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Carissa Moore wins fourth surfing world title ahead of Olympic debut

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Hawaiian Carissa Moore clinched her fourth surfing world title, one day after qualifying for the sport’s Olympic debut.

Moore, 27, was crowned at the season-ending Maui Pro after her closest pursuer, fellow U.S. Olympic qualifier Caroline Marks, was eliminated in the quarterfinals on Monday.

Only Kelly Slater has won more world titles than Moore among American men or women (11).

Moore, Marks and another American, Lakey Peterson, came to Maui with chances for the world title. Moore led the standings going into the event by finishing first, second or third in the previous six contests, and therefore controlled her own destiny.

Peterson’s bids for a world title and the Olympics ended when she was eliminated in the round of 16 on Sunday. Two surfers per gender per nation can qualify for Tokyo.

Moore, who started surfing at age 5 off the beaches of Waikiki, has been a force for nearly a decade. In 2011, she became the youngest male or female world champion at 18. She won again in 2013 and 2015, but was supplanted by Australians Tyler Wright and Stephanie Gilmore the last three years.

“This has not only been three years of work, but three years of learning and growing,” Moore said. “It’s been a journey.”

Marks, a 17-year-old from Florida, has been a revelation in this Olympic cycle. In 2017, she became the youngest surfer to qualify for the Championship Tour. She finished 2018 ranked No. 7 in the world. Then she won the 2019 season opener, plus the penultimate contest, and made the Olympic team over Peterson, last season’s world No. 2.

Moore and Marks head into the Olympic year as medal favorites. Their closest competition comes from Australia: seven-time world champion Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons.

The U.S. men are comparative underdogs to Brazil, which boasts three of the world’s top four. The men’s world champion will be decided later this month at the Billabong Pipe Masters on the North Shore of Oahu.

Pipe Masters will also decide the second American to join Kolohe Andino on the Olympic team — either Slater, two-time world champion John John Florence (returning from an ACL tear) or Seth Moniz.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

MORE: Athletes qualified for U.S. Olympic team

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Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff set Australian Open duel

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff
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Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff will meet in the third round of a second straight Grand Slam, this time at the Australian Open on Friday.

Osaka, the defending champion and world No. 4, and Gauff, the 15-year-old American phenom, each won second-round matches in Melbourne to reach the final 32.

Osaka swept Chinese Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-4 on a windy Wednesday afternoon. Later, Gauff followed her first-round win over Venus Williams by eliminating Romanian veteran Sorana Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

“I know what to expect,” Gauff said. “I’m excited.”

Osaka beat Gauff 6-3, 6-0 in the U.S. Open third round on Aug. 31. In the most memorable moment of that night, Osaka urged Gauff to share the on-court victor’s interview at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It’s better than going into the showers and crying,” Osaka told Gauff in front of a packed crowd. “Let these people know how you feel.”

Gauff obliged after at first declining.

“I’m not the type of person who wants to cry in front of everyone,” she said later. “I didn’t want to take that moment away from [Osaka], as well.”

Gauff, ranked No. 684 at this time last year, is now No. 67. She broke through by beating Williams in the Wimbledon first round, then reaching the round of 16.

Gauff won a lower-level WTA Tour event in October and now ranks fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying. The top four after the French Open qualify for the Tokyo Games, though Gauff has fewer than half the points as No. 4 Alison Riske.

“It’s been really cool to watch her grow because it’s happened so fast,” Osaka said.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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John Isner leaning toward skipping Olympics again

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John Isner, the highest-ranked U.S. male singles tennis player, is considering skipping the Olympics for a second straight time.

“I haven’t put a ton of thought into it, but as of right now, I think I’m leaning towards not playing,” the 19th-ranked player said at the Australian Open on Tuesday. “It’s about scheduling. I know the Olympics, it’s a fantastic honor. There’s no doubt about that. … Right now, at this stage in my career, it’s not a huge priority for me. So that’s probably the main reason I won’t be going. I certainly love playing in the summer in America, and I’m going to focus on that.”

The Tokyo Games take place the same week as a lower-level ATP Tour event in Atlanta that Isner, a former University of Georgia star, has won five times.

Other notable male players already said they will pass on Tokyo, including Sam Querrey, the top American in Olympic qualifying standings.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, a two-time French Open finalist, is prioritizing an ATP event in Kitzbühel the week of the Olympics. The U.S. doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan are not planning to play the Olympics in their final season before retirement, their manager said in November.

“The Olympics is very tough on the schedule … especially with Davis Cup,” Isner said in 2016, according to USA Today. “I think the fact that they have no [ATP ranking] points [at the Olympics], to be honest, was a pretty big factor as well. Obviously the Olympics is not about the money, but no points I think hindered me a bit.”

Isner, who turns 35 on April 26, is likely giving up his last chance to play Olympic singles. In his only Olympic participation, he reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Games, plus lost an opening-round doubles match there with Andy Roddick.

The top four U.S. men qualify for Tokyo, assuming they are among the top 60 overall qualifiers (maximum four per country) after this spring’s French Open.

Taylor FritzReilly Opelka, Steve Johnson and Tommy Paul are the U.S. men currently in Olympic qualifying position if excluding Querrey and Isner.

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