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Defending champion Murray reaches Brisbane final

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Defending champion Murray reaches Brisbane final

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) Andy Murray is back where he kicked off his breakthrough 2012 season and his working partnership with Ivan Lendl, only one win away from successfully defending his title at the Brisbane International.

The reigning Brisbane, Olympic and U.S. Open champion advanced to the final when fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori retired with an injured left knee when trailing 6-4, 2-0 in their semifinal Saturday.

Still in his way is Grigor Dimitrov, the 21-year-old Bulgarian who is starting to live up to his reputation as a star-in-the-making by reaching his first ATP Tour final with a 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (5) win over 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis.

The women's final pitting Serena Williams against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was set for Saturday night.

Both Murray and Dimitrov have an eye on the Australian Open, which starts Jan. 14, but both are conscious of the early-season interest in a showdown between a member of the fabulous four and a player in the up-and-coming group determined to break the domination that Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Murray and Rafael Nadal have had in the majors.

Murray knows what is at stake Sunday, recalling his first ATP Tour final against Federer - he lost at Bangkok in 2005 - as an opportunity to go for his shots with nothing to lose.

The top four men are constantly asked about players who are capable of being in the next generation of champions. The 25-year-old Murray is now including Dimitrov on his list.

``From my point of view, I hope that there isn't people coming through because it means that I'll be one of the ones that's losing out on a spot,'' he said, only half joking. ``There are loads of guys that are very, very tough players, all with different games.

``Grigor plays with a lot of variety. He can play a lot of shots. He's one the few guys coming through that's got a single-handed backhand as well, so he uses a lot more slice than the others.''

Putting them to the test, in the regular tournaments and the more physically demanding majors, is ``when you'll find out about them,'' he said.

Murray lost four Grand Slam finals, including consecutive championships at Melbourne Park in 2010 and `11, but turned that around after he started last January to work with Lendl, who lost four major finals before going on to win eight.

A year on from their first practice sessions in Brisbane, Murray is a Grand Slam winner - ending that 76-year drought for British men.

He was down 4-1 against the fifth-seeded Nishikori before hitting his stride, winning the next seven games before the Japanese player called it quits two games after receiving medical treatment.

``I'm playing OK. A bit up and down,'' Murray said. ``I've moved better every single match. Returning could have been better, and my groundstrokes, with more matches I'll start it hit them cleaner.''

Dimitrov, the youngest player in the top 50, has quickly found the spotlight in 2013 with wins over second-seeded Milos Raonic, the big-serving Canadian, and seventh-seeded Jurgen Melzer en route to his first final.

He raced to a 3-0 lead in eight minutes to establish the only break of the first set and then was up a break in the second before No. 38-ranked Baghdatis hit back to take the match into a third set.

Baghdatis saved a breakpoint to force a tiebreaker and then was stunned when he received a time violation penalty - losing his first serve - when he was down a mini break. The ATP has modified its rules for 2013 to make it easier for chair umpires to caution players about slow play and Baghdatis had already been warned for taking too long between service points.

He fought back in the tiebreaker but Dimitrov came up with a stunning backhand which ultimately turned the match.

After reaching semifinals at Queen's, Bastad and Gstaad in 2012, Dimitrov switched coaches for the off-season and has been working in Sweden at an academy run by Magnus Norman, Nicklas Kulti and Mikael Tillstrom. Together, they set a target of reaching the final in the first week of the season.

``We were actually pretty serious about it, and now that it happened, I was in the locker room and my coach was like, `Well, I told you so,''' he said. ``Definitely every tournament I play of course I want to be in the final.''

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Unsung LaToya Sanders’ two-way play has Mystics one game away from WNBA Finals

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Unsung LaToya Sanders’ two-way play has Mystics one game away from WNBA Finals

On a stacked Mystics team, LaToya Sanders knows her role. 

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound wisp of a center is asked to guard far bigger opponents throughout the season and still complement her teammates on the offensive end. It’s a lot to deal with. She does so without complaint. 

Sanders, the most unheralded of Washington’s five starters, did it all on Thursday night in a 103-91 WNBA semifinal win over the Las Vegas Aces at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. 

She finished with 17 points on a night when WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne (14 points, 5 of 15 shooting) struggled given her lofty standards. Sanders also played the kind of defense that left coach Mike Thibault insisting she should have been named WNBA first or second-team All-Defense. 

“My job is probably the easiest on the team,” Sanders laughed. “My job is basically to hit wide-open jumpers and lay-ups. Pretty sure I can do those two things.”

Indeed, she was efficient hitting 7 of 10 shots and all three free throws. Sanders also had to guard Vegas’ 6-8 center Liz Cambage, a big ask given their size difference. Cambage did have 23 points and 10 rebounds, but she only took 11 shots. 

Sanders and her teammates tried to make it as hard as possible for the Aces to get the ball inside for easy baskets in their two wins this week. Washington won Game 1 of the series 97-95 on Tuesday, a game that left Cambage visibly frustrated. She also earned a technical foul in Thursday’s game on a rough play underneath the Vegas basket.  

“When you’re LaToya Sanders and you’re 6-3 and you’re relying on your long arms to guard people, she takes a beating every night,” Thibault said. “She guards Camabge and [Phoenix Mercury center Brittney] Griner and [Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia] Fowles and all those people. And every night she wins a lot of those battles.”

But the really unsung part of Sanders’ game is her mid-range jumper. Thursday she was on when some of her higher-profile teammates like Delle Donne didn’t quite have their shot dropping. 

Sanders had six points in the third quarter as the two teams battled back and forth in a tight game and that set the stage for the decisive run that tilted the game toward the Mystics. She also had a hot start to the night with two baskets in the first quarter. 

“[Sanders is] a really good player. She's just on a team with so many other good players that she doesn't get as many shots,” Vegas guard Kelsey Plum said. “But she plays her role as good as anyone in the league. She's a vet. She rebounds the crap out of the ball. I just think that she does a great job for them. Everyone made us pay."

Thibault referenced a rebound Sanders grabbed in traffic to stifle a Vegas possession when they were trying to get the lead under 10 points in the fourth quarter. Instead, Washington was able to work the clock at the offensive end and score a knockout blow. It’s the little things that matter most when a team is pushing for a championship. The Mystics are one step closer. 

“Cambage is a talent, she’s a big girl,” Sanders said. “I just do what I can to try to make it difficult for her, but she’s going to hit some buckets here and there. I try to dish it out, but not take it.”  

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Orioles Roundup: Trey Mancini stays hot in 8-4 home loss to Blue Jays

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Orioles Roundup: Trey Mancini stays hot in 8-4 home loss to Blue Jays

In a fitting tribute to most games this season in Baltimore, Trey Mancini had a terrific day at the plate, but the pitching staff allowed too many home runs and the O's ended up losing.

Here's everything you need to know about the Orioles.

Player Updates:

OF Trey Mancini hasn't slowed down at all for the Orioles, turning in a 4-for-4 night to tie his career high in hits. He's hitting .286 with 34 home runs during his breakout season.

OF Austin Hays enjoyed a banner night, hitting his first home run of the season and making one of the year's highlight catches, robbing a home run well over the centerfield wall.

SP Gabriel Ynoa allowed three runs in 6.1 innings. He didn't walk anyone and allowed just six hits, but he also only struck out one batter despite pitching into the seventh inning, and two of the hits allowed were home runs.

Injuries

RP Hunter Harvey, biceps, sidelined, day-to-day

RP Josh Rogers, elbow, 60-Day IL, out indefinitely 

SP Alex Cobb, back, 60-Day IL, 2020

Coming Up:

Friday, 9/20: Mariners at Orioles, 7:05 p.m., Camden Yards

Saturday, 9/21: Mariners at Orioles, 7:05 p.m., Camden Yards

Sunday, 9/22: Mariners at Orioles, 1:05 p.m., Camden Yards