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Brazil sets Olympic bubble in Portugal due to pandemic at home

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SAO PAULO — Brazil has set up its Olympic training camp in Rio … Rio Maior that is, a relatively small Portuguese city of 21,000 residents outside Lisbon.

Brazil’s Olympic committee feared its team would lag before the Tokyo Games next year after months of inactivity at home. So since mid-July, 72 high-performance swimmers, judokas, boxers and gymnasts have been training at the Rio Maior Sports Center to try to catch up to rivals who started earlier.

Altogether, the camp involves more than 100 Brazilians, all of whom had to test negative for the coronavirus before leaving home, and on arriving in Portugal. It was timed so they could get started last Thursday, exactly one year out from the Olympics.

The camp will eventually feature more than 200 Brazilian athletes and staffers in 16 sports until December.

There is no Copacabana Beach or Sugar Leaf Mountain but, more importantly, this Rio is free of COVID-19.

Rio’s 2016 Olympics infrastructure is mostly closed, with only a handful of athletes able to work out for the Tokyo Games. Even if training facilities were to reopen soon, the athletes fear they would quickly close again due to Brazil’s poor efforts to contain the virus.

Brazil has officially recorded nearly 90,000 deaths and more than 2.4 million cases, second only to the United States.

Rio Maior, a quiet city 46 miles north of the Portuguese capital, has zero cases.

“Rio Maior gives us a bubble,” Marco La Porta, deputy chairman of Brazil’s Olympic Committee, says.

“All workers at the sports center live in the city. And that gives the athletes a very big assurance. In Brazil, they just don’t know who has had some contact with the coronavirus. We are trying to close a gap.”

They expect Rio’s facilities to be safe to use by the end of the year. In the meantime, 120 more Brazilian Olympians will arrive in Portugal over the next few months to train in track and field, wrestling, diving, taekwondo, triathlon, sailing, handball, rugby and table tennis.

They are all receiving special permission to enter the country with help from Portugal’s Olympic Committee, their presence excused as performing professional activities. Tourists from Brazil are barred from entering the European Union because of their trouble with the coronavirus.

Brazilian Olympians discovered Rio Maior 10 years ago, preparing for other events. There are ongoing negotiations for it to become the team’s base ahead of the Paris Olympics in 2024. The experience during the coronavirus pandemic makes the deal nearly certain, La Porta says.

Rio Maior includes an aquatic park with two pools, a diving platform, an athletics stadium, a multi-use gymnasium, tennis courts and a soccer pitch.

Also being used are venues in the cities of Coimbra (judo), Cascais (sailing) and Sangalhos (gymnastics).

The camp will cost Brazil’s Olympic body $3 million that was marked for other international trips before the Tokyo Games. Each athlete costs $70 per day in Rio Maior, covering accommodation, five meals a day, training facilities, laundry, and transportation.

Athletes must wear face masks all day except when they are training, running or at the gym. Their buffet meals come at different times for each sport to avoid crowding in the restaurant. Every interaction outside training is guided by social distancing recommendations.

Synchronized swimmer Laura Micucci says she spent months without training with her teammates and was relieved when they gathered in the camp last week.

“It is still strange to wear a mask and use hand sanitizers all the time,” Micucci says, “but we can feel a little taste of competition again.”

MORE: Original drawing of Olympic Rings sells for more than $200,000

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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.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

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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.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

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