Starting Monday professional tennis is backin Washington and with a double your fun kind of vibe, not to mention a new name. Traditionally thistournament is all about the mens (ATP)tour, but the first year under the Citi Open label the Rock Creek hard courts will also host the womens (WTA) version. As for who is specifically in the field, your familiarity with the names may vary. Mardy Fish headlines the ATP side of the aisle, but the second-highest ranked American in the world also sports one of the few recognizablenames in the event, previously known as the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. With the stars of the tennis world competing for gold, silver and bronze over in London, familiar names like Andy Roddick and John Isner, not to mention notable international stars are not in D.C.Same goes for the WTA field, which includes a trio of young seeded American women led by Sloane Stephens, plus former it-girl Melanie Oudin, working her way back up the charts. After playing in College Park last year during a different week, organizers folded that event into one that has been played in the D.C. area since 1969.Fish, one of two top 20 players competing this week in either draw, is the obvious men's favorite. However, despite the lack of star power in the field, do not assume winning this week will be yes, I am going there - shooting fish in a barrel easy for the thirteenth ranked player in the world. No. 17 Alexandr Dolgopolov, South Africa's Kevin Anderson and former top-10 player Tommy Haas round out the top four seeds. All have impressive wins on tour this season and Anderson and Haas have accomplished what Fish has not: win a title in 2012.Fish is also recovering from an ankle injury suffered 10 days ago, which forced him to withdraw in Atlanta. He also has not had much recent success in Washington, but a win this week could springboard the 30-year-old toward a strong close to the season and a successful U.S. Open. Taking home the winners portion of the 1.049 million purse would not be too shabby either (playing in significantly lesserevent compared to the men in terms of their respective tours,the women'stotal purse is220,000).Here is what else you need to know about the 2012 Citi Open:Mens Draw- Finals on August 5Top seed: A six-time tour winner, Fish has twice reached the quarterfinals in Washington, most recently in 2006, but has not won more than a single match in a given year since. He pulled out last year as the No. 2 seed with a heel injury. Others to watch: The Ukrainian Dolgopolov, the No.2 seed, reached the finals in Brisbane earlier this year34-year-old and former top 10 player Hass is the last man to have defeated Roger Federer this year, taking down the eventual Wimbledon champ in the finals at HalleThe 6-foot-8 Anderson defeated Roddick and Isner on his way to way winning a hard courts title in Delray Beach back in FebruaryAmerican Sam Querry is seeded eighth.Blast from the past: Longtime American stalwart and 2002 Washington champion James Blake returns to D.C. for the ninth time. Perhaps being on familiar turf or rather, hard courts will turn around what has been a losing season.Womens Draw- Finals on August 4Top seed: Ranked 28th in the world, 21-year-old Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is aiming for her fourth career title and first in 2012. Though she prefers clay, Pavlyuchenkova showed her court diversity with a run to the quarters on the grass at Eastbourne this summer.Others to watch: No. 3 seed Sloane Stephens tops the three Americans seeded in Washington, including Vania King (4) and Coco Vandeweghe. Stephens, ranked 52 in the world and a rising 19-year African-American talent from Florida, reached the round of 16 at the French Open and round of 32 at Wimbledon. South African Chanelle Scheppers is the No. 2 seed.Blast from the past: Melanie Oudin, remember her? The precocious 17-year-old American stormed the tennis gates in 2009 including a run to the quarters at the U.S. Open and reached a ranking of 31 in 2010. Since there have been more downs then ups, but while currently outside the top 100, Oudin has recently begin move back in the right direction.
The new season begins for the Wizards on Thursdsay at the Atlanta Hawks (CSN, 6:30 p.m.). While coach Scott Brooks hasn't made his starters official, this is a good educated guess on who to see introduced on opening night.
They do plenty of things well but some minor adjustments to their games will go a long way to flipping a .500 record in 2015-16 into a winning record and a playoff appearance.
PG John Wall: He’s almost all the way back from having surgeries to both knees May 5. Wall’s only issue is conditioning. He averaged 20 points and 10 assists last season, though defensively he wasn’t All-NBA anymore. It’s not about his final stat line but more about two key numbers that will determine his advancement on the offensive end. 1) Turnovers. Averaged a career-high 4.1 giveaways last season, in part, because he carried a lion’s share of the offensive burden. Below 3.0 should be his target and with Brooks moving him off the ball more often that should help. 2). Three-point shooting. The one area where Wall lags behind other competition at his position is defenses will go under screens on the pick-and-roll or double others while leaving him open at the three-point arc. He has never shot better than 35.1%. If he can hit 40%, it’s a whole new ballgame.
SG Bradley Beal: He has $128 million reasons to take his game to the next level. While health is a major factor, that’s true of every single player. Beal has to be more than a shooter and move out the teens with his points average up to the 20s. Shooting guards like James Harden and DeMar DeRozan separate themselves from the pack because of some unique abilities that Beal has yet to show. 1). Foul line. For his career, Beal attempts just 2.8 free throws per game. That’s not enough. His goal is 7-8 a game and he has to shoot better than 78%. 2). Creating for others. Beal routinely would face blitzes from multiple defenders who didn’t respect other scorers on the floor. Beal can loosen those coverages by lifting his assists from 3.0 and rebounding from 3.7. Brooks will attempt to help by giving him the ball in different positions on the floor.
SF Otto Porter: The skills are there, but the assertiveness isn’t always present. The Wizards require a third scorer who can get more than 11.6 points per game. He was drafted No. 3 overall in 2013 because he was considered the safest bet – and the most polished – because of his high basketball IQ. It’s time that he uses it. 1). Focus on mid-range. Porter isn’t really a three-point shooter. Despite his 36.7% from deep last season, he hovered below 30% for most of the season and this contributed to his disappearing act (as did his habit of looking at his feet before shooting). Though the mid-range game is a lost art in NBA with everyone in love with the three-ball, this is Porter’s strength. He can hit threes but he prefers to be moving to the ball on that catch. 2). Off-ball movement. He’s great at finding holes in the defense for shots in the paint. This type of player should average more than 1.2 foul shots a game and 1.0 assists, which are his career averages. His vision is too good for that.
PF Markieff Morris: Twenty-seven games after being traded to D.C. last season felt more like a lengthy training camp. The Wizards went from the bottom of the table in rebounding to top six during games with Morris. He’s a perfect example of how a player’s actual rebounding numbers (5.9) isn’t necessarily representative of his impact on rebounding for a team. 1). Stretch four. Morris doesn’t have to be a specialist from three-point range but more accurate than 31.6% to force defenses to respect him, which will spread the floor even more for Wall and Beal. He has good form. If he can bump up his touch by 5%-7% it would make a world of difference. 2). Defense. When he's committed he can use his 6-10 frame.
C Marcin Gortat: Averaging 13 points and 10 rebounds in a down season is pretty good output for centers today. Like Porter, he has been prone to spikes and dips for long stretches. He runs the floor extremely well and is the best screen-setter on the team. Wall and Beal can play a two-man game with him, which allows the offense to have better flow and less predictability. 1) Pick-and-roll defense. This has been a major weakness with the Wizards as more and more teams ditch play sets for basic pick-and-roll actions to create mismatches. The communication between the frontline and backline haven't been consistent for the last two years, and now that Gortat is responsible for making a lot of the defensive calls it will be on him. 2). Less finesse and more power at the rim. Gortat has a habit of fading away from the basket too much, particularly when he's facing shot-blockers such as Hassan Whiteside. Gortat has to go at those kind of players who will take the bait when showing them the ball. He can get more whistles that way, put them in foul trouble and get to the line more.
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OWINGS MILLS – Ravens coach John Harbaugh strongly defended quarterback Joe Flacco after Wednesday’s practice, in the midst of a difficult season for his franchise quarterback, and with the Ravens (3-4) riding a four-game winning streak.
Flacco’s current quarterback rating is 75.4, which would be the second-lowest of his nine-year career if the season ended today. He has thrown more interceptions (six) than touchdown passes (five).
So does Harbaugh think Flacco is “elite”? Asked how he assessed Flacco’s play at this point in the season, Harbaugh did not hold back.
“I’m a Joe Flacco guy, and I believe in Joe,” Harbaugh said following Wednesday’s practice. “Joe Flacco is a great football player. Joe Flacco is the key to our success. So we need to all do everything in our power, so all the things fall into place for him. He can play. He can throw it, he can make decisions, he can score touchdowns for us, he can do all the things we need to do. We need to make sure that we give him a chance to do that. Joe will take care of what he needs to do.
“I’m not worried about Joe taking care of what he needs to do. Joe works on it harder than anybody, cares about it more than anybody. But we need to protect him, we need to run routes, we need to create confidence in our passing game, we need to run the ball well.”
But after Wednesday’s practice, Flacco admitted he needed to play better, regardless of injuries along the offensive line, or struggles with the Ravens’ running game.
“I am obviously not playing good enough,” Flacco said. “We are not a good offense, and it starts with the quarterback. I have to be better. We have to be more precise, and that starts with me – just more consistent overall.”
How well Flacco performs after the bye will be a major key to the Ravens’ fate. But despite Flacco’s recent struggles, his coach still has his back.
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