Serena Williams eliminated from French Open

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PARIS — Serena Williams fell way behind and could not put together a comeback against a much younger and less-experienced opponent in the fourth round at Roland Garros, losing 6-3, 7-5 to Elena Rybakina — who wasn’t even born when the American made her tournament debut in 1998.

Asked whether that might have been her last match at the clay-court major, Williams responded: “Yeah, I’m definitely not thinking about it at all. I’m definitely thinking just about other things, but not about that.”

Wimbledon — which Williams won seven times out of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles — begins June 28.

“I’m kind of excited to switch surfaces,” Williams said. “Historically I have done pretty well on grass.”

Williams has won the French Open three times. But the American hasn’t been past the fourth round in Paris since she was the runner-up in 2016.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Rybakina is a 21-year-old from Kazakhstan who is ranked 22nd. This was just the seventh Grand Slam appearance for Rybakina — and the first time she ever made it so much as past the second round.

Against Williams, whose right thigh carried a heavy tape job, Rybakina hit big, flat serves. She dealt with, but managed to steady, her nerves. She even produced the occasional return winner off Williams’ speedy and spectacularly gifted serve, breaking her five times, including in the next-to-last game.

“I am so happy with my match today. It was amazing,” Rybakina said.

As for the final game, when she served out by far the biggest win of her nascent career, Rybakina said: “Of course I was nervous. I was not serving that well before. But I’m just happy that I just managed.”

Every time Williams appeared as if she might turn things around, she could not quite get the momentum fully in her favor.

Down a quick break in the second set, she got to 2-all. Williams then was down 4-3 in the second set but pulled even again when Rybakina sailed a forehand well wide to get broken.

In the next game, Williams gave away the opening point when, near the baseline, she failed to get out of the way of a shot from Rybakina that was flying long. Williams smiled ruefully and leaned over, resting and propping herself up with her racket.

Repeatedly one sort of mistake or another undid Williams. She ended up with 19 unforced errors and only 15 winners.

“I’m so close. There is literally a point here, a point there, that could change the whole course of the match,” Williams said. “I’m not winning those points. That, like, literally could just change everything.”

Since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant for her most recent major singles title — No. 23 set a record for the professional era — Williams has come close to tying Margaret Court’s all-time mark of 24. That includes four runner-up finishes at Grand Slam tournaments, most recently against Bianca Andreescu at the 2019 U.S. Open.

But since then, Williams has been beaten twice in semifinals, and once each in the third and fourth rounds. Last year at the French Open, she withdrew before the second round, citing an injured left Achilles.

Federer, meanwhile, never had pulled out of a Grand Slam tournament once he had started competing in it until now.

Rybakina next will meet Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova with a semifinal berth on the line. Pavlyuchenkova advanced with a 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 victory over two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka.

The other quarterfinal on that side of the women’s draw is going to be Paula Badosa against Tamara Zidansek. Neither has been this far at a major tournament, either.

One of those four players will become a first-time Grand Slam finalist next weekend.

Stefanos Tsitsipas is still looking for his first major final, too, and he reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros for the second year in a row by eliminating 12th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.

Tsitsipas next faces No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, who has won six of their previous seven meetings.

Medvedev is a two-time Grand Slam finalist — at the 2019 U.S. Open and this year’s Australian Open — but was 0-4 for his career in Paris until now. He advanced Sunday by eliminating No. 22 Cristian Garin 6-2, 6-1, 7-5.

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Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier top pairs’ short at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier lead after the pairs’ short program in what may be their last U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Knierim and Frazier, who last March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, tallied 81.96 points to open the four-day nationals on Thursday.

They lead by 15.1 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe going into Saturday’s free skate in San Jose, California. The top three teams from last year’s event — which Knierim and Frazier missed due to him contracting COVID-19 — are no longer competing together.

After nationals, a committee selects three U.S. pairs for March’s world championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Before the fall Grand Prix Series, the 31-year-old Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“I don’t like to just put it out there and say it is the last or not going to be the last because life just has that way of throwing curveballs, and you just never know,” Frazier said this month. “But I would say that this is the first nationals where I’m going to go in really trying to soak up every second as if it is my last because you just don’t know.”

Knierim is going for a fifth U.S. title, which would tie the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka Ina, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Karol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Knierim is also trying to become the first female pairs’ skater in her 30s to win a national title since 1993. Knierim and ice dancer Madison Chock are trying to become the first female skaters in their 30s to win a U.S. title in any discipline since 1995.

After being unable to defend their 2021 U.S. title last year, Knierim and Frazier reeled off a series of historic results in what had long been the country’s weakest discipline.

They successfully petitioned for an Olympic spot and placed sixth at the Games, best for a U.S. pair since 2002. They considered retirement after their world title, which was won without the top five teams from the Olympics in attendance. They returned in part to compete as world champions and to give back to U.S. skating, helping set up younger pairs for success.

They became the first U.S. pair to win two Grand Prix Series events, then in December became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final podium (second place). The world’s top pairs were absent; Russians banned due to the war in Ukraine and Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China leaving competition ice (for now).

Knierim and Frazier’s real test isn’t nationals. It’s worlds, where they will likely be the underdog to home favorites Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who edged the Americans by 1.3 points in the closest Grand Prix Final pairs’ competition in 12 years.

Nationals continue with the rhythm dance and women’s short program later Thursday.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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