Russia scores first World Team Trophy victory with U.S. in second

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After two silver medals and a bronze at the last three ISU World Team Trophy competitions, Russia finally scored its first victory at the event on Saturday, finishing the three-day competition with 125 points.

The No. 1-ranked nation in the world, Russia entered as the favorite with a team included the reigning world champions in women’s, pairs and ice dance, as well as the women’s world silver medalist.

Defending champion United States was runner-up for the second time, with 110 points, followed by 2012 and 2017 winner Japan with 107. The U.S. and Japan have been on the podium all seven times the typically biennial event has been held.

Italy (72), France (67) and Canada (57) rounded out the six-nation field. China is ranked fifth in the world, but withdrew and was replaced by France. Of note, 2018 Olympic team event gold medalist Canada did not send any of its top athletes who competed at worlds in late March due to the country’s mandatory two-week quarantine period.

Each country sent eight skaters: two men, two women, a pairs’ team and an ice dance team. Skaters contributed to their team’s score based on their placement within their discipline’s short program/rhythm dance and free skate/dance.

On the final day, Russia’s Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov won the pairs’ free skate with a score of 151.59. Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier were second in their first season together, with a new IJS personal best score of 133.63, more than six points higher than their performance at worlds three weeks ago.

“We are very proud of our free program,” Knierim said. “We’re very proud to come back from the world championships and put out a stronger program. It gives us confidence and is a great way to end our season.”

The team improved upon its fourth-place finish in the short program. Their free program included a three-jump side-by-side pass (triple toe, double toe, double toe) for the first time.

“We were very proud to put out our three-jump combo,” Knierim said. “We train it at home in our run-throughs. It wasn’t quite ready for the world championships, so we decided this was going to be a good opportunity to put it out there, and I’m glad we did; it’s a confidence booster moving forward.”

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara (130.83) were third, followed by Italy’s Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise (128.24), who were second in the short.

The women’s free skate ended the competition, with Russia’s Anna Shcherbakovalast month’s world champion at age 16 – winning with 160.58 points, eight higher than her score at worlds. Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto was second with 150.29, followed by world silver medalist Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva (146.23).

“Of course when I first heard that I would go here, I was so proud to be in Team Russia,” Shcherbakova said. “I really wanted to show good skating and to bring as many points as I could to my team, but before my free program I heard that we are already first, so I was skating and trying to enjoy it.”

“This program was dedicated to Japan, which is why I’m so happy I could skate my program here in Japan and I hope everyone enjoyed it,” Russian team captain Tuktamysheva said of her “Chronicles of a Mischievous Bird” free skate to the Osaka, Japan, crowd. “Thank you so much, the audience was great. There is so much love to skate here. Thank you for your support.”

With a score over five points higher than the program she put out in Stockholm, Sweden, last month, Team USA’s Bradie Tennell was fourth in the free skate (133.19), while Japan’s Rika Kihira was fifth (132.39) and American Karen Chen sixth (127.24).

“It feels amazing to come here and put out a program like that,” Tennell said. “That’s what I’ve been training in practice every day, so that was my goal here. Especially after worlds with my boot breaking and all the issues that I had, I’m so grateful that we had the opportunity to come here and that I skated well. It was so much fun to skate for fans again, I’m so grateful for all of their support and I could definitely feel it through all of my performance.”

World Team Trophy was the final event of the 2020-2021 figure skating season. The 2022 Olympic season will begin in September with ISU Challenger Series competitions, including Nebelhorn Trophy, which serves as the final chance for countries to secure Olympic spots.

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Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

Laura Nolte Bobsled
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Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

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Novak Djokovic wins 10th Australian Open, ties Rafael Nadal for most men’s Slam titles

Novak Djokovic Australian Open
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic climbed into the Rod Laver Arena stands to celebrate his 10th Australian Open championship and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title Sunday and, after jumping and pumping his fists with his team, he collapsed onto his back, crying.

When he returned to the playing surface, Djokovic sat on his sideline bench, buried his face in a white towel and sobbed some more.

This trip to Australia was far more successful than that of a year ago, when he was deported from the country because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. And Djokovic accomplished all he could have possibly wanted in his return: He resumed his winning ways at Melbourne Park and made it back to the top of tennis, declaring: “This probably is the, I would say, biggest victory of my life.”

Only briefly challenged in the final, Djokovic was simply better at the most crucial moments and beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5). As a bonus, Djokovic will vault from No. 5 to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, a spot he already has held for more weeks than any other man.

“I want to say this has been one of the most challenging tournaments I’ve ever played in my life, considering the circumstances. Not playing last year; coming back this year,” Djokovic said, wearing a zip-up white jacket with a “22” on his chest. “And I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome, made me feel comfortable, to be in Melbourne, to be in Australia.”

The 35-year-old from Serbia stretched his unbeaten streak in Melbourne to 28 matches, the longest run there in the Open era, which dates to 1968. He adds trophy No. 10 to the seven from Wimbledon, three from the U.S. Open — where he also was absent last year because of no coronavirus shots — and two from the French Open, to match rival Rafael Nadal for the most by a man.

Only two women — Margaret Court, with 24, and Serena Williams, with 23 — are ahead of him.

This was also the 93rd ATP tour-level title for Djokovic, breaking a tie with Nadal for the fourth-most.

“I would like to thank you for pushing our sport so far,” Tsitsipas told Djokovic.

Djokovic was participating in his 33rd major final, Tsitsipas in his second — and the 24-year-old from Greece also lost the other, at the 2021 French Open, to Djokovic.

On a cool evening under a cloud-filled sky, and with a soundtrack of chants from supporters of both men prompting repeated pleas for quiet from the chair umpire, Djokovic was superior throughout, especially so in the two tiebreakers.

He took a 4-1 lead in the first, then reeled off the last three points. He led 5-0 in the closing tiebreaker and, when it finished, he pointed to his temple before screaming, a prelude to all of the tears.

“Very emotional for us. Very emotional for him,” said Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic. “It’s a great achievement. It was a really tough three weeks for him. He managed to overcome everything.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Tsitsipas was willing to engage in the kind of leg-wearying, lung-searing back-and-forths upon which Djokovic has built his superlative career. How did that work out? Of points lasting at least five strokes, Djokovic won 43, Tsitsipas 30.

Then again, on those rare occasions that Tsitsipas did charge the net, Djokovic often conjured up a passing shot that was too tough to handle.

It’s not as though Tsitsipas played all that poorly, other than a rash of early miscues that seemed to be more a product of tension than anything.

It’s that Djokovic was too unyielding. Too accurate with his strokes, making merely 22 unforced errors, 20 fewer than his foe. Too speedy and flexible chasing shots (other than on one second-set point, when, running to his left, Djokovic took a tumble).

“I did everything possible,” said Tsitsipas, who also would have moved to No. 1 with a victory, replacing Carlos Alcaraz, who sat out the Australian Open with a leg injury.

Perhaps. Yet Djokovic pushes and pushes and pushes some more, until it’s the opponent who is something less than perfect on one swing, either missing or providing an opening to pounce.

That’s what happened when Tsitsipas held his first break point — which was also a set point — while ahead 5-4 in the second and Djokovic serving at 30-40. Might this be a fulcrum? Might Djokovic relent? Might Tsitsipas surge?

Uh, no.

A 15-stroke point concluded with Djokovic smacking a cross-court forehand winner that felt like a statement. Two misses by Tsitsipas followed: A backhand long, a forehand wide. Those felt like capitulation. Even when Tsitsipas actually did break in the third, Djokovic broke right back.

There has been more than forehands and backhands on Djokovic’s mind over the past two weeks.

There was the not-so-small matter of last year’s legal saga — he has alternately acknowledged the whole thing served as a form of motivation but also said the other day, “I’m over it” — and curiosity about the sort of reception he would get when allowed to enter Australia because pandemic restrictions were eased.

He heard a ton of loud support, but also dealt with some persistent heckling while competing, including applause after faults Sunday.

There was the sore left hamstring that has been heavily bandaged for every match — until the final, that is, when only a single piece of beige athletic tape was visible.

And then there was the complicated matter of his father, Srdjan, being filmed with a group of people with Russian flags — one with an image of Vladimir Putin — after Djokovic’s quarterfinal. The tournament banned spectators from carrying flags of Russia or Belarus, saying they would cause disruption because of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Djokovic and his father said it was a misunderstanding; Srdjan thought he was with Serbian fans.

Still, Srdjan Djokovic did not attend his son’s semifinal or the final.

No matter any of it, Djokovic excelled as he so often has.

“He is the greatest,” Tsitsipas said, “that has ever held a tennis racket.”

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