Hideki Matsuyama, Masters winner, adds to Tokyo Olympic storylines for Japan


As Hideki Matsuyama became the first Japanese man to win a major championship at the Masters on Sunday, golf analysts predicted what it would mean for the Tokyo Olympics.

Matsuyama could light the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony on July 23, Nick Faldo said. Matsuyama and tennis player Naomi Osaka could be Japan’s flag bearers, Brandel Chamblee said. (Nations can now have one male and one female flag bearer if they wish.)

Yes, Matsuyama is expected to be one of the host nation’s biggest stars at the Tokyo Games. And he has a personal story that ties into the Olympics despite the fact that golf has been contested for medals just once in his life.

But many Japanese athletes are worthy of the three major traditional honors at an Opening Ceremony — cauldron lighter, flag bearer and oath taker — and a large share of headlines and highlights over the 16 days thereafter. A few from that group who stand out in individual sports:

Rikako Ikee, Swimming
Made national news the Sunday preceding the Masters by qualifying for the Olympics after spending 10 months in 2019 hospitalized for leukemia. Ikee, a 20-year-old who when diagnosed was ranked No. 1 in the world in the 100m butterfly, won four events at Japan’s Olympic Trials. Due to time standards, she’s only guaranteed to swim relays at the Games. “It’s a miracle that I’m alive,” Ikee reportedly said in February 2020, one month before the Tokyo Games were postponed, making it possible for her to qualify.

Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori, Tennis
Arguably Japan’s two most recognizable active athletes worldwide. They could compete together at the Olympics in mixed doubles, though they have never done so before and rarely play doubles at all. Neither ruled out the pairing when asked at the 2019 U.S. Open. “I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life,” Osaka joked. “Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo.” Japan’s first Olympic medals came in tennis — 101 years ago at the Antwerp Games.

Kohei Uchimura, Gymnastics
Uchimura is not guaranteed a place on the Olympic team, but it would be shocking if he is not chosen for individual events only. He is 32 years old and going for his fourth and almost certainly final Olympics. There is no doubting his status as a legend. Uchimura is the only male or female gymnast to win back-to-back Olympic all-around titles in 49 years. He owns six world all-around titles (one more than Simone Biles). And gymnastics is Japan’s most successful Olympic sport by total medals.

MORE: Tokyo Olympics an end goal for American behind Matsuyama, Japan sports icons

And then there’s Matsuyama.

Tokyo organizers tied at first the 2020 Olympic bid, and now the 2021 Olympic plan, to help boost the recovery and reconstruction of Japan following the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people.

Matsuyama was a student at Tohoku Fukushi University when the disaster struck. He was not on campus but working on his game in Australia in early March 2011. He returned to find his dorm room ravaged — his college hometown of Sendai “devastated beyond imagination” — and struggled to find food.

Less than a month later, he debuted at the Masters as a 19-year-old amateur — qualifying by winning a tournament at the venue that will host the Tokyo Olympics. He was the low amateur at Augusta. Per tradition, he was interviewed on national TV in the U.S., saying through an interpreter that he planned to volunteer back home in the recovery efforts.

That interview was April 10, 2011, shortly after 7 p.m. in Butler Cabin.

On April 10, 2021, shortly after 7 p.m., Matsuyama sat in Butler Cabin for a post-round interview while he held a four-shot lead after a moving-day 65. He returned again Sunday as the champion, ending a four-year winless drought during which he fell from No. 3 in the world to No. 25. He was as high as No. 2 before his previous win in 2017.

Then somebody told him about Faldo’s cauldron comment.

“It would be quite an honor. But I’m not sure about my schedule,” said Matsuyama, who could be at the Opening Ceremony if he goes straight to Japan from the Open Championship that ends on July 18. “If the schedules worked out, and I am in Japan when that happens, and they ask me, what an honor that would be.”

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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, and Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, the No. 4 seed and Wimbledon champion, are the top challengers in Paris.

No. 3 Jessica Pegula, the highest-seeded American man or woman, was eliminated in the third round.

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

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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).

No. 9 Taylor Fritz and No. 12 Frances Tiafoe are the highest-seeded Americans, looking to become the first U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals since Andre Agassi in 2003. Since then, five different American men combined to make the fourth round on eight occasions.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Men’s Singles Draw

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