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Fitter Fish advances; King, Stephens reach semi's at Citi Open

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Fitter Fish advances; King, Stephens reach semi's at Citi Open

Mardy Fishs gimpy right ankle could use a night off, ideally, a week, maybe more. Thats just not happening, not now anyway. Not in the middle of a tournament as the top seed, not with a string of events on deck leading to the mother of all hard court events, the U.S. Open.The 30-year-old did the next best thing in his second-round match: He briskly disposed his overmatched opponent in 60 minutes,defeating Ricardas Berankis 6-3, 6-1 at the Citi Open on Thursday.Fishs injured wheel, originally dinged up two weeks ago during a tournament in Atlanta and then tweaked while diving for a ball in his opening match in Washington, will simply have to tough it out. If the worlds 15th ranked player reaches the final, he will end up playing four straight days. Thats a tough thing because the ankle needs rest and Im not going to give it rest, said Fish, a six-time champion on tour still seeking his first crown this year.Dominant serving propelled No. 8 seed Sam Querrey into the third round where the American will face third-seeded Kevin Anderson, also a straight-set winner. Xavier Malisse, Fishs next opponent and a 2010 semifinalist, dispatched No. 6 Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 6-2.In the womens draw, laser-focused and No. 4 seed Vania King defeated seventh-seeded Coco Vandeweghe 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 in an All-American quarterfinal. 19-year-old andNo. 3 seed Sloane Stephens reached her second career semifinal with a6-4, 6-4 Stadium court victory over Canadian Eugenie Bouchard.The irony for Fish, who won two matches this week in Washington for the first time since 2006, is that after a largely inactive summer he needs the work, physical and mental. Diagnosed with heart arrhythmia, Fish underwent a procedure in May and remained off the tour for over two months. Since then he reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon, but the ankle injury in Atlanta forced a withdrawal during his first match, his last event before his current one.Fitness level, really, the confidence that I feel like I can play in any weather against anyone and come out on top, Fish said as to what hes hoping to build toward this week.Despite practicing under the stifling afternoon sun, the native Minnesotan said he naively brushed aside the heat and humidity, as his blistering serve and formidable ground strokes later did against Berankis. Sure, dealing with the elements on a single day is a minor achievement, but a necessary building block as Fish grinds out this week, then another, then another.I think were on the right track, but every match helps with that, Fish said, who finished with 10 aces in his latest result. You cant train hard enough for the matches. You play harder, you try harder in the real matches. It only comes with match play.The womens matchup between American quarterfinalists was the epitome of contrasting, well, everything. The gritty King comes out of the Chris Evert School of stoic on-court demeanor while Vandeweghe hooted and hollered at herself and officials throughout. That vocal edge only added toVandeweghe's 6-foot-1 Amazonian presence, especially compared to the petite 5-foot-5 speedster who ultimately tracked down enough missiles. In the end, precision and poise downed power and peevishness. Shes much bigger, much stronger than I am. She has a lot more power than I do, said King, a two-time grand slam doubles champion with a power of her own.(Coco) doesnt have the wheels like I do.Vandeweghe entered the match having dominated her previous two opponents this week, losing only five games over her last three sets. Against King she dropped that many before finally getting on the scoreboard. With Vandeweghes first serve iffy early,King broke it twice for a 5-0 lead. Though her opponent began using her passion for good during the second set triumph and rallying back from an early break in the third, King countered with a decisive break of her own at 4-all.Its just whether I can negate her power enough and move her serve consistently enough. At the end of the day in the third set I was able to do that, King said of her game plan against Vandeweghe. The 23-year-old California native knows a similar approach is required for Fridays semifinals against another big, strong player,top seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenko, a straight-sets winner over Kai-Chen Chang. King, aiming for her first singles title since 2006, has three straight victories over Pavlyuchenkova, including a triumph at this years Australian Open.The other semifinal pits the rising Stephens against Magdalena Rybariova.After defeating Florent Serra, Anderson will next face Querrey, his doubles partner this week. Coming off a championship effort in Los Angeles last week, Querrey won all 22 points on his first serve in a 6-4, 6-3 winner over Benjamin Becker.

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

With Tom Wilson still serving a 20-game suspension, Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden has the difficult task of finding a wing to complement his top line of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. For the first four games of the season, that player was Brett Connolly.

On Saturday, however, he changed things up and went with Chandler Stephenson instead.

Just 18 seconds into the game, Stephenson made his head coach look very smart as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Kuznetsov to score his first goal of the season.

“Obviously, the start was great,” Reirden said after the game.

Stephenson is an incredibly fast skater and the extra speed seemed to add another dimension to that line that opponents had to contend with, and it led to both of the Caps’ goals on the night.

In addition to Stephenson’s goal, Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty in the second period, and Washington scored on the resulting power play.

“Those guys are a lot of fun to play with,” Stephenson said. “They just know where to be and can find each other. I've just got to get the puck to them and just go to the net with your stick on the ice, and they'll find you.”

The top line’s success was a matter of finding instant chemistry as Stephenson had very little time to adjust. The Caps were off on Friday following back-to-back games, and Reirden did not make the switch of putting Stephenson on the top until Saturday’s morning skate.

Putting a new top line together with little time to practice does not seem like an ideal scenario, but according to Kuznetsov, the level of familiarity between all the players made the adjustment quick and easy.

“It doesn't matter with who you play,” he said. “In this locker room, we can communicate with anybody. We don't have a first line, we don't have a fourth line. We try and roll all lines.”

Reirden seemed pleased with the new trio after the game saying, “They did a number of good things during the game as well, so they I thought accomplished a lot. I thought [Stephenson] brought the speed on the forecheck and was able to at least go after their defense a little bit and force some turnovers that Kuznetsov and [Ovechkin] were able to at least get some opportunities from. So I think that's important to have him in that situation.”

Reirden was happy enough with the top line’s performance to keep them together. The team is off Monday, but Stephenson remained on the top line during Sunday’s practice.

But so long as Wilson remains out, finding the right match for the top line will remain a work in progress.

Said Reirden, “We’ll continue to try to put together our four lines that give us the best chance.”

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Baltimore Ravens Week 6 awards after shutout win over Titans

Baltimore Ravens Week 6 awards after shutout win over Titans

The Baltimore Ravens went into the Tennessee Titans' home and completely robbed them in a 21-0 shutout win.

Here are the players and plays that stood out from the afternoon.

PLAYER(S) OF THE GAME: Ravens Defense

The Ravens defense had a historic afternoon recording a franchise-record 11 sacks. Yup, you read that right. 11 sacks.

Za'Darius Smith led the way with three, followed by Patrick Onwuasor with two and Matthew Judon, Terrell Suggs, Tony Jefferson, Kenny Young, Anthony Levine Sr. and Chris Wormley with one apiece. The 11 sacks tied for the second most by a team in league history and the most in a game since 2012.  It was so historic, the Ravens changed their Twitter name to included 11 S's. 

But that wasn't the only impressive part of the Ravens' afternoon. Marcus Mariota was limited to 10 completions and the defense allowed just 51 passing yards  —  the fewest in franchise history  — and 55 rushing yards. The Titans finished the afternoon 1-for-10 on third down as well.

With the shutout, the Ravens defense cemented its place as one of the NFL's most elite units in 2018. A win that must have been extra sweet after a 12-9 overtime loss to the Browns the week prior and with former defensive coordinator Dean Pees staring back from the opposite sideline. The Ravens remain the only NFL team to not allow a second-half touchdown this season. 

COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE GAME: Michael Crabtree

After dropping what would have been the game-winning touchdown Week 5 against the Browns, Michael Crabtree said his priority this week was to get back into the lab and correct his mistakes. Out the gate, the veteran receiver stayed true to his word finishing the Ravens' first drive catching three passes for 52 yards and one touchdown. Earlier in the week, Joe Flacco had faith his receiver would get over the hump of six drops in five games and was willing to stand by him until it happened.

"Besides just trying to give him the confidence that, you know, I'm still going his way when he calls for it and I still believe that it's going to be the difference...it's something that he'll definitely get over," Flacco said.

The patience worked as Crabtree finished the day with six receptions for 93 yards and one touchdown leading all Ravens receivers.

But more importantly, the relationship between Crabtree and Flacco continues to grow.

"That’s trust. That’s what you need in football, you know," Crabtree said postgame. "Quarterback, receiver relationship. It’s only going to get better. It’s all about how much time you put in, how much work you put in. I’m new; this is my first year here so I got to do what I got to do."

STAT OF THE GAME: Flacco makes his way into the history books

With 25 completions Sunday against the Titans, Flacco became the third different quarterback in NFL history to complete 25 or more passes in nine consecutive games, per the NFL's communication department. Drew Brees sits atop the list with 11 and 10 consecutive games followed by Peyton Manning with nine. Flacco finished the 21-0 win 25-for-37 with 238 yards, one touchdown and one interception. 

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