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Azarenka beats Lisicki, reaches Brisbane quarters

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Azarenka beats Lisicki, reaches Brisbane quarters

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) Top-ranked Victoria Azarenka opened her 2013 season with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Germany's Sabine Lisicki on Wednesday to join No. 3 Serena Williams and fourth-seeded Angelique Kerber in the Brisbane International quarterfinals.

Azarenka, who won here in 2009 without dropping a set, got the better of 37th-ranked Lisicki in a match that had nine breaks of serve.

The Belarusian won her first major at the Australian Open last year during a 26-match winning streak to start the season and spent most of 2012 atop the women's rankings.

She said her focus ahead of her first major title defense was more about attacking than defending.

``I actually don't really look at defending anything. I'm just looking to win,'' Azarenka said. ``I'm going to have the same mindset for as long as I'm playing.''

In earlier second-round matches, Angelique Kerber recovered from 5-2 down in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Puerto Rican qualifier Monica Puig, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7) and Sloane Stephens had a 6-3, 6-4 win over Sweden's Sofia Arvidsson to set up a quarterfinal against fellow American Williams.

Azarenka said Lisicki, who was serving at up to 121 mph, proved a tough match and a good measure of her preparations for the Australian Open, which starts on Jan. 14.

She said Lisicki was ``serving some bombs,'' although the German player was only getting half of her first serves into play and had five double-faults. Lisicki mixed 36 winners with 36 unforced errors, trying to push Azarenka around the court.

``I had a tough challenge at the beginning,'' she said. ``It's always good to see where you're at, right at the start.''

She'll next play Kazakh qualifier Ksenia Pervak, who has ousted former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and Urszula Radwanska in matches decided by third-set tiebreakers.

``I hope she's tired,'' Azarenka joked. ``She's a young girl with a lot of potential. She's going to be really motivated. I'm looking forward to the challenge.''

Five of the top eight seeded players had already been eliminated midway through the second round.

Kerber narrowly avoided that fate, coming back from 4-1 down in the third set and clawing her way back in a tiebreaker when Puig was two points from the biggest victory of her career.

The 19-year-old Puig, ranked No. 124, buried a swinging volley into the bottom of the net at 5-2 in the tiebreaker and it changed the momentum of the match.

``For sure it was a surprise how she played. I didn't know her before, but, yeah, I'm sure that she'll be coming very soon into the top 50,'' Kerber said of Puig. ``I have a lot of confidence right now that I won again (in a) very close match.''

Stephens had a convincing win over Arvidsson and next faces a childhood hero.

``Obviously she's been a really great influence in my tennis year career. I'm excited to play her and get on the court with her. I think it'll be fun,'' the 19-year-old Stephens said.

Williams said she has been following Stephens' career and was ``a fan'' of her young Fed Cup teammate's style.

In her first tournament back since being sidelined by an abdominal injury following the U.S. Open, Stephens isn't awed by the prospect of taking on the 15-time Grand Slam winner.

``Obviously I always was like, `Oh, my God. I love her to death. She's amazing, whatever,''' Stephens recalled of her earliest meetings with Williams. ``Now she's like an actual person and I'm like, `Oh, hi. How is it going?' She's not like a hero anymore. She's just a friend.

``Even if I go out there and lose, just bomb it, I don't win a game, at least if I'm able to focus on myself and do what's right for me then it's not a loss.''

In men's second-round matches, third-seeded Gilles Simon of France beat Colombia's Alejandro Falla 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) and No. 5 Kei Nishikori of Japan had a 6-3, 6-3 win over Tommy Robredo of Spain. Sixth-seeded Florian Mayer lost 6-4, 6-2 to 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis.

In the night match, fourth-seeded Alexandr Dolgopolov was leading 6-2, 4-1 when Jarkko Nieminen of Finland retired due to a migraine.

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Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

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USA TODAY Sports

Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

The mood in the Capitals locker room following a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was one of frustration. Forty minutes of strong play from Washington amounted to nothing because of a disastrous opening first period in which the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

No one in the locker room was more frustrated than Braden Holtby.

"Obviously you don't want to go down three," he told reporters after the game. "That's on no one else but me. The third goal, especially the third, fourth goal, that's the difference in the game. I thought we played a really strong game against a really good team. We should have got a better result and that's on me why we didn't."

Tampa scored three goals in the first off of only eight shots. For the game, the Lightning managed to pierce Holtby four times off of only 19 shots.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS LOST TO THE LIGHTNING

Frustration seemed to boil over on the fourth goal when a normally stoic Holtby was visibly upset after allowing Nikita Kucherov to beat him on a breakaway in a play similar to what we saw in the All-Star Game.

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"The key to getting better is learning from your mistakes and obviously I didn't do that," Holtby said. "I was just trying to play it patient. I wasn't trying to cheat towards that move and he came at it a different way. That's on me for not recognizing it. That's not a goal I can give up in that situation after our team battled the way they did, especially in the third."

The frustration Holtby feels likely is not the result of one goal, but the culmination of a recent slump that continues to plague the Vezina winner.

Holtby has lost four straight starts and has given up at least four goals in each of those games.

While Holtby was quick to take the blame for Tuesday's loss, head coach Barry Trotz was quick to defend his netminder.

"No one takes the loss," he said. "We all take a loss. I take a loss, the group takes a loss and Braden's part of the group. ... He's had a little tough stretch. It's no different than, we've got guys that haven't scored in 15, 20 games. It's no different than a player."

The challenge now is overcoming that slump.

For a slumping skater, Trotz could try different line combinations or play someone in different situations over the course of the game. Getting a starting goalie out of a slump, however, is more difficult. Most of the work has to be done in practice with the hope that it will carry over into the next game.

"You analyze how the goals are going in, what you're doing differently," Holtby said. "There's always some stuff that you can't control and stuff that you can and it's focusing on those contrallables that you can make a difference at. Like the first goal in Chicago, the last two goals here, those are goals that I could and should stop. You get to practice the next day and you focus on that and work hard until you figure it out so you don't do it again."

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Part of the problem in Washington is that team defense is the Caps' biggest weakness. For most of the season, and even in years past, Holtby has made up for much of the team's mistakes on the backend. Now that he is slumping those mistakes become much more glaring and costly.

"The goaltenders in this league are erasers," Trotz said.

Lately, Holtby has not been able to erase those mistakes.

But the team has already moved to address the defense. Brian MacLellan added a puck-moving defenseman in Michal Kempny to help the team get the puck out of the defensive zone more quickly. Waiving Taylor Chorney could also signify another move may be coming before Monday's trade deadline.

As for Trotz, even during the slump, he made clear his confidence in Holtby has not wavered.

"He has been a rock since the day I've been here the last four years and he's been an elite goaltender and I look at him that way."

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

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USA Today Sports

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Pavel Francouz stopped all five shooters and Petr Kouka scored the shootout winner as the Czech Republic eliminated the United States with a 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

Jan Kovar and Tomas Kundratek scored in regulation for the Czech Republic, which was fresher after winning its group and getting a bye into the quarterfinals. The U.S. looked fatigued after facing Slovakia in the qualification round and was outshot 29-20.

Ryan Donato and Jim Slater scored for the U.S, which again was led by its youngest players, including speedster Troy Terry. U.S. goaltender Ryan Zapolski allowed three goals on 29 shots and one in the shotoout, while Francouz stopped 18 in regulation and overtime.

Koukal was the only player to score in overtime. Chris Bourque, Ryan Donato, Marc Arcobello, Terry and Bobby Butler couldn't beat Francouz.

RELATED: OVECHKIN HAS LITTLE DESIRE TO WATCH 2018 WINTER OLYMPICS