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Serena Williams wins at Brisbane; Sharapova out

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Serena Williams wins at Brisbane; Sharapova out

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) Serena Williams carried her relentless form into the New Year with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Alize Cornet on Tuesday at the Brisbane International, where Maria Sharapova withdrew and two other highly ranked players went out in the second round.

After the unexpected exits of No. 2 Maria Sharapova, who pulled out with an injured right collarbone, and 2011 champion Petra Kvitova on Tuesday afternoon, the third-ranked Williams needed only an hour to beat the No. 44-ranked Cornet - unleashing one of her fastest ever serves - in the night match.

The 15-time major winner has lost only one of her last 34 competitive singles matches in a run that includes titles at Wimbledon, the London Olympics and the U.S. Open.

She was hitting winners so fiercely that Cornet didn't bother chasing most of them, and she fired a serve at 124 mph (200 kilometers per hour) in the fourth game of the second set.

``I just really went for it. I've hit 200 before, but they never go in so I was really excited that it went in,'' Williams said. ``I tried to be more aggressive.''

It was faster than any serve she produced last year, and she has rarely served any faster anywhere.

Not being able to serve was the reason for Sharapova's decision to withdraw. She didn't want to risk aggravating a collarbone problem that flared up late last month and forced her out of an exhibition in South Korea. She only started hitting overheads and serves on Monday, and said it was wiser to head to Melbourne to prepare for the Australian Open, starting on Jan. 14.

``I still have quite a bit of time to prepare for Australia. I'm on the right track, been training really well, so I just don't want to jeopardize what I've gained in the offseason so far,'' the French Open champion said. ``Just have to make a smart move here.''

Kvitova, who won the Brisbane title five months before claiming her first Grand Slam crown at Wimbledon in 2011, didn't find any rhythm in a 6-4, 7-5 loss to Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and will head to Sydney to get some more matches to prepare for the season's first major.

Combined with Daniela Hantuchova's 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 win over No. 5 Sara Errani and the first-round exits of No. 7 Sam Stosur and No. 8 Caroline Wozniacki, the season-opening event featuring eight of the top 10 ranked women had already lost five of its top eight seeds before the end of the second round.

``This tournament was a really tough draw, everybody's playing,'' Kvitova said of why so many of the highly ranked players have tumbled out. ``After the offseason, it's hard to be on the court against some opponents.''

Williams will next meet the winner of Wednesday's match between fellow American Sloane Stephens and Sweden's Sofia Arvidsson.

She said she had a touch of insomnia after arriving in Australia, and was awake listening to the New Year's Eve fireworks on Monday but not able to join the celebrations.

Now she's hoping for a night quarterfinal.

``I don't know what time zone I'm in. I don't know if I'm in Florida or if I'm in Mauritius or if I'm in Brazil. I just don't know anymore,'' she said, but ``I'm good when I'm awake.''

If she continues her dominating run right through the Australian Open, the 31-year-old Williams has a good chance of becoming the oldest player to hold the No. 1 ranking. Chris Evert holds that record - she was 30 years, 11 months when she last held the top ranking in 1985. Williams puts her resurgence since her first-round exit at the last French Open to a feeling of reinvigoration.

``I just feel alive,'' she said. ``I feel really alive.''

On the men's side, local qualifier John Millman, ranked No. 199, advanced to a second-round match with Olympic and U.S. Open champion Andy Murray by beating Japan's Tatsuma Ito 6-4, 6-1.

Seventh-seeded Jurgen Melzer of Austria downed Denis Kudla of the U.S. 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, while No. 8 Martin Klizan of Slovakia lost 6-1, 6-2 to Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan.

Spain's Tommy Robredo advanced 6-4, 7-6 (4) over American Ryan Harrison and Alejandro Falla of Colombia set up a second-round match with No. 3-seeded Gilles Simon with a 6-1, 7-6 (8) win over Jesse Levine.

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Bruins G Tuukka Rask opts out of NHL playoffs over COVID-19

Bruins G Tuukka Rask opts out of NHL playoffs over COVID-19

Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask has opted out of the team's playoff run.

The Vezina Trophy finalist -- and winner of the top goaltender award in 2014 -- said in a statement Saturday morning before Game 3 of Boston's playoff series against Carolina that "at this moment there are things more important than hockey in my life, and that is being with my family."

Rask led the NHL with a 2.12 goals-against average and was second in save percentage and shutouts. 

RELATED: WHY THIS YEAR IS DIFFERENT THAN 2018, OVECHKIN'S BIG GAME AND THE CAPS ARE IN TROUBLE

Boston and Carolina are tied 1-1 in the best-of-seven series. After a 3-2 loss on Thursday night, Rask said he complained that the NHL's fan-free playoffs lacked the usual intensity.

"It doesn't feel like playoff hockey out there. There's no fans, so it's kind of like an exhibition game," he said. "It just feels dull at times."

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Bryce Harper glad Phillies able to respond after 'embarrassing' Orioles series

Bryce Harper glad Phillies able to respond after 'embarrassing' Orioles series

When the Baltimore Orioles swept the Phillies in a midweek series, several Philadelphians were not pleased. 

One Phillies analyst called the performance "lifeless" and now Bryce Harper is referring to the whole team's effort as "embarrassing."

Much to Harper's and the Phillies' pleasure, the team was able to respond in the series opener against the Mets with a walk-off to get back in the win column. 

"That's a big win for us right there," Harper told reporters postgame. "We have to start out the series after the embarrassment we put up against the Baltimore Orioles, that was pretty terrible. To be able to start this series off on the right foot, that's huge for us."

RELATED: ORIOLES COMPLETE TWO SERIES SWEEPS IN LESS THAN 24 HOURS

In the three-game set, Baltimore scored 26 runs against Philadelphia. The first two games saw the Phillies starters post four earned runs each and the finale was a miraculous extra-inning comeback for Baltimore, where they scored 10 runs in the final five innings. It was more than an indictment of the team's pitching than anything else.

Many teams across the league believed the Orioles would be walkover team in a 60-game sprint to get the 2020 season complete. After one of the worst records in the sport's history over the past two seasons and no sign of things turning around, that was expected to carry over. An 11-8 record a third of the way through shows that is not the case. Baltimore has the fouth-best record in the American League. Even in a normal season, they would be in line for a Wild Card spot. 

Harper and the Phillies learned that the hard way. 

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