Nationals

Sharapova withdraws at Brisbane; Serena advances

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Sharapova withdraws at Brisbane; Serena advances

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) Maria Sharapova withdrew from the Brisbane International on Tuesday because of an injured right collarbone that left her unable to serve. She said she didn't want to aggravate the injury with the Australian Open two weeks away.

Also out was 2011 champion Petra Kvitova, who lost 6-4, 7-5 to Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in a season-opening tournament that has proved rough for many of the top players.

Serena Williams, however, had no such problems. She carried her relentless winning form into 2013, reaching the quarterfinals with a 6-2, 6-2 victory at night over No. 44-ranked Alize Cornet.

Williams, a 15-time major winner who is ranked No. 3, 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. One of her serves, in the fourth game of the second, was 124 mph (200 kilometers). That was faster than any of her serves last year, and she has rarely served faster anywhere.

``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.''

Sharapova, ranked No. 2 and the French Open champion, didn't want to risk worsening a collarbone problem that flared late last month and also forced her from an exhibition in South Korea. She started hitting overheads and serves only on Monday and said it was wiser to head to Melbourne to get ready for the year's first Grand Slam tournament, which begins 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,'' she 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 against Pavlyuchenkova. She will head to Sydney for more matches before the Australian Open.

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. ``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 be ranked No. 1. Chris Evert holds that record - she was 30 years, 11 months when she last held the top ranking in 1985. She attributes her resurgence since her first-round exit at the last French Open to a feeling of invigoration.

``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 eighth-seeded 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 third-seeded Gilles Simon with a 6-1, 7-6 (8) win over Jesse Levine.

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With no access to in-game video, Trea Turner’s swing has taken time to adjust

With no access to in-game video, Trea Turner’s swing has taken time to adjust

Heading into the Nationals’ four-game series with the New York Mets this week, Trea Turner was hitting just .196 on the young season with one home run. The vaunted base stealer had been thrown out on the basepaths three times while having yet to swipe a bag successfully. In the field, he’d racked up three errors.

It was a frustrating start for the 27-year-old shortstop, who’s coming off a season in which he played with only nine fingers and still found a way to serve as a catalyst atop the Nationals’ lineup. Now fully healthy, Turner was expected to play a role in helping Washington absorb the loss of Anthony Rendon in the middle of its lineup.

Normally, poor at-bats would prompt Turner to head down to the replay room for a quick look at his mechanics. He goes into the clubhouse in between innings and examines his previous swings to see if he needs to make any adjustments. It’s a practice Turner has grown to rely on over the course of his major-league career.

But this season, Turner hasn’t had access to the replay room after MLB banned in-game video as part of its health protocols for playing in the middle of a pandemic. Instead, he’s had to wait until after each game before being able to break down his swing. It’s made for slower progress, but after going 5-for-9 with two home runs and four RBIs over the first two games of the series in New York, he feels that his adjustments have started to pay off.

“I felt good in the box and I feel like my approach was good but not having video is a little different and I feel like in years past I was pretty good at going back and just checking out the swing real quick and making the little adjustment I need to make in game,” Turner said in a Zoom press conference after Tuesday’s 2-1 win.

“Finally made the right adjustment a few games ago and started putting the barrel on the ball and feeling a little better. The last four or five games or so my contact has been a little bit stronger and it was just a matter of time for the hits to start to fall.”

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Turner hasn’t been the only member of the baseball community to express how the lack of video access has changed their approach. On Saturday, Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash told MLB Network Radio that he wasn’t pleased with MLB’s decision to ban something that had become an integral tool for coaches and players during games.

“Without being too controversial, I think it's absolutely ridiculous,” Cash said. “It's probably one of the worst things that I've seen Major League Baseball do in take video away from players. Video is what makes us good. It helps us learn, it helps us coach, it helps us attack. And it's been taken away from us because of one team, or a couple teams' stupid choices.”

“We can't even watch a game; we cannot watch our own game. Our players cannot come in and watch a game in the clubhouse. It is asinine. The entire protocol system, how they came up with that, it is wrong. They're doing an injustice to players.”

While it’s unknown whether the real reasoning behind MLB’s decision is related to health protocols or the sign-stealing scandals that surrounded the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox over the offseason, Turner isn’t making any excuses. In fact, the results are beginning to turn his way.

Entering play Tuesday, Turner had a hard-hit percentage of 40.9 percent, well above his career rate of 32.5. His batting average on balls in play was just .238 (league average is .300), indicating he had been getting unlucky on some well struck balls. In fact, his groundball rate is down five percentage points from his career average while his flyball rate is up 10 percent.

Then came his home run off Mets starter Rick Porcello in the first inning. Turner took a breaking ball high and away and hit it off his back foot on a line straight into the seats in right field.

It was only Turner’s second opposite-field homer of his career after he hit none all of last season. Yet even with the adjustments he’d been making to his swing, he said that he didn’t go into the at-bat looking to hit anything to right field against Porcello.

“I think it’s just swing path and pitch,” Turner said. “I’ve hit a few balls to right-center out in certain stadiums, mostly probably at home, and I don’t know if those are opposite field per se. They might be more center field but I just think when you’re facing righties, to hit an opposite-field home run is fairly tough. He tried going toward that backdoor sinker and I just felt like it was the right swing on the right pitch and just keeping it fair and not slicing the ball.”

Turner will continue tweaking away at his swing, hoping to produce results like he has so far in the New York. But with or without the video replay room, he doesn’t expect the opposite-field homer to be the start of a new trend.

“I don’t have necessarily that oppo power some of these big guys get,” Turner said. “I usually have to pull them but every once in a while, if you get the right pitch on the right swing, it sneaks out. So I’ll take it.”

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'Washington Rexes' name suggestion creates a stir on Twitter

'Washington Rexes' name suggestion creates a stir on Twitter

As the Washington Football Team searches for a permanent new moniker, it's no surprise that some rather unique names have been suggested. Take the Washington UFOs or Washington Wanderers as examples.

The newest member of that group is the Washington Rexes, a name highlighted by the team as part of the fan recommendations initiative it's taking. The name was recommended by a fan named Carl, and the reasoning behind it certainly unique.

"Washington Rexes. I know this seems strange, but hear me out. Washington is home to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, which houses an impressive collection of dinosaur skeletons, including a Tyrannosaurus Rex, one of the largest and most terrifying predators in history," Carl wrote. "Rexes would be an impressive nickname, implying strength, power, and ferocity. The mascot would be amazing. Plus, who doesn't love dinosaurs?" 

As wild as it may seem, Carl does kind of bring up some good points. The dinosaur is a very strong and scary animal, so it checks the intimidation box. The Smithsonian gives it the local connection and naming the stadium "Jurrasic Park" or something of that nature actually works. Wait, is Washington Rexes genuinely a good idea?

Well, for the most part, Twitter did not think so.

If dinosaurs weren't their thing, some suggested picturing it as an homage to former Washington quarterback Rex Grossman. 

Washington Rexes probably won't be the eventual name of the team. But, Carl deserves an A+ for creativity. 

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