Federica Brignone amps it up after World Cup overall title in Mikaela Shiffrin’s absence

Federica Brignone
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Federica Brignone vowed to focus on the upcoming Alpine skiing season rather than dwell on what happened last March, when she became the first Italian woman to win a World Cup overall title.

“I have to keep everything closed for what it was last year,” she said Friday. “But, for sure, emotions are still there.”

Brignone, 30, is the headliner for Saturday’s season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria.

Mikaela Shiffrin is absent (tweaked back). She last raced Jan. 26, when she won a super-G and increased an overall standings lead to 370 points over Brignone, a gap that appeared insurmountable.

Shiffrin’s father, Jeff, died unexpectedly a week later. The American did not race the rest of the season (though she returned to Europe in March for races in Sweden that ended up canceled due to the pandemic).

In her 11th season, Brignone started 25 of the 30 races with these stats: 20 top-10s, 11 podiums and five victories — all significant career-highs and worthy of the giant crystal globe mailed to her rather than awarded in the typical World Cup Finals presentation. Though she owns Olympic and world championships giant slalom medals, her best previous overall finish was fifth.

Brignone passed Shiffrin for the overall lead in February and was ahead by 145 points when Shiffrin returned to Europe before the last three races were canceled. Even if those races happened, and Shiffrin won all of them, the Italian had a chance to hold her off.

Brignone plans to be busier in her 12th season. She could start every race this fall and winter.

Brignone made her intentions clear by putting back-to-back slaloms in Levi, Finland, on her calendar next month. Slalom is her weakest discipline (the only one she wasn’t top three in the world last season). Levi is the most remote of the European stops on tour, 110 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Brignone last started there in 2014.

“I just hope not to test positive again,” Brignone said, “and to race every single race.”

Just before starting offseason training in June, Brignone was tested and learned that she, at some point earlier that spring, contracted the coronavirus.

“I discovered I had it, but I didn’t feel it,” she said.

Brignone said everybody in her family and on her team had it. Her mom, 1980 and 1984 Olympic skier and now journalist Maria Rosa Quario, detailed her serious bout for her newspaper, Il Giornale, in early April.

Quario wrote that she began feeling symptoms around March 20, a week after the last World Cup races were canceled and Brignone became the overall champion. She had a 103-plus-degree fever and lacked the strength to move. Quario wrote that Brignone was the one who dialed emergency after an overnight coughing attack. An ambulance took Quario to the hospital, where she spent five days.

“At the end she was OK, and she just needed help,” Brignone, who is sometimes interviewed by her mom at races, said Friday. “After five days, she was OK. I was not scared.”

Brignone is not one for timidity. She started skiing as she learned to walk, scampering around her family’s Milan apartment on plastic skis. Though she made her first World Cup start at age 17, Brignone kept a sense of normalcy.

“I went to school, I had friends, I went partying,” she said years ago.

On her first World Cup trip to the U.S. in 2009, she brought an empty suitcase and stuffed it with Christmas gifts from outlet stores, plus a new pair of Timberlands for herself. She won more money back by finishing third in the giant slalom, a first World Cup podium (in just her fifth start) that motivated her to take skiing more seriously.

A decade later, NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino was fascinated by Brignone’s ability to stay fresh from beginning to end last season with her best skiing across disciplines.

Brignone’s breadth and busy schedule bring to mind what Tina Maze accomplished in 2012-13, racing all 35 times and shattering the World Cup points record. At the end, Maze warned an 18-year-old Shiffrin not to try it because of the exhaustion.

Brignone may be a different breed. “Her mom talks a lot about the fact that she’s super hyperactive, exuberant,” Porino said.

Shiffrin has her own energy but is also known as calculated. So focused that she has thrown up before races due to nervousness and so dedicated to rest and recovery that she has napped between runs.

If both Brignone and Shiffrin are at their best, they could duel for the overall title this season. Brignone called Shiffrin the greatest skier of all time on Friday.

“She’s always focused. She’s always concentrating. She knows what she wants,” Brignone said. “I never had the opportunity to have a dinner or to have time [other than] skiing with her. So I don’t know her without skis, but she’s kind. She’s a great athlete. She’s an example for everybody.”

NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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2023 French Open men’s singles draw, scores

French Open Men's Draw
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The French Open men’s singles draw is missing injured 14-time champion Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2004, leaving the Coupe des Mousquetaires ripe for the taking.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Novak Djokovic is not only bidding for a third crown at Roland Garros, but also to lift a 23rd Grand Slam singles trophy to break his tie with Nadal for the most in men’s history.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Women’s Draw

But the No. 1 seed is Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who won last year’s U.S. Open to become, at 19, the youngest man to win a major since Nadal’s first French Open title in 2005.

Now Alcaraz looks to become the second-youngest man to win at Roland Garros since 1989, after Nadal of course.

Alcaraz missed the Australian Open in January due to a right leg injury, but since went 30-3 with four titles. Notably, he has not faced Djokovic this year. They could meet in the semifinals.

Russian Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2 seed, was upset in the first round by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild. It marked the first time a men’s top-two seed lost in the first round of any major since 2003 Wimbledon (Ivo Karlovic d. Lleyton Hewitt).

All of the American men lost before the fourth round. The last U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals was Andre Agassi in 2003.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Men’s Singles Draw

French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw

Coco Gauff, Iga Swiatek set French Open rematch

Coco Gauff French Open

Coco Gauff swept into the French Open quarterfinals, where she plays Iga Swiatek in a rematch of last year’s final.

Gauff, the sixth seed, beat 100th-ranked Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 7-5, 6-2 in the fourth round. She next plays the top seed Swiatek, who later Monday advanced after 66th-ranked Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko retired down 5-1 after taking a medical timeout due to illness.

Gauff earned a 37th consecutive win over a player ranked outside the top 50, dating to February 2022. She hasn’t faced a player in the world top 60 in four matches at Roland Garros, but the degree of difficulty ratchets up in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.

Swiatek won all 12 sets she’s played against Gauff, who at 19 is the only teenager in the top 49 in the world. Gauff said last week that there’s no point in revisiting last year’s final — a 6-1, 6-3 affair — but said Monday that she should rewatch that match because they haven’t met on clay since.

“I don’t want to make the final my biggest accomplishment,” she said. “Since last year I have been wanting to play her, especially at this tournament. I figured that it was going to happen, because I figured I was going to do well, and she was going to do well.

“The way my career has gone so far, if I see a level, and if I’m not quite there at that level, I know I have to improve, and I feel like you don’t really know what you have to improve on until you see that level.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Also Monday, No. 7 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia dispatched 36th-ranked American Bernarda Pera 6-3, 6-1, breaking all eight of Pera’s service games.

Jabeur, runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, has now reached the quarterfinals of all four majors.

Jabeur next faces 14th-seeded Beatriz Haddad Maia, who won 6-7 (3), 6-3, 7-5 over Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo, who played on a protected ranking of 68. Haddad Maia became the second Brazilian woman to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal in the Open Era (since 1968) after Maria Bueno, who won seven majors from 1959-1966.

Pera, a 28 year-old born in Croatia, was the oldest U.S. singles player to make the fourth round of a major for the first time since Jill Craybas at 2005 Wimbledon. Her defeat left Gauff as the lone American singles player remaining out of the 35 entered in the main draws.

The last American to win a major singles title was Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major drought matches the longest in history (since 1877) for American men and women combined.

In the men’s draw, 2022 French Open runner-up Casper Ruud reached the quarterfinals by beating 35th-ranked Chilean Nicolas Jarry 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-5. He’ll next play sixth seed Holger Rune of Denmark, a 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (7) winner over 23rd seed Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina.

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