Olympics: United States embraces technology to bridge funding gap

A U.S. freeskier unveils the official competition uniform designed by North Face for the U.S. Freeskiing Team at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 during an event in New York City, U.S., October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Jack Tarrant

LONDON (Reuters) – The United States may have claimed at least nine gold medals in each of the last four Winter Olympics, yet remarkably, all of this success has been achieved without government funding.

Unlike many nations who will compete against them in Pyeongchang next month, the United States Olympic Committee and the programs they support receive no financial assistance from the country’s administration.

This lack of funding has forced coaches involved in the training and preparation of American Olympic athletes to look elsewhere to gain any competitive advantage.

Mike Jankowski, known by many as ‘Coach Janks’, is the head coach for the U.S. snowboard and freeskiing team. Since he took over this role, Jankowski has guided athletes, including Shaun White and Hannah Jeter, to 19 Olympic medals.

Jankowski attributes this success to a variety of reasons, including teamwork, access to facilities and raw talent.

Yet he also argues that embracing innovations in technology to improve the coaching experience for athletes under his wing has proved invaluable in gaining the edge on the slopes.

Speaking at a team training camp in Austria, Jankowski said it was crucial coaches allowed athletes to express themselves in a sport that rewards creativity and flair.

“There is not just one way to do these tricks up there. Putting your own flavour on it, putting your stamp on it is absolutely key to impressing the judges,” Jankowski said at the team hotel in Stubai.

Up at the ski park, Jankowski’s high-tech operation was there for all to witness.

All the coaches possess camera skills to record an athlete’s trick from a variety of angles. This footage is then relayed instantly, using live transmission to a set of receivers at the top of the slope, then onto the athletes’ tablet and phone.

LIVE FEEDBACK

Therefore, when an athlete returns to the top of the slope they can immediately view and analyze their previous run.

“They can also see what their competitors are doing, what their team mates are doing. We are recording all the time and sending that live feedback up there and it has absolutely been a game changer for us,” Jankowski enthused.

Jankowski believes these innovations have significantly improved the prospects of American skiers and snowboarders, and helped bridge the gap in funding.

His program relies on donations and sponsorship for 100 percent of its funding, leading to some within U.S. skiing and snowboarding to look enviously at countries such as Great Britain, who receive millions in government assistance.

In preparation for the 2018 Games, UK Sport — a British government organization — and the National Lottery have contributed more than five million pounds ($6.74 million) to winter sports programs, including skiing and snowboarding.

Instead of being bitter, however, Jankowski sees this disparity as a challenge.

“We are fortunate to have the situation that we have,” he added.

“It is challenging, no question, but at the same time it makes you feel better because you are giving back to those partners, to those donors, who have been giving back to you when you bring back the medals.”

Taking medals back to the United States is something Jankowski and the rest of his team have done on a consistent basis. With the help of technology and incremental improvement, they hope to do the same in 2018.

($1 = 0.7414 pounds)

(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by John O’Brien)

Zverev must be patient, says Becker

FILE PHOTO: Tennis – ATP World Tour Finals – The O2 Arena, London, Britain, November 14, 2017. Germany’s Alexander Zverev in action during his group stage match against Switzerland’s Roger Federer. Action Images via Reuters/Tony O’Brien/File Photo

By Martyn Herman

(Reuters) – Boris Becker was a man in a hurry when he took Wimbledon by storm to win the title as a precocious 17-year-old in 1985 but says today’s game requires a little more patience.

Alexander Zverev, Germany’s latest tennis hope and the man many predict can go some way to emulating Becker’s feats, found that out last year when, despite rising to fourth in the world rankings, the grand slams proved frustrating.

A third-round defeat in the Australian Open by Rafael Nadal in five sets was nothing to be ashamed of and he also made the second week of Wimbledon, reaching the last 16.

But at the U.S. Open, when he was being lauded a potential champion, he buckled under the expectations and blew out in the second round to fellow youngster Borna Coric, playing what he described as his worst match of the season.

He will arrive in Melbourne as the fourth seed for the Australian Open, but Becker has urged caution, saying Zverev needs to be ready to play the long game.

“For him the important thing is to get comfortably into the second week, get to the quarter-final and feel good about his game and then he will be very dangerous,” Becker, who will be working as an analyst for Eurosport during the tournament, told Reuters by telephone.

“The tough thing when you are young is that you don’t have any patience. You want it to happen yesterday. Playing a grand slam over two weeks is tough for a 20-year-old to keep the concentration and keep the rhythm going.

“It’s easier when you’re older and you have done it before. When you are 19 or 20 you want to play the final tomorrow!

“But it’s a two-week process.”

Becker, who stormed past Kevin Curren to win Wimbledon in 1985 and went on to win a total of six grand slams and top the rankings, is confident that Zverev will win a major.

“He has all the tools,” he said. “He has shown last year when he won two Masters beating Novak (Djokovic) in one final and Roger (Federer) in another, which is as hard as it gets,” Becker said.

“He has the quality to do it over a week, but needs a bit more experience to do it over two weeks.”

Zverev, who could face his older brother Mischa in the third round, is one of a number of rising stars who are trying to dislodge one of the greatest men’s generations ever.

Becker believes Australian Nick Kyrgios is beginning to show the mentality to have a deep run in Melbourne.

Blocking the way though is the 36-year-old reigning champion Federer who shows no sign of being ready to hand over power.

“He must be celebrated and enjoyed because we’ll never see a player like him again, at least not in my lifetime,” Becker said.

“What I hope is that he, Nadal, Djokovic and (Andy) Murray are all still at the top when the 20 somethings take over, not after they have declined.”

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Non-Russian airlines to operate internal charter flights for World Cup

FILE PHOTO: Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov waits before an annual state of the nation address attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Foreign airlines will be allowed to carry out a limited number of charter flights between Russian cities during the World Cup in June and July, Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said on Thursday.

Currently, only large foreign air carriers are allowed to fly from outside Russia and into the country along the routes agreed with the ministry.

Sokolov said that foreign air carriers will perform intra-Russian flights to “ease peak traffic” only when domestic airlines are unable to carry passengers with a comparable price, at the same time and under the same terms to the same destinations.

He said between 3 million to 5 million fans will travel during the World Cup, which will be held in 11 host cities from Kaliningrad in the west to Ekaterinburg, 2,500km away in the east, and Sochi on the Black Sea.

Russian Railways plans to transport around 500,000 fans for free in 400 trains during the tournament.

Aeroflot will be the principal air carrier, which will take care of around 40 percent of all traveling fans expected to attend the 64 matches that will be staged during the June 14 to July 15 tournament.

(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; writing by Vladimir Soldatkin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Vice President Pence to lead U.S. delegation to Winter Olympics

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks to troops in a hangar at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan on December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Mandel Ngan/Pool

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence will lead the U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next month, a senior White House official said on Wednesday.

Pence will also visit Alaska and Japan as part of the trip. Pence will review ICBM defense systems in Alaska and reaffirm to the leaders of Japan and South Korea that the United States is fully committed to stability in the region, the official said.

The Pyeongchang Olympics, which start on Feb. 9, coincide with high tensions on the Korean Peninsula due to North Korean nuclear tests and contentious exchanges between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korea will also send high-ranking officials, athletes, and a cheering squad to the Olympics, a senior South Korean official said on Tuesday.

The U.S. State Department said in a briefing on Tuesday that there are not any current plans for the American delegation to meet with the North Korean delegation.

Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham has said he opposed inviting the North Korean delegation to the Games.

“I don’t mind talks with North Korea but I do have serious concerns about legitimizing the most barbaric leader on the planet,” Graham wrote in a post on Twitter on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Blake Brittain; Editing by Andrew Hay)

French cycling hero retires: at 106

FILE PHOTO: French cyclist Robert Marchand, aged 105, rides on his way to cover 22.528 km (14.08 miles) in one hour to set a new record at the indoor Velodrome National in Montigny-les-Bretonneux, southwest of Paris, France, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

PARIS (Reuters) – French cyclist Robert Marchand is retiring at the age of 106, a friend of the bike-mad centenarian has announced.

The decision to quit comes a year after the tenacious sportsman set what was widely billed as a world record for the over-105s category: he completed 22.528 km (14.08 miles) in one hour.

The feat, at an indoor track near Paris, drew intense media coverage and a moment of international celebrity for Marchand, an amateur who has been in the saddle for well over 90 years.

His retirement, at not far off twice the average retirement age in France and three or four times the age at which top-notch athletes usually bow out, was announced to AFP news agency by a neighbor and friend.

(Reporting By Brian Love Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

Muguruza suffers second injury withdrawal Down Under

Tennis – WTA Tour Finals – Singapore Indoor Stadium, Singapore – October 26, 2017 Spain’s Garbine Muguruza in action during her group stage match against USA’s Venus Williams REUTERS/Edgar Su

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Garbine Muguruza’s preparations for next week’s Australian Open were thrown into disarray when the world number three pulled out of the Sydney International due to a leg injury on Wednesday.

Hours after battling past Kiki Bertens 6-3 7-6(6) to advance to the quarter-finals in her opening match, the 24-year-old Spanish top seed withdrew with a right thigh complaint.

“I am disappointed but I have talked to the WTA doctors and my team after the match and following their recommendation, I have to withdraw from the tournament,” Muguruza said in a statement.

“I have felt pain in my right adductor since I started practicing here. Yesterday, I felt better and wanted to play. However, during the match today the pain has been there all the time but I wanted to compete.”

The Wimbledon champion accepted a wildcard into the tournament after retiring with leg cramps during her opening match at the Brisbane International last week and called for a medical timeout after just three games against Bertens.

Muguruza, however, returned to the Ken Rosewall Arena and appeared to be moving freely, initially allaying fears of another injury setback by overcoming a woman who had beaten her in straight sets in their three previous meetings.

“Since the start I felt a little bit my adductor,” Muguruza said after registering her first win of the season. “I already felt it in Brisbane, so I thought I was going to be much better, but it came back.

“You always have to adapt… Sometimes you don’t need to have a pain. You just want to play a certain style of game or some tactic.

“I figured out that being a little bit more aggressive, shorter points, that might help me and might help me also for my game. So it’s like a winning situation.”

Muguruza’s withdrawal allows Daria Gavrilova a direct route to the semi-finals after the Spaniard’s scheduled last eight opponent won an all-Australian clash against Samantha Stosur 6-4 6-2.

Elsewhere, Agnieszka Radwanska, the 2013 champion and last year’s losing finalist in Sydney, kept her preparations for the year’s first grand slam on track with a 7-6(4) 6-0 win over teenage American qualifier CiCi Bellis.

The Polish 28-year-old will meet Camila Giorgi for a place in the last four after the Italian qualifier ousted twice Wimbledon and former Sydney champion Petra Kvitova 7-6(7) 6-2.

Giorgi, belying her ranking of 100th in the world, beat U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens in the first round and added another grand slam champion to her list of victims in just under two hours when Kvitova blasted a forehand wide.

In the men’s draw, Italian veteran Paolo Lorenzi ousted top seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain in the second round.

Ramos-Vinolas needed treatment for a leg problem early in the second set and fell 6-3 7-5 to the 36-year-old Lorenzi, who is ranked 45 in the world.

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by John O’Brien)

Martinod looks to crown unconventional career with gold

FILE PHOTO: France’s Marie Martinod looks at her silver medal during the victory ceremony for the women’s freestyle skiing halfpipe event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics February 21, 2014. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo

By Jack Tarrant

LONDON (Reuters) – Marie Martinod ended her prolific freestyle skiing career 11 years ago to start a family at the age of 22, before the Frenchwoman was lured back after a five year hiatus when the event was included in the Olympics for the first time in 2014.

Martinod picked up where she left off and stunned the world by claiming a halfpipe silver medal in Sochi and has since re-established herself as one of the best freestyle skiers on the circuit.

At 33, Martinod is one of the oldest women in the field but knows that a gold medal will complete a special comeback after her brave and unusual decision to walk away from the sport at an age when most of her rivals are reaching their peak.

As Martinod herself writes on her website, she quit skiing at 22 to “learn more about real life”. In her time away, she gave birth to a baby daughter and worked as a nightclub owner in the French ski resort of La Plagne.

Despite enjoying motherhood, Martinod admitted the thrill of competitive skiing remained a magnet and, with a bit of help from Swiss skier and best friend Virginie Faivre, she rejoined the professional circuit.

The chance to compete at an Olympic Games had proved too enticing to miss out on and Martinod set her sights on Sochi.

After a bronze medal at the 2014 X Games put her back on the map, Martinod achieved her life-long dream of winning an Olympic medal with silver in the halfpipe at the age of 29.

Since then, Martinod has gone from strength to strength and goes into the Pyeongchang Olympics as the favorite to claim gold.

As well as winning the 2016-17 World Cup, edging great rival Ayana Onozuka of Japan into second, Martinod also clinched her first X Games gold medal in the superpipe last January.

The only minor blemish on an otherwise stellar 2017 campaign saw her lose out to Onozuka at the Freestyle World Ski Championships in Sierra Nevada.

Victory at the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain in early December sees Martinod placed second in the overall halfpipe rankings behind China’s Kexin Zhang.

In a sport increasingly dominated by athletes in their teens or early twenties, thirtysomething mother Martinod is bucking that trend and her story is sure to draw her plenty of support when she takes to the slopes in Pyeongchang.

(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by John O’Brien)

Forty-two Russians appeal against Olympic bans: CAS

FILE PHOTO: The International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters is pictured on the day of an Executive Board meeting on sanctions for Russian athletes in Lausanne, Switzerland December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

ZURICH (Reuters) – Forty-two Russians have lodged appeals against bans issued by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) following doping violations at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said on Tuesday.

The athletes were among 43 disqualified from events, banned from participating in future Olympics and in some cases stripped of their medals following the IOC’s investigation of widespread doping in Sochi exposed by an independent report for the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Maxim Belugin, part of the two and four-man bobsleigh teams which finished fourth at Sochi 2014, looks to be the only athlete not to have filed an appeal.

CAS said the cases will all be heard together in the week beginning Jan. 22 and expects verdicts to be issued by Jan. 31.

That is nine days before the start of this year’s Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea and three days after the International Olympic Committee’s deadline for entries, other than those in exceptional circumstances.

The IOC last month banned Russia from the Pyeongchang Games as a result of its “unprecedented systematic manipulation” of the anti-doping system, though individual athletes will be able to compete effectively as neutrals if they can prove their anti-doping credentials.

(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond)

Wrong wax? Snow problem for Olympic athletes

FILE PHOTO – Wax technician Andreas Emslander works on skis at the 8th Biathlon World Cup 2008 in the Siberian town of Khanty-Mansiysk, in this picture taken March 8, 2008. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin/File Photo

By Philip O’Connor

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – It is the one subject skiers and snowboarders cannot stop obsessing about at the Winter Olympics – how best to wax their equipment to ensure maximum speed and stability.

Get it right in the waxing shed and you can glide your way to Olympic glory. Get it wrong and the snow can turn to treacle.

In cross-country skiing, athletes must ensure they get their “kick wax” right in order to keep pace in the uphill stretches and former biathlete Jean-Marc Chabloz told Reuters there was no room for error.

“It is completely crucial, completely crucial,” the four-time Olympian said as he demonstrated the basic techniques for waxing cross-country skis.

“You can’t win a race with bad skis, it just doesn’t work. Everyone is at their best, so it’s small margins.”

Chabloz, who now coaches student athletes at the Jamtlands High School in Sweden, expertly cleaned his skis and used a hot iron to spread a thin layer of glide wax before polishing them to a smooth finish.

For cross-country skiers and biathletes, getting the balance right is tough. They need to be able to ski as fast as possible across flat ground and downhill, but they also need a good grip to get them to the top of hills.

To achieve this, a stickier “kick wax” is applied to the ski in the area under and in front of the foot, while the rest is given a coating of glide wax.

But it is not just a case of what wax is applied where. There are hundreds of products on the market for different conditions.

“There’s many parameters that have to be taken into account when waxing. The quality of the snow – is it rough or fine? It’s the temperature, humidity and of course the distance,” Chabloz explains.

The 50-year-old, who competed for Switzerland in Albertville, Lillehammer, Nagano and Salt Lake City, said he always got his waxing right at the Olympics, but others are not so lucky.

At the 2014 Sochi Games, both Norwegian relay teams performed poorly and the blame was laid squarely on the waxing team. And at a World Cup event in Ruka, Finland in November, it happened again.

“The skiers had good grip when they tested the skis, and bad grip when they skied the race. It’s easy to explain – it was a waxing miss,” Knut Nystad, who is responsible for waxing in the Norwegian team, told reporters.

For Alpine skiers and snowboarders, the requirements are different, with sharp edges often needed on their equipment to cut into the artificial snow and icy surfaces of downhill and slopestyle courses.

When waxing, teams must also take into account the fact that conditions can change during a race, which makes waxing more an art than a science.

But for Chabloz, the key is not to complicate things.

“There’s a whole pile of waxing products out there, so you have to try to stick to something simple that you know, and then there’s no big worries,” he said.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Murray undergoes hip surgery, eyes Wimbledon return

Tennis – ATP World Tour Finals Preview – The O2 Arena, London, Britain – November 11, 2017 Great Britain’s Andy Murray during practice Action Images via Reuters/Tony O’Brien

By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) – Three-times grand slam champion Andy Murray underwent hip surgery on Monday but is optimistic about his chances of returning in time for Wimbledon and believes he can still challenge for major titles.

The 30-year-old Briton has not played a competitive match since hobbling to defeat by Sam Querrey in the Wimbledon quarter-finals six months ago and last week he withdrew from the Australian Open.

“Today I underwent successful right hip surgery at the St Vincent Hospital in Melbourne,” Murray said on Facebook.

“I’d like to thank Dr John O’Donnell and all of the staff for looking after me. I look forward to returning to competitive tennis during the grasscourt season,” he added.

“Thanks to everyone for all the well wishes and support over the last few days. I’ll come back from this.”

Murray, who ended 2016 as world number one, has slipped down to 19th in the rankings but the Scot is insists he is not a spent force.

“I’m not finished playing tennis yet. I’m going to be competing at the highest level again,” Murray, talking from his hospital bed, was quoted as saying by British media.

“I’m very optimistic about the future – the surgeon is very happy about how it went.”

CONTINUE RECOVERY

Murray is expected to return home in a week or two to continue his recovery and rehabilitation.

The twice Wimbledon champion and reigning Olympic champion has made it back from surgery before after having an operation to his lower back at the end of 2013.

He went on to win a second Wimbledon title in 2016 and played arguably the best tennis of his career.

Last year, however, his hip began to cause concern at the French Open where he reached the semi-finals and he was walking with a limp throughout Wimbledon.

While he faces the possibility of almost a year out in total, Murray says if he can return to 95 percent of his best he can still compete for the game’s biggest prizes.

“The surgeon felt that my hip will be feeling better than it did a year ago,” Murray said. “Obviously, I was still doing fine a year ago – I was ranked number one in the world.

“I’m certainly not going to be putting in the same amount of tournaments and effort to try to get to number one in the world.

“I’ll be playing a reduced schedule, and then focusing more on trying to win major events and big tournaments rather than trying to achieve certain ranking goals.

“So if I can get myself to 95 per cent of my best, I believe that’s enough to compete at the highest level. No question.”

Former world number one Boris Becker believes a “100 percent comeback” is possible for Murray, although the German says he might be regretting leaving the surgery so long.

Murray had hoped to avoid going under the knife, saying it would not necessarily achieve a positive outcome, but finally decided it was his only realistic option because he had been in constant pain for six months.

“With a good surgery and a good recovery a 100 percent comeback is more than possible,” Becker, who will be working as a Eurosport analyst at the Open, told Reuters.

“Lleyton Hewitt had it, Tommy Haas had it, just to mention a few who came back and played strong. I just wish that he had done it earlier.

“Hindsight is always easier. He tried the conservative route but came to the conclusion that the only way back was surgery. If he had done it earlier he could have been back earlier.”

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)

Olympics: IOC extends North Korea deadline for Pyeongchang Games

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters is pictured on the day of an Executive Board meeting on sanctions for Russian athletes in Lausanne, Switzerland December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

BERLIN (Reuters) – The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has extended the deadline for registration of North Korean athletes for the Pyeongchang winter Olympics and is planning more talks with all sides, it said on Monday

The IOC, which is eager to have North Korean athletes at the Games, did not say until when the registration deadline had been extended until but most sports have completed their Olympic qualifying events.

Only a figure skating pair from North Korea has secured a spot in the Games in South Korea in February, although several other athletes could qualify through special places offered by the Olympic body.

“We welcome the discussion which will take place on Wednesday between the governments of the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” an IOC spokesman said.

South Korea offered talks with North Korea this week, amid a tense standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a New Year’s Day speech that he was “open to dialogue” with Seoul.

Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump have exchanged fiery barbs in the last year and Trump has warned that the United States would have no choice but to “totally destroy” North Korea if forced to defend itself or its allies.

“As far as the participation of athletes from the National Olympic Committee of DPRK in the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 is concerned, the IOC has been having discussions with both sides for a long time,” the spokesman said.

“In doing so we have kept the door open by extending the deadline for registration, and by offering support to North Korean athletes in the qualification process, whilst always respecting United Nations sanctions.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in his New Year’s Day speech that he would consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics and North Korea last week reopened a long-closed border hotline with South Korea for talks.

“The IOC will at very short notice continue its talks with all the parties concerned so that we can take the necessary decisions about participation and the format of any participation in due time,” the IOC spokesman said.

“The IOC’s mission is always to ensure the participation of all qualified athletes, beyond all political tensions and divisions.

“With regard to the very particular situation on the Korean peninsula we need the political commitment from all parties concerned to make such a participation possible. Once this political commitment is clear the IOC will take the final decision.”

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Ed Osmond)

Gruden returns as Raiders’ head coach

File Photo: Jon Gruden stands on the field in Michigan November, 23, 2008. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

(Reuters) – Jon Gruden will return as the Oakland Raiders’ head coach, bringing the longtime broadcaster out of the booth and back onto the sidelines.

The announcement was made about an hour after Gruden had finished working as an analyst at the NFL wild-card game between Tennessee and Kansas City on Saturday.

He will be introduced by the Raiders at a media conference on Tuesday and replaces Jack Del Rio, who was sacked on Dec. 31. [nL4N1OV07D]

The Mercury News said the 54-year-old Gruden had signed the richest coaching contract in the NFL, with the agreement worth $100 million over 10 years.

Gruden coached the Raiders from 1998 to 2001 before being traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and capturing Super Bowl XXXVII. He has a career coaching record of 95-81.

(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

Unstoppable Shiffrin wins fourth alpine skiing race in a row

Alpine Skiing – FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup – Women’s Slalom – Kranjska Gora, Slovenia – January 7, 2018 – Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. celebrates during the podium ceremony. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic

KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia (Reuters) – Overall World Cup leader Mikaela Shiffrin won her fourth race in a row on Sunday, storming to victory in the slalom at Kranjska Gora by a huge 1.64 seconds.

It was her seventh win in the last eight races in all disciplines, her form peaking with the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang just one month away, and the 40th World Cup win of her career.

Shiffrin is widely expected to retain the Olympic slalom title she won at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, as well as having a shot at gold medals in the giant slalom and Super G.

“I was really aggressive, especially the first run,” she told Swiss television, adding that she did not take an interest in passing the 40-win milestone.

“It doesn’t mean so much,” she said. “I’m not focusing on that, I’m really happy with my skiing right now and that’s what I’m focusing on.”

The 22-year-old produced an astonishing first run as she charged down the course in 51.44 seconds, with Frida Hansdotter of Sweden the second-best on 52.91.

Even though Shiffrin eased off slightly on the second run, when her time was bettered by two other skiers, nobody else could get near her total time of one minute 43.50.

Hansdotter was second and Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener third.

Shiffrin, who won her maiden overall World Cup title last season, tops the overall standings with 1,281 points, an overwhelming lead of 721 points over second-placed Holdener.

This season she has won four slalom races, two giant slaloms, one parallel slalom, the Oslo city event and a downhill.

(Writing by Brian Homewood in Bern; Editing by Toby Davis)

Figure skating: Tennell, Nagasu and Chen make U.S. team

FILE PHOTO: (L-R) Second place Mirai Nagasu, first place Bradie Tennell, and third place Karen Chen pose for a photo after the ladies free skate program during the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships at SAP Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) – U.S. champion Bradie Tennell will headline the United States’ women’s figure skating team to next month’s Winter Olympics, U.S. Figure Skating announced on Saturday.

Teenager Tennell, who was nearly flawless in her free skate program on Friday, will be joined by Mirai Nagasu and fellow teen Karen Chen as officials selected the top three finishers in their national championships at San Jose, California.

Ashley Wagner, who was controversially named to the 2014 Olympic team, again finished fourth and was selected first alternate.

Both Tennell, 19, and Chen, 18, will be participating in their first Olympics.

Nagasu, 24, competed in the 2010 Vancouver Games, finishing fourth.

Wagner, 26, the only U.S. woman to win a world championship medal in the past 11 seasons, was upset by the judging at the U.S. nationals.

“I’m furious,” the 2016 world silver medalist told reporters. “I am absolutely furious. I know when I go and I lay it down and I absolutely left one jump on the table (turning a triple salchow into a single) but for me to put out two programs that I did at this competition, as solid as I skated and to get those scores, I am furious, and I think deservedly so.”

The 2018 Winter Games will take place Feb. 9-25 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

U.S. Figure Skating will announce its men’s, pairs and ice dance athletes on Sunday after the men’s and pairs competition the previous day.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Wilson, North Carolina; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

Irrepressible Shiffrin wins eighth alpine skiing race of the season

Alpine Skiing – FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup – Women’s Giant Slalom – Kranjska Gora, Slovenia – 06/01/18 – Winner Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. celebrates with Tessa Worley of France and Sofia Goggia of Italy on the podium. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic

KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia (Reuters) – Overall World Cup leader Mikaela Shiffrin continued her remarkable run by winning the giant slalom at Kranjska Gora on Saturday, her eighth win of the season.

Despite battling a virus and with rain falling on the course, the 22-year-old American completed the two runs in an aggregate time of one minute 47.40 seconds, 0.31 seconds ahead of her nearest rival Tessa Worley of France. Italian Sofia Goggia was third.

Shiffrin, who won her maiden overall World Cup title last season, tops the overall standings with 1,181 points, a huge lead of 647 points over second-placed Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany.

This season she has won three slalom races, two giant slaloms, one parallel slalom, the Oslo city event and a downhill.

It was her third World Cup win in a row in all disciplines and her sixth in the last seven races, her form peaking with the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang just one month away.

Shiffrin is widely expected to retain the Olympic slalom title she won at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, as well as having a shot at gold medals in the giant slalom and Super G.

(Reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris)

Fiery Kerber helps Germany set up Hopman Cup final against Switzerland

Tennis – Wimbledon – London, Britain – July 8, 2017 Germany’s Angelique Kerber in action during her third round match against USA’s Shelby Rogers REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

(Reuters) – Angelique Kerber cruised past Daria Gavrilova before teaming up with Alexander Zverev to help Germany overcome Australia on Friday and set up an enticing Hopman Cup final against Switzerland.

Former world number one Kerber made short work of Gavrilova, beating the Australian 6-1 6-2 to give Germany the upper hand.

Australia levelled the tie after Thanasi Kokkinakis upset world number four Zverev 5-7 7-6(4) 6-4, leaving Germany facing a must-win mixed doubles match to progress to the final.

Kokkinakis helped Australia to win the first set of the doubles but Kerber maintained her fiery dominance to steer Germany to a 1-4 4-1 4-3(3) victory.

“Angie played unbelievable in both of her matches — she’s the reason we’re in the final,” Zverev said. “I’m going to give all the credit to her. I didn’t play my best today — luckily I have an unbelievable partner.”

Earlier, Belgium whitewashed Canada 3-0 and were on course to reach the final as group winners before Germany’s victory led them to the top.

Elise Mertens beat Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard 6-4 6-4 to hand Belgium the advantage and David Goffin sealed the tie for the European side with a 6-2 6-4 win over Vasek Pospisil.

Germany last won the Hopman Cup in 1995 and in Saturday’s final they will face an all-conquering Swiss team with Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic yet to lose a match in the tournament.

(Reporting by Aditi Prakash in Bengaluru, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Patriots refute talk of rift: ‘We stand united’

Dec 24, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) on the field before the start of the game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

By Frank Pingue

(Reuters) – New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft have all shot down a report that suggested a rift between them could soon bring an end to their successful run.

An ESPN report published on Friday said friction amongst the three most powerful members of the Patriots franchise, who last season won their fifth Super Bowl together, could be enough to make this the final season they work together.

“For the past 18 years, the three of us have enjoyed a very good and productive working relationship,” the trio said in a joint statement. “In recent days, there have been multiple media reports that have speculated theories that are unsubstantiated, highly exaggerated or flat out inaccurate.”

The statement came hours after the ESPN article, which cites more than a dozen Patriots staffers, executives, players and NFL sources with knowledge of the team’s inner workings, said the trio have had serious disagreements.

According to ESPN, the three men have been at odds for years over a number of issues, including Brady’s trainer and business partner Alex Guerrero having some team privileges removed and the team’s decision to trade backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers for a second-round pick.

The article went as far as to say there is a “palpable sense in the building that this might be the last year together for this group.”

The Patriots, who are favorites to repeat as Super Bowl champions this season, are the top seed in the American Football Conference playoffs and will next play in the Divisional Round on Jan. 13 against either the Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans or Buffalo Bills.

“The three of us share a common goal. We look forward to the enormous challenge of competing in the postseason and the opportunity to work together in the future, just as we have for the past 18 years,” the statement added.

“It is unfortunate that there is even a need for us to respond to these fallacies. As our actions have shown, we stand united.”

Don Yee, who is the agent for both Brady and Garoppolo, also weighed in on the report.

“I don’t know really what to say — it’s tough to have a response since it didn’t appear to me to have one on-the-record quote,” Yee said in a statement issued to the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. “All I can suggest is don’t believe everything you read.”

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

Murray pulls out of Australian Open with hip injury

Tennis – ATP World Tour Finals Preview – The O2 Arena, London, Britain – November 11, 2017 Great Britain’s Andy Murray during practice Action Images via Reuters/Tony O’Brien

LONDON (Reuters) – Former world number one Andy Murray will miss this month’s Australian Open after failing to recover from the hip injury that has kept him out of action for nearly six months.

Murray, five times a runner-up in Melbourne, has not played a competitive match since hobbling to defeat against American Sam Querrey in the Wimbledon quarter-finals last July.

The 30-year-old’s withdrawal was confirmed by Australian Open organizers who published a statement from the Scot on the tournament’s Twitter account on Thursday.

“Sadly I won’t be playing in Melbourne this year, as I am not yet ready to compete,” three-times grand slam champion Murray said. “I’ll be flying home shortly to assess all the options but I appreciate all the messages of support and I hope to be back playing soon.”

Murray played a one-set exhibition match in Abu Dhabi last week, losing to Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut.

He also played Roger Federer in a charity exhibition match in Scotland in November, but his hopes of playing in the year’s first grand slam nosedived when he withdrew from this week’s Brisbane warm-up event.

Olympic champion Murray has fallen to 16th in the world rankings and will now have to decide whether or not surgery is needed to overcome the hip problem.

“The chances of a successful outcome are not as I high as I would like which has made (surgery) my secondary option and my hope has been to avoid that,” Murray said this week when announcing he would not play in Brisbane.

“However, this is something I may have to consider but let’s hope not.”

Murray underwent back surgery at the end of 2013 but returned to play some of his best tennis and won a second Wimbledon title in 2016 and reached number one in the world rankings for the first time.

That effort took its toll on Murray in 2017 as he won only one title.

He joins Kei Nishikori on the absent list for this year’s Australian Open after the Japanese withdrew to continue his rehabilitation on a wrist injury.

Several other players, including world number one Rafael Nadal and six-times Melbourne Park champion Novak Djokovic are battling to be fit for the Australian Open.

“We are fully aware that Andy has been going through a difficult period with his hip and that he’s done everything possible to prepare for the Australian summer,” Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said.

“Personally, I also know that Andy loves tennis and would do anything to play. This is a very hard decision for Andy and we totally respect it.”

Tiley was confident that Djokovic (elbow) and Nadal (knee) would be ready for the Jan. 15 start in Melbourne.

“I spoke to Novak. He’s already got every hour of the day planned between when he arrives and the start of the Australian Open. He’ll be ready,” Tiley said.

“(Rafa’s) on his way down here now so he’ll be ready. It’s not dissimilar from last year…Last year we were talking about the health of Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and Serena Williams and two weeks later they were playing each other in the final.”

(Reporting by Martyn Herman and Hardik Vyas; editing by Amlan Chakraborty and Pritha Sarkar)

Tiger to start 2018 campaign at Farmers Insurance Open

Tiger Woods watches his shot after teeing off on the 2nd hole in the final round of the Quicken Loans National golf tournament at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Virginia, in this file photo taken August 2, 2016. REUTERS/Mandatory Credit: Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports/Files
Picture Supplied by Action Images

(Reuters) – Former world number one Tiger Woods will make his much-anticipated 2018 debut at this month’s Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, his first official PGA Tour event since missing the cut at the same tournament last year.

Woods, who returned to competition last month in an 18-man exhibition after a near 10-month layoff during which he had spinal fusion surgery, will also play the Feb. 15-18 Genesis Open at Riviera, which is run by the Tiger Woods Foundation.

“I’m very excited to be back at Riviera,” Woods, 42, said in a statement on his website on Thursday.

“I haven’t played at Riviera in a tournament in a very long time. To be able to play in an event that I used to come to as an amateur, as a junior and now as the tournament host, that is on one of the most historic sites in all of golf, it’s a dream come true.”

The American 14-times major champion swung freely and with no sign of back pain at last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he began his latest comeback and finished tied for ninth in a field including eight of the world’s top 10 golfers.

After that event Woods was vague when asked about his plans for 2018, saying only that he would set his playing schedule around building up toward the golf’s four major tournaments.

He will no doubt feel very comfortable when he tees it up at Torrey Pines, having won the event seven times. It is also the venue where he won the 2008 U.S. Open for the most recent of his 14 major titles.

Woods fell flat in his PGA Tour return at the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open where he missed the cut by four shots. He then played the European Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic and withdrew with back spasms after an opening-round 77.

The Farmers Insurance Open begins on Jan. 25 at Torrey Pines.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue, editing by Ed Osmond)

World Series champion Astros to visit White House

Nov 3, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (1) holds up the championship trophy during the World Series championship parade and rally at Houston City Hall. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) – The Houston Astros will visit the White House to be honored by United States president Donald Trump, a team staff member told the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday.

Astros’ president of business operations Reid Ryan said the team had accepted a White House invitation, though the date was yet to be scheduled.

The Astros won baseball’s World Series two months ago and it is customary for the winner of major sports champions in the U.S. to receive an invitation to the White House to meet with the president.

But these are not normal times, as evidenced by Trump’s tweet in September rescinding an invitation to the National Basketball Association’s champion Golden State Warriors.

This followed a disclosure by Golden State star guard Stephen Curry that he would vote not to visit if the team held a poll.

“This is a tradition and an honor. For many people, this might be their only time to ever be invited to the White House,” Ryan told the Chronicle of the Astros’ plans.

“And as the representatives of baseball and the World Series champs, when the White House calls and invites you to come up, it’s something that as an organization we felt both a responsibility and an obligation to be part of.”

This does not necessarily mean every member of Houston’s World Series-winning team will go.

The New England Patriots visited the White House after winning the Super Bowl earlier this year, but several team members skipped the trip.

Houston third baseman Alex Bregman, who called Trump a “joke” before the 2016 presidential election, was recently asked whether he would accept an invitation.

“I don’t know. I’m gonna do whatever Carlos Beltran and Carlos Correa do,” Bregman said, referring to two of the team’s players from Puerto Rico.

(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

Sharapova, Halep cruise into Shenzhen semi-finals

FILE PHOTO: Russia’s Maria Sharapova hits a shot during a practice session at Melbourne Park, Australia, January 14, 2016. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo
Picture Supplied by Action Images

(Reuters) – Former world number one Maria Sharapova cruised past Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas and into the semi-finals of the Shenzhen Open in China on Thursday.

Sharapova, who won 6-3 6-3, struck 24 winners and five aces to stay on course for a title clash with top-ranked Simona Halep after the Romanian dismissed Aryna Sabalenka 6-2 6-2.

“I’m glad that I ended up being the winner of the match,” Sharapova said in a courtside interview.

“I didn’t play my best tennis and there’s certainly a lot of things to improve on in the next. The great thing is that I’m through and have another chance to play tomorrow.”

The five-times grand slam champion committed 22 unforced errors in the match but stepped up her game at decisive moments of the contest to get past her spirited rival.

Sharapova’s only title in 2017 came at the Tianjin Open, after she came back from a 15-month doping ban, and the world number 59 is aiming for a title-winning start to the year in her first visit to Shenzhen.

“I feel like I’m having a nice little tour of China. It’s my fourth Chinese city in a few months,” Sharapova added.

“It’s obviously been a great welcome here. It took many years for me to play this event but I’m really glad that I did.”

Sharapova plays Katerina Siniakova next after the defending champion beat fellow Czech Kristyna Pliskova 6-2 6-2.

Earlier, fourth seed Irina-Camelia Begu had to work hard to overcome Timea Babos 7-5 7-5 to set up a semi-final meeting with her compatriot Halep.

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Murray pulls out of Australian Open with hip injury

Tennis – ATP World Tour Finals Preview – The O2 Arena, London, Britain – November 11, 2017 Great Britain’s Andy Murray during practice Action Images via Reuters/Tony O’Brien

LONDON (Reuters) – Former world number one Andy Murray will miss this month’s Australian Open after failing to recover from the hip injury that has kept him out of action for nearly six months.

Murray, five times a runner-up in Melbourne, has not played a competitive match since hobbling to defeat against American Sam Querrey in the Wimbledon quarter-finals last July.

The 30-year-old’s withdrawal was confirmed by Australian Open organizers who published a statement from the Scot on the tournament’s Twitter account on Thursday.

“Sadly I won’t be playing in Melbourne this year, as I am not yet ready to compete,” three-times grand slam champion Murray said. “I’ll be flying home shortly to assess all the options but I appreciate all the messages of support and I hope to be back playing soon.”

Murray played a one-set exhibition match in Abu Dhabi last week, losing to Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut.

He also played Roger Federer in a charity exhibition match in Scotland in November, but his hopes of playing in the year’s first grand slam nosedived when he withdrew from this week’s Brisbane warm-up event.

Olympic champion Murray has fallen to 16th in the world rankings and will now have to decide whether or not surgery is needed to overcome the hip problem.

“The chances of a successful outcome are not as I high as I would like which has made (surgery) my secondary option and my hope has been to avoid that,” Murray said this week when announcing he would not play in Brisbane.

“However, this is something I may have to consider but let’s hope not.”

Murray underwent back surgery at the end of 2013 but returned to play some of his best tennis and won a second Wimbledon title in 2016 and reached number one in the world rankings for the first time.

That effort took its toll on Murray in 2017 as he won only one title.

He joins Kei Nishikori on the absent list for this year’s Australian Open after the Japanese withdrew to continue his rehabilitation on a wrist injury.

Several other players, including world number one Rafael Nadal and six-times Melbourne Park champion Novak Djokovic are battling to be fit for the Australian Open.

“We are fully aware that Andy has been going through a difficult period with his hip and that he’s done everything possible to prepare for the Australian summer,” Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said.

“Personally, I also know that Andy loves tennis and would do anything to play. This is a very hard decision for Andy and we totally respect it.”

Tiley was confident that Djokovic (elbow) and Nadal (knee) would be ready for the Jan. 15 start in Melbourne.

“I spoke to Novak. He’s already got every hour of the day planned between when he arrives and the start of the Australian Open. He’ll be ready,” Tiley said.

“(Rafa’s) on his way down here now so he’ll be ready. It’s not dissimilar from last year…Last year we were talking about the health of Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and Serena Williams and two weeks later they were playing each other in the final.”

(Reporting by Martyn Herman and Hardik Vyas; editing by Amlan Chakraborty and Pritha Sarkar)

Rampant Shiffrin wins her third successive slalom

Alpine Skiing – FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup – Women’s Slalom – 2nd run – Zagreb, Croatia – January 3, 2018 – Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. reacts after winning the competition. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

ZAGREB (Reuters) – Overall World Cup leader Mikaela Shiffrin gave herself another confidence boost ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics after blowing away the field to win a third successive women’s slalom at Zagreb’s Mt Sljeme on Wednesday.

The 22-year old U.S skier from Vail, Colorado, finished the two legs in one minute 53.07 seconds, a staggering 1.59 seconds ahead of Swiss runner-up Wendy Holdener, with Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter climbing from fifth to third after a fine second run.

Shiffrin, who won her maiden overall World Cup title last season, tops the standings with 1081 points and is also in the driving seat in the slalom on 580 points with the Feb 9-25 Games in South Korea’s Pyeongchang beckoning.

She set the pace after starting fourth out of the blocks in the opening leg and carved out an advantage of 1.41 seconds over Holdener and 1.61 ahead of Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova.

Heavy snowfall on a soft course in the second leg, when the top 30 skiers start in reverse order, did not deter the American as she produced another flawless run to cross the finish line as the event’s emphatic winner.

Shiffrin is widely expected to retain the Olympic slalom title she won at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, as well as to have a shot at gold medals in the giant slalom and Super G.

Earlier on Wednesday, former American great Bode Miller heaped praise on his compatriot in an interview with Reuters.

“I think she’s maybe the best ski racer I’ve ever seen, male or female,” said the 40-year-old. “She’s so balanced, dynamic, intense and focused, so for me, I think she’s got a chance in any event she skis in.”

(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Ian Chadband)

Alpine skiing: Speed queen Vonn ready for battle in Pyeongchang

FILE PHOTO: Lindsey Vonn of the U.S. skis during in the Alpine Skiing World Cup women’s downhill race in the Bavarian ski resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, February 6, 2016. REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler/File Photo

By Rory Carroll

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Lindsey Vonn has vowed not to take the safe option at what are likely to be her last Winter Olympics next month despite being dogged by questions about her health after recent crashes.

The 33-year-old American is the most successful World Cup women’s skier of all time with 78 victories while clinching four overall titles, but has only two Olympic medals — a gold in downhill and bronze in super-G, both won in Vancouver in 2010.

In recent competitions, however, Vonn has seen a mix of crashes and wins, making her chances in Pyeongchang difficult to handicap.

In early December she crashed twice at Canada’s Lake Louise, where she has a long history of success, before racing to a super-G World Cup win at Val d’Isere in France two weeks later.

“As long as I’m healthy and I’m confident, then I’ll be in a great position when I get to Pyeongchang,” she told the Vail Daily in November.

“Everyone asks me if I’m afraid, after so many crashes do I take my foot off the gas pedal? And while I am smarter and I try to manage my risk better than I have in the past, it’s still ski racing.

“You can try to manage risk as much as you want, but at the end of the day, it’s a dangerous sport.”

Managing risk has been on her mind for the past four years after she missed the 2014 Sochi Olympics due to a right knee injury.

It was arguably the most serious of a career that had been relatively injury free during her first decade as a professional as she became a household name for her exploits on the slopes and off them, courtesy of a high-profile relationship with golfer Tiger Woods.

Since the February 2013 crash that contributed to her missing the Sochi Games she has endured a series of setbacks that include multiple broken bones, surgeries and grueling rehabilitations.

“I’m 33, I’ve been injured quite a few times, but my passion for the sport has never changed,” she said.

“Since I started skiing and started racing when I was eight years old, I’ve loved what I do, and I don’t want to stop doing it.

“As long as I’m enjoying it and I don’t have to use too much duct tape to hold my body together, I’m good.

“I’m focused on winning the World Cups, but just getting to February healthy is the only thing I should be really focused on.”

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

Djokovic to return to action before Australian Open

FILE PHOTO – Former world No.1 tennis player Novak Djokovic speaks during a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Andrej Isakovic/Pool

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic is finally set to return to action next week after six months out with an elbow injury and will then decide whether to take part in the Jan 15-28 Australian Open.

“After pulling out from Abu Dhabi and ATP Doha events due to pain in his right elbow, Novak is traveling to Australia where he will take part in two exhibition tournaments,” said a statement on Djokovic’s website (www.novakdjokovic.com).

“After the two events, a decision will be made about his participation at the first Grand Slam of the season, the Australian Open, where Novak has been crowned champion six times.”

The 30-year old Serbian is to return at the Jan 10-12 Kooyong Classic and is also scheduled to take part at the Tie Break Tens evening exhibition at Melbourne Park next Wednesday.

The former world number one, who won the last of his 12 grand slam honors when he captured his maiden French Open title in 2016, has not played since retiring against Czech Tomas Berdych with the injury in the Wimbledon quarter-finals in July.

He pulled out of the Abu Dhabi event last week only hours before his match with Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut after the pain in his right elbow flared up.

On medical advice, he also withdrew from the Qatar Open and now faces a final fitness test for the Australian Open.

(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

Impressive Wozniacki continues march in Auckland

FILE PHOTO – Tennis – WTA Tour Finals – Singapore Indoor Stadium, Singapore – October 29, 2017. Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki celebrates during the final against USA’s Venus Williams. REUTERS/Edgar Su

(Reuters) – Caroline Wozniacki continued to build on her WTA Finals victory late last year with another impressive performance on her way to a 6-2 6-2 victory over Croatia’s Petra Martic to reach the quarter-finals of the Auckland Classic on Wednesday.

The Danish world number three ended 2017 with the biggest title of her career in Singapore and returned a day after thrashing Madison Brengle in her season opener to hit 21 winners against eight unforced errors in the 53-minute win over Martic.

“I’m trying to stay aggressive,” Wozniacki said in a court-side interview. “I still made some unforced errors. It’s taking a few matches to play like 100 percent but I still felt I played pretty well today.”

Top seed Wozniacki started brightly with a break of serve to love on her way to an early 3-0 lead and added another break in the eighth game to wrap up the opening set in just 24 minutes on a glorious day in New Zealand’s largest city.

Martic tried to mount a comeback early in the second when she broke for a 2-0 lead but Wozniacki won the final six games behind impressive serving numbers, including six aces, to book a last eight encounter with young American Sofia Kenin.

“I’ve worked on everything I need to work on in the off-season,” Wozniacki added as she continues her preparations for the Australian Open starting in Melbourne on Jan. 15.

“Now it’s just a matter of working out how to incorporate that into your match or into a situation where you maybe get nervous.”

Kenin, a 19-year-old wild card, knocked out compatriot Varvara Lepchenko 6-4 7-6(6) earlier in the day and there were also victories for Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova.

Hsieh recorded a 6-4 6-3 triumph over Belgian qualifier Ysaline Bonaventure to set up a quarter-final clash against Strycova after the third seeded Czech edged out Sweden’s Johanna Larsson 6-1 6-7(3) 6-2.

In the late matches, second seeded German Julia Goerges eased to a 6-4 6-0 victory over Slovakia’s Viktoria Kuzmova to book a last eight tie against Slovenia’s Polona Hercog, who was almost as ruthless in a 6-4 6-2 win over Kirsten Flipkens.

Former world number two Agnieszka Radwanska continued her strong start to the campaign with a 6-3 7-5 win over American Taylor Townsend, the Pole holding her nerve in a tight second set that lasted more than an hour to advance.

Fourth seed Radwanska, who remains on a collision course for a semi-final against Wozniacki, next faces American qualifier Sachia Vickery, who defeated Paraguay’s Veronica Cepede Royg 6-2 6-4.

(Reporting by John O’Brien in Singapore; Editing by Greg Stutchbury/Amlan Chakraborty)

Without NHL players, Team USA hockey looks to Europe

Jan 1, 2018; Queens, NY, USA; Team USA hockey Olympic player Brian Gionta (right) and head coach Tony Granato attend a press conference during the second period in the 2018 Winter Classic hockey game between the New York Rangers and the Buffalo Sabres at Citi Field. Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

By Dan Burns

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Stanley Cup winner Brian Gionta will captain a U.S. men’s Olympic ice hockey team made up of players from European leagues or the North American development ranks at next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Gionta, who has played 15 years in the NHL, was named on Monday amongst more than a dozen little-known Americans playing professionally in Europe, along with a hodgepodge of minor leaguers and ex-NHL players for the Feb. 9-25 Olympics.

He is the only player in the squad to have previous Olympic experience, having played for the U.S. at the 2006 Games in Turin and is well aware the team has precious little time together to try and challenge for a medal in Pyeongchang.

“The biggest challenge is getting the team to gel together as quick as possible,” Gionta, who won a Stanley Cup in 2003 with the New Jersey Devils, told reporters on Monday.

“We have four practices or so before we come together and start competing in games.”

Next month’s Olympics are the first since 1994 not to include players from the National Hockey League.

The league said last April it would not release players after failing to reach a deal with the International Olympic Committee to cover players’ travel and insurance costs.

The NHL also were unhappy with the prospect of a nearly three-week interruption to the regular season schedule.

USA Hockey named the bulk of their squad during the NHL’s Winter Classic New Year’s Day game between the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres.

Most are drawn from leagues around Europe, with a few playing in the U.S. minors and former NHL players like Gionta.

Only four come from the college ranks, ensuring the team does not mark a full return to the pre-NHL era when the last American team to win gold at the Lake Placid Games in 1980 in the ‘Miracle on Ice’ were predominantly collegiate players.

The 2018 team features many of the players who went to the Deutschland Cup in Germany in October in what amounted to both a trial and their only warm-up games ahead of Pyeongchang.

They lost all of their games against Slovakia, Russia and Germany and were outscored 12-4.

“Obviously from a selection process it’s been a real battle for us,” coach Tony Granato said.

“I think we’ve put together an outstanding group of players that will represent us well come February and give us a great chance to … compete for a medal.”

The team’s first group game is on Feb. 14 against Slovenia before they face Slovakia on Feb. 16. They also face a stiff challenge on Feb. 17 from an unknown collection of Russians, who will play under the Olympic flag.

The IOC has banned Russia from formal participation for doping violations, but Russian athletes deemed to be drug-free can compete independently.

“Any time you play a Russian team you expect high skill and expect to see extremely talented players,” Granato said.

“How they put it together and what they do in the next few weeks, we’ll have to keep an eye on, but we’re not going to do anything different as we get ready for the Olympics.”

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

Konta overcomes blip to get past Keys in Brisbane opener

FILE PHOTO: Tennis – Wimbledon – London, Britain – July 13, 2017 Great Britain’s Johanna Konta in action during her semi final match against Venus Williams of the U.S. REUTERS/Matthew Childs

(Reuters) – Johanna Konta made a shaky start to the new season before battling past U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys and into the second round of the Brisbane International on Monday.

Konta, who prevailed 4-6 6-4 6-3, needed two hours and eight minutes to quell the challenge of her American opponent as her usually reliable serve sputtered early on before eventually coming to her rescue at the Pat Rafter Arena.

“This was my first match in quite a while, so I’m really happy to have had such a competitive match against such a great player,” Konta said.

“It was a really tough first round for both of us. Madison is an incredibly good player, so I feel very lucky that I got to play her so early on and really have a good match.”

World number 19 Keys missed eight opportunities to break Konta’s serve before she finally succeeded while up 5-4 to take the first set with a powerful forehand drive.

Konta appeared to calm her serve and nerve in the second set, fighting back with an early break to go up 3-2. The world number nine then held on to level the match at one set apiece.

The Briton battled her way to a 2-0 lead in the decider as Keys began to tire and finished the match with another break to set up a clash with Ajla Tomljanovic in the next round.

Belarusian qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich came from behind to upset sixth seed Kristina Mladenovic 1-6 6-3 7-5 while Elina Svitolina beat Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2 6-4. Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko then stunned eighth seed Ashleigh Barty 6-3 6-2.

Double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova withdrew from the event with a viral illness. The 27-year-old Czech was unable to take the court against Estonian Anett Kontaveit and was replaced in the draw by lucky loser Heather Watson.

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

Two more head coaches fired as Bears dump Fox, Lions ditch Caldwell

FILE PHOTO: Aug 29, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Chicago Bears head coach John Fox looks on from the sidelines in the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals in a preseason NFL football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) – Two more head coaches were fired from National Football League teams on Monday, bringing the number to four in less than 24 hours since the end of the regular season.

John Fox was sent packing from the Chicago Bears after three seasons, while Jim Caldwell was sacked after four seasons with the Detroit Lions.

Fox departs after a 5-11 season, and a 14-34 overall record.

“Today is the tough part of our results-oriented business but I wish the Bears organization the best for years to come,” he said in a statement released by the club.

Caldwell, meanwhile, leaves Detroit after compiling a 36-28 record, the first head coach at the franchise to compile a winning record since the early 1970s.

The Lions made the playoffs twice under Caldwell, but have not won a postseason game since 1991, the second longest active drought in the NFL.

On Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts dumped head coach Chuck Pagano after six seasons, while the Oakland Raiders dispensed with Jack Del Rio after three seasons.

The New York Giants fired Ben McAdoo four weeks ago.

(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

Tennis: Serena, Fed and Rafa make it landmark year for greats

Tennis player Serena Williams attends the 2017 Glamour Women of the Year Awards at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

By Ian Chadband

LONDON (Reuters) – Serena Williams needed just one January fortnight to underline her greatness before Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal then spent the rest of 2017 reminding us of why tennis really is still basking in its age of sporting wonders.

When Williams beat big sister Venus in the Australian Open to lift a 23rd grand slam singles crown, a record in the Open era, she seemed so dominant that a calendar year grand slam even felt feasible.

Instead, it was to be the last match Serena played all season as she ended up celebrating an even happier event.

For after it was revealed that, astonishingly, she had been eight weeks pregnant when winning in Melbourne without dropping a set, Serena gave birth to baby daughter, Alexis Olympia in September.

She reckoned those ‘AO’ initials were a nod to how they spent together on court at the ‘Australian Open’ and Serena will be back there in January at 36, seeking to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 singles slams.

Yet even ‘supermum’ Serena would do well to top the amazing Federer-Nadal comeback roadshow of 2017 as they seemed to hop from some time machine to share the season’s four slams.

That would have been considered preposterous at the start of 2017 with Federer, at 35, given no chance after a six-month injury absence, and 30-year-old Nadal apparently a shadow of his old dominating self after so much wear and tear on his battered knees.

Instead, the pair served up an epic final in Melbourne, won in five mesmerising sets by Federer, that was to reignite and reshape sport’s most shining rivalry.

With his new-found swashbuckling backhand attack, Federer beat his nemesis in all four 2017 meetings but, also recognising the importance of rest, decided daringly to bypass the entire draining claycourt season.

He was right to predict Nadal would be unstoppable as usual at his Roland Garros kingdom as the Spaniard achieved ‘La Decima’, that unreal 10th French Open crown, without dropping a set and thrashing Stan Wawrinka in the final.

A refreshed Federer was then equally majestic at Wimbledon, winning a record eighth crown in the same blemish-free fashion, outplaying injury-hit Marin Cilic for his 19th slam.

Nadal did, though, win their duel for the world No.1 spot in August as Federer’s form was affected by back trouble and the Spaniard roared to a 16th slam, beating Kevin Anderson in the U.S. Open final.

Of course, the duo’s monopoly was aided by injury woes for the outgoing no.1 Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, whose lame exits at Wimbledon persuaded them to take a leaf out of Federer’s book and seek rest and recuperation.

They will be back raring to go in Melbourne, as will Grigor Dimitrov, leader of the chasing pack who was crowned ATP Tour champion in November, but Federer, who lost just five of 57 matches and lifted seven titles, offered the eerie impression of actually playing better than ever.

Williams, meanwhile, will return, knowing no-one seemingly had the game nor ambition to take command of women’s tennis in her absence.

Four others also held the No.1 ranking in 2017 — Angelique Kerber, Karolina Pliskova, Garbine Muguruza, winner at Wimbledon over 37-year-old Venus Williams, and Simona Halep, who ended the season on top.

Halep, though, again fell short in the biggest events, topped by her loss to free-hitting 20-year-old Latvian Jelena Ostapenko in the French Open final, perhaps the most startling triumph of the year from a youngster who had previously not even won any tour event.

As for comeback of the year, even Federer bowed to Petra Kvitova, who returned after a career-threatening knife attack to win, astonishingly, in just her second tournament back on tour.

Then there was Sloane Stephens, who after 11 months out with a foot injury that needed surgery and having been ranked 957th only a month before the tournament, won her home U.S. Open final against great friend Madison Keys.

“If you told someone this story, they’d be, like, ‘That’s insane.’,” Stephens mused afterwards.

She could have been reflecting on the whole of a faintly surreal but wonderful tennis year.

(Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Rex Gowar)

Djokovic doubtful for Australian Open after withdrawing from Abu Dhabi event

Tennis – Wimbledon – London, Britain – July 12, 2017 Serbia’s Novak Djokovic reacts as he retires from his quarter final match against Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych with an injury REUTERS/Matthew Childs

(Reuters) – Former world number one Novak Djokovic’s preparation for next month’s Australian Open suffered a blow after he pulled out of the season-opening exhibition event in Abu Dhabi on Friday due to pain in his right elbow.

The 12-time grand slam winner was scheduled to kickstart the new season against Roberto Bautista Agut but was advised by his medical team to skip the tournament just hours before the match.

Djokovic has not played since he was forced to retire against Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon in July due to an elbow injury.

“I am terribly disappointed that I am forced to withdraw from the Mubadala World Tennis Championship,” the Serb said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, in the past few days I started to feel pain in the elbow and after several tests, my medical team has advised me not to risk anything, to withdraw from the tournament and to immediately continue with the therapies.

“I am very sad because I was eager to return to playing official matches. Now I need to accept this situation, and to wait for the results of the therapies, in order to start playing tennis again and getting back to full rhythm.”

Organizers said that Britain’s Andy Murray had agreed to step in and play an exhibition match against Bautista Agut instead. Murray has been out of competitive action for six months due to an ongoing hip problem but was in Abu Dhabi as part of his rehabilitation.

The Australian Open, the first grand slam of 2018, begins on Jan. 15 at Melbourne Park.

(This story has been refiled to tweak the headline.)

(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

Highlights of Thursday’s NHL games

Dec 28, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Vegas Golden Knights players celebrate after a goal by left wing Brendan Leipsic (13) in the third period against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

(The Sports Xchange) – Highlights of National Hockey League games on Thursday:

Golden Knights 3, Kings 2

David Perron scored the winning goal at 3:30 of overtime as the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 on Thursday for their sixth consecutive win.

Vegas extended its point streak to 11 games (10-0-1), the longest of any team in its inaugural season. It is the first time in NHL history that an expansion team has won six games in a row.

Jonathan Marchessault and Brendan Leipsic registered the other Vegas goals. Marc-Andre Fleury made 26 saves.

Los Angeles lost its second straight game and has dropped five of its past seven. Marian Gaborik and Drew Doughty registered goals, and Jonathan Quick made 36 saves.

Capitals 4, Bruins 3 (SO)

Alex Ovechkin scored the only goal of the shootout, and Washington earned its 12th consecutive victory over Boston.

Ovechkin, the Capitals’ third shooter, made a move to his right and fired high over Bruins goaltender Anton Khudobin, off the post and in. Boston had won five straight while Washington snapped a three-game slide after overcoming a 2-0 deficit.

David Backes’ second goal of the night gave the Bruins a 3-2 lead at 7:19 of the third period, but the Capitals tied it on Brett Connolly’s eighth goal of the season during a scramble in front with 8:38 remaining. Backes and Noel Acciari scored early in the first period.

Lightning 3, Canadiens 1

Red-hot Tampa Bay tied the game with 12 seconds left in the second period and jumped ahead 30 seconds into the third to defeat Montreal.

The Lightning’s top two scorers combined on a highlight-reel goal — Nikita Kucherov outskated a Canadiens defender to a loose puck and flicked a no-look backward pass to a charging Steven Stamkos, who beat Carey Price for the tying goal.

Tampa Bay, which is 10-0-1 in its past 11, took the momentum from that score into the third, when Brayden Point poked in a loose puck in front of the net for his 15th goal and a 2-1 lead with 19:30 left.

Maple Leafs 7, Coyotes 4

Patrick Marleau scored twice as Toronto defeated Arizona.

Mitch Marner recorded a goal and two assists, William Nylander had a goal and an assist, and Auston Matthews, Zach Hyman and Connor Brown also scored for the Maple Leafs. Marleau finished with a three-point night.

Jordan Martinook had a goal and an assist, and Josh Archibald, Brendan Perlini and Christian Fischer also scored for the Coyotes, who fell to a league-worst 9-26-5. Arizona has lost two of three, giving up at least six goals in each of the defeats.

Panthers 3, Flyers 2

James Reimer came within eight minutes of his second consecutive shutout as Florida won its fourth straight game.

Reimer, who made 29 saves in his 10th straight start in place of injured starter Roberto Luongo, has allowed just seven goals in his past four appearances. In a span covering parts of three games, Reimer went 121:54 without allowing a goal.

Jared McCann, Derek MacKenzie and Jonathan Huberdeau scored for the Panthers, and Nick Bjugstad picked up two assists. Huberdeau has 13 goals, one shy of Vincent Trocheck for the team lead.

Sharks 3, Flames 2 (SO)

Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi scored the only goals in a shootout, lifting San Jose past Calgary for the Sharks’ third consecutive win.

Pavelski and Timo Meier scored for the Sharks in regulation, and Martin Jones made 32 saves. Jones stopped all three shots he faced in the shootout.

Garnet Hathaway and Mikael Backlund scored for the Flames. Backup goaltender David Rittich made 30 saves.

Canucks 5, Blackhawks 2

Thomas Vanek scored two goals and added three assists, and Sam Gagner added two goals and an assist as Vancouver beat Chicago.

Gagner extended his point streak to four games after producing points in only five of the previous 15 contests. His linemate, Brock Boeser, had a goal and three assists to take the NHL rookie points lead (38) from Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders.

The Canucks ended a four-game losing streak. The Blackhawks took their third loss in a row. Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman, with only 8.6 seconds left in the game, scored for Chicago.

Highlights of Thursday’s NBA games

Dec 28, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier (12) and guard Kyrie Irving (11) jump in the air in celebration of a basket during the second half against the Houston Rockets at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

(The Sports Xchange) – Highlights from National Basketball Association games on Thursday:

Celtics 99, Rockets 98

The Boston Celtics pulled off the biggest comeback of the NBA season on Thursday.

Down by 26 points early in the third quarter, Boston never led until Al Horford scored with 3.7 seconds left, escaping with a wild 99-98 victory that sent the Houston Rockets to their fourth straight loss.

Two straight offensive fouls in the backcourt resulting from James Harden knocking down Marcus Smart as Houston tried to inbound the ball with no timeouts left turned the game in the closing seconds.

Kyrie Irving paced the Celtics with 26 points. Harden led all scorers with 34 points but was only 7-of-27 from the floor.

Spurs 119, Knicks 107

LaMarcus Aldridge scored a game-high 25 points, and Pau Gasol added 17 points and 11 rebounds to rack up his fourth straight double-double as San Antonio rolled past New York.

All five starters scored in double figures for the Spurs, who won their straight game. Kyle Anderson, who started in place of Kawhi Leonard, scored 16 points, and Danny Green and Tony Parker hit for 15 and 14 points, respectively.

Michael Beasley led the Knicks with 23 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. Kristaps Porzingis, who fouled out with 2:30 left, and Courtney Lee had 18 points apiece.

Magic 102, Pistons 89

Point guard Elfrid Payton had 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in leading Orlando to a victory over Detroit that snapped a nine-game losing streak.

The Pistons lost for only the second time in the past seven games.

Evan Fournier scored 17 points for the Magic. Bismack Biyombo, in his second start of the season, had a season-high 12 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Aaron Gordon added 14 points.

Tobias Harris led Detroit with 21 points. Andre Drummond had 17 points and a game-high 18 rebounds. Ish Smith, in his first start of the season, scored 18 points.

Trail Blazers 114, 76ers 110

CJ McCollum scored 34 points and Portland rallied from an 18-point, third-quarter deficit to beat Philadelphia at Moda Center.

Shabazz Napier added a season-high 23 points and Jusuf Nurkic collected 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Trail Blazers, who snapped a six-game home skid.

Joel Embiid had 29 points and nine rebounds and Dario Saric chipped in 25 points and nine boards for the 76ers, who lost for the sixth time in seven outings.

Bucks 102, Timberwolves 96

Eric Bledsoe hit a three-pointer with 2:25 left to give Milwaukee its first lead of the night in a victory over Minnesota at the Bradley Center.

Bledsoe scored 26 points, and Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Bucks, who overcame a 20-point deficit in the second half.

The Timberwolves were hitting at a 57.7 percent clip through three quarters but went 2 of 10 from beyond the arc and 4-of-19 overall in the fourth quarter.

Karl-Anthony Towns led the Timberwolves with 22 points. Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler had 21 and 20, respectively, as Minnesota’s five-game win streak ended.

Highlights of Wednesday’s NHL games

December 27, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Vegas Golden Knights celebrate the 4-1 victory against the Anaheim Ducks following the third period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

(The Sports Xchange) – Highlights of National Hockey League games on Wednesday:

Golden Knights 4, Ducks 1

Shea Theodore, Cody Eakin, William Karlsson and David Perron registered goals, and Malcolm Subban made 27 saves as the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Vegas won its fifth consecutive game and remained undefeated in regulation play through 10 games (9-0-1), the longest point streak by a team in its inaugural NHL season.

Anaheim had a two-game winning streak snapped. Rickard Rakell registered the lone Ducks’ goal, and John Gibson made 24 saves.

Coyotes 3, Avalanche 1

Tobias Rieder, Alex Goligoski and Lawson Crouse scored goals, Antti Raanta made 25 saves, and Arizona defeated Colorado.

The Coyotes won for the second time in three games after going 1-8-2 in their previous 11 contests.

Mikko Rantanen had a goal and Semyon Varlamov stopped 24 shots for the Avalanche, who lost home games to the two worst teams in the league this month. The Buffalo Sabres beat Colorado 4-2 on Dec. 5.

Jets 4, Oilers 3

Winnipeg may have picked up a valuable two points with a victory over Edmonton, but it also lost offensive leader Mark Scheifele with a serious arm or shoulder injury.

After assisting on a goal, Scheifele was taken hard into the end boards. The Jets’ second-leading scorer fell awkwardly, immediately grabbed his right shoulder and writhed on the ice for about 30 seconds. He finally got up under his own power and went straight to the dressing room. He did not return.

Connor Hellebuyck stopped 21 shots in picking up his 13th win of the season for the Jets while Cam Talbot got in front of 35 shots directed his way at the other end of the ice for the Oilers.

Wild 4, Stars 2

Mikael Granlund’s second-period goal stood up as the game-winner, and Alex Stalock made 24 saves as Minnesota held on for a victory over Dallas.

Jared Spurgeon and Eric Staal added goals the Wild and Charlie Coyle had a pair of assists.

Tyler Seguin and Mattias Janmark scored for the Stars, but it wasn’t enough as Dallas saw its two-game winning streak snapped. Ben Bishop kept his team within striking distance with 27 saves.

Predators 2, Blues 1

Pekka Rinne stopped 29 shots and Nashville got goals from Craig Smith and Calle Jarnkrok in a win over St. Louis.

The win moved the Predators past the Blues into first place in the Central Division.

The Blues fell behind 2-0 after the first two periods before ruining Rinne’s bid for his fourth shutout of the season on a goal by Vladimir Sobotka, who deflected a shot by Kyle Brodziak with 6:23 to go in the third period.

Rangers 1, Capitals 0 (SO)

Mats Zuccarello and Mika Zibanejad scored during a shootout as New York defeated Washington.

Both backup goaltenders kept the game scoreless through regulation and overtime.

The Rangers’ Ondrej Pavelec turned aside 27 shots through the first 60 minutes, three more in overtime and two during the shootout. The Capitals Philipp Grubauer stopped 37 shots, including 18 in the third period and one in overtime. Grubauer was beaten on both of New York’s shootout attempts.

Bruins 5, Senators 1

Riley Nash scored his first two goals since Nov. 28 and added an assist, and Boston came out of the holiday break with a convincing victory over Ottawa.

Nash matched his career high for points in a single game. Tuukka Rask made 25 saves to go to 9-0-1 in his past 10 starts. David Backes and Danton Heinen both posted a goal and an assist, and Kevan Miller scored his first goal in 35 games, and defenseman Matt Grzelcyk had two assists for Boston.

Thomas Chabot scored the lone goal for the Senators on a slap shot.

Islanders 3, Sabres 2 (OT)

Mathew Barzal scored 1:08 into overtime as New York mounted a late comeback to beat Buffalo.

Josh Bailey forced overtime by scoring with 1:09 left in regulation for the Islanders, who won two straight for the first time this month. Jason Chimera scored in the second period and Jaroslav Halak made 35 saves.

Zemgus Girgensons and Kyle Okposo scored for the Sabres, who have lost 11 of 14 (3-7-4). Robin Lehner made 31 saves.

Devils 3, Red Wings 1

Rookie Nico Hischier scored two goals, and Cory Schneider made 31 saves as New Jersey extended its winning streak to a season-high five games with a victory over Detroit.

Hischier, the top pick in the 2017 draft, scored twice in the first period, the second two-goal game of his young career. The Red Wings answered back in the second period with a Justin Abdelkader goal but could not score the equalizer against an exceptionally sharp Schneider.

The Devils’ Sami Vatanen collected an empty-net goal to close out the scoring in the final minute.

Penguins 5, Blue Jackets 4 (SO)

Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby scored in a shootout as Pittsburgh overcame three two-goal deficits to beat Columbus.

The Penguins’ Jake Guentzel scored with 1:40 left in the third period to force a 4-4 tie. Conor Sheary, Phil Kessel and Malkin also scored for the Penguins.

Sonny Milano and Boone Jenner staked the Blue Jackets to a 2-0 lead in the first before leading scorer Artemi Panarin scored once in the second and once in the third.

Hurricanes 3, Canadiens 1

Sebastian Aho, the third member of Carolina to put a shot on goal in a five-second sequence, scored the winning goal against Montreal.

Aho’s go-ahead power-play goal came with 10:45 remaining. He added an empty-netter with 1:24 to play, giving him 10 goals this season. Teuvo Teravainen opened the scoring for the Hurricanes, who won six of their last seven games.

Alex Galchenyuk scored for the Canadiens, who began a stretch of three road games in four nights. Cam Ward, who made a third consecutive start for the first time this season, was credited with 23 saves.

Alpine skiing: Dominant Shiffrin wins again

Alpine Skiing – FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup – Women’s Alpine Slalom – Lienz, Austria – December 28, 2017 – Winner Mikaela Shiffrin of U.S. celebrates on the podium. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

LIENZ, Austria (Reuters) – American Mikaela Shiffrin continued to dominate the women’s World Cup season when she won the slalom at Lienz on Thursday, her fifth win of the season.

Shiffrin produced the fastest time on the first run of 51.03 seconds and, although Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener was slightly quicker on the second leg, she was unable to make up the gap.

The American won by a comfortable margin of 0.89 seconds as she claimed her second slalom of the season in addition to one giant slalom, a parallel slalom and a downhill. Swede Frida Hansdotter was third.

“I’m feeling better and better with my slalom now. I’m in a really good place,” said the 22-year-old after the 36th World Cup win of her career.

Shiffrin is well on course to retain the overall World Cup title she won for the first time last year, as she leads the standings on 821 points with Germany’s Viktoria Regensburg a distant second on 430.

(Writing by Brian Homewood in Bern, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Highlights of Wednesday’s NBA games

Dec 27, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) shoots over Brooklyn Nets guard Nik Stauskas (2) during the first quarter at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

(The Sports Xchange) – Highlights of Wednesday’s National Basketball Association games:

Pelicans 128, Nets 113

Anthony Davis scored a team-high 33 points, DeMarcus Cousins had 27 points and 14 rebounds, and Rajon Rondo dished out a career-high 25 assists to power the New Orleans Pelicans to a 128-113 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night at the Smoothie King Center.

Jrue Holiday added 23 points and E’Twaun Moore had 20 for the Pelicans, who won their third consecutive game. The Nets lost for the seventh time in eight games. Brooklyn was led by Caris LeVert with 22 points.

Davis also had a season-high six blocks and tied a career high with four made 3-pointers.

Kings 109, Cavaliers 95

Vince Carter scored 24 points in Sacramento’s improbable win over Cleveland.

The 40-year-old guard, who missed the team’s previous three games — two by coach’s decision and one as a result of rib pain — received multiple standing ovations from the Golden 1 Center crowd. He finished 10 of 12 from the field and had big-time shots to answer almost every time Cleveland tried to cut into the lead.

Cleveland’s LeBron James had a triple-double of 16 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds.

Bulls 92, Knicks 87

Kris Dunn scored 17 points and hit a pair of free throws with 7.8 seconds remaining, and Lauri Markkanen finished with 12 points as Chicago rallied to beat New York.

Robin Lopez finished with 11 points for Chicago, which has won nine of its last 11 games. Justin Holiday, who capped the victory with two free throws in the closing seconds, also finished with 11 points in the victory.

Kristaps Porzingis led New York with 23 points to go along with 17 by Courtney Lee and 11 by Jarrett Jack. The Knicks lost their third straight game.

Warriors 126, Jazz 101

Kevin Durant ignited a third-quarter runaway with consecutive dunks, propelling Golden State to a victory over Utah.

Durant had 21 points, six rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots without playing in the fourth quarter. The Warriors improved to 9-1 since Stephen Curry left the lineup with a sprained right ankle earlier this month.

Playing their second road game in two nights, the Jazz led by as many as seven points in the second quarter and trailed only 48-47 at halftime. Rodney Hood paced Utah with 26 points.

Timberwolves 128, Nuggets 125 (OT)

Jimmy Butler scored 12 of his game-high 39 points in overtime to help Minnesota top Denver.

Butler picked up the slack in overtime after Karl-Anthony Towns and Taj Gibson fouled out and point guard Jeff Teague exited with an injury.

The Timberwolves won their fifth game in a row while halting the Nuggets’ winning streak at three games. Denver got 28 points from Will Barton.

Thunder 124, Raptors 107

Paul George had 33 points, and Russell Westbrook added 30 points and 13 assists as Oklahoma City beat Toronto.

Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams contributed 18 points apiece for the Thunder.

C.J. Miles led the Raptors with 20 points, and Jonas Valanciunas added 16 points. DeMar DeRozan had 15 points but made just four of 16 shots from the floor.

Hawks 113, Wizards 99

Dennis Schroder erupted for 16 of his 21 points in the second half, leading Atlanta to a win over Washington.

Ersan Ilyasova chipped in with 20 points while Marco Belinelli helped with 19 off the bench for Atlanta. The victory marked the first time this season that the Hawks won consecutive games.

Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 20 points, and Markieff Morris scored 18. John Wall had 10 points and 11 rebounds in the loss.

Mavericks 98, Pacers 94

Dirk Nowitzki scored 15 points to lead six players in double figures in Dallas’ victory over Indiana.

Harrison Barnes and Yogi Ferrell each had 13 points for Dallas. Wesley Matthews and Dwight Powell added 12 points apiece, and Devin Harris scored 10 for the Mavericks, who shot 51.3 percent from the field.

Indiana got 16 points apiece from Myles Turner, Lance Stephenson and Darren Collison. Stephenson added 15 rebounds.

Celtic 102, Hornets 91

Rookie Jayson Tatum scored 10 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, and Al Horford and Kyrie Irving combined for 41 points as Boston closed out Charlotte.

Irving scored 21 points and handed out eight assists, and Horford added 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Celtics, who had lost three of their previous four games, including a Christmas Day defeat to the Washington Wizards.

Kemba Walker led the Hornets with 24 points.

Grizzlies 109, Lakers 99

A 32-point performance from guard Tyreke Evans helped Memphis capitalize on a sluggish Los Angeles offensive performance.

Jarell Martin had 20 points, Andrew Harrison recorded 15 points, Deyonta Davis scored 14 points, and Marc Gasol finished with 11 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots for the Grizzlies.

With a shoulder injury sidelining rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, the Los Angeles offense stagnated. Brandon Ingram led the Lakers with 23 points.

Highlights of Tuesday’s NBA games

Dec 26, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; LA Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell (5) shoots against Sacramento Kings forward Justin Jackson (25) and center Willie Cauley-Stein (00) in the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

(The Sports Xchange) – Highlights of Tuesday’s National Basketball Association games:

Suns 99, Grizzlies 97

Tyson Chandler slammed home an alley-oop dunk off a Dragan Bender inbounds feed with four-tenths of a second left, and the Phoenix Suns held off the Memphis Grizzlies for the second time in six days with a 99-97 win on Tuesday night.

Memphis tied the score at 97 when Jarell Martin slammed home a Tyreke Evans miss with six-tenths of a second left and the teams seems headed to overtime. With the subsequent inbounds play moved to midcourt, Bender threw the ball just over the far side of the rim, where Chandler was waiting to slam it down.

Devin Booker had 32 points in his return to the lineup for the Suns, who beat the Grizzlies 97-95 on Dec. 21 when Evans missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. TJ Warren finished with 17 points for Phoenix, which gave coach Jay Triano his 100th NBA win.

Evans had 25 points and Marc Gasol scored 18 for Memphis, which lost for the 20th time in 24 games.

Mavericks 98, Raptors 93

J.J. Barea scored a team-high 20 points to lead Dallas past Toronto.

Dirk Nowitzki (18 points), Harrison Barnes (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Maxi Kleber (15 points) also were the big producers for Dallas, which earned just their third win in 11 games.

Kyle Lowry led the Raptors with 23 points, Jonas Valanciunas finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Serge Ibaka had 11 points and 12 rebounds. Toronto lost for just the second time in 14 games.

Spurs 109, Nets 97

Kawhi Leonard scored a season-high 21 points while seeing the court for a season-most 26 minutes as Antonio defeated Brooklyn.

LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 20 points and nine rebounds, and Pau Gasol nabbed his third double-double in a row with 15 points and a game-high 12 rebounds for the Spurs. Tony Parker scored 14 points, and Patty Mills and Ginobili tallied 11 each for San Antonio.

Caris LeVert hit on 8 of 11 shots and led Brooklyn with 18 points. Allen Crabbe contributed 15, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson hit for 13 points and Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen had 12 points apiece for the Nets.

Pistons 107, Pacers 83

Tobias Harris scored 26 of his 30 points in the first half, and Detroit won for the fifth time in six games, thumping Indiana.

Andre Drummond supplied 21 points and 18 rebounds for the Pistons, who never trailed. Ish Smith added 12 points, and Reggie Bullock chipped in 11. Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson sprained his right ankle during the third quarter. Jackson had eight points and a season-high 13 assists prior to the injury.

Victor Oladipo, who came into the game averaging 25.3 points, scored a season-low 13 points for Indiana. Bojan Bogdanovic, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis added 10 points apiece for the Pacers.

Bulls 115, Bucks 106

Nikola Mirotic scored 24 points off the bench, and Kris Dunn finished with 20 as Chicago snapped a two-game losing streak.

Dunn bounced back from a 1-for-12 showing his last time out against the Boston Celtics. He hit 9 of 17 shots Tuesday and added 12 assists. The Bulls shot 43.7 percent from the floor and made 10 3-pointers.

Milwaukee got 28 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo and 22 from Eric Bledsoe. The Bucks committed a season-high 20 turnovers that the Bulls turned into 24 points.

Heat 107, Magic 89

Josh Richardson scored 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to lead Miami past Orlando.

Wayne Ellington scored 18 points off the bench, including 12 in the fourth, for the Heat, who got starting center Hassan Whiteside back from a 13-game knee-injury absence. Whiteside produced seven points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes.

Evan Fournier returned after missing eight games due to an injured right ankle and scored 14 points in 30 minutes for the Magic, who have lost nine games in a row. Orlando’s Elfrid Payton had 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

Nuggets 107, Jazz 83

Jamal Murray scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds, Trey Lyles added 16 points and eight rebounds against his former team, and Denver beat Utah.

Nikola Jokic had 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists before being ejected early in the fourth quarter, but the Nuggets closed it out to win their third straight.

Derrick Favors led Utah with 20 points, Jonas Jerebko scored 13 and rookie Donovan Mitchell had 13 points and six assists. The Jazz lost for the ninth time in 11 games.

Clippers 122, Kings 95

Montrezl Harrell scored 22 points and Lou Williams added 21 as Los Angeles’ bench helped power a victory over Sacramento.

The Clippers’ bench outscored the Kings’ reserves 72-43. Los Angeles rookie Jamil Wilson started and scored a career-high 17 points, 14 of which came in the first quarter. DeAndre Jordan added 13 points and 15 rebounds as the Clippers won for the third time in their past four games.

Willie Cauley-Stein had 17 points and seven rebounds for the Kings. Buddy Hield and Malachi Richardson each added 10 points for Sacramento.

Highlights of Monday’s NFL games

Dec 25, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles kicker Jake Elliott (4) kicks the go-ahead field goal out of the hold of punter Donnie Jones (8) in the fourth quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports – 10499509

(The Sports Xchange) – Highlights of National Football League games on Monday:

Eagles 19, Raiders 10

Jake Elliott kicked a 48-yard field goal with 22 seconds remaining and the Philadelphia Eagles clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with a narrow 19-10 victory over the Oakland Raiders Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles looked shaky but improved to 2-0 since Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL. Foles went 19 of 38 for 163 yards, one touchdown and one interception as the Eagles improved to 13-2 overall and 7-0 at home. The Eagles conclude the regular season on Sunday at home against the Dallas Cowboys.

The Eagles were also 13-2 in 2004 when they advanced to the Super Bowl.

Oakland quarterback Derek Carr finished 15 of 29 for 140 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

The Raiders, who had already been eliminated from playoff contention, fell to 6-9.

Steelers 34, Texans 6

Mike Hilton and Cameron Heyward recorded multisack games and the Pittsburgh Steelers remained in the running for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs by breezing to a 34-6 victory over the Houston Texans.

Hilton and Heyward combined for five sacks of Houston quarterbacks T.J. Yates and Taylor Heinicke as the Steelers (12-3) limited the Texans (4-11) to 51 net passing yards.

Pittsburgh scored on its first two possessions and completed its road schedule with just one loss.

Pittsburgh clinched a bye in the postseason while extending its road winning streak to six.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 20 of 29 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns, including scoring strikes of five yards to Justin Hunter and 18 yards to JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Roethlisberger completed multiple passes to four receivers as the Steelers’ passing offense excelled in its first week without injured Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown.

Houston has lost five consecutive games and eight of nine since its mid-October bye week

NBA-Highlights of Monday’s NBA games

December 25, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) celebrates after making a three-point basket against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the fourth quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Cavaliers 99-92. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

(The Sports Xchange) – Highlights of Monday’s National Basketball Association games:

Warriors 99, Cavaliers 92

Klay Thompson broke a late tie with a 3-pointer and Kevin Durant protected the lead with two key defensive plays on LeBron James, lifting the Golden State Warriors to a 99-92 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA’s marquee matchup on Christmas Day.

Neither team led by more than nine points in the tightly contested rematch of last spring’s NBA Finals, which the Warriors won in five games.

Durant, despite just 8-for-19 shooting, had 25 points to pace the Warriors, who have won six of their last seven at home against the Cavaliers.

Kevin Love had a game-high 31 points and 18 rebounds for the Cavaliers. James was held to 20 points on 7-for-18 shooting.

Sixers 105, Knicks 98

Joel Embiid had 25 points and 16 rebounds, and J.J. Redick added 24 points with four 3-pointers as Philadelphia snapped its season-high five-game losing streak.

Enes Kanter had 31 points — including 14 in the third quarter — and 22 rebounds, and Kristaps Porzingis added 22 points for the Knicks, who have lost three of four after winning four straight.

Ben Simmons, who struggled offensively and finished with eight points, had a crucial steal and breakaway dunk with 1 minute, 6 seconds left, jumping in front of a Porzingis pass and taking it the other way to give the 76ers an eight-point cushion. He then forced a turnover on New York’s next possession, and Philadelphia was able to juice the clock late.

Wizards 111, Celtics 103

Kelly Oubre Jr. and Bradley Beal both scored five straight points during a late 12-0 run, leading Washington past Boston.

It was the first time the Celtics played at home on Christmas, and they were fighting an uphill battle throughout the game. They wiped out an 11-point third-quarter deficit and led by five before the Wizards (19-15) caught fire.

Beal scored 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds and John Wall had 21 points, 14 assists and five boards. Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 20 points apiece.

Thunder 112, Rockets 107

Russell Westbrook scored 31 points to lift Oklahoma City over Houston.

Westbrook outdueled James Harden, who finished with 29 points.

Paul George added 24 and Carmelo Anthony 20 for the Thunder, who extended their season-long winning streak to five games.

Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon scored 20 for the Rockets, who lost for the third consecutive time after winning 14 consecutive games.

Timberwolves 121, Lakers 104

Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler scored 24 points apiece and Minnesota continued its best start in 14 years with a victory against Los Angeles.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 21 points and 10 rebounds and Jamal Crawford contributed 19 points off the bench for the Timberwolves, who shot a season-high 58.3 percent from the floor.

Kyle Kuzma made 6 of 11 3-pointers and scored 31 points to lead the Lakers. Jordan Clarkson added 17 points and Julius Randle scored 16 off the bench.

Concussion protocol altered after recent missteps

Dec 10, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage (3) reacts after being sacked during the game against the San Francisco 49ers at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) – The NFL’s concussion protocol has been altered with late-season changes following recent incidents that have triggered investigations.

The changes were implemented last weekend, Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, told ESPN.

Most notably, a central unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant (UNC) was stationed at the command center that has been used primarily for game-replay review, Sills said.

“We are constantly looking at the protocol and how it’s applied and trying to get better,” Sills said. “The process happens through the season.”

An injury to Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage on Dec. 10 as well as Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s concussion protocol misstep in Week 10 that resulted in a $100,000 fine for the franchise were two incidents that fueled the investigation.

Other notable changes in the new protocol were:

–Any sign of impact seizure will be considered the same as loss of consciousness, with the player being ruled out of the game.

–A referee who removes a player from the game for suspected head trauma must notify the medical staff.

–A player who exhibits gross motor instability or significant loss of balance must be taken to the locker room for evaluation if it is not diagnosed as an orthopedic injury.

–A player who is evaluated for a concussion must be re-evaluated within 24 hours, even if the player has an off day.

–A third UNC will be on site for the playoffs and the Super Bowl, in addition to the two already assigned to each regular-season game.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll)

Seahawks’ Thomas tells Cowboys to ‘come get me’

Nov 7, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas (29) celebrates after breaking up a pass play in the fourth quarter in a game against the Buffalo Bills at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks won 31-25. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) – Seattle safety Earl Thomas courted controversy on Sunday when he appeared to offer his services to the Cowboys following the Seahawks’ 21-12 victory in Dallas.

Thomas, who attempted to enter the Cowboys locker room following the game, approached their coach Jason Garrett in the tunnel and could be heard saying, “if y’all have the chance, come get me”. The Texas native, who also played collegiate football at the University of Texas, has one year left on a five-year contract in Seattle and was asked about his post-game comments that are likely to anger the passionate Seahawks fans.

“I’ve always been a Cowboys fan growing up. The biggest thing when I said ‘come get me,’ I didn’t literally mean, ‘come get me now,'” Thomas, who added he was happy in Seattle, told reporters.

“I’m still in the prime of my career, I still want to be here. But when Seattle kicks me to the curb, please, the Cowboys, come get me. You know?

“This is the place where I want to be when they kick me to the curb. So that’s what I meant.”

The victory kept Seattle’s slim playoff hopes alive.

(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles)

Nadal out of season-opening Abu Dhabi event

Tennis – ATP World Tour Finals – The O2 Arena, London, Britain – November 13, 2017 Spain’s Rafael Nadal during a press conference after losing his group stage match against Belgium’s David Goffin Action Images via Reuters/Tony O’Brien

(Reuters) – Rafa Nadal has withdrawn from next week’s season-opening exhibition event in Abu Dhabi due to ongoing fitness problems, the world number one has said.

The 16-time grand slam champion, who won the French and U.S. Opens earlier this year, withdrew from the ATP Finals in November after struggling with a knee injury during his round-robin defeat by Belgian David Goffin.

The 31-year-old Spaniard, who has previously played at the tournament on eight occasions, will be replaced by compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut.

“It was a tough 2017 and I need to take my calendar in a different way in order to be ready,” Nadal told the Mubadala World Tennis Championships website.

“For this reason, I have sadly announced to the organizers and now to you fans that I won’t play this time in Abu Dhabi.”

Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic have also withdrawn from the tournament, which is held from Dec. 28-30.

The Australian Open, the first major of the new season, begins on Jan. 15.

(Reporting by Aditi Prakash in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Pacers’ Oladipo showing the promise he once projected

Dec 23, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo (4) drives to the basket against Brooklyn Nets guard Allen Crabbe (33) during the first quarter at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

By Jahmal Corner

(Reuters) – Benefiting from an off-season trade, Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo is finally becoming the franchise player he was projected to be.

The 2013 top-two draft choice had been seen as ancillary to the deal when Indiana sent cornerstone Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

But Oladipo appears focused on proving his worth in a new lead role with the Pacers.

“I was already motivated before (the trade to Indiana), Oladipo told Reuters following a recent win over Atlanta.

“Then (the trade) just happened. It might have added on a little bit but I was already motivated.”

The fifth-year player has translated his motivation into career-best production as he averages 25.3 points per game on 48.6 percent shooting, which includes 42.5 percent from three-point range.

He adds five rebounds and nearly two steals a night.

The Pacers, who were expected to fall off a cliff in the absence of George, are holding steady at 19-14, the fourth best record in the Eastern Conference.

Oladipo has been particularly devastating in the month of December, erupting for scoring binges that included a 47-point night in a win against Denver.

Always known for his slashing athleticism and versatile defense, Oladipo has found a shooting comfort back in Indiana where he starred as a college player.

“He’s come into the season with confidence, and I think to prove himself,” said Pacers coach Nate McMillan who has enjoyed extensive film sessions with his new guard.

“There was a lot of conversation out there that the Pacers didn’t get enough in (trading away George). I think he’s proven to the league that he has talent.”

The Orlando Magic were intrigued by Oladipo’s talent when they drafted him as the second overall pick in the 2013 draft.

After three solid but not spectacular seasons with the Magic, Oladipo was shipped to the Thunder.

Playing alongside ball-dominant superstar Russell Westbrook, Oladipo had the role of unsung sidekick.

So when the Pacers landed Oladipo, expectations were low.

He is proving otherwise and appears headed for his first ever All Star appearance.

“We felt like he had potential and he’s showing that he did,” McMillan said. “He’s playing with confidence. And when you have that kind of ability and play with that kind of confidence, good things are going to happen for you.”

(Reporting by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles, editing by Gene Cherry)

Ravens hang on to beat the Colts, Vikes blank Packers

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) throws a pass as Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Grover Stewart (90) and Colts outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard (93) defend in the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

(The Sports Xchange) – Joe Flacco threw a pair of touchdown passes and the Baltimore Ravens held off the Indianapolis Colts for a 23-16 victory and took over the sixth playoff spot in the AFC on Saturday night.

Colts linebacker Anthony Walker blocked a punt with 2:36 left in the game, giving his team the ball on the Ravens’ 27-yard line. However, on fourth-and-10, Baltimore cornerback Maurice Canady knocked down a pass from Indianapolis quarterback Jacoby Brissett to seal the win.

The Ravens (9-6) overtook Buffalo (8-6) in the postseason race, and Baltimore currently has a better record against common opponents, which would be a tiebreaker. The Bills play at New England on Sunday.

Flacco was 29 of 38 for 237 yards.

Baltimore was able to move the ball against the Colts’ 30th-ranked defense, but struggled to find the end zone. Justin Tucker’s third field goal of the game increased their lead to 16-7 to open the second half.

Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri kept his team in the game with 48- and 38-yard field goals and Indianapolis trailed just 16-13 with 1:34 left in the third quarter.

Two penalties — a hold and pass interference — proved to be costly for the Colts (3-12) on the Ravens’ next drive. Flacco made them pay with a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Maxx Williams — his first score of the season. That put Baltimore ahead 23-13

Vinatieri’s 30-yard field goal pulled the Colts to within 23-16 with 4:33 left in the game. That gave Indianapolis just enough life to put itself in position to win the game.

Brissett did a solid job managing the game. He completed 16 of 33 for 215 yards with a touchdown. Brissett did not have a turnover and was sacked once.

Indianapolis receiver T.Y. Hilton created matchup problems for much of the game and finished with six receptions for 100 yards.

The Ravens’ opening drive stalled at the Colts’ 12 after 14 plays, and they settled for a 30-yard field goal by Tucker.

Tony Jefferson blocked an attempted 38-yard field goal by Vinatieri on the ensuing drive.

That led to a 6-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Michael Campanaro and Baltimore led 10-0 with 12:16 left in the half.

The Colts responded when Frank Gore took a short pass from Brissett and ran it in for a 14-yard score.

Another 39-yard kick by Tucker with two minutes left made it 13-7,

Vinatieri missed a 60-yard attempt in the final seconds and the Ravens led 13-7 at the break.

In Green Bay, the Minnesota Vikings’ defense dominated the short-handed Packers.

The Packers, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers on injured reserve, receiver Davante Adams inactive and receiver Jordy Nelson lost for the second half, simply lacked the horses to challenge the Vikings.

Minnesota won for the 10th time in 11 games by knocking off the rival Packers 16-0 in a game played in sub-10 degree temperatures.

For the fourth time in their last six games, the Vikings (12-3) allowed fewer than 10 points. It was their first shutout victory since 1993. Harrison Smith’s second interception of the night preserved the achievement.

Green Bay (7-8) was blanked for the second time this season, also losing at home to Baltimore 23-0 on Nov. 19.

Brett Hundley, making his eighth start for Rodgers, was ineffective, going 17 of 40 for 130 yards and two interceptions. He wasn’t helped by a handful of drops, a makeshift offensive line and the lack of two of the team’s top weapons.

Case Keenum threw a first-quarter touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs, and running backs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon combined for 111 rushing yards for Minnesota.

Green Bay trailed 10-0 midway through the third quarter when it faced a fourth-and-7 from the Vikings’ 36-yard line. Without Adams, who ranks second in the NFL with 10 touchdown catches but was out with a concussion suffered last week, and Nelson, who exited late in the second quarter with a shoulder injury, Hundley threw the ball to Michael Clark.

Clark, an undrafted free agent, recently was promoted from the practice squad. A former college basketball player, he played one year of football at Marshall. The ball was sailed over Clark’s head.

The Vikings tacked on a 20-yard field goal by Kai Forbath on the ensuing possession to extend the lead to 13-0. The key play on the drive came when Keenum ran toward the line of scrimmage, backpedaled and threw a short pass to tight end David Morgan, who broke three tackles for a gain of 23.

On fourth-and-4 from the Vikings’ 14 early in the fourth quarter, Hundley threw a back-shoulder pass to Clark in the end zone but Xavier Rhodes was in position to prevent the touchdown. Late in the fourth quarter, on fourth-and-10, Hundley went deep to Clark but was incomplete against cornerback Trae Waynes. The Packers pleaded for interference but the only flag was for unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing the noncall.

Set up with a short field, Forbath booted a 27-yard field goal to make it 16-0 with 2:56 remaining.

Smith’s second interception, on fourth-and-1, put the game away.

The Vikings struck first, taking their opening possession and getting a 49-yard field goal by Kai Forbath.

Minnesota’s defense forced back-to-back three-and-out punts from Green Bay. After the second, Minnesota extended its lead to 10-0.

Three consecutive runs totaling 23 yards by Murray set up a play-action pass to Diggs. Diggs got behind cornerback Josh Hawkins and drew an interference penalty for a gain of 39 to the 6-yard line. One play later, Case Keenum lofted a pass to Diggs in the back of the end zone, with Diggs getting both feet down for the touchdown and a 10-0 lead.

Tiger parts ways with swing coach Chris Como

December 3, 2017; New Providence, The Bahamas; Tiger Woods lines up his putt on the second hole during the final round of the Hero World Challenge golf tournament at Albany. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) – Former world number one Tiger Woods said on Friday he has decided to end his working relationship with swing coach Chris Como, opting instead to fly solo in his latest comeback from injury.

Woods, who returned to competition three weeks ago after a near 10-month layoff during which he had spinal fusion surgery, began working with Como after a forgettable 2014 season during which injuries limited him to seven official PGA Tour events, missing the cut in two.

“Since my fusion surgery I have been working hard to relearn my own body and golf swing. I’ve done this by primarily relying on my feel and previous years of hard work with Chris,” the 41-year-old said in a statement posted on his official Twitter account.

“For now, I think it’s best for me to continue to do this on my own. I’m grateful to Chris Como for his past work, and I have nothing but respect for him.”

Woods swung freely and with no sign of back pain at the Hero World Challenge, where earlier this month he began his latest comeback and finished tied for ninth in an 18-man exhibition that featured eight of the world’s top 10 golfers.

The 14-times major champion worked with swing coach Butch Harmon to begin his professional career, then switched to Hank Haney in 2004. Woods jumped to Sean Foley in 2010, whom he worked with for four years.

Como, in a statement provided to Golf Channel, said when he began working with Woods he was asked to help the golfer utilize his own instincts and feel while playing pain free and that he felt he accomplished the goal.

“Tiger is ready to have an incredible next run in his career. I’m eager to watch what will be one of the most exciting sports comebacks of all time,” Como said in the statement.

“I will continue to be a close friend and resource to him and am extremely excited about Tiger’s future, the golf industry and for the fans of golf.”

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

Barcelona pile on more misery on Real Madrid in 3-0 ‘Clasico’ win

Soccer Football – La Liga Santander – Real Madrid vs FC Barcelona – Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain – December 23, 2017 Barcelona’s Lionel Messi celebrates at the end of the match REUTERS/Sergio Perez

By Richard Martin

MADRID (Reuters) – Barcelona exploited a lackluster Real Madrid to win the ‘Clasico’ 3-0 on Saturday as goals from Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Aleix Vidal propelled the Catalans to a 3-0 win and lifted them 14 points clear of their rivals in the standings.

Suarez capitalized on a wide open space in Madrid’s midfield to knock in a simple pass from Sergi Roberto following a breakaway move in the 54th minute. That opened the scoring after a tense but tight first half in the early afternoon sun at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Messi hammered in the second goal from the penalty spot 20 minutes later after Dani Carvajal was sent off for blocking a goal-bound header from Paulinho with his arm after Real were again easily picked apart on the counter attack.

Catalan defender turned winger Vidal hit the third in injury time to pile more misery on Madrid, who looked unrecognizable from the side that crushed Barca 5-1 on aggregate in the Spanish Super Cup in August.

Real failed to capitalize on their chances in the first half as Karim Benzema’s header came off the post and Cristiano Ronaldo was denied by the flailing leg of Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. However, the European and Liga champions collapsed after the interval and Barca took full advantage.

“We are feeling very angry because it’s a defeat that hurts a lot but we are not going to give up,” Real coach Zinedine Zidane told a news conference.

“It’s a complicated moment because of the defeat and the three goals, I could say we don’t deserve this but football is like this. This is a very painful defeat, we are all sad, especially me. But we will come back much stronger.”

Barca are nine points clear of nearest challengers Atletico Madrid at the top of the standings although Valencia could climb to second and close the gap to eight points later on Saturday if they beat Villarreal. Real are 14 points adrift but have a game in hand.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said it was premature to assume that his side had wrapped up the title or to count Real out of the running.

“Of course not, the first round of fixtures hasn’t even finished. We’ve got the advantage, but we don’t focus on that,” he said.

“We’re only focusing on our games, our points and our sensations.”

Instead of the usual late evening kickoff time, Spain’s premier club fixture took place at 1200 GMT in a bid to capture a record television audience in Asia.

PREMATURE CELEBRATIONS

It was also played in the backdrop of a political crisis in the country, coming two days after elections in Catalonia in which separatist parties won a majority.

Real’s supporters unfurled a giant banner before kickoff to boast of the unprecedented five trophies the team had won in 2017. The volume in the packed Bernabeu was cranked up when Ronaldo headed a corner in off the crossbar in under two minutes but the offside flag halted the premature celebrations.

Barca, the only unbeaten team in the league, took a less active role than they have in recent games at the Bernabeu, with their best chances before the break falling to Brazilian midfielder Paulinho.

They created a number of opportunities after the interval, however, and could have punished Real even further than they did.

(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Rockets’ Harden slams officials after second straight 50-point game

Dec 22, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) dribbles the ball during the first quarter against the LA Clippers at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) – Houston Rockets guard James Harden exploded for his second consecutive 50-point game and then hit out at the officials after being ejected late in his team’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.

Harden tallied 51 points as the Rockets fell 128-118 but suffered through frustrating final minutes that ended with him fouling out and then being ejected following an exchange with a referee.

“(Expletive) calls,” Harden told reporters when asked about his frustration. “I’m tired of hearing ‘I made a mistake,’ or ‘I didn’t see it’.

“That’s frustrating when you hear it as a player. I know we all make mistakes, but it’s just frustrating.”

Harden’s tough finish to the night included just two points, two turnovers and three fouls in the final 2:20.

Despite that, Harden became the last player since Kobe Bryant in 2007 to register consecutive 50-point outings.

He also scored 51 in a defeat against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.

(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

U.S. sports broadcaster Dick Enberg, 82, dies in San Diego: media

Aug 20, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Sportscaster Dick Enberg is honored with the lifetime achievement award prior to a game with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – U.S. broadcaster Dick Enberg, who charmed sports fans with his “Oh My!” declaration as he called some of the most memorable sporting events during the last five decades, died on Thursday, ESPN reported. He was 82.

Enberg was found dead at his home in San Diego. His wife Barbara told the San Diego Union-Tribune that her husband failed to catch a Thursday flight to Boston, where they were supposed to meet.

“He was dressed with his bags packed at the door,” she said. “We think it was a heart attack.”

Enberg worked for NBC, CBS and ESPN, calling some of the world’s biggest sporting events, including 10 Super Bowls, 28 Wimbledons and eight NCAA men’s basketball title games, according to ESPN.

Enberg was born and raised in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University, where he began his broadcasting career, ESPN reported. He moved to California and covered the UCLA Bruins basketball team, which won eight NCAA titles during his tenure.

“Sportscasting is a kid’s dream come true, which is one of the reasons that I keep doing it,” he said in his autobiography, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I can’t let my dream go. I’m still love with what I do.”

In 1968, Enberg called what was dubbed the “The Game of the Century” between UCLA and the Houston Cougars, the first prime time NCAA regular-season game broadcast nationwide, according to ESPN. The Bruins’ 47-game winning streak came to an end that night.

“That was the platform from which college basketball’s popularity was sent into the stratosphere,” Enberg said about the game, ESPN reported. “That became a monumental event.”

Enberg was honored with awards from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He also won 13 Sports Emmy Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Emmy.

His last job was calling San Diego Padres games, which he retired from in 2016.

“We are immensely saddened by the sudden and unexpected passing of legendary broadcaster Dick Enberg,” the Padres said in a statement released late on Thursday to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Despite leaving the broadcast booth, he continued to work on his podcast “Sound of Success,” which last aired on Thursday with an interview of Andy Friendly, a TV producer and executive, ESPN reported.

“I am talking to broadcast royalty today, and I am thrilled to be doing it,” Friendly said, according to ESPN.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Sonya Hepinstall)

Seahawks fined $100,000 for violating concussion protocol

Dec 17, 2017; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) runs out to the field during the second half in a game against the Los Angeles Rams at CenturyLink Field. The Rams won 42-7. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

(The Sports Xchange) – The Seattle Seahawks were fined $100,000 by the NFL for failure to follow concussion protocol during a game last month against the Arizona Cardinals, the league and the NFLPA announced Thursday.

The $100,000 fine represents the maximum punishment for a first offense under the protocol.

In addition to the fine, the Seahawks’ coaching and medical staffs will be required to attend remedial training regarding concussion protocol, the NFL and NFLPA said in its joint statement.

The announcement stems from quarterback Russell Wilson briefly leaving midway through the third quarter of Seattle’s 22-16 win on Nov. 9 after taking a hit to the chin from Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby.

Referee Walt Anderson then sent Wilson off the field for a test.

Wilson went into the medical tent on the sideline — TV cameras showed the quarterback was only in the tent for seconds — and sat out just one play before returning to the game.

Wilson was on the field for two more plays before the Seahawks punted. During the change of possession, he entered the tent and remained inside for a longer period of time.

“The results of the joint review determined that the protocol was triggered when Mr. Wilson was directed to the sideline for an evaluation after the referee, Walt Anderson, concluded that a medical examination was warranted,” the NFL and NFLPA said in a joint statement.

“Nonetheless, the required evaluation was not conducted and Mr. Wilson was permitted to return to the game without an evaluation. Once it is determined that a medical examination is warranted, a player may only be cleared to return by the medical staff; Mr. Wilson’s return to the field without a sideline concussion evaluation was therefore in violation of the Concussion Protocol.

“Subsequently the team medical staff did examine the player and clear him per the protocol.

“As determined by the NFL and NFLPA, an immediate update will be made to the protocol instructing officials, teammates, and coaching staff to take players directly to a member of the medical team for a concussion assessment.”

The Seahawks released a statement shortly after the announcement.

“We accept the findings of the NFL and NFLPA joint investigation into the Seahawks-Cardinals game on November 9,” the statement read. “We did not knowingly disregard the Concussion Protocol. Any misstep was unintentional and the result of confusion on the sideline.”

Highlights of Thursday’s NBA games

Dec 21, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dwyane Wade (9) shoots against Chicago Bulls guard Jerian Grant (2) in the third quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

(The Sports Xchange) – Highlights of Thursday’s National Basketball Association games:

Cavaliers 115, Bulls 112

LeBron James scored 34 points and the Cleveland Cavaliers outlasted the Chicago Bulls 115-112 on Thursday night.

Kevin Love added 27 points and seven rebounds for Cleveland, which doesn’t play again until their NBA Finals rematch with Golden State on Christmas. They’ve won 19 of 21 games and have scored at least 100 points in 26 straight.

Chicago, led by Lauri Markkanen’s 25 points, had a seven-game win streak halted.

There were 24 lead changes by the end of the third quarter and 26 in the game. James scored 11 in the fourth quarter, and his two free throws with 11.1 seconds left put the Cavaliers ahead by three.

Raptors 114, 76ers 109

DeMar DeRozan scored a career-high 45 points, including five in a pivotal 10-2 flurry late in the game, as Toronto rallied for a victory over short-handed Philadelphia.

DeRozan was 6 of 9 on 3-point attempts. His six triples were a career high.

Kyle Lowry added 23 points for the Raptors, who erased a 22-point third-quarter deficit to win its fifth straight and 11th in 12 games.

Ben Simmons had 20 points to lead the Sixers, who were without center Joel Embiid, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, for the third straight game because of back tightness. Starting guard J.J. Redick also sat out with hamstring tightness.

Knicks 102, Celtics 93

Michael Beasley had 32 points and 12 rebounds, and Enes Kanter added 14 points and 10 rebounds as New York beat Boston.

Kyrie Irving scored 32 points and Jayson Tatum had 17 for the Celtics, who are 4-5 since a 22-4 start and have dropped consecutive games for the first time this season.

Kristaps Porzingis returned from a two-game absence with one of the worst outings of his career, an 0-of-11 shooting effort. The Knicks, who have won five of six, went on a 15-6 run in the fourth quarter to take control of what had been a back-and-forth game.

Jazz 100, Spurs 89

Rodney Hood scored 29 points and made several critical fourth-quarter baskets to lift Utah past San Antonio.

Derrick Favors added 14 points and nine rebounds, and Ricky Rubio chipped in 11 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists for the Jazz, who snapped a three-game losing streak and won for just the second time in the last nine games.

Bryn Forbes led the Spurs with 12 points. Four other players each scored 11 points as San Antonio had a three-game winning streak end.

Suns 97, Grizzlies 95

TJ Warren scored 27 points and Troy Daniels hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 17 seconds left to give Phoenix a win over Memphis.

The Suns outscored the Grizzlies 18-14 in an ugly fourth quarter, but Phoenix got the basket that counted. Greg Monroe ran down a missed 3-pointer, turned and found Daniels, a former Memphis player, alone in front of the Grizzlies’ bench for Phoenix’s 10th 3-pointer of the night.

Daniels finished with 14 points for the Suns, who have won three of their past four games and won at home for the first time since Nov. 19.

Evans had 23 points, nine rebounds and five assists for Memphis, which had all five starters score in double figures but has lost nine straight on the road dating to Nov. 7 at Portland and 19 of their past 21 games overall.