Sofia Kenin adjusts to defending champion role at Australian Open

Sofia Kenin
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After spending 19 hours a day in a Melbourne hotel room for two weeks, defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin ventured into the city.

She walked around for two hours a day for fresh air last week, mask-less like many others given the nonexistent community virus spread. Not one person approached her.

“I feel like if everyone was coming up to me, I’d kind of panic a little bit,” she said. “I’m sure, at least I’m hoping, if I do well in the Australian Open, then people would come to me. We’re staying at the Crown Towers, if anyone wants to come see me.”

Kenin began her title defense with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Australian wild card Maddison Inglis on Tuesday, rallying after being down an early break of serve.

“I obviously am tight,” said Kenin, who cried regularly before matches last year and said there were “some tears” on her return to Rod Laver Arena. “I wasn’t there 100% mentally. But a win is a win, and I’ll take it.”

She next gets Estonian Kaia Kanepi, unseeded but with a reputation for big-stage upsets.

Other notable winners Tuesday: top-ranked Ash Barty of Australia (6-0, 6-0 in 44 minutes, losing just 10 points), 16-year-old Coco Gauff (who gets fifth seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine in round two) and 61st-ranked American Jessica Pegula, who took out two-time Australian Open champ Victoria Azarenka 7-5, 6-4.

Rafael Nadal, who has been slowed by a back muscle injury, rolled 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 over Slovenian Laslo Đere.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

Kenin hopes for another seven-match run like last year, when she went past the fourth round of a major for the first time and became more recognizable to the person who tunes into tennis four times per year.

Kenin, a 22-year-old born in Moscow and raised in Florida, then reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open and the final of the French Open. She was named WTA Player of the Year.

Even if locals aren’t noticing her, Kenin feels the weight of defending a major title for the first time. In interviews last week, she said she expected “a rollercoaster” first day or two. She predicted a “really, really hectic” time and said she was “obviously very nervous” going into her return to Rod Laver Arena.

“After who wins a Grand Slam, of course people are going to be looking at them,” she said.

Kenin, seeded fourth, takes comfort in knowing she backed up her breakout with runs in New York and Paris. And that, with the adjusted rankings system, she can’t lose any points in Melbourne.

She was devastated, however, on one of those two-hour tours around Melbourne last week. She found that the Vietnamese restaurant she ate lunch at every day last year since closed.

“I’m obviously superstitious,” she said. “I was planning to go there for Australian Open [again].”

Kenin has to adjust, just like on court, where she feels targeted as the defending champ.

“Mentally, I got to handle my emotions and understand whoever I’m going to play, they’re obviously going to play with no pressure,” she said. “They’re probably going to play better against me, so I have to somehow try to handle my nerves and try to stick to my game plan.”

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2023 World Alpine Skiing Championships TV, live stream schedule

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Every race of the world Alpine skiing championships airs live on Peacock from Feb. 6-19.

France hosts the biennial worlds in Meribel and Courchevel — six women’s races, six men’s races and one mixed-gender team event.

Mikaela Shiffrin is the headliner, in the midst of her most successful season in four years with a tour-leading 11 World Cup wins in 23 starts. Shiffrin is up to 85 career World Cup victories, one shy of Ingemar Stenmark‘s record accumulated over the 1970s and ’80s.

World championships races do not count in the World Cup tally.

Shiffrin is expected to race at least four times at worlds, starting with Monday’s combined. She earned a medal in 11 of her 13 career world championships races, including each of the last 10 dating to 2015.

Shiffrin won at least one race at each of the last five world championships (nobody has gold from six different worlds). Her six total golds and 11 total medals are American records. At this edition, she can become the most decorated skier in modern world championships history from any nation.

She enters one medal shy of the record for most individual world championships medals since World War II (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt) and four medals shy of the all-time record. (Worlds were held annually in the 1930s, albeit with fewer races.)

She is also one gold medal shy of the post-World War II individual record shared by Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson.

The other favorites at these worlds include Italian Sofia Goggia, the world’s top female downhiller this season, and the two leading men: Swiss Marco Odermatt (No. 1 in super-G and giant slalom) and Norwegian Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (No. 1 in downhill).

2023 World Alpine Skiing Championships Broadcast Schedule

Date Event Time (ET) Platform
Mon., Feb. 6 Women’s Combined Super-G Run 5 a.m. Peacock
Women’s Combined Slalom Run 8:30 a.m. Peacock
Tues., Feb. 7 Men’s Combined Super-G Run 5 a.m. Peacock
Men’s Combined Slalom Run 8:30 a.m. Peacock
Wed., Feb. 8 Women’s Super-G 5:30 a.m. Peacock
Thu., Feb. 9 Men’s Super-G 5:30 a.m. Peacock
Sat., Feb. 11 Women’s Downhill 5 a.m. Peacock
Highlights 2:30 p.m.* NBC, Peacock
Sun., Feb. 12 Men’s Downhill 5 a.m Peacock
Highlights 3 p.m.* NBC, Peacock
Tue., Feb. 14 Team Parallel 6:15 a.m. Peacock
Men’s/Women’s Parallel Qualifying 11 a.m. Peacock
Wed., Feb. 15 Men’s/Women’s Parallel 6 a.m. Peacock
Thu., Feb. 16 Women’s Giant Slalom Run 1 3:45 a.m. Peacock
Women’s Giant Slalom Run 2 7:30 a.m. Peacock
Fri., Feb. 17 Men’s Giant Slalom Run 1 4 a.m. Peacock
Men’s Giant Slalom Run 2 7:30 a.m. Peacock
Sat., Feb. 18 Women’s Slalom Run 1 4 a.m. Peacock
Women’s Slalom Run 2 7:30 a.m. Peacock
Highlights 2:30 p.m.* NBC, Peacock
Sun., Feb. 19 Men’s Slalom Run 1 4 a.m. Peacock
Men’s Slalom Run 2 7:30 a.m. Peacock
Highlights 3 p.m.* NBC, Peacock

*Delayed broadcast
*All NBC coverage streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for TV subscribers.

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Diana Taurasi says 2024 Paris Olympics ‘on my radar’

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi said immediately after winning her fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo that she might try for a record sixth in Paris.

It’s still on her mind 17 months out of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“It’s something that it’s on my radar,” Taurasi told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday after the first day of a USA Basketball training camp in Minnesota, her first national team activity since Tokyo. “I’m still competitive, still driven, still want to play, I still love being a part of USA Basketball.”

Taurasi will be 42 at the time of the Paris Games — older than any previous Olympic basketball player — but said if she’s healthy enough she’d like to give it a go.

“If the opportunity comes to play and be a part of it, it’s something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in,” said Taurasi, who shares the record of five Olympic basketball gold medals with the retired Sue Bird. “When you get to my age at this point in my career, you just try to win every day. Right now this is a good opportunity to be part of this team moving forward we’ll see what happens.”

She said she would have played at the FIBA World Cup last year in Australia, but had a quad strain that kept her out of the end of the WNBA season.

“I got hurt a little bit before. I had a good conversation with Coach (Cheryl) Reeve and (USA Basketball CEO Jim) Tooley. I felt like I hadn’t played enough basketball to be out there and help,” Taurasi said. “That’s the biggest thing with USA Basketball is being able to help the team win.”

Reeve said Monday that when she succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach a few months after Tokyo, she wasn’t sure whether Taurasi would play for the national team again. That was before her conversation with Taurasi.

“I look forward to having a chance to have her be around and be, as I told her, a great voice,” Reeve said. “Obviously, the competitive fire that she competes with is something that we all do well with.”

In Tokyo, Taurasi started all six games and averaged 18.8 minutes per game, sixth-most on the team (fewer than backup guard Chelsea Gray). Her 5.8 points per game were her fewest in her Olympic career, though she was dealing with a hip injury.

Taurasi is an unrestricted free agent although she is expected to return back to Phoenix where she’s spent her entire career since getting drafted No. 1 overall in 2003.

“Phoenix still has things they need to work out,” the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer said.

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