Mikaela Shiffrin can finish a season of challenges as the world’s best Alpine skier

Mikaela Shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin reached the last stop of a challenging season — physically, emotionally and not just on the Olympic stage — with a chance to finish it by lifting a 20-pound crystal globe trophy that goes to the world’s best overall ski racer.

“The energy is for sure low now,” Shiffrin said in Are, Sweden, last weekend, while noting her skiing was “feeling pretty on point” after third- and ninth-place World Cup finishes. “It’s pretty typical once the season goes on. Towards the end you start to feel that a little bit.”

Shiffrin has a not-so-comfortable-but-significant 56-point lead over Slovakian rival Petra Vlhova in the standings for the World Cup overall title, the most prestigious annual prize in Alpine skiing.

There are four races left in the 37-race season that began in October. One each in downhill, super-G, slalom and giant slalom. They are Wednesday through Sunday at the World Cup Finals in Courchevel and Meribel in France. A broadcast schedule is here.

The World Cup points system works like this: 100 points to a race winner, 80 points to second place, 60 points to third, 50 points to fourth and on down a descending scale through the 15th skier at finals. At non-finals races, it goes through the 30th finisher.

The overall title goes to the skier who accumulates the most points across all races.

So the head-to-head between Shiffrin, looking to tie Lindsey Vonn with a fourth overall title, and Vlhova, who last year became the first Slovakian to lift the big globe, could come down to the 37th and last race this season, the giant slalom on Sunday.

It’s a new experience for Shiffrin. She clinched her three previous overall titles before those seasons’ finals. The last was in 2019, when she won 17 times in arguably the greatest season in history. Her life challenges since that high have been well-documented.

It’s tempting to connect the World Cup to the most recent adversity at the Olympics, to wonder if that 20-pound trophy could at all mitigate leaving China without a medal.

“I think you can’t take the sting out of that experience in China,” Mike Day, one of Shiffrin’s coaches, said from France on Monday. “[The overall title] would have meaning, but, ultimately, I think the experience in China’s something that will be long lasting, and this is something separate from that.”

Shiffrin began the season peppered with questions about potentially racing all five individual events at the Olympics. One wondered what was possible after she won four medals in four events at the February 2021 World Championships on a lack of training in speed events.

Then, on Oct. 23, she won the season-opening race outright for the first time in her career — World Cup victory No. 70. Two days later came the first significant obstacle of the campaign, a severe, spasm-like back injury that curtailed a planned two-week training block in her native Colorado.

The previous season, separate acute back tightness affected her for two months and led her to say, at age 25, it was the first injury that posed some threat to her ski racing career.

As she did in 2020-21, Shiffrin recovered and returned to winning races. She actually had the most consistent start to a season of her career, finishing first or second in all six slaloms or giant slaloms heading into Christmas, plus a pair of third-place finishes in super-Gs.

Then she announced Dec. 27 that she tested positive for the coronavirus with mild symptoms. Shiffrin went more than a week without skiing, missing a GS and slalom that could prove significant in the overall race by this week’s end.

What little exercise she could do while quarantined in an Austrian hotel room was limited to things like bed frame pull-ups.

Again, Shiffrin climbed back on the top podium step, winning the last World Cup slalom before the Olympics.

At the Olympics, her best finish in five individual races was ninth. Since, she placed second, fourth, third and ninth between two World Cup stops, breaking her tie with Vlhova in the overall standings. Though Vlhova gained 61 points back over the most recent two races.

Day said Shiffrin’s team had very little focus on the overall title chase this season. His first time encountering it after the Olympics wasn’t in conversation with Shiffrin, but reading about it in the press.

Shiffrin has long emphasized the day-to-day training, the fight and not the results. Day echoed that. He called this the most difficult full season her career, not counting the abbreviated 2019-20 campaign, when she took a break after her father’s death that Feb. 2.

“It’s not necessarily the 17-win seasons that ultimately define you,” Day said, noting Shiffrin’s record-breaking 2018-19, the last time she was crowned the world’s best skier. “It’s the ones that you really have to claw and fight.”

Yet he did not deny that what happens this week will have an impact on how team Shiffrin looks back on an unforgettable 2021-22.

“I think you probably need to ask me about that six days from now,” he said.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

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.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2023 French Open women’s singles draw, scores

1 Comment

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

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

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