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Azarenka beats Lisicki, reaches Brisbane quarters

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Azarenka beats Lisicki, reaches Brisbane quarters

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) Top-ranked Victoria Azarenka opened her 2013 season with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Germany's Sabine Lisicki on Wednesday to join No. 3 Serena Williams and fourth-seeded Angelique Kerber in the Brisbane International quarterfinals.

Azarenka, who won here in 2009 without dropping a set, got the better of 37th-ranked Lisicki in a match that had nine breaks of serve.

The Belarusian won her first major at the Australian Open last year during a 26-match winning streak to start the season and spent most of 2012 atop the women's rankings.

She said her focus ahead of her first major title defense was more about attacking than defending.

``I actually don't really look at defending anything. I'm just looking to win,'' Azarenka said. ``I'm going to have the same mindset for as long as I'm playing.''

In earlier second-round matches, Angelique Kerber recovered from 5-2 down in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Puerto Rican qualifier Monica Puig, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7) and Sloane Stephens had a 6-3, 6-4 win over Sweden's Sofia Arvidsson to set up a quarterfinal against fellow American Williams.

Azarenka said Lisicki, who was serving at up to 121 mph, proved a tough match and a good measure of her preparations for the Australian Open, which starts on Jan. 14.

She said Lisicki was ``serving some bombs,'' although the German player was only getting half of her first serves into play and had five double-faults. Lisicki mixed 36 winners with 36 unforced errors, trying to push Azarenka around the court.

``I had a tough challenge at the beginning,'' she said. ``It's always good to see where you're at, right at the start.''

She'll next play Kazakh qualifier Ksenia Pervak, who has ousted former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and Urszula Radwanska in matches decided by third-set tiebreakers.

``I hope she's tired,'' Azarenka joked. ``She's a young girl with a lot of potential. She's going to be really motivated. I'm looking forward to the challenge.''

Five of the top eight seeded players had already been eliminated midway through the second round.

Kerber narrowly avoided that fate, coming back from 4-1 down in the third set and clawing her way back in a tiebreaker when Puig was two points from the biggest victory of her career.

The 19-year-old Puig, ranked No. 124, buried a swinging volley into the bottom of the net at 5-2 in the tiebreaker and it changed the momentum of the match.

``For sure it was a surprise how she played. I didn't know her before, but, yeah, I'm sure that she'll be coming very soon into the top 50,'' Kerber said of Puig. ``I have a lot of confidence right now that I won again (in a) very close match.''

Stephens had a convincing win over Arvidsson and next faces a childhood hero.

``Obviously she's been a really great influence in my tennis year career. I'm excited to play her and get on the court with her. I think it'll be fun,'' the 19-year-old Stephens said.

Williams said she has been following Stephens' career and was ``a fan'' of her young Fed Cup teammate's style.

In her first tournament back since being sidelined by an abdominal injury following the U.S. Open, Stephens isn't awed by the prospect of taking on the 15-time Grand Slam winner.

``Obviously I always was like, `Oh, my God. I love her to death. She's amazing, whatever,''' Stephens recalled of her earliest meetings with Williams. ``Now she's like an actual person and I'm like, `Oh, hi. How is it going?' She's not like a hero anymore. She's just a friend.

``Even if I go out there and lose, just bomb it, I don't win a game, at least if I'm able to focus on myself and do what's right for me then it's not a loss.''

In men's second-round matches, third-seeded Gilles Simon of France beat Colombia's Alejandro Falla 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) and No. 5 Kei Nishikori of Japan had a 6-3, 6-3 win over Tommy Robredo of Spain. Sixth-seeded Florian Mayer lost 6-4, 6-2 to 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis.

In the night match, fourth-seeded Alexandr Dolgopolov was leading 6-2, 4-1 when Jarkko Nieminen of Finland retired due to a migraine.

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Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s matchup:

Region: Fourth line forwards

Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

 

2018-19 stats

 

Noel Acciari (27 years old):72 games played with the Boston Bruins, 6 goals, 8 assists, 14 points, 12:59 TOI

 

Playoffs: 19 games played with the Boston Bruins, 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, 13:10 TOI

 

Marcus Kruger (29 years old): 74 games played with the Chicago Blackhawks, 4 goals, 8 assists, 12 points, 10:25 TOI

 

Playoffs: None

 

Hockey-Graph contract projections

 

Noel Acciari: 2 years, $1,180,934 cap hit

 

Marcus Kruger: 1 year, $861,030 cap hit

 

The case for Noel Acciari

Plays a lot bigger than his 5-foot-10, 205-pound frame. A perfect fit at right wing on the fourth line for Washington. The native New Englander, who played at Providence, is a home-grown Bruin and might not want to leave home, but Boston also might not have the cap space to give an obvious fourth-line player a decent raise. The Capitals might not, either, but for now, they really only have to add in RFA Jakub Vrana’s new contract and figure out what they’re going to do with RFA Andre Burakovsky. 

 

Acciari is renowned for his character and toughness. He was a college captain for Providence and helped the Friars win an NCAA title in 2015. There’s never been a shot he’s unwilling to block. Acciari sustained a broken sternum in the second round against Columbus and a blocked shot with his right foot in Game 7 of the Cup Final left him in a walking boot.  

 

Acciari’s offensive upside is limited, but he did have 10 goals in 2017-18. He was a key player for the Bruins in the past two Stanley Cup playoffs and chipped in two goals in this year’s playoff run that came within a game of a championship. Acciari would help on Washington’s penalty kill, too. In 111:52 he was only on the ice for 11 power-play goals against. Only two Boston forwards were on the ice more short-handed.  

 

The case for Marcus Kruger

 

A different skill set here for the smaller Kruger (6-foot, 186 pounds). Don’t expect even double-digit goals from him, either. But Kruger will likely cost less than $1 million and can be a valuable penalty killer, where Washington needs help. That’s huge for a team that is now dealing with an $81.5 million salary cap, which is $1.5 million less than expected. Add in the overage bonus for defenseman Brooks Orpik from last season and you’re in trouble at just over $80 million.   

 

Kruger played seven seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks and one disappointing one with the Carolina Hurricanes. Kruger has plenty of Stanley Cup experience, too, playing for Chicago’s 2013 and 2015 Cup winners. He has 87 postseason games and a triple-overtime game-winner in the Western Conference Final to his name in 2015 in Game 2 of that series against Anaheim. 

 

A defensive specialist, only two Blackhawks forwards played more short-handed minutes than Kruger (132:46) last season. There is risk here. Kruger was traded to Carolina in 2017-18, but was placed on waivers after 48 games and spent the rest of the season in the AHL before being traded to Arizona and then back to Chicago. But part of that stemmed from how much he was making on a $3.08 million cap hit. At a bargain-basement price, Kruger is more palatable. 

 

Who’s your pick? Vote here.

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Rui Hachimura is a 'late bloomer' in basketball, but the Washington Wizards like that

Rui Hachimura is a 'late bloomer' in basketball, but the Washington Wizards like that

Rui Hachimura was introduced to the sport of basketball at 13 years old after spending his childhood on the baseball diamond, emulating Ichiro Suzuki, as many kids in Japan do. Just eight years later, Hachimura has charted his own path as the first Japanese-born lottery pick in the NBA after the Washington Wizards drafted him at No. 9 overall.

That trajectory is important to note when considering Hachimura's age. He is 21 years old, which is on the older side for an NBA draft prospect in the age of one-and-dones. But, you could say he's only eight in basketball years.

That's not a technical term used by NBA front office executives, but the fact Hachimura is a "late bloomer" was one of the biggest selling points for the Wizards. That's how interim team president Tommy Sheppard described him on several occasions the night of the draft and the day after. And even majority owner Ted Leonsis referenced it when asked about the pick in an interview with the Washington Times over the weekend.

While reason may suggest a younger player has higher upside, the Wizards are looking beyond simple age. In Hachimura, they believe they have a player who could benefit from not having the year-round strain of AAU basketball in his past.

"When you come to the game a little bit later, maybe you don't have some bad habits that you accumulate. You don't have a lot of extra miles," Sheppard said. 

"Those kinds of things resonate with us. You have to be healthy to play in the NBA, and there are so many players in this particular draft that for whatever reason, there are a lot of sad faces tonight because I think medical held a lot of people back. He has a clean bill of health, and that's exciting to us."

Sheppard could have been referencing any number of prospects who carried the label as an injury risk into draft night. With the ninth overall pick, the Wizards took Hachimura over Duke's Cam Reddish, who has several red flags, injuries among them. In the second round, they passed on Oregon's Bol Bol, who had a stress fracture in his foot, in favor of Admiral Schofield.

But health isn't the only potential benefit of picking up the game at a later age. Sheppard alluded to the development of bad habits. He thinks Hachimura is more of a blank canvas for the coaching staff and that could work in their favor long-term.

Sheppard made a comparison for Hachimura that was interesting for several reasons.

"With [Raptors forward] Pascal Siakam, you see what happens when guys come to the game a little late and what he was able to do. It's not the same, but if you ask me of someone who's story his reminds me of, it could remind you of something like that," Sheppard said.

Siakam's name was invoked over and over during the pre-draft process but more often to draw a parallel for Sekou Doumbouya of France. Sheppard was more so comparing the development track for Hachimura than the playing style, but it holds some weight.

There have been some famous cases of late bloomers in NBA history. Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan and Joel Embiid reportedly didn't start playing basketball until high school.

Duncan may be a good example of avoiding bad habits, as he is considered one of the most fundamentally sound players of all time. Olajuwon might be the most skilled big man in NBA history, and Embiid has a chance to become an all-time great.

What gives the Wizards hope that Hachimura will reach his potential and someday enjoy breakout success like Siakam has is his work ethic. The Wizards did deep background research on Hachimura, including through discussions with his college coach, Mark Few of Gonzaga.

They believe they found something in Hachimura that other teams may have overlooked.

"The things that you hope for and that you're optimistic about, they seem to be there. So, we're excited about that," Sheppard said. "It's really up to Rui and how bad do you want to be good?"

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