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Chinese interest key to Australian Open future

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Chinese interest key to Australian Open future

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) When Li Na saw all the Chinese flags and heard the cheers of ``Jia You,'' or ``Let's Go'' in Mandarin, during her Australian Open final against Victoria Azarenka, she thought she might have been in Beijing.

``I can hear a lot of Chinese fans, yeah,'' she said after losing to Azarenka in three sets Saturday night. ``I was, oh, looks like China Open.''

Li was joking, but Australian Open organizers would be pleased to hear the comparison. The tournament has long billed itself as the ``Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific,'' and in recent years, it has stepped up its efforts to court increasingly affluent and tennis-mad fans in China.

With Li making the women's final for the second time in three years, this has been easy to do.

Attracting TV viewers was the first priority. When Li, China's top player, reached her first Grand Slam final at Melbourne Park in 2011, losing to Kim Clijsters, the tournament drew 120 million viewers in China.

Seeing numbers like these, Tennis Australia signed a three-year deal with China Central Television and the Shanghai Media Group to broadcast the tournament throughout China, with a guaranteed minimum number of hours of coverage.

The deal was in place in time for last year's tournament, which attracted 115 million viewers - without Li or any other Chinese player doing well.

``It'll be very interesting to see what this year's number is,'' said Steve Ayles, Tennis Australia's commercial director. ``We're certainly awaiting that with some anticipation.''

The tournament has also tried to build up its brand in China by taking the Australian Open trophy on a tour of the country, creating a Mandarin version of the Australian Open website and setting up an Australian Open account on China's version of Twitter, Sina weibo.

Organizers also set up a tournament for aspiring players from the Asia-Pacific region to compete for a wild card into the main draw.

The first edition of the playoff was held in China in October, and the wild cards went to two players from China - Zhang Yuxuan, who competed in the women's tournament, and Wu Di, who became the first man from mainland China to play in the main draw.

More tour operators in China are offering package tours to Melbourne, as well. Ayles said these tennis-themed trips increased by 82 percent this year.

``What it means is when a Chinese player plays particularly well, because we have this all in place, it just heightens level of awareness of the Australian Open,'' Ayles said. ``Right across the board, when we have a player like Li Na play well and get to a final, obviously it helps underpin our strategy in China.''

Part of the reason for an outreach program like this is sheer protectionism. Several years ago, Tennis Australia feared it could lose its Grand Slam to a booming Asian city like Shanghai, eager to increase its profile on the global stage.

``Obviously if your business model is underpinned on 22 million people, it's quite a challenge for you,'' Ayles said, referring to the population of Australia.

``There's no question being part of a bigger region, that's where the opportunities for growth comes,'' he added. ``This is not 2-to-5-year strategy; it's 20-, 40-year strategy.''

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New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

Alex Smith in, Kirk Cousins out.

That's certainly the headline, but there are plenty of other questions for the Redskins, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

For the last two seasons, most of the questions going into OTAs for Washington came from the defensive side of the ball. After consecutive drafts with a first-round defensive lineman selection, the defense should be much improved. 

On offense, however, there are a lot of new parts. 

  1. The headliner - No position in sports is as important as NFL quarterback. This will be Alex Smith's first action in a Redskins uniform with media present. The 34-year-old veteran is coming off the best season of his career, and if he can continue that level of accuracy and play-making, the Redskins could be poised for an explosive year.
  2. The speedster - Washington's wideouts lacked separation in 2017. It was apparent through much of the year, and likely played a roll in some of Kirk Cousins' reluctance to make tough throws. Free agent addition Paul Richardson is supposed to help, immediately. He has elite deep speed and the 'Skins brass hopes he can bring a similar element to the offense that DeSean Jackson provided a few years back. Time to prove it Paul. 
  3. The injuries - There are big reasons for concern, namely two very large men in Jordan Reed and Trent Williams. Reed will not participate in OTAs, and has been dealing with a foot/toe injury for the better part of a year. Williams, who seems highly unlikely to attend OTAs, underwent knee surgery in January. Beyond Smith, Reed and Williams are probably the two most important offensive players on the Redskins. OTAs aren't important, Reed and Williams participating, or even attending, OTAs is not important. Both men being healthy and ready to go in September is quite important. 
  4. The Rookie - Has Derrius Guice become the most popular player on the Redskins? Maybe. The dynamic rookie running back, with an interesting draft weekend slide, has the charisma and ability to be a star. The "off-field concerns" that hurt his draft status seem like myths at this point, but there was some injury concern his junior season at LSU (see video above). Guice has an opportunity to be a huge part of the Redskins offense, and all eyes will be watching the rookie. 
  5. The leap? - In 2017, Josh Doctson showed flashes of the player that warranted a first-round pick in 2016. Will 2018 be the year he proves it, week after week, game after game? Getting off to a good start with Smith should help, and even more important would be an injury-free offseason. 

There are questions for the defense too, particularly at cornerback after Josh Norman, but this year, the offense has more new parts. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

The Eastern Conference Final is going the distance!

After losing three straight to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Capitals won Game 6 to force a Game 7 in Tampa Bay. Can the Caps beat the Lightning one more time and advance to the Stanley Cup Final?

JJ Regan, Tarik El-Bashir and special guest cameraman Mike D break it all down.

 

PLEASE NOTE: Due to schedule and time constraints, this podcast was recorded by phone and the audio quality is not up to our usual standards.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.