Will Ilia Malinin bring his quadruple Axel to Skate America?


It was early last spring that Rafael Arutyunyan, the longtime coach of Nathan Chen, met with Roman Skorniakov, who mentioned that his son, 17-year-old American Ilia Malinin, wanted to land a quadruple Axel, the lone four-revolution jump yet to be done cleanly by any figure skater in competition.

The 65-year-old Arutyunyan, who has worked with Malinin part-time, assured Skorniakov, a 1998 and 2002 Olympic skater for Uzbekistan, that Malinin’s triple Axel was so refined that he would eventually get that quad.

You think so? Skorniakov asked. I know so, Arutyunyan replied.

About a month later, Skorniakov relayed that Malinin had done it. The world found out in May, when U.S. Figure Skating posted video of him hitting the Axel at a camp.

Malinin officially went into the history books when he attempted it in competition for the first time last month, nailing it at his season debut in a lower-level event.

Even before that, Malinin was already the new leading man in U.S. figure skating, given the Olympic champion Chen and teammates Vincent Zhou and Jason Brown are on indefinite, perhaps permanent, breaks from competing.

Now, Malinin is the most talked-about active skater across all four disciplines heading into this weekend’s Skate America, the first top-level event of the season. He is favored to become the youngest man to win the annual competition that started in 1979.

SKATE AMERICA: Broadcast Schedule

“All the eyes being on me, it is putting a lot of pressure,” Malinin, who splits his days between Marshall High School and the SkateQuest rink in Virginia, said last Saturday.

Malinin said he didn’t know yet if he will attempt the quad Axel at Skate America. He is focused on “clean and consistent” programs with a “basic layout,” which includes four other quads in his free skate.

“If I keep putting it in [programs] this season, I think that, over time, it will become pretty consistent; especially if they were to raise the base value, then I feel like there’d be a reason to try and practice it a lot,” Malinin said, referencing the points assigned to a quad Axel by the International Skating Union (12.5, one more point than the next-highest jump, the quad Lutz). “But as of right now, I think we’re not really so sure what to do with it. For now, I think it’s more of practice, instead of like actually trying to put it into the program for value. In future years, when the base value is higher, it will be a lot more reasonable to put it in.”

He didn’t even mention the quad Axel, or any jump, when asked his goals for the season.

“Improve choreography and component score because in the past it’s not been the best,” he said.

Whether fully deserved or not, young jumping phenoms are often dinged in the component — or artistic — scores that can make up half of a skater’s total score. Chen experienced this as a teen, improved on his skating skills and music interpretation, and brought those marks up.

Malinin sees his style as a mix between Chen and his childhood idol, 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, with a little bit of his own taste splashed in. He’s sifting that last part, spending up to 90 minutes of his four-to-five-hour days on the ice on footwork and running through programs without jumps and spins.

Asked how much he travels across the country to see the jumping master Arutyunyan in California, Malinin noted he’ll primarily go out there to work on choreography with renowned Canadian Shae-Lynn Bourne. She also collaborated with Chen.

“I’m sort of in the process of finding my own style,” he said.

He is clearly confident in the jumps. Malinin started believing he could land the quad Axel last season, when skaters including Hanyu were attempting it (but not landing it clean in competition).

“At first it was kind of a joke,” to try it, he said. Malinin began by perfecting his triple Axel, then started practicing the quads in a pole harness (aiding in technique and preventing falls and injury).

“Eventually, it led to me trying a lot of attempts,” he said. “And then I landed it.”

He’s already thinking about an unprecedented quintuple jump. He would like to land one in practice by the end of this season.

“I truly believe this guy can make it happen,” Arutyunyan said.

The question is whether Malinin can do it on the biggest stages in the sport. And not just the jumps, but the whole package.

In January, when the spotlight was on Chen, he broke through with a runner-up in his senior U.S. Championships debut (and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his youth and lack of overall resume).

At his senior worlds debut in March, he placed ninth after a four-quad free skate that included a fall and two under-rotated jumps.

At the event last month where he hit the quad Axel in his free skate, he also fell twice on quads in his short program. That was in front of few fans in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Malinin was told that this week’s Skate America, the biggest annual international competition held in the U.S., sold out a 2,500-seat arena outside Boston.

“That gets me really excited, but also kind of nerve-racking to see that I’ll be performing in front of a lot of people,” he said. “That will be one thing to just start getting used to with other big competitions, because who knows, there might be a huge stadium full of people that I have to perform to.”

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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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