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Murray into Brisbane semis; Azarenka pulls out

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Murray into Brisbane semis; Azarenka pulls out

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) Top-ranked Victoria Azarenka withdrew from her Brisbane International against Serena Williams with an infected right big toe on Friday, citing concerns about aggravating the injury so close to the Australian Open.

Azarenka made the announcement about a half hour before she was to play the third-ranked Williams, who has an 11-1 record against Azarenka and is on a roll after winning titles at Wimbledon, the London Olympics and the U.S. Open.

It came soon after Andy Murray, the Olympic men's gold medalist and U.S. Open champion, had finished off his 6-4, 7-6 (3) win over Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin in the quarterfinals.

Murray had lapses in his opening three-set win over No. 199-ranked Australian qualifier John Millman on Thursday night, while Ivan Lendl was en route to Australia, but had no serious trouble with his coach in the stands.

The first of Murray's three titles in a breakthrough 2012 season was in Brisbane, where he started working with former No. 1-ranked Lendl last January. The next two titles were career-defining triumphs at the London Olympics and U.S. Open.

Murray was satisfied with his serve - he didn't get broken in the match - and was starting to get over the usual aches and pains from coming off the end-of-season break.

``When you're practicing it's hard to replicate match situations ... and they're the things that take a while to get back into the rhythm of playing,'' he said, putting his relatively slow start in Brisbane down to a lack of match practice rather than a lack of condition and rejecting the suggestion he had been ``rusty.''

He next plays fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan, a 6-4, 7-6 (3) winner over 2012 Brisbane finalist Alexandr Dolgopolov.

The other semifinal will feature 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis, who ousted No. 3 Gilles Simon of France 6-3, 6-4, against Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, who beat seventh-seeded Jurgen Melzer of Austria 6-3, 6-2.

Murray didn't face a break point in the second set, and only lost one point in his first three service games of the set - a call he disputed but lost on the challenge review.

He held serve to force a tiebreaker and trailed Istomin 3-1 before winning six straight points. Istomin served the only double-fault of the match to surrender triple match point and Murray hit a forehand winner to clinch it in little more than 1 1/2 hours.

Murray dropped a set to Millman and appeared to be sore and fatigued at times on Thursday night, but there were no such issues in front of Lendl, who has played a key role in ending the Scottish player's run of four defeats in Grand Slam finals before he finally won a major. Lendl also lost four major finals before his claiming the first of his eight Grand Slam crowns.

With her impressive finish to the 2012 season taking her major tally to 15, Williams is the most formidable player in women's tennis.

She has won 34 of her last 35 matches since a first-round exit at the French Open and is in contention to return to the No. 1 ranking if she wins the Australian Open.

She advanced directly to a final against Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who beat Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 in the other semifinal.

Tsurenko's run exceeded her expectations, considering she lost in the last round of qualifying and was only a late inclusion in the main draw after No. 2 Maria Sharapova withdrew due to a sore right collarbone.

Azarenka has been trying to deal with a sore big toe on her right foot for 10 days, saying she'd picked up an infection after a pedicure last week. She had to have part of the nail on the big toe removed Thursday. She was planning to head to Melbourne and hoping it would only take two days before she can continue fully preparing for the season's first major.

``I tried everything. We tried medication with taping, and I was playing through the pain for quite a while,'' said Azarenka, who won the Sydney International and the Australian Open last year during a 26-match winning streak to start the season. ``It's just something that I had to do to make sure that I can be fully recovered and ready for Australian Open. It's that sort kind of compromise I had to take.

``It's just very unfortunate timing, because I was really looking forward to playing and excited.''

Williams empathized with Azarenka.

``I like Vika. I think she's a great player. I love playing her,'' Williams said. ``I had that toe problem just a couple weeks ago and it's painful ... it's so painful. Doesn't sound painful, but it is. You can't walk with that. I hope she gets better fast.''

Could Maryland safety Darnell Savage Jr. jump into 2019 NFL Draft's first round?

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USA TODAY Sports

Could Maryland safety Darnell Savage Jr. jump into 2019 NFL Draft's first round?

Coming out of the NFL combine, former Maryland safety Darnell Savage Jr. was projected to be a second-round pick in the NFL Draft. But could he end up sliding into the first round on Thursday?

It seems like a possibility now, based on some of the teams he's met with, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Monday. And NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah has previously said Savage could rise to the first round too.

NBC Sports Washington's latest NFL Mock Draft has Savage going to the Green Bay Packers as the 44th overall pick.

According to Rapoport, Savage met with 11 teams, including the Carolina Panthers (No. 16 overall pick), Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 20 overall pick), Seattle Seahawks (No. 21 overall pick), Philadelphia Eagles (No. 25 overall pick) and Los Angeles Rams (No. 31 overall pick). 

The three-year starter out of College Park was named Second Team All-Big Ten this season after recording 52 tackles (38 solo, 14 assist) for the Terps, along with four interceptions, including one pick six. He's versatile, strong and fast, and even if he gets passed by in the first round of the NFL Draft, it seems unlikely that he'll still be available by the end of the second.

At 5-foot-11 and 198 pounds, Savage ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in February -- a time that was second-fastest among all safeties -- and posted a 39.5-inch vertical, third among safeties, and a 126-inch broad jump. He also had 11 bench-press reps.

Pro Football Focus has Savage listed as the second-best safety in this year's draft class behind Delaware's Nasir Adderley because he's "a missile around the line of scrimmage".

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Redskins Talk crew hosts NFL Draft live stream: How to watch and listen

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Each week day, starting on Wednesday, April 24th and running through Monday, April 29th, you can join the gang on the MyTeams by NBC Sports App from 1 to 2 p.m. as they analyze the intricacies of every draft decision that's made and explain how those decisions will impact the Burgundy and Gold. The Redskins Talk crew will also host special coverage of Round 1 on Thursday, April 25th, beginning at 8 p.m., offering an in-depth anlysis up to and through the 'Skins' pick. 

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