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Calm Murray faces Federer in semis Down Under

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Calm Murray faces Federer in semis Down Under

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) On the eve of the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic was asked if he had noticed anything different about Andy Murray.

``He has a shorter haircut,'' said the five-time Grand Slam winner, smiling.

But the top-ranked Djokovic then turned serious because Murray's makeover is no joking matter.

The 25-year-old player from Scotland is attempting to win a second consecutive Grand Slam after a breakthrough year that included wins at the London Olympics and the U.S. Open. He arrived in Melbourne with a new demeanor, a sense of calm and confidence.

``I think mentally something switched in his head,'' Djokovic said. ``And he just started believing much more in his abilities.

``Now that he's done it, he's definitely right up there, one of the first few favorites for any tournament he plays.''

The third-seeded Murray advanced to the semifinals Wednesday, grabbing a spot in an all-star lineup featuring the top four players.

Djokovic is in the first semifinal against No. 4 David Ferrer, who took the spot in the absence of an injured Rafael Nadal.

Third-seeded Murray faces No. 2 Roger Federer in the latest rematch in a tight rivalry. Murray leads Federer 10-9 in the series, including last year's Olympic final. But he has played the Swiss star in three Grand Slam finals and lost them all.

``I'm expecting a tough match,'' said Federer, describing Murray as clever and tactical. ``He's changed his game around a bit. He's playing more defensive. I'm looking forward to it.''

Federer is aiming for his 18th Grand Slam. The Swiss star stamped his authority on center court by beating the athletic Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-3 to reach the Australian Open semifinals for a 10th consecutive year.

After losing, Tsonga picked his favorite to win the tournament: ``I would say Andy, for the moment. But it could change, of course.''

Murray won his quarterfinal against Jeremy Chardy of France 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 to extend a streak of straight-set wins into the semis. Of all the men in the draw, Murray is technically the freshest, having spent less time on court - just under nine hours in the past 10 days.

Chardy walked into his post-match news conference saying he couldn't believe how well Murray had played.

``I've played him several times, and every time I always thought I had a chance,'' said the 36th-ranked Frenchman, who beat Murray in August in Cincinnati. ``Today, he never let me think even once I had a chance to win.

``He's calm on the court. He was so concentrated, and had so much intensity from the start. Right away, I was in difficulty. And during the whole match, he never dropped his level.''

Murray's intensity on court diminishes only slightly in his news conferences where he is modest, polite and mild-mannered. He said he was pleased to reach the 12th Grand Slam semifinal of his career.

``I thought I did a pretty good job throughout the match,'' he said. ``I can't be disappointed about being in the semis of a slam without dropping a set. That would be silly.''

Murray reached the Australian Open semifinals last year, losing to Djokovic. He has made the Melbourne finals on two occasions, losing to Djokovic in 2011 and Federer in 2010.

Before arriving in Melbourne last year, Murray teamed up with tennis great Ivan Lendl. His coaching has helped produce a new aggressiveness and willingness to take chances on court.

Under Lendl's tutelage, Murray made his breakthrough.

He became the first man to win at the Olympics and U.S. Open in the same year. His win at Flushing Meadows made him the first British man in 76 years to win a Grand Slam - and lifted an enormous burden.

``I kind of maybe always felt like I was having to prove something every time I went on court because I hadn't won a slam,'' Murray said before the tournament started. ``It's nice to not have to worry about that anymore.''

After his Wednesday quarterfinal, Murray dismissed comments in the British media that he was upset by having to play all day matches in the hot sun while Federer was given cooler night slots during prime-time viewing hours on center court.

``I have no complaints about the schedule at all, and I didn't complain about it the other day,'' Murray said. ``Sometimes it works in your favor and sometimes it doesn't.''

The Federer-Tsonga quarterfinal was held Wednesday night at a packed Rod Laver Arena. But instead of studying his next opponent, Murray said he planned to practice at a nearby court.

``Rather than going and watching this match, I'll go out and hit some balls under the lights to be as best prepared as possible,'' he said.

Asked if he felt prepared to go against his old rivals, Murray replied: ``Hopefully, I will go into the matches a little bit calmer than usual or then I have in the past.''

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Wizards' John Wall reveals he's about to start jogging in rehab from Achilles injury

Wizards' John Wall reveals he's about to start jogging in rehab from Achilles injury

A couple of weeks ago, John Wall was spotted at a Washington Mystics game with no brace to support his Achilles injury, a sign that his rehab from the injury was moving in the right direction. 

On Monday night at the 2019 NBA Awards, the Wizards point guard gave affirmation that he is indeed continuing to get healthier and stronger.

"I feel great, man," Wall told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller on the red carpet. "I'm doing a great job with my body, taking care of that."

Specifically, Wall has been able to slowly increase what he can do on his legs. The recovery and rehab for an injury as severe as his is a long road, and the point guard is making sure not to speed up the process and risk hindering the progress. However, he's about to reach a pretty big milestone in the journey during the coming weeks.

"I'm about to start jogging in like two weeks. Just riding the bike, I get to do exercises standing up now, so I don't have to sit down. I'm able to move, do ladder steps, doing those types of things," Wall said. "Just taking my time and progressing and letting everything heal the right way so I don't force myself back and get another injury."

As Wall continues to work to get back on the court, he's had plenty of motivational factors pushing him through some grueling months. His recent string of injuries have left some wondering if he'll still be an elite player when he finally.

He's heard those comments and he's using them to his advantage.

"I'm one of those guys that's very driven by all the hate and all the negative talk I'm getting. Keep it going," Wall said.

"Everybody said I can't be myself, I won't be nowhere near as good again. That's all the other stuff that's going to fuel me. I don't get upset about it, you're entitled to your own opinion. Please keep it going."

The haters have given Wall some extra juice, but so has his son Ace. Spending the offseason getting right has allowed Wall to work in another area of life: fatherhood.

The newest addition to his family has taken his desire for greatness to new heights.

"I've always had that drive that I want to be the greatest. To have a son like that, that's watching everything I can do. Even though he doesn't understand what's going on, he's putting memories in his head," Wall said. 

"So that gives me extra, extra motivation to another level I never thought I could. Like I said before, that's the best blessing a man could ever ask for is to have a son."

While Wall's offseason has been a busy one as he juggles rehab and being a dad, he's still been very involved in everything going on inside the franchise.

He's already chatted with first-round draft pick Rui Hachimura, and is excited for what is to come for the Wizards. Wall is also hoping that Hachimura will help improve his Japanese so that he can grow a larger following internationally. 

As the calendar slowly turns to July, both Wall and the Wizards' offseasons will ramp up. It's been an up and down time for both lately, but he's excited about the future.

"I think it's good," Wall said about the Wizards situation. "We added some pieces. See what we do in free agency to add some guys to bring back or we're going to go after somebody new. I think we'll be fine."

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Bradley Beal wins the 2019 NBA Cares Community Assist Award three years after John Wall

Bradley Beal wins the 2019 NBA Cares Community Assist Award three years after John Wall

While he was putting together the best season of his career, Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal was also making a profound impact off the court and those efforts have earned him a significant honor, the NBA's 2018-19 Community Assist Award.

The news was revealed at Monday's NBA Awards in Santa Monica, CA as Beal got the nod over nine other finalists. He is the second Wizards player to win the honor in just the last four years following John Wall in 2015-16.

Beal was involved in a variety of charitable efforts this past season. He has partnered with the Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Northeast Washington to help underprivileged youth. He visited the school in December and gave out shoes.

During the All-Star break in February, as he made his second appearance in the annual showcase, Beal handed out meals at a food bank alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This past year he also gave out Christmas presents in the Washington area and took a group of kids on a tour of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

Beal was named a finalist for the Community Assist Award in April along with Jarrett Allen (Nets), Mike Conley (Jazz), Khris Middleton (Bucks), Donovan Mitchell (Jazz), Dwight Powell (Mavs) and Pascal Siakam (Raptors). Part of the criteria was based on fan voting through social media that was held from April 24 through May 25.

Beal, 25, continues to ascend on the court as well. This year he posted career-highs in points (25.6/g), assists (5.5/g) and rebounds (5.0/g). He nearly made All-NBA in late May with the most votes of any guard that was left out.

In Beal and Wall, the Wizards have quite the combination. Both have been All-Stars on the court and now both can say they won the NBA's top honor for charity work as well.

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