Victoria Azarenka vs Li Na in final in Australia


Victoria Azarenka vs Li Na in final in Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Victoria Azarenka will have 48 hours to calm her nerves, rest her body and move past a center-court controversy before she returns to defend her Australian Open title.

Her opponent is an emotionally and physically fresher Li Na, the 2011 French Open champion.

Both women used the word ``hungry'' to describe how much they want to win their second Grand Slam title. Both say their goal is to keep cool and not let their emotions get the best of them on the big day.

In that respect, the sixth-seeded Li enters the final with an advantage.

The 30-year-old Li is in top physical form and making a Grand Slam comeback. After becoming the first Chinese tennis player to win at a major in 2011, she hit a slump. But she hired Justine Henin's former coach six months ago and the partnership has produced rapid results.

Li charged into the semifinals at the Australian Open without dropping a set. As a result, she will return to the top five after beating No. 4-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals.

She needed just 93 minutes on Thursday to power past No. 2 Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-2. She then charmed an adoring crowd by cracking jokes during an on-court interview. She kidded about her husband's snoring, her attempts to lose weight and the tough training by coach Carlos Rodriguez - before turning to the stands to thank him.

``You don't need to push me anymore. I will push myself,'' she told Rodriguez, who helped Henin win seven majors and seems to have a knack for guiding players past their nerves.

``I don't know what happened today,'' Li said later. ``I just came to the court feeling like, `OK, just do it!''

A similar slogan carried over into Azarenka's semifinal, where her rap star friend Redfoo sat in the stands cheering her on in a T-shirt that read: ``Let's Do It.''

The confident and big-hitting Azarenka also advanced in straight sets, beating American teenager Sloane Stephens 6-1, 6-4. But the victory was packed with drama and ended with the top-ranked player defending herself against accusations of gamesmanship by leaving the court for a medical timeout.

Serving for the match at 5-3, the 23-year-old Azarenka wasted five match points, lost her serve - then called a timeout. She sat with a trainer and left the court during a nine-minute medical break. She returned to close out the match by breaking Stephens' serve.

But she raised suspicion during her interview on center court.

``Well, I almost did the choke of the year,'' a relieved Azarenka said to the crowd. ``I just felt a little bit overwhelmed. I realized I'm one step away from the final and nerves got into me for sure.

``I love to play here and I just couldn't lose, that's why I was so upset.''

Azarenka, who has a history of on-court tantrums, didn't help herself in a television interview after the match.

``I couldn't breathe. I had chest pains,'' she said, when asked why she left the court. ``It was like I was getting a heart attack.''

After surviving her semifinal, Azarenka had a post-match news conference where she said she was dealing with a rib injury that made it hard to breathe. She said her earlier comments were a misunderstanding.

Australian Open officials said the tournament doctor reported that Azarenka had left knee and rib injuries.

``Right now, I just need to calm down with the whole situation (and) make sure that my body's right,'' Azarenka said.

If the reaction at Rod Laver Arena on Thursday was any indication, the crowd favorite for the final is Li - who won over a lot of fans in her match and perhaps even more as a result of Azarenka's situation.

Australian crowds love their defending champions but dislike any whiff of bad sportsmanship. Accusations against Azarenka immediately surged through social media platforms.

By reaching the final, Azarenka retains her No. 1 ranking, but has said that's not her focus.

``I'm really hungry to defend my title,'' she said. ``That is my first goal... to win the tournament.''

If she masters her jitters and comes into the final focused, Li will have a tough fight.

Azarenka leads 5-4 in career matches, including the last four times they've played. However, Li has a better record at Grand Slams, having beaten Azarenka at the 2011 Australian Open before reaching the final that year. Li also beat the Belarussian later that year at the French Open before winning the title.

``What should I worry about?'' Li said when asked if she was nervous for the match. ``I was working so hard in winter training. I think now everything is coming back to me.''

On the day of the final, here's her plan: ``I come to the court, take my racket and enjoy the tennis.''

No. 16 UMBC shocks No. 1 Virginia to make NCAA history

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No. 16 UMBC shocks No. 1 Virginia to make NCAA history

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Senior guard Jairus Lyles scored 28 points, and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County pulled off the most shocking upset in NCAA Tournament history, defeating Virginia 75-54 on Friday night to become the first No. 16 seed ever to beat a No. 1 seed.

Virginia entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed after going 31-2 this season, including 20-1 in ACC competition.

But the Cavaliers couldn't get anything generated on offense and the nation's top-ranked defense couldn't contain American East Conference champions.

The 74 points were the most Virginia had allowed this year.

Lyles was the catalyst.

He diced up Virginia's defense in the second half, getting the hole easily on six different occasions and making easy layups. He also knocked down a pair of 3-pointers as UMBC built a 16-point lead.

Lyles finished with 23 of his points in the second half and Joe Sherburne finished with 14 points.

The game was tied at halftime, but the Retrievers came out confident and motivated in the second half and built a double-digit lead that Virginia could never erase.

Sherburne scored on an and-one drive and then knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key after a behind-the-back pass from KJ Maura. After Virginia made a foul shot, the shifty 5-foot-8, 140-pound Maura drove the lane for uncontested layup.

A Tony Bennett timeout couldn't stop the bleeding, as Lyles hit two more 3's and Sherburne hit one to extend UMBC's lead to 14 with 14:57 left in the game. Lyles was fouled on a 3-point shot and suddenly the Retrievers led by 16.

A corner 3-pointer and a layups off a fastbreak by Arkel Lamer gave UMBC its biggest lead at 67-48. From there, the party was on as chants of "UMBC" rang through the arena.

It was yet another early exit for the Cavaliers in a season that seemed to hold so much promise.


UMBC: Despite being undersized and unknown, they shocked the world and made history with an epic game.

Virginia: This isn't the first time Virginia has struggled as the No. 1 seed. The Cavaliers trailed by five at halftime in 2014 to Coastal Carolina but went on to win 70-59.


UMBC: Will face No. 9 seed Kansas State on Sunday in the second round.

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Kuznetsov to be evaluated Saturday after leaving Islanders game with "upper body" issue

Kuznetsov to be evaluated Saturday after leaving Islanders game with "upper body" issue

The Capitals may have won the game Friday against the New York Islanders, but now they will wait to see if they also suffered a significant loss.

Kuznetsov left the game in the third period after taking a slash from Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey which sent him sliding head-first into the boards. The team labeled the issue as “upper body” when it was announced he would not return to the game.

Head coach Barry Trotz was tight-lipped afterward on Kuznetsov’s status.

“They're going to re-evaluate him tomorrow and we'll have some clarity hopefully tomorrow,” he said.


You can see the play here:

When Kuznetsov is first slashed he immediately reacts. His feet then catch the stick of goalie Jaroslav Halak which sends him tripping and sliding hard into the boards. He sat on the ice for several minutes afterward and was looked at by the trainer before getting to his feet and slowly making his way to the locker room.

When asked after the game what he felt about the slash, Trotz said only, “Hockey play.”

One of the Capitals’ biggest strengths as a team is their depth down the middle. Any injury to a center, considering it is arguably the most important skating position on the ice, would be significant. An injury to the team’s top-line center would be even more costly.

Kuznetsov leads the team with 28 assists and ranks second in both goals (21) and points (69).