Nationals

Li Na's coach helping tennis game - and marriage

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Li Na's coach helping tennis game - and marriage

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) French Open champion Li Na credits new coach Carlos Rodriguez with turning her tennis career around - and saving her marriage.

Last August, the 30-year-old Chinese star hired Rodriguez, who coached Justine Henin to seven Grand Slam titles, after the conflicts with her previous coach - husband Jiang Shan - became too much to bear.

``The funny thing is, I think two years ago in China, someone said I was divorced,'' Li said Tuesday after beating Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska 7-5, 6-3 to advance to the semifinals of the Australian Open against Maria Sharapova. ``Because they were thinking, we're always shouting, maybe we're divorced.''

``It's just being coach and husband is - how you say - tough to find a balance!'' she added.

Now Li and Jiang have found marital peace again - fewer disagreements on or off the court - and she is winning again.

Li hired Rodriguez after disappointing early-round losses at Wimbledon and the London Olympics. He joined her midweek at a tournament in Cincinnati - they had never even met before - and she captured the title, her first since her breakthrough Grand Slam win at Roland Garros in 2011.

She then won a second title at the inaugural Shenzhen Open earlier this month and is now in the semifinals of the Australian Open for the third time in four years.

Rodriguez has had a steadying influence on Li, who had previously struggled to control her emotions on court and has appeared more composed since starting to work with him.

At one point during the second set against Radwanska, Li lost her service toss in the sun and batted the ball five rows deep into the crowd. Rather than let the mishit unnerve her, however, she calmly made her second serve and put away a deft backhand volley to win the point.

When asked later what happened with that very wayward serve, she quipped: ``I want to have good communication with the fans.''

Then she said to her coach, ``Carlos, make sure we practice on serve.''

Two years ago, on her way to becoming the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final at the Australian Open, Li was pure entertainment in her news conferences, joking about her husband's snoring and admitting she forget her own wedding anniversary.

After her win at the French Open, however, things changed. She began to put more pressure on herself at the Grand Slams - and didn't make a quarterfinal at six consecutive major tournaments. At last year's Australian Open, she left in tears after wasting four match points in the fourth round against Kim Clijsters.

Now the humor is back. Li related the difficulties she had when she started training with Rodriguez at the Spaniard's tennis academy in Beijing. After three days of six-hour workouts, she called her husband in distress.

``Carlos is crazy,'' she told him.

Jiang didn't believe her, so he came to Beijing to see for himself.

``I was doing some exercises with Carlos. (Jiang) was sitting in the gym,'' Li said. ``After I was halfway done, he was like, `Are you finished?' I said, `No, only halfway.'

``He said, `I'm tired!' I said, `Don't say that. I'm doing exercises; you're only sitting. Don't say you're tired.'''

Li acknowledges now the hard work was worth it. Her fitness was tested against the fourth-seeded Radwanska, a crafty player who relies on spins and slices to construct points and wears her opponents down with her consistency.

Radwanska tried to dictate play by moving Li around the court, but the sixth-seeded Chinese star countered with deep, heavy groundstrokes and superb volleying, winning 20 of 24 points at net.

Li will next play the No. 2-ranked Sharapova, who can see a difference in Li's game since she's been working with Rodriguez.

``She's a Grand Slam champion. It wasn't like she needed someone to come in and fix her game,'' she said. ``But sometimes when you just have a different surrounding and a new voice, they might be saying the same things but it just gets to you a little bit differently and your motivation changes.''

Li knows she will have to be sharp against Sharapova - the Russian won the three matches they played last year. But she believes she's a stronger player now.

``I'm getting a little bit older, getting more experience,'' Li said. ``Right now, I really enjoy every match.''

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WILLIAMS SISTERS OUT: Perhaps it was a bad omen for the Williams sisters when one of Venus' shots from the baseline pegged Serena in the back during their doubles match.

Serena shook it off, but the match went downhill from there.

After winning the first set in their Australian Open quarterfinal against top-ranked Italian duo Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, the Williams sisters lost 3-6, 7-6 (1), 7-5 - halting the Americans' bid for their 14th Grand Slam doubles title.

Older sister Venus was to blame for a string of errors at crucial moments, including two double-faults before losing her service game to give the Italians a 6-5 edge in the third set.

Errani served out the 2-hour, 36-minute match without dropping a point, thanks in part to Venus sending the final shot into the net.

``It shows they're human,'' Errani said.

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ATTITUDE CHECK: Bernard Tomic was told to change his attitude if he wants to play for Australia's Davis Cup team, captain Pat Rafter said.

Rafter and Tomic had a falling out in November, and the 20-year-old was axed from his team's first-round matches in February.

Rafter said he spoke to Tomic after his third-round loss to Roger Federer over the weekend, their first conversation since November.

``He needs to respect me and I need to respect him in that manner,'' said Rafter, a two-time U.S. Open champion. ``If we have a breakdown, then obviously that's not a good thing.''

If Australia advances, Tomic's potential return would be based both on his tennis and his temperament.

``The stipulation was that, `You're playing well and you show the attitude that you did here at the Australian Open, then you'll be up for selection like all the other guys,''' Rafter said he told Tomic.

Seen as one of Australia's rising talents, Tomic reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals as a qualifier in 2011 and advanced to the fourth round at last year's Australian Open. But after hitting a career-high No. 27 in June, Tomic's ATP ranking slid to a year-end No. 52.

There were questions about his performance at the U.S. Open in September when he was accused of tanking in a match against American Andy Roddick. He also had a few run-ins with the law at home.

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Cubs drop protest, but not stance about Sean Doolittle's delivery

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Cubs drop protest, but not stance about Sean Doolittle's delivery

WASHINGTON -- Sunday afternoon’s discussions still revolved around Saturday night’s close, which Washington manager Davey Martinez referred to as a “fiasco” on Sunday.

Chicago manager Joe Maddon started a chaotic situation when he popped out of the dugout following Sean Doolittle’s first pitch in the ninth inning Saturday. Maddon contended Doolittle’s “toe-tap” was an illegal delivery, akin to when Chicago reliever Carl Edwards Jr. tried to add a pause in spring training, but was told the move was illegal.

The umpires told him, and Doolittle, the delivery was legal. Chicago filed a protest with the league. After consulting with Major League Baseball and MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer, Joe Torre, the Cubs dropped their protest Sunday morning.

A point of differentiation is whether the pitcher is taking a second step. Umpires previously determined Edwards was taking a second step. They determined Doolittle was not. This is a judgment call for the umpires and is not reviewable.

Official Baseball Rule 5.07(a) states in part: “The pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch. If there is a runner, or runners, on base it is a balk under Rule 6.02(a); if the bases are unoccupied it is an illegal pitch under Rule 6.02(b).”

The league, according to Maddon, said there is a difference between Edwards placing his full foot on the ground and Doolittle grazing the mound with a cleat when he delivered. Maddon continued to not agree with the interpretation.

“We went through the whole process,” Maddon said. “Our guys in the office spoke to MLB and I talked to Mr. Torre. The whole thing I wanted to really get done was protect Carl. I really didn’t anticipate a whole lot to be done with it. Even though I still don’t agree with the conclusion, because I think it’s exactly what Carl did, only a different version of it. But the point was, I would not be a good parent if I had not spoken up for my guy. And that’s what I was doing last night and, again, it’s just to eliminate any gray area there just for future because it’s going to happen again down the road somewhere and you’re just trying to delineate what is right and what is wrong. In my mind, it wasn’t a judgment call, I thought it was black-and-white. It wasn’t gray.”

Maddon said multiple times that Doolittle tapped with his toe in addition to grazing the mound, both of which, he contended, were not legal or different than Edwards' attempt at deception.

The congenial Doolittle was steamed postgame Saturday and remained irritated Sunday. Saturday, he took multiple shots at Maddon during his postgame commentary. He also taunted the idea when throwing warmup pitches while Maddon argued with umpires by making exaggerated kicks with his leg and multiple stops with his foot. Doolittle switched to a delivery without any stops -- one he often uses -- after the protest as a way to show Maddon he didn’t need the tweak to be successful.

“In that moment, he's not trying to do anything other than rattle me and it was kind of tired,” Doolittle said Saturday. “I don't know. Sometimes he has to remind people how smart he is and how much he pays attention to the game and stuff like that. He put his stamp on it for sure.

"I actually have to thank him. After they came out the second, the [Kyle] Schwarber at-bat, I threw two fastballs and a slider and a fastball to [Kris] Bryant and those were probably the best ones I've thrown in a while. I don't do the tap when there's somebody on base so I can keep my pickoff move available if I need it. I've had a lot of traffic recently, so I've had practice doing it, so it wasn't like a huge adjustment to me. I don't know. In a way, I kind of need to thank him."

Asked Sunday if Doolittle’s comments were relayed to him, Maddon smiled and said yes.

“Listen, I have no issue with that whatsoever,” Maddon said. “We’re all emotional. I’ve said a lot of things I didn’t want to say years ago -- even in this ballpark. I think if he understood the entire context, he might have had a different opinion. Even if he was the manager himself -- if he was me -- or if he was being protected by his manager under similar circumstances, I think his stance may be different.”

No one -- the league, Maddon or Doolittle -- changed their perspective a day later.

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NHL Playoff 2019 Roundup: Blues shutout Sharks 5-0 to win Game 5

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NHL Playoff 2019 Roundup: Blues shutout Sharks 5-0 to win Game 5

The St. Louis Blues won a decisive Game 5 against the San Jose Sharks 5-0, pushing the Sharks to the brink of elimination.

The Blues are now one win away from their first Stanley Cup Final since the 1969-70 season, where they lost to the Boston Bruins in a sweep.

St. Louis started the scoring early when Oskar Sundqvist netted his second goal of the series in the first five minutes of the game. 

Jaden Schwartz then tallied his first goal of the game off a juicy rebound in front of Martin Jones to start the scoring in the second period. It was Schwartz's 10th goal of the playoffs, which tied him for third all-time in Blues history for goals in the postseason.

Vladimir Tarasenko added to the Blues lead off a penalty shot. He's the first player in Blues franchise history to score a penalty shot goal in the playoffs.

Schwartz then added two more goals in the third period for a hat-trick. The first came on a 5-on-3 power play advantage off a scramble in front of the net, and the second came from a backdoor one-timer pass from Tarasenko.

Schwartz now has 12 goals these playoffs, and it's his second hat-trick of the playoffs.

Blues goalie Jordan Binnington recorded 21 saves for a shutout, and he's the first rookie goalie to accomplish that feat for the Blues.

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