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Djokovic sets sights on elusive French Open

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Djokovic sets sights on elusive French Open

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) In years past, Novak Djokovic marked his victories at the Australian Open with rowdy late-night celebrations and bleary-eyed photo shoots the next morning in downtown Melbourne.

This year's win made history but inspired a more sober reaction.

After beating Andy Murray to become the only man to win three consecutive Australian Open titles, the No. 1-ranked player didn't feel the need to celebrate immediately.

Instead, he booked an early Monday flight home to start preparing for his next challenge: the clay courts of Europe.

The Serb has the Davis Cup next weekend and a few months away is the French Open - the one major that has eluded him. Djokovic now has six Grand Slam tournament trophies, four overall from the Australian Open and one each from Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2011. He came close last year at Roland Garros, but lost in the final to clay-court master Rafael Nadal.

``Of course, I want to go all the way in the French Open,'' Djokovic said at his post-match news conference just after midnight.

His goal for the year is a big one, he said, when asked if he would choose a Roland Garros title over his No. 1-ranking.

``I'll take everything,'' the 25-year-old Djokovic said. ``I have no reason not to be confident in myself.''

Djokovic never lacked self-confidence and his dominating performance at the Australian Open showed just why.

The elite group Djokovic heads includes No. 2 Roger Federer, No. 3 Murray and Nadal, whose creaky knees caused him to sit out this tournament and yield his No. 4 ranking to David Ferrer. Djokovic beat Ferrer in an 89-minute semifinal he said he played ``perfectly.''

Federer, a 17-time Grand Slam-winner, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray have combined to win 33 of the past 34 majors.

``I have a great feeling about myself on the court at this moment,'' Djokovic said after beating Ferrer.

His 6-7 (2), 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-2 victory over Murray on Sunday night showed his mental toughness and supreme fitness in a match that contained riveting rallies between two of the best returners in the game.

The win deprived Murray of his chance to capitalize on his breakthrough year in 2012, when he won an Olympic gold and his first major title at the U.S. Open.

``I'm full of joy right now,'' Djokovic said. ``It's going to give me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season, that's for sure.''

The season resumes next weekend with Serbia's Davis Cup tie against Belgium, which was why Djokovic flew home early so he could celebrate with the people closest to him.

``In life you don't get many opportunities to win Grand Slams. As a tennis player, that's a pinnacle of the ambitions and of the success,'' he said. ``So I (will) try to enjoy it for a few days with the people I love the most - family, friends and team.''

Djokovic apologized to reporters for skipping Monday's traditional post-victory news conference.

``The main reason is because I want to get to Europe as quick as possible so I can be ready for the Davis Cup tie,'' said Djokovic, who led Serbia to its first and only Davis Cup title in 2010. ``I hope I find your understanding for that.''

After he wrapped up his media obligations, he went online at about 4:30 a.m. to post a note of thanks to his fans.

``My dear friends,'' he wrote in a personal blog post that he also tweeted. ``(I'm) laying in bed now and thinking `Novak, you are 4 times AO champion,' That's quite something, right? I will have to repeat it in my mind for a while to sink in.''

``This is just the start of the year!'' Djokovic wrote, ahead of catching his flight. ``Plenty of things ahead of us, starting from tomorrow morning. ... Stay tuned.''

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What are reasonable expectations for Colt McCoy? The numbers might surprise you

What are reasonable expectations for Colt McCoy? The numbers might surprise you

After the injury to Alex Smith, the Redskins shifted Colt McCoy to the top of their quarterback depth chart. A fan favorite that put out a good showing in relief against Houston, McCoy knows head coach Jay Gruden's offense inside and out. 

Still, it's been a long time since McCoy got significant playing time. In fact, it's been a long time since McCoy got any playing time. 

Kirk Cousins took every single snap of the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Every single one. In 2015, Cousins played the whole year, up until the second half of a Week 17 win in Dallas after the Redskins had already clinched their NFC East title. 

So to get a decent sample size to set expectations for McCoy, travel all the way back to 2014. That season was a dumpster fire for Washington. It was Gruden's first year as head coach and he was trying to figure out what do with Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and McCoy. After RG3 got hurt, Cousins got the call, but he eventually got benched in a Week 7 game at home against the Titans. 

McCoy came in and led the Redskins to a 19-17 win. The Redskins trailed 10-6 at halftime, but on just the second snap of the second half, McCoy connected with Pierre Garçon for a 70-yard touchdown. 

He started the next four games for Washington before hurting his neck against the Giants and RG3 returning to the starting role. McCoy hasn't started a game since that season, but the numbers are worth digging into. 

In four starts in 2014, McCoy averaged a little more than 250 yards passing to go with four TDs against three INTs. He completed 71 percent of his passes while averaging more than 8.3 yards-per-attempt.

Washington went 1-3 in McCoy's four starts that year, but remember two things: He brought the Redskins back for a win against the Titans in a game he didn't start, and he didn't finish the second half of his fourth start after injuring his neck. 

Obviously the 2018 Redskins are quite different from the 2014 squad. This year, the 'Skins are in first place of the NFC East and have a real opportunity to host a playoff game, even after losing Smith to injury. 

In 10 starts this season, Smith averaged about 218 yards passing-per-game and completed 62.5 percent of his throws. He threw 10 TDs against five INTs, and averaged 6.6 yards-per-attempt. Washington had a 6-4 record in Smith's 10 starts.

Compare Smith's numbers with McCoy from 2014, and it could be reasonable to believe the offense will move the football a bit more with Colt at QB. Of course, the teams are very different, and much of 2018, the Redskins have been a run-first offense.

The comparison isn't exact, and it shouldn't be viewed as such. Regardless, the numbers exist to provide a baseline for expectations. 

The most memorable game of the 2014 season probably came when McCoy led the Redskins to an improbable win in Dallas on Monday Night Football. The Cowboys were 6-2 and Washington was on their third-string QB. Few thought the Redskins had a chance in that game, but McCoy delivered an accurate performance, completing 25 of 30 passes and a few key runs, and led his team to victory.

On Thursday, McCoy again gets a chance to lead the Redskins into JerryWorld on national television. Dallas has won two games in a row, and while Washington is a game ahead in the standings, oddsmakers have installed the Cowboys as 8-point favorites. 

Looking at McCoy's 2014 numbers to Smith's 2018 numbers, the backup has a chance to outproduce the starter.

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Alex Ovechkin, Carey Price put on a show with superstar showdown in Montreal

Alex Ovechkin, Carey Price put on a show with superstar showdown in Montreal

The best of the NHL was on display Monday in Montreal where the Capitals edged the Canadians 5-4 in overtime. Within the game, a superstar matchup emerged as the top goal scorer of his generation locked horns with arguably the best goalie in the world in an incredible bout that lived up to all the hype that surrounded the game.

”It’s great for the fans, great for everything,” Brett Connolly said. “It’s good to see two really good players go at it like that.”

Throughout his career, Alex Ovechkin has tormented Montreal goalie Carey Price. In 24 regular season games, he has scored on Price 18 times. On Monday, Ovechkin added two more goals to that total.

In the first period, Tom Wilson delivered a blistering pass through traffic right to the tape of Ovechkin who tipped it in past a helpless Price who had been waiting for the shot. He would add a second goal in the third period from the office with the Caps on a two-man advantage.

At that point, a hat trick seemed like a foregone conclusion, but that’s when Price began to battle back.

Price robbed Ovechkin of goal No. 3 with not one, but two brilliant saves in the third period to help force overtime.

With the puck on the left wall, Ovechkin charged the net from the right midway into the third period. Connolly managed to find him with the pass and Ovechkin delivered a one-touch shot that Price snared out of the air Statue-of-Liberty style. Somehow Price managed to get over from post to post to snag the puck with the glove and he made sure to put some extra flair on the save.

With the score still tied at four, Ovechkin made one final push to win the game in regulation.

This time it was Wilson on the right with Ovechkin setting up for the one-timer on the left. Wilson delivered the pass and Ovechkin fired what would have been a buzzer-beater goal with just two seconds left in regulation. Price slid to cover the cross-ice shot, but could not get completely over in time to block the shot. He lifted his blocker up in desperation and just managed to catch the puck and send it out of play.

“Obviously Alex made a great shot, hit the knob of his stick,” Braden Holtby said. “It’s one of those unlucky things. It just happens.”

It was a spectacular save the brought that Montreal faithful to their feet and even drew recognition from Ovechkin himself.

Ovechkin’s initial reaction was one of disbelief, but he soon began applauding along with the crowd and skated over to give the netminder his due.

“It was a pretty cool moment, pretty beautiful save and the fans was cheering for him,” Ovechkin said. “I was kind of same.”

The Caps would get the last laugh with the overtime winner, but this was a rare occasion in which the result of the game as largely overshadowed by the drama that unfolded between two players.

Ovechkin finished the game with two goals against Price, while Price finished with 29 saves including two third period beauties to deny Ovechkin his hat trick.

Capitals head coach Todd Reirden was effusive of his praise of both players after the game.

“It’s stars like that that put on performances like they both did tonight that just make it worth every dime that it costs to come to the game and worth the price of admission tonight for certain with those two."

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