With brilliant skating by the top three, Nathan Chen still leaves no room at the top


When a skater has been as dominant as Nathan Chen has for three seasons, it is not surprising many others look at him as untouchable.

That feeling is even shared by a skater like Vincent Zhou, the reigning world bronze medalist and, like Chen, a 2018 Olympian.

“I have come to the realization that pretty much everyone – and also myself, inadvertently – puts whoever is at the top on a pedestal, and anyone not on that pedestal has no chance of winning,” Zhou said.

“Obviously, Nathan is an amazing skater. But I want to be the best I can and if that means I can win, that’s great.”

In Saturday’s short program at the U.S. Championships, when the top three finishers all skated brilliantly, Zhou came as close as he ever has to making room for himself at the top next to a Chen at the top of his game.

“I was aware of what he did,” said Chen, who skated more than an hour later. “Vincent is extremely talented, and I know he is going to throw it down every time he skates. I’m thrilled I was able to skate the way that I did.”

It was hard to remember another competition in which three men skated short programs as well as Chen, Zhou and Jason Brown. One can only imagine what the crowd reaction would have been had they not been compelled to compete in an empty Las Vegas arena out of COVID-19 safety concerns.


Chen, seeking a fifth straight national title and a 12th straight win in individual live competitions, won with the most technically difficult short program he had done since 2018. He scored 113.92 with an opening quad lutz and a quad flip-triple toe combination in the rare bonus air of the program’s second half, but, ever the perfectionist, he expressed some disappointment with landings on some of the jumps in the Latin-themed program.

Zhou, whose life has been unsettled both of the last two seasons, did by far the best short program of his career, not only for hitting a quad lutz-triple toe (with two hands over his head on the lutz) and quad salchow but for the way he entered and executed his jumps, especially the series of running three-turns leading to the triple Axel. His success in showing himself as far more than a herky-jerky jumper brought 107.79 points.

And Brown, who had not competed since last February because of pandemic travel restrictions related to his training in Canada, gave a literally and figuratively breathtaking debut performance to the Nina Simone song, “Sinnerman,” a program his choreographer, Rohene Ward, had created with inspiration from the legendary choreographer Alvin Ailey’s interpretation of that piece.

In perfect harmony with the music’s relentless, driving energy, his edge work producing a seamless dynamic flow, Brown painted a vivid physical tableau, no more so than in his movements while kneeling in the final few seconds. The shapes and angles of his body were stunning, especially given the need to spin and jump. Unsurprisingly, he got the highest component scores of the event, and, even without a quad, a total score of 100.92.

“This is not an easy program,” Brown said. “And it’s not easy doing it without an audience. I’m planning to keep it for two years, which speaks to the difficulty of the program and also the desire of doing it in front of a crowd, taking their energy as well.

“Rohene knows what I am capable of, and he can see what something can be before I can. He wants to push me as much as he can.”

Since finishing fifth in the 2018 Winter Olympics, where he won the free skate after a disastrous 17th in the short program, Chen has won 22 of his last 23 live competitive programs, with a third in the short at the 2018 French Grand Prix his only loss. The streak includes two world titles and two Grand Prix Final titles.

So it is no wonder his rivals are likely to put him on a pedestal.

It was also unsurprising that Chen expressed admiration for what Zhou and Chen had done in the most challenging circumstances any of them had experienced in their skating careers.

“The season has been just crazy,” Chen said. “Everything has been so unexpected. I’m really impressed with how everyone has been able to put their stuff together.”

Zhou, who grew up in Palo Alto, California, began dealing with the unexpected even before the pandemic began to hit North America full force last March, forcing the cancellation of the 2020 World Championships in Montreal.

“Just this morning, I was thinking that a year ago at this time I had almost quit skating,” Zhou said after his short program. “Then the pandemic happened, and the world was thrust into this constant state of not knowing what comes next.”

His plan to combine skating with his freshman year at Brown University in 2019 fell apart in the first semester because of issues in getting ice time without making a draining commute to a rink north of Boston. Zhou first stopped skating at all, then decided to leave school and move with his mother to Toronto to train with Lee Barkell and Lori Nichol.

With barely two weeks of steady training before last year’s nationals, Zhou wisely limited his jumps to one quad in each program and finished a respectable fourth. When the 2020 worlds were cancelled, the Zhous immediately left Canada for Colorado, and his intentions to return to Canada were eventually stymied by the course of the pandemic.

With major international competitions cancelled or made domestic-only so far this season, Zhou found himself having more time to work on the refinements that would give his performance to Josh Groban’s version of “Starry, Starry Night” an ethereal feeling to complement the homage to another Vincent – the painter Van Gogh.

Working with Nichol via Zoom and both Josh Farris and Ben Agosto at his Colorado Springs rink, Zhou concentrated for two months on transitions and building momentum with the blade strokes so his center of mass would be constantly flowing and moving in the direction he wanted. That made it possible to execute with seeming effortlessness things like the running three turns into the triple Axel.

For Chen, who is exhausting the superlatives available to describe him, each competition becomes something like a game of “Can You Top This?” In Sunday’s free skate, he plans five quads for the first time at nationals since 2018.

“You know me: I like to always challenge myself and one-up myself after every competition,” Chen said. “But it will be a game-time decision.”

For a real showstopper, Chen might consider skating to his own recording. He has posted video of himself on the piano, working through the beginning of the minimalist Philip Glass music in his free skate. What would the base value be for that?

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Olympic Winter Games, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

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Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz exit French Open, leaving no U.S. men

Frances Tiafoe French Open

Frances Tiafoe kept coming oh so close to extending his French Open match against Alexander Zverev: 12 times Saturday night, the American was two points from forcing things to a fifth set.

Yet the 12th-seeded Tiafoe never got closer than that.

Instead, the 22nd-seeded Zverev finished out his 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1, 7-6 (5) victory after more than 3 1/2 hours in Court Philippe Chatrier to reach the fourth round. With Tiafoe’s exit, none of the 16 men from the United States who were in the bracket at the start of the tournament are still in the field.

“I mean, for the majority of the match, I felt like I was in control,” said Tiafoe, a 25-year-old from Maryland who fell to 1-7 against Zverev.

“It’s just tough,” he said about a half-hour after his loss ended, rubbing his face with his hand. “I should be playing the fifth right now.”

Two other American men lost earlier Saturday: No. 9 seed Taylor Fritz and unseeded Marcos Giron.

No. 23 Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina beat Fritz 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5, and Nicolas Jarry of Chile eliminated Giron 6-2, 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-3.

There are three U.S women remaining: No. 6 Coco Gauff, Sloane Stephens and Bernarda Pera.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

It is the second year in a row that zero men from the United States will participate in the fourth round at Roland Garros. If nothing else, it stands as a symbolic step back for the group after what seemed to be a couple of breakthrough showings at the past two majors.

For Tiafoe, getting to the fourth round is never the goal.

“I want to win the trophy,” he said.

Remember: No American man has won any Grand Slam title since Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open. The French Open has been the least successful major in that stretch with no U.S. men reaching the quarterfinals since Andre Agassi in 2003.

But Tiafoe beat Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the U.S. Open along the way to getting to the semifinals there last September, the first time in 16 years the host nation had a representative in the men’s final four at Flushing Meadows.

Then, at the Australian Open this January, Tommy Paul, Sebastian Korda and Ben Shelton became the first trio of Americans in the men’s quarterfinals in Melbourne since 2000. Paul made it a step beyond that, to the semifinals.

After that came this benchmark: 10 Americans were ranked in the ATP’s Top 50, something that last happened in June 1995.

On Saturday, after putting aside a whiffed over-the-shoulder volley — he leaned atop the net for a moment in disbelief — Tiafoe served for the fourth set at 5-3, but couldn’t seal the deal.

In that game, and the next, and later on, too, including at 5-all in the tiebreaker, he would come within two points of owning that set.

Each time, Zverev claimed the very next point. When Tiafoe sent a forehand wide to end it, Zverev let out two big yells. Then the two, who have been pals for about 15 years, met for a warm embrace at the net, and Zverev placed his hand atop Tiafoe’s head.

“He’s one of my best friends on tour,” said Zverev, a German who twice has reached the semifinals on the red clay of Paris, “but on the court, I’m trying to win.”

At the 2022 French Open, Zverev tore ligaments in his right ankle while playing Nadal in the semifinals and had to stop.

“It’s been definitely the hardest year of my life, that’s for sure,” Zverev said. “I love tennis more than anything in the world.”

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2023 French Open women’s singles draw, scores

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At the French Open, Iga Swiatek of Poland eyes a third title at Roland Garros and a fourth Grand Slam singles crown overall.

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

Swiatek, the No. 1 seed from Poland, can join Serena Williams and Justine Henin as the lone women to win three or more French Opens since 2000.

Having turned 22 on Wednesday, she can become the youngest woman to win three French Opens since Monica Seles in 1992 and the youngest woman to win four Slams overall since Williams in 2002.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Men’s Draw

But Swiatek is not as dominant as in 2022, when she went 16-0 in the spring clay season during an overall 37-match win streak.

She retired from her last pre-French Open match with a right thigh injury and said it wasn’t serious. Before that, she lost the final of another clay-court tournament to Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed, is her top remaining challenger in Paris.

No. 3 Jessica Pegula, the highest-seeded American man or woman, was eliminated in the third round. No. 4 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, who has three wins over Swiatek this year, withdrew before her third-round match due to illness.

No. 6 Coco Gauff, runner-up to Swiatek last year, is the best hope to become the first American to win a Grand Slam singles title since Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major drought is the longest for U.S. women since Seles won the 1996 Australian Open.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Women’s Singles Draw

French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw