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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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Ravens look for more AFC North separation, 5-2 record headed into bye week

Ravens look for more AFC North separation, 5-2 record headed into bye week

The Ravens have their toughest individual test of the season on Sunday.

Against MVP favorite Russell Wilson, the Ravens will need their best performance of the year. And if they’re able to get that, they’d be three games over .500 headed into their bye week with the Patriots looming. 

The rest of the division aside, the opportunity is there for the Ravens to pull ahead in the NFC North and the potential playoff race.

“It won’t make or break us, but it will go a long way in setting us up for where we’re headed down the road and what kind of season we’re going to have,” head coach John Harbaugh said. 

The Ravens currently have a two-game lead in the division with the Browns and Steelers on a bye week. With a win, their lead would move to two and a half games ahead of their bye next week. 

After that, the Patriots come to Baltimore for Sunday Night Football.

First, however, the Ravens are focused on the Seahawks, no matter how boring that may sound.

“I’m going to give you the cliché, but it’s the truth,” Harbaugh said bluntly. “We just have to focus on Seattle. So, how the schedule fell or how we fit...It’s better to be 4-2 than 3-3 or 2-4, but not as good as 6-0 or 5-1. That’s my thought on it. And 5-2 would be a lot better than 4-3.”

In order to get to 5-2, the Ravens will need to go through Wilson and his excellent season thus far. He hasn’t thrown an interception, has 17 total touchdowns and is on pace for nearly 5,000 yards from scrimmage. 

“He’s playing at an MVP level, and I agree with that,” defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. “It’s sort of like playing against Steph Curry in basketball, if you will. You can pick him up from half court, and he’s going to try to drive by you when you’re saying ‘keep him in the pocket,’ or you can slack off, and he’s going to pull up and hit a three.”

Baltimore will get new addition Marcus Peters into the fold to help with a growingly injured secondary. He’s already played Seattle this season, so the Ravens are hoping he’ll be able to draw on that knowledge to face Wilson and the rest of the Seahawks offense.

But perhaps the biggest story of the secondary is the return of Earl Thomas to the Seattle. 

The last time he was in a Seahawks uniform, he was carted off with a broken leg and flipped off his own sideline. He’ll return to his former team of nine years on Sunday.

“Hopefully they (the fans) respect what I've done, and I'll get a couple cheers, not too many boos,” Thomas said. “And whatever happens, happens, but hopefully it's love."

Aside from all of that, the Ravens say they’re not focused on 5-2 or what could come with a win over one of the NFL’s best teams and quarterbacks.

“We need to be 1-0 this week,” Harbaugh said. “We need to play our best football of the year in Seattle to win the game, and that’s what we’re planning on doing. And that’s what we’re going to work for.”

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Nationals veterans want to be clear chemistry matter as much as analytics

Nationals veterans want to be clear chemistry matter as much as analytics

WASHINGTON -- Inside the age discussion around Washington’s older team is another percolating topic. Those same members of the 30-plus realm also tend to roll their eyes -- to a degree -- at analytics.

Multiple veterans have pushed back at the influence of statistical analysis on success. They are not discounting it on the whole. They are trying to add emphasis on the human element, the so-called “eye test” and, no matter how it is received elsewhere, express their thoughts about information overload.

Washington's organization remained scout heavy even as it developed its in-house analytics system named “Pentagon”. General manager Mike Rizzo comes from a scouting background. He also spearheaded a push for more depth in the organization’s analytics department, capping those efforts by promoting Mike DeBartolo and Sam Mondry-Cohen to assistant general manager positions before the season began. 

Both were reared in the organization. DeBartolo graduated from Tufts University, then Columbia Business School. He worked at an investment advisory firm prior joining the Nationals as an intern in baseball operations seven years ago. Mondry-Cohen is charged with “the front office’s analysis of baseball data and the development of department-wide baseball systems.” He went to the University of Pennsylvania, and, like DeBartolo, began his work as a baseball operations intern.

Next to Rizzo, they represent balance. Rizzo ascended from assistant college coach to regional scout to director of scouting in Arizona, where a portion of his roster-building technique (starting pitching, plus more starting pitching) was honed. He consistently touts the club’s scouts. 

Davey Martinez was hired to use more information and deploy it. In all, the Nationals have tried to balance the sides while keeping a large emphasis on scouting.

At this point, the distribution and absorption of information is more of a challenge than discovering or creating it. One thing Scherzer pointed out about Juan Soto is his ability to process so much information so quickly. Soto mostly does this via experience, not charts and scouting reports. Another thing Scherzer pointed out at the All-Star Game was his irritation the weight of analytics now possesses in the game.

“Everybody thinks this is just a math game and a numbers game, and you just look at WAR, and you know your team,” Scherzer said. “We can have projections and models -- you name it -- and that’s baseball. That’s not baseball. 

“Baseball’s played by humans. We’re humans. We experience emotions and we’re pretty good about channeling what it takes to compete every single day, but when you get a good clubhouse and you get some good energy, good vibes, it makes it easy for everybody to compete at the same level. I feel like that’s what we have going on. We have very good clubhouse. Everybody’s kind of settled in their roles. We all know how to clown on each other, have fun, when anybody makes a mistake -- my God, I’ve been making a heck of a lot of mistakes lately, everybody is getting a good laugh at -- that’s a sign of a winning club.”

Rendon uses analytics as a key to jokes about his success. When he beat out a grounder after returning from quad and hamstring tightness, he told reporters to “Statcast me.” Asked during the National League Division Series why this became his best statistical year, he sent another zing.

“Launch angle,” Rendon said with a smile. “No. Yeah, I really don't know. I've been getting a lot of those questions lately or at least this season. And I think if I actually knew, if I changed anything or if I knew if I was going to have this type of season, I actually would have done it a long time ago and I wouldn't have waited six or seven years into it. But I think that, man, I say all the time, I think I'm partly, I'm getting lucky.”

The idea of simplicity -- and the human touch -- trickles down to the initial assessments when hunting the next prospect. Johnny DiPuglia, Nationals director, international operations, explained the club’s player-hunt philosophy is less about using technology to assess spin rate and more about finding the best player on the field.

“We don't complicate ourselves with all this analytic stuff that's out now with all this TrackMan (pitching analysis) and all the Blast (swing analysis sensor and software) and all this stuff that is used," DiPuglia said. "We go out in the field, we beat the bushes and we watch games. We try to find the best player on the field, get the checkpoints and if he checkpoints the profile of a big-league position, we evaluate the numbers money-wise and try to sign the kid. We do it to the simplest form here. We don't try to complicate things.

“The game is the same game it was 50 years ago. Unfortunately, now it's a little more complicated and too much information is given.”

The contrast between the Nationals and their likely World Series opponent, Houston, is striking. Astros shortstop Carlos Correa is on the box of the Blast “complete hitting solution.” Tomes have been written about Houston’s application of analytics when restructuring and rebooting its organization. Its success indisputably shows the process has worked: The Astros won the World Series in 2017, made it to the ALCS in 2018 and are back there again in 2019. Five years ago, they lost 92 games. Baltimore hired former Houston assistant general manager Mike Elias to repeat the process.

In Washington, the veteran-filled clubhouse casts a wary eye toward analytics. Their process has been simpler. They believe in the karma coming out of their room. Many of them think its value rivals that of deep scouting reports or color-coded charts. Whatever the formula, it was enough to finally breakthrough and reach the World Series.

Chase Hughes contributed to this report.

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