Nationals

American teen Keys looked up to Venus as a toddler

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American teen Keys looked up to Venus as a toddler

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) As a 4-year-old she watched Venus Williams playing on TV and fell in love with her dress.

So began the tennis career of Madison Keys.

``I really wanted a tennis dress,'' said Keys, now 17. ``My parents told me that if I played, they would buy me one. I was like, `Hey, I'll try it.'''

Keys now has a closet full of tennis dresses and enough talent to have reached the third round at the Australian Open on Wednesday.

Ranked 105th and playing as a wild-card entry, Keys powered through the second round beating 30th-ranked Tamira Paszek 6-2, 6-1 in just 56 minutes - drawing accolades from people who are now watching her play.

One of them was retired three-time Grand Slam winner and fellow American Lindsay Davenport, who thinks that Keys has ``incredible potential.''

``Best hope I've seen for U.S. since Williams,'' Davenport tweeted, not clarifying if she meant the 32-year-old Venus - who owns seven Grand Slam titles - or younger sister Serena who has 15.

Keys broke into a big smile and blushed when told of Davenport's appraisal.

``It makes me really happy,'' Keys said. ``I've been working really hard. I think it's starting to show.''

After her match, Keys was ushered into the main players' news conference room at Melbourne Park, which is usually reserved for top players or the people who beat them.

A bit awe-struck by the attention, Keys explained that her introduction to tennis was ``complete luck.''

Both her parents are lawyers and nobody in her family plays tennis, but she loved it from the moment she picked up a racket, she said.

``Every single day, my parents fed me balls. Eventually it turned into having a coach, and then it went to being at an academy,'' she said. ``You know, it worked out pretty well.''

Keys turned pro on her 14th birthday, Feb. 17, 2009, and made her debut at Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., where she became the seventh youngest player to win a main draw match and the youngest since Martina Hingis in 1994.

At 16 years old she played her first Grand Slam at the 2011 U.S. Open, becoming the youngest and - at 455th - the lowest-ranked woman in the draw. She made it the second round and then won a wild card into last year's Australian Open, where she lost in the first round.

This year's Australian Open is her third Grand Slam and her best result so far.

She faces a tough test in the third round against Wimbledon semifinalist and No. 5-seed Angelique Kerber of Germany, who beat Luci Hradecka in the second round 6-3, 6-1.

Unlike the jitters she felt at the U.S. Open, Keys said she feels more confident now.

``My first U.S. Open main draw, it was a big stadium and I wasn't really used to it,'' she said. ``But I feel good about this one so far.''

Her former idol, 32-year-old Venus Williams, had a good day, too, advancing to the third round after beating Alize Cornet of France 6-3, 6-3.

Asked what it feels like to have younger players look up to her, Venus laughed.

``I'm fighting the wrinkles and I'm fighting the battle of the bulge and everything,'' Williams responded. ``I'm still slim and trim, thank you God.''

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BATTLE FOR NO. 1: The women's No. 1 ranking will be decided at the Australian Open.

The contenders are top-ranked Victoria Azarenka, No. 2 Maria Sharapova and No. 3 Serena Williams.

Azarenka needs to reach the final to have a shot at staying on top. She first claimed the top-ranking after winning last year's Australian Open and is guaranteed to keep it for her 48th week until the tournament ends.

Sharapova and Williams need to reach the final to have a shot at unseating Azarenka.

Four-time major winner Sharapova made a four-week return to the No. 1-spot in June after completing a career Grand Slam by winning her first French Open title. She became the first Russian to reach the top-ranking in August 2005 and has held the spot for 21 non-consecutive weeks during her career.

Serena is well-acquainted with the top spot, having spent 123 weeks during her career at No. 1. The 15-time Grand Slam winner is seeking her fifth Australian Open trophy.

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BOWLED OVER: When he wasn't playing tennis, India's Somdev Devvarman ducked over to the historic Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The 551st-ranked player described himself as ``a huge cricket fan.''

``Obviously growing up in India, we didn't have a choice but to watch cricket,'' the 27-year-old joked.

On his rest day after winning in the first round at Melbourne Park, Devvarman popped across the railway tracks to the 100,000-seat MCG for a photo shoot at a place he'd seen many times on TV.

``There's a lot of history over there,'' he said, adding that he had fun visiting one of cricket's most famous venues and the on-site museum where be browsed through the old bats and balls and saw statues of some of his favorite cricket players.

There was one thing missing among the statues, he said: ``I wish there were a few Indians over there, too.''

Devvarman exited in the second round after losing a four-hour, four-set battle against No. 24 Jerzy Janowicz of Poland, 6-7 (10), 3-6, 6-1, 6-0, 7-5.

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MLB Rumors: Yankees reportedly believe Stephen Strasburg is returning to the Nationals

MLB Rumors: Yankees reportedly believe Stephen Strasburg is returning to the Nationals

With more uncertainty surrounding the Nationals' roster than in recent memory, it appears the franchise might be able to check one name off their list. 

Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole are considered the top pitchers available in free agency and have both met with the Yankees already. While reports around Cole suggest he could be primed for a move to the Bronx, it seems New York no longer believes they can win Strasburg over. 

On MLB Network Monday morning, Jon Heyman said, "I know the Yankees for one, believe that Strasburg is going back to Washington."

After a meeting in which Brian Cashman and company brought in Andy Pettite to help sway Strasburg into putting on the Yankee pinstripes, they probably gained a decent idea of where Strasburg's heart lied. 

There was a report two weeks ago saying Strasburg could re-sign with the Nationals as soon as early as before the Winter Meetings, so a return by No. 37 could be coming soon. 

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

12.9.19 Rick Horrow sits down with Julie Edelman, Global Client Partner of Google

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USA TODAY Sports

12.9.19 Rick Horrow sits down with Julie Edelman, Global Client Partner of Google

Edited by Tanner Simkins

In the latest edition of Rick Horrow's Sports Business Podcast, Rick sits down with  Julie Edelman, Global Client Partner of Google.

LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST HERE

1. It's hard to believe, but we have reached the end of yet another decade. And in the business of sport, it’s been a busy one. Here are Rick Horrow’s top 15 sport business/law trends and issues of the decade just ending. Stay tuned throughout December for his top 15 sports technology and media picks, as well as his most influential philanthropic/corporate social responsibility actions in sports, and an early look at the year and decade ahead.

2. State by state, legal sports wagering outside of Nevada sportsbooks takes hold, with massive business implications. On May 14, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the federal ban on sports betting. Since the ruling, 19 states have legalized the practice, with Colorado, Illinois, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Tennessee passing legislation this year. Additionally, 24 states have pending legislation. Legal sports wagering has already had a profound effect on virtually all American professional sports, casting a wider fan base net, spurring innovation in sports media and e-commerce, and birthing an entire cottage industry of related new companies. Sports teams are embracing fans who wager – Monumental Sports & Entertainment, owners of the Washington Wizards and Capitals, is only the latest ownership group to install a sportsbook in their venue. And tens of millions of tax dollars on net sports betting proceeds are adding income streams to state and community coffers. 

 

3. College football adds a real playoff. After years of avoiding adding yet another game to the college football season via the auspice of the Bowl Championship Series – a selection system that created five existing bowl matchups involving ten of the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision’s top-ranked teams – the NCAA in the 2014-2015 season finally embraced the College Football Playoff (CFP), a bracket tournament between the top four teams in the country as determined by a selection committee, culminating in a championship game at a neutral site. While the payout for the semifinal teams is a modest $6 million, the playoff format delivers tens of millions in additional revenue to the schools, conferences, and contract and access bowl host cities – a handful of which, including New Orleans this year, get to double down on hosting duties and economic impact.

 

4. After 20 long years, Los Angeles gets an NFL team back in 2016. In fact, it gets two. Largely thanks to billionaire and St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke, Los Angeles has now positioned itself to be the center of the sports universe for the next decade and likely longer. The two-decade span in which Los Angeles lacked an NFL team was brought on in part by the obsolescence of Los Angeles’s existing stadiums, the unwillingness of the NFL to add expansion teams after 2002 (when the Houston Texans premiered) or relocate any other teams, and an inability to agree on a plan to build a new stadium, despite several proposals that were vetted but never landed a team willing to relocate under the developers’ terms. Kroenke’s privately-funded SoFi Stadium opens next July with a Taylor Swift concert and will house both the Rams and the Chargers. Additionally, the $4.963 billion venue will host Super Bowl LVI in 2022, the CFP National Championship Game in 2023, and the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. L.A. is now synonymous with mega sports events.

 

5. Rob Manfred became the 10th Major League Baseball Commissioner during a period of labor peace and unrest in almost everything else. At the beginning of the decade, baseball was still healing from its steroid era, a span in the 1990s-2000s where home runs were plenty and performance-enhancing drug testing scarce. Former Commissioner Bud Selig was largely credited with cleaning up the sport, and in 2015 Manfred inherited a league that was in decent baseball shape but desperately trying to stay relevant to the next generation of fans. Slow play was an issue…but a pitch clock somehow made games even slower. PED bats were gone, but the balls appeared to be corked. And Manfred’s decade ends with a nasty sign-stealing scandal involving the World Series champion Houston Astros. One bright spot in baseball continues to be its vast minor league system, which ensures pro baseball is played throughout America’s smaller communities – MiLB saw attendance in 2019 surpassed 44 million fans annually. As baseball’s Winter Meetings convene next week in San Diego, MiLB President Pat O’Connor and industry experts present a solution to improved facilities that rests in three key areas: time, money, and space.