Wozniacki advances to 3rd round at Australian Open

Wozniacki advances to 3rd round at Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Caroline Wozniacki defeated Donna Vekic of Croatia 6-1, 6-4 on Thursday to advance to the third round of the Australian Open.

Wozniacki played her 72-minute match during the hottest part of the afternoon when the temperature at Melbourne Park peaked at 106 degrees.

The 10th-ranked Wozniacki was the No. 1 player in the world here last year, but faced criticism that she had never won a Grand Slam.

She failed to change that in 2012, losing in the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park, the third round at the French Open and the first rounds at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

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Nationals will enter Spring Training in familiar territory with fifth-starter competition

Nationals will enter Spring Training in familiar territory with fifth-starter competition

For a team that rose to contention behind the strength of its pitching staff, the Nationals have never been afraid to leave the back end of their rotation up to chance.

It started with John Lannan vs. Ross Detwiler in 2012. Then Tanner Roark edged out Taylor Jordan for the fifth spot in 2014. AJ Cole and Erick Fedde battled it out for the fifth spot in 2018 before Jeremy Hellickson leapfrogged them both two weeks into the season.

This year, three familiar faces will be in the mix for that coveted No. 5 spot: Fedde, Austin Voth and Joe Ross. All three pitched in hybrid spot-starter/long-relief roles while jumping back and forth between the minors and major leagues. Each had their struggles but also showed flashes of what their potential could be.

“It was a year where I got to do a lot in the sense of starting and relieving,” Fedde said at the Nationals’ annual WinterFest event last weekend. “Kind of just been the same old role of whatever I can do to help this team. It’s a benefit to be on a winning team where they just try to fit you in wherever you can help. Just trying to taking things one step at a time this year.”

Fedde started his career higher on prospect rankings than his fellow competitors did, but he’s mostly failed to deliver on that promise in three years since breaking into the majors. In 2019, his up-and-down performances continued, with four quality starts mixed in with three outings in which he allowed 5+ runs.

But the biggest hurdle to Fedde making the Opening Day squad might be his rare fourth option. Both Ross and Voth are out of options heading into 2020, meaning the Nationals must place them on waivers if they don’t make the active roster out of Spring Training. Fedde, despite being optioned in three separate seasons, accumulated a fourth option due to his lack of service time at the major-league level.

So that puts the spotlight on Voth and Fedde. With the addition of the 26th man to the active roster this year, the Nationals have already said they’ll be expanding their bullpen to eight pitchers. That means the loser of the fifth-starter competition likely gets relegated to a relief role.

“I’ve done both before,” Voth said at WinterFest. “Obviously, I’m used to starting more often but if I was a reliever as well, long-relief guy, I’d be fine with that. Just want to have a role on this team and be a part of this team.”

Based on last season’s results alone, Voth would appear to be the frontrunner heading into the spring. The former fifth-round pick posted a respectable 3.30 ERA and 9.1 K/9 over nine appearances (eight starts) in what qualified as his rookie season. A shoulder issue prevented him from making the World Series roster, but he insists he’s healthy heading into this year.

Voth’s injury paved the way for Ross to make the World Series roster and thus fill in for Max Scherzer in Game 5 after the ace was scratched with a neck spasms. He pitched admirably for being given the ball on both short notice and short rest. Overall, Ross’ 2019 numbers weren’t stellar, but he was also in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery.

Both pitchers will enter Spring Training looking to showcase improvements they’ve made over the offseason. For Voth, he wants to improve the effectiveness of his sliders against righties, working to increase its depth and add more velocity to better differentiate it from his curveball. For Ross, he will look to show that he’s fully healthy and capable of returning to his 2016 form when he made 19 starts and accrued a 3.43 ERA.

Fedde shouldn’t be counted out, but he’ll have to have a lights-out start to Spring Training in order to garner serious consideration. The Nationals probably have more roster questions entering this season than they’ve had in a long time, but the fifth-starter competition is a game they’ve certainly played before.

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Kevin Durant MLK Classic aims to provide athletes unique experience

Chad Ricardo/NBC Sports Washington

Kevin Durant MLK Classic aims to provide athletes unique experience

Maryland native Kevin Durant aims to bring culture to the basketball court with the Kevin Durant MLK Classic.

More than a traditional basketball tournament, the classic hopes to provide student athletes with a unique community engagement and education experience in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Top high schools from the DMV and beyond will compete on the court Saturday and Monday at The St. James in Springfield, Va., while spending Sunday touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” address in 1963. The schedule allows for student athletes to walk away with more than participation trophies.

“Most basketball events you leave with ‘W’s’ and ‘L’s,’ but we wanted them to leave with more than that,” said Durant’s father and event organizer, Wayne Pratt. “When you think about Dr. King, you think about access, you think about legacy, you think about his fight for equality. These things have always been important to Kevin, and we wanted to make sure the students could take some of these principles with them.”

Durant starred locally at National Christian Academy and Montrose Christian before becoming the first freshman to be named Naismith College Player of the Year at the University of Texas. As a professional in the NBA, he has won an MVP award and is a two-time champion. According to Pratt, doors were opened for Durant as a youth and he hopes to do the same.

“It took a village for Kevin to get to where he is. So many people have given to him and he just wants to give back in any way he can,” said Pratt. “He started off with The Durant Center, and then he built courts all over the world and now he wants to do an event for the kids here at home that also pays homage to one of the greatest African-Americans that ever lived.”

The MLK weekend event will see teams traveling from as far as Canada to compete with local talent from Archbishop Carroll, Bullis, Wilson and Rock Creek Christian Academy.