Djokovic beats Murray for 3rd straight Aust. Title


Djokovic beats Murray for 3rd straight Aust. Title

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Novak Djokovic became the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian titles when he beat Andy Murray 6-7 (2), 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-2 in Sunday's final.

Little wonder he loves Rod Laver Arena.

``It's definitely my favorite Grand Slam,'' he said. ``It's an incredible feeling winning this trophy once more. I love this court.''

Djokovic has won four of his six major titles at Melbourne Park, where he is now unbeaten in 21 matches.

Nine other men had won back-to-back titles in Australia over 45 years, but none were able to claim three in a row.

Only two other men, American Jack Crawford (1931-33) and Australian Roy Emerson (1963-67), have won three or more consecutive Australian championships.

Born a week apart in May 1987 and friends since their junior playing days, Djokovic and Murray played like they knew each other's game very well in a rematch of last year's U.S. Open final. There were no service breaks until the eighth game of the third set, when Djokovic finally broke through and then held at love to lead by two sets to one.

Djokovic earned two more service breaks in the fourth set, including one to take a 4-1 lead when U.S. Open champion Murray double-faulted on break point.

``It's been an incredible match as we could have expected,'' Djokovic said. ``When we play each other, it's always, we push each other to the limit and I think those two sets went over two hours, 15 minutes, physically I was just trying to hang in there. Play my game and focus on every point.''

The 25-year-old Serb didn't rip his shirt off this time, as he did to celebrate his epic 5-hour, 53-minute win over Rafael Nadal in last year's final. He just did a little dance, looked up to the sky and then applauded the crowd after the 3-hour, 40-minute match.

Murray's win over Djokovic in the U.S. Open final last year ended a 76-year drought for British men at the majors, but he still is yet to make a breakthrough in Australia after losing a third final here in the last four years.

Djokovic's win went against the odds of recent finals at Melbourne Park. In four of the past five years, the player who won the second of the semifinals has finished on top in the championship match. But this year, Djokovic played his semifinal on Thursday - an easy 89-minute minute win over No. 4-seeded David Ferrer. Murray needed five energy sapping sets to beat 17-time major winner Roger Federer on Friday night.

``You don't wake up the next day and feel perfect, obviously,'' Murray said of the Federer match. ``It's the longest match I played in six months probably. It obviously wasn't an issue today. I started the match well. I thought I moved pretty good throughout.''

The win consolidated Djokovic's position as the No. 1-ranked player in the world, while Federer and Murray will be second and third when the ATP rankings are released Monday.

Their last two matches in Grand Slams - Murray's five-set win at last year's U.S. Open and Djokovic's victory here last year in five in the semifinals - had a total of 35 service breaks.

It was a vastly different, more tactical battle on Sunday, with the first two tight sets decided in tiebreakers.

Murray, who called for a trainer to retape blisters on his right foot at the end of the second set, was visibly annoyed by noise from the crowd during his service games in the third set, stopping his service motion twice until the crowd quieted down. After dropping the third set, he complained about the noise to chair umpire John Blom.

``It's just a bit sore when you're running around,'' Murray said. ``It's not like pulling a calf muscle or something. It just hurts when you run.''

Djokovic also appeared frustrated at times, kicking the ball football-style back over the net after he hit a forehand long during a lengthy point, and muttering to himself while sitting down in his chair during changeovers. But both players were guilty of making unforced errors, often ending long rallies with shots into the net or long.

Djokovic came from 0-40 down in the second game of the second set to hold his serve, a situation he called ``definitely one of the turning points.''

``He missed an easy backhand and I think mentally I just relaxed after that,'' Djokovic said. ``I just felt I'm starting to get into the rhythm that I wanted to. I was little more aggressive and started to dictate the play.''

Murray's fans came dressed for the occasion, with some wearing ``Braveheart''-style wigs, Scottish flags painted on their faces and tartan caps. One group of men wore white T-shirts with black letters that spelled out A-N-D-Y; they serenaded Murray at the start of the first two sets.

There were a number of Serbian shirts, caps and flags in the stadium, as well as fans calling ``Ajde!'' or ``Come on!'' in Serbian to support Djokovic. Retired NBA basketball star Vlade Divac was sitting in Djokovic's box.

Djokovic looked agitated after failing to convert the break points in the first set, frequently looking up to his box and yelling at the members of his team and himself.

Although Djokovic went into the match with a 10-7 lead in head-to-heads, Murray had beaten Djokovic five out of eight times in tiebreakers, and that improved to six of nine after four unforced errors by Djokovic to end the first set.

Djokovic pegged back that edge in the second set, when Murray also didn't help his cause by double-faulting to give Djokovic a 3-2 lead, and the Serbian player didn't trail again in the tiebreaker.

On the double-fault, Murray had to stop as he was about to serve to pick up up a feather that had fallen on the court.

``I could have served, it just caught my eye before I served ... I thought it was a good idea to move it,'' he said.

``Maybe it wasn't because I obviously double faulted. At this level it can come down to just a few points here or there. My probably biggest chance was at the beginning of the second set; (I) didn't quite get it. When Novak had his chance at the end of the third, he got his.''

Andre Agassi was among those in the capacity crowd - the four-time Australian champion's first trip Down Under in nearly 10 years - and he later presented the trophy to Djokovic.

Victoria Azarenka, who won Saturday's women's singles final over Li Na, was also there with her boyfriend rapper Redfoo. Actor Kevin Spacey met in the dressing room with both players ahead of the match and later tweeted a photo of himself with them.

In the earlier mixed doubles final Sunday, wild-card entrants Jarmila Gajdosova and Matthew Ebden of Australia beat the Czech pair of Lucie Hradecka and Frantisek Cermak 6-3, 7-5.

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.

That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.

The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...


3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)

Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.

Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.

The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.


4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)

The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.

With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.

The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.

Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.


5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)

Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.

That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.

The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.

The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups. 


6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)

The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.

Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.

What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings. 

Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

It looks like Ryant Grant has found his new home, again.

After a failed physical with the Ravens, James Jones of NFL Network reports Grant plans to sign with the Colts.


Grant originally agreed to a four-year, $29 million deal with the Ravens, before the team pulled the offer citing an ankle injury that dated to the Redskins' final regular-season game, according to reports.

Baltimore eventually signed Michael Crabtree to a three-year deal, while Grant had visits with the Colts and Raiders.

His agent, Rocky Arceneaux, says Grant has been working out, running routes, and his ankle had been cleared by Dr. Robert Anderson in a second opinion.

In 2017 with the Redskins, he appeared in all 16 games, with 45 receptions for 573 yards and four touchdowns.