Redskins

Djokovic back on his favorite court in Australia

201301131929701639409-p2.jpeg

Djokovic back on his favorite court in Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Same Grand Slam, same court, same result. Only the year was different for Novak Djokovic - and the amount of time he needed on the bright blue hard surface at Rod Laver Arena.

The Australian Open defending champion took his first step toward winning his third consecutive title at Melbourne Park - and fourth overall - with a 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 win over Paul-Henri Mathieu of France on Monday.

The match lasted 1 hour, 42 minutes, more than four hours faster than when the Serbian star was last on center court, his victory in last year's final over Rafael Nadal in a 5-hour, 53-minute marathon.

The win ran Djokovic's winning streak at Melbourne to 15 matches and his overall win-loss record to 33-5. Any wonder Djokovic calls the Australian Open, site of his first of five Grand Slams in 2008, his favorite major.

``It's great to be back in Australia playing on this court,'' Djokovic said.

On an opening day when Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams also easily won their first-round matches, Djokovic took his first step to becoming the first man to win three consecutive Australian Open titles in the Open era.

``Any achievement, especially if it's part of history, would mean a lot to me,'' Djokovic said. ``I love this sport. This sport has been my life since I was 4 years old.''

Djokovic lost a match to Australia's Bernard Tomic in the exhibition, mixed-team Hopman Cup tournament this month, but said his win over Mathieu, who reached a career-high No. 12 ranking in 2008, was a good steppingstone for his second-round match against American Ryan Harrison, a 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 winner over Santiago Giraldo of Colombia.

Sharapova finished her first match of the year in 55 minutes, cruising to a 6-0, 6-0 win over Olga Puchkova to start proceedings on center court without showing any signs of trouble with her sore right collarbone.

The No. 2-ranked Sharapova, who lost the final to Victoria Azarenka here last year before going on to win the French Open, faced only two break points in the match and she saved both of those in the first game with aces.

Sharapova withdrew from the Brisbane International earlier this month with a collarbone injury, saying she wanted to concentrate on being fit for Melbourne. She also skipped the Brisbane tournament last year before going on to reach the Australian Open final.

``After a couple of close games and a few break points, I certainly started to concentrate a bit better,'' she said. ``Overall, I was happy with the way I started, considering I didn't play any matches coming in.''

Sharapova has a potential third-round match against Venus Williams, who needed just an hour for her opening 6-1, 6-0 win over Galina Voskoboeva of Kazakhstan.

No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska won the last nine straight games in her opening 7-5, 6-0 win over Australian wild-card Bojana Bobusic 7-5, 6-0, and 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur beat Chang Kai-chen of Taiwan 7-6 (3), 6-3 to end a run of five losses on her home courts in Australia.

No. 6 Li Na, who lost the Australian Open final before winning the 2011 French Open, had a 6-1, 6-3 win over Sesil Karatantcheva of Kazakhstan, while No. 11 Marion Bartoli, No. 18 Julia Gorges of Germany and No. 27 Sorana Cirstea of Romania also advanced. Former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic beat Sweden's Johanna Larsson 6-2, 6-2.

Among the men, fourth-seeded David Ferrer defeated Olivier Rochus of Belgium 6-3, 6-4, 6-2; 2010 Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych defeated Michael Russell 6-3, 7-5, 6-3; and No. 10 Nicolas Almagro of Spain beat American qualifier Steve Johnson 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-2.

Eighth-seeded Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia came back from two service breaks down in the second set and went on to beat local favorite Lleyton Hewitt 7-6 (4), 7-5, 6-3. It was Hewitt's 17th consecutive Australian Open, a tournament where he's only advanced past the fourth round once - when he lost in the final to Marat Safin in 2005.

Also advancing were No. 15 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, No. 16 Kei Nishikori of Japan, No. 22 Fernando Verdasco of Spain, No. 26 Jurgen Melzer of Austria and No. 32 Julien Benneteau of France, who beat rising Bulgarian star Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.

Williams took command of her match early with a steady stream of winners and powerful serves.

She skipped last year's Australian Open due to illness and was warmly welcomed with applause as she entered the court. Williams had the biggest jump of any of the top players in 2012, moving from outside the top 100 to finish the year at No. 24.

``It's hard to play the first match in a major, first thing of the year, and that can be a lot of pressure,'' Williams said. ``I did my best to just close it out.''

She's pleased the progress she made last year after a seven-month layoff due to Sjogren's syndrome, an auto-immune disease that can cause fatigue,

``I'm not a patient person,'' she said. ``But I think what I have learned more than anything is for me to focus on the things I can accomplish and not to think about the things that I can't do.''

Her younger sister, Serena, was sitting in the crowd with coach Patrick Mouratoglou. Serena is the favorite to win the Australian Open, heading into the tournament with 35 wins in her past 36 matches including titles at Wimbledon, the Olympics and the U.S. Open.

No. 3-ranked Serena Williams is in the top half of the draw with defending champion Azarenka, and the pair won't start until Tuesday.

Second-seeded Roger Federer and No. 3 Andy Murray, the two main threats to Djokovic with Rafael Nadal not playing due to a virus, also play their first-round matches Tuesday.

Quick Links

Despite some tears, youth football helped Chris Thompson discover his love for the game

Despite some tears, youth football helped Chris Thompson discover his love for the game

Maybe Chris Thompson was always destined to end up with the Redskins.

When the running first partook in the game of football growing up, the team he played for ended up being the same one he'd enter the NFL with.

“My little league team just so happened to be the Redskins," Thompson told NBC Sports Washington.

From a Pop Warner to the pros, he still carries the memories of his youth football days as they played a major part in molding him into the player he is today. Yet, it wasn't all positives.

For someone as talented an explosive as Thompson, one would probably expect him to have a great amount of success from the start of his football days. But, his first season was quite the opposite.

“My first year, we lost every single game," he said. "So I went home crying every single day. After every single game, because I hated to lose.”

We've all been there. Losing a game as a kid, no matter what the circumstance is, can be heartbreaking. I would be lying if I said I never had a meltdown or two on the little league field when I couldn't find the strike zone.

While going through a season with no wins is probably enough to deter a lot of young kids from a sport, Thompson wasn't ready to give up. He came back for another season, and things quickly turned around.

“The next year, we went undefeated," Thompson said. “I literally got tackled one time the whole season.”

A 180-degree change in the following year, Thompson and his teammates enjoyed a lot more success and fun. The running back said the one tackle came in the championship game, and that he racked up plenty of touchdowns during that campaign.

As a young kid, being able to rebound from a low moment and come out on top is something that Thompson has carried with him throughout his entire career. Battling back from injuries and doubts, he's always been someone who wants to do better every time he steps on the field.

“So it was just kind of, as a young kid, added motivation for me," Thompson said about his youth football experiences.

Though that first season may have not been the most enjoyable experience for a young Thompson, he's forever grateful for his early playing days. Even now being at the highest level of football, he understands the impact it had.

“It’s fun man. I feel like you really start to, you build friendships through sports big time. It’s just those moments back then, even through high school, you won't forget cause it’s just fun," Thompson said. "You’re just having fun, being able to play the game you love and nothing else really matters.”

“I feel like that’s when you really start to love the game of football."

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

Quick Links

New week, same tight wild-card race for Nationals

New week, same tight wild-card race for Nationals

The Nationals packed slowly Sunday after blowing out Milwaukee. They were all heading to the same bus at 5:45 p.m., marooned in the clubhouse without an excuse for escape -- family, fatigue or just feeling like it.

Another laborious but fulfilling weekend was over. The team played more than nine hours of baseball in a 22-hour span. Davey Martinez said his feet hurt. The position players stood in the unrelenting sun all Sunday -- except for Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon, recipients of an early departure during the blowout -- before finding relieve in the clubhouse air conditioning.

Next is four games in Pittsburgh and three in Chicago. The Pirates have crashed since the All-Star break. Only Miami has a worse overall record in the National League. Chicago is in the thick of the wild-card and National League Central races. The Cubs hold the second wild-card slot by two games despite being 4-6 in their last 10. They are .001 percentage points behind St. Louis for the division lead. 

Joe Ross starts things Monday for the Nationals. His ERA by month this season: 3.86, 14.85, 36.00, 8.10, 0.50. Things are better, to say the least. Ross has been able to maintain his velocity but also add movement to his two-seam fastball. He pitches up on occasion and deploys his curveball more often. 

Monday will be Ross’ final start before the Nationals have to decide who will remain in the rotation because of Max Scherzer’s “probable” return Thursday. Erick Fedde had a decent outing Sunday. If Ross pitches well again Monday, he seems to have the inside track to the fifth starter spot. That doesn’t mean Fedde is going back to Triple-A Fresno or Double-A Harrisburg. Martinez mentioned he expects the organization to find a way to keep Fedde around, which could mean being the long man in the bullpen.

Stephen Strasburg follows on Tuesday, Patrick Corbin is next, Scherzer is expected to finish the series in Pittsburgh. Which makes Ross’ outing that much more important. If he pitches well and the team wins Monday, they are set up for the remaining three games.

That’s not the case in Chicago. The Nationals will deal with a turnaround that only happens if a team is going to play the Cubs. Following a final night game in Pittsburgh, Washington flies to Chicago for a 1:20 p.m. local start. The Cubs, on the other hand, play a home day game Thursday. This is a byproduct of the city ordinance which limits the number of night games at Wrigley Field. It’s also a part of poor scheduling on the other side by Major League Baseball. 

There’s another scheduling quirk to be cognizant of: Atlanta has played 126 games, Washington 123. That three-game gap will not be closed until the final week of the season when Washington plays eight games in seven days and Atlanta is off twice. So, though, the Nationals are 5 ½ games behind the Braves in the National League East, it’s important to note they are four back in the loss column with three games in hand. The gap is more modest than it may seem.

First, off to Pittsburgh.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: