Ravens

Azarenka eludes chokehold, gains Australian final

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Azarenka eludes chokehold, gains Australian final

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Sloane Stephens sat for nine minutes, mostly staring at the court and trying to forget the curious timing of Victoria Azarenka's medical timeout. She may have been the only one trying to ignore it.

The 19-year-old American had just saved five match points and broken Azarenka. But she knew she had to hold serve to stay in her first Grand Slam semifinal whenever Azarenka - the No. 1 player and defending Australian Open champion - returned to Rod Laver Arena.

The restless murmuring in the crowd gave way to slow claps. Why had Azarenka chosen that very moment for a medical break?

Azarenka eventually hustled onto the court, and Stephens won only three more points, losing 6-1, 6-4.

``I almost did the choke of the year,'' Azarenka said in a frank admission during an on-court interview. ``At 5-3, having so many chances, I couldn't close it out.''

The crowd that had cheered wildly for Stephens, only 25 hours after she ousted an injured Serena Williams, gave Azarenka tepid applause as she left the court. She'll face 2011 finalist Li Na in the final Saturday night. Given the support Li enjoyed in her 6-2, 6-2 win over No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova, there's no question which player the crowd will favor in the title match.

Azarenka's immediate post-match remarks suggest she panicked after failing to convert five match points, her forehand misfiring. She had little trouble finishing the match after she came back, and the No. 29-seeded Stephens had cooled off.

``I just felt a little bit overwhelmed. I realized I'm one step away from the final and nerves got into me for sure,'' Azarenka said.

The 23-year-old Belarusian said she was later compelled to explain that she misunderstood the question in the on-court interview, and she wanted to dispel the perception that her medical timeout amounted to little more than gamesmanship.

``I understand the point of people maybe not understanding what I said; me not understanding what I've been asked,'' she said during an official news conference more than two-thirds devoted to questions on her medical timeout. ``So I'm just glad that I'm here, you know, to make everything clear.

``You know, I think you cannot really judge by (a) few words. The situation had to be explained.''

Medical staff said Azarenka had timeouts for treatment of left knee and rib injuries. The rib needed to be manipulated because it was affecting her breathing. Tournament director Craig Tiley said Azarenka hadn't broken any rules.

Azarenka hadn't helped herself in a second television interview after the match when she said she couldn't breathe.

``I had chest pains,'' she said. ``It was like I was getting a heart attack.''

She tried to allay any negative perception with her explanation that the choking was related to shortness of breath from the rib injury, not her faltering game.

``When you cannot breathe you start to panic,'' she said. ``I was really panicking, not because I couldn't convert my match point. That's not the case. I mean, I'm experienced enough to go over those emotions. But when you cannot breathe, when something's really blocking you, the stress - that was the stress I was talking about.

``What I said - that I was stressed out and choked - was not because I couldn't finish my shot. It was just so stressing me out the pain that I had that, maybe it was overreaction, but I just really couldn't breathe.''

Azarenka had retired during previous Grand Slam matches, including a fourth-round match against Serena Williams at the 2009 Australian Open. But with a second major title so close, and the fact she needed to reach the final to retain the No. 1 ranking, she desperately didn't want to quit this time.

For her part, Stephens seemed sympathetic. She had to wait through a medical timeout Wednesday when Williams received treatment for a sore back - the 15-time major winner injured herself after leading by a set and a break. Another rival earlier in the tournament took a long break between sets for other reasons.

``I mean, when you take a medical break or timeout, obviously it's for a reason,'' she said. ``I mean, just another something else that happens. If it was one of my friends, I would say, `Oh, my God, that sounds like a PP, which is a personal problem. Other than that, it's just unfortunate.''

Besides, Stephens said, it didn't affect the outcome of the match.

``No, not at all. She played obviously a really good match,'' she said. ``First set she played awesome; got close in the second. It didn't go my way, but I wouldn't say at all what happened affected the match.''

Novak Djokovic dispensed with No. 4-seeded David Ferrer 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 in the night match, saying he ``played perfectly'' to reach his third consecutive Australian Open title match. Then he dispensed some medical advice of his own.

The Serb, who won the Australian titles in 2008, 2011 and 2012, wore a white shirt with a red cross on the back, pretending to be a doctor to treat Henri Leconte during a legends doubles match at Rod Laver Arena.

He's relaxed now that he has an extra day to prepare for Sunday's final. Djokovic will next play the winner of Friday's semifinal between No. 2 Roger Federer, a four-time Australian Open champion, and No. 3 Andy Murray, the U.S. Open champion.

Djokovic lost only seven points in 11 service games against Ferrer, and hit 30 crisp, clean winners in an almost flawless performance.

``I cannot remember the last time I played so well,'' Djokovic said. ``I've played many great matches, but this one stands out. Hopefully, I can play the same level on Sunday.''

He played confidently in the first two sets, and was sublime in the third. Even Ferrer, who has now lost five Grand Slam semifinals and never reached a championship match, was surprised.

After hitting a forehand a fraction wide of the line and losing his challenge in a review, Ferrer double-faulted to give Djokovic match point. The errors were a measure of just how much pressure Djokovic was applying.

Right after his semifinal, Djokovic started playing mind games leading to the final.

``Federer-Murray, when they're playing it's always very close,'' he said, confirming he'd be closely watching the match. ``I wouldn't give the role of the favorite to either of them. I expect to enjoy it. Whoever I play against, I'm going to be ready.''

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Ravens at Seahawks Week 7: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

Ravens at Seahawks Week 7: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

The Ravens have four wins already this season, but none stand out as a signature victory.

The Ravens blew the doors of future 0-16 Miami Dolphins, then got past Arizona, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati by six, three and six points, respectively. The combined record for those three? 4-13-1.

Now, two of those games weren't really as close as the final score made it look. But for a team with designs on contending in the AFC, it's a little concerning that Baltimore's point-differential would be negative-15 if you take out the 59-0 win in Miami that, frankly, shouldn't count.

All that came against a pretty light schedule. The Ravens have only face two non-terrible teams, but they lost to both. Now? Their schedule takes another step up in difficulty, and the first stage comes in Seattle.

The Ravens are traveling across the country to face the 5-1 Seahawks, who are flying high thanks to their quarterback, Russell Wilson. Wilson would be something close to the consensus MVP if the season ended today, thanks to his 1,704 yards, 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The Seahawks own one of the most fearsome home field advantages in football, making this one of the toughest tests of the Ravens' season. 

This battle looks especially important, considering the gauntlet awaiting Baltimore after their Week 8 bye. Five of their next six games beginning in Week 9 are vs. New England, vs. Houston, at Los Angeles (Rams), vs. San Francisco, and at Buffalo. Those teams are a ridiculous 22-6 this season, so the Ravens need to stock up on as many wins as possible during the rest of their schedule.

They'll look to enter their bye with some momentum behind an MVP candidate of their own, albeit not one quite on Wilson's level just yet, in Lamar Jackson.

Jackson continued his own stellar start to the season in Week 6, becoming the first quarterback to ever pass for 200 yards and rush for 150 in a regular season game. He also became the first player in NFL history to earn both the FedEx Air Player of the Week and Ground Player of the Week in the same season.

His dual-threat dominance has keyed a resurgent Ravens offense, forced to carry a surprisingly-struggling defense. The Ravens are hoping their in-season acquisition of cornerback Marcus Peters will provide a jolt to their injured secondary.

Speaking of the secondary, safety Earl Thomas is making his long-anticipated return to Seattle on Sunday, a reunion you don't want to miss.

This is one of the biggest games on the slate in the NFL this weekend, and it's one of the biggest swing games for the Ravens' season. Two franchises defined by their defenses will be carried by their high-octane offenses in what should be a terrific atmosphere.

Here's everything you need to know about the game. 

RAVENS AT SEAHAWKS WEEK 7:

Who: Baltimore Ravens at Seattle Seahawks

What: Week 7 of the regular season

When: Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, 4:25 p.m. ET

Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA

TV Channel: FOX

Live Stream: FOX Sports, FuboTV

Radio: WBAL New Radio 1090, 98Rock and 101.5 FM

Weather: High of 53 degrees, 5-10 mph winds, strong chance of rain (80 percent)

RAVENS 2019 REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE:

Week 1: Sun., 9/8 at Dolphins, 1:00 p.m. (W, 59-10)

Week 2: Sun., 9/15 vs. Cardinals, 1:00 p.m. (W, 23-17)

Week 3: Sun., 9/22 at Chiefs. 1:00 p.m. (L, 33-28)

Week 4: Sun., 9/29 vs. Browns, 1:00 p.m. (L, 40-25)

Week 5: Sun., 10/6 at Steelers, 1:00 p.m. (W (OT), 26-23)

Week 6: Sun., 10/13 vs. Bengals, 1:00 p.m. (W, 23-17)

Week 7: Sun., 10/20 at Seahawks, 4:25 p.m.

Week 8: BYE week

Week 9: Sun., 11/3 vs. Patriots, 8:20 p.m.

Week 10:  Sun., 11/10 at Bengals, 1:00 p.m.

Week 11: Sun., 11/17 vs. Texans, 1:00 p.m.

Week 12: Mon., 11/25 at Rams, 8:15 p.m.

Week 13: Sun., 12/1 vs. 49ers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 14: Sun., 12/8 at Bills, 1:00 p.m.

Week 15: Thu., 12/12 vs. Jets, 8:20 p.m.

Week 16: Sun., 12/22 at Browns, 1:00 p.m.

Week 17: Sun., 12/29 vs. Steelers, 1:00 p.m.

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Ravens look for more AFC North separation, 5-2 record headed into bye week

Ravens look for more AFC North separation, 5-2 record headed into bye week

The Ravens have their toughest individual test of the season on Sunday.

Against MVP favorite Russell Wilson, the Ravens will need their best performance of the year. And if they’re able to get that, they’d be three games over .500 headed into their bye week with the Patriots looming. 

The rest of the division aside, the opportunity is there for the Ravens to pull ahead in the NFC North and the potential playoff race.

“It won’t make or break us, but it will go a long way in setting us up for where we’re headed down the road and what kind of season we’re going to have,” head coach John Harbaugh said. 

The Ravens currently have a two-game lead in the division with the Browns and Steelers on a bye week. With a win, their lead would move to two and a half games ahead of their bye next week. 

After that, the Patriots come to Baltimore for Sunday Night Football.

First, however, the Ravens are focused on the Seahawks, no matter how boring that may sound.

“I’m going to give you the cliché, but it’s the truth,” Harbaugh said bluntly. “We just have to focus on Seattle. So, how the schedule fell or how we fit...It’s better to be 4-2 than 3-3 or 2-4, but not as good as 6-0 or 5-1. That’s my thought on it. And 5-2 would be a lot better than 4-3.”

In order to get to 5-2, the Ravens will need to go through Wilson and his excellent season thus far. He hasn’t thrown an interception, has 17 total touchdowns and is on pace for nearly 5,000 yards from scrimmage. 

“He’s playing at an MVP level, and I agree with that,” defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. “It’s sort of like playing against Steph Curry in basketball, if you will. You can pick him up from half court, and he’s going to try to drive by you when you’re saying ‘keep him in the pocket,’ or you can slack off, and he’s going to pull up and hit a three.”

Baltimore will get new addition Marcus Peters into the fold to help with a growingly injured secondary. He’s already played Seattle this season, so the Ravens are hoping he’ll be able to draw on that knowledge to face Wilson and the rest of the Seahawks offense.

But perhaps the biggest story of the secondary is the return of Earl Thomas to the Seattle. 

The last time he was in a Seahawks uniform, he was carted off with a broken leg and flipped off his own sideline. He’ll return to his former team of nine years on Sunday.

“Hopefully they (the fans) respect what I've done, and I'll get a couple cheers, not too many boos,” Thomas said. “And whatever happens, happens, but hopefully it's love."

Aside from all of that, the Ravens say they’re not focused on 5-2 or what could come with a win over one of the NFL’s best teams and quarterbacks.

“We need to be 1-0 this week,” Harbaugh said. “We need to play our best football of the year in Seattle to win the game, and that’s what we’re planning on doing. And that’s what we’re going to work for.”

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