Nathan Chen stumbles to surprising fourth, while Vincent Zhou leads at Skate America


LAS VEGAS — It was an unfamiliar scene during the men’s short program press conference at Skate America on Friday night.

2018 U.S. Olympian Vincent Zhou sat in the middle – in the lead halfway through the event – with Japan’s Shoma Uno to his left and fellow American Jimmy Ma on his right.

Nathan Chen was nowhere to be found.

It was the first time since the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics that Chen was not in the top three following either the short program or free skate at an individual figure skating competition he’s entered.

The three-time reigning world champion is in fourth going into Saturday’s free skate.

His score of 82.89 points is 1.63 out of podium position and a far – but reachable for him – 14.54 from first.

“Of course I’m worried,” Chen said. “I’m human, I feel fear. I get anxious before events, but that’s normal. So far, fortunately, I’ve had enough experience dealing with that. Clearly it didn’t show today, and I think I have a lot to learn from this experience. I really enjoy what I do, so I think that overpowers everything.”

The 22-year-old fell on his opening quadruple lutz and stepped out on a quad flip that was intended to be a quad flip-triple toe loop combination.

The mistakes leave his undefeated streak that dates back to March 2018 – 13 in-person individual competitions – in jeopardy.

“I have a lot of events going forward this season,” Chen said of his short program to Benjamin Clementine‘s “Eternity” and “Nemesis.” “It’s not like this is the one opportunity I have to perform the short program, so I’ll prepare literally as much as I can and go forward.

“I’m human, I make mistakes and unfortunately it happened today. It happens; just learn from it, grow from it.”

Including the 13 aforementioned events, this is just the third time Chen is not leading after the short. He was third at the 2018 France Grand Prix and the 2021 World Championships.

Zhou, meanwhile, is having to get used to the spotlight.

“It’s pretty unexpected that I’m sitting in the middle,” he said to open the press conference. “I’m going to take this into tomorrow and move forward.”

Zhou’s score of 97.43 points included an opening quad lutz-triple toe loop combination, followed by a quad salchow in his performance to Josh Groban‘s “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” program, which he held on to from last season.

“I think I did a good job tonight performing the program and showing some of the great things we’ve been doing in training,” he said. “I can skate even better and I’ve been competing pretty consistently this season, so this is just another building block.”

Zhou won his two early season events – the Cranberry Cup International and Nebelhorn Trophy, his first Challenger Series victory, quickly redeeming himself from how he ended last season.

The 2019 world bronze medalist, who will turn 21 on Monday, placed 25th in Stockholm and was one spot out of even qualifying for the free skate.

At Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, in early September, Zhou’s win helped ensure the U.S. will send three men to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in February.

Uno, who won the silver medal at the last Olympics, is on track to earn his first Grand Prix medal in three years. He had medaled at all of his Grand Prix assignments for four years in a row – plus the Grand Prix Final each of those seasons – before struggling in 2019 and placing eighth in France and fourth in Russia.

His short, which scored 89.07, started with a double flip instead of a quad.

Aside from Chen, Ma’s performance and score of 84.52 was one of the biggest surprises of the night.

The 26-year-old was at Skate America in both 2018 and 2020, his only two career Grand Prix assignments, and placed 12th and 10th.

“I definitely was not expecting to be up here tonight,” Ma said. “My main goal in this competition was to leave my heart out there. I didn’t want to have any regrets. … It’s great to be up here.”

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Coco Gauff rallies past 16-year-old at French Open

Coco Gauff French Open

Coco Gauff rallied to defeat 16-year-old Russian Mirra Andreeva in the French Open third round in Gauff’s first Grand Slam singles match against a younger opponent.

The sixth seed Gauff, the 2022 French Open runner-up, outlasted Andreeva 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-1 to reach the fourth round, where she will play Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova or American Kayla Day.

“She’s super young, so she has a lot to look forward to,” Gauff, 19, said on Tennis Channel. “I’m sure we’re going to have many more battles in the future. … I remember when I was 16. I didn’t care who I was playing against, and she has that kind of game and mentality, too.”

Gauff could play top seed and defending champ Iga Swiatek in the quarterfinals. Swiatek on Saturday thumped 80th-ranked Wang Xinyu of China 6-0, 6-0, winning 50 of the 67 points in a 51-minute match.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

This week, Andreeva became the youngest player to win a French Open main draw match since 2005 (when 15-year-old Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria made the quarterfinals). She was bidding to become the youngest to make the last 16 of any major since Gauff’s breakout as a 15-year-old.

The American made it that far at 2019 Wimbledon (beating Venus Williams in her Grand Slam main draw debut) and the 2020 Australian Open (beating defending champion Naomi Osaka) before turning 16. At last year’s French Open, Gauff became the youngest player to make a Grand Slam final since Maria Sharapova won 2004 Wimbledon at 17.

This was only Gauff’s third match against a younger player dating to her tour debut in 2019. It took Gauff 50 Grand Slam matches to finally face a younger player on this stage, a testament to how ahead of the curve she was (and still is).

While Gauff is the only teenager ranked in the top 49 in the world, Andreeva is the highest-ranked player under the age of 18 at No. 143 (and around No. 100 after the French). And she doesn’t turn 17 until next April. Andreeva dropped just six games in her first two matches at this French Open, fewest of any woman.

Gauff is the last seeded American woman left in the draw after No. 3 Jessica Pegula, No. 20 Madison Keys and No. 32 Shelby Rogers previously lost.

The last U.S. woman to win a major title was Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major span without an American champ is the longest for U.S. women since Monica Seles won the 1996 Australian Open.

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Rafael Nadal expected to miss rest of 2023 season after surgery

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal is expected to need five months to recover from arthroscopic surgery for a left hip flexor injury that kept him out of the French Open, effectively ruling him out for the rest of 2023 ATP tournament season.

Nadal underwent the surgery Friday night in Barcelona on the eve of his 37th birthday. He posted that, if all goes well, the recovery time is five months.

The timetable leaves open the possibility that Nadal could return for the Nov. 21-26 Davis Cup Finals team event in Malaga, Spain, which take place after the ATP Tour tournament season ends.

Nadal announced on May 18 that he had to withdraw from the French Open, a tournament he won a record 14 times, due to the injury that’s sidelined him since January’s Australian Open.

Nadal also said he will likely retire from professional tennis in the second half of 2024 after a farewell season that he hopes includes playing at Roland Garros twice — for the French Open and then the Paris Olympics.

When Nadal returns to competition, he will be older than any previous Grand Slam singles champion in the Open Era.

Nadal is tied with Novak Djokovic for the men’s record 23 Grand Slam singles titles.

While Nadal needs to be one of the four-highest ranked Spanish men after next year’s French Open for direct Olympic qualification in singles, he can, essentially, temporarily freeze his ranking in the top 20 under injury protection rules.

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