Djokovic reaches final despite 'physical crisis'

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Djokovic reaches final despite 'physical crisis'

From Comcast SportsNetMELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Novak Djokovic overcame his breathing problems and a "physical crisis" to beat Andy Murray in an almost five-hour Australian Open semifinal Friday night and move into his third straight Grand Slam final. Standing between Djokovic and a record shared by some of the greatest players of all time will be No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal, a man he beat in six tournament finals in 2011. Despite appearing tired and sore from the second set, defending Djokovic rallied to beat fourth-seeded Murray 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 7-5 in a rematch of the 2011 final at Melbourne Park. After wasting a chance to serve out the match at 5-3 in the fifth and letting Murray back into the contest, Djokovic cashed in his first match point when the Scottish player missed a forehand after four hours, 50 minutes. "You have to find strength in those moments and energy, and that keeps you going," Djokovic said. "I think we both went through a physical crisis. You know, him at the fourth set, me all the way through the second and midway through the third. It was a very even match throughout, from the first to the last point." Djokovic dropped onto his back, fully laid out on the court. He got up and shook hands with Murray, before jogging back out onto the court like a boxer, dropping to his knees and crossing himself. It was already after 12:30 a.m. Saturday when he got up again and pumped his arms triumphantly. "Andy deserves the credit to come back from 2-5 down. He was fighting. I was fighting," Djokovic said. "Not many words that can describe the feeling of the match. "Evidently it was a physical match ... it was one of the best matches I played. Emotionally and mentally it was equally hard." It was a bitter setback for Murray, who lost the previous two Australian finals and is still trying to end a drought for British men at majors dating back to 1936. He is confident he has already improved in the few weeks since hiring eight-time major winner Ivan Lendl as coach. "Yeah, it was tough at the end 'cause, you know, obviously you come back, then you get close to breaking," he said. "To lose, yeah, it's tough. "But a different player, a different attitude to this time last year. I'm proud of the way I fought." Djokovic finished last year at No. 1 after winning three of the four majors, including a straight-sets win over Murray in the Australian final. His only loss at a Grand Slam in 2011 was against Roger Federer in the French Open semifinals. It was phenomenal season after previously only winning one major -- the 2008 Australian Open -- and not returning to a final for 11 Grand Slams. "To be honest, I think I matured as a player. I started to believe on the court I could win majors," he said. "Rafa and Roger are the most dominant players for the last seven, eight years. ... It was very hard to take away the titles from them. They will not give you the titles. You have to earn it." He is now aiming to be only the fifth man in the Open Era started in 1968 to win three straight majors -- only Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Federer and Nadal have achieved it before him, with only Laver going on to complete the Grand Slam by winning all four majors in a season. The Australian great was in the arena named in his honor to watch Friday night's semifinal, as he had been when 2009 Australian Open winner Nadal came back from a set and a break down to beat four-time champion Federer in four sets the previous night. Djokovic's 70-6 win-loss record in 2011 included those six wins over Nadal in finals -- including Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Nadal has had an extra day to prepare for the final, but will be conscious of his own performance three years ago when he beat Fernando Verdasco in a 5-hour, 14-minute semifinal and had 24 hours less to prepare for a final against Federer that he eventually won. On Friday night, both Djokovic and Murray had form dips -- but Djokovic's were more obvious. He led by a set and a break before Murray started coming back at him. Then Djokovic started walking gingerly and appeared to be struggling for breath -- just as he had been in his straights sets quarterfinal win over No. 5-ranked David Ferrer. At one point, he pointed to his nose and seemed to indicated to his support group that he was having trouble breathing. He stayed in the points, despite Murray scrambling and trying to get him involved in long rallies. "You try to get energized in every way," he said. "A lot of liquids, try to eat something, as well, that gives you energy." He put his breathing problems down to allergies, and said he'd seen a doctor for it. After winning a tight tiebreaker but then virtually conceding the fourth set, Murray rallied again after slipping behind 5-2 in the fifth. He broke Djokovic at love when the Serb was serving for the match on a three-game streak that put all the pressure back on the defending champion. But Djokovic composed himself and seemed to be gathering energy as the match wore on. He held serve and then broke Murray to finish it off. "I'm extremely delighted to be in the final," Djokovic said. "What can be a bigger challenge than playing against Rafa Nadal, one of the greatest players ever. "I'm going to try to recover. Obviously it's going to be physical as well." Despite being friends and childhood rivals, this was only the second meeting between Djokovic and Murray at a Grand Slam. Djokovic beat Murray in the 2011 Australian final and had a 6-4 lead in their overall head-to-heads at tour level. Murray won the Brisbane International and came into the semifinal on a 10-match winning streak. The blue-and-white crossed Scottish flags fluttered in the crowd, held by fans with the flag painted on their faces and some wearing their tartan Tam hats. The support was evenly split at Rod Laver Arena, encouraging both players in the tense final set. The Maria Sharapova vs. Victoria Azarenka women's final on Saturday night is being previewed in the local media as a battle of the two loudest grunters on the tour. Azarenka, who won the Sydney International title the weekend before the season's first major, is bidding to continue her winning shriek. Sharapova has won three majors, but none since the 2008 Australian Open. Azarenka will be playing her first Grand Slam final. The winner will move to the top of the women's rankings. Caroline Wozniacki, who came into the tournament as No. 1, will drop three places after her quarterfinal loss to 2011 champion Kim Clijsters. Russians Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva won the women's doubles final on Friday with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 victory over the Italian duo of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and her Romanian partner Horia Tecau advanced to the mixed doubles final with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Indian pair Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi. They'll next play Elena Vesnina of Russia and India's Leander Paes. In the men's doubles final Saturday, American twins Bob and Mike Bryan are aiming for a Grand Slam record 12th major when they take on Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek.

Celtics' Ceiling-to-Floor profiles: An award-winning summer for Rozier?

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Celtics' Ceiling-to-Floor profiles: An award-winning summer for Rozier?

Every weekday until Sept. 7, we'll take a look at each player at the Celtics roster: Their strengths and their weaknesses, their ceiling and their floor. We continue today with Terry Rozier. For a look at the other profiles, click here.

BOSTON -- Terry Rozier has every reason to feel good about himself after this year's Summer League, where he was clearly the Boston Celtics’ best player. 
 
But what does Summer League success really mean in the grand scheme of things?
 
This isn’t the Olympics, where a good couple of weeks in the summer can lead to sudden endorsement opportunities. And a bad summer, on or off the court, won’t necessarily result in your personal stock taking a Ryan Lochte-like dip, either.
 
For Rozier, the summer has been a continuation of his emergence during the playoffs last season against the Atlanta Hawks, when his numbers were significantly better across the board in comparison to what he did during the regular season.
 
And while his role at this point remains uncertain, there’s a growing sense that what we saw in the summer was more than just Rozier making the most of his opportunity to play. 
 
It was the 6-foot-2 guard playing with the kind of confidence and overall swagger that Boston hopes to see more of in this upcoming season.  
  
The Ceiling for Rozier: Most Improved Player, Sixth Man candidate
 
Rozier never wanted to see teammate Avery Bradley suffer a hamstring injury in Game 1 of Boston’s first-round series with Atlanta last season. But he knows if not for that injury, he wouldn't have played as much as he did, nor would he be viewed as someone who could seriously compete for minutes this season. 
 
That injury afforded Rozier playing time he had not seen in the 39 regular-season games he appeared in, when he averaged 8.0 minutes per contest.
 
In the playoffs, Rozier saw his playing time increase to 19.8 minutes per game, which naturally led to a rise in all of his statistics. 
 
It did more than help the Celtics compete with the Hawks. It provided a huge confidence boost for Rozier this past summer and will do the same going into training camp, where he believes he will be better-equipped to compete for playing time. 
 
Rozier already plays above-average defense for the Celtics. The big question mark for him has been whether he can knock down shots consistently. It certainly didn’t look that way during the regular season, when he shot 22.2 percent on 3s and just 27.4 percent from the field. 
 
Although the sample size is much smaller, he was able to shoot 39.1 percent from the field and 36.4 percent on 3s in the five playoff games he appeared in this past spring. 
 
So both Rozier and the Celtics feel good about the fact that his game in key areas such as shooting and assists are trending in the right direction. 
 
And if that continues he'll solidify a spot high atop the second unit, which could translate into him having a shot at garnering some Most Improved Player recognition.
 
The Floor for Rozier: Active roster
 
While his minutes may not improve significantly from a year ago, Rozier will likely enter training camp with a spot in Boston’s regular playing rotation.
 
On most nights the Celtics are likely to play at least four guards: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Rozier. 
 
Look for him to get most of the minutes left behind by Evan Turner, who was signed by Portland to a four-year, $70 million deal this summer. 
 
Of course, Rozier’s minutes will be impacted in some way by how those ahead of him perform. But Rozier can’t consume himself with such thoughts. 
 
He has to force the Celtics’ coaches to keep him on the floor, And the only way to do that is to play well and contribute to the team’s success in a meaningful way. 
 
While his shooting has improved, Rozier is at his best when he lets his defense dictate his play offensively. 
 
In the playoffs last season, Rozier averaged 1.2 fast-break points per game, which was fifth on the team. 
 
Just to put that in perspective, Rozier averaged 19.8 minutes in the postseason. The four players ahead of him (Bradley, Thomas, Turner and Smart) each averaged more than 32 minutes of court time per night.
 
While it’s too soon to tell where Rozier fits into the rotation this season, his play this summer and overall body of work dating back to the playoffs last season makes it difficult to envision him not being on the active roster for most, if not all, of this season.

Wednesday, August 24: B's dealing with post-Vesey aftermath

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Wednesday, August 24: B's dealing with post-Vesey aftermath

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading with the Olympics coming to a close . . .
 
-- FOH (Friend of Haggs) Kirk Luedeke sorts through the aftermath for the Bruins after losing out on Jimmy Vesey

-- Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland gave an interview where he said the Red Wings aren’t Stanley Cup contenders this season. 

-- Related to Holland’s comments, some of the media in Detroit aren’t taking the dose of reality all that well

-- It’s a big season for New Jersey Devils forward Kyle Palmieri, who will be starring for Team USA on the World Cup team. 

 -- PHT writer Cam Tucker says the Buffalo Sabres still have a strong group of forwards even without Jimmy Vesey.

-- Jamie Benn is giving everything to his Dallas Stars team, and that means that the World Cup of Hockey is taking a backseat
 
-- The Colorado Avalanche are nearing the end of their head coaching search as they look for their replacement for Patrick Roy.
 
-- For something completely different: NBC is making the argument that millenials watched the Olympics, but just not on the traditional formats
 

Patriots release veteran wide receiver Nate Washington

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Patriots release veteran wide receiver Nate Washington

FOXBORO -- The Patriots cut down on their numbers at the receiver position on Wednesday by releasing veteran Nate Washington, Tom E. Curran has reported.

Washington, who will turn 33 later this month, was signed in the offseason to a one-year deal with $60,000 guaranteed. His presence on the roster provided the Patriots with some veteran depth as an outside receiver, but when he vomitted at the end of the team's first training camp practice and then missed several practices thereafter, he had difficulty making up for lost time. 

Washington did whatever he could in order to stay involved. Oftentimes he walked in and out of the huddle with teammates even though he would not be involved in the play, and during one practice he ran routes alone on an adjacent field while the Patriots offense went through plays nearby.

The former Steelers, Titans and Texans receiver was eager to prove he had more to give at this late stage of his career. Last season in Houston, in an offense similar to the one in New England, he caught 47 passes for 658 yards and four touchdowns. Prior to last season, during which he played 14 games, Washington had not missed a regular-season game since before the start of the 2006 season. 

With Washington no longer a factor in the wide-receiver picture in New England, the Patriots have one less competitor for what appears as though it will be just one or two open roster spots at the position. 

At the top of the depth chart Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell are essentially locks to be included on the final 53-man roster. (Amendola is on the physically unable to perform list at the moment but is progressing toward a return.) Matthew Slater can also be included on that list, though his contributions will come primarily as a special teamer.

That means Keshawn Martin, Aaron Dobson, Chris Harper, DeAndre Carter and Devin Lucien could be competing for just one roster spot.

Washington's release gives that situation a little more clarity, but the overall picture is still a hazy one that may sort itself out over the course of the next two weeks.