Madison Chock, Evan Bates win ice dance at figure skating nationals; Olympic medal next?

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Skate America
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Finally, it is Madison Chock and Evan Bates‘ turn to go into the Olympics with the most respected title in U.S. figure skating these days: ice dance national champions.

Chock and Bates bettered training partners Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue over two programs, totaling 227.37 points in Nashville. They prevailed by 1.78 over Hubbell and Donohue to win their third national title together.

Each of the last eight U.S. dance titles has been decided by five or fewer points. Before that, Meryl Davis and Charlie White won four consecutive dance titles by 10 or more points.

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who train with Chock and Bates and Hubbell and Donohue in Montreal, finished third to likely grab the third and final U.S. Olympic ice dance spot. A selection committee will make it official later Saturday night.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | Full Results

Bates will become the first U.S. figure skater to compete in four Olympics. He, perhaps better than anyone, knows the importance of going into the Games as the leading American couple.

In the last four Olympics, the U.S. won a total of six figure skating medals (not counting team event). Four of those six medals came in ice dance, but the U.S. has never put multiple dance couples on one Olympic podium.

That likely won’t change in Beijing.

The Olympic favorites are French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, the 2018 silver medalists who have lost once in this Olympic cycle. (The 2018 gold medalists, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, retired after PyeongChang.)

Russians Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov are the reigning world champions, and beat Papadakis and Cizeron in their last head-to-head at the January 2020 European Championships.

Last month, NBC Sports analyst Tanith White, a 2006 Olympic silver medalist, tiered several couples with the Russians, including both Chock and Bates and Hubbell and Donohue. Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, the world bronze medalists, rank third in the world this season, but the American couples are within one and a half points of them.

It’s close, reputation matters in figure skating — especially dance — and Chock and Bates have momentum.

They partnered in 2011 and had to wait their turn behind Davis and Charlie White, who retired after winning the 2014 Olympics. Chock and Bates ascended to the top U.S. dance couple in 2015, winning gold at nationals and silver at the world championships.

But by the end of the 2018 Olympic cycle, they fell to third in the nation and ninth at the Olympics. They persevered, won their first national title in five years in 2020 and were fourth at last season’s worlds, one spot behind Hubbell and Donohue, who plan to retire after this season.

Now Chock and Bates have the kind of confidence they did seven years ago, but this time it’s at the end of an Olympic cycle rather than at the beginning.

“Now I feel like the momentum is good for us,” Bates said.

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Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz exit French Open, leaving no U.S. men

Frances Tiafoe French Open

Frances Tiafoe kept coming oh so close to extending his French Open match against Alexander Zverev: 12 times Saturday night, the American was two points from forcing things to a fifth set.

Yet the 12th-seeded Tiafoe never got closer than that.

Instead, the 22nd-seeded Zverev finished out his 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1, 7-6 (5) victory after more than 3 1/2 hours in Court Philippe Chatrier to reach the fourth round. With Tiafoe’s exit, none of the 16 men from the United States who were in the bracket at the start of the tournament are still in the field.

“I mean, for the majority of the match, I felt like I was in control,” said Tiafoe, a 25-year-old from Maryland who fell to 1-7 against Zverev.

“It’s just tough,” he said about a half-hour after his loss ended, rubbing his face with his hand. “I should be playing the fifth right now.”

Two other American men lost earlier Saturday: No. 9 seed Taylor Fritz and unseeded Marcos Giron.

No. 23 Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina beat Fritz 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5, and Nicolas Jarry of Chile eliminated Giron 6-2, 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-3.

There are three U.S women remaining: No. 6 Coco Gauff, Sloane Stephens and Bernarda Pera.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

It is the second year in a row that zero men from the United States will participate in the fourth round at Roland Garros. If nothing else, it stands as a symbolic step back for the group after what seemed to be a couple of breakthrough showings at the past two majors.

For Tiafoe, getting to the fourth round is never the goal.

“I want to win the trophy,” he said.

Remember: No American man has won any Grand Slam title since Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open. The French Open has been the least successful major in that stretch with no U.S. men reaching the quarterfinals since Andre Agassi in 2003.

But Tiafoe beat Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the U.S. Open along the way to getting to the semifinals there last September, the first time in 16 years the host nation had a representative in the men’s final four at Flushing Meadows.

Then, at the Australian Open this January, Tommy Paul, Sebastian Korda and Ben Shelton became the first trio of Americans in the men’s quarterfinals in Melbourne since 2000. Paul made it a step beyond that, to the semifinals.

After that came this benchmark: 10 Americans were ranked in the ATP’s Top 50, something that last happened in June 1995.

On Saturday, after putting aside a whiffed over-the-shoulder volley — he leaned atop the net for a moment in disbelief — Tiafoe served for the fourth set at 5-3, but couldn’t seal the deal.

In that game, and the next, and later on, too, including at 5-all in the tiebreaker, he would come within two points of owning that set.

Each time, Zverev claimed the very next point. When Tiafoe sent a forehand wide to end it, Zverev let out two big yells. Then the two, who have been pals for about 15 years, met for a warm embrace at the net, and Zverev placed his hand atop Tiafoe’s head.

“He’s one of my best friends on tour,” said Zverev, a German who twice has reached the semifinals on the red clay of Paris, “but on the court, I’m trying to win.”

At the 2022 French Open, Zverev tore ligaments in his right ankle while playing Nadal in the semifinals and had to stop.

“It’s been definitely the hardest year of my life, that’s for sure,” Zverev said. “I love tennis more than anything in the world.”

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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, is her top remaining challenger in Paris.

No. 3 Jessica Pegula, the highest-seeded American man or woman, was eliminated in the third round. No. 4 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, who has three wins over Swiatek this year, withdrew before her third-round match due to illness.

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

French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw