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Djokovic beats Murray for 3rd straight Aust. Title

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Djokovic beats Murray for 3rd straight Aust. Title

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Novak Djokovic became the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian titles when he beat Andy Murray 6-7 (2), 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-2 in Sunday's final.

Little wonder he loves Rod Laver Arena.

``It's definitely my favorite Grand Slam,'' he said. ``It's an incredible feeling winning this trophy once more. I love this court.''

Djokovic has won four of his six major titles at Melbourne Park, where he is now unbeaten in 21 matches.

Nine other men had won back-to-back titles in Australia over 45 years, but none were able to claim three in a row.

Only two other men, American Jack Crawford (1931-33) and Australian Roy Emerson (1963-67), have won three or more consecutive Australian championships.

Born a week apart in May 1987 and friends since their junior playing days, Djokovic and Murray played like they knew each other's game very well in a rematch of last year's U.S. Open final. There were no service breaks until the eighth game of the third set, when Djokovic finally broke through and then held at love to lead by two sets to one.

Djokovic earned two more service breaks in the fourth set, including one to take a 4-1 lead when U.S. Open champion Murray double-faulted on break point.

``It's been an incredible match as we could have expected,'' Djokovic said. ``When we play each other, it's always, we push each other to the limit and I think those two sets went over two hours, 15 minutes, physically I was just trying to hang in there. Play my game and focus on every point.''

The 25-year-old Serb didn't rip his shirt off this time, as he did to celebrate his epic 5-hour, 53-minute win over Rafael Nadal in last year's final. He just did a little dance, looked up to the sky and then applauded the crowd after the 3-hour, 40-minute match.

Murray's win over Djokovic in the U.S. Open final last year ended a 76-year drought for British men at the majors, but he still is yet to make a breakthrough in Australia after losing a third final here in the last four years.

Djokovic's win went against the odds of recent finals at Melbourne Park. In four of the past five years, the player who won the second of the semifinals has finished on top in the championship match. But this year, Djokovic played his semifinal on Thursday - an easy 89-minute minute win over No. 4-seeded David Ferrer. Murray needed five energy sapping sets to beat 17-time major winner Roger Federer on Friday night.

``You don't wake up the next day and feel perfect, obviously,'' Murray said of the Federer match. ``It's the longest match I played in six months probably. It obviously wasn't an issue today. I started the match well. I thought I moved pretty good throughout.''

The win consolidated Djokovic's position as the No. 1-ranked player in the world, while Federer and Murray will be second and third when the ATP rankings are released Monday.

Their last two matches in Grand Slams - Murray's five-set win at last year's U.S. Open and Djokovic's victory here last year in five in the semifinals - had a total of 35 service breaks.

It was a vastly different, more tactical battle on Sunday, with the first two tight sets decided in tiebreakers.

Murray, who called for a trainer to retape blisters on his right foot at the end of the second set, was visibly annoyed by noise from the crowd during his service games in the third set, stopping his service motion twice until the crowd quieted down. After dropping the third set, he complained about the noise to chair umpire John Blom.

``It's just a bit sore when you're running around,'' Murray said. ``It's not like pulling a calf muscle or something. It just hurts when you run.''

Djokovic also appeared frustrated at times, kicking the ball football-style back over the net after he hit a forehand long during a lengthy point, and muttering to himself while sitting down in his chair during changeovers. But both players were guilty of making unforced errors, often ending long rallies with shots into the net or long.

Djokovic came from 0-40 down in the second game of the second set to hold his serve, a situation he called ``definitely one of the turning points.''

``He missed an easy backhand and I think mentally I just relaxed after that,'' Djokovic said. ``I just felt I'm starting to get into the rhythm that I wanted to. I was little more aggressive and started to dictate the play.''

Murray's fans came dressed for the occasion, with some wearing ``Braveheart''-style wigs, Scottish flags painted on their faces and tartan caps. One group of men wore white T-shirts with black letters that spelled out A-N-D-Y; they serenaded Murray at the start of the first two sets.

There were a number of Serbian shirts, caps and flags in the stadium, as well as fans calling ``Ajde!'' or ``Come on!'' in Serbian to support Djokovic. Retired NBA basketball star Vlade Divac was sitting in Djokovic's box.

Djokovic looked agitated after failing to convert the break points in the first set, frequently looking up to his box and yelling at the members of his team and himself.

Although Djokovic went into the match with a 10-7 lead in head-to-heads, Murray had beaten Djokovic five out of eight times in tiebreakers, and that improved to six of nine after four unforced errors by Djokovic to end the first set.

Djokovic pegged back that edge in the second set, when Murray also didn't help his cause by double-faulting to give Djokovic a 3-2 lead, and the Serbian player didn't trail again in the tiebreaker.

On the double-fault, Murray had to stop as he was about to serve to pick up up a feather that had fallen on the court.

``I could have served, it just caught my eye before I served ... I thought it was a good idea to move it,'' he said.

``Maybe it wasn't because I obviously double faulted. At this level it can come down to just a few points here or there. My probably biggest chance was at the beginning of the second set; (I) didn't quite get it. When Novak had his chance at the end of the third, he got his.''

Andre Agassi was among those in the capacity crowd - the four-time Australian champion's first trip Down Under in nearly 10 years - and he later presented the trophy to Djokovic.

Victoria Azarenka, who won Saturday's women's singles final over Li Na, was also there with her boyfriend rapper Redfoo. Actor Kevin Spacey met in the dressing room with both players ahead of the match and later tweeted a photo of himself with them.

In the earlier mixed doubles final Sunday, wild-card entrants Jarmila Gajdosova and Matthew Ebden of Australia beat the Czech pair of Lucie Hradecka and Frantisek Cermak 6-3, 7-5.

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Five observations from Wizards' 119-109 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, including Dwight Howard's injury

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Five observations from Wizards' 119-109 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, including Dwight Howard's injury

The Washington Wizards lost to the Portland Trail Blazers 119-109 on Sunday night. Here are five observations from the game...

Not good: It just keeps getting worse. The Wizards have been playing a sleepy, uninspired brand of basketball in recent games and on Sunday they met a Blazers team that does just the opposite.

The result was probably predictable. Though the Wizards edged the Blazers last month in Portland, this time they lost a game that was nowhere near as close as the final score suggested. 

Portland led by as many as 29 points and the Wizards only cut that down late when head coach Scott Brooks emptied his bench. He brought in a host of young guys who were hungry and just happy to be playing like Troy Brown Jr. and Thomas Bryant. Hopefully the starters, who have been missing those qualities, were paying attention.

These teams are currently on two entirely different trajectories. The Blazers are trending up, while the Wizards, who have lost two straight, are sliding quickly.

Washington is now 5-11 on the season. That's worse than their mark at this point two years ago when they mounted the famous comeback.

Howard hurt again: Things were already going terribly for the Wizards when they got much worse. Dwight Howard, who was coming off a huge game against the Nets, left in the second quarter after aggravating his strained piriformis muscle injury. 

Howard, of course, missed the first seven games of the year with the injury, which has also been referred to as gluteal soreness. We knew he was still dealing with discomfort when he came back and it has never really gone away.

The injury affects his ability to run and jump. He can't even sit on the bench because of the pain. The fact it's bothering him enough to leave a game is a really bad sign.

Too many fouls: Just like last game, Howard found himself entangled in foul trouble and this time he got started earlier. By the midway point of the first quarter, he had two. By the 5:30 mark of the second quarter, he had three.

At least against the Nets on Friday, Howard was effective when he was on the floor. This time, he couldn't find a rhythm. His time on the court was basically a wash.

These two games show just how easy it is for Howard to rack up fouls and how much it hurts the Wizards when he gets in foul trouble. 

Horrid start: The Wizards have had some lifeless stretches this season, far too often for the talent they have on the roster. The way they began this game was them at their absolute worst.

They just couldn't keep up with the Blazers, who were zipping the ball around the court to find open shooters. Portland built a 20-point lead in the first quarter, 32-12, as they shot 7-for-9 from three. The seventh was a wide open look by C.J. McCollum.

That's C.J. McCollum, as in one of the best shooting guards in basketball. Somehow the Wizards completely lost him and paid for it. Those are the types of plays that are hard to excuse.

Bright spots: If there were any positives to draw from this game, it was the play of Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tomas Satoransky. Neither shot the ball well, but their energy and effort were noticeable on a night when most of their teammates just didn't have it.

They were among the few Wizards players active on defense and closing out on the three-point line. They helped key a 13-0 run to end the first quarter and helped the team show some life in the second half when the game was already out of hand.

Oubre finished with 19 points, four assists, four rebounds, and three blocks. He was +14. Satoransky had 10 points, seven assists and was +22. If Brooks wants some more energy from his team, those two could provide it.

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Dwight Howard leaves Wizards-Blazers game after aggravating piriformis injury

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USA TODAY Sports

Dwight Howard leaves Wizards-Blazers game after aggravating piriformis injury

While down big against the Blazers on Sunday night, matters got even worse for the Washington Wizards as starting center Dwight Howard exited the game after aggravating his piriformis muscle injury.

Howard initially left the game midway through the second quarter due to foul trouble. Soon after, he went to the locker room with a trainer to get treatment. Howard was clearly frustrated as he walked through the tunnel.

Howard, 32, missed the first seven games of the season due to the injury, a strained piriformis muscle. He was sidelined for all of training camp and the preseason.

The piriformis muscle is located just below the back. Howard has battled discomfort while running, jumping and even sitting while dealing with the injury.

Even when he returned, he told reporters the pain had not completely subsided.

Howard left Sunday's game with two points and three rebounds in seven minutes.

More on this story as it develops...

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