Sloane Stephens gets text messages from grandpa


Sloane Stephens gets text messages from grandpa

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) One of the things Sloane Stephens likes about winning at the Australian Open is that her tech-savvy grandparents can keep watching her from back home.

``My grandpa texted me,'' the 19-year-old Stephens said. ``He said they stayed up again to watch me `on the machine' as my grandpa calls it.''

That's the computer.

Grandpa got to see Stephens advance Thursday to the third round, beating France's Kristina Mladenovic 6-4, 6-3. It's one of many reasons to be proud of her.

Stephens is the No. 3-ranked American woman and has climbed to a career high world ranking of No. 25. Her ascent has been quick after ending 2012 ranked 38th, which made her the youngest player inside the year-end top 50.

Last year, Stephens was one of the up-and-coming players to watch. She reached the third round at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and the fourth round at the French Open. She has achieved her best result in Melbourne after exiting in the second round at last year's Australian Open.

For Stephens, Thursday's match was personal.

She has played the 19 -year-old Mladenovic on big stages before, namely the semifinals of the 2009 French Open juniors tournament, where she lost.

Asked if she remembered that match, Stephens replied: ``How could I forget?''

``That match made my career. I was devastated,'' said Stephens, who is bubbly and charmingly confident. ``I cried for like a month after that.

``But if we had never played before, it would have been super difficult to get out there and play now, so I think that kind of helped.''

By her accounting, Stephens ``didn't play that great'' on Thursday. The 98th-ranked Mladenovic was hitting big serves and big forehands and Stephens had trouble finding her rhythm. She felt her mind wander but then she steered it back to the game.

When asked how she pulled herself out of tight spots, Stephens talked more about her mindset than her tennis.

``I think it's a mixture of things. Concentration, confidence, willing to run every ball down,'' she said. ``Today I was determined to get the next ball back.''

Staying focused leads to other rewards, she smiled.

Like a pair of Jimmy Choos.

Before coming to Melbourne, Stephens had promised herself: ``If I stay focused and concentrate, then I'll reward myself with Jimmy Choo shoes.''

How much will those shoes set her back?

``You don't want to know,'' she said with big eyes. ``It's like five meals. And I eat a lot.''

Stephens' next opponent is Laura Robson, a British teenager she has known since she was 12.

The 53rd-ranked Robson upset No. 8 Petra Kvitova 2-6, 6-3, 11-9 in a 3-hour battle on center court that ended after midnight.

After the 18-year-old Robson politely thanked the crowd for staying to watch, she said she needed to check her phone.

``I think my mum is back home bombarding my phone with text messages,'' she said.


OH LA LA: Gael Monfils faced a room full of French journalists who had one probing question: ``How could you double fault 23 times?''

The Frenchman explained that he felt so tired during his match that he was desperately trying to keep points short.

``I wanted to finish with an ace, so I wouldn't have to play the point,'' he said.

Sometimes that worked. He served an impressive 29 aces.

Sometimes it didn't. Four of his double faults came in the last game as he served for the match. At one point, he stood on the service line laughing in disbelief.

Eventually, the 86th-ranked Monfils won the match to claim a spot in the third round, but it was painful.

``It's been a long time since I've felt that bad in a match,'' he said. ``I didn't feel well. I struggled physically. I was extremely tired.''

It took five sets and lasted 3 hours, 38 minutes before he overcame a valiant effort by Yen-hsun Lu of Tawian 7-6 (5), 4-6, 0-6, 6-1, 8-6.

The scorching heat on Thursday didn't help Monfils - it reached 106 degrees. But he didn't blame the weather.

Monfils entered his first Grand Slam since last year's Australian Open, and he had entered it questioning if he was fit enough because of knee injuries. The Frenchman's ranking slumped from 13th in February 2012 to 99th in January while he battled injuries and other setbacks last year.

Three other Frenchman advanced Thursday without much difficulty. Monfils faces one of them in the third round: No. 14-seed Gilles Simon.

Also, No. 7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Japan's Go Soeda, 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-3, and No. 9 Richard Gasquet defeated Alejandro Falla of Columbia 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.


BURNING UP OUT THERE: James Duckworth said the court was so hot it felt like his feet were burning. He was sweating ``bucket loads.''

On the hottest day of this year's Australian Open at 106 degrees, the distinction of the longest match goes to Duckworth of Australia and Slovenia's Blaz Kavcic. Both struggled with cramps during the 4-hour, 52-minute match before Kavcic won 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 10-8.

``We both just were hanging on for dear life,'' said Duckworth, who won a wildcard entry to the main draw and is ranked 209th.

The 94th-ranked Kavcic needed on-court treatment from a trainer during the fourth set tiebreaker for what appeared to be a cramp in his left thigh. He tweeted after the match he had a ``total physical collapse after the match.''

Duckworth saved five match points in the fifth set despite leg cramps that made his hamstring and quads ``lock up.''

During changeovers, he downed energy drinks and had some cola for caffeine, he ate bananas for energy and tried eating salt to ease his cramps.

After the match, he got on a bike at the gym.

``Thought I'd smash out a 10k time trial,'' he joked. ``No, just a light cool down.''

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John Wall goes through full practice for first time since left knee surgery

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John Wall goes through full practice for first time since left knee surgery

John Wall crossed one of the biggest hurdles of his months-long recovery from arthroscopic left knee surgery on Saturday by participating in his first full practice.

That means Wall went through 5-on-5 scrimmages with teammates that included contact. He is free of restrictions.

Now it is only a matter of days before Wall is ready to return to game action.

"John did everything, he did an entire practice which was great," head coach Scott Brooks said. "I thought he did a great job offensively and defensively."


Wall, who last played on Jan. 25 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, has missed the Wizards' last 24 games. He has been absent for 35 of their 72 total games this season.

In the months he has been out, Wall has slowly worked his way to this point. He still has to get a few more practices under his belt before the Wizards can outline a target date for his return.

Wall was aggressive in testing his knee by attacking the basket, according to Brooks. Wall was moving around well and even lost a few pounds during his time off.

"He looks great and that's not easy with time off," Brooks said. "He will be back in no time."


The Wizards have gone 14-10 since Wall went down, an impressive mark especially considering how tough their schedule shook out. Most of those games came against teams with winning records either holding playoff spots or fighting for them.

The shine, though, is wearing off. They have lost two straight games and seven of their last 11. Their offense has stalled in recent defeats and it's become more and more clear they could use Wall's presence.

"He gives us that edge," Wall said. "When you have him on the floor, you get a lot of easy shots. John creates a lot of attention when he drives to the basket... I think [his teammates] have always appreciated it, but when you don't have him around you definitely miss it."

While the Wizards continue to wait for Wall to return to games, just having him in practices helps. Brooks explained how guarding a player of Wall's caliber, a five-time All-Star, raises the intensity level of their scrimmages. If his teammates do not bring their best effort, Wall can very easily expose them.


There is also something intangible about Wall's presence. The media sees it once the doors open at practice. He is talkative and energetic on the court.

Some of his teammates even described him as "loud."

"Sometimes I tell him that he's a little too loud," guard Bradley Beal said. "But that's the energy that we've missed."

"He brings the juice. He brings the energy level up," Brooks said. "You miss his spirit. You miss the way he interacts with guys. He's fiery and competitive. He gets after guys. He cheers guys on. I like that. I like guys that show emotion and passion on the court."

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Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Following their seventh loss in 11 games and another lackluster performance in key areas, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks reverted back to a critique that characterized many defeats months ago. He called into question the effort of his team, more specifically their urgency. How they could overlook the stakes at this point of the season and with so much on the line had escaped him.

Brooks wasn't pleased following Washington's 108-100 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. He didn't like their three-point defense, their inability to force turnovers and their lack of zip on offense. But overall, it was the apparent lack of realization that time is running out in the regular season and off-nights cannot be afforded.

"We have to play with more spirit [and] we have to take some pride in our home court," Brooks said. "We’re building our habits going into the playoffs and these are moments where we need to take advantage because it’s playoff implications in every game."


Pride is something Brooks has referenced after the Wizards' worst defeats since he took over. This one didn't qualify, as they only lost by eight points and had opportunities late to write a different ending. But they were playing a team fighting for their own playoff position in the opposite conference and for the most part did not match their intensity.

The Nuggets, to put it plainly, are among the worst defensive teams in basketball. They were missing their leading scorer, Gary Harris. And they tightened their rotation to just eight players.

Yet the Wizards only managed 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers. Aside from their 33-point third quarter, the Wizards' offense was effectively stalled. 

"We can’t have guys that are not going to participate with hard cuts and hard setups and good screens. We need everybody. It’s not one person, it’s all," Brooks said.


The Wizards only forced 10 turnovers on the Nuggets and only three in the first half. That held back their offense in the sense they had few opportunities for fastbreak buckets.

"That’s where we get most of our offense from anyways, getting stops, getting out in transition," forward Otto Porter said.

The Wizards have lost two straight games. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers and Pacers both won on Friday night.

The Wizards are sixth place in the East and just 1 1/2 games out of fourth, but there is a huge difference in those spots. Sixth could mean meeting the Cavs in the first round and they have won three straight since Kevin Love returned from injury.


The Cavaliers could quickly become the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference. Their record is deceiving due to Love's injury and they still boast LeBron James, the best player on the planet. No one can control a playoff series quite like he can.

An argument could be made the Wizards would be better off moving down than up, as the seventh spot would match them up with the injury-riddled Boston Celtics. The Wizards are just 1 1/2 games ahead of the seventh-seed Miami Heat.

The Wizards, though, would prefer to move up and they still have a chance to get into fourth, which would mean home court advantage.

John Wall will return at some point, likely soon. In the short-term, Brooks would like to some urgency and for his team to get back to the trademark ball movement that allowed them to go 10-3 in their first 13 games when Wall went down.

"We can get it back, but it’s not going to come back. We have to go get it. It’s time to do it; it’s time," Brooks said.

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