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Li Na's coach helping tennis game - and marriage

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Li Na's coach helping tennis game - and marriage

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) French Open champion Li Na credits new coach Carlos Rodriguez with turning her tennis career around - and saving her marriage.

Last August, the 30-year-old Chinese star hired Rodriguez, who coached Justine Henin to seven Grand Slam titles, after the conflicts with her previous coach - husband Jiang Shan - became too much to bear.

``The funny thing is, I think two years ago in China, someone said I was divorced,'' Li said Tuesday after beating Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska 7-5, 6-3 to advance to the semifinals of the Australian Open against Maria Sharapova. ``Because they were thinking, we're always shouting, maybe we're divorced.''

``It's just being coach and husband is - how you say - tough to find a balance!'' she added.

Now Li and Jiang have found marital peace again - fewer disagreements on or off the court - and she is winning again.

Li hired Rodriguez after disappointing early-round losses at Wimbledon and the London Olympics. He joined her midweek at a tournament in Cincinnati - they had never even met before - and she captured the title, her first since her breakthrough Grand Slam win at Roland Garros in 2011.

She then won a second title at the inaugural Shenzhen Open earlier this month and is now in the semifinals of the Australian Open for the third time in four years.

Rodriguez has had a steadying influence on Li, who had previously struggled to control her emotions on court and has appeared more composed since starting to work with him.

At one point during the second set against Radwanska, Li lost her service toss in the sun and batted the ball five rows deep into the crowd. Rather than let the mishit unnerve her, however, she calmly made her second serve and put away a deft backhand volley to win the point.

When asked later what happened with that very wayward serve, she quipped: ``I want to have good communication with the fans.''

Then she said to her coach, ``Carlos, make sure we practice on serve.''

Two years ago, on her way to becoming the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final at the Australian Open, Li was pure entertainment in her news conferences, joking about her husband's snoring and admitting she forget her own wedding anniversary.

After her win at the French Open, however, things changed. She began to put more pressure on herself at the Grand Slams - and didn't make a quarterfinal at six consecutive major tournaments. At last year's Australian Open, she left in tears after wasting four match points in the fourth round against Kim Clijsters.

Now the humor is back. Li related the difficulties she had when she started training with Rodriguez at the Spaniard's tennis academy in Beijing. After three days of six-hour workouts, she called her husband in distress.

``Carlos is crazy,'' she told him.

Jiang didn't believe her, so he came to Beijing to see for himself.

``I was doing some exercises with Carlos. (Jiang) was sitting in the gym,'' Li said. ``After I was halfway done, he was like, `Are you finished?' I said, `No, only halfway.'

``He said, `I'm tired!' I said, `Don't say that. I'm doing exercises; you're only sitting. Don't say you're tired.'''

Li acknowledges now the hard work was worth it. Her fitness was tested against the fourth-seeded Radwanska, a crafty player who relies on spins and slices to construct points and wears her opponents down with her consistency.

Radwanska tried to dictate play by moving Li around the court, but the sixth-seeded Chinese star countered with deep, heavy groundstrokes and superb volleying, winning 20 of 24 points at net.

Li will next play the No. 2-ranked Sharapova, who can see a difference in Li's game since she's been working with Rodriguez.

``She's a Grand Slam champion. It wasn't like she needed someone to come in and fix her game,'' she said. ``But sometimes when you just have a different surrounding and a new voice, they might be saying the same things but it just gets to you a little bit differently and your motivation changes.''

Li knows she will have to be sharp against Sharapova - the Russian won the three matches they played last year. But she believes she's a stronger player now.

``I'm getting a little bit older, getting more experience,'' Li said. ``Right now, I really enjoy every match.''

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WILLIAMS SISTERS OUT: Perhaps it was a bad omen for the Williams sisters when one of Venus' shots from the baseline pegged Serena in the back during their doubles match.

Serena shook it off, but the match went downhill from there.

After winning the first set in their Australian Open quarterfinal against top-ranked Italian duo Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, the Williams sisters lost 3-6, 7-6 (1), 7-5 - halting the Americans' bid for their 14th Grand Slam doubles title.

Older sister Venus was to blame for a string of errors at crucial moments, including two double-faults before losing her service game to give the Italians a 6-5 edge in the third set.

Errani served out the 2-hour, 36-minute match without dropping a point, thanks in part to Venus sending the final shot into the net.

``It shows they're human,'' Errani said.

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ATTITUDE CHECK: Bernard Tomic was told to change his attitude if he wants to play for Australia's Davis Cup team, captain Pat Rafter said.

Rafter and Tomic had a falling out in November, and the 20-year-old was axed from his team's first-round matches in February.

Rafter said he spoke to Tomic after his third-round loss to Roger Federer over the weekend, their first conversation since November.

``He needs to respect me and I need to respect him in that manner,'' said Rafter, a two-time U.S. Open champion. ``If we have a breakdown, then obviously that's not a good thing.''

If Australia advances, Tomic's potential return would be based both on his tennis and his temperament.

``The stipulation was that, `You're playing well and you show the attitude that you did here at the Australian Open, then you'll be up for selection like all the other guys,''' Rafter said he told Tomic.

Seen as one of Australia's rising talents, Tomic reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals as a qualifier in 2011 and advanced to the fourth round at last year's Australian Open. But after hitting a career-high No. 27 in June, Tomic's ATP ranking slid to a year-end No. 52.

There were questions about his performance at the U.S. Open in September when he was accused of tanking in a match against American Andy Roddick. He also had a few run-ins with the law at home.

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Wizards have to find a way to stop DeMar DeRozan to climb back in series

Wizards have to find a way to stop DeMar DeRozan to climb back in series

The Toronto Raptors' best player has become a serious problem for the Washington Wizards, as they now face a 3-2 series deficit and the bleak reality that one more loss means their season is over.

DeMar DeRozan, who began this first round series with a modest 17 points in Game 1, has since raised his game to a new level to beyond even what we have seen in the past. In Games 2-5, DeRozan has averaged 31.8 points, including his 32-game outburst in Game 5 that tilted the series in Toronto's favor.

DeRozan is averaging 28.8 points through five games against the Raptors. That's up considerably from his 22.5-point career playoff average.

DeRozan scored his 32 points in Game 5 with efficiency. He shot 12-for-24 from the field and even made three of his four shots from three.

He didn't even need the free throw line like he normally does. DeRozan shot six free throws, less than his regular season average.

The Wizards are having trouble with DeRozan particularly in the first half. DeRozan is averaging 14.8 first-half points during the playoffs, second only to LeBron James. 

DeRozan had 20 points by halftime in Game 5.

"DeMar was in his element tonight," forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. said. "He got it going early. It was kind of hard to shut him off."

The Wizards are paying for disrespecting DeRozan's three-point shot. He shot just 31.2 percent from long range in the regular season, but is shooting threes at a 45.5 percent clip in the playoffs.

If DeRozan is knocking them down from outside, his offensive game is as complete as just about anyone in the NBA. He has shown in this series an impressive ability to not only get to the rim, but finish through contact or draw fouls.

DeRozan does a good job of maintaining body and ball control going straight up against Wizards' big men and is often rewarded by the referees. He shot a playoff career-high 18 free throws in Game 4.

The Wizards are actually doing a decent job of taking away his midrange shots, which usually account for much of his points. Though DeRozan is hitting an impressive 66.7 percent from 5-to-9 feet, up from his season clip of 47.6, his numbers are down from further out.

DeRozan is shooting 40 percent from 10-to-14 feet out, down from 41.5 percent in the regular season, and just 28.6 percent from 15-to-19 feet, down from 43.7.

DeRozan is hurting the Wizards from long range and within nine feet of the rim. He is taking what the Wizards are giving him and Washington has to adjust.

"We’ve gotta pretty much get it out of [his] hands. Make sure we take care of everybody else," Oubre said.

The Wizards should look to how the defended him in Game 4 as a good example of how to limit his impact. DeRozan had 35 points, but required 29 shots from the field and 18 free throws to get there. 

Washington forced DeRozan into an inefficient night and forced others to try to beat them. The result was the Wizards' best defensive game overall, as the Raptors scored a series-low 98 points.

DeRozan isn't the only defensive concern for the Wizards as they look ahead to Game 6 on Friday. Backup point guard Delon Wright scored 18 points for the second time this series and Toronto hit 11 threes in the game.

The Wizards held the Raptors to just seven threes in Game 4 and it was no coincidence they won that game. They have to lock down the perimeter and, as this series has shown, that includes DeRozan even though he isn't known for making threes.

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Wizards go cold late to drop Game 5, as Raptors take 3-2 series lead

Wizards go cold late to drop Game 5, as Raptors take 3-2 series lead

The Washington Wizards lost to the Toronto Raptors 108-98 in Game 5 of their first round playoff series on Wednesday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Ice cold: When the Wizards needed it most, their offense failed them. With John Wall running the show, they can traditionally score with the best of them. But from the 4:05 mark in the fourth quarter, they went scoreless for a stretch of three minutes and 49 seconds.

Meanwhile, the Raptors converted turnovers into points to close the game on a 14-5 run. The Wizards shot brick after brick from long range and missed 11 of their last 15 shots. It was a shocking collapse in a game that had been going well for the Wizards.

By beating the Wizards in Game 5, the Raptors took a 3-2 series lead which historically means they have nearly an 83 percent chance of winning the series. Those aren't good odds for the Wizards, who can look at one area of the court to blame.

The Wizards made only five threes on 26 attempts. The Raptors, conversely, went 11-for-25 (44%) from the perimeter. The Wizards' five threes were their fewest in a game since Jan. 12.

DeRozan was a killer: As has been the case this entire series, DeMar DeRozan led the charge for Toronto. The perennial All-Star came out on fire with 20 points in the first half alone.

This time, it wasn't just free throws. He was 4-for-4 at the half, but 7-for-13 from the field and 2-for-2 from three. Usually, threes aren't his game.

DeRozan kept it up in the second half to score 32 points on 12-of-24 from the field. That's a pretty efficient night.

Otto looked a bit hurt: Otto Porter, who was held to nine points and four rebounds, didn't appear to be moving very well. He was running around with a limp, which suggests his right lower leg strain is still bothering him.

Head coach Scott Brooks said last week that Porter is 100 percent, but that doesn't seem like the case, unless there was some sort of setback in the time since. Porter, however, is such a smart player and such a good shooter that he can still make the most of his time on the court.

Solid start: The Wizards aren't used to playing well in the first quarter this series. They entered Game 5 with an average deficit of -7.2 points in the first quarter. In this game, however, they led by one point after one.

That was thanks to a buzzer-beater by John Wall (26 points, nine assists, nine rebounds). Ian Mahinmi got the offensive rebound and it set up Wall for a last-second shot. He got to one of his spots and sent it in:

It was just the second time in five games this series that the Wizards have been leading after one. The other time was Game 3, when the Wizards beat the Raptors handily to earn their first win.

The Wizards, though, couldn't finish. They also couldn't protect the ball. At least Wall couldn't, as he committed seven turnovers, one short of his playoff career-high.

Backup PGs: The Raptors again played without point guard Fred VanVleet, their best bench player and a guy who is arguably one of the best backup point guards in basketball. The loss has been evident for the most part, despite his replacement Delon Wright doing a solid job, including with 18 points in Game 5.

On Wednesday, Washington's backup point guard also shined. Despite not playing a single game during the regular season, Ty Lawson continues to make smart plays and create scoring opportunities for others.

He had four assists in this game and made one of the best plays of the night. Check out this move he put on to set up Ian Mahinmi:

And this dude was playing in China like two weeks ago? If he keeps this up, there will be an easy case to make that the Wizards should re-sign him for next season.

Clearly, they want Tomas Satoransky to play more off the ball and the coaching staff hasn't gained full trust in him. Lawson and Satoransky could make a solid reserve backcourt if they have some time to develop some chemistry.

Up next: The Wizards and Raptors are back at it on Friday night in Washington for Game 6. The tipoff time has not been announced, but the game will be aired on NBC Sports Washington.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

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