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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.''

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Caps leave All-Star Game with plenty of highlights, but no wins

Caps leave All-Star Game with plenty of highlights, but no wins

ST. LOUIS -- There was no All-Star championship for the Metropolitan Division All-Stars this year. The Metro was not able to defend its crown in 2020 as it fell 9-5 to the Atlantic Division in the first game of the All-Star Game tournament on Saturday.

Despite the early loss, the Capitals certainly left their mark on the event. Here were the highlights:

An ovation for Oshie

T.J. Oshie began his NHL career in St. Louis and remains a fan favorite there even now in the midst of his fifth season in Washington. That was evident when Oshie was introduced to the crowd to thunderous applause.

“I think it's a pretty cool story,” Oshie said. “It's something that I'm going to enjoy telling the kids and grandkids down the road. But I think the coolest part for me was just the cheers from the fans when my name was called a couple times there. I enjoyed playing here. I love playing in D.C. though, but I had some good experiences here, some heartbreaks, some pretty good teams we played on. Just to get back here, just kind of crazy that my first All-Star Game ended up being in St. Louis. It was a great weekend, it was fun, the fans were awesome as always.”

The starting lineup

Todd Reirden went with what he knew to start the game as Oshie and John Carlson both started the game with Braden Holtby in net. The only non-Cap to start was New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal.

The Barzal, Oshie, Carlson trio seemed to find some chemistry through the game and Oshie had nothing but positive things to say of the speedy forward after the game.

“Obviously his skill level's off the charts, just skating, his stickhandling and vision on the ice,” Oshie said. “Obviously we would've liked to put up some more goals, but it's nice trying to get open and have him find me than chase him around the ice and just try to not get made a fool of. It was awesome. He's a great kid. It was nice kind of getting to know him off the ice here these last couple days.”

While Oshie wished for more production, that line actually acquitted itself nicely. Oshie recorded one goal and one assist, Carlson had one goal and Barzal had two assists.

Carlson scores a milestone

The Atlantic Division jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Carlson scored the first goal of the game for the Metro.

Holtby broke up a scoring chance for the Atlantic as he blocked a centering pass with his stick which sparked the breakout in the other direction. Carlson and Barzal had a 2-on-1 opportunity and Barzal set up Carlson for the shot past a helpless Frederik Anderson. Oshie recorded a secondary assist on the goal.

That was not just the Caps’ first goal of the game, it was the first goal by a Caps defenseman at the All-Star Game in franchise history, according to the team. Quite the milestone.

“That’s great,” Carlson said. “I guess I had no idea.”

Oshie scores in St. Louis

I mean, he had to, right? His first All-Star game coming in St. Louis, there was no way Oshie was going to walk away from this game without scoring.

The Metro Division cycled in the offensive zone and Seth Jones dropped the puck off to Oshie near the blue line. He cut up the middle then fired a shot to the corner to beat Anderson, making him the eighth player in Caps’ franchise history to score at an All-Star Game.

Coach Osh in the house

Oshie’s family has always been the talk of Washington because of how adorable his daughters are and that was on full display again on Saturday. But it was Oshie’s dad who stole the show.

Oshie’s father suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. That makes traveling very difficult. After Oshie’s goal, however, the broadcast cut to Oshie waving up to his father who had been able to make the trip to St. Louis.

“It's always great to have Coach Osh around,” Oshie said. “He missed our fathers' trip this year, it's kind of hard for him to travel, but we were able to make it work for him to come to St. Louis where a lot of the people you see working down here behind the scenes probably know him better than they know me, so he got to see some old friends. Just special to have him here to witness my first All-Star Game in person.”

Oshie added, “There's certain milestones that I've made in my career that I want him to be a part of if he's able to make it and this was one of them He came to St. Louis quite a bit when I played and he has a lot of friends here, a lot of people that treat him really good as well. This was something that I didn't want him to miss."

Holtby ends on a high-note

Let’s face it, the All-Star Game does not favor the goalies. A 3-on-3 tournament is meant to promote as much scoring as possible. As a result, it is often a tough night for the netminders and that was true for Holtby who made five saves on nine shots in his single period of play. But Holtby was able to end his night on a high note with one of the top saves of the game.

David Pastrnak set up Shea Weber on the far-side for what looked like a lay-up on Holtby, but Holtby was able to stretch the pad for the fantastic toe save to deny Weber.

“It felt good to make a save,” Holtby said.

“It's difficult, but it's fun too,” Holtby said of the 3-on-3 format. “It's challenging. I think guys are starting to figure it out a little bit more with the cross-ice pass and stuff. But it's fun to be a part of.”

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Oshie gets warm All-Star welcome on St. Louis return, scores with dad in attendance

Oshie gets warm All-Star welcome on St. Louis return, scores with dad in attendance

Former St. Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie was welcomed back to Enterprise Arena fondly by the NHL All-Star crowd that included his family.

At the end of Oshie's entrance on to the ice, the camera showed plenty of Blues players cheering for him. In seven seasons with St. Louis, Oshie played 443 games and tallied 310 points (110 G, 200 A) and a +71 plus/minus rating. He even served as an alternate captain for his final two seasons before being traded to the Capitals for Troy Brouwer, Pheonix Copley and a 2016 third-round draft pick. 

That wasn't all for Oshie's All-Star performance -- he scored 5:29 into the first period to give the Metropolitan Division team a 3-2 lead.

Oshie is the eighth Capitals player in franchise history to score in the NHL All-Star Game.

Oshie's family, including his dad, Tim, affectionately known as "Coach Osh," was in attendance to witness his first All-Star appearance, making the moment even more special.

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