Japan wins first pairs’ title at figure skating worlds; Americans grab silver


Japan has 13 world figure skating championships gold medals from singles skaters. Now, it has its first gold medal from a pairs’ team.

Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara dethroned Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, who last year became the first Americans to win a pairs’ world title since 1979.

Miura and Kihara totaled 222.16 points between Wednesday’s short program and Thursday’s free skate on home ice in Saitama, holding off the Americans by 4.68. Miura fell on their throw triple loop in the free, but their 6.08-point cushion from the short was enough as the Americans also had jumping errors.

“I know it wasn’t our best free skate, but I told [Miura] we should be proud of ourselves,” Kihara said, according to the International Skating Union. “I told her to look up at the audience, look at how many people are cheering for us. I didn’t know how the result would turn out, but I told her let’s be proud of ourselves and go home with pride. Hearing the crowd for the other pairs, I knew they all skated well, so all three of us [including coach Bruno Marcotte] just prayed waiting for our score. I’m not sure why we got a personal best score.”

Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze for Italy’s first world pairs’ medal, denying fourth-place Canadians Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps.

Stellato-Dudek, 39, was trying to become the oldest world medalist in decades, after winning the 2000 World junior silver medal in singles and ending a 15-year retirement in 2016.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura, 21, and Kihara, 30, have trained in Ontario since teaming in 2019, just about the time that Kihara was ready to retire after two Olympics with other partners and a recent concussion. They ranked outside the top 20 pairs in the world that first season, but since set milestones for pairs in Japan, which has a rich figure skating history in singles events.

They placed 10th at the 2021 Worlds, then seventh at the February 2022 Olympics and took silver behind Knierim and Frazier at the March 2022 Worlds, which included none of the top teams from Russia (banned) and China (haven’t competed since the Olympics).

They went undefeated this season despite not returning to full training until mid-September after an offseason of skating shows and Miura’s shoulder injury.

Now, they join a list of world champions in one of Japan’s most popular sports that was previously all solo acts. It began with Midori Ito in 1989 and continued through 2006 Olympic champion Shizuka Arakawa, three-time world champion Mao Asada and two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

“With this result, it would be very much appreciated if new boys or girls would want to take on the challenge to start pairs,” Kihara said, according to the ISU. “I hope more pair skaters will increase, and in 10 or 20 years, people will look back to this day and say this day was the turning point for the Japanese pair discipline.”

Knierim, 31, and Frazier, 30, have said they will likely retire after this season, though they also thought they would stop after last season. They competed this week without Todd Sand, one of their primary coaches, who has been hospitalized after a March 2 heart attack.

“This whole week, this whole time, this program, it was all for our coach — and that’s what our hearts are,” Knierim said, according to the ISU. “[I felt] fulfillment because I gave it everything I could and, for me, that’s always enough when you know that you’ve exhausted all of yourself to make the best opportunity.

“I was very proud of us. We never dreamed that we would have two world medals, and for us this is an achievement, and the color is beautiful.”

If Knierim and Frazier retire, it’s clear that Emily Chan and Spencer Howe will become the leading U.S. pair. They finished fifth in their worlds debut.

Worlds continue Thursday night (U.S. time) with the rhythm dance, followed Friday morning with the women’s free skate, live on Peacock and USA Network.

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Iga Swiatek wins third French Open title, fourth Grand Slam, but this final was not easy


Iga Swiatek won her third French Open title and her fourth Grand Slam overall, pushed to a third set in a major final for the first time.

Swiatek, a 22-year-old Pole, outlasted unseeded Czech Karolina Muchova 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 on Saturday at Roland Garros. Muchova tested Swiatek, the only singles player in the Open Era to win their first seven major final sets. She became the first player to take a set off Swiatek in the tournament.

Swiatek looked en route to another major final sweep, up 3-0 in the second set. She then committed 11 unforced errors (versus four winners) over the rest of the set as Muchova rallied back (with 10 winners versus 11 unforced errors).

Muchova then won the first eight points of the third set. Swiatek, under the most pressure of her career on the sport’s biggest stages, passed the test. The players exchanged breaks of serve, and Muchova had another break point for a chance to serve for the championship, but Swiatek fended her off.

“After so many ups and downs, I kind of stopped thinking about the score,” Swiatek said. “I wanted to use my intuition more because I knew that I can play a little bit better if I’m going to get a little bit more loosened up.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

No woman lower than the 14th seed has beaten both world Nos. 1 and 2 at a Grand Slam since the WTA rankings began in 1975. Muchova, ranked 43rd, nearly pulled it off.

“The feeling is a little bitter because I felt it was very close,” she said. “But overall, I mean, to call myself Grand Slam finalist, it’s amazing achievement.”

The French Open finishes Sunday with the men’s final. Novak Djokovic faces Casper Ruud, eyeing a 23rd major title to break his tie with Rafael Nadal for the men’s singles record. NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock air live coverage at 9 a.m. ET.

Go back to the fall 2020 French Open. Swiatek, a 54th-ranked teen, won the tournament without dropping a set for her first tour-level title.

Since, she climbed to the top of the rankings (and has stayed there for 62 weeks running), tied the longest WTA win streak in 32 years (37 matches in a row in 2022) and won majors on clay and hard courts.

She beat challengers from different categories in major finals: a Slam champ (Sofia Kenin), a teen phenom (Coco Gauff), an emerged rival (Ons Jabeur) and now an unseeded (because of injuries)-but-dangerous veteran in Muchova. Swiatek is the youngest woman to reach four major titles since Serena Williams in 2002.

Yet this French Open began with talk of a Big Three in women’s tennis rather than singular dominance. Since last year’s French Open, Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka and Russian-born Kazakh Elena Rybakina both won their first major and beat Swiatek multiple times.

Swiatek faced neither in Paris but still called it “a pretty stressful tournament,” noting a right thing injury that forced her to retire during her last match before the tournament.

Sabalenka was stunned by Muchova in Thursday’s semifinals, the erratic serving and nerves of her past reappearing. Rybakina had to withdraw earlier in the tournament due to illness.

Next up: the grass court season and Wimbledon, where Swiatek hasn’t made it past the fourth round in three tries. She did win the 2018 junior title at the All England Club. but Sabalenka and Rybakina have had more recent success there.

If Swiatek can lift the Venus Rosewater Dish, she will be an Australian Open shy of a career Grand Slam. Her chances of adding an Olympic gold medal to that collection are very high, given Roland Garros hosts tennis at the 2024 Paris Games.

“I’m not setting these crazy records or goals for myself,” she said. “I know that keeping it cool is the best way to do it for me.”

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Novak Djokovic into French Open final with records at stake after beating Carlos Alcaraz


Novak Djokovic heads into Sunday’s French Open final with all sorts of history at stake after eliminating a cramping Carlos Alcaraz in a showdown semifinal.

Djokovic faces Casper Ruud, eyeing a 23rd major title to break his tie with Rafael Nadal for the men’s singles record. NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock air live coverage at 9 a.m. ET.

On Friday, Djokovic took out the top seed Alcaraz 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1, but the match was even when Alcaraz began showing signs of right leg cramping. The 20-year-old Spaniard attributed it to the “tension” of the match, saying he was nervous for his first time facing Djokovic at a major.

“I have never felt something like I did today,” he said, adding that it was full-body cramps. “If someone says that he get into the court with no nerves playing against Novak, he lies.”

Alcaraz stopped play at 1-all in the third set and had trouble walking. He forfeited the next game, stipulated by the rules for receiving medical treatment for severe muscle cramping when not at a change of ends or end of a set.

Djokovic then won the next nine games. Alcaraz played with limited mobility and without the charismatic magic that’s charmed the tennis world.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

“First and foremost, I have to say tough luck for Carlos. I feel for him. I feel sorry,” Djokovic said to begin an on-court interview. “I told him at the net he knows how young he is. He’s got plenty of time ahead of him, so he’s going to win this tournament, I’m sure, many, many times.”

Djokovic was told of Alcaraz’s reasoning for the cramps.

“I have experienced that several times,” he said. “Early in my career I was struggling quite a bit physically. I can understand the emotions and circumstances that affect you mentally and emotionally.”

The semi was billed as perhaps the greatest inter-generational match in men’s tennis history, the first time that Alcaraz played a member of the Big Three at a major.

Their 16-year age gap was the largest to take place for men this deep in a major since the 1991 U.S. Open (Jim Courier d. Jimmy Connors) and the largest age gap for any major match between Slam champs since 2006 Wimbledon (Rafael Nadal d. Andre Agassi).

Unlike Friday, most of the previous torch-passing meetings took place when one man was not yet at his peak or the other was past his prime.

Typically, the younger player wins these types of duels. Djokovic, by prevailing over a foe 16 years younger this late in a major, broke the Open Era men’s age gap record of 14-plus years set by Roger Federer, who beat Hyeon Chung at the 2018 Australian Open.

Now, Djokovic heads to Sunday’s final as an overwhelming favorite against the Norwegian Ruud, a 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 winner over German Alexander Zverev in the later semifinal. Ruud was runner-up to Nadal at last year’s French Open and runner-up to Alcaraz at last year’s U.S. Open.

Djokovic can become the first man to win all four majors at least three times. He can break Nadal’s record as the oldest French Open singles champion.

“I’ve been very fortunate that most of the matches in tournaments I’ve played in the last few years, there is history on the line,” he said. “The motivation is very high, as you can imagine.”

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