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Vegan Venus Williams talks about food and tennis

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Vegan Venus Williams talks about food and tennis

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Venus Williams has made the dietary leap from steak lover to vegan but admits that in times of weakness she is a ``cheagan.''

That's Venus-talk for a cheating vegan.

``If it's on your plate, I might get to cheat. If you're sitting next to me, good luck. You turn your head once and your food might be gone,'' Williams said, in good spirits after starting her Australian Open campaign Monday with a quick 6-1, 6-0 win over Galina Voskoboeva.

``I think it's pretty well known I'm a cheagan, ``the seven-time Grand Slam winner said, laughing. ``I'm not perfect, but I try.''

On her website the 32-year-old American refers to this phase of her life as ``Venus A.D.'' - Venus After Diagnosis.

Food is not the only difference between then and now, but it is one of the big lifestyle changes Williams has made since being diagnosed in 2011 with an immune system illness that had caused her years of mysterious symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue and muscle pain.

Williams went public with her illness after withdrawing from her second-round match at the 2011 U.S. Open and then took seven months off tennis, skipping last year's Australian Open as she learned how to manage the disease known as Sjogren's syndrome.

Her website, www.venuswilliams.com, says Williams' vegan diet is designed to decrease inflammation in her body and reduce the energy-sapping symptoms of the disease ``by not overloading her body with excess calories, pesticides or sugars.''

``No more of her favorite cherry pies, as sugar is strictly,'' forbidden, the website says, adding that Williams also has changed her training regimen to allow more rest days.

Her comeback has been impressive. Williams had the biggest jump of any of the top players in 2012, moving from outside the top 100 to finish the year at No. 24.

``She's back and she's fiery!'' the announcer told the crowd as the 25th-seeded Williams warmed up on Hisense Arena, the second of the main show courts at Melbourne Park. Fans welcomed her back with extended applause and cheers.

Playing with power and determination, Williams took command of the match early with a steady stream of winners and powerful serves.

She served two back-to-back aces - both over 180 kph (112 mph) - to take a quick 5-1 lead and then broke to win the first set in 31 minutes.

The next set went faster. Williams didn't drop a game, wrapping up the match in an hour flat with a beautiful backhand passing shot.

``Obviously it's nice to spend less time on the court, and not be in long sets,'' Williams said after the match. She was happy with match statistics that included a first-serve percentage of 70 percent. She also took advantage of six of 11 break-point opportunities.

``I don't think my opponent quite got the hang of - you know, it's hard to play the first match in a major, first thing of the year, and that can be a lot of pressure.'' Williams said about the 80th-ranked Voskoboeva of Kazakhstan. ``I did my best to just close it out.''

At 32, Williams is a veteran on the women's circuit. This is her 13th Australian Open and her 58th Grand Slam tournament.

She is regularly asked when she plans to retire, and routinely says not yet. Despite her star power, Williams has not produced the results lately that she did a few years ago. She hasn't made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam since the 2010 U.S. Open.

It's been a decade since Williams' best showing at the Australian Open, which came in 2003 when she lost the final to her younger sister, Serena, who is a favorite to win this year in Melbourne. Still a powerful pairing, the sisters won gold at the London Olympics in doubles.

No. 3-ranked Serena cheered her sister from the stands on Monday. The younger Williams won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and an Olympic gold in 2012.

Now that the elder Williams sister is back on the tour and feeling fit, she hopes to extend her career, which started in 1994, into a 20th season.

``Yeah, trying to celebrate the 20th anniversary,'' she said. She reflected on her illness, which she said has helped her to ``to focus on the things I can accomplish and not to think about the things that I can't do.''

She also reflected on her career, and the difference between her teenage mentality and now.

``When you're a young person, you just don't think it's ever going to end, and you're on top of the world,'' Williams said. ``Now, I realize, all these opportunities, I try to make the best I can of them.''

Her focus for now remains on tennis, starting with a second-round match against Alize Cornet of France and possibly a third-round match with reigning French Open champion Maria Sharapova, who is ranked No. 2.

``I love the game,'' she said, ``and while I'm here, I'm going to go for it.''

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Wizards releasing Chasson Randle opens roster spot, possibilities

Wizards releasing Chasson Randle opens roster spot, possibilities

The Washington Wizards released guard Chasson Randle Monday, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Washington.

Head coach Scott Brooks briefly addressed the move ahead of Monday’s game against the Orlando Magic.

“He’s a terrific young man, a very good player,” Brooks said of Randle. “Just gives us more flexibility. Who knows what we might do with it. He’s definitely an NBA player.”

The additional space – the Wizards had one vacant roster slot even with Randle – brings up the question of which NBA player might join the roster next. For now, don’t expect a blockbuster move.

Randle, who Washington signed to the active roster on Oct. 30, likely clears waivers, and then would rejoin the Capital City Go-Go, Brooks said. It’s been a back-and-forth scenario for Randle between the Wizards and their G-League squad this season. The 6-foot-2 guard was on the Go-Go roster when Washington’s season tipped off, and assigned to the G-League squad at the time of Monday’s release. Randle scored 37 points in the Go-Go’s inaugural game. He did not enter a game for Washington.

The Wizards were forced to add a player by Oct. 30, a date that marked two weeks from the time the Washington traded Jodie Meeks to Milwaukee. League rules require a minimum of 14 players on the roster.

That two week timeline applies to the current scenario. For now, the Wizards save a bit on the luxury tax payment by waiving Randle, who was signed to a $1.24 million non-guaranteed contract. According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, adding Randle cost the Wizards $14,955.5 per day. Washington saved approximately $8 million by dealing Meeks.

As Brooks acknowledged, the open spots create greater flexibility.  In wake of the Timberwolves trading disgruntled All-Star Jimmy Butler to the 76ers, multiple reports at least tangentially mentioned the Wizards’ as part of the mix.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Washington balked at including Bradley Beal. SI.com’s Chris Mannix reported teams are keeping tabs on the 3-9 Wizards in case role players like Jeff Green, Markieff Morris or Kelly Oubre Jr. become available should the slow start continue.

Randle’s release limits Washington’s backcourt depth, but the top four options are healthy entering its five-game home-stand. In theory two-way contract player Jordan McRae could be recalled from Capital City, but the wing guard is dealing with a groin injury, according to a source. McRae should be available later in the week.

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Redskins fans and players can both be right about FedEx Field frustrations

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Redskins fans and players can both be right about FedEx Field frustrations

The Redskins moved to 6-3 on Sunday by beating the Buccaneers in Tampa, and now sit two games clear in first place in the NFC East. 

That should be the biggest football story inside the Beltway. But it isn't. 

The story has become that two of the most high-profile members of the Washington defense said that they prefer playing road games to being in their home stadium. Why? Because on the road they can hear better and focus more since they don't have fans booing them. 

Seriously. 

"Home games, that’s some of the worst things I’ve seen. I’ve played on four different teams, never seen it that bad, with other team’s jerseys in the stands, the boos, whatever it may be," Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger said during an appearance on 106.7 the Fan's Grant and Danny program on Monday. 

"I’ve never been a part of nothing like that."

This freight train started moving on Sunday, when after the win in Tampa, Josh Norman said he likes playing on the road. Why? Because there aren't any boos.

"We go into the homestands, and it’s like an open bubble,” Norman said. “Like the other team’s turf or something. You hear more of them than you do us. Then if something bad happens, they suck. They sit back in their seat, and they boo."

There's a lot to unpack here. 

Norman and Swearinger are right. There are always a lot of visiting fans at FedEx Field. Some of that might be that Washington is a transient city, but some of it is also because other fans have determined that it's easy to get tickets at FedEx Field. 

Why is it easy for visiting fans to get tickets? Well, there's not much sizzle at FedEx Field.

The area doesn't have shopping or restaurants around it like many newer NFL stadiums. The traffic, like much of life in the D.C. area, is awful. The stadium itself is underwhelming; old and lacking character. 

The Redskins are working hard to overhaul the game day experience, and some of the efforts are alrady working. But the problem is some fans have soured on the idea of spending the day at FedEx Field, and that will take time to fix. Probably years. 

One obvious fix? A new stadium, preferably back in downtown D.C. That is a long way off though. 

Plenty of fans are bothered by Swearinger and Norman's comments, and they have reason for that, too. 

To start with, there are tens of thousands of fans at every home game, cheering on their club. Lifelong, loyal fans that pay good money to watch the Burgundy and Gold. 

Do some boo? Certainly. But they only boo when the team is bad. Play good, no boos. It's fairly simple.

And the boos aren't only about a specific game, or even a specific season. Many Redskins fans are just frustrated with the franchise in general for a litany of reasons. Things have been stable under Jay Gruden, but for a long time, they weren't. 

What isn't fair for Norman and Swearinger is they played zero part in the multi-decade erosion of the Redskins fan base. And some would argue the fan base hasn't actually eroded, just that fewer fans want to make the trek to the stadium and commit to the full day that is attending an NFL game.

For 20 years, Washington has played plenty of bad football at home. During that time, some fans simply decided they'd rather watch on television, or go for a walk, or do yard work, or hang with their family. 

The toughest part is that both Norman and Swearinger can be right, but the fans that are upset with the comments can be right as well. 

Are there good fans? Absolutely. Are there lots of visiting fans? Yep. 

It won't be fixed overnight. Winning is the best cure, however, as old fans will return and new fans will be created. 

Play well and there won't be any booing. Keep winning games and there won't be anything but burgundy in the stands. 

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