkina/Bilodeau (CAN) — 68.98

3. Peng/Yin (CHN) — 68.50 
4. Della Monica/Guarise (ITA) — 64.24
5. Kayne/O’Shea (USA) — 64.08
6. Efimova/Korovin (RUS) — 63.97
7. Tang/Yang (CHN) — 61.85
8. Ryom/Kim (PRK) — 60.50

MORE: Madison Chock, Evan Bates back on Grand Prix circuit with ‘new power’

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.

MORE: Simona Halep, Nadia Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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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.”

MORE: Simona Halep, Nadia Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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