Nationals

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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Yan Gomes was briefly a free agent but didn't want to 'restart' with a whole new team

Yan Gomes was briefly a free agent but didn't want to 'restart' with a whole new team

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- There was a brief time last offseason when Yan Gomes was a free agent. This was new. He had just won the World Series, everything was fantastic, a $9 million team option existed on his contract, then he was unemployed. Briefly. 

“Right out of the get-go, you start the offseason kind of becoming a free agent,” Gomes told NBC Sports Washington. “There wasn’t like a doubt that I wanted to come back. I made it known to them. We started having conversations. It didn’t start for a few weeks, almost a month. It was my first time being in free agency like that. I was [expletive] stressed out. But, once we started having our conversations it happened really fast. It was literally within three days and they offered and I said, 'Yeah.'”

Gomes could have been insulted by the team declining his option. He could have taken the brief time he was a free agent to really push another team. Instead, he told Washington he wanted to return, had shallow conversations with other teams, then signed as soon as he could. So, why? 

“Comfort level for sure,” Gomes said. “Knowing this team and really loving the guys and everything here. But it became, really, a family decision of almost wanting to stay on the East Coast. We live in Tennessee and the kids are going to school, and I would have thought of going somewhere out West  -- which, you know, after two years we’ll see how that goes -- but we wanted to stay closer, and D.C. being perfect, I didn’t want to do the whole restart, whole new team. I think it really just came down to the comfort level that I had here. The friendships that we built so quickly, I just kind of wanted to stay around.”

Gomes’ first season in Washington went poorly. His offense dipped, his work behind the plate resulted in a career high in passed balls and wild pitches (if the catcher blocks these, the number goes down). His caught-stealing percentage was also below his career average.

However, his offense picked up in September, which coincided with Kurt Suzuki’s elbow injury and more playing time. Gomes made 21 starts and produced an .850 OPS. His OPS for the season was just .704.

Gomes made 358 plate appearances during the regular season. Suzuki made 309. Their pitcher-pairings were clear: Suzuki caught Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Aníbal Sánchez. Gomes caught Patrick Corbin and the rotating cast of fifth starters. In spring training, Suzuki will be over with Corbin more often in case he needs to handle the left-hander during the regular season. Davey Martinez expects their playing-time share to be similar to last year no matter who they are catching.

“I like to think we could do the same thing, but we’ve got to be very careful,” Martinez said. “I know Suzuki looks good and ready to go, but we have to be very conscious of his injuries last year. I know Yan could catch every day. We’ll see how spring training goes. I definitely would like to keep it the same.”

Which is also what Gomes wanted. More of the same, so he's back in West Palm Beach for two more years.

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Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway discuss how they would survive a zombie apocalypse

Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway discuss how they would survive a zombie apocalypse

Have you ever wondered what to do in the event of a zombie apocalypse?

Sure you have. 

In this worst-case scenario, it’s important to think about where you would go, what you would eat and what would be your weapon of choice. 

But no worries, if you haven’t thought that far ahead Washington Capitals players Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway have shared some ideas. 

On the latest episode of Between Two Blue Lines podcast, hosted by Zach Guerette, Dowd and Hathaway had some fun explaining how they would survive a zombie apocalypse.  

“I honestly think I would find as many bags of Power up as I could. Power up lasts forever and its high energy which you’re going to need battling zombies,” Hathaway said.

“I’ve always thought about this do you go into the woods and disappear? I mean the zombies necessarily shouldn’t be out there because they seem like they stick in cities,” Dowd chimed in.

“So the first thing I think I’d do is raid a gun store,” Dowd said.

When asked about their weapon of choice, Dowd replied, “Samurai sword, it’s so sharp you can’t run out of bullets.” 

Dowd and Hathaway also discussed The Bachelor. 

When asked which Capitals player would be eliminated first on the Bachelor, Garnet responded, “Lars.” “I would love to see V in that situation ... he would only last an episode.”

Dowd, on the other hand, answered, “Tom would be the guy that stirs the pot & gets people going.”

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