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Teenagers make statement at Australian Open

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Teenagers make statement at Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Kimiko Date-Krumm is the oldest woman in the Australian Open draw at 42, with some competitors less than half her age still in high school.

Eleven teenagers advanced to the second round, compared with three in 2012. So many teenagers are moving up in the rankings that former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki feels like a veteran at 22.

``There are still a few older ones than me,'' she said after beating 16-year-old Donna Vekic of Croatia in the second round 6-1, 6-4. ``I still want to try to feel young out here. But, you know, it's the way of life, I guess - 22, it's old in the tennis world soon.''

Just not yet. The next generation of female players have made a statement at the Australian Open, but there's no expectation they're ready to hoist a Grand Slam trophy like Martina Hingis and Monica Seles did at 16 and Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova did at 17.

Of the 11 teens in the second round, only three progressed - 17-year-old American Madison Keys, who took out 30th-seeded Tamira Paszek; 19-year-old American Sloane Stephens, who beat another 19-year-old, Kristina Mladenovic of France; and 18-year-old Laura Robson of Britain, who ousted eighth-seeded Petra Kvitova.

It's much tougher than it was a decade ago for a young player to break through and actually win a major. Part of the reason is the sheer physicality of the game today, a change brought by better training and conditioning, more powerful rackets and, of course, more powerful players like the Williams sisters and Sharapova.

Stephens plays Robson next in a potential glimpse of major finals to come.

``We're the same age, I guess it's a rivalry. I mean it's not like Federer-Nadal rivalry,'' Stephens said. She paused, before continuing: ``It could be. We'll see.''

Robson, the former Junior Wimbledon champion who will turn 19 next week, enjoyed a huge upset win over Kvitova on Rod Laver Arena.

She said after her victory that she definitely feels she's closing in on the top players.

``This year, you know, I set my expectations a bit higher,'' Robson said.

The British player climbed from No. 131 to 53 in the rankings last year, thanks to her impressive run at the U.S. Open where she defeated Kim Clijsters and Li Na en route to the fourth round.

Serena Williams, who easily beat 19-year-old Spaniard Garbine Muguruza in the second round, isn't ruling out another teenage Grand Slam winner. She thinks Keys has the game and the poise to do it.

``I think it will happen again probably soon,'' she said. ``I think if the person is strong enough physically and mentally, I think it's completely possible.''

``Madison Keys is like 6-foot-2, and she's very strong and she's only 17. She has several years while she's still a teenager to win a Grand Slam.''

Vekic reached her first WTA final in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, last year at 15 - the youngest WTA finalist in seven years - and was the youngest player in the main draw at the Australian Open.

These days, teenagers are restricted in how many top-level tournaments they can play, a change enacted in response to Jennifer Capriati's troubled teen years. Capriati struggled with the pressures of the tour after cracking the top 10 at 14 and left the sport, burned out, at 17. She began a successful comeback two years later.

Players younger than 15 are mostly prevented from playing at the WTA level, while those between 15 and 18 are limited in the number of tournaments they're allowed to play. The effect is teenagers are staying at the junior level longer, making it tougher for them to eventually make the jump to the top flight.

Although most lost their second-round matches at Melbourne Park, the younger players did show tremendous potential. Under a blazing sun on Court 7, 18-year-old Yulia Putintseva, who was born in Russia but represents Kazakhstan, lost a tight three-setter to Spanish veteran Carla Suarez Navarro. She fought to the very end, pumping her fists and punctuating every point with a ferocious ``Come on!''

On the court next to her, fellow 18-year-old Daria Gavrilova of Russia was locked in a tense match with Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko. Shuttling between the two was Hingis - the youngest Grand Slam champion of the 20th century - who has been helping both players as a coach at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy outside Paris.

After her match, Putintseva alternated between giggles and confident boasts about her future. She said she was working on controlling her temper and was proud she didn't break any rackets on Thursday.

``In a match like this, I would (normally) break five,'' she said, laughing.

Putintseva also feels ready to move beyond the juniors, which she has found limiting. ``I think I have the level to play already these (Grand Slam) tournaments,'' she said. Part of the reason is Hingis, who has been helping her learn to handle the pressures of the sport.

``I hope that she'll continue to work with me and we try to win a Grand Slam together,'' she said, with more giggles.

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New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft charged with soliciting prostitution

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New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft charged with soliciting prostitution

JUPITER, Fla. -- Police in Florida have charged New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft with misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution, saying they have videotape of him paying for a sex act inside an illicit massage parlor.

Jupiter police told reporters Friday that the 77-year-old Kraft hasn't been arrested. A warrant will be issued and his attorneys will be notified.

The charge comes amid a widespread crackdown on sex trafficking in the area surrounding Palm Beach County. About 200 arrest warrants have been issued in recent days and more are expected.

The Patriots won the Super Bowl earlier this month in Atlanta. The team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Update: A spokesperson for Robert Kraft issued a statement, denying Craft's involvement. "We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity," a spokesperson said, via Michael Del Moro. "Because this is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further. 

This is a developing story. Visit NBC Sports Boston for the latest Robert Kraft news and updates. 

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Radio silence from Bryce Harper hasn't quieted Mark Lerner's confidence in Nationals

Radio silence from Bryce Harper hasn't quieted Mark Lerner's confidence in Nationals

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Fans on the sidewalks at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches are held back by wire fence, just a few feet away from players clicking past in spikes on concrete. It emulates two priorities: access and the idea the team’s managing principal owner, Mark Lerner, had when he was a kid at spring training.

“You want to be able to see your favorites,” Lerner said Friday.

When Lerner, 65, comes to West Palm Beach, he still does that. He stops in the clubhouse to distribute handshakes and hugs. Running into Anthony Rendon on a crosswalk near the fields really lit up Lerner, who is still using a cane following an amputation of his lower left leg in 2017 necessitated by the diagnosis of spindle cell sarcoma, a rare form of cancer.

Not in West Palm Beach is a player Lerner had a close relationship with. On the day Manny Machado was introduced in San Diego, Bryce Harper remained, to the astonishment of many, unemployed. 

Lerner last addressed Harper’s free agency when he sat for radio interviews, Dec. 10, the day Patrick Corbin was introduced. He said the Nationals were no longer in the mix for Harper. The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million contract which had an expiration date: when free agency began, it would be retracted. Harper declined, vaulting the baseball world into a months-long saga filled with tension, misinformation and growing exasperation.

“Nothing’s certainly changed on our end; we’ve moved on, as I said back then,” Lerner told NBC Sports Washington. “We had to. There was no way we could wait around. Bryce I’m sure will make his decision, hopefully in the next few days. But, we filled out our roster and like I said, we wish him nothing but the best. There’s always that -- the door’s cracked a little bit. I have no clue at this point what they’re up to. I mean, we really haven’t heard from them in a couple months.”

The prospect of a wait was of prime concern before the season ended. Washington used its personal window to negotiate with Harper, producing a lucrative baseline offer, with the aforementioned end date. Not long after, Corbin received a six-year, $140 million from the organization, which stood throughout the offseason as the benchmark in both length and total value prior to Machado’s decision. If Harper accepted the Nationals original offer, they would not have been able to pay Corbin, according to a source.

The organization moved forward plugging holes at catcher, second base and in the bullpen. It deemed the current outfield foursome as more than satisfactory. Also looming was the possibility of another year over the competitive balance tax, something that prompted the team to start shuffling finances late last season when it was clear the playoffs were not an option.

“It’s a pretty severe penalty if you go over and it’s been our goal all year to stay under that,” Lerner said.

Which complicates the future. Anthony Rendon is entering the final year of his contract. Rendon and the team are open to an extension, which has been discussed here and there for 18 months. Rendon reiterated his position when speaking with reporters earlier this week. Lerner turned his visual affection for Rendon into words Friday. 

“We love Tony to death,” Lerner said. “He’s certainly one of the greatest players in the game today. He’s an even finer person. His activities with the youth baseball academy back in D.C. are phenomenal. He does it under the radar. It’s very important to him. Just a great example of the way a professional athlete should conduct himself. Like I said, he’s one of my favorites for a reason.”

Washington rose perennial losers upon coming to Washington to an organization with annual prominent expectations. It chose not to retain manager Dusty Baker, instead hiring Dave Martinez in an attempt to push the team beyond the first round. Martinez’s arrival came with the edict that something more than division titles and first-round bow outs were now necessary for the team. The Nationals finished 82-80 last year during a season filled with injuries, under-performance and often mediocre fundamental baseball. Lerner suffered through with the irritation of a typical fan.

“I have my routine [following losses]. I go into a closet and scream a little after,” Lerner said with a laugh. “No, no. That’s one thing that’s good about baseball. You’re going to play the next day. But I go home. I’m totally depressed. I won’t turn on the sports news or anything and get up the next morning, it’s a new day, get up and go after it again today. When I’m sitting down there, I’m very passionate as a fan. I’m yelling at the umpires like everybody else. I want to win. I hate losing exhibition games let alone regular-season games.”

Enter 2019. The Nationals are amid the favorites in a taught National League East. Short-term fixes frame the team’s mainstays. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Corbin possess the three long-term commitments in the clubhouse. Rendon may be next. The Nationals want to retain that talent level, avoid the tax and put together a team with a chance to win the division or more. Harper’s talent made that possible when here. His price made it difficult going forward. They decided to try it without him. 

“Our goal every year is certainly to make the playoffs,” Lerner said. “In reality, we look back where we are in the world and where our needs are. It’s not just…certainly, we don’t want to go crazy with free agency. But we said when we first got the team, we’re going to build up the minor leagues, we’re going to get to a point where we can start to dabble in free agency, which we did with Jayson Werth, and when we find a need or a special player, we’re going to go after that player if it makes monetary sense for us. Our philosophy has never changed but, certainly, our goal is to make the playoffs and hopefully deep into the playoffs.”
 

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