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Tsonga doesn't let tough loss get him down

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Tsonga doesn't let tough loss get him down

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Five years have passed since Jo-Wilfried Tsonga made his dazzling run to the final of the Australian Open at the age of 22.

The flashy Frenchman hasn't been back to the final of a major since then.

Tsonga has a big game that can trouble the top players - he rallied from two sets down to beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2011 - but he's struggled to beat them consistently. He was just 1-15 against the top 10 players last year, with his only win coming against Juan Martin del Potro in Rome.

The seventh-seeded Frenchman lost another tight match to a top player in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, falling to No. 2 Federer 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-3.

When asked after the match why he feels it's so tough for him to beat the top players, a disappointed Tsonga was at a loss.

``To be honest, I have no idea. You know, if you have some advice for me, I will take it because I don't know. I don't know what is the difference,'' he said.

Tsonga might find success again with a new coach. After going more than a year without a coach, the Frenchman hired Roger Rasheed - the former coach of Gael Monfils and Lleyton Hewitt - a few months ago and said the impact has been immediate.

``He's giving me an extra motivation,'' Tsonga said. ``It's great because he's always positive. He wants maybe more than me to win. He's incredible.''

Even if he never wins a major, Tsonga remains one of the most entertaining players on tour - both on and off the court.

In his news conference after the Federer match, he drew laughter when he shared his thoughts on the difference between the top male and female tennis players.

``You know, the girls, they are more unstable emotionally than us. I'm sure everybody will say it's true - even the girls,'' he said, jokingly. ``I mean, it's just about hormones and all this stuff. We don't have all these bad things, so we are physically in a good shape every time.''

At one moment deep in the fifth set against Federer, Tsonga sprinted to hit a drop shot and, after hitting the ball, kept running around the net all the way to Federer's baseline.

He then turned and made a motion like he was going to hit Federer with a ball. The playful moment got a big laugh from the crowd - and even a little smile out of Federer.

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NO PAIN, NO GAIN: Two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova sports a tattoo on her right bicep reading, ``Pain doesn't kill me, I kill the pain.''

A frightening moment during her Australian Open quarterfinal against No. 1 Victoria Azarenka on Wednesday put that maxim to the test.

Serving in the first game of the second set, Kuznetsova landed awkwardly after a fault, stumbled forward and nearly fell on the court.

She played through the pain, but never recovered in the match, winning only one more game in the 7-5, 6-1 loss.

Kuzentsova said later she thought she had reinjured the right knee that had kept her off the tour for six months last year. It was the first major layoff of her career - ending her run of 40 straight Grand Slam appearances.

``I was really scared because I almost broke it again,'' said the Russian, whose ranking has slipped to 75th. ``My knee went backward, the same way, exactly. It was like millimeters, very close, so I (thought) I broke it again the same way I did.''

Even though she lost, the 27-year-old Kuznetsova never imagined being back in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam so soon after the injury. The time off definitely did her some good - she feels refreshed and can see playing for several more years.

``I never had a thought of stopping tennis,'' she said. ``I always loved (the sport), but I wanted to have this desire to bring me back. This is what happened.''

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ON THE BEACH: Mike and Bob Bryan have one more Olympics left in them at Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Then they plan to stop playing and maybe relax.

The Bryan brothers have little left to accomplish on the tennis court. They've won 12 Grand Slam doubles titles, finished No. 1 for eight of the past 10 years and competed in three Olympic Games, winning gold last year in London.

But the chance to defend that gold will keep them in the sport for three more years.

``I think that's where we see the finish line. We'll be 38. We'd like to maybe go out at that spot,'' Mike Bryan says. ``And then we'll sail off into the sunset.''

``Maybe just stay in Rio for the rest of our lives,'' Bob said. ``Check into a motel on the beach and drink some margaritas.''

The Bryans stayed on track for a possible 13th Grand Slam doubles title by beating Daniele Bracciali and Lukas Dlouhy 6-3, 7-5 to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open.

They'll face the Italian team of Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini for a chance to play in their fifth straight Australian Open final.

``It's still fun. We create goals and new challenges each time we step out of the house in January,'' Mike Bryan says. ``The goal is to finish No. 1. That's it. That's really what we play for.''

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20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can Nick Jensen handle a top-four role in Washington?

20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can Nick Jensen handle a top-four role in Washington?

The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2.

But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.

With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for the next four weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.

The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today we look at one of the biggest questions on the team’s defense, can Nick Jensen handle a top-four role?

When the Caps acquired Jensen at the trade deadline and immediately re-signed him for four years, the implication was clear. Suddenly, Matt Niskanen and his $5.75 million cap hit became expendable.

With the team expected to be hard up against the salary cap in the offseason, the salary would need to be moved. Sure enough, Niskanen was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Radko Gudas.

Gudas is a good pick up for the third-pair, but this trade is a move that only makes sense if you have a top-four defenseman to replace Niskanen on the right. Gudas, Jensen and John Carlson’s are the team’s three right-handed shots. Carlson is obviously cemented on the top pairing and Gudas is headed to the third. That leaves Jensen as the only real option on the second pair. After seeing him struggle since coming to Washington at the trade deadline, it is fair to be a little worried.

Jensen showed last season that he can be a top-four defenseman in the NHL while with the Detroit Red Wings. He was a healthy scratch on opening night, but he made sure he was not scratched again by the Red Wings and averaged 20:48 of ice-time over 60 games before he was traded.

Sure, a lack of defensive depth helped, but Jensen’s play was what earned him that spot more than anything else and it is why Washington traded for him and re-signed him before he ever played a game for the Caps.

But when he got to Washington, Jensen started struggling. An in-season trade can often be difficult with players forced to adjust to a new team and new system. Jensen certainly will not be the last trade deadline acquisition to struggle to make that transition.

“I think there was a period of adjustment where coaches were asking him to play a different system in a different way than he’s played,” Brian MacLellan said at the team’s breakdown day. “The good games were really good, I thought. And the down games were him trying to figure out system stuff and individual stuff that they were wanting him to do on the ice.”

In Detroit, defensemen do not shift too much from side to side. The blueliners have their side and they skate straight up and down the ice. In Washington, however, defensemen are constantly switching sides during play and you are expected to cover whatever side you are on when the puck begins moving back down towards the defensive zone.

Jensen is a right-shot defenseman and was not at all comfortable playing on the left. That is not uncommon. There are a lot more left-shot defensemen than righties and often if you see a player playing his off-side, it is a lefty playing on the right. Righties just are not expected to play on the left all that often because there are fewer of them. For Jensen, even having to shift over to the left within a play proved difficult.

Carolina Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele used this to his advantage in a regular season game against Washington in which he turned Jensen inside-out.

When you watch closely, this play is less about the fancy stickwork of Foegele and more about a defenseman who does not look comfortable at all playing on the left.

It is important to clarify what we are talking about here. The Caps are not asking Jensen to be a left defenseman. That would not be a great situation and there would be no guarantee he would ever get to the point where he could be a top-four defenseman playing on his off-side. The team’s system simply allows for defensemen to cycle from side-to-side situationally. When the opposition transitions down the ice, you may not have the opportunity to switch back to your original side and are instead expected to defend that transition from whichever side you are on. This would largely apply to quick transitions. Adjusting to that is not at all impossible and Jensen’s ability to do so will be absolutely critical for the team’s success next season.

The Niskanen trade certainly looks like a shrewd move by MacLellan as it not only saved the team money, but also upgraded the bottom pair. The move only makes sense, however, if and only if it did not leave the team with a hole in the top-four. In that case, the team will have gotten worse defensively, not better.

With a full offseason and training camp to prepare, Jensen should look far more comfortable within the system. As last season’s camp with Detroit showed, he can be prone to slow starts, but we should know by Thanksgiving if Jensen is starting to feel at home with Washington or if the defense is in serious trouble.

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Wizards' 2019 top prospects rankings: Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. lead the way

Wizards' 2019 top prospects rankings: Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. lead the way

Though the maturation of the G-League has brought the NBA closer in line with MLB and its minor league farm system, there has been one noticeable element missing for those of us who follow the two sports closely. In baseball, multiple media outlets publish top prospect lists both league-wide and team-specific, yet the equivalents are nowhere to be found in basketball.

Prospect rankings are a great window into the future and they are fun to revisit years later to see who was right and who was wrong. But, so far, they haven’t become widespread in basketball.

The reason why may be rooted in semantics. Generally, basketball players are considered prospects before they are drafted. After they join teams, they just become regular players.

Part of that perception is simply because NBA players can impact their teams at a much younger age. While it is very rare to see a 19-year-old in the majors, it is commonplace in the NBA.

The Wizards, though, may be the perfect team to get this started with. They have a collection of players that are now out of college but have yet to establish themselves in the professional ranks. They are essentially prospects by baseball's definition.

So, in the interest of doing something new here, let's rank them...

1. Rui Hachimura, F

Age: 21
Strengths: midrange shooting, offensive versatility
Areas to improve: three-point shooting, passing

The ninth overall pick this past June, Hachimura is the highest draft pick the Wizards have selected since Otto Porter Jr. in 2013. He is 21, but young in basketball years because he didn't pick up the sport until Age 13. Yet, with three years of college under his belt, he comes in with the experience to likely make a difference right away. And with the Wizards' current roster state, he should have a big opportunity for minutes and shot attempts as a rookie.

Hachimura appears to have several NBA-ready skills, particularly on offense. He makes smart decisions with the ball in his hand and can score at all three levels. His outside shooting needs to be more consistent, but he can knock it down enough to be a threat. Defensively is where he will need to grow the most, but the potential seems to be there for him to develop until a versatile player on that end of the floor. 

Passing is another area he can improve. He didn't record many assists at all in college or in the Summer League. 

2. Troy Brown Jr., G/F

Age: 19
Strengths: rebounding, passing
Areas to improve: outside shooting, turnovers

Though Brown was drafted one year before Hachimura, he is still a year-and-a-half younger. He also didn't crack the Wizards' rotation until late in his rookie season. That makes him still very much a prospect as he enters his Age 20 campaign looking to make a much bigger impact in his second season than he did in his first.

The good news for Brown is that the minutes should be there. At this point he looks like at-worst the second small forward behind C.J. Miles and he should have a chance to battle for the starting job in training camp. With Isaiah Thomas' checkered injury history (he only played 12 games last year), there is a good chance Brown sees time at point guard as well, maybe even some starts there. We'll see.

Brown's passing and rebounding are up-to-speed for his size and position, but he needs to cut down on the turnovers and improve his three-point shot. Though he dominated in his brief time in the Summer League, he still only shot 40.6 percent from the field. Also, the Wizards could really use a leap from him on defense because he has a relatively high ceiling on that end of the floor and most of their players do not.

3. Moe Wagner, C

Age: 22
Strengths: outside shooting, free throw shooting
Areas to improve: defense, rebounding

The path to minutes isn't quite as clear for Wagner, who is probably going to be stuck behind Hachimura, Davis Bertans and Thomas Bryant in the frontcourt. But the way he can crack the rotation is by hitting his threes, something he was not able to do as a rookie for the Lakers last season or in the 2019 Summer League for the Wizards.

Wagner presents intriguing long-term upside because of his shooting and his knack for getting to the rim off pump-fakes. But he needs to learn how to affect more shots around the rim, even if he can't block shots. And his rebounding could use some improvement, as his 9.8 rebounding percentage last season wouldn't even stand out for a wing player, much less a seven-footer.

4. Admiral Schofield, F

Age: 22
Strengths: outside shooting, team defense
Areas to improve: defense against taller players, ball-handling

The expectations should be low for Schofield in his rookie season, despite the fact he played four years in college and has an NBA-ready frame. Most second round picks don't make much of an impact early on and he is slotted to be on the outside of the rotation looking in.

Schofield's fastest way to NBA playing time is through his defense and three-point shooting, the two biggest reasons the Wizards drafted him. If he can provide toughness and an edge in the midrange, it will give the Wizards something they have lacked in recent years. And he shot at both a high percentage and for volume from three at Tennessee, and you can't have enough perimeter shooting these days.

5. Justin Robinson, G

Age: 23
Strengths: outside shooting, passing
Areas to improve: finishing around rim, turnovers

Like Schofield, Robinson is probably going to spend a good deal of his time with the Capital City Go-Go this season. But working in his favor is the team's lack of depth at point guard. They have Thomas, who again has some injury concerns. And they have Ish Smith, but there appears to be an opening at the third point guard spot.

Brown could fill the void and so could Jordan McRae. The Wizards could even give Bradley Beal more of an extended look running the offense. But the door seems to be open for Robinson to make an impact and early. He needs to focus on taking care of the ball, playing physical defense and making his open threes. The Wizards don't need Robinson to be a big-time scorer, but he can add spacing if he shoots from three as he did in college.

Honorable mention: Garrison Mathews, Isaac Bonga

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