Daisuke Takahashi’s unprecedented figure skating mission now looks very possible

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - NHK Trophy
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Eleven years ago, Daisuke Takahashi became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic medal and a world championship in singles figure skating. Two days ago — after a retirement, a comeback and switching disciplines and transforming his body — Takahashi and his partner in ice dance, Kana Muramoto, posted a record-breaking score for a Japanese couple.

This winter, Takahashi can become the first figure skater to compete in the Olympics in their career in both singles and ice dance as medal sports, according to Olympedia.org.

He and Muramoto are expected to go to the national championships in Saitama next month to vie for the nation’s one Olympic ice dancing spot. They may well enter as the favorites given they just outscored the three-time reigning Japanese champions at NHK Trophy in Tokyo over the weekend.

It will cap an incredible journey if they make it all the way to Beijing. During the pandemic alone, Takahashi went from zero competitive ice dance experience (and little training with Muramoto) to best in his nation.

Nearly 36, he would be the second-oldest Olympic ice dancer in history after British legend Jayne Torvill, who came back with partner Christopher Dean in 1994. He would be the second-oldest figure skater in any discipline in the last 25 years (after 2010 Chinese pairs’ gold medalist Zhao Hongbo), according to Olympedia.

“This may be pretty unprecedented,” NBC Sports analyst Tanith White, who first marveled at Takahashi’s dance skills in 2016, when he was part of an off-ice show called “Love on the Floor,” created by “Dancing with the Stars” pro Cheryl Burke, said last year before Takahashi and Muramoto’s debut. “Having said that, I think that Daisuke, he is one of the most naturally gifted skaters I have ever seen.”

At NHK Trophy last weekend, Takahashi and Muramoto totaled 179.50 points, a Japanese record in international competition and 22.25 points more than they scored at the same competition a year ago (their first as a couple).

The 179.50 would have placed 15th at last season’s world championships (Japan, a singles powerhouse, has never put an ice dance couple in the top 10 of an Olympics). More importantly, it was 7.3 points more than national champions Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto scored between Friday’s rhythm dance and Saturday’s short dance at NHK.

Komatsubara said afterward that she had an elbow tendon injury that would be examined this week after flying to North America. Their training base is Montreal.

Takahashi and Muramoto have the momentum.

“Compared to NHK Trophy last season, there were no major mistakes, and we were able to put on the performance we were practicing for,” Muramoto said after Saturday’s free dance, according to a translator.

Their coach, renowned ice dance mind Marina Zoueva, said last year that she gave Takahashi the nickname of Zeus, “because when he’s on ice, he’s just flying around.”

“Daisuke is like a dream ice dance partner,” Zoueva said in 2020 of learning that he was the 2018 Olympian Muramoto’s new partner. “He’s so fast, so edgy, so light, like a bird on ice.”

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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).

All of the American men lost before the fourth round. The last U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals was Andre Agassi in 2003.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Men’s Singles Draw

French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw

Coco Gauff, Iga Swiatek set French Open rematch

Coco Gauff French Open

Coco Gauff swept into the French Open quarterfinals, where she plays Iga Swiatek in a rematch of last year’s final.

Gauff, the sixth seed, beat 100th-ranked Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 7-5, 6-2 in the fourth round. She next plays the top seed Swiatek, who later Monday advanced after 66th-ranked Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko retired down 5-1 after taking a medical timeout due to illness.

Gauff earned a 37th consecutive win over a player ranked outside the top 50, dating to February 2022. She hasn’t faced a player in the world top 60 in four matches at Roland Garros, but the degree of difficulty ratchets up in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.

Swiatek won all 12 sets she’s played against Gauff, who at 19 is the only teenager in the top 49 in the world. Gauff said last week that there’s no point in revisiting last year’s final — a 6-1, 6-3 affair — but said Monday that she should rewatch that match because they haven’t met on clay since.

“I don’t want to make the final my biggest accomplishment,” she said. “Since last year I have been wanting to play her, especially at this tournament. I figured that it was going to happen, because I figured I was going to do well, and she was going to do well.

“The way my career has gone so far, if I see a level, and if I’m not quite there at that level, I know I have to improve, and I feel like you don’t really know what you have to improve on until you see that level.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Also Monday, No. 7 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia dispatched 36th-ranked American Bernarda Pera 6-3, 6-1, breaking all eight of Pera’s service games.

Jabeur, runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, has now reached the quarterfinals of all four majors.

Jabeur next faces 14th-seeded Beatriz Haddad Maia, who won 6-7 (3), 6-3, 7-5 over Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo, who played on a protected ranking of 68. Haddad Maia became the second Brazilian woman to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal in the Open Era (since 1968) after Maria Bueno, who won seven majors from 1959-1966.

Pera, a 28 year-old born in Croatia, was the oldest U.S. singles player to make the fourth round of a major for the first time since Jill Craybas at 2005 Wimbledon. Her defeat left Gauff as the lone American singles player remaining out of the 35 entered in the main draws.

The last American to win a major singles title was Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major drought matches the longest in history (since 1877) for American men and women combined.

In the men’s draw, 2022 French Open runner-up Casper Ruud reached the quarterfinals by beating 35th-ranked Chilean Nicolas Jarry 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-5. He’ll next play sixth seed Holger Rune of Denmark, a 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (7) winner over 23rd seed Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina.

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