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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.

Quick Links

How to watch Capitals vs. Maple Leafs NHL 20 simulation and Caps' chippy Nov. 18 win over Ducks

How to watch Capitals vs. Maple Leafs NHL 20 simulation and Caps' chippy Nov. 18 win over Ducks

The Capitals’ simulated season continues on Tuesday night when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs in NHL 20, aired on NBC Sports Washington. Real-life Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin will be on the call.

In a partnership with Monumental Sports Network, NBCSW is airing all Wizards and Capitals games in simulated NBA 2K20 and NHL 20 games, taking place on the dates and times according to each team's regular season schedule with commentary from NBCSW's experts surrounding the coverage.

After the game wraps up, NBCSW will reair the Caps’ physical Nov. 18 affair with the Anaheim Ducks. Richard Panik scored his first goal in a Washington uniform and Garnet Hathaway was ejected after exchanging more than just blows in a fight with several Ducks.

Here’s how you can catch both games Tuesday night.

Broadcast Schedule

7:00 PM – NHL 20: Toronto Maple Leafs @ Capitals (P)

8:00 PM – NHL Classics: Anaheim Ducks @ Capitals from Nov. 18, 2019 (R)

10:30 PM – NHL 20: Toronto Maple Leafs @ Capitals (R)

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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How Ben Olsen is coaching D.C. United during coronavirus quarantine

How Ben Olsen is coaching D.C. United during coronavirus quarantine

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the MLS season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen is working to find his way in the face of massive changes to the day-to-day life of so many around the world.

"The priority right now with the group that we have is to maintain a level of fitness," Olsen said on a conference call with local reporters this morning. "All we can do right now is follow the guidelines given by MLS."

Even though the team is not able to meet face-to-face like they normally would, Olsen and his staff have had to get creative in ways to continue to build team chemistry and make sure everyone is on the same page.

"We have a once-a-week call with everyone on a Zoom chat with the trainers," he said. "We talk about things like social media and how to stay connected to fans, the programs we are sending out and we get feedback from [the players] on what is going well."

Dealing with the pandemic has been especially challenging for players from overseas, who might not have the same support systems that those longtime MLS players have in the area. The club is making a particular point to reach out to those players.

D.C. United and its staff are also making sure that all of the club’s players are able to partake in individualized training to keep a level of fitness, even if that means getting some workout equipment to players who might not have it where they live.

As new challenges arise and are met, Olsen is trying to keep a positive mindset and joked that he now has the time to be a better husband and father than he normally would at the start of a new season.

"There’s this underlying positivity that again I feel very, very lucky because of the scenario I’m in," the head coach noted. "I’m also constantly thinking about others that are not in the situation I’m in. Whether it’s the EMTs, the firemen, the D.C. support system, our medical doctors, so many people on the frontlines that are doing so much and putting their lives in danger right now. I make sure we as a family are constantly reminding our children that there’s a lot of people out there doing some great things in a very, very tough time."

When asked what he misses most about what would be the end of the opening month of the MLS season, Olsen stated that he misses the locker room and being with his players.

"Dealing with the ups and downs of a season, dealing with the journey of the season," he said. "It’s a special thing that we have and I think in some ways you have to lose it to appreciate it. Right now I miss being in that locker room, I miss the guys, I miss my staff."

While no one knows yet when the season will return, Olsen is "very bullish and optimistic" that MLS will recover quickly.

"Of course the league will take a hit, just like every other league and every other business across this country," Olsen said. "This league will be just fine when we get through this, just like our country will be just fine."