The absences of Russians and on-break or retired Olympic stars make this figure skating season the most wide open in recent memory. The clearest example to date is this week’s Grand Prix de France, the third of six regular season stops to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final.
Belgian Loena Hendrickx, the world silver medalist, headlines the competition Friday and Saturday, live on Peacock. Hendrickx is the lone Olympic or world medalist in the field, creating opportunities for career-defining results across the four disciplines.
Hendrickx was fifth at the 2021 World Championships, then fourth at the 2022 European Championships to establish herself as the top European woman outside of the Russians. When the Russians were banned before last year’s worlds due to the war in Ukraine, Hendrickx grabbed silver by improving her score 10.91 points from an eighth-place Olympic finish.
This week, Hendrickx can become the first woman outside of Russia, Japan, the U.S. and Canada to win a full-fledged Grand Prix since Finland’s Kiira Korpi in 2012 and the first Belgian to win a Grand Prix in any discipline. Hendrickx, who turns 23 on Saturday, can become the oldest woman to win a full-fledged Grand Prix since American Ashley Wagner at 2016 Skate America.
Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe won the first two Grand Prix events with 217.61 and 197.59 points, respectively. Hendrickx will look to challenge those totals while holding off South Korean Kim Ye-Lim, who won B-level events in September and October with a top score of 213.97.
Other notables in action in France include Japanese veteran men’s singles skater Kazuki Tomono, who was sixth at worlds. Tomono has three Grand Prix podiums but no victories.
The pairs’ story may be Canadians Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps, runners-up at Skate America two weeks ago. Stellato-Dudek, 39, earned her first senior Grand Prix medal, 22 years after her Grand Prix debut as a singles skater. Stellato-Dudek, who retired from singles skating at age 17 due to hip injuries, came back at 32 in pairs in 2016.
Italians Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri can win their first Grand Prix ice dance title after second- or third-place finishes in their last seven Grand Prix starts, including the 2018 Grand Prix Final.
Grand Prix de France Broadcast Schedule
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Oh-so-close to completing a straight-set upset of No. 2 seed Casper Ruud at the Australian Open, Jenson Brooksby frittered away three match points, sat down at a changeover and began yelling at himself.
“How?! How?! God!!”
His face was flush, his emotions unhidden, his game unraveling. Soon enough, that set slipped away, as Ruud’s confidence seemed to surge and Brooksby’s collapse momentarily continued. And then, in a blink, Brooksby was back in charge, taking command immediately in the fourth set along the way to a 6-3, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-2 victory over Ruud and a spot in a surprisingly American-filled third round at Melbourne Park.
“I was getting a little more frustrated out there that I didn’t close it out, and my mentality was changing a little bit,” said the 39th-ranked Brooksby, who sipped from little jars of pickle juice in the fourth set at Rod Laver Arena. “Those are the situations you have to handle sometimes in matches, and you’re going to face. I think the biggest question is: How do you respond? I just told myself to reset.”
So leave it to a pair of 20-something Californians to rid the men’s bracket of its two highest seeded players: Brooksby, 22, delivered his unexpected triumph at the same stage and in the same stadium that Mackenzie McDonald, 27, defeated No. 1 seed and defending champion Rafael Nadal a day earlier. That makes this the first Grand Slam tournament since the 2002 Australian Open that the Nos. 1-2 seeds lost before the end of the second round.
Both No. 2 singles seeds were upset Thursday. Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, the Wimbledon and U.S. Open runner-up, was ousted by 2019 French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 5-7, 6-1.
AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men
Nadal owns a men’s-record 22 Grand Slam titles. Ruud was the runner-up at the French Open to Nadal last June and at the U.S. Open to Carlos Alcaraz last September.
Their exits are a big deal and make nine-time champion Novak Djokovic — who overcame a medical timeout for a hamstring injury to beat Enzo Couacaud 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-0 on Thursday night — even more of a title favorite in his return to Australia after being deported a year ago because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Also a big deal: The progress of U.S. men through the year’s first major championship. None has won a Grand Slam title since Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open.
By reaching the third round, Brooksby joined countrymen Michael Mmoh, Ben Shelton, Tommy Paul and J.J. Wolf, who also won Thursday, along with McDonald, No. 16 Frances Tiafoe and No. 29 Sebastian Korda, who all won Wednesday. The highest-seeded American man, though, could not make it that far: No. 8 Taylor Fritz bowed out with a 6-7 (4), 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-2 loss to 113th-ranked Australian wild-card entry Alexei Popyrin.
Mmoh, who lost in qualifying but got into the main draw when another player withdrew, made it this far at a major tournament for the first time by defeating No. 12 Alexander Zverev 6-7 (1), 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.
“Life is crazy. Right when you think everything is looking dim, everything is looking dark, there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” the 107th-ranked Mmoh said. “My week is proof of that.”
Shelton, the NCAA champion from the University of Florida participating in just his second Slam, beat qualifier Nicolas Jarry of Chile 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3), 7-5; Paul came back to edge No. 30 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain 6-2, 2-6, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4; and Wolf breezed past No. 23 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.
Brooksby now plays Paul; Mmoh takes on Wolf.
“A lot of Americans doing really well right now, and we’re all pushing each other,” Brooksby said. “Just looking forward to the next one.”
There was also a big win for an American woman Thursday: 21-year-old qualifier Katie Volynets defeated No. 9-seeded Veronika Kudermetova of Russia 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.
Elsewhere, No. 4 Caroline Garcia beat 2021 U.S. Open finalist Leylah Fernandez 7-6 (5), 7-5, No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka improved her 2023 record to 6-0 by topping Shelby Rogers 6-3, 6-1 after trailing 3-1 early, and No. 19 Ekaterina Alexandrova defeated Taylor Townsend 1-6, 6-2, 6-3.
“I literally have the chills, because the fans here are just incredible,” said Volynets, who reached the third round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. “I’ve never played in a stadium this packed and with that many people keeping the energy up for me. It was awesome.”
Brooksby was supposed to enter the Australian Open a year ago but came down with COVID-19 the day before he was supposed to fly overseas.
“Hopefully this is the first of many many good years here to come,” Brooksby said.
His unusual playing style, including his two-handed backhand volleys, and ability to track down opponent’s shots, were trouble for Ruud, who took a medical timeout after the second set because of a bothersome abdominal muscle.
“He was annoyingly good today,” said Ruud, a 24-year-old Norwegian coached by his father, a former pro player.
The biggest problem for Brooksby was closing this one out. He held a trio of match points while trying to serve for the victory at 5-3 in the third set but could not cash any of them in.
Ruud raced through the end of that set, but Brooksby righted himself in the fourth, jumping out to a 3-0 lead. Brooksby finished things off 1 hour, 15 minutes after his first chance.
When the match ended, Brooksby said, “The first thing that popped to my mind was I was just proud of my mental resolve just to stay focused out there.”
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At the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic can win a men’s record-extending 10th Australian Open title and tie Rafael Nadal for the most men’s major singles titles in history.
Djokovic was PointsBet Sportsbook’s pre-tournament favorite despite being seeded fourth after missing last year’s Australian Open and U.S. Open because of his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
His stock in Melbourne has only risen after Nadal, the defending champion and top seed, was injured and ousted in the second round by American Mackenzie McDonald. The next day, the No. 2 seed, Norwegian Casper Ruud, was knocked out by American Jenson Brooksby.
Djokovic won three consecutive Australian Opens after a fourth-round defeat in 2018. He is bidding to move one shy of the overall record 11 Australian Open singles titles held by Margaret Court and become the second man to win any major 10 times.
The other man to do it is of course Nadal, who owns 14 French Open crowns. Nadal also owns the men’s record 22 Grand Slam singles titles overall, just one ahead of Djokovic.
Last year, Nadal won the Australian Open on the heels of a chronic foot injury that had him questioning coming back to tennis at all. He also overcame foot problems to win the French Open, then reach the Wimbledon semifinals before withdrawing with an abdominal muscle tear.
Starting with his U.S. Open fourth-round defeat, Nadal went 1-6 in his seven matches leading into the Australian Open. He beat Jack Draper in the first round this year, but was swept by McDonald amid a hip injury in the second round.
This is the first Australian Open since Roger Federer‘s retirement. Also missing: the injured world No. 1 and U.S. Open champion Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, who at 19 became the youngest men’s Grand Slam champion since Nadal’s first title at the 2005 French Open.
No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, a three-time Australian Open semifinalist, is now the highest seed left in the draw. He is in the half opposite of Djokovic.
MORE: Australian Open Women’s Draw
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