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Nathan Chen crushes Yuzuru Hanyu for Grand Prix Final three-peat

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Nathan Chen landed five quadruple jumps to run away from Yuzuru Hanyu for his third straight Grand Prix Final title. The American furthered the claim that he is the world’s best figure skater.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, totaled 335.50 points to prevail by 43.87 over Hanyu, the two-time Olympic champion. Chen had a 12.95-point lead from Friday’s short program, where Hanyu stumbled and did not record a required jumping combination.

“I’m thrilled with the score,” Chen said after his “Rocketman” free skate knocked off Hanyu for the world’s highest program and total scores this season by more than 10 points each. “I’m thrilled with this program.”

Chen hit two quad toe loops, a quad flip, quad Lutz and quad Salchow with no major errors on Saturday. It’s his first time doing five quads since he landed six at the March 2018 World Championships.

Hanyu also landed five quads but ran out of gas late. He nearly fell out of a combination, doubled the back end of another combo and popped an Axel. The Japanese megastar appeared to slip out of his final pose, putting his hand on the ice and grimacing as Winnie the Poohs rained down on his 25th birthday.

“I knew I probably couldn’t win,” Hanyu said.

Nobody has beaten Hanyu by this many points internationally since Adam Rippon at the 2009 World Junior Championships, when Rippon was 19 and Hanyu was 14.

Chen, undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, has now beaten Hanyu in five straight head-to-head programs. This victory may prove more pivotal than last season’s worlds, where Hanyu was likely affected by an ankle injury and was competing for the first time in four months.

“I [can] feel, like, really lonely. [If] I can’t find motivation for the skating, it’s like, here is my motivation for the skating,” Hanyu said, gesturing to Chen to his left at a press conference. “Nathan is an icon for my practice.”

Chen repeatedly waves off a potential edge over Hanyu.

“Even now, he’s truly, like, a skating god to me,” Chen said, noting that Hanyu is “miles ahead” of him in artistry, though Chen outscored him in that department Saturday for the first time. “He’s still completely capable of doing everything that I’m doing, and even better.”

Each skater now heads to his national championships — Hanyu in Japan later this month. Chen, a Yale sophomore, goes to Greensboro, N.C., in late January, eyeing his fourth straight title, not done since Brian Boitano 32 years ago.

The Grand Prix Final ends with the free dance and women’s free skate later Saturday on NBC Sports Gold. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Grand Prix Final
Men
Gold: Nathan Chen (USA) — 335.30
Silver: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 291.43
Bronze: Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 275.63
4. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 248.83
5. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 241.44
6. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 220.04

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MORE: Alysa Liu takes silver at Junior Grand Prix Final with historic jump list

French Open: Karolina Pliskova, top player sans Slam, again exits early

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No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova exited yet another Grand Slam in the early stages, falling to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Ostapenko, whose only match wins at the French Open before this week came in her title run three years ago, bounced the big-serving Czech 6-4, 6-2.

Pliskova put fewer than half of her first serves in play, while Ostapenko fired 27 winners to 19 unforced errors. Pliskova was on the ropes in her first round, too, needing three sets to get past an Egyptian qualifier.

“Maybe same level as the match before, but of course [Ostapenko] is much better player,” Pliskova said. “Not much to say about this match.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Later Thursday, top-ranked Novak Djokovic had a second straight win ceding just five games, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 over Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis. Djokovic undefeated in 2020 save his U.S. Open default for smacking a ball that inadvertently struck a linesperson, next gets Colombian lucky loser Daniel Elahi Galán.

Nobody else in Djokovic’s half of the draw at the start of the tournament made a French Open semifinal before.

Pliskova is the highest-ranked player of either gender (No. 4) without a Grand Slam title, yet hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a major since the 2019 Australian Open.

She’s played six Slams as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, one shy of Caroline Wozniacki‘s total before she broke through at the 2018 Australian Open and two shy of Simona Halep‘s total before she won the 2018 French Open.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, is having a very different career.

She won the 2017 Roland Garros title, two days after turning 20, while ranked 47th. She hasn’t gotten past the third round of a major since 2018 Wimbledon, including first-round French Open exits the last two years, and is back down to No. 43 in the WTA rankings.

“It’s hard to compare with 2017. As I said, it was like three years ago, and I was much younger, and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me,” Ostapenko said. “The world doesn’t stop with winning only one Grand Slam. Of course I want to achieve more, and I want to be back in top five, top 10.”

She dropped just nine games in four sets this week.

Ostapenko gets 87th-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa in third round. Badosa dispatched 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

MORE: Serena Williams ‘struggling to walk’

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix fields look very different this season

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Before Nathan Chen is expected to go for a historic fifth straight U.S. figure skating title in January, he will, in a first, compete against most of his top countrymen later this month.

Fields for the Grand Prix Series, figure skating’s autumn international circuit, were published Thursday. As expected, every top skater entered will compete in his or her home country, or nearest to where he or she trains, and in one of the six events.

Traditionally, skaters compete in two of the six events and are scattered among competitions in the U.S., Canada, France, Russia, China and Japan based on world rankings.

But the International Skating Union restricted travel this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Skaters are limited to compete locally. And the Grand Prix Final at the conclusion of the Grand Prix Series has been postponed from its scheduled December setting in Beijing.

That means that Chen vies for a record-tying fourth straight Skate America crown in Las Vegas in three weeks against a field mostly made up of countrymen, including Olympic teammate Vincent Zhou and U.S. bronze medalist Tomoki Hiwatashi.

In all, there are eight U.S. men entered in Skate America, 11 women (including past national champions Bradie Tennell and Gracie Gold), six pairs and nine ice dance couples (including U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue), plus some skaters from other nations who train in the U.S.

Traditionally, a country has no more than three entries per discipline at a Grand Prix event.

GRAND PRIX FIELDS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Sochi Olympian Jason Brown, who trains in Toronto, is entered in Skate Canada the week after Skate America.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix Series until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

All of the reigning Olympic champions are absent from the series.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan previously announced he wouldn’t compete due to virus-related travel risks. Russian Alina Zagitova extended her indefinite break from competition dating to last autumn, rather choosing to participate in a skating-themed TV series.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada retired. The German pairs’ team of Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot last competed in the 2018 Olympic season.

Instead, the headliners include Chen, the two-time world champion undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang. And a deep crop of Russian teenage women, all of course entered in the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in November.

MORE: Brian Orser reacts to Yevgenia Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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