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Kerber gets a birthday wish, advances in Australia

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Kerber gets a birthday wish, advances in Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Angelique Kerber survived some nervous moments before fending off American teenager Madison Keys in the third round of the Australian Open, then got to blow out the candles on a cake to celebrate her 25th birthday.

Fifth-seeded Kerber won 6-2, 7-5 on Friday to move into the fourth round, further than she's ever gone in six trips to the Australian Open.

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

``Madison is a great young player and it was very tough,'' said Kerber, a semifinalist last year at Wimbledon. ``So happy I won today on my birthday!''

The 17-year-old Keys was playing in the main draw for only the second time at the Australia Open.

Fourth-seeded Angieszka Radwanska, meanwhile, won her 12th match in a row with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Britain's Heather Watson on the second of the show courts at Melbourne Park.

Radwanska won tournaments in Auckland and Sydney before coming to Melbourne.

``I'm extremely happy to be playing my best tennis from the beginning of the year,'' Radwanska said. ``Hopefully I'll play on the same level the rest of the tournament.''

After soaring to 106 degrees on day four, the temperature dropped into the mid-70s on Friday, and light rain briefly interrupted play on some courts.

Roger Federer has won four Australian Open titles among his 17 majors, and is ordinarily one of the most popular athletes in Australia.

The only problem is this: His 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Nikolay Davydenko on Thursday night set Federer on course for a third-round match against Bernard Tomic, the last remaining Australian in the men's or women's draws.

The 20-year-old Tomic beat German qualifier Daniel Brands 6-7 (4), 7-5, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (8) in the last afternoon match on the center court at Melbourne Park, keeping his cool on a long, searing day.

Federer praised Tomic's play for the crowd, and later said he won't mind for whom or how loud fans are cheering Saturday.

``I don't think it matters whether he's the last Australian or 10 more,'' Federer said. ``There's always excitement about Aussies playing here. I played him here last year. The crowd was great. I expect something similar. If it's not, if it's totally for him, that's fine, too. I'm always excited when the crowd gets into it.''

Federer has added a few flashes of color for the year's opening Grand Slam event - neon pink shoelaces and trim on the back of his shoes, on the V-neck of his shirt and the swoosh on his black headband. This is quite a departure from the Swiss star's usual hues and from the bright yellow that seems the predominant shade of choice for player clothes and accessories at this tournament.

``I like to play around with colors,'' he explained. ``Fresh start to a new year. I wore a pink shirt a few years back. It was a best seller, so ....''

The day-time temperature got progressively hotter until late afternoon, meaning top-ranked Victoria Azarenka had it slightly easier in her second-round match - a 6-1, 6-0 win over Eleni Daniilidou, Greece - than third-ranked Serena Williams did in the very next match on Rod Laver Arena, a 6-2, 6-0 win over Garbine Muguruza of Spain.

There was concern after she hurt her right ankle Tuesday that an injury might ruin Williams' run at a third consecutive major title. She said the ankle didn't bother her as much on Thursday as a split lip, which she did by accidently hitting herself in the face with the racket in the sixth game.

``It's OK,'' she said. ``It's a war wound.''

``I have never busted it wide open like that,'' she added, ``I was like, `Oh, no. I can't have a tooth fall out.' That would be horrible.''

She next plays Ayumi Morita, one of two Japanese women already in the third round. The other, 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm, downed Shahar Peer of Israel 6-2, 7-5.

Other women advancing included former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki, No. 14 Maria Kirilenko, No. 16 Roberta Vinci, No. 20 Yanina Wickmayer and Elena Vesnina, who beat No. 21-seeded Varvara Lepchenko of the United States 6-4, 6-2.

After her singles match, Williams attempted to show there was no serious damage to her ankle by combining with sister Venus in a first-round doubles win later in the afternoon.

That was good preparation for Venus' third-round match against No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova, one of the highlights of Friday's schedule. Novak Djokovic resumes his bid for a third consecutive Australian Open title when he takes on Radek Stepanek in the third round in the afternoon. No. 4 David Ferrer plays Marcos Baghdatis in the last match in what should be another late finish.

British teenager Laura Robson ensured that the Day Four program ran into Day Five when she rallied to oust No. 8-seeded Petra Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon champion, 2-6, 6-3, 11-9. After coming from a break down in the third set, she missed a chance to serve out the match at 6-5. She made no mistake the second time, in the early hours of Friday.

Robson, who combined with Andy Murray to win an Olympic silver medal in the mixed doubles, will next play 19-year-old American Sloane Stephens, who beat Kristina Mladenovic of France 6-4, 6-3.

Murray, who won the Olympic gold medal in singles and then went on to break a long British drought for British men by winning the U.S. Open, beat Joao Sousa of Portugal 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 to advance to the third round in Australia.

Among the other men advancing were 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, 2008 Australian finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and fellow Frenchman Richard Gasquet, No. 13 Milos Raonic of Canada, No. 17 Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany and No. 21 Andreas Seppi of Italy.

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The next Damian Lillard will be drafted this June, Ja Morant

The next Damian Lillard will be drafted this June, Ja Morant

On Tuesday night, Portland guard Damian Lillard broke #NBATwitter with his 37-foot, series-clinching buzzer-beater against Oklahoma City. 

It's not the first time we've seen him do that, but it's by far the biggest impact his play has had on the NBA world to this point.

Fair or not, Lillard's image has always been the overlooked underdog.  Even after being named All-NBA First Team last season, it's rare you hear his name mentioned among the NBA's most popular players. 

That attitude is what fuels the Portland Trail Blazers though. It's what the entire roster uses as motivation every game. It's a mindset every team in the NBA should be emulating too, and it starts with their star. 

If you're an organization in the middle of a rebuild, you should be looking no further than Ja Morant if you want this same organizational mindset going forward.

Ja Morant is the next Dame Lillard.

Ja Morant is going to be a star. 

The Wizards are one of those teams, and with the NBA Draft Lottery coming May 14, if the ping pong balls land in their favor, Morant needs to be their pick at No. 2 in the NBA Draft.

Don't worry about any other point guards on the roster and what that means. Don't pass on Morant.

Obviously, No. 1 would mean Zion Williamson, and anything past No. 2 means both are probably off the board, so we'll stick with that No. 2 pick in this case.

Both Lillard and Morant come from small schools in Weber State and Murray State, respectively. Both were under-recruited with Lillard being just a two-star and Morant not even being ranked by recruiting services ESPN, 247Sports, or Rivals.

Lillard was the better three-point shooter coming out of college, but Morant still has range, and can jump out of the gym.

Neither has a ton of size (Lillard 6-2, 185 lbs., and Morant 6-3, 175), but both aren't scared of the spotlight, and step on the court ready to eat the other team alive.

In a star-driven league based so much around player's brands and recognizability, there's something to be said for the guys that have the talent, but haven't been given the stage to show it yet. You get that combination of "chip on their shoulder" mentality with the star potential and work ethic biggy backing it. 

One of the best movie lines ever spoken was in Remember the Titans when Julius tells Gerry "attitude reflects leadership", and it's a mantra any successful team, business, volunteer group, club, or literally any collection of people should follow. 

If you want the right attitude in your locker room, you want leaders that can create it. 

Morant and Lillard share that same leadership, and the results are there to prove it. 

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Wizards 2018-19 end of season grades: A difficult season for Scott brooks nets a positive grade

Wizards 2018-19 end of season grades: A difficult season for Scott brooks nets a positive grade

Now that the dust has settled for the 2018-19 Wizards season, it's time to review the roster and hand out individual grades...

Who: Scott Brooks, head coach

Year with team: 3rd

Grade: B

Season review: There is no question that from a basketball perspective, the 2018-19 season was among the most challenging of Scott Brooks' career. Even for a man who coached a 23-win team in 2008-09, and the mercurial Russell Westbrook, it would be hard to top all that went on for Washington this year.

Brooks had to navigate around a serious injury for John Wall for the second straight year. Dwight Howard missed all but nine games. The Wizards made five trades and suited up a franchise-record 25 players. 

They often played rotations mostly comprised of guys on expiring contracts. And there were in-practice spats between him and players that were made public.

Brooks, along with his players, were not able to keep the ship afloat. They sank to 32-50 by the end of the season and along the way it cost Ernie Grunfeld, the man who hired him, his job. That set the tone for what could be a tumultuous offseason, one that offers no certainty Brooks will be back with the Wizards for a fourth season.

There was some good and some bad with Brooks' job performance in Year 3. He oversaw the continued development of Bradley Beal, who has a chance to make All-NBA when the honors are announced next month. Thomas Bryant had a breakout season after Brooks promoted him to the starting lineup. 

Despite a revolving door of a roster and the absence of Wall, the Wizards continued to feature an above-average offense. They finished the season 10th in points and 14th in offensive rating.

But on the other end of the floor, the team continued to trend in the wrong direction, this year bottoming out as one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA and in franchise history. They were 29th in defensive rating and 28th in points allowed. They gave up about 11 more points per game than they did the year before, 116.9 compared to 106. 

And when it comes to the success of some players, it was fair to question if those leaps could have been made earlier. 

Troy Brown Jr., their 2019 first round pick, didn't earn consistent minutes until late February, when the season was essentially long lost. That was despite him showing flashes of promise in his first few months as a rookie. And at times, it appeared Brooks was choosing to play lesser players like Ron Baker or Gary Payton II over him.

All in all, though, it's hard not to grade Brooks on a forgiving scale due to all that went wrong that was out of his control. A head coach could have only done so much to overcome the obstacles the Wizards were presented by injury luck and the front office.

Now the question is whether Brooks will be back for another year and, if he is, whether there will be changes to his staff. Until the Wizards hire a new general manager, it is tough to predict.

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