Mikaela Shiffrin sees the finish line of an impossible season, with one big race left


Mikaela Shiffrin‘s success this season is more remarkable given it came after a preseason injury that could continue to effect her as the 2022 Winter Olympics approach.

Shiffrin, after back pain sidelined her nearly six months ago, played catch-up throughout the autumn and winter. She made it to this week’s World Cup Finals (TV schedule here).

She performed well this season given the much-talked-about circumstances, winning a record-tying four medals at February’s world championships.

She also has a chance to finish the season as the top-ranked slalom skier for a seventh time in nine years — if she wins Saturday’s race in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, and Slovakian rival Petra Vlhova finishes third or worse.

“Being here and being in the running for it is beyond what I thought was possible,” said Shiffrin, who has always placed more emphasis on long-term consistency than individual victories or medals. “There was just so many things that went absolutely wrong in the preparation period.”

Such as what caused her to miss the season-opening giant slalom in October in Soelden, Austria.

“The first injury I’ve had that actually posed some threat to my career as a ski racer,” Shiffrin wrote three weeks ago.

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Shiffrin elaborated Thursday. She wondered for several weeks this fall the effect her back, which has “always been a little bit of a thing,” she said, will have on her career. Injuries in that area of the body are common in ski racing.

“I was thinking, OK, I know this is fairly acute, and it’s just in the beginning of the process, and I need to let it heal. If this is just going to be an ongoing thing any time I hit a bumpy or icy spot in a GS course or a slalom course, or pretty much any time I’m skiing and then I just blow up my back to the point where I have to lay in bed for three days, I’m not going to be able to ski,” she said.

Countryman Ted Ligety, who at 36 is 10 years older than Shiffrin, said his back was in control of his skiing for six years before the worst sciatic pain of his life forced him into retirement before his planned farewell race last month.

Shiffrin felt tightness in different areas well into December. Perhaps January until extensive rehab and therapy fully eased it.

“That was frustrating and felt limiting,” she said. “Then I kind of got over that hump. Since then I felt, I want to say, normal. Maybe not like 16-years-old normal, but pretty good.”

In the past, when Shiffrin won slaloms by more than a second, she had room for error. Not this year.

She noted a rise in the level of women’s slalom, led by Vlhova, who supplanted Shiffrin as the world’s best last year. Younger Austrian Katharina Liensberger beat them both at worlds and then won the most recent World Cup slalom last Saturday.

“There’s quite a few girls who are skiing at a very high level,” Shiffrin said. “Just a lot faster and quicker than what I feel like we’ve seen before.

“The problem that I see is that if I have any runs at all in slalom training at any point where I’m not at my absolute highest pace, it won’t be good enough.”

Shiffrin also saw a trend in course setting to higher speeds on the fall line, forcing more adjustments.

“The event has sort of shifted a little bit from what it even was the 2018-19 season,” said Shiffrin, who won a record 17 World Cup races that year, including eight of the nine slaloms. “My coaches have adjusted the way they’re studying courses and training a little bit to throw me off guard and make me a bit more uncomfortable.”

In eight World Cup slaloms this season, she has two wins, six podiums and no finishes worse than fifth after going 300 days between races following her father’s death on Feb. 2, 2020. She was also at a build-up disadvantage to European skiers who had more offseason training opportunities amid the pandemic.

Shiffrin, the most successful slalom skier in history, struggled this winter with trusting herself with speed throughout a run.

“Sometimes I wonder if I go as fast as I can in this particular section, I might not make it past this particular section,” she said. “The mental side of things has definitely taken longer to come back than even the physical side of things this year.”

After the World Cup Finals, she will stay in Europe for ski testing. She hopes the upcoming offseason, leading into an Olympic year, will bring more normal training. Specifically, the ability to bring her ski serviceman from Europe to the U.S.

“For sure, the Olympics, it’s a target,” she said, not yet knowing how much she can reincorporate speed races into her schedule, “but a bigger target would be able to say not only can I compete at the Olympics, but I can just compete regularly. What I found this season is that it’s taken a little while longer to get my back or body as a whole in ski-specific conditioning shape to not feel sore constantly.”

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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