Nick Zaccardi

OlympicTalk Editor

Matthias Mayer ends Kitzbuehel downhill drought for Austria

Leave a comment

KITZBUEHEL, Austria (AP) — For the second time in two days at the 80th Hahnenkamm races, Matthias Mayer spread his arms and bent over backward in celebration.

While his leading time in Friday’s World Cup super-G didn’t hold up, his gutsy run on the Streif course on Saturday earned him the victory in the classic downhill, becoming the first Austrian winner of the event in six years.

In cloudy conditions but on a perfect track, Mayer finished 0.22 ahead of Austrian teammate Vincent Kriechmayr and Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, who tied for second.

“There is nothing better than crossing the finish in front of those thousands of people. It’s really incredible,” said Mayer, who won the super-G here three years ago.

“In Kitzbuehel there is always tension but I was just looking forward to this race, I wanted to enjoy it,” he added.

It was the eighth career World Cup win for the two-time Olympic champion and third of the season, after triumphing in a super-G in Lake Louise, Alberta, in December and an Alpine combined in Wengen, Switzerland, last week.

No Austrian had won the prestigious race, which is usually attended by tens of thousands of spectators, since Hannes Reichelt in 2014.

“It’s very important, simply cool,” Mayer said about winning one of the marquee events of the season.

World Cup downhill champion Feuz was denied victory in the circuit’s most challenging race once again, as he finished runner-up for the fourth time in the last five years.

“Again I was not fast enough,” Feuz said. “But second place on the most difficult course in Kitzbuehel, you have to be satisfied. In Wengen luck has been on my side three times, here in Kitzbuehel it has not been on my side.”

Feuz, however, extended his lead in the discipline standings, having finished in the top three each race this season.

Feuz is currently 96 points clear of Dominik Paris, who won the downhill here last season, while Mayer climbed to third, trailing Feuz by 180 points.

Paris has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after the Italian tore the ACL and fractured the fibula head in his right knee in a crash during super-G practice this week.

“It’s a shame what happened to Dominik. That was a super battle,” Feuz said. “The gap is a bit bigger now. But Mayer has also been top five all the time so I cannot allow myself to make mistakes.”

Feuz led the race until Kriechmayr clocked the same time. It was already the sixth race this season with a tie for a podium place, which also happened in Friday’s super-G.

Kriechmayr crashed in Thursday’s downhill training and placed a disappointing sixth in the super-G the next day.

“It was a good run, I wanted to show that I could do better than yesterday,” he said after the Austrian 1-2 finish. “Our fans have deserved this. We have don’t well in recent years.”

France duo Johan Clarey and Maxence Muzaton placed fourth and fifth, respectively, while Kjetil Jansrud, who won the super-G Friday, finished sixth.

American downhiller Steven Nyman was among the fastest starters and still was ahead of Mayer’s time at the fourth split time but he couldn’t match the Austrian’s pace in the demanding bottom section of the course.

Nyman came 1.05 off the lead in 13th, five places behind the best American finisher, Bryce Bennett.

Peter Fill, who won the race in 2016 for one of his three career victories, failed to finish before announcing his retirement at the end of the season after 17 years on the circuit.

The 37-year-old Italian won the World Cup downhill title in back-to-back seasons in 2016 and 2017, and the Alpine combined rankings the following year. Fill also won super-G silver at the 2009 world championships.

The Hahnenkamm races traditionally end with a slalom on Sunday.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Lindsey Vonn goes to Kitzbuehel, still feeling sadness of retirement

Rafael Nadal, Nick Kyrgios set Australian Open clash after bloody marathon

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Nick Kyrgios put aside a bloody hand, a hamstring issue, a tiff with the chair umpire and a resilient opponent who saved a pair of match points.

When the Australian Open third-round thriller ended after about 4 1/2 hours Saturday, Kyrgios dropped to his back behind the baseline. Guess what’s next for the home-crowd favorite? A much-anticipated matchup with a familiar, but decidedly not friendly, foe: No. 1 Rafael Nadal.

Kyrgios eventually got past No. 16 Karen Khachanov 6-2, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (6), 6-7 (7), 7-6 (8) with the help of 33 aces and what sounded like an entire country of supporters in the stands.

“This is just epic, man,” Kyrgios said. “Like, I don’t even know what’s going on.”

Kyrgios initially was a point from winning at 6-5 in the third-set tiebreaker, then again an hour later at 8-7 in the fourth-set tiebreaker, but he needed yet another hour to pull out the victory when Khachanov pushed a backhand wide.

“I was losing it mentally, a little bit,” Kyrgios said. “I thought I was going to lose, honestly.”

Along the way, he hit a dive-and-roll backhand, scraped his knuckles and, after wiping the blood, was warned for a time violation. That set off Kyrgios, who explained why play was delayed and said to the chair umpire, “Are you stupid? Well, take it back then.”

There are sure to be more fireworks Monday during the eighth edition of Nadal vs. Kyrgios. Even so, Kyrgios tried to downplay the animosity Saturday, saying: “Whatever happens between us, he’s an amazing player. Arguably, he’s the greatest of all-time.”

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

So far, Nadal holds a 4-3 head-to-head edge, including a contentious win in their last meeting, at Wimbledon last July.

Nadal was not thrilled that Kyrgios hit a ball right at him in that match. Kyrgios took a different sort of shot at Nadal from afar the other day in Melbourne, mimicking the 33-year-old Spaniard’s series of mannerisms before he hits a serve.

“It’s clear, of course, that when he does stuff that in my opinion is not good, I don’t like (it). When he plays good tennis and he shows passion for this game, he is a positive player for our tour, and I want my tour bigger, not smaller. So the players who make the tour bigger are important for the tour,” Nadal said. “When he’s ready to play his best tennis and play with passion, (he) is one of these guys. When he’s doing the other stuff, of course I don’t like (it).”

Here’s what Nadal loved Saturday: The way he stepped things up during a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 victory over 27th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta that required fewer than 100 minutes.

“I needed to improve,” Nadal said, “and I improved.”

His down-the-line lefty forehand was perfectly on-target and “impossible to read,” Carreno Busta explained.

“Starting,” Nadal said, “to create damage.”

He won 52 of 62 points on his serve.

He never offered his opponent a break chance.

He finished with a total of merely seven unforced errors among the match’s 125 total points — and six times as many winners at 42.

“My best match of the tournament so far, without a doubt,” Nadal said. “Big difference between today and the previous days.”

Against “this Rafa,” Carreno Busta said, “you feel a little powerless.”

“When he plays that comfortably,” Carreno Busta said, “there’s nothing you can do.”

And to think: Nadal did this after staying up late enough to watch on TV as the man he’s chasing in the Grand Slam count, Roger Federer, was pushed to a fifth-set tiebreaker before getting through to the fourth round at nearly 1 a.m.

That was part of a chaotic Day 5 — including losses by Serena Williams and reigning champion Naomi Osaka, who was ousted by 15-year-old sensation Coco Gauff — and the trend continued on Day 6 on the women’s side.

No. 2 Karolina Pliskova, No. 5 Elina Svitolina and No. 6 Belinda Bencic all lost in straight sets, meaning nine of the top 13 seeds already are gone.

Pliskova, the 2016 U.S. Open runner-up, lost 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3) to 30th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Svitolina, a semifinalist at the past two majors, was beaten 6-1, 6-2 by two-time Slam champ Garbiñe Muguruza. Bencic, a semifinalist at Flushing Meadows last September, offered even less pushback while being defeated 6-0, 6-1 in 49 minutes by 28th-seeded Anett Kontaveit.

Kontaveit now meets 18-year-old Iga Swiatek, who is ranked 59th and eliminated No. 19 seed Donna Vekic 7-5, 6-3.

“At this level, everything can happen,” two-time major champion Simona Halep said about all of the surprises, “so that’s why sometimes I’m a little bit stressed.”

Halep, who is seeded fourth, stuck around by beating Yulia Putintseva 6-1, 6-4, and next plays No. 16 Elise Mertens, who ended the Grand Slam return of 20-year-old American CiCi Bellis 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-0.

Other men’s fourth-round matchups on the top half of the draw will be No. 5 Dominic Thiem against No. 10 Gael Monfils, No 7 Alexander Zverev against No. 17 Andrey Rublev, and three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka against No. 4 Daniil Medvedev.

Nadal won the Australian Open back in 2009 and has been the runner-up four times since, including a year ago against Novak Djokovic.

It’s Nadal’s least successful major tournament: The 33-year-old Spaniard owns 12 trophies from the French Open, four from the U.S. Open and two from Wimbledon.

He’s said he is not focused on whether he gets one more by the end of these two weeks to pull even with Federer at 20 majors — or where he ends up in the final count (Djokovic is third on the list with 16 at the moment.)

Likewise, Federer says he figures he knows both of those rivals will overtake him in the Slam standings at some point.

For now, Nadal is tracking his progress on a match-by-match basis.

And for one warm, sunny afternoon in Rod Laver Arena, at least, he was pleased.

MORE: Top U.S. tennis player unlikely to play Olympics

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.