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Stephens tops Robson in matchup of rising teens

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Stephens tops Robson in matchup of rising teens

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Tennis rivals don't normally get messages from their opponent's mother wishing them well in the next round. Particularly after a defeat.

Moments after American Sloane Stephens beat fellow teenager Laura Robson of Britain 7-5, 6-3 in a third-round match at the Australian Open on Saturday, she received a text.

``She was like, `Great job, good fight.' And she said, `Cathy says great job and good luck in the next round,'' Stephens said of the message her mother relayed from Robson's mother, Cathy.

Stephens, 19, and Robson, 18, are two of the most promising young talents on the women's tour, and the match between them felt like a glimpse of future Grand Slam encounters - perhaps a bit later than the third round.

They also just happen to be friends - and their mothers are friends, too.

``We're turning into the Fed-Nadal rivalry,'' Stephens said, jokingly.

She did think they'll get a larger venue than Court 2 next time. ``I don't think we'll play that court ever again.''

There are certainly enough similarities between the players to suggest a rivalry could be in the making.

Both are close in age - Stephens is nine months older than Robson, whose 19th birthday is on Monday.

Both are coming off breakthrough years. Stephens reached the fourth round at the French Open and rose to No. 38 in the rankings by the end of 2012, becoming the only teenager in the top 50. And Robson defeated two former Grand Slam champions - Kim Clijsters and Li Na - to reach the fourth round at the U.S. Open and rise to 53rd in the rankings by the end of the year.

And both are being touted as future stars in their respective countries - Stephens as a future replacement for the Williams sisters at the top of the game and Robson as the next hope for British tennis on the women's side, which hasn't seen a Grand Slam champion since Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in 1977.

Such was the interest in their match that Stephens bumped former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who won her third-round match around the same time Saturday, out of the schedule for the main interview room at Melbourne Park after both of them came off the court. Two long-established British news organizations also live-blogged the match on their websites for all the Robson fans back in Britain.

The match itself, however, nearly didn't live up the billing. Stephens broke Robson twice to race out to a 4-0 lead in the first set before Robson, troubled by a sore shoulder, called for a medical timeout to have treatment.

Robson picked up her game after the break. Cheered on by the highly partisan crowd - Robson was born in Melbourne before moving to Britain - she began hitting shots deep into the corners and forcing errors from Stephens, leveling the score at 4-4.

Robson would be undone by her own errors, though. Stephens broke her at 6-5 to capture the first set and then again in the fourth game of the second set to close out the match.

Robson had 47 unforced errors overall, along with just 11 winners.

``I felt something in my shoulder yesterday, but we still don't know what it is because I haven't had time to see the doctor or anything yet,'' said a subdued Robson, who had upset 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in a three-hour match on Thursday.

``But these things happen, and you just have to play through the pain sometimes. I thought Sloane played really well today.''

Stephens, who next plays Serbia's Bojana Jovanovski for a spot in the quarterfinals, was equally complimentary of Robson afterward - and not just about her tennis.

``She's an awesome girl. She's pretty. I mean, what more do you want?'' she said. ``She's obviously a good player. We're going to have a rivalry, all that good stuff.''

So far, Stephens has the upper hand. She's now 2-0 against Robson after beating her last week in a tournament in Hobart, too.

But Robson believes there will be plenty of chances for revenge.

``We've played each other twice in two weeks, so I can see it happening again at some point,'' she said. ``I'm sure I'll play Sloane a lot in the future.''

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Predicting the 2018-19 NBA awards and the NBA Finals: LeBron James will win MVP

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USA Today Sports

Predicting the 2018-19 NBA awards and the NBA Finals: LeBron James will win MVP

With the 2018-19 NBA season kicking off this week, it seems like a good time to put my predictions out into the universe. 

I am fortunate to be a voter for both the All-Star teams and the NBA Awards, but I can assure you of this: much of this is impossible to forecast. I decided to only include the first team selections for All-NBA, All-Defense and All-Rookie because the less I predict, the less I get wrong.

With that said, here is how I expect the major awards, plus the NBA Finals, to shake out... 

MVP: LeBron James, Lakers

Going to L.A. to play with such a bizarre supporting cast was all by design so he could win his fifth MVP award, right? Okay, maybe not. But if LeBron carries that team to even a fifth seed the trophy should be his.

Defensive player of the year: Anthony Davis, Pelicans

This always goes to a big man and Davis finished second last year. He's probably going to have a monster season overall.

All-NBA first team: G Stephen Curry, G James Harden, F LeBron James, F Giannis Antetokounmpo, C Anthony Davis

All of these guys are going to make the All-NBA team, it's just a matter of which tier. The toughest one to leave off was Joel Embiid, but you can only pick five.

Rookie of the year: Deandre Ayton, Suns

Luka Doncic has become a popular pick here, but Ayton averaged 18.2 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in the preseason. If that is any precursor whatsoever, he's going to be tough to beat.

Sixth man award: Austin Rivers, Wizards

Rivers is a starting-caliber guard now back to playing off the bench. He should help John Wall and Bradley Beal a ton this year and we know he will get buckets. If he can maintain anything close to his scoring average from last season (15.1), he will be on the short-list for sure.

Most improved: Brandon Ingram, Lakers

Though L.A. has a lot of questions, Ingram seems most likely to benefit from James' ability to make those around him better. He should thrive in a secondary scoring role.

Coach of the year: Billy Donovan, Thunder

The Thunder won 48 games last season, but could improve a lot in Year 2 with Paul George. They have loads of talent and Dennis Schroder will fit nicely on their bench.

Executive of the year: Sam Presti, Thunder

You may be sensing a theme here. I see the Thunder becoming the clear-cut No. 3 team in the West and Presti will get plenty of praise for retaining George and getting something legitimate back for Carmelo Anthony.

All-rookie team: Luka Doncic (Mavs), Miles Bridges (Hornets), Marvin Bagley III (Kings), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies), Deandre Ayton (Suns)

This is shaping up to be a really good class. Guys like Mo Bamba (great song), Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Wendell Carter Jr. will likely be in the mix as well. 

All-defensive team: G Chris Paul, G Klay Thompson, F Draymond Green, F Anthony Davis, C Joel Embiid

Thompson should finally get his due this year. He is clearly one of the best defenders at his position, but hasn't received the proper recognition for it.

NBA Finals: Warriors over Celtics, 4-2

Picking the champion of the 2018-19 season is too easy and no one should feel good about that. Sports are better when they aren't predictable. But who will finish second is where it gets interesting. I see the Celtics being that team and winning two games in the Finals, though it won't be a close series.

 

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Peter King awards two Ravens with weekly honors for defensive performance vs. Titans

Peter King awards two Ravens with weekly honors for defensive performance vs. Titans

The Baltimore Ravens' Week 6 dominate performance over the Tennessee Titans is gaining national attention. 

A historic game that displayed the offense and defense firing on all cylinders, it's hard to pinpoint who had the biggest impact. 

So in his latest edition of Football Morning in America, NBC Sports' Peter King awarded not one, but two Ravens with weekly honors.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Za'Darius Smith

Against the Titans, Smith led the Ravens defense with three sacks and five tackles in their historic 11-sack game. On of three Defensive Players of the Week, King explained why Smith's performance stood out.

In the most dominant defensive performance of this ultra-offensive season, the Ravens shut out Tennessee 21-0 and had 11 sacks. Another one of GM Ozzie Newsome’s draft gifts that keeps on giving, Smith (2015, round four, Kentucky) contributed three sacks of Marcus Mariota and five tackles in a virtuoso game. Net passing yards for Mariota: 51.

Smith, who's entering the final year of his rookie NFL contract, has shown over six games he deserves to get paid in the offseason. So far this season the 26-year-old has 20 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks and one forced fumble. 

COACH OF THE WEEK: Don "Wink" Martindale

In his first season as defensive coordinator, Don "Wink" Martindale has seamlessly made the transition from linebackers coach to leading the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense (12.8). But what impressed King the most from the 21-0 shutout was how Martindale's squad got to Mariota from every direction. 

When a unit records more sacks (11) than completions allowed (10), the leader gets an award. Those are the rules. Martindale’s pass rushers got to Marcus Mariota every possible way—up the middle, around the edges, in the pocket, on bootlegs, you name it. The total set a new franchise record and was one short of the single-game NFL mark of 12. And it came with a familiar face watching: Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees used to hold the same position in Baltimore. Shout out to the Ravens social media team for renaming the account RavenSSSSSSSSSSS, one ‘S’ for each sack.

This Ravens defense, who has always been known for its dominance, is ranked first in points allowed (12.8), first in yards allowed (270.8), second in passing yards allowed (188.0) and third in rushing yards allowed (82.8) heading into Week 7. In addition, they have yet to surrender a second half touchdown all season. Trusting of the talent this roster holds, the respect "Wink" has for his players is equally reciprocated. 

"It was really emotional when they told us we had 11 sacks," linebacker Patrick Onwuasor said postgame. "We just went out there and we were like, ‘We have to get Coach Wink . We have to put the Gatorade on him.’ So, we tried to turn him around so he couldn’t see it coming, and we had to get him real good."

Martindale will now face the No. 1 scoring offense in the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. 

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