Ravens

Sloane Stephens moves up rankings, tops Querrey

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Sloane Stephens moves up rankings, tops Querrey

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Sloane Stephens didn't just achieve her best Grand Slam result by reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open - she's also one up on her good friend Sam Querrey.

Stephens and Querrey, who lost in the third round of men's singles, share a coach, David Nainkin. They've developed a good-natured rivalry about who's rising faster in the rankings.

With her run to the semifinals at Melbourne Park, Stephens will improve to No. 17 from No. 29 in the rankings next week, while Querrey is not expected to rise much higher than his current No. 22.

``Sam Querrey sent me a message and said, `You might be ahead of me on Monday, but in three weeks, I'm going to be ahead of you,''' the 19-year-old Stephens said after her straight-sets loss to No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals on Thursday. ``I have to keep working because I want to stay in front of him.''

The Americans haven't made a wager over who will be ranked higher by the end of the year - there's just pride at stake, Stephens said.

``Obviously egos are big,'' she said earlier this week. ``This is tennis, so somebody's going to win.''

Stephens was disappointed she didn't follow up her big win over 15-time major winner Serena Williams in the quarterfinals with a better match against Azarenka, but her overall performance at the tournament far exceeded her expectations at the start of the season.

``I'm obviously coming out of the Australian summer with amazing momentum, knowing I can pretty much hang in there with anybody and even beat some of the best players,'' she said. ``It's definitely a good feeling.''

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DOWN UNDER: It can't be a good feeling for David Ferrer: Another loss in a Grand Slam semifinal by the same humbling score.

Ferrer was defeated by top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Australian Open on Thursday 6-2, 6-2, 6-1. He lost by the same score to Rafael Nadal in the semifinals of the French Open last year on his favored clay surface.

For all his success on the court - he won a tour-leading seven titles last year - the Spaniard hasn't been able to get past the semifinals at majors.

He lost in the semifinals of the 2012 and 2007 U.S. Open to Djokovic, and fell in the semifinals of the 2011 Australian Open to Andy Murray.

A clearly dejected Ferrer tried to explain how frustrating it feels to get so close to a Grand Slam final, only to be beaten each time by one of the so-called Big Four of men's tennis - Djokovic, Murray, Nadal and Roger Federer.

``It's difficult to do one final of a Grand Slam,'' the fifth-ranked Ferrer said. ``When I did the semifinal in Roland Garros, Australian Open, U.S. Open, it was a loss to the best three players, no?

``I am trying to do my best every match. But I know they are better than me. What can I do?''

Meanwhile, Djokovic was feeling so fresh after his easy win over Ferrer that he had time to make a cameo appearance during a legends doubles match later Thursday night.

The Serbian star posed as a doctor and pretended to perform CPR on retired French player Henri Leconte, much to the delight of the picture-snapping crowd.

Djokovic gave reporters his diagnosis during a later news conference: ``(Leconte) is definitely crazy. He needs long-term treatment.''

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LUCKY NO. 13: Mike Bryan can't pronounce the name of one of his opponents in the Australian Open doubles final on Saturday, but that doesn't mean he's not taking the competition seriously.

Identical twins Mike and Bob Bryan, the top seeds at Melbourne Park, advanced to their ninth Australian Open final with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 win over the Italian duo of Simon Bolelli and Fabio Fognini on Thursday.

The brothers will be trying to win a record 13th Grand Slam title, which will move them one ahead of the Australian greats John Newcombe and Tony Roche on the all-time Grand Slam doubles titles list.

The Bryans play Dutchmen Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling, who upset the third-seeded Spanish duo of Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez to reach their first Grand Slam final.

``It's the first time I've ever seen that guy,'' Bryan said, referring to Sijsling. ``I don't know how to pronounce his name. But they've played big doubles. They serve huge and rip groundstrokes.

``Hopefully they're nervous, but you can't count on it.''

Bryan said the doubles game has changed to such an extent in recent years, he and his brother have only faced one serve-and-volley player en route to the final. Most of the teams they've played have preferred to hit from the baseline.

``That's kind of the new era of doubles. You see guys serving and staying back,'' he said. ``You're going to see that over the (coming) years. When most of these doubles guys become extinct, you're going see just a bunch of crosscourt singles.''

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TEENAGE DREAM: Australian teenager Ashleigh Barty already knows how she'll spend part of the prize money she'll pocket for reaching the women's doubles final at the Australian Open.

``It will cover a few of the Tigers jerseys that I buy,'' she said, referring to her favorite Australian rules Australian Football League team, the Richmond Tigers. ``I have far too many at home.''

Barty may need to think a little bigger - if she and fellow Australian Casey Dellacqua win the final against the No. 1 team in the world, Italians Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, they'll take home $250,000 apiece. Not a bad payday for a 16-year-old.

Barty and Dellacqua, wild-card entrants into the doubles draw, are having an amazing run in Melbourne. They took out the No. 3 seeds, Lisa Raymond and Maria Kirilenko, in the second round, and followed up that win with three more straight-set victories.

Barty is the youngest Grand Slam finalist since Frenchwoman Tatiana Golovin won the mixed doubles at the 2004 French Open at the age of 16 with Richard Gasquet.

``Already this week for me has been such an achievement,'' Barty said. ``If we can go one step further, it would be incredible.''

The Italian duo will be tough to beat. Errani and Vinci won the French Open and U.S. Open doubles last year - and defeated Serena and Venus Williams in three tight sets in the quarterfinals this week.

``We're definitely the underdogs,'' Dellacqua said. ``I don't think many people would have thought we'd be in the final. To go out there and think we're going to beat the No. 1 players in the world, it's going to be a big task.''

Barty and Dellacqua were included in the Australian team named Thursday to play a Fed Cup match against the Czech Republic next month.

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Joe Flacco receives high praise from teammates after first training camp practice

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USA TODAY Sports

Joe Flacco receives high praise from teammates after first training camp practice

Ravens football is back and so is Joe Cool.

The team’s first training camp practice took place Thursday afternoon, and Joe Flacco’s teammates – from offensive to defensive players – mentioned how laser focused the 10-year veteran is.

"Joe always has a lot of personality,” running back Alex Collins said via SB Nation’s Baltimore Beatdown.

“He is a good guy. He’s a real funny guy, but definitely coming into this year, he has a lot of fire behind him. And it does a lot motivating us especially early when we first reported back. Just seeing him work hard and just seeing him get better every day. He’s definitely got a lot of fire behind him this year.”

Flacco is entering the final year of his contract with a lot on the line following a disappointing start to the 2017 season. But a huge factor that is different for the 33-year old coming into this preseason opposed to last is his health.

“Most definitely,” Collins said on whether he can tell if Flacco is healthier this year. “He’s a lot faster as well, by the way, guys.”

And when it comes to the “Is Joe Flacco elite” debate, linebacker C.J. Mosley knows the consensus within the Under Armour Performance Center.

“I think every year [Joe Flacco] comes in with his mindset that he wants to be great,” Mosley said.

“Mainly because everybody outside of this building does not think he is elite and inside the building, everybody does think that way. Since Joe has been here, you know he is one of those players that never gets rattled. You never see his emotions too high, too low. He’s been our quarterback that kinda stays in the middle to make sure everything goes smooth. That’s kinda how he has been this offseason too. He’s come in looking strong, body looking good.”

Flacco’s health is up to speed as well as his mentality. Flacco organized private workouts with his wide receivers and tight ends at a local park across from the Ravens’ facility last week. This is the first time he has done so since 2011. When asked if he initiated the session, Michael Crabtree gave all the credit to his new quarterback.

“No, that’s all Flac [Flacco], man,” Crabtree said. “That’s the leader. We’re just the wideouts. [We] do whatever he says. If we’ve got something we bring to the table, then we make it work.”

 

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10 Questions in 10 days: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

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10 Questions in 10 days: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold before the team heads to Richmond. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

No. 8: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

No. 7: Do the Redskins have a 1,000-yard WR?

No. 6: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

Right or wrong, fans blamed Shawn Lauvao for much of the Redskins struggles on the offensive line last season. Pro Football Focus backs up the fans, as Lauvao landed a -19.1 grade, among the worst in the NFL at the guard spot. 

It's worth pointing out that Lauvao was playing hurt during much of his nine starts before getting shut down for the season just before Thanksgiving. In fact, injuries have probably been the biggest issue for Lauvao in his four seasons with the Redskins. 

In four seasons in Washington, Lauvao has never played a full 16-game slate. Last year he played just nine games, and in 2015 he only played three games. 

That points to what may be the bigger issue for the Redskins: offensive line depth. Last season was wild with the amount of injuries Washington sustained up front. It seems almost impossible for the team to have that many injuries again.

Still, the Redskins lost Arie Kouandjio for the year in the offseason. Kouandjio played better last year than Lauvao, and having both men in Richmond would have provided real competition. 

And that might be the biggest question: Neither Lauvao or Kouandjio represent a difference maker at left guard, yet the team did little to address the position. 

All offseason, the Washington brass walked a fine line between confidence and arrogance. The organization believes strongly in the players they already have, and outside of signing Paul Richardson and re-signing Zach Brown, the team had a quiet offseason. The Redskins struggled to run the ball the last few years, and still, the team did not look to upgrade at LG. 

It's important to note that the Redskins have two All-Pro caliber offensive linemen in Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff. Morgan Moses is a plus at the right tackle spot too. The team likes Chase Roullier at center too, and they tried to add depth in drafting Geron Christian in the third round and bringing back swing tackle backup Ty Nsekhe as a restricted free agent. 

Left guard will be a question, and it's hard not to think that it will be the weakest position on the O-line. Should that submarine the group? It shouldn't. What if Lauvao gets hurt?  Then things get quite tricky.

For the Redskins, however, the expectation might be that the line needs to perform as a unit, and with talent like Williams and Scherff, that should cover up any weaknesses.

Time, and health, will tell if that plan works. 

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