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Wozniacki's win is a dreamy result for McIlroy

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Wozniacki's win is a dreamy result for McIlroy

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) This was a first-round match so important for Caroline Wozniacki that it kept her boyfriend, Rory McIlroy, awake at night.

The former No. 1-ranked Wozniacki came back from 3-0 down in the final set to win the last six games of the match against big-hitting German Sabine Lisicki 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 on Tuesday at the Australian Open.

McIlroy got up at 3 a.m. to watch from Abu Dhabi, where he's preparing to play in this weekend's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championships. He was coming off a busy day himself after the announcement of his lucrative multi-year contract with Nike.

Of course, the multimillion dollar golf contract became a topic of conversation.

``It wasn't really a big surprise to me. I kind of knew,'' she said to laughter in the interview room. ``I felt bad for him because I think he went to bed at midnight their time and woke up at 3 and watched me and then back to sleep for a couple of hours. That's a true fan.''

And perhaps it was just the win Wozniacki needed to battle her way back into the upper tier of women's tennis.

``Today, I had to get my fighting spirit up and fight back,'' she said, ``and it paid off.''

Wozniacki had been on a serious slide after losing the No. 1 ranking she had held for two years with a loss in the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park last January. She lost in the third round at the French Open and then the first round at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, briefly falling out of the top 10 before finishing the year at No. 10.

But Wozniacki was the far steadier player Tuesday, patiently moving Lisicki around the court and playing superb defense to extend rallies and wait for Lisicki to make an error. The German made a lot of those - 57 to just eight for Wozniacki.

Lisicki was probably the most dangerous unseeded player in the draw. Currently ranked 36th, the German was a 2011 Wimbledon semifinalist and reached the quarters at Wimbledon last year. She has been ranked as high as No. 12.

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IRON WOMAN: Two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova isn't used to sitting on the sidelines.

Kuznetsova, winner of the 2004 U.S. Open and 2009 French Open, saw her streak of 40 straight Grand Slam appearances broken late last year when a right knee injury forced her out of the U.S. Open. She had appeared in the main draw at every Grand Slam dating to the 2002 U.S. Open.

The Russian, who missed six months because of the injury, said after her first-round victory over Lourdes Dominguez Lino at the Australian Open that the extended break might have done her some good. She was feeling some burnout after playing for 12 straight years without taking any time off.

``It was new for me because I never stopped,'' she said. ``I never stopped for a long time. I played 40 slams, I never missed one.''

``It was a little strange for me,'' she added of the enforced break, ``but I think it was useful for my head.''

Kuznetsova's ranking has dipped to 75th, but she has beaten two top 20 players at lead up tournaments since her return at the beginning of this season - No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki and No. 18 Julia Georges.

Her section of the draw has opened up in Melbourne, too, with seventh-seeded Sara Errani's loss on Tuesday. But Kuznetsova isn't looking beyond her next match against the 26th-seeded Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan.

``The first matches (back) were really complicated for me,'' she said. ``Your mind is a little afraid, your legs cannot go.''

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VIKA AND SERENA: Top-seeded Victoria Azarenka got some sympathy from her biggest rival, Serena Williams, after a bad pedicure forced her to withdraw before their scheduled semifinal at a tuneup tournament in Brisbane two weeks ago.

The Belarusian underwent a minor surgical procedure to remove part of her toenail after a pedicure caused an infection in her right big toe.

``I was talking to Serena that day,'' Azarenka said after her first-round Australian Open win over Romanian Monica Niculescu. ``She had the same thing happen to her before. I now understand what it is, and I'm going to be really careful next time.''

Azarenka didn't have much sympathy for Williams, however, when told after her match that the 15-time major winner had fallen and twisted her ankle during her 6-0, 6-0 drubbing of Romanian Edina Gallovits-Hall.

``I heard she won love and love, so what kind of injury are we talking about?'' she said, in jest.

Azarenka may be the defending champion, but Williams is considered by many to be the tournament favorite. Top-ranked Azarenka said she wasn't even recognized by an Australian Open security guard when she tried to enter the facility one day, until she pointed to her champion's portrait on the wall.

``I was walking, and he's like, `You got your pass?' There was my picture (on the wall). I said, `There is my pass. There it is,''' she said, laughing.

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

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