Pairs’ champs Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier out of figure skating nationals due to COVID-19

ISU World Figure Skating Championships - Stockholm: Day Two
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Pairs’ national champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier withdrew from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships due to Frazier testing positive for COVID-19 with severe symptoms, it was announced the night before senior competition begins.

They are still eligible for Olympic team selection through a petition process.

“Although my symptoms are pretty bad, nothing sucks more than not being able to compete,” Frazier said in an Instagram video posted Wednesday night.

Frazier tested negative before arriving in Nashville on Monday for the competition, then started developing severe symptoms late Tuesday evening and got a test as a precaution. He was not required by event rules to be tested again until four days after his arrival.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS PREVIEWS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance | Broadcast Schedule

Frazier is vaccinated and boosted against the virus, Knierim said on social media.

“We have taken all the necessary precautions leading up to these Championships, including but not limited to social distancing, the use of KN95 masks and canceling all holiday gatherings as well as private lessons at the rink, so it has been shocking and devastating for us to process what has happened,” she wrote.

Knierim said Wednesday night that they will petition to a selection committee for one of two pairs’ spots on the Olympic team, which will be decided after Saturday’s free skate and announced Sunday morning. Skater(s) who successfully petition must be able to prove the ability to perform full competition programs by a specified date and be medically approved to compete at the Olympics.

“Brandon and I have accumulated an extremely strong body of work that positions us at the top of the field nationally and we are not letting go of our Olympic dream,” Knierim said. “That said, we have the utmost respect for the selection committee and believe that they will make decisions based on the best interest of our team and our country.”

Knierim and Frazier, the highest-ranking U.S. pair this season, did not take part in official pairs’ practice on Wednesday afternoon in Nashville after doing so on Tuesday, figure skating reporter Jackie Wong said.

Olympic figure skating competition starts Feb. 3 with the team event.

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships are not an Olympic Trials. The Olympic figure skating roster is determined by a selection committee taking into account results from last January’s nationals through this week’s nationals.

Knierim and Frazier, in addition to winning last season’s nationals, were the better of two U.S. pairs at March’s world championships (seventh place) and had the highest score for a U.S. pair in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Knierim and Frazier were expected to battle with three other top pairs for the two Olympic spots — Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDucJessica Calalang and Brian Johnson and Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov.

Knierim, who finished 15th at the 2018 Olympics with since-retired husband Chris, and Frazier partnered last year and quickly ascended to the top of U.S. pairs.

Knierim and Frazier’s spot at the top was under pressure this season: Cain-Gribble and LeDuc put up a score at their last Grand Prix event in November that’s .18 shy of Knierim and Frazier’s best this fall.

Then, in their last competition before nationals, Knierim and Frazier struggled in their free skate and were outscored by another U.S. pair for the first time (Lu and Mitrofanov) at a lower-level event in December.

U.S. pairs’ skating has been so volatile that Knierim could be the first pairs’ skater to make back-to-back Olympics in 20 years (Kyoko Ina, also with different partners). The last U.S. Olympic pairs’ medal came in 1988.

The last figure skater to successfully petition for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team after not competing at nationals was Michelle Kwan in 2006. Kwan ultimately withdrew after arriving for the Torino Games, but before competition, due to a groin injury and was replaced by Emily Hughes.

The last time the Olympic pairs’ roster did not mirror nationals results was 1998, when three-time U.S. champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand were named to the team after withdrawing before the free skate due to Meno’s ankle injury. Meno and Sand now coach Knierim and Frazier.

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report from Nashville.

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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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Jessica Pegula upset in French Open third round

Jessica Pegula French Open

Jessica Pegula, the highest-ranked American man or woman, was upset in the third round of the French Open.

Elise Mertens, the 28th seed from Belgium, bounced the third seed Pegula 6-1, 6-3 to reach the round of 16. Pegula, a 29-year-old at a career-high ranking, had lost in the quarterfinals of four of the previous five majors.

Down 4-3 in the second set, Pegula squandered three break points in a 14-minute game. Mertens then broke Pegula to close it out.

“I feel like I was still playing good points. Elise was just being really tough, not making a lot of errors and making me play every single ball. And with the windy conditions, I felt like it definitely played into her game,” Pegula said.

Pegula’s exit leaves No. 6 seed Coco Gauff, last year’s runner-up, as the last seeded hope to become the first U.S. woman to win a major title since 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.

Mertens, who lost in the third or fourth round of the last six French Opens, gets 96th-ranked Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the 2021 French Open runner-up, for a spot in the quarterfinals.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Also Friday, No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus won a third consecutive match in straight sets, then took questions from a selected group of reporters rather than conducting an open press conference. She cited mental health, two days after a tense back and forth with a journalist asking questions about the war, which she declined to answer.

“For many months now I have answered these questions at tournaments and been very clear in my feelings and my thoughts,” she said Friday. “These questions do not bother me after my matches. I know that I have to provide answers to the media on things not related to my tennis or my matches, but on Wednesday I did not feel safe in press conference.”

Sabalenka next plays American Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion now ranked 30th, who reached the fourth round with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 win over Kazakh Yulia Putintseva.

Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, the former world No. 3, is into the fourth round of her first major since October childbirth. She’ll play ninth-seeded Russian Daria Kasatkina.

Novak Djokovic continued his bid for a men’s record-breaking 23rd major title by dispatching No. 29 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-2. Djokovic’s fourth-round opponent will be No. 13 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland or 94th-ranked Peruvian Juan Pablo Varillas.

Later Friday, top seed Carlos Alcaraz faces 26th seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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