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Djokovic back on his favorite court in Australia

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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.

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All signs point to T.J. Oshie returning to Capitals lineup vs. Red Wings, not official yet

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USA TODAY Sports

All signs point to T.J. Oshie returning to Capitals lineup vs. Red Wings, not official yet

ARLINGTON, Va. -- As the Washington Capitals took to the ice Monday at MedStar Capitals Iceplex for the first time since returning from a three-game road trip, T.J. Oshie joined them, but he did so wearing a red jersey. The color Oshie was wearing is significant not because of his fashion but because of what it means for his status.

A light blue jersey indicates a player is a non-contact participant in practice. The fact that Oshie was in his regular red means that he was full-go on Monday, and it is a good sign that he could be able to return for Tuesday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.

Oshie has missed 11 games after suffering a concussion after a takedown by Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey on Nov. 14. It was the fifth concussion of Oshie’s career.

“I feel like each time it gets more and more frustrating,” Oshie said to reporters after practice. “But I stuck with it. Some good workouts and skates with [strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish] and [Brooks Orpik] was here all week, so I had some company. I had a lot of support from the guys behind me asking me, texting me seeing how I'm doing, so those kind of things kind of get you through it. Plus, the holidays, family in town, I spent time with the girls at home and [my] wife. It was a good little break.”

When an injury keeps a player from skating, their typical progression starts goes from off-ice workouts, to on-ice workouts, to being a limited participant in practice, to a full participant and then to returning to the game lineup. Oshie had been skating with Nemish during the team’s road trip and has evidently progressed to the point that he was able to step right into practice on Monday without the need for the non-contact jersey.

Not only was Oshie a full-participant, but head coach Todd Reirden was seemingly not concerned about easing him back in. Oshie skated on the top line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. He also took part in drills on the team’s first power-play unit.

“He's a special player in all aspects of the game, but certainly in the power play for us in that diamond spot,” Reirden said. “He does a really good job on the entries in terms of controlled entries. When we do have to dump pucks in, he's great on recoveries. His work ethic and instincts to be able to win puck battles, I just think it increases our whole intensity of the way our power play recovers pucks.”

Everything that happened on the ice Monday was a positive sign for Oshie’s recovery, but both he and Reirden said only that he was a “possibility” to play in Tuesday’s game.

“I've been hoping to play for a week,” Oshie said. “I'm hoping to play [Tuesday]. We'll see, see what the training staff says, see what the doctors say, see what the coaches say.”

Reirden added: “The plan was for him to go through practice today, and we'll see how he does later this afternoon and re-evaluate [Tuesday] morning as he continues to get closer to getting cleared to play."

Based on how Oshie progressed directly to full practice and by how much he was utilized during practice, every indication is that Oshie will be back in the lineup Tuesday at Capital One Arena.

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The Redskins' offense is a mess on its opening drive and a total disaster coming out of halftime

The Redskins' offense is a mess on its opening drive and a total disaster coming out of halftime

A game-opening drive in the NFL represents a chance to capitalize on days of practice, film study and play-scripting by moving the ball and scoring points early in that week's contest.

A game-opening drive for the 2018 Redskins represents, for the most part, a chance for fans to show up a few minutes late if needed and still not feel like they missed much of anything.

Through 13 games this season, Washington's offense has generated two touchdowns on their first possessions and punted on the other 11. Seven of those possessions have been three-and-outs, which is a very discouraging number considering a lot of the plays they're running are, in theory, what Jay Gruden and his staff feel most confident in.

Those clunky starts are a major factor in the team ranking 26th in the league in first quarter scoring at 3.7 points per game.

The group is getting worse as the year progresses, too. The initial drives in their past seven games have all ended with Tress Way kicking the ball to the opponent. The last time they first took the ball and scored points was Week 7 at home against the Cowboys.

Still have an appetite for some painful stats? Perfect, because the Redskins are awful coming out of halftime.

Their 13 possessions to begin the third quarter have resulted in one field goal, two turnovers and 10 punts. The 'Skins' offense has had 13 chances to come out of the locker room after resetting and making adjustments from the first half of action. Those 13 chances have added up to three points.

Let's repeat something: The Redskins are awful coming out of halftime. The dreadful beginnings to the second half help explain why only the Cardinals are averaging fewer third quarter points (1.8) than Washington (2.2) so far this season.

As a whole, the offense has been a struggle for the Burgundy and Gold week in and week out. And, sure, you can blame some of those struggles on the injuries that have broken down the O-line and quarterbacks.

So you can put a fraction of the abysmal first and second half opening-drive production on the injuries, too. But only a fraction.

The vast majority of the blame should be directed toward the players and coaches. Whether it's the former not executing or setting the effort back with penalties, the latter not being creative enough or attentive enough to come up with a better plan, or a horrific combination of the two, the team is stumbling far too often when it should be at its most prepared.

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