Nationals

Victoria Azarenka vs Li Na in final in Australia

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Victoria Azarenka vs Li Na in final in Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Victoria Azarenka will have 48 hours to calm her nerves, rest her body and move past a center-court controversy before she returns to defend her Australian Open title.

Her opponent is an emotionally and physically fresher Li Na, the 2011 French Open champion.

Both women used the word ``hungry'' to describe how much they want to win their second Grand Slam title. Both say their goal is to keep cool and not let their emotions get the best of them on the big day.

In that respect, the sixth-seeded Li enters the final with an advantage.

The 30-year-old Li is in top physical form and making a Grand Slam comeback. After becoming the first Chinese tennis player to win at a major in 2011, she hit a slump. But she hired Justine Henin's former coach six months ago and the partnership has produced rapid results.

Li charged into the semifinals at the Australian Open without dropping a set. As a result, she will return to the top five after beating No. 4-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals.

She needed just 93 minutes on Thursday to power past No. 2 Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-2. She then charmed an adoring crowd by cracking jokes during an on-court interview. She kidded about her husband's snoring, her attempts to lose weight and the tough training by coach Carlos Rodriguez - before turning to the stands to thank him.

``You don't need to push me anymore. I will push myself,'' she told Rodriguez, who helped Henin win seven majors and seems to have a knack for guiding players past their nerves.

``I don't know what happened today,'' Li said later. ``I just came to the court feeling like, `OK, just do it!''

A similar slogan carried over into Azarenka's semifinal, where her rap star friend Redfoo sat in the stands cheering her on in a T-shirt that read: ``Let's Do It.''

The confident and big-hitting Azarenka also advanced in straight sets, beating American teenager Sloane Stephens 6-1, 6-4. But the victory was packed with drama and ended with the top-ranked player defending herself against accusations of gamesmanship by leaving the court for a medical timeout.

Serving for the match at 5-3, the 23-year-old Azarenka wasted five match points, lost her serve - then called a timeout. She sat with a trainer and left the court during a nine-minute medical break. She returned to close out the match by breaking Stephens' serve.

But she raised suspicion during her interview on center court.

``Well, I almost did the choke of the year,'' a relieved Azarenka said to the crowd. ``I just felt a little bit overwhelmed. I realized I'm one step away from the final and nerves got into me for sure.

``I love to play here and I just couldn't lose, that's why I was so upset.''

Azarenka, who has a history of on-court tantrums, didn't help herself in a television interview after the match.

``I couldn't breathe. I had chest pains,'' she said, when asked why she left the court. ``It was like I was getting a heart attack.''

After surviving her semifinal, Azarenka had a post-match news conference where she said she was dealing with a rib injury that made it hard to breathe. She said her earlier comments were a misunderstanding.

Australian Open officials said the tournament doctor reported that Azarenka had left knee and rib injuries.

``Right now, I just need to calm down with the whole situation (and) make sure that my body's right,'' Azarenka said.

If the reaction at Rod Laver Arena on Thursday was any indication, the crowd favorite for the final is Li - who won over a lot of fans in her match and perhaps even more as a result of Azarenka's situation.

Australian crowds love their defending champions but dislike any whiff of bad sportsmanship. Accusations against Azarenka immediately surged through social media platforms.

By reaching the final, Azarenka retains her No. 1 ranking, but has said that's not her focus.

``I'm really hungry to defend my title,'' she said. ``That is my first goal... to win the tournament.''

If she masters her jitters and comes into the final focused, Li will have a tough fight.

Azarenka leads 5-4 in career matches, including the last four times they've played. However, Li has a better record at Grand Slams, having beaten Azarenka at the 2011 Australian Open before reaching the final that year. Li also beat the Belarussian later that year at the French Open before winning the title.

``What should I worry about?'' Li said when asked if she was nervous for the match. ``I was working so hard in winter training. I think now everything is coming back to me.''

On the day of the final, here's her plan: ``I come to the court, take my racket and enjoy the tennis.''

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MLB All-Star FanFest: Searching for a jersey from every team

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USA Today Sports

MLB All-Star FanFest: Searching for a jersey from every team

A sea of red and white Nationals jerseys flooded toward the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. But there wasn’t a Bryce Harper signing. And there wasn’t even a game. The Nationals are in New York to play the Mets. 

Then, as I turned and walked down the street I began to see random jerseys: Phillies, Yankees, Astros and Mets, among others.

It all clicked.

Ah, yes, the MLB All-Star weekend and its annual FanFest

As I walked inside the building and looked around, there was everything from memorabilia to interactive games like a speed gun, home run derby and more. 

MLB fans filled the building and the once-sea of red and white thinned out into a blob of colors. Fans from all different teams came out for the weekend’s festivities.

This left me curious: Could I find a jersey for every MLB team?

It was easy to find the big name teams. Going down the escalator, I was hit with a couple Jacob deGrom jerseys and a Carlos Correa one, as well. 

Mets, check. Astros, check.

A right turn and there was an Aaron Nola jersey, the All-Star phenom who surprised this year for the first-place Phillies. Check.

The Yankees and Red Sox weren’t far behind. 

As the day went on, my notepad of teams kept getting crossed off. The National League Central was the first division to go, and the American League Central followed suit. Surprisngly, it took me a couple hours — of course, I wasn't searching the whole time — to find the Marlins. Every other NL East team was easy.

Three hours later, I had found all but five teams: Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels. 

I decided to take another lap before I left. And standing, right by the stolen base activity, stood a man in a Randy Johnson throwback Diamondbacks jersey. 

We both look at the kids running down the line toward the base before a purple jersey caught my eye. It was another kid, waiting in line, wearing a Nolan Arenado jersey.

That left me with just three more teams. As I headed toward the exit, I was shocked I had not seen a Mike Trout jersey. One of the greatest players in modern baseball and not one Angels fan.

Then a co-worker pointed toward the MLB shop area. Finally, a Trout jersey. And then I turned around to grab my backpack and notebook. Another Trout jersey. Weird. I crossed off the name and looked up. Another Angels jersey. OK, enough. 

With just two more jerseys left and me being the stubborn person I am, I walked around the FanFest for another 20 minutes, looking for that green A’s jersey, or dark blue Rays one. 

Then, I finally found Stomper, the Athletics mascot taking photos with kids. On him was an A’s jersey — ironic, right? 

After about 10 more minutes I gave up. There were no Rays jerseys. The best I could do was a Tampa Bay tank top a woman was wearing while her kids played. But, that doesn’t count. We’re looking for jerseys.

Oh, and here are other sports apparel that I saw before that non-existent Rays jersey.

  • Atlanta Falcons Matt Ryan t-shirt
  • San Francisco 49ers Jimmy Garoppolo jersey 
  • A Texas Longhorns athletic shirt
  • France soccer jersey
  • Philadelphia 76ers shirt
  • Montreal Expos Vlad Guerrero jersey
  • Oakland Raiders Bo Jackson jersey
  • Golden State Warriors Steph Curry jersey
  • DC United Wayne Rooney jersey

And so, the search for a Rays jersey continues. 

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Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

When asked at his introductory press conference for how he will fit on the Wizards' roster from a basketball perspective, guard Austin Rivers didn't first cite his three-point shooting, his ability to affect games scoring off the bench or his speed to run the floor with John Wall and Bradley Beal. The first thing he point to was his defense.

That may have surprised some people out there as Rivers has long been known for his scoring ability and not so much his skills on the other end. It's not that he can't play defense, it's just that most of the highlights he's produced over the years have been due to his high-flying finishes at the rim and wicked pull-up jumper from three-point range.

Defense, though, is something Rivers takes pride in and he hopes to continue developing as a defender in Washington.

"With how much Brad and John have to do every night, for them to not have to always guard the best guard on the other team, that's something I can come in here and do. Try to bring that competitive spirit and be one of the defenders on the team," Rivers said.

Rivers' defensive ability has produced some controversy among Wizards fans and media members on social media. Some insist he does not bring value on that end of the floor, while some numbers suggest he does have some defensive potential.

Last season, Rivers averaged a career-high 1.2 steals per game. He was tied for fifth on the Clippers in defensive win shares.

However, his 113 defensive rating was his worst since 2013-14. It was an outlier on the Clippers and not in the good way. He also ranked nowhere near the top of the league in deflections or contested three-point shots, two hustle stats that guys like Wall and Beal fair well in.

Rivers points to two attributes that he believes make him a strong perimeter defender. One is his versatility and the other you could call scrappiness.

"On defense [the Wizards] can switch one through three or one through four. I think that gives us a lot of dangerous options," he said.

As for his scrappiness, Rivers says it comes from the early days of his career.

"I had to figure out ways to be effective without [a jumpshot] and that's how I became a defender. I guess everything happens for a reason, right? I'm happy I did have those early career struggles because it made me find a side of me that I didn't do [early on]. Because I promise you I didn't play any defense at Duke," he said.

The last line drew laughter from those gathered at his introductory press conference. Rivers insists that he now takes that end of the floor very seriously. The Wizards certainly hope he can back up his words.

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