Maria pain-free after her first Aussie match

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Maria pain-free after her first Aussie match

From Comcast SportsNet
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Maria Sharapova said it felt like "forever" since she last played a match without pain, although she didn't hang around long on Hisense Arena to enjoy the experience. Finally recovered from a left ankle injury she sustained in September, the Russian reeled off the first eight games in a 6-0, 6-1 rout of Gisela Dulko on Tuesday. "I couldn't wait to start," the 2008 Australian Open champion said. "It's just nice to go into a match you know that you're going to compete again at such a high level in front of so many people, especially a place where I've won before." Sharapova said the ankle, which forced her to pull out of a planned tuneup event in Brisbane, was no longer troubling her. She may only be 24, but Sharapova is playing in her ninth Australian Open and the three-time Grand Slam winner said she is experienced enough to cope with not playing any matches coming into a major tournament. Since a breakthrough win at Wimbledon in 2004, Sharapova's career has been punctuated by a series of injuries. She was out of action for nine months until May 2009 after right shoulder surgery. Now, her focus is on being as healthy as possible when the major titles are on the line. "I'd rather come in feeling good physically than feeling like I played a lot of matches," she said. "It's more important to me than anything. "I've been on the tour for many years, played enough tournaments, I just want to be as ready as I can for the big ones." ------ BROTHERLY LOVE: Rift? What rift? Andy Roddick believes that talk of tension between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer has been completely overblown. Earlier this week, Nadal criticized Federer in the Spanish media for not doing enough to push the players' demands for changes to the men's game, allowing others to "burn themselves" to make conditions better for everybody. The Spaniard later apologized for airing his disagreement with Federer in public. "Those guys have been the model of a respectful rivalry in sports, so for it to be represented any differently is unfortunate," Roddick said Tuesday after his first-round win at the Australian Open. "I think this is all new territory for us. I think, if anything, it probably taught us that we have to choose our words very wisely right now when talking about it because it is a sensitive issue." The players held a meeting on Saturday to discuss their concerns about the tour, which include the length of the season, the number of tournaments players are required to enter, and the prize money at Grand Slam tournaments. Roddick says there's no "quick fix" to the problems, but he believes the players have a unity they lacked before. "It is fascinating to see how it will play out," he says. "You know, I think as the product, I don't think we should underestimate our leverage in this game, especially if we do have one voice." ------ U.S. REVIVAL: Sloane Stephens says there's no need for hand-wringing over the future of American women's tennis in the post-Williams era -- the kids are going to be all right. The 18-year-old Florida native, who hit a career-high ranking of No. 89 last fall, moved into the second round of the Australian Open on Tuesday with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Silvia Soler-Espinosa of Spain. Four other American women are also through to the second round -- Serena Williams, Christina McHale, Vania King and Jamie Hampton, a qualifier ranked No. 144 who had only won one WTA-level match coming into the Australian Open. "When (the Williams sisters) stop playing tennis, there'll be someone else to take their spot," says Stephens, who also reached the third round of the U.S. Open last year. "You're kind of like searching for someone to be there right now and I don't think that's going to happen. But there's a lot of us, so who knows who could break through." She says now that a few of the younger Americans have broken into the top 100 -- McHale (No. 42), Irina Falconi (No. 81) and herself -- there's more competition among them, which will only make them better in the long run. "Definitely when we have camps and we're practicing together, it's serious, it's no joke. On changeovers, it'll be ha-ha, hee-hee, but when it's time to play, it's like, OK, I'm going to cut you." Just because they're starting to come into their own, though, doesn't mean they're not still in awe of the elder stateswoman of the tour: Serena. Stephens was so star-struck at a recent tournament, she almost didn't say hello. "She was really nice," Stephens says. "I don't think she knew who I was." ------ VETERAN RIVALRY: Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt have been on the ATP Tour a combined 24 years, but surprisingly, they've only played each other 13 times. The two veterans meet in the second round of the Australian Open after each won on Tuesday. There are many similarities between the players: career records (Roddick is 589-197, Hewitt 551-205), titles (Roddick has 30, Hewitt 28), prize money (Roddick has 20 million, Hewitt 19 million). Roddick, however, has a 7-6 edge in their head-to-head record -- and he has won the last six times they've played dating back to 2005. He's also ranked 16th and Hewitt has slumped to 181. Still, Roddick expects a close match. "I've won the most recent meetings, but I think out of the six that I've won, four or five have gone the distance," he says. "We always have a bit of a war." For that reason, the match could well be scheduled during the evening session on Rod Laver Arena. Hewitt was part of the latest finish in Australian Open history four years ago, closing out victory over Marcos Baghdatis at 4.33 a.m. "I don't really want to have too many of the Baghdatis matches again," Hewitt said. "Go home and McDonald's is already open on the way home for breakfast."

Stars, studs and duds: Olynyk finding his stride off Celtics bench

Stars, studs and duds: Olynyk finding his stride off Celtics bench

BOSTON – It’s easy to forget that Kelly Olynyk went several months without doing anything basketball-related as he was on the mend from shoulder surgery.

His return had its share of ups and downs, but it seems the 7-foot center has found his stride and he’s making opponents pay for it.

For the second time in as many games, Olynyk came up big for the Celtics as Boston continued on its winning ways with a 108-98 win over Charlotte.

Olynyk, who scored a season-high 26 points in Boston’s win at Atlanta on Friday, had an efficient 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting against the Hornets on Monday.

Assertive. Aggressive. Contract year.

It doesn’t matter how you describe what or why Olynyk is ballin’ so hard lately.

The point is he’s doing it a better job of recognizing opportunities to make plays and executing whatever role he’s being asked to play.

“Just feeling good with the second unit,” Olynyk said. “I’m just trying to be aggressive and help the starters out.”

In the past, teams have mixed up their defensive coverages on Olynyk which frequently left him being guarded by a quicker but smaller player, or a big man with limited mobility.

Often Olynyk settled for long range shots and 3’s, regardless of the defender.

But as we’ve seen the last couple of games, he has hurt teams with his scoring around the rim which has in turn opened things up for his teammates or himself.

“We need him to play like that all the time,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “When he’s aggressive, looking for his shot, shooting open shots, even getting in there getting rebounds, offensive put-backs, that only helps us as a unit. And he’s done a great job of that the past couple games. We need that from him.”

And as he gets further removed from his offseason surgery, opportunities for him to be an impactful player for Boston will only grow.

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Monday’s game.

 

STARS

Isaiah Thomas

The Celtics win, and Isaiah Thomas has another offensive flurry in the fourth quarter. So what else is new? He led all scorers with 35 points which included 17 in the fourth quarter.

Kemba Walker

He’s still playing at a level that puts him in the All-Star conversation, but it’s not going to happen with the Hornets continuing to struggle. They’ve lost five in a row now despite Walker’s 24 points on Monday.

 

STUDS

Al Horford

Boston is playing more inside-out basketball of late, and that’s opening things up for both Horford and his teammates. Against the Hornets he had 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting along with six rebounds and four assists.

Kelly Olynyk

For the second straight game, Olynyk had a strong, impactful performance for the Celtics utilizing his strengths as a perimeter threat and a 7-footer who can take advantage of smaller defenders around the rim. He finished with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting to go with nine rebounds, four assists and a steal.

Marvin Williams

He was the only other Hornet besides Kemba Walker who really impacted the game significantly. Williams had 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting which included 3-for-6 shooting from 3-point range.

Jae Crowder

The 6-foot-6 Crowder continues to have a sneaky-good season for the Celtics, particularly with his 3-point shooting which ranks among the league leaders. On Monday he had 15 points which included a trio of 3-pointers to go with seven rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot.

 

DUDS

Nicolas Batum

Avery Bradley put most of his effort and attention into defending Batum and man, did it ever pay off. Batum grabbed 10 rebounds, but wound up missing nine of his 11 shots from the field to finish with just four points.

Julien wonders whether Bruins shutout loss was fatigue-related

Julien wonders whether Bruins shutout loss was fatigue-related

BOSTON – The Bruins didn’t show anything on the ice in Monday afternoon’s 4-0 matinee loss, and that’s not really any kind of an overstatement.

The scoring chances were almost nonexistent despite 32 shots on net, the second period was dreadful as the Bruins gave up three goals over the course of a six minute span and there was zero added urgency in the third period once the B’s fell behind. The emotion was missing from the drop of the puck to open the game and it never showed up once the Islanders began taking control of the game.

It was a bitterly disappointing result after the Black and Gold had played so well in their previous five games, and put in strong, winning efforts against the Panthers, Blues and Flyers.

On Monday afternoon, the passes were sloppy and errant all over the ice, there was zero physicality and the Bruins buckled once the Isles turned the intensity up just a little bit in the second period. The game was basically over once Nikolay Kulemin snapped one home wide open from the slot area with Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid and David Krejci all blowing their defensive assignments, and then Tuukka Rask followed it up by allowing a softie to Josh Bailey from a bad angle close to net.  

So Bruins head coach Claude Julien termed it a “flat” performance once it was all over with, and openly wondered whether it was fatigue-related result linked to the compacted schedule Boston has played through this season. Monday marked the seventh straight day that the Bruins held some kind of formal skate, though most of the veteran B's players stayed off the ice during last week's Wednesday off-day practice in Nashville.   

“We were flat tonight, obviously, flat from the get-go. I think that first half of the game, we didn’t give much until they scored that first goal. We were able to stay in, but we certainly weren’t generating much ourselves, from that point of view,” said Claude Julien. “His is really the first year, for me as well, going through a condensed schedule, and I’m certainly not using that as an excuse, is it fatigue?. . . But we were flat tonight. How do you explain it? I don’t know. I know that it’s frustrating. I know that it’s disappointing. That’s all I can say.

“Whether it’s mental fatigue, whatever it is. We made some mistakes tonight like, from the goals you look at, we weren’t even in the position that we’re normally in. So we were totally out of whack, as far as even defending. When you give that first goal that much room in the middle of the ice, your D’s go on the wrong side, your weak-side forward is way on the other side, and you open up the slot area, that’s something I haven’t seen much of this year. I think it said a lot from our game tonight.”

The compacted schedule certainly could be a factor for a Bruins team that’s played more games than anybody else in the Eastern Conference to this point, but the B’s also had 48 hours to recharge after winning a Saturday matinee over the Flyers. So the fatigue excuse seems a little far-fetched for a hockey club that’s no-showed a few too many times this season, and did it again on Monday afternoon against one of the worst teams in the NHL.