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Williams sisters do double-duty in Melbourne

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Williams sisters do double-duty in Melbourne

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Serena Williams may have rolled her ankle, and whacked herself in the lip with her racket, but that doesn't mean she needs any extra rest.

A day after winning her third-round match against Ayumi Morita of Japan - her first-injury free round at this year's Australian Open - the No. 3-ranked Williams was back on the court Sunday to play alongside sister Venus.

The Williams sisters take doubles seriously, and that can mean skipping the rest day between singles matches. Venus has joked they have so many trophies they use some as fruit bowls.

The sisters have captured 13 major doubles titles, including four at the Australian Open. They've also won three Olympic gold medals for doubles.

So dominant are Venus and Serena, they've never lost in a Grand Slam doubles final they've contested. They've reached the final in seven of the last 10 majors they've played.

``They mean a lot to me,'' Serena said earlier this week of her doubles titles from Grand Slams.

``I mean, people that are winning a lot of singles titles, nowadays, in the past decade or two decades, usually don't win as many in doubles. So I'm almost even with my singles and doubles.''

Serena has 15 major singles titles, while Venus has seven.

Because they tend to only play doubles in the slams, the sisters don't have high rankings in the event. This means they usually have a low seeding - much to the chagrin of the top-ranked doubles teams in the world.

The Williams sisters were seeded 12th at the Australian Open, which led to an early third-round encounter with the unlucky fifth-seeded team of Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik on Sunday. The sisters won 6-2, 6-3.

Serena may be the more accomplished singles player in the family - Venus lost her second-round singles match to No. 2 Maria Sharapova - but on the doubles court she defers to her older sister.

``She serves first. She's been the leader since we played back in the '80s when we were juniors,'' Serena said, nodding to Venus, after their win on Sunday. ``I'm not comfortable being the leader, I don't want to be the leader.''

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MOVING ON UP: David Ferrer will bypass injured Rafael Nadal to reach No. 4 in the rankings after the Australian Open, but he still doesn't feel he's that close to the Big Four of men's tennis.

Ferrer, ranked fifth at the end of the last two years, is one of the best active players never to have won a major. The Spaniard has been close. He's reached semifinals three times, including twice last year, but has never been in a final.

The Big Four - Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Nadal and now Andy Murray - have combined to win 33 of the last 34 majors. Only Juan Martin del Potro has broken the stranglehold to win one at the 2009 U.S. Open.

Now, Ferrer may have his best shot.

He's coming off a career-best 2012 season in which he won seven titles - more than any of the Big Four. And Nadal is absent from this year's Australian Open because of injury and illness.

After dismantling Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 on Sunday to reach the quarterfinals here for the third straight year, Ferrer was asked if he believes this is his year to finally raise a trophy.

``I don't know,'' Ferrer said. ``Is very difficult to win a Grand Slam because there are the top four. In this moment, the last three or four years, they are better than the other players.''

But does he feel he's closing the gap?

``No, no. I think the top four, they are better,'' he insisted.

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HELPING A FRIEND: Tennis greats are teaming up for a charity auction to raise money for retired player Andrew Florent, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.

Among the items being auctioned are a private tennis lesson with Jim Courier and a doubles match against Pat Rafter and Goran Ivanisevic, Tennis Australia said in a statement.

Fans can bid for two seats at the so-called Legends Lunch on the Saturday of the women's final, which will be attended by Rod Laver and Andre Agassi.

Agassi, an eight-time Grand Slam winner who won his last major at Melbourne Park in 2003, will also be taking part in the men's pre-final ceremony on Sunday, tournament organizers said.

Among other items on the block are a pair of tickets to both the men's and women's final as well as a photo opportunity beside the men's winner on Sunday.

The 42-year-old Florent, the 1988 runner-up at the Australian Open junior singles tournament, turned pro in 1990 and became a doubles specialist who achieved a career high ranking of 13 in 2001.

The statement described him as ``one of the most popular players on the tour.''

``This is terrible news, but what has heartened Florey and his family has been the outpouring of support from the entire tennis fraternity,'' said friend and former Australian player Paul Kilderry.

The online auction athttp://bit.ly/VQ3dBm. closes Thursday at 5:15 p.m. local time.

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Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker contributed to this report.

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Scott Brooks on how journeyman veterans like Ish Smith can be leaders by example

Scott Brooks on how journeyman veterans like Ish Smith can be leaders by example

WASHINGTON -- When identifying leaders from an outside perspective, it is only natural to look at the Washington Wizards and see Bradley Beal and John Wall, their two All-Star guards. Logic would suggest they set the tone for younger, less experienced players, that they are the ones the rookies should look up to.

But Wizards head coach Scott Brooks sees similar value in less-heralded members of his team, the journeyman veterans to whom nothing has been given. Guys like Ish Smith and Gary Payton II have bounced around the league to varying degrees. In Payton's case, that has included extended time in the G-League.

Brooks has been tasked with creating an environment for the Wizards that is conducive to the development of young players and he believes those types of veterans set an important example.

"If you're really good, you have two or three All-Stars on your team," Brooks said. "But the league is made up of guys like Ish. His story can help the younger guys make it and stay in the league. It's what the league is about. He has the grit, the fiber, the substance and the experience to share with all the players who are trying to make it."

Brooks has used similar language to describe Payton II, who was first signed by the team to a 10-day contract last season. He was let go, then returned this past December and then had his contract guaranteed for the rest of the season earlier this month.

"He's fought and he's been cut many times and sometimes those are the guys you want in your program because they have that fiber, that toughness and that anger because they know that it can go away," Brooks said.

Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard has said on several occasions they want Brooks to install a culture and mindset with their young roster similar to the one he helped build in Oklahoma City. Smith happens to remind Brooks of one of his former players with the Thunder.

"I love guys on a team like Ish. We kind of had that guy with Nick Collison [in OKC], just a winning player on and off the court. Ish is the same way. I look at Ish the same exact way," Brooks said.

Collison averaged a modest 5.9 points in 14 NBA seasons, but was so respected for his leadership role that his jersey number was retired by the Thunder last year. 

There is another person guys like Smith and Payton II remind Brooks of and that is himself. Before he became a coach, he was a 10-year NBA player. And he carved out that career as an undrafted, undersized point guard.

He was constantly fighting for his NBA future on the fringe of rosters and was able to stick around only because of his hard work and toughness.

Though he played with some great teammates like Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, Brooks likes to think he left his own mark.

"I always took pride in having a relationship with the best player to the, well, myself; the worst player," he said.

"This game, it's a family and it's fun and it's about relationships; empowering and inspiring one another. You don't have to be a star player to do that. I've had great conversations with Olajuwon. I've had great conversations with players that only play on a 10-day or a year in the league. I took pride in it and I think Ish does the same thing. I think it's pretty important that we all are blessed and honored to be in the league, that now it's your job to leave your situation better than when you started it. We have a couple of guys on our team that can really carry on what we want our team to be about."

Ultimately, though, the Wizards' young players have to put in the necessary work to reach their potential. Brooks can teach them lessons directly and guys like Smith can do so indirectly.

But the players themselves have to understand the message.

"Now it's up to the younger players to listen to it. It's one thing to listen to John and Brad, but there's a great chance you're not going to be as good as John or Brad. There's a chance you're going to be a player like Ish," Brooks said.

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Alex Ovechkin inches closer to 700 career goals

Alex Ovechkin inches closer to 700 career goals

WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin is flying up the NHL leader board. 

Doesn’t matter if you want to specify this season or his career overall, Ovechkin’s hat trick on Thursday night in a 5-2 win against the New Jersey Devils helped in both cases.

Start with the big names. Ovechkin now has 689 career goals. He is inching closer to the magic 700 mark. Only seven NHL players in history have reached it. Before then he will pass Mario Lemieux (690) – fittingly maybe on Super Bowl Sunday Feb. 3 when the Capitals play the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

Then Steve Yzerman (692) and Mark Messier (694) are up next. These are incredible names, the greatest to ever play the sport. Ovechkin has etched his name into the record books with them all.

“[Lemieux was] one of my idols when I'm growing up,” Ovechkin said. “I get lucky I have a time to play against him, was on the ice with him a couple times. It's huge….They're legends. To be close to those guys, it's pretty impressive.”

Just looking at this season: Ovechkin is now at 31 goals. He needs 19 more in his 32 remaining games to reach 50 for a record-tying ninth time. For a time this season that appeared to be drifting away from Ovechkin. Now? Seems reasonable. Ovechkin will miss the Jan. 27 game against the Montreal Canadiens to serve a suspension for skipping the All-Star game in St. Louis next week. 

Ovechkin has pulled to within five goals of Boston’s David Pastrnak for the NHL lead (36) and is in third place overall. Toronto’s Auston Matthews is second (34). 

“It seems like every week at least that he’s breaking someone’s record,” Capitals teammate John Carlson said. “And they’re not cupcake records, either. I’ve said this before. I don’t think that as a teammate you realize what’s happening. It kind of becomes maybe a little more normal than if you’re in a different job or on a different team even.”

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