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Li Na advances to Australian Open semifinals

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Li Na advances to Australian Open semifinals

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Li Na advanced to the Australian Open semifinals for the third time in four years, bringing fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska's 13-match winning streak to a shuddering halt.

Sixth-seeded Li, who lost the 2011 Australian Open final to Kim Clijsters only months before her Grand Slam breakthrough at the French Open, had a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Radwanska in Tuesday's first match on Rod Laver Arena.

``She's a tough player. I was feeling today against a wall,'' Li said. ``She can hit everywhere, but without a mistake. I was feeling just very tough. You have to focus on every shot. Not every point, every shot.''

Radwanska came into the Australian Open with titles this season at Auckland and Sydney, where she beat Li in the semifinals, but continued her poor conversation rate in Grand Slam quarterfinals. She's only advanced further once in seven tries - at Wimbledon last year, when she lost the final to Serena Williams.

Sixth-seeded Li will play the winner of Tuesday's later all-Russian quarterfinal between No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova, who conceded only five games in her first four matches at Melbourne Park, and Ekaterina Makarova.

``At least now I'm in the semis,'' Li said. Sharapova, ``has to play, so... Right? Now I can start now to enjoy my day. She has to fight, yeah. So that's better.''

The quarterfinals on the other half of the draw will feature American teenager Sloane Stephens against Serena Williams, who is aiming for a third consecutive major title, and defending champion Victoria Azarenka against two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Stephens has heard a lot of advice from Serena Williams. Pointers on her groundstrokes, and even on her grunts.

It's been mostly gentle encouragement, occasionally spiced with headline-making comments from Williams, who has predicted the 19-year-old American will one day top the women's rankings.

As Stephens learned earlier this month, though, it's one thing to play with Williams, another to play against the 15-time Grand Slam champion.

With a comeback 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 win over Bojana Jovanovski on Monday, Stephens qualified for her first quarterfinal at a major tournament. Williams has already played at that level 34 times.

``It will be tough, obviously. It's quarters of a Grand Slam,'' Stephens said. ``There won't be that, like, first time, `Oh, my God, I'm playing Serena.' That's kind of out of the window now. So that's good.''

Williams and defending champion Victoria Azarenka advanced Monday, losing just four games between them against Russian rivals. Williams beat No. 14 Maria Kirilenko 6-2, 6-0, and Azarenka defeated Elena Vesnina 6-1, 6-1.

On the men's side, No. 2 Roger Federer and U.S. Open champion Andy Murray stayed on course for a semifinal in their half of the draw.

Federer won 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-2 over big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, advancing to the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam for the 35th consecutive time, while Murray took advantage of Gilles Simon's fatigue for a 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 victory.

Federer will face 2008 Australian finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who beat friend and fellow Frenchman Richard Gasquet 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Murray, who ended a 76-year drought for British men in Grand Slam tournaments with a win at the U.S. Open, will next play unseeded Frenchman Jeremy Chardy.

Chardy spent some time in the offseason hitting against Williams in Mauritius, and they're both saying it has helped his game.

Williams also played Stephens at the Brisbane International earlier this month, winning their quarterfinal 6-4, 6-3 en route to the title. That night, Stephens said, she ``lost to the best player in the world.''

But there were times in the match when the American teenager was cranky, particularly when Williams unleashed some loud and long ``Come ons'' to celebrate vital points.

Stephens, looking toward her coach at one point, said the celebrations were disrespectful.

Later, she said she was just joking.

Regardless, it was a lesson. The friendly Serena from the locker room is the ultimate competitor - she's on a 20-match winning roll and has lost only once since her first-round exit at the French Open.

``Obviously every match is a learning experience,'' Stephens said. ``But, I mean, you've just got to go and treat it like another match.''

Well, not exactly a normal match, she said, but certainly no different from playing any of the other top three players.

``It just happens to be Serena. She's obviously one of the greatest players to ever play the game,'' Stephens said. ``Without the titles, with the titles, it's still a tennis match. The court's the same size. You're still playing a regular person across the net.''

Stephens and Williams ran across each other in the locker room Sunday.

``She told me I was too quiet on the court,'' Stephens said. ``Then today I was thinking to myself, `I'm really loud. Should I tone it down a little bit?'''

Williams thinks she's more like an elder stateswoman for the younger U.S. players than mentor for the likes of Stephens.

``I just feel like being the older one ... maybe some of the younger players look up to me,'' she said. ``It's hard to be a real mentor when you're still in competition.''

And as the elder stateswoman, Williams said, ``I feel no responsibility'' when it comes to playing Stephens.

``I doubt she has any expectations of me to be responsible for anything,'' she said. ``I'm here to compete and do the best I can, as well as she is. And she's been doing really amazing. I'm really happy. I have a tough match, so we'll see.''

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Remembering Kobe Bryant's 55-point game against Michael Jordan, Wizards

Remembering Kobe Bryant's 55-point game against Michael Jordan, Wizards

As the basketball world mourns the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, memories of his career and the highlights that made us fall in love with him are surfacing. One of the most well-told narratives of Bryant’s 20-year career was his pursuit of Michael Jordan as the greatest player of all-time. 

Bryant idolized Jordan and was relentless in his pursuit of at least matching Jordan’s six championships. He competed like Jordan, scored like Jordan, berated teammates and opponents alike like Jordan and came up one title short of his idol’s total.

On one night, however, Bryant did get the best of His Airness -- in their last of eight head-to-head matchups. 

On March 28, 2003, a Friday night in Los Angeles, Bryant put on a show, scoring 55 points in what would stand as his highest scoring total ever against the Washington Wizards.

The Lakers defeated the Wizards, 108-94. Jordan, who had just turned 40 that February and was less than a month from ending his legendary career, finished with a team-high 23 points in over 40 minutes.

Bryant was in a different zone, though, dropping 42 points in the first half alone. Through the first two quarters, he made 14 of 19 shots from the field, including 8 of 11 three-point attempts. While he cooled off in the second half, shooting just 1-for-10, he added to his point total by knocking down 10 free throws. The performance stands as the ninth-highest scoring total of Bryant’s career, and his three-point shooting that night -- 9-of-13 -- is the biggest reason the Wizards are the only team he shot over 40 percent from three against in his career.

Going into that game, Bryant was already a three-time NBA champion at 24 years old and seemed to have gained Jordan’s respect as a player. But Jordan may have inadvertendly fueled Bryant's performance that night. Ex-Wizard Gilbert Arenas told a story on "The No Chill Podcast" of MJ telling Bryant he could never fill his shoes after the Wizards defeated the Lakers earlier in the season. Arenas claims Bryant didn't talk to his teammates for two weeks leading up to the rematch. He internalized the jab from Jordan and turned it into the 55-point game he put up against the Wizards.

After learning of Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash on Sunday, Jordan released a statement through his spokeswoman saying Bryant was like a little brother to him.

“I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing. Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. I loved Kobe -- he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply -- and took pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball. Yvette joins me in sending my deepest condolences to to Vanessa, the Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world.”


Jordan and Bryant exchanged some fun and memorable banter in not only that game but in several of their meetings towards the latter part of Jordan’s career. Just a month earlier, the two went head-to-head in the 2003 All-Star Game. Each started and clocked 36 minutes in the double-overtime game, Bryant scoring 22 points for the winning Western Conference, while Jordan scored 20 for the East.

Bryant actually finished his career with a 5-3 record head-to-head against Jordan -- four of those matchups coming against the Wizards. Jordan averaged 24.5 points in those games and Bryant averaged 22.8 points. Whether Bryant actually surpassed Jordan or other legends as the greatest basketball player is debatable, but most agree that Bryant’s style and how he approached the game was as close to Jordan as any other player.

There was no better example than this March night in 2003.

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Rui Hachimura says, 'Kobe was a hero for me'

Rui Hachimura says, 'Kobe was a hero for me'

Kobe Bryant's popularity stretched far beyond the United States. He was a global icon and especially loved in Asia. 

Following the NBA star's shocking death on Sunday, the entire sports world grieved and shared fond memories of Bryant all over social media. 

Rui Hachimura grew up in Japan idolizing Bryant, so he took to Twitter a day after the accident to share his thoughts on his hero.  

"I was very shocked to hear of this incident," Hachimura said. "I really can't believe it. I can't speak. Kobe is also a hero to me, and I've seen [him] a lot since I was little. I have met him only once.

"Three years ago, during [the] Final 4, [Bryant gave] a special pair of shoes as a surprise to the team," he said. "Not only that, he talked about what Mamba Mentality is and what people should be before basketball players. 

"He was more than just a basketball player," he said. "It is really sad that this accident was like this. I wish good luck to his family and those who have been involved in this accident. Thanks, Kobe."

After Michael Jordan retired, Bryant became the most popular player in Japan. Along with Hachimura, he inspired players like Grizzlies forward Yuta Watanabe to play the game of basketball in the first place. 

Similar to what made Bryant so popular in the United States, Japan loved him for his tireless work ethic and killer instinct on the court. That's what earned him 15 All-NBA selections and five NBA titles, and along with his efforts off the court post-retirement, earned him the love and respect of so many people around the world. 

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