Australian Open: Rafael Nadal rolls, Coco Gauff to play Emma Raducanu

Rafael Nadal Australian Open
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Rafael Nadal outlasted a man 15 years his junior on the Australian Open’s first day, while Coco Gauff and Emma Raducanu set up a second-round showdown.

The defending champion Nadal, who was 1-6 in his last seven matches, beat 38th-ranked Brit Jack Draper 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1. Draper, 21, cramped considerably in the fourth set as Nadal advanced to play 65th-ranked American Mackenzie McDonald.

“I need a victory, so that’s the main thing,” said Nadal, who had more unforced errors (46) than winners (41). “Doesn’t matter the way.

“I am not playing bad, you know? Just need to hold the positive level for longer time. I am in a moment that I am more up and down.”

Jessica Pegula and Gauff breezed through their first-round matches, beginning what each hopes is a run to end the longest Grand Slam singles title drought for the U.S. in more than 50 years.

Pegula, the third seed, ousted 161st-ranked Romanian Jaqueline Cristian 6-0, 6-1 in 59 minutes on the first day of play in Melbourne. She next plays 38th-ranked Belarusian veteran Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

Gauff, the seventh seed, dumped 46th-ranked Czech Katerina Siniakova 6-1, 6-4 on her seventh match point. She gets 2021 U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu of Great Britain in a blockbuster second-round match.

The 77th-ranked Raducanu didn’t make it past the second round of a major in 2022 after her breakthrough run through qualifying to win the U.S. Open without dropping a set at age 18. She withdrew from her first tournament this year with an ankle injury 10 days ago but rebounded to sweep 76th-ranked German Tamara Korpatsch 6-3, 6-2 in the first round in Melbourne.

The first day’s other headline: Australia’s biggest star, Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios, withdrew on the eve of his opening match.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

It’s been three years and 10 Slams since an American man or woman won a major singles title (Sofia Kenin, 2020 Australian Open), the longest drought for the most successful nation in tennis history since Billie Jean King won her first Slam at Wimbledon in 1966.

Pegula and Gauff are the highest-ranked American singles players in either draw.

Pegula, the 28-year-old daughter of the Buffalo Bills owners, is at a career-high ranking after reaching the quarterfinals of three majors last year. She began the Australian Open as one of the top challengers to top-ranked Iga Świątek, having beaten the dominant Pole 6-2, 6-2 earlier this month.

“I don’t think I really am putting pressure on myself to duplicate [2022] because I think it was very special and something that probably won’t be duplicated,” Pegula said last week.

Gauff, who at 18 is the youngest player in the WTA top 50, won her Australian Open lead-in tournament last week without dropping a set. Like Pegula, she had her best season in 2022, taking runner-up to Świątek at the French Open and reaching No. 4 in the world.

“I’m ready to leave behind the tag of ‘teenage phenomenon,'” Gauff wrote for the BBC before the tournament. “My main ambition for 2023 is winning a Grand Slam title.”

No. 28 Amanda Anisimova, one of five American women seeds, was the first seed to fall. The 61st-ranked Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk took her out 6-3, 6-4.

Świątek began her bid for her fourth Grand Slam singles title by sweeping 69th-ranked German Jule Niemeier 6-4, 7-5. Niemeier was dangerous, having made the Wimbledon quarterfinals and taken a set off Świątek in the fourth round of the U.S. Open.

Novak Djokovic, the record nine-time Australian Open champion looking to tie Nadal’s men’s record 22 major titles, plays his first-round match Tuesday against 75th-ranked Spanish veteran Roberto Carballés Baena.

This is the first major since the retirements of Serena Williams and Roger Federer last September. The tournament is also missing top-ranked 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz of Spain (injury), four-time major champion Naomi Osaka (pregnancy) and seven-time major champion Venus Williams (injury).

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Scotty James wins fifth X Games snowboard halfpipe title

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Scotty James doesn’t have Olympic gold, but he remains king of the X Games halfpipe.

James, the Australian snowboarder who took bronze and silver at the last two Olympics, earned his fifth Aspen gold, repeating as champ of the biggest annual contest under falling snow in the Colorado Rockies. Only the retired Shaun White has more X Games men’s snowboard halfpipe titles with eight.

Nobody on Friday night attempted a triple cork, which was first done in competition by Japan’s Ayumu Hirano last season en route to the Olympic title. Hirano placed sixth Friday.

“It was a tough night, pretty interesting conditions,” James said. “Had to adjust the game plan. The show goes on.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression over the course of a three-run jam session for the entire field rather than scoring individual runs.

Earlier, Olympic gold medalist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott of New Zealand repeated as women’s snowboard slopestyle champion, passing Olympic bronze medalist Tess Coady of Australia on the final run of the competition. Sadowski-Synnott, the only snowboarder or skier to win Olympic, world and X Games slopestyle titles, capped her finale with back-to-back 900s.

The competition lacked 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion Jamie Anderson, who announced her pregnancy last month.

Canada’s Megan Oldham landed the first triple cork in women’s ski big air competition history to beat Olympic silver medalist Tess Ledeux of France, according to commentators. Oldham, a 21-year-old ex-gymnast, was fourth at the Olympics.

Eileen Gu, the Olympic champion from China, did not compete but is entered in halfpipe and slopestyle later this weekend.

ON HER TURF: U.S. freeskier Maggie Voisin on grief, loss, finding motivation

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Isabeau Levito wins U.S. figure skating title at age 15, followed by comeback stories

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Isabeau Levito won her first U.S. figure skating title at age 15, cementing her status as the new leading American woman to open the new Olympic cycle.

Levito, the world junior champion, tallied 223.33 points between two strong programs in San Jose, California. She distanced two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell, who went 19 months between competitions due to foot and ankle injuries in 2021 and 2022 and scored 213.12.

Tennell was just two hundredths behind Levito after Thursday’s short but had multiple jumping errors in the free skate.

Levito followed her as last to go in the free and nailed the most pressure-packed performance of her young career, including the hardest jump combination done of the entire field. She didn’t receive a single negative mark from a judge for her 19 technical elements in her two programs.

Moments later, she was in tears backstage.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

“I was just so proud of myself for staying so calm and staying so focused, doing exactly what I aimed to do,” Levito, who hasn’t finished off the podium in more than 20 events dating to November 2016, said on NBC. “I’m ready to start bouncing off the walls.”

Amber Glenn, 23, placed third and will likely become the oldest U.S. women’s singles skater to make her world championships debut in at least 45 years. Glenn botched her 11th attempt to join the list of U.S. women to land a clean triple Axel (tally according to Skatingscores.com) but still moved up from fourth after the short program, passing Starr Andrews.

Last year, Glenn entered nationals as the fourth-ranked U.S. woman and a hopeful for the three-woman Olympic team. She placed 14th in the short program, competing unknowingly with COVID-19, then tested positive and withdrew before the free skate.

In 2021, Glenn was the U.S. silver medalist, yet passed over for a spot on the two-woman world team in favor of the more experienced Karen Chen, who finished 35 hundredths behind Glenn at those nationals.

Levito, Tennell and Glenn are expected to make up the team for March’s world championships, decided by a committee.

Gracie Gold, a two-time U.S. champion who was fifth after the short program, popped a pair of planned triple Lutzes and dropped to eighth.

None of the three 2022 U.S. Olympians competed. Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell retired. Chen is a student at Cornell and might not return.

Nationals continue Saturday with the free dance and pairs’ free skate, live on NBC Sports and Peacock.

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