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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. It's no 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 French Open champion and 13th-seeded Ana Ivanovic completed women's play for the day with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Melinda Czink of Hungary.

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.

``To his credit, he raised his level and played some great points,'' Hewitt said of Tipsarevic. ``He just played too well on the big points. He was going for everything at 3-0 (down), and it came off.''

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, 2006 finalist and 28th-seeded Marcos Baghdatis and No. 32 Julien Benneteau of France.

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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Wizards barely put up a fight vs. Raptors after Bradley Beal's strong comments

Wizards barely put up a fight vs. Raptors after Bradley Beal's strong comments

The Washington Wizards lost to the Toronto Raptors 140-111 on Friday night on the road. Here are five takeaways from what went down...

1. In case anyone was wondering how the Wizards would respond to Bradley Beal's strong comments about the team's culture, the answer is not well.

The Wizards barely put up a fight against the Toronto Raptors in a lopsided loss. They lost by 29 and trailed by as many as 33.

One reason was they committed 28 turnovers. They also allowed the Raptors to make 22 threes. That's the third-most allowed in one game by the Wizards in franchise history.

This was the Wizards' 41st game of the season. With a 13-28 record, they are on pace to win 26 games.

2. The Wizards didn't just lose this game, they may have lost backup shooting guard Jordan McRae for an extended period of time.

McRae stepped on a shoe at midcourt and rolled his left ankle. He immediately went down in obvious pain and had to be carried off the floor and into the locker room. 

It was reminiscent of the ankle injury Garrison Mathews suffered nearly two weeks ago. That one fortunately did not result in a fracture or ligament damage. He just had a bad ankle sprain.

Just like Mathews, McRae suffered his injury at a time when he was playing well and really coming into his own. Tough timing.

3. There weren't many positives for the Wizards in this one, but Isaac Bonga certainly was one. The second-year wing dropped a career-high 17 points to go along with 10 rebounds and a steal. Five of his rebounds were on the offensive end.

Bonga shot 6-for-9 from the field and hit two threes. His continued development as a scorer has been impressive to watch this season.

4. Davis Bertans is such a good shooter that when he releases the ball, it is expected to go in. Even rarer, it seems, he misses two in a row.

Every once in a while, once in a blue moon, he has a legitimate off-shooting night. Friday was one of those nights. Bertans had 12 points and shot 3-for-11 from three.

Per usual of late, Bertans wasn't exactly open due to his place on the scouting report but he got decent looks. Many of his threes clanged off the front of the rim. 

Maybe he had tired legs. Whatever it was, the Latvian Laser didn't have it like he usually does.

5. The Isaiah Thomas experience has not been good as of late. The Wizards point guard at another bad game, this time with eight points in 16 minutes.

He just looked off; sluggish and making mental mistakes. That included two turnovers in the first quarter when he passed the ball as the shot clock expired.

Those decisions were inexcusable and in his last 10 games, Thomas has averaged 8.5 points while shooting 34.4 percent. He has not been the same guy since coming back from his calf injury in mid-December. But it's been more than physical. His head hasn't seemed to be in the game like it was earlier this season.

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Bradley Beal records an impressive four-point play against the Raptors

Bradley Beal records an impressive four-point play against the Raptors

Bradley Beal emphasized the Wizards' need to start winning games and changing the culture after the team's 115-106 loss to the Bulls on Wednesday night. Two nights later, Washington responded with an opening half riddled with turnovers, which led to a deficit that grew to as high as 24 points before halftime.

In the third quarter, the Wizards began to make a charge, highlighted by Beal's four-point play after draining a three while drawing contact.

Raptors forward Serge Ibaka closed out too aggressively on Beal and landed on the guard's foot. The officials assessed a flagrant one foul to Ibaka for not allowing space to land, and Beal converted the ensuing free throw. 

Beal's four-point play cut the Wizards' deficit to 77-64 and was the start of an 8-0 run that cut the Raptors' lead to single-digits at 77-68.

But Toronto answered back quickly, reeling off an 8-0 spurt of its own to build the lead back up and pull away for a commanding 140-111 win. Beal finished with 14 points on 4-for-12 shooting, including 3-for-6 from beyond the arc. 

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