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Azarenka seals No. 1 ranking at WTA Championships

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Azarenka seals No. 1 ranking at WTA Championships

ISTANBUL (AP) Victoria Azarenka wrapped up the season-ending No. 1 position in the world by beating Li Na 7-6 (4), 6-3 on Friday in the WTA Championships.

Azarenka secured a spot in the semifinals and will next play Maria Sharapova.

``It's kind of difficult to believe that a little girl from Belarus is on that list,'' said Azarenka, from Belarus. ``It's really incredible achievement. When I started to play tennis I had this big picture in my head that I want to be there. Back then it's so far away. It's like pretty much touching the sky.

``I'm here sitting kind of in the sky, so it's really incredible feeling.''

Agnieszka Radwanska advanced to the semifinals when she edged Sara Errani 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-4 in a match that lasted nearly 3 1/2 hours. The fourth-ranked Radwanska will play Serena Williams on Saturday.

Sharapova swept past Sam Stosur 6-0, 6-3 on the final day of round-robin play but Azarenka's win means that the Russian will not be able to wrest the No. 1 ranking form her.

Azarenka won the Australian Open in January and had been ranked No. 1 for most of the year, except for a brief period after Sharapova won the French Open.

Sharapova had already qualified for the semifinals of the elite, eight-woman event and has won all three of her round-robin matches.

The Russian rolled through the first set, allowing Stosur only five points. Stosur was an alternate who replaced defending champion Petra Kvitova, who withdrew because of illness.

``I certainly didn't want to play as long a match as I did in the previous round. I wanted to do a better job of a few things and I think I did,'' said the second-ranked Russian.

Stosur put up more of a fight in the second set, but Sharapova ended it with a smash.

Errani finished the tournament with one win and two defeats. The seventh-seeded Italian won a game in the middle set that went to nearly 15 minutes but was not able to use that momentum and dropped her serve to fall behind 6-5.

Radwanska served out the set and opened up a decisive 3-0 lead in the final set to secure a place in the semifinals.

``I had to play my best tennis until the end of the match because every game was a big fight,'' Radwanska said.

Williams was undefeated in three matches in her Red Group and didn't play on Friday.

The match between Radwanska and Errani lasted 3 hours, 29 minutes and was the longest recorded best-of-three-set match in WTA Championships history.

The previous record was 3:24, set in the 2007 final when Justine Henin beat Sharapova 5-7, 7-5, 6-3. The event, however, also used a best-of-five format for a while and had longer matches.

``Altogether I am exhausted,'' said Radwanska, who had another three-hour-plus match in the previous round. ``I really need to be ready for tomorrow.''

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Vernon Davis urges Redskins fans to have patience with Bruce Allen

Vernon Davis urges Redskins fans to have patience with Bruce Allen

Tight end Vernon Davis has seen the Washington Redskins go through many ups and downs since becoming a part of the organization in 2016, but the 2018 season brought a new set of challenges.

Two injured quarterbacks headlined the Redskins' 7-9 season and fans were once again calling for team president Bruce Allen's job.

In a rare media availability during Tuesday's Senior Bowl practice, Allen noted how "close" he felt the Redskins were to reaching the postseason but his continued lack of transparency is something that does not sit well with Redskins fans.

Davis, speaking Wednesday on 106.7 The Fan's Sports Junkies, is standing by the team's president.

"I strongly believe, like I said before, we have the pieces to win games."

"Bruce and Dan [Snyder], those guys are constantly sitting in their office trying to find ways to win. It's not like they're not doing a great job with it. I believe in them. I believe that they're going to make the right decision to do the best they can do to help us win football games around here because that's what they're there for. Bruce is there to make sure that we're a championship team. Make sure that we're winning. Making sure that we have all the pieces when it comes to different positions on the football field. So, they're doing just that.

Allen has continued to praise the Redskins fans for their passion throughout the offseason. But if you know the Redskins, don't expect many changes to take place. 

And if it's hard for you to hang on to the little insight Allen provides Redskins fans with in regards to the future of the organization, Davis urges fans to keep holding on. 

"I wouldn't quite count him out. I just say have patience and continue to support the Washington Redskins." 

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Grizzlies putting Gasol, Conley on trade block creates opportunity if surging Wizards turn aggressive

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Grizzlies putting Gasol, Conley on trade block creates opportunity if surging Wizards turn aggressive

News that the “grit ‘n grind” era is apparently ending in Memphis effectively tips off the NBA trade deadline rumors.

No shock if the John Wall and Dwight Howard-less Washington Wizards receive a mention or two for deals involving Marc Gasol and Mike Conley Jr. Mention and final destination are different worlds, of course.

ESPN reported Tuesday that the Grizzlies are finally open to hearing trade offers for their two franchise stalwarts. They never reached the level of other famed big man/guard tandems, but Gasol and Conley were at the center of a seven-year run of playoff appearances peaking with the 2013 Western Conference finals.

With age and injuries striking the duo, Memphis slipped in recent years. The postseason streak ended last season. After a hot start to the 2018-19 campaign including an early-season win over the Wizards, the Grizzlies have lost 12 of 13, falling to 19-28 overall. While that record would not automatically end playoff hopes in the Eastern Conference, it slots Memphis 14th out of 15 teams in the West.

As NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman noted, finding a trade partner will not come easy for the Grizzlies.

Gasol, 33, has a player option next season for $25.6 million. That’s a huge number for a center in this perimeter-oriented era on top of the $24.1 million the three-time All-Star is earning this campaign. Gasol’s highly skilled game is showing signs of decline, though his basic statistical numbers (15.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.3 blocks) remain helpful.

Conley, one of the NBA’s most underrated talents of his generation, offers lead guard, leadership skills – and a financial challenge. From Feldman:

Mike Conley will have a lot of interested parties, he is an All-Star level player (he’d make it in the East easy, but in the West probably falls short again), but his contract is bigger than Gasol’s. Conley makes $30.5 million this season and has $67 million the two seasons after that (the second is an early termination option, but Conley isn’t opting out of that money, so consider that $67 million fully guaranteed).

As Memphis’ season turned south, Washington surged, winning seven of its last 10 games to move into a ninth-place tie with Detroit. Still two games back of the eighth and final playoff berth, the Wizards could use general depth if not actual star power with Wall sidelined for the season. Howard (back surgery) and forward Markieff Morris (neck) face uncertain recovery timelines.

No disrespect to the Wall and Howard replacements, Tomas Satoransky and Thomas Bryant, but Gasol and Conley would upgrade Washington at those positions. The cost, however, keeps such grandiose thoughts on the shelf. 

During the team’s recent London trip, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis emphatically stated the team would not consider throwing in the towel despite injuries and a losing record. That is not the same as stating the luxury-tax paying team would take on significant salary or trade coveted assets for help.

Washington’s 2019 first-round selection takes on additional importance because the team already exceeds next season’s salary cap with only five players under contract.

Now, if some creative mind conjures a trade that removes the final year of Ian Mahinmi’s four-year, $64 million contract from the books without sending Washington dramatically further into the tax or deals with Wall's trade kicker, hmmm.

If the Wizards decide the overall roster needs a dramatic shake-up, perhaps a deal centered on Wall and Conley gets interesting (Thanks, NBA trade machine, though maybe include draft picks already).

Wall’s run of recent surgeries combined with his four-year, $170 supermax contract kicking in next season and that substantial kicker may end all discussion. However, he is three years younger than Conley. Memphis, set to build around 19-year-old Jaren Jackson Jr., could find that age factor appealing or use Wall/Conley to fascilitate a larger trade.

Other teams will offer more future-friendly deals for Gasol and Conley. The Wizards appear set in their belief the current roster, even with the injuries, can reach the playoffs. Therefore, it's wise setting aside the notion of a major move from Washington involving the Grizzlies’ stars or any other high profile/big salary players. Bookmark the trade machine page regardless. 

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