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Calm Murray faces Federer in semis Down Under

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Calm Murray faces Federer in semis Down Under

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) On the eve of the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic was asked if he had noticed anything different about Andy Murray.

``He has a shorter haircut,'' said the five-time Grand Slam winner, smiling.

But the top-ranked Djokovic then turned serious because Murray's makeover is no joking matter.

The 25-year-old player from Scotland is attempting to win a second consecutive Grand Slam after a breakthrough year that included wins at the London Olympics and the U.S. Open. He arrived in Melbourne with a new demeanor, a sense of calm and confidence.

``I think mentally something switched in his head,'' Djokovic said. ``And he just started believing much more in his abilities.

``Now that he's done it, he's definitely right up there, one of the first few favorites for any tournament he plays.''

The third-seeded Murray advanced to the semifinals Wednesday, grabbing a spot in an all-star lineup featuring the top four players.

Djokovic is in the first semifinal against No. 4 David Ferrer, who took the spot in the absence of an injured Rafael Nadal.

Third-seeded Murray faces No. 2 Roger Federer in the latest rematch in a tight rivalry. Murray leads Federer 10-9 in the series, including last year's Olympic final. But he has played the Swiss star in three Grand Slam finals and lost them all.

``I'm expecting a tough match,'' said Federer, describing Murray as clever and tactical. ``He's changed his game around a bit. He's playing more defensive. I'm looking forward to it.''

Federer is aiming for his 18th Grand Slam. The Swiss star stamped his authority on center court by beating the athletic Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-3 to reach the Australian Open semifinals for a 10th consecutive year.

After losing, Tsonga picked his favorite to win the tournament: ``I would say Andy, for the moment. But it could change, of course.''

Murray won his quarterfinal against Jeremy Chardy of France 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 to extend a streak of straight-set wins into the semis. Of all the men in the draw, Murray is technically the freshest, having spent less time on court - just under nine hours in the past 10 days.

Chardy walked into his post-match news conference saying he couldn't believe how well Murray had played.

``I've played him several times, and every time I always thought I had a chance,'' said the 36th-ranked Frenchman, who beat Murray in August in Cincinnati. ``Today, he never let me think even once I had a chance to win.

``He's calm on the court. He was so concentrated, and had so much intensity from the start. Right away, I was in difficulty. And during the whole match, he never dropped his level.''

Murray's intensity on court diminishes only slightly in his news conferences where he is modest, polite and mild-mannered. He said he was pleased to reach the 12th Grand Slam semifinal of his career.

``I thought I did a pretty good job throughout the match,'' he said. ``I can't be disappointed about being in the semis of a slam without dropping a set. That would be silly.''

Murray reached the Australian Open semifinals last year, losing to Djokovic. He has made the Melbourne finals on two occasions, losing to Djokovic in 2011 and Federer in 2010.

Before arriving in Melbourne last year, Murray teamed up with tennis great Ivan Lendl. His coaching has helped produce a new aggressiveness and willingness to take chances on court.

Under Lendl's tutelage, Murray made his breakthrough.

He became the first man to win at the Olympics and U.S. Open in the same year. His win at Flushing Meadows made him the first British man in 76 years to win a Grand Slam - and lifted an enormous burden.

``I kind of maybe always felt like I was having to prove something every time I went on court because I hadn't won a slam,'' Murray said before the tournament started. ``It's nice to not have to worry about that anymore.''

After his Wednesday quarterfinal, Murray dismissed comments in the British media that he was upset by having to play all day matches in the hot sun while Federer was given cooler night slots during prime-time viewing hours on center court.

``I have no complaints about the schedule at all, and I didn't complain about it the other day,'' Murray said. ``Sometimes it works in your favor and sometimes it doesn't.''

The Federer-Tsonga quarterfinal was held Wednesday night at a packed Rod Laver Arena. But instead of studying his next opponent, Murray said he planned to practice at a nearby court.

``Rather than going and watching this match, I'll go out and hit some balls under the lights to be as best prepared as possible,'' he said.

Asked if he felt prepared to go against his old rivals, Murray replied: ``Hopefully, I will go into the matches a little bit calmer than usual or then I have in the past.''

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Warriors will visit D.C. kids instead of White House when they play Wizards

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Warriors will visit D.C. kids instead of White House when they play Wizards

Instead of visiting the White House when they come to Washington this week to play the Wizards, the defending-champion Golden State Warriors plan to hold an event with D.C.-area kids.

Their invitation was rescinded by president Donald Trump following a back-and-forth between the two sides last year. After the Warriors won the title, they openly questioned whether they should follow the tradition given many of the players and coaches disagree with his policies. Trump took the opportunity away before they came to a final decision.

PODCAST: WIZARDS MAKE A FREE AGENT SIGNING

The Warriors' event will be closed off to the media and held at an undisclosed location. It is set for Tuesday, the day before they play the Wizards at Capital One Arena. The Warriors had the option of holding a ceremony with other politicians in the Democratic party, but decided that would send the wrong message. 

"It's their championship. They got disinvited to the White House, so it's up to them what they wanted to do. So they made their plans," coach Steve Kerr said. "I want the players to have a good day and to do something positive and to enjoy what they're doing."

The Warriors are the first NBA team to make this choice since Trump was elected president. Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers held their celebration with president Barack Obama in November. They did so just days after Trump was elected and LeBron James questioned at the time whether he would visit the White House with Trump in office.

RELATED: DURANT MAKES HUGE DONATION TO PG COUNTY SCHOOLS

Sports teams visiting the White House goes back to the mid-1800s. The first World Series title team to visit was the 1924 Washington Senators. By the 1960s, NBA teams were going and by the 1980s NFL and NHL teams made it a tradition.

Entire teams snubbing the White House is unusual, but many players have turned down the opportunity. In the NBA, some famous cases include Larry Bird in 1984 and Michael Jordan in 1991, according to Rolling Stone.

Perhaps the Warriors start a trend, or maybe it will be a one-off thing. Regardless, the alternative they chose is a respectable one. 

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS

 

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Game 62: Capitals vs. Sabres Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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USA TODAY Sports

Game 62: Capitals vs. Sabres Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Buffalo Sabres

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Sabres will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Sabres game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME?

The Capitals (34-20-7) take on the Sabres (18-32-11) Saturday, February 24 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Capital One Arena.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME ON?

The Capitals-Sabres game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Sabres
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:00 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Sabres game:

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

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

Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches: Alex Chiasson, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME?

The Capitals-Panthers game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

CAPITALS-SABRES OPEN THREAD

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.