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Azarenka looks to seal No. 1 spot at WTA finale

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Azarenka looks to seal No. 1 spot at WTA finale

Serena Williams returns to the WTA Championships with the Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles, plus the Olympic gold medal, yet with no chance of finishing the year as the No. 1 in the world.

Williams has not played since beating top-ranked Victoria Azarenka in the U.S. Open final in September and her sparse schedule is one of the reasons she won't have a chance of overtaking the Belarusian despite dominating the major events in the second half of the year.

Azarenka needs only two wins in the elite, eight-player WTA Championships in Istanbul to end 2012 as No. 1.

Williams and Azarenka have been drawn into the same round-robin group. Play starts Tuesday.

``I don't really care who I play, when I play, as long as I can play,'' Williams said. ``I'm really happy to be here. I'm on the Red side with Victoria, it'll be good.''

Angelique Kerber of Germany and Li Na of China complete the Red Group.

French Open champion and second-ranked Maria Sharapova of Russia headlines the White Group, with former Wimbledon champion and last year's winner in Istanbul, Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland and Sara Errani of Italy completing the bracket.

Since losing to Williams in the U.S. Open final, the last of the year's four Grand Slam tournaments, Azarenka has won 13 straight matches and has held the No. 1 ranking for 34 weeks.

She won the Australian Open in January and five more titles this year.

``Every match here (in Istanbul) is tough. I obviously have great champions in the group. It's tough no matter what. It's challenging, definitely, but I'm looking forward to it,'' said Azarenka, who lost last year's Istanbul final to Kvitova.

Williams has played a curtailed schedule because of injuries and illness, but she holds a 10-1 career record against Azarenka.

The American is ranked No. 3 in the world and holds a 9-1 record this year against the other seven finalists in Istanbul.

Williams has only twice finished the year as No. 1 - in 2002 and 2009. She has played in the season finale six times and won twice, in 2001 and 2009, her final appearance at the event.

Her record this year is 53-4, with her only losses coming to Ekaterina Makarova in the fourth round of the Australian Open, to Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals in Miami, to Virginie Razzano in the first round of the French Open and to Kerber in the quarterfinals in Cincinnati.

Sharapova briefly held the No. 1 ranking after winning the French Open.

``When you're coming to the Championships you pretty much know what you're going to get in terms of the level of the group,'' the Russian said. ``With the field we have this year, I think every match no matter what group you're in is going to be pretty tough from the get go.''

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

DALLAS—The Caps are “really close” to signing star defenseman John Carlson to a long-term extension, GM Brian MacLellan said Friday night.

“We’re getting closer,” MacLellan said following the first round of the NHL Draft. “Hopefully we can get it done here over the next few days. We’re really close.”

Earlier in the day, the Caps cleared significant space under the salary cap ceiling by trading Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to Colorado for a second round draft pick (47th overall). 

That space will now be used to lock up Carlson, who could become the best defenseman on the open market if he were to reach it.

MacLellan met with Carlson’s agent, Rick Curran, here on Thursday night.

MacLellan did not divulge any figures, but it’s expected that Carlson’s new contract could come in at eight years and $8 million per—or perhaps a bit more. 

He earned $4 million last season.

Carlson had a career year in 2017-18 and was critical during the Caps' run to the Stanley Cup. He led all defensemen in the regular season with 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists). The 28-year-old also skated a career-high 24:47 per game.

MacLellan has long said that re-signing Carlson was the Caps’ top priority this offseason. And now it looks like that could happen within days, assuming the talks do not hit any snags.

“We’re going to do our best to sign John,” MacLellan said. “We’ve said it all along. We waited until the end of the year. We’ve had discussions. We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

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Capitals go to the WHL again, select defenseman Alex Alexeyev with first-round pick

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Capitals go to the WHL again, select defenseman Alex Alexeyev with first-round pick

The last time the Washington Capitals had a first-round draft pick, they selected a WHL defenseman. They did not go off script on Friday.

With the last pick of the first round, selecting for the first time as defending Stanley Cup champions, the Capitals selected Alexander Alexeyev, a left-shooting, two-way defenseman from St. Petersburg.

Alexeyev, 18, certainly boasts NHL size at 6' 4", 196 pounds. He currently plays for Red Deer in the WHL, a junior league that has become a major pipeline for the Capitals. In his second season with Red Deer, he tallied 37 points in 45 games.

The NHL Central Scouting's rankings list Alexeyev as the 22nd best North American skater of the draft. TSN projects him to be a top-four, two-way defenseman.

Analyst Craig Button described Alexeyev as a "Smart, effective defenceman who moves the puck, plays with a calm and doesn't make things complicated for himself."

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