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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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Chris Cooley remembers mostly positive reaction to Redskins' name from Native Americans

Chris Cooley remembers mostly positive reaction to Redskins' name from Native Americans

With the Washington Redskins' name change dominating headlines across the sports world, former players have been asked a multitude of questions to get their thoughts on the team's controversial nickname.

One of those has been, "Do you remember people having a problem with the name while you were on the team?"

The answers have, of course, been mixed. Santana Moss told NBC Sports Washington's Matt Weyrich that he first noticed a problem years into his Washington tenure getting off the team bus in Seattle, while Brian Mitchell has said he's been dealing with the negative reaction around the name since the start of his career in 1990.

On Thursday, former Washington tight end Chris Cooley joined the Kevin Sheehan show on The Team 980 and described his unique experience receiving feedback from Native Americans on the team's name.

"It's probably time to change the name, and we're in that world where you can change it, but it doesn't mean that I believe it had anything to do with anything racial. It didn't," Cooley said. "Guys I played for didn't believe that, over 75 tribes that I traveled to didn't feel that way six years ago when I went to those reservations and 30 or 40 more that I went to by myself.

"You know what, it's completely fine if you change your mind on something like that," Cooley said. "And I'll be all for it, but when I was with the Washington Redskins I don't believe anybody felt it was a racially driven name."

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Cooley traveled to several reservations across the country to gain an understanding of a culture his former team's likeness was representing. Instead of having to tie his opinion to polls and other methods for gathering a group of people's opinion, he got his information straight from the source.

"The overwhelming majority was, 'Don't forget us,' 'Don't care,' 'That's fine but I'm a Cowboys fan,'" Cooley said. "It was just a conversation that was had very comfortably."

Cooley emphasized going to reservations alone in order to get honest answers from its residents. If he were there with the Redskins in a larger group, he feared he wouldn't get the same feedback as if he were alone. Ultimately, after speaking to hundreds of Native Americans, the Wyoming native got a similar response to his questions.

RELATED: NEW NAME REPORTEDLY WON'T INCLUDE NATIVE AMERICAN IMAGERY

"We would go to casinos, we would go to rodeos, and [I'd] ask them like 'Hey how do you feel about the Redskins' name?'" he said. "People would tell us, and it was more than 9-to-1 that felt positively about it, at least on the trips that I went."

However, as Cooley acknowledged, people can and are allowed to change their minds. The response a few years ago may have been positive, but that may not be the case anymore. 

According to a report from the Associated Press, more than a dozen Native American groups sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell asking the league to force Washington to change its name. 

So, in the end, Cooley isn't going to be "an old man on the front porch" as he called it, and push against change just to keep things the way they were. 

"Times change with people and all I'm saying is I don't feel like in my time there it was ever racially driven," he said. "But I'm also not going to sit here argue for it. If people want it changed then let's change it."

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Redskins assistant coach witnessed former Raider Barret Robbins' early mental-health issues

Redskins assistant coach witnessed former Raider Barret Robbins' early mental-health issues

Sports Uncovered is a six-part weekly podcast series that explores the stories that took the national sports world by storm. The newest episode, The Mysterious Disappearance That Changed A Super Bowl, dives into how Oakland Raiders star center Barret Robbins missed Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003 after 24 hours of partying. 

Barret Robbins was just a junior at Texas Christian when his manic episodes began. 

A potent mixture of steroids, alcohol and marijuana left the future NFL offensive lineman in a daze. It felt like he was sleepwalking. Driving to Austin from his school in Fort Worth, not really knowing what he was doing, seeking some level of attention, he smashed the window of a car dealership. 

Robbins had no intention of taking anything. But it looked like he was trying to burglarize the place. So, Austin police arrested him. It was so out of character, his TCU coaches, including current Redskins tight ends coach Pete Hoener, weren’t sure what to make of the episode. 

“My first inclination on something like that with him was ‘Man, he must have been really drunk,’” Hoener told NBC Sports Bay Area for the sixth episode of NBC’s Sports Uncovered podcast. “You know, been with the wrong person or something.”

Robbins went to jail and then to rehab before being allowed to play his senior year at TCU. But it was the beginning of a descent that continued long after Robbins failed to post for the Raiders’ appearance in the Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003. 

The latest Sports Uncovered podcast by NBC Sports takes a look at Robbins' infamous Super Bowl disappearance and what has happened to him since then. Listen to the full episode below or by subscribing wherever you get your podcasts:

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Who knows if the outcome would have changed? Oakland lost 48-21. But Robbins’ life has never been the same. One of the best offensive linemen in football was out of the NFL by 2004 and left alone to deal with the depression and bipolar disorder that plagued him since college. 

The incident at the car dealership led to a diagnosis of depression by the TCU medical staff. Robbins’ story is difficult to listen to. He spoke with NBC Sports Bay Area for a 2011 interview that serves as the basis for the podcast, but otherwise few know his whereabouts now, including his former Raiders teammates. 

Robbins told NBC Sports Bay Area he likely had episodes before that one in college. But nothing where he ended up in trouble. It wouldn’t stay that way. He managed a nine-year career in the NFL before things fell apart. 

That saddens Hoener, who left TCU in 1997 and has spent the past 20 years as an assistant in the NFL, including nine with Rivera on the Carolina Panthers’ coaching staff and again this season with the Redskins. 

Hoener knew Robbins when he was just a teenager. The answer when odd things happened to a player back then was he must be drinking too much. Robbins just didn’t have the same support system that would be in place today for players at almost any level of football. Mental health is treated so much differently now. It might have made a difference for Robbins. 

“I think the thing that’s come of all this is there’s much better communication now with the medical staff and psychologists,” Hoener said. “And everybody up through the college level – maybe even the high school level – up through our level. So that a lot of those things don’t slip through.”

Want more Sports Uncovered? Check out Sean Taylor, the NFL superstar we didn't get to know, also part of the Sports Uncovered podcast series.

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