Roger Federer to miss Australian Open

Roger Federer
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Roger Federer is withdrawing from the Australian Open while he continues preparing to return to action after two operations on his right knee, his agent told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Tony Godsick — Federer’s long-time representative and CEO of their management company, TEAM8 — said he is working on putting together a 2021 tennis calendar for the 20-time Grand Slam champion, who plans to get back on tour soon after the year’s first major tennis tournament.

“Roger has decided not to play the 2021 Australian Open. He has made strong progress in the last couple of months with his knee and his fitness. However, after consultation with his team, he decided that the best decision for him in the long run is to return to competitive tennis after the Australian Open,” Godsick said in a statement released to the AP.

“I will start discussions this coming week for tournaments that begin in late February and then start to build a schedule for the rest of the year,” Godsick said.

The start of the Australian Open’s main draw was delayed by three weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic and is now scheduled to begin on Feb. 8 at Melbourne Park.

The choice to delay his comeback came with input from coaches Severin Luthi and Ivan Ljubicic and fitness coach Pierre Paganini.

Federer hasn’t played a tournament match since late January at the 2020 Australian Open, where he was clearly injured while losing in straight sets to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. Soon after, Federer played in an exhibition charity event with Rafael Nadal in front of a record tennis crowd of more than 50,000 people at a soccer stadium in Cape Town, South Africa.

Just weeks later, Federer announced he had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and would be sidelined for at least four months.

He later had a second procedure on that knee and wound up missing the rest of the pandemic-altered season.

One measure of Federer’s popularity: Despite appearing in only six matches in 2020, he recently was voted the winner of the ATP Tour fans’ favorite award for the 18th consecutive time.

Until this knee issue, Federer only had his career interrupted once by an operation — on his left knee in 2016. He sat out the second half of that season, including the Rio Olympics and the U.S. Open, but was back at his best when he resumed playing, winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2017.

He won the Australian Open again the following year for his sixth trophy there, to go along with eight from Wimbledon, five from the U.S. Open and one from the French Open to complete a career Grand Slam.

While Federer was sidelined this year, Nadal equaled his men’s record for most major championships by collecting his 20th at Roland Garros in October. Federer posted a congratulatory message on social media to Nadal that day, saying he hopes “20 is just another step on the continuing journey for both of us.”

Now, Nadal will pass Federer if he wins the Australian Open or, more likely, wins at Roland Garros again in June.

Djokovic’s title in Australia this year moved him closer to the other members of the Big Three of men’s tennis with a total of 17.

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Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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