Alexa Scimeca Knierim, Christopher Knierim hold on for third U.S. pairs’ title

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Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim moved three times after they skated at the Olympics. They changed coaches twice. They finished seventh at last season’s national championships. They lost a sponsor. He had to sell his collection of cars, including that beloved Camaro.

“So now I have a motorcycle, and Alexa has her car, and that’s about it,” Knierim said. “It was sad.”

It must have felt worth it Saturday night.

The Knierims held on to win their third U.S. pairs’ title, edging training partners Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson by 2.58 points. They are the first U.S. pair to win three national titles since 2002 and are headed back to the world championships in March.

The U.S. Championships conclude Sunday with the men’s free skate in Greensboro, N.C., live on NBC Sports.

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The Knierims’ victory, saved after he fell on a side-by-side triple toe loop in Saturday’s free skate, came after a tumultuous two years.

After placing 15th at the Olympics and worlds in 2018, they left longtime coach Dalilah Sappenfield — who officiated their 2016 wedding — to train under 2018 Olympic champion Aljona Savchenko. They moved from Colorado Springs to Chicago, then to join Savchenko in Germany. They left Savchenko weeks later in fall 2018, saying if they had stayed, it would have “been more of a downward slope in some terms of things than others.”

Then came a move to Southern California to be coached by three-time U.S. champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand. The Knierims shared a rink with Calalang and Johnson, who were paired together by Meno and Sand in 2018. They had to make lifestyle changes to accommodate cost of living, including coaching younger skaters more than they ever had in Colorado.

“We had some things that we had to get rid of, but it made us stronger,” said Scimeca Knierim, who came to nationals with her husband ranked second this season among Americans. “The only thing you need at the end of the day is love, and that’s what we have. So I don’t really care that we had to give up a lot of things.”

Calalang and Johnson never finished better than fifth in seven combined nationals appearances, either together or with previous partners. They ranked fifth among American pairs in the fall international season, their second together.

Their leading free skate nearly erased a 9.5-point deficit from the short program, where the Knierims were first and Calalang and Johnson were fourth. Now they look poised to join the Knierims as the second and final pair on the world championships team.

“The amount of audience support that I felt at the very end of that program was overwhelming,” Johnson said. “It was the most amazing thing I’ve felt on the ice.”

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, the 2016 U.S. champions, had minor errors on throw landings Saturday. Those were enough to be passed by Calalang and Johnson and drop from second after the short to bronze.

Defending champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc fell from third after the short to fourth after several jumping errors. Cain-Gribble and LeDuc were the sole U.S. pair at last year’s worlds and made the top 10 (ninth) to earn back a second U.S. pairs’ spot at this year’s worlds.

Another set of past champions, Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, suffered a fall on throws in both programs. They ended up fifth.

The U.S. last won a world medal in pairs in 2002. China, Russia and Canada have higher-ranked team this season.

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2020 French Open women’s singles draw, results

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If Serena Williams is to win a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title at the French Open, she may have to go through her older sister in the fourth round.

Williams, the sixth seed, could play Venus Williams in the round of 16 at Roland Garros, which begins Sunday.

Serena opens against countrywoman Kristie Ahn, whom she beat in the first round at the U.S. Open. Serena could then get her U.S. Open quarterfinal opponent, fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, in the second round.

If Venus is to reach the fourth round, she must potentially get past U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka in the second round. Azarenka beat Serena in the U.S. Open semifinals, ending the American’s latest bid to tie Margaret Court‘s major titles record.

Venus lost in the French Open first round the last two years.

The French Open top seed is 2018 champion Simona Halep, who could play 2019 semifinalist Amanda Anisimova in the third round.

Coco Gauff, the rising 16-year-old American, gets 2019 semifinalist Jo Konta of Great Britain in the first round in the same quarter of the draw as Halep.

The field lacks defending champion Ash Barty of Australia, not traveling due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Also out: U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka, citing a sore hamstring and tight turnaround from prevailing in New York two weeks ago.

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2020 French Open men’s singles draw, results

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Rafael Nadal was put into the same half of the French Open draw as fellow 2018 and 2019 finalist Dominic Thiem of Austria, with top-ranked Novak Djokovic catching a break.

Nadal, trying to tie Roger Federer‘s male record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, could play sixth-seeded German Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals before a potential clash with Thiem, who just won the U.S. Open.

Djokovic, who is undefeated in 2020 save being defaulted out of the U.S. Open, could play No. 7 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy in the quarterfinals before a possible semifinal with Russian Daniil Medvedev.

Medvedev is the fourth seed but is 0-3 at the French Open. Another possible Djokovic semifinal opponent is fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who reached the fourth round last year.

The most anticipated first-round matchup is between three-time major champion Andy Murray and 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka. In Murray’s most recent French Open match, he lost in five sets to Wawrinka in the 2017 semifinals.

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