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Serena hurts ankle, Murray, Federer advance

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Serena hurts ankle, Murray, Federer advance

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Serena Williams frightened a few people, including herself. Defending champion Victoria Azarenka had a momentary lack of concentration. Two of the biggest names on the men's side at the Australian Open - Roger Federer and Andy Murray - had straight-set wins.

Day 2 at Melbourne Park on Tuesday brought another day of perfect weather but a few anxious moments for Williams, who fell awkwardly on her right ankle in her 6-0, 6-0 win over No. 110-ranked Edina Gallovits-Hall.

Williams had the ankle heavily taped by trainers and was able to continue and still dominate the Romanian player. Later, she said she hoped to continue playing - she'll have a scheduled day off Wednesday, returning Thursday to play her second-round match - and maintain her quest of winning her third Grand Slam tournament in a row and sixth Australian Open.

``I think I was really, really close to panicking because a very similar thing happened to me last year, almost on the same side, the same shot,'' Williams said. ``I just had to really remain calm and think things through.''

She left little doubt she'll be back to play her second-round match Thursday against Garbine Muguruza of Spain, who needed a 14-12 win in the deciding set to clinch her first-round match Tuesday against Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia.

``Oh, I'll be out there,'' Williams said of her second-round match. ``I'm alive. My heart's beating. I'll be fine.''

Azarenka trailed 3-0 in the second set of her match with Monica Niculescu before leveling the set at 4-4 and winning 6-1, 6-4.

``I started well but I struggled a little in the second set,'' Azarenka said.

Told that her biggest threat on her half of the draw had injured her ankle, Azarenka wondered, tongue-in-cheek, how serious Williams' ailment could be: ``I heard she won love and love, so what kind of injury are we talking about?''

Murray, playing with more confidence since his U.S. Open win in the final over Novak Djokovic that ended a 76-year drought for British men in majors, beat Robin Haase of the Netherlands 6-3, 6-1, 6-3. The second-seeded Federer defeated Benoit Paire of France 6-2, 6-4, 6-1.

Murray needed only 1 hour, 37 minutes, and Federer 1:23 in their first-round matches. They'll need to conserve their energy for a potential semifinal against each other to determine a final against top-seeded and defending champion Djokovic, assuming all three men are still around on the final weekend.

Before a ball was hit Tuesday, players and officials were shocked to hear of the serious illness and pending resignation of ATP World Tour executive chairman and president Brad Drewett. The ATP said in a statement Tuesday that Drewett, a former player, has motor neurone disease, or Lou Gehrig's disease, but will continue in his role on an interim basis until a successor is found ``in the near future.''

Drewett has held the top ATP position since Jan. 1, 2012. The 54-year-old Australian was a top 40 singles and top 20 doubles player before he retired as a player in 1990.

Federer, president of the ATP Player Council, said the news was difficult for the tour and its players.

``I saw him yesterday and he told me the news,'' Federer said. ``Obviously very emotional ...''

Murray said it was ``shocking news.''

``He's definitely had an impact in the time he's been working there,'' Murray said. "It's a big shame.''

It was Murray's first Grand Slam match as a major champion.

``It didn't feel much different to me,'' he said. ``I was still nervous before I went on to play the match.

``The benefits of that is if I get myself deep into a Slam this year and you're playing against the top players - that's when you'll draw on that experience and use it in the right way.''

It's been 12 months since Murray started working with eight-time major winner Ivan Lendl, and he attributes much of the success in his breakthrough 2012 to his partnership with his new coach.

It's relaxed ``in front of the cameras,'' Murray joked. ``Behind closed doors he works me very hard ... he tells you exactly how it is and that's exactly what I needed.''

In other men's matches, No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro, 2008 finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 13 Milos Raonic of Canada, No. 14 Gilles Simon, No. 17 . Philipp Kohlschreiber, No. 21 Andreas Seppi and No. 25 Florian Mayer advanced.

Bernard Tomic, who beat Djokovic at the Hopman Cup two weeks ago, defeated Leonardo Mayer of Argentina 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 in a night match. Tomic has been on a New Year's high after winning his first ATP tournament on Saturday at the Sydney International.

Williams sounded almost matter-of-fact about her ankle ailment and its potential to affect her play in the rest of a Grand Slam she has won five times.

``I've played this tournament with so many injuries and was able to come off pretty on top,'' she said. ``So for me, it's just another page and a great story to tell the grandkids one day.''

Williams is favored to win the season's first major, coming into Melbourne with 35 wins in her previous 36 matches, including titles at Wimbledon, the London Olympics and the U.S. Open.

In other women's matches, former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki won the last six games to beat Sabine Lisicki of Germany 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 to advance along with No. 16 Roberta Vinci, No. 17 Lucie Safarova and No. 29 Sloane Stephens, the American teenager who beat Simona Halep of Romania 6-1, 6-1.

Former U.S. Open and French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova continued her comeback from a knee injury that kept her out of the U.S. Open, ending her run of 40 consecutive majors. Also, No. 14 Maria Kirilenko had a 6-4, 6-2 win over American player Vania King.

Two seeded players lost night matches. Julie Hampton of the U.S. beat No. 31 Urszula Radwanska of Poland 6-2, 6-4 while Ukrainian qualifier Lesia Tsurenko defeated No. 24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia 7-5, 3-6, 7-5.

And 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan upset No. 12-seeded Nadia Petrova of Russia 6-2, 6-0 to become the oldest woman to win a singles match at the Australian Open.

While Serena Williams will have the day off to rest her weary ankle Wednesday, her sister Venus will be back in action against Alize Cornet of France, and Djokovic returns to play his second-round match against American Ryan Harrison.

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The NBA All-Star pregame introductions were, uh, something

The NBA All-Star pregame introductions were, uh, something

Whoever put together the NBA All-Star Game player introductions has some 'splainin to do. 

The NBA introduced a kinda-full Staples Center to their 2018 All-Stars about an hour ago, and boy was it weird. There were a lot of dancers in different themed costumes. Kevin Hart was screaming. Rob Riggle was screaming. Ludacris showed up? Hey! Did you know that the Barenaked Ladies are still a band? The NBA would like you to know they're still around.  The whole thing was like when you're at an art museum and you're told that abstract piece in the corner is actually really meaningful but you gotta be honest, you don't get it. 

Anyways, the internet hated it. Here are some highlights from the internet hating it:

The lesson here is that you never need Kevin Hart and Rob Riggle. One will do. 

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 18, 24 days before NFL free agency starts.

Tandler’s Take

The topic for today’s post comes from Twitter:

When I asked for topics for this post, the subject of the running game came up with several of them. And since John brought up the draft, let’s look at that as a potential solution.

Let’s first establish that the Redskins’ running game was not good enough last year. I don’t need to spend a bunch of time on this but here are some numbers. They were 28th in rushing yards and 29th in yards per carry. If you like to weigh more complete metrics, they were 28th in rushing DVOA. If you want to look at a key situation, they were last in the league in yards per first-down rushing attempt. Last year a team gained 100 yards rushing or more 274 times. The Redskins got there five times.

I’m going to leave it at that here since, again, if you’re reading this you probably watched a lot of their games and you don’t need to be persuaded that the running game was largely unproductive. Yes, there were injuries that had the offensive linemen playing snaps just days after being signed and the broken leg suffered by Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley’s various ailments. But the Redskins haven’t ranked higher than 19th in rushing yards since Jay Gruden became the head coach. Rushing game struggles are an ongoing issue.

I am going to work on the premise that those who advocate having the Redskins improve their running game via the draft are talking about drafting a running back in the first or second round. That may be overgeneralizing but that gives me a good-sized chunk of data to work with and still be able to analyze it in the 1000 words or so I am allotted here.

I’m also going to call a 1,000-yard season the minimum that would be expected out of a back drafted in the first two rounds. There are other ways a back can contribute, of course, and we can deal with them separately.

From 2010-2017, there were 45 thousand-yard rushing seasons by players who entered the league during those years (all data via the indispensable Pro Football Reference unless noted). Twelve of them were accomplished by players drafted in the first round. Six came from second-round picks, six from third-rounders, four from the fourth, three from the fifth, four from the sixth and none from the seventh. Oh, and there were 10 thousand-yard seasons that came from undrafted players.

It should be noted that four of those seasons from undrafted players came from the Texans’ Arian Foster. And two each came from LeGarrette Blount and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. So those 10 thousand-yard seasons should not be seen as an indication that there is a treasure trove of running back talent going undrafted every year.

Back to the first and second rounders, the combined 16 thousand-yard seasons doesn’t mean much in isolation. How many backs were drafted in the first two rounds in that time? How many opportunities have they had to post big seasons?

In the past eight drafts, 34 running backs were drafted in the first and second round. That group has had 170 opportunities to post a 1,000-yard season. What I mean by opportunities is the number of seasons that have elapsed since the player was drafted. The six backs drafted in the first two rounds in 2010 have each had eight chances to gain 1,000 yards in a season so they have combined for 48 opportunities (6*8). There were five backs drafted in the first and second seven seasons ago, so there have combined for 35 opportunities, and so on. Through the eight years that adds up to 170 seasons.

The combined 16 thousand-yard seasons in 170 opportunities comes to a success rate of 9.4 percent when it comes to reaching the bar that most fans would set as the minimum.

A couple of things need to be pointed out here. There are some backs like Giovani Bernard, Shane Vereen, and Christian McCaffrey who do not have any big rushing seasons on their resumes but have been valuable catching passes out of the backfield. And some like Dalvin Cook, who was injured after a promising start last year, and McCaffrey seemed destined to have 1,000-yard seasons in their futures. So all of the backs who have not gained 1,000 yards in a season are not necessarily draft busts or failures.

But here are first-round running back busts, just like there are busts at every position. There were 12 running back picked in the first round of the past eight drafts. Javid Best, David Wilson, and Trent Richardson clearly were disappointments (the former two struggled with injuries). Doug Martin, Ryan Mathews, and C.J. Spiller have had some success but perhaps not enough to justify being first-round picks. It took Mark Ingram a while, but he got rolling in his sixth NFL season. I want to see more out of McCaffrey before judging him and Melvin Gordon needs to continue his upward trajectory. It’s safe to say that even with small sample sizes of data in the books on Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette they were home runs. So was Todd Gurley.

So out of 12 first-round backs in the last eight years, you have three clear busts, three moderate disappointments, four top-level performers (including Ingram) and two TBD.

In any case, it’s clear that just drafting a back early is not a panacea for a struggling running game. Blocking (from both the line and the receivers and other backs), play calling, scheme, and some intangible factors like attitude (as Brian Mitchell will tell you) all play into the success and failure of moving the ball on the ground.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.