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Serena hurts ankle, Murray, Federer advance

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Serena hurts ankle, Murray, Federer advance

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Serena Williams frightened a few people, including herself. Defending champion Victoria Azarenka had a momentary lack of concentration. Two of the biggest names on the men's side at the Australian Open - Roger Federer and Andy Murray - had straight-set wins.

Day 2 at Melbourne Park on Tuesday brought another day of perfect weather but a few anxious moments for Williams, who fell awkwardly on her right ankle in her 6-0, 6-0 win over No. 110-ranked Edina Gallovits-Hall.

Williams had the ankle heavily taped by trainers and was able to continue and still dominate the Romanian player. Later, she said she hoped to continue playing - she'll have a scheduled day off Wednesday, returning Thursday to play her second-round match - and maintain her quest of winning her third Grand Slam tournament in a row and sixth Australian Open.

``I think I was really, really close to panicking because a very similar thing happened to me last year, almost on the same side, the same shot,'' Williams said. ``I just had to really remain calm and think things through.''

She left little doubt she'll be back to play her second-round match Thursday against Garbine Muguruza of Spain, who needed a 14-12 win in the deciding set to clinch her first-round match Tuesday against Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia.

``Oh, I'll be out there,'' Williams said of her second-round match. ``I'm alive. My heart's beating. I'll be fine.''

Azarenka trailed 3-0 in the second set of her match with Monica Niculescu before leveling the set at 4-4 and winning 6-1, 6-4.

``I started well but I struggled a little in the second set,'' Azarenka said.

Told that her biggest threat on her half of the draw had injured her ankle, Azarenka wondered, tongue-in-cheek, how serious Williams' ailment could be: ``I heard she won love and love, so what kind of injury are we talking about?''

Murray, playing with more confidence since his U.S. Open win in the final over Novak Djokovic that ended a 76-year drought for British men in majors, beat Robin Haase of the Netherlands 6-3, 6-1, 6-3. The second-seeded Federer defeated Benoit Paire of France 6-2, 6-4, 6-1.

Murray needed only 1 hour, 37 minutes, and Federer 1:23 in their first-round matches. They'll need to conserve their energy for a potential semifinal against each other to determine a final against top-seeded and defending champion Djokovic, assuming all three men are still around on the final weekend.

Before a ball was hit Tuesday, players and officials were shocked to hear of the serious illness and pending resignation of ATP World Tour executive chairman and president Brad Drewett. The ATP said in a statement Tuesday that Drewett, a former player, has motor neurone disease, or Lou Gehrig's disease, but will continue in his role on an interim basis until a successor is found ``in the near future.''

Drewett has held the top ATP position since Jan. 1, 2012. The 54-year-old Australian was a top 40 singles and top 20 doubles player before he retired as a player in 1990.

Federer, president of the ATP Player Council, said the news was difficult for the tour and its players.

``I saw him yesterday and he told me the news,'' Federer said. ``Obviously very emotional ...''

Murray said it was ``shocking news.''

``He's definitely had an impact in the time he's been working there,'' Murray said. "It's a big shame.''

It was Murray's first Grand Slam match as a major champion.

``It didn't feel much different to me,'' he said. ``I was still nervous before I went on to play the match.

``The benefits of that is if I get myself deep into a Slam this year and you're playing against the top players - that's when you'll draw on that experience and use it in the right way.''

It's been 12 months since Murray started working with eight-time major winner Ivan Lendl, and he attributes much of the success in his breakthrough 2012 to his partnership with his new coach.

It's relaxed ``in front of the cameras,'' Murray joked. ``Behind closed doors he works me very hard ... he tells you exactly how it is and that's exactly what I needed.''

In other men's matches, No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro, 2008 finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 13 Milos Raonic of Canada, No. 14 Gilles Simon, No. 17 . Philipp Kohlschreiber, No. 21 Andreas Seppi and No. 25 Florian Mayer advanced.

Bernard Tomic, who beat Djokovic at the Hopman Cup two weeks ago, defeated Leonardo Mayer of Argentina 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 in a night match. Tomic has been on a New Year's high after winning his first ATP tournament on Saturday at the Sydney International.

Williams sounded almost matter-of-fact about her ankle ailment and its potential to affect her play in the rest of a Grand Slam she has won five times.

``I've played this tournament with so many injuries and was able to come off pretty on top,'' she said. ``So for me, it's just another page and a great story to tell the grandkids one day.''

Williams is favored to win the season's first major, coming into Melbourne with 35 wins in her previous 36 matches, including titles at Wimbledon, the London Olympics and the U.S. Open.

In other women's matches, former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki won the last six games to beat Sabine Lisicki of Germany 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 to advance along with No. 16 Roberta Vinci, No. 17 Lucie Safarova and No. 29 Sloane Stephens, the American teenager who beat Simona Halep of Romania 6-1, 6-1.

Former U.S. Open and French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova continued her comeback from a knee injury that kept her out of the U.S. Open, ending her run of 40 consecutive majors. Also, No. 14 Maria Kirilenko had a 6-4, 6-2 win over American player Vania King.

Two seeded players lost night matches. Julie Hampton of the U.S. beat No. 31 Urszula Radwanska of Poland 6-2, 6-4 while Ukrainian qualifier Lesia Tsurenko defeated No. 24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia 7-5, 3-6, 7-5.

And 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan upset No. 12-seeded Nadia Petrova of Russia 6-2, 6-0 to become the oldest woman to win a singles match at the Australian Open.

While Serena Williams will have the day off to rest her weary ankle Wednesday, her sister Venus will be back in action against Alize Cornet of France, and Djokovic returns to play his second-round match against American Ryan Harrison.

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 20, two days before the Washington Redskins start OTAs.  

Best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

Last week I took a stab at figuring out what the best-case and worst-case scenarios were for the key players on offense and defense. While individual stats are fun to track, it’s what the team does that really matters. What range of outcomes is realistic for the 2018 Redskins? While anything is possible, here are my thoughts on the best they are likely to be able to do and the worst. 

In both cases, I am assuming that the Redskins have reasonably good fortune when it comes to injuries and that the good and bad bounces of the ball equal out over the course of the season. 

Worst case: 6-10, last in NFC East

This is based mostly on Alex Smith having a tough time adjusting to Jay Gruden’s offense, his new teammates, and the NFC. Thinking he could struggle is not just negative thinking, there is history to back it up. 

Smith was traded from the 49ers to the Chiefs in 2013. In his first nine games, he completed just 59.7 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and four interceptions He had an adjusted net yards per attempt of 5.23. Had he finished the season there he would have ranked 28th in the NFL. His passer rating was 81.4, which would have ranked 25th. It’s safe to say he was off to a very slow start. 

But the Chiefs went 8-1 in those nine games. It is doubtful that the Redskins could survive such a slow start. In the past three seasons, with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, they were 4-17 in games where Cousins’ passer rating was under 90. If you drop the ceiling to 81, the record drops to 0-14. 

Kansas City managed to start 9-0 in 2013 because of a running game that produced at least 100 yards rushing every game and a defense that got at least one takeaway every game and got three or more turnovers in a game five times. 

Could the Redskins duplicate that and survive a slow start by Smith? It’s possible, but this is the worst-case scenario. And there is no guarantee that the Redskins will significantly improve a running attack that was 27thin the league last year or a rushing defense that was dead last. 

Offensively, the hope is that Derrius Guice will improve the running game. But rookies are, well rookies. And being a high draft pick is no guarantee of success. In the past three drafts, 20 running backers were drafted in the first three rounds. Of those players, four rushed for 750 yards or more as rookies. Maybe Guice will be one of the productive players but the odds are not in his favor. This isn’t saying he will be a bust; however, he may not have instant impact. 

One other note about the rushing game. It’s important to remember that both tackles are coming off of surgery, the right guard was injured last year, the center has all of six starts under his belt, and left guard remains up in the air. Maybe everything will hum when the season starts but that seems like a tall order. 

Improvement in the stopping the run also relies at least in part on rookies. Daron Payne will have an adjustment period as will Tim Settle. The inside linebacker spot should be stronger but it’s hard to say that it will be a strength. The rushing defense probably won’t be last again, but it may not climb out of the twenties in the rankings. 

The Redskins haven’t been awful at getting takeaways, but they have not done it at a consistently game-changing level. They have three or more takeaways in a game five times in their last 30 games. I don’t see any reason to think that this will change dramatically. 

To put the 6-10 worst-case scenario onto the schedule, the Redskins could go 2-4 in the division with splits against the Cowboys and Giants and getting swept by the Eagles. Against the NFC South, which had three teams with 10 wins or more last year, they might be 1-3. That leaves a split with the AFC South (two of the final eight teams in the playoffs last year) and of their two other NFC games for a 6-10 record. 

Best-case scenario: 10-6, Wild card, win a playoff game

This scenario doesn’t require a whole lot of explanation beyond flipping the elements of the worst case into more positive outcomes. 

Smith could pick up where he left off last year when he completed 67.5 percent of his passes and was third in the league with 7.2 adjusted net yards per attempt. Maybe the yards per attempt will drop some as he tries to find a consistent deep target.

A healthy Jordan Reed would help Smith out tremendously. If Reed can participate in most of training camp, the two could hit the ground running. Smith’s ability to connect with Josh Doctson on some 50-50 balls also will be important. 

As for the running game, Guice could break out early behind a line that gels quickly. It’s not out of the question for him to gain 1,000 yards (that’s just about 65 yards per game), maybe a little more. A healthy Chris Thompson could kick in over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. 

Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis could pick up right where they left off last year before Allen was lost for the season with a foot injury and Ioannidis missed two games with a broken hand and was hampered by the injury for a few weeks after that. That would let Payne and Settle, well, settle into the pro game. 

The Redskins also would need at least to maintain the solid pass defense they had last year. And they would benefit from fewer turnovers on offense (27 last year, 26thin the NFL) and by adding a few takeaways to the 23 they got in 2017.

So how could they pull this off? The would need to go 4-2 in the division, with a sweep of the Giants and splits against Philly and Dallas. They then would need 2-2 records against the NFC South and AFC South. That part of it is probably the toughest task. To get to 10 they would need to beat the Cardinals on the road in the season opener and then have a good day against Aaron Rodgers and get a win over the Packers. It’s not an easy road but if enough pieces fall into place it’s not out of the question. 

A 10-6 record should be good enough for a wild-card spot. If they get through their fairly tough schedule with double-digit wins, they should be good enough to go on the road and take out the three or four seed. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 23
—Training camp starts (7/26) 68
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 82

The Redskins last played a game 139 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 113 days. 

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Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

There was no tougher critic on Matt Niskanen’s Game 5 performance on Saturday than Niskanen himself.

Niskanen and his defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, were on the ice for all three of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s three goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 loss. That was striking given the Orlov-Niskanen duo is typically Washington’s best defensive pair.

That was not the case on Saturday and Niskanen took full responsibility afterward.

“First three goals are all my fault,” Niskanen said. “I had a tough first 20:30 so I've got to be better next game.”

Pretty much no one played the first goal right.

The goal came just 19 seconds into the game. Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov looked like he could have gotten the puck, but instead played the body of Cedric Paquette. Niskanen stepped up at the blue line, but the Lightning got the puck past him creating a short rush that beat Braden Holtby who was way too far back in the crease.

Yes, Niskanen got caught a bit high, but he was just as at fault as Orlov, Kuznetsov and Holtby.

The second goal happened because Steven Stamkos tripped Orlov to create a turnover and it wasn’t called.

Niskanen got in between Ondrej Palat and the puck, but Palat beat both him and Holtby on the shot. Not sure I would put this one on Niskanen.

The third goal…well, that one was a bad play by Niskanen.

When you go one-on-one with a player, a defenseman cannot allow that player to turn the corner. That’s especially true when that player is defenseman Anton Stralman who is not exactly gifted with blazing speed. This was just a complete misplay.

Regardless of how many goals were strictly on Niskanen, that’s not the point. This was a message not so much to the media but to the team. That message was this: This one’s on me, I will be better next game.

Leaders always take responsibility. Niskanen is taking the blame here and saying he will be better in the hopes the team around him will be better as well.

They will need to be to win Game 6.

“A lot of people counted us out when we were down 0-2 in the first round,” Niskanen said. “Things got hard in the last series where we could have melted and we just kept playing. So that's what we've got to do again, bring our best effort for Game 6 at home, win a game and then we'll go from there.

“But we're focused on bringing our best game of the season for Game 6 and we'll be ready to go.”

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