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Djokovic wins 17th straight match at Aussie Open

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Djokovic wins 17th straight match at Aussie Open

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Novak Djokovic repelled a challenge from Radek Stepanek to advance to the fourth round of the Australian Open and still had plenty left over to unleash some stinging shots at Lance Armstrong after the doping-tainted cyclist's long-expected confession.

Djokovic broke the 34-year-old, 34th-ranked Stepanek late in each set of a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 win Friday, extending his winning streak to 17 matches at the Australian Open.

In the next match on Rod Laver Arena, Maria Sharapova beat Venus Williams 6-1, 6-3 in an unexpectedly lopsided third-round result.

Williams could consider herself fortunate - Sharapova's opponents in her first two matches failed to win a game from the Russian star.

Three matches into this tournament, and Sharapova, who pumped her arms six or seven times after she served out with an ace, has lost just four games heading into her fourth-round match against unseeded Belgian Kirsten Flipkens.

``I think when we both looked at the draw, it was a matchup we were both looking forward to,'' Sharapova said of Williams, a seven-time major winner. ``I was a really determined player out there because I knew the tennis that she's capable of producing and playing. She's a tremendous athlete and a great champion.''

Williams didn't feel like a great player on Friday.

``Definitely not my best today, but there's always other days to play better,'' she said. ``I just had a lot of errors (26) ... that never helps.''

At Djokovic's post-match news conference, the questions quickly turned from tennis to Armstrong's confessions about doping in cycling during his television interview with Oprah Winfrey in the U.S. Thursday night.

``I think it's a disgrace for the sport to have an athlete like this,'' said Djokovic, the No. 1-ranked man in tennis. ``He cheated the sport. He cheated many people around the world with his career, with his life story.''

Djokovic, who has five Grand Slam titles, said the doping program in tennis was sufficient to catch the cheats, though he conceded he hasn't had a blood test that could detect illegal oxygen-boosting agents for six months.

He will play No. 15 Stanislas Wawrinka, who beat American Sam Querrey 7-6 (6), 7-5, 6-4 on Friday, in the fourth round.

Querrey's loss meant that for the second consecutive year, there will be no American men in the fourth round at Melbourne Park. Last year was the first time no U.S. man reached the fourth round at the Australian Open since 1973 - when no Americans traveled to the tournament.

During Friday's match, Djokovic was troubled at times against the wily Stepanek, who mixed up the tempo with a lot of serve-and-volley and some unorthodox shot-making.

``Absolutely it was great. Great match and great fun,'' Djokovic said. ``It's always tricky to play Radek. He's a talented player. Skillful player.''

Told about the statistics - Stepanek won 36 of the 67 points he played at the net - Djokovic wasn't surprised at all.

``He's skillful on the net and he was not giving me a lot of rhythm - he was changing up the pace on the ball,'' Djokovic said. ``Nowadays everything is based on the baseline. It's nice to see somebody coming to the net.''

Stepanek had Djokovic smiling and acknowledging his winners on some points, frustrated him on others with his constant, stay-in-the-point defense, and even had chair umpire Carlos Bernardes grinning with his over-the-shoulder winner to save one match point near the end.

In Friday's last third-round match, fourth-seeded David Ferrer of Spain beat Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus 6-4, 6-2, 6-3, clinching the 1-hour, 57-minute match with an ace.

Elsewhere, fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic beat Austria's Jurgen Melzer 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 and will next play South Africa's Kevin Anderson, who beat No. 22 Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2.

Others advancing included Japan's Kei Nishikori, who will face Ferrer in the fourth round, and No. 8-ranked Janko Tipsarevic, who has a tough next round against No. 10 Nicolas Almagro , a 7-6 (3), 7-6 4), 6-1 winner over No. 24 Jerzy Janowicz.

In other women's matches, Angelique Kerber survived some nervous moments before fending off American teenager Madison Keys 6-2, 7-5 in their third-round match, then got to blow out the candles on a cake to celebrate her 25th birthday.

Local organizers brought a cake onto the court for Kerber immediately after the match and the crowd at Rod Laver Arena sang ``Happy Birthday.'' She blew out the candles and said thank you to the crowd and to the 17-year-old Keys.

Kerber will next play No. 19 Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, who advanced after a tough 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4 win over 2007 Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli. In the fourth round last year, Makarova beat Serena Williams and was the first of only four women to best the powerful American in 2012. Kerber was the last.

Fourth-seeded Angieszka Radwanska, meanwhile, won her 12th match in a row with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Britain's Heather Watson.

``I'm extremely happy to be playing my best tennis from the beginning of the year,'' said Radwanska, who won tournaments in Auckland and Sydney earlier this month.

Radwanska will now meet 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic, who beat Jelena Jankovic 7-5, 6-3 in a matchup featuring two Serbians who were both formerly ranked No. 1.

Sixth-seeded Li Na advanced with a 6-4, 6-1 win over No. 27 Sorana Cirstea of Romania and will next play No. 18 Julia Goerges, who prevented an all-China fourth-round encounter by beating Zheng Jie 6-3, 1-6, 7-5.

On Saturday, Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams play their third-round matches and the featured night match has second-seeded Roger Federer taking on resurgent Australian Bernard Tomic, who won his first ATP title last week in Sydney after a poor 2012.

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Orioles clean house, fire 11 members of scouting and front office departments

Orioles clean house, fire 11 members of scouting and front office departments

Baltimore Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias is dedicated to altering the direction of the organization and that was reciprocated Friday with the firing of 11 members of the scouting and front office departments.  

"We're in a period of change right now with the industry and we're in a period of change right now with the Orioles," Elias said. "Sometimes to make changes you've got to make changes."

Among those relieved were baseball operations director Tripp Norton, scouts Dean Albany, Jim Howard, John Gillette, Nathan Showalter, and Buck Showalter. 

Elias acknowledged the uphill battle ahead of filling numerous voids but insists it's just a part of the job 

"We're going to be very busy bringing people into this organization," he said. "This is just the organization moving along and adapting to the sport today."

Just one day removed from a judge confirming that the Orioles owe the Nationals nearly $300 million, Elias insisted this move isn't to save money.

"There are changes going on in the scouting business in terms of greater availability of information in general, video and data," Elias said. "There are instances where we will replace people's roles kind of man for man, head for head, spot for spot, but there's other instances where we're reconfiguring the way the scouts go about their business."

The O's will look completely different from this point out and players won't be the only changes.

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Sleep-deprived Nationals win one they probably shouldn’t have in Chicago behind Aníbal Sánchez

Sleep-deprived Nationals win one they probably shouldn’t have in Chicago behind Aníbal Sánchez

The clubhouse wears have never been packed so quickly. Washington was sprinting as a group to get out of Pittsburgh on Thursday night following another three-hour-plus game with a 1:20 p.m. local start looming in Wrigley Field on Friday.

Max Scherzer finished his postgame comments in less than four minutes, then quickly moved to get cleaned up and join the others. Most lockers were vacant by the time media members reached the clubhouse, which wasn’t long after the game ended. 

Despite the scramble for minutes saved, Friday was supposed to be a loss. Las Vegas knew. The players and management knew. It was a bad spot. Night game, onto a plane, then a day game against a team which played at home the previous afternoon, and was 44-19 there -- the second-best home record in the National League. 

And yet, Nationals 9, Cubs 3, and it wasn’t that close.

Some bloops fell, some situations turned out lucky. Though, Aníbal Sánchez dominated. No voodoo or charms were involved.

He went through 8 ⅓ innings before being removed after 112 pitches. He was provided a shot to finish the game -- just 15 National League pitchers have a complete game this season -- but couldn’t. A rare Anthony Rendon throwing error cost him an out, then his opportunity for a solo close to the afternoon in Chicago.

Sánchez threw 31 four-seam fastballs, 31 cutters and 28 “splitters” among his 112 pitches. He worked as a marionettist, pulling strings to change positions and outcomes throughout the day. Matt Grace finished the game. No high-end reliever was used, resetting a bullpen which had to cover five innings in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

The offense beat up Jon Lester. He didn’t make it out of the fifth inning. Everyone in the lineup -- including Sánchez -- picked up a hit. Trea Turner’s single extended his on-base streak to 30 games.

Sánchez’s work piggybacked on what the other starters did against woeful Pittsburgh. Nationals starters have allowed two earned runs in the first five games of this seven-game road trip. The offense has averaged 8.2 runs in that span. It’s hard to fathom they lost once with both sides operating in such fashion.

All of this is just a continuation of a massive turnaround. Washington is 52-26 since its nadir May 24. Only the Dodgers -- who host the Yankees on Friday night -- have a better record in that span, and by just a half-game. They have won 10 of 12 and 13 of 17. Fivethirtyeight.com now gives the Nationals a 90 percent chance to make the postseason (this includes the wild-card game).

Wins like Friday emphatically move that needle. The Cubs are trying to wind their way into the postseason. They were also set up for a clear advantage thanks to the schedule. Instead, Sánchez, throwing as slow as 68 mph and as fast as 91, controlled the day, the offense rolled through the afternoon and everyone was ready for bed after a surprise win.

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