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Azarenka, Serena Williams in same part of draw

Azarenka, Serena Williams in same part of draw

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Defending champion Victoria Azarenka and title favorite Serena Williams are in the same half of the draw at the Australian Open, meaning they could meet in the semifinals.

Top-ranked Azarenka has lost 11 of her 12 matches against Williams, who increased her career haul to 15 Grand Slam titles last year by winning at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova, the French Open champion, is on the other half of the draw and could meet Venus Williams in the third round.

Novak Djokovic's bid for a third consecutive Australia Open title got a boost when No. 2-ranked Roger Federer and U.S. Open champion Andy Murray both landed in the other half when the official draw was made Friday.

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No, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby is not going back to Sweden if he doesn't make the Caps

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NBC Sports Washington

No, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby is not going back to Sweden if he doesn't make the Caps

ARLINGTON, Va. -- We already know where the vast majority of players at Capitals training camp will be playing for a majority of the season. Some players have contracts with other teams, the NHL players know they will be with the Caps, junior players know they will be with their respective junior teams, etc. There are few spots on the Caps’ roster that are up for grabs and only a handful of players who are actually competing for them.

And then there is Axel Jonsson-Fjallby.

Recognizable for his long, blonde hair, Jonsson-Fjallby has become an intriguing prospect. He already possesses NHL speed and it is just a matter of waiting for the rest of his game to catch up before making the NHL roster becomes a real possibility.

But he is also an intriguing player because of the uncertainty of where he may play.

Last season, Jonsson-Fjallby was sent to Hershey, but returned to his native Sweden after just 16 games. That led many to wonder just where he would be playing this season. If he did not make the NHL squad, which seems very unlikely at this point, would he again choose to return to Sweden?

In May, Jonsson-Fjallby said he would be staying in North American regardless of whether he was in the NHL or AHL. Now at training camp, he reiterated that sentiment.

“Yeah, I’ll stay,” Jonsson-Fjallby told NBC Sports Washington.

Even if you are sent to Hershey?

“Yeah.”

No plans to go back to Sweden?

“No.”

Whatever the personal reasons may have been for Jonsson-Fjallby’s decision to, it appears to have been ill-advised in terms of his NHL hopes.

Clearly general manager Brian MacLellan was displeased with the performance of the Caps’ fourth line and penalty kill as he made a number of acquisitions in the offseason to address those needs. But as those are spots that Jonsson-Fjallby could have potentially competed for, it also shows the team still believes Jonsson-Fjallby still has more work to do before he can realistically compete for a spot on the NHL roster. Perhaps if he was fully adjusted to the North American game he would have had more of a shot. Just 16 games at the AHL level, however, are not enough.

“I feel like I've been playing a lot,” Jonsson-Fjallby said, “But you can still get used to it more.”

The ice rink is much smaller in North America which makes the game both faster and more physical than in Europe. Adjusting to the different style is hard for players to do and will require more time from Jonsson-Fjallby than 16 games, a rookie tournament and a training camp to figure out.

Jonsson-Fjallby said he is working on the details of his game to make it simpler.

“Plays on the board, playing simpler sometimes,” he said. “Since I don't have as much time here since the ice is smaller, I just feel like sometimes I can make an easier play.”

With Nic Dowd, Garnet Hathaway, Brendan Leipsic, Chandler Stephenson and Travis Boyd all competing for fourth line spots, Jonsson-Fjallby will almost certainly be headed to Hershey this season, but that is the best thing for him. He struggled during the Prospects Showcase and at times in camp and he is not yet ready to take on a full-time NHL role. That is something he can work on in Hershey if and only if he remains in North America and, for now, he says he is committed to doing just that.

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WNBA title has been elusive for Mystics coach Mike Thibault, star Elena Delle Donne

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USA Today Sports Images

WNBA title has been elusive for Mystics coach Mike Thibault, star Elena Delle Donne

Mike Thibault is used to his teams playing at this time of the year. The WNBA's all-time winningest head coach, Thibault is set to lead the Mystics into the postseason for the third straight year. It will be his 14th playoff appearance as a head coach in 17 total seasons.

Thibault has enjoyed success all over the basketball world, including during his days as an NBA assistant. He won two rings with the Lakers in the early 1980s just down the bench from Pat Riley.

But the one accomplishment that has eluded him is a WNBA championship. No one has gotten quite as close as he has without winning one.

Last year, the Mystics fell in the WNBA Finals to the Seattle Storm. That was Thibault's third Finals appearance and also his third loss. He has 336 career wins in the WNBA. Everyone else with at least 135 wins has a ring.

Thibault even has more playoff wins than any other coach. Yet still, no title.

"Well, it depends," Thibault said when asked to describe his playoff history. "I've been in the playoffs a lot and we've won. I've lost in the Finals three times. But there are a whole bunch of teams sitting at home when you get to the Finals, too."

Thibault's dichotomy of regular-season success and playoff frustration is fairly unique in the world of professional sports. He does have a peer in Don Nelson, the NBA's all-time winning coach who also does not have a title. But the winningest coaches in the NFL (Don Shula), MLB (Connie Mack) and NHL (Scotty Bowman) each won at least four championships. 

Nelson also didn't get to the Finals as often as Thibault. In fact, no NBA coach has ever reached the Finals at least three times without winning it all. 

That type of misfortune is only seen in the NFL where two coaches - Marv Levy and Dan Reeves - lost four times in the Super Bowl. If Thibault gets to the Finals and loses again this season, he could join that group.

Thibault said he looks back on the second time he was in the WNBA Finals as the one that got away. That was back in 2005 when his Connecticut Sun went 26-8 in the regular season, same as this year's Mystics, to tie the best record of his career. 

In the Finals that year, All-Star Lindsay Whalen suffered a left leg injury in Game 1 that shifted the series in favor of the Sacramento Monarchs. It took Thibault 13 years to get back to the Finals last season.

Though the Mystics lost last year, Thibault believes they are on the right track.

"We lost in the Semifinals two years ago and we lost in the Finals last year. This year, we're back in the playoffs and in the Semifinals again," he said. "You just keep knocking at the door and hopefully your experience and your skill improvement makes the difference this time around. We're a better team than we were a year ago. That doesn't guarantee anything, but we are a better team."

The Mystics are also searching for their first title as a franchise. And Elena Delle Donne, who could win her second WNBA MVP award this season, is no stranger to getting close herself. After last year, she is 0-for-2 in the WNBA Finals.

The Mystics' mantra this season has been 'run it back.' But it could also be framed as unfinished business.

"He loves [the game]," Delle Donne said of Thibault. "He is just passionate about it, so to bring him something he's never earned, since I feel like he's done literally everything else under the sun, would be really cool for this team."

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