French Open: Carlos Alcaraz sweeps Sebastian Korda; Rafael Nadal vs. Uncle Toni

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PARIS — Carlos Alcaraz displayed deft drop shots and plenty of other skillful strokes to become the youngest man in the French Open’s fourth round since Novak Djokovic in 2006.

The 19-year-old Alcaraz advanced by beating 21-year-old American Sebastian Korda 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 under the lights at Court Philippe Chatrier on Friday night.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

This outcome reversed the result of a meeting between the two at the Monte Carlo Open last month, which Korda won to account for Alcaraz’s lone loss on red clay in 20 matches in 2022.

It also was a much smoother ride for Alcaraz than in the second round at Roland Garros on Wednesday. In that one, needed to save a match point before coming back to win in five sets against fellow Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

Alcaraz improved to 31-3 overall this year with a tour-leading four titles.

The tournament’s No. 6 seed will meet No. 21 Karen Khachanov on Sunday for a berth in the quarterfinals.

The 27th-seeded Korda’s father, Petr, was the runner-up at the 1992 French Open.

Also Friday, Rafael Nadal knew this was bound to happen. So, too, did his uncle, Toni Nadal, who coached Rafael to most of the nephew’s men’s-record 21 Grand Slam titles.

Also well aware this moment would come, of course, was Felix Auger-Aliassime, the promising player who brought aboard the man known to many simply as Uncle Toni for some extra assistance last year.

Once Toni and Rafael ended their professional partnership, and once Auger-Aliassime hired Toni to work in tandem with full-time coach Frederic Fontang, they all figured that somewhere, sometime, their paths would cross. Now it’ll happen in the French Open’s fourth round: Nadal vs. Auger-Aliassime. Which in some ways is also a matchup of Nadal vs. Nadal.

So, the 13-time champion at Roland Garros was asked, might there be some awkwardness there? Probably no way you’ll be chatting with your uncle ahead of Sunday’s meeting against the ninth-seeded Auger-Aliassime, a 21-year-old from Canada, right?

Nadal shook his head and said he already had spoken to Toni straight after beating 26th-seeded Botic Van De Zandschulp 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 on Friday.

“For me, it’s very simple. He’s my uncle. I don’t think he will be able to want me to lose, without a doubt, but he’s a professional and he’s with another player,” said the fifth-seeded Nadal, who has dealt with chronic foot pain and a rib injury this season but also won the Australian Open in January.

“It’s not a story at all for me. I know what the feelings are that we have between each other. I know he wants the best for me. Now he’s helping another player,” he said. “But honestly, for me, it’s zero problem.”

Auger-Aliassime, meanwhile, resolved one little bit of intrigue, saying that he expected Uncle Toni to sit in a neutral spot in the stands, rather than being forced to choose between one player’s guest box or the other.

As for what sort of insights Toni might reveal about his former player to his current one, Auger-Aliassime smiled. Not too many unknowns about Rafael at this point, not at age 35, not after so many years on tour.

“I know him. I’ve seen him play. I know what he does well. We all know,” said Auger-Aliassime, a 2021 U.S. Open semifinalist who advanced Friday by defeating Filip Krajinovic 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2), 7-5.

“But nobody — Toni, Fred or me — has the answers,” he said.

On the horizon is the prospect that if Nadal wins, he could find yet another familiar face in the stadium for the quarterfinals: defending champion Djokovic.

Both the top-seeded Djokovic, who beat Aljaz Bedene 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 on Friday and now takes on 15th-seeded Diego Schwartzman, and Nadal have won all nine sets they’ve played on the red clay of Paris so far. And both have ceded just 23 games total.

They have played each other 58 times already, more than any two other men in the Open era, and No. 59 might come next week. Asked earlier in the tournament about that “pretty good lefty in your quarter of the draw,” Djokovic played dumb and joked: “I don’t know who you are talking about.”

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Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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