Anna Shcherbakova extends Russian teen figure skating reign at Cup of China

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Anna Shcherbakova extended the new reign of Russian 15- and 16-year-olds, making it four wins in four Grand Prix events this season for her group.

Shcherbakova, 15, comfortably took Cup of China by 14.86 points over Japanese veteran Satoko Miyahara, totaling 226.04. Another Russian, the 2015 World champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, was third.

Shcherbakova became the first woman to qualify for December’s six-skater Grand Prix Final by coupling her Cup of China title with her Skate America crown from three weeks ago.

She did so by landing a pair of quadruple Lutzes in Saturday’s free skate — changing her blue costume to a red one mid-performance — just as she did at Skate America (though one quad was deemed under-rotated in Chongqing).

Countrywomen Alexandra Trusova and Alena Kostornaia, 15- and 16-year-olds taught quads (Trusova) and the triple Axel (Kostornaia) by the same coaches as Shcherbakova, won the previous two Grand Prix events. They compete separately in the last two competitions the next two weeks, looking to make it an unprecedented Russian women’s sweep of the series leading into the Final.

China’s Jin Boyang took the men’s title by overtaking countryman and short-program leader Han Yan. Jin, a two-time world bronze medalist, earned his first Grand Prix title by 12.08 points, landing two quads in Saturday’s free skate.

Jin is questionable to qualify for the Grand Prix Final, however, since he was sixth at Skate America. He is ranked third in the world by best scores this season behind Yuzuru Hanyu and Nathan Chen, who are expected to headline the Final.

China also went one-two in pairs, led by world champions and Olympic silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong. Sui and Han, who missed the last Grand Prix season due to her stress fracture in her right foot, tallied 228.37 points in their season debut. It’s the highest score in the world this season, supplanting Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by 11.66.

Earlier in ice dance, Russians Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov held on to beat Madison Chock and Evan Bates by 1.35 despite the Americans topping the free dance.

Chock and Bates, who missed the last Grand Prix season due to Chock’s recovery from ankle surgery, earned their seventh straight Grand Prix runner-up finish (not counting Grand Prix Finals).

They will likely clinch a spot in their fifth straight Grand Prix Final spot (not counting last season’s injury absence) and rank fifth in the world this season.

Cup of China
Women
1. Anna Shcherbakova (RUS) — 226.04
2. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 211.18
3. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 209.10

4. You Young (KOR) — 191.81
5. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 185.29
6. Amber Glenn (USA) — 178.35
7. Marin Honda (JPN) — 168.09
8. Yi Christy Leung (HKG) — 157.47
9. Chen Hongyi (CHN) — 155.12
10. Kailani Craine (AUS) — 149.83
11. Zhu Yi (CHN) — 139.63
12. Choi Yujin (KOR) — 131.48

Men
1. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 261.53

2. Yan Han (CHN) — 249.45
3. Matteo Rizzo (ITA) — 241.88
4. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 237.36
5. Keiji Tanaka (JPN) — 233.62
6. Cha Junhwan (KOR) — 222.26
7. Brendan Kerry (AUS) — 220.31
8. Camden Pulkinen (USA) — 218.67
9. Zhang He (CHN) — 217.42
10. Andrei Lazukin (RUS) — 210.01
11. Conrad Orzel (CAN) — 192.60
12. Chih-I Tsao (TPE) — 186.82

Pairs
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 228.37

2. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 199.97
3. Lyubov Ilyushechkina/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 190.73
4. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 182.88
5. Ryom Tae Ok/Kim Ju Sik (PRK) — 179.55
6. Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea (USA) — 178.79
7. Tang Feiyao/Yang Yongchao (CHN) — 172.53
8. Alisa Efimova/Alexander Korovin (RUS) — 170.19

Ice Dance
1. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 209.90
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 208.55
3. Laurence Fournier Beaudry/Nikolaj Sorensen (CAN) — 190.74
4. Wang Shiyue/Liu Xinyu (CHN) — 186.45
5. Katilin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 179.96
6. Sofia Evdokimova/Egor Bazin (RUS) — 169.27
7. Anastasia Skoptcova/Kirill Aleshin (RUS) — 169.24
8. Chen Hong/Sun Zhuoming (CHN) — 162.91
9. Guo Yuzhu/Zhao Pengkun (CHN) — 150.91
10. Misato Komatsubara/Tim Koleto (JPN) — 145.35

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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