Rafael Nadal wins 14th French Open title, needs ‘solution’ to keep playing

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Rafael Nadal won a record-extending 14th French Open title and 22nd Grand Slam men’s singles title, sweeping Norwegian Casper Ruud in what may have been his last time playing the tournament.

Nadal beat Ruud 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 in what he cautioned in the week leading up may have been his final French Open after being set back by congenital, degenerative foot pain over the last year. Nadal authored the second-biggest blowout of his 30 Grand Slam singles finals to become the oldest champion in Roland Garros history.

“For me, personally, very difficult to describe the feelings that I have,” Nadal said in his victory speech. “It’s something that I for sure never believed, be here at 36, being competitive again, playing in the most important court of my career one more time in a final means a lot.

“I don’t know what can happen in the future, but I’m going to keep fighting to try to keep going.”

Nadal broke fellow Spaniard Andres Gimeno‘s record as the oldest French Open singles champion, doing so on the 17th anniversary of his first title in Paris. Chris Evert, the second-most successful French Open champion in the Open Era, won it seven times.

“Much more, probably, emotional than the first time because completely unexpected to be where I am at this age, at this stage of my career,” said Nadal, who due to the foot limped and grimaced at the end of his last match before the French Open on May 12. “I have been going through tough times the last couple of months.”

Asked directly if there’s a chance he plays another French Open, Nadal said he didn’t know.

“Of course, I would love to keep coming, but at the same time we need to find a solution for that because I can’t keep going the way that I am doing,” he said on NBC.

Nadal said he played with no feeling in his left foot — “the foot was asleep, so that’s why I was able to play,” he said on Eurosport — after receiving two injections before each of his seven matches the last two weeks.

In a French TV interview, Nadal said that he couldn’t walk after his second-round match, according to a translation by French journalist Caroline Bouchard.

“It’s obvious that I can’t keep competing with the foot asleep,” Nadal said in a later press conference. “It’s a risk that I wanted to take to play here. It’s not a risk that I want to keep taking to keep going on my future.”

He said that over the next week, his medical team will experiment with a treatment to alleviate the foot problem permanently.

“If that works, I’m going to keep going,” Nadal said. “If that not works, then going to be another story.”

He will play Wimbledon, which starts in three weeks, “if my body is ready” and if he can do it without taking the pain-killing injections.

Nadal moved two major titles ahead of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer for the most in men’s singles history. While Federer, at 40, hasn’t played in nearly a year, Djokovic has a chance to pass Nadal but would need to win majors at least into 2023. Djokovic is one year younger than Nadal.

The foot pain caused Nadal to have retirement thoughts last year, when he ended his season early before the U.S. Open. Then he won the Australian Open in what he called the most unexpected achievement of his career. Now, he’s won the first two majors of the year for the first time.

“It’s completely amazing the things that are happening this year,” Nadal said Sunday.

Nadal now has as many French Open titles as Pete Sampras has total majors. Sampras held the men’s majors record until 2009.

Nadal’s march through the tournament may have been his most arduous. He beat four top-10 seeds en route to a major title for the first time in his career, including a five-set fourth-round match and a quarterfinal with top-ranked Djokovic.

Ruud, a 23-year-old who idolizes Nadal, is the first Norwegian man to make it past the fourth round of a major.

“Today I got to feel how it is to play against you in a final,” Ruud said in his runner-up speech. “It’s not easy. I’m not the first victim.”

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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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