Azarenka, Serena Williams in same part of draw


Azarenka, Serena Williams in same part of draw

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams are in the same half of the draw at the Australian Open, setting up the possibility of a semifinal match between the defending champion and the title favorite.

Top-ranked Azarenka has lost 11 of her 12 matches against Williams, who increased her career haul to 15 Grand Slam titles last year by winning at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Williams has won five Australian titles, more than any other woman in the Open era, and is in dominant form after winning 35 of her past 36 matches.

That run included a 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 comeback victory in the U.S. Open final after being just two points away from defeat to Azarenka.

No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova, the French Open champion, is on the other half of the draw with No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 5 Angelique Kerber and No. 6 Li Na. She could meet Venus Williams in the third round.

Sharapova, runner-up to Azarenka last year at Melbourne Park, will meet fellow Russian Olga Puchkova in the opening round.

``I don't pay attention too much to the draws because we could face anyone from the first round to the finals, and you have to be ready to face that opponent,'' Sharapova said.

Novak Djokovic's bid for a third consecutive Australian Open title got a boost when No. 2-ranked Roger Federer and U.S. Open champion Andy Murray both landed in the other half when the official draw was made Friday.

Top-ranked Djokovic will face Paul-Henri Mathieu in the first round and also has fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych in his quarter of the draw and fourth-seeded David Ferrer in his half.

Ferrer is the highest-ranked Spaniard in the tournament in the absence of 11-time major winner Rafael Nadal, who hasn't played on the tour since the middle of 2012 due to a left knee injury.

``He was a top-20 player before. He knows what it's like to be on the big stage. He has a lot of quality - a lot of experience,'' Djokovic said of Mathieu. ``There are expectations for someone who is in my position, but I am looking forward to it.''

Federer will play Benoit Paire of France in the first round and has a potential third-round match against local hope Bernard Tomic. Federer, a four-time Australian Open winner, could face Murray in the semifinals.

Murray, who ended a 76-year drought for British men at Grand Slam events when he won the U.S. Open last year, will start his run against Robin Haase of the Netherlands and has a potential quarterfinal against sixth-seeded Juan Martin Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion.

On the women's side, Azarenka has a first-round match against Romania's Monica Niculescu and is in the same quarter as former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki and seventh-seeded Sara Errani.

Serena Williams will play Edina Gallovits-Hall of Romania in the first round and is in the same quarter as 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and 19-year-old American Sloane Stephens, who is seeded 29th.

Kvitova has a tough opener against 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone.

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Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

As if they needed a reminder, the Wizards saw firsthand on Wednesday night just how much can change in a short period of time in the Eastern Conference playoff race where just two games separate the No. 3 and No. 6 teams.

That No. 6 team is now your Washington Wizards, who began the day in fourth place but lost their first game in four days on the same night both the Cavs and Sixers won theirs. 

The Wizards lost to the Spurs on Wednesday and managed only 90 points, their fewest since Jan. 22. It was a lackluster performance in a game the Wizards needed to treat with urgency. 


The Spurs sure did.

"We've gotta have a better mentality coming into games," guard Bradley Beal said. "The Spurs were fighting for playoff seeding just like we were."

The Wizards have now lost six of their last 10, yet all those games have come against teams currently holding playoff spots. Considering John Wall reamins out with a left knee injury, it's hard to fault them too much when they are staying afloat just fine in the big picture.

The problem is that the closer they get to the end of the season, the more these losses are magnified. They amount to missed opportunities, some bigger than others.

That was not lost on Beal, who considered the alternative. If the Wizards had beaten the Spurs, they would be sitting in fourth, two spots higher, and just a game-and-a-half out of third.

"Every time we have a chance to move up, we take two steps back," Beal lamented.


The Wizards are in a high stakes part of the standings where plenty is in the balance. They are fighting for home court advantage, something they would get in the third or fourth spots. And who they match up with will be paramount.

By falling to sixth, the Wizards are currently in line to play the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though the Pacers and Sixers are also good teams, they don't have LeBron James. Avoiding him and the Cavs would be ideal for the Wizards.

Beal has even bigger worries than that. He noted after the loss in San Antonio that they could fall even further if they aren't careful. They are now just a game-and-a-half up on the seventh-place Heat. 

"We've gotta realize what's at stake, man. The way we're going, we could keep dropping and mess around and be eighth. We've gotta do whatever it takes to win," he said.

The Wizards should be fine, if the previous two months are any indication. But Wednesday night was another example of how precarious things are for them this season in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference.


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Game 74 Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread


Game 74 Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Detroit Red Wings

Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Mich.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Red Wings will be broadcast on NBCSN.

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Red Wings game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


The Capitals (42-24-7) take on the Red Wings (27-35-11) Thursday, March 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Detroit.


The Capitals-Red Wings game will be broadcast on NBCSN. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Check back with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. for postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Red Wings (on NBCSN)
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime


Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Red Wings game:

Alex Ovechkin -  Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana - Travis Boyd - Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Philipp Grubauer starts with Braden Holtby as backup

Scratches: Evgeny Kuznetsov (upper body injury), Alex Chiasson, Jakub Jerabek


You can watch the Capitals-Red Wings game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.